St. Ambrose of Milan, Letters (1881). pp. 324-354. Letters 51-60.
LETTER LI. [A.D. 390.]
This is the famous Letter addressed by S. Ambrose to Theodosius after the massacre at Thessalonica. The details of that occurrence are too familiar to need repeating here. In this Letter S. Ambrose explains to the Emperor why he had avoided meeting him on his return to Milan, and urges him with respectful and most affectionate, but firm remonstrance, to follow David in penitence as he had followed him in crime, and tells him that God Himself had in a vision forbidden him to offer the Sacrifice of the Eucharist in his behalf while he remained impenitent. The Letter, far from deserving Gibbon's scornful title of 'a miserable rhapsody on a noble subject,' may rather be regarded as a model of dignified remonstrance, well befitting an eminent prelate addressing a great earthly Sovereign.
AMBROSE, BISHOP, TO HIS MAJESTY THE EMPEROR THEODOSIUS.
1. VERY pleasant to me is the remembrance of your long friendship, and I also bear a grateful sense of those benefits which at my frequent intreaties you have most graciously extended to others. You may be sure then that it could not be from any ungrateful feeling that on your arrival, which I was wont to long for so ardently, I shunned your presence. The motives of my conduct I will now briefly explain. |325
2. I found that I alone in all your court was denied the natural right of hearing, in order to deprive me of the power of speaking too: for you were frequently displeased at decisions having reached me which were made in your Consistory. Thus I have been debarred from the common privilege of men, though the Lord Jesus says, Nothing is secret which shall not be made manifest. Wherefore I did my utmost to obey with reverence your royal will, and I provided both for you and for myself; for you, that you should have no cause of disturbance, to which end I endeavoured that no intelligence should be brought me of the Imperial decrees; and as to myself, I provided against my not seeming to hear, when present, from fear of others, and thus incurring the charge of connivance, and also against hearing in such manner that while rny ears were open my mouth must be closed, and I must not utter what I heard, lest I should injure those who had fallen under suspicion of treachery.
3. What then was I to do? was I not to listen? But I could not close my ears with the wax of the old tales. Must I disclose what I heard? But then I had reason to fear that the same result which I apprehended from your commands would ensue from my own words; that they might become the cause of bloodshed. Was I then to be silent? But this would be the most miserable of all, for my conscience would be bound, my liberty of speech taken away. And what then of the text, if the priest warn not the wicked from his wicked way, the wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but the priest shall be liable to punishment, because he did not warn him?
4. Suffer me, gracious Emperor. You have a zeal for the faith, I own it, you have the fear of God, I confess it: but you have a vehemence of temper, which if soothed may readily be changed into compassion, but if inflamed becomes so violent that you can scarcely restrain it. If no one will allay it, let no one at least inflame it. To yourself I would willingly trust, for you are wont to exercise self-control, and by your love of mercy to conquer this violence of your nature.
5. This vehemence of yours I have preferred secretly to |326 commend to your consideration, rather than run the risk of rousing it publicly by my acts, And so I have preferred to be lacking somewhat in duty rather than in humility, and that others should complain of my want of priestly authority, rather than that you should find any want of respect in me, who am so devoted to you; and this in order that you may restrain your emotions, and have full power of choosing what counsel to follow. I alleged as my reason, bodily sickness, which was in fact severe, and not to be mitigated but by more gentle treatment; still I would rather have died than not have waited two or three days for your arrival. But I could not do so.
6. An act has been committed in the city of Thessalonica, the like of which is not recorded, the perpetration of which I could not prevent, which in my frequent petitions before the court I had declared to be most atrocious, and which by your tardy revocation you have yourself pronounced to be very heinous: such an act as this I could not extenuate. Intelligence of it was first brought to a synod held on the arrival of the Galilean Bishops: all present deplored it, no one viewed it leniently; your friendship with Ambrose, so far from excusing your deed, would have even brought a heavier weight of odium on my head, had there been no one found to declare the necessity of your being reconciled to God.
7. Is your Majesty ashamed to do that which the Royal Prophet David did, the forefather of Christ according to the flesh? It was told him that a rich man, who had numerous flocks, on the arrival of a guest took a poor man's lamb and killed it, and recognizing in this act his own condemnation, he said, I have sinned against the Lord. Let not your Majesty then be impatient at being told, as David was by the prophet, Thou art the man. For if you listen thereto obediently and say, I have sinned against the Lord, if you will use those words of the royal Prophet, O come let us worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker, to you also it shall be said, Because thou repentest, the Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die.
8. Another time, when David had commanded the people to be numbered, his heart smote him, and he said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that 1 have done, and now, I |327 beseech thee O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant, for I have done very foolishly. And Nathan the prophet was sent again to him, to offer him three things, to choose one of them, which he would; seven years famine in the land, or to flee three months before his enemies, or three days pestilence in the land. And David said, I am in a great strait, let us now fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great, and let me not fall into the hand of man. His fault lay in wishing to know the number of all the people which were with him, a knowledge which ought to have been reserved for God.
9. And Scripture tells us that when the people were dying, on the very first day and at dinner time, David saw the Angel that smote the people, he said, Lo, I have sinned and done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? let Thine hand, I pray Thee, be against me, and against my father's house. So the Lord repented, and commanded the Angel to spare the people, and that David should offer sacrifice: for there were then sacrifices for sin, but we have now the sacrifices of penitence. So by that humility he was made more acceptable to God, for it is not wonderful that man should sin, but it is indeed blameable if he do not acknowledge his error, and humble himself before God.
10. Holy Job, himself also powerful in this world, saith, I covered not my sin, but declared it before all the people. And to the cruel king Saul Jonathan his son said, Let not the king sin against his servant, against David; and Wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood to slay David without a cause? For although he was a king he still would have sinned in slaying the innocent. Again when David was possessed of the kingdom, and heard that innocent Abner had been slain by Joab the Captain of his host, he said, I and my kingdom are guiltless before the Lord for ever from the blood af Abner the son of Ner, and he fasted for sorrow.
11. This I have written, not to confound you, but that these royal examples may induce you to put away this sin from your kingdom; for this you will do by humbling your soul before God. You are a man; temptation has fallen upon you; vanquish it. Sin is not washed away but by |328 tears and penitence. Neither Angel nor Archangel can do it. The Lord Himself, Who alone can say I am with you; even He grants no remission of sin save to the penitent.
12. I advise, I entreat, I exhort, I admonish; for I am grieved that you who were an example of singular piety, who stood so high for clemency, who would not suffer even single offenders to be put in jeopardy, should not mourn over the death of so many innocent persons. Successful as you have been in battle, and great in other respects, yet mercy was ever the crown of your actions. The devil has envied you your chief excellence: overcome him, while you still have the means. Add not sin to sin by acting in a manner which has injured so many.
13. For my part, debtor as I am to your clemency in all other things; grateful as I must ever be for this clemency, which I have found superior to that of many Emperors and equalled only by one, though I have no ground for charging you with contumacy, I have still reason for apprehension: if you purpose being present, I dare not offer the Sacrifice. That which may not be done when the blood of one innocent person has been shed, may it be done where many have been slain? I trow not.
14. Lastly, I will write with my own hand what I wish should be read by yourself only. As I hope for deliverance from all tribulation from the Lord, it has not been from man, nor by man's agency that this has been forbidden me, but by His own manifest interposition. For in the midst of my anxiety, on the very night whereon I was about to set out, I saw you in a vision coming into the Church, but I was withheld from offering Sacrifice. Other things I pass over, which I might have avoided, but I bore them for your sake, I believe. May the Lord cause all things to turn out peacefully. Our God gives us divers admonitions, by heavenly signs, by prophetic warnings; and by visions vouchsafed even to sinners, He would have us understand that we ought to beseech Him to remove from us commotions, that He would bestow peace on you, our rulers, that the Church, for whose benefit it is that we should have pious and Christian Emperors, may be kept in faith and tranquillity. |329
15. Doubtless you wish to be approved by God. To every thing there is a season, as it is written; It is time for Thee Lord, saith the prophet, to lay to Thine hand, and, It is an acceptable time to God. You shall make your oblation when you have received permission to sacrifice, when your offering will be pleasing to God. Would it not be a delight to me to enjoy your Majesty's favour, and act in accordance with your will, if the case permitted it? Prayer by itself is a sacrifice; it obtains pardon while the oblation would be rejected, for the former is evidence of humility, the latter of contempt: for God Himself tells us that He prefers the performance of His commandments to sacrifice. God proclaims this, Moses announces it to the people, Paul preaches it to them. Do that which you understand is for the time better. I will have mercy, it is said, and not sacrifice. Are not those therefore rather to be called Christians who condemn their own sin than those who think to excuse it? The just accuses himself in the beginning of his words. He who, having sinned, accuses himself, not he who praises himself, is just.
16. I would that previously to this I had trusted rather to myself than to your accustomed habits. Remembering that you quickly pardon, and revoke your sentence, as you have often done, you have been anticipated, and I have not shunned that which I had no need to fear. But thanks to the Lord, Who chastises His servants, that they may not be lost. This I share with the prophets, and you shall share it with the saints.
17. Shall not I value the father of Gratian at more than my own eyes? Your other sacred pledges too claim pardon for you. On those whom I regarded with impartial affection I conferred by anticipation a name that is dear to me. You have my love, my affection, my prayers. If you believe my words, I call on you to act according to them; if, I say, you believe, acknowledge it, but if not, excuse my conduct in that I prefer God to my sovereign. May your gracious Majesty, with your holy offspring, enjoy in happiness and prosperity perpetual peace. |330
LETTER LII. [A.D.392.]
TITIANUS, or Tatianus, for both forms of the name are given, was a person in high position under Theodosius, and filled the office of Pnetorian Prrefect. He had incurred, as this Letter implies, the enmity of the Emperor's favourite minister Rufinus, who eventually procured his exile. He is here congratulated on Rufinus' removal from the position of 'Master of the offices,' and thereby from exercising an unfavourable influence on some private suit in which Tatianus was engaged.
AMBROSE TO TITIANUS.
1. You have obtained a harmless victory, enjoying the security of victory without the bitterness of entreaty; for Rufinus from being Master of the Offices 1, has been made in his consulate a Praetorian Praefect. By this he has acquired more power for himself, but to you he can be hurtful no longer, for he is become the Praefect of another district. I greatly rejoice both with him, as a friend, in having thus received an increase of honour, and at the same time a relief from odium, and also with you, as a son. And this, because you are delivered from him whom you deemed would be too rigid a judge to you, so that if you shall have arranged your business with your grand-daughter, it will have arisen from your affection, not from fear.
2. Exert yourself, therefore, to obtain an adjustment, both the hope and profit of which are now greater: the hope, because the father of your grand-daughter, who promised himself much from the sentence of Rufinus, has no longer anything to hope from him; for Rufinus is now concerned about other things, and neglects the past, or has laid it aside together with the office which he then held; the father now looks rather to the merits of his cause, than to a patron of his sentiments; the fruit too of an adjustment will be sweeter, for the credit of it must be ascribed to yourself; for you might have scorned it, and have not |331 done so, regarding the pious claims of kindred, rather than the angry suggestions of injury.
Farewell: love me as a son, for I love you as a parent.
LETTER LIII. [A.D.392.]
S. AMBROSE here writes to Theodosius to express his grief at the death of Valentinian II, and mentions the preparations made for his burial. S. Ambrose spoke his funeral oration, which is extant, and is full of expressions of deep attachment. Valentinian had been slain by Arbogastes, who put Eugenius on the throne.
AMBROSE TO THE EMPEROR THEODOSIUS.
1. YOUR Majesty's letter has broken my silence; for I had persuaded myself that in sorrow so great I could do nothing better than withdraw into retirement. But not being able to conceal myself in any retreat, or abdicate my bishopric, I at least retired within myself by silence.
2. I am filled, I confess, with bitter grief, not only because the death of Valentinian has been premature, but also because, having been trained in the faith and moulded by your teaching, he had conceived such devotion towards our God, and was so tenderly attached to myself, as to love one whom he had before persecuted, and to esteem as his father the man whom he had before repulsed as his enemy. I have mentioned this not for the sake of recalling former wrongs, but as a proof of his conversion. For the one he learnt from others, the other was his own, and retained by him when once received from you, so firmly, as to fortify him against all the arguments of his mother. He .professed that he owed his education to me, he longed for me as for a careful parent, and when some pretended to have received tidings of my arrival, he anticipated it with impatience. Moreover, on those very days of public mourning, although he had within the limits of Gaul holy and eminent bishops of the Lord, he thought proper nevertheless to write to me to confer upon him the Sacrament of Baptism. By this request, in an unreasonable but affectionate way, he gave testimony of his love towards me. |332
3. Shall I not then sigh after him with my inmost spirit, shall I not embrace him in the secret recesses of my heart and soul? Shall I deem him dead to me? Yes, indeed to me he is assuredly dead. How thankful was I to the Lord, that he was so changed towards me, so improved, and had assumed a character so much more mature. How thankful also was I to your Clemency, in that you had not only restored him to his kingdom, hut also, what is more, had disciplined him in your own faith and piety. Shall I not weep therefore that he, while fresh in years, and before he had obtained as he desired the grace of the Sacraments, has met with a sudden death? It has been a solace to my mind that you have yourself condescended to testify to my grief. I have your Majesty for judge of my affections and interpreter of my thoughts.
4. But hereafter we shall have time for sorrow; let us now care for his sepulture, which your Clemency has commanded to take place in this city. If he has died without Baptism, I now keep back what I know. We have here a most beautiful porphyry vessel, and well adapted for the purpose; for Maximian the colleague of Diocletian was so buried. There are also very precious tablets of porphyry, to encase the covering in which the royal remains are inclosed.
5. All this was prepared, but we waited for your Majesty's order; and its arrival has comforted your holy daughters, sisters of your son Valentinian, who greatly afflict themselves, and the more in that for a long while they received no answer. This has been no small solace to them, but so long as his remains lie unburied, they do not spare themselves, for they daily imagine that they are celebrating the funeral of their brother. And in truth they never are without many tears and heavy sorrow, and whenever they visit his body they return almost lifeless. It will be for their good therefore, and for that of his beloved remains, that the burial should shortly take place, lest the heat of summer should wholly dissolve them, for its first fervour is scarcely past.
6. I observe your command and commend it to the Lord; may He love you, for you love the Lord's servants. |333
LETTER LIV. [A.D.392.]
THE Eusebius to whom this and the following letters are addressed is probably not the Bp. of Bologna who took a leading part in the Council of Aquileia, though he appears to be also connected with Bologna, (Lett. lv. 2.). S. Ambrose does not write to him in the style in which he would address an eminent Ecclesiatic. He was probably a layman, on very intimate terms with S. Ambrose, as the whole tone of the Letters implies. Both are on affairs of private life, both, especially the latter, are written in a tone of playful pleasantry and a not irreverent adaptation of sacred things, such as has often marked the familiar correspondence of a great Bishop.
Eusebius seems to have had a son Faustinus, and this son a large family, of whom another Faustinus an Ambrosius and an Ambrosia are here mentioned. It was to this Eusebius, on the occasion of Ambrosia's dedication as a professed Virgin, that S. Ambrose wrote the treatise 'De Institutione Virginis.' She is the 'sancta soror,' the ' holy sister' of Lett. liv.
AMBROSE TO EUSEBIUS.
1. The Secretary of the Prefecture, who had got into trouble on account of the works at Portus 2 is now safe in port. He came at the right moment, for as soon as I received your letters I saw the Prefect, and interceded for him; and he immediately pardoned him, and ordered the letter which he had dictated for the sale of his goods to be recalled. Even if his arrival had been less speedy, no man would more readily have admitted the embarrassments attending that work of repairing the port than he who would have made shipwreck therein had he not had you for his pilot; and from whence he could otherwise only have escaped with his bare life.
2. The little Faustinus is suffering from a cough, and has come to his holy sister to be cured, and came willingly, for he found that the complaint of his stomach is better cared for here. He also considers me to be a physican and looks to me for his dinner. So he has his medicine here twice a day, and he had begun to get strong, but while from their too great love they keep him away, his stomach-cough has |334 returned, worse than before, and unless he returns to his medicines he will still suffer from it. Farewell: love me, for I also love you.
LETTER LV. [A.D.392.]
AMBROSE TO EUSEBIUS.
1. THE two Faustinuses are herewith restored to you, the two little Ambroses stay with me. You have in the father what is best, in the younger son what is most agreeable; for you have at once the summit of virtue, and shew forth the grace of humility, I have what is intermediate between father and younger son. With you is the head of the whole family, and the continuous succession of a name handed down; with me remains that frugal mean which both depends upon the head, and has a common being with what follows it. You have him who is our common rest, who when he comes to me in my turn, smooths all the cares of my soul. You have him who alike by his life and works, and by his offspring has found favour with our Lord, you have him who in the storms of this world nourished a spiritual dove, to bring him the fruit of peace, anointed with the oil of chastity. You have him who built an altar to the Lord, he whom God blessed together with his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply; with whom He established the covenant of His peace, that it might be unto him and his sons for perpetual generations.
2. You have then one who is an heir of Divine benediction, a partner in grace, a sharer in righteousness. But take care, I beseech you, that this our husbandman Noah, the good planter of the fruitful vineyard, does not become inebriated with the cup of your love and favour, as one filled with wine, and so indulge too long in rest, and then if haply he fall asleep the longing for our Shem awake him.
3. There also is Japhet the youngest of the brethren, who with pious reverence may cover his father's nakedness, |335 whom his father may see even in sleep and never dismiss from his remembrance, but keep him ever in his sight and in his bosom, and when he wakes may know what his younger son has done unto him. In Latin his name signifies ' healthI in that grace is spread over his lips and over his life, wherefore God hath blessed him, because he, going backward, one may say, to Bologna, covered his father with the pious garment of charity, and shewed honour to piety; of whom also his father said, God shall enlarge Japhet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem. Wherefore also in the enumeration of this generation he is preferred to his elder brother, he is substituted for him in the blessing: he is preferred in regard of honour to his name, he is substituted in regard of the prerogative of elder birth and the honour due to nature.
4. Now in Latin Shem signifies a 'name.' And truly is this Ambrose of ours a good name, in whose tents Japhet may be enlarged, because a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. Let him therefore also be blessed, let his name be above gold and silver, let the seed of Abraham be in his portion, let all his blessing rest on his posterity, and on the whole family of the just man. But no one is cursed, all are blessed, for blessed is the fruit of Sarah.
5. The Ambroses salute you, the beloved Parthenius salute you, so does Valentinian, disposed to humility, which is in Hebrew 'Canaan', being as it were the servant of his brother, to whom he has also given place as regards his name. And therefore he is like Nimrod, mighty in his double name, a great hunter upon the earth, of whom it is said; Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord. For being somewhat rude in intellect, but of great bodily strength, he surpasses in strength those whose genius he cannot equal; so that he would seem to carry with him the Comacine 3 rocks, and to resemble them in his outward appearance, being as he is somewhat like a bull, wrathful at being set aside, at being deprived of his paternal name, |336 at being subjected, through an inhabitant of the capital, to one from Bologna, for he knows not the blandishments of infancy, and sprung without suffering injury from his nurse's bosom.
Farewell: love me for I love you.
LETTER LVI. [A.D. 392.]
A NOTE in p. 71 gives a brief outline of the schism in the Church of Antioch up to the time of the Council of Aquileia, which made some efforts to bring about a settlement. Meletius was then succeeded by Flavian, so that there still remained two rival Bishops, Flavian and Paulinus. Another opportunity for closing the schism came at Paulinas' death, at the end of 388 A.D., but so far from allowing the wound to be so healed Paulinus on his deathbed consecrated Evagrius as his successor in violation of the Canons of Nicaea, (Theod. H.E. v. 23) which 'do not allow a Bishop to appoint his successor, but require all the Bishops of the province to be summoned to elect, and forbid consecration without at least three consecrating Bishops.' The western Bishops therefore continued to press Theodosius to call a Council to deal with the matter, which was accordingly assembled at Capua. Flavian, though ordered by the Emperor, did not appear, and the Council referred the question to the decision of Theophilus of Alexandria and the Bishops of Egypt, who were not committed to either side, and in this letter S.Ambrose replies to Theophilus who had written to him that Flavian still refused to submit himself to their decision and again appealed to the Emperor, and urges him to summon Flavian once more, and endeavour to bring the matter to a peaceful issue, advising him to consult also Siricius, the Bishop of Rome. He points out that both parties rely rather on the weakness of their opponent's case than on the soundness of their own, and expresses a hope that an end may be put to the schism, and peace restored to the Church. Tillemont, in note 41 on the Life of S, Ambrose, discusses the date of the Synod of Capua, and fixes it at the end of A.D. 391, chiefly on the ground that Theodosius did not return to Constantinople from Milan till November of that year, while it must have been held before the disturbance in the west occasioned by the revolt of Arbogastes and the death of Valentinian, which took place in the spring of A.D. 392.
AMBROSE TO THEOPHILUS.
1. EVAGRIUS has no good ground for preferring his claim, Flavian has cause to fear, and therefore avoids the trial. Let our brethren pardon our just grief, for on account of these men the whole world is agitated, yet they do not sympathize with our grief. Let them at least patiently |337 suffer themselves to be censured by those whom they perceive to have been for so long a time harassed by their obstinacy. For between these two who would agree upon nothing which appertains to the peace of Christ, a grievous discord has arisen and spread through the whole world.
2. To this shipwreck of pious peace the holy Council of Capua had at length opened an haven of tranquillity; that communion should be given to all throughout the East who profess the Catholic faith, and that the cause of these two men should be referred to the judgment of your Holiness, and to our brethren and fellow-bishops of Egypt, as assessors. For we deemed your judgment likely to be true, in that, having embraced the communion of neither party, it would be inclined by no favour towards either side.
3. But while we were hoping that by these most equitable decrees of the Council a remedy was now provided, and an end put to discord, your Holiness writes word that our brother Flavian has again had recourse to the aid of prayers, and to the support of Imperial Rescripts. And thus the toil of so many Bishops has been spent to no purpose; we must have recourse once more to the civil tribunals, to the Imperial Rescripts, once more must they cross the seas, once more, though weak in body, exchange their own country for a foreign soil, once more must the Holy Altars be deserted that we may travel to distant lands, once more crowds of indigent Bishops, whose poverty was before no burthen to them, but who now need external aid, must suffer want themselves, or at any rate use for their journey what else had fed the poor.
4. Meanwhile Flavian, alone exempt, as he fancies, from the laws, does not come when all others are assembled. The money-lender and debtor meet each other, these men alone cannot meet: Flavian by his own will deprives himself of Episcopal fellowship, and will not appear in person either at the Imperial order, or when cited by his brethren.
5. Nevertheless, even this cause of offence does not induce me to consider our brother Evagrius entirely in the right, although he seems to himself the more defensible |338 either because Flavian avoids him, or because he thinks his opponent to be in no better case than himself, each of them relying more on the defects of his opponent's ordination than on the validity 4 of his own. We however would recall them to a better course, wishing them to be aided rather by the goodness of their own cause than by the defects of others.
6. Now since you have stated in your letter that some form may be devised touching this matter, whereby the discord of our brethren may be removed; and as the holy Synod has trusted the right of cognizance to the unanimous judgment of yourself and our other fellow-bishops from Egypt, it is fitting that you should again summon our brother Flavian, so that, if he should persist in not choosing to appear, you may then without prejudice to the decrees of the Council of Nice, and also of the Synod of Capua, take such measures for the preservation of general peace as may not destroy what has been built up: For if I destroy what I have built, or build again what I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. Let the grace of that peace which has been obtained be thus preserved by all, and the refusal of either party to appear will not have the effect of frustrating it.
7. Moreover we are of opinion that it will be well for you to refer to our holy brother the Bishop of the Roman Church; for we do not doubt that what you shall determine he also will approve. For the resolution that is come to will be useful, and our peace and quiet will be secure, if such a decree is made by your advice as shall not create discord in our communion. And thus we also, receiving the series of your decrees, and assured that the Roman Church has given its undoubting approbation to what has been done, shall with gladness participate in the result of this trial. |339
LETTER ON THE CASE OF BONOSUS. [A.D. 392 or 393.]
THIS letter is certainly not written by S. Ambrose, though included among his letters. The writer of it speaks of 'our brother Ambrose.' Tillemont discusses the authorship in a note, (45.) and makes it probable that it was written by Siricius.
The case of Bonosus had been brought before the Synod of Capua, and they had decided that it should be referred to the Bishops of Macedonia, under the presidency of Amysius Bishop of Thessalonica, as being his nearest neighbours. These Bishops seem to have written a letter to consult Siricius, the Bishop of Rome, and this is believed to be his reply, in which he declines to interfere with their decision, only adding a few remarks upon one point. Bonosus was Bishop of Sardica 5 in Illyria, and the founder of an obscure sect. They were accused of Photinianism, and Bonosus is called a fore-runner of Nestorius, but the Helvidian doctrines of which this letter speaks are the most clearly ascertained of their errors. The sect survived at least till the vith Century.
A LETTER CONCERNING THE DECIDING OF THE CASE OF BONOSUS, ACCORDING TO THE DECREE OF THE SYNOD OF CAPUA.
1. You have written to us a Letter concerning Bishop Bonosus in which, either from love of truth or from modesty, you enquire our opinion. But since it has been the judgment of the Council of Capua that those who are neighbours to Bonosus and his accusers should be assigned as his judges, and specially the Macedonian Bishops, who, with the Bishop of Thessalonica, should judge of his acts and writings, we have to remark that the function of judging cannot appertain to ourselves. Otherwise, were the question of the Synod at this day still open, we might well have decided concerning these things which are included in what you have written at length. Having taken upon yourselves this judgment, it is now your part to form your decision on the whole question, to give no power of retreat or escape either to the accusers or the accused; for, being chosen by the Synod to conduct the examination, you have taken upon you its functions.
2. Again, when Bishop Bonosus, after your judgment, sent to our brother Ambrose to enquire his opinion whether he should break into and enter upon the church which was closed to him, he received for reply that he must do nothing rashly, that everything must be carried on modestly, patiently and in order, that nothing contrary to your decision must be attempted, that you, to whom the Synod had committed such authority, would appoint what appeared to you agreeable to |340 justice. The first point therefore is that judgment should be given by those to whom the power of judging has been given; for you, as we have said, judge in place of the entire Synod; as to ourselves it does not befit us to judge as though by the authority of the Synod.
3. Assuredly we cannot deny that he is justly blamed concerning the sons of Mary, and that your Holiness deservedly repudiated the opinion that from the same Virgin womb, of which according to the flesh Christ was born, other offspring was produced. For the Lord Jesus would not have chosen to be born of a Virgin, if He had conceived she would be so wanting in continence as to suffer that birthplace of the Lord's Body, that palace of the eternal King, to be polluted by human intercourse. To propound such an opinion as this, what is it but to fortify the unbelief of the Jews who say that it was impossible He could be born of a Virgin, and who, thus confirmed by the authority of Christian Bishops, will strive with greater earnestness to overthrow the true faith?
4. What else can be the meaning of that text wherein the Lord says to His Mother of John the Evangelist, Woman, behold thy son, and again to John of Mary, Behold thy mother? With what purpose was it that while the Lord was hanging upon the cross and atoning for the sins of the world, He declared also the integrity of His Mother? Wherefore was it said but that unbelief might close its lips and be silent, nor dare to offer any insult to the Mother of the Lord? He therefore, in pronouncing upon and asserting His Mother's chastity, likewise bears witness that she was only espoused to her husband Joseph; and that she was ignorant of that carnal commerce which is the accustomed right of the marriage bed; for, had it been that she was to conceive children of Joseph, He would not have chosen to separate her from the company of her husband.
5. But if this is not enough, the Evangelist has added his testimony, saying that the disciple took her unto his own home. Did he then cause a divorce? Did he carry her off from her husband? How can he who reads this in the Gospel stagger and waver to and fro as one who has been shipwrecked?
6. This then is the testimony of the Son concerning His Mother's chastity, this is the rich heritage of Mary's immaculate Virginity, this is the consummation of the entire work. He spake thus, and gave up the ghost, crowning the whole mystery with a good end of filial duty.
7. We have also read and perused the whole of the instructions, as well what relates to Senecio being joined with our brother and fellow-bishop Bassus in the government of his Church, as what relates to other matters, and we now look for the direction of your sentence. |341
VALENTINIAN II. having been murdered by Arbogastes, one of his Generals, the latter, not venturing to claim the empire for himself, set up Eugenius, who was really his puppet, as Emperor of the West. Theodosius temporised with him, till he should be fully prepared to attack him, and it was whilst he was thus for a time accepted as Emperor that S. Ambrose addressed this letter to him. He excuses himself in it for withdrawing from Milan when Eugenius came there, on the plea that he was bound to fear God rather than man, and reproves him for granting the restoration of their former revenues to the heathen temples, which Gratian and Valentinian had before refused, and exposes the futility of his plea that he was merely granting favour to his friends, reminding him that God sees the heart. He quotes at length the conduct of the Jews in the time of Antiochus, as recorded in the Book of Maccabees, as a precedent which Christians were bound to follow. At the same time he says that he is willing to address Eugenius in matters which do not affect his duty to God.
TO THE MOST GRACIOUS EMPEROR EUGENIUS, AMBROSE, BISHOP, SENDS GREETING.
1. I withdrew from Milan from fear of God, to Whom I am wont to refer, as far as I am able, all my acts, never turning my mind from Him nor making more account of any man's favour than of the grace of Christ. By preferring God to every one else I wrong no man, and trusting in Him, I dare to tell your Majesties, the Emperors, my poor thoughts. Wherefore I will not refrain from saying to your most gracious Majesty what I never refrained from saying before other Emperors. And that I may preserve the order of events, I will touch one by one the points which relate to this transaction. The illustrious Symmachus, when prefect of the city, memorialised 6 the Emperor Valentinian the younger, of august memory, begging that he would command what had been withdrawn from the temples to be restored. He performed his part in accordance with his own wishes and mode of worship. It became me also, as Bishop, to recognize the duties of my office. I presented two petitions to the Emperors wherein |342 I declared that a Christian man could not contribute to the expenses of the sacrifices; that I had not advised the withdrawal of the payments, but that I did advise that they should not be now decreed, and lastly, that he would seem to be giving rather than restoring these expenses to the images; for what he had not withdrawn, he could not be said to restore, but of his own free-will to give it for the uses of supersition. Lastly, if he had done so, he either must not come to the Church, or if he did, he would either not find a priest, or one who would withstand him. Nor could it be offered as an excuse that he was only a catechumen, for it is not lawful for catechumens to contribute to the expense of idols.
3. My petitions were read in the Consistory; Count Bauto, a man of the highest military rank, and Rumoridus, himself too of the same dignity, and from the first year of his boyhood attached to the Gentile worship, were present. Valentinian then listened to my suggestion, and did nothing but what our faith reasonably required. And they submitted to his officer.
4. Afterwards I openly addressed myself to the most gracious Emperor Theodosius, and hesitated not to speak to him face to face. He having received the intimation of a similar message from the Senate, although it was not the whole Senate who asked it, at length gave his consent to my suggestion, and so for some days I did not come near him, nor was he displeased thereat, for I did not act for my own advantage but for his profit, and that of my own soul also; I was not ashamed to speak in the king's presence.
5. Once more an Embassy was sent from the senate to the Emperor Valentinian, of blessed memory, when he was in Gaul, but was able to extort nothing from him. At that time I was absent and had not written anything to him.
6. But when your Majesty assumed the reins of government it was found that this boon had been granted to men of eminence in the state but in religion heathens. And perhaps it may be said, your Majesty, that it is not a restitution to the temples on your part, but a boon to men who had deserved well of you. But the fear of God ought, |343 you know, to lead us to act with constancy, as is done in the cause of liberty not only by priests but by those who serve in your armies or are reckoned among the provincials. Envoys petitioned you, as Emperor, for restitution to the temples, but you consented not; others again required it, but you resisted; yet subsequently you have thought fit to grant it as a boon to the petitioners themselves.
7. The Imperial power is indeed great, but let your Majesty consider the greatness of God; He sees all hearts, He scrutinizes the inmost conscience, He knows all things before they come to pass, He knows the secrets of your breast. You will not suffer yourselves to be deceived, and do you hope to hide anything from God? Has not this suggested itself to your mind? Although they urged their suit with such perseverance, ought not your Majesty from respect for the most high and true and living God, to have resisted still more perseveringly, and to have refused what was derogatory to the Divine law?
8. Who grudges your bestowing upon others whatsoever you chose? We do not pry closely into your munificence, nor are we jealous of the advantages of others; but we are the ministers of the Faith. How will you offer your gifts to Christ? your acts will be estimated by few, your wishes by all; whatever they have done will be ascribed to you, whatever they have not done to themselves. You are indeed Emperor, but you ought all the more to submit yourself to God. Else how shall the priests of Christ dispense your gifts?
9. There was a question of this kind in former times, and then persecution itself yielded to the faith of our fathers, and heathendom gave way. For when the game that was used every fifth year was kept at Tyre, and the wicked king of Antioch had come hither to see it, Jason sent special messengers from Jerusalem, to carry three hundred silver drachms, and give them to the sacrifice of Hercules.7 But our fathers would not give the money to the heathen, but sent trusty persons to make declaration that such money was not to be devoted to sacrifices to the gods, for this was not convenient, but was to be applied to other expenses. |344 And it was decreed that, forasmuch as Jason had said that the silver was sent for the sacrifice of Hercules, that which was sent ought to be so applied. And yet seeing that they who brought it pleaded in opposition, in their zeal and devotion, that it should not be employed for sacrifice but for other exigencies, the money was applied to build ships. They sent the money, that is, because they were compelled, but it was not applied to sacrifices, but to other public expenses.
10. Again, they who brought the money might have been silent, but they were led to violate secrecy because they knew whither it was being carried, and so they sent men who feared God, and who were to do their endeavour that the money might be applied to the equipment of ships, and not to the temple. Thus they entrusted the money to men who were to plead the cause of the Divine law, and He who cleanses the conscience was made Judge of the matter. If those who were in the power of others took these precautions, it cannot be doubted what it was your Majesty's duty to do. You, whom no man constrained, who were in no man's power, ought certaintly to have referred for advice to the priest.
11. For my own part, although I was alone in the resistance I then made, still others both willed and advised it. Being thus bound by my own words both before God and before all men, I have felt that I had no other choice or duty but to consult for myself, for I could not properly trust to you. For a long time I stifled and concealed my grief, I gave no hint to any one, but now I am no longer at liberty to dissemble, or to be silent. And this was why, at the beginning of your reign, I made no reply to your letters, because I foresaw that what you have done would happen. Afterwards, when you found I did not answer, and sent to demand a reply, I said, 'The reason why I do not write is that I think it will be wrung from him 8.'
12. But when a just occasion for the exercise of my office |345 arose, I both wrote and petitioned for those who were anxious on their own account, with a view of shewing that in the cause of God a due fear of Him affected me, and that I did not set a higher value on flattery than on my own soul; but that in the matters wherein petition is proper to be made to you, I paid just deference to your authority, as indeed it is written, honour to whom honour, tribute to whom tribute. For seeing that I cordially deferred to a private person, how should I not defer to the Emperor? But as you desire deference to be shewn to yourselves, suffer us to defer to Him from Whom you would fain prove your authority to be derived.
LETTER LVIII. [A.D.393.]
IN this letter S. Ambrose informs Sabinus that Paulinus and Therasia had resolved to give up all their wealth to the poor, and retire to Nola, and complains of the objections raised against such self-denial, ending with a mystical interpretation of David dancing before the ark.
AMBROSE TO SABINUS, BISHOP.
1. CREDIBLE information has reached me that Paulinus, the lustre of whose birth was inferior to none in the region of Aquitania, has sold both his own possessions and those of his wife, and entered upon a course of life which enables him to bestow upon the poor the property which has been converted into money; while he himself having become poor instead of rich, as one relieved of a heavy burden, has bid farewell to his home his country and his kindred, in order to serve God more diligently; and he is reported to have chosen a retreat in the city of Nola, to pass the rest of his days in avoiding the turmoil of life.
2. The lady Therasia too approaches closely to his zeal and virtue, and objects not to the resolve he has taken. Having transferred her own property to other owners, she follows her husband, and contented with his little plat of ground will console herself with the riches of religion and |346 charity. Offspring they have none, and therefore desire to leave behind them good deeds.
3. When the great of the world hear this, what will they say? That a man of his family, his ancestry, his genius, gifted with such eloquence, should have seceded from the senate, that the succession of a noble family should become extinct, such things, they will say, are not to be borne. And though they, when they perform the rites of Isis, shave their heads and eyebrows, they nevertheless call it an unworthy deed should a Christian man out of zeal for holy religion change his habit.
4. Truly I grieve that, while falsehood is so respected, there should be such negligence as regards the Truth, that many are ashamed of seeming too devoted to our holy religion, not considering His words Who says, Whosoever shall be ashamed of 9 Me before men, of him will I also be ashamed 10 before My Father Which is in heaven. But Moses was not thus ashamed, for though invited into the royal palace he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. David was not thus ashamed when he danced before the Ark of the testimony in the sight of all the people. Isaiah was not thus ashamed, when he walked naked and bare-foot through the people, proclaiming the heavenly oracles.
5. Viewed by the outward eye what can be a more unseemly spectacle than an imitation of the gestures of players, and a wreathing of the limbs after the manner of women? Lascivious dances are the companions of luxury and the pastime of wantonness. What did David himself mean by singing, O clap your hands together, all ye people? If we regard the bodily action we must suppose that he clapped his hands as if mingling with female dancers, and shouted with unseemly noise. Of Ezekiel too it is said, Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot.
6. But the things which viewed corporeally are unseemly, when viewed in regard to holy religion become venerable, so that they who blame such things will involve their own souls in the net of blame. Thus Michal reproves David for his dancing and says to him, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of |347 his handmaids! And David answered her, It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel: therefore will I play before the Lord, and I will be yet more vile thus, and will be base in mine own sight, and of the maid-servants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.
7. David therefore did not shrink from female censure, nor was he ashamed to hear their reproaches for his religious service. For he played before the Lord as being his servant, and was the more pleasing to Him in that he so humbled himself before God, as to lay aside his royal dignity and to offer to God the very lowest ministry, as though he were a servant. She also who censured such dancing was condemned to barrenness and had no children by the king, that she might not bring forth a proud offspring; and so, as it turned out, she obtained no continuance of descendants or of good deeds.
8. If any one is still doubtful, let him hear the testimony of the Gospel, for the Son of God said, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced. Therefore were the Jews abandoned, because they danced not, nor clapped their hands, and the Gentiles were called in, who gave to God spiritual applause. The fool foldeth his hands together and devoureth his own flesh, that is, he entangles himself in corporeal matters, and devours his own flesh, like prevailing death, 11 and so he shall not find eternal life. But the wise man, who so holds up his works that they may shine before his Father Which is in heaven, has not consumed his flesh but has raised it to the grace of the resurrection. This is that glorious dance of the wise man which David danced, and thus by the loftiness of his spiritual dancing he ascended even to the throne of Christ, that he might see and hear the Lord saying to his Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand!
9. Now if you are of opinion that this interpretation of the dancing has not been made unreasonably, do not spare yourself the trouble of reading a little further, in order that we may consider together the case of Isaiah, how, as is well known to you, he was uncovered, not in mockery but |348 gloriously, in the sight of the assembled people, as one who reported with his own mouth the oracles of God.
10. But perhaps it may be said, Was it not then disgraceful for a man to walk wholly uncovered through the people, seeing that he must be met both by men and women? Must not the sight itself have shocked the eyes of all, especially of women? Do not we ourselves generally shrink from looking upon naked men? And are not men's persons concealed by garments that they may not offend the eyes of beholders by an unseemly spectacle?
11. In this I also acquiesce; but consider what it was this act represented, and what was set forth under this outward show; it was, that the young men and maidens of the Jews should be led away prisoners, and walk naked, like as My servant Isaiah, it is said, hath walked naked and barefoot. This might also have been impressed in words, but God chose to render it more expressive by example, that the sight itself might thus strike greater terror, and what they shrunk from in the person of the prophet, that they might dread for themselves. In which of the two then does the baseness most shock us; in the person of the prophet, or in the sins of those unbelievers which deserved to fall into this great misery of captivity?
12. But what if there was nothing worthy of reproach in the prophet's body? He indeed alluded not to corporeal but to spiritual things; for in his ecstasy of mind he says, not I will hearken what I shall say, but, what the Lord God shall say in me. Nor does he consider whether he is naked or clothed. Again, Adam before his sin was naked, but knew not he was naked, because he was endued with virtue; after he had committed sin he saw that he was naked, and covered himself. Noah was uncovered, but he blushed not, because he was full of gladness and spiritual joy, while he who derided him for being naked, himself remained subject to the disgrace of perpetual baseness. Joseph too, that he might not be basely uncovered, left his garment, and fled away naked; now which of the two was base in this instance, she who kept another's garment, or he who put off his own?
13. But that it may be more fully evident that the |349 prophets regard not themselves nor what lies at their feet, but heavenly things, when Stephen was stoned he saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God; and therefore he felt not the blows of the stones, he regarded not his bodily wounds, but his eyes were fastened on Christ, he clung closely to him. So also Isaiah looked not on his own nakedness, but offered himself to be the organ of the Divine voice, that he might utter what God spake within him.
14. But be it supposed that he saw himself, could he not do that which he was commanded? Could he believe that to be base which God enjoined? Sarah, because she laughed, was convicted of unbelief; Abraham was praised, because he doubted not the word of God; yea, he received a very great reward, because he believed that at God's command, even parricide might be piously committed.
15. What cause for shame then had the prophet here, when one thing was enacted, but that of which it was a figure was quite different? The Jews, being deserted by God for their wickedness, began to be vanquished by their enemies, and were fain to betake themselves to the Egyptians, to be a protection to them against the Assyrians, whereas had they consulted for good, they ought rather to have returned to the faith. The Lord, being angry, shews that their hope was vain in thinking that the offence against Him could be removed by a greater sin, for that very people in whom the Jews were trusting, were them selves to be vanquished. This was the meaning as regards the actual history.
10. But this history itself is a figure, signifying that he trusts in the Egyptians who is given up to impurity, and enslaved to wantonness. For no man abandons himself to excess but he who departs from the precepts of the true God. But as soon as a man waxes wanton, he begins to fall off from the true faith. And then he commits two grievous crimes, lassitude as regards the flesh, and sacrilege as regards the mind. He then who follows not the Lord his God ingulfs himself in impurity and lust, those pestilential passions of the body. But he who has engulfed and plunged himself in such wallowing places, falls |350 also into the snare of unbelief; for the people sat down to eat and to drink, and required that gods should be made for them. Hereby the Lord teaches us that he who gives up his soul to these two kinds of vices, is stript of the garment, not of a woollen vest, but of living virtue; that clothing which is not temporal but eternal. Farewell, love me, for I also love you.
LETTER LIX. [A.D.393.]
S. AMBROSE here writes to Severus, Bishop of Naples, to tell him of one James, a presbyter of Persia, who was seeking a retreat from the world in Campania. This leads him to dwell on the contrast of the many troubles with which he is surrounded at Milan.
AMBROSE TO SEVERUS, BISHOP.
I. JAMES, our brother and fellow-presbyter, has come from the depths of Persia, and chosen the coast of Campania and your pleasant abodes for his resting-place. You see in what spot he has anticipated for himself the enjoyment of a haven sheltered, as it were, from the storms of this world, where, after his long toils, he may spend the remainder of his life.
2. For your coast, removed not only from danger, but from all tumult, fills the senses with tranquillity, and transports the mind from the fearful and raging billows of care to an honourable rest. So that those words of David concerning the holy Church, which belong in common to all, appear to be especially fitting and appropriate to yourselves; For He hath founded it upon the seas, and prepared it upon the floods. For a mind undisturbed by inroads of barbarians and the evils of war, has leisure for prayer, devotes itself to the service of God, cares for the things of the Lord, cherishes those things which belong to peace and tranquillity.
3. We meanwhile, exposed to the outbreaks of the barbarians and the storms of war, are tossing in the midst of troubles, and from these toils and dangers can only gather |351 that those of our future life will be still more grievous. Wherefore that saying of the Prophet seems to accord with our condition, I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction.
4. For since I have now lived in the body fifty and three years, among the shadows of this world, whereby the truth of future perfection is obscured, and have already endured such heavy afflictions, am I not camping in the tents of Cushan, and having my habitation among the dwellers of Midian? For these, owing to their consciousness of their darksome works, dread being judged even by mortal men, but he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
Farewell, my brother; love me, as indeed you do, for I also love you.
LETTER LX. [A.D.393.]
IN this Letter S. Ambrose urges Paternus not to break the laws both of God and man by promoting a marriage between his son and his daughter's daughter, who were within the forbidden degrees of relationship, and shews him what confusion would arise from such an union.
AMBROSE TO PATERNUS.
1. I HAVE read your greeting, my like-minded friend Paternus, but the question on which you ask my advice, wishing to marry your son to your grand-daughter by your daughter, is by no means paternal, but unworthy of you both as grand-father and as father. Consider therefore what it is you ask about, for in all that we wish to do, we ought first to investigate the nature of the deed, and then we shall be able to estimate whether it is worthy of praise or blame. For instance, carnal intercourse with women is a pleasure to some, physicians even say it is healthful to the body; but we must consider whether it be with a wife or a stranger, with a married or an unmarried woman. If a man have commerce with one who is espoused and given to him he calls it marriage; he who assails the chastity of |352 one who belongs to another commits adultery, by the very name of which the temerity of the attempt is generally repressed. To slay an enemy is accounted a victory, to slay a criminal is justice, to slay an innocent man murder, and if a man is conscious of this he withholds his hand. Wherefore I beg that you also will consider what it is you propose.
2. You wish to arrange a marriage between our children. But I would ask whether you would have equals or those who are unequal joined together? if I mistake not, they are wont to be called 'pairs 12.' He who yokes oxen to the plough, or horses to the chariot, chooses pairs, that both their age and their form may harmonize, that there be no natural difference, nor blemish of diversity. You are proposing to unite your son and your grand-daughter by your daughter, that is, that he should marry his sister's daughter, true though it is that he was born of a different mother from his professed mother in law. Consider what restraint is implied in the very names; he is called her uncle, she is called his niece. Does not the very sound of the names 13 recal you, when the one has in it the sound of grand-father, and the other refers alike to uncle and to grand-father? How great again is the confusion of the other terms? You will be called both grand-father and father in law, she too will receive the different names of niece and daughter in law. The brother and sister also will exchange different names, she will be the mother in law of her brother, he the son in law of his sister. The niece will marry her uncle, and the affection of these your unstained offspring be exchanged for an irregular love.
3. On this point you tell me that the holy man your Bishop is looking for my sentiments. I cannot think or believe this. For if this were so, he would himself have chosen to write, but by not doing so he has intimated that he considers there is no ground for doubt upon the point. For how can there be any such doubt, when the prohibition of marriage between first cousins extends, according to the Divine law, to those who are related in the fourth |353 degree. But this is the third degree, which even by the civil law seems to be excepted from the fellowship of marriage.
4. But let us first inquire what are the decrees of the Divine law, for you allege in your letters that an union between such persons must be considered as allowed by that Law, in that it is not forbidden. I however assert that it is actually forbidden; for seeing that first cousins are forbidden slighter familiarities, much more must I deem this forbidden which contains within it the bond of a much closer union. For he who affixes censure to lighter offences does not acquit but rather condemn heavier ones.
5. But if you consider it to be permitted because it is not specially forbidden, neither will you find it forbidden by the words of the Law that the father should take his daughter to wife. But is this lawful, merely because it is not forbidden? By no means; it has been interdicted by the law of nature, by that law which is in the hearts of each of us, by the inviolable rule of piety, on the ground of nearness of kin. How many things of this kind will you find which are not forbidden in the law promulgated by Moses, but which are yet forbidden by the voice of nature.
6. There are many things which are lawful, but which are not expedient, for all things are lawful, but all things are not expedient, all things are lawful, but all things edify not. If then the Apostle recalls us even from those things which edify not, how can we imagine that may be done which is not permitted by the oracle of the Law, and which edifies not, because it differs from the rule of piety? Yet those very things in the old Law which were more severe were mitigated by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.
7. What is so usual as a kiss between an uncle and a niece, which he owes to her as a daughter, she to him as a parent? Will you therefore cast suspicion on this kiss of unoffending piety by proposing such a union, will you deprive your beloved offspring of a sacrament so venerable?
8. But if the Divine law pass by you unheeded, at least the laws of Emperors, from whom you have received such ample honours, ought not to have been so disregarded. Now the Emperor Theodosius forbad even cousins by |354 either the fathers' or mothers' side to be united under the name of marriage, and affixed a severe penalty upon any rash union of brothers' children. And yet these are equal as regards each other, but, as they are bound together by the ties of mankind and brotherly union, he would have them owe their birth to piety.
9. But you will say this rule has been relaxed in favour of some. The law however is not prejudiced thereby, for that which is [not] 14 enacted for general use is only profitable to him in whose favour the relaxation takes place, and so the odium is much less. Now although we read in the Old Testament of one calling his wife his sister, it is unheard of that any man should marry his niece and call her his wife.
10. It is indeed a curious plea which leads you to assert that your grand-daughter is not connected with your son, her uncle, by any close bond, merely because they have no relationship by the father's side 12. As if an uterine brother and sister, born that is, of the same mother but by a different father, would be united together when of a different sex, for as much as they have no relationship by the father's side 13, but are only united to each other by the mother's side.
11. You ought therefore to relinquish your intention, which, even were it lawful, would not tend to propagate your family, for your son owes to us grand-children, your dear grand-daughter owes to us great-grand-children.
Farewell to you and all yours.
[Footnotes moved to end and renumbered. Biblical references and running titles omitted.]
1. a The Magister officiorum was a sort of Chief Secretary of state, both for home and foreign affairs. A summary of his duties may be, seen in Gibbon ch. xvii, iv, 2. It was the influence which this post gave him over Theodosius which enabled Rufinus to stir the Emperor's passionateness to the crime of Thessalonica.
2. a The adjective Portuensis generally refers to the town called Portus, which grew up in the times of the Emperors on the harbour of Ostia. It is probable therefore that the reference is to some work of which the person spoken of had the superintendence.
3. a As Lake Larius was sometimes called Lacus Comacinus in the times of the Emperors, (Dict of Geogr. voc. Comum,) it is probable that the 'Comacinae rupes' were some familiar rocks on its margin. The comparison to a bull is simply an adaptation of Virgil's 'Et faciem tauro propior,' Georg. iii. 58.
4. a The word 'bonis' must certainly here be inserted in the text, 'uterque alienae magis ordinationis vitiis quam suis bonis fretus,' as suggested by the Benedictine Editors. It occurs just below in tbe corresponding sentence, 'suis potius bonis quam alieno vitio defendi.'
5. b He is sometimes spoken of as Bishop of Nairsus in Dacia Mediterranea (see Note in p. 67.) but Tillemont (note 43 in Life of S. Ambrose) has made it probable that there were two Bishops of the name of Bonosus,one of Nairsus, and the other of Sardica, the latter of whom is the one dealt with by the Synod of Capua.
6. a He is referring to the 'Memorial of Symmachus.' p. 94. The 'two petitions,' libellos duos, are Letters 17 and 18.
7. 2 Macc. iv. 18 sqq.
8. b He means that the reason why he declines all communication with Eugenius, who wished to secure his great political influence on his side, was, that he felt sure that Eugenius, though at present temporising with both parties, would in the end yield to the pressure of the pagan party, and restore the revenues to the heathen temples. 'Extorquendum' is, in accordance with late Latin idiom, a mere future passive.
9. 1 confusus fuerit.
10. 2 confundar
11. a See Letter xliv. 9, and note e there.
12. 1 compares.
13. a The argument here turns on the Latin words. 'Avunculus,' uncle, is a mere diminutive of 'avus,' grandfather; and the one word 'neptis' is used both for niece and granddaughter without any distinction.
14. b The 'not' is inserted according to the suggestion of the Benedictine Editors. There seems a contradiction in terms without it.
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