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St. Ambrose of Milan, Letters (1881). pp. 462-478. Letters 81-91.


In this letter S. Ambrose seeks to comfort some of his clergy, who were in despondency on account of their labours and difficulties, and sets before their eyes both the reward they may expect, and also the ready aid they will receive from Christ. He then presses upon them passages of Scripture applicable to their case, and exhorts them not to suffer themselves to be separated from Jesus their Saviour.


1.  It is a fault which frequently besets the human mind, that, if things do not at once fall out according to their wishes, they lightly take offence, and desist from their duty. In other classes of men this is tolerable, but in those who are devoted to the Divine service it is a frequent cause of sorrow.

2.  There are certain persons in the clerical function, into whose minds the Enemy, if he cannot otherwise deceive them, thus seeks to creep, that he may instil evil thoughts of the following kind; 'What does it avail me to remain among the clergy, to suffer injuries, to bear toil, as if my own farm could not support me, or, if I have no farm, as if I could not otherwise obtain support?' It is by such thoughts as these that even good dispositions are withdrawn from their duty, as if provision for his own sustenance was the only function of a cleric, and not rather to purchase for himself the Divine assistance after death. Whereas he only shall be rich after death, who on earth has had strength to contend unharmed against the wiles of his numerous adversaries.

3.   It is said therefore in Ecclesiastes, Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labour, For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow. Where are the two that are better than one, but where Christ is, and he whom Christ defends? For if he who is with the Lord Jesus falls, Jesus raises him up. |463 

4.  But in what sense is it said, for their labour? Is Christ then wearyl? Yes truly, for He says, I am weary of crying. He labours, but it is on us. Moreover after His toil He sat down wearied on the well; but what is the mode of His labours? The Apostle by his own humbler example has taught us in the words, Who is weak, and I am not weak? Our Lord Himself has also taught us in the words, I was sick, and ye visited Me not, naked and ye clothed Me not. He labours, in order to raise me in my falls.

5.  Hence in Elisha also our Lord is prefigured, for he stretched himself upon the dead child that he might raise him to life, and in this we have a symbol that Christ died with us, that He might rise again for us. Thus Christ placed Himself on the level even of our frailty, that He might raise us again. He did not fall, but of His own will cast Himself down, and in rising raised up His fellow. For He has taken us into fellowship with Himself, being anointed, as it is written, with the oil of gladness above His fellows.

6.  Well says the Preacher, If they fall, the One, not being Himself lifted up, will lift up his fellow; for Christ needed not the assistance and aid of another to raise Him, but rose by His own power. Again, Destroy, He says, this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. But this He said of the Temple of His Body. And it is well that he who has not fallen should not be raised by another, for he who has been so raised must have fallen, and he who has fallen needs assistance that he may be raised. This is taught also by the words of Scripture which follows, Woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat. For we are dead with Christ, and therefore we also live with Him. And Christ has thus died that He might give us warmth, as He has said, I am come to send fire upon the earth.

7.  I was dead, but because in Baptism I died together with Christ, I received the light of life from Christ. And he who dies in Christ, being warmed by Christ, receives the breath of life and resurrection. The boy was cold, |464 Elisha warmed him with his breath, and imparted to him the warmth of life. He slept together with him that being thus buried with him in a figure the warmth of his rest might raise him up. He is cold then who dies not in Christ; he cannot be warmed to whom no burning fire is applied; he who has not Christ with him cannot grow warm by being near another.

8.  And that you may understand it to be said as a mystery and not in reference to the bare number that two are better than one, he adds a mystical saying, A threefold cord is not quickly broken. For that which is threefold and un-compounded cannot be broken. Thus the Trinity, being of an uncompounded nature, cannot be dissolved; for God is, whatever He is, one and simple and uncompounded; and what He is that He continues to be, and is not brought into subjection.

9.  It is a good thing therefore to adhere closely to that other One, and to put your neck into His chain, and to bow down your shoulder and bear Him, and be not grieved with His bonds; because He went forth from the house of bondmen to assume His kingdom, that Child who is better than an older and foolish king. Wherefore they who follow Him are also bound with chains. Paul too is the prisoner of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Himself led captivity captive. He thought it not enough to destroy that captivity which the devil had imposed, so that he might not again assault those who were wandering at large. But to dwell in subjection to Christ, putting your feet into the fetters of wisdom, and becoming His captive that you may be free from the adversary, this is what He accounted perfect liberty.

10.  Rightly is He called a Child, for unto us a Child is bom, and truly a good Child to Whom it has been said by God the Father, It is a light thing that Thou shouldst be My Servant; wise also, as the gospel teaches us, for He increased in wisdom and stature; and properly called poor, for, though He was rich, for our sakes He became poor, that toe through His poverty might be rich. Wherefore in His kingdom He does not despise the poor man, but listens to him and frees him from all straits and troubles. |465 

11.  Let us then live in obedience to Him, that that old and foolish king may have no power over us. For he, desiring to reign and be supreme after his own will, and not to be under subjection to the Lord Jesus, grows old in sin, and falls into the deformity of folly. For what can be more foolish than for a man to relinquish heavenly and apply himself to earthly things, for him to neglect what is eternal, and to choose the frail and perishing?

12.  Let no one then say, We have no portion in Jacob nor inheritance in Israel. Let no one say, I am not among the Clergy, for it is written, Give unto Levi his lots 1; and again David says that he who lieth in the midst among the lots ascends to heaven with spiritual wings. Say not of your God, He is grievous to us, nor of your place, it is not for our turn, since Scripture says, Leave not thy place: For the adversary would fain deprive thee of it, he would fain drive thee away, for he envies thee thy hopes and thy function.

13.  But thou that art in the lot of the Lord, His portion and possession, depart not therefrom, that thou mayest say to Him, For Thou hast possessed my reins, Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb; and that He may say to thee, as to a good servant, Go, and sit down to meat.

Farewell, my sons: serve the Lord, for the Lord is good.


S. Ambrose tells Marcellus that he has been appointed to decide the case in which he and his brother Laetus and their sister were concerned, and why he undertook rather to act as arbiter than as judge in it. He urges Marcellus to submit willingly to his loss, praising him at the same time for having himself offered so equitable an adjustment of the matter, and tells him why he has nevertheless made some change in the settlement, and ends by shewing how the success gained by the several parties has been without general detriment to the Church.


1. The law suit which you did not indeed institute of your own accord, but took up when begun by others, the |466 obligations of piety and a desire of approving your bounty towards the poor leading you thereto, has in the course of its adjudication devolved into my hands. I took cognisance of it by the tenor of the Imperial enactment, and both the authority committed to me by the blessed Apostle and the form and character of your own life and conduct have laid this upon me. Having myself censured the keeping alive amongst you your ancient animosity, I found myself obliged by the parties to hear their cause.

2.   I blushed to refuse, I must confess, particularly since the advocates of either party recriminated on each other, asserting that my investigation would make manifest to whose side the suffrages of right and justice would incline. Why need I say more? When the days were almost concluded, and only a few hours remained, in which the Prefect was hearing other business; the advocates in the suit requested that it should be adjourned for a few days, that I might preside as judge. So much zeal was shewn by Christians to prevent the Prefect from interfering with the jurisdiction of the Bishop. They stated moreover that certain matters had been conducted in an unseemly manner, and each party, according to his own inclination, brought forward points as proper to be heard by the Bishop rather than the Prefect.

3.  Overcome by these reasons, reminded also of the Apostolical precept, which reproves Christians, saying, Do not ye judge them that are within? and again, If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the Church. I speak to your shame. Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with his brother, and that before unbelievers, I accepted the hearing of the cause, on condition however that I should settle the terms of the compromise. For I saw that, if I decreed in your favour, the other party might not acquiesce; while, if the sentence were given for him, you and your holy sister would abandon your defence. And thus there would have been an unequal rule of decision. Suspicion might also have attached in their eyes to the influence which the |467 sacerdotal relation would exercise over my mind. For when does the defeated party consider the others to have greater equity than himself? And truly, the expenses of this old-standing contest would have been intolerable to both parties, had its termination been without fruit, or without, at least, the solace of munificence.

4.  Since, therefore, I perceived that the issue was doubtful, the law disputed, the pleas on both sides numerous, and that petitions to the emperor of an invidious character were being prepared 1 which contained charges of tampering with his decrees, perceiving also that in case of his being victorious he would rigorously sue for double the mesne profits, and for the costs of this protracted suit; while it was unbecoming your office to demand the expenses of the cause, and not competent for you to claim any of those profits which as possessor you had received, I preferred settling the dispute by a compromise to any aggravation of it by a decree. For there were other disputes liable to be raised, and what was still more grievous, although these disputes might be removed, hatreds would remain which are detrimental to feelings of good will.

5.  Involved in these difficulties, and feeling that the office of the priest, the sex of the woman and the gravity of her widowed state, and regard for my friend appealed to me with a threefold and weighty claim, I thought that my course of conduct should be to desire no one's defeat, but the success of all. Nor was my intention baffled; you have all overcome, as regards kindred, as regards nature, as regards Scripture which says, Why do ye not rather take wrong, why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?

6.  But perhaps you deem yourself aggrieved by the unfavourable issue of the suit, and by your pecuniary losses. Better surely for priests are the losses than the gains of the world; For it is more blessed to give than to receive. But perhaps you will say, I ought not to have been exposed to fraud, to have suffered injury, to undergo loss. What then? Would you have inflicted these things? But although you did not do so, he would have complained of |468 suffering them. Consider therefore what the Apostle says, Wliy do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? So one may almost say that he who suffers not a wrong, inflicts it, for he who is the stronger ought to be the one to bear it.

7.  But why do I treat with you as if this was my concern rather than your own? For in order to compound the quarrel you offered that for the time of her life your sister should possess part of the farm, but that after her death all the property should be ceded to your brother, and that no one should sue him either in your name or in that of the Church; but that, if he chose, he should hold it without being called on to dispense any portion to the Church. When I had declared this, and extolled the great grace of munificence which had thus been implanted in your mind, your brother replied that such an arrangement would be pleasing to him if all fear of injury to the property were removed. For how, he asked, could a woman, who was a widow besides, manage a property liable to tribute? How could it profit him, your yielding up to him your right of possession, if he supposed that greater losses would accrue to him from the bad cultivation of the land?

8.  The advocates on either side were influenced by these considerations. Wherefore, with the consent of all, it was determined that the honourable 2 Laetus should undertake the farm, and should pay yearly to your sister a certain quantity of corn wine and oil. By this means your holy sister was relieved from anxiety, not deprived of her rights; she relinquished, not the fruits but the labour, not the revenues, but the hazard as it is often called of an uncertain return of them. If violent storms of wind should destroy the harvest, your sister will still retain undiminished the fruits of the seed-time. Laetus will ascribe to himself the unfavourable conditions of the arrangment, and should the pressure of necessity from time to time and of extraordinary imposts become severe, your sister will stand clear both of Laetus' loss and of receiving benefits from you; |469 while Laetus will console himself with the proprietorship of the estate.

9.  Thus all have gained their point: Laetus, because he obtained the right over the property, which he had not before; your sister, because she will now enjoy the annual profits without dispute or strife; no one, however, will have gained so complete and glorious a victory as yourself, for together with the fulfilment of your bountiful dispositions towards your sister, you have rendered her partner of your fraternal union. For you have conceded, to your brother the property, to your sister the usufruct. But as regards the Church, nothing is lost to her which is gained to piety; for charity is no loss but a gain to Christ, charity also is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. And thus the cause has been concluded according to the Apostolic model. We used to grieve that you were at strife, but your strife has been profitable, because it has led you to put on the form of the Apostolical life and discipline. Your strife was unbecoming the priesthood, but this transaction befits even the Apostolic rule.

10.  And fear not that the Church should be placed out of the range of your bounty. She also partakes of your fruits, fruits even more plentiful, for she enjoys the fruit of your teaching, the service of your life, she has that fertility which you have watered by your discipline. Rich in these profits she seeks not temporal things, for she is in possession of what is eternal. But you have added not only Apostolical but also Evangelical fruits, for the Lord has said, Make to yourselves friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness. You also have made to yourself friends, and, what is remarkable, from those who were at variance with you. You have made brethren return under the laws of kindred, you have assured then by this charity and this grace that they shall be received into eternal habitations.

11.  Thus, under the guidance of Christ, and the directions of two priests, yourself, that is, who gave the first outline, and myself who gave the sentence, the peace which we have made will not fail; for there have been so many concurrent voices in favour of fidelity, that perfidy cannot be without punishment. |470 

12.  Laetus will now plough for his sister, whereas before he grudged her the services of others; Laetus will now gather the harvest for his sister, though he could not before endure the gifts of others; he will bear the fruits to the granaries of his sister, and this he shall do gladly 3, in renewed accordance with the proper signification of his name.

13.  You meanwhile, being conformed to the image of the Apostle of Christ, and assuming the prophetic authority, shall say unto the Lord, Thou hast possessed my reins. This possession better becomes Christ, that He may possess the virtues of His priest, that He may receive those fruits which belong to integrity and continence, and what is more, to charity and tranquillity.

Farewell; love me, for I also love you.


In this letter S. Ambrose praises Sisinnius for forgiving his son, who had married without his leave, and eompares him with some of the Saints of the Old Testament, and with the father in the parable of the prodigal son.


1.  Your forgiving our son at my request for having married a wife without your knowledge I attribute to your natural affection rather than to your regard for me; for it is better that natural affection should have gained this from you than any one's request. Assuredly it is in the triumph of virtue that the priest's petition has its chief success, for he then obtains most when virtue is powerful, his petition must always coincide with the dictates of natural affection. And nature and your son obtained the more fully their request, in that the consideration of requests is usually a brief matter, whereas the habit of virtue is lasting and natural affection permanent.

2.  It was indeed worthily done to recognize yourself to be a father, particularly since your cause for indignation was a just one; for I prefer to admit the fault, so that your fatherly indulgence may gain higher praise; for it was as |471 a father that you were offended; since you had a claim to exercise the choice of your judgment as to one to whom you were to become a father, and who was to be to you in the place of a daughter. For we obtain children either by nature or adoption; in nature it is a matter of chance; in adoption, of judgment; and we are more liable to blame in the case of our adopted than of our natural offspring; because it is ascribed to nature if our children by birth should happen to be degenerate, but that those who become ours by adoption or other such tie should prove unworthy of it is ascribed to our own mistake. You had therefore cause of displeasure against your son in this his choice of a wife to himself; you have also reason for forgiving him. For you have obtained a daughter for yourself without the danger of making a selection for yourself; if he has married well, he has obtained for you this advantage; if he has been deceived, you will make them better by receiving them into favour, but worse by disowning them.

3.  It is with riper judgment that a father chooses a bride for his son, but when she is brought by the son to his father, when she enters her father-in-law's roof as the chosen of her husband, their purpose of obedience is stronger, the son fearing lest his election should be disapproved, the daughter-in-law that her attentions may not be acceptable. While the distinction of the paternal choice elevates the one, the other is humbled by the fear of giving offence and bowed down by modesty. The son will not be able to throw blame on the wife, as if he himself were not answerable for any of those causes of offence which are wont to occur; on the contrary he will strive more diligently to obtain approbation of his judgment in regard of his wife, of his obedience in regard of himself.

4.  You have therefore acted the part of a good parent and pardoned readily, but still upon supplication; before this was made, you would have been not pardoning but sanctioning. When this was done, to defer pardon any longer would have been unprofitable to them and very painful to yourself, for your paternal affection could no longer have held out. |472 

5. Determined by motives of high devotion, Abraham, obeying the oracle of God, offered his son for a whole burnt sacrifice; and, as if destitute of natural affection, drew his sword, that no delay might obscure the brightness of the offering. But when he was commanded to spare his son he willingly sheathed his sword, and he who with this faithful intention was hastening to offer up his only son with still more zealous piety hastened to substitute a ram as a sacrifice.

7.  Joseph also, in order to get his younger brother to him, feigned anger against his brethren on the plea, that they had concerted an act of fraud. But when Judah, one of his brethren, fell at his feet, while the others wept, he was moved and overcome by fraternal affection and was no longer able to maintain his assumed severity, but sending away all witnesses he told them they were his brethren, and he that very Joseph whom they had sold. He added that he remembered not his own wrong, making brotherly excuses for the malice of their betrayal of him, and referring what was so blameworthy to higher and deeper causes; forasmuch as by the providence of God it must needs so have been, to the end that by passing over into Egypt he might supply his kindred's need of provisions from another country, and in the time of dearth assist in supporting his father and his father's sons.

8.  And what shall I say of holy David, who at the petition of one woman suffered his mind to be softened, and with paternal compassion received into his house his degenerate son, stained with his brother's blood?

9.  So that father in the Gospel, when the younger son had spent all the substance he had received from his father by riotous living, yet when he returned confessing that he had sinned against him, moved by the humility of a single sentence, gave him an affectionate greeting, fell upon his neck, commanded the best robe and a ring and shoes to be brought forth, and having thus honoured him with a kiss, and loaded him with gifts, entertained him with a sumptuous banquet.

10.  You have become an imitator of these by that parental affection whereby we approach nearest to the Divine |473 likeness, and therefore I have exhorted our daughter that, though it he winter, she should undertake the toil of the journey, for that she will pass the winter more commodiously not only in the mansion, hut also in the bosom of her father, now that wrath has given place to pardon. Moreover, that you may fully assimilate yourself to the likeness and pattern of the saints, you have accused those who by concocted falsehoods endeavoured to excite your mind against your son.

Farewell; love me, for I also love you.


A brief letter of assent and approval. 


1.  How ingenuous is the modesty with which you have commended yourself, in that you have consulted me concerning a matter which you did not approve, out of deference to your father that you might not injure piety, feeling safe that no reply could be made by me which was unbeseeming holy relationships.

2.  But I have willingly taken upon me your burdens, and have reconciled, I hope, the niece to her uncle. Truly I am ignorant with what view he desired that she should become his daughter-in-law, changing his own character of uncle for that of father-in-law. I need not add more, lest this also should be a cause of confusion.

Farewell my son, and love us, for we also love you.


S. Ambrose thanks Siricius for sending him letters by the Presbyter Syrus, whose speedy return he promises.


1. I am always pleased to receive a letter from you, but when you also send to me some of our fellow servants, as |474 you have now given our brother and co-presbyter Syrus a letter to me, my joy is doubled. I would however that this pleasure had been more lasting; for as soon as he had arrived he thought he must return, and this diminished my regret and added greatly to my estimation of him.

2.  For I love those presbyters and deacons who when they have performed their mission will not allow themselves to remain absent any longer from their duties. For the prophet says, I have not been weary in following thee. And who can be weary in following Jesus, when He Himself says, Come unto Me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Let us therefore never cease from following Jesus, which if we do we shall never fail, for He gives strength to them that follow Him. The more nearly you approach to the Source of power the stronger you will be.

3.  Often, while we are thus following Him, the adversaries say to us, Where is the word of the Lord? let it come now. But let us not grow weary in following Him, let us not be turned aside by meeting with this crafty question. It was said to the prophet, when he was thrown into prison, when he was cast into the pit of mire, Where is the word of the Lord? let it come now. But he followed him so much the more, and therefore attained the prize, and received the crowd; for following Jesus he was not weary; for there is no weariness in Jacob, neither shall sorrow be in Israel.

Farewell; love me, for I love one who loves me, and whom I regard as a father.


S. Ambrose speaks briefly in praise of Priscus. 


1. When Priscus, my friend and co-equal in age, was coming here, you gave him a letter to me, and now that |475 he is returning I give him the reply which I send both to duty and affection. By this service he has recompensed us both, for he has given me yours, and you mine, and therefore ought to reag the reward of this his service by an increase of favour.

Farewell, my brother; love me, for I love you.


A Letter of commendation. 


1.  My son Polybius, on his return from Africa, where he discharged the duties of the proconsulship with credit, passed some days with us, and inspired my heart with singular affection towards him.

2.  Then, when he wished to go from hence, he requested me to write to both of you. I promised to do so, and having dictated a letter delivered it to him superscribed with both your names. He asked for another; but I said that I had directed this to both of you according to our custom and usage, forasmuch as your holy minds are gratified not by the number of letters but by the association of names, and that, united as you were in feeling, you would not allow yourselves to be separated in name; farther, that to employ this compendious form of love was a prescribed part of my duty.

3.  Why need I say more? He asked for another, and I gave it, but so as neither to deny him what he asked, nor to change my accustomed mode of action. Thus he has a letter to deliver to each of you, for this was all he put forward, his having nothing for one, when he had delivered his letter to the other. And this office of undivided affection I may render to you without any danger of offence, or thought of division; especially since this form of writing is Apostolical, so that either one may write to many as Paul to the Galatians, or two to one, as we read, Paul a |476 Prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon.

Health to you; love me and pray for me, for I love you.


A friendly letter of commendation of Priscus. 


1. You entrusted my friend Priscus with a letter, which he delivered to me, and I now give mine in turn to Priscus. Continue to love Priscus, as you do, and even more than before; this I advise, because I also value my Priscus highly. For I feel towards him that ancient love, which from our childhood upwards has grown together with our years; but it is long since I saw him before, so that not only in name but from so long an interval of time he came to me as truly Priscus.

Farewell: love me your lover, for I also love you.


A brief acknowledgement of letters. 


1. Antiochus, a man of consular rank, delivered to me your Excellency's letter; nor did I neglect to reply to it; for I sent you a letter by my own messenger, and another occasion having offered, I sent, if I mistake not, a second. But since the offices of friendship are rather, I think, to be added to than balanced; it became my duty, especially on his return who had laid upon me such a debt of obligation by your letters, to make some return in the way of my own correspondence, that so I might stand clear with both of you, and he with you, bound as he was to bring you back what he had brought from you.

Farewell; love me, who love you. |477 


S. Ambrose dwells on the mutual love of himself and Antonius. 


1.  You never are silent in regard of me, nor ought I ever to complain of being neglected by your silence, knowing that I am not absent from your thoughts. For since you bestow that which is the most precious, how can you withhold that which many others receive, not so much from any habitual affection as from an interchange of civility.

2.  And even from my own feelings I can judge in turn of yours, and these lead me to believe that I am never absent from you, nor you from me, so closely are our souls united. Nor do I feel as if we ever required each others' letters, for I daily converse with you as if present in body, turning towards you my eyes, my affections, and all my regards.

3.  In such things as these I delight to cope with you; for, to speak openly with one who is inseparable from my heart, your letters make me ashamed. I beg therefore that you will cease to be always returning me thanks, for my services to you have their highest reward, if I may believe I have not been wanting in my duty towards you.

Farewell; love me, for I also love you.


A graceful letter of affection. 


1. Great is the beauty of your language, but that of your love is still more apparent, for your letters manifest to me the bright colours of your mind, blessed and most dear brother. The Lord give you His Grace and Blessing, |478 for in your letters I recognize your good wishes rather than my good deserts. For what merits of mine can equal such commendations as yours?

Love me, my brother, for I love you.

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

1. a It seems necessary to the sense here to insert 'quae' before 'obtexerent.'

2. b v. c. here is an abbreviation for vir clarissimus, a title of official rank, see note in p. 101.

3. 1 laetus

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