Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Selections from the Letters of St. Ambrose.: Epistle LXIII: To the Church at Vercellæ.
Limenius, Bishop of Vercellæ, having died, the see remained long vacant owing to domestic factions. St. Ambrose, therefore, as Exarch, writes to the Christians at Vercellæ, and commences by reference to the speedy and unanimous election of Eusebius, a former Bishop, and reminds them of the presence of Christ as a reason for concord. He refers next to two apostate monks, Sarmatio and Barbatianus, and inveighs against sensuality, which degrades men below the beasts. Thence he passes to the virtues required in a bishop, referring again to Eusebius, and to Dionysius, Bishop of Milan, comparing the clerical and monastic lives, and ends with exhortations to Christian virtue. The letter seems to have been written a.d. 396.
Ambrose, a servant of Christ, called to be a Bishop, to the Church of Vercellæ, and to those who call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Grace be fulfilled unto you in the Holy Spirit from God the Father and His only-begotten Son.
1. I am spent with grief that the Church of God which is among you is still without a bishop, and now alone of all the regions of Liguria and Æmilia, and of the Venetiæ and other neighbouring parts of Italy needs that care which other churches were wont to ask for themselves from it; and what is a greater source of shame to myself, the tension amongst you which causes the obstacle is laid to my charge. Now since there are dissensions among you, how can we decree anything, or you elect, or anyone agree to undertake this office amongst those who are at variance which he could hardly sustain amongst those who are at unity.
2. Is this the training of a confessor, are these the offspring of those righteous fathers who, as soon as they saw, approved of holy Eusebius, whom they had never known before, preferring him to their fellow-citizens, and he was no sooner amongst them than he was approved, and much more when they had observed him. Justly did he turn out so great a man, whom the whole Church elected, justly was it believed that he whom all had demanded was elected by the judgment of God. It is fitting then that you follow the example of your parents, especially since you who have been instructed by a holy confessor ought to be so much better than your fathers, as a better teacher has taught and instructed you, and to manifest a sign of your moderation and concord by agreeing in your request 3646 for a Bishop.
3. For if according to the Lords saying, that which two shall have agreed upon on earth concerning anything which they shall ask, shall be done for them, as He says, by My Father, Who is in heaven, for: “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them,” 3647 how much less, where the full congregation is gathered in the Name of the Lord. Where the demand of all is unanimous, ought we to doubt that the Lord Jesus is there as the Author of that desire, and the Hearer of the petition, the Presider over the ordination, and the Giver of the grace?
4. Make yourselves then to appear worthy that Christ should be in your midst. For where peace is, there is Christ, for Christ is Peace; and where righteousness is, there is Christ, for Christ is Righteousness. Let Him be in the midst of you, that you may see Him, lest it be said to you also: “There standeth One in the midst of you, Whom ye see not.” 3648 The Jews saw not Him in Whom they believed not; we look upon Him by devotion, and behold Him by faith.
5. Let Him therefore stand in your midst, that the heavens, which declare the glory of God, 3649 may be opened to you, that you may do His will, and work His works. He who sees Jesus, to him are the heavens opened as they were opened to Stephen, when he said: “Behold I see the heavens opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” 3650 Jesus was standing as his advocate, He was standing as though anxious, that He might help His athlete Stephen in his conflict, He was standing as though ready to crown His martyr.
6. Let Him then be standing for you, that you may not be afraid of Him sitting; for when sitting He judges, as Daniel says: “The thrones were placed, and the books were opened, and the Ancient of days did sit.” 3651 But in the eighty-first [second] Psalm it is written: “God stood in the congregation of gods, and decideth among the gods.” 3652 So then when He sits He judges, when He stands He decides, and He judges concerning the imperfect, but decides among the gods. Let Him stand for you as a defender, as a good shepherd, lest the fierce wolves assault you.
7. And not in vain is my warning turned to this point; for I hear that Sarmatio and Barbatianus 3653 are come to you, foolish talkers, p. 458 who say that there is no merit in abstinence, no grace in a frugal life, none in virginity, that all are valued at one price, that they are mad who chasten their flesh with fastings, that they may bring it into subjection to the spirit. But if he had thought it madness, Paul the Apostle would never himself have acted thus, nor written to instruct others. For he glories in it, saying: “But I chasten my body, and bring it into bondage, lest, after preaching to others, I myself should be found reprobate.” 3654 So they who do not chasten their body, and desire to preach to others, are themselves esteemed reprobates.
8. For is there anything so reprobate as that which excites to luxury, to corruption, to wantonness, as the incentive to lust, the enticer to pleasure, the fuel of incontinence, the firebrand of desire? What new school has sent out these Epicureans? Not a school of philosophers, as they themselves say, but of unlearned men who preach pleasure, persuade to luxury, esteem chastity to be of no use. They were with us, but they were not of us, 3655 for we are not ashamed to say what the Evangelist John said. But when settled here they used to fast at first, they were enclosed within the monastery, there was no place for luxury, the opportunity of mocking and disputing was cut off.
9. This these dainty men could not endure. They went abroad, then when they desired to return they were not received; for I had heard many things which necessitated my being cautious; I admonished them, but effected nothing. And so boiling over they began to disseminate such things as made them the miserable enticers to all vices. They utterly lost the benefit of having fasted; they lost the fruits of their temporary continence. And so now they with Satanic eagerness envy the good works of others, the fruit of which themselves have failed to keep.
10. What virgin can hear that there is no reward for her chastity and not groan? Far be it from her to believe this easily, and still more to lay aside her zeal, or change the intention of her mind. What widow, when she learnt that there was no profit in her widowhood, would choose to preserve her marriage faith and live in sorrow, rather than give herself up to a happier condition? Who, bound by the marriage-bond, if she hear that there is no honour in chastity, might not be tempted by careless levity of body or mind? And for this reason the Church in the holy lessons, and in the addresses of her priests, proclaims the praise of chastity and the glory of virginity.
11. In vain, then, does the Apostle say: “I wrote to you, in an Epistle, not to mingle with fornicators;” 3656 and lest perchance they should say, We are not speaking of all the fornicators of the world, but we say that he who has been baptized in Christ ought not now to be esteemed a fornicator, but his life, whatever it is, is accepted of God, 3657 the Apostle has added “Not at all [meaning] with the fornicators of this world,” and farther on, “If any that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one not even to eat. For what have I to do with judging them that are without?” 3658 And to the Ephesians: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, and covetousness let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints.” 3659 And immediately he adds: “For this ye know, that no immodest person, nor unclean, nor covetous, which is an idolator, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” 3660 It is clear that this is said of the baptized, for they receive the inheritance, who are baptized into the death of Christ 3661 and are buried together with Him, that they may rise again with Him. Therefore they are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ: 3662 heirs of God, because the grace of Christ is conveyed to them; joint-heirs with Christ, because they are renewed into His life; heirs also of Christ; because to them is given by His death as it were the inheritance of the testator.
12. These then ought to take heed to themselves who have that which they may lose, rather than they who have it not. These ought to act with greater care, these ought to guard against the allurements of vice, or incentives to error, which arise chiefly from food and drink. For “the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” 3663
13. Epicurus 3664 himself also, whom these persons think they should follow rather than the apostles, the advocate of pleasure, although he denies that pleasure brings in evil, does not deny that certain things result from it from which evils are generated; and asserts in fine that the life of the luxurious which is filled with pleasures does not seem to be reprehensible, unless it be disturbed by the fear either of pain or of death. But p. 459 how far he is from the truth is perceived even from this, that he asserts that pleasure was originally created in man by God its author, as Philomarus 3665 his follower argues in his Epitomæ, asserting that the Stoics are the authors of this opinion.
14. But Holy Scripture refutes this, for it teaches us that pleasure was suggested to Adam and Eve by the craft and enticements of the serpent. Since, indeed, the serpent itself is pleasure, and therefore the passions of pleasure are various and slippery, and as it were infected with the poison of corruptions, it is certain then that Adam, being deceived by the desire of pleasure, fell away from the commandment of God and from the enjoyment of grace. How then can pleasure recall us to paradise, seeing that it alone deprived us of it?
15. Wherefore also the Lord Jesus, wishing to make us more strong against the temptations of the devil, fasted when about to contend with him, that we might know that we can in no other way overcome the enticements of evil. Further, the devil himself hurled the first dart of his temptations from the quiver of pleasure, saying: “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 3666 After which the Lord said: “Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word of God;” 3667 and would not do it, although He could, in order to teach us by a salutary precept to attend rather to the pursuit of reading than to pleasure. And since they say that we ought not to fast, let them prove for what cause Christ fasted, unless it were that His fast might be an example to us. Lastly, in His later words He taught us that evil cannot be easily overcome except by our fasting, saying: “This kind of devils is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.” 3668
16. And what is the intention of the Scripture which teaches us that Peter fasted, and that the revelation concerning the baptism of Gentiles was made to him when fasting and praying, 3669 except to show that the Saints themselves advance when they fast. Finally, Moses received the Law when he was fasting; 3670 and so Peter when fasting was taught the grace of the New Testament. Daniel too by virtue of his fast stopped the mouths of the lions and saw the events of future times. 3671 And what safety can there be for us unless we wash away our sins by fasting, since Scripture says that fasting and alms do away sin? 3672
17. Who then are these new teachers who reject the merit of fasting? Is it not the voice of heathen who say, “Let us eat and drink?” whom the Apostle well ridicules, when he says: “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” 3673 That is to say, What profited me my contention even unto death, except that I might redeem my body? And it is redeemed in vain if there is no hope of the resurrection. And, consequently, if all hope of the resurrection is lost, let us eat and drink, let us not lose the enjoyment of things present, who have none of things to come. It is then for them to indulge in meats and drinks who hope for nothing after death.
18. Rightly then does the Apostle, arguing against these men, warn us that we be not shaken by such opinions, saying: “Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners. Be ye righteously sober and sin not, for some have no knowledge of God.” 3674 Sobriety, then, is good, for drunkenness is sin.
19. But as to that Epicurus himself, the defender of pleasure, of whom, therefore, we have made frequent mention in order to prove that these men are either disciples of the heathen and followers of the Epicurean sect or himself, whom the very philosophers exclude from their company as the patron of luxury, what if we prove him to be more tolerable than these men? He declares, as Demarchus 3675 asserts, that neither drinking, nor banquets, nor offspring, nor embraces of women, nor abundance of fish, and other such like things which are prepared for the service of a sumptuous banquet, make life sweet, but sober discussion. Lastly, he added that those who do not use the banquets of society in excess, use them with moderation. He who willingly makes use of the juices of plants alone together with bread and water, despises feasts on delicacies, for many inconveniences arise from them. In another place they also say: It is not excessive banquets, nor drinking which give rise to the enjoyment of pleasure, but a life of temperance.
20. Since, then, philosophy has disowned those men, is the Church not to exclude them? Seeing, too, that they, because they p. 460 have a bad cause, frequently fall foul of themselves by their own assertions. For, although their chief opinion is that there is no enjoyment of pleasure except such as is derived from eating and drinking, yet understanding that they cannot, without the greatest shame, cling to so disgraceful a definition, and that they are forsaken by all, they have tried to colour it with a sort of stain of specious arguments; so that one of them has said: Whilst we are aiming at pleasure by means of banquets and songs, we have lost that which is infused into us by the reception of the Word, whereby alone we can be saved.
21. Do not they by these various arguments show themselves to us as differing and disagreeing one with the other? And Scripture too condemns them, not passing over those whom the Apostle refuted, as Luke, who wrote the book as a history, tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, “And certain also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers disputed with him. And some said, What does this babbler mean? And others said, He seemeth to be a setter forth of new gods.” 3676
22. Yet from this hand too the Apostle did not go forth without success, since even Dionysius the Areopagite together with his wife Damaris and many others believed. And so that company of most learned and eloquent men showed themselves overcome in a simple discussion by the example of those who believed. What then do those men mean, who endeavour to prevent those whom the Apostle has gained, and whom Christ has redeemed with His own blood? asserting that the baptized ought not to give themselves to the discipline of the virtues, that revellings injure them not, nor abundance of pleasures; that they are foolish who go without them, that virgins ought to marry, bear children, and likewise widows to repeat that converse with man which they have once experienced with ill results; and that even if they can contain, they are in error who will not again enter the marriage bond.
23. What then? Would you have us put off the man in order to put on the beast, and stripping ourselves of Christ, clothe ourselves or be superclothed with the garments of the devil? But since the very teachers of the heathen did not think that honour and pleasure could be joined together, because they would seem thus to class beasts with men, shall we as it were infuse the habits of beasts into the human breast, and inscribe on the reasonable mind the unreasoning ways of wild beasts?
24. And yet there are many kinds of animals, which, when they have lost their fellow, will not mate again, and spend their time as it were in solitary life; many too live on simple herbs, and will not quench their thirst except at a pure stream; one can also often see dogs refrain from food forbidden them, so that they close their famishing mouths if restraint is bidden them. Must men then be warned against that wherein brutes have learned not to transgress?
26. But what is more admirable than abstinence, which makes even the years of youth to ripen, so that there is an old age of character? For as by excess of food and by drunkenness even mature age is excited, so the wildness of youth is lessened by scanty feasts and by the running stream. An external fire is extinguished by pouring on water, it is then no wonder if the inward heat of the body is cooled by draughts from the stream, for the flame is fed or fails according to the fuel. As hay, straw, wood, oil, and such like things are the nourishment which feeds fire, if you take them away, or do not supply them, the fire is extinguished. In like manner then the heat of the body is supported or lessened by food, it is excited by food and lessened by food. Luxury then is the mother of lust.
27. And is not temperance agreeable to nature, and to that divine law, which in the very beginning of all created things gave the springs for drink and the fruits of the trees for food? After the Flood the just man found wine a source of temptation to him. 3677 Let us then use the natural drink of temperance, and would that we all were able to do so. But because all are not strong the Apostle said: “Use a little wine because of thy frequent infirmities.” 3678 We must drink it then not for the sake of pleasure, but because of infirmity, and therefore sparingly as a remedy, not in excess as a gratification.
28. Lastly, Elijah, whom the Lord was training to the perfection of virtue, found at his head a cake and a cruse of water; and then fasted in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights. 3679 Our fathers, when they passed across the sea on foot, 3680 drank water not wine. Daniel and the Hebrew children, fed with their peculiar food, 3681 and with water to drink, overcame, the former the fury of the lions; 3682 the latter saw the p. 461 burning fire play around their limbs with harmless touch. 3683
29. And why should I speak of men? Judith, in no way moved by the luxurious banquet of Holophernes, carried off the triumph of which mens arms despaired, solely in right of her temperance; delivered her country from occupation and slew the leader of the expedition with her own hands. 3684 A clear proof both that his luxury had enervated that warrior, terrible to the nations, and that temperance made this woman stronger than men. In this case it was not in her sex that nature was surpassed, but she overcame by her diet. Esther by her fasts moved a proud king. 3685 Anna, who for eighty-four years in her widowhood had served God with fasts and prayers day and night in the temple, 3686 recognized Christ, Whom John, the master of abstinence, and as it were a new angel on earth, announced.
30. O foolish Elisha, for feeding the prophets with wild and bitter gourds! 3687 O Ezra forgetful of Scripture, though he did restore the Scriptures from memory! 3688 foolish Paul, who glories in fastings, 3689 if fastings profit nothing.
31. But how should that not be profitable by which our sins are purged? And if you offer this with humility and with mercy, your bones, as Isaiah said, shall be fat, and you shall be like a well-watered garden. 3690 So, then, your soul shall grow fat and its virtues also by the spiritual richness of fasting, and your fruits shall be multiplied by the fertility of your mind, so that there may be in you the inebriation of soberness, like that cup of which the Prophet says: “Thy cup which inebriates, how excellent it is!” 3691
32. But not only is that temperance worthy of praise which moderates food, but also that which moderates lust. Since it is written: “Go not after thy lusts, and deny thy appetite. If thou givest her desires to thy soul, thou wilt be a joy to thine enemies;” 3692 and farther on; “Wine and women make even wise men to fall away.” 3693 So that Paul teaches temperance even in marriage itself; for he who is incontinent in marriage is a kind of adulterer, and violates the law of the Apostle.
33. And why should I tell how great is the grace of virginity, which was found worthy to be chosen by Christ, that it might be even the bodily temple of God, in which as we read the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. 3694 A Virgin conceived the Salvation of the world, a Virgin brought forth the life of all. Virginity then ought not to be left to itself, seeing that it benefited all in Christ. A Virgin bore Him Whom this world cannot contain or support. And when He was born from His mothers womb, He yet preserved the fence of her chastity and the inviolate seal of her virginity. And so Christ found in the Virgin that which He willed to make His own, that which the Lord of all might take to Himself. Further, our flesh was cast out of Paradise by a man and woman and was joined to God through a Virgin.
34. What shall I say concerning the other Mary, 3695 the sister of Moses, who as leader of the women passed on foot the straits of the sea? 3696 By the same gift Thecla also was reverenced by the lions, so that the unfed beasts stretched at the feet of their prey prolonged a holy fast, and harmed the virgin neither with wanton look nor claw, since virginity is injured even by a look.
35. Again, with what reverence for virginity has the holy Apostle spoken: “Concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, but I give my counsel, as having obtained mercy of the Lord.” 3697 He has received no commandment, but a counsel, for that which beyond the law is not commanded, but is rather advised by way of counsel. Authority is not assumed but grace is shown, and this is not shown by anyone, but by him who obtained mercy from the Lord. Are then the counsels of these men better than those of the apostles? The Apostle says, “I give my counsel,” but they think it right to dissuade any from cultivating virginity.
36. And we ought to recognize what commendation of it the prophet, or rather Christ in the prophet, has uttered in a short verse; “A garden enclosed,” says He, “is My sister, My spouse, a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain.” 3698 Christ says this to the Church, which he desires to be a virgin, without spot, without a wrinkle. A fertile garden is virginity, which can bear many fruits of good odour. A garden enclosed, because it is everywhere shut in by the wall of chastity. A sealed fountain, because virginity is the source and origin of modesty, having to keep inviolate the seal of purity, in which source the image of God is reflected, since the purity of simplicity agrees also with chastity of the body.
p. 462 37. And no one can doubt that the Church is a virgin, who also in the Epistle to the Corinthians is espoused and presented as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3699 So in the first Epistle he gives his counsel, and esteems the gift of virginity as good, since it is not disturbed by any troubles of the present time, nor polluted by any of its defilements, nor shaken by any storms; in the later Epistle he brings a spouse to Christ, because he is able to certify the virginity of the Church in the purity of that people.
38. Answer me now, O Paul, in what way thou givest counsel for the present distress. 3700 “Because he that is without a wife is careful,” he says, “for the things of the Lord, how he may please God.” And he adds, “The unmarried woman and the virgin think of the things of the Lord, that they may be holy in body and spirit.” 3701 She has then her wall against the tempests of this world, and so fortified by the defence of divine protection she is disturbed by none of the blasts of this world. Good then is counsel, because there is advantage in counsel, but there is a bond in a commandment. Counsel attracts the willing, commandment binds the unwilling. If then anyone has followed counsel, and not repented, she has gained an advantage; but if she has repented, she has no ground for blaming the Apostle, for she ought herself to have judged of her own weakness; and so she is responsible for her own will, inasmuch as she bound herself by a bond and knot beyond her power to bear.
39. And so like a good physician, desiring to preserve the stability of virtue in the strong, and to give health to the weak, he gives counsel to the one, and points out the remedy to the others: “He that is weak eateth herbs,” 3702 let him take a wife; he that has more power let him seek the stronger meat of virtue. And rightly he added: “For he who being steadfast hath settled in his own heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath determined this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin, doeth well. So then both he who giveth his own virgin in marriage, doeth well; and he that giveth her not in marriage, doeth better. A woman is bound by the law, for so long a time as her husband liveth. But if her husband have fallen asleep, she is freed, let her marry whom she will, only in the Lord. But she will be more happy if she abide as she is, after my counsel, for I think that I also have the Spirit of the Lord.” 3703 This is to have the counsel of God, to search diligently into all things, and to advise things that are best, and to point out those that are safest.
40. A careful guide points out many paths, that each may walk along the one which he prefers and considers suitable to himself, so long as he comes upon one by which he can reach the camp. The path of virginity is good, but being high and steep requires the stronger wayfarers. Good also is that of widowhood, not so difficult as the former, but being rocky and rough, it requires more cautious travellers. Good too is that of marriage; being smooth and even it reaches the camp of the saints by a longer circuit. This way is taken by most. There are then the rewards of virginity, there are the merits of widowhood, there is also a place for conjugal modesty. There are steps and advances in each and every virtue.
41. Stand therefore firm in your hearts, that no one overthrow you, that no one be able to make you fall. The Apostle has taught us what it is “to stand,” that is what was said to Moses: “The place whereon thou standest is holy ground;” 3704 for no one stands unless he stand by faith, unless he stands fixed in the determination of his own heart. In another place also we read: “But do thou stand here with Me.” 3705 Each sentence was spoken by the Lord to Moses, both “Where thou standest is holy ground,” and “Stand here with Me,” that is, thou standest with Me, if thou stand firm in the Church. For the very place is holy, the very ground is fruitful with sanctity and fertile with harvests of virtues.
42. Stand then in the Church, stand where I appeared to thee, where I am with thee. Where the Church is, there is the most solid resting place for thy mind, there the support of thy soul, where I appeared to thee in the bush. Thou art the bush, I am the fire; the fire in the bush, I in the flesh. Therefore am I the fire, that I may give light to thee, that I may consume thy thorns, that is, thy sins, and show thee My grace.
43. Standing firm then in your hearts, drive away from the Church the wolves which seek to carry off prey. Let there be no sloth in you, let not your mouth be evil nor your tongue bitter. Do not sit in the council of vanity; for it is written, “I have not sat in the council of vanity.” 3706 Do not listen to those who speak against their neighbours, p. 463 lest whilst you listen to others, you be stirred up yourselves to speak against your neighbours, and it be said to each of you: “Thou satest and spakest against thy brother.” 3707
44. Men sit when speaking against others, they stand when they praise the Lord, to whom it is said: “Behold now, praise the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, ye that stand in the house of the Lord.” 3708 He who sits, to speak of the bodily habit, is as it were loosened by ease, and relaxes the energy of his mind. But the careful watchman, the active searcher, the watchful guardian, who keeps the outposts of the camp, stands. The zealous warrior, too, who desires to anticipate the designs of the enemy, stands in array before he is expected.
45. “Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.” 3709 He who stands does not give way to detraction, for it is the tales of those at ease in which detraction is spread abroad, and malignity betrayed. So that the prophet says: “I have hated the congregation of the malignant, and will not sit with the ungodly.” 3710 And in the thirty-sixth Psalm, which he has filled with moral precepts, he has put at the very beginning: “Be not malignant amongst the malignant, neither be envious of those who do iniquity.” 3711 Malignancy is more harmful than malice, because malignancy has neither pure simplicity nor open malice, but a hidden ill-will. And it is more difficult to guard against what is hidden than against what is known. For which reason too our Saviour warns us to beware of malignant spirits, because they would catch us by the appearance of sweet pleasures and a show of other things, when they hold forth honour to entice us to ambition, riches to avarice, power to pride.
46. And so both in every action, and especially in the demand for a bishop, by whom [as a pattern] the life of all is formed; malignity ought to be absent; so that the man who is to be elected out of all, and to heal all, may be preferred to all by a calm and peaceful decision. For “the meek man is the physician of the heart.” 3712 And the Lord in the Gospel called Himself this, when He said: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” 3713
47. He is the good Physician, Who has taken upon Him our infirmities, has healed our sicknesses, and yet He, as it is written, honoured not Himself to be made a High Priest, but He Who spake to Him. The Father said: “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” 3714 As He said in another place: “Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech.” Who, since He was the type of all future priests, took our flesh upon Him, that “in the days of His flesh He might offer prayers and supplications with a loud voice and tears; and by those things which He suffered, though He was the Son of God, might seem to learn obedience, which He taught us, that He might be made to us the Author of Salvation.” 3715 And at last when His sufferings were completed, as though completed and made perfect Himself, He gave health to all, He bore the sin of all.
48. And so He Himself also chose Aaron as priest, that not the will of man but the grace of God should have the chief part in the election of the priest; 3716 not the voluntary offering of himself, nor the taking it upon himself, but the vocation from heaven, that he should offer gifts for sins who could be touched for those who sinned, for He Himself, it is said, bears our weakness. 3717 No one ought to take this honour upon himself but they are called of God, as was Aaron, 3718 and so Christ did not demand but received the priesthood.
49. Lastly, when the succession derived through family descent from Aaron, contained rather heirs of the family than sharers in his righteousness, there came, after the likeness of that Melchisedech, of whom we read in the Old Testament, the true Melchisedech, the true King of peace, the true King of righteousness, for this is the interpretation of the Name, “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life,” 3719 which also refers to the Son of God, Who in His Divine Generation had no mother, was in His Birth of the Virgin Mary without a father; begotten before the ages of the Father alone, born in this age of the Virgin alone, and certainly could have no beginning of days seeing He “was in the beginning.” 3720 And how could He have any end of life, Who is the Author of life to all? He is “the Beginning and the Ending.” 3721 But this also is referred to Him as an example, that a priest ought to be without father and without mother, since in him it is not nobility of family, but holip. 464 ness of character and pre-eminence in virtue which is elected.
50. Let there be in him faith and ripeness of character, not one without the other, but let both meet together in one with good works and deeds. For which reason the Apostle Paul wishes that we should be imitators of them, who, as he says, “by faith and patience” 3722 possess the promises made to Abraham, who by patience was found worthy to receive and to possess the grace of the blessing promised to him. David the prophet warns us that we should be imitators of holy Aaron, and has set him amongst the Saints of God to be imitated by us, saying: “Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among those that call upon His Name.” 3723
51. A man clearly worthy to be proposed that all should follow him was he, for when a terrible death on account of the rebels was spreading over the people, he offered himself between the dead and the living, that he might arrest death, and that no more should perish. 3724 A man truly of priestly mind and soul, who as a good shepherd with pious affection offered himself for the Lords flock. And so he broke the sting of death, restrained its violence, refused it further course. Affection aided his deserts, for he offered himself for those who were resisting him.
52. Let those then who dissent learn to fear to rouse up the Lord, and to appease His priests. What! did not the earthquake swallow up Dathan, Abiron, and Korah because of their dissension? 3725 For when Korah, Dathan, and Abiron had stirred up two hundred and fifty men against Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from them, they rose up against them and said: “Let it suffice you that all the congregation are holy, every one, and the Lord is amongst them.” 3726
53. Whereupon the Lord was angry and spoke to the whole congregation. The Lord considered and knew those that were His, and drew His saints to Himself; and those whom He chose not, He did not draw to Himself. And the Lord commanded that Korah and all those who had risen up with him against Moses and Aaron the priests of the Lord should take to themselves censers, and put on incense, 3727 that he who was chosen of the Lord might be established as holy among the Levites of the Lord.
54. And Moses said to Korah: “Hear me, ye sons of Levi: Is this a small thing unto you, that God hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, and brought you near to Himself, to minister the service of the Tabernacle of the Lord.” 3728 And farther on, “Seek ye the priesthood also, so that thou and all thy congregation are gathered against the Lord. And what is Aaron that ye murmur about him?” 3729
55. Considering, then, what causes of offence existed, that unworthy persons desired to discharge the offices of the priesthood, and therefore were causing dissensions; and were murmuring in censure of the judgment of God in the choice of His priest, the whole people were seized with a great fear, and dread of punishment came upon them all. But when all implore that all perish not for the insolence of few, those guilty of the wickedness are marked out; and two hundred and fifty men with their leaders are separated from the whole body of the people; and then the earth with a groan cleaves asunder in the midst of the people, a deep gulf opens, the offenders are swallowed up, and are so removed from all the elements of this world, as neither to pollute the air by breathing it, nor the heavens by beholding them, nor the sea by their touch, nor the earth by their sepulchres.
56. The punishment ceased, but the wickedness ceased not; for from this very thing a murmuring rose among them that the people had perished through the priests. In His wrath at this, the Lord would have destroyed them all, had He not been moved first by the prayers of Moses and Aaron, and afterwards also at the intervention of His priest Aaron (the humiliation of their forgiveness being thereby greater), He willed to give their lives to those whose privilege they had repudiated.
57. Miriam the prophetess herself, who with her brothers had crossed the straits of the sea on foot, because, being still ignorant of the mystery of the Ethiopian woman, she had murmured against her brother Moses, broke out with leprous spots, 3730 so that she would scarcely have been freed from so great a plague, unless Moses had prayed for her. Although this murmuring refers to the type of the Synagogue, which is ignorant of the mystery of that Ethiopian woman, that is the Church gathered out of the nations, and murmurs with daily reproaches, and envies that people through whose faith itself also shall be delivered p. 465 from the leprosy of its unbelief, according to what we read that: “blindness in part has happened unto Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved.” 3731
58. And that we may observe that divine grace rather than human works in priests, of the many rods which Moses had received according to the Tribes, and had laid up, that of Aaron alone blossomed. And so the people saw that the gift of the Divine vocation is to be looked for in a priest, and ceased from claiming equal grace for a human choice though they had before thought that a similar prerogative belonged to themselves. But what else does that rod show, but that priestly grace never decays, and in the deepest lowliness has in its office the flower of the power committed to it, or that this also is refered to in mystery? Nor do we think that it was without a purpose that this took place near the end of the life of Aaron the priest. It seems to be shown that the ancient people, full of decay through the oldness of the long-continued unfaithfulness of the priests, being fashioned again in the last times to zeal in faith and devotion by the example of the Church, will again send forth with revived grace its flowers dead through so many ages.
59. But what does this signify, that after Aaron was dead, the Lord commanded, not the whole people, but Moses alone, who is amongst the priests, to clothe Aarons son Eleazar with the priests garments, except that we should understand that priest must consecrate priest, and himself clothe him with the vestments, that is, with priestly virtues; and then, if he has seen that nothing is wanting to him of the priestly garments, and that all things are perfect, should admit him to the sacred altars. For he who is to supplicate for the people ought to be chosen of God and approved by the priests, lest there be anything which might give serious offence in him whose office it is to intercede for the offences of others. For the virtue of a priest must be of no ordinary kind, since he has to guard not only from nearness to greater faults, but even the very least. He must also be prompt to have pity, not recall a promise, restore the fallen, have sympathy with pain, preserve meekness, love piety, repel or keep down anger, must be as it were a trumpet to excite the people to devotion, or to soothe them to tranquillity.
60. It is an old saying: Accustom yourself to be consistent, that your life may set forth as it were a picture, always preserving the same representation which it has received. How can he be consistent who at one time is inflamed by anger, at another blazes up with fierce indignation, whose face now burns, and now again is changed to paleness, varying and changing colour every moment? But let it be so, let it be natural for one to be angry, or that there is generally a cause, it is a mans duty to restrain anger, and not to be carried away like a lion by fury, so as not to know to be quieted, not to spread tales, nor to embitter family quarrels; for it is written: “A wrathful man diggeth up sin.” 3732 He will not be consistent who is double-minded; he cannot be consistent who cannot restrain himself when angry, as to which David well says: “Be ye angry and sin not.” 3733 He does not govern his anger, but indulges his natural disposition, which a man cannot indeed prevent but may moderate. Therefore even though we are angry, let our passion admit only such emotion as is according to nature, not sin contrary to nature. For who would endure that he should not be able to govern himself, who has undertaken to govern others?
61. And so the Apostle has given a pattern, saying that a bishop must be blameless, 3734 and in another place: “A bishop must be without offence, as a steward of God, not proud, not soon angry, not given to wine, not a striker, not greedy of filthy lucre.” 3735 For how can the compassion of a dispenser of alms and the avarice of a covetous man agree together?
62. I have set down these things which I have been told are to be avoided, but the Apostle is the Master of virtues, and he teaches that gainsayers are to be convicted with patience, 3736 who lays down that one should be the husband of a single wife, 3737 not in order to exclude him from the right of marriage (for this is beyond the force of the precept), but that by conjugal chastity he may preserve the grace of his baptismal washing; nor again that he may be induced by the Apostles authority to beget children in the priesthood; for he speaks of having children, not of begetting them, or marrying again.
63. And I have thought it well not to pass by this point, because many contend that having one wife is said of the time after Baptism; so that the fault whereby any p. 466 obstacle would ensue would be washed away in baptism. And indeed all faults and sins are washed away; so that if anyone have polluted his body with very many whom he has bound to himself by no law of marriage, all the sins are forgiven him, but if any one have contracted a second marriage it is not done away; for sin not law is loosed by the laver, and as to baptism there is no sin but law. That then which has to do with law is not remitted as though it were sin, but is retained. And the Apostle has established a law, saying: “If any man be without reproach the husband of one wife.” 3738 So then he who is without blame the husband of one wife comes within the rule for undertaking the priestly office; he, however, who has married again has no guilt of pollution, but is disqualified for the priestly prerogative.
64. We have stated what is according to the law, let us state in addition what is according to reason. But first we must notice that not only has the Apostle laid down this rule concerning a bishop or priest, but that the Fathers in the Nicene Council 3739 added that no one who has contracted a second marriage ought to be admitted amongst the clergy at all. For how can he comfort or honour a widow, or exhort her to preserve her widowhood, and the faith pledged to her husband, which he himself has not kept in regard to his former marriage? Or what difference would there be between people and priest, if they were bound by the same laws? The life of a priest ought to excel that of others as does his grace, for he who binds others by his precepts ought himself to keep the precepts of the law.
65. How I resisted my ordination, and lastly, when I was compelled, endeavoured that it might at least be deferred, but the prescribed rule did not prevail against the popular eagerness. Yet the Western Bishops approved of my ordination by their decision, the Eastern by an example of the same kind. 3740 And yet the ordination of a neophyte is forbidden, lest he should be lifted up by pride. 3741 If the ordination was not postponed it was because of constraint, and if humility suitable to the priestly office be not wanting, where there is no reason blame will not be imputed to him.
66. But if so much consideration is needed in other churches for the ordination of a bishop, how much care is required in the Church of Vercellæ, where two things seem to be equally required of the bishop, monastic rule and church discipline? For Eusebius of holy memory was the first in Western lands to bring together these differing matters, both while living in the city observing the rules of the monks, and ruling the Church with fasting and temperance. For the grace of the priesthood is much increased if the bishop constrain young men to the practice of abstinence, and to the rule of purity; and forbid them though living in the city, the manners and mode of life of the city.
67. From such a rule sprang those great men, Elijah, Elisha, John the son of Elizabeth, who clothed in sheepskins, poor and needy, and afflicted with pain, wandered in deserts, 3742 in hollows and thickets of mountains, amongst pathless rocks, rough caves, pitfalls and marshes, of whom the world was not worthy. From the same, Daniel, Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, 3743 who were brought up in the royal palace, were fed meagrely as though in the desert, with coarse food, and ordinary drink. Rightly did those royal slaves prevail over kingdoms, despise captivity, shaking off its yoke, subdue powers, conquer the elements, quench the nature of fire, dull the flames, blunt the edge of the sword, stop the mouths of lions; 3744 they were found most strong when esteemed to be most weak, and did not shrink from the mockings of men, because they looked for heavenly rewards; they did not dread the darkness of the prison, on whom was shining the beauty of eternal light.
68. Following these, holy Eusebius went forth out of his country, and from his own relatives, and preferred a foreign wandering to ease at home. For the faith also he preferred and chose the hardships of exile, in conjunction with Dionysius 3745 of holy memory, who esteemed a voluntary exile above an Emperors friendship. And so these illustrious men, surrounded with arms, closed in by soldiers, when torn away from the larger p. 467 Church, triumphed over the imperial power, because by earthly shame they purchased fortitude of soul, and kingly power; they from whom the band of soldiers and the din of arms could not tear away the faith subdued the raging of the brutal mind, which was unable to hurt the saints. For, as you read in Proverbs, “the kings wrath is as the wrath of a lion.” 3746
69. He confessed that he was overcome when he asked them to change their determination, but they thought their pen stronger than swords of iron. Then it was unbelief which was wounded so that it fell, not the faith of the saints; they did not desire a tomb in their own country, for whom was reserved a home in the heavens. They wandered over the whole earth, “having nothing and yet possessing all things.” 3747 Wherever they were sent, they esteemed it a place full of delights, for nothing was wanting to them in whom the riches of faith abounded. Lastly, they enriched others, being themselves poor as to earthly means, rich in grace. They were tried but not killed, in fasting, in labours, in watchings, in vigils. Out of weakness they came forth strong. They did not wait for the enticements of pleasure who were satiated by fasting; the burning summer did not parch those whom the hope of eternal grace refreshed, nor did the cold of icy regions break them down, whose devotion was ever budding afresh with glowing devotion; they feared not the chains of men whom Jesus had set free; they desired not to be rescued from death, who expected to be raised again by Christ.
70. And at last holy Dionysius requested in his prayers, that he might end his life in exile, for fear that he might, if he returned home, find the minds of the people or the clergy disturbed through the teaching or practice of the unbelievers, and he obtained this favour, so that he bore with him the peace of the Lord with a quiet mind. Thus as holy Eusebius first raised the standard of confessorship, so blessed Dionysius in his exile gave up his life with honour higher even than martyrs.
71. Now this patience in holy Eusebius grew strong by the discipline of the monastery, and from the custom of hard endurance he derived the power of enduring hardships. For who doubts that in stricter Christian devotion these two things are the most excellent, the offices of the clergy and the rule of the monks? The former is a discipline which accustoms to courteousness and good morals, the latter to abstinence and patience; the former as it were on an open stage, the latter in secret; the one is visible, the other hidden. And so he who was a good athlete said: “We are made a spectacle to this world and to Angels.” 3748 Worthy indeed was he to be gazed upon by Angels, when he was striving to attain the prize of Christ, when he was striving to lead on earth the life of Angels, and overcome the wickedness of spirits in heaven, for he wrestled with spiritual wickedness. 3749 Rightly did the world gaze upon him, that it might imitate him.
72. The one life, then, is on the open arena, the other hidden as in a cave; the one is opposed to the confusion of the world, the other to the desires of the flesh; the one subdues, the other shuns the pleasures of the body; the one was more agreeable, the other more safe; the one ruling, the other restraining itself, in order to be wholly Christs, for to the perfect it is said: “He who will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” 3750 Now he follows Christ who is able to say: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me.” 3751
73. Paul denied himself, when, knowing that chains and tribulations awaited him in Jerusalem, he willingly offered himself to danger, saying: “Nor do I count my life dear to myself, if only I can accomplish my course, and the ministry of the Word, which I have received of the Lord Jesus.” 3752 And at last, though many were standing round, weeping and beseeching him, he did not change his mind, so stern a censor of itself is ready faith.
74. The one then contends, the other retires; the one overcomes incitements, the other flees from them; by the one the world is triumphed over, the other rejoices over it; to the one the world is crucified, or itself is crucified to the world, 3753 to the other it is unknown; the one endures more frequent temptations, and so has the greater victory, the other falls less often, and keeps guard more easily.
75. Elijah himself too, that the word spoken by his mouth might be confirmed, was sent by the Lord to hide himself by the brook Cherith. 3754 Ahab threatened, Jezebel threatened, Elijah was afraid and rose up, and then “went in the strength of that spiritual meat forty days and forty nights p. 468 unto Horeb the mount of God;” 3755 and entered into a cave and rested there; and afterwards was sent to anoint kings. He was then inured to patience by dwelling in solitude, and, as though fed to the fatness of virtue by the homely food, went on more strong.
76. John, too, grew up in the desert, and baptized the Lord, and there first practised constancy, that afterwards he might rebuke kings.
77. And since in speaking of holy Elijahs dwelling in the desert, we have passed by without notice the names of places which were not given without a purpose, it seems well to go back to what they signify. Elijah was sent to the brook Cherith, and there the ravens nourished him, bringing him bread in the morning, for it “strengthens mans heart.” 3756 For how should the prophet be nourished except by mystical food? At evening flesh was supplied. Understand what you read, for Cherith means “understanding,” Horeb signifies “heart” or “as a heart,” Beersheba also is interpreted “the well of the seventh,” or “of the oath.”
78. Elijah went first to Beersheba, to the mysteries and sacraments of the divine and holy Law, next he is sent to the brook, to the stream of the river which makes glad the City of God. 3757 You perceive the two Testaments of the One Author; the old Scripture as a well deep and obscure, whence you can only draw with labour; it is not full, for He Who was to fill it was not yet come, Who afterwards said: “I am come not to destroy but to fulfil the Law.” 3758 And so the Saint is bidden of the Lord to pass over to the stream, for he who has drunk of the New Testament, not only is a river, but also “from his belly shall flow rivers of living water,” 3759 rivers of understanding, rivers of meditation, spiritual rivers, which, however, dried up in the times of unbelief, lest the sacrilegious and unbelieving should drink.
79. At that place the ravens recognized the Prophet of the Lord, whom the Jews did not recognize. The ravens fed him, whom that royal and noble race were persecuting. What is Jezebel, who persecuted him but the Synagogue, vainly fluent, vainly abounding in the Scriptures, which it neither keeps nor understands? What ravens fed him but those whose young call upon Him, to whose cattle He gives food as we read; “to the young ravens that call upon Him.” 3760 Those ravens knew whom they were feeding, who were close upon understanding, and brought food to that stream of sacred knowledge.
80. He feeds the prophet, who understands and keeps the things that are written. Our faith gives him sustenance, our progress gives him nourishment; he feeds upon our minds and senses, his discourse is nourished by our understanding. In the morning we give him bread, who, being placed in the light of the Gospel, bestow on him the settled strength of our hearts. By these things he is nourished, by these he is strong, with these he fills the mouths of those who fast, to whom the unbelief of the Jews supplied no food of faith. To them every prophetic utterance is but fasting diet, the interior richness of which they do not see; empty and thin, such as cannot fatten their jaws.
81. Perhaps they brought him flesh in the evening, as it were stronger food, such as the Corinthians, whose minds were weak, could not take, and were therefore fed by the Apostle with milk. 3761 So, stronger meat was brought in the evening of the world, in the morning bread. And so, because the Lord commanded this food to be supplied, that word of prophecy may be suitably addressed to Him in this place: “Thou wilt give joy in the outgoings of morning and evening;” 3762 and, farther on: “Thou hast prepared their food, for so is its preparation.” 3763
82. But I think that enough has been said of the Master, let us now go on to the lives of the disciples, who have given themselves to His praise and celebrate it with hymns day and night. For this is the service of the Angels, to be always occupied in the praises of God, to propitiate and entreat the Lord with frequent prayers. They attend to reading, or occupy their minds with continual labours, and separated from the companionship of women, afford safe protection to each other. What a life is this, in which is nothing to fear, much to imitate! The pain of fasting is compensated by tranquillity of mind, is lightened by practice, aided by leisure, or beguiled by occupation; is not burdened with worldly cares, nor occupied with uncongenial troubles, nor weighed down with the distractions of the city.
83. You perceive what kind of teacher must be found for the preservation or teaching of this gift, and we can find him, if you assist by unanimity, if you forgive one p. 469 another should any one think himself injured by another. For it is not the only kind of justice, not to injure him who has not injured us, but also to forgive him who has most injured us. We are often injured by the fraud of another, by the guile of a neighbour; do we consider it a mark of virtue, to avenge guile by guile, or to repay fraud by fraud? For if justice is a virtue it should be free from offence, and should not repel wickedness by wickedness. For what virtue is it that the same thing should be done by you which you yourself punish in another? That is the spreading of wickedness not its punishment, for it makes no difference whom one injures, whether a just man or an unjust, seeing one ought not to injure anyone. Nor does it make any difference in what way one bears ill will, whether from a desire of revenging oneself, or from a wish to injure, since in neither case is ill will free from blame. For to bear ill will is the same thing as to be unjust, and so it is said to thee: “Bear not ill will amongst those that bear ill will, and emulate not those that do unrighteousness;” 3764 and above; “I have hated the congregation of them that bear ill will.” 3765 He clearly comprehends all and makes no exception, he lays hold of ill will and asks not the cause.
84. But what better pattern can there be than that of Divine justice? For the Son of God says: “Love your enemies;” 3766 and again: “Pray for those that persecute you and speak against you.” 3767 So far does He remove the desire of vengeance from the perfect that He commands charity towards those who injure them. And since He had said in the Old Testament: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” 3768 He says in the Gospel, that we are to pray for those who have injured us, that He Who has said that He will avenge, may not do so; for it is His will to pardon at your desire with which according to His promise He agrees. But if you seek for you know that the unjust is more severely punished by his own convictions than by judicial severity.
85. And since no one can be without some adversities, let us take care that they do not happen to us through our own fault. For no one is more severely condemned by the judgment of others, than a foolish man, who is the cause of his misfortunes, is condemned by his own. For which reason we should decline matters which are full of trouble and contention, which have no advantage, but cause hindrances. Although we ought to take care not to have to repent our decisions or acts. For it is the part of a prudent man to look forward, so as not often to have to repent, for never to repent belongs to God alone. But what is the fruit of righteousness, but tranquillity of mind? Or what is to live righteously but to live with tranquility? Such as is the pattern of the master, such is the condition of the whole house. But if these things are requisite in a house, how much more in the Church, “where we, both rich and poor, bond and free, Greek and Scythian, noble and common, are all one in Christ Jesus.” 3769
86. Let no man suppose that because he is rich, more deference is to be paid him. In the Church he is rich who is rich in faith, for the faithful has a whole world of riches. What wonder is it if the faithful possesses the world, who possesses the inheritance of Christ, which is of more value than the world? “Ye were redeemed with the Precious Blood,” 3770 was certainly said to all, not to the rich only. But if you will be rich, obey him who says: “Be ye holy in all your conversation.” 3771 He is speaking not to the rich only but to all; for He judges without respect of persons, as the Apostle His faithful witness says. And therefore says he: “Spend the time of your sojourning here,” 3772 not in luxury, or fastidiousness, nor haughtiness of heart, but in fear. On this earth you have time not eternity, do you use the time as those who must pass hence.
87. Do not trust in riches; for all such things are left here, faith alone will accompany you. And righteousness indeed will go with you if faith has led the way. Why do riches entice you? “Ye were not redeemed with gold and silver,” with possessions, or silk garments, “from your vain conversation, but with the precious Blood of Christ.” 3773 He then is rich who is an heir of God, a joint heir with Christ. Despise not the poor man, he has made you rich. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” 3774 Do not reject a poor man, Christ when He was rich became poor, and became poor because of you, that by His poverty He might make you rich. 3775 Do not then as though rich exalt yourself, He sent forth His apostles without money.
88. And the first of them said: “Silver and gold have I none.” 3776 He glories in p. 470 poverty as though shunning contamination. “Silver and gold,” he says, “I have none,”—not gold and silver. He knows not their order in value who knows not the use of them. “Silver and gold have I none,” but I have faith. I am rich enough in the Name of Jesus, “which is above every name.” 3777 I have no silver, neither do I require any; I have no gold, neither do I desire it, but I have what you rich men have not, I have what even you would consider to be of more value, and I give it to the poor, namely that I say in the Name of Jesus: “Be strengthened, ye weak hands, and ye feeble knees.” 3778
89. But if you will be rich, you must be poor. Then shall you in all things be rich, if you are poor in spirit. It is not property which makes rich, but the spirit.
90. There are those who humble themselves in abundance of riches, and they act rightly and prudently, for the law of nature is sufficiently rich for all, according to which one may soon find what is more than enough; but for lust any abundance of riches is still penury. Again, no one is born poor but becomes so. Poverty then is not in nature but in our own feelings, and so to find oneself rich is easy for nature, but hard for lust. For the more a man has gained the more he thirsts for gain, and burns as it were with a kind of intoxication from his lusts.
91. Why do you seek for a heap of riches as though it were necessary? Nothing is so necessary as to know that this is not necessary. Why do you throw the blame on the flesh? It is not the belly in the body but avarice in the mind which makes a man insatiable. Does the flesh take away the hope of the future? Does the flesh destroy the sweetness of spiritual grace? Does the flesh hinder faith? Is it the flesh which attributes any weight to vain opinions as it were to insane masters? The flesh prefers frugal moderation, by which it is freed from burdens, is clothed with health, because it has laid aside its care and has obtained tranquillity.
92. But riches themselves are not blameable. For “the ransom of a mans life are his riches,” 3779 since he that gives to the poor redeems his soul. 3780 So that even in these material riches there is place for virtue. You are like steersmen in the vast sea. If a man steers his course well, he quickly passes over the sea so as to attain to the port, but one who knows not how to direct his property is drowned together with his freight. And so it is written: “The wealth of rich men is a most strong city.” 3781
93. And what is that city but Jerusalem which is in heaven, in which is the kingdom of God? This is a good possession which brings eternal fruit. A good possession which is not left here, but is possessed there. He who possesses this says: “The Lord is my portion.” 3782 He says not, My portion stretches and extends from this boundary to that. Nor does he say, My portion is amongst such and such neighbours, except perchance amongst the apostles, amongst the prophets, amongst the saints of the Lord, for this is the righteous mans portion. He does not say, My portion is in the meadows, or in the woods, or the plains, except perchance those wooded plains in which the Church is found, of which it is written: “We found it in the wooded plains.” 3783 He does not say, My portion consists of herds of horses, for “a horse is a vain thing for safety.” 3784 He does not say, My portion consists of herds of oxen, asses, or sheep; except perchance he reckons himself amongst those which know their Owner, and wishes to company with the ass which does not shun the crib 3785 of Christ; and that Sheep is his portion which was led to the slaughter, and that Lamb which was dumb before the shearer, and opened not His mouth, 3786 in Whose humiliation judgment has been exalted. Well does he say “before the shearer,” for He laid aside what was additional, not His own essence, on the cross, when He laid aside His Body, but lost not His Divinity.
94. It is not then everyone who can say, “The Lord is my portion.” The covetous man cannot, for covetousness draws near and says: Thou art my portion, I have thee in subjection, thou hast served me, thou hast sold thyself to me with that gold, by that possession thou hast adjudged thyself to me. The luxurious man says not: Christ is my portion, for luxury comes and says: Thou art my portion, I made thee mine in that banquet, I caught thee in the net of that feast, I hold thee by the bond of thy gluttony. Dost thou not know that thy table was more valued by thee than thy life? I refute thee by thine own judgment, deny if thou canst, but thou canst not. And in fine thou hast reserved nothing for thy life, thou hast spent it all for thy table. The adulterer cannot say: “The Lord is my portion;” for lust comes and says: I am p. 471 thy portion, thou didst bind thyself to me in the love of that maiden, by a night with that harlot thou hast come under my laws and into my power. The traitor cannot say: “Christ is my portion,” for at once the wickedness of his sin rushes on him and says: He is deceiving Thee, Lord Jesus, he is mine.
95. We have an example of this, for when Judas had received the bread from Christ the devil entered into his heart, as though claiming his own property, as though retaining his right to his own portion, as though saying: He is not Thine but mine; clearly he is my servant, Thy betrayer, plainly he is mine. He sits at table with Thee, and serves me; with Thee he feasts, but is fed by me; from Thee he receives bread, from me money; with Thee he drinks, and has sold Thy Blood to me. And he proved how truly he spoke. Then Christ departed from him, Judas also himself left Jesus and followed the devil.
96. How many masters has he who has forsaken the One! But let us not forsake Him. Who would forsake Him Whom they follow bound with chains indeed, but chains of love, which set free and do not bind, those chains in which they who are bound boast, saying: “Paul the bondservant of Jesus Christ, and Timothy.” 3787 It is more glorious for us to be bound by Him, than to be set free and loosed from others. Who then would flee from peace? Who would flee from salvation? Who would flee from mercy? Who would flee from redemption?
97. You see, my sons, what has been the end of those who followed these things, how being dead they yet work. Let us study to gain the diligence of those the glory of whose virtues we admire, and what we praise in others, let us silently recognize in ourselves. Nothing effeminate, nothing feeble attains to praise. “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” 3788 The fathers ate the lamb in haste. Faith hastens, devotion is quick, hope is active, it loves not objections of the mind, but to pass from fruitless ease to the fruits of toil. Why do you put off till tomorrow? You can gain to-day; and must guard against not attaining the one and losing the other. The loss even of one hour is no slight one, one hour is a portion of our whole life.
98. There are young persons who desire quickly to attain to old age, so as no longer to be subject to the will of their elders; and there are also old men who would wish if they could to return again to youth. And I approve of neither desire, for the young, disdainful of things present, as it were ungratefully desire a change in their way of living, the old wish for its lengthening, whereas youth can grow old in character, and old age grow green with action. For it is discipline as much as age which brings amendment of character. How much the more then ought we to raise our hopes to the kingdom of God, where will be newness of life, and where will be a change of grace not of age!
99. Reward is not obtained by ease or by sleep. The sleeper does no work, ease brings no profit, but rather loss. Esau by taking his ease lost the blessing of the first-born, for he preferred to have food given to him rather than to seek it. Industrious Jacob found favour with each parent.
100. And yet although Jacob was superior in virtue and favour, he yielded to his brothers anger, who grieved that his younger brother was preferred to him. And so it is written: “Give place to wrath,” 3789 lest the wrath of another draw you also into sin, when you wish to resist, and to avenge yourself. You can put away sin both from him and from yourself, if you think well to yield. Imitate the patriarch who by his mothers counsel went far away. And who was the mother? Rebecca, that is, Patience. For who but Patience could have given this counsel? The mother loved her son, but preferred that he should be cut off from herself rather than from God. And so because the mother was good, she benefited both her sons, but to the youngest she gave a blessing which he could keep; yet she preferred not one son to the other as sons; but the active to the easy-going, the faithful to the unbelieving.
101. And so since he was separated from his parents through piety not on account of impiety, he talked with God, he increased in riches, in children, and in favour. Nor was he elated by these things when he met his brother; but humbly bowed down to him, not indeed considering him the pitiless, the furious, the degenerate, but Him Whom he reverenced in him. And so he bowed down seven times, which is the number of remission, for he was not bowing down to man, but to Him Whom he foresaw in the Spirit, as hereafter to come in human flesh to take away the sins of the world. 3790 And this mystery is unfolded to you in the answer p. 472 given to Peter, when he said: “If my brother trespass against me how often shall I forgive him? Until seven times?” 3791 You see that remission of sins is a type of that great Sabbath, of that rest of everlasting grace, and therefore is given by contemplation.
102. But what is the meaning of his having arranged his wives and children and all his servants, and ordered that they should bow down to the earth? It was certainly not to the element of earth, which is often filled with blood, in which is the workshop of all crimes, which often is rough with huge rocks, or broken cliffs, or barren and hungry soil, but as to that Flesh which is to be for our salvation. And perchance this is that mystery which the Lord taught, when He said: “Not only seven times, but even seventy times seven.” 3792
103. Do you then forgive injuries done to you that you may be children of Jacob. Be not provoked as was Esau. Imitate holy David, who as a good master left us what we should follow, saying: “Instead of loving me they spake against me, but I prayed,” 3793 and when he was reviled, he prayed. Prayer is a good shield, wherewith contumely is kept away, cursing is repelled and often is turned back on those who utter it, so that they are wounded by their own weapons. “Let them curse,” he says, “but bless Thou.” 3794 The curse of man is to be sought for, which procures the blessing of the Lord.
104. And for the rest, most dear brethren, consider that Jesus suffered without the gate, and do you go forth out of this earthly city, for your city is Jerusalem which is above. Let your conversation be there, that you may say: “But our conversation is in heaven.” 3795 Therefore did Jesus go forth out of the city, that you going out of this world may be above the world. Moses alone, who saw God, had his tabernacle without the camp when he talked with God; 3796 and the blood indeed of the victims which were offered for sin, was brought to the altar, but the bodies were burnt without the camp; 3797 for no one placed amidst the evil of this world can lay aside sin, nor is his blood accepted of God, except he go forth from the defilement of this body.
105. Love hospitality, whereby holy Abraham found favour, and received Christ as his guest, and Sarah already worn with age gained a son; Lot also escaped the fire of the destruction of Sodom. You too can receive Angels if you offer hospitality to strangers. What shall I say of Rahab who by this means found safety?
106. Compassionate those who are bound with chains, as though bound with them. Comfort those in sorrow; for, “It is better to go into the house of mourning than into the house of rejoicing.” 3798 From the one is gained the merit of a good work, from the other a lapse into sin. Lastly, in the one case you still hope for the reward, in the other you have already received it. Feel with those who are afflicted as if also afflicted with them.
107. Let a wife show deference, not be a slave to her husband; let her show herself ready to be ruled not coerced. She is not worthy of wedlock who deserves chiding. Let a husband also guide his wife like a steersman, honour her as the partner of his life, share with her as a joint heir of grace.
108. Mothers, wean your children, love them, but pray for them that they may long live above this earth, not on the earth but above it, for there is nothing long-lived on this earth, and that which lasts long is but short and very frail. Warn them rather to take up the Cross of the Lord than to love this life.
109. Mary, the mother of the Lord stood by her Sons Cross; no one has taught me this but the holy Evangelist St. John. 3799 Others have related how the earth was shaken at the Lords passion, the sky was covered with darkness, the sun withdrew itself; 3800 that the thief was after a faithful confession received into paradise. 3801 John tells us what the others have not told, how the Lord fixed on the Cross called to His mother, esteeming it of more worth that, victorious over His sufferings, He rendered her the offices of piety, than that He gave her a heavenly kingdom. For if it be according to religion to grant pardon to the thief, it is a mark of much greater piety that a mother is honoured with such affection by her Son. “Behold,” He says, “thy Son”.…“Behold thy mother.” 3802 Christ testified from the Cross, and divided 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 testament of His, a witness worthy of so great a Testator. A good testament not of money but of eternal life, which was written not with ink but with p. 473 the Spirit of the living God, Who says: “My tongue is the pen of a quickly writing scribe.” 3803
110. Nor was Mary below what was becoming the mother of Christ. When the apostles fled, she stood at the Cross, and with pious eyes beheld her Sons wounds, for she did not look for the death of her Offspring, but the salvation of the world. Or perchance, because that “royal hall” 3804 knew that the redemption of the world would be through the death of her Son, she thought that by her death also she might add something to the public weal. But Jesus did not need a helper for the redemption of all, Who saved all without a helper. Wherefore also He says: “I am become like a man without help, free among the dead.” 3805 He received indeed the affection of His mother, but sought not anothers help.
111. Imitate her, holy mothers, who in her only dearly beloved Son set forth so great an example of maternal virtue; for neither have you sweeter children, nor did the Virgin seek the consolation of being able to bear another son.
112. Masters, command your servants not as being below you in rank, but as remembering that they are sharers of the same nature as yourselves. 3806 Servants, serve your masters with good will, for each ought patiently to support that to which he is born, and be obedient not only to good but also to froward masters. For what thanks has your service if you zealously serve good masters? But if you thus serve the froward also you gain merit; for the free also have no reward, if when they transgress they are punished by the judges, but this is their merit to suffer without transgressing. And so you, if contemplating the Lord Jesus you serve even difficult masters with patience, will have your reward. Since the Lord Himself suffered, the just at the hand of the unjust, and by His wonderful patience nailed our sins to His Cross, that he who shall imitate Him may wash away his sins in His Blood.
113. In fine, turn all to the Lord Jesus. Let your enjoyment of this life be with a good conscience, your endurance of death with the hope of immortality, your assurance of the resurrection through the grace of Christ; let truth be with simplicity, faith with confidence, abstinence with holiness, industry with soberness, conversation with modesty, learning without vanity; let there be soberness of doctrine, faith without the intoxication of heresy. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
The people demanded, requested, or acclaimed some one as bishop [postulavit], and he was then elected, if they thought well, by the clergy. St. Ambrose makes this clear [Ep. XV. 12], saying of Acholius, “Ad summum sacerdotium a Macedonicis obsecratus populis, electus a sacerdotibus.”457:3647
S. Matt. xviii. 21.457:3648
S. John i. 26.457:3649
Acts vii. 56.457:3651
Dan. vii. 9.457:3652
There were two apostate monks, followers apparently of Jovinian, who was condemned by synods at Rome and Milan a.d. 390.458:3654
1 Cor. ix. 27.458:3655
S. John ii. 19.458:3656
1 Cor. v. 9.458:3657
This was one of the errors of Jovinian.458:3658
1 Cor. 5:10, 11.458:3659
Eph. v. 3.458:3660
Eph. v. 5.458:3661
Rom. vi. 3.458:3662
Rom. viii. 17.458:3663
1 Cor. x. 7.458:3664
See de Off. i. 50.459:3665
Who this may be is unknown, and the name, even, owing to various readings, is uncertain.459:3666
S. Matt. iv. 3.459:3667
S. Matt. iv. 4.459:3668
S. Matt. xvii. 21.459:3669
Acts x. 10.459:3670
Ex. xxxiv. 28.459:3671
Tob. 12:8, 9.459:3673
1 Cor. xv. 32.459:3674
1 Cor. xv. 33.459:3675
Demarchus is mentioned by no writer besides St. Ambrose. The Benedictine editors suggest that Hermachus is meant, who succeeded Epicurus as leader of his school.460:3676
Acts xvii. 18.460:3677
Gen. ix. 20.460:3678
1 Tim. v. 23.460:3679
1 Kings 19.6.460:3680
Ex. xvii. 6.460:3681
Dan. i. 8.460:3682
Dan. vi. 22.461:3683
Dan. iii. 27.461:3684
Judg. xiii. i6.461:3685
Esth. iv. 16.461:3686
S. Luke ii. 37.461:3687
2 Kings 4.39.461:3688
Ezra vii. 6.461:3689
2 Cor. xi. 27.461:3690
Isa. lviii. 11.461:3691
Psa. 23.5 [LXX.].461:3692
Sir. 18:30, 31.461:3693
Col. ii. 9.461:3695
i.e. Miriam, the Hebrew form of the name.461:3696
Ex. xv. 20.461:3697
1 Cor. vii. 25.461:3698
Song of Sol. 4.12.462:3699
2 Cor. xi. 2.462:3700
1 Cor. vii. 26.462:3701
1 Cor. vii. 32.462:3702
Rom. xiv. 2.462:3703
1 Cor. vii. 37-40.462:3704
Ex. iii. 5.462:3705
Deut. v. 31.462:3706
Ps. 134:1, 2.463:3709
1 Cor. x. 12.463:3710
Prov. xiv. 30 [LXX.].463:3713
S. Matt. ix. 12.463:3714
Heb. v. 5.463:3715
Heb. v. 5, quoted loosely.463:3716
Num. xvi. 40.463:3717
Heb. v. 2.463:3718
Heb. v. 4.463:3719
Heb. v. 3.463:3720
S. John i. 1.463:3721
Rev. i. 8.464:3722
Heb. vi. 12.464:3723
Num. xvi. 48.464:3725
Num. xvi. 32.464:3726
Num. xvi. 3.464:3727
Num. xvi. 17.464:3728
Num. 16:8, 9.464:3729
Num. xvi. 9-11.464:3730
Num. xii. 10.465:3731
Rom. xi. 25.465:3732
Prov. xv. 18.465:3733
Ps. iv. 4.465:3734
1 Tim. iii. 2.465:3735
Tit. i. 7.465:3736
Tit. i. 9.465:3737
Tit. i. 6.466:3738
1 Tim. iii. 2.466:3739
In concilio Nicœni tractatus—“the Council of the Nicene tractate or creed,” possibly. The reference is plain, though there are various readings, and tractatus may not mean the creed. The real difficulty is that in the 20 extant Canons of Nicæa, there is no reference of the kind, and there is no evidence that any are missing. Perhaps St. Ambrose is quoting from memory, or some faulty collection, and so other canons are wrongly spoken of as Nicene. On the subject comp. St. Ambr. de Off. I. 257, and Dict. Chr. Ant. art. “Digamy.”466:3740
Nectarius, unbaptized and holding a civil office, was appointed to the see of Constantinople, on the resignation of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, during the sitting of the second œcumenical council at Constantinople.466:3741
1 Tim. iii. 6.466:3742
Heb. xi. 37.466:3743
Dan. i. 16.466:3744
Heb. 11:33, 34.466:3745
The two Bishops, Eusebius of Vercellæ and Dionysius of Milan, were banished by Valens, because in a council at Milan a.d. 355.467:3746
Prov. xix. 12.467:3747
2 Cor. vi. 10.467:3748
1 Cor. vi. 9.467:3749
Eph. vi. 12.467:3750
S. Matt. xvii. 24.467:3751
Gal. ii. 20.467:3752
Acts xx. 24.467:3753
Gal. vi. 14.467:3754
1 Kings 17.3.468:3755
1 Kings 19.8.468:3756
S. Matt. v. 17.468:3759
S. John vii. 38.468:3760
1 Cor. iii. 2.468:3762
S. Matt. v. 44.469:3767
S. Matt. v. 44.469:3768
Deut. xxxii. 35.469:3769
Col. iii. 11.469:3770
1 Pet. 1:18, 19.469:3771
1 Pet. i. 15.469:3772
1 Pet. i. 17.469:3773
1 Pet. i. 18.469:3774
2 Cor. viii. 9.469:3776
Acts iii. 6.470:3777
Phil. ii. 9.470:3778
Isa. xxxv. 3.470:3779
Prov. xiii. 8.470:3780
Probably a reference to Dan. iv. 27 [LXX.].470:3781
Prov. x. 15.470:3782
Isa. i. 3.470:3786
Isa. liii. 7.471:3787
Phil. i. 1.471:3788
S. Matt. xi. 12.471:3789
Rom. xii. 19.471:3790
S. John i. 29.472:3791
S. Matt. xviii. 21.472:3792
S. Matt. xviii. 22.472:3793
Phil. iii. 20.472:3796
Ex. xxxiii. 7.472:3797
Exod. 29:12, 13.472:3798
Eccl. vii. 2.472:3799
S. John xix. 25.472:3800
S. Matt. xxvii. 45.472:3801
S. Luke xxiii. 43.472:3802
S. John xix. 27.473:3803
The expression “Aula regalisi” applied to the Blessed Virgin is also used by St. Ambrose, de Inst. Virg. XII. 79, and in the Hymn for the Nativity of our Lord—“Veni Redemptor gentium,” verse 4—“Procedit e thalamo Suo, Pudoris aula Regia.” The force is lost in the translation adopted in Hymns Ancient and Modern, No. 57, but is preserved in Dr. Neales version, “Proceeding from His chamber free, The royal hall of chastity.”—Hymnal Noted, No. 31.473:3805
Ps. 88:4, 5.473:3806
1 Pet. ii. 18.
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