The liturgy and Rite of the Church of Milan, which derives its name from St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (374-397).
There is no direct evidence that the Rite was in any way the composition of
St. Ambrose, but his name has been associated with it since the eighth century at least, and it
is not improbable that in his day it took not indeed a final form, for it has been subject to
various revisions from time to time, but a form which included the principal characteristics
which distinguish it from other rites. It is to be remembered that St. Ambrose succeeded the
Arian Auxentius, during whose long episcopate, 355 to 374, it would seem probable that Arian
modifications may have been introduced, though on that point we have no information, into a rite
the period of whose original composition is unknown. If, as would necessarily happen, St. Ambrose
expunged these hypothetical unorthodoxies and issued corrected service books, this alone would
suffice to attach his name to it. We know from St. Augustine (Confessiones, IX, vii) and
Paulinus the Deacon (Vita S. Ambrosii, 5 13) that St. Ambrose introduced innovations, not
indeed into the Mass, but into what would seem to be the Divine Office, at the time of his contest
with the Empress Justina for the Portian Basilica (on the site of San Vittore al Corpo), which she
claimed for the Arians. St. Ambrose filled the church with Catholics and kept them there night
and day until the peril was past. And he arranged Psalms and hymns for them to sing, as St.
Augustine says, "secundum morem orientalium partium ne populus marroris tardio contabesceret"
(after the manner of the Orientals, lest the people should languish in cheerless monotony);
and of this Paulinus the Deacon says: "Hoc in tempore primum antiphonae, hymni et vigiliae in
ecclesia Mediolanensi celebrari coeperunt, cuius celebritatis devotio usque in hodiernum diem
non solum in eadem ecclesia verum per omnes paene Occidentis provincias manet" (Now for the
first time antiphons, hymns, and vigils began to be part of the observance of the Church in
Milan, which devout observance lasts to our day not only in that church but in nearly every
province of the West). From the time of St. Ambrose, whose hymns are well-known and whose
liturgical allusions may certainly be explained as referring to a rite which possessed the
characteristics of that which is called by his name, until the period of Charlemagne, there
is something of a gap in the history of the Milanese Rite, though it is said (Cantù,
Milano e il suo territorio, I, 116) that St. Simplician, the successor of St. Ambrose,
added much to the Rite and that St. Lazarus (438-451) introduced the three days of the Litanies.
The Church of Milan underwent various vicissitudes and for a period of some eighty years
(570-649), during the Lombard conquests, the see was actually removed to Genoa. Mgr. Duchesne
and M. Lejay suggest that it was during that time that the greatest Roman influence was felt,
and they would trace to it the adoption of the Roman Canon of the Mass. In the eighth-century
manuscript evidence begins. In a short treatise on the various cursus or forms of the Divine
Office used in the Church, entitled "Ratio de cursus qui fuerunt ex auctores" (sic in Cott.
Manuscripts, Nero A. II, in the British Museum), written about the middle of the eighth
century, probably by an Irish monk in France, is found what is perhaps the earliest
attribution of the Milan use to St. Ambrose, though it quotes the authority of St.
Augustine, probably alluding to the passage already mentioned: "Est et alius cursus quem
refert beatus augustinus episcopus quod beatus ambrosius propter hereticorum ordinem
dissimilem composuit quem in italia antea de cantabatur" (There is yet another 'cursus' which
the blessed bishop Augustine says that the blessed Ambrose composed because of the existenc
of a different use of the heretics, which previously used to be sung in Italy). The passage is
quite ungrammatical but so is the whole treatise, though its meaning is not obscure. According
to a not very convincing narrative of Landulphus Senior, the eleventhcentury chronicler of
Milan, Charlemagne attempted to abolish the Ambrosian Rite, as he or his father, Pepin the
Short, had abolished the Gallican Rite in France, in favour of a Gallicanized Roman Rite.
He sent to Milan and caused to be destroyed or sent beyond the mountain,
quasi in exilium (as if into exile), all the Ambrosian books which could be found.
Eugenius the Bishop, transmontanus episcopus (transmontane bishop), as Landulf calls
him, begged him to reconsider his decision. After the manner of the time, an ordeal, which
reminds one of the celebrated trials by fire and by battle in the case of Alfonso VI and the
Mozarabic Rite, was determined on. Two books, Ambrosian and Roman, were laid closed upon the
altar of St. Peter's Church in Rome and left for three days, and the one which was found open
was to win. They were both found open, and it was resolved that as God had shown that one was
as acceptable as the other, the Ambrosian Rite should continue. But the destruction had been
so far effective that no Ambrosian books could be found, save one missal which a faithful
priest had hidden for six weeks in a cave in the mountains. Therefore the Manuale was
written out from memory by certain priests and clerks (Landulph, Chronica, 10-13).
Walafridus Strabo, who died Abbot of Reichenau in 849, and must therefore have been nearly,
if not quite, contemporary with this incident, says nothing about it, but (De rebus
ecclesiasticis, xxii), speaking of various forms of the Mass, says: "Ambrosius quoque
Mediolanensis episcopus tam missae quam caeterorum dispositionem officiorum suce ecclesice
et aliis Liguribus ordinavit, quay et usque hodie in Mediolanensi tenentur ecclesia" (Ambrose,
Bishop of Milan, also arranged a ceremonial for the Mass and other offices for his own church
and for other parts of Liguria, which is still observed in the Milanese Church).
In the eleventh century pope Nicholas II, who in 1060 had tried to abolish the Mozarabic Rite, wished also to attack the Ambrosian, and was aided by St. Peter Damian, but he was unsuccessful, and Alexander II, his successor, himself a Milanese, reversed his policy in this respect. St. Gregory VII made another attempt, and Le Brun (Explication de la Messe, III, art. I, 5 8) conjectures that Landulf's miraculous narrative was written with a purpose about that time. Having weathered these storms, the Ambrosian Rite had peace for some three centuries and a half. In the first half of the fifteenth century Cardinal Branda da Castiglione, who died in 1448, was legate in Milan. As part of his plan for reconciling Philip Mary Visconti, Duke of Milan, and the Holy See, he endeavoured to substitute the Roman Rite for the Ambrosian. The result was a serious riot, and the Cardinal's legateship came to an abrupt end. After that the Ambrosian Rite was safe until the Council of Trent. The Rule of that Council, that local uses which could show a prescription of two centuries might be retained, saved Milan, not without a struggle, from the toss of its Rite, and St. Charles Borromeo, though he made some alterations in a Roman direction, was most careful not to destroy its characteristics. A small attempt made against it by a Governor of Milan who had obtained a permission from the Pope to have the Roman Mass said in any church which he might happen to attend, was defeated by St. Charles, and his own revisions were intended to do little more than was inevitable in a living rite. Since his time the temper of the Milan Church has been most conservative, and the only alterations in subsequent editions seem to have been slight improvements in the wording of rubrics and in the arrangement of the books. The district in which the Ambrosian Rite is used is nominally the old archiepiscopal province of Milan before the changes of 1515 and 1819, but in actual fact it is not exclusively used even in the city of Milan itself. In parts of the Swiss Canton of Ticino it is used; in other parts the Roman Rite is so much preferred that it is said that when Cardinal Gaisruck tried to force the Ambrosian upon them the inhabitants declared that they would be either Roman or Lutheran. There are traces also of the use of the Ambrosian Rite beyond the limits of the Province of Milan. In 1132-34, two Augustinian canons of Patisbon, Paul, said by Bdumer to be Paul of Bernried, and Gebehard, held a correspondence (printed by Mabillon in his Musaeum Italicum from the originals in the Cathedral Library at Milan) with Anselm, Archbishop of Milan, and Martin, treasurer of St. Ambrose, with a view of obtaining copies of the books of the Ambrosian Rite, so that they might introduce it into their church. In the fourteenth century the Emperor Charles IV introduced the Rite into the Church of St. Ambrose at Prague. Traces of it, mixed with the Roman, are said by Hoeyinck (Geschichte der kirchliche Liturgie des Bisthums Augsburg) to have remained in the diocese of Augsburg down to its last breviary of 1584, and according to Catena (Cantù, Milano e il suo territorio, 118) the use of Capua in the time of St. Charles Borromeo had some resemblance to that of Milan.
The origin of the Ambrosian Rite is still under discussion, and at least two conflicting theories are held by leading liturgiologists. The decision is not made any the easier by the absence of any direct evidence as to the nature of the Rite before about the ninth century. There are, it is true, allusions to various services of the Milanese Church in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, and in the anonymous treatise De sacramentis, which used to be attributed to the latter, but is now definitely decided not to be his; but these allusions are naturally enough insufficient for more than vague conjecture, and have been used with perhaps equal justification in support of either side of the controversy. Even if the rather improbable story of Landulf is not to be believed, the existing manuscripts, which only take us back at the earliest to the period of Charlemagne, leave the question of his influence open. This much we may confidently affirm, that though both the Missal and the Breviary have been subjected from time to time to various modifications, often, as might be expected, in a Roman direction, the changes are singularly few and unimportant, and the Ambrosian kite of to-day is substantially the same as that represented in the early Manuscripts. Indeed, since some of these documents come from places in the Alpine valleys, such as Biasca, Lodrino, Venegono. and elsewhere, while the modern rite is that of the metropolitan cathedral and the churches of the city of Milan, some proportion of the differences may well turn out to be local rather than chronological developments. The arguments of the two principal theories are necessarily derived in a great measure from the internal evidence of the books themselves, and at present the end of the controversy is not in sight. The question resolves itself into this: Is the Ambrosian Rite archaic Roman? Or is it a much Romanized form of the Gallican Rite? And this question is mixed with that of the provenance of the Gallican Rite itself. Some liturgiologists of a past generation, notably Dr. J.M. Neale and others of the Anglican School, referred the Hispano-Gallican and Celtic family of liturgies to an original imported into Provence from Ephesus by St. Irenaeus, who had received it through St. Polycarp from St. John the Divine. The name Ephesine was applied to this liturgy, and it was sometimes called the Liturgy of St. John. The idea was not modern. Colman, at the Synod of Whitby in 664, attributed the Celtic rule of Easter to St. John, and in the curious little eighth-century treatise already mentioned (in Cott. Manuscript Nero A. II) one finds: "Johannes Evangelista primum cursus Gallorum decantavit. Inde postea beatus policarpus discipulus sci iohannis. Inde postea Hiereneus qui fuit e(pisco)p(u)s Lugdunensis Gallei. Tertius ipse ipsum cursum decantaverunt [sic] in Galleis." The author is not speaking of the Liturgy, but of the Divine Office, but that does not affect the question, and the theory, which had its obvious controversial value, was at one time very popular with Anglicans. Neale considered that the Ambrosian Rite was a Romanized form of this Hispano-Gallican, or Ephesine, Rite, He never brought much evidence for this view, being generally contented with stating it and giving a certain number of not very convincing comparisons with the Mozarabic Rite (Essays on Liturgiology, ed. 1867, 171-197). But Neale greatly exaggerated the Romanizing effected by St. Charles Borromeo, and his essay on the Ambrosian Liturgy is now somewhat out of date, though much of it is of great value as an analysis of the existing Rite. W.C. Bishop, in his article on the Ambrosian Breviary (Church Q., Oct., 1886), takes up the same line as Neale in claiming a Gallican origin for the Ambrosian Divine Office. But Duchesne in his Origines du culte chrétien has put forward a theory of origin which works out very clearly, though at present it is almost all founded on conjecture and a priori reasoning. He rejects entirely the Ephesine supposition, and considers that the Orientalisms which he recognizes in the Hispano-Gallican Rite are of much later origin than the period of St. Irena?us, and that it was from Milan as a centre that a rite, imported or modified from the East, perhaps by the Cappadocian Arian Bishop Auxentius (355-374), the predecessor of St. Ambrose, gradually spread to Gaul, Spain, and Britain. He lays great stress on the important position of Milan as a northern metropolis, and on the intercourse with the East by way of Aquileia and Illyria, as well as on the eastern nationality of many of the Bishops of Milan. In his analysis of the Gallican Mass, Duchesne assumes that the seventh-century Bobbio Sacramentary (Bibl. Nat., 13,246), though not actually Milanese, is to be counted as a guide to early Ambrosian usages, and makes use of it in the reconstruction of the primitive Rite before, according to his theory, it was so extensively Romanized as it appears in the earliest undeniably Ambrosian documents. He also appears to assume that the usages mentioned. in the Letter of St. Innocent I to Decentius of Eugubium as differing from those of Rome were necessarily common to Milan and Gubbio. Paul Lejay has adopted this theory in his article in the "Revue d'histoire et littérature religieuses" (II, 173) and in Dom Cabrol's Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie [s.v. Ambrosien (Rit)]. The other theory, of which Ceriani and Magistretti are the most distinguished exponents, maintains that the Ambrosian Rite has preserved the pre-Gelasian and pre-Gregorian form of the Roman Rite. Dr. Ceriani (Notitia Liturgiae Ambrosianae) supports his contention by many references to early writers and by comparisons of early forms of the Roman Ordinary with the Ambrosian. Both sides admit, of course, the self-evident fact that the Canon in the present Ambrosian Mass is a variety of the Roman Canon. Neither has explained satisfactorily how and when it got there. The borrowings from the Greek service books have been ably discussed by Cagin ("Paléographie musicale", V), but there are Greek loans in the Roman books also, though, if Duchesne's theory of origin is correct, some of them may have travelled by way of the MilaneseGallican Rite at the time of the Charlemagne revision. There are evident Gallicanisms in the Ambrosian Rite, but so there are in the present Roman, and the main outlines of the process by which they arrived in the latter are sufficiently certain, though the dates are not. The presence of a very definite Post-Sanctus of undoubted HispanoGallican form in the Ambrosian Mass of Easter Eve requires more explanation than it has received, and the whole question of provenance is further complicated by a theory, into which Ceriani does not enter, of a Roman origin of all the Latin liturgies, Gallican, Celtic, Mozarabic, and Ambrosian alike. There are indications in his liturgical note to the "Book of Cerne" and in The Genius of the Roman Rite that Mr. Edmund Bishop, who, as far as he has spoken at all, prefers the conclusions, though not so much the arguments, of Ceriani to either the arguments or conclusions of Duchesne, may eventually have something to say which will put the subject on a more solid basis.