The story of Ambrose is quite fascinating. He was serving as governor of the region that included the city of Milan. At that time, in the mid fourth century, Milan was about as culturally important as Rome. He was a brilliant, well-spoken, statesman. Arianism (an anti-Trinitarian heresy that teaches Jesus is not God which undercuts the effect of Christ's substitutionary atonement among other things) was still plaguing parts of the church, particularly in Milan. The death of the Bishop of Milan, who was given over to Arianism, prompted a huge argument about his replacement. Ambrose went to Milan as a peacemaker and before he knew it, despite not having been baptized or recognized as a Christian officially, was petitioned to be the new bishop!! After some time Ambrose agreed. He was baptized and made Bishop of Milan. Ambrose was already an skilled orator and within a relatively short time became an effective preacher of the Word and pastor of he people. Augustine famously credits Ambrose with contributing to his own conversion to Christianity.
According to one account, shortly after Ambrose’s installation as bishop, the nearby region was ravaged by a band of Goths. Refugees flocked to Milan, and there was news of many captives for whom the Goths were demanding ransom. Ambrose’s response was to order that funds be raised for the refugees and for ransoming the captives by melting some of the golden vessels and other ornaments the church possessed. As you might guess, this created a storm of criticism. Note Ambrose’s response to his critics:
“It is better to preserve for the Lord souls rather than gold. He who sent the apostles without gold also gathered the churches without gold. The church has gold, not to store it, but to give it up, to use it for those who are in need...It is better to keep the living vessels, than the golden ones.”