St. Ambrose of Milan, Letters (1881). pp. 137-213. Letters 21-30.
LETTER XXI. [A.D.386.]
S. AMBROSE ends his letter to his sister with foreboding's of more troubles, Nor was he wrong. One of the next steps taken was a challenge to dispute publicly before the Emperor with Auxentius the Arian (so-called) Bishop, with regular umpires (judices) appointed on both sides. This letter is his reply to the Emperor, setting forth his ground for refusing, as he had before done at the time of the Council of Aquileia, to allow laymen to be judges of questions of Faith. (See above. Council of Aquil. § 51, 52, 53.)
TO THE MOST CLEMENT EMPEROR, HIS BLESSED MAJESTY VALENTINIAN, AMBROSE, BISHOP, SENDS GREETING.
1. DALMATIUS the tribune and notary cited me at your Clemency's bidding, as he alleged, requiring that I also should choose umpires as Auxentius had done. He did not mention the names of those who had been called for, but he added that the trial would take place in the Consistory, and that your pious judgment would decide between us.
2. To this I make, as I consider, a sufficient answer. |138 No one ought to deem me contumacious for asserting what your father of illustrious memory not only declared by word of mouth 1 but sanctioned by his laws; that in a matter of the Faith or of any ecclesiastical ordinance, the judges ought to be qualified for it, both competent by office and qualified by profession: (these are the words of the Rescript), that is to say, he would have Bishops judge Bishops. Moreover if a bishop were accused elsewhere also, and a charge of a moral nature to be examined, this too he willed should be referred to the judgment of Bishops.
3. Who then is it who makes a contumacious answer to your Clemency? He who would have you like your Father, or he who would have you unlike? Unless perhaps some persons count cheaply the opinion of that great Emperor, whose faith has been approved by the constancy of his confession 2, and his wisdom proclaimed by the improved condition of the State.
4. When have you ever heard, most gracious Emperor, that laymen had judged a Bishop in a matter pertaining to the Faith? Does their flattery make us cringe so low as to forget the rights of the priesthood, and suppose that what God has committed to me I should entrust to others? If a layman may teach a Bishop, what will follow? a layman, will dispute, and a Bishop listen, a Bishop learn of a |139 layman. Assuredly, if we revert to the volume of Holy Scripture or to the time of old, who is there who will deny that in a cause of the Faith, in a cause, I say, of the Faith, Bishops are wont to judge Christian Emperors, not Emperors to judge Bishops.
5. Hereafter, you will, by God's favour, reach a more mature age, and then you will judge what kind of Bishop he must be who submits the rights of the priesthood to laymen. Your father, who by God's favour attained a riper age, used to say: 'It is not for me to judge between Bishops:' your Majesty now says, 'I ought to judge.' He, although baptized into Christ, considered himself unequal to the weight of so important a judgment; does your Majesty, who have yet to earn for yourself the Sacrament of Baptism, claim to decide concerning the Faith, although still ignorant of the Sacrament of this Faith?
6. But what sort of judges he will have selected we may leave to be guessed, seeing that he fears to disclose their names. Let them come openly, if indeed there be any, to the Church; let them attend together with the people, not to sit as judges, but for every one to prove his own feelings and choose whom he will follow. The cause is concerning the Bishop of that Church; if the people hear him and suppose he has the better of the argument, let them follow his Faith; I shall not be jealous.
7. I forbear to mention that the people themselves have already decided; I do not urge that the Bishop 3 whom they have they demanded from your Majesty's father; I urge not that your father promised tranquillity for the future if he, having been elected, took upon him the Bishopric. It was in reliance on these promises that I acted.
8. But if he prides himself on the support of any foreigners let him be Bishop in the place whence those come who hold that he should be invested with the name of a Bishop. For I neither acknowledge him as Bishop, nor know whence he comes.
9. How, your Majesty, can we be said to settle a matter in which you have already declared your judgment; nay, have yourself published laws precluding others from |140 deciding otherwise. And when you laid down this rule for others you laid it down also for yourself; for the laws which the Emperor makes he ought to be the first to keep. Would you then have me make trial whether those who are chosen judges will meet, contrary to your decree, or whether they will allege that they have not been able to contravene so rigid and peremptory a command of the Emperor?
10. But this is the part of a contumacious not of a respectful Bishop. See, your Majesty, how you yourself partially rescind your own law; but I would that you would do so not partially but universally, for I would not wish your law to be above the law of God. The law of God has taught us what we should follow, human laws cannot teach us this. They can compel a change in the timid, but they cannot inspire faith.
11. Who therefore when he learns that in one moment it has been published through so many provinces that whoever shall resist the Emperor shall be put to death, whoever shall not give up the temple of God shall immediately be slain; who is there, I say, who either alone or with a few others can say to the Emperor; 'I do not approve your law?' The priesthood are not allowed to say this; are then the laity allowed? And shall he judge concerning the faith, who either hopes for favour or fears giving offence?
12. Lastly, shall I venture to nominate laymen for umpires, who if they keep true to their Faith must be proscribed or put to death, as that law passed concerning the Faith prescribes. Shall I then expose them to the hazard either of prevarication or of punishment?
13. Ambrose is not of such importance as to degrade the priesthood on his account. One man's life is not of us much value as the dignity of the whole priesthood, by whose advice I gave my direction when they suggested that there might be some heathen or Jew, chosen by Auxentius, to whom we might give a triumph over Christ if we committed to him judgment concerning Christ. What else pleases them but to hear of wrong done to Christ? What else can please them but the denial (which God |141 forbid) of the Divinity of Christ? Clearly they agree entirely with the Arian, who calls Christ a creature, which heathens and Jews too are willing enough to confess.
14. This was decreed at the synod of Ariminum, and with good reason do I abhor that Council; following as I do the doctrine of the Nicene Council, from which neither death nor the sword can ever separate me. This Faith your Majesty's father, the blessed Emperor Theodosius, both followed and approved. This Faith the provinces of Gaul and of Spain hold, and this they keep with the pious confession of the Divine Spirit.
15. If I have to preach, I have learnt to preach in the Church, as my predecessors did. If a conference is to be held on a matter of Faith, it ought to be a conference of Bishops, as was the case under Constantine of august memory, who laid down no laws beforehand, but left to the Bishops the liberty of judging. The same was the case also under Constantius of illustrious memory, who inherited his father's dignity, but what began well ended badly. For the Bishops had at first subscribed an orthodox confession, but, through the wish of certain persons to judge of the Faith in agreement with the palace, the result was that these judgments of the Bishops were fraudulently changed; they however immediately recalled this perverted decision. And there is no doubt that the majority at Ariminum approved the creed of the Nicene Council 4 and condemned the Arian decrees.
16. If Auxentius appeals to a Synod to discuss questions concerning the Faith, though it would be needless to disturb so many Bishops on one person's account, who, were he an Angel from heaven, ought not to be preferred to the Church's peace, I too will not be absent when I hear that the Synod is assembled. Let the law then be repealed, if you would have the contest entered upon.
17. I would have come to your Majesty's Consistory, to offer this plea in your presence, could I have obtained leave from the Bishops or the people; but they said that |142 an argument concerning the Faith ought to be held in the Church in the presence of the people.
18. I could have wished that your Majesty had not declared that I might go into exile, whither I chose. I went abroad daily, no man guarded me. You should then have sent me wherever you thought fit, for I was ready to submit to any thing; now the Bishops say to me, 'There is little difference between voluntarily leaving Christ's altar and betraying it, for if you leave you will betray it.'
19. And I would I were certain that the Church would not be given up to the Arians, I would then willingly surrender myself to your Majesty's disposal. But if it is I only who am an intruder, why has the command been given to invade all other Churches also? I would it were certain, that no one would disturb the Churches, I would gladly then have any sentence which seems good passed concerning myself.
20. Let your Majesty then be pleased graciously to accept my reasons for not coming to the Church. I have not learned how to stand up in the Consistory except in your behalf 5; and within the palace I cannot contend, for I neither seek after nor know the secrets of the palace.
21. I, Bishop Ambrose, offer this remonstrance to the most clement Emperor, his blessed Majesty Valentinian.
SERMON: AGAINST AUXENTIUS ON THE GIVING UP THE BASILICAS. [A.D. 386.]
THE persecution against S.Ambrose still continued. The Court party endeavoured to induce him to leave Milan, in order, they said, to prevent more serious troubles. This he refused to do, and at last he remained for several days and nights continuously within the Basilica 6, attended by a |143 crowded congregation, all determined to protect him from the violence of the court, while a guard of soldiers was at the same time blockading the Church, and preventing any from leaving it. It was during this time that this Sermon was preached. In it S. Ambrose first calms the fears of the people lest he should be induced to leave them, assuring them that he will only yield to force; and proceeds to apply the Lessons of the day, the story of Naboth and the Entry into Jerusalem, to the circumstances of the time, giving incidentally several interesting details of the contest between himself and the Court, and alluding to the hymns which he then taught the people to sing.
1. I SEE that you are in an unusual state of excitement, and that your eyes are fixed upon me. I am at a loss to know the cause of this. Is it that you saw or heard that an Imperial message has been brought to me by the Tribunes, commanding me to depart hence whither I would, and that all who would were permitted to follow me. Were you then alarmed lest I should desert the Church, and in fear for my own life abandon you? But you heard my answer. I said that the thought of deserting the Church could not for an instant enter my mind, for I feared the Lord of the Universe more than the Ruler of the Empire; that if I were to be forcibly removed from the Church, it would be my body not my mind which would be driven by violence from thence, that if the Emperor were to act as royal power is wont, I was prepared for that which is the part of a priest to suffer.
2. Why then are you thus disturbed? I will never desert you of my own will, but I may not repel force by force. I shall still be able to mourn, to weep, and to groan; when weapons, soldiers, Goths assail me, my tears are my weapons, for these are the defence of a priest. By any other means I neither can nor ought to resist; but to fly and desert the Church is not my wont, lest any one should impute it to fear of heavier punishment. You yourselves know that I am wont to pay deference to our Rulers, but not to give way to them, and willingly to offer myself to punishment, not fearing what is prepared for me.
3. Would that I could be satisfied that the Church would not be delivered to heretics! I would willingly go to the Emperor's palace, were this accordant with the priest's office, so as to hold our contest rather in the palace |144 than in the Church. But in the Consistory Christ is not wont to be the accused, but the Judge. Who will deny that a matter of faith should be pleaded in the Church? If any one has confidence in his cause let him come hither; let him not look for the judgment of the Emperor, which already shews its leaning, which has declared plainly by the law he has enacted that he is adverse to the Faith, nor for the expected support of certain intriguers. I will not give occasion to any one to barter for gain a wrong to Christ.
4. The guard of soldiers and the din of the arms which beset the Church, alarm not my faith, but they make me fear that in keeping me here you may incur danger to yourselves. For I have learned ere this not to fear for myself, but I begin now to fear more for you. Permit, I beg, your Bishop to enter the lists; we have an adversary who challenges us; for our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour,7 as the Apostle saith. Doubtless he has obtained, he has obtained (not to deceive us, but to warn us, is it recorded) this power of temptation, lest haply I should be removed from the stedfastness of my faith by the wounds of my body. You also have read that the devil thus tempted holy Job in many ways; and last of all he begged and obtained the power of afflicting his body which he covered with sores.
5. When it was proposed to me to give up at once the Church plate, I made this reply; That if my own property was required of me, farm or house, gold or silver, anything that lies in my power, I would willingly give it; but that I would withdraw nothing from God's temple, nor surrender what had been committed to me to keep, not to surrender. And further, that I was studying also for the Emperor's good, for it was expedient neither for me to surrender nor for him to receive these things; let him then listen to the words of an independent Bishop: if he regard his own interest, let him abstain from doing wrong to Christ.
6. These are words full of humility, and, I believe, of that affection which a Bishop owes to his Emperor. But since our contest is not only against flesh and blood, but 8 also |145 (which is more trouble) against spiritual wickedness in high places, that tempter, the Devil, sharpens the contest by his ministers, and deems that by the wounds of my body the trial must be made. I know, brethren, that these wounds which we receive for Christ, are no wounds: life is not lost by them, but its seed propagated. Permit, I beseech you. the contest to take place, it is for you to be spectators only. Consider that if there is in a city an athlete or one skilled in some other science, it wishes to present him for the combat. Why do ye reject in greater things what ye are wont to wish for even in smaller ones? He fears neither arms nor barbarians, who dreads not death, who is entangled in no fleshly pleasure.
7. Without doubt if the Lord hath appointed me to this combat, it is in vain that you have kept sleepless watch and ward through so many nights and days; the will of Christ will be performed. For our Lord Jesus Christ is Almighty, this is our Faith; and therefore what He bids to be done will be fulfilled, nor does it become us to run counter to the Divine Will.
8. Ye have heard what has been read to-day: the Saviour commanded an ass's colt to be brought to Him by the Apostles and commanded that if any one sought to hinder them they should say, The Lord hath need of him.9 What if now also He hath commanded this ass's colt, that is the colt of that animal which is wont to bear a heavy burthen, such as is the condition of man, to whom it is said, Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest: take My yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy:10 what, I say, if He hath now commanded this colt to be brought to Him, sending forth those Apostles who now having put off the body, wear, invisibly to our eyes, the guise of Angels? Will they not say, should any one seek to hinder them, The Lord hath need of him, if either the desire of this life, or flesh and blood, or the conversation of the world, for perhaps we are acceptable to some persons, should seek to hinder them? But he who loves me here, cannot give a better testimony of his affection than by suffering me to become a sacrifice for Christ; because to be dissolved and to be with Christ is much better; |146 howbeit, to remain in the flesh is more needful for your sakes.11 Ye have therefore, my beloved brethren, no cause for fear, for I know that whatever I shall suffer, I shall suffer for Christ. And I have read that I ought not to fear those who can kill the flesh, and I have heard One say, He who loses his life for My sake, shall find it.12
9. Wherefore, if the Lord wills it, I am sure that no resistance will be made. But if He still delay our contest, why should we fear? It is not bodily protection but the Lord's providence which is wont to protect the servant of Christ.
10. You are disturbed at finding some folding doors unclosed which a blind man in returning home is said to have opened. Acknowledge then that human guards are no support. Lo! one who had lost the gift of sight has broken through all your barriers and baffled your guards: but the Lord hath not lost 13 the guard of His mercy. Do you not remember that two days ago there was found open an entrance on the left side of the Basilica which you thought to be closed and guarded? The Basilica was surrounded by armed men who inspected every entrance, but their eyes were blinded so that they could not discover the one which was open; and so it remained open, as you know, for many nights. Cease then all anxiety, for what Christ commands, and what is expedient, shall come to pass.
11. In the next place I will produce to you instances from the Old Testament. Elisha was sought after by the king of Syria, an army was sent to take him, he was surrounded on every side, his servant began to fear, because he was a servant, that is, his mind was not free, nor had he freedom of action. The holy prophet prayed that his eyes might be opened, and said, Look and see how many more are on our side than against us.14 And he looked up and saw thousands of Angels. You see then that the servants of Christ are protected rather by invisible than by visible beings. But when they keep guard around you, they have been called to do so by your prayers; for you have |147 read that those very men who sought for Elisha on entering Samaria came upon the very man whom they wished to capture, yet they were not able to injure him, but were saved by the intercession of the very man against whom they came.
12. Take the Apostle Peter too as an example of both these things. When Herod sought after and took him, he was put in prison; for the servant of God had not fled but stood firm and without fear. The Church prayed for him, but the Apostle was asleep in the prison, a proof that he feared not. An Angel was sent to rouse him from his sleep, and by him Peter was brought out of prison and for the time escaped death.
13. The same Peter, afterwards, after overcoming Simon, by spreading the precepts of God among the people and preaching chastity, stirred up the minds of the heathen against him: and when they sought to put him to death the Christians besought him to retire for a little while. And although he was desirous of suffering, yet he was moved by the sight of the people praying, for they besought him to reserve himself for the instruction and confirmation of the people. To be brief: as he set out from the walls by night, he saw Christ meeting him in the gate and entering the city, whereupon he said, 'Lord, whither goest Thou?' Christ answered, 'I am coming to be crucified again.' This Divine response Peter understood to refer to his own cross, for Christ, Who had put off the flesh by undergoing the suffering of death could not again be crucified, For in that He died, He died unto sin once, but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God.15 Wherefore Peter understood that Christ was again to be crucified in His servant; and so he turned back of his own accord, and when the Christians asked him why, he told them what he had seen, and was immediately seized, and honoured the Lord Jesus by his cross.
14. Ye see then that Christ wills to suffer in His servants. What if He saith to this servant also, I will that he tarry, but follow thou Me? 16 what if He wills to taste of the fruit from this tree? For if it was His meat to do His Father's Will, it is His meat also to feed upon the suffer |148 ings of His servants. To take an example from our Lord Himself, did He not suffer when He willed, and was He not found when they sought for Him? But when the hour of His passion had not arrived, He passed through the midst of them who sought for Him, and they who saw Him could not detain Him. Which evidently shews that when the Lord wills, each man is found and taken, while he whose time is not come although he meet the eyes, is not captured.
15. And did I not go out daily to make visits, or go to the tomb of the Martyrs? Did I not in going and returning pass close by the Royal palace? And yet no man arrested me, though they wished to drive me from the city, us they shewed afterwards by saying, 'Leave this city, and go where thou wilt.' I expected, I confess, something great, to be burned or slain with the sword for the name of Christ, but they offered me delights in the place of sufferings; and yet the soldiers of Christ seeks not for delights but for sufferings. Wherefore let no man trouble you by the intelligence that they have prepared a carriage 17, or that Auxentius, who calls himself Bishop, has uttered what he thinks terrible words.
16. Many said that executioners had been sent, that the punishment of death had been decreed; I fear them not, nor will I desert my post. For whither should I go to find a place that is not full of nothing but tears and groans? For in every Church the Catholic clergy are ordered to be cast forth; if they resist, to be put to death; all the senators 18 who do not obey this mandate, to be proscribed. |149 And it is a Bishop who writes these orders with his own hand and dictates them with his own mouth, who to prove his learning omitted not an ancient precedent; for we read in the prophet that he saw a flying sickle 19, and in imitation of this Auxentius sent a winged sword through all the cities. And thus Satan transforms himself into an Angel of light,20 and imitates his power for evil purposes.
17. Thou, Lord Jesus, hast in one moment redeemed the world; shall Auxentius in one moment, so far as in him lies, slay so many people, some with the sword, others by sacrilege21? My Basilica he sought with a mouth and hands of blood, and to him our present Lesson may be well applied, Unto the ungodly, saith God, why dost thou preach my laws?22 that is, There is no concord between peace and wrath, between Christ and Belial.23 You remember also how in the Lesson of to-day that holy man Naboth, the owner of a vineyard, was requested by the king to surrender it to him, that he might root up the vines and plant it with common herbs, and that he answered, God forbid that I should give thee the inheritance of my fathers;24 and that king was grieved that what belonged of right to another was refused him when he claimed it as his right, and only gained by the deceit of a woman's artifice. Naboth then defended his vineyard even with his own blood; if he would not surrender his vineyard, shall we surrender the Church of Christ?
18. How then did I reply contumaciously? When summoned, I said, 'God forbid that I should surrender Christ's heritage. If Naboth would not surrender the heritage of his fathers, shall I surrender Christ's heritage?' I added moreover, 'God forbid that I should surrender the heritage of my fathers, the heritage of Dionysius, who died in exile for the Faith, of the Confessor Eustorgius, of Myrocles, and of all the faithful Bishops of old time.' I answered as becomes a Bishop, let the Emperor act as becomes an Emperor. He shall deprive me of my life sooner than my Faith.
19. But to whom am I to surrender it? The Lesson just read from the Gospel ought to teach us what it is that is demanded, and by whom. Ye heard it read that, when |150 Christ was sitting on the ass's colt, the children cried out, and the Jews were indignant, appealing to the Lord Jesus, and saying that He should bid them hold their peace, but He replied, If these were to hold their peace, the very stones would cry out.25 Then He entered the Temple, and cast out the moneychangers, and their tables, and those that sold doves in the Temple of God. This Lesson was read by no direction of ours, but by chance; but it suits well with the present time. For the praises of Christ are always as it were scourges to misbelievers. And now when Christ is praised the heretics say that we are exciting sedition, the heretics say that they were thereby threatened with death; and truly the praises of Christ are death to them. For how can they bear His praises Whose weakness they are proclaiming! Wherefore to this day the praises of Christ are a scourge to the madness of the Arians.
20. The Gerasenes could not bear the presence of Christ, these men, worse than the Gerasenes, cannot even bear the praises of Christ. They see children singing the glory of Christ; for it is written, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise.26 They deride their tender years so full of faith, and ask, Why do they cry out? But Christ answers them, If these should hold their peace the very stones would cry out, that is, the stranger will cry out, the young men too will cry out, the more mature will cry out, the old men also: stones built into that Stone of Whom it is written, The stone which the builders disallowed is become the head-stone of the corner.27
21. Christ then, invited by these praises, enters His Tern-pie, and takes His scuorge and drives out the moneychangers. For He will not permit those who are slaves of money to be in His Temple, He will not suffer those to be there who sell seats. What are seats, but honours? What are doves, but simple minds, or souls which embrace a sincere and pure faith? Shall I then introduce into the Temple him whom Christ excludes? For he is commanded to go forth who sells dignities and honours, he is commanded to go forth who would sell the simple minds of the faithful. |151
22. Wherefore Auxentius is cast forth, Mercurianus is excluded. This is one portent under two names. That it might not be known who he was, he changed his name, and, as there had been here Auxentius the Arian Bishop, so he, to deceive the people whom the other had influenced, called himself Auxentius. Thus he changed his name, but his perfidy he could not change; he put off wolf, and yet put on wolf. It avails him not to have changed his name, what he really is is known. He was known by one name in the regions of Scythia. he is called by another here, he has names differing according to his country. Now therefore he has two names, and if from hence he goes elsewhere he will have a third also. For how will he endure to keep a name which betrays the greatness of his crime? In Scythia he did less wickedly, and yet he was so ashamed as to change his name; here he has dared to do more heinous things, and will he be willing wherever he goes to be betrayed by his name? After writing with his own hand the death warrant of so many people, will he be able to retain his senses unshaken?
23. The Lord Jesus drove out n few from His temple, Auxentius left no one. Jesus casts men out of His temple with a scourge, Auxentius with u sword; Jesus with a rod, Mercurianus with an axe. Our holy Lord drives out the sacrilegious with a scourge, this wicked man persecutes the godly with the sword. Of him ye have to-day said well; 'let him carry his laws away with him.' He shall carry them though he desire it not, lie shall carry with him his conscience, though he carry not the writing, he shall carry his own soul inscribed in blood, although he carry not a letter inscribed with ink. Thy sin, O Judah, is written with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond, and it is graven in thy heart,28 graven that is in the place from whence it came forth.
24. Does he moreover, stained as he is with blood and slaughter, dare to mention discussion to me? Those whom he fails to deceive by his arguments he sentences to be smitten with the sword, and he dictates bloody laws with his mouth, writing them with his hand, and thinking that the law can impose a Creed on men. He has never heard |152 what was read to-day, A man is not justified by the works of the law, or, I by the law am dead to the law that I might live to God,29 that is, by the spiritual law he is dead to the carnal interpretation of the law. Let us too by the law of our Lord Jesus Christ die to this law which sanctions the decrees of perfidy. It is not the law which has gathered together the Church, but the faith of Christ. For the law is not of faith: But the just shall live by faith.30 It is faith then, not the law, which makes a man just, because righteousness is not by the law, but by the faith of Christ. But he who rejects faith, and takes law for his rule, bears witness to his own unrighteousness, for the just shall live by faith.
25. Shall any then follow this law confirming the Council of Arianism wherein Christ is called a creature? But they say, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law.31 So then He is made they say, that is, created. Will they not consider this very text which they have produced; that Christ is said to be made, but made of a woman, that is, He according to His birth from the Virgin was made, Who was according to His Divine generation born of the Father? They read too to-day that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us.32 Was Christ a curse according to His Divinity? But why He should be called a curse the Apostle teaches thee, alleging the text, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,33 that is, He Who in His flesh took upon Him our flesh, in His body carried our griefs and our curses that He might crucify them, for He is cursed, not in Himself, but in thee. Lastly, you have in another place, Who knew no sin, but was made sin for us,34 for He took upon Him our sins, to do away with them by the Sacrament of His Passion.
26. These points, my brethren, I would have discussed more fully with you in his presence, but he, being aware that you were not ignorant of the Faith, fled from your scrutiny, and chose as his advocates, if indeed he chose any, four or live heathens, whom I would willingly have now present in our general assembly, not for them to judge of Christ, but that they might hear the majesty of Christ. They however have already pronounced concerning |153 Auxentius, for when he daily argued before them they gave him no credit. What can be a greater condemnation of him than that he was defeated without an adversary before his own judges? Thus we now have their own sentence against Auxentius.
27. And justly is he to be condemned for choosing heathen judges, for he disregarded the Apostle's precept who says Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world?35 And below he says, Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, no not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? but brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers?36 Ye see that what he offered is contrary to the Apostle's authority. Choose whether we should follow Auxentius or Paul as our master?
28. But why should I speak of the Apostle, when our Lord Himself cries by the Prophet, hearken unto Me My people, ye that know righteousness, in whose heart is My law. God says, hearken unto Me My people, ye that know righteousness. Auxentius says, Ye know not righteousness. Do ye not see that he now, who rejects the declaration of the heavenly oracles, despises God in you? Hearken unto Me My people;37 saith the Lord. He says not, Hearken ye Gentiles; He says not, Hearken ye Jews. For now they that were the people of God are become the people of error, and they who were the people of error have become the people of God, because they have believed in Christ. Wherefore that people are judges, in whose heart is the Divine, not human, law; the law written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God;38 not inscribed on paper but stampt upon the heart; the law of grace not of blood. Who is it then who wrongs you, he who refuses or he who chooses to be heard by you?
29. Hemmed in on all sides, he has recourse to the wiles of his fathers. He wishes to excite odium against me in regard to the Emperor, saying, that a youth yet a catechumen and ignorant of the sacred Scriptures, ought to judge, and to judge in the Consistory. As if last year, when I was summoned to the palace, when in the presence of the |154 nobles the matter was argued before the Consistory, when the Emperor wished to take away the Basilica, I was then cowed by the sight of the Imperial court, and had not maintained the constancy of a priest, or had suffered our rights to be infringed there. Do they not remember that when the people knew I had gone to the palace they rushed in with an onset that nothing could withstand; and when a Military Count came forth with some light troops to disperse the multitude they all offered themselves to death for the Faith of Christ? Was I not then requested to make a long speech to soothe the people? Did I not pledge my faith that no one should invade the Church's Basilica? And although my good offices were requested as a kindness, yet the coming of the populace to the palace was made a ground of charge against me; into the same odium then they wish me again to fall.
30. I recalled the people, and yet I did not escape odium, and this odium ought, I conceive, to be controuled rather than feared. For what should we fear for the name of Christ? Unless perhaps this which they say ought to move me; 'And ought not the Emperor then to have one Basilica to go to; and does Ambrose desire to be more powerful than the Emperor, so as to exclude him from the liberty of attending Church?' When they say this, they wish to lay hold of my words, like the Jews who tempted Christ with empty words, saying, Master, is it lawful to give, tribute to Caesar or not?39 Must the servants of God always be exposed to odium on Caesar's account? And does impiety, with a view to calumny, seek to use the Imperial name as a cloak? And can they protest that they do not partake of the sacrilege of these men, whose guidance they follow?
31. Yet see how much worse the Arians are than the Jews. The latter enquired of Christ whether He thought that the right of tribute should be rendered to Caesar; the former are willing to surrender to the Emperor the rights of the Church. But like traitors, they follow their master, and so let us answer what our Lord and Master hath taught us. For Jesus perceiving the treachery of the Jews, said unto them, Why tempt ye Me, shew Me a penny. And when they gave it to Him, He said, Whose image and whose |155 superscription is this? They answered, Caesar's. Jesus replied, Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.40 Thus I also say to them who find fault with me, Shew Me a penny. Jesus saw the penny was Caesar's, and said, Render unto Caesar the the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. Can they from the seizure of the Basilicas of the Church offer the penny of Caesar?
32. But in the Church I know one image, that is, the image of the invisible God, of which God said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,41 that image of which it is written, that Christ is the brightness of His glory, the express image of His substance.42 In this image I behold the Father, as the Lord Jesus Himself said, He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father also.43 For this Image is not divided from the Father, for He hath taught me the unity of the Trinity, saying, I and the Father are One,44 and below, All things that the Father hath are Mine.45 And of the Holy Spirit, saying, that He is the Spirit of Christ, and hath received from Christ, as it is written, He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you.46
33. In what respect then have we not answered with humility? If he ask for tribute we deny it not. The Church lands pay tribute; if the Emperor desire to possess these lands he has the power to claim them; none of us will interfere. The contributions of the people will more than suffice for the poor; let them excite no ill-will on account of the lands, let them take them if it please the Emperor; I give them not, but I do not refuse them. They ask for gold, but I can say, Silver and gold I seek not. But this disbursement of gold they make a cause of offence: this offence I dread not. I have stipendiaries, it is true: my stipendiaries 47 are the poor of Christ, this is a treasure which I am well used to collect. May this offence of bestowing gold on the poor ever be charged upon me! And if they accuse me of defending myself by their means, I deny not, nay I even court the charge; a defence I have, |156 but it is in the prayers of the poor. Blind they are and and lame, weak and old, yet are they stronger than the stoutest warriors. Lastly, gifts to the poor make God our debtor, for it is written, He that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord.48 The guards of warriors often gain not Divine grace.
34. Moreover they assert that the people have been beguiled by the strains of my hymns 49. I deny not this either. It is a lofty strain, than which nothing is more powerful. For what can be more powerful than the confession of the Trinity, which is daily celebrated by the mouth of the whole people? All zealously desire to make profession of their faith, they know how to confess in verse the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus all are become teachers who were scarcely able to be disciples.
35. But what can be more lowly than for us to follow the example of Christ, Who being found in fashion as a man humbled himself being made obedient unto death.50 And again, by obedience He delivered all: For as by the disobedience of one man many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one Man shall many be made righteous.51 If then He was obedient let them learn from Him the lesson of obedience, to which we adhere, saying to them who raise odium against us, on the Emperor's account, We render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. To Caesar tribute is due, we deny it not; the Church is God's, and must not be given up to Caesar, because the Temple of God cannot by right be Caesar's. |157
36. That this is said with due honour to the Emperor no one can deny. For what can be more honourable for the Emperor than to be styled a son of the Church? In saying this we are loyal to him without sinning against God. For the Emperor is within the Church, not over the Church; a good Emperor seeks the aid of the Church, he does not reject it, we say this humbly, but we assert it firmly. Some men threaten us with fire, sword and banishment. We, the servants of Christ, have learned not to fear. To them that fear not nothing is a cause of alarm. And it is thus written, arrows of infants are their blows become.52
37. It would seem now that we have made a sufficient answer to what was proposed to us. Now I ask them the same question as did the Saviour, The baptism of John was it from heaven or of men?53 And the Jews could not answer Him. If the Jews did not annul the baptism of John, shall Auxentius annul the Baptism of Christ? For that Baptism is not from men but from Christ which the Angel of mighty Counsel 54 brought down to us, that we might be justified before God. Why then does Auxentius hold that the faithful, those baptized in the name of the Trinity are to be re-baptized, when the Apostle says, One faith, one baptism;55 why does he say that he is the adversary of men, not of Christ, seeing that he spurns the counsel of God, and contemns that Baptism which Christ gave us for the redemption of our sins.
S. AMBROSE here recounts to his sister the discovery of the relics of S. S. Gervasius and Protasius, which occurred during the time of trial referred to in the last letter, and seems, by the pitch of excitement to which it raised the people of Milan, to have alarmed the court-party, and so to have caused the persecution to be dropped. The simple narrative needs no further introduction. It is strikingly told, and the question of the miracles discussed, in the 'Church of the Fathers' ch. iii. S. Augustine gives a brief account of the event in his Confessions, (ix. 7.) fully corroborating S.Ambrose's statements, and also speaks of it in De Civ. Dei xxii. 8, 2, and in Serm. de Divers. cclxxvi. 5. |158
TO THE LADY HIS SISTER WHOM HE LOVES MORE THAN HIS LIFE AND EYES AMBROSE HER BROTHER SENDS GREETING.
As I am wont to keep your holiness informed of all that goes on here in your absence, I would have you know that we have found the bodies of some holy martyrs. After the consecration of a Church 56, many began to interrupt me crying with one voice; Consecrate this as you did the Roman Basilica. 'I will do so,' I replied, 'if I find any relics of Martyrs:' and immediately my heart burned within me as if prophetically.
2. In short the Lord lent us aid 57, though even the very clergy were alarmed. I caused the ground to be opened before the rails of the Church of S.S. Felix and Nabor. I found the suitable tokens; and when some persons were brought for us to lay our hands upon, the power of the holy martyrs became so manifest that before I began to speak, one of them, a woman 58, was seized by an evil spirit and thrown down upon the ground in the place where the martyrs lay. We found two men of stupendous size, such as belonged to ancient days. All their bones were entire, and there was much blood.59 The people flocked thither in crowds throughout the whole of those two days. We arranged all the bones in order, and carried them when evening set in, to the Basilica of Fausta 60; where we kept vigils throughout the night, and some possessed persons received imposition of hands. The following day we transferred them to the Basilica which they call Ambrosian. During their transportation a blind man was healed 61. My |159 discourse to the people was as follows. When I considered in what overflowing and unprecedented numbers you were met together, and thought on the gifts of Divine Grace which shone forth in the holy Martyrs, I felt myself, I confess, unequal to this task, and thought it impossible that I could find language to express that which we can hardly conceive in mind or endure with our eyes. But when the reading of the regular Lessons of Holy Scripture began, the Holy Spirit, Who spoke by the Prophets, granted us grace to speak somewhat worthy of this great and expectant concourse, and of the merits of the holy Martyrs.
4. The heavens, the Psalmist says, declare the glory of God.62 On reading this Psalm the thought arises that it is not so much the material elements as the heavenly merits that seem to offer praise worthy of God. But by the coincidence of the Lesson being read to-day it is made plain what are the heavens which tell of the glory of God. Behold on my right hand and on my left the holy relics, behold men of heavenly conversation, behold the trophies of a lofty mind. These are the heavens which declare the glory of God; these are the works of His hands which are told by the firmament. For it was not worldly snares, but the favour of the Divine operation, which raised them to the firmament of the most sacred Passion, and long beforehand by the evidence of their conversation and virtues bore this testimony of them, that they remained stedfast against the slippery wiles of this world.
5. Paul was an heaven, when he says, Our conversation is in heaven.63 James and John were heavens; they are called sons of thunder;64 and therefore being as it were, an heaven, John saw the Word with God.65 The Lord Jesus Christ Himself was an heaven of perpetual light, when He told forth the glory of God, that glory which no man had before beheld. And therefore He said, No man hath seen God at any time, but the Only-Begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.66 Moreover, if you look for the handiwork of God, hear what Job says, The Spirit of God hath made me.67 And so, strengthened against the temptations of the devil, he preserved his steps stedfast and without stumbling. But let us proceed to what follows. |160
6. Day unto day, the Psalm says, uttereth speech.68 These are the true days, which no shades of night obscure; these are the true days, full of light and eternal radiance, who have uttered the word of God not by any mere transient utterance but from their inmost heart, continuing constant in their confession, persevering in their testimony.
7. Another Psalm we read saith, Who is like unto the Lord our God, that hath His dwelling so high, and yet regardeth the lowly things that are in heaven and earth.69 Truly God hath regarded the lowly, Who hath discovered the relics of the martyrs of His Church as they lay hid under the unnoted sod, of those whose souls are in heaven, while their bodies are in the earth, taking up the simple out of the dust and lifting the poor out of the mire,70 even those whom ye see, to set them with the princes of His people. For whom but the holy martyrs shall we deem to be princes of the people? In their number Protasius and Gervasius heretofore long unknown are enrolled, they who have caused the Church of Milan, once barren of martyrs, but now the mother of many children,71 to exult both in the honors and examples of her own sufferings?
8. Nor let this be considered alien from the true Faith: Day unto day uttereth speech, soul to soul, life to life, resurrection to resurrection. And night unto night uttereth knowledge, that is, flesh to flesh, the flesh whose sufferings have declared to all the true knowledge of faith. Bright and fair nights, full of stars: For one star differeth from another star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead.72
9. But many not improperly call this the resurrection of the martyrs; whether they have risen for themselves is another question, for us beyond a doubt they are risen. Ye have heard, nay, yourselves have seen, many cleansed from evil spirits; many also, after touching with their hands the garments of the saints, delivered from the infirmities under which they suffered: ye have seen the miracles of old time renewed, when through the coming of the Lord Jesus, a fuller Grace descended upon the earth; ye see many healed by the shadow, as it were, of the holy bodies. How many napkins are passed to and fro? How |161 many garments placed on these holy relics, and endowed by the mere contact with the power of healing are reclaimed by their owners. All think themselves happy in touching even the outer-most thread, and whoever touches them will be made whole.
10. Thanks be to Thee, Lord Jesus, that at this time, when Thy Church requires greater guardianship, Thou hast raised up for us the spirits of the holy martyrs. Let all be well aware what kind of champions I desire, such as are wont to be protectors not assailants. Such are they, O holy people, whom I have obtained for you, a benefit to all, and a hurt to none. These are the defenders whom I desire, these are my soldiers, not the world's soldiers, but Christ's. I fear no odium on account of these; their patronage is safe in proportion to its power. Nay, I desire their protection for the very men who grudge them to me. Let them come then and see my body-guard: I deny not that I am surrounded by such weapons as these; Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will magnify ourselves in the Name of the Lord our God.73
11. The Lesson from Holy Scripture relates how Elisha, when surrounded by the army of the Syrians, told his trembling servant not to fear, for they, said he, that are for us are more than they which are against us;74 and in order to convince Gehazi of this, he prayed that his eyes might be opened, and when this was done he saw a countless host of Angels present with the prophet. And we, though we see them not, yet are conscious of their presence. Our eyes were held, as long as the bodies of the saints lay hid in their graves. Now God has opened our eyes, and we have seen the aids which had so often succoured us. Before, we saw them not, although we possessed them. And so, as though the Lord said to our trembling hearts, 'Behold what great martyrs I have given you;' even so with opened eyes we behold the glory of the Lord,75 which as to the passion of the martyrs is past, as to their operation is present. We have escaped, my brethren, no light load of shame; we had patrons and we knew it not. This one thing we have found, wherein we seem to excel our |162 ancestors; they lost the knowledge of the holy martyrs, and we have gained it.
12. These noble relics are dug out of an ignoble sepulchre; these trophies are displayed in the face of day. The tomb is moist with blood, the tokens of a triumphant death are displayed, the uninjured relics are found in their proper place and order, the head separated from the body. Old men now relate that they have formerly heard the names of these martyrs, and read their titles. The city which had seized on the martyrs of other places had lost her own. This is the gift of God, and yet the favour which the Lord Jesus has conferred in the time of my episcopate I cannot deny, and since I myself am not counted worthy to be a martyr, I have gained these martyrs for you.
13. Bring these victorious victims to the spot where Christ is the sacrifice. But He, Who suffered for all, upon the Altar, they, who have been redeemed by His passion, under the Altar. This spot I had destined for myself, for it is fitting that the priest should rest where he hath been wont to offer, but I give up the right side to the sacred victims: that spot was due to the martyrs. Wherefore let us bury the hallowed relics, placing them in a worthy home, and let us employ the whole day in faithful devotion.
14. The people loudly requested that the deposition of the martyrs should be deferred until the Lord's Day; but at length I prevailed that it should take place on the following day. On that day I delivered a second sermon to the people to the following effect.
15. Yesterday I discoursed upon the verse, Day unto day uttereth speech,76 speaking according to my capacity: to-day Holy Scripture seems to me to have prophecied, not only before, but now. For seeing that this your devout celebration has continued night and day, the oracles of prophetic song have declared that these, even yesterday and to-day, are the days of which it is most opportunely said day unto day uttereth speech, and these the nights to which the saying is appropriate that night unto night uttereth knowledge. For what else have ye done during these two days but utter the word of God with deep emotion, and prove yourselves to have the knowledge of faith? |163
16. This your celebration some, as is their wont, are envious of. And since their envious minds cannot endure it, they also hate its cause, and proceed to such a pitch of folly as to deny the merits of the martyrs, whose power the very devils confess. But this is not strange; for such is the faithlessness of unbelievers that the confession of the devil himself is often less intolerable. For the devil said, Jesus, Thou Son of the living God, art Thou come to torment us before the time?77 And yet when the Jews heard this they even then denied the Son of God. And now ye have heard the devils crying out, and owning to the martyrs that they cannot bear their tortures, and saying ' Why are ye come to torment us so grievously?' And the Arians say, 'These are not martyrs, nor can they torment the devil nor dispossess any one:' while yet their own words are evidence of the torments of the evil spirits, and the benefits of the martyrs are shewn by the recovery of the healed, and the manifest proof of those that were dispossessed.
17. They deny that the blind man received his sight, but he denies not his own cure. He says, 'I who was blind now see.' He says, 'My blindness has left me;' he evidences it by the fact. They deny the benefit, though they cannot deny the fact. The man is well known: when in health he was employed in public trade, his name is Severus, a butcher by business. When his affliction befell him he laid down his employment. He calls as his witnesses those men by whose charities he was supported; he summons as witnesses of his present visitation the very men who bore testimony to his blindness. He declares that when he touched the border of the garment with which the martyrs' bodies were clothed, his sight was restored to him.
18. Is not this like what we read in the Gospel? For the power which we admire proceeds from one and the same Author; nor does it signify whether it is a work or a gift, seeing that He confers gifts in His works and works by His gifts. For what He has enabled some themselves to perform, this in the work of others His Name effects. Thus we read in the Gospel that the Jews, when they saw that the blind man had received his sight, required the testimony of his parents. They asked,' How has your son |164 received his sight?' That blind man said, Whereas I was blind now I see,78 and so too our blind man says, 'I was blind, and now I see.' Enquire of others, if ye believe me not; question strangers, if you suspect his parents of being in collusion with me. The obstinacy of these men is more detestable than that of the Jews, for the latter inquired of the man's parents to solve their doubts; they secretly inquire but openly deny, no longer refusing credit to the miracle but to its Author.
19 and 20. But I would fain ask, what it is they will not believe; is it that any one can be relieved by the martyrs? But this is not to believe in Christ, for He hath said, And greater things than these shall ye do.79 Or only by those martyrs, whose merits have long been efficacious, and whose bodies have long been discovered? Here I ask whether it is of myself or of the holy martyrs that they are jealous? If of me, have I wrought any miracles by my own means, in my own name? Why then do they envy me that which is not mine? But if of the martyrs (for if not of me it must be of them they are envious) they show that their Creed is different from that of the martyrs. For they would not envy their works unless they deemed the faith which was in them to be that which they themselves have not. This is that Faith sealed by the tradition of our ancestors, which the devils themselves cannot deny, though the Arians do.
21. We have heard to-day those on whom hands were laid, profess that no man can be saved who does not believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: that he was dead and buried who denied the Holy Ghost, who believed not the Almighty power of the Trinity. This the devil confesses, but the Arians will not own it. The devil says, Let him who denies the divinity of the Holy Spirit be tormented as he himself was tormented by the Martyrs.
22. What I accept from the devil is not his testimony, but his confession. He spoke unwillingly, compelled and tortured. That which wickedness suppressed, force extorted. The devil yields to blows, but as yet the Arians have not learned to yield. How much have they suffered, and like Pharoah, they are hardened by their calamities! |165 The devil said, as we find it written, I know Thee Who Thou art, the Son of the Living God.80 The Jews said, We know not who He is.81 Yesterday, and the preceding night and day the devils said, 'We know that ye are martyrs,' while the Arians said, 'We know not, we will not understand nor believe.' The devils say to the martyrs, 'Ye are come to destroy us,' the Arians say, 'These torments of the devil are not true torments but pretended and counterfeit.' I have heard of many counterfeits, but no man could ever feign himself a devil. Again, what is the meaning of the agony we see in them, when the hand is laid on them? What room is here for fraud and what suspicion of imposture?
23. But I will not call the words of devils as a testimony to the martyrs: let the sacred sufferings of the martyrs be established by their own supernatural acts; judges indeed they have, namely, those that have been cleansed, witnesses, namely those that have been dispossessed. Better than that of devils is their voice who came diseased and are now healed, better is that voice which the martyrs blood sends forth, for blood has a loud voice which reaches from earth to heaven. Ye have read those words of God, Thy brother's blood crieth unto Me!82 This blood cries by its purple stains, it cries by its signal efficacy, it cries by its triumphant suffering.
We have granted your request and have put off till today the burial of the relics which should have taken place yesterday.
This letter is addressed to the Bishops of the Province of Aemilia, which, as forming part of the political diocese of Italy, was under the ecclesiastical superintendence of the Bishop of Milan, who exercised the powers, if he had not the title, of Exarch. (See Bingham Antiq. ix. 1, § 6, 8.) The Bishops apply to him for his decision as to the proper day for observing Easter in the following year, A.D. ,387, in which the first day of the week fell on the fourteenth day of the moon, or, as it is called here, the 'fourteenth moon.' This was a question which for long troubled the Church, and divided the East and West, and much importance was attached to it. The whole question is fully discussed in Dict. of Christ. Antiq. under 'Easter,' in |166 a learned article by the Rev. L. Hensley. Some interesting remarks on it, in connection with disputes in England, may he seen in Prof. Bright's Early English Ch. Hist. pp. 76-79, and 193-200.
Mr. Hensley has kindly drawn up the following table, which exhibits at a glance the points on which S. Ambrose enters in this letter.
TABLE OF EASTER FROM A.D. 373 TO A.D. 387.
March 24 F
April 12 D
April 1 G
April 21 C
April 9 A
March 29 D
April 17 B
April 5 D
March 25 G
April 13 E
April 2 A
March 22 D
April 10 B
March 30 E
April 18 G
* The asterisks mark the year in which the full moon falls on the Sunday, and which are referred to in the Letter.
TO THE LORDS, HIS BRETHREN MOST BELOVED, THE BISHOPS ESTABLISHED THROUGHOUT THE PROVINCE OF AEMILIA, AMBROSE, BISHOP.
1. THAT to settle the day of the celebration of the Passover requires more than ordinary wisdom, we are taught both by the Holy Scripture and by the tradition of the Fathers, who, when assembled at the Nicene Synod, in addition to their true and admirable decrees concerning the Faith, formed also for the above-mentioned celebration a plan for nineteen years with the aid of the most skilful calculators, and constituted a sort of cycle to serve as a pattern for subsequent years. This cycle they called the nineteen years' cycle83, their aim being that we should not waver in uncertain and ungrounded opinions on such a |167 celebration, but ascertain the true method and so ensure such concurrence of the affections of all, that the sacrifice for the Lord's Resurrection should be offered every where on the same night.
2. My Lords and brethren most beloved, we ought not so far to deviate from truth, or to be of such varying and wandering minds, as to the obligation of this celebration having been imposed upon all Christians: since our Lord Himself selected the day to celebrate it upon, which agreed with the method of the true observance. For it is written: Then came the day when the Passover must be killed. And He sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the Passover that we may eat. And they said unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we prepare? And He said unto them, Behold when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water: follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, the Master saith unto thee, Where is the guest-chamber, where I shall eat the Passover with My disciples? And he shall shew you a large upper room, there make ready.84
3. We observe then that we ought not to go down to places in the earth, but to seek a large upper room furnished, for us to celebrate the Lord's Passover. For we ought to wash our senses, so to speak, with the spiritual water of the everlasting fountain, and maintain the rule of the devout celebration, and not follow common notions and go in quest of days according to the moon, whereas the Apostle says, Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.85 For it is sure to be injurious 86.
4. But it is one thing to observe them after the heathen fashion, so as to decide on what day of the moon you are to attempt anything, for instance, that you should avoid the fifth 87 and begin no work upon it, and to recommend different points in the moon's course for commencing |168 employments, or to avoid certain days, as many are in the habit of avoiding days called 'following 88' or the Egyptian days: it is another thing to turn the observance of a religious mind to the day of which it is written, This is the day which the Lord hath made.89 For although it is written that the Lord's Passover ought to be celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month, and we ought to look for what is truly the fourteenth moon 90 for celebrating the course of our Lord's Passion, still we can understand from this that to fix such a solemnity there is required either the perfection of the Church, or the fulness of clear faith, as the Prophet said when he spoke of the Son of God, that his throne is as the sun before me, and as the perfect moon, it shall remain for ever. 91
5. Hence it is that our Lord Himself also, when He had performed His wonderful works upon the earth, as if the faith of human minds were now established, observed that it was the time of His Passion, saying, Father, the hour is come, glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.92 For He teaches elsewhere that He sought this glory of celebrating His Passion, where He says, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I am perfected.93 In them indeed is Jesus perfected, who begin to be perfect, that with their faith they may believe on the fulness of His Divinity and His Redemption.
6. Therefore we seek out both the day and the hour, as the Scripture teaches us. The prophet David also says, It is time for thee, Lord, to work,94 when he sought understanding to know the testimonies of the Lord. The Preacher also saith, To every thing there is a season;95 Jeremy exclaims, The turtle and the swallow and the sparrows of the ground observe the time of their coming.96 But what can appear more evident than that it is of the Passion of our Lord that it is said, The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib?97 Let us then acknowledge this crib of our Master, wherein we are nourished, fed, and refreshed. |169
7. We ought therefore especially to know this time, at which over the universal world the accordant prayers of the sacred night are to he poured forth; for prayers are commended by season also, as it is written, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee.98 This is the time of which the Apostle said, Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation.99
8. Accordingly, since, even after the calculations of the Egyptians, and the definitions of the church of Alexandria, and also of the Bishop of the church of Rome, several persons are still waiting my judgement by letter, it is needful that I should write what my opinion is about the day of the Passover. For though the question which has arisen is about the approaching Paschal day, yet we state what we think should be maintained for all subsequent time, in case any question of the kind should corne up.
9. But there are two things to be observed in the solemnity of the passover, the fourteenth moon, and the first month, which is called the month of the new fruits 100.101 Therefore that we may not appear to be departing from the Old Testament, let us recite the words of the section concerning the day of celebrating the Passover. Moses warns the people, saying that they must keep the month of the new fruits, proclaiming that it is the first month, for he says, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you,102 and thou shalt offer the Passover of the Lord thy God on the fourteenth day of the first month.103
10. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.104 He therefore, Who spake the law, afterwards coming by the Virgin in the last times, accomplished the fulness of the Law, for He came not to destroy the Law but to fulfil it,105 and He celebrated the Passover in the week in which the fourteenth moon was the fifth clay of the week, and then on that very day, as what is said before teaches us, He ate the Passover with his disciples: but on the following day, on the sixth day of the week, He |170 was crucified on the fifteenth moon. But the sixteenth moon was the Sabbath which was an high day, and so on. the seventeenth moon He rose again from the dead.
11. We must then keep this law of Easter, not to keep the fourteenth day as the day of the Resurrection, hut rather as the day of the Passion, or at least one of the next preceding days, because the feast of the Resurrection is kept on the Lord's day; and on the Lord's day we cannot fast; for we rightly condemn the Manichaeans for their fast upon this day. For it is unbelief in Christ's Resurrection, to appoint a rule of fasting for the day of the Resurrection, since the Law says that the Passion is to he eaten with bitterness 106, that is, with grief, because the Author of Salvation was slain by so great a sacrilege on the part of men; but on the Lord's day the Prophet teaches us that we should rejoice, saying, This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us rejoice and be glad in it.107
12. Therefore it is fit that not only the day of the Passion, but also that of the Resurrection be observed by us, that we may have a day both of bitterness and of joy; fast on the one, on the other be refreshed. Consequently, if the fourteenth moon of the first month fall, as will be the case next time, on the Lord's day, inasmuch as we ought neither to fast on the Lord's day, nor on the thirteenth moon which falls on the Sabbath-day to break the fast, which must especially be observed on the day of the Passion, the celebration of Easter must be postponed to the next week. For the fifteenth day of the month follows, on which Christ suffered, and it will be the second day of the week. The third day of the week will be the sixteenth moon, on which our Lord's Flesh rested in the tomb; and the fourth day of the week will be the seventeenth moon on which our Lord rose again.
13. When therefore these three sacred days run as they do next time into the further week, within which three days He both suffered and rested and rose again, of which three days He says, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,108 what can bring us trouble or doubt? For if it raises a scruple that we do not on the fourteenth moon celebrate the particular day either of His Passion or |171 Resurrection, we may remember that our Lord Himself did not suffer on the fourteenth moon, but on the fifteenth, and on the seventeenth He rose again. But if any are troubled at our passing over the fourteenth moon, which falls upon the Lord's day, that is the 18th of April, and recommending its celebration on the following Lord's day, there is this authority for doing so.
14. In times lately past, when the fourteenth moon of the first month fell on the Lord's day, the solemnity was celebrated on the Lord's day next ensuing. But in the eighty-ninth year of the Era of Diocletian 109, when the fourteenth moon was on the 21th of March, Easter was kept by us on the last day of March. The Alexandrians and Egyptians also, as they wrote themselves, when the fourteenth day of the moon fell on the 28th day of the month Phamenoth, kept Easter on the fifth day of the month Pharmuthi, which is the last day of March, and so agreed with us. Again in the ninety-third year of the Era of Diocletian, when the fourteenth moon fell on the fourteenth day of the month Pharmuthi, which is the 9th of April, and was the Lord's day, Easter was kept on the Lord's day, the 21st day of Pharmuthi, or according to us on the 16th of April. Wherefore since we have both reason and precedent, nothing should disturb us upon this head.
15. There is yet this further point that seems to require explanation, that several persons think that we shall be keeping Easter in the second month, whereas it is written, Keep the first month, the month of new fruits.110 The case however cannot occur that any should keep Easter out of the month of the new fruits, except those who keep the fourteenth moon so strictly to the letter, that they will not celebrate their Easter on any day but that. Moreover the Jews are going to celebrate the approaching Passover in |172 the twelfth and not in the first month, viz. on the 20th of March according to us, hut according to the Egyptians on the twenty-fourth day of the month Phamenoth, which is not the first month hut the twelfth, for the first month of the Egyptians is called Pharmuthi, and begins on the 27th of March and ends on the 25th of April. Therefore according to the Egyptians we shall keep Easter Sunday in the first month, that is, on the 25th of April, which is the thirtieth day of the month Pharmuthi.
16. Nor do I consider it unreasonable to borrow a precedent for observing the month from the country in which the first Passover was celebrated. For which reason also our predecessors in the ordinance of the Nicene Council thought fit to decide that their cycle of nineteen years should belong to the same month, if one observes it diligently; and they rightly kept the very month of the new fruits, for in Egypt it is in this the first month that the new corn is cut: and this month is the first in respect of the crops of the Egyptians and first according to the Law, but the eighth according to our custom, for the in-diction begins in the month of September. The first of April therefore is in the eighth month. But the month begins not according to vulgar usage, but according to the custom of learned men, from the day of the equinox, which is the 21st of March, and ends on the 21st of April. Therefore the days of Easter have been generally kept as much as possible within these thirty-one 111 days.
17. But after keeping Easter Sunday six years ago 112 on the 21st of April, that is on the thirtieth day of the month according to our reckoning, we have no reason to be distressed if this next time also we are to keep it on the thirtieth day of the month Pharmuthi. If any one think that it is the second month, because Easter Sunday will be on the third day from the completion of the month (but this appears to he completed on the 21st of April) he should |173 consider that the fourteenth rnoon, which is our object, will fall on the 18th of April and thus within the regular count-ing of the month. But what the law requires is that the day of the Passion should be kept within the first month, the month of new fruits.
18. The method then is satisfactory as far as the complete course of the moon is concerned, inasmuch as three more days remain to complete the month. Easter then does not pass on into another month, since it will be kept within the same month, that is, the first. But that it is not fit that we should be tied to the letter, not only does the customary method of keeping Easter of itself instruct us, but the Apostle too teaches us, when he says, Christ our Passover is sacrificed.113 The passage also which has been cited teaches us that we are not to follow the letter, for thus it runs: And thou shalt sacrifice the Passover to the Lord thy God on the fourteenth day of the first month 114.115 He uses the word 'day' in the place of 'moon;' and so the most skilful according to the law calculate the month by the moon's course, and since the moon's course, that is the first day, may begin with more than one of the nones, you perceive that the nones of May do still admit of being reckoned in the first month of the new fruits. Therefore even according to the judgement of the law this is the first mouth. To conclude, the Greeks call the moon mh&nh, owing to which they call the months in Greek mh~nej, and the ordinary usage of foreign nation employs moon in the sense of day.
19. But even the Lessons of the old Testament shew that different days are to be observed for the Passion and Resurrection: for there it runs, Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep or from the goats; and ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month, and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts, and on the upper door post of the house wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire,116 and further on, And ye shall eat |174 it with anxiety 117: it is the Lord's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and in all the land of Egypt118 will I execute vengeance: I am the Lord. And the blood shall be to you for a token in the houses where ye are; and I will see the blood and I will protect you and the plague of extermination shall not be on you. And I will smite the land of Egypt, And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations: ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.119
20. We observe that the day of the Passion is marked out as a fast, for the lamb is to be slain at the evening: though we might understand by evening the last time, according to John who says, Children, it is the last time.120 But even according to the mystery, it is plain that it was killed in the evening, when darkness immediately took place, and true fasting is to be observed on that day, for thus shall ye eat it with anxiety: but anxiety belongs to those who fast. But on the day of the Resurrection there is the exultation of refreshment and joy, on which day the people appears to have gone out of Egypt, when the first-born of the Egyptians had been killed. And this is shewn more evidently by what follows, wherein the Scripture says, that after the Jews kept the Passover as Moses ordered, It came to pass that at midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt from the first-born of Pharaoh.121 And Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel, and go serve the Lord.122 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste.123 Eventually the Israelites went in such manner, that they had not opportunity to leaven their dough, for the Egyptians thrust them out, and would not wait for them to take the preparation they had made for themselves for the way.
21. We have made it clear then that the day of the Resurrection ought to be observed after the day of the Passion, and that this day of the Resurrection ought not to be on the fourteenth moon, but later, as the Old Testament says, |175 because the day of the Resurrection is that on which the people going out of Egypt, after being baptized, as the Apostle says, in the sea and in the cloud,124 overcame death, receiving spiritual bread, and drinking spiritual drink from the rock: and further that the Lord's Passion cannot be celebrated on the Lord's day, and that if the fourteenth moon should fall upon the Lord's day, that another week ought to be added, as was done in the seventy sixth year125 of the era of Diocletian. For then without any doubt or hesitation on the part of our fathers we celebrated Easter Sunday on the twenty-eighth day of the month Pharmuthi, which is the 23rd of April. And both the course of the moon and the reason of the case concur in recommending this, for next Easter is to be kept on the twenty first moon, for to that day its range has commonly extended.
22. Since therefore so many indications of truth are combined, let us after the example of our fathers celebrate the festival of our general Salvation with joy and exultation, colouring our side posts, between which is the door of the word which the Apostle wishes to be opened unto him, with faith in the Lord's Passion.126 Of this door David also says, Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips,127 that we may speak of nothing but the Blood of Christ, whereby we have conquered death, whereby we are redeemed. Let the sweet odour of Christ burn in us. To Him let us listen, on Him let us turn the eyes both of mind and body, admiring His works, proclaiming His blessings; over the threshold of our door let the confession of holy Redemption shine resplendent. Let us with fervent spirit keep the holy Feast, in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,128 and singing in pious doctrine with one accord the Glory of the Father and of the Son and the undivided Majesty of the Holy Spirit. |176
LETTER XXIV. [A.D.387.]
S. AMBROSE here reports the result of his second mission to Maximus in behalf of Justina and her son Valentinian the 2nd. He had before gone, as he mentions in this Letter, immediately after the murder of Gratian, A.D. 383, and had then, at much risk to himself, done them good service, and been mainly instrumental in securing peace, and inducing Maximus to abstain from invading Italy, and to leave Valentinian in possession of a share of the Empire. Now it seemed certain that Maximus was preparing to cross the Alps and deprive Valentinian of his dominions and probably of his life, and once more Justina and her son seek the aid of the great Bishop, whom they had so cruelly persecuted during the peace he had procured for them. It is very striking to see the persecutors thus reduced to be suppliants of their victim, and the good Bishop at once rendering them the service which they sought. He writes this report while on his way back, and sends it before him, that Valentinian and his mother might learn the truth at once, and lose no time in making preparation to meet their danger. He was commissioned to induce Maximus to maintain peace, and to restore the body of Gratian for burial at Milan. S. Ambrose was less successful in this embassy than in the former one, and Justina and Valentinian had to escape to the East and put themselves under the protection of Theodosius, who took up arms in their behalf, and marched to the West, defeated and captured Maximus at Aquileia, and had him put to death, and so restored Valentinian to the Empire of all the West, A.D. 388.
S. Ambrose cannot have started on his mission till after Easter, as this was the year in which he baptized S. Augustine.
AMBROSE TO THE EMPEROR VALENTINIAN.
1. OF my fidelity in my former mission you were so well assured as to require from me no account of it. Indeed the very fact that I was detained some days in Gaul sufficiently proved that I had made no promises acceptable to Maximus, nor agreed to any measures which inclined to what was pleasing to him rather than to the establishment of peace. And again, had you not approved of my first mission you would not have committed to me a second. But since as I was on the point of retiring he laid upon me the necessity of a discussion with him, I have thought it best to address to you in this letter an account of my mission, for fear any one should give you an account which mingled truth with falsehood, before my return could declare to you the truth in its perfect and sincere characters. |177
2. The day after I reached Treves I presented myself at the palace; a Gaul came out to receive me, who was the Emperor's Chamberlain, and one of the royal eunuchs. I requested an audience; he enquired whether I had your Majesty's commission: I replied that I had. He said that I could only be heard in the Consistory. I answered that this was not usual for Bishops, and at all events that there were matters whereon I required serious conference with his master. To be brief; he consulted his master, and brought back the same answer, so that it was plain that the former had originated with his will. I said that such a course was inconsistent with the office I bore, but that I would not shrink from the duty I had undertaken, and that more especially in your service, and as it really was to support your brotherly affection, I was glad to humble myself.
3. As soon as he had taken his seat in the Consistory I entered; he rose to give me the kiss of peace. I stood among the members of the Consistory; some of them urged me to go up the steps, and he himself invited me. I replied, 'Why do you offer a kiss to one whom you do not acknowledge 129? for had you acknowledged me you would not have seen me here.' ' You are excited, Bishop,' said he. ' It is not anger,' I said, 'that I feel, but shame at appearing in a place unsuited to me.' 'Yet on your first mission,' he said, 'you entered the Consistory.' 'True,' I replied, 'but the blame rests on him who summoned, not on me who entered.' 'Why,' said he, 'did you then enter?' 'Because,' I replied,' I was then suing for peace on behalf of one who was inferior to you, but I now appear for your equal.' 'By whose favour ' said he, ' is he my equal?' 'By that of Almighty God, who has maintained Valentinian in the empire He bestowed on him.'
4. At length he broke out, ' It is you who have cajoled me, you and the wretch Bauto, who wished by setting up a boy to acquire sovereignty for himself, who also brought barbarians upon me; as if I also had not those whom I could bring, seeing I have so many barbarians in my service and pay. But had I not been withheld at the time of your arrival, who could have resisted me and my power?' |178
5. I answered mildly, 'You need not be excited, for there is no occasion for excitement; listen rather with patience to the reply which I have to make. My reason for coming is, that you have declared that on my first mission you trusted me and were deceived by me. It is a glory to rne to have done this for the safety of an orphan Emperor, for whom rather than orphans ought we bishops to protect? For it is written, Relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow;130 and in another place, father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows.131
6. But I will not make a boast of my services to Valentinian. To speak the truth, when did I oppose your legions, and resist your descent upon Italy? By what works, by what armies, with what forces? Did I block up against you the passes of the Alps with my body? Would that this were in my power, then I should not fear this allegation, nor your charges. By what promises did I beguile you into a consent to peace? Did not Count Victor, whom you had sent to request peace, meet me within the frontier of the provinces of Gaul, near the city of Mayence? Wherein then did Valentinian deceive you, whom you asked to grant you peace before he himself asked for it? Wherein did Bauto deceive you, who shewed fidelity to his Emperor? Did he do so by not betraying his own master?
7. Wherein have I circumvented you? Was it when, on my first arrival, on your saying that Valentinian ought to have come to you as a son to a father, I answered that it was not reasonable for a boy with his widowed mother to cross the Alps in severe winter weather, or without his mother be exposed under critical circumstances to such a journey? My business was to bring a message concerning peace, not to make any promise of his coming: it is certain that I have given no pledge of that, concerning which I had received no commands, and that I did not make any promise whatever, for you said, 'Let us wait to see what answer Victor will bring back.' But it is well known that he arrived at Milan while I was detained here, and that his request was refused. It was only about peace that we felt a common zeal, not about the Emperor's arrival; whose |179 coming ought not to have been required. I was present when Victor returned. How then did I meet Valentinian? The emissaries who were sent a second time into Gaul to say that he would not come, found me at Valence in Gaul. The soldiers of either party, sent to guard tne mountain passes, I met on my return. What armies of yours did I then recall? what eagles did I turn back from Italy? what barbarians did Count Bauto send against you?
8. And what wonder if Bauto, whose native country lies beyond the Rhine, had done so, when you yourself threaten the Roman Empire with barbarian allies, and with troops from beyond the military frontier, whose commissariat was supplied by the taxes of the provinces? But consider what a difference there is between your threats and the mildness of the young Emperor Valentinian. You insisted on making an incursion into Italy accompanied by armies of barbarians, Valentinian turned back the Huns and Alans on their approach to Italy through the territory of the Germans. What need for displeasure is there if Bauto set the barbarians at variance with each other? While you were employing the Roman forces, while he was presenting himself to oppose you on both sides, the Juthungi 132 in the very heart of the Roman Empire were laying Rhsetia waste, and so the Huns were called in against the Juthungi. And yet when he was attacking the country of the Alemanni on your frontier, and was already threatening the provinces of Gaul with the near approach of danger, he was obliged to |180 relinquish his triumphs, lest you should be alarmed. Compare the acts of the two; you caused the invasion of Rhaetia, Valentinian by his gold has regained peace for you.
9. Look too at the man 133 who now stands at your right hand, whom Valentinian, when he had the opportunity of avenging his grief, sent back to you loaded with honours. He had him in his own territory, and yet restrained his hand: even when he received the tidings of his brother's death, he restrained his natural feelings, and abstained from retaliation, where the relationship was the same, though the rank was not. Compare therefore, yourself being judge, the two actions. He sent back your brother alive; do you restore to him his brother at least now that he is dead. Why do you refuse to him his relation's remains, when he refused not to you those who would assist you against him?
10. But you allege that you are alarmed lest the grief of the troops should be renewed by the return of these remains. Will they then defend after death one whom they deserted in life? Why do you fear him now he is dead, whom, when you might have saved him, you slew? 'It was my enemy' you say, 'that I have slain.' It was not he that was your enemy, but you that were his. He is no longer conscious of my advocacy, do you consider the case yourself 134. If any one were to think of setting up a claim to the empire in these parts against you, I ask whether you would deem yourself to be his enemy, or him to be yours? If I mistake not, it is the part of an usurper to excite war, of an Emperor to defend his rights. Will you then withhold even the body of him whom you ought not to have slain? Let Valentinian have at least the remains of his brother as a pledge of your peaceful intentions. How moreover will 135 you assert that you did not command him to be slain, when you forbid him to be buried? Will it be believed that you did not grudge him life, when you even grudge him burial?
11. But to return to myself. I find that you complain |181 of the followers of Valentinian betaking themselves to the Emperor Theodosius rather than to yourself. But what could you expect, when you called for punishment on the fugitives, and put to death those who were taken, Theodosius on the other hand loaded them with gifts and honours. 'Whom,' said he, 'have I slain?' 'Vallio,' I replied. 'And what a man, what a soldier! Was it then a just cause of death, that he maintained his fidelity to his Emperor?' 'I gave no orders,' said he, 'for his death.' 'We have heard,' I replied, ' that the order was given for him to be put to death.' 'Nay,' said he, 'had he not laid violent hands on himself I had ordered him to be taken to Cabillonum 136 and there burnt alive.' 'Yes,' I replied, 'and that was why it was believed that you had put him to death. And who could suppose that he would himself be spared, when a valiant warrior, a faithful soldier, a valuable comrade was thus slain?' At that time, on taking my leave, he said he was willing to treat.
12. But afterwards on finding that I would not communicate with the Bishops who communicated with him, or who sought the death of any one, even though they were heretics 137, he grew angry and bade me depart without delay. And I, although many thought I should be waylaid, set forth gladly, grieving only that the aged Bishop Hyginus, now almost at his last gasp, was being carried into exile. And when I appealed to his guards against their suffering the old man to be driven out without a curtain or a pillow to rest upon, I was driven forth myself.
13. Such is the account of my mission. Farewell, your Majesty, and be well on your guard against a man who conceals war under the cloak of peace. |182
THAT this and the following letter were addressed to the same person is clear from their contents, especially from the commencement of Letter xxvi. Whether Studius and Irenaeus were two names of the same person, as the Benedictines suggest, or whether there is any error in either title, cannot be ascertained for certain. Is it not most probable that the name of Irenaeus, to whom a long series of letters follows, has been affixed to one immediately preceding them by mistake, and that we should put 'Studio' for 'Irenaeo' at the head of xxvi?
The letter deals briefly with the question which Studius, a layman apparently and a judge, puts to S. Ambrose, whether he did violence to his duty as a Christian in sentencing criminals to death. S. Ambrose replies that it is lawful, but recommends merciful dealing wherever possible, in hope of amendment of life.
AMBROSE TO STUDIUS.
I RECOGNIZE in your application to me a pure intention of mind, zeal for the faith, and fear of our Lord Jesus Christ. And indeed I should fear to reply to it, being checked on the one hand by the obligation of the trust committed to you for the maintenance of the laws, and on the other by claims of mercy and clemency, had you not in this matter the Apostle's authority that he who judgeth beareth not the sword in vain, for he is the avenger of God, upon him that doeth evil. 138
2. But although you knew this, it was not without reason that you have thought fit to make the enquiry. For some there are, although out of the pale of the Church 139, who will not admit to the divine Mysteries those who have deemed it right to pass sentence of death on any man. Many too abstain of their own accord, and are commended, nor can we ourselves but praise them, although we so far observe the Apostle's rule as not to dare to refuse them Communion.
3. You see therefore both what power your commission gives you, and also whither mercy would lead you; you will be excused if you do it, and praised if you do it not. Should you feel unable to do it, and are unwilling to afflict |183 the criminal by the horrors of a dungeon, I shall, as a priest, the more commend you. For it may well be that when the cause is heard, the criminal may be reserved for judgment, who afterwards may ask for pardon for himself, or at any rate may suffer what is called mild confinement in prison. Even heathen are, I know, wont to boast that they have borne back their axes from their provincial government unrestored by blood. And if heathen do this what ought Christians to do?
4. But in all these matters let our Saviour's answer suffice for you. The Jews apprehended an adultress and brought her to the Saviour, with the insidious intent that if He were to acquit her He might seem to destroy the law, though He had said, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil the law,140 and on the other hand, were He to condemn her, He might seern to be acting against the purpose of His coming. Wherefore the Lord Jesus, foreseeing this, stooped down and wrote upon the earth. And what did He write but that word of the prophet, O Earth, Earth, Write these men deposed 141,142 which is spoken of Jeconiah in the prophet Jeremiah.
5. When the Jews interrupt Him, their names are written in the earth, when the Christians draw near, the names of the faithful are written not on the earth but in heaven. For they who tempt their Father, and heap insult on the Author of salvation, are written on the earth as cast off 143 by their Father. When the Jews interrupt Him, Jesus stoops His head, but not having where to lay His head, He raises it again, is about to give sentence, and says, Let him that is without sin cast the first stone at her.144 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.145
6. When they heard this they began to go out one by one beginning at the eldest, and this either because they who had lived longest had committed most sins, or because, as being most sagacious, they were the first to comprehend the force of His sentence, and though they had come as the accusers of another's sins, began rather to lament their own. |184
7. So when they departed Jesus was left alone, and lifting up His head, He said to the woman, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee, go, and sin no more.146 Being the Redemption, He refuses to condemn her, being the Life He restores her, being the Fountain He washes her. And since Jesus, when He stoops down stoops that He may raise up the fallen, He says, as the Absolver of sins, Neither do I condemn thee.
8. Here is an example for you to follow, for it may be that there is hope of amendment for this guilty person; if he be yet unbaptized, that he may receive remission, if baptized that he may do penance147, and offer up his body for Christ. See how many roads there are to salvation!
9. This is why our ancestors thought it better to be indulgent towards Judges; that by the terror of their sword the madness of crime should be repressed, and no encouragement given to it. For if Communion were denied to Judges, it would seem like a retribution on their punishment of the wicked. Our ancestors wished then that their clemency should proceed from their own free-will and forbearance, rather than from any legal necessity. Farewell, and love us, as we on our part love you.
THAT this letter is addressed to the same person as the preceding, in spite of the discrepancy in the address, is clear from the first sentence (See Introd. to xxv.). It resumes the subject, and dwells in detail on the example of our Lord's dealing with the woman taken in adultery.
AMBROSE TO IRENAEUS. [STUDIUS?]
1. ALTHOUGH in my previous letter I have resolved the question which you proposed to me, I will not refuse your |185 request, my son, that I would somewhat more fully state and express my meaning.
2. Much agitated has ever been the question, and very famous this acquittal of that woman who in the Gospel according to John was brought to Christ accused of adultery. The stratagem which the equivocating Jews devised was this, that in case of the Lord Jesus acquitting her contrary to the Law, His sentence might be convicted of being at variance with the Law, but if she were to be condemned according to the Law, the Grace of Christ might seem to be made void.
3. And still more warm has the discussion become, since the time that bishops 148 have begun to accuse those guilty of the most heinous crimes before the public tribunals, and some even to urge them to the use of the sword and of capital punishment, while others again approve of such kind of accusations and of blood-stained triumphs of the priesthood. For those men say just the same as did the Jews, that the guilty ought to be punished by the public laws, and therefore that they ought also to be accused by the priests before the public tribunals, who, they assert, ought to be punished according to the laws. The case is the same, though the number is less, that is to say, the question as to judgment is similar, the odium of the punishment is dissimilar. Christ would not permit one woman to be punished according to the Law; they assert that too small a number has been punished.
4. But in what place does Christ give this decision? For He generally vouchsafed to adapt His discourses to the character of the place wherein He was teaching His disciples 149. For instance while walking in the porch of Solomon, that is, of the Wise man, He said, I and My Father are One; and in God's Temple He said, My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me.150 It was in the Temple also that He gave the sentence of which we now speak, for in the verse following it is thus written, These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as He taught in the |186 Temple, and no man laid hands on Him.151 What is the Treasury? It is the place of offering for the faithful, the bank of the poor, the refuge of the needy, near which Christ sat, when, according to Luke, He declared that the widow's two mites were to be preferred to the gifts of the rich, thus bearing Divine testimony to a zealous and cordial charity as preferable to the offerings of an affluent munificence.152
5. Now let us consider what He Who passed such a judgment as this contributed when sitting near the Treasury, for not without a purpose did He prefer the woman who threw in two mites. Precious was her poverty, and rich in the mystery of faith. These are the same two pieces of money which the Samaritan in the Gospel left with the host in order to cure the wounds of the man who had fallen among thieves.153 So too this woman, outwardly a widow, but mystically representing the Church, thought it right to cast into the sacred Treasury this gift whereby the wounds of the poor might be healed and the hunger of the strangers satisfied.
6. Now then it behoves you spiritually to consider what Christ bestows;154 for He distributed among the people silver tried by the fire of the heavenly oracles, and to the desires of the people He told out money stamped with the Royal image. No one could give more than He Who gave all. He satisfied the hungry, He replenished the needy, He enlightened the blind, He redeemed the captives, He raised the palsied, He restored the dead, nay, what is more, He gave absolution to the guilty and forgave their sins. These are the two pence which the Church cast in, after having received them from Christ. And what are the two pence but the price of the New and Old Testament? The price of the Scripture is our faith, for it is according to the intelligence and will of each that what we read therein is valued. So then the remission of sins is the price of both Testaments, and is announced in type by the Lamb, and accomplished in verity by Christ.
7. You understand therefore that the purification of seven days155 brought with it also the purification of three days.156 The purification of seven days is according to the |187 Law, which, under the semblance of the sabbath that now is, announced a spiritual sabbath; the purification of three days is according to Grace, and is sealed by the witness of the Gospel, for the Lord rose on the third day.157 Where a penalty for sin is prescribed there also must penitence be, where remission of sins is accorded there follows Grace. Penitence precedes, Grace follows. So that there can neither be penitence without Grace, nor Grace without penitence, for penitence must first condemn sin, that Grace may abolish it. Wherefore John, fulfilling the type of the Law, baptized unto repentance,158 Christ unto Grace.
8. Now the seventh day denotes the mystery of the Law, the eighth that of the Resurrection, as you have in Ecclesiastes, Give a portion to seven and also to eight.159 In the prophet Hosea also you have read that it was said to him, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms for fifteen pieces of silver,160 seeing that by the double price of the Old and New Testament, that is, by the full price of faith, that woman is hired who was attended by a vagrant and licentious train of sojouners.
9. And I bought her to me, saith the prophet,161 for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley and a measure162 of wine 163. By barley is signified that the imperfect are called to the Faith that they may be made perfect, by the homer is understood a full measure, by the half homer a half measure. The full measure is the Gospel, the half measure is the Law, the fulfilment of which is the New Testament. Thus the Lord Himself saith, I am not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil.164
10. Nor is it without meaning that we read in the Psalms of David of fifteen degrees, and that the sun had risen fifteen degrees, when Hezekiah the righteous king received a new supply of life.165 Hereby was signified the coming of the Sun of Righteousness, Who was about to enlighten by His presence these fifteen steps of the Old and New Testament whereby our faith mounts up to life eternal.166 And |188 this leads me to believe that what was read this day from the Apostle of his remaining fifteen days with Peter has a mystical meaning;167 for it appears that while the holy Apostles held various discourses among themselves upon the interpretation of the Divine Scriptures a full and bright light fell upon them, and the shades of ignorance were dispersed. But now let us come to the absolution of the woman taken in adultery.
11. A woman accused of adultery was brought by the Scribes and Pharisees to the Lord Jesus with the malicious intent, that, if He was to acquit her, He might seem to annul the Law, if He condemned her, that He might seem to have changed the purpose of His coming, since He came to remit the sins of all men. To the same purport He said above168, I judge no man. So when they brought her they said, This woman was taken in adultery, in the very act; now Moses in the Law commanded us that such should be stoned, but what sayest Thou? 169
12. While they were saying this, Jesus stooped down and wrote with His finger on the ground. And as they waited for His answer, He lifted up His head and said, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.170 What can be more Divine than this sentence, that he should punish sins who is himself free from sin? For how can we endure one who takes vengeance on guilt in another and excuses it in himself? When a man condems in another what he commits himself, does he not rather pronounce his own condemnation?
13. Thus He spake, and wrote upon the ground. What then did He write? This, Thou beholdest the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye.171 For lust is like a mote, it is quickly kindled, quickly consumed; the sacrilegious perfidy which led the Jews to deny the Author of their salvation declared the magnitude of their crime.
14. He wrote upon the ground with the finger with which He had written the Law. Sinners' names are written in the earth, those of the just in heaven,172 as He said to |189 His disciples, Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.173 And He wrote a second time, that you may know that the Jews were condemned by both Testaments.
15. When they heard these words they went out one after another, beginning at the eldest, and sat down thinking upon themselves. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. It is well said that they went out who chose not to be with Christ. Without is the letter, within are the mysteries. For in the Divine lessons they sought, as it were, after the leaves of trees, and not after the fruit; they lived in the shadow of the Law, and could not discern the Sun of Righteousness.
16. Finally, when they departed Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. Jesus about to remit sin remains alone, as He says Himself, Behold the hour cometh, yea is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone;174 for it was no messenger, no herald, but the Lord Himself Who saved His people. He remains alone, because in the remission of sins no man can participate with Christ. This is the gift of Christ alone, Who took away the sins of the world.175 The woman too was counted worthy to be absolved, seeing that, on the departure of the Jews, she remained alone with Jesus.
17. Then Jesus lifted up His head, and said to the woman, Where are those thine accusers, hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee, go, and sin no more.176 See, O reader, these Divine mysteries, and the mercy of Christ. When the woman is accused, Christ stoops His head, but when the accusers retire He lifts it up again; thus we see that He would have no man condemned, but all absolved.
18. By the words, Hath no man condemned thee? He briefly overthrows all the quibbles of heretics, who say that Christ knows not the day of judgment. He Who says, But to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, says also in this place, Hath no man condemned thee?177 How is it that He asks concerning that which He saw? It is for our sakes that He asks, that we might know the |190 woman was not condemned. And such is the wont of the human mind, often to enquire concerning that which we know. The woman too answered, No man, Lord, that is to say, Who can condemn when Thou dost not condemn? Who can punish another under such a condition as Thou hast attached to his sentence?
19. The Lord answered her, Neither do I condemn thee. Observe how He has modified His own sentence; that the Jews might have no ground of allegation against Him for the absolution of the woman, but by complaining only draw down a charge upon themselves; for the woman is dismissed not absolved; and this because there was no accuser, not because her innocence was established. How then could they complain, who were the first to abandon the prosecution of the crime, and the execution of the punishment?
20. Then He said to her who had gone astray, Go, and sin no more. He reformed the criminal, He did not absolve the sin. Faults are condemned by a severer sentence, whenever a man hates his own sin, and begins the condemnation of it in himself. When the criminal is put to death, it is the person rather than the trangression which is punished, but when the transgression is forsaken, the absolution of the person becomes the punishment of the sin. What is the meaning then of, Go, and sin no more? It is this; Since Christ hath redeemed thee, suffer thyself to be corrected by Grace; punishment would not reform but only afflict thee. Farewell, my son, and love me as a son, for I on my part love you as a parent.
LETTER XXVII. [A.D.387.]
WHO Irenaeus was to whom the series of letters from xxvii. to xxxiii. are addressed is not ascertained. From the affectionate and parental way in which S. Ambrose addresses him, and from Irenaeus' applying to him for elucidation of his difficulties in the study of Holy Scripture, it is probable that he was one who had been trained, perhaps converted by him. The Benedictine Editors think that he must have been one of his Milan Clergy. All the letters are occupied in expounding passages of the Old Testament, or in |191 solving questions connected with it; they are specimens of his method of mystical interpretation, in which he took great delight.
In this Letter he begins a reply to a question on Exodus viii. 26. and then goes off into a mystical interpretation of Rachel and Leah, making them an allegory, as S. Paul does Hagar and Sarah.
AMBROSE TO IRENAEUS, GREETING.
1. You tell me that you have felt a difficulty in the text We shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the Lord our God,178 But you had the means of solving it, for it is written in the book of Genesis, that a shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians,179 and this not on account of the shepherd himself, but of his flocks. For the Egyptians were tillers of the ground, but Abraham and Jacob, and afterwards Moses and David, were shepherds, and in this function exercised a certain kingly discipline.
2. The Egyptians then hated sacrifices which were duly offered; the pursuit of virtue, that is, which is perfect and replete with discipline. But that which these evil men hated is in the sight of the good sincere and pious. The licentious man hates the works of virtue, the glutton shrinks from them. And so the Egyptian's body, loving the charms of pleasure, has an aversion to the virtues of the soul, hates its rule, and shrinks from the discipline of virtue, and all such like works.
3. But what the Egyptian shrinks from----he who is an Egyptian rather than a man,----that do thou, who hast the knowledge of what befits man, embrace and follow: and shun those things which they pursue and choose; for these two things cannot agree together, wisdom and folly. Thus as wisdom and continence remove themselves from those who are, as it were, in the ranks of unwisdom and intemperance, so no foolish and incontient man has any part in what belongs to the goods and heritage of the wise and continent man.
4. Again, those women who were sanctified by their marriage, Leah and Rachel, (the one meaning 'wearied,' the other 'strong breath'180) from aversion not to the ties of |192 kindred but to their differing manners, and informed by the much tried Jacob, that he desired to depart in order to shun the envy and sloth of Laban and his sons, made answer thus: Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house? Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also all our money? 181 Observe first that the slothful and envious man alienates from himself one who labours and keeps strict discipline; he flies from her and seeks to separate himself. Finding that they will be burthensome to him he thinks he has gained by their removal, and esteems this to be his reward, and this the point of his pleasure.
5. Now let us hear how what virtue has, sloth has not: for they say, For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children's.182 Rightly do they say that they were taken away by God's appointment, for it is He Who created the good, for whose sake the slothful are despoiled; for weak and evil men cannot apprehend the beauty of the Divine inheritance; and thus the resolute, and he who hath in him the spirit of a brave man, succeeds to it. But who is strong but God alone Who regulates and governs all things?
6. To these therefore the heritage of God is justly due. Wherefore Isaiah also says, There is an heritage for them that believe in the Lord.183 Well saith he, There is an heritage, for this is the sole heritage, there is no other. For neither is blind treasure an heritage, nor have any transitory things the advantage of an heritage; that alone is an heritage wherein God is the portion. Wherefore the Saint of the Lord saith, Thou art my portion, O Lord, and again, Thy testimonies have I claimed as mine heritage for ever.184 You see what are the possessions of the just, the commandments of God, His oracles, His precepts, hereby he is enriched, hereby he is fed, hereby he is delighted as by all manner of riches.
7. Now Leah and Rachel, possessing these, required not their father's riches, for therein there was base coin, a senseless outward show, destitute of spiritual vigour. Again, being rich and liberal themselves they accounted their father rather indigent than rich. For no one who |193 participates in good and liberal discipline deems any foolish man to be rich, but poor and needy, and even abject; and this although he overflow with royal riches, and in the pride of his gold boasts of his own power.
8. The society of such we must shun then, even though they be united to us by the ties of kindred: the conversation of the foolish is to be avoided, for it infects and discolors the mind, for as with the clean thou shalt be clean, so with the froward thou shalt be froward.185 For it frequently happens that one who listens to an intemperate man against his own resolution, much as he himself desires to maintain the rule of continence, is yet stained by the hue of folly, and thus discipline and insolence truly prove themselves contrary and repugnant to each other.
9. Hence when much-tried Jacob inquired their opinion, they utter the words of virtue now proved by long exercise, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house?186 that is, 'Do you ask us whether we wish to depart from him? As if you knew not that we have no desire of his society, nor are we possessed with that thirst for riches and delight in luxury which is so sweet to most worldlings. These are the things which we deem miserable and alien to our feelings, these are the things which we deem to be full of poverty and want.'
10. They add also the cause of their departure, that Laban had lost the true glory and those stores of good treasure in which we are born. Vigour of mind has been given us, and the good coinage of God's image and likeness, which is a spiritual coinage. He lost these because he preferred the splendour of this world to things true and profitable for his true life; for the beauty of these things escapes one who is ignorant of the good things of God, while in his judgment of what is beautiful he deludes and deceives himself. Hear then his words and judge.
11. He pursued holy Jacob and his daughters, thinking haply to find upon them some of his own vices, and thus to have a plea for reclaiming them to himself, censuring the righteous, whereas he himself was refuted by reason, and could give no answer or reply why he had any right |194 to detain him. Wherefore, says he, didst thou not tell me, that I might have sent thee away? 187 Wherein he discloses what it was the just man feared, namely, such attendance, such a convoy, lest he should go forth escorted by such a company; in the first place because it behoved him not to submit himself to the service of many masters, so as to be dismissed by Laban as a servant: and next because this man, intent upon good discipline and desirous of following the true path of virtue, sought no man to guide him but the heavenly oracles. These, said he, have commanded me to depart from hence and now accompany me on my journey.
12. But how wouldst thou have dismissed me, he would say? Would it have been with such joy as thine which is full of sadness, with cymbals namely and instruments of ill-modulated harmony, and with the sweet notes of flutes sounding forth unpleasing strains, dissonant sounds, discordant noises, mute voices, cymbals jarring upon the sense? Didst thou believe that I could be delighted, that I could be recalled by such things? It is from them that I fled, nor do I fear thy reproachful words. I fled that such things might not follow me, that I might receive no present from thee on my departure.
13. It is not by such guides as these that we arrive at the Church of Christ, to which Jacob was bending his steps, to carry down thither the wealth of the nations and the riches of the Gentiles, that he might transplant thither his posterity, flying from the shadows of empty things? preferring to senseless images of virtues their breathing beauty, and serious things to outward show. You see how the Gentiles deck out their banquets, and proclaim their feasts; but such things are hateful to pious minds, for by their means many are deceived, they are captivated by pleasant food, by the bands of dancers, while they fly from our fasts, deeming them irksome to them, and noxious and troublesome to the body.
14. Or didst thou think that I should desire thy gold? But thou hast not gold tried by that fire 188 wherein the just are proved. Or was it silver that I desired? But thou hast not silver, for thou possessest not the brightness of |195 the heavenly words. But perhaps I hoped that thou wouldst give me some of thy slaves to serve me? Nay, I seek for free men, and not the slaves of sin. But perhaps companions of my journey and guides of my path were necessary? Would that they had power to follow me! for I would have shewn them the ways of the Lord. But ye who know not God, how can ye know His ways? The elect of the Lord walk in His ways, not every one who enters them, and yet no man is excluded.
15. Let him who is prepared follow, let him enter upon the way which leads to Mesopotamia; so that he who seeks that country may pass through the waters, the waters of Tigris and Euphrates, the waters of courage and righteousness, through the tears of penitence, the baptism of grace. Here is the path of the army of God, for all who are in the Church are God's soldiers. There is that flock marked with divers virtues, which Jacob chose for himself;189 for every soul which is not so marked is unlearned and uninstructed, ignorant of discipline: but that which is marked is rich in works and fertile in grace.
16. Let him who comes to it first be reconciled to his angry brother. Let him who comes to it inhabit Shechem, that precious and active laboratory of virtue, where injured chastity is so deeply avenged. Let him who comes to it wrestle with God, that he may inure himself to imitate Him, that he may come in contact with the humility of Christ and His sufferings.190 Let him take up his cross and follow Christ. Lastly, a good combatant envieth not, is not puffed up, nay, he even blesses his antagonist with a like gift.191
17. Let us then follow holy Jacob and his ways, that we may reach these sufferings, these combats, that we may reach the shoulder 192, that we may attain to patience, the mother of the faithful, and to their father Isaac, that is, one capable of delight 193, abounding in joy. For where patience is, there also is joy, for after tribulation comes patience, and patience worketh experience, wherein is hope, whereby we are not ashamed,194 for whoso is not ashamed |196 the cross of Christ, neither will Christ be ashamed of him.
Farewell, my son; blush not to ask questions of your father, as you blush not to glory in the sufferings of Christ.
LETTER XXVIII. [A.D.387]
S. AMBROSE in this Letter maintains that Pythagoras derived much of his wisdom from a knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, and dwells on his maxim, 'not to follow the beaten track,' as one specially addressed to the priesthood.
AMBROSE TO IRENAEUS, GREETING.
1. IN the writings of certain authors we find a precept of Pythagoras forbidding his disciples to enter upon the common path trodden by the people. Now the source from whence he drew this is not unknown. For as he derived (according to the general opinion) his descent from the Jews, from their learning he derived also the precepts of his school. This rendered him highly esteemed among philosophers, so that he hardly met, it is said, with his equal. Now he had read in the book of Exodus that by the Divine command Moses was bid put off his shoes from off his feet. This command was also given to Joshua the son of Nun, namely that they, when desired to walk along the Lord's path, should shake off the dust of the beaten and vulgar tracks. He had also read the command to Moses to go up to the mount with the priests, while the people stood apart. So God separated the priests from the people, and subsequently commanded Moses himself to enter into the cloud.195
2. You see then the separation. Nothing vulgar, nothing popular, nothing in common with the desires and usages and manners of the rude multitude is looked for in priests. The dignity of the priesthood claims for itself a sober and unruffled calmness, a serious life, an especial gravity. How can he be respected by the people, who is in nothing distinct from the people, or different from the |197 multitude? And what can a man look up to in you who recognizes himself in you, who sees nothing in you which is beyond himself, and who finds in you, to whom he deems respect to be due, the things which he blushes at in himself?
3. Wherefore let us pass over the opinions of the people, and the resorts of the common herd, and the line of the beaten track, the ground also of that common path along which he runs, whose days are swifter than a post, of whom it is said, they flee away, they see no good.196 But let us find for ourselves a path secluded from the conversation of the proud, inaccessible to the works of the unlearned, trodden by no polluted person, polluted that is by the stains of his own sloth, and smeared by the smoke of iniquity, his soul darkened and ruinous, "one who has never tasted the sweetness of virtue, or at any rate has thought that she should be looked upon askance rather than met with direct regard and with open arms, who moreover (as is the wont of many who seem to themselves witty and polite, and transform the beauty of wisdom into dishonourable guile,) regards not true Grace, but shrouded as it were in darkness, gives no credence to those who live in the light of day, being of the number of the men of Tema and Sheba, who fall off and turn away from the truth; of whom Job says, Behold ye the ways of them of Tema, the paths of the Sabaeans, for they shall be confounded who put their hopes in cities and in riches. So ye also have risen against me without pity, therefore when ye see my wound, be afraid.197
4. Let us then abandon these devious paths of them that turn aside, and this dust of those who fail, who through their lust fall oftentimes in the desert, and let us be converted and follow the way of wisdom, that way which the children of those who boast and glorify themselves have not trodden, that way which destruction knows not, and death is ignorant of; for God hath marked it out; the depth saith, It is not in me, and the sea saith, It is not with me. 198 But if you seek for the way of wisdom and discipline, to worship God, and to be subject to Him is wisdom, and to abstain from sin is discipline. |198
5. What then have we to do with the way of this world, wherein is temptation; yea the life itself of men is temptation, and more empty even than vain fables, living in houses of clay, spending nights and days in quest of gain, with their thoughts ever upon it, seeking like hired servants their daily wages, and as they say grasshoppers do 199, feeding on the empty breath of desires. Truly, like grasshoppers, living from day to day, they burst with their own complainings 200. For what is the semblance of men without gravity or discipline, but that of grasshoppers, born to a daily death, chirping rather than speaking? These beneath the heat of burning desires soothe themselves with a song hurtful to themselves, and quickly die bearing no fruit, and possessed of no grace. Noxious and crooked are their ways as those of serpents, whose bodies are drawn along in poisoned folds, who gather themselves up into a coil of wickedness 201, and cannot raise themselves to heavenly things.
6. But let us enter the gates of the Lord, the gates of righteousness, which the righteous entereth and giveth praise unto the Lord.202 But few enter in here, wherefore the Lord saith, Straight is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.203 But the wide gate and broad way, wherein the many walk, leads to death, and carries thither them that travel on it.
7. Let our way then be narrow, our virtue abundant, our steps more careful, our faith more lofty, our path narrow, our energy of mind overflowing, our paths straight, for the steps of virtue cannot be turned aside; wherefore Solomon saith, Who leave the paths of uprightness.204
8. Let our steps tend upward, for it is better to ascend. Lastly, as we read to-day, Woe to them that go down to Egypt! 205 Not that to pass over into Egypt is blameable, but to pass into their habits, to pass into their cruel perfidy and hideous lusts. He that passes over thither descends, he that descends falls. Wherefore let us avoid the |199 Egyptian, who is man, not God. For the king of Egypt himself was given over to the dominion of his vices, and compared with him Moses was accounted a god, ruling over kingdoms and subjecting to himself powers. Hence we read that he was addressed thus, See I have made thee a god to Pharoah.206 Farewell, and love me, as indeed you do, with the affection of a son.
LETTER XXIX. [A.D.389.]
AMBROSE TO IRENAEUS, GREETING.
THIS letter is in fact a meditation on Christ as the true Chief good of man, the true Source of happiness, and Food of the soul, and Fountain of life, to be sought therefore with eagerness, and clung to with all the affection of the soul, which must therefore scorn all meaner delights.
1. WHILE engaged in reading, after resting my mind for a while and desisting from study, I began to meditate on that versicle which in the evening we had sung at Vigils, Thou art fairer than the children of men, and, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring good tidings of Him.207 And truly nothing is more beautiful than that chief good, the very preaching of which is beyond measure lovely, and specially the progress of continuous discourse, and the foot-steps, so to speak, of Apostolic preaching. But who is equal to these things? They to whom God gave not only to preach Christ, but also to suffer for Him.
2. Let us, as far as we can, direct our minds to that which is beautiful seemly and good, let us be occupied therein, let us keep it in mind, that by its illumination and brightness our souls may become beautiful and our minds transparent. For if our eyes, when obscured by dimness, are refreshed by the verdure of the fields and are able by the beauty of a grove or grassy hill to remedy every defect of the failing vision, while the very pupils and balls of the eye seem to be coloured with the hue of health: how much more does this eye of the mind, beholding that chief good, and dwelling and feeding thereupon, brighten and shine |200 forth, so as to fulfil that which is written, My soul shall be satisfied even as it were with marrow and fatness.208 Moreover, he who has a skilful knowledge of the souls of his flock, pays attention to wild grasses, that he may obtain much pasturage: for by the sweeter kind of herbage lambs are made fatter, and the milky juice more healthful. On these pastures those fat ones have fed, who have eaten and worshipped, for good indeed are those pastures wherein is placed the saint of God.209
3. There is grass also, whereby the flocks of sheep are nourished, for whence come the fleeces of wisdom, and the clothing of prudence. And perchance this is the grass of the mountain,210 upon which the words of the prophet distil as the showers upon the grass,211 and which the wise man carefully gathers, that he may have a fleece for a covering, that is, for a spiritual garment. And thus proper food and clothing are provided for that soul which cleaves to the chief Good, that Good Which is Divine, and which the Apostle Peter exhorts us to seek for, that by the acquisition of such knowledge we may become partakers of the Divine nature.212
4. The knowledge hereof the good God opens to His saints, and grants it out of His good treasury, even as the sacred Law testifies, saying, The Lord sware unto thy fathers to give thee and open unto thee His good treasure.213 From this heavenly treasure He gives rain to His lands, to bless all the works of thy hands. By this rain is signified the utterance of the Law, which moistens the soul fruitful and fertile in good works, that it may receive the dew of Grace.214
5. The knowledge of this good David sought; as he himself declaims, saying, One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require, even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit His temple.215 And that this is the chief Good he straightway added in the same Psalm, I believe verily to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.216 He must be sought after, there He will be clearly seen face to face. This good is in the house of God, in His secret and hidden place. Wherefore he says again, He |201 shall be satisfied with the pleasures of thy house.217 In another place too he has shown this to be the highest blessing, saying, The Lord shall bless thee out of Sion, and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem.218 Wherefore blessed is he who dwells then in the vestibule of faith and in the spiritual abode, the dwelling place of devotion and the life of virtue.
6. In Him therefore let us be and in Him abide, of Whom Isaiah says, How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of Him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace.219 Who are they that preach but Peter, Paul, and all the Apostles? 220 What do they preach to us but the Lord Jesus? He is our Peace, He is our chief Good, for He is Good from Good, and from a good tree is gathered good fruit. And good also is His Spirit, Who takes of Him and leads His servants forth into the land of righteousness.221 For who that hath the Spirit of God within him will deny that He is good, since He says Himself, Is thine eye evil because I am good? 222 May this Good which the merciful God gives to them that seek Him come into our soul, and into our inmost heart. He is our Treasure, He is our Way, He is our Wisdom, He is our Righteousness, our Shepherd, the good Shepherd, He is our Life. Thou seest how many goods are in this one Good! These goods the Evangelists preach to us. David seeking for these goods saith, Who will shew us any good? 223 And he shews that the Lord Himself is our Good by adding, Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy Countenance upon us. But Who is the Light of the Father's Countenance, but the Brightness of His Glory, and the Image of the invisible God, in Whom the Father is both seen and glorified, as He also glorifies His Son? 224
8. Wherefore the Lord Jesus Himself is that chief Good which was announced to us by Prophets, declared by Angels, promised by the Father, preached by Apostles.225 He hath come to us as ripeness; nor as ripeness only, but as ripeness in the mountains; to the intent that in our counsels there should be nothing sour, or unripe, nothing harsh or bitter in our actions or manners, the first Preacher of good tidings hath come among us. Wherefore also He saith, I, Who spoke, am present with 226 you, that is, I |202 Who spoke in the Prophets, am present in that Body which I took of the Virgin; I am present as the inward Likeness of God, and the express Image of His person,227 I am present too as Man. But who knows Me? For they saw the Man, but His Works made them believe He was above man. Was He not as man when weeping over Lazarus?228 again, was He not above man, when He raised him to life? Was He not as man when scourged? and again, above man when He took away the sin of the world?229
9. To Him therefore let us hasten in Whom is the chief Good: for He is the bounty and patience of Israel, Who calls thee to repentance, that thou come not into condemnation but mayest receive the remission of thy sins. He saith, Repent. This is He of Whom the Prophet Amos cries, Seek good.230 He is the chief Good, Who is in need of nothing, but abounds in all things. And well may He abound, in Whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily;231 of Whose fulness we have all received, and in Whom we are filled, as saith the Evangelist.232
10. If then the mind with its capacities of desire and pleasure hath tasted the chief Good, and by means of these two affections hath drank It in, unalloyed by sorrow and fear, it is wonderfully inflamed. For having embraced the Word of God, she knows no measure and yet feels no satiety, as it is written, Thou art good and gracious, O teach me Thy statutes:233 having embraced the Word of God, she desires Him above all beauty, she loves Him above all joy, she is delighted with Him above all perfumes, she desires often to see, often to look upon Him, often to be drawn to Him that she may follow. Thy Name, it is said, is as ointment poured forth; therefore we maidens love Thee, therefore we strive but cannot attain to Thee. Draw us that we may run after Thee, that by the fragrance of Thy ointments we may gain power to follow Thee.234
11. And the mind presses forward to the sight of internal mysteries, to the place of rest of the Word, to the very dwelling of that chief Good, His light and brightness. In that haven and home-retreat she hastens to hear His words, and having heard, finds them sweeter than all other things. Learn of the Prophet who had tasted and saith, O how |203 sweet are Thy words unto my throat, yea sweeter than honey unto my mouth.235 For what can that soul desire which hath once tasted the sweetness of the Word, and seen His brightness? When Moses received the Law he remained forty days on the mount and required no bodily food; Elijah, hastening to this rest, prayed that his life might be taken away;236 Peter, himself also beholding on the Mount the glory of the Lord's Resurrection, would fain not have come down, saying, It is good for us to be here.237 How great then is the glory of the Divine Essence and the graces of the Word, which things the Angels desire to look into.238
12. The soul then which beholds this chief Good, requires not the body, and understands that it ought to have as little connexion with it as possible; it renounces the world, withdraws itself from the chains of the flesh, and extricates itself from all the bonds of earthly pleasures. Thus Stephen beheld Jesus, and feared not being stoned, nay, while he was being stoned, prayed not for himself but for his murderers.239 Paul also, when caught up to the third heaven, knew not whether he was in the body or out of the body: caught up, I say, into Paradise, he became invisible to the presence of his own body, and having heard the words of God he blushed to descend again to the infirmities of the body.240
13. Thus, knowing what he had seen and heard in Paradise, he cried saying, Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances? Touch not, taste not, handle not, which all are to perish with the using.241 For he would have us of this world in figure and semblance, not in use or possession, using as though we used it not, as our place of sojourn, not of rest, walking through it as in a vision, not with desire, so as to pass as lightly as possible over the mere shadow of this world. In this way S. Paul, who walked by faith not by sight, was absent from the body and present with the Lord,242 and although upon earth conversed not with earthly but with heavenly things.
11. Wherefore let our soul, wishing to draw near to God, raise herself from, the body, and ever adhere to that chief End which is divine, Which is everlasting, Which was from the beginning, and Which was with God,243 that is, the Word |204 of God. This is that Divine Being, in Whom we live and move and have our being.244 This is That which was in the beginning, the true I AM. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was not yea nor nay but in Him was yea.245 He bid Moses say, I AM hath sent me.246
15. With this Good therefore let our soul be, and if possible, be continually, that each of us may say, My soul is continually in my hand.247 And such will be the case, if it be not in the flesh, but in the spirit, and does not entangle itself in earthly things. For when it turns back to carnal things, then the allurements of the body creep over it, then it swells with rage and anger, then it is pierced with sorrow, then it is lifted up with arrogance, then it is bowed down with grief.
16. These are the heavy griefs of the soul by which it is often brought down to death, while its eyes are blinded so that they see not the light of true glory, and the riches of its eternal heritage. But by keeping them always fixed on God, it will receive from Christ the brightness of wisdom, so as to have its vision enlightened by the knowledge of God, and to behold that hope of our calling, and see that which is good and well-pleasing and perfect. For that which is good is well-pleasing to the Father, and that which is well-pleasing is perfect, as it is written in the Gospel, Love your enemies, that ye may be the children of your Father Which is in heaven, for, He sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,248 which is surely a proof of goodness. Afterwards He concludes by saying, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father Which is in heaven is perfect.249 For charity is perfect; in short it is the fulfilling of the Law; for what can be so good as charity which thinketh no evil?250
17. Fly then those regions where dwell envy, ambition, and contention. Therefore let thy mind open itself to receive this Good, that it may mount above the clouds, that it may be renewed as the eagle,251 and like the eagle spread abroad its wings, that with new vigour in its pinions it may fearlessly soar aloft and leave its earthly dwelling-place behind it, for the earthly habitation weigheth down the mind.252 Let it put off old things, let it cast off wandering desires, let it purge its eyes that it may see that Fountain of true wisdom, |205 that Source of eternal life Which flows and abounds with all things and is in want of nothing. For who hath given to Him, seeing that of Him and through Him and to Him are all things?253
18. The Fountain of life then is that chief Good from Which the means of life are dispensed to all, but It hath life abiding in Itself. It receiveth from none as though It were in need, It confers good on others rather than borrows from others for Itself, for It hath no need of us. Thus in the person of man it is said, my goods are nothing unto Thee.254 What then can be more lovely than to approach to Him, to cleave to Him; what pleasure can be greater? He who has seen and tasted freely of the Fountain of living water, what else can he desire? what kingdoms? what powers? what riches? perceiving how miserable even in this world is the condition of kings, how mutable the state of empires, how short the space of this life, in what bondage sovereigns themselves must live, seeing that their life is according to the will of others, not their own.
19. But what rich man passes to eternal life unless he be supported by the riches of virtue, that gift which is the portion of all, and declared to be impossible for the rich alone?255 Happiness then does not consist in using these things but in perceiving that whereby you may despise them, may regard them as void of truth 256, may judge them to be empty and fruitless, and may love the true beauty of naked truth which confesses the cheating vanities of this world.
20. Lift up therefore your eyes, O my soul; those eyes of which the Word of God saith, Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes.257 Go up then to the palm tree,258 overcome the world, that thou mayest reach the height of the Word. Leave out of doors the vain shows of this world, leave its malice, but bring in with you that goodness of mind which has grace in the tree of life, that is, if she wash her robes and enter into the city which is the true grace of the saints, wherein is the Tabernacle of God, |206 around which the scribes of the Lord encamp, where neither day nor sun nor moon afford light, but the Lord Himself is the light thereof,259 and enlightens all that city. For He is the Light of the world,260 not indeed the visible light, but the intellectual brightness of the souls which are in this world, upon which He pours the bright beams of reason and of prudence, and in the Gospel is said to inspire with the breath of His spiritual influences the inmost soul, and the recesses of the mind.261
21. If then any man hath begun to be an inhabitant of that heavenly city, an inhabitant, that is, by his life and manners, let him not depart from it, let him not go out again, or retrace his steps, the steps, that is, not of his body but of his mind; let him not turn back. Behind is luxury, behind is impurity. When Lot went up into the mountain he left behind him the crimes of Sodom, but she who looked back, could not reach the higher ground.262 It is not your feet but your manners which are never to turn back. Let not your hands hang down, or the knees of your faith and devotion become feeble. Let not the weakness of your will be backsliding, let there be no recurrence of crime. Thou hast entered in, remain therefore; thou hast arrived, stay still; escape for thy life.263
22. In your ascent your steps must tend directly upwards, no man can safely turn back. Here is the way, there, downfall; here ascent, there a precipice. In ascending there is labour, in descending danger; but the Lord is mighty, Who, when thou art founded there will guard and hedge thee round with prophetic walls and apostolic bulwarks. Therefore the Lord says to thee, Come, get you down, for the press is full.264 Let us be found within, not out of doors. In the Gospel too the Son of God saith, He which shall be upon the house-top let him not come down to take away his vessels.265 And this He says not of this house-top, but of that of which it is said, He spreadeth out the heavens like a vault.266
23. Remain within therefore, within Jerusalem, within thine own soul, peaceful, meek, and tranquil. Leave her not, nor descend in order to raise up this vessel of thine, either with honour, or wealth, or pride. Remain within, |207 that aliens may not pass through thee, that sins may not pass through thy mind, vain acts., and idle thoughts: and they will not pass, if thou wilt wage a holy war in the cause of faith and devotion, for the love of truth against the snares of passion, and wilt take up the arms of God against spiritual wickedness and the craft of the devil, who tempts our senses by fraud and stratagem, but who is easily crushed by the gentle warrior, who sees no strife, but, as becomes the servant of God, teaches the faith with modesty, and convinces those who oppose themselves. Of him the Scripture says, Let the warrior who is gentle arise 267, and let him that is weak say, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.268
24. Supported by this faith, even he who is weak shall prevail, and his soul will be holy, and the prophetic or apostolic mountains shall drop down new wine269 for him, and the hills shall flow with milk, like that hill which gave milk to the Corinthians to drink,270 and water shall flow for him from their vessels, and from their well-heads. From his belly shall flow living water,271 that spiritual water which the Holy Spirit supplies to His faithful; may He vouchsafe to water thy soul also, that in thee may be a fountain springing up into life eternal. Farewell; love me as a son, for I love you as a father,
LETTER XXX. [A.D.389.]
S. AMBROSE here continues the subject of the last Letter, dwelling- especially on the duty of rising above the level of earthly things, and bringing together various passages of the Old Testament which he interprets spiritually as setting forth this Lesson. The true follower of Christ will build Him a Temple in his heart, which his Lord will fill with the adornment of spiritual graces.
AMBROSE TO IRENAEUS, GREETING.
1. AFTER I had finished my last letter and directed it to be conveyed to you, the words which the Lord spake |208 by the prophet Haggai came into my mind, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses?272 What is the meaning of this but that we ought to dwell on high, not in low and subterranean abodes? For they who dwell beneath the earth, cannot build the temple of God, but say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built,273 because it is the mark of sensual persons to seek underground dwellings, courting the cool of summer, being enervated by indulgence and requiring shady retreats to enable them to bear the heat, or because the slothful live at ease beneath the earth, or lastly because dark and shady places suit them best, concealing, (as they believe,) their crimes. I am compassed about with darkness, the walls cover me, what need I to fear?274 But in vain do they hope for this, when God beholds the hidden depths of the abyss, and discovers all things before they take place.
2. But neither Elijah nor Eiisha dwelt in underground dwellings. Moreover the former carried the dead son of the widow up into the loft where he abode, and there raised him to life;275 and for the latter, that great woman, the Shunamite, prepared a chamber on the wall, and there she obtained the privilege of conceiving a son, for she was barren, and there also she saw the miracle of his restoration to life.276 And what shall I say of Peter who at the sixth hour went up upon the house-top, and there learnt the mystery of the baptism of the Gentiles.277 But the homicide Absalom had reared for himself a pillar in the King's dale, and then, after his death, he was cast into a great pit.278 So then the saints ascend unto the Lord, the wicked descend to crime; the saints are on the mountains, the wicked in the valleys; For God is the God of the hills, not of the plains.279
3. Those therefore who dwelt in the plain, where God dwells not, could not have the house of God in themselves; for this is the house which God required of them, that they should build up themselves, and should erect within them the temple of God with the living stones of faith. For it was not the erection of earthly walls nor of wooden roofs that He required, for these, had they existed, would have been destroyed by the enemies' hand; but He sought for that temple which should be raised in men's minds, to |209 whom it might be said, Ye are the Temple of God, wherein the Lord Jesus was to dwell, and from whence He was to proceed for the redemption of the world. Thus in the womb of a Virgin a sacred chamber was to be prepared, wherein the King of heaven might dwell, and the human Body might become the temple of God, Which also when It was destroyed, was to be raised again in three days.
4. But such a house as this sensual persons, they who dwell in cieled houses280 and delight in chased silver, do not build. For as they despise pure silver, so also they despise simple dwellings. They enlarge the site of their houses, they add more and more, joining house to house and farm to farm, they dig up the ground; so that the very earth itself gives way to their habitations, and like sons of the earth they are laid up within her womb, and hidden in her bowels. They surely are those of whom Jeremiah says, Woe unto him that buildeth his house in unrighteousness.281 For he who builds in righteousness, builds not on earth but in heaven.
5. Thou hast built, saith the Prophet, a house, measure the upper chambers of it, even airy chambers, furnished with windows, deled with cedar, and painted with vermilion.282 Now he measureth the upper chambers, who, having contemplated the judgment of God, judgeth the judgment of the humble and the judgment of the poor. But he who seeks after gain and the blood of the innocent builds not his chambers with judgment, nor keeps the due measure, because he has not Christ, nor looks for the breath of Divine grace upon him, nor does he desire the brightness of full light, nor has he chambers painted with vermilion, for it cannot be said to him, Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet.283
6. A man of this sort, it is said, shall not be buried, for he who has burrowed in the earth, and buried himself alive, so to speak, in a tomb, has deprived himself when dead of the rest of burial.284 And thus, laid in the pit of carnal pleasures, he has found no grave from whence to rise. Such a man therefore builds no temple to God, because he hath not known the time of his correction. How then can such men build a temple, who like wild beasts betake themselves |210 to dens and hiding places, who like serpents bury themselves in ditches, and burrow in the earth like crafty foxes?
7. Neither does he build a sepulchre for himself who dies before the time, for he is dead while he liveth;285 and he hears not the voice of Haggai, that is being interpreted, of the Feaster, for he enters not the Tabernacle of God, in the voice of praise and thanksgiving, the sound of one feasting.286 For how can he hear His voice, who sees not
His works? If he saw them, he would have heard the Word which has been put in His Hand, rejoicing in His acts, whereby He knocked and it was opened to Him,287 and He descended into his soul that He might feed therein upon the food of sincerity and truth.
8. Now because he has not heard, the word of Haggai comes again to hand, and says, Rise up from your cieled houses 288 that are weighed down by wickedness, and go up to the mountain of the heavenly Scriptures, and hew wood, the wood of wisdom, the wood of life, the wood of knowledge; and make straight your ways, direct your acts that they may keep their due order which is useful and necessary for building the house of God.
9. For if ye do it not, the heaven over you shall be stayed of her dew,289 that is, the heavenly Word, Which descends as the dew upon the grass, shall not temper the fevered motions of your bodily passions, nor extinguish the fiery darts of your various desires; and the earth, that is, your soul, shall be stayed from her fruit, so that it shall be dried up, unless fully watered by the Word of God, and sprinkled with heavenly dew, even the fulness of spiritual Grace.
10. And as He knew how slothful they are who dwelt beneath the earth, and in the dark abodes of pleasure, I will stir up, it is said, the spirit of Jerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, Governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest,290 that they may be stirred up to build the Divine house. For except the Lord build the house, their labour is lost that build it.291 Now Zerubbabel means, 'constant overflowing,' like the Fountain of life, and the Word of God, by Whom and from Whom are all things and in Whom all things consist.292 Thus saith the overflowing Fountain, If any man thirst, let him come unto |211 Me, and drink;293 drink, that is, from the stream of the unfailing flood. We read also of Zabulon, a nocturnal flood, that is to say prophetic, but it also is now brightened by the intermixture of this stream, whereby was swallowed up that flood of vanity typified by Jezabel, which was opposed to truth and to the utterances of prophets, and was so torn in pieces by dogs that not a trace of it remained, but all its frame with every mark of its posterity was destroyed. Zerubbabel therefore of the tribe of Judah, and Jesus the High Priest, thus designated both by tribe and name seem to represent two persons, though one only is meant; for He Who as Almighty, is born from the Almighty, as Redeemer is born of the Virgin, being the Same in the diversity of His two divisible natures, hath fulfilled as the Giant of salvation 294 the verity of the one Son of God.
11. Now being about to raise from the dead holy Zerubbabel He says, Yet once, it is a little while, I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land.295 Once before he had shaken these things when He delivered his people from Egypt, when there was in heaven a pillar of fire,296 dry land among the waves, a wall in the sea, a path in the waters, when in the desert a daily supply of heavenly food was produced, and the rock was melted into streams of water.297 But He shook them also afterwards in the Passion of the Lord Jesus, when the heaven was covered with darkness, the sun withdrew his light, the rocks were rent,298 the tombs opened, the dead raised, the Dragon, vanquished on his own waves, saw the fishers of men not only sailing, but even walking on the sea without danger.
12. The dry land was also shaken when the barren Gentile nations began to ripen with the harvest of devotion and |212 faith, and the desert and the Gentiles were so much shaken, that the preaching of the Apostles, whom He sent to call the Gentiles, was so loud and vehement, that their sound went out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world.299 So greatly, indeed, was the desert shaken that more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife,300 and the desert blossomed as a rose,301 the elect of the Gentiles entered in to the remnant of the people, that the remnant might be saved according to the election of grace.302
13. And I will fill, it is said, this house with My silver and gold,303 with the heavenly oracles, which are as silver tried in the fire,304 and in the brightness of the true light, glistening like spiritual gold in the secret hearts of the saints. These riches He confers on His Church, riches whereby spiritual treasures are increased, and the glory of the house is exalted above the former glory which the elect people enjoyed.
14. For peace and tranquillity of the soul is above all glory of any house; for peace passeth all understanding.305 This is that peace above all peace which shall be granted after the third shaking of the heaven, the sea, the earth and the dry land, when He shall destroy all Principalities and Powers. For heaven and earth shall pass away,306 and all the fashion of this world; and every man shall rise up against his brother with the sword, that is, with the word piercing the marrow of the soul,307 that whatever opposes itself, the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem may be cut off, as Zechariah says.308 And thus there will be peace over all, the passions of the body offering no resistance, and the unbelieving mind no obstacle, that Christ may be all in all, offering in subjection to the Father the hearts of all men.
15. Wherefore to Him alone is it mystically said, I will take thee, O Zerubbabel, and will make thee as a signet, for I have chosen thee.309 When our mind shall have become peaceful so that it may be said to her, Return, return, O Shulamite,310 which signifies 'peaceful,' or, to use your own |213 name, Irenice, then shall she receive Christ like a signet on herself, that is, the Image of God, that she may be according to that Image, for as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And it behoves us to bear the image of the heavenly, that is, peace.311
16. And that we may know the truth of this, it is said in the Canticles to the soul now fully perfect, that which may the Lord Jesus say to you also, Set me as a seal upon thine arm;312 that peace may shine in your heart and Christ in your works, and that wisdom and righteousness and redemption may be formed in you. Farewell, my son: love me for I love you.
1. a A reply of Valentinian the 1st to some Bishops of the Hellespont and Bithynia, who demanded permission to meet 'to amend the doctrine of the faith,' is given by Sozomen. (vi. 7.) His words are, 'It is not lawful for me, as a layman, to busy myself about such matters as these: let the Bishops, whose business it is, meet by themselves wherever they will.' To the same effect are the words of his which Theodoret reports, (iv. (5.) when bidding the Bishops of the province elect a successor to Auxentius. He bids them choose a fit person, 'that we also, who rule. the. empire, may sincerely bow our heads to him, and welcome his reproofs, (for, being men, we cannot but stumble,) as a remedial discipline.' What law is referred to is uncertain. The Benedictine Editors, after mentioning some which had been suggested 'think it more probable that the law referred to is not extant.'
2. b Gibbon (ch. xxv.) in his character of Valentinian says, 'In the time of Julian he provoked the danger of disgrace by the contempt which he publicly expressed for the reigning religion.' The story is told by Theod. Eccles. Hist. iii. 16. Valentian was in official attendance on the Emperor Julian on one occasion when he went to the temple of Fortune to perform rites. 'On either side of the door were stationed attendants, who sprinkled all who came in with lustral water to purify them, as they believed. When some of the, drops fell on his cloak, Valentinian struck the attendants with his fist, saying that he was defiled not purified by them.' For this he was dismissed from the court, and sent to a solitary garrison. The same story is told with slight variations by Sozomen. Hist. vi. 6.
3. c He is alluding to his own election.
4. d This is true of the first decision of the Council, but as S. Ambrose says, 'it ended badly,' for the Bishops were inveigled into accepting a less orthodox formula. See Prof. Bright's Hist. p. 94, 98.
5. c S. Ambrose here delicately alludes to the service; he had rendered to Valentinian in going on his behalf to the court of the usurper Maximus after the death of Gratian, which is referred to in Letter xxiv.
6. a 'This was not so great an inconvenience to them as might appear at first sight, for the early Basilicas were not unlike the heathen temples, or our own collegiate chapels, that is, part of a range of buildings, which contained the lodgings of the ecclesiastics, and formed a fortress in themselves, which could easily be blockaded either from within or without.' Newman. Ch. of the Fathers, p. 22.
7. 1 S. Pet. v. 8
8. Eph. vi. 12.
9. S. Luke xix. 35.
10. S. Matt. xi. 28. etc.
11. Phil. i. 23.
12. S. Matt. x. 39.
13. b The words 'custodiam' and 'amisit,' are repeated by S. Ambrose from the former part of the sentence. 'Amisit ' as applied here vocal Is the Psalmist's expression, 'Hath God forgotten to be gracious?' Ps. lxxvii. 9.
14. 2 Kings vi. 16. (the sense, not the words.)
15. Rom. vi. 10.
16. S. John xxi. 22.
17. c This refers to a story thus recounted in Paulinus' Life of S. Ambrose ch. 12, 'Among' many who tried to force S. Ambrose into exile, but through God's protection failed of their purpose, one Euthymius more hapless than the rest, was stirred to such a pitch of frenzy that he hired a house close to the Church, and there kept a carriage, that he might the more readily carry off Ambrose into exile, by seizing him and putting him in the carriage. But his wickedness fell upon his own pate, (Ps. vii. 7.) for that very day year, he was himself put into the carriage and from the same house was carried into exile, confessing that it was by the just judgment of God that his wickedness had recoiled on himself, and he was carried into exile in the very chariot which he had prepared for the Bishop. And the Bishop did much to comfort him, by giving him money, and other necessaries.'
18. d The word is 'curiales.' see note e on Lett, xviii. To the authorities there referred to add Bingh. Antiq. iv, 4, 4, where Gothofred's enumeration of their duties is given in full in the notes.
19. 1 Zech. v. 1 [E.V. a flying roll. Vulg. volumen volans.]
20. 2 Cor. xi. 14.
21. 2 i.e. by causing them to commit sacrilege.
22. Ps. 1. 16.
23. 2 Cor. vi. 15
24. 1 Kings xxi. 3.
25. S. Luke xix. 40.
26. Ps. viii. 2.
27. Ps.cxviii, 22.
28. Jer. xvii. 1.
29. Gal. ii. 19.
30. Gal. iii. 11.
31. Gal. iv. 4.
32. Gal. iii. 13.
34. 2 Cor. v. 21.
35. 1 Cor. vi. 1, 2.
36. Ib. vi. 5.
37. Isa. li. 7.
38. 2 Cor. iii. 3.
39. S. Matt, xxii. 17.
40. Ib. 18. sqq.
41. Gen. i. 26.
42. Heb. i. 3.
43. S. John xiv. 9.
44. Ib. x. 30.
45. Ib. xvi. 15.
46. Ib. 16.
47. c There is a play here on the word 'aerarios,' as connected with ' aerarium' the treasury. The aerarii were the lowest class of people at Rome, and so S. Ambrose calls the 'pauperes Christi' his aerarii, while at the same time they are the treasures of the Church.
48. Prov. xix. 17.
49. f S. Augustine mentions in his Confessions (ix. 7.) S. Ambrose's introduction both of Hymns and chanting during this period of trial. 'Then was it first instituted that, after the manner of the Eastern Churches, Hymns and Psalms should be sung, lest the people should wax faint through the tediousness of sorrow; and from that day to this the custom is retained, divers, yea, almost all Thy Congregations throughout other parts of the world following herein.' Oxf. Transl. He speaks in the same passage of the behaviour of the people: 'The devout people kept watch in the Church, ready to die with their Bishop Thy servant.' He also dwells on the effect produced on himself, these events happening shortly before his conversion. 'How did I weep in Thy Hymns and Canticles, touched to the quick by the voice of Thy sweet-attuned Church! The voices flowed into mine ears, and the Truth distilled into mine heart, whence the affections of my devotion overflowed, and tears ran down, and happy was I therein.' Ib. ix. 6. It is quite possible that some of the twelve Hymns, acknowledged by the Benedictine Editors as genuine, were then first sung. Among them are the well-known 'Aeterna Christi munera,' 'Aeterne rernm Conditor,' 'Deus Creator omnium,' and others, whose strains are now familiar in English versions.
50. Phil. iii. 7.
51. Rom. v. 19.
52. Ps. lxiv. 7. vulg.
53. S. Luke xx. 4.
54. Is. ix. 6.
55. Eph. iv. 5.
56. a This is said to be the Church now called 'S. Ambrose the greater.' The Roman Church is the one called in the previous letter the ' New Basilica,' and also the Church of the Apostles. It was probably called 'Romana' from being near the Porta Romana.
57. b S. Augustine says that it was revealed to him in a dream.
58. c These were e0nergou&menoi, or persons possessed by evil spirits. On them see Bingh. Antiq. iii. 4, 6. The laying on of hands was part of the rite of exorcism.
59. d The text stands 'arriperetur urna,' nor is there any variation of MSS. noted. But it seems absolutely necessary to read 'una.' An 'urna' could have nothing to do with the matter. It might hold ashes, but surely not the bones of two men of marvellous size. The histories founded on the letter all tacitly adopt the emendation, and speak of 'a woman among the possessed.' See Fleury. B. xviii. 46. Tillemont in Vit.
60. 1 now of S. Vitalis and S. Agricola Fleury p. 104. Eng. Tr.
61. e This is distinctly asserted by S. Augustine in all the three passages referred to in the Introduction.
62. Ps. xix. 1,
63. Phil. iii. 20.
64. S. Mark iii. 17.
65. S. John i. 1.
66. Ib. 18.
67. Job. xxxiii. 1.
68. Ps. xix. 2.
69. Ps. cxiii. 5,6.
70. Ps. cxiii. 7,8.
71. Ib. 9.
72. 1 Cor. xv. 41.
73. Ps. xx. 7.
74. 2 Kings vi. 16 sqq.
75. 2 Cor. iii. 18.
77. S. Matt. viii. 29.
78. S. John ix. 25.
79. S. John xiv. 12.
80. S.Mark i. 24.
81. S. John ix. 29.
82. Gen. iv. 10.
83. a The word is 'Enneacaidecateris.' Mr. Hensley remarks in his article on Easter, ' It has been often stated that the Council established a particular cycle, that of nineteen years, but this is a mistake.'
84. S. Luke xxii. 7-12.
85. Gal. iv. 10, 11.
86. b 'Nam iriripit espe contrarium.' According to Ducange 'incipio' is used in late Latin in the sense of the Greek verb me/llw, and here, as it would seem, with the force with which that verb is so often used as equivalent to 'it is likely' or 'it is sure' that such and such is the case: see Lidd. and Scott. me/llw, ii. 3, 4.
87. c An allusion to Virg. Georg.,1, 276.
Ipsa dies alios alio dedit ordine luna
Felices operum; quintam fuge, etc.
88. d Days immediately following the Kalends, Nones or Ides, considered unlucky by the Romans. See, A. Gellius. v. 17. What the 'Egyptian days' were is not ascertained.
89. Ps. cxviii. 24.
90. e This is the ordinary phrase for the day of the lunar month. See Bright Early Engl. Ch. Hist. p. 195.
91. Ib. [Ps.] lxxxix. 36, 37.
92. S. John xvii. 1.
93. S. Luke xiii. 32.
94. Ps. cxix. 126.
95. Eccl. iii. 1.
96. Jerem. viii. 7.
97. Isaiah i. 3.
98. Isa. xlix. 8.
99. 2 Cor.vi. 2.
100. f S. Ambrose's Latin is 'mensis novorum.' The Vulgate ' in mense novarum frugum.' The LXX has e1n mhni\ tw~n ne/wn.
101. Exod. xiii. 4.
102. Exod.xii. 2.
103. Lev. xxiii. 5.
104. S. John i. 17.
105. S. Matt. v. 17.
106. 1 bitter herbs E. T. Ex. xii. 8.
107. Ps. cxviii. 24.
108. S. John ii. 19.
109. g The Era of Diocletian was the prevalent one at this time, and till the, general adoption of the Christian Era, which did not become established until the 8th Century. See Mr. Hensley's article 'Era' in Dict. of Christ. Antiq. He gives there the rule, for reducing the Era of Diocletian, the epoch of which is Aug. 29th A.D.284, to the Christian Era, viz, to add 283 years and 240 days to the given date of Diocletian's Era. According to this the Easter of the 89th year of Diocletian would be A.D. 373, and that of the 93rd would be A.D. 377. The 'times lately past' would probably refer to A.D. 383, when, as may be seen by the Table, the 'fourteenth moon' fell on a Sunday.
110. Deut. xvi. 1.
111. h There is a slight error here. The interval is 32 days, not 31.
112. i There is some uncertainty about the reading here. The original reading in the text was 'biennium,' and, as this clearly did not agree with the facts the Benedictine Editors adopted a suggestion that 'biennium' was a mistaken rendering of a MS. which had 'vi-ennium.' But the period of 6 years would not be precise, as the year referred to must be A.D. 379, (see table,) which would be seven years before.
113. 1 Cor. v. 7.
114. k The precise words are not found in either of these passages.
115. Exod. xii. 18. Lev. xxiii. 5. Num. xxviii. 16.
116. Exod. xii. 5-8.
117. 1 in haste E.T
118. 2 against all the gods of Egypt E. T.
119. Exod. xii. 11-14.
120. 1 S.John ii. 18.
121. Exod. xii. 29.
122. Ib. 31.
123. Ib. 33.
124. 1 Cor. x. 2
125. 1 This would seem to be not quite correct. Mr. Hensley remarks that in A.D. 360, Easter day was on April 23rd but that the 'fourteenth moon' of that year was a Monday and not on a Sunday. The question is discussed in Ideler Chronol. vol. 11 p. 254-257.
126. Col. iv.3.
127. Ps. cxli. 3.
128. 1 Cor. v. 8.
129. a i. e. as Bishop.
130. Isa. i. 17.
131. Ps. lxviii. 5.
132. b The Juthungi were a German tribe settled on the north bank of the Danube, in what is now Austria Proper and Moravia. It is uncertain whether they were, as Ammianus Marcellinus describes them, a sept of the Alemanni, or whether they were Goths. It has been suggested that the name is only another form of Gothi or Gothones, (Dict. of Antiq.) The want of a detailed and accurate history of these times, which are just beyond the range of Ammianus, makes it difficult to make out clearly the allusions which S. Ambrose here makes. Tillemont explains them thus, 'Bauton seeing the Juthungan Alemanni ravaging Rhaetia, while, the Roman soldiers were engaged in guarding the passes of the Alps against Maximus, summoned the Huns and Alans to make war on them. These tribes accordingly pillaged the territories of the Alemanni up to the frontiers of Gaul. But on Maximus complaining that they had been brought against him, Valentinian, to deprive him of any pretext for breaking off the peace, induced them to retire in the midst of their victories by presents of money.' He also considers that the reason why the Juthungi came to pillage Rhaetia that year was the extraordinary fertility, and that it is this invasion to which allusion is made in Letter xxiv, 21, where S. Ambrose says that Rhaetia Secunda 'drew down an enemy on herself by her abundance.'
133. c S. Ambrose means Maximus' brother.
134. d He scorns to mean that pity for the dead should move him to less harsh treatment. But perhaps the word 'tuam' may have dropped out, and we should read 'tu tuam causam considera,' ' do you consider your own case.'
135. e It seems necessary here to read 'allegabis' for 'allegabas,' as the past tense would be unmeaning.
136. f Cabillonum is the ancient name of Chalons-sur-Saone.
137. g He refers to the Bishops Idacius and Ithacius, who had induced Maximus to put Priscillian and others of his party to death, in spite of the remonstrances of S. Martin, who urged Maximus to be content with their having been condemned by ecclesiastical sentence. Priscillian 'had adopted a strange compound of various errors,' (Prof. Bright Hist. p. 160.) chiefly Manichean. There is a full account of Maximus' dealings with them in Fleury, xviii. 29, 30. Newman's Transl. vol. 1 p. 66-69. S. Ambrose in Letter xxvi. condemns the conduct of these Bishops, and the appeal to the civil sword in Ecclesiastical cases, in still stronger terms.
138. Rom.xiii. 4.
139. a The Benedictine Editors consider him to be referring to the Novatians.
140. S. Matt. v. 27.
141. Jer. xxii. 29, 30.
142. b S. Ambrose's Latin is 'scribe hoc viros abdicates.' The Vulg. has 'scribe virum istum sterilem.' The LXX. gra&yon to_n a!ndra tou~ton e0kkh&rukton.
143. 1 abdicati
144. S. John viii. 8.
145. ib. 9.
146. S. John viii. 10, 11.
147. c Fleury remarks on this, 'We must remember that the canonical penances inflicted for great crimes were at that time so very severe, that they were equal to a rigorous punishment.'
148. a See note g on Letter xxiv.
149. b S. Ambrose makes the same statement again, De Spirit, in. 17. 'It is important then to notice where the Lord maintained this argument, for oft-times His oracles derive their value from the quality of the place where He was.'
150. S. John x. 30. ib. vii. 16.
151. Ib. viii. 20.
152. S. Luke xxi. 2.
153. ib. x. 35.
154. Ps. xi. 7.
155. Exod. xii. 3.
156. Lev. xii. 2.
157. S.Luke xxiv. 7.
158. S. Matt. iii. 11.
159. Eccles. xi. 2.
160. Hosea i. 2.
161. Ib. iii. 2.
162. 1 nevel.
163. c These words are not in the Heb. In LXX they take the place of the half-homer of barley, gomo_r kriqw~n kai\ ne/bel oi1nou. S. Ambrose combines both.
164. S. Matt. v. 17.
165. Isa. xxxviii. 8.
166. Mal. iv. 2.
167. Gal. i. 18.
168. d It was said just afterwards, if this story of the woman taken in adultery be in its right place, which is doubtful.
169. S. John viii. 15. Ib. 4, 5. Lev. xx. 8.
170. v. 7.
171. S. Matt. vii. 3.
172. Jer. xvii. 13.
173. S. Luke x. 20.
174. S. John xvi. 32.
175. Ib. i. 29.
176. Ib. viii. 10.
177. S. Matt. xx. 23.
178. Exod. viii. 26.
179. Gen. xlvi. 34.
180. a Leah means 'wearied,' and the name is supposed to refer to her 'tenderness' or weakness of eyes. (Gen. xxix. 16). S.Ambrose gives a mistaken meaning to the name Rachel, which really means 'ewe.'
181. Gen. xxxi. 14, 15.
182. Ib. v. 16.
183. Isa. liv. 17.
184. Ps. cxix. 57. Ib. 111.
185. Ps. xviii. 26.
186. Gen. xxxi. 14.
187. Gen. xxxi, 27.
188. Ps. xii. 7.
189. Gen. xxx. 32.
190. Ib.xxxiv. 25. sqq. Ib. xxxii. 24.
191. 1 Cor. xiii. 4.
192. b S. Ambrose often gives this exposition of the name 'Shechem.'
193. c Isaac means 'laughter.' Gen. xxi. 6.
194. Rom. v. 3,4, 5
195. Exod. iii. 5. Josh. v. 15. Exod. xxiv. 13 14.
196. Job ix. 25.
197. Ib. vi. 19-21.
198. Ib. xxviii. 14.
199. a He is here referring to Virg. Ecl. 5, 77. Dumque thymo pascuntur apes, dum rore cicadae.
200. b Here again he is thinking of Virg. Georg. 3, 328. Et cantu querulae rampent arbusta cicadae.
201. c Here again S. Ambrose is thinking of Virg. Georg. 2, 154. Squameus in spiram tractu se colligit anguis.
202. Ps.cxviii. 19.
203. S. Matt. vii. 14.
204. Prov. ii. 13.
205. Is. xxxi. 1.
206. Exod.vii. 1.
207. Ps. xlv.3. Rom. x. 15, Is. lii. 7.
208. Ps. lxiii. 6.
209. Ib. xxii. 29.
210. Prov. xxvii. 25.
211. Deut. xxxii. 2.
212. 2 S. Pet. i. 4.
213. Deut. xxviii. 11, 12.
214. Ib. xxxii. 2.
215. Ps. xxvii. 4.
216. v. 13.
217. Ps. lxv. 4.
218. Ps. cxxviii.5.
219. Isa. iii. 7.
220. 1 Cor. i. 1.
221. S. Matt. vii. 17. Ps. cxliii. 10.
222. S. Matt. xx. 15.
223. Ps. iv. 6.
224. Heb. i. 3.
225. 1 Tim. iii. 16.
226. a Perhaps quoted from memory from S. John iv. 26.
227. Heb. i. 3.
228. S. John xi. 35.
229. Ib. i. 29.
230. S. Matt. iv. 17. Amos v. 14.
231. Col. ii. 9.
232. S John i. 16.
233. Ps. cxix. 68.
234. Cant. i. 3.
235. Ps. cxix. 103.
236. Exod. xxxiv.28. 1 Kings xix. 4.
237. S. Matt. xvii. 4.
238. 1 Pet. i. 12.
239. Acts vii. 55.
240. 2 Cor. xii. 2.
241. Col. ii. 20-22.
242. 2 Cor. v. 8.
243. S.John i. 1.
244. Acts xvii. 28.
245. 2 Cor. i. 19.
246. Exod. iii. 14.
247. Ps. cxix. 109.
248. S. Matt. v. 44, 45.
249. Ib. 48.
250. Rom. xiii. 10.
251. Isa. xl. 31.
252. Wisd. ix. 15.
253. Rom. xi. 36.
254. Ps. xvi. 2.
255. S. Matt. xix. 26.
256. b 'Veri vana.' This is simply one of the Virgilian expressions of which S. Ambrose is so full. It is taken from Aen x. 630, Nunc manet insontem gravis exitus, aut ego veri Vana feror.
257. Cant. iv. 9.
258. Ib. vii. 8.
259. Rev. xxi. 23.
260. S. John viii. 12.
261. S. Luke xxiv. 32.
262. Gen. xix. 30.
263. Ib. 17.
264. Joel iii. 13.
265. S. Luke xvii. 31.
266. Ps. civ. 2.
267. Joel iii. 9. c The Engl. Vers. is 'Prepare war, wake up the mighty men.' The Vulg. 'Sanctificate bellum, suscitate robustos.'
268. Phil. iv. 13.
269. Joel iii. 18,
270. 1 Cor. iii. 2.
271. S. John iv. 14.
272. Hag.i. 4. Ib. 2.
273. Ecclus. xxiii. 18.
274. 1 Kings xvii. 19,
275. 2 Kings iv. 8, 10.
276. Ib. 16 et seq.
277. Acts x. 9.
278. 2 Sam. xviii. 17, 18.
279. 1 Kings xx. 23.
280. Hag. i. 4.
281. Jer. xxii. 13.
282. Ib. 14.
283. Cant. iv. 3.
284. Jer. xxii. 19. He shall be buried with the burial of an ass. Engl. Vers.
285. 1 Tim. v. 6.
286. Ps. xlii.5.
287. S. Matt. vii. 7.
288. Hag. i. 8.
289. Ib. 10.
290. Hag. i. 14.
291. Ps. cx x vii. 1.
292. Col.i. 16, 17.
293. S. John vii. 37.
294. a This refers to Ps. xix. 5. where the sun, that rejoiceth as a giant to run his course, is usually interpreted by the Fathers of the Messiah. It was a very favourite thought with S. Ambrose. In his Hymn 'De Adventu Domini' he adapts the language of the Psalm to it in words of beautiful simplicity,
Procedit e thalamo suo,
Pudoris aula regia
Geminae Gigas substantiae
Alacris ut currat viam.
Egressus Ejus a Patre,
Regressus Ejus ad Patrem,
Excursus usque ad Inferos,
Recursus ad sedem Dei.
In the De Incarn. ch. v. he gives a fuller explanation. 'Him the Prophet Daniel describes as a Giant, because being of a twofold nature, He partaketh in one Person both of the Godhead and of a human Body, and exulted in going forth as a Bridegroom from His chamber, like a Giant, to run His course. He is Bridegroom of the soul as being the Word, He is a Giant of earth because He fulfilled all the duties of our daily life, and, though He was ever the eternal God, took upon Him the Mystery of the Incarnation.
295. Hag. ii. 6.
296. Exod.xiii. 21.
297. Ib. xiv. 22. .
298. S. Luke xxiii. 44.
299. Ps. xix. 4.
300. Is. liv. 1.
301. Ib. xxxv. 1.
302. Rom. xi. 5.
303. Hag. ii. 7,8.
304. Ps. xii. 7.
305. Phil. iv. 7.
306. S. Matt. xxiv. 35.
307. Heb. iv. 12.
308. Zech. ix. 10.
309. Hagg. ii. 23.
310. Cant. vi. 13.
311. 1 Cor. xv. 48. Ib. 49.
312. Cant, viii. 6.
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