St. Ambrose of Milan, Letters (1881). pp. 354-420. Letters 61-70.
LETTER LXI. [A.D.394.]
This letter was addressed to Theodosius after his victory over Eugenius. S. Ambrose in it explains his absence from Milan, and after expressing his gratitude to God for His blessing on the arms of Theodosius, urges the Emperor to a merciful use of his victory.
AMBROSE TO THE EMPEROR THEODOSIUS.
1. You seem to have supposed, most blessed Emperor, |355 as I understood from your Majesty's letters, that I had removed to a distance from Milan because I believed your cause was forsaken by God. But in my absence I was not so foolish, nor so unmindful of your virtues and good deeds, as not to feel sure that the assistance of heaven would aid your piety, and assist you to rescue the Roman Empire from the cruelty of a barbarian robber, and the rule of an unworthy usurper.
2. Wherefore I made immediate haste to return, as soon as ever I was aware that he whom I thought it right to avoid was gone, for I had not deserted the Church of Milan, which the judgment of God had committed to me, but I shunned the presence of one who had involved himself in sacrilege. So I returned about the first of August, and from that day I have been in residence here, and here your Majesty's letter 1 has found me.
3. Thanks be to our Lord God, Who has responded to your faith and piety, and revived among us the pattern of ancient sanctity, giving to us to see in our own times what we marvel at in the Lessons of Holy Scripture, so effectual a presence, I mean, of Divine aid in battle 2, that no mountain tops delayed your passage, no hostile arms presented any impediment.
4. For this you think I ought to give thanks to the Lord our God; and this I will willingly do, conscious of your good deeds. That victim is certainly pleasing to God, which is offered in your name; and how great faith and devotion does this evince! Other Emperors, as soon as ever they gain a victory, order triumphal arches or other badges of triumph to be erected, but your Clemency |356 provides a victim for God, and desires that oblations and thanksgivings should be offered to the Lord by the priests.
5. I therefore, though unworthy and unequal to such an office, and to the offering of such prayers, will yet tell you how I have acted. I carried with me your Majesty's letter to the altar, and laid it thereon, bearing it in my hand, when I offered the Sacrifice; that so your faith might speak with my voice, and the Imperial letter itself might perform the functions of the priestly oblation.
6. Truly the Lord is merciful to the Roman Empire, seeing that He hath chosen such a prince and parent of princes, whose virtue and power, raised on so great and triumphant an eminence of dominion, is supported by such humility as to vanquish Emperors in valour and priests in humility. What shall I wish for, or what shall I desire? You possess everything; from your stores therefore I will obtain the sum of my wishes; your Majesty is pitiful, and has great clemency.
7. But I desire for you again and again an increase of mercy, than which the Lord hath given nothing more excellent; that by your clemency, the Church of God, as it rejoices in the peace and tranquillity of the innocent, so it may also rejoice in the absolution of the guilty. I would chiefly ask you to pardon those who have sinned for the first time. May the Lord preserve your Clemency. Amen.
LETTER LXII. [A.D. 394.]
IN this letter also S. Ambrose urges on Theodosius a merciful use of his victory, and appeals to him specially for some of the defeated party who had sought the protection of the Church. He acknowledges the greatness of the request, but pleads for it on the score of the divine favour which had been miraculously displayed in his behalf.
AMBROSE TO THE EMPEROR THEODOSIUS.
1. ALTHOUGH I lately wrote to your Clemency even a second time, still I was not satisfied to fulfil my duty of corresponding with you letter by letter; for your gracious |357 benefits have so often laid me under obligation that by no services can I pay my debt to your Majesty, most blessed Emperor.
2. The very first occasion ought not therefore to have been omitted, but through your chamberlain I ought to have offered to you my thanks, and laid before you the expression of my duty; and this that my omitting to write previously might not seem to arise from sloth rather than necessity: I had also to inquire for some mode whereby I might offer to your Goodness my proper and dutiful greeting.
3. Rightly then do I send my son Felix the Deacon, to convey to you my letter, and to offer to you in my name both my dutiful respects, and also a memorial in behalf of those who, suing for mercy, have fled to the Church, the Mother of your piety. Their tears have constrained me to anticipate your Clemency's mind by my petition.
4. Our request is indeed a great one, but it is addressed to one on whom the Lord has bestowed unheard-of and wonderful things, to one whose mercifulness we have experienced, and whose piety we have as a hostage. We confess then that we look for even more, for as you have surpassed yourself in valour, so also you must surpass yourself in pity. For your victory is considered to have been bestowed on you in the primitive manner, and miraculously, as it was on Moses, on holy Joshua the son of Nun, on Samuel and on David, not by human respect but by the outpouring of celestial grace. Wherefore we look for a measure of pity corresponding to that by means of which such a victory has been earned.
LETTER LXIII. [A.D.396.]
THIS, the longest and latest, and certainly not the least interesting, of S. Ambrose's Letters, is addressed to the Church of Vercellae, which, owing to intestine divisions, had been for some time without a Bishop. S.Ambrose first urges them to remember Christ's Presence among them, and to proceed to Election with that thought especially in their minds. He then speaks of two followers of Jovinian, Sarmatio and Barbatianus, |358 who had introduced their evil doctrines among them, and so fostered divisions. This leads him to dwell at length on the evils of sensuality and the benefits of self-denial, on the profit of fasting, and the excellence of a virgin life, and bids them 'stand fast,' and not be led astray by false teachers. Then he recurs to the subject of the election of a Bishop, and bids them lay aside all evil feelings, and choose one worthy of so high an office, setting before them the examples of our Lord Himself, of Moses and Aaron. He then speaks of the qualities to be looked for in a true Bishop, and urges them to choose one worthy to succeed to the see of the holy martyr Eusebius, and, recurring to the examples of the old Testament, dwells on the history of Elijah. He ends by a general exhortation to all the Church of Vercellae to the chief Christian virtues, after the model of S. Paul's Epistles, to which the outline of this letter bears a general resemblance. Some questions as to its genuineness have been alluded to in the notes. There seems no sufficient reason for doubting that it is a genuine letter of S. Ambrose. It is thoroughly Ambrosian in style and method, and in its treatment of Scripture, especially of the history of the old Testament and of the lives of the great saints of the old dispensation. It was written not more than a year before S. Ambrose's death.
AMBROSE, SERVANT OF CHRIST, CALLED TO BE BISHOP, TO THE CHURCH OF VERCELLAE, AND TO THEM WHO CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, GRACE UNTO YOU FROM GOD THE FATHER AND HIS ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON BE FULFILLED IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.
1. I AM overcome by grief that the Church of the Lord, which is among you, has still no Bishop, and alone in all the regions of Liguria and Aemilia, of Venetia 3 and the adjacent parts of Italy, stands in need of those ministrations which other Churches were wont to ask at her hands, and, what causes me still more shame, the contention 4 which causes this delay is ascribed to me. For as long as there are dissensions among you, how can either we |359 determine anything, or you make your election, or any man accept the election, so as to undertake among men who are at variance an office difficult to bear the weight of, even among those that agree?
2. Are you the scholars of a confessor, are you the offspring of those righteous fathers, who as soon as they saw holy Eusebius 5, though before he was unknown to them, put aside their own countrymen, and forthwith approved of him; and required no more than the sight of him for their approval? Rightly did he who was chosen unanimously by the Church, turn out so eminent a man, rightly was it believed that he whom all demanded was chosen by the judgment of God. It is fitting therefore that you follow the example of your fathers, especially since it behoves you, who have been trained by so holy a Confessor, to be better than your fathers, forasmuch as you have been trained and taught by a better preceptor; and to show forth a visible sign of your moderation and concord, by unanimously agreeing to the choice of a Bishop.
3. If the Lord has said, If two of you shall agree as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven: For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in, the midst of them; how much less, when many are assembled in the name of the Lord, where all agree together in their petitions, how much less ought we in any wise to doubt that there the Lord Jesus will be present to inspire their will and grant their petition, to preside over the ordination and confer the grace?
4. Make yourselves therefore worthy that Christ should stand in the midst of you; for wheresoever is peace there is Christ, for Christ is Peace; wheresoever is righteousness there is Christ, for Christ is Righteousness. Let Him stand in the midst of you, that you may see Him, that it be not said to you also, There standeth One among you, |360 Whom ye know not. The Jews saw Him not, for they believed not on Him; we behold Him by devotion, and see Him by faith.
5. Let Him therefore stand in the midst of you, that you may have the heavens which declare the glory of God, opened to you; that you may do His will and work His works. The heavens are opened to him who sees Jesus, as they were opened to Stephen, when he said, Behold I see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Jesus stood as an intercessor, He stood, as being eager to assist His soldier Stephen in his combat; He stood as being prepared to crown His martyr.
6. Let Him therefore stand in the midst of you, that you may not fear Him when seated on His throne, for seated thereon He will judge, according to the saying of Daniel, I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the books were opened, and the Ancient of days did sit. And in the 82nd Psalm it is written, God standeth in the congregation of princes, He decideth among gods. So then being seated He judges, standing He decides. He judges concerning them that are not perfected, He decides among the gods. Let Him stand for you as a Defender, as the good Shepherd, that cruel wolves may not attack you.
7. Nor is it without reason that my admonition directs itself to this point; for I hear that Sarmatio and Barbatianus 6 have come among you, vain boasters, who assert that there is no merit in abstinence, no grace in a strict life, none in virginity, that all are to be rated at one price, that they who chastise their flesh, in order to bring it into subjection to the body, are beside themselves. But had the Apostle Paul thought it a madness, he never would have practised it himself, nor written it for the instruction of others. Yet he thus glories, saying, But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself be found a reprobate 7. So that they who chastise not their own bodies, yet would fain preach to others, are themselves accounted reprobates. |361
8. For is there aught so reprobate 8 as that which excites us to impurity, to corruption, to wantonness? as the fuel of lust, the enticer to pleasure, the nurse of incontinence, the incentive of desire? What new school has sent forth these Epicureans? No school of philosophers, as they affirm, but of ignorant men who are setters forth of pleasure, who persuade to luxury, who hold chastity to be useless. They were with us, but they were not of us, for we blush not to say what the Apostle John said. It was when placed here that they first fasted, within the monastery they were under restraint; there was no room for licence, all opportunity of jesting and altercation was cut off.
9. This these men of delicacy could not bear. They departed, and when they desired to return were not received, for I had heard many things concerning them against which it behoved me to be on my guard; I admonished them, but in vain. Thus they began to boil over and spread abroad what might prove the miserable incentives of all kinds of vice. Thus they lost the fruits of their fasting, they lost the fruits of having contained themselves a little while. And now with Satanic malice they envy others those good works, the fruits of which they have themselves lost.
10. What virgin can hear without grieving that her chastity will have no reward? Far be it from her readily to give credence to this, still less let her lay aside her earnestness, or change the intention of her mind. What widow, were she to find her widowhood profitless, would choose to preserve inviolate her first marriage-vow, and live in sorrow, instead of allowing herself to be comforted? What wife is there who hearing that no honour is due to chastity, might not be tempted by unwatchful heedlessness of mind or body? And that is why the Church, in her sacred Lessons, in the discourses of her priests, daily sends forth the praises of chastity, the glory of virginity.
11. Vainly then has the Apostle said, I wrote to you in an Epistle not to company with fornicators: and lest perhaps they should say, 'We speak not of the fornicators of this world, but we say that he who has been baptized into Christ ought not to be deemed a fornicator, but whatever |362 his life may be, it will be accepted by God,' the Apostle has added; Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, and below, If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? And to the Ephesians, But fornication, and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not once be named among you, as becometh saints, adding straightway, For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. This, it is plain, is said of the baptized, for they receive an inheritance who are baptized into the death of Christ, and are buried together with Him, that they may rise together with Him. Wherefore they are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, heirs of God because the Grace of God is conveyed to them, and coheirs of Christ because they are renewed according to His life; heirs also of Christ because by His Death He grants to them as Testator His inheritance.
12. Now such as these, who have somewhat to lose, ought more to take heed to themselves than they who have nothing. These ought to act with greater caution, to avoid the snares of vice and the incentives to sin, which chiefly arise out of meat and drink. The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
13. Even Epicurus himself, whose example these men prefer to that of the Apostles, he, the champion of pleasure, while he denies that it produces evil, denies not that certain consequences flow from it, from which evils are generated: he maintains too that not even the life of the licentious, which is filled with pleasures of this kind, can be said to be objectionable, unless it be assailed by the fear of pain or death. How far removed he is from the truth, may be discovered even from this, that he declares pleasure to be the work of God in man as its originator, as his follower Philomarus 9 maintains in his Epitomes, referring this opinion to the Stoics as its authors. |363
14. But this is refuted by holy Scripture, which teaches us that pleasure was instilled into Adam and Eve by the snares and enticements of the Serpent. For the Serpent itself is pleasure, and, in accordance with this, the passions of pleasure are various and slippery, and infected by the poison, so to speak, of corrupt enticement. Hence it is plain that Adam, deceived by the sensual appetite, fell from his obedience to God, and the reward of grace. How then can pleasure recal us to Paradise, when it alone cast us out of Paradise?
15. Wherefore the Lord Jesus, willing to strengthen us against the temptations of the Devil, fasted before His combat, to teach us that otherwise we cannot conquer the snares of evil. Moreover, the Devil himself employed the force of pleasure in launching the first dart of his temptations, saying, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. To which the Lord replies, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God; nor would He do it, although within His power, that He might teach us by this wholesome precept to attend rather to love of reading, than to pleasure. Now seeing they deny that we ought to fast, let them be prepared with some reason why Christ fasted, unless it were that His fast might be an example to us. Lastly in a subsequent instance He has taught us that except by fasting evil cannot easily be conquered. These are His words, This kind of evil spirits goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
16. Or what can be the meaning of Scripture which teaches that Peter fasted, and that it was while he was fasting and praying that the mystery of the baptism of the Gentiles was revealed to him? what but to convince us that the Saints themselves by fasting are advanced in virtue? It was while fasting that Moses received the Law, and in like manner, Peter, while fasting, was taught the grace of the New Testament. To Daniel also it was vouchsafed through fasting to stop the mouths of the lions, and to behold the events of times to come. Lastly, what hope of salvation can there be for us, unless by fasting we wash away our sins, since Scripture says, Fasting and alms purge away sin? |364
17. Who then are these new teachers who deny the merit of fasting? Are they not heathen words which say, Let us eat and drink? And well does the Apostle tell them, saying, If after the manner of men I have fought with the beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. That is to say, What did it profit me to contend even unto death, save that I might redeem my body? For in vain is it redeemed if there is no hope of the resurrection. If therefore all hope of this is to be abandoned, let us eat and drink, let us not lose the fruit of things present, seeing that future things are not within our grasp. It is for those then to indulge in meat and drink, who have nothing to hope for after death.
18. Lastly, the Epicureans, the champions of pleasure, assert that death is nothing to us: what is dissolved, they say, is insensible, and what is insensible is nothing to us. By this they show plainly that they live by the body only and not by the mind, and do not perform the functions of the soul but of the body only, in that by separation of soul and body they deem all their vital functions to be dissolved, the merits of their virtues and all vigor of their souls to perish, that with his bodily senses the whole man fails, and that, though the body itself is not immediately dissolved, the mind leaves not a relic behind it. Then they would have the soul perish sooner than the body, whereas even according to their own opinion they ought to remember that the flesh and bones remain after death; and, would they abide by the truth, they ought not to deny the grace of the resurrection.
19. Well therefore does the Apostle, confuting these persons, admonish us not to be overthrown by such opinions, saying, Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners. Be sober 10 unto righteousness and sin not; for some are ignorant of God. To be sober then is good, for drunkenness is sin.
20. But as to Epicurus, this advocate of pleasure, him of whom we make such frequent mention, in order to prove that these men are disciples of the heathens, and follow either the sect of the Epicureans or the man himself who |365 was excluded even by philosphers from their company as the pattern of luxury, what if we can prove even him to be more tolerable than these men? Now he asserts, as Demarchus 11 tells us, that it is not drinking-bouts, nor banquettings, nor the birth of sons, nor the embraces of women, nor a large supply of fish and such delicacies provided for sumptuous feasts, it is not these which make life sweet, but sober discourse. He added also that they who are not excessive in seeking the dainties of the table, are moderate in the use of them. The man who cheerfully limits himself to the juices of plants and to bread and water, despises delicate feasts, for from these arise many evils. Elsewhere too they say that it is not excessive banquets and revels which make pleasure sweet, but a temperate life.
21. Seeing then that philosphy has renounced these men, shall not the Church exclude them? They themselves too, as is usual in a bad cause, often attack themselves by their own arguments. For although it be their main opinion, that there is no sweetness of pleasure but that which arises from eating and drinking; yet, perceiving that they cannot lay down so shameful a definition without the utmost disgrace, and that none stand by them, they have sought to disguise it under the gloss of colourable arguments, and thus one of them has said, In seeking pleasure by means of feasting and song, we have lost that which is derived from hearing that Word whereby alone we can be saved.
22. Do we not then perceive in this complicated discussion how inconsistent and variable these men are? Scripture condemns them, for it has not passed over those whom the Apostles confuted, as Luke records in the Acts of the Apostles, which he has written in narrative style, Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans 12, and of the |366 Stoics encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods.
23. Yet not even from this number did the Apostle part devoid of success. For Dionysius the Areopagite, and Damaris his wife, with many others, believed. And thus by their acts this assembly of the learned and eloquent proved themselves vanquished by the simple discourse of the faithful. What then do these men mean by attempting to pervert those whom the Apostle has won, and Christ redeemed with His own blood, insisting that the baptized have no need to apply themselves to the exercise of virtue; that they are not injured by revellings, by excess of pleasure; that they who deprive themselves of such things are foolish; that virgins ought to marry and bear children; widows also ought to renew that carnal commerce which they had better never have known; and that although they might be able to contain themselves they are mistaken in refusing again to enter into the bond of marriage?
24. What then? Shall we put off the man and put on the beast? shall we strip off Christ, and be clothed over and over with the garments of Satan? The very heathen sages held that pleasure was not to be esteemed honourable, lest they should seem to couple men with brutes, and can we instil the habits of animals into the human breast, and engrave on the rational mind the irrational instincts of wild beasts?
25. Yet there are many kinds of animals, who when they have lost their mate, will no longer copulate, but lead, as it were, a solitary life. Many also feed on simple herbs and only quench their thirst in the pure stream; you may also often see dogs refuse food which they have been forbidden, and, if bid to refrain, close up their hungry jaws. 13 Do men then require to be recalled from that in which even mute animals have learnt from man's teaching not to transgress?
26. But what is more excellent than abstinence, which |367 makes even the years of youth to be old, and produces an old age of conduct? For as by excess of food and drunkenness even old age is inflamed, so on the other hand, the insolence of youth is restrained by sparing food and by the flowing stream. Fire without us is quenched by the pouring on of water, no wonder then if even internal heat is allayed by draughts from the brook; for the flame is nourished or fails, according as it is fed or not. As hay, stubble, wood, oil, and the like are the fuel of fire, and feed it, and if you withdraw or do not supply them the fire is quenched, so also the warmth of the body is nourished or diminished by food; by food it is excited and by food allayed. Gluttony therefore is the mother of lust.
27. And shall we not say that temperance is accordant with nature, and with that Divine law, which in the very origin of all things, gave us to drink of the fountains and to eat of the fruit of trees? After the flood the just man found himself tempted by wine. Wherefore let us use the natural drink of temperance, and would that we all could do so. But since we are not all strong, the Apostle says, Use a little wine for thine often infirmities. It is to be drunk then because of infirmity not for pleasure, and therefore as a remedy, sparingly, not as a luxury, profusely.
28. Again, Elijah, when the Lord God was training him to the perfection of virtue, found a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head; and in the strength of that meat he fasted forty days. Our fathers, when they passed over the sea on foot, drank water, not wine. It was when fed on their homely food and drinking water, that Daniel repressed the rage of the lions, and the Hebrew children saw the fiery furnace playing round their limbs with harmless flames.
29. And why should I speak of men only? Judith, in no wise moved by the luxurious banquet of Holofernes, won a triumph which men's arms had found desperate, by the sole merit of her temperance, delivering her country from invasion, and slaying with her own hand the captain of the host: a manifest example both that this warrior dreaded by the people had become enervated by his luxury, and that temperance in food had made this woman stronger |368 than men. It was not in her sex that she surpassed nature, but by her spare diet she conquered. Esther obtained favour from the proud king by her fasts. Anna, a widow of about fourscore and four years, serving in the temple with fastings and prayers night and day, came to the knowledge of Christ, and John the Teacher of abstinence, and, as it were, a new Angel upon earth, was His herald.
30. O foolish Elisha! to feed the prophets with wild and bitter gourds; O Ezra 14 unmindful of Scripture though from memory thou dost restore Scripture! O sinless Paul, to glory in fasting, if fasting avails nothing!
31. But how can that not profit whereby our vices are purged? And if you offer it together with humility and mercy, then, as Isaiah has said by the Divine Spirit, thy bones shall be made fat, and thou shalt be like a watered garden! Thy soul then is fattened, and its virtues are enriched by the spiritual fat of fasting, and thy fruits are multiplied by the richness of thy mind, that thou mayest be made drunk, as it were, with soberness 15, as is that cup whereof the Prophet speaks, And my cup which inebriateth me, how goodly is it!
32. But not only is that temperance praiseworthy which is sparing in food, but that also which restrains desires. For it is written, Go not after thy lusts, but refrain thyself from thine appetites. If thou givest thy soul the desires that please her, she will make thee a laughing stock to thine enemies! and again, Wine and women will make men of understanding to fall away! Hence Paul teaches temperance even in marriage; for he who commits excess therein is, as it were, an adulterer, and violates the Apostolical law.
33. But how can I express the greatness of the grace of virginity, which was counted worthy to be chosen by Christ, to be the bodily temple of God, wherein dwelt, as we read, the fulness of the Godhead bodily! A virgin conceived the Saviour of the world, a virgin brought forth the Life of the universe. Ought not then virginity to be above all other states 16 which was profitable to all in Christ? A virgin |369 bore Him Whom this world cannot contain or support. He, born of the womb of Mary, preserved inviolate her chastity, and the seal of her virginity. Therefore Christ found in the Virgin what He would take for His own, what the Lord of all would assume to Himself. By the woman and the man our flesh was cast out of Paradise, by the Virgin it was re-united to God.
34. And what shall I say of the other Mary 17, the sister of Moses, who, leading the female band, passed on foot over the straights of the sea? By the same grace Thecla was reverenced even by lions, so that the unfed beasts, lying at the feet of their prey, underwent a holy fast, neither with wanton look nor sharp claw venturing to harm the virgin, for even by a look the sanctity of virginity is profaned.
35. Again, with what reverence has the holy Apostle spoken, Noiv concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, yet I give my judgement as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord. Commandment he has not, but counsel; for that which is above the Law is not commanded, but counselled and advised. Nor is any authority assumed, but grace is shewn, and that not by any chance person, but by him who hath obtained mercy of the Lord. Are then the counsels of these men better than those of the Apostles? The Apostle says, I give my counsel, but they dissuade all from leading a virgin's life.
36. And we ought to wonder at the greatness of the commendation of it which the Prophet, or rather Christ in the person of the Prophet, has expressed in one short verse. A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Christ says this to the Church, whom He would have a virgin without spot or wrinkle. Virginity is a fertile garden, which bears many fruits of a good odour; a garden inclosed because it is surrounded on all sides with the Avail of chastity; a fountain sealed, in that virginity is the fountain and source of modesty, and that which keeps unbroken the seal of purity; that fountain wherein is reflected the image of God, since with chastity of body accords likewise holy simplicity. |370
37. Nor can any one doubt that the Church herself is a virgin, whom even at Corinth the Apostle Paul espoused, that he might present her a chaste virgin to Christ. Thus in his first Epistle he gives counsel and sets a high value on the gift of virginity, for that it is not disquieted by the needs of this present world, nor defiled by its corruptions, nor agitated by its storms. In the latter he espouses the Corinthians to Christ, that so, in the purity of that people, he may ratify the virginity of the Church.
38. Answer me now, O Paul, in what way for the present distress dost thou give counsel? He that is unmarried, thou sayest, careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord, adding further, the unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. She has therefore a bulwark against the storms of this world, and thus shielded and fortified by the Divine protection she is disquieted by none of the blasts of this world. Counsel then is good, because therein lies profit, but in commandment is a bond 18. Counsel leads forward the willing, commandment binds the reluctant. So that if any follow this counsel, and repent not, she hath profited; on the other hand, if she change her purpose, she hath no ground to accuse the Apostle, for she ought to have judged better of her own weakness, and thus she is responsible to herself for her own choice, for she has bound herself by a bond and knot heavier than she can bear.
39. Wherefore, as a good physician, who desires both to preserve for the strong the stability of their virtue, and to restore health to the weak, he gives to the one counsel, to the other a remedy; Whoso is weak, let him eat herbs; let him take a wife; he that is stronger, let him use the strong meat of continence. And he well adds; He that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well, but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the |371 Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment, and I think also that I have the Spirit of God. Now having the counsel of God consists in examining all things diligently, in urging what is best, and pointing out what is safest.
40. A careful guide points out many ways, that each person may walk on which he will, and which he finds suitable for himself: provided only he lights on one which will lead him into the camp. Good is the way of virginity, but, being lofty and steep, it requires the stronger sort. Good too is the way of widowhood, not so difficult as the former, but, being rocky and rough, it requires the more cautious sort. Good too is the way of matrimony, but, being smooth and direct, it arrives by a longer circuit at the camp of the faithful, and this way is trodden by the larger number. We have therefore the rewards of virginity, the merits of widowhood, there is also a place for conjugal chastity. They are the degrees and advances of several virtues.
41. Stand stedfast therefore in your hearts, that no man may unsettle or overthrow you. The Apostle has taught us what 'to stand' signifies, that is, what was said to Moses, For the place whereon thou standest is holy ground; for no one stands but he who stands by faith, who stands firm in the resolution of his heart. In another place too we read, But as for thee, stand thou here by Me. Both are addressed to Moses by the Lord, both the place whereon thou standest is holy ground, and stand thou here by Me, that is to say, 'thou standest with Me, if thou standest in the Church. For the place itself is holy, the land itself bears the fruit of holiness, and is rich with the haunts of virtueI
42. 'Stand therefore in the Church, stand where I appeared to thee, there I am with thee. For where the Church is, there is the most secure resting-place for thy soul; there is the support of thy mind, when I appeared to thee out of the bush. Thou art the bush, I am the fire: the fire in the bush, and I in the flesh. And therefore am 1 the fire, that I may give thee light, that I may burn up thy thorns, that is, thy sins, and discover to thee My grace.' |372
43. Stand firm therefore in your hearts, and drive away from the Church those wolves which seek to carry off prey. Let there be no sloth in you, nor an evil mouth or bitter tongue. Sit not with vain persons, for it is written, I have not dwelt with vain persons. Listen not to those who detract from their neighbours, lest, hearing others, ye be yourselves excited to do likewise, and it be said to each of you, Thou satest and spakest against thy brother.
44. Sitting we speak against others, but standing up we praise the Lord, as it is said; Behold now, praise the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord; ye that stand in the house of the Lord. He who sits, to speak of the habit of the body, is, as it were, dissolved by ease, and relaxes the energy of his mind. But the careful watchman, the unwearied scout, the wakeful sentinel who keeps the outposts of the camp, these stand. The brave warrior also, who would prevent the designs of his enemy, stands 19 ready in his rank ere he is looked for.
45. Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall. He who stands is free from detraction, for it is by the talk of the idle that slander is disseminated and rancour displayed. Wherefore the Prophet says, I have hated the congregation of the wicked, and will not sit among the ungodly. And in the 37th Psalm, which is full of moral precepts, he has placed in the very outset, Be not malignant among them that are malignant, neither be thou envious against the evil-doers. Malignity does more harm than malice, for its property is neither pure simplicity nor open malice; but a hidden malevolence, and it is more difficult to guard against what is concealed than against what is known; and so our Saviour bids us beware of evil spirits, for they captivate us by the outward show of charming pleasures, and the false show of other things, holding forth honour as a lure to ambition, wealth to riches, power to pride.
40. Wherefore in every act, but especially in the search after a Bishop, by whose model the life of all is formed, malignity ought to be absent, that by a composed and peaceful exercise of judgment he may be preferred to all |373 who is to be chosen from all and who may heal all. For a gentle-minded man is the physician of the heart, of that whereof our Lord also in the Gospel has professed Himself a Physician, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
47. He is the good Physician, Who has taken upon Him our infirmities, Who has healed our sicknesses, and yet He, as it is written, glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest, but He that said unto Him, even the Father, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee, as He saith also in another place, Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedeck. And as He was to be the type of all priests, He took upon Him our flesh, that in the days of His flesh, He might offer up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto God the Father, and though He were the Son of God, might even learn obedience from the things He suffered, in order to teach us, that He might become to us the Author of salvation. Finally, having accomplished His sufferings, and being Himself made perfect, He gave health to all, He bore the sin of all.
48. Thus He Himself chose Aaron the High Priest, that human ambition might not sway the choice, but the grace of God; no voluntary offering, nor taking upon himself, but a heavenly call, that he might offer gifts for sins, who could have compassion on sinners for that he himself also, it is written, is compassed with infirmity. A man should not take this honour to himself, but he that is called of God as was Aaron; so also Christ did not assume but received His priesthood.
49. And further, since the succession derived by descent from Aaron produced heirs of his race rather than partakers of his righteousness, therefore there came the antitype of that Melchisedeck whom we read of in the Old Testament, the true Melchisedeck, the true King of Peace, the true King of Righteousness, for this is the interpretation of his name; being without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, whicli also has reference to the Son of God, for in His Divine generation, He had no mother, and in His birth from the Virgin Mary He knew no father; Who, born of the |374 Father alone before the world, and from the Virgin alone in the world, could have no beginning of days, for He was in the beginning. And how could He have any end to His life, Who is the Author of life to all? He is the Beginning and the Ending. But this is referred to also by way of example, that a Bishop ought to be without father and without mother, in that it is not nobility of birth, but holiness of life and preeminence in virtue that is chosen in him.
50. Let him possess faith and ripeness of conduct, not one without the other, but let both continue in one, with good works and deeds. Wherefore the Apostle Paul wishes us to be imitators of those who by faith and patience possess the promises of Abraham, of him who by patience was counted worthy to receive and possess the grace of the blessing promised to him. The prophet David has admonished us that we ought to be imitators of holy Aaron, for he has proposed him to us, among the saints of the Lord, as an example for our imitation, saying, Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among such as call upon His Name.
51. An example worthy to be followed by all truly was he, seeing that when death, owing to the rebels, was spreading among the people, he placed himself between the living and the dead, thereby to arrest death so that no more might perish. Of a priestly mind and temper truly was he, who thus with pious zeal offered himself, as a good Shepherd, for the Lord's flock. Thus he broke the sting of death, checked its violence, refused to let it pass. Thus piety aided his services, because he offered himself for those who resisted.
52. Wherefore let those also who separate themselves learn to fear the anger of the Lord, and to appease His priests. What? did not the earth open and swallow up Dathan Korah and Abiram on account of their schism? For when Korali Dathan and Abiram stirred np two hundred and fifty men against Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from them, they rose up against them, saying, Let it suffice for you that all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. |375
53. Wherefore the Lord was angry and spake to the whole congregation. The Lord knoweth them that are His, and hath drawn His saints to Himself; and those whom He hath not chosen, He has not so drawn to Himself. And the Lord commanded that Korah and all those who together with him had rebelled against Moses and Aaron, the priests of the Lord, should take censers, and put incense therein, that he who was chosen of the Lord, might be declared to be holy among the ministers of the Lord.
51. And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi, seemeth it but a small thing unto you that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord? and below, Seek ye the priesthood also? for which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord: and what is Aaron that ye murmur against him?
55. The whole people therefore, weighing the cause of offence, that these men, though unworthy, wished to fill the office of the priesthood, and therefore separated themselves, murmuring against the Lord, and censuring His judgment in the choice of their priests, were seized with great fear, and oppressed with apprehension of punishment. But at the general entreaty that all may not be involved in destruction through the insolence of a few, the guilty are marked out, and two hundred and fifty men with their leaders are separated from the rest, the earth quakes and is rent asunder in the midst of the people, a deep gulf is opened and swallows up the offenders, and thus they are removed from the pure elements of creation, so as neither to pollute the air by breathing it, nor the heavens by looking on them, nor the sea by their touch, nor the earth by their burial.
50. The punishment ceased, the wickedness ceased not; for owing to this very act a murmuring arose among the people that by means of the priests the people had perished. Indignant at this the Lord would have destroyed all, had He not first been moved by the prayers of Moses and Aaron, and afterwards, at the intercession of Aaron His |376 priest, (in order to render their pardon more humiliating,) consented to spare their life at the prayer of those, whose prerogative they had denied.
57. Miriam the prophetess herself, she who with her brethren had crossed the straights of the sea dryshod, because, being still ignorant of the mystery of the Ethiopian woman, she had murmured against her brother Moses, became leprous white as snow, and even at the prayer of Moses was scarcely healed of this great plague. This her murmuring however is to be considered as a type of the Synagogue, which, uninstructed in the mystery of this Ethiopian woman, that is, of the Gentile Church, utters daily reproaches, and envies that people by whose faith she herself will also be relieved from the leprosy of her unbelief, according as we read, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
58. And that we may observe that it is Divine rather than human grace which operates in priests, of all those rods which Moses received from the tribes and laid by, the rod of Aaron alone budded, and thus the people perceived that the Divine commission is a gift which is to be looked for in a priest, and though they before thought that a similar prerogative belonged to themselves, they now ceased to claim the same privilege for a merely human election. But this rod, what else does it indicate, but that priestly grace never decays, and in the utmost lowliness has in the exercise of its functions the flower of strength committed to it, or because this also has reference to a mystery? Nor is it without a meaning that we deem this to have taken place near the end of the life of Aaron the priest. It appears to be intimated that the ancient Jewish people, decaying and worn away by the long-continued infidelity of their priesthood, will in the latter times be reclaimed to zealous faith and devotion by the example of the Church, and by the aid of reviving grace will again put forth the blossoms which have so long been dead.
59. But what is signified by the fact that on the death of Aaron it was not to all the people, but to Moses alone, who is among the priests of the Lord, that God gave the |377 command to invest with the garments of Aaron the priest Eleazar his son, what but to teach us that a priest ought to be consecrated by a priest, and clothed with his proper garments, that is, with priestly virtues; and then, when it appears that he lacks no part of his priestly array, but is complete in all things, that he should be brought near to the holy altars. For being about to offer for the people, he ought to be chosen by the Lord, and approved by the people; and this lest some grave cause of offence should be found in him whose duty it is to intercede for the sins of others. No ordinary degree of virtue befits a priest, for he ought sedulously to shun not only more heinous sins, but even the smallest; he ought to be open to compassion, not to revoke his promise, to raise the fallen, to sympathise with sorrow, to preserve meekness, to love piety, to drive away or stifle wrath, to be a trumpet to rouse the people to devotion, or to soothe them into tranquillity.
60. It is an old saying; Accustom yourself to be single-minded that your life may be as a picture, and ever preserve the same stamp which it has received. How can he be one and the same, who at one time is inflamed with anger, at another, boils with bitter indignation, whose countenance burns and then changes to paleness, varying and changing colour every moment. But suppose that it is natural to be angry, or that for the most part there is cause to be so; it also is the part of a man to moderate his wrath, and to resist being carried away by brutal fury, so as riot to know how to be appeased; it is his duty not to embitter family discord, for it is written, A wrathful man diggeth up sin. He is not one with himself who is double-minded, nor he who cannot restrain his wrath, of whom David says well, Be ye angry, and sin not. Such a one does not command his anger, but rather indulges his natural passions, which cannot indeed be prevented but may be moderated. Although then we are angry, let our passion admit only such emotion as is according to nature, not sin which is contrary to nature. For it is intolerable that he who undertakes to govern others should be unable to govern himself. |378
61. And so the Apostle has given us a model, that it behoves a Bishop to be blameless, as he also says elsewhere, For a Bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God, not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre. For how can the compassion of the almsgiver and the avarice of the coveter agree together?
62. I have set down those things which I have learnt are to be avoided; it is the Apostle who teaches what virtues are needed, and he tells us that the gainsayers are to be convinced with patience, and commands a Bishop to be the husband of one wife, and this not in order to exclude him from marriage, (for this is beyond the bounds of the precept,) but that by conjugal chastity he may preserve the grace of his Washing; nor again, that he may feel that he has the sanction of Apostolical authority for begetting children after he is a priest, for he speaks of one having children, not of one begetting them or marrying again.
03. And I have thought it better to touch upon this, because many persons argue as if the being husband of one wife had reference to a man marrying once after Baptism, seeing that by Baptism all the sin which would interpose any obstacle is removed. True indeed it is that in Baptism all sins and offences are washed away, so that even to one who has polluted his body with many women not united to him by wedlock, all is remitted. But Baptism does not dissolve marriage, if a man has married again, for it is sin, not the Law, which is destroyed by the Bath, and in marriage there is no sin but a law. Being therefore a law it is not dissolved as if it were a fault, but retained, in that it is a law. Now the Apostle has laid down a rule saying, If any be blameless, the husband of one wife. So that if any man be blameless, the husband of one wife, he conies under the forms of the rule for undertaking the priestly office, but he who marries again incurs not indeed the sin of pollution, but loses the prerogative of a priest.
61. We have declared what the law prescribes, let us speak also of what is prescribed by reason. But in the first place we are to understand that the Apostle has not ordained this with reference to Bishops and Presbyters |379 only, but that the Fathers of the Nicene Council 20 have also decreed that no man should be a cleric at all who has contracted a second marriage. For how can he give consolation or honour to a widow; how can he exhort her to continue a widow, or to preserve that faith to her husband which he has not preserved to his own first marriage? Or what difference would there be between the people and the priest, if they were bound by the same laws? The life of the priest ought to be pre-eminent as well as his graces, for he who obliges others by his precepts ought himself to observe the precepts of the law.
65. How vehemently I resisted ordination! and when I was at last constrained to consent, how I strove that it might be postponed! but the popular impulse 21 prevailed over prescribed 22 rules. And yet it was approved by the judgement of the Bishops of the West, and its example followed by those of the East23; and this notwithstanding the prohibition to ordain a novice, lest he be lifted up with pride. If my ordination was not postponed, it was owing to a constraining force, and if proper humility be not wanting to the priest, where the fault does not lie with him no blame will be imputed.
G6. But if even in other Churches such deliberation is used in ordination, how much care is required in that of Vercellae, where two duties seem equally required of the Bishop, monastic severity and ecclesiastical discipline. For Eusebius of blessed memory was the first to bring together in the West these two differing requisites, and though living in the city observed the monastic institute, and with the government of his Church united the sobriety of an ascetic life. Great increase accrues to the grace of the priesthood |380 when young men are thus obliged to practise abstinence and to obey the laws of chastity, and, though living within the city, to renounce its customs and ways.
67. Hence sprung those famous men Elijah, Elisha, and John the son of Elizabeth, who clothed in sheepskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, wandered about in deserts, in mountains thickets and precipices, among pathless rocks, in horrid caves, through marshy fords, of whom the world was not worthy. Hence Daniel, Ananias, Azarias and Misael, who were brought up in the royal palace, were fed sparingly as though they had been in the desert, with coarse food and water to drink. Rightly then did the king's servants prevail over kingdoms, shake off the yoke and set at nought captivity, subdue kingdoms, conquer the elements, quench the violence of fire, escape the edge of the sword, stop the mouths of lions, out of weakness were made strong, shrank not from the mockings of men, seeing that they hoped for heavenly rewards, nor dreaded the darkness of the prison, since on them had shone the brightness of eternal light.
68. Following their example, holy Eusebius 24 left his country and kindred, and preferred foreign sojourn to the enjoyment of home. For the faith's sake he also chose and desired the hardships of exile, having for his companion Dionysius of blessed memory, who chose a voluntary banishment in preference to the Emperor's friendship. Thus when these illustrious men, beset by arms, hemmed round by soldiers, were being carried off from the greater church, they triumphed over the imperial power. Troops of soldiers and the din of arms could not rob them of their faith, but they subdued the fierceness of the brutal mind, depriving it of power to hurt the Saints. For, as it is written in Proverbs, the king's wrath is as the roaring of a lion.
69. He confessed himself vanquished, by requesting them to relinquish their purpose, but they deemed their pen of reeds more powerful than his iron swords. Thus it was unbelief, not the faith of the Saints, which was wounded |381 and fell: they for whom a heavenly abode was prepared needed not a sepulchre in their own country. They wandered through the world as having nothing, yet possessing all things. Every place whither they were sent appeared full of delights, nor could they feel any want who always abounded in faith. They were tempted but not overcome, in fastings in labours, in watchings, in prisons; out of weakness they were made strong. Fed to the full by fasting they looked not for the charms of pleasure; refreshed by the hope of eternal grace, the burning summer parched them not, nor did the cold of icy regions break them down; for the warm breath of devotion invigorated them; they feared not the bonds of men, for Jesus had loosed them; they desired not to be redeemed from death, for they looked forward to be raised again by Christ.
70. Holy Dionysius again prayed that his life might close in exile, fearing that, if he returned, he should find the minds of the clergy or people perplexed by the doctrines and customs of the unbelieving, and he won this grace and carried with him with calm mind the peace of the Lord. Thus as holy Eusebius first lifted up the standard of confession, so blessed Dionysius, dying in his exile, won a higher title even than martyrdom.
71. Now this endurance in holy Eusebius throve under the monastic discipline, and by being accustomed to a stricter rule, he imbibed a power of bearing hardships. For it is certain that in the higher kinds of Christian devotion these two things are the most excellent, the Clerical function and the Monastic rule. The first is trained to be obliging and courteous in its behaviour, the second is accustomed to abstinence and endurance; the one lives as on a theatre, the other in secret; the one is seen, the other hidden. It is the saying of one who was a noble combatant, We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to Angels. Worthy truly was he to have Angels as his spectators, when he wrestled that he might attain the prize of Christ, when he contended that he might lead on earth an Angel's life, that he might overcome the wickedness of spirits in heaven, for he wrestled with spiritual wickedness. Rightly was the world a spectator of him whom it was called on to imitate. |382
72. Thus one of these lives is on the stage, the other in the cell; the one contends with the distractions of the world, the other with the lusts of the flesh; the one subdues, the other flees from corporal pleasures; the one regulates, the other refrains itself, for to the perfect it is said, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. Now he follows Christ who can say, Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.
73. Paul denied himself, when, knowing that chains, bonds and tribulations awaited him in Jerusalem, he voluntarily exposed himself to these dangers, saying, Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus. And though many stood round him, weeping and beseeching, they did not affect his resolution, so strict a censor over itself is a ready faith.
74. Thus the one kind of life fights, the other retires into seclusion; the world is triumphed over by the one, and placed at a distance by the other; to the one the world is crucified, and to it the world, to the other the world is unknown; the one has more temptations and therefore a more signal victory; the other falls less frequently and more easily keeps guard over itself.
75. So also Elijah himself, that the word of his mouth might be confirmed, was sent by the Lord to the brook Cherith. Both Ahab and Jezebel threatened him, Elijah feared and rose up, and went in the strength of that spiritual meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God; and he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there, and afterwards was sent from thence to anoint kings. Thus he was inured to endurance by dwelling in the desert, and as though fed by coarse viands unto the fatness of virtue, went forth increased in strength.
76. John also grew up in the desert, and baptized the Lord, and there first exercised himself in constancy, that afterwards he might reprove kings.
77. And now, seeing that we have cursorily passed over, in treating of holy Elijah's dwelling in the desert, the names of places which are not without meaning, let us return to |383 consider this. Elijah was sent to the brook Cherith, there the ravens fed him, in the morning they brought him bread, in the evening flesh. And with reason did they bring him bread in the morning, for bread strengthens man's heart., and it was with mystical food that the prophet was fed. In the evening he was supplied with flesh. Understand what thou readest; for Cherith is understanding, Horeb signifies, 'heart' or 'as heart;' of Beersheba the signification is the 'well of the seventhI or ' of the oath.'
78. Elijah first went to Beersheba, to the mysteries and sacraments of the Divine and holy Law, afterwards he was sent to the Brook, to the stream of that river which makes glad the city of God. Here you perceive the two Testaments, and their single Author; the ancient Scriptures as a deep and dark well whence you have to draw water with difficulty, for He Who was to fill it full was not yet come, as He said in after times, I am not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. Therefore the Saint is commanded by the Lord to pass over the brook, for he who shall drink of the New Testament is not only a river, but out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water, rivers of understanding, rivers of meditation, spiritual streams, which yet are dried up in time of unbelief, lest the profane and faithless should drink of them.
79. And there the ravens acknowleged the Lord's prophet whom the Jews acknowleged not. They fed him whom that royal and noble nation persecuted. Who is Jezebel who persecuted him, but the Synagogue, vainly flowing, vainly abounding in the Scriptures, which it neither keeps nor understands? Who are the ravens that fed him, but they whose young ones call upon Him, to whose cattle He giveth fodder, as we read, and feedeth the young ravens that call upon Him. These ravens knew whom they were feeding; for they had a spiritual intelligence, and brought food to that stream of sacred knowledge.
80. He too feeds the prophet who understands and keeps what is written. Our faith supports him, our advance gives him nourishment; he feeds on our minds and senses, his discourse is sustained by our understanding of it. We give him bread in the morning, in that, placed in the light of |384 the Gospel, we bring to him the stablishing of our hearts. By these things is he nourished and strengthened and fills the mouths of them that fast, to whom the unbelief of the Jews administered no food of faith. All prophetic words are fasting diet to them, for they cannot discern its interior richness, to them it is food weak and thin, such as cannot make fat their bones.
81. Perhaps the reason why they brought him flesh in the evening was that it is, as it were, stronger food, such as the Corinthians, who were weak, could not bear, and were therefore fed with milk by the Apostle; and thus in the evening of the world stronger meat was brought, in the morning of the world bread. And so since it was the Lord Who commanded this food to be administered to him, we may suitably address Him in this place with these prophetic words, Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to praise Thee, and below, Thou preparest their corn, for so Thou providest for the earth.
82. But now I think we have said enough of the teacher, let us now follow up the lives of his disciples, who have given themselves to praise the Divine Name, and celebrate it with hymns night and day. For this is the service of Angels, always to be praising God, and with frequent prayers to propitiate and beseech the Lord. They give themselves to reading, and occupy their minds with continual labours, separated from all female society, they mutually protect each other. What a life this is, wherein there is nothing you need to fear, but much for you to imitate! The pain of fasting is repaid by tranquillity of mind, alleviated by custom, made supportable by rest, or beguiled by occupation; worldly solicitude does not burthen nor outward troubles engross it, nor do the distractions of the city draw down upon it any difficulty.
83. For the maintenance or teaching of this gift an instructor is to be sought: what kind of one he ought to be you perceive, and by your unanimous aid we shall be able to obtain him, if you mutually forgive one another, if any of you consider himself injured by the other. For it is not the sole condition of virtue not to hurt him who has not hurt you, but it consists also in forgiving him who |385 has injured you. We are generally injured by the fraud of others, by the guile of our neighbour, but we must not deem it to be the part of justice to repay guile with guile, and fraud with fraud. For if justice be a virtue, it must be free from the imputation of crime, and not return evil for evil. For what kind of virtue is it for you to do yourself what you punish in another? This is merely to propagate iniquity, not to punish it; and the character of the person whom you injure, whether he be just or unjust, makes no difference, for you ought not to have done evil. Nor does the mode of your trangression signify, whether it proceed from the desire of avenging yourself, or of injuring others, for in neither kind are you free from blame. There is no difference between being ungodly and unjust, and therefore it is said, Fret not thyself because of the ungodly, neither be thou envious against the evil-doers, and above, I have hated the congregation of the wicked. Thus he comprehends all, without exception; he points to their wickedness without enquiring for the cause.
84. And what can be a better model than the Divine justice? For the Son of God says, Love your enemies. And again He says, Pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. So far does He remove the love of revenge from the perfect, that he enjoins upon them charity towards their persecutors. And as in the Old Testament He said, To Me belongeth vengeance, I will repay, so in the Gospel He commands us to pray for them that injure us, that He Who has threatened to punish them may not do so. For He desires you to pardon of your own free-will, with which He agrees according to His promise. And if you call for vengeance, you know that the unrighteous is more severely punished by his own thoughts, than by judicial severity.
85. And as no man's life can be free from adversities, let us take care that they do not befal us by our own fault. For no man is condemned more severely by another's judgment than the foolish man, who is the author of his own misery, is by his own. Wherefore let us avoid such occupations as are troublesome and contentious, which bear no fruit, but only bring obstacles. But we ought to |386 see that we have no cause to be ashamed either of our choice or of our act; for it is the part of a prudent man, to guard against having to feel frequent sorrow for his acts, since it is the prerogative of God alone never td repent. For what is the fruit of justice but calmness of mind, or what does living justly bring with it, but a life of tranquillity? According to the model of the master will be the condition of the whole house. But if this is required in a family, how much more in the Church, where both rich and poor, bond and free, Greek and Scythian, noble and plebeian, are all one in Christ Jesus.
86. Let no man suppose that because he is rich more deference ought to be shewn him. In the Church he is rich, who is rich in faith, for the faithful have a whole world of riches. What wonder is it that the faithful should possess the world, seeing he possesses the heritage of Christ, which is more precious than the world? Ye were redeemed with precious blood, is said to all, and not to the rich only. But if ye would be rich, follow him who says, Be ye holy in all manner of conversation. This is said not to the rich only but to all, for He judges without respect of persons, according to the faithful testimony of His Apostle. Wherefore, says he, pass the time of your sojourning here not in indulgence, nor pride, nor elation of heart, but in fear. Upon this earth ye have received what is temporal, not what is eternal, use therefore those temporal things as knowing that you must shortly depart hence.
87. Trust not therefore in riches, for all these things must be left behind, and faith alone will accompany you; justice indeed, if faith precede, will also be your companion. Why do riches entice you? Not with silver and gold, not with silken vests and riches were ye redeemed from your vain conversation; but with the precious blood of Christ. He therefore is rich who is an heir of God, and co-heir of Christ. Despise not then a poor man, it is He Who hath made thee rich. Scorn not a needy man; lo! the poor crieth, and the Lord heareth him. Reject not a needy man; for Christ, when He was rich became poor, and this for thy sake, that by His poverty He might make |387 thee rich. Exalt not thyself therefore, as though thou wert rich, for He sent forth His disciples without money.
88. And the chief of these said, Silver and gold have I none. He glories in his poverty as if he shunned contamination. Silver and gold he says, have I none, he does not say, gold and silver, for he who knows not the use of these things knows not the relative value of them. Silver and gold have I none, but faith I have. I am rich enough in the name of the Lord Jesus, which is above every name. Silver I have none, nor do I ask for it, gold I have not, nor do I desire it, but I have that which ye that are rich are without, which even ye esteem of more value, and this I give to the poor, namely, to say in the name of Jesus, Strengthen ye the weak hands and lift up the feeble knees.
89. But if ye would be rich, become poor. For ye shall in all things be made rich, if ye become poor in spirit. It is not money but the disposition which makes a man rich.
90. There are those who humble themselves when riches abound, and this is well and prudently done, for the law of nature is enough for all, and what suffices to her is easily found, but where lust is, there, in the abundance of riches, is still poverty. And no man is born poor, but becomes so. Thus poverty lies not in nature but in our notions of it, and therefore to find riches is easy to nature, but difficult for lust. In proportion to man's gains this thirst for gain increases, and he is, as it were, inflamed by the intoxication of his lusts.
91. Why do ye seek to accumulate riches as though they were necessary? Nothing is so necessary as to know what is not necessary. Why do ye cast the blame upon the flesh? it is not the lust of the belly, but the desires of the mind which make a man insatiable. Is it the flesh which blots out the hope of the future; is it the flesh which takes away the sweetness of spiritual grace; is it the flesh which obstructs faith; is it the flesh which in every way defers to the frantic domination of vain opinions? The flesh loves rather that frugal temperance, which relieves it of its burthen, which endues it with health, for so it rids itself of keen anxiety, and obtains for itself tranquillity.
92. But riches in themselves are not blameable. For the |388 ransom of a man's life are his riches, for he who gives to the poor, redeems his soul. There is therefore scope for virtue even in these material riches. Ye are as it were pilots, in a great sea. If any man steers well his ship, he quickly passes over the sea, and reaches his haven, but he who cannot manage his property is sunk together with his burthen. Wherefore it is written, The rich man's strength is his strong city.
93. And what is this city but Jerusalem, which is in heaven, in which is the kingdom of God? Good is this possession, which brings perpetual fruit. Good is this possession, which we do not leave behind us, but possess in heaven. He who finds himself in this possession says, The Lord is my portion. He says not, My portion stretches and extends itself to such and such limits. He says not, My portion is among such and such neighbours, unless haply with reference to the Apostles, the prophets and the saints of the Lord, for these are the portion of the just. He says not, My portion is in the meadows, or in the woods, or in the fields, unless perchance in the fields of the wood, wherein the Church is found, of which it is written, We found it in the wood. He says not, Troops of horses are my portion, for a horse is counted but a vain thing to save a man. He says not, Herds of oxen asses or sheep are my portion, except so far as he numbers himself among those herds which know their owner, and with that ass which shuns not the crib of Christ; that lamb too is his portion which was brought to the slaughter, and that sheep which before her shearers was dumb, which opened not his mouth; by whose humility judgment has been exalted. And it is rightly said, before her shearers because, on that Cross He put off what was but accidental, not part of His essence, for He put off His body, but lost not His Divinity.
94. It is not every one therefore who can say the Lord is my portion. Not the covetous man, for avarice comes and says; Thou art my portion, I have thee in subjection, thou art my slave, thou hast sold thyself to me with that gold, thou hast adjudged thyself to be mine with these goods. The sensual man says not, Christ is my portion, because luxury comes and says, Thou art my portion, 1 have brought |389 thee into subjection to myself by that banquet, I have caught thee by the snare of those feasts, I keep thee in my bondage by the constraints of thy gluttony. Wilt thou not acknowledge that thou didst set a higher value on the indulgence of thy appetite than on thy life? I condemn thee by thine own judgment; deny it if thou canst; but thou canst not. Again, thou hast reserved nothing for thy subsistence, thou hast spent it all on thy table. The adulterer cannot say, The Lord is my portion, for lust comes and says, I am thy portion, thou hast enslaved thyself to me by the love of that damsel, by a night spent with that harlot thou hast committed thyself to my dominion. The traitor cannot say, Christ is my portion, because his wickedness immediately seizes upon him and says, He is deceiving thee, O Lord Jesus, this man is mine.
95. We have an example of this, for, Avhen Judas had received the sop from Christ, the devil entered into his heart, as claiming him for his own possession, retaining his right to his own portion, and saying, This man is not Thine but mine; my servant, Thy betrayer; to me, then, he manifestly belongs. With Thee he sits at table, but it is I who feed him, from Thee he has received bread, from me money; with Thee he drinks, but to me he has sold Thy Blood. And the event proved how truly he spoke. Then Christ departed from him, and Judas also left Jesus, and followed the devil.
96. How many masters has he, who deserts that one Master! But let us not desert Him. Who would fly from Him Whom Paul and Timothy follow, bound with chains, but voluntary ones, chains which do not bind but loose, chains in which they glory, saying, Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy. Bondage under Him is more honourable than freedom and release from others. Who then would fly from peace, who would fly from salvation, who would fly from pity, who would fly from redemption?
97. Ye see, my sons, what they have become who have followed this course, how they, though dead, still work. Now as we join in praising their virtue, let us also study to attain to their diligence, and silently recognize in ourselves that which we speak of with approval in others. Nothing effeminate, nothing frail can deserve praise, The kingdom of |390 heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. Our fathers ate the Paschal lamb in haste. Faith makes good speed, devotion is lively, hope unwearied; it loves not perturbations of the soul, but it loves to pass from profitless inactivity to fruitful labour. Why put off till tomorrow? you may still gain to-day; beware lest you fail to attain the one, and lose the other also. The loss even of one hour is not unimportant; one hour forms part of our whole life.
98. There are some young persons who wish straightway to arrive at old age, that they may no longer be subject to the will of their elders, and there are old men who would return if they could to youth. Now I can approve of neither of these desires; the young men, disdaining things present, desire that their life may be changed, the old men that it may be prolonged. But it is in the power of the young to become old by gravity of mind, and of the old to grow young by vigorous actions. For it is not age so much as discipline which brings with it correction of life. How much more therefore ought we to lift up our hopes to the kingdom of God, where our life will be renewed, and where there will be a change not of age but of grace.
99. It is not by indolence or sleep that we obtain for ourselves a reward. The sleeper cannot work, there comes no fruit from indolence, but rather loss. Esau, being slothful, lost the first-fruits of blessing, choosing to receive rather than to seek for food. The industrious Jacob found grace at the hands of both his parents.
100. But Jacob, although superior in virtue and grace, gave way to his brother's anger, who was indignant that his younger brother should be preferred to him. Wherefore it is written, Give place unto wrath, to the intent that displeasure against another may not draw you also into sin, while wishing to resist and to be avenged. If you will consent to yield you may remove the blame both from yourself and from him. Imitate the patriarch, who by his mother's advice went into a far country. And who was this mother? Rebecca, that is, patience. For who could give this counsel but patience? The mother loved her son, and chose that he should be separated from herself rather than from |391 God. And thus as a good mother she gave benefits to both her sons, but on her younger son she conferred a blessing which he had power to keep. For she did not prefer one son to the other, but she preferred diligence to sloth, faith to unbelief. And even on her elder son she conferred no little favour, for she sent away the younger, to save him from unworthy fratricide.
101. His piety not his fault having thus banished him from his parents, he conversed with God, he increased in his estate, in his children, in grace. Nor was he elated by these things on meeting with his brother, but he humbled himself and did obeisance, not to his brother, implacable as he was, but to God Whom in his person he honoured. Therefore he bowed down to him seven times, being the number which signifies remission, for it was not a man that he adored, but Him of Whom He foresaw in spirit that He should come in the flesh, to take away the sins of the world. And this mystery is unfolded to you in the reply of Peter, who says, How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him, till seven times? Thus you see this forgiveness of sins is a type of that great sabbath, of that perpetual rest of grace; and therefore it receives the gift of contemplation.
102. But what is the meaning of his setting in array his wives, and sons, and all his servants, and commanding them to bow themselves to the earth? It was not to the earth, as an element, which is often filled with blood, which is the receptacle of crimes, and which is made hideous by desolate rocks, or by precipices, or by a barren and hungry soil, but as that Flesh Which was to be our salvation. And perhaps this is that mystery which the Lord has taught thee in the words, I say not unto thee, until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.
103. Do ye therefore forgive the wrongs done to you, that ye may be the sons of Jacob. Be not provoked as was Esau. Imitate holy David, who as a good teacher, has left us an example in the words, For the love that I had unto them, lo! they take now the contrary part, but I give myself unto prayer, and so when men reviled him, he prayed. Prayer is a good shield, a shield which wards off' contumely, which repels curses, and throws them back on |392 the heads of those who utter them, so that they are wounded by their own weapons: Let them curse, it is said, but bless Thou. That curse of men is to be courted, for it obtains for us a blessing from the Lord.
104. For the rest, my most dearly beloved, remembering that Jesus suffered without the gate, do ye go forth from this earthly city, for your city is Jerusalem, which is above. Do ye dwell there that ye may say, For our conversation is in heaven. Jesus went forth from the city, that ye, going forth from the world, may be above the world. Moses alone, who saw God, had his tabernacle without the camp when he talked with God; and when sacrifices were offered for sin, the blood indeed was carried to the altar, but the bodies were burned without the camp; for no man living among the temptations of this world can lay aside sin, nor can his blood be accepted by God until he has put off the defilement of this body.
105. Love hospitality, for thereby holy Abraham found favour in God's sight, received Christ as his guest, and Sarah, already worn with age, obtained grace to bear a son; Lot also escaped the flames which destroyed Sodom. And thou also mnyest receive Angels, if thou wilt offer hospitality to strangers. And what shall I say of Rahab, who, by performing this office, escaped destruction?
106. Compassionate those who are kept in bondage, as though ye also were bondsmen. Console those who are under sorrow; It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting. From the one we win the merit of discharging a duty, from the other the stain of a transgression. And again in the one case the reward is yet hoped for, in the other it is received. Sympathise with those who suffer as if ye suffered together with them.
107. Let a woman be obedient not servile to her husband, let her offer herself to be ruled not coerced. Let the husband also direct his wife as her governour, honour her as the companion of his life, share with her as his fellow-heir in grace.
108. Mothers, wean your own children, love them, and pray for them, but pray that their life 25 may be prolonged above this earth, rather than in it, for there is nothing |393 longlived in this earth, and that which seems permanent is at the best short and fragile. Admonish them rather to take up the Cross of Christ than to love this life.
109. Mary, the mother of the Lord stood by the cross of her Son; it is no other than the holy Evangelist John who teaches me this. Others have told us that in the Lord's passion the earth was shaken, the heaven covered with darkness, the sun withdrew its light, the thief, after a faithful confession, was received into paradise. John has taught what the others have not, how when nailed to the Cross He spoke to His mother, esteeming rather this exhibition of pious offices to His mother than that gift of a heavenly kingdom, which, after triumphing over His pains, He conferred. For if it be pious to grant pardon to the thief, much more pious is it that the Son should shew such solicitous honour to His Mother: Behold, He says, thy son, Behold thy mother. Christ testified from the Cross, and distributed the offices of piety between the mother and the disciple. The Lord made not only a public but also a private Testament, and John signed this His Testament, a witness worthy of so great a Testator, a good Testament, not of money but of eternal life, written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, Who says, My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
110. Nor did Mary fall below what became the Mother of Christ. When the Apostles fled she stood before the Cross, and with pious eyes looked upon the wounds of her Son, for she expected to see not the death of her Offspring, but the salvation of the world. Or perhaps because she who was the Palace 26 of the King had learnt that the redemption of the world would ensue from the death of her Son, she thought that by her own death she might add something to the general good. But Jesus needed no helper for the redemption of all, Who without any helper saved all. Wherefore He says, I am become like |394 a man without help; free among the dead. He received the affection of His Mother, but He sought not aid from others.
111. Imitate her, ye holy mothers, who in her only and beloved Son exhibited such an example of maternal virtue, for your children cannot be dearer to you than hers was, nor did the Virgin seek consolation in the bearing of another son.
112. Masters, command your servants not as your inferiors in rank, but as remembering that they are partakers of the same nature as yourselves. Servants also, serve your masters cheerfully, for every one ought cheerfully to endure that state whereunto he is born; and obey not only the good, but also the froward. For what merit has your service, if ye serve the good diligently; but if ye serve the froward also ye have merit, for neither do the free obtain any reward, if, having transgressed, they are punished by the judges, but herein lies their merit if they suffer wrongfully. Thus if ye, considering Jesus Christ, serve even austere masters with patience, ye will have your reward. For the Lord Himself suffered, the just from the unjust, and with admirable patience nailed our sins to His Cross, that he who shall imitate Him may wash away his sins in His blood.
113. In short, turn all of you to the Lord Jesus. Take pleasure in this life so that it be with a good conscience; let the hope of immortality make you patient of death, let your assurance of the resurrection be confirmed by the grace of Christ; let there be truth and simplicity, faith and confidence, abstinence and holiness, industry and sobriety, modest conversation, learning without vanity, sobriety of doctrine, faith not intoxicated by heresy. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, Amen. |395
LETTER LXIV 27.
S. Ambrose replies to Irenaeus, who had asked why the manna, which was given to the children of Israel, was not given now, that the Body of Christ, Which is given to Christians, is the true Manna, of which the other was a type; as it was also of Divine Wisdom, which is the food of souls.
AMBROSE TO IRENAEUS, GREETING.
1. You ask me why the Lord God does not now rain manna as He did on our fathers. If you consider. He does rain manna from heaven on those who serve Him, and that day by day. The earthly manna indeed is to this very day found in many places, but it is not now an event so miraculous because that which is perfect is come. Now that which is perfect is the Bread from heaven, the Body born of the Virgin, as to which the Gospel sufficiently instructs us. O how greatly does this excel what went before it! For they who eat that manna or bread, are dead, but he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.
2. But there is also a spiritual manna, the dew that is of spiritual Wisdom, which descends from heaven upon those who sincerely seek for it, and which waters the souls of the righteous, and puts sweetness into their mouths. Wherefore he who comprehends this out-pouring of divine wisdom receives pleasure from it, nor requires any other food, nor lives by bread alone, but by every word of God. He who is more curious, will ask what that is which is sweeter than honey. The servant of God answers him, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat. And hear further what this bread is, the word, he says, which the Lord hath commanded. Now this food so commanded by God nourishes the soul of the wise, imparting light and sweetness, brightened by the beams of truth, and communicating to it the soothing sweetness of divers virtues and |396 the word of wisdom like that of an honey-comb; for pleasant words, it is written in the Proverbs, are as an honeycomb.
3. And now hear the reason why it was small; it was because a grain of mustard-seed which is compared to the kingdom of heaven is also small, and because faith, which is as a grain of mustard-seed, can remove mountains and cast them into the sea. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. Again, Moses ground the head of the golden calf to powder, and cast it into water, and made the people drink of it; for their heart was hardened by the greatness of their perfidy, and he did thus that it might be softened and made refined by faith. Lastly, that woman who grinds meal well and fine shall be taken, but she who grinds ill shall be left.
4. Follow then these examples as regards thy faith, that thou mayest be like that soul which excites in itself the love of Christ, and which, as it ascends aloft, is admired by the host of heaven; that it may rise without impediment, that it may soar above this world with joy and gladness, lifting itself on high like the vine stock and like the smoke, sending forth the fragrance of a holy resurrection, and the sweetness of faith, as it is written, Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like the stock of vine burned with smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of ointment?
5. The refined nature of this faith is well expressed by being compared with powder or by the mention of perfume; for we read in Exodus of that prophetic incense which is the prayer of the Saints, as being a subtile perfume and compounded of many things, that it may be set forth in the sight of the Lord, as David also says, Let my prayer be set forth in Thy sight as the incense. And so it is in the Greek also, kateuqunqh&tw h( proseuxh& mou w(j qumi/ama e0nw-pi/on sou. And in the Revelation of John we read that an Angel, stood at the Altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, it is said, |397 with the prayers of the Saints, ascended up before God out of the Angel's hand.
6. Small too is the navel and the belly of that soul which ascends up to Christ, and therefore it is praised by the words of the spouse saying, Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor, thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies. For it is rounded and polished with all kinds of learning, and is a spiritual drink not failing in fulness, and in the knowledge of heavenly secrets. The belly of the soul is also like the navel, mystical, and not only strong food whereby the heart is strengthened, but also sweet and flowery food whereby it is delighted, is received therein. And perhaps this is what Moses meant, that by many and pious prayers the sacrilege was to be atoned for.
7. In the book of Kings also, when the Lord revealed Himself to holy Elijah, a small still voice was first heard, and then the Lord revealed Himself to him; thereby to teach us that bodily things are solid and gross, but such as are spiritual tender and so fine as not to be perceptible to the eye. In the same way we read in the book of Wisdom that the Spirit of Wisdom is subtile and lively for in her is an understanding spirit, holy, one only, manifold, subtile and lively; and she grinds her words before she speaks, that neither her mode of speech nor her meaning may give offence. Lastly, it shall be said to Babylon herself, when about to be destroyed, And the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee.
8. The manna then was fine, and was gathered each day, not reserved for the day following; because the extemporaneous inventions of Wisdom please the most; when made at leisure they excite not the same admiration as when struck out at the moment by the spark of genius. Or it may be that future mysteries are revealed herein: the manna kept till the rising of the sun was unfit to be eaten, in other words, after the coming of Christ, it lost its grace. For when the Sun of Righteousness arose, and the more illustrious Sacraments of the Body and Blood of Christ appeared, lower things were to cease, and the people were to take in their stead what was more perfect.
Farewell; love me, for I also love you. |398
THIS letter contains a mystical explanation of the statement in Exodus xxiv. 6. that Moses put half of the blood of the sacrifices into basons and poured half on the altar.
AMBROSE TO SIMPLICIANUS, GREETING.
1. You were perplexed, you tell me, when reading that Moses, after offering sacrifice and the immolation of salutary victims to the Lord, put half of the blood in basons, and sprinkled half on the altar, to know what could be the purport of this. But why need you doubt and inquire of me, when for the sake of the faith, and of acquiring Divine knowledge, you have traversed the whole world, and night and day have devoted the whole time of your life to constant reading? Thus with your keen intellect you have embraced all the objects of the understanding, and are wont to prove as concerns even the books of philosophy, how far they deviate from the truth, many of them being so futile that the words of their writers perished sooner than their life.
2. But since gathering words, like money, is of great profit, and great increase is thereby obtained for the general good of trade, I cannot refrain from mentioning how wonderful is that division of the blood. For part of it seems to signify the moral, and part the mystical discipline of wisdom. That part which is put into basons is moral, that which is sprinkled on the altar is mystical; in that by the Divine gift and a certain inspiration it is instilled into men's minds, that the sentiments they conceive of God may be suitable and full of faith.
3. Moreover, they who have spoken of His majesty, and of heavenly things, whether apostles or holy prophets, have only dared to speak of such things as were shewn them by revelation. Hence Paul has testified in his Epistle that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard words which it is not lawful for a man to utter; Stephen also saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of |399 God, and the Prophet David saw Him sitting on His right hand. And what shall I say of Moses, of whom the Scripture says that there arose not such a prophet since in Israel, who kneiv the Lord face to face, in all the signs and the wonders which he did in the land of Egypt.
4. The mystical part therefore is offered to God, Who by the brightness of the Divine Wisdom, Whose Father and Parent He is, quickens the vigour of the soul, and enlightens the mind. But the Wisdom of God is Christ, on Whose breast John lay, that from that secret source of wisdom he might be known to have imbibed Divine mysteries. He himself, conscious of his gift, has recorded this, for he dreaded to claim for himself, and to ascribe to his own genius that which he had received. The Lord also said to the Apostles, opening their mouths, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whereby He declared that He is the same Who said to Moses, I will open thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. Wherefore this wisdom, divine, unspeakable, unadulterated and incorruptible, pours her grace into the minds of her saints, and discloses to them knowledge that they may behold her glory.
5. But that is the discipline of moral wisdom which is poured into basons, and is taken and drank from them. The basons therefore are the organs of the senses. The basons are the two eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth and other parts suitable to this function; for the eyes are the recipients and ministers of sight, the ears of hearing, the nose of smell, the mouth of taste, and so with the rest. Into these basons that Word in Whom is the Headship of the priestly and prophetic office poured the half of His blood; that He might quicken and animate the irrational parts of our nature, and endow them with reason.
6. Again, having rehearsed and proclaimed the precepts of the Law to the people, and being about to explain the meaning of that mystical ark of the testimony, and of the candlestick, and of the censers, he slew victims, and offered sacrifice, sprinkling half of the blood on the sacred altar, and putting half in basons.
7. A division therefore is made between that mystical or divine and moral wisdom. For the Lo&goj is a divider |400 of souls and of virtues: the Lo&goj is the Word of God, quick and powerful, which pierces and penetrates even to the dividing asunder of the soul, and which also distinguishes and divides virtues, whose minister, Moses, by the division of the blood, distinguished the kinds of virtue.
8. And forasmuch as nothing is so emphatically declared in the Law as Christ's Advent, or prefigured as His Passion, consider whether this be not the saving victim which God the Word offered by Himself, and sacrificed in His own body. For first both in the Gospel and also in the Law He taught us moral discipline, and manifested it in His own patience and in very act and deed, transfusing into our lives and senses, as if into basons, the very substance and marrow as it were of wisdom, and quickening thereby men's minds to be a seed-plot of virtue, and instructed in piety, and then, drawing near the altar, He poured out the blood of His offering.
9. Should you choose then to understand it thus, the sense is pious; the interpretation also which follows that of Solomon is, if you prefer it, equally concordant, namely, that whereas the prophet Moses put the blood into basons, this is the same blood whereof it is written that Wisdom hath mingled her wine, bidding men to forsake foolishness, and seek after understanding. From the bason then we drink wisdom, discipline, understanding, correction, amendment of life, regulation of habits and counsels, the grace of piety, increase of virtue, a fountain of plenty.
10. But by this sprinkling the blood on the Altar you may understand the cleansing of the world, the remission of all sins. For He sprinkles that blood on the Altar as a Victim to atone for the sins of many. For the Victim is a Lamb, but a Lamb not of irrational nature but of divine power, of Which it is said, Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. For not only has He cleansed with His blood the sins of all men, but has also gifted them with divine power. Does not He seem to you to have indeed shed His blood, from Whose side blood and water flowed over the very altar of His Passion?
Farewell; love me as you do, with the affection of a parent. |401
HERE is a mystical exposition of Aaron's taking the earrings of the women to make the golden calf, and of other details connected with it.
AMBROSE TO ROMULUS.
1. THERE is no doubt that letter-writing was invented that we might hold a sort of converse with the absent, but this becomes more excellent in use and example when frequent and pleasant colloquies pass between a parent and his sons, whereby is really produced a sort of image of actual presence, even though they are separate in body; for by such offices love attains its growth, just as it is augmented by our mutual letters between ourselves. All this I begin to experience much more abundantly in these last addresses of your affection, wherein you have thought fit to ask me with what intent Aaron took the gold from the people when they required gods to be made them, and why the head of a calf was fashioned with that gold, and why Moses was so deeply incensed that he commanded every man to rise upon his neighbour and slay him with the sword. For it is a great thing that the absent should suffer no loss either of kindness or of the liberal communication of mutual knowledge. My sentiments on this point, therefore, as you require it, I will offer for the purpose rather of comparison than of instruction.
2. While Moses was receiving the Law on Mount Sinai the people were with Aaron the Priest. Prone as they were to transgress, we do not find that they committed sacrilege so long as the Law was being delivered, but when the Divine Voice ceased, sin overtook them, so that they required gods to be made them. Aaron, thus constrained, asked for their rings and the women's earrings, which, when given to him, he cast into the fire, and the head of a calf was molten of them.
3. We can neither excuse this great priest, nor dare we condemn him. It was not however unadvisedly that he deprived the Jews of their rings and earrings; for they who |402 designed sacrilege could have neither the seal of faith nor ornaments of their ears. The patriarch Jacob too hid the earrings along with the images of the strange gods, when he hid them in Shechem, that no one might come to know of the superstitions of the Gentiles. And he said well, Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives; not as leaving the men their earrings, but in order to shew that they had them not. Fitly also are the earrings taken from the women, that Eve may not again hear the voice of the serpent.
4. Because they had listened to sacrilegious counsel, an image of sacrilege was formed by the melting of their earrings; for he who hears amiss is wont to perpetrate sacrilege. Why the head of a calf came forth, the sequel shews, for it was signified thereby, either that in time to come Jeroboam would introduce this kind of sacrilege, and that the people of the Hebrews should worship golden calves; or else that all unbelief bears the semblance of brutal and savage folly.
5. Moses, incensed by this unworthy act, broke the tables, and ground the head of the calf to powder, that he might abolish all traces of their impiety. The first Tables were broken in order to the restoration of the second, whereby, through the preaching of the Gospel, unbelief was broken to pieces, and done away. And thus Moses brought down this Egyptian pride, and repressed this self-exalting arrogance, by the authority of the eternal Law. Wherefore David also says, The Lord shall break the cedars of Libanus, and shall reduce them to pieces, as a calf of Libanus.
6. The people drank up all their perfidy and pride, that impiety and arrogance might not drink them up. For it is better that every one should prevail over the flesh and its vices, that it may not be said that prevailing 28 death hath swallowed him up, but rather, Death is swalloived up in victory; O death, where is thy sting, O grave, where is thy victory? And of the Lord it is said, He shall drink of the brook in the way; for He received the vinegar, that He might drink up the temptations of all men.
7. But in his causing every man to slay his neighbour, the |403 parents their children, the brother his brother, we find an evident precept that religion is to be preferred to friendship, piety to kindred. For that is true piety which prefers divine things to human, eternal to temporal. Wherefore also Moses himself said to the sons of Levi, Who is on the Lord's side, let him come to me. And he said unto them. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go throughout the camp, that thus, by the contemplation and love of the Divine Majesty all human ties and affections might be destroyed. It is written that three thousand men were slain, nor need we feel any jealousy of the number being so great, for it is better that by the punishment of a few the body should be exonerated, than that vengeance should be taken on all; nor indeed does any punishment of wrong against God appear too severe.
8. Again, the ministry of the Levites, whose portion is God, was chosen for this work, as being more holy than the others: for they know not how to spare their own who know nothing of their own, for to the holy God is everything. Now he is the true Levite and punisher and avenger, who kills the flesh that he may preserve the spirit, such as he was who says, I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection. And who are such close neighbours as the flesh and the soul? What is so akin to us as the passions of the body? These the good Levite slays within himself with that spiritual sword which is the word of God, sharp and powerful.
9. There is also a sword of the Spirit, which pierces the soul, as was said to Mary, A sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Is not the flesh united with the soul by a kind of fraternal bond? Is not discourse also related and akin to our mind? When therefore we check our discourse, that we may not incur the sin of much speaking, we put aside the rights of blood, and loose the bonds of this fraternal connexion. Thus by the force of reason the soul severs from itself its irrational and, as it were, cognate part.
10. And so Moses taught the people to rise against their neighbours, by whom faith was in danger of being |404 mocked, and virtue hindered, that whatever in us was straying from virtue, perplexed by error, or entangled in vice might be cut off. By this direction to the people he obtained not only a mitigation of the Divine wrath and a turning away of offence, but even conciliated for them grace.
11. Thus, according to our apprehension, we have explained, since you asked it, our sentiments. And do you, if you have aught preferable, impart it to us, that from you and from ourselves we may learn which to choose and follow.
Farewell: love me as a son, for I also love you.
S. AMBROSE begins by pointing out that Moses deferred to Aaron in matters connected with the Priesthood, and then goes on to dwell on the rarity and the blessing of true penitence.
AMBROSE TO SIMPLICIANUS, GREETING.
1. THE greatness of each person as regards his own functions is taught us in that Scripture lesson by which your attention has been justly attracted, that Moses, than whom no man saw God more intimately, neither arose there a prophet since in Israel whom the Lord knew face to face; he who was constantly with the Lord forty days and nights, when he received the law in the Mount, he, I say, to whom the Lord gave the words which he should speak, is found to have approved the counsel of his brother Aaron more than his own. Was there then any man more prudent and learned than Moses? Nay, of Aaron himself we afterwards read that together with Miriam he transgressed concerning the Ethiopian woman.
2. But I would have you carefully consider this very thing, how Moses excelled in knowledge, Aaron in counsel. Moses was the greatest prophet, who said of Christ, Like unto me, unto Him shall ye hearken. And the Lord Himself says of him, if they hear not Moses and the prophets, |405 neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. In the matter of prophecy therefore Moses is preferred as a prophet; but where the subject and function and office relates to the Priesthood, Aaron is preferred as being a Priest. Let us now treat the passage itself.
3. A he-goat was slain for sin; offered for an whole burnt-offering. Moses afterwards sought for it, and it was burnt. And he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron which were left alive, saying, Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin-offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation? Ye should indeed have eaten it in the holy place as I commanded. Now when Aaron saw that Moses was angry he replied to him meekly, Behold, this day have they offered their sin-offering and their burnt-offering before the Lord, and such things have befallen me, and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, should it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord? And when Moses heard that, he was content. Let us consider what these things mean.
4. Not to sin is an attribute of God alone: to amend and correct one's error and to do penance for one's sin is the part of a wise man. But this is very difficult in this human life. For what is so rare as to find a man who will convict himself, and condemn his own act? Rare is the confession of sin, rare is penitence, rare among men is the admission of that word. Nature and shame both recoil from it; nature, because all are under sin, and he who wears flesh is subject to transgression. Thus the nature of the flesh, and the allurements of the world are repugnant to innocence and integrity. Shame recoils also, because every man blushes to confess his own fault, thinking more of the present than of the future.
5. Now Moses desired to find a soul free from sin, that it might lay aside the slough of error, and depart, relieved from transgression, without any cause of shame within itself. But such a soul he found not, because an irrational impulse comes quickly on, and a certain flame, whose motions are very swift, feeds upon the soul, and burns up its innocence. For the future is outweighed by the present, |406 moderation by violence, worth by numbers, soberness by pleasure, hardness by luxury, sadness by joy, austerity by blandishments, slowness by too great precipitance. And iniquity, which suggests occasions of doing evil, is a thing swift in its nature, for its feet are swift to shed blood; but all virtue uses gentle and long delays, judging beforehand and looking narrowly into what is to be undertaken. And thus the good mind scrutinizes its own counsels, and examines beforehand what is becoming and excellent; but in iniquity the act outstrips consideration. Penitence therefore is tardy and abashed, because it is oppressed and drawn back by present shame; having, in itself, regard only to things future, the hope whereof is late, the fruit tardy, and so the desire of them is tardy also.
6. During these strivings of hope and virtue shameless-ness runs onward, and by the glare of things present, penitence is excluded, its affections are, as it were, burnt up, and all that has respect to it is lost. The Law seeks and finds it not, for it is scorched by the heat and smoke of iniquity, and the anger, as it were, of the Law is roused. Moses says that the sin-offering ought to have been eaten in the holy place, and rebukes the priests as remiss; Aaron replies that the priestly judgment ought to be cautious; that such a function must not be lightly entrusted to an unsound conscience, lest this error be worse than the first. For by a filthy vessel wine or oil is easily tainted and spoilt.
7. But how could sin be burnt out when the fire was strange fire; and this in the sight of the Lord to Whom even hidden things are known? Can it please the Lord, if a man, while he is yet engaged in sin, and keeps unrighteousness in his heart, professes that he is doing penance? It is the same thing as if one who is sick should feign himself well, he will only become worse; for the pretence of health can avail him nothing; since it is but shadowed forth by words, not sustained by any support of virtue.
8. This strange fire then is lust, this strange fire is every incentive of cupidity, this strange fire is all burning avarice. By this fire man is not cleansed but rather burned |407 up. For where this strange fire is, if any man offer himself in the sight of the Lord, the celestial fire consumes him as it did Nadab and Abihu who were burned together with those sacrifices which had been offered for sin on the sacred Altars. He therefore who would cleanse his sin let him remove from him strange fire. Let him offer himself to that fire only which burns up the fault not the man.
9. And who this fire is, let us learn from the words, that Jesus shall baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. This is that fire which dried up her issue of blood who had suffered it for twelve years; that fire, which took away the sin of Zacchaeus when he said that he would give half of his goods to the poor, and if he had taken any thing from any man would restore fourfold. This is that fire, which wiped away the thief s crime, for He is a consuming fire Who said, To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise. Thus He healed those in whom He found a simple and pure confession; no malice, no fraud.
10. Judas moreover could not obtain a remedy, although he said, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood, for he cherished within his breast strange fire, which urged him on to destroy himself. He was not worthy to be healed, for he wept not through conversion of his inmost mind, nor did he diligently do penance; for such is the love of the Lord Jesus that He would have granted pardon even to him, had he waited for the mercy of Christ.
11. This fault therefore the priests cannot remove, nor the sin of him who offers himself in guile, and still harbours a desire of transgressing. For they cannot eat of that which is full of fraud, and has the serpent's scar within; for the food of the priest lies in the remission of sins. Wherefore Christ the chief of Priests says, My meat is to do the will of My Father which is in heaven. What is the will of God but this, In returning and rest shall ye be saved? In the guileful man therefore there is no food. Neither again can he taste the sweetness of a feast whose conscience is not sincere and pure; for the bitterness of fraud takes away the sweetness of the viands; and an evil conscience will not permit penitence to refresh and feed the guilty soul. |408
12. Such affections therefore, such petitions, such penitence are neither useful nor a pleasure to the priests. And that he-goat offered as an whole burnt offering for sin was deservedly burnt, because strange fire was found in the sacrifice. On that account it was not a pleasing and acceptable sacrifice to God; for that is not accepted which has not been approved among the riches of sincerity and truth.
13. And so elsewhere also you read of two he-goats, one whereon was the lot of the Lord, the other that of the scape-goat, and that that whereon was the lot of the Lord was offered and sacrificed, while the one whereon was the lot of the scape-goat was sent into the wilderness to take away the iniquities of the people, or of any sinner. For as there are two men in the field, and one of them shall be taken and the other left, so are there two he-goats, one of which is used for sacrifice, and the other sent into the wilderness. The one is of no use, neither to be eaten nor fed upon by the sons of the priests. For as in matters of food, what is good is eaten, what is useless or bad is thrown away, in the same way we call good works festive, as fit for eating.
14. It will not therefore be pleasing to the Lord if the priest eat of a sacrifice which presents a deceptive offering, not the sincerity of a diligent confession. And therefore that goat is to be sent into the wilderness, where our fathers wandered, where they wandered and could not attain to the land of the resurrection, but the memory of them passed from the land. Hear again what are festive works. And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you. For rest in God, which causes tranquillity of mind, is festive and refreshing. And now let us also rest from discoursing.
Farewell; love me as you do, for I also love you. |409
AN explanation of the text, Thy heaven shall be brass and thy earth iron.
AMBROSE TO ROMULUS.
1. BEING yourself in the country I am surprised at your having been led to inquire of me the reason why God should have said, And thy heaven shall be brass, and thy earth iron. For the very appearance of the country and its present fertility might teach us how great is the mildness of the air, and how genial is the climate, when God vouchsafes to give plenty, but when sterility, how all things are closed up, how dense the air, so as to seem hardened into the very substance of brass. Elsewhere also you read that in the clays of Elijah the heaven was shut up three years and six months.
2. By the heaven then being brass is signified its being shut up, and refusing its use to the earth. The earth also is iron, for it witholds its produce, and with hostile rigour excludes from its fructifying soil the seeds thrown upon it, which its wont is to cherish as in the bosom of a tender mother. For when does iron bring forth fruit, when does brass melt into showers?
3. Those impious men therefore He threatens with miserable famine, that they who know not how to shew filial piety to the common Lord and Father of all, may be deprived of the support of His paternal clemency, that the heaven may be to them as brass, and the air condensed into the substance of metal; that the earth may be to them as iron, deprived of its natural productions, and as is usually the case with poverty, a sower of strife. For they who are in want of food commit robberies, that at the expense of others they may relieve their own hunger.
4. If further the offence of the inhabitants be so great that God stirs up and brings war upon them, then their land is truly iron, bristling with crops of spears, and stripped of |410 its own fruit, fruitful as regards punishment, barren as regards nourishment. But where is abundance? Behold I will rain bread for you. saith the Lord.
Farewell; love me, for I also love you.
IN this Letter S. Ambrose answers a question propounded to him as to the ground of the severity of the Mosaic Law against those who disguised their sex.
AMBROSE TO IRENAEUS, GREETING.
1. You have referred to me, as to a father, the inquiry which has been made of you, why the Law was so severe in pronouncing those unclean who used the garments of the other sex, whether they were men or women, for it is written, The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord.
2. Now, if you will consider it well, that which nature herself abhors must be incongruous. For why do you not wish to be thought a man, seeing that you are born such? why do you assume an appearance which is foreign to you? why do you play the woman, or you, O woman, the man? Nature clothes each sex in their proper raiment. Moreover in men and women, habits, complexion, gestures, gait, strength and voice are all different.
3. So also in the rest of the animal creation; the form, the strength, the roar of the lion and lioness, of the bull and heifer are different. Deer also differ as much in form as they do in sex, so that you may distinguish the stag from the hind even at a distance. But in the case of birds the similitude between them and men, as regards covering, is still closer; for in them Nature distinguishes their sex by their very plumage. The peacock is beautiful, but the feathers of its consort arc not variegated with equal, beauty. Pheasants also have different colours to mark the |411 difference of the sexes. And so with poultry. How sonorous is the cock's voice, night by night performing his natural office of calling us from sleep by crowing. They do not change their form; why then do we desire to change ours?
4. A Greek custom has indeed prevailed for women to wear men's tunics as being shorter. Be it allowed however that they should imitate the nature of the more worthy sex; but why should men choose to assume the appearance of the inferior? A falsehood is base even in word, much more in dress. So in the heathen temples, where there is a false faith, there also is a false nature. It is there considered holy for men to assume women's garments, and female gestures. And therefore the Law says that every man who puts on a woman's garment is an abomination unto the Lord.
5. I conceive however that it is spoken not so much of garments as of manners, and of our habits and actions, in that one kind of act becomes a man, the other a woman. Wherefore the Apostle also says, as the interpreter of the Law, Let your women keep silence in the Churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are to be under obedience, as also saith the Law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. And to Timothy: Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection; but I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.
6. But how unseemly is it for a man to do the works of a woman! As for those who curl their hair, like women, let them conceive also, let them bring forth. Yet the one sex wears veils, the other wages war. Let them however be excused who follow their national usages, barbarous though they be, the Persians and Goths and Armenians. Nature is superior to country.
7. And what shall we say of others who think it belongs to luxury to have in their service slaves wearing curls and ornaments of the neck? It is but just that chastity should be lost where the distinction of sexes is not preserved, a point wherein the teaching of nature is unambiguous, according to the Apostle's words; Is it comely that a woman |412 pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you that if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him: but if a woman hath long hair, it is a glory unto her: for her hair is given her for a covering. Such is the answer which you may make to those who have referred to you.
Farewell; love me as a son, for I love you as a father.
S. AMBROSE in this Letter considers a part of the prophecy of Micah as describing the recovery of a fallen soul.
AMBROSE TO HORONTIANUS.
1. THE Prophets indeed announced the gathering together of the Gentiles, and the future establishment of the Church; but as the Church sees not only the continuous progress of strong souls, but likewise the relapse of weak ones, and their subsequent conversion, we are able to gather from the Prophetical books both how the gracious and strong soul advances without stumbling, and also how the weak soul falls, and how she repairs her falls and recovers her steps.
2. Accordingly as in the Song of Songs we read of this continuous progress of blessed souls, so let us now consider, as set forth in the prophet Micah, concerning whom we have begun to speak, the conversion of a fallen soul. For it is not without good reason that the prophet's words, But thou Bethlehem Ephratah, excited your attention. For how can that house where Christ was born be the house of wrath? Such is, indeed, what the name of the place signifies, but certain mysterious operations are declared thereby.
3. Let us first consider what Micah signifies in Latin. It means 'Who is from GodI or as we find elsewhere 'who is this man,' the son of the Morasthite, that is, the heir? Now, who is this heir, but the Son of God, Who says, All things are given unto Me of My Father; and Who, being |413 Himself the Heir, would have us His co-heirs. And well may we say 'Who is that man?' not one of the people, but chosen to receive the grace of God, in whom the Holy Spirit speaks, who began to prophesy in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah kings of Judah. By which order is signified the course of the vision, for the progress is from the times of evil kings to that of a good king.
4. Thus as the afflicted soul was first oppressed under evil kings, let us consider what was the progress of her conversion. Being weak she was overthrown, and all her fences were made as a way for the passers-by, or for the inroads of passion; dissolved in luxury and pleasure, she was trodden down and removed from the presence of the Lord. Her tower was decayed, that tower which, as we read in the song of Isaiah, was placed in the midst of a choice vineyard. Now this is the case with the tower, when the vine is withered, and her flock wanders; but when the verdure of the vine comes back, or the sheep returns, it grows bright again, for nothing is so decayed as iniquity, or so bright as righteousness.
5. To this tower the sheep is recalled, when the soul is recalled from her relapse, and in that sheep that reign of Christ returns, which was in the beginning, for He is the Beginning and the Ending, even the beginning of our salvation. Still the soul is first severely rebuked, in that she has grievously transgressed, and she is asked, Why hast thou learnt evil? was there no king in thee? that is, thou hadst a king to govern and protect thee, thou oughtest not to have strayed from the path of righteousness, nor to have left the ways of the Lord, Who imparted to thee sense and reason. Where were thy thoughts and counsels, whereby by innate vigour thou mightest have guarded against unrighteousness and warded off transgression? Why have pangs taken thee, as a woman in travail; that thou shouldest be in labour of iniquity, and bring forth unrighteousness? For there is no greater grief than for a man to wound his conscience with the sword of sin; nor is there any heavier burden than the weight of sin and the load of transgression. It bows down the soul, it bends it even to the earth, so that it cannot raise itself. Heavy, my son, heavy indeed is the |414 weight of sin. Thus that woman in the Gospel, who was bowed together, and thus bore the semblance of a heavy-laden soul, could be made straight by Christ alone.
6. To such a soul it is said, Be in pain and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Sion. For the pains of child-birth work tribulation, and tribulation patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed. At the same time all that is opposed to virtue is plucked up and cast forth, lest its seeds should remain behind and revive, and put out new buds and fruit.
7. Nor is it without a meaning that horns and hoofs were given to her, that she might bruise all the sheaves of the floor, like the calf of Mount Lebanon. For unless the sheaves were bruised, and the straw winnowed, the corn that is within cannot be found and separated. Wherefore let the soul that would advance in virtue first bruise and thrash out its superfluous passions, that so, when the harvest is come, it may shew forth its fruits. How many are the weeds which choke the good seed! These must first be rooted out, that they may not destroy the fertile crop of the soul.
8. Then the provident guide of the soul has regard to this, that he may circumscribe her pleasures and cut off her desires, that she may not delight herself in them. That father's corrections are profitable, who spares not the rod, that he may render his son's soul obedient to salutary precepts. For he visits with a rod, as we read, I will visit their offences with the rod. And so he who smites the soul of the Israelites with a rod on the cheek, by this Divine punishment instructs her in the discipline of patience. But no man need despair who is chastised and corrected, for he who loveth his son chastiseth him. Let no man therefore despair of a remedy.
9. Behold therefore, that house which was to thee 'the house of one seeing wrathI is become 'the house of bread;' where rage was, there is now piety; where the slaughter of the Innocents, there now the redemption of all mankind, as it is written, But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth that is Ruler in Israel. Bethlehem is the |415 house of bread; Ephratah the house of one seeing wrath. This is the interpretation of these names. In Bethlehem Christ was born of Mary, but Bethlehem is the same as Ephratah. Thus Christ was born in the house of wrath, and therefore it is no longer a house of wrath, but the house of bread, for it received that bread which came down from heaven. But Ephratah is the house of one that was wrath, because while Herod searches there for Christ, he commands the Innocents to be slain, wherefore In Rama was there a voice heard, Rachel weeping for her children.
10. But let no man fear any longer; for that rest which David sought after is heard of at Ephrata, and found in the fields of the wood. A wood, as yet, was the assembly of the
Gentiles, but after it believed in Christ it became fruitful, receiving the fruit of the blessed womb. And Rachel died in childbirth, because even then, as the patriarch's wife, she saw the wrath of Herod, which spared not the tenderest age. Or again, because in Ephratah she gave birth to that Benjamin who excelling in beauty came last in the order of the mystery, I mean Paul, who before his birth caused no small grief to his Mother, by persecuting her sons. And she died, and was buried there, that we, dying and being buried together with Christ, may rise again in His Church. Therefore according to another interpretation, Ephratah signifies 'enriched or filled with fruit.'
11. Now here, that is, in the book of the Prophet, we find the expression, thou art o)ligosto&j, that is, one of few. But in Matthew we find, And thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not among the few. In one the expression is house of Ephratah, in the other house of Juda; but this is a difference of words not of meaning. For inwardly Judaea saw this exhibition of wrath, outwardly she suffered it. And she is among the few, because they are few who enter the house of bread by the narrow way. But he is not among the few, that is among those that make progress, who knows not Christ. Nor is she the least, who is the house of blessing, and the receptacle of Divine grace; yet in this she is the least, for any thing which is offered to Christ seems to be offered to her. And he who seeks for the Church seeks for Christ; and He is either honoured or despised in every |416 little one, wherefore He says Himself, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto Me.
12. Now that Bethlehem is the very same place as Ephratah we learn from the passage in Genesis, which says, And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. Holy Rachel, being a type of the Church, was buried in the way, that they who go by might say, The Lord prosper you, and they shall come again with joy.
13. Wherefore every soul which receives that bread which comes down from heaven is the house of bread, that is, the Bread of Christ, being nourished and supported and having its heart strengthened by that heavenly bread which dwells within it. Hence Paul also says, For we being many are one bread. Every faithful soul is Bethlehem, as Jerusalem also is said to be, which has the peace and tranquillity of that Jerusalem which is above, in heaven. That is the true Bread which, when broken into pieces, fed all men.
14. The fifth version 29 has the words, 'the house of Bread.' For 'Beth' signifies a house, and 'lehem' signifies bread. From the other versions I imagine that the unbelief of the Jews, who feared to convict themselves, either led the writers to omit it or others to erase it.
15. And that Bethlehem is of the tribe of Judah we learn from that passage in the book of Judges, where the Levite took to him a concubine out of Bethlehem-judah, and his concubine was incensed against him, and returned to her father's house in Bethlehem-judah.
16. Now Christ's goings forth were from everlasting 30, because our life 31 then commenced, when He went forth to run His course, and gave to Israel the day of salvation. Until the time that that she which travaileth hath brought forth. To that soul to which Christ hath come fruitfulness or bringing forth hath come also; so it was with the Church, who has brought more than she that had children; |417 who has brought forth seven, that is, a lawful peaceful and tranquil progeny. Now that soul begins to conceive, and Christ to be formed in her, which welcomes Him on His arrival and is so fed by His plenty that she is in want of nothing, and other souls by seeing her return unto the way of salvation.
17. And there shall be peace to him, but it is by temptations that he must be tried; then, when he has shut out or repulsed vain thoughts, when he has subdued all the motions of his rising passions, when distress and persecution and hunger and peril and the sword press hard upon him, will the value of his peace and tranquillity be tested. Then, it is said, shall be peace; because in all these things we are conquerors through Him that loved us, because we trust in Him that neither death nor the power of temptations shall cast off or separate us from His love. He will send temptations, that the just may be proved. The Lord sends temptations, not that He wishes any man to be beguiled, but because the weak are for the most part vanquished by temptation, whilst the strong are proved by them.
18. Then there shall be to them dew from the Lord, and rest; then the soul of the just shall be as a young lion among the flocks of sheep. I cannot doubt but that this similitude should, after the manner of the Gospel, be referred to Christ, for He has said, Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. For his chariots shall be broken; that is to say, the senseless impulses and motions of the body shall be appeased; that condition shall cease wherein Without are fightings, within are fears, and over all, that is, within and without, tranquillity shall prevail; nor shall there be any resistance or repugnance to this good will, because the obedience of the flesh, when the middle wall of partition is broken down, and both are made one, shall abolish all discord.
19. But if any weak soul, like Israel according to the flesh have stumbled, and, shaken by persecutions, have separated herself in some degree from the love of Christ, she is checked and reproved as faithless, and ungrateful, and unbelieving, as one who, after being freed from the vanities |418 of the world, has looked behind her and so relapsed into them again; as one from whom no gifts, no sacrifice of bulls, but only to know what is good and to do justly, has been required. He hath showed thee, o man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to have mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? But since the weaker soul has not kept this commandment, the Lord says to her, Woe is me, for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grape-gleanings of the vintage. And the prophet, in whom the Lord spoke, says to that soul, Woe is me, the good man is perished out of the earth. This is as though the Lord Himself spoke, in compassion for the future punishment of sin, and as weeping over our transgressions.
20. Then the soul, learning that she will gather no fruit from what she has sown; that in the loss of her harvest nothing will remain to strengthen her, that she will press her olives, but will find no oil of gladness, nor will drink the wine of pleasantness; finding also in the works of the flesh all things full of blood, full of circumvention, of fraud and deceit, hollow shows of affection, and pre-concerted guile; nay, those of her own household adverse to her; and therefore that the motions of her companion the body, which are grievous enemies of the soul, must be guarded against; turns to God, and begins to hope in Him, and knowing that the flesh is truly an enemy to her, says to it, Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy, when I fall I shall arise, when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.
21. Finding moreover that she is mocked by some power which opposes her following a better path, and domineers over her, so that she has been delivered for the destruction of the flesh, to be afflicted with various evils, assigned to her either by the Lord to satisfy for her sins, or by the Evil One who is envious of her conversion, and desires to harass and regain her to himself, finding this, she says, I will bear the indignation of the Lord, Who either chastens me in my fall, or has given thee power to persecute me, because 1 leave sinned against Him, but I will endure until He plead my cause. For unless I shall confess, and pay the price |419 of my iniquities, I cannot be justified. But being justified and having paid double for my sins, He shall execute judgment for me, laying aside His wrath, since the sentence against me is satisfied. He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness and gaze on His delights. Then she that is mine enemy, that is, the malice of the devil, shall see the light of my reconciliation and shame shall cover her which saith to me, Where is the Lord thy God? She shall behold in me His pity and His love.
2.2. Wherefore let us not listen to him when we are in any of the troubles of this world, be it bodily pain, or the loss of our children, or of other necessaries, let us not listen to his words, Where is the Lord thy God? It is under severe pain that his temptations are to be feared, it is then that he seeks to turn the sick soul astray.
23. Wherefore the soul which has not listened to his allurements, seeing afterwards the wonderful works of God, seeing herself in heaven, and the devil creeping upon the earth, will congratulate herself saying, Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity and passeth by transgression? Thou hast not been mindful of Thy indignation, but hast cast all our iniquities into the sea as the lead of Egypt, and hast graciously returned to have pity upon us, both forgiving and hiding our offences, as it is written, Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven, and whose sin is covered. For some sins Thou dost wash away in the blood of Thy Son, others Thou dost remit unto us, that by good works and confession we may cover our errors. The expression therefore that pardoneth iniquities, appertains to remission; because He takes them away altogether, so that the things which He remembers not are as though they did not exist. But the words passeth by transgression, signify that inasmuch as we confess our failings, and cover them with the fruit of our good works, they are referred to the author of our fault, and the instigator of our sin. For what else does he who confesses his fault do but prove himself to have been beguiled by the craft and malice of that spiritual wickedness which is his adversary?
21. For this therefore this soul gives thanks, that the |420 Lord both pardoneth iniquities and passeth by transgressions, and casts them into the deep of the sea. Which may also be referred to Baptism, wherein the Egyptian is drowned, the Hebrew rises again; and whereby by the depths of His wisdom, and the multitude of her good works her former sins are covered, through the riches of the mercy of our God, Who is mindful of the promise which He gave to Abraham, and suffers not that soul which is heir of Abraham to perish.
25. It is by these means that such a soul is recovered. But do you, my son, who from the first flower of boyhood have been an heir of the Church which bore and which sustains you, persevere in your purpose, mindful of the grace of God, and of the gift which you have received by the imposition of my hands, that in this degree 32 also, as in the holy office of deacon, you may shew faith and industry, and expect a recompense from the Lord Jesus.
Farewell; love me as a son, for I also love you.
[Footnotes moved to the end and numbered. Biblical references from margin and running titles omitted]
1. a 'Apices' here and in § 5 undoubtedly means 'a letter.' 'Apex,' in late Latin, is used for a single letter written, and 'apices,' like 'literae,' for a continuous writing. Aulus Gellius (xiii. 30, 10, xvii, 9., 12.,) quoted in White's Dictionary, uses the phrase 'literarum apices,' and in Cod. Just. ii. 8. 6. we find 'Augusti apices' for ' the Emperor's rescripts.'
2. b Theodoret, v. 24. gives a detailed account of the ways in which the special intervention of heaven was displayed in Theodosius' campaign against Eugenius. S. Aug. De Civ. Dei, v, 26. says that Theodosius 'contra robustissimum Eugenii exercitum magis orando quam feriendo pugnavit,' and, after mentioning stories told by eyewitnesses of the manifest intervention of God on his behalf, quotes the well-known lines of Claudian, O nimium dilecte Deo cui fundit ab antris Aeolus armatas hyemes, cui militat aether, Et conjurati veniunt ad classica venti.
3. a The word here used is plural, Venetiarum. From this it has been argued that this letter must be of later date than S. Ambrose's time, as Venetian is the usual name for the city, which was not founded till the time of Attila. (Gibbon ch. xxxv. vol. iv. p. 212 ed. Smith.) But he certainly uses the plural form in Letter xviii. 21, which is undoubtedly his, and therefore, as Tillemont has pointed out, no argument can be founded on this against the present letter. It is possible that under the plural form he intends to include Venetia and Histria, which are reckoned together as one consular province in the civil division of the empire, (see Marquardt's Table, in Smith's Gibbon vol. ii. p. 315.) and also as one ecclesiastical province in the Exarchate of Milan, (see Bingham ix. 1, 6.) By 'finitimis Italiae partibus' he probably means Flaminia and Picenum Annonarium, which were also included in the 'Diocese' of Italy and Exarchate of Milan.
4. 1 intentio.
5. b It is to be noted that Eusebius, who died in A.D. 371, was not the last Bishop of Vercellae, but Limenius, whose name occurs aiming the Bishops who took part in the Council of Aquileia. This has also been made an argument against S. Ambrose's authorship, but, there does not seem much weight in it. Eusebius was much the more famous man of the two, and his teaching and example and the memory of his labours and martyrdom are naturally appealed to by S. Ambrose.
6. c These were, it appears, followers of Jovinian. See above, Introd. to Letter of Siricius, p. 280.
7. 1 reprobus.
8. 1 reprobum.
9. d Nothing is known of this man, nor is even the name, certain, as there are many various readings. The Benedictines suggest that it may mean Philodemus, who is mentioned by Diog. Laert. x, 3. as a follower of Epicurus, and is also spoken of by Cicero, De fin. II,35. and by Horace, Sat. 1, 2, 121.
10. 1 sobrii estote. Vulg.
11. e Nothing is known of Demarchus, whom S. Ambrose here quotes. The Benedictines suggest that it may he a mistake for Hermarchus, who was Epicurus' successor as head of his school, and who wrote books in defence of the Epicurean philosophy. He is mentioned several times by Cicero.
12. f Though the so-called Epicureans of later days perverted his theory to what is generally known as Epicureanism, Epicurus himself certainly did not mean by pleasure sensual pleasure. 'Pleasure was not with him a momentary and transitory sensation, hut he conceived it as something lasting and imperishable, consisting in pure and noble mental enjoyments. 'He was a man of pure simple and temperate habits.' Dict. of Biog. in voc. Vol. ii. p. 34, 35.
13. g This must be the sense if we retain the interrogation. If it is omitted the passage would mean, 'Men then are recalled from that, in which' &c, i.e., it is plainly unfitting for men to do that, in which &c.
14. h S. Ambrose, is alluding apparently to Ezra proclaiming and keeping a fast to remove God's anger against his people. Should we not read 'memoriae' for 'memoria?' Ezra did restore the Scriptures to the memory of the people, but it does not appear that he restored them from memory?
15. 1 Sobrietatis inebrietas. Ps. xxiii. 5. Vulg.
16. 1 Sola.
17. i Mary and Miriam are really the same name, the former having come through the Greek form Mari/a.
18. 1 laqueus
19. j A reminiscence of Virgil's,
Ante expectatum positis stat in agmine custris. Georg. iii, 348.
20. k The reading here varies. Ben. has 'in Concilio Nicaeni tractatus,' which may mean 'the Council which made the Nicene Creed,' (for the phrase 'Nicaenus tractatus' as applied to the Creed see note 1 on Acts of Council of Aquileia.) Another reading is 'in Concilii Nicaeni tractatu,' and another 'in Concilio Nicaeno tractatus.'
There is a difficulty about S. Ambrose's statement, as there is nothing on the subject in the Canons of Nicaea. The Benedictine editors, after discussing other explanations, suggest that S. Ambrose may have had an inaccurate copy of the Canons, with the one he here quotes inserted from some other Council. Some unauthentic documents professing to give Nicene regulations on the subject are quoted in Dict. of Christian Antiq. Art. Digamy.
22. 2 praescriptio.
23. l The most conspicuous instance was Nectarius, See note a, on Letter xiii.
24. m Eusebius and Dionysius Bishop of Milan were driven into exile by the Emperor Valens, because they refused at the third Council of Milan, A.D. 355, to subscribe the condemnation of Athanasius. There is a brief but graphic account of the circumstances in Bright's History of the Church, pages 70-73.
25. 1 longaevi super terram.
26. n The expression 'aula regalis,' applied to the Mother of our Lord, may be illustrated from De Instit. Virg. ch. xii. § 79. Ipse ergo Rex Israel transivit hanc portam, ipse Dux sedit in ea, quando verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis, quasi Rex sedens in aula regali uteri virginalis. Compare also the expression in S. Ambrose's Hymn on the Nativity, Procedit e thalamo suo, Pudoris aula regia, &c.
27. a With this Letter begins what the Benedictines have called a second division of the Letters, containing those which furnish no internal evidence of their date sufficient to justify their being assigned a place in chronological order. They are arranged according to their matter, 1st, those which contain expositions of passages of Holy Scripture, (lxi-lxxv.), 2nd, those which discuss important, and mostly doctrinal subjects, (lxxvi-lxxxiii), 3rd, a few brief letters of ordinary friendly intercourse, (lxxxiv- xci.)
28. a See note e on Letter xliv. 10.
29. a Whether the true reading here be 'traditio' as Ben. has, or 'editio' as Rom, the reference must he to the e0kdo&seij or versions which Origen brought together in his Hexajila, of which the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh, (for there was a seventh,) were only known by their numbers. See Art, by Tregelles on 'Ancient Versions,' in Smith's Dict. of the Bible, vol. iii. p. 1623.
30. 1 a diebus saeculi. Mic. v. 2.
31. 2 Saeculum. Mic. v. 3.
32. f i.e. the priesthood, cf. 1 Tim. iii. 13.
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