Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

St. Ambrose of Milan, Letters (1881). pp. 213-269. Letters 31-40.


Irenaeus had asked S. Ambrose whether God had greater love for those who had believed from their early years than for those, who had been converted later in life. In answering this question, S. Ambrose enters into the history of the Jewish and Christian Churches, which he considers as set forth under the figures of David's two wives.


1. You have wisely thought it a subject of inquiry, whether there be any difference in God's love towards those who have believed from their childhood, and those who have believed in the course of their youth or more advanced age; for this also has not been past over nor left unnoticed in the sacred Scriptures. For it is not without meaning that the Lord our God says to the Prophet Joel, Lament to me for the spouse girded with sackcloth and for the husband of her youth, expressing his grief for the Synagogue, who, before, in her virginity, had been espoused to the Word of God, or, it may be, for a soul which had fallen from her good deeds, that by the heinousness of her sins she had incurred hatred, and through the defilement of impiety and the stains of unbelief had become miserable and despised, and far removed from the grace of that Spouse which had before been counted worthy to be told, I will |214 betroth thee unto Me in righteousness and in judgment and in loving kindness and in mercies.

2.  Not without reason is she considered miserable, who has lost gifts of so great a price, and suffered so grievous a loss of her dowry of virtues as to be deprived of the Spouse of her virginity. For according to our merits the Word of God either lives or dies in us; for if our desires and works are good, the Word of God lives and acts in us: if our thoughts and actions are darksome, the Sun of righteousness sets within us. And therefore He bids lamentation to be made for such a soul. For as they have cause of congratulation and feasting with whom the Bridegroom dwells, so that soul is to be mourned for, from whom the Spouse has been taken, as it is written of the Apostles in the Gospel; for when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then shall they fast in those days.

3.  Thus too this soul, in former times when she possessed the Virgin Word, had joy and gladness. And therefore she fasted not, because it was the season of feasting and refreshment; the Bridegroom was present bestowing by His presence the riches of plenty, stores of heavenly food, and dropping wine, whereby the hearts of men are made glad. But after she lost the Bridegroom by her acts, she is commanded to do penance in sackcloth for her sins, and to bewail herself, because Christ, Who is the Virgin Word, died and was crucified for her.

4.  If this soul was espoused from early age, and never bore any other yoke, but from the beginning dedicated the maiden flower of her faith to Christ and as a virgin was united to Him in early days in the mysteries of piety, received a training in holiness as a heifer does the yoke; she is the very soul of the ancient Jewish stock from the family of the patriarchs, who, had she kept her course of faith without stumbling, would have been counted worthy of great things, the Spouse of the Virginal Word, as she who lays hold of Wisdom, and as a mother shall she meet him, and receive him as a wife married of a virgin.

5.  The other likewise is procured from the Gentiles, and both are the Spouse of the One Word, which is a great mystery. And this is set forth to you in the book of |215 Kings; since David had two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreeli-tess and Abigail whom he obtained afterwards; the first more severe, the latter full of mercy and grace, an hospitable and liberal soul, who saw the Father with open face, having beheld His glory; she who received the divine dew of paternal Grace, as the interpretation of the name signifies. Now what is the dew of the Father, but the Word of God, Who has filled the hearts of all with the moisture of faith and justice?

6.  Well therefore does the true David say to this soul what was said to Abigail, Blessed is the Lord God of Israel which sent thee this day to meet me. And again he says to her, Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person. Lastly in the Song of Solomon these are the words of the Bridegroom to the Bride, Let me see thy countenance; let me hear thy voice.

7.  And at the time she was dismissed, for she had another husband who in Hebrew was called Nabal, which in Latin means foolish, a man harsh, inhospitable, uncourteous, ungrateful, who knew not how to repay good offices; but after his death, she was set free from the law of her husband, and the prophet David took her to wife. By this marriage the mystery of the Church which was to be called from among the Gentiles is signified, for she, having lost the husband to whom she had been married, became converted to Christ, bringing with her a dowry of piety, of humility and faith, enriched also with the patrimony of mercy.

8.  But in this place it is not this wife, but that Ahinoam, who was evilly disposed towards her brother, wherefore her brother was made a trouble to her, and in their person it is said, thou makest us to be a bye-word among the heathen, and that the people shake their heads at us. The devil, finding her off her guard, fell upon her as a lion, and deprived her of her charms, rooted up her vine and fig-tree under which she used to repose, and caused her fruit to wither.

9.  But now God, having compassion on them, thus dried up and withered by drought, saith to the prophet, Lament |216 to Me for virgin girded with sackcloth and for the husband of her youth, that is to say, over the dead husband of this soul or of the Synagogue. And with her He expostulates in another place, forasmuch as she had forgotten her resolution, forgotten His grace, had wandered from discipline, and had lost her former affections as a wife. Lastly therefore He reproves her with His words, calling to mind and repeating her tenderness and her expressions of affection: 'Didst Thou not call me one of Thy household, the parent and guide of Thy virginity.'

10.  Wherefore for this soul, to whom through her infidelity the Word of God is dead, and this Virgin Word is dead also, He appoints grief and brings in an Intercessor, that so she may be called to penitence, and may thereby earn compassion. But she who is of prudent understanding and very beautiful to look upon, was gained for him, like Abigail, in battle; her adversaries were conquered, and her husband, he who, surrounded by spiritual wickedness, struggled and fought not to lose his beautiful wife, being dead. On her her victorious and loving Spouse confers sweetness and grace, cleansing her from all that might obscure her beauty, and taking off from her the garments of her captivity, that so, laying aside all the hairs of her head, that is, the curls of sins, which seem to be superfluous parts of our person (for if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him), she may strive to come in the unity of the faith, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, that she may lay aside all trouble of mind, and founded in love may grow up in the Lord Jesus, and make increase of the whole body.

11.  This is that soul whom the Law shews to thee under the figure of a beautiful woman, and if thou seest her among the captives, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife, it says to thee, thou shalt bring her home to thine house, that thou mayest commit to her the whole interior of thy house, the possession of all thy secrets, that thou mayest take away her superfluities, and cut off her transgressions; and with a razor not too sharp, lest it come to evil, may cut off the slough of thy passions, and thy idle senses. Wherefore it is said, she shall shave |217 her head, that so the wise man's eyes that are in his head may meet with no hindrance. And she shall remain, it is said, in thine house a full month, bewailing the sins of her nativity, and the lies of her wicked father the devil, who would fain gather what he hath not laid, that so, cleansed by the purification of this mystic number, she may obtain the keys of marriage.

12.  And it is well said, After that thou shalt go in unto her, bidding thee to enter wholly into thy soul, and collect thyself within her, and so dwell in her that thou mayest be not in the flesh but in the spirit, and purpose to associate her to thyself in the commerce of life, knowing that she will communicate to thee of her goods, and that filled with her grace thou mayest say, I was a witty child, and had a good spirit; and she may answer thee, I will take thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, and unto the chamber of her that conceived me.

13.  She then shall be thy life, she shall find thee and kiss thee. And it shall be, if thou hast no delight in her, because she chastiseth her body, and bringeth it into slavery, thou shalt not suffer her to be a slave, that is, to the lusts of the body, nor subject her to the flesh, but suffer her to remain free; thou shalt not alienate her, for this were to sell her, nor shalt thou despise her, but shalt allow her to serve God in the chastity of faith and sobriety of good works. Farewell: love me, for I love you.


S. Ambrose in this Letter applies the words of Jeremiah about the partridge (Jer. xvii. 11.) to Satan, and from it sets forth the way in which Jesus Christ has overcome him, and rescued man from his power.


1. The partridge hath cried, she hath gathered what she hath not hatched 1. From the conclusion of my last letter |218 I may borrow the opening of the ensuing. The question has been much mooted: with a view therefore of solving it, let us consider what natural history tells us of the nature of this bird. For it is the part of no little sagacity to consider even this, for Solomon knew the nature of beasts and of fowl, and of creeping things and of fishes!

2.  Now this bird is said to be full of craft, fraud, and guile, skilled in the ways of deceiving the fowler, and experienced in the arts of turning him aside from her young ones; omitting no artful stratagem which may draw off the pursuer from her nest and lurking place. And we know that on observing his approach, she beguiles him until she has given her offspring the signal and opportunity for flight. As soon as she perceives they have escaped, she also withdraws herself, leaving her enemy deluded by her treacherous wiles.

3.  It is said also to be a bird which copulates indiscriminately, and that the male bird rushes eagerly on the female, and burns with unrestrained desires. Wherefore it has been thought suitable to compare this impure malicious and deceitful creature with the adversary and circumventor of the human race, with him who is the arch-deceiver and author of impurity.

4.  The partridge then cried, he that is, who derives his name from destroying2: even Satan, which in Latin means the adversary3. He cried first in Eve, he cried in Cain, he cried in Pharoah, in Dathan, Abiram, Corah. He cried in the Jews, when they demanded gods to be made for them, while the law was being given to Moses. He cried again, when they said of the Saviour, Let Him be crucified, let Him be crucified, and, His blood be on us and on our children. He cried, when they required that a king should be given them, that they might revolt from the Lord God their King. He cried in every one who was vain and faithless.

5.  And by these cries he gathered to himself a people whom he had not created; for God made man after His own likeness and image, and the Devil drew man to himself by the allurements of his voice: He gathered to himself the nations of the Gentiles, getting riches not by right4. |219 Wherefore it is a common saying concerning the rich and covetous man, that he is a partridge gathering riches not by right. But my Jesus, as a good Judge, does all things with righteousness 5, for He came saying, as it is written, I speak righteousness and judgement6 of salvation.

6.  By that grace then He despoiled that partridge the Devil, took from him the ill-gotten riches, even the multitude that followed Him, recalled from error the souls of the Gentiles, and the minds of the nations that wandered from the way. And since He knew that they were beguiled by the voice of the Devil, and in order that He might Himself loose the bonds and chains of ancient error, He cried first in Abel, the voice of whose blood cried out. He cried in Moses, to whom He said, Wherefore criest thou unto Me? He cried in Joshua, He cried in David, who says, Unto Thee do I call, help me. He cried too in all the Prophets. Wherefore He says also to Isaiah, Cry, and Isaiah answers, What shall I cry? He cried in Solomon, calling to all with a very loud voice in the power of of Wisdom, Come eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. He cried also in His Body, as the Beam out of the timber. He cried that He might deceive and circumvent the lurking Enemy, saying, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me. He cried that He might spoil him of his prey, replying to the thief, Verily I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise. Wherefore when Jesus cried, straightway that partridge was left by those whom he had gathered in the midst of his days.

7.  Wherefore some have thought that this also agrees with the nature of the partridge, forasmuch as it steals the eggs of others, and hatches them with its own body, seeking by this treachery to gain for itself the offspring of others. But when she whose eggs have been stolen, or nest invaded, or her young have been tempted by a fraudulent resemblance, and deceived by the appearance of beauty, when she, I say, perceives this, she 'picks out the crow's eyes 7' as the saying is, and, being inferior in strength, puts |220 on and arms herself with cunning. And when all the labour she has bestowed on their nurture has exhausted her store of food, and her young ones have begun to grow up, she utters her cries, and calls to her offspring with the trumpet (as it were) of affection. And they, roused by this natural sound, recognise their mother, and desert their pretended parent. And thus, seeking to gather what he has not hatched, he loses those whom he thought to bring up.

8.  Not without need therefore was it that Jesus also cried; it was in order that the whole universe which had been deceived by the voice, the allurements, the art, the specious beauty of the partridge, and enticed by his treacherous wiles, and had wandered from the true Author of their being, might be recalled by the voice of her true Parent, might abandon this deceiver, and desert him in the midst of his days, that is, before the end of this world. From him the Lord Jesus has rescued us, and called us to eternal life. Wherefore now, being dead to the world we live to God.

9.  When then this partridge shall have been completely forsaken by his false children, then that foolish one whom God has chosen and who has confounded the wise man, will be saved. Wherefore if any man seemeth to be wise in this world let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

Farewell my son, and love me, as indeed you do, for I love you. 


S. Ambrose in this Letter explains more fully the text of Deut. (xxi. 15 &c) which he had alluded to in Letter xxi, and makes the two wives represent qualities.


1. In a previous letter I said that the soul ought to be delivered from its adversaries, and a bond of life which shall be inseparable entered into with it. And inasmuch as my discourse took as a proof of its assertion that passage|221 in the Book of Deuteronomy which speaks of the man who had two wives, one beloved and the other hated, you seem to have felt much concern lest any one should suppose this man had taken to himself two souls, which is impossible.

2. But you yourself know that sometimes, when Scripture uses allegory, it refers some things to the figure of the Synagogue, some to that of the Church; some things to the soul, others to the mystery of the Word, others to souls of different kinds and qualities, which he who has spiritual discernment can distinguish. And so I conceive that it is not two souls, but different qualities of the same soul, which are treated of in the following chapter of the Law. For there is an amiable kind of soul, which desires pleasure, which shuns labour, shrinks from compunction, slights the judgments of God. It is amiable because it seems gentle and sweet for the time, and one that soothes rather than distresses the mind. But there is another severer kind, which is consumed with zeal for God, which, like a strict wife, will not permit or suffer her consort to commit whoredoms, allows no indulgence to the body, gives no licence to delight or pleasure, renounces the hidden deeds of shame, devotes herself to arduous labours and to severe perils.

3. If therefore both have borne children, he may not, it is said, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, make the son of the beloved first8 before the son of the hated, which is indeed the first. The meaning of which I conceive not to be so much a simple preference as between two first ones, but rather a declaration that the son of the hated wife alone has the prerogative of being first. Now the word 'primitives' means as first-born 9, and the firstborn are holy, for every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord. Nevertheless all first-born are not holy, for Esau who was the first-born was not holy.

4. But the holy are the first-born, for it is written in Numbers; Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the first-born that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel. For on the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, I |222 hallowed unto Me all the first-born in Israel. Wherefore He took the Levites for the first-born, as being holy, for we know that the holy are first-born from the Epistle to the Hebrews, where it is written, But ye are come to Mount Sion, and unto the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of Angels and to the Church of the first-born. Wherefore as the first-born of the Church are holy, so also are the Levites, for they also are the first-born. For it is not by the order of their birth but by the gift of sanctification that they are holy; Levi being the third son of Leah and not the first.

5.  But he who is sanctified himself opens the womb. What womb? Hear the words, As soon as they are born they go astray. As you have understood the first-born who opens the womb, so understand here the womb of the good mother, from which it is not saints, but sinners who go astray. But the Levites are taken away from the midst of Israel, because they have nothing in common with the people, whose earthly first-born are destroyed. The first-born of the world are of another mother, from whose womb Paul was separated when he was called to the grace of God. He received the Word Who is in the midst of our hearts. Whence it is said also, There standeth One among you. Whom ye know not.

6.  This digression then of ours from one part of the Law to the other, for the purpose of shewing that the firstborn is not the son of the beloved, that is of the more remiss and voluptuous wife, has not been needless, although the words of the chapter before us express the same truth: He may not make the son of the beloved first-born before the son of the hated, which is indeed the first-born. He is indeed the first-born who is the holy son of a holy mother; just as she is indeed the mother, from whose womb not her true sons but sinners go astray. Wherefore the former is not the son of the true mother, nor the true first-born, but as though he were so, subsistence is indeed provided for him that he may not want, but he is not honoured, that he may become rich. But the other has received double from all, that he may abound; just as in Genesis each of the patriarchs had two changes of raiment given to them by |223 their brother Joseph, when they were sent back to their father to tell him that he whom he had believed to be dead was found.

7.  Thus the first-born has received the prerogative of inheritance, as the Scripture says, He is the beginning of his strength, the right of the first-born is his. Thus from the first-born Son of God the first-born are holy, and from that beginning, (for He is the Beginning and the Ending,) the beginning is called holy, the beginning is the son to whom the prerogative of the first-fruits is due, according to that which was said to Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.

8.  Now the Divine Oracle teaches us that this relates to the inheritance of virtues rather than that of mercy, for the Lord says, In all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. What other inheritance was there in Isaac which could ennoble his father, but that of sanctity? The son of the handmaid indeed he set over the Gentiles, as bestowing upon him a simple portion of his patrimony, but to the son of Sarah he gave a double portion, for on him he bestowed not only temporal but also heavenly and eternal things.

Farewell: love me, for I love you.


Horontianus asks whether the soul is from heaven. S.Ambrose first refers him to the Book of Esdras, and then dwells upon S. Paul's statement in Rom. viii.


1. You have enquired of me whether the soul is formed of a heavenly substance; for you are too well instructed |224 to suppose that the soul is made of blood or fire or any harmony of nerves, as the common herd of philosophers believe, nor as that patrician sect of them, the descendants of Plato assert, does that which moves of itself and is not moved by others appear to you to be the soul, nor indeed have you approved that fifth kind of element which the keen genius of Aristotle has introduced, namely a kind of 11 perfection of which the essence of the soul might be (as it were) framed and compounded.

2. On this subject I advise you to read the book of Esdras, who despised these trifles of the philosophers, and with a deeper wisdom which he had gathered from Revelation, pointed out that the soul is of a nobler substance.

3. The Apostle also, though he has not said it in so many words, has yet given us to understand, like a good master and spiritual husbandman calling forth the faculties of his disciples by the hidden seeds of doctrine, that our souls are of a better creation and a more excellent nature. For when he says that the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly but by reason of Him Who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, he shews that the grace of souls is not small, seeing that by their strength and excellence mankind rises to the adoption of the sons of God, having within itself that which is given to it to make it in the likeness and image of God. For souls are not perceived by truth, nor are they seen by the bodily eye, wherefore they bear upon them the likeness of this incorporeal and invisible nature, and excel in their substance corporeal and sensible qualities. For the things that are seen are temporal, they represent and are united to things that are temporal, but the things that are not seen are united to the Eternal and Chief Good, in Him they live and move and have their being, and suffer not themselves, if they are wise, to be separated or divided from Him.

4. Every soul therefore, seeing herself shut up in the prison-house of the body, if it be not debased by her connexion with this earthly habitation, groans under the burthen of the body to which she is joined; for the |225 corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthy tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth upon many things, knowing also that she walks by faith not by sight, she is willing to be absent from the body to be present with the Lord.

5. Let us consider then how the creature hath been made subject to vanity, not indeed willingly, but by the Divine ordinance, which has appointed that our souls should be united to our bodies on account of their hopes, in order that, hoping for good, they should make themselves worthy of a heavenly recompense. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things belonging to the body12. Every man's soul must therefore consider that she will be rewarded according to deserts of life. And he says well the things belonging to the body, that is to say, the body which was assigned to her to govern, that if she have governed it well she may receive the reward for the sake of which she was subjected in hope, but if ill, she may be punished, forasmuch as she did not trust in God, nor aspire to that adoption of sons, and to the liberty of true glory.

6. So then the Apostle has taught that man is a creature subject to vanity. For what is so truly the man as his soul? of its companions he says, For we that are in this tabernacle do groan being burthened. David also says, Man is like a thing of nought, and, livery man living is altogether vanity. Wherefore the life of man in this world is vanity, to which vanity the soul is subject. And when a holy man doeth the things of the body, he doeth them not willingly but by reason of Him Who hath subjected the same in hope, he does them for obedience sake. From this example of the soul then let us proceed to the other creatures.

7. Consider the sun the moon and the stars; these heavenly luminaries, although they shine with an excellent brightness, are yet but creatures, and rise and set in performance of their daily task, obeying the ordinance of the eternal Creator, dispensing the radiance wherewith they are clothed, and giving light by night and by day. As often as the sun is obscured by clouds, as often as is it hidden |226 by the interposition of the earth, or when the rays of its light are intercepted, eclipses occur, and, as the Scripture saith, The moon knoweth her going down13. She knows when she shines with a full, and when with a diminished orb. The stars also are overclouded and disappear, while going through the service of this earthly ministry, not willingly indeed but in hope; for they hope for the reward of this their toil from Him Who subjected them. Wherefore they go through it for His sake, that is, to do His will.

8. Nor is it surprising that they bear it with patience, knowing that their Lord, the Creator of all things in heaven and in earth, took upon Him our frail body and our servile state. Should not they then patiently bear the bondage of their corruption, seeing that the Lord of all humbled Himself even to death for the whole world, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made the sin of the world, nay even a curse for us? Wherefore the heavenly bodies although they groan in that they are subject to the vanity of this world, yet follow the example of His goodness, and console themselves with the expectation of being delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of glory, when the adoption of the sons of God, that is, the redemption of all men, shall have arrived. For when the fulness of the Gentiles shall be come in, then all Israel shall be saved. For what people will He not pardon when He even pardons that persecuting people, who said, Crucify Him, crucify Him, and, His blood be on us and on our children. But since even the heavenly creation is subject to vanity, albeit in hope, will not He Who is ' truly Mercy itself and the Redeemer of the world, suffer even the perfidy and insolence into which these men through the vanity of the world have fallen to obtain pardon?

9. To conclude then, both this great and glorious sun, and this moon which is not obscured by the shades of night, and these stars which are the garniture of the heaven, all these now suffer the bondage of corruption, for all creatures are corruptible, and the heavens shall perish and the heaven and earth pass away. But hereafter the sun and moon and the stars of heaven shall rest in the glory of |227 the sons of God, when God shall be all in all, He Who now in His immensity and mercy is in thee and in us.

10.  And shall we not believe that the Angels themselves, who in the toils of this world fulfil divers ministeries, as we read in the Revelation of S. John, do not also groan when made the ministers of vengeance and destruction? Seeing that their life is blessed, would they not rather pass it in* their ancient state of tranquillity than be interrupted by the infliction of vengeance on our sins? They who rejoice in the salvation of one sinner must surely groan over the miseries of so grievous sins.

11.  If therefore the creatures and powers of heaven suffer the bondage of corruption, but still in hope, that hereafter they may rejoice on our behalf and together with us, let us also alleviate the sufferings of this present time by the hope and expectation of future glory. Farewell, my son; love me, for I love you.


In this Letter S. Ambrose continues his comment on the passage of S. Paul, especially on the 'groans of creation.'


1.  My former Letter was a reply to your inquiry; this is a part of my answer, supplemental not contradictory to the former. In reviewing the latter part of the passage I was struck, I confess, with his adding, we know that every creature groaneth, seeing that previously he had said without any addition, The creature was made subject to vanity. For he said not every creature, but, the creature was made subject. And again he says, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption. But in the third place he adds that every creature groaneth together.

2.  Now what does this addition mean? It means haply |228 that every creature is not subject to vanity, and therefore every creature will not be delivered from the bondage of corruption. For why should that be delivered which is free and secure from the subjection of vanity and the bondage of that corruption? But they all groan together not in their own but in our pangs, and haply are in travail together of the Spirit of Salvation, the Spirit of sweetness, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, that in the redemption of the human race they may attain to a common joy and gladness. So then either because of their charity they all groan for our labour, or for us as a member of their body, whose head is Christ. But you may understand this as you please, either as we have said, or simply that every creature groans and travails together.

3.  And now let us consider what follows. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of the body. We are taught in the previous passage what the adoption of sons is; therefore, in order to explain its meaning, to that passage we must recur.

4.  He who through the Spirit, says S. Paul, mortifies the deeds of the body shall live. Nor is it surprising that he should live, since he who has the Spirit of God, becomes the son of God. Wherefore he is the son of God that he may receive not the spirit of bondage, but the spirit of adoption of sons; to the intent that the Holy Spirit may bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. But this is the testimony of the Holy Spirit, that He it is Who cries in our hearts, Abba Father, as it is written to the Galatians. There is also the great testimony that we are the sons of God; namely that we are heirs of God and

joint heirs with Christ. Now he is joint heir with Him, who is glorified together with Him, and he is glorified together with Him who by suffering for Him suffers together with Him.

5.  And in order to encourage us to suffer, he adds that all things which we suffer fall far below and are not worthy to be compared with the recompense of our labours, the reward of future good, which shall be revealed in us, when |229 we shall be formed anew after the Image of God, and shall be worthy to behold His Glory face to face.

6.  And to exalt the greatness of this future revelation, he adds that the creation also waits for this revelation of the sons of God, which now is made subject to vanity, not willingly, but in hope, because it hopes for the reward of its ministry from Christ, or else because it also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and received into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, that there may be one liberty of the creation and of the sons of God, when their glory shall have been revealed. But now, so long as this revelation is delayed, the whole creation groans together, looking for the glory of our adoption and redemption, already travailing with that Spirit of salvation, and willing to be delivered from the servitude of vanity.

7.  And to this the Apostle has conjoined the groans of the saints, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, for they groan also. Of their own merits they are indeed secure, but since the redemption of the whole body of the Church is still future, they suffer together with it. For seeing that the members of this our body still suffer, shall not the other members, although higher, sympathize with the suffering members of one and the same body?

8.  And this, I suppose, is why the Apostle has said that the Son Himself shall be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, for they who still labour are not yet subject, and in these perhaps Christ still thirsts, in these is still hungry, in these is still naked, in that they do not fulfil the word of God, nor put on Christ, Who is the Garment of believers, and the Robe of the faithful. They also in whom He is sick still need medicine, and therefore are not yet subdued, for this subjection is of strength not of weakness : again, in those who are strong and obey the commands of God, the Son of God is subject. But now His travail is greater in those who do not succour those who are toiling, than in those who still require aid themselves. And this is the pious and true meaning of the subjection of the Lord Jesus, Who will subject Himself, to the intent that God might be all in all.

9.  We have received the Apostle's meaning, let us now |230 consider who are they that have the first-fruits of the Spirit. With this view let us inquire what is intended under the name of first-fruits or of beginning, Thou shalt not delay, it is said, to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors; further on, The first of the first-fruits of thy lands thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God. First-fruits and tenths are different, first-fruits are of greater merit, an act of pious consecration. And on this account Abel pleased God, for he delayed not to offer his gift, but offered of the first-fruits of his flock. Although some suppose that there is a difference between 14 first-fruits and first-born15, in that on gathering in the crops, the beginning, so to speak, of all kinds in the threshing floor are offered, while the first reaping of the harvest is offered to the Lord; but of this we will speak in another place. But by the offering of the first-fruits, the whole harvest appears to be sanctified, but the first-fruits themselves are the most holy.

10.  In like manner the saints are the first-fruits of the Lord, and the chief are the Apostles, for God hath set in the Church first Apostles, who have prophesied many things and preached the Lord Jesus, for they first received Him. Simeon too received Him, and the prophet Zacharias, John his son, Nathanael, in whom there was no guile, who rested under the fig tree, Joseph also who was called just, who buried Him. These are the first-fruits of our faith, nevertheless the nature of other seeds is the same as that of the first-fruits, although in some there is less grace, for God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

11.  You have an example in the Lord Jesus Himself. In the resurrection of the dead He is called the first-born from the dead. The Apostle also has called Him the first-fruits; In Christ shall all be made alive, but every man in his own order, Christ the first-fruits, afterward they that are Christ's, who have believed in His coming. His body is as truly a body as our own, nevertheless He is called the first-born from the dead, because He rose first; and He is called the first-fruits because He is holier than all the other fruits, and they by union with Him are hallowed , also. He also as the Image of the invisible God is the |231 Head of those found after that Image; in Him according to His Divinity there is nothing corporeal, nothing temporary; for He is the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express Image of His Person. But in our desire to explain the meaning of first-fruits we have greatly extended the length of our letter.

12.  Now the Apostles are our first-fruits, chosen from all the first-fruits of that time; to them it is said, And greater things than these shall ye do, for the Grace of God hath poured itself into them. These, I say, groaned, waiting for the redemption of the whole body, and they still groan, because many are still toiling, who are yet tossing on the sea. Just as, if a man is reaching the higher shore, but the waves still dash up to his middle, he groans and is in travail until he be wholly out of danger. Verily he groans, who still says to us, Who is weak, and I am not weak?

13.  We need not then to be perplexed by the words, We, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of our body, for the sense is plain, forasmuch as they, having the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan, waiting for the adoption of sons. This adoption of sons is the redemption of the whole body, when he who is to be the son of God by adoption shall see face to face that Divine and Eternal Good; for there is the adoption of sons in the Church of God, when the Spirit cries, Abba, Father, as it is written to the Galatians. But this will be perfected when all shall rise again in incorruption power and glory who are counted worthy to see the Face of God, for then the human race will judge itself to be truly redeemed. And so the Apostle boasts, saying, For we are saved by hope. For hope saves, as also faith, whereof it is said, Thy faith hath saved thee.

14.  Therefore the creature which is made subject to vanity not willingly but in hope, is saved by hope; just as Paul too, knowing that to die was gain to him, that he might be freed from the body and be with Christ, remained in the flesh for their sakes whom he wished to win to Christ. Now what is hope but the expectation of things future? Wherefore he says, But the hope that is seen is not hope. |232 

For it is not what is seen but what is unseen that is eternal, for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? The things that we see we seem to possess, how then can we hope for that which we already possess? Thus none of those things which we hope for can we see; eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him.

15. Wherefore, if that which is seen cannot be hoped for, it is not well to read as some do, 'for 16 because any one sees a thing he also hopes for it;' unless it may be understood thus, 'for that which any one sees, why does he also hope for or expect it?' For most true it is that we hope for that which we see not, and therefore, although it seem to be absent from us, we still look for it in patience; I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me. And we wait patiently, because the Lord is good unto them that wait for Him. And it seems to agree with this, that through patience He has given it back to us. We wait for the things which we hope for, but see not. For he does much who hopes and looks for those things which are not seen, and endures because he directs his mind to that which is.

16. Now it is well said that hope that is seen is not hope, referring to the power and honour and riches of this world. You may see a man distinguished by his retinue and equipages, but he has not hope in his equipages which are seen. Nor is hope in the firmament of heaven, but in the Lord of heaven. The Chaldaean has not hope in the stars which he watches; nor the rich man in his possessions or the avaricious man in usury; but he hath hope who places his hope in Him Whom he sees not, that is, in the Lord Jesus, Who stands in the midst of us, yet is not seen. Finally, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. |233  


S.Ambrose continues, in reply to a question of Horontianus, his discussion of the passage of S. Paul, and explains what are his ' groanings unutterable.'


1.  Our letters are so linked together that we seem to be holding actual conversation with one another, so well do you with your question and I with my explanations supply subject matter for our correspondence.

2.  You have intimated your doubt of what spirit it is said that he maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. Let us then refer to what has gone before, that the passage may make plain what we are seeking. Likewise, it is said, the Spirit helpeth our infirmities. Does it not seem to you that this is the Holy Spirit, for He is our Helper, as He to Whom it is said, Thou hast been my succour, leave me not neither forsake me, O God of my salvation?

3.  For what other Spirit could teach Paul how to pray? The Spirit of Christ, like Christ Himself, teaches His disciples to pray, for who could teach us, after Christ, but His Spirit, Whom He sent to teach us, and to direct our prayers, for we pray with the Spirit and we pray with the understanding also. That the understanding may pray well, the Spirit goes before and leads it forth into the right way, so as to prevent carnal things, or what either falls below or exceeds its strength, from secretly stealing over it. For the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. It is written also, Seek great things, and small things shall be added unto you; seek heavenly things, and earthly things shall be added unto you.

4.  Wherefore He wishes us to seek greater things, not to linger upon earth. And He knows what to bestow upon us, dividing unto every man severally as He will. Sometimes, knowing our capacity, which we are ignorant of, He says to us, Ye cannot receive it now. I ask for myself the |234 sufferings of martyrdom, the Holy Spirit is willing, but sees the weakness of my flesh, and lest, while I seek for greater things I should lose what is less, says to me, 'Thou canst not bear this.' What opportunities have I not had, and yet when near the goal I have been held back 17. The good physican knows what food is suitable to each disease, and to each season, for the benefit of health. Sometimes food seasonably taken restores health; but if a man eat food unseasonably or of an improper kind, it is dangerous to him.

5.  Therefore since we know not what to pray for, nor how to pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us; for He is the Spirit of Jesus our Advocate, and He prays with groans unutterable, for Christ also mourns for us. And God the Father says, My bowels, My bowels, I am pained at the very heart. We often read too of Him as being indignant and grieved. He groans to take away our sins, and to teach us to do penance. For there are pious groans, and of prevailing power with God, whereof the Prophet speaks, And my groaning is not hid from Thee. For he did not hide himself, like Adam, but said, Behold I am the shepherd, but these sheep, what have they done? it is I that have sinned, let Thine hand be on me.

6.  Hence then cometh the groaning of the Spirit of God, and those groans of the Prophet18, truly unutterable because they are divine. So those words which Paul heard in heaven are unspeakable, which it is not lawful for a man to utter, but what is hidden from man is known to God. Now He Who is the Searcher of hearts knows all things, but the things which He searches are those which the Spirit hath cleansed. God therefore knoweth what the Spirit prays for, and what is the wisdom of the Spirit Which intercedes for the saints, as it is written, For the Spirit maketh intercession for us. For those for whom Christ suffered, and whom He cleansed by His Blood, for them the Spirit also intercedes.

Farewell: love me as a Son, for I too love you. |235 


Simplician, to whom this and the following Letters, and several later ones, are addressed, seems, from what little we know of him, to have been a very learned and yet simple-minded man. He was older than S. Ambrose, who speaks in this Letter of his 'fatherly love' towards himself, and was probably his adviser in the early days of his episcopate, and possibly, as the Benedictine Editors, (note on Letter lxv,) suggest, his 'father in the faith,' as having prepared him for his ordination, or even taught him as a catechumen at Rome in earlier days. Paulinus tells us that when S. Ambrose was on his death-bed he overheard some of his Clergy discussing the probabilities as to his successor, and when they mentioned Simplician's name, he said, "as if he were taking part in the conversation, 'An old man, but a good one.'" Certainly Simplician was unanimously chosen his successor.

In this Letter he dwells in detail upon the theme that goodness is true freedom and sin slavery, which he illustrates at great length and with much rarity of argument. It is one of the most interesting of his expository Letters.


1.  When we were lately conversing together, in the intimacy of an old-standing affection, you let me see that you were much pleased by my taking a passage from the writings of the Apostle Paul to preach upon to the people. You said further that this was the case, because the depth of his counsels is difficult to grasp, while the loftiness of his sentiment rouses the audience, and stimulates the preacher; and also because his discourses are so fully, for the most part, the interpreters of his meaning, that the expounder of them finds nothing to add of his own, and, if he would say ought, fills the part of a critic rather than of a preacher.

2.  However since I recognize herein the feelings of long friendship, and what is still more precious, the tenderness of your paternal regard, (for in length of attachment many may participate, but in paternal love they cannot;) since moreover you consider that I have already done what you ask satisfactorily, I will comply with what you desire, and that the more, as I am admonished and stimulated by my own example, an example not difficult for me to follow, |236 since I shall imitate no great one, but myself only, thus returning to my own humble customs.

3.  As to the plan pursued in my discourse, seeing that the image and character of the blessed life is delineated therein, I think I have so arranged the argument of it that it will not be disapproved by others, certainly not by yourself who are so partial to me, although it is more difficult to satisfy your judgment than theirs, only your affection softens its severity and renders it more indulgent to me.

4.  Now this Letter, written as it is in your absence, has for its subject the sentence of the Apostle Paul, who calls us from slavery into liberty, saying, Ye are bought with a price, be not ye the servants of men, shewing that our liberty lies in the knowledge of wisdom. This opinion has been bandied to and fro by philosophers in energetic discussions, while they assert that every wise man is free and every fool a slave.

5.  But this was said long before by the son of David, The fool changeth as the moon. The wise man on the other hand is not dispirited by fear, nor changed by power, nor exalted by prosperity, nor cast down by sadness; for where wisdom is, there also is strength of mind, constancy, and fortitude. Now the wise man remains the same in mind, neither depressed nor exalted by the vicissitudes of things, he is not tossed to and fro as a child, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but continues perfect in Christ, grounded in charity, rooted in faith. Hence he is not conscious of failure, he knows not the various losses which befal the soul, but shall shine forth as the Sun of righteousness Who shines in the kingdom of His Father.

6.  But let us now consider from what source Philosophy more fully derived this, from what discipline and wisdom of the Patriarchs. Did it not come first from Noah who, perceiving that his son Ham had foolishly derided the nakedness of his father, cursed him in these words, Cursed be Ham 19, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren, and set his brethren as lords over him, seeing that they had wisely deemed their fathers old age worthy of honour?

7.  Did not also that source of all good discipline, Jacob, |237 who on account of his wisdom was preferred to his elder brother, instil into the breasts of all the riches of this copious subject? So also the pious father, whose paternal affection was equally strong towards his two sons, although his judgment varied, (for while the ties of blood sway the affections, our judgments are formed according to desert,) and who therefore dispensed to the one grace, to the other mercy, to the wise grace, to the foolish mercy, seeing that Esau could not raise himself to virtue by his own proper strength nor make progress spontaneously, blessed him in rendering him the subject and servant of his brother, shewing thereby that folly was so much worse than slavery that slavery itself is a remedy for it; because a fool cannot govern himself, and unless he has some director he falls by his own will.

8.  His father therefore, loving him and careful for his welfare, made him the servant of his brother that he might be ruled by his counsels. And thus wise rulers are given to an indiscreet nation, that by their vigour they may guide the weakness of the people, ruling them by a show of power, and by this weight of authority constraining them against their wills to obey those wiser than themselves, and to submit to the laws. On the foolish son therefore he laid a yoke as on one untamed, and to him who had said he would live by his sword he denied even freedom; that he might not fall away through presumption he set his brother over him, that being subdued by his authority and governance he might make progress towards conversion. And since there are two kinds of service, (for that which proceeds from necessity is weaker, that from free will stronger, for that good is more transcendent which proceeds not from necessity but from free will,) he therefore first laid upon him the yoke of necessity, and afterwards imparted to him the blessing of voluntary subjection.

9.  It is not then nature which makes a person a slave, but folly; not manumission which sets free, but discipline. Esau was born free, and was made a servant, Joseph was sold into slavery, and then elected to power, to rule over those who bought him. He disdained not to be sedulous and obedient, but he maintained the height of virtue, he |238 preserved the liberty of innocence, the dignity of integrity. The Psalmist therefore says well, Joseph was sold to be a bond-servant; they humbled his feet in fetters. He was sold, it is said, to be a bond-servant, but they could not make him a bond-servant; they humbled his feet, not his soul.

10.  For how was that soul humbled of which it is said: His soul pierced the iron? For while sin pierces the souls of others, (for the iron means sin, which has a penetrating power,) the soul of holy Joseph was so far from being vulnerable by sin that it pierced through sin itself. The blandishments of his mistress' charms moved him not, and with reason was he insensible to the flames of lust, seeing that he was consumed by the brighter fire of Divine grace. It is therefore well said of him also, The word of the Lord inflamed him; for thereby he quenched the fiery darts of the Devil.

11.  How was he a bond-servant who directed the princes of the people to store up the corn, that thus they might forestall and provide for future dearth? Or how was he a bond-servant, who gained the whole land, and reduced all the Egyptians to bondage? And this, not in order to impose upon them the condition of an ignoble bondage, but that he might establish a tribute from all but the lands of the priesthood, which he preserved free from tribute, that among the Egyptians also respect for the priesthood might be held inviolable.

12.  His being sold then did not make him a slave; for though of a truth he was sold to merchants, yet, if you regard price merely, you will find many who have bought for themselves maidens of an elegant form, and then, captivated by love, have basely enslaved themselves to them. Apame the concubine of King Darius was once seen sitting at his right hand, taking his diadem off his head, and placing it on her own, and with the palm of her left hand striking his face, while the King gazed upon her with open mouth, glad if she would only smile upon him, and thinking himself miserable and afflicted if she scorned him, laying aside his authority, and seeking to soothe and persuade her to be reconciled to him.

13.  But why should I quote this at so great a length? |239 Do we not often see parents who have been made slaves by pirates or cruel barbarians ransomed by their children? Are then the laws of mercy more powerful than the laws of nature? Is natural affection produced in slavery? People often buy lions and yet have no mastery over them, nay are so much their slaves that if they see them becoming enraged and shaking out their manes on their brawny necks, they run away and hide themselves. Money then determines nothing, for it often buys masters over itself, nor do catalogues of auctions, for by them the purchaser himself is often sold and allotted to another. A contract of sale does not change a man's nature, nor deprive wisdom of her liberty. Many free men, as it is written, serve a wise servant, and there is a wise slave, who governs foolish masters.

14.  Whom then do you consider as more truly free? Wisdom alone is free, she sets the poor over the rich, and makes the servants lend at usury to their own masters; lend, that is, not money but understanding, lend the talent of that Divine and eternal Treasure which is never wasted, the mere loan of which is precious: to lend that mystical money of the heavenly oracles of which the Law says, Thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow. This the Jew lent to the Gentiles, for he received not instruction from them but imparted it; to him the Lord opened His treasures, that He might moisten the Gentiles with the dew of His Word, and might become the Head of the nations, while He Himself had no head over Him.

15.  He then who is wise is free, bought with the price of the heavenly oracles, with that gold, that silver of the Divine Word; bought with the price of blood (for it is no small tiling to acknowledge one's Redeemer;) bought with the price of Grace: he who heard and understood the words, Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and drink and eat.

16.  He is free who going forth to war, if he have seen a beautiful woman, and when he spoils his enemies' goods has found her among them and has a desire unto her, takes her to wife, having first shaved her head and pared her nails, |240 and taken off from her the raiment of her captivity, taking her no longer as a slave but free, for he understands that prudence and discipline are not liable to a state of bondage. And therefore the Law says, Thou shalt not sell her at all for money, for truly she is above all price. And Job says, Take20 wisdom into thine inmost parts. The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, for it is more precious than gold and silver.

17.  Freedom therefore is not his alone who has never had the auctioneer for his master, nor seen him raising his finger, but he is more truly free, who is free within himself, who is free by the laws of nature, knowing that this law has a moral not merely an arbitrary sanction, and that the measure of its obligations is in accordance not with the will of man but with the discipline of nature. Does such a person therefore seem to you free merely? Does he not rather appear to you in the light of a censor and director of morals? Hence the Scripture says truly that the poor shall be set over the rich, and private men over those who administer the state 21.

18. Think you that he is free who buys votes with money, who courts the applause of the people more than the approbation of the wise? Is he free who is swayed by the popular breath, who dreads the hisses of the populace? That is not liberty which he who is manumitted receives, which he obtains as a gift from the blow of the lictor's palm. For it is not munificence but virtue that I hold to constitute liberty; liberty, which is not bestowed by the suffrages of others, but is won and possessed by a man's own greatness of mind. For a wise man is always free, always honoured, always one who presides over the laws. For the law is not made for the righteous but for the unrighteous, for the just man is a law unto himself, having no need to fetch for himself from a distance the form of virtue, seeing that he bears it within his heart, having the works of the law written on the tablets of his heart, to whom it is said, Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. For what is so near to |241 us as the Word of God? This word is in our hearts, and in our mouth; we see it not, and yet possess it.

19. The wise man therefore is free, for he who does that which he wills is free. But it is not every will that is good, but it is the part of a wise man to will all things which are good, for he hates what is evil, having chosen that which is good. If therefore he has chosen what is good, he whose choice is free and who has chosen what he will do is free, for he does what he wills to do: the wise man therefore is free. All that the wise man does he does well. But he that does all things well does all things rightly, and he that does all things rightly does them all without offence or reproach, without causing disturbance or loss to himself. Whoever then has this power of doing all things without offence or reproach, without loss or disturbance to himself, does nothing foolishly but does all things wisely. For he who acts wisely has nothing to fear, for fear is in sin. But where no fear is, there is liberty, and where liberty is, there is the power of doing what one wishes: the wise man therefore alone is free.

20. He who can neither be compelled nor forbidden is no slave; now it belongs to the wise man to be neither compelled nor forbidden; the wise man, therefore, is not a slave. Now he is forbidden who does not execute what he desires, but what does the wise man desire but the things which belong to virtue and discipline, without which he cannot exist? For they subsist in him, and cannot be separated from him. But if they are separated from him he is no longer wise, seeing that he is without the use and discipline of virtue, of which he would deprive himself if he were not the voluntary interpreter of virtue. But if he be constrained, it is manifest that he acts unwillingly. Now in all actions there are either corrections proceeding from virtue, or falls proceeding from malice, or things between the two and indifferent. The wise man follows virtue not compulsorily but voluntarily, for all things that are pleasing he does, as flying from malice, and admits not so much as a dream of it. So far is he from being moved by things indifferent, that no forces have the power to move him hither and thither as they do the herd of men, |242 but his mind hangs as in a balance in equal scales, so that it neither inclines to pleasure, nor in any respect directs its desires however slightly to things which ought to be avoided, but remains unmoved in its affections. Whence it appears that the wise man does nothing unwillingly or by compulsion, because were he a slave he would be so compelled; the wise man therefore is free.

21.  The Apostle likewise gives this definition, saying, Am I not an Apostle, am I not free? Truly he was so free that when certain persons had come in privily to spy out his liberty, he gave place, as he himself says, by subjection, no not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might be preached. He therefore who yielded not preached voluntarily. Where free will is, there is the reward of free will; where obligation is, there is the service of obligation. Free will therefore is better than obligation; to will is the part of the wise man, to obey and to serve is the part of the fool.

22.  This is also the Apostle's definition, who says, For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward : but if against my will a dispensation is committed to me. On the wise man therefore a reward is conferred, but the wise man acts willingly, according to the Apostle therefore the wise man is free. Wherefore he also exclaims, Ye have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh. He separates the Christian from the Law, that he may not seem to yield to the Law against his will; he calls him to the Gospel, which the willing both preach and practise. The Jew is under the Law, the Christian is by the Gospel; in the Law is bondage, in the Gospel, where is the knowledge of wisdom, is liberty. Every one therefore who receives Christ is wise, and he who is wise is free, every Christian therefore is both wise and free.

23.  But the Apostle has taught me something even beyond freedom itself, namely that to serve is real freedom, Though I be free from all, he says, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. What is that which surpasses liberty but to have the Spirit of grace, to have charity? Liberty renders us free to men, but charity genders us beloved by God. Wherefore Christ also says, |243 But I have called you friends. Good indeed is charity; whereof it is said, By love of the Spirit 22 serve one another. Christ also became a servant that He might make all free. His hands served in the baskets: He Who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made all things to all men, that He might bring salvation to all. Following this example, Paul was both, as it were, under the Law, and lived without the Law, for the benefit of those whom he desired to gain: to the weak he voluntarily became weak that he might strengthen them; he ran so as to obtain, he kept under his body that he might be victorious over heavenly powers in Christ.

24.  To the wise man therefore even bondage is freedom; whence we may gather that even to be in power is bondage to the fool, and what is worse, while he rules over a few, he serves more and severer masters. For he serves his own passions, his own lusts, their tyranny he can escape neither by night nor day, for he carries these masters within his own breast, and suffers within himself an intolerable bondage. For there is a double bondage, one of the body, another of the soul; now the lords of the body are men, but the lords of the soul are evil dispositions and passions, from which liberty of the mind alone frees the wise man and enables him to depart from his bondage.

25.  Let us seek therefore that truly wise man, that truly free man, who although he live under the dominion of many, says freely, Who is he that will plead with me? from Whose sight I shall not be able to hide myself, only do Thou withdraw Thy hand far from me, and let not Thy dread make me afraid.

26.  And King David, who followed him, said, Against Thee only have I sinned. For being supported by the royal dignity, and being, so to speak, master of the laws, he was not subject to them but was liable to God alone, Who is the Lord of hosts.

27. Hear another free man; But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment : yea, I judge not mine own self, for I know nothing against myself, .... but He that judgeth me is the Lord. |244 The freedom of the spiritual man is a true freedom, because he judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man, because he knows himself to be subject to nothing which has any participation in the creature, but to God alone, Who only is without sin, of Whom Job also says, God liveth Who hath taken away my judgment, for the just man can only be judged by Him in Whose sight the heavens are not clean, nor the light of the stars pure and clean.

28.  Will any one bring forward those verses of Sophocles which say 'Jupiter, and no mortal man is ruler over me?' How much more ancient is Job, how much older is David? Let them acknowledge then that they have borrowed from us the more excellent of their sayings.

29.  Who then is wise but he who has arrived at the very mysteries of the Godhead, and has known the hidden things of wisdom to be manifested to him. He then alone is wise who has taken God as his guide, to conduct him to the secret resting-place of truth, and although but a mortal man has become by grace the heir and successor of the eternal God, and partaker, as it were, of His sweetness, as it is written, Wherefore God, even thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

30.  Now if any man will examine more closely these matters, he will perceive what great assistance the wise man finds and what great obstacles the foolish, in the very same things; that to the one freedom is an aid, to the other bondage is an impediment. For the wise man rises as a conqueror, having vanquished and triumphed over lust, fear, sloth, sadness and other vices. This he does until he casts them out from the possession of his mind, driving and excluding them from all its bounds and limits, for as a cautious general he knows how to guard against the incursions of robbers, and those hostile stratagems which the wicked enemies of our soul are frequently attempting with their fiery darts; for we have both wars in peace and peace in war. Whence also he says, Without were fightings, within were fears. But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. He says this because he was terrified neither by straits nor persecutions, nor hunger, nor danger, nor death. |245 

31.  But he who fears these things, who dreads death, how is he not a slave? Truly he is a slave, and that in a miserable bondage; for nothing so subjects the mind to all kind of bondage as the fear of death. For how can the abject and vile and ignoble sense raise itself up, when it is deeply sunk in the pit of corruption, through the lusts of this life. Behold, how much he is a slave: I shall be hid, he says, and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth, and it shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me. Therefore as a slave he received a sign, but even thus he could not escape death. Thus the sinner is a slave to fear, to cupidity, to avarice, to lust, to malice, to anger, nay, he is a greater slave than if he were set under tyrants.

32.  But they are free who live by the laws. Now true law is right reason, true law not sculptured on tablets, nor engraved in brass, but impressed on the mind, and fixed in the senses; for the wise man is not under the law, but is a law unto himself, bearing the work of the Law in his heart, inscribed and formed therein by a kind of pen natural to himself. Are we then so blind as not to see the manifest characters of things, and the images of virtues? And how unworthy is it that whole nations should obey human laws, that they may become thereby partakers of liberty : but that wise men should neglect and abandon the true law of nature formed according to the image of God, and true reason, the sign-bearer of liberty; since there is so much liberty therein, that when children we are unconscious of any bondage to vice, being removed from anger, free from avarice, ignorant of lust. How miserable therefore, that we who are born in liberty should die in bondage!

33.  But this arises from the levity of our mind and the infirmity of our character; because we are occupied by idle cares, and superfluous actions: but the heart of the wise man, his works and deeds, ought to be stedfast and immoveable. Moses taught us this, when his hands became heavy, so that Joshua the son of Nun could scarcely hold them up. And therefore the people were victorious when works not of a perfunctory kind, but full of gravity and virtue were being carried on, not the works of a mind |246 unsteady, and staggering to and fro in its affections, but of one firmly rooted and established. The wise man therefore stretches out his hands, but the fool draws them together, as it is written, The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh, meditating on carnal more than spiritual things. But not so did that daughter of Juda, who stretched forth her hands and cried to the Lord, Thou knowest thai they have borne false witness against me. She thought it better not to sin and to incur the calumnies of her accusers, than to commit sin under the veil of impunity. And by the contempt of death she preserved her innocence. Not so, either, the daughter of Jepthah, who by her own consent confirmed and even encouraged her father's vow concerning her own immolation.

34.  For I will not produce the books of philosophers on the contempt of death, or the gymnosophists of the Indians, of whom the answer of Calanus 23 to Alexander, when he commanded him to follow him, is especially commended. 'To what praise' said he 'do you consider me entitled, that you require me to travel to Greece, if I can be compelled to do that to which my will consents not?' A reply truly full of dignity, and yet his mind was more full of liberty. He wrote this letter also.


35.  "Your friends persuade you to lay hands and even constraint on the Indian philosophers, not even in their dreams beholding our works. Our bodies you may remove from place to place, our souls you cannot compel to do what they do not will, no more than wood or stone to utter sounds. A great fire burns pain into living bodies and begets corruption; on this fire we are, for we are burning alive. There is neither king nor prince who can compel us to do what we have not determined to do. Nor are we like the philosophers of Greece, who have conceived words rather than realities, in order to give celebrity to their opinions; in our case realities are associated with words and words with realities; our acts are swift and our discourses short, we enjoy a delightful freedom in the exercise of virtue."

36 and 37. Excellent words, but still words; excellent constancy, but that of a man; excellent letter, but that of |247 a philosopher. But amongst us, even maidens through desire of death have mounted even up to heaven by the lofty steps of virtue. Why should I mention Thecla, Agnes, or Pelagia, who sprouting forth as noble tendrils 24 have hastened to death as if to immortality? The virgin exulted among lions, and dauntlessly beheld the roaring beasts. And to compare our history with that of the Indian philosophers, what Calanus boasted in words holy Laurence proved by his acts, for he was burnt alive, and surviving the flames said, 'Turn me and eat me.' Nor did the youths of the race of Abraham25 or the sons of the Maccabees strive less boldly; the former sung while in the midst of the flames, and the latter, during their punishment, asked not to be spared, but reproached their persecutor in order to enrage him more. The wise man therefore is free.

38.  But what can be more sublime than holy Pelagia, who was surrounded by persecutors, but before she came into their presence said; 'I die willingly, no man shall touch me, no one with wanton look shall defile my chastity, I will carry away with me my modesty, my honour untainted; these ruffians shall reap no profit from their insolence. Pelagia will follow Christ, no man shall deprive her of her liberty, no man shall see her free faith made captive, her illustrious chastity, her inheritance of wisdom. What is enslaved shall remain here, not amenable to any duty.' Great therefore is the freedom of that pious virgin, who encircled by her persecutors gave way not the least in the midst of these great dangers to her integrity and her life.

39.  But he is not free over whom anger reigns, for he is subject to the yoke of sin; for an angry man diggeth out sin, and, Whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin. Neither is he free who is enslaved to avarice, for he cannot possess his vessel. Neither is he free who seeing his desires and pleasures, fluctuates in his devious course. He is not free who is bowed down by ambition, for he obeys the rule of another. But he is free who is able to say, All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient, all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meals for the belly, and the belly for |248 meats. He is free who says, For why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?

40.  Liberty therefore belongs to the wise man not to the fool; for he who binds a stone in a sling is like him who giveth honour to a fool, for he wounds himself, and while brandishing his dart chiefly endangers his own body. Certainly as he is stung by the sling, and by the falling of the stone the evil is increased, so the fall of a fool when he is set at liberty is more rapid. Wherefore the power of a fool is rather to be retrenched than any new liberty added, for slavery is suitable for him. And therefore it is added, As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools. For as he is wounded by his cups, so is the fool by his deeds. The one by drinking involves himself in sin, the other by acting subjects himself to censure, and by his deeds is drawn into bondage. Paul saw himself brought into captivity by the taw of sin, and therefore, in order to be freed, he fled to the grace of liberty.

41.  Fools then are not free, for it is said to them, Be ye not like to horse and mule, which have no understanding, whose mouths must be held with bit and bridle lest they fall upon thee. Great plagues remain for the ungodly; for they have need of these, in order that their folly may be restrained. It is good discipline which requires this, not severity. Further, he that spareth his rod hateth his son: for a man's own sins scourge him still more severely. For heavy is the weight of crime, heavy the scourges of sin; they are heavy as a sore burthen, they inflict wounds upon the soul, and make the ulcers of the mind to stink.

42.  Wherefore let us lay aside this grievous burthen of slavery, let us renounce sensuality, and the evil delights which bind us with the bonds, as it were, of lusts, and fetter us with chains. For these delights profit not the fool, and whoever has given himself to them from his boyhood will abide in bondage; living he will be as dead. Let sensuality then be cut down, let evil delights be pruned away, and let him who has been wanton bid farewell to his former courses. For the vine which has been cut down bears fruit, that which has been partly pruned puts forth leaves, |249 that which has been neglected grows too luxuriantly. Therefore it is written, Like a field is the foolish man, and like a vineyard the man void of understanding; if you leave him alone, he will become desolate. Let us then tend this body of ours, let us chasten it, let us reduce it to subjection, let us not neglect it.

43.  For our members are instruments of righteousness, they are also instruments of sin. If they are raised upwards, they are instruments of righteousness, that sin should not reign in them: if our body has died to sin, transgression will not reign therein, and our members will be free from sin. Let us not therefore obey its lusts, nor yield our members instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. If you have looked upon a woman to lust after her, your members are the instruments of sin. If you have spoken and solicited her, your tongue and your mouth are instruments of sin. If you have removed the landmarks which your fathers set up, your members are instruments of sin. If you have hasted with swift feet to shed the blood of the innocent, your members ars instruments of sin.

44.  On the other hand, if you have seen a poor man, and taken him into your house, your members are instruments of righteousness. If you have rescued one who was suffering wrong, or one who was being led to execution; if you have cancelled the bond of the debtor, your members are instruments of righteousness. If you have confessed Christ (for the lips of knowledge are the instruments of understanding,) your lips are the members of righteousness. He who can say, I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame, I was a father to the poor, his members are members of righteousness.

45.  Being therefore set free from sin, and redeemed, as it were, at the price of the Blood of Christ, let us not be made subject to the bondage of men or of passion. Let us not blush to confess our sins. Behold how free he was who could say, I feared not the multitude of the people; that I should not confess my sin in the sight of all. For he that confesses his sin is released from servitude, and the just accuses himself in the beginning of his speech. Not only the free but the just man also; but justice is in liberty |250 and liberty in confession, for as soon as a man shall confess he is absolved. Lastly, I said I will confess my sins unto the Lord, and so Thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin. The delay of absolution depends on confessing, the remission of sins follows closely on confession. He therefore is wise who confesses; he is free whose sin is remitted, for he contracts now no debt of guilt. Farewell: love me as indeed you do, for I also love you.


In this Letter S. Ambrose continues the subject, maintaining that the truly wise man is not only free but rich also, illustrating his statements with instances from the Old Testament.


1.  When we lately pointed out, taking our theme from the epistle of the Apostle Paul, that every wise man is free, we seemed to have fallen into philosophical discussion. But afterwards, in reading the epistle of the Apostle Peter, I perceived that every wise man is also rich: and this he says without distinction of sex, for he writes that all a woman's ornaments consist in a virtuous life, not in costly jewels, Whose adorning, he says, is not that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and, of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, but the hidden man of the heart.

2.  Here then are two things, both that there is a man within the man, and that he is rich who seeks not for himself the enjoyment of any riches. And he has well said, the man of the heart, in that the whole man of wisdom is hidden, as is wisdom itself, which is not seen but understood. No one before Peter used such an expression as, the man of the heart; for the outward man consists of many members, but the inward man of the heart is entirely full of wisdom, full of grace, full of beauty. |251 

3.  In that, he says, which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. And he is truly rich, who can appear rich in the sight of God, in whose sight the earth is small, the world itself is narrow, but God considers him only to be rich who is rich for eternity, who lays up the fruit not of riches, but of virtues. And who is rich before God but that meek and quiet spirit which is never corrupted? Does not he appear to you to be rich, who possesses peace of mind and the tranquillity of rest? who desires nothing, is not tossed by the storms of lust;, despises not old things, seeks not new, so as by his constant desire to become poor in the midst of riches?

4. That peace is truly rich, which passeth all understanding. Peace is rich, modesty is rich, faith is rich, for to the faithful the whole world is a possession. Simplicity is rich, for there are also the riches of simplicity; for she scrutinizes nothing, has no mean, no suspicious, no deceitful thoughts, but pours herself forth with pure affection.

5.  Goodness too is rich, and if a man preserve it he is fed by the riches of the heavenly inheritance. To quote also the more ancient examples of Scripture, Happy, it is said, is the man whom God correcteth. Therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty .... in famine He shall redeem thee from death, and in war from the power of the sword. Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue; .... the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee, and thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace. For the vices of this flesh being subdued, and those passions which are wont to war against the soul, your tabernacle shall be undisturbed, your house without offence, your seed shall not fail, your posterity shall be as the smell of a fruitful field, your burial as the harvest. For while others are looking for theirs to fail, the heap of your corn will be carried ripe into the heavenly garners.

6.  Fit it is that the righteous ever lendeth, while the wicked man is in want. He lendeth justice, he lendeth the commandments of God to the poor and needy; but the fool does not possess even that which he believes himself to possess. Do you suppose that he can be said to possess, |252 who brooding over his treasure night and day, is troubled by covetous and wretched anxiety? Such a one truly wants; although to others he appears rich, to himself he is poor, because he who is still grasping after more and desiring more uses not that which he possesses. For where there are no bounds to desire, what profit can there be in riches? No man is rich who cannot carry away with him that which he has, for that which is left behind, is not our own but another's.

7. Enoch was rich who carried away with him that which he had, and laid up all the riches of his goodness in the heavenly treasure-house; he was taken away lest that wickedness should alter his understanding. Elias was rich, who riding in a chariot of fire carried the treasures of his virtues up to the heavenly mansions. Not small were the riches he left to his heir, and yet he himself did not lose them. Who would have called him poor even then, when being himself in need of the sustenance of daily food, he was sent to the widow that he might be nourished by her, when at his voice the heaven was shut and opened, when at his word the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil failed not for three years, but overflowed; when it was replenished not diminished by use? Who would call him poor at whose word there came fire down from heaven, whom the river impassible by others could not retard, retiring back to its source that the prophet might pass over dry-shod?

8. Ancient history tells us of two neighbours, king Ahab and the poor Naboth; which of these do we believe to be the richer, which the poorer? The one, endowed with the royal support of riches, insatiable and not to be replenished with wealth, coveted the little vineyard of the poor man; the other, despising in his mind the golden fortunes of kings, and imperial treasures, was content with his own vines. Does not he appear richer and more kingly, who was sufficient to himself, and controlled his own desires, coveting nothing that belonged to another? Does not he, on the other hand, appear most needy, in whose eyes his own gold was accounted vile, and another man's vine precious. But learn for what reason he was most needy: |253 because riches unjustly gotten are vomited up again, but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit, and flourishes like a palm-tree.

9.  Is not he more needy than the poor man, who pass-eth away like a shadow? To-day the ungodly is in great power, to-morrow he is not, and his place can no more be found. But what is it to be rich, unless it be to abound? But who abounds whose mind is contracted, and therefore straightened, and what abundance can there be in straits? He therefore is not rich who does not abound. Wherefore David says well, The rich lack and suffer hunger; for although they possessed the treasures of the Divine Scriptures, they still lacked in that they did not understand, and hungered in that they tasted not the food of spiritual grace.

10.  Nothing can therefore be richer than the temper of the wise man, nothing poorer than that of the fool. For since the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, what can be richer? And therefore the Apostle says well, O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Well also David, who had as great delight in the way of the heavenly testimonies as in all manner of riches. And Moses says expressly, Naphtali, satisfied with favour. Now Naphtali means when translated, 'abundance' or 'increase.' So that to be satisfied and to abound go together, but where there is the hunger of desire and insatiable lust, there truly is poverty. But since scarcely any desire of money or of this world can be satisfied, it is added, full with blessing.

11.  It is in accordance with these principles that the Apostle Peter has declared that the ornament of women consists not in gold and silver and apparel, but in the secret and hidden man of the heart. Wherefore let no woman put off the dress of piety, the ornament of grace, the inheritance of eternal life.

Farewell: love me, for I love you. |254 


S. Ambrose in this Letter seeks to rouse Faustinus from excessive grief for his sister's death, first on the ground of duty towards the children left to his care and protection, and then on the higher ground of submission to the Divine will, and realization of Christian hopes.


1.  I was well aware that you would grieve with bitter grief for the death of your sister: still you should not go into banishment, but rather give yourself back to us, for although mourners are little inclined to receive consolation, it is sometimes necessary for them. But you have fled to the recesses of the mountains, and made your dwelling in the caves of wild beasts, laying aside all customary human converse and, what is worse, the use of your own reason.

2.  Is it in accordance with your esteem for your sister, that human nature, which ought to be much regarded by you for producing a woman so excellent, should on her account be of less value in your eyes? In quitting this life it doubtless was a consolation to her to believe that she left you behind her as a parent to your nephews, a guardian of their tender years, a succour to their destitution; but you so utterly withhold yourself both from your nephews and from us, that we do not reap any benefit from what she thus found a ground of consolation. These dear pledges invite you not to grieve, but to comfort them, that in seeing you they may believe their mother to be still alive. In you then let them recognize her, in you let them enjoy her presence, in you think that she still survives to them.

3.  But you grieve that she has been lately cut off in the flower of her age. This however is the common fate not only of men, but of states and countries themselves. Coming from Bononia 26 you left behind you Claterna, Bononia |255 itself, Matina, Rhegium; Brixillum was on your right, in front of you Placentia, by its very name still recalling its ancient lustre, on the left you saw with pity the wastes of the Apennines, you surveyed the fortresses of these once flourishing tribes, and remembered them with sorrowful affection. Do not then the carcases of so many half-ruined cities, and states stretched on their bier beneath your eyes, do not these remind you that the decease of one woman, holy and excellent as she was, is much less deplorable, especially as these are for ever laid prostrate and destroyed, but she though removed from us for a while is passing a more blessed life elsewhere?

4.  Wherefore I deem that you ought not so much to deplore her, as to offer for her your prayers; make her not sorrowful by your tears, rather commend her soul to God by oblations.

5.  Perhaps however you will declare yourself to be secure of her merits and faith, you cannot endure the feeling of regret at seeing her no longer after the flesh, which is to you a better grief. And does not the Apostolic saying move you that henceforth we know no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. For our flesh cannot be perpetual and lasting, it must needs die that it may rise again, it must be dissolved that it may rest, and sin come to an end. We too have known many according to the flesh, but now we know them no more. We have known the Lord Jesus, says the Apostle, after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. For now He has put off the coil of the body, and is not seen in fashion as a Man, but has died for all and all are dead in Him, to the intent that being renewed by Him and quickened in the Spirit they may no longer live to themselves but to Christ. Wherefore the same Apostle also says elsewhere, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.

6. And well indeed was it that he who had before known Christ after the flesh, who had before persecuted and oppressed with bitter hatred the disciples of the Man, and the attendants on His bodily presence, but who now recognized His invisible workings, discerning not His bodily presence |256 but His power,----well indeed was it that he became the teacher of the Gentiles, and began to instruct and prepare the worshippers of His Divinity to become preachers of the Gospel. Wherefore he added, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, that is, he that is perfect in Christ is a new creature, for all flesh is imperfect. And the Lord saith, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh. No carnal man then is in Christ, but if any man be in Christ he is a new creature, formed by newness not of nature but of grace. These old things which are according to the flesh have past away, all things are made new. And what are they but the things which the scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven knows, like unto that householder, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old; neither old things without new, nor new things without old? Thus too the Church saith, things new and old have I laid up for Thee. For old things, that is, the hidden mysteries of the Law are passed away, all things are made new in Christ.

7. This is the new creature of which the Apostle writing to the Galatians saith, For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision, but a new creature, already our flesh now renewed flourishes, and having before borne the thorns of inveterate sin hath now found the fruit of grace. Why then need we grieve, if we can now say to the soul, thy youth is renewed like the eagles? And why should we bewail the dead, now that by our Lord Jesus the world has been reconciled to the Father? Since then we hold the benefits which Christ hath given, we are to you as well as to all ambassadors in Christ's stead, that you may know His Gift to be irrevocable, that you may believe what you always have believed, and not bring your opinion into discredit by too much sorrow. For the Lord Jesus was made sin that He might take away the sin of the world, and we all might be made the righteousness of God in Him; now no longer subject to the penalty of sin, but sure of the reward of righteousness.

Farewell; love me, for I love you. |257 

LETTER XL. [A.D.388.]

In the year 388 A.D. the synagogue of the Jews at Callinicum in Mesopotamia was burnt by the Christians, at the instance, it was asserted, of the Bishop. Some monks also in the same district, having been insulted by some Valentinian heretics, while singing Psalms in processsion on the Festival of the Maccabees, (Aug. 1st.) had burnt their conventicle. Theodosius had ordered that the Bishop should re-build the synagogue at his own cost, and that the monks should be punished, and the whole matter carefully sifted, and justice done. This Letter is written by S. Ambrose to remonstrate. He urges his plea with the boldest importunity, and, as he tells his sister in the following letter, Theodosius eventually yielded.


1.  Nearly incessant are the cares which harass me, most excellent Emperor, but never was I in such trouble as at present; for I see I must be on my guard against the danger even of a charge of sacrilege. Wherefore I beseech you patiently to hear my address. For if I am unworthy to be heard by you, I am unworthy to offer for you, or to have your vows and prayers intrusted to me. Will you not hear him whom you wish to be heard in your behalf? Will you not hear him pleading for himself whom you have heard when pleading for others? Will you not dread the consequences of your own judgment; and fear to render him unworthy to be heard in your behalf, by treating him as unworthy of a hearing from you.

2.   But it is neither the part of an Emperor to deny liberty of speech, nor of a Bishop not to utter what he thinks. There is no quality more amiable and popular in an Emperor than to cherish freedom even in those who owe him military allegiance. For there is this difference between good and bad rulers, that the good love freedom, the bad slavery. And there is nothing in a Bishop so offensive in God's sight, or so base before men, as not freely to declare his opinions. For it is written, I spake of Thy testimonies also even before kings, and was not ashamed, and in another place, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; with the intent, it proceeds, |258 that if the righteous man doth turn from his righteousness and commit iniquity, because thou hast not given him warning 27 that is, hast not told him what to beware of, his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou shalt deliver thy soul,

3.  I prefer then, to have fellowship with your Majesty in good rather than in evil; and therefore the silence of a Bishop ought to be displeasing to your Clemency, and his freedom pleasing. For you will be implicated in the danger of my silence, you will share in the benefits of my outspokenness. I am not then an officious meddler in matters beyond my province, an intruder in the concerns of others, but I comply with my duty, I obey the commandment of our God. This I do chiefly from love and regard to you, and from a wish to preserve your well-being. But if I am not believed, or am forbidden to act on this motive, then in truth I speak from fear of offending God. For if my own danger could deliver you, I would consent to be offered for you, though not willingly, for I would rather that without danger to myself you should be accepted and glorified by God. But if I am to suffer under the charge of silence and dissimulation without effecting your exculpation I had rather you should deem me too importunate than useless or mercenary. For it is written, in the words of the holy Apostle Paul, whose teaching you cannot gainsay, Be instant in season, out of season: reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.

4.  We then also have One Whom it is even more dangerous to displease; especially as even Emperors themselves are not offended with any man for fulfilling his function, but you patiently give ear to every one speaking concerning his own department, nay you reprove him for not acting in accordance with his line of duty. Can that then which you readily accept from your soldiers, seem to you offensive in a Bishop; seeing that we speak not according to our own wills, but as we are commanded? For you know that it is written, when ye shall be brought before |259 governors and kings take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father Which speaketh in you. Were it in civil causes that I had to speak, my not obtaining an audience would not give me such apprehension, although even then justice ought to be observed, but in God's cause whom will you hear, if you hear not the Bishop, at whose great peril it is that sin is committed? Who will dare to tell you the truth, if a Bishop does not?

5.  I know that you are pious, merciful, meek and gentle, having at heart the faith and fear of the Lord; but some failings oftentimes escape our notice. Some men have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge, and we ought, I think, to beware lest this steal even over faithful souls. I know your piety towards God, your lenity towards men; I am myself indebted to your courtesy for many benefits. Wherefore I feel greater fear, and deeper solicitude lest even your own judgment should hereafter condemn me for having failed, through cowardice or flattery, in saving you from a fall. If I had seen you sin against myself, I ought not to have kept silence, for it is written, If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault; then rebuke him before two or three witnesses, and if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church. Shall I then be silent in the cause of God? Now then let us consider what it is I have to apprehend.

6.  The military Count of the East 28 reported that a synagogue had been burnt, and that this had been done at the instigation of the Bishop. You decided that the others should be punished, and that the synagogue should be rebuilt by the Bishop himself. I will not insist on the propriety of calling for the Bishop's own statement; for the clergy are wont to check disturbances and desirous of peace, |260 save when they are themselves moved by some offence against God or insult to the Church. But suppose this Bishop to have been too eager in setting fire to this synagogue, and now to grow timid before the judgment-seat, has your Majesty no fear, lest he should acquiesce in your sentence, no apprehension of his becoming apostate?

7.  Do you not fear, what will certainly be the case, that he will meet your officer with a refusal; and so he will be obliged to make him either an apostate or a martyr, and both of these are adverse to your interests and savour of persecution, that he should be forced either to become an apostate or undergo martyrdom. You see then whereunto this matter tends; if you think the Bishop firm, avoid driving his firmness to martyrdom; if you think him frail, shun exposing his frailty to a fall. For a heavy responsibility lies on him who has caused one who is weak to fall.

8.  Under these circumstances I suppose that the Bishop will say that he himself kindled the fire, gathered the crowd, collected the people; so as not to lose an opportunity of martyrdom, and in place of the weak to offer up a bolder victim. O happy falsehood; obtaining for others acquittal, for himself Grace. This is my request also to your Majesty, that you would turn your vengeance upon me, and, if you consider this a crime, impute it to me. Why do you order the absent to be punished? you have the guilty person before you, you hear his confession, I openly affirm that I myself set the synagogue on fire, or at least, that I ordered others to do so; that there might be no place in which Christ is denied. And if it be objected, why did I not set it on fire in this very city? It began to be burnt, I reply, by the Divine judgment, my work was superseded. And to speak the truth, I was the less zealous because I expected no punishment. Why should I do that which being unavenged would also be unrewarded? These words are a shock to modesty, but they also bring back grace; they provide against the commission of that which may offend Almighty God.

9. But suppose that no one will cite the Bishop to do this; for this is what I have begged of your Clemency, and |261 though I have not yet read that the edict is revoked, I will nevertheless assume it to be so. But what if other more timid persons, from a fear of death offer to rebuild the synagogue from their own funds, or the Count, finding this previously ordained, should himself command it to be restored at the expense of the Christians? Your Majesty will then have an apostate Count, and you will entrust your victorious banner, your labarum, which is consecrated by the name of Christ, to one who is the restorer of the synagogue which knows not Christ. Command the labarum to be carried into the synagogue, and let us see if they do not resist.

10.  Shall then a building be raised for perfidious Jews out of the spoils of the Church, and shall that patrimony, which by Christ's mercy has been assigned to Christians, be transferred to the temples of the unbelieving? We read that temples were in former days erected from the spoils of the Cimbri and other enemies of Rome. Shall the Jews inscribe this title on the front of their synagogue: 'The temples of impiety built from the spoils of Christians?'

11.  But the maintenance of discipline is perhaps what influences your Majesty. Is the show of discipline then weightier than the cause of religion? Police should give place to religion.

12.  Has your Majesty never heard that when Julian commanded the temple at Jerusalem to be restored, they who cleared away the rubbish were destroyed by fire from heaven? Are you not afraid lest this should now happen? Surely you ought not to have commanded what Julian commanded.

13.  But why are you thus moved? Is it generally because a public building has been burnt, or because it is a synagogue? If you are moved by the conflagration of the meanest edifice, (and what else could there have been in so obscure a town,) does not your Majesty remember how many prefects' houses have been burnt at Rome, and yet no man enacted vengeance for them? Nay, if any Emperor had desired to punish such an act severely, he would rather have injured the cause of those who had suffered so great a loss. Which then is the more fitting, that the partial |262 burning of some houses at Callinicum 29, or the burning of the city of Rome should be punished, if indeed either of them ought to have been so. At Constantinople, a while ago, the Bishop's 30 house was burnt, and your Majesty's son interceded with you, that you would not avenge the wrong done to him, the youthful Emperor, nor the burning of the Bishop's palace. Your Majesty should consider, that, if you should in like manner command this act to be punished, he may again intercede to prevent it. The former boon however was happily obtained from the father by the son, for it was only fitting that he should first remit the injury to himself. A good distribution of favour and well allotted it is, that the son should be petitioned for his own loss, and the father for the offence against his son. In this case there is nothing which you need keep back on your son's account, beware also lest you derogate ought from God.

14.  There is then no adequate reason for any such commotion, that the people should be so severely punished for the burning of any building; much less seeing that it is a synagogue that has been burnt, a place of unbelief, a house of impiety, a receptacle of madness, which God Himself hath condemned. For thus we read what the Lord our God spake by the mouth of Jeremiah, Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by My Name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you, and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I wilt cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim. Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me, for I will not hear thee. Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah? God forbids him to intercede for those whom you think worthy of being avenged.

15.  Were I pleading according to the law of nations, I should assuredly recount how many Churches the Jews burnt in the time of Julian's reign: two at Damascus, one |263 of which is but just repaired, and that at the expense, not of the synagogue, but of the Church, while the other is still a mass of shapeless ruins. Churches were likewise burnt at Gaza, Ascalon, Berytus, and nearly every town in that region, and yet no man asked for vengeance. At Alexandria too the most beautiful Church of all was burnt down by the Gentiles and Jews. The Church has not been avenged, shall then the synagogue be?

16.  And shall the burning of the temple of the Valentinians likewise be punished? For what but a temple is the place where Gentiles assemble? The Gentiles indeed reckon twelve gods, the Valentinians worship thirty two Aeons 31, whom they call gods. Concerning these I am informed that they have called for punishment upon some monks. For the Valentinians having endeavoured to stop them as they were going in procession according to ancient custom, chanting psalms, to celebrate the festival of the Maccabees, the monks exasperated by this affront, set fire to one of their rudely constructed temples in some country village.

17.  How many have to offer themselves to this choice, remembering that in Julian's time he who threw down the altar and disturbed the sacrifice was condemned by the judge, and suffered martyrdom. And accordingly the judge who tried him was never considered other than a persecutor, no man would associate with him, no man deemed him worthy of a kiss of greeting. Were he not now dead, I should fear your Majesty's taking vengeance upon him. Nevertheless he escaped not the Divine vengeance, but saw his son die before him.

18.  But it is reported that the judge was ordered to take cognizance of the matter, and was informed that he ought not to have reported upon it, but to have punished it, that the offerings which had been taken away were to be demanded back. Other particulars 1 will omit; but when the Jews burnt our Churches, nothing was restored, nothing demanded, nothing sought for. But what could the synagogue possess in that distant place, when everything in it was but of little value, nothing precious or abundant. |264 In short of what could a fire deprive the treacherous Jews? These are devices of the Jews who wish to accuse us falsely, that through their representations an extraordinary military tribunal may be appointed, and an officer sent, who perhaps will say what one said here before your accession, 'How shall Christ help us, when we fight for the Jews against Christ? when we are sent to take vengeance on their behalf? They have lost their own armies, and they wish to destroy ours.'

19.  Nay, what are the calumnies into which they will not rush, who by false witnesses have slandered Christ Himself? who are false even in matters relating to God? Whom will they not charge with the guilt of this sedition? whom will they not thirst after, even though they know them not? They desire to see rank after rank of Christians in chains, to see the necks of the faithful placed under the yoke, the servants of God hidden in darkness, smitten with the axe, delivered to the fire, or sent to the mines, that their pains may be slow and lingering.

20.  Will your Majesty give this triumph to the Jews over the Church of God? this victory over the people of Christ, this joy to the unbelievers, this felicity to the Synagogue, this grief to the Church? They will place this solemnity among their feast-days; numbering it among those wherein they triumphed over the Ammonites, or Canaanites, or over Pharaoh king of Egypt, or which delivered them from the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. This festival they will add in memory of the triumph they have gained over Christ's people.

21.  Although they refuse to be bound by Roman laws, deeming them even criminal, they now pretend to claim vengeance according to those laws. Where were those laws, when they burnt the roofs of the consecrated Basilicas? If Julian avenged not the Church because he was an Apostate, will your Majesty, being a Christian, avenge the injury done to the Synagogue?

22.  And what will Christ hereafter say to you? Do you not remember what he said to holy David by the prophet Nathan? 'I have chosen thee the youngest of thy brethren, and from private life have made thee Emperor. |265 I have placed thy offspring upon the Imperial throne. I have put barbarous nations under thy feet, I have given thee peace, I have delivered thine enemy captive into thy hands. Thou hadst no corn to support thy army, I opened to thee the enemies' gates, the enemies' granaries, by their own hand; they gave thee the very stores which they had provided for themselves. I confounded the counsels of thy enemy, so that he laid bare his own plans. The very usurper of thy empire I so bound, and so fettered his mind, that although he had the means of flying from you he shut himself in with all his followers, as if fearing lest any should escape you. His lieutenant32 and his forces on the other element, whom I had before dispersed to prevent their combining to make war on thee, I now called together again to render thy victory complete. Thy army, an assemblage of many fierce nations, I caused to keep faith and peace and concord, as if they had been one nation. And when there was imminent danger lest the perfidious plots of the barbarians should penetrate the Alps, I gave thee victory within the very barrier of the Alps, that thy victory might be without loss. Thus I made thee to triumph over thy enemy, and thou art giving my enemies a triumph over my people.'

23. Was it not the very reason why Maximus was abandoned, that before he set out on his expedition, hearing that a synagogue had been burnt at Rome, he sent an edict thither, acting as if he were the guardian of public order. Wherefore the Christians said, No good awaits this man. That king is become a Jew, and we have heard of him as a protector of order, but Christ, who died for sinners, shortly after put him to the proof33. And if this was said of words only, what will be said of actual punishment? So he was soon defeated by the Franks and by the Saxons, in Sicily, at Siscia 34, at Petavio, and in every |266 quarter of the globe. What has a devout man in common with an unbeliever? The precedents of his impiety ought to be obliterated together with the impious man himself. That which injured the vanquished, that at which he stumbled, the victor ought to condemn, not to imitate.

24.  Now I have recounted these things to you not as though you were ungrateful; rather I have spoken of them as being rightly bestowed, that reminded thereby you may love much, as being one on whom much has been bestowed. To Simon's answer our Lord thus replied, Thou hast rightly judged; and then, turning straightway to the woman who had anointed His feet with ointment, and was the type of the Church, He said to Simon, Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. This is that woman who entered the house of the Pharisee, and cast out the Jew, but gained Christ. For the Church shut out the Synagogue, and why is it now attempted, that, with the servant of Christ, that is, from the breast of faith, and abode of Christ, the Synagogue should shut out the Church.

25.  It is from affection and regard for your Majesty, that I have introduced these things into my pleading. The beneficence which has led you, at my request, to liberate many persons from exile, from prison, from the extreme penalties of death, obliges me to incur the danger of offending you for the sake of your own good, rather than lose in one moment that privilege of every Bishop which I have for so long possessed. For no man can feel greater confidence than he who zealously loves, no man certainly ought to injure him who is careful for his well-being. And yet it is not the loss of favour I deprecate, but the danger to salvation.

26. Yet how important it is that your Majesty should not think of enquiry or punishment in a matter with regard to which no one up to this time has ever held enquiry or inflicted punishment! It is a grievous thing to hazard your faith for the sake of Jews. When Gideon killed the consecrated calf, the Gentiles 35 said, Let the gods |267 themselves avenge this affront towards them. Who is to avenge the Synagogue? Christ Whom they slew, Whom they denied? Or will God the Father avenge them, seeing that by rejecting the Son they have rejected the Father also. Who is to avenge the heresy of the Valentinians? how will your Piety be able to avenge them, seeing that you have commanded them to be shut out, and forbidden them to meet together? And should I bring forward to you the example of King Josiah as approved of God, will you condemn in this case that for which he is praised.

27.  But if you do not place sufficient confidence in me, let your Majesty command the presence of those bishops whom you do approve, and let the question be discussed, what ought to be done so as not to injure the Faith. If in financial matters you consult your Courts, how much more fitting is it that in the cause of religion you should consult the Bishops of the Lord?

28.  Let your Clemency consider what dangerous spies and liers in wait the Church has against her, if they find ever so small an opening they will plant a dart therein. I speak after the manner of men; but God is feared more than men, and is rightly preferred to Emperors themselves. If any man thinks obedience should be paid to a friend, a parent, or a neighbour, am I wrong in deeming that God should be obeyed, and that in preference to all others. Let your Majesty consult for your own well-being, or suffer me to consult for mine.

29.  What shall I hereafter answer, if it shall appear that by an edict issued from hence Christians have been slain by the sword, or beaten to death with clubs or thongs loaded with lead? How shall I justify such an act, how shall I excuse it to those Bishops who having discharged the office of the priesthood for thirty years, nay for many more, have now bitterly to bewail, being deprived of their sacred functions and called to undertake municipal offices. If 36 those who fight for you are set free after a certain period of service, how much more ought you to consider those |268 who fight for God! How I repeat, shall I defend this to the Bishops who complain in behalf of the clergy, and write word that the Churches are overborne by violent oppression.

30.  This however I desired should be made known to your Majesty; about this you will deign to deliberate and direct according to your will; but as to that which distresses and rightly distresses myself, exclude and reject it from your consideration. You do yourself whatsoever you have commanded to be done; even if he 37 do it not, I would rather that you should be merciful than that he should refuse to do what he has been commanded.

31.  Here are persons in dealing with whom you ought still to invite and earn the Clemency of God towards the Roman empire; here are persons for whom rather than for yourself you have to hope; let their grace, their well-being, appeal to you in what I now say. I fear your entrusting your cause to the judgement of others. As yet you are committed to nothing. Herein I will pledge myself for you to our God, fear not your oath. That change cannot be displeasing to God which is made for His honour. You have no need to alter your former letter whether it be yet dispatched or not, but command another to be written which shall be replete with faith and piety. It is open to you to change, it is not open to me to keep back the truth.

32.  You have forgiven the people of Antioch 38 their offence against you, you have recalled the daughters of your enemy 39, you have committed them to be nurtured by their relative, you have bestowed money from your treasury on the mother of your enemy. This great piety, this great faith towards God will be obscured by your present act. Having thus spared your armed foes, and preserved your enemies, do not, I beseech you, so eagerly seek for vengeance upon Christians. |269 

33. And now I entreat your Majesty not to disdain to listen to my fears both for yourself and myself; for it is the saying of an holy man, Woe is me, wherefore was I born to see this misery of my people? is it that I should incur the risk of offending God? Assuredly I have done what is most respectful to you: I have sought that you should listen to me in the palace, that you might not have to listen to me in the Church.

[Footnotes moved to the end and numbered]

1. a The English Version has 'The partridge sitteth on eggs and hatcheth them not.' S. Ambrose is referring to § 11 of the preceding Letter, where he applies the text to Satan. He makes the same application of it in Letter xlvi. 14.

2. 1 perdendo.

3. 2 contrarius. 

4. 3 judicio.

5. 1 judicio.

6. 2judicium

7. b 'Cornici oculum effodere' was a familiar Latin proverb for overcoming craft with craft. See Cic. pro Mur. 11, pro Flacco, 20.

8. 1 primitivus.

9. 2 primogenitus. 

10. a Horontianus appears to have been, like Irenaeus, a pupil of S. Ambrose, and to have been ordained by him, and to have been, as the Benedictine Editors say, 'In clericorum contubernio educatus ab infantia.' Nothing more is known of him. See Letter lxx. 25.

11. 1 e0ntele/xeia.

12. 1 propria corporis.

13. 2 Sun, E. V. Sol, Vulg.

14. 1 primitias.

15. 2 primogenita.

16. a The difference in the original is only the punctuation; in the first case, 'Natu quod videt quis quid, et sperat:' in the second, 'Nam quod videt quis, quid et sperat? '

17. a S. Ambrose is evidently referring to his mission to Maximus, and the persecution of Justina.

18. b There is another reading of several MSS., 'et ille profecto gemitus,' which seems to offer a better sense, 'and that groaning is indeed truly unutterable, etc'

19. 1 Canaan E.V.

20. a The Vulgate has, 'Trahitur antem sapientia de occultis.' The B. V. is, 'The price of wisdom is above rubies.'

21. b This is referred by the Benedictine Editors to Prov. xxii. 7. but it does not agree with either the Sept. or Vulgate.

22. c tou~ pneu&matoj is inserted in a few MSS, and Spirit us is in the Vulgate.

23. a The story of Calanus and Alexander is related in Arian vii.2. It is also more briefly alluded to by Putarch. Alex. 65. Neither writer mentions this letter.

24. 1  vibulamina. Gr. mosxeu&mata.

25. 2 i. e. the three children in the furnace.

26. a S. Ambrose is here imitating the consolation ottered by Ser. Sulpicius to Cicero on the death of his daughter. See Up. ad Div. iv, 5, 4.

27. 1 distonxisti ei

28. a 'Oriens' or 'the East' was the title of the great civil 'diocese' which included Syria, Palestine, Cilicia, Cyprus, Mesopotamia, and some adjacent districts, and corresponded to the Patriarchate of Antioch in the ecclesiastical division. It was originally under one chief called 'Comes orientis,' but it would appear from this passage, as is asserted by Gothofred, that the civil and military functions had been divided, and there were now two officers, 'Comes orientis militarium partium,' and 'Comes orientis civilium partium.' The subject is somewhat obscure.

29. b Callinicum was in Osrhoene, a name given to the north-western part of Mesopotamia.

30. c Socrates, B v. ch. 13., mentions that Nectarius' house was burnt by the Arian party in the same year in which this letter was written.

31. d See a note in Newman's Fleury, p. 160.

32. e Andragathius, who commanded a fleet in Maximus' interest expecting Theodosius to come to Italy by sea.

33. f The Benedictine editors say 'tota luce pericope in uno Cod. Reg. desideratur: forte non male.' It is difficult to elicit any sense from it.

34. g Siscia, now Sissek, was a large town in upper Pannonia, on the south bank of the Save. Petavio, now Pettau, was on the Drave. It seems likely that 'in Sicilia' should he omitted, as being only a false meaning for 'Sciscia.' There is no mention of Sicily being in any way connected with the war. But see Tillemont, Theod. art. xlv.

35. h S. Ambrose is quoting from memory and slightly varies the facts from the narrative in book of Judges.

36. i See a learned note in Newman's Fleury vol. 1 p. 162, on the exemption of the Clergy from municipal offices, compare also letter xviii. 14, and the note there.

37. k i. e. the Count of the East.

38. l This refers to the famous sedition at Antioch, when the mob, enraged at the imposition of new taxes, overthrew the Emperor's statues, and dragged them through the eity. After a period of suspense, during which S. Chrysostom preached the Homilies on the Statues, Theodosius, who had at first been violently enraged, sent them a free pardon. This was in the previous year.

39. m i. e. of Maximus.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2004.  All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.

Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts