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St. Ambrose of Milan, Letters (1881). pp. 420-461. Letters 71-80.


S. Ambrose in this letter continues the subject of the last, and, having described in that the steps by which the fallen soul recovers herself, here considers how the faithful soul is taken in charge, taught and conducted to perfection by Christ: and shews that the stages in the progress of such a soul are typified by the journies of Christ.


1. In my last letter I spoke of the soul that has made in its progress certain devious circuits, wavering, as Israel according to the flesh did of old, to and fro. For Israel herself also, when the fulness of the Gentiles shall be come in, shall be delivered by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: the Gentile soul meanwhile, whose transgression has been lighter, having by her conversion worked her own recovery. In my present letter I will treat of the daughter of the Church; and consider how the Lord Jesus first took her |421 under His care, taught her, and, in His Gospel, led her on to perfection.

2.  Now it was as she lay in misery and confusion that He first took her under His care,----for how else but miserably can that soul live, which is exiled from Paradise?----and brought her to Bethlehem. The progress then, of this soul is at once signified in that it goes up to the "house of bread 1," where it can know no death or barrenness of faith. Observe, I am now speaking of souls in general, those souls by which we live and move, not of any soul in particular; for it is not of the individual or species, but of souls in general that I purpose to discourse.

3.  Christ went down into Egypt, as Protector and Guide of our soul, from thence He returned into Judaea. He was in the wilderness, in Capernaum; near the borders of Zabulon; by the sea coast; He passed through the corn fields; He was in Bethphage; in Ephraim; in Bethany; then He passed over into the garden, where He gave Himself up; on Calvary, where He suffered.

4.  All these are the progresses of our soul, and exercised thereby she receives the graces of a holy life 2. For the human race, when excluded from Paradise in Adam and Eve, and banished to the village 3, began to roam up and down and to wander about with careless steps: but in His own good time the Lord Jesus emptied Himself that He might receive this exile into himself, and re-form her again to her previous state of grace. And thus, when found, she retraced, as the Gospel lesson teaches us, her devious course of error, and was recalled to Paradise.

5.  He led her through the cornfields that He might satisfy her hunger, first in the desert, then to Capernaum, making her abode to be not in the city but in the field: next He brought her to the borders of Zabulon, near unto the floods of night, that is, the darker riddles of the prophets; that she might learn thereby to reach to the borders of the Gentiles, that common centre, and not to fear the storms and billows of this world. Why should she, seeing that Christ has ships of Tarshish, mystical ships I mean, which traverse the sea, and bring pious offerings for the |422 building of the Temple? In such ships as these Christ sails, and like a good pilot rests in the stern while the sea is calm; when it is disturbed He awakes, and rebukes the winds, that He may anew shew peace on His disciples. Furthermore, by passing over to the Gentiles, He delivers the soul which was bound by the chains of the Law, that she may not pass over and keep company with the heathen.

6.  He came to Bethany to the "place of obedience;" therefore was the dead there raised; for when the flesh is subdued to the spirit, human nature no longer lies as if dead in the tomb, but is raised again by the grace of Christ; there also she professes to offer herself to 'suffering' 4 for the Name of God. From the place of obedience, as John tells us, He is led to Ephraim, that is, to the "fecundity of good fruits." Hence He returns to Bethany, that is, to "obedience;" for she who has once tasted the fruit of holy obedience is for the most part ready to preserve it and to be proved thereby.

7.  And now, having been proved, she comes to Jerusalem, being made worthy to become the temple of God wherein Christ may dwell. Here it is that the Lord Jesus, sitting upon the foal of an ass, is received with the joy and congratulation of the age of innocence.

8.   Afterwards are taught in the garden the words of eternal life; in that place where the Lord permitted Himself to be taken, as John the Evangelist writes, signifying that our soul, or rather human nature, released from the bonds of error, is restored by Christ to that abode from whence in Adam she was cast. "Wherefore to the thief who confessed Him it is said, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise. The thief had said, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom. Christ answered not concerning His kingdom, but yet to the purpose, To-day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise, that is, What has been lost must first be restored, then the increase bestowed; that thus the progress may be through Paradise to the kingdom, not through the kingdom to Paradise. |423 

9.  For the disciples it is reserved that they may receive an ample reward for their labours; and therefore to the thief He promised a sojourn, but deferred the kingdom. So that to him who is converted under the stroke of death, and confesses the Lord Jesus, to him let an abode in Paradise be vouchsafed, but for him who has undergone long travail, who has fought for Christ, who has won over souls and offered himself for Christ, for his wages let the kingdom of God be prepared; and let him rejoice in the fruition of this reward. To Peter it is said, I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and thus, while the convert from robbery obtains rest, on him who has been proved in the Apostolate authority is bestowed.

10.  This is the Evangelical soul, the soul of the Gentiles, the daughter of the Church, far better than the soul cast out of Judaea; raising herself from her earthly course to the Lord Jesus and to higher things by good counsels and works; received by Christ upon Golgotha. Upon Golgotha was the sepulchre of Adam; that Christ by His Cross might raise him from death. Thus where in Adam was the death of all, there in Christ was the resurrection of all.

Farewell, my son; love me, for I also love you.


In this letter S. Ambrose deals with the question of the rite of circumcision, and explains to Constantius why it was established in the Old Testament and yet done away in the New. He speaks also of the true and spiritual circumcision which belongs to Christians.


1. Many persons have raised an important question why circumcision should be enjoined as profitable by the authority of the Old Testament, and rejected as useless by the teaching of the New; especially since it was Abraham, who saw the day of the Lord Jesus and was glad, who first received the command to observe the rite of circumcision. |424 For it is manifest that he directed his mind not to the literal but to the spiritual sense of the Divine Law, and so in the sacrifice of the lamb saw the true passion of the Lord's Body.

2.  What then shall we consider to have been the aim of our father Abraham, in first instituting that which his posterity were not to follow? or for what reason are the bodies of infants circumcised, and in their very birth subjected to dangers, and this at the Divine command, so that peril of their life ensues from a mystery of religion. What is the meaning of this? For the ground of the truth is hidden, and either something should have been signified by an intelligibe mystery, or else it should have been indicated by a mystery which was not so full of danger.

3.  And why was the sign of the Divine Testament attached to that member which is considered as less comely to sight; or with what purpose did the Creator of our body Himself, in the very beginning of our race, choose that His work should be wounded and stained with blood, and a portion of it cut off, which He, Who has disposed all things in order, deemed proper to form together with the other members, as though it were necessary? For this portion of our bodies is either contrary to nature, and then no man ought to have that which is contrary to nature, or it is according to nature, and that ought not to be cut off which was created according to the perfection of nature; especially since aliens from the portion of the Lord our God are wont to make this a chief subject of ridicule. Again as it is God's purpose, as He has frequently declared, to induce as many persons ;is possible to the observance of holy religion, how much more would they be invited, were not some deterred either by the danger or reproach of this very circumcision.

4.  To return therefore to my first purpose and follow the order I have proposed, it seems good to speak of the nature itself of circumcision. The defence of this ought to be twofold, for so is the accusation, the one brought by the Gentiles, the other by those who are considered as belonging to the people of God, more vigorously on the part of the Gentiles, for they deem men marked with |425 circumcision to be worthy even of scorn and disgrace. Yet their own wisest men approve of circumcision, so as to think it right to circumcise those whom they select to know and celebrate their mysteries 5.

5.  The Egyptians too, who apply themselves to geometry and observing the courses of the stars, consider a priest who does not bear the mark of circumcision impious. For they believe that neither the wisdom of incantation, nor geometry, nor astronomy can attain their due power without the seal of circumcision. And therefore, in order to render their operations efficacious they choose to solemnize a certain purification of their own by means of the secret rite of circumcision.

6.  And we find in ancient history that not only the Egyptians but also some of the /Ethiopians Arabs and Phoenicians used circumcision. And in maintaining this custom they think that they are maintaining one still to approved, for being thus initiated by means of the first fruits of their own body and blood, they conceive that by the consecration of this small portion, the snares which demons lay for our kind will be defeated; and that those who attempt to injure the well-being of the whole man, may find their power baffled either by the law or the semblance of sacred circumcision. For I am of opinion that heretofore the Prince of devils has deemed that his arts would lose their baneful efficacy if he were to attempt to injure one whom he found initiated by the seal of sacred circumcision, or one who seemed at least in this respect to obey the Divine law.

7.  Now he who diligently considers the functions of our several members will be able to judge that it was for no unmeaning purpose that as regards this little portion of this member the child was not only circumcised but circumcised also on the eighth day; when the mother of the child begins to be in pure blood, having before the eighth day been considered as sitting in unclean blood. Let so |426 much have been said in reply to those who are not joined with us in unity of faith; on which account discussion with them, as differing from us, becomes more difficult.

8.  But to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ we have to offer the following reply, which, when we were disputing against the opinions of Gentiles, we were unwilling to disclose. For if we were redeemed not ivith corruptible silver and gold, but ivith the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and purchased from no one but him who had purchased with money, and was owner of, the services of our now sinful race, beyond a doubt he demanded a price for releasing from his service those whom he kept in bondage. But the price of our freedom was the Blood of the Lord Jesus, which of necessity was to be paid to him to whom we were sold by our sins.

9.  Until, therefore, this price should have been paid for all men which by the shedding of the Lords Blood had to be so paid for the absolution of all, the blood of every man, who, by the Law and solemn custom were to follow the precepts of holy religion, was required. But, since one Lord Christ suffered, seeing that the ransom is now paid for all, there is now no longer any need that the blood of every man one by one should be shed by circumcision, for in the Blood of Christ the circumcision of all has been solemnized, and in His Cross we are all crucified together with Him, and buried in His sepulchre, and planted together in the likeness of His death, that henceforth we should not serve sin: for he that is dead, is free from sin.

10.  But if any one, such as Marcion and Manichaeus, deem the judgment of God to be worthy of blame, either because He thought fit to give command concerning the observance of circumcision, or because He published a law directing the effusion of blood; he must needs consider the Lord Jesus also worthy of blame, Who shed not a little but much blood for the redemption of the world, and up to this hour commands us also to shed our blood for the great contest of Religion, saying, If any man will follow Me, let him, deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. But if in the case of a man offering his whole self out of piety, and cleansing himself by the effusion of much blood, |427 such an accusation is not just, how can we blame the Law, for exacting a little drop of blood, when we proclaim the command of the Lord Jesus for the shedding of much blood, and the death of the whole body?

11.  Nor was the very symbol and semblance of circumcision useless, for the people of God, signed thereby as by a certain bodily seal, was distinguished from the other nations. But the name of Christ being now bestowed upon them they have no need of a bodily sign, for they have obtained the honour of a Divine appellation. But what was there absurd in somewhat of pain or labour seeming to be imposed for piety's sake, to the intent that by such contests devotion might be better tried? It is becoming also that from the very cradle of life the symbol of religion should grow with our growth, and that all of a maturer age should be ashamed to yield either to labour or pain when their tender infancy had conquered both.

12.  But now Christians have no need of the light pain of circumcision, for bearing about with them the Lord's Death, they at every act engrave on their foreheads contempt of their own death, as knowing that without the cross of the Lord they can have no salvation. For who would use a needle to fight with when armed with stronger weapons?

13.  And now any one may easily perceive how easily the suggestion may be refuted, that more persons might be incited to the observance of holy religion unless they were withheld by the fear of pain or the appearance of labour. For could this terrify an older person, when many infants endured it without danger? Granting however that some Jewish children unable to bear the pain of circumcision and of so keen a stroke may have died, still this did not deter those of a robuster and more advanced age, and one who thus obeyed the celestial precepts it only made more praiseworthy.

14.  But if they imagine that this light pain was such an obstacle to confession, what will they say of martyrdom? For if they choose to blame the pain of circumcision, they must blame also the death of martyrs, by whom religion so far from being impaired has received its perfection. But |428 the pain of circumcision is so much removed from being hurtful to faith, that faith is approved by pain, for greater is the grace of faith if any one for religion's sake despise pain; and such a one has a greater reward than he who was only willing to endure the pain of circumcision that he might glory in the Law, and win praise of men rather than of God.

15.  It was fitting therefore that this partial circumcision should take place before His advent Who was to circumcise the whole man, and that the human race should receive a partial preparation for believing in that which is perfect. But if circumcision must take place, in what region of the body ought it rather to fall than on that which seems to some less comely? And those members of the body, which rue think to be less honourable, upon those we bestow more abundant power; and our uncomely parts have abundant comeliness. For in what member ought men to be rather reminded of his blood than in that which is wont to minister to transgression?

16.  And now is the fitting time to reply to those also who say, If this part of our body is according to nature it ought not to be cut off, but if contrary to nature, then it ought not to have been born together with it. Let these men, being so subtle, themselves answer me, whether the succession of the human race, which arises by generation is according to nature or contrary to nature? If according to nature, it ought never to be interrupted, and then how can we praise the chastity of men, the virginity of maids, the abstinence of widows, the continence of wives? No effort then to promote this succession should be suffered to lie idle. But the Author of nature Himself did not pay this regard to generation, for He gave us, when living in the body, His own example, and exhorted His disciples to chastity, saying, There be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

17.  Man being made up of body and soul, (for at present it will suffice to speak of these and not to mention the spirit,) he is not naturally the same in both, but what is according to the nature of the body is contrary to the |429 nature of the soul, and what is according to the nature of the soul is contrary to the nature of the body; so that were I to speak that which is according to nature in that which is seen, it will be contrary to nature as regards the unseen, and what is according to nature in the unseen is contrary to nature as regards the seen. It is no incongruity therefore in the man of God, if there should be things contrary to the nature of the body which are according to the nature of the soul.

18.  With regard to those who say that more would have believed if circumcision had not been instituted, let them receive this answer, that more would have believed if there had been no martyrdom, but the constancy of a few is to be preferred to the remissness of a larger number. For as many kinds of washings preceded, because that one true Sacrament of Baptism with water and the Spirit, whereby the whole man is redeemed, was to follow, so also the circumcision of many was to precede, because the circumcision of the Lord's Passion, which Jesus suffered as the Lamb of God, that He might take away the sins of the world, was to follow.

19.  My object in writing this has been to shew that it was fitting that circumcision, which is outward, should precede, that now after the Lord's Advent it might seem to be justly excluded. But now that circumcision is necessary which is in secret, in spirit not in the letter, seeing that there are two men in one, of whom it is said, Though our out-ward man perish according to the desires of error, yet the inward man is renewed day by day, and in another passage, For I delight in the law of God after the inward man; that is, our inward man which is made according to the image and likeness of God, our outward is that which is formed of clay. So again in Genesis two creations of man are declared to us, and it is signified that by the second man was truly made.

20.  As therefore there are two men, so also is his conversation two-fold; one of the inward the other of the outward man. And indeed many acts of the inward man reach to the outward man, in the same way that the chastity of the inward man passes into bodily chastity. He who |430 is free from adultery of the heart is free from adultery of the body, but it does not also follow that he who has not sinned in body should not have sinned even in heart, for it is written, Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. For although he be not yet an adulterer in body, still in affection he is one. So that there is a circumcision of the inward man, for he who is circumcised has put off, like a foreskin, all the allurements of the flesh, that so he may be in the spirit, not in the flesh, and by the spirit may mortify the deeds of the flesh.

21.  And this is that circumcision which is in secret, as Abraham was first in the uncircumcision and afterwards came to be in the circumcision. Thus our inward man, while it is in the flesh, is as it were in uncircumcision, but when he is now no longer in the flesh but in the spirit, he begins to be in the circumcision not in the uncircumcision. And as he who is circumcised does not put off the whole flesh but his foreskin only, where corruption more frequently lies, so he who is circumcised in secret, puts off that flesh of which it is written, All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand for ever; and there remains the flesh which will see the salvation of God, as it is written, And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. What this flesh is cleanse your ears that you may understand.

22.  Now that circumcision which is secret ought to be of such a kind as to bear no comparison with that which is outward. He therefore who is a Jew in secret, is he who excels, he who is from Judah, whose hand is in the neck of his enemies, who stooped down and couched as a lion, and as a lion's whelp, whom, his brethren praise. From this Judah the prince departs not, because his word makes princes, such as are not overcome by worldly allurements and ensnared by the pleasures of this world. And since Judah himself was born into this generation, many of those who were born afterwards are preferred, that they may enjoy a pre-eminence of virtue. Let us have therefore the circumcision which is in secret, and the Jew that is in secret, |431 that is, the spiritual: but he that is spiritual, as being a prince, judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. It was fitting therefore, that the circumcision commanded by the prescript of the Law, which was partial, should cease after His coming Who was to circumcise the whole man, and fulfil the circumcision of the Law. And who is this but He Who said I am not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it?

24.  That the fulness of the Gentiles is come in is another reason, if you will attend to it carefully, why the circumcision of the foreskin ought to cease. For it was not upon the Gentiles but upon the seed of Abraham that circumcision was enjoined, for this is the first Divine promise, And God said unto Abraham, Thou shall keep My covenant therefore, thou and thy seed after in their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised, and ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations. He that is born in thy house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh, for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised on the eighth day, shall be cut

off from the people; he hath broken My Covenant. It is affirmed indeed that the Hebrew text, as Aquila intimates, does not contain the words 'on the eighth day;' but all authority does not rest with Aquila, who being a Jew has passed it by in the letter, and not inserted, 'on the eighth day.'

25.  Meanwhile you have heard that both the eighth day and circumcision were given for a sign; now a sign is an indication of a greater matter, a symbol of a future verity; and a covenant was given to Abraham and his seed, to whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be. The circumcision of the Jews therefore, or of one born in his house, or bought with his money was permitted. But we cannot extend this to a foreigner or proselyte, unless they were born in the |432 house of Abraham, or bought with his money, or of his seed. Again, nothing is said of proselytes; when it is wished to speak of them they are expressly mentioned, as it is written: And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, and unto his sons, and unto all the children of Israel, and say unto them: . . Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers which sojourn among you, that offereth a burnt-sacrifice. When therefore they are intended to be included the Law touches them; when the Divine word does not point to them, how can they seem to be bound? Again, it is written, Speak unto the sons of Aaron, when the priests are intended; and so as regards the Levites also.

26.  Thus it is abundantly manifest that even according to the letter of the Law, although the Law be spiritual, yet that according to the very letter of the Law the Gentiles could not be obliged to observe circumcision, but that circumcision itself was a sign, until the fulness of the Gentiles should be come in, and so all Israel be saved by circumcision, not of a small portion of one member, but of the heart. And both the excuse on our parts is sufficient, and the continuance of circumcision among the Jews up to this day is excluded.

27.  But as to its being imputed it as a cause of blame, now or in past time, by the Gentiles, I would say, first, it is not competent to them to blame or deride what others who are their fellows do. Suppose however that there were cause for their ridicule, why ought this to move us, when the very cross of the Lord is a stumbling-block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks, but to us the power of God and the wisdom of God. And the Lord Hims,elf has said, Whosoever shall be ashamed 6 of Me before men, of him will I also be ashamed before My Father Which is in heaven; teaching us not to be disturbed by those things which are laughed at by men, if we observe them in the service of religion. |433 


IRENAEUS having enquired why the Law was ever given, seeing that Paul declares it to be injurious: S. Ambrose replies that it would have been useless, had we kept that natural law which is written on our hearts, and is found even in infants; but that, this being broken, the former became necessary, that it might take away all excuse by its manifestation of that sin which was afterwards removed by the grace of Christ.


1.  Greatly, it would seem, have you been moved by the lesson from the Apostle, having heard read to-day, Because the Law worketh wrath; for where no law is, there is no transgression. And therefore you have thought fit to ask why the Law was promulgated, if it profited nothing, nay rather, by working wrath and bringing in transgression, was injurious.

2.  And indeed, according to the tenor of your question, it is certain that the Law, which was given by Moses, was not necessary. For had men been able to keep the natural Law, which our God and Maker implanted in the breast of each, there would have been no need of the Law, which, written on tables of stone, tended rather to entangle and fetter the infirmity of human nature, than to set at large and liberate it. Now that there is a natural Law written in our hearts the Apostle also teaches us, when he writes, that for the most part the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, and, though they have not read the Law, have yet the works of the Law written in their hearts.

3.  This law therefore is not written but innate; not acquired by reading, but flowing as from a natural fountain, it springs up in each breast, and men's minds drink it in. This Law we ought to have kept even from fear of a future judgment, a witness whereof we have in our conscience, which shews itself in those silent thoughts we have towards God, and whereby either our sin is reproved or our innocence justified. And thus that which has ever been |434 manifest to the Lord, will be clearly revealed in the day of judgment, when those secrets of the heart, which were thought to be concealed, will be called into account. Now the discovery of these things, these secrets, I mean, would do no harm, if the natural Law still remained in the human breast; for it is holy, free from craft or guile, the companion of justice, free from iniquity.

4.  Moreover let us interrogate the age of childhood, let us consider whether any crime can be found therein, avarice, ambition, guile, rage, or insolence. It claims nothing for its own, assumes no honours to itself, never prefers itself to others, neither wishes or knows how to avenge itself. Its pure and simple mind cannot even comprehend the meaning of insolence.

5.  Adam broke this Law, seeking to assume to himself that which he had not received, that thus he might become as it were his own maker and creator, and arrogate to himself divine honour. Thus by his disobedience he incurred guilt, and through arrogance fell into transgression. Had he not thus violated his allegiance, but been obedient to the commands of heaven, he would have preserved to his posterity the prerogative of nature and the innocence which he possessed at his birth. Wherefore as by disobedience the authority of the Law of Nature was corrupted and blotted out, the written law was found necessary; in order that man, having lost all, might at least regain a part; attaining by instruction to the knowledge of that which he had received at his birth, but had subsequently lost. Moreover, since the cause of his fall was pride, and pride arose from the dignity of innocence, it was needful that some law should be passed which should subdue and subject him to God. For without the Law he was ignorant of sin, and thus his guilt was less because he knew it not. Wherefore also the Lord says, If I had not come and spoken to them they had not had sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.

6. The Law then was published, first to take away all excuse lest man should say, I knew not sin, because I received no rule what to avoid. And next that all the world might become guilty 7 before God by the confession of |435 sin. For it made all subject; in that it was not only given to the Jews but also called the Gentiles; for proselytes from the Gentiles were associated with them. Nor can he seem to be excepted, who after being called was found wanting, for the Law also bound those whom she called. And thus the fault of all worked subjection, subjection humility, humility obedience. And thus as pride had drawn after it transgression, so on the other hand, transgression produced obedience. And thus the written Law, which seemed superfluous, was rendered necessary, redeeming sin by sin.

7.  But again, lest anyone should be deterred, and say that an increase of sin was caused by the Law, and that the Law not only did not profit but was even injurious, he has a consolation for his solicitude, because although by the Laiv sin abounded, grace did much more abound. And now let us consider the meaning of this.

8.  Sin abounded by the Law because by the Law is the knowledge of sin, and thus it began to be injurious to me to know that which through infirmity I could not avoid; it is good to foreknow in order to avoid, but if I cannot avoid, to have known was injurious. Thus the effect of the Law was changed to me into its opposite, yet by the very increase of sin it became useful to me, because I was humbled. Wherefore David also said, It is good for me that I have been humbled. For by my humiliation I have broken those bonds of that ancient transgression, whereby Adam and Eve had bound the whole line of their posterity. Hence too the Lord came in obedience that He might loose the knot of disobedience and of man's transgression. And so, as by disobedience sin entered, so by obedience sin was remitted. Wherefore the Apostle also says, For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

9.  Here is one reason the Law on the one hand was superfluous and yet became necessary. It was superflous herein, that it would not have been needed could we have kept the natural Law, but as we kept it not, the law of Moses became needful for us, to the intent that it might teach us obedience and loose that knot of Adam's |436 transgression which has fettered his whole posterity. Guilt indeed was increased by the Law, but pride, the author of this guilt, was overthrown by it, and this was profitable to. me, for pride discovered the guilt, and this guilt brought grace.

10.  Hear another reason. At first Moses' Law was not needed; it was introduced subsequently, and this appears to intimate that this introduction was in a sense clandestine and not of an ordinary kind, seeing that it succeeded in the place of the natural Law. Had this maintained its place, the written Law would never have entered in; but the natural Law being excluded by transgression and almost blotted out of the human breast, pride reigned, and disobedience spread itself; and then this Law succeeded, that by its written precepts it might cite us before it, and every mouth be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Now the world becomes guilty before God by the Law, in that all are made amenable to its prescripts, but no man is justified by its works. And since by the Law comes the knowledge of sin, but not the remission of guilt, the Law, which has made all sinners, would seem to have been injurious.

11.  But when the Lord Jesus came, He forgave all men that sin which none could escape, and blotted out the handwriting against us by the shedding of His own Blood. This then is the Apostle's meaning; sin abounded by the Law, but grace abounded by Jesus; for after that the whole world became guilty, He took away the sin of the whole world, as John bore witness, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Wherefore let no man glory in works, for by his works no man shall be justified, for he that is just hath a free gift, for he is justified by the Bath. It is faith then which delivers by the blood of Christ, for Blessed is the man to whom sin is remitted, and, pardon granted.

Farewell, my son; love me, for I also love you. |437 


In this letter S. Ambrose explains the meaning of S. Paul's expression, that 'the Law was our schoolmaster,' and shews how, while the letter of the precepts fitted the Jews, the spiritual sense, which lay under the letter applies to Christians.


1.  You have heard, my son, the lesson of to-day in the Apostle, that the Law was our schoolmaster in Christ, that we might be justified by faith. And by this one text I believe that those questions are resolved, which are wont to perplex many. For there are those who say, 'Since God gave the Law to Moses, what is the reason that there are many things in the Law which now seem abrogated by the Gospel?' And how can the Author of the two Testaments be one and the same, when that which was permitted in the Law, when the Gospel came, was permitted no longer? as for instance there is a circumcision of the body, which was even then only given for a sign, that the verity of spiritual circumcision might be preserved, yet why was it even given as a sign? Why was there such diversity, that then it was esteemed piety to be circumcised, but now it is judged to be impiety? Again it was ordered by the Law that the Sabbath day ought to be a holiday, so that if any one carried a bundle of sticks, he became guilty of death; but now we perceive that the same day is devoted to bearing burthens and to transacting business without any punishment. And there are many precepts of the Law which at the present time would seem to have ceased.

2.  Let us consider then what is the cause of this; for it was not without a purpose that the Apostle said, the Law was our schoolmaster in Christ 8. To whom does a schoolmaster belong, to one of riper years or to a youth? Doubtless to a youth or boy, that is, to one of infirm age. For a paedagogus, as the word is rendered in the Latin, is the teacher of a boy; and he cannot apply perfect precepts |438 to an imperfect age, because it cannot bear them. Again, the God of the Law says by the Prophet, I gave them also statutes that were not good, that is, not perfect. But the same God has preserved more perfect things for the Gospel, as He says, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil the Law.

3.  What then was the cause of this difference, but human diversity? He knew the Jews to be a stiff-necked people, prone to fall, base, inclined to unbelief, that heard with the ear but understood not, that saw with their eyes but perceived not, fickle with the instability of infancy, and heedless of commands; and therefore He applied the Law, as a Schoolmaster, to the unstable temper and impious mind of the people, and moderating the very precepts of the Law, He chose that one thing should be read, another understood; that thus the foolish man might at least keep what he was reading, and depart not from the prescript of the letter; while the wise should understand the sentiments of the Divine mind, which the letter did not alter; that the unwise man might keep the command of the Law, the prudent might observe the mystery. The Law therefore has the severity of the sword, as the schoolmaster holds the rod, that at any rate by the denunciation of punishment it may keep in awe the weakness of the imperfect people; but the Gospel has indulgence whereby sins are forgiven.

4.  Rightly therefore does Paul say that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life. For the letter circumcises a small portion of the body; the understanding spirit keeps the circumcision of the whole soul and body; that the superfluous parts being cut off, (for nothing is so superfluous as the vices of avarice, the sins of lust, which nature had not, but sin caused,) chastity might be observed, and frugality loved. The sign therefore is bodily circumcision, but the truth is spiritual circumcision, the one cuts off the member, the other cuts off sin. Nature has created nothing imperfect in man, nor has she commanded it to be taken away as if it were superfluous, but that they who cut off a part of their body might perceive that sins were much more to be cut off, and those members which led to offences were to |439 be retrenched, even though they were joined together by a certain unity of body, as it is written, If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee,for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. To the Jews then, as to children, are enjoined not complete precepts but partial ones, and, seeing that they were unable to keep the whole of their bodies clean, they were commanded to keep clean, as it were, one portion of it.

5. They were also commanded to keep the holiday of the Sabbath one day in the week, so as to be subjected to no burthen, and I would that being thus released from earthly works they had escaped, carrying with them to that perpetual sabbath of future ages the burthen of heavy crimes. But as God knew how prone to fall the people were, He enjoined a part upon the weaker by the observance of one day, He reserved the fulness for the stronger: the Synagogue observes the day, the Church immortality. In the Law therefore is a part, in the Gospel is perfection.

6. The people of the Jews are forbidden to carry sticks, that is, such things as are consumed by fire. He keeps in the shade, who flies from the sun. But to you the Sun of Righteousness suffers not the shade to be an hindrance, but pouring forth the full light of His grace says to you, Go, and sin no more. The follower of that eternal Sun says to you, Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. Wherefore let us build upon Christ, for Christ is our foundation, that which may not be burnt but purified. Gold is purified by fire, and so is silver.

7. You hear me speak of gold and silver, you think it to be the material substance, you desire to gather it, but you are losing your labour. This gold and silver brings burthen but no fruit. The toil of him who seeks it turns to the profit of his heir. This gold is burned like wood, not preserved; this silver will bring detriment not profit to your life in that day. Another kind of gold and silver is required |440 of you, that is, a good meaning, a word fitly spoken, of which God says that He gives vessels of gold and silver. Theses are the gifts of God. The words of the Lord are pure words; even as the silver which from the earth is tried and purified seven times in the fire. The grace of your understanding, the beauty of chaste discourse is required of you; the brightness of faith not the tinkling of silver. The one remains, the other perishes; the one has reward, and we carry it away with us, the other, which we leave behind, brings loss.

8.  If any rich man thinks that the gold and silver which he has hoarded and stored up can avail him for life, let him know that he carries an empty burthen, which the fire of judgment will consume. Leave here your burthens, ye rich men, that your burthen may not add fuel to the fire which is to come. If you will bestow some of these goods, your burthen will be diminished, and what remains will be no burthen. Lay not up wealth, O miser; lest you should become in mere name only a Christian, in work a Jew, perceiving that your burthens are a punishment to you. For it has been said to you, not in the shade but in the sun, If any man's work abide, he shall receive a reward, if any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss.

9.  And therefore, as a perfect man, taught in the Law, confirmed in the Gospel, receive the faith of both Testaments. For Blessed is he that sows beside all ivaters, that sends forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass, as we read to-day, that is, who sows upon the people who follow the doctrine of both Testaments; this is that ox of the plough, carrying the yoke of the Law, of which the Law says, Thou shall not muzzle the ox, when he treadeth out the corn; that ox which has the horns of the Divine Scriptures. But the foal of the ass the Lord rides upon, in the Gospel, representing the people of the Gentiles.

10.  But I think that since the word of God is rich in meanings, we ought also to understand that the ox has horns full of terror, the bull is fierce, the ass mild, and that this is fitly applied to our present purpose, for happy is he who observes both severity and mildness; that so by the one discipline may be maintained, while by the other innocence |441 may be cherished; for too great severity is wont by means of terror to tempt to falsehood. God prefers being loved to being feared; for the Lord exacts love, the servant fear, for terror cannot be perpetual in man, for it is written as we read to-day Behold, in your fear, they whom ye feared, shall fear.

Farewell, my son; love me, for I too love you.


This letter is a sequel to the preceding, and deals with the context o the passage of S. Paul which that letter discussed. S. Ambrose ends by maintaining that the Jews were 'heirs' only of the letter of the Old Testament promises, the Christian being the heir of the Spirit.


1.  I am indeed aware that nothing is more difficult than to treat properly concerning the Apostle's meaning, for even Origen's expositions of the New Testament are far inferior to his expositions of the Old. Yet since in my previous letter you think that I have not explained amiss the reason of the Law being called a Schoolmaster; in what I say to-day too I purpose to unfold to you the actual force of the Apostle's statement.

2.  Now the former part of his discourse declares that no man shall be justified by the works of the Law, but by faith, For as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse; but Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us. The inheritance therefore is not given by the Law but by promise. Now to Abraham were the promises made, and to his seed which is Christ. Thus the Law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and therefore all are concluded under sin, that the promise |442 by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under the Law, that is, under a schoolmaster; and this because we are all the sons of God, and are all in Christ Jesus. Now if we are all in Christ Jesus, then are we Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. And this is the conclusion at which the Apostle arrives.

3.  Still however he is met with this objection, that even the Jew might say, I also, being under the Law, have an heirship, for the Law is also called the Old Testament, and where is a Testament there also is an inheritance. And although the Apostle himself told the Hebrews that a testament is of no force, until the death of the testator happen, that is to say, a testament is of no strength while the testator liveth, but is established by his death, yet as in Jeremiah the Lord, speaking of the Jews, has said, Mine heritage is unto Me as a lion, he would not deny that they were heirs. But there are heirs without possessions, there are heirs also with them; and while the testator lives those whose names are written in the will are called heirs, though without possessions.

4.  Little children are also heirs, but they differ in nothing from a servant, in that they are still under tutors and governors. Even so we were in bondage under the elements of the world. But, when the fulness of the time was come, Christ also came, and now we are no longer servants but sons, if we believe in Christ. Thus He gave them the semblance of an inheritance, but withheld from them the possession of it. Thus they have the name but not the benefit of being heirs, for like children they possess the bare name of heirship without its privileges, and have no right either to command or to use, waiting for the fulness of their age that they may be delivered from their governors.

5.  As then young children, so the Jews also, are under a schoolmaster. The Law is our schoolmaster, the schoolmaster brings us to our Master; and our One Master is Christ: Neither be ye called masters, for one is your Master, even, Christ. The schoolmaster is feared, the Master shews the way of salvation. Thus four brings us to liberty, |443 liberty to faith, faith to love; love obtains adoption, adoption the inheritance. Where then faith is there is liberty; for the servant acts from fear, the free-man by faith; the one by the letter, the other by grace; the one in slavery the other by the Spirit; but where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. If then where faith is, there is liberty; where liberty there grace, where grace there inheritance; and he that is a Jew in the letter not in spirit is in bondage, he who hath not faith hath not the liberty of the spirit. Now where there is no liberty there is no grace, where no grace no adoption, where no adoption there no succession.

6.  Thus, the tablets being, as it were, closed, he beholds 10 his inheritance but possesses it not, he has no permission to read it. For how can he say 'Our Father' who denies the true Son of God, Him by Whom our adoptive sonship is obtained for us? How can he rehearse the will who denies the death of the testator? How can he obtain liberty, who denies the Blood whereby he has been redeemed? For this is the price of our liberty, as Peter says, ye were redeemed with the precious Blood, not indeed of a lamb, but of Him Who came as a lamb, in meekness and humility, and redeemed the whole world with the one offering of His Body, as He himself says, I was brought as a lamb to the slaughter. Wherefore John also says, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

7.  Hence the Jew, being heir in the letter not in the spirit is as a child under tutors and governours; but the Christian, who recognizes that fulness of time wherein Christ came, made of a woman, made under the Law, that He might redeem all who were under the Law; the Christian, I say, by unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God grows up unto a perfect man: unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

Farewell, my son; love me, for I also love you. |444 


At Irenaeus' request S. Ambrose points out the scope of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Therein is proposed to us a heavenly inheritance, a seat in heavenly places together with Christ, Who has obtained freedom for us. It sets forth to us charity, whereby we are united to Christ, as the end of faith. He adds that no other Epistle contains the mention of so many blessings, and he briefly recounts these one by one.


1.  You have asked me to set forth to you the scope and substance of the Epistle to the Ephesians, an Epistle which seems somewhat obscure, unless by analyzing it we can gather what those motives are by which the Apostle would persuade us not to despair of the kingdom of God.

2.  In the first place then he points out that the hope of reward and the inheritance of those heavenly promises which have been brought within our reach by the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, are wont to be a great encouragement to the good in the pursuit of virtue.

3.  To this he has added that not only has a mode of return to Paradise been opened to us by Christ, but that even the honour of sitting in heavenly places has been imparted to this flesh of our body by its fellowship with the Body of Christ; so that you need no longer doubt the possibility of your own ascension, now that you know that your fellowship with the flesh of Christ subsists even in the kingdom of heaven, knowing also that by His Blood reconciliation has been made for all things, both on earth and in heaven, for He descended that He might fill all things: and, further, that by His Apostles, prophets, and priests, the whole world has been established, and the Gentiles gathered in; and that the end of our hope is the love of Him, that we may grow up into Him in all things; for He is the Head of all things, and unto Him according to the measure of His working we are all raised and built up by charity into one body.

4.  We ought not therefore to despair of the members adhering to their Head; especially since from the |445 beginning we have been predestinated by Jesus Christ to adoption as children of God in Himself: which predestination He has ratified, instructing us that the prediction made from the first, that a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh, is a sacrament of Christ and the Church. If therefore the union of Adam and Eve is a great sacrament which relates to Christ and the Church, it is certain that as Eve was bone of the bones of her husband, and flesh of his flesh, so we are members of the Body of Christ, bone of His Bones and flesh of His Flesh.

5.  No other Epistle has pronounced so many blessings over the people of God as this. For herein the pregnant witness of Divine grace has declared that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenlg places, and predestinated unto the adoption of children, richly endowed also with grace in the Son of God, which things have abounded unto the knowledge of the mystery of His eternal will. Especially now, in the fulness of time, when all things are reconciled in Christ, both in heaven and on earth, have we attained an inheritance in Him, to the intent that both what is of the Law and what is of Grace might be fulfilled in us. For even according to the Law we seemed to be elected in that season of youth, by which is signified a holy life, without either the wantonness of childhood or the infirmity of age. We have been taught also how we must vigorously ivage war not only against flesh and blood, but also against spiritual wickedness in high places.

6.  Wherefore as the possession of lands taken from the enemy fell to their lot, so to us has fallen the lot of grace, that we may become the heritage of God, Who possesses our reins, the seat of chastity and temperance. Do you seek to know this lot? Remember that lot which fell upon Matthias, that he might be chosen into the number of the twelve Apostles. The Prophet David also says, If ye sleep in the midst of the lots, because he who is placed in the middle, between the lot of the Old and New Testament, resting upon both, arrives at the peace of the heavenly kingdom. This lot of their paternal inheritance the daughters of Zelophehad sought for, and their petition was |446 admitted by God's judgment. But they sought for it in the shade, for Zelophehad means 'the shade of the mouth;' they sought it then in dark sayings, they spoke not what was revealed. Hence the supplication for their inheritance by the daughters of Zelophehad was couched in dark sayings, but in our case it stands in the light of the Gospel and in the revelation of grace.

7.  Let us therefore be the possession of God, and let Him be our portion, for in Him are the riches of His glory and inheritance. For who is rich but God alone, Who created all things? Especially however is He rich in mercy, in that He redeemed all mankind, and, as being the author of nature, changed us, who according to our fleshly nature were the children of wrath, and exposed to trouble, that we might become the children of peace and charity. For who can change nature but He Who created nature? Wherefore He raised the dead, and those that were quickened in Christ He hath made to sit in heavenly places in the Lord Jesus.

8.  Not that any man has been thought worthy of the privilege of sitting in that seat of God, for to the Son alone hath the Father said, Sit thou on my right hand; but because in that Flesh of Christ the flesh of the whole human race has been honoured, because it partakes of the same nature. For as He was subjected in our flesh by His unity therewith, and by the obedience of the body, wherein He was made obedient even unto death, so we, in His Flesh, are sat down together with Him in heavenly places. We therefore are not set down by ourselves but in the Person of Christ, Who alone, as the Son of man, sitteth at the right Hand of God; as He said Himself, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of God. To this end has His Grace and Goodness been formed upon us in Christ Jesus, that being dead according to works, redeemed through faith and saved by grace, we might receive the gift of this great deliverance. Our very nature, raised, as it were, in Him, has been made partaker of the Grace of a new creation, that being new created in Christ, we, who had before fallen away through the corruption of our guilty lineage, might walk in good works. |447 

9. For the strife which before existed in the flesh being removed, an universal peace has been made in heaven; that men might be like Angels upon earth, that the Gentiles and Jews might be made one, that both the new and old man might be united, the middle wall of partition, which, as a hostile barrier, had once divided them, being broken down. For the nature of our flesh having stirred up anger discord and dissension, and the law having bound us with the chains of condemnation, Christ Jesus subdued by mortification the wantonness and intemperance of the flesh, and made void the law of commandment contained in ordinances, declaring thereby that the decrees of the spiritual Law are not to be interpreted according to the letter; putting an end to the slothful rest of the Sabbath and to the superfluous rite of outward circumcision, and opening to all access by one Spirit unto the Father. For how can there be any discord, where there is one calling, one body and one spirit?

10.  For what else did the Lord Jesus effect by His descent but our deliverance from captivity into liberty, and the subjection to Himself of that captivity which the bonds of unbelief had fettered, but which is now restrained by the fetters of wisdom, every wise man putting his feet into its bonds? For it is written that when He had descended He ascended also, that He might fill all things, and that we might all receive of His fulness.

11.  Wherefore He gave first Apostles in the Church, filling them with the Holy Spirit, others prophets, others evangelists, others pastors and teachers, that by their exhortations the progress of believers might be accomplished, and the work of the ministry of faith might receive increase. Every one by the growth of virtue is built up unto the measure of the inward life, which measure, being that more perfect one of a holy life, that is, of a perfect man, taking of the fulness of Christ, has received the fulness of grace.

12.  But who is a perfect man, but he who, being delivered from the weakness of a childish mind, from the unstable and slippery ways of youth, and from the unbridled passions of adult age, has attained to the strength of full manhood, and has grown up unto such maturity of |448 character as not to be easily turned aside by the address of a wily disputer, nor cast, as it were, upon the rocks by the turbid violence of foolish doctrine? Who but he that betakes himself to the remedies of error, who follows truth not only in his words but also in his works, and, takes upon him the edifying of himself in love, that he may be united with others in the unity of faith and knowledge, and, as a member, not fall off from his Head, that is, from Christ, Who is the Head of all, from whom the whole body of the faithful and prudent fitted and compacted and joined together by the rational harmony of the Word (for this is the meaning of sunarmologou&menon, a(rmoni/a| tou~ Lo&gou dedme/non 11,) by that which every joint supplieth, according to the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying itself in love; that so it may rise as one temple of God in all, and one habitation of the heavenly mansion in the spirit of all.

13.  Herein I conceive we are to understand that not only holy men but all believers, and all the heavenly and reasonable hosts and powers are united in faith and spirit; that by a certain concord of powers and offices one body, composed of all spirits of a reasonable nature, may adhere to Christ their Head, being so united to the framework of the building, that in no single point of juncture the several members may seem to be severed from each other. For this is the meaning of the Greek a(fh_n th~j xorhgi/aj kat' e0ne/rgeian e0n me/trw|. And to unite each one to Himself according to the due measure of his merits and faith will not be difficult: for the edifice of love closes and blocks up every crevice through which offences may enter. We ought not then to doubt that in the building up of this temple the company of the heavenly hosts will be united with us; for it is unreasonable to suppose that while the Temple of God can be so built up by human love as that we shall become an habitation of God in the Spirit, He should not dwell within the heavenly Host.

14.  On this account, that the building may be raised |449 within us more rapidly, the Apostle exhorts us to open the eyes of our understanding, to lift them to things above, diligently to follow after the knowledge of God, to unravel the truth, to hide in our hearts the commandments of God, to put off deceitful lusts and hidden deeds of shame, to seek to be renewed by the graces of the Sacraments, to moderate anger, to calm all disturbance of spirit before the sun goes down, to beware lest the adversary gain the upper hand of us, that mighty spirit who entered into the heart of Judas, and broke through the gates of his soul, overpowering his resistance, to shut out theft, to eschew falsehood, to rise from the dead, to put on sobriety. He tells us likewise that wives should be subject to their husbands, as the Church is to Christ, and that husbands should offer up their own lives for their wives, as Christ gave Himself for the Church. And lastly, that, as good soldiers, we should put on the armour of God, and continually fight, not only against flesh and blood, but also against spiritual wickedness; that we may neither be corrupted by friends nor vanquished by enemies.

This summary account of the Epistle I offer you as the best which I have in my power to give.

Farewell, my son; love me, for I also love you.


This letter dwells on the Gospel, as the true Inheritance, and on the contrast between the Jew, who by rejecting Christ made Moses in whom he believed his accuser, and the Christian, who received true liberty in Christ, while the Jew remained a slave.


1. Not without reason have you thought fit to enquire into the nature of the Divine inheritance; and why it should be so highly esteemed that for its sake many should even offer up their lives. But if you will consider that even in human affairs the advantage of inheriting worldly goods gives an additional sanction to the laws of natural |450 affection, and that even on this account greater respect is shown to parents, for fear, namely, lest the slighted love of a father may avenge itself by disinheriting or renouncing the rebellious offspring, you will cease to wonder why men so greatly desire a Divine inheritance.

2. Now there is an inheritance offered to all Christians; for Isaiah thus speaks, There is an heritage for them that believe on the Lord, and this inheritance is hoped for by the promise, not by the Law. This the history of the Old Testament proves, in the words of Sarah, Cast out this bond-woman and her son, for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. The son of Sarah was Isaac, the son of the bond-woman was Ishmael; and these were before the Law, wherefore the promise was older than the Law. We are after Isaac sons by the promise, the Jews are the sons of the bond-woman after the flesh. We have a free mother, which bore not, but afterwards, according to the promise, brought forth and produced a child; they have Agar for their mother, gendering to bondage. He is free, to whom grace is promised, he is a slave on whom the yoke of the Law is imposed, wherefore the promise came to us before the Law came to them, and in the course of nature liberty is more ancient than bondage. Liberty therefore comes of the promise, bondage of the Law. But although the promise itself, as we have said, is before the Law, and by the promise comes liberty, and in liberty is love, still love is according to the Law, and love is greater than liberty.

3. Are we not then servants? and is it not written, praise the Lord, all ye servants, or how does the Apostle say, But as the servants of God, doing the will of God from his heart? But there is also a free and voluntary service, whereof the Apostle says, He that is called, being free. is Christ's servant. And this service is from the heart, not of necessity. Wherefore we are the servants of our Creator; but we have a liberty which we have received through the grace of Christ, born of the promise according to faith. Wherefore, being born of the freedwoman, let us, signed in the forehead, offer the sacrifice of liberty as becomes freemen; that we may rejoice and not be confounded, being |451 signed in 'the spirit and not in the flesh. For to us it is rightly said, Standfast, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. He does not say, Be not slaves, but Be not entangled with the yoke of bondage, for the yoke of bondage is heavier than the bondage itself.

4.  Isaac also says to his son Esau, when he sought his blessing, Behold thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above; and by thy sword shall thou live, and shalt serve thy brother. But the time shall come when thou shalt have the dominion and shalt break his yoke from off thy neck. How then is this to be reconciled, that although he shall break his brother's yoke from off his neck he shall still serve, unless we recognize the difference that there is in servitude? Now in what this difference consists, let the Scripture itself explain to us. Isaac signifies good, and he is good to us, for after him we are born into liberty, and he is a good father to both his sons. His love for them both he proved, in the one case by affection, in the other by blessing, for he commanded his elder son to bring him food, that he might receive his blessing; but while he makes delay and seeks for wild venison from a distance, the younger brother brings him home-food, from the sheep of the flock.

5.  Good food for all is Christ, good food too is faith, sweet food is mercy, pleasant food is faith. These are the meats whereon are fed the people of holy Church. Good food too is the Spirit of God, good food is the remission of sins. But very hard food is the rigour of the Law, and the terror of punishment; and very coarse food is that observance of the letter which is preferred to the grace of pardon. The Jews again are under a curse, we included in a blessing. A ready food too is faith: The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart: the food of the Law is more tardy. For while waiting for the Law the people fell into transgression.

6.  Thus it was on the son who was diligent and faithful that the father bestowed his blessing, but he reserved one, for he was a good father, for his elder son also, in that he made him servant to his brother. For he did this, not as wishing to subject his family to any unworthy bondage, |452 but because he who cannot rule and govern himself ought to serve and be subject to one more prudent; that so he may be governed by his counsel, and not fall through his own folly, nor stumble from walking rashly. It is as a blessing then that such a state of service is given. Moreover it is numbered among blessings, together with the gift of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. Having said, By thy sword thou shalt live, lest he should be harmed by the confidence arising from strength or power, he added, and thou shalt serve thy brother: that thou mayest thus obtain both the rich fruits of the flesh, and the dew of Divine grace, and mayest follow him who is able to direct and govern thee.

7.  But it shall come to pass, when thou shalt have broken his yoke from off thy neck, that thou shalt have the reward of thy willing servitude, and not undergo the evils of a compulsory bondage. For that kind of bondage is dishonourable which is the result of necessity, that is honourable which is offered by piety. Hence the Apostle says, For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward, but if against my will, a dispensation is committed unto me. Better then is it to reap a reward, than to obey a dispensation. Wherefore let us not be restrained by the yoke of bondage, but let us serve in the spirit of charity, for the Apostle says, By love serve one another. The fear of the Law becomes the love of the Gospel. Again, To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but the fulness of the Law is charity. And the Law itself says, For all the Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

8.  This therefore is what we asserted, for although bondage is by the Law, liberty is by the Law also, for charity belongs to liberty, fear to bondage. There is therefore both a charity of the Law, and a service of charity, but the Law is the forerunner of charity, the charity of the Gospel is the free giver of a pious service.

9.  The Law then is not superfluous; for like a schoolmaster, it attends upon the weak; and by weakness I mean weakness of character not of body; for they are infants who know not how to declare the word of God, who receive |453 not His works. For if an unspotted life is old age, a life full of stains is the time of youth. The Law then, that is, No&moj, was our schoolmaster, until faith came. We were kept, it is said, under the Law, as being weak, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. But afterwards faith came; he does not say the Gospel, but faith, for that only is faith which is in the Gospel. For although the righteousness of God is revealed therein which is from faith to faith, still this of the Law is faith indeed when it attains to the fulness thereof. Rightly therefore is this faith spoken of as single and alone; because without it the former is not faith, and in it alone it has its confirmation. Finally, when this faith came, fulness and the adoption of sons came with it, infirmity ceased, infancy was at an end, we grew into a perfect man, we put on Christ. How then can any one be weak or childish, in whom Christ is the power of God? Thus we have arrived at perfection, and have been instructed in its precepts.

10.  You heard read to-day, Of Mine own Self I can do nothing, as I hear, I judge. You heard read, I accuse you not, I judge not. I accuse you not, it is Moses that accuseth you, in whom ye trust. You heard read, If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. Thus I have learnt what kind of judge, what kind of witness I ought to be. For it is not as being weak that He says, Of Mine own self I can do nothing, he rather is weak who so understands it. The Father does nothing without the Son, for between them there is a community of operation and an unity of power; but in this place He speaks as Judge, that we men may learn that, when we judge, we ought to form our sentence equitably and not according to our mere will and power.

11.  When a criminal is set before him proved guilty and convicted of crime, who does not frame for himself pleas of defence, but prays for pardon, and prostrates himself at the knees of his judge, the judge answers him, Of myself I can do nothing, it is my justice not my power which I exercise in judgment. It is not I but your own deeds that judge you, they accuse, and they condemn you. The Laws are your tribunal, and I as judge do not alter but keep the |454 Laws. Of myself I originate nothing, but the judicial sentence against you proceeds from yourself. I judge as I hear, not as I will, and my judgment is true because I consult what is agreeable to equity not to my own will.

12. Let us next consider what is the Divine rule of judgment. The Lord of heaven and earth and the Judge of all says, of Mine own self I can do nothing, as I hear I judge; and man says to his Lord, Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and have power to release Thee? But why is not the Lord able? Because, He says, My judgment is just, because I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father Who hath sent Me, that is, not the will of man, whom ye see, not the will of man, whom ye only judge as man, not the will of the flesh, (for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,) but the Divine will, which is the Origin of law, and the Rule of judgment. So likewise that witness is true, who bears witness not to himself but to another, for it is written, Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth.

13.  In a mystical sense it is well said to the Jews: I judge you not, that is, I, the universal Saviour, I, who am the Remission of sins, judge you not, for ye have not received Me. I judge you not, I freely pardon you. I, who by My Blood redeem sinners, judge you not. I judge you not, for I would not the death but the life of a sinner. 1 judge you not, for I condemn not but justify those who confess their sins. Moses accuses you, he in whom you trust convicts you. He can accuse you, he cannot judge you, this is reserved to his Creator. He then in whom ye trust accuses you, He in Whom ye would not trust absolves you.

14.  O great folly of the Jews! Rightly are they accused of their crimes, for they have chosen one who accuses them, and have rejected a merciful Judge; and therefore they are without absolution, but not without punishment.

15.  Well therefore, my son, have you begun by the Law, and been confirmed in the Gospel, from faith to faith, as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Farewell; love me for I also love you. |455 


In this letter S. Ambrose shews, that we, like Abraham, are justified by faith, through which we are sons of the freewoman; that circumcision derived all its efficacy from Christ, and was abolished, after He had undergone it in His own person, by Him. Righteousness is therefore only to be looked for from faith, which if it be perfect, is never destitute of charity.


1.  If Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, and that which is accounted for righteousness passes from unbelief to faith, then are we justified by faith, not by the works of the Law. Now Abraham himself had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, one of the bondwoman, the other of the freewoman; and it was told him that he should cast out the bondwoman and the son of the bondwoman, for that the son of the bondwoman should not be his heir. We therefore are children not of the bondwoman but of the free woman, in that liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. Hence it follows that they are specially Abraham's sons, who are so by faith, for the heirs of faith excel heirs by natural birth. The Law is our schoolmaster, faith is free; let us therefore cast away the works of bondage, let us preserve the grace of liberty, let us leave the shade, and follow the Sun, let us desert Jewish rites.

2.  The circumcision of one member is of no avail. For the Apostle says, Behold I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing, not because He cannot, but because He judges those unworthy of His benefits who desert His ways.

3.  And Zipporah of old had circumcised her child, and driven off the danger which hung over him; but then Christ profited while perfection was still deferred. While the people of believers were small, the Lord Jesus came, not as small, but as perfect in all things. He was circumcised first, according to the Law, that He might not |456 break the Law, afterwards by the Cross, that He might fulfil the Law. Thus that which is in part has ceased, because that which is perfect has come; for in Christ the Cross has circumscised not one member only, but the superfluous pleasures of the whole body.

4.  But perhaps it may still be asked why He Who had come to declare to us perfect circumcision should choose to be circumcised in part. Concerning this however we need not deliberate long. For if He was made sin that He might expiate our sins, if He was made a curse for us that He might annul the curses of the Law, for the same reason He was also circumcised for us, that being about to bestow salvation by the Cross, He might abolish the circumcision of the Law.

5.  The Apostle therefore declares that it is from faith that our hope of righteousness in the spirit is to be derived, and that though called to liberty we are not to use our liberty for an occasion to the flesh. For neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. And therefore it is written, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. Now he who loves also believes, and in believing each man begins to love. Abraham believed, and so began to love, and he believed not in part, but entirely. For otherwise he would not have perfect charity, for it is written, Charity believeth all things. If it believe not all things, charity does not seem to be perfect. Perfect charity then has all faith.

6.  But I would not lightly assert that all faith has immediately perfect charity, for the Apostle says, Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. A Christian man has three principal virtues, faith hope and charity, but the greatest of these is charity.

7.  On the other hand I conceive the Apostle was led to say this by the tenor of his argument, for I cannot see how he who has all faith, so that he could remove mountains, can be destitute of charity; nor how such can be the case with that man who understands all mysteries and all knowledge; especially as John says, Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and the same Apostle |457 had said before, Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin. Whence we infer that if he who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and he who is born of God sins not, then he who believes that Jesus is the Christ sins not. But if any man sin, he believes not, and he that believes not loves not, and he that loves not is subject to sin. So then he who sins loves not, for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. But if charity exclude the desire of sin, it excludes also fear, charity then is full of perfect faith.

8.  The Apostles too, who came to be His friends, said, Increase our faith, begging the good Physician to strengthen their failing faith. Their faith must indeed still have been weak, when even to Peter it could be said, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? Thus faith as the herald of charity preoccupies the mind, and prepares the ways of coming love. Thus where is the perfection of charity there is also all faith.

9.  For this reason I conceive it is said that charity believeth all things, that is, leads faith to believe them all, and that a soul of this kind possesses all faith; and hence wherever is perfect charity there is all faith. Moreover, as it believes all things so also it is said to hope all things. And it is on this account the greatest, because it includes the other two.

10.  He that has this charity fears nothing, for charity casteth out fear; and fear being thus banished and thrown aside, charity beareth all things, endureth all things. He who by charity endures all things, cannot fear martyrdom; and so in another place he speaks as a conqueror at the end of his course, The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Farewell, my son; love me for I also love you. |458 


S. Ambrose here assures Bellicius, whose recovery from sickness had occurred just at the time when he professed himself a believer in Christ, that both his sickness and recovery were to be ascribed to his so doing, and exhorts him to endeavour to keep Christ near him, and to prepare himself with all diligence for the other Sacraments.


1.  You have sent me word that while you were lying afflicted by a severe sickness you believed in the Lord Jesus, and straightway began to recover. This sickness therefore was unto salvation, bringing greater pain than danger, for you had long deferred your promise. This is the meaning of the text, I wound, and I heal. He wounded by sickness, He healed by faith. For He saw that the inward affection of your mind was not without pious desires, but that they were shaken and unsettled by delays, and so He thought fit to admonish you, in a way which while it did not injure your health, excited your devotion.

2.  For how should He do an injury to health Who is wont to say, as we read in the Gospel, I will come and heal him. Being invited by your friends to visit your house He doubtless said, I will come and heal him; Although you heard Him not, He, as God, spoke to you imperceptibly, and although you saw Him not, still beyond doubt He visited you in spirit.

3.  But in truth you have seen Him, for you have believed in Him, you have seen Him, for you have received Him into the dwelling of your mind, you have seen Him in the Spirit, you have seen Him with your inward eyes. Take care then not to let this new Guest depart, long expected, late received, even Him in Whom we live and move and have our being. You have tasted the first beginnings of faith, let not the word be hidden in your heart. Herein lies all grace and every gift. For no man judges of the secret recesses of a house by its entrance, since all the |459 fruit is within; nor is it the part of a wise man to look from the window into the house, and it is folly for a man to listen at the door.

4. The mysteries of the more perfect Sacraments are of one kind; for the Scripture says, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. Of another kind are the things which the prophets have announced concerning future glory, unto whom it was revealed, and to whom the saints have preached the Gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, which things the Angels desired to look into. Of another kind again are those mysteries wherein is the redemption of the world, the remission of sins, the distribution of graces, the participation of the Sacraments: when you receive these you will wonder that a gift so transcendent should have been bestowed on man, as to make the manna which we wonder should have been rained down from heaven on the Jews seem to you to have possessed neither so much grace nor so much efficacy towards salvation. For all who received this manna in the wilderness died, save Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb, whereas he who tastes this Sacrament shall never die.

May the Lord Jesus send you restoration. Farewell.


S.Ambrose here shews that the ease of the man who was blind from his birth was the work of Divine power, and censures the question which the disciples asked about him; and dwells on some of the details of the miracle.


1. You have heard, my brother, the lesson of the Gospel, wherein it is narrated that as the Lord Jesus passed by He saw a man which was blind from his birth. Now if the Lord saw him He did not pass him by, neither ought we to pass him by whom the Lord overlooked not; especially |460 since he was blind from his birth, which is not mentioned without reason.

2.  Now there is a blindness in which by the operation of illness the sight of the eyes is obscured, and this by the help of time is mitigated; there is a blindness also which is caused by the entrance of humours, and this, when the defect is removed, is cured by the aid of medicine; and this I say that you may know that it was not by skill but by Divine Power that he who was blind from his birth was healed. For the Lord gave him health as a free gift, not by any medicinal skill, for they whom the Lord Jesus healed were they whom no one could cure.

3.  But how foolish was the inquiry of the Jews, Who did sin this man or his parents? ascribing bodily diseases to the score of sin. Wherefore the Lord said, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. That which nature created, the Creator, being the Author of nature, was capable of remedying. He added therefore, As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world, that is, all who are blind may see whether they need Me Who am the Light. Approach ye, and be enlightened, that ye may see.

4.  In the next place why did He Who restored life at command, Who gave health by His word, saying to the dead, Come forth, and Lazarus came forth from the grave, saying also to the sick of the palsy, Arise and take up thy bed, and the sick of the palsy rose and himself began to carry his bed, whereon, when all his limbs were paralyzed, he had been wont to be carried; why, I say, did He spit on the ground and make clay, and anoint the eyes of the blind man, and say to him, Go, wash in in the pool of Siloam, which is by interpretation, Sent. He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing----What is the reason of this? Great indeed is the reason, if I mistake not, for he who is taught by Jesus comes to see more clearly.

5.  Observe at the same time both His Divinity and His sanctity; as being Himself Light He touched and so communicated light to others; as being a Priest He fulfilled by the figure of Baptism the mysteries of spiritual grace. He spat, that you might learn that the inner parts |461 of Christ are light; and clearly indeed does he see who receives cleansing thereby. His spittle cleanses, and so does His discourse, as it is written, Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

6.  But His making clay and anointing the eyes of the blind was intended to signify to us that the Same Who made man of clay, restored him to health by anointing with clay, and to signify also that this flesh of our clay must receive the light of eternal life by the Sacrament of Baptism. Do you also draw near to Siloam, that is, to Him Who was sent from the Father, as it is written, My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me. Let Christ wash you that you may see. Come to Baptism, the time itself is at hand, make haste and come that you may say, I went, and washed, and I received sight; that you may also say, whereas I was blind, now I see, that you may say, as that man on whom light was poured said, the night is far spent, the day is at hand.

7.  The night was blindness. It was night when Judas received the sop from Jesus, and Satan entered into him. To Judas, in whom the Devil was, it was night; to John, who lay on the breast of Christ, it was day. To Peter also it was day, when he saw the light of Christ on the mount. To others it was night, but to Peter it was day. To Peter himself however it was night when he denied Christ. But the cock crowed, and he began to weep, that he might correct his error, for now the day was at hand.

8.  The Jews enquired of the blind man, How were thine eyes opened? What signal folly! They enquired concerning what they saw; they enquired into the cause, seeing the effect.

9.  Then they reviled him, and said, thou art His disciple. Their curse is a blessing, for their blessing is a curse. Thou, they say, art His disciple. They confer a benefit, while they think they are doing an injury.

Farewell, my son; love me as you do, for I also love you.

[Footnotes moved to end and renumbered.  Marginal biblical references and running headers omitted]

1. a Bethlehem.

2. 1 institutis.

3. 2 castellum.

4. b [Hebrew] signifying affliction; [Hebrew] one humbled by affliction and so, it was inferred, brought to obedience.

5. a Baehr on Herod, ii. 37, quotes with apparent approval Wesseling's opinion that in fact, though Herodotus does not expressly state it, among the Egyptians only the priests and those initiated in the mysteries received circumcision. It is to this perhaps that S. Ambrose is here alluding. See also the art. on 'Circumcision' in Smith's Dict. of the Bible.

6. 1 confusus fuerit

7. 1 subditus fiat. Vulg.

8. 1 in Christo. ei0j xristo&n.

9. a Why this letter, which plainly declares itself in the first section to he a sequel of the previous one, is addressed to a different name, it is difficult to say. There is a similar difficulty about Letter xxvi, and possibly the same solution may apply here as is suggested by the Ben. Edd. there. See Introd. to Lett. xxvi.

10. b The phrase 'cernere hereditatem' is a well-known law-term, meaning' literally 'to decide to accept an inheritance,' and then 'to enter upon it.' But as this sense will not agree with the context, it seems necessary to take 'cernere,' as the Benedictine note does, in its common sense of 'to see.'

11. a The words a(rmoni/a| tou~ Lo&gou dedeme/non seem to be a gloss on S. Paul's compound sunarmologou&menon. They are not part of his text, though S. Ambrose seems here to be quoting them as if they were.

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Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts