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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Chapter I. A Bishop's special office is to teach; St. Ambrose himself, however, has to learn in order that he may teach; or rather has to teach what he has not learnt; at any rate learning and teaching with himself must go on together.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter I.

A Bishop’s special office is to teach; St. Ambrose himself, however, has to learn in order that he may teach; or rather has to teach what he has not learnt; at any rate learning and teaching with himself must go on together.

1. I think I shall not seem to be taking too much on myself, if, in the midst of my children, I yield to my desire to teach, seeing that the master of humility himself has said: “Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” 28 Wherein one may observe both the humility and the grace of his reverence for God. For in saying “the fear of the Lord,” which seems to be common to all, he has described the chief mark of reverence for God. As, however, fear itself is the beginning of wisdom and the source of blessedness—for they that fear the Lord are blessed 29 —he has plainly marked himself out as the teacher for instruction in wisdom, and the guide to the attainment of blessedness.

2. We therefore, being anxious to imitate his reverence for God, and not without justification in dispensing grace, deliver to you as to children those things which the Spirit of Wisdom has imparted to him, and which have been made clear to us through him, and learnt by sight and by example. For we can no longer now escape from the duty of teaching which the needs of the priesthood have laid upon us, though we tried to avoid it: 30 “For God gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” 31

3. I do not therefore claim for myself the glory of the apostles (for who can do this save those whom the Son of God Himself has chosen?); nor the grace of the prophets, nor the virtue of the evangelists, nor the cautious care of the pastors. I only desire to attain to that care and diligence in the sacred writings, which the Apostle has placed last amongst the duties of the saints; 32 and this very thing I desire, so that, in the endeavour to teach, I may be able to learn. For one is the true Master, Who alone has not learnt, what He taught all; but men learn before they teach, and receive from Him what they may hand on to others.

4. But not even this was the case with me. For I was carried off from the judgment seat, and the garb [infulis] of office, to enter on the priesthood, 33 and began to teach you, what I myself had not yet learnt. So it happened that I began to teach before I began to learn. Therefore I must learn and teach at the same time, since I had no leisure to learn before. 34



Psa. 34.11.


Psa. 112.1.


Paulinus, in his Life of St. Ambrose, relates various expedients that he tried, to enable him to avoid the office to which he had been called; e.g. how he caused torture to be applied to prisoners, contrary to his usual practice, in the hope that this might lead to his rejection. More than once, also, he endeavoured to escape the honour by flight.


Eph. iv. 11.


1 Cor. xii. 10.


St. Ambrose, at the time of his election to the episcopate, was a consular magistrate, and was not even baptized. The infula was a flock of red and white wool formed into a fillet, and worn on the head; from which ribands hung down on either side. It was a mark of religious consecration, and so worn by the priests and vestal virgins. In later times it was adopted also by the emperors and magistrates as a sign of their semi-sacred character.


The following is found in many mss., but not in the Benedictine edition. “Et quantumlibet quisque profecerit nemo est qui docere non egeat dum vivit.

Next: Chapter II. Manifold dangers are incurred by speaking; the remedy for which Scripture shows to consist in silence.

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