St. Ambrose of Milan, Letters (1881). pp. 67-137. Letters 11-20.
LETTER XI. [A.D.381.]
THIS letter, which, like the previous one, is really addressed to Gratian, though in accordance with custom formally superscribed with the names of all the three Emperors, urges him to support Damasus as the orthodox and duly elected Bishop of Rome, and to condemn his rival Ursinus, whose interference with their Council, and intrigues with the Arian party they also inform him of.
TO THE MOST GRACIOUS EMPERORS AND CHRISTIAN PRINCES, THE MOST GLORIOUS AND MOST BLESSED, GRATIAN, VALENTINIAN, AND THEODOSIUS, THE COUNCIL WHICH IS ASSEMBLED AT AQUILEIA.
1. YOUR enactments have indeed already provided, most gracious Princes, that the perfidy of the Arians may not any further either be concealed or diffused: for we do not conceive that the decrees of the Council will be without effect; for as regards the West, two individuals only have been found to dare to oppose the Council with profane and impious words, men who had previously disturbed a mere corner of Dacia Ripensis 1.
2. There is another subject which distresses us more, which, as we were assembled, it was our business to discuss duly, lest it should spread through the whole body of the Church diffused over the whole world, and so trouble all things. For though we were generally agreed that |68 Ursinus 2 could not have overreached your piety (though he allows nothing to be quiet, and amid the many urgencies of war would press upon you with his importunity) still lest your holy tranquillity of mind, which delights in having all persons in its care, should he swayed by the false adulation of that unreasonable person, we think it right, if you condescendingly allow it, to offer you our prayers and entreaties, not only to guard against what may be, but shuddering at past things also which have been brought about by his temerity. For if he found any vent for his audacity, where would he not spread confusion?
3. But if pity for a single person can sway you, much more let the prayer of all the Bishops move you. For which of us will be united to him in fellowship and communion when he has attempted to usurp a place not due to him, and one he could not lawfully have arrived at, and endeavours to regain in a manner most unreasonable what he was most unreasonable in aiming at? Often as he has been found guilty of turbulence, he still goes on, as if his past conduct should inspire no horror. He was often, as we ascertained and saw in the present Council, in union and combination with the Arians at the time when he endeavoured in company with Valens 3 to disturb the Church of Milan with their detestable assembly: holding private meetings sometimes before the doors of the synagogue and sometimes in the houses of the Arians, and uniting his friends to them; and, as he could not go openly himself to their congregations, teaching and informing them in what way the Church's peace might be disturbed. Their madness gave him fresh courage, so as well to earn the favour of their supporters and allies. |69
4. When therefore it is written; a man that is an heretic after4 one admonition reject,5 and when another man who spoke by the Holy Spirit has said that beasts such as these should be spurned and not received with greeting or welcome,6 how is it possible that we should not judge the person whom we have seen united to their society to be also a maintainer of their perfidy? What even if he were not there? We might still have besought your Graces not to allow the Roman Church, the Head of the whole Roman world, and the sacred faith of the Apostles to be disturbed; for from thence flow all the rights of venerable Communion to all persons. And therefore we pray and beseech you that you would condescend to take from him the means of stealing advantage from you.
5. We know your Graces' holy modesty: let him not press upon you words unbecoming your ears, or give his noisy utterance to what is alien from the office and name of a Bishop, or say to you what is unseemly. When he ought to have a good report even from those who are without,7 let your Graces condescend to recollect what was the testimony with which the men of his own city have followed him. For it is a shame to say and against modesty to repeat how disgraceful is the rumour, with the reproach of which he is wounded. The shame of this ought to have constrained him to silence, and if he partook in any degree of the feelings and conscience of a Bishop, he would prefer the Church's peace and concord to his own ambition and inclination. But, lost to all shame, he sends letters by Paschasius an excommunicated person, the standard bearer of his madness, and so sows confusion, and attempts to excite even Gentiles and abandoned characters.
6. We therefore entreat you to restore by the degradation of that most troublesome person the security which has been interrupted both to us Bishops and to the Roman people, which is at present in uncertainty and suspense since the memorial of the Prefect of the city. And on obtaining this let us in continuous and unbroken course offer thanksgivings to God the Almighty Father and to Christ our Lord God. |70
LETTER XII. [A.D.381]
THIS letter, referring to the settlement of affairs in the East, is really addressed to Theodosius, the Emperor of the East. After expressing the thanks due to the Emperors for the success which has attended their efforts to establish the true faith throughout the Empire, the Bishops beg that Theodosius will use his influence to settle the questions of disputed succession, which were vexing the Churches of Alexandria and Antioch, and endangering the maintenance of Communion between the East and West. They ask therefore that a general Council may be summoned to Alexandria to settle both questions.
TO THE MOST GRACIOUS AND CHRISTIAN EMPERORS, THE GLORIOUS AND MOST BLESSED PRINCES, GRATIAN, VALENTINIAN, AND THEODOSIUS, THE HOLY COUNCIL WHICH IS ASSEMBLED AT AQUILEIA.
1. MOST gracious Emperors and most blessed and most glorious princes, Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius, beloved of God the Father and of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, we are unable to match the benefits which your piety has conferred upon us, even with the most overflowing return of thanks. For now that, after many times of trial and various persecutions, which the Arians, especially Lucius 8, who marked his course by the impious murder of monks and virgins, and Demophilus 9 too, an evil source of perfidy, brought on the Catholics, all the Churches of |71 God, in the East especially, have been restored to the Catholics; while in the West scarce two heretics have been found to oppose the decrees of the Holy Council, who can conceive himself able to make an adequate acknowledgement of your goodness?
2. But though we cannot give full expression to your favours in words, we still desire to recompense them by the prayers of the Council; and though in all the several Churches we celebrate our daily vigils for your Empire before our God, still when assembled in one body, than which service we conceive nothing can be more glorious, we offer thanksgivings to our Almighty God both on behalf of the Empire, and of your own peace and safety, because peace and concord have been so shed over us through you.
3. In the West indeed only in two corners, on the borders of Dacia Ripensis and of Moesia did murmurs appear to have been raised against the faith: and these places after the sentence of the Council should, we conceive, be immediately provided for with your Graces' indulgence. But over all tracts and countries and village departments as far as the Ocean, the communion of the faithful remains one and unpolluted. And in the East we have had the greatest joy and delight in learning that the Arians, who had violently invaded the Churches, have been ejected, and that the sacred temples of God are frequented by Catholics alone.
4. But still since the envy of the Devil is never wont to rest, we hear that there are among the Catholics themselves frequent dissensions and implacable discord; and all our feelings are disturbed at ascertaining that many things have been innovated upon, and that persons are molested now who should have been relieved, men who continued always in our Communion. In short Timotheus Bishop of the Church of Alexandria, and Paulinus Bishop of the Church of Antioch 10, who always maintained the concord |72 of Communion with us inviolate, are said to be distressed by the variances of other persons, whose faith in former times was scarcely stedfast. These persons, if it be possible, and they are recommended by a sufficient faith, we would wish to have added to our fellowship: but without prejudice to the rights of those who share with us the ancient Communion. And our care for them is not superfluous, first of all because the fellowship of Communion should be clear of all offence, and secondly, because we have long since received letters from both parties, and particularly from those who were divided in the Church of Antioch.
5. Indeed if the irruption of the enemy 11 had not hindered, we had made arrangements to send thither some of our own number, to take the office of umpires and referees for diffusing peace again, should it be possible. But since our desires could not have accomplishment at that time owing to the troubles of the state, we think it right to offer our prayers to your Goodness, asking that by agreement 12 between the factions, on the death of the one, the rights of the Church should remain with the survivor, and that no additional consecration should be forcibly attempted. And therefore we request you, most gracious and Christian Princes, that you would have a Council of all Catholic Bishops held at Alexandria, that they may more fully discuss and define among themselves to |73 whom Communion is to be imparted and with whom it is to be maintained 13.
6. For though we have always supported the disposition and order of the Church of Alexandria, and according to the manner and custom of our predecessors we retain Communion with it in indissoluble fellowship to these present times, still lest it should be thought that persons have been neglected who have sought our Communion according to the agreement, which we wish should stand, or that the shortest road to that peace and fellowship of the faithful has not been taken, we pray you that when they have discussed these matters in a full assembly among themselves, the decrees of the Bishops may be furthered by the assistance ministered by your Goodness. And allow us to be made acquainted with this, that our minds may not waver in uncertainty, but that, full of joy and relieved from anxiety, we may return thanks to your goodness before Almighty God, not only that heresy is shut out, but also that faith and concord are restored to the Catholics. The prayer which the African and Gallic Churches offer you through their deputies is this, that you would make the Bishops over the whole world your debtors, though the debt already due to your excellence is not small.
7. To offer however our entreaties to your clemency and to obtain what we ask for, we have sent as deputies our brethren and fellow-presbyters, whom we pray you that you would condescend graciously to listen to, and allow to return speedily. |74
LETTER XIII. [A.D.382]
IN the year following the Council of Aquileia, a Council of the Bishops of the civil Diocese of Italy appears to have been held, over which S. Ambrose presided. It appears to have dealt principally with the questions at issue between the East and West. This letter was written by S. Ambrose in the name of the Council, after the end of its session ('in concilio nuper,' § 3), to Theodosius. The Bishops complain of the election of Flavian to succeed Meletius at Antioch, contrary to the compromise which they urged in the last letter, and maintain Maximus' claim to the see of Constantinople against Nectarius, urging again the necessity of a General Council of both East and West, to settle finally all the questions in dispute between them, and suggest that it should be held at Rome.
TO THE MOST BLESSED EMPEROR AND MOST GRACIOUS PRINCE THEODOSIUS, AMBROSE AND THE OTHER BISHOPS OF ITALY.
1. WE knew indeed that your holy mind was devoted to God in pure and sincere faith, but your Majesty has loaded us with fresh benefits in restoring the Catholics to the Churches. And I would that you could have restored the Catholics themselves to their ancient reverence, that they would innovate in nothing against the prescription of our ancestors, and not be hasty either to rescind what what they ought to maintain nor to maintain what they ought to rescind. Therefore we sigh, your Majesty, perhaps with too much grief, but not without sufficient reason, that it has proved easier to get the heretics expelled than to establish concord among the Catholics. For the extent of the confusion that has lately taken place is beyond expression.
2. We wrote to you not long ago, that since the city of Antioch had two Bishops, Paulinus and Meletius, both of whom we regarded as true to the faith, they should either agree with each other in peace and concord, preserving Ecclesiastical order, or at least, if one of them died before the other, no one should be put into the place of the deceased while the other lived. But now on the death of Meletius, while Paulinus is still alive, whom fellowship |75 derived from our predecessors uninterruptedly testifies to have remained in our Communion, another person is said to have been not so much supplied, as super-added, into the place of Meletius, contrary to right and to Ecclesiastical order.
3. And this is alleged to have taken place by the consent and advice of Nectarius 14, the regularity of whose ordination we are not clearly convinced of. For in a Council lately, when Maximus the Bishop, having read the letter of Peter a man of holy memory, had shewn that the communion of the Church of Alexandria remained with him, and had proved by the clearest testimony, that he was 15 consecrated by three Bishops ordaining by mandate within his private house, because the Arians were at that time in possession of the Basilicas, we had no cause, most blessed of Princes, to doubt of his episcopacy, when he testified that he resisted and was forcibly constrained by a majority of the laity and clergy.
4. Still that we might not appear to have settled any thing over-hastily in the absence of the parties, we thought it fit to inform your Grace by letter, in order that his case might be provided for so as best to serve the interests of public peace and concord, because in truth we perceived that Gregory claimed to himself the priesthood of the Church of Constantinople, by no means in accordance with the tradition of the Fathers. We therefore in that Synod, attendance at which appeared to have been prescribed to the Bishops of the whole world, were of opinion that nothing ought to be decided rashly. So at that particular time the persons who declined a general Council and who are said to have had one at Constantinople, where they had |76 ascertained that Maximus had come hither to plead his cause in the Synod (and this, even if a Council had not been proclaimed it was competent for him to do lawfully and according to the customs of our predecessors, as also Athanasius of holy memory, and since that Peter, brother Bishops of the Church of Alexandria, and several of the Eastern Bishops have done, so as to appear to have sought the decision of the Churches of Rome, of Italy, and of all the West) when, as we said, they saw that he wished to bring the question to a trial with those who denied his episcopate, they were surely bound to wait for our opinion upon it 16. We do not claim any special privilege of examining such matters, but we ought to have had a share in an united decision.
5. Last of all, it ought to have been decided whether he was to lose his See, before deciding whether another should receive it, especially by persons by whom Maximus complained that he was either deserted or injured. Therefore since Maximus the Bishop has been received into Communion by those of our fellowship on the ground that it was certain that he had been ordained by Catholics, we did not see that he ought to have been excluded from his claim to the Bishopric of Constantinople, and we thought that his allegation ought to be weighed in the presence of the parties.
But since we have learned recently that Nectarius has been ordained at Constantinople, we fear that our communion with the Oriental regions is broken, especially since Nectarius is said to have been left immediately without the fellowship of Communion by the very persons by whom he was ordained.
6. There is therefore no slight difficulty here. And it is not any contention about wishes and ambition of our own that makes us anxious, but we are greatly disturbed by the breaking up and interruption of communion. Nor do we see any way in which concord can be established except either by restoring to Constantinople the Bishop who |77 was first ordained, or at least having a Council of ourselves and of the Eastern Bishops at Rome, to consider the ordination of both of them.
7. Nor does it seem unbecoming, your Majesty, that the persons, who thought the judgement of Acholius, a single Bishop, so well worth waiting for, that they called him to Constantinople from the regions of the West, should be obliged to submit to the discussion of the Bishop of the Church of Rome, and of the Bishops of the neighbourhood and of Italy. If a question was reserved for a single individual, how much more should it be reserved for many?
8. We, however, as it has been suggested to us by the most blessed Prince, your Brother 17, that we should write to your Grace's Majesty, request that when the communion is one, you would be pleased that the judgement should be joint and the consent concurrent.
LETTER XIV. [A.D.382.]
This letter is a reply to one addressed to the Bishops of Italy by Theodosius, in answer to the last. He seems in it to have "undeceived them by informing them what Maximus was, and how different his ordination was from that of Nectarius. He represented to them that these affairs, and that of Flavian, ought to be judged in the East, where all the parties were present, and that there was no reason to oblige those of the East to come unto the West." (Fleury xviii, 17, vol. 1. p. 41 Newman's Transl). The Bishops in this reply thank the Emperor for his efforts to appease the differences between the East and West, and profess the disinterestedness of their desire for a general Council, and add, as an additional reason for it, the spread of opinions attributed to Apollinaris, which require to be examined into in the presence of the parties concerned.
TO THE MOST BLESSED EMPEROR AND MOST GRACIOUS PRINCE THEODOSIUS, AMBROSE AND THE OTHER BISHOPS OF ITALY.
1. THE knowledge of your faith, which is diffused over the whole world, has soothed the innermost feelings of our minds; and therefore, that your reign might have the additional glory of having restored unity to the Churches |78 both of the West and East, we have thought it right, most serene and faithful Emperor, at once to beseech and inform your Grace on Ecclesiastical subjects by our letter. For we have been grieved that the fellowship of holy Communion between the East and West was interrupted.
2. We say not a word by whose error or by whose fault this was, that we may not be supposed to be spreading fables and idle talk. Nor can we regret having made an attempt, the neglect of which might have turned to our blame. For it was often made matter of blame to us that we appeared to disregard the society of the Eastern brethren, and to reject their kindness.
3. We thought moreover that we ought to take this trouble on ourselves, not for Italy, which now for this long time has been quiet and free from anxiety on the part of the Arians, and which is troubled with no disturbance of the heretics; not for ourselves, for we seek not our own things, but the things of all; not for Gaul and Africa which enjoy the individual fellowship of all their Bishops, but that the circumstances which have disturbed our communion on the side of the East might be enquired into in the Synod, and all scruple be removed from among us.
4. For not only with regard to the persons about whom your Grace condescended to write, but with regard to others who are attempting to bring into the Church some dogma or other, said to be Apollinaris'18, there were several things that affected us, to which the knife should have been applied in the presence of the parties, that a person convicted of maintaining a new dogma and proved to be in error should not shelter himself under the general name of the Faith, but at once lay down both the office and name of Bishop, which he was not entitled to by authority of doctrine, and that no threads or artifices of delusion should remain for persons hereafter wishing to deceive. For the person who is convicted, not in the presence of the parties, as your Grace has truly decided in your august and princely answer, will always lay hold of a handle for reviving the enquiry. |79
5. This was why we asked for a Council of Bishops, that no one should be permitted to state what was false against a person in his absence, and that the truth might be cleared up by discussion in the Council. We ought not then to incur any suspicion either of over-zeal or over-leniency, seeing that we made all our observations in the presence of the parties.
6. In truth we drew up what was quoted, not to decide but to give information, and while we asked for a judgement, we offer no prejudgement. Nor ought it to have been regarded as any reproach to them, when Bishops were invited to the Council, who in many cases were more present by their very absence, since it contributed to the common good. For neither did we conceive it to be a reproach to us when a Presbyter of the Church of Constantinople, by name Paulus, demanded that there should be a Synod both of Eastern and Western Bishops in the province of Achaia.
7. Your Grace observes that this demand, which was made by the Greeks also, was not unreasonable. But, because there are disturbances in Illyricum 19, a neighbourhood near the sea and safer was sought. Nor have we indeed made any innovation in the way of precedent, but preserving the decisions of Athanasius of holy memory, who was as it were a pillar of the Faith, and of our holy fathers of old time in their Councils, we do not tear up the boundaries that our Fathers placed, or violate the rights of hereditary Communion, but reserving the honour due to your authority, we shew ourselves studious of peace and quietness 20. |80
THIS letter is addressed to the Bishops of Macedonia, in reply to their announcement of the death of Acholius 21, Bishop of Thessalonica. S. Ambrose pronounces a warm eulogium on the departed Bishop, whom he compares to Elijah, especially in leaving in Anysius a successor, like Elisha, endowed with a double portion of his spirit. He recounts the pleasure which he had felt in his intercourse with Acholius at Rome, when they had wept together over the evils of the times, and invokes the Blessing of God upon his successor.
AMBROSE TO ANATOLIUS, NUMERIUS, SEVERUS, PHILIP, MACEDONIUS, AMMIANUS, THEODOSIUS, EUTROPIUS, CLARUS, EUSEBIUS, AND TIMOTHEUS, PRIESTS OF THE LORD, AND TO ALL THE BELOVED CLERGY AND PEOPLE OF THESSALONICA, HEALTH.
1. WHILE longing to keep ever imprinted on my mind the holy man, and while I survey all his acts like one set on a watch-tower, my restless anxiety caused me to drink only too swiftly these bitter tidings, and I learned what I had rather still he ignorant of, that the man whom we were seeking on earth was already at rest in heaven.
2. You will ask who announced this to me, seeing that the letter of your Holinesses had not then arrived. I know not who was the hearer of the tidings: it is, you know, |81 men's wont not willingly to remember the bearer of tidings of sorrow: however, though the sea was then closed, and the land blocked by a barbarian invasion, there was no lack of a messenger, though it was impossible for any one to arrive from abroad; so that it appears to me the saint himself announced his own death to us, for now that he enjoyed the eternal recompense of his labours, and freed from the bands of the body, had been carried by the ministry of Angels to the intimate presence of Christ, he was desirous of removing the error of one who loved him, that we might not be asking for him length of mortal life, while he was already receiving eternal rewards.
3. This veteran then of Christ Jesus is not dead, but has departed and left us, he has changed for heaven this earth below, and clapping the pinions and wings of his spirit he exclaims, Lo, I have got me away far off! 22 For in the spirit of the Apostle he desired long ago to leave the earth, but he was detained by the prayers of all, as we read of the Apostle, because it was needful for the Church that he should abide longer in the flesh.23 For he lived not for himself but for all, and was to the people the minister of eternal life, so that he gained the fruit thereof in others, before he experienced it in himself.
4. Now therefore he is a citizen of heaven, a possessor of that eternal city Jerusalem, which is in heaven. There he sees the boundless circuit of this city, its pure gold, its precious stones, its perpetual light though without the sun. And seeing all these things whereof he before had knowledge, but which are now manifested to him face to face, he says, Like as we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God.24 Standing there he appeals to the people of God saying, O Israel, how great is the house of God, and how large is the place of His possession!25 Great is He, and hath none end.
5. But what is this? While I consider his merits, and follow as it were in spirit his departure, and mingle with the choirs of saints that escort him, not indeed by my desert but by my affection, meanwhile I have almost forgotten myself. Is then this wall of faith and grace and sanctity taken from us, that wall which, though frequently assaulted |82 by the Goths 26, their barbarian darts could never penetrate, nor the warlike fury of many nations overpower? They who in other places were spoilers there prayed for peace, and while they marvelled what was this unarmed force which opposed them, the wiser hinted that one like Elisha dwelt within, one who was nearly his equal in age, in spirit quite his equal, and bade them beware lest after the manner of the Syrian army, blindness should fall on them also.27
6. However the gifts of Christ to His disciples are various. Elisha led captive into Samaria the army of the Syrians, holy Acholius by his prayers caused the victors to retreat from Macedonia. Do we not see in this a proof of supernatural forces, that though no soldiers were at hand, the victors should thus fly without a foe; is not this too a proof of blindness that they should fly when no man pursued? Though in truth holy Acholius pursued and fought them, not with swords but prayers, not with weapons but good works.
7. Do we not know that the saints fight even when they keep holiday? Was not Elisha at rest? Yes, at rest in body, but in spirit he was active, and by his prayers he fought when the noise of horses and the noise of a great host were heard in the camp of the Syrians, so that they thought that the forces of other princes were marching against them, to succour the people of Israel. So they were seized with great panic and fled, and four lepers, who had gone out to seek for death, spoiled their camp.28 And did not the Lord work like, or, I might almost say, greater wisdom in Macedonia, by the prayers of Acholius? For it was not by an idle panic nor a vague suspicion, but by a raging plague and burning pestilence that the Goths were troubled and alarmed. In short they then fled that they might escape; afterwards they returned and sued for peace to save their lives.
8. Wherefore in the great deeds of this eminent man we |83 have seen former ages revived, and have witnessed those works of the prophet which we read of. Like Elisha he was all his life in the midst of arms and battles, and by his good works made wars to cease. And when tranquillity was restored to his countrymen, he breathed out his holy soul, a misfortune heavier than war itself. Like Elijah he was carried up to heaven,29 not in a chariot of fire, nor by horses of fire, (unless haply it was but that we saw them not) nor in any whirlwind in the sky, but by the will and in the calm of our God, and with the jubilation of the holy Angels who rejoiced that such a man had come among them.
9. Surely we cannot doubt this, when all other particulars agree so well. For at the very moment when he was being taken up, he let fall so to speak the vestment which he wore, and invested with it holy Anysius his disciple, and clothed him with the robes of his own priesthood. His merits and graces I do not now hear for the first time, nor have I first learnt them from your letters, but I recognised them in what you wrote. For as if foreknowing that he would be his successor, Acholius designated him as such by tokens, though in open speech he concealed it; saying that he had been aided by his care, labour, and ministry, thus seeming to declare him his coadjutor, one who would not come as a novice to the chief office of the priesthood, but as a tried performer of its duties. Well does that saying in the Gospel befit him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.30
10. So far both you and I participate in holy Acholius, but there is this special bond between him and me, that the man of blessed memory suffered me to become his friend. For on his arrival in Italy, when I was prevented by illness from going to meet him, he himself came and visited me. With what ardour, with what affection did we embrace each other! With what groans did we lament the evil of the times, and all that was happening here! Our garments were bedewed with a flood of tears, while in the enjoyment of our meeting long and mutually desired, we remained locked in each others embrace. Thus what |84 I had long yearned for he bestowed, the opportunity of seeing him. For although it is in the spirit, the seat of love, that the greater portion and more perfect knowledge lies, yet we desire to behold our friends in bodily form also. Thus formerly the kings of the earth sought to behold the face of Solomon, and to hear his wisdom.31
11. He is gone then from us, and has left us tossed on this sea; what is a benefit to him is to the many a heavier calamity than even the rage of the barbarians; for this he repelled, and now who shall bring back his presence to us? Nay, the Lord brings it back, and he himself gives himself back in his disciple. Your judgements give him back, by which you say, Give to Levi his manifest one, and his truths to Thy holy one.32 You have given his manifest one33 inasmuch as he is established by his appointment; you have given a follower of that man, who said unto his father and to his mother I have not seen thee; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children. He observed the word of the Lord, and kept His covenant. The people will tell of his wisdom.34
12. Such was the man's life, such his heritage, such his conversation, such his succession. While yet a boy he entered a monastery, and though shut up in a narrow cell in Achaia, yet by grace he traversed the spaces of many countries. The people of Macedonia besought that he might be their Bishop, the priesthood elected him to that office, that where the faith had before been maimed 35 by the Bishop, there afterwards the solid foundations of the faith might be established by the Bishop.
13. None other did his disciple imitate, who also himself said unto his father and to his mother I have not seen thee.36 He saw them not with affection, he saw them not with desire, and he knew not his brethren, because he desired to know the Lord. He observed also the word of the Lord and kept His covenant, and will ever offer |85 sacrifice upon His altar. Bless, O Lord, his faith, his holiness, his assiduity. Let Thy blessing descend upon his head and upon his neck. Let him be honourable among his brethren, let him be as the leader of the herd.37 Let him sift the hearts of his enemies, let him soothe the minds of the saints, and let the judgement of Thy priests flourish in him as a lily. Brethren, farewell, and love me, as I love you.
LETTER XVI. [A.D.383.]
This letter is addressed to Anysius, immediately on his election as successor to Acholius, in answer apparently to one from Anysius, which accompanied that from the Bishops of Macedonia, and announced his appointment. He speaks of the responsibility of succeeding so zealous a Bishop as Acholius, whom he praises in enthusiastic terms, and prays that (iod may make him a worthy successor in every way.
BISHOP AMBROSE TO HIS BROTHER ANYSIUS.
1. I HAVE been for some time sure of what I now read for the first time, and I know well by his merits him whom my eyes have not seen. I grieve that the one event should have happened, I rejoice that the other has ensued; I should have wished that the one had not happened in my lifetime, but it was my hope that after the death of that holy man this alone would ensue, as it ought. So now we have you, once the disciple, now the successor of Acholius of blessed memory, the inheritor alike of his rank and of his grace. This is a great merit, my brother. I congratulate you that there was not a moment's doubt who should be the successor of so great a man. It is a great task too, my brother, to have taken upon you the burden of so great a name, a name of such weight, of such a scale. In you we look for Acholius, and as he was in your affections, so in your ministry is required a copy of his virtue, of his holy life, his vigorous mind in that decrepit body.
2. I have seen him, I confess: my seeing him is due to his merits: I saw him in such sort in the body as to believe |86 him to be out of the body: I saw the image of him who, knowing not whether it was in the body or out of the body, saw himself transported to Paradise.38 With such rapid speed had he traversed every region, Constantinople, Achaia, Epirus, and Italy, that younger men could not keep pace with him. Men of stronger bodies yielded to him, knowing that he was free from the shackles of the body, so that he used it more as a covering than as an instrument, at all events that it was his slave not his helpmate, for he had so trained his body that he crucified the world in it, and himself to the world.
3. Blessed is the Lord, and blessed was His youth which He passed in the tabernacle of the God of Jacob, abiding in a monastery, in which, when sought after by His parents and relations He said, Who is My mother, and who are My brethren? 39 I know not father, nor mother, nor brethren, save those who hear the Word of God, and do it. Blessed also were his maturer years, wherein he was elected to the chief priesthood, having given proof of his virtue by a long service. He came like David to restore peace to the people.40 He came like that ship bringing with him spiritual treasure, and cedar wood, and precious stones, and those silver wings of a dove, with which, lying in the midst of the lots,41 she slept the sleep of tranquillity and peace.
4. For even the sleep of the saints is operative, as it is written, I sleep, but my heart waketh,42 and as holy Jacob saw in sleep divine mysteries, which waking he saw not,43 even a passage opened for the saints between earth and heaven, and the Lord regarding him and promising to him the possession of that land. Thus by a brief sleep he attained that which his successors afterwards won by great toil. The sleep of the saints is free from all bodily pleasures, from all perturbation of mind, it brings tranquillity to the mind and peace to the soul, so that, freed from the fetters of the body, it raises itself aloft, and is united to Christ.
5. This sleep is the life of the saints, the life which holy Acholius lived, whose old age was also blest. That old age is truly venerable which is hoary not with gray hairs |87 but in good deeds; for those hoar hairs are reverent which belong to the soul, whose works and thoughts are, as it were, white and shining. For what is true old age, but that unspotted life, which lasts not for days or months but for ages, whose continuance is without end, whose length of years is without weakness?44 For the longer it lives the stronger it waxes; the longer its life lasts the more vigorously does it grow unto a perfect man.
6. May God then approve you his successor not only in honor but also in conversation, and may He deign to establish you in His highest grace, that the people may flock to you also, and you may say often, Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves with their young? 45 Let them come also as the ships of Tarshish, and take in corn which the true Solomon gives, even twenty measures of wheat.46 Let them receive the oil and wisdom of Solomon, and let there be peace between thee and thy people, and keep thou the covenant of peace. Brother, farewell: love me, for I too love you.
LETTER XVII. [A.D.384.]
This letter was addressed to the Emperor Valentinian the 2nd at the time when a deputation from the Senate at Rome, headed by Symmachus, were seeking to obtain from him the restoration of the statue and altar of Victory. The facts relating to this statue form so important a page in the history of the gradual suppression of paganism in the Empire, that it may be well to give a brief outline of them, especially as this and the following letter, and the 'Memorial of Symmachus' which accompanies them, contain several allusions to them. Constantius 2nd, son of Constantine, when at Rome in 356 A.D., ordered the statue of Victory which stood in the senate-house, 'a majestic female standing on a globe, with flowing garments, expanded wings, and a crown of laurel in her outstretched hand' (Gibbon, ch. xxviii.) and the altar which stood before it, at which the senators were sworn, to he removed, as an offence to the Christians. The altar was restored by Julian, along with the other disused symbols and rites of paganism. It was tolerated by Valentinian 1st, who probably did not venture at once to overthrow Julian's work, (see Memorial of Symmachus § 7, 8) though S. Ambrose (Lett. xvii. § 16) rhetorically represents him as pleading that he was not aware of its being there, and that no one had complained to him of its presence. It was once more removed by Gratian, (sec Lett. |88 xvii. § 16.) The pagan party in the Senate then made great efforts to procure its restoration. Gibbon (ch. xxviii. note 13.) enumerates four successive deputations sent by them with this object, 'the first, A. D. 382, to Gratian, who refused them audience, the second, A.D. 384, to Valentinian, the third, A.D. 388, to Theodosius, the fourth, A. D. 392, to Valentinian.' The two letters of S. Ambrose and the Memorial of Symmachus refer to the second of these deputations. In this first one he presses on the Emperor his duty and responsibility as a Christian Emperor, urges that the heathens have deprived themselves of any equitable claim by their persecution of the Christians in former times; asserts that the petition is only that of a minority of the Senate, just as had been the case years before, when they applied to Gratian. He then asks for a copy of the Memorial, in order to answer it in full, and warns Valentinian that he will find no Bishop to admit him to any share in Christian worship if he inflicts this insult on their faith, and reminds him of his brother and father, who would rise from the grave to reproach him.
Though called Letters, these two documents are rather state-papers. S.Ambrose himself in the latter speaks of the former as a 'libellus,' the term usually applied to petitions or memorials.
BISHOP AMBROSE TO THE MOST BLESSED PRINCE AND CHRISTIAN EMPEROR VALENTINIAN.
1. As all who are under the dominion of Rome are enlisted to serve you, the emperors and kings of the earth, so you yourselves are enlisted to serve Almighty God and our holy Faith. For safety cannot he imperilled, save when every man is a sincere worshipper of the true God, the God of the Christians, who governs all things; for He is the only true God, and is to he worshipped by the inmost spirit. As for all the gods of the heathen, they are but idols, as the Scripture saith.47
2. Now he that is the soldier of this, the true God, and worships Him in his inmost spirit, offers to Him no insincere or lukewarm service, but a zealous faith and devotion. At any rate no one ought to give his consent to the worship of idols and the observance of profane ceremonies. For no man can deceive God, before Whom all the secrets of the heart are manifest.
3. Seeing then, most Christian Emperor, that not only faith, but the very zeal and care and devotion of faith, is due from you to God, I wonder how some men can have conceived the thought that it was your duty to command the restoration of altars to the gods of the Gentiles, and to |89 bestow money for the purposes of profane sacrifices. For if you give what has long been appropriated to the emperor's privy purse or the city treasury 48, you will seem to be giving out of what is your own rather than refunding to others what belongs to them.
4. The men who now complain of their losses are those who never spared our blood, and have even laid in ruins the very structures of our Churches. The men who ask for privileges are they who denied to us by the late law of Julian 49 the common right of speaking and teaching, privileges too whereby even Christians have often been deceived, for by these means they sought to entrap some persons, either unawares or else by the desire to avoid the burthen of public duties. And since all men have not courage, many even under Christian Emperors have lapsed.
5. Even had these things never been repeated, I could have proved that your authority ought to have abolished them, but now that they have been severally forbidden by many previous Emperors and abolished at Rome in the interests of the true Faith by your Majesty's brother Gratian of illustrious memory, and abolished by a formal rescript, do not, I beseech you, pluck up again these Christian ordinances, nor rescind your brother's injunctions. In civil matters, if ought is decreed, no man considers that it should be overthrown, and shall a religious precept be trampled on?
6. Let no man beguile your youth; if he be a heathen who asks this of you, let him not ensnare your mind in the bonds of his own superstition, rather his very zeal ought to admonish you with what ardour you ought to defend the true Faith, when he with all the warmth of truth defends falsehood. I myself urge you to shew deference to the merits of illustrious men; but it is certain that God ought to be obeyed above all. |90
7. When we have to consult on military matters we should look for the opinion of one who is versed in war, and follow his counsel; when we treat of religion God is to be considered. No man is injured by Almighty God being preferred before him. He may keep his own opinion, you do not constrain any man to worship against his will, and your Majesty ought to have the same liberty, and every one should be content to be unable to extort from the Emperor, what it would be a hardship for the Emperor to desire to extort from him. The very heathen are wont to be displeased by a double-minded man, for every man ought boldly to defend the faith of his own heart, and to maintain his purpose.
8. But if any who call themselves Christians conceive that you should make such a decree, let not bare words affect your mind, let not idle names deceive you. Whoever persuades to this, or decrees it, offers sacrifice to the gods. Yet it is more tolerable that one should sacrifice than that all should fall. Here the whole Senate of Christians is in danger.
9. If at the present day, (which God forbid) an heathen Emperor were to erect an altar to false gods, and compel the Christians to assemble there, in order for them to be present at the sacrifice, so that the breath and mouth of the faithful might be tainted with ashes from the altar, with sparks from the sacrilege, with smoke from the pile, and should force them to vote in a house in which the members were sworn at the altar of an idol, (for on this account it is that they maintain that an altar should be set up, namely, that every one should consult for the public weal, under the obligation of what they consider its sanctity, although the majority of the Senate now consists of Christians,) if this, I say, were the case, Christians would consider themselves persecuted, if they were compelled by such an alternative to come to the assembly, and indeed it is often by violence that they are compelled to come: shall Christians then in your reign be compelled to swear on the altar? What is an oath, but an acknowledgement of the divine power of him whom you call upon to attest your truthfulness? Is it in your reign that the request and demand is |91 made, that you bid an altar to be erected, and money expended on profane sacrifices?
10. But this cannot be decreed without sacrilege, and so I beg you not to decree or order it, nor to subscribe any such decree. I appeal to your faith as a minister of Christ; all the Bishops would have appealed with me, had not this report which has reached men's ears that such a thing was either propounded in your Council or petitioned for by the Senate, been so sudden and incredible. But let it not be said that the Senate have petitioned for this; a few heathen have usurped the name of all. For nearly two years ago on an attempt of this kind, holy Damasus the Bishop of the Roman Church, chosen by the judgment of God, sent me a document which the Christian senators in large numbers had presented, declaring that they gave no commission of the sort, that they did not agree or consent to such petitions of the heathen, and they threatened that they would not come either publicly or privately to the Senate if such a decree was made. Is it worthy of your reign, that is of a Christian reign, that Christian senators should be deprived of their dignity, that the profane wishes of the heathen may be carried into effect? This document I sent to your Majesty's brother 50, and it proves that the Senate gave no commission to the deputies about the expenses of superstition.
11. But perhaps it may be said, Why then were they not present in the Senate, when these things were brought forward? They say plainly enough what they wish, by not being present; they have said enough in addressing your Majesty. And yet we need not wonder if they who will not concede to your Majesty the liberty of refusing to command that which you do not approve, or of maintaining your own opinion, should deprive private men at Rome of the right of resistance.
12. Remembering then the commission so lately laid upon me, I again appeal your own faith, I appeal to your own sentiments, not to give your answer in accordance with this heathen petition, or sign your name to such an answer, for it would be sacrilegious. Consult him who |92 is your Excellency's father, the Emperor Theodosius, to whom you have been wont to refer in all causes of importance; and nothing can be graver than religion, more exalted than faith.
13. Were this a civil matter, the right of reply would be reserved for the opposing party: it is a matter of religion, and I, as Bishop, appeal to you, I request to be furnished with a copy of the Memorial which has been sent, that I may answer more at large; and so let your Majesty's father be consulted on the whole matter and vouchsafe a gracious answer. Assuredly should the decree be different, we as Bishops cannot quietly permit and connive at it; it will indeed be in your power to come to the Church, but there you will either not find a priest, or you will find one purposed to resist.
14. What answer will you give to the priest when he says to you, 'the Church seeks not your gifts, because you have adorned the heathen temples with gifts; the Altar of Christ rejects your gifts, because you have erected altars to idols, for it was your word, your hand, your signature, your act: the Lord Jesus refuses and repels your service, because you have served idols, for He has said to you, Ye cannot serve two masters? 51 The Virgins dedicated to God enjoy no privileges from you, and do the vestal Virgins claim them? What do you want of the priests of God, when you have preferred to them the profane petitions of the heathen? We cannot enter into fellowship with the errors of others.'
15. What will you answer to this charge? That it is a boyish error? Every age is perfect in Christ, and fulfilled with God. No childhood in faith can be admitted; for children confronted with their persecutors have boldly confessed Christ.
16. What answer will you make to your brother? Will he not say to you, 'I would not believe myself conquered, for I left you Emperor, I regretted not to die, because you were my successor, I grieved not that I was withdrawn from power, because I believed that my edicts, specially those concerning religion, would continue for ever. These were the memorials of piety and virtue which I had erected, |93 these trophies of victory over the world, these the spoils of the devil, of the adversary of all, which I had offered up, and in which lies eternal victory. What more could an enemy have deprived me of? You have abrogated my decrees; an act which even he who took up arms against me 52 has not yet committed. Now am I pierced with a more deadly weapon, in that my brother has annulled my ordinances. Your acts tend to the injury of my better part, for while the one destroys my body the other destroys my good name. Now are my laws repealed, repealed too (which makes it more painful) by your adherents and by mine; that very thing which even my enemies had praised in me is repealed. If you have willingly acquiesced, you have condemned the Faith which I held, if you have yielded reluctantly, you have betrayed your own. And so, what is a still heavier calamity, I incur danger in your person also.'
17. What answer will you make to your father 53, who with still greater grief will address you, saying: 'You have judged very wrongly of me, my son, in supposing that I could have winked at the heathen. No man ever informed me that there was an altar in the Roman Senate house 54; never could I have believed such a crime as that heathen sacrifices should be performed in that common council of Christians and heathens, that is to say, that the heathen should triumph in the presence of Christians, and Christians should be compelled against their wills to be present at sacrifices. Many and various were the crimes committed during my reign, those that were discovered I punished, and if any man escaped unnoticed, is it just to say that I approved that which no one informed me of? You have judged most wrongly of me, if you suppose that a foreign superstition and not my own faith preserved to me the empire.'
18. Wherefore, your Majesty, seeing that if you make |94 any such decree, you will injure, first God, and next your father and brother, I beseech you to do that which you know will be profitable to your salvation in the sight of God.
THE MEMORIAL OF SYMMACHUS, PREFECT OF THE CITY.
THE occasion on which this Memorial was presented is stated in the introduction to the last letter. It is addressed formally to the three Emperors Valentinian, Theodosius, and Arcadius, but really to Valentinian only, who was at that time sole Emperor of the West. Symmachus was the leading orator and scholar of his day, and his plea is composed with much skill and vigour. Gibbon (ch. xxviii.) expresses hearty admiration of the caution with which he 'avoids every topic which might appear to reflect on the religion of his sovereign, and artfully draws his arguments from the schools of rhetoric rather than from those of philosophy,' and gives a summary of its contents in a tone of keen appreciation, as might be expected. We may allow, with Cave (Life of S. Ambrose 3, 3.) that 'it was the best plea the cause would bear.'
1. As soon as the honourable Senate, ever faithful to your Majesty, learnt that offences were made amenable to law, and that the character of past times was being redeemed by pious governors, it hastened to follow the precedent of better times, and give utterance to its long repressed grief, and commissioned me once more to be the spokesman of its complaints, for I was before refused access to the deceased Emperor by evil men, because otherwise justice could never have failed me, most noble Emperors Valentinian, Theodosius and Arcadius, victorious and triumphant, ever illustrious.
2. Filling then a twofold office, as your Prefect I report the proceedings of the Senate 55, as the envoy of the citizens I offer to your favourable notice their requests. Here is no opposition of wills. Men have ceased to believe that disagreement proves their superiority in courtly zeal. To be loved, to be the object of respect and affection is more than sovereignty. Who could suffer private contests to injure the commonwealth? Justly does the |95 Senate assail those who prefer their own power to the honour of the prince.
3. It is our duty to be watchful for your Majesties. The very glory of this present time makes it the more fitting that we should maintain the customs of our ancestors, the laws and destinies of our country; for it conduces to this glory that you should know it is not in your power to do anything contrary to the practice of your parents. We ask the restoration of that state of religion under which the Republic has so long prospered. Let the Emperors of either sect and either opinion be counted up; a late Emperor observed the rites of his ancestors, his successor did not abolish them. If the religion of older times is no precedent, let the connivance of the last Emperors 56 be so.
4. Who is so friendly with the barbarians as not to require an altar of Victory? Hereafter we must be cautious, and avoid a display of such things. But let at least that honour be paid to the name which is denied to the Divinity 57. Your fame owes much, and will owe still more, to Victory. Let those detest this power, who were never aided by it, but do you not desert a patronage which favours your triumphs. Vows are due to this power from every man, let no one deny that a power is to be venerated which he owns is to be desired.
5. But even if it were wrong to avoid this omen, at least the ornaments of the Senate-house ought to have been spared. Permit us, I beseech you, to transmit in our old age to our posterity what we ourselves received when boys. Great is the love of custom. And deservedly was the act of the deified Constantius of short duration. You ought to avoid all precedents which you know to have thus been reversed. We are solicitous for the endurance of your name and glory, and that a future age may find nothing to amend.
6. Where shall we swear to observe your laws and statutes? by what sanction shall the deceitful mind be deterred from bearing false witness? All places indeed are full of God, nor is there any spot where the perjured can |96 be safe, but it is of great efficacy in restraining crime to feel that we are in the presence of sacred things. That altar binds together the concord of all, that altar appeals to the faith of each man, nor does any thing give more weight to our decrees than that all our decisions are sanctioned, so to speak, by an oath. A door will thus be opened to perjury, and this is to be approved of by the illustrious Emperors, allegiance to whom is guarded by a public oath!
7. But Constantius, of sacred memory, is said to have done the same thing. Be it so, let us then imitate his other actions, feeling sure that had any one committed this error before his time, he would never have fallen into it. For the fall of one is a warning to his successor, and the censure of a previous example causes amendment. It was allowable for this predecessor of your Majesties to incur offence in a novel matter, but how can the same excuse avail us, if we imitate that which we know was disapproved?
8. Will your Majesties listen to other acts of this same Emperor more worthy of your imitation? He left uncurtailed the privileges of the sacred virgins, he filled the priestly office with men of noble birth, he allowed the cost of the Roman ceremonies, and following the joyful Senate through all the streets of the eternal city, he beheld with serene countenance the temples, reading the names of the gods inscribed on their pediments, he enquired after the origin of the sacred edifices, and admired their founders. Although he himself professed another religion he maintained the ancient one for the Empire; for every man has his own customs, his own rites. The Divine mind has distributed to cities various guardians and various ceremonies. As each man that is born receives a soul, so do nations receive a genius who guards their destiny. Here the proof from utility comes in, which is our best voucher with regard to the Deity. For since our reason is in the dark, what better knowledge of the gods can we have than from the record and evidence of prosperity? And if a long course of years give their sanction to a religion, we ought to keep faith with so many centuries, and to follow our |97 parents, as they followed with success those who founded them.
9. Let us suppose Rome herself to approach, and address you in these terms: ' Excellent Emperors, Fathers of your country, respect these years to which pious rites have conducted me. Let me use the ancient ceremonies, for I do not repent of them. Let me live in my own way, for I am free. This worship reduced the world under my laws; these sacred rites repulsed Hannibal from the walls, and the Gauls from the Capitol. Am I reserved for this, to be censured in my old age? I am not unwilling to consider the proposed decree, and yet late and ignominious is the reformation of old age.'
10. We pray therefore for a respite for the gods of our fathers and our native gods 58. That which all venerate should in fairness be accounted as one. We look on the same stars, the heaven is common to us all, the same world surrounds us. What matters it by what arts each of us seeks for truth? We cannot arrive by one and the same path at so great a secret; but this discussion belongs rather to persons at their ease, it is prayers not arguments which we now offer.
11. What advantage accrues to your treasury from the abolition of the privilege of the Vestal virgins? Shall that be denied under princes the most munificent which the most parsimonious have granted? Their sole honour consists in their wages, so to speak, of chastity. As their fillets adorn their heads, so is it esteemed by them an honour to be free to devote themselves to the ministry of sacrifices. It is but the bare name of exemption which they ask, for their poverty exonerates them from any payment. So that he who reduces their means, contributes to their praise, for virginity dedicated to the public welfare is meritorious in proportion as it is without reward.
12. Far be such gains from the purity of your treasury. The exchequer of good princes should be replenished by |98 the spoils of enemies, not by the losses of ministers of religion. And is the gain any compensation for the odium? Those whose ancient resources are cut off only feel it the more acutely in that you are free from the charge of avarice. For under Emperors who keep their hands from other men's goods and check desire what does not excite the cupidity of the spoiler must be taken solely with a view of injuring the person robbed.
13. The Imperial Exchequer retains also lands bequeathed by the will of dying persons to the sacred virgins and priests. I implore you, as Priests of justice, to restore to the sacred functionaries of your city the right of inheritance. Let men dictate their wills in peace, knowing that under equitable princes their bequests will be undisturbed. Men are wont to take pleasure in this security, and I would have you sympathise with them, for the precedent lately set has begun to harass them on their death-beds. Shall it be said that the religion of Rome appertains not to Roman laws? What name shall we give to the taking away of legacies which no law no casualty has made void? Freedmen may take legacies, slaves are allowed 59 a due latitude of bequeathing by will, only the noble virgins and ministers of sacred rites are excluded from inheriting lands devised to them. What advantage is it to dedicate one's virginity to the public safety, and to support the immortality of the empire with heavenly protection, to conciliate friendly powers to your arms and eagles, to take upon oneself vows salutary for all, and to refrain from commerce with mankind in general? Slavery then is a happier condition, whose service is given to men. It is the state which is wronged, whose interest it never is to be ungrateful.
14. Let me not be supposed to be defending the cause of the ancient religions only; from acts of this kind all the calamities of the Roman nation have arisen. The laws of our ancestors provided for the Vestal virgins and the ministers of the gods a moderate maintenance and just privileges. This gift was preserved inviolate till the time of the degenerate moneychangers, who diverted the |99 maintenance of sacred chastity into a fund for the payment of base porters. A public famine ensued on this act, and a bad harvest disappointed the hopes of all the provinces. The soil was not here in fault, we ascribe no influence to the stars, no mildew blighted the crops, nor did tares choke the corn, it was sacrilege which rendered the year barren, for it was necessary that all should lose that which they had denied to religion.
15. By all means, if there is any instance of such an evil, let us attribute this famine to the effect of the seasons. An unhealthy wind has caused this blight, and so life is supported by means of shrubs and leaves, and the peasants in their want have had resource once more to the oaks of Dodona 60. When did the provinces suffer such a calamity, so long as the ministers of religion were supported by the public bounty? When were oaks shaken for the food of man, when were roots dug up, when were opposite regions of the earth cursed with sterility, so long as provisions were furnished in common to the people and to the sacred virgins? The produce of the earth was blessed by its support of the priests, and thus the gift was rather in the nature of a safeguard than of a largess. Can it be doubted that the gift was for the common benefit, now that a general scarcity has attended its discontinuance?
16. But it may be said that public aid is rightly refused to the cost of an alien religion. Far be it from good rulers to suppose that what has been bestowed from the common stock on certain individuals is within the disposal of the Imperial treasury. For as the commonwealth consists of individuals, so that which comes from it becomes again the property of individuals. You govern all, but you preserve for each his own, and justice has more power with you than arbitrary will. Consult your own generous feelings, whether that ought still to be deemed public property which has been conferred on others. Gifts once devoted to the honour of the city are placed out of the power of the donors, and that which originally was a free-gift becomes by usage and length of time a debt. Vain therefore is the fear which |100 they would impress upon your minds who assert that unless you incur the odium of withdrawing the gift you share the responsibility of the donors of it.
17. May the unseen patrons of all sects be propitious to your Majesties, and may those in particular who of old assisted your ancestors, aid you and be worshipped by us. We ask for that religious condition which preserved the empire to your Majesties' father 61, and blessed him with lawful heirs. That venerable sire beholds from his starry seat the tears of the priests, and feels himself censured by the infraction of that custom which he readily observed.
18. I beg you also to amend for your departed brother what he did by the advice of others, to cover the act by which he unknowingly offended the Senate. For it is certain that the reason why the embassage was refused admittance was, to prevent the decision of the state from reaching him. It is due to the credit of past times to abolish without hesitation that which has been found not to have been the doing of the Emperor.
LETTER XVIII. [A.D.384.]
THIS is S. Ambrose's answer to the Memorial of Symmachus which precedes it. In it he replies in detail to the arguments which Symmachus had advanced, and meets him on his own ground. It is to be remembered in forming an estimate of it, that it is simply a state paper, adopting both the style and method natural to such a document. That it is over rhetorical for our taste may at once be allowed, for that is the character of the literature of the time generally; that it is not so perfect a specimen of the style, regarded merely as a piece of argument, as the document to which it replies, may be granted without disparagement to S. Ambrose, for Symmachus "stood foremost among his contemporaries as a scholar, a statesman, and an orator." (Dict. of Biog. sub voc.) But he fairly meets and refutes Symmachus' arguments, and his retort of his adversary's personification of Rome is happy and telling. The earlier portion is more vigorous than the latter, which is overwrought, especially in the argument against maintaining things as they were. The abundance of allusions to, and quotations of, Virgil are characteristic of the age, and evidences of S. Ambrose's early training in the education of a Roman of high birth and rank. |101
BISHOP AMBROSE TO THE MOST BLESSED PRINCE AND GRACIOUS EMPEROR, HIS MAJESTY VALENTINIAN.
THE honourable 62 Symmachus, Prefect of the city, having memorialised your Majesty that the altar, which had been removed from the Senate-house at Rome, ought to be restored to its place, and your Majesty, whose years of nonage and inexperience are yet unfulfilled, though a veteran in the power of faith, not having sanctioned the prayer of the heathen, I also as soon as I heard of it presented a petition, in which, though it embraced all that seemed necessary to be said, I requested that a copy of the Memorial might be furnished to me.
2. Now therefore, not as doubting your faith, but as providing for the future, and assured of a righteous judgement, I will reply to the allegations of the Memorial, making this one request, that you will not look for elegance of phrases but force of facts. For as Holy Scripture teaches us, the tongue of learned and wise men is golden, and endowed with highly-decked words, and glittering with splendid elegance as with the brightness of some rich colour, and so captivates and dazzles the eyes of the mind with a shew of beauty. But this gold, if closely handled, may pass current outwardly, but within is base metal. Consider well, I beseech you, and sift the sect of the Heathens; their professions are grand and lofty, but what they espouse is degenerate and effete, they talk of God but worship idols.
3. The propositions of the honourable Prefect of the city, to which he attaches weight, are these, that Rome (as he asserts) seeks the restoration of her ancient rites, and that stipends are to be assigned to her priests and Vestal virgins, and that it was owing to these being withheld that a general famine has ensued.
4. According to his first proposition, Rome utters a mournful complaint, wanting back (as he asserts) her ancient ceremonies. These sacred rites, he says, repelled |102 Hannibal from the walls, the Gauls from the Capitol. But even here, in blazoning the efficacy of these rites, he betrays their weakness. According to this, Hannibal long insulted the Roman religion, and pushed his conquest to the very walls of the city, though the gods fought against him. Why did they for whom their gods fought, allow themselves to be besieged?
5. For why speak of the Gauls, whom the remnant of the Romans could not have prevented from entering the sanctuary of the Capitol, if the timid cackling of a goose had not betrayed them. These are the guardians of the Roman temples! Where was Jupiter then? Did he speak in a goose?
6. But why should I deny that their sacred rites fought for the Romans? Yet Hannibal also worshipped the same gods. Let them choose therefore which they will. If these rites conquered in the Romans, they were vanquished in the Carthaginians, but if they were thus overcome in the case of the Carthaginians, neither did they profit the Romans.
7. Away then with this invidious complaint of the Roman people; Rome never dictated it. It is with other words that she addresses them: 'Why do you daily deluge me with the useless gore of the innocent flocks? The trophies of victory depend not on the limbs of cattle, but on the strength of warriors. It was by other powers that I subdued the world. Camillus was my soldier, who recovered the standards which had been taken from the Capitol, and slew those who had captured the Tarpeian rock; valour overthrew those against whom religion had not prevailed. Why should I name Regulus, who gave me even the services of his death? Africanus gained his triumph not among the altars of the Capitol, but among Hannibal's ranks. Why do you produce to me the rites of our ancestors? I abhor the rites of the Neros. What shall I say of the two-month Emperors 63, and the ends of princes knit on to their accession? Or is it a thing unheard of, that |103 the barbarians should cross their frontiers? Were those men Christians, in whose miserable and unprecedented fate, in the one case a captive Emperor, in the other a captive world 64 proved the falsehood of the rites which promised victory? Was there then no altar of Victory? I am ashamed of my downfall, the pale cheeks of age gather redness from that disgraceful bloodshed. I do not blush to be converted in my old age along with the whole world. It is surely true that no age is too late to learn. Let that old age blush which cannot improve itself. It is not the hoary head of years but of virtue which is venerable.65 It is no disgrace to pass to better things. This alone had I in common with the barbarians that of old I knew not God. Your sacrifice is a rite of sprinkling yourselves with the blood of beasts. Why do you look for the voice of God in dead beasts? Come and learn here on earth a heavenly warfare; we live here, but our warfare is above. Let God Himself, the Creator, teach me the mystery of heaven, not man who knew not himself. Whom should I believe about God, sooner than God Himself? How can I believe you, who confess that you know not what you worship?'
8. By a single path, he says, we cannot arrive at so great a secret. What you are ignorant of, that we have learnt by the voice of God; what you seek after by faint surmises, that we are assured of by the very Wisdom and Truth of God. Our customs therefore and yours do not agree. You ask the Emperors to grant peace to your gods, we pray for peace for the Emperors themselves from Christ. You worship the works of your own hands, we think it sacrilege that any thing which can be made should be called God. God wills not to be worshipped under the form of stones. Nay, your very philosophers have ridiculed this.
9. But if you are led to deny that Christ is God, because you cannot believe that He died, (for you are ignorant how that this was the death not of His Godhead but of His |104 flesh, whereby it comes to pass that none of the faithful shall die,) how inconsistent are you, who insult by way of worship, and disparage by way of honour. You consider your god to be a block of wood; what an insulting kind of reverence! You believe not that Christ could die; what a respectful kind of unbelief!
10. But, he says, the ancient altars and images ought to be restored, and the temples adorned as of old. This request ought to be made to one who shares the superstition; a Christian Emperor has learned to honour the altar of Christ alone. Why do they compel pious hands and faithful lips to minister to their sacrilege? Let the voice of our Emperor speak of Christ alone, let him declare Him only Whom in heart he believes, for the king's heart is in the Hand of God.66 Did ever heathen Emperor raise an altar to God? In demanding a restoration of ancient things they remind us what reverence Christian Emperors ought to pay to the Religion which they profess, since heathen ones paid the utmost to their own superstitions.
11. Long since was our beginning, and now they follow us whom they shut out. We glory in shedding our blood, a trifling expense disturbs them. We consider such things a victory, they esteem them an injury. Never did they confer a greater favour on us than when they commanded Christians to be scourged, and proscribed and slain. Religion made into a reward what unbelief intended for a punishment. Behold their magnanimity! We have grown by wrongs, by want, by punishment; they find that without money their ceremonies cannot be maintained.
12. Let the Vestal virgins, he says, enjoy their privileges. It is for those to say this, who cannot believe in gratuitous virginity, it is for them to allure by profit who distrust virtue. But how many virgins have their promised rewards obtained them? They have barely seven Vestals. Such is the whole number whom the veiled and filleted head, the dye of the purple vest, the pompous litter surrounded by attendants, high privileges, great gains, and a prescribed period of virginity, have collected.
13. Let them turn their mental and bodily eye to us, let them behold a people of chastity, an undefiled multitude, a |105 virgin assembly. No fillets to adorn their heads, but a veil of common use though dignified by chastity; the blandishments of beauty not curiously sought out, but cast aside; no purple trappings, no luxurious delicacies, but frequent fastings; no privileges, no gains; all things in short so ordered as to repress any affection in the very exercise of their functions. But in fact by this very exercise their affection to it is conciliated. Chastity is perfected by its own sacrifices. That is not virginity which is bought for money, not preserved for love of holiness; that is not integrity which is bid for at an auction by a pecuniary equivalent, to last but for a time. The first triumph of chastity is to overcome the desire of wealth, for this desire is a temptation to modesty. But let us suppose that virginity ought to be supported by pecuniary bounty. In this case, what an abundance of gifts will overflow upon the Christians; what treasury will contain riches so great? Or do they consider that it ought to be bestowed exclusively on the Vestal virgins? Do not they, who claimed the whole under heathen Emperors, feel some shame in denying that under Christian Princes we ought to participate in the bounty?
11. They complain also that public support is not given to their priests and ministers. What a storm of words is here! To us on the other hand the privileges of inheriting private property 67 is denied by recent laws, and no one complains; we do not feel it to be an injury, for we grieve not at the loss. If a priest would claim the privilege of being exempt from the municipal 68 burthens, he must |106 relinquish his paternal estate and all other property. How would the heathens press this ground of complaint, if they had it, that a priest must purchase the liberty of performing his functions by the loss of his whole patrimony, and at the expense of all his private advantages must buy the right of ministering to the public, and while he claims to hold vigils for the public safety must console himself with the wages of domestic poverty; for he does not sell service but purchase a favour.
15. Compare 69 the two cases. You wish to exempt a Decurio, when the Church may not exempt a priest. Wills are made in favour of ministers of temples; not even profane persons, even of the lowest rank, nor of abandoned character, are excepted; the clergy alone are excluded from the common privilege, by whom alone the general prayer for all men is offered, and the common office performed; no legacy, even of grave widows, no donation is allowed. When no blame can attach to character, a fine is imposed on the office. The legacy which a Christian widow bequeaths to the minister of a temple is valid, that which she bequeaths to the ministers of God is invalid. This I have stated not by way of complaint, but that they may know how much I abstain from complaining of, for I would rather we were losers in money than in grace.
16. But they report that gifts or legacies to the Church have not been taken away. Let them state who has snatched gifts from the temples, a loss which Christians have 70 suffered. Had this been done to the Gentiles, it would rather have been the requital than the infliction of a wrong. Is it now only that they make a plea of justice, put in a claim for equity? Where was this sentiment, when, having despoiled all Christians of their goods, they grudged them the very breath of life, and debarred them from that last burial-rite which was never before denied to any of, the dead? Those whom the heathen flung into it, the sea restored. This is a victory of faith, that they |107 themselves impugn the acts of their ancestors, in that they condemn their proceedings. But what consistency is there in condemning the acts of those whose gifts they solicit?
17. Yet no man has forbidden gifts to the temples, or legacies to the soothsayers; their lands alone are taken away, because they did not use that religiously which they claimed on the plea of religion. If they avail themselves of our example why did they not copy our practice? The Church possesses nothing but her faith. There are her rents, her revenues. The wealth of the Church is the support of the poor. Let them count up how many prisoners the temples have ransomed, what support they have afforded to the poor, to how many exiles they have ministered the means of life. Hence it is that they have been deprived of their lands, but not of their rights.
18. This is what has been done, and a public famine, as they assert, has avenged this grave impiety, that the private emoluments of the priests have been converted to the public service. For this cause they say it was that men stripped branches of their bark, and moistened their fainting life with this wretched juice. For this cause they were obliged to substitute for corn the Chaonian acorn, and thrust back again to this wretched fare, the food of beasts, they shook the oaks and thus appeased their sore hunger in the woods. As if forsooth these were new prodigies on earth, which never occurred so long as heathen superstition prevailed over the world! But in truth how often before this were the hopes of the greedy husbandmen frustrated by empty oat-stalks, while the blade of corn sought for in the furrows disappointed the race of peasants.
19. Why did the Greeks attribute oracles to their oaks, but that they fancied their sylvan fare was the gift of their heavenly religion? Such are the gifts which they suppose to come from their gods. Who but heathen ever worshipped the trees of Dodona, bestowing honour on the sorry sustenance of the sacred grove 71? It is not probable that their gods in their anger gave them for a punishment what they were wont when appeased to confer as a gift. |108
20. But what equity were it, that because they are annoyed at the refusal of sustenance to a few priests they should themselves refuse it to every one? in that case their vengeance is more severe than was the fault. But in truth the cause they assign is not adequate to produce so great infirmity of a failing world, as that, when the crops were green, the full grown hopes of the season should all at once perish.
21. Certain it is that many years ago the rights of the temples were abolished throughout the world, is it only now that it has occurred to the gods of the Gentiles to avenge their injuries? Can it be said that the Nile failed to overflow his banks as usual, to avenge the losses of the priests of the City, when he did not do so to avenge his own priests?
22. But supposing that in the past year it was the wrongs of their gods that were avenged, why are the same wrongs neglected in the present year? Now the country people do not pluck up and eat the roots of herbs, nor seek solace from the sylvan berry, nor gather their food from thorns; but rejoicing in their successful labours they wonder at their own harvest, and their hopes fulfilled compensate for their fast, the earth having yielded us her produce with interest.
23. Who then is so inexperienced on human affairs as to be amazed at the vicissitudes of the seasons? And yet even last year we know that most provinces had an abundant harvest. What shall I say of Gaul which was more fertile than usual? The Pannonias 72 sold corn which they had not sown, and the second 73 Rhaetia learnt the danger of her own fertility, for being used to security from her sterility, she drew down an enemy on herself by her abundance. Liguria and Venice are replenished by the fruits of autumn. So then the former year was not withered by sacrilege, while the present has overflowed with the fruits of faith. Nor can they deny that the vineyards |109 produced an overflowing crop. Thus our harvest yielded its produce with interest, and we enjoyed the benefits of a more abundant vintage.
24. The last and most weighty topic remains; as to whether your Majesties should restore those aids which have been profitable to yourselves, for he says, 'Let them defend you, and be worshipped by us.' This, most faithful Princes, we cannot endure; that they should make it a taunt to us that they supplicate their gods in your name, and without your command commit an atrocious sacrilege, taking your connivance as consent. Let them keep their guardians to themselves, let these guardians, if they can, protect their own. But if they cannot protect those who worship them, how can they protect you who worship them not?
25. Our ancestral rites, he says, should be preserved. But what if all things have become better? The world itself, which at first was compacted by the gathering together of the elemental seeds through the vast void, an unconsolidated sphere, or was obscured by the thick darkness of the yet unordered work, was it not afterwards endowed with the forms of things which constitute its beauty, and were not the heaven sea and earth distinguished from each other? The earth rescued from dripping darkness was amazed at its new sun. In the beginning too the day shines not, but as time goes on it is bright and warm with the increase of light and heat.
26. The moon herself, which in the prophetic oracles represents the Church, when first she rises again, and repairs her monthly wanings, is hidden from us by darkness, but gradually she fills her horns, or completes them as she comes opposite to the sun, and gleams with a bright and glorious splendour.
27. In former days, the earth knew not how to be wrought into fruitfulness; but afterwards when the careful husbandman began to till the fields, and to clothe the bare soil with vineyards, it was softened by this domestic culture, and put off its rugged nature.
28. So too the first season of the year itself, which has imparted a like habit to ourselves, is bare of produce, then, |110 as time goes on, it blossoms out in flowers soon to fade, and in the end finds its maturity in fruits 74.
29. So we, while young in age, experience an infancy of understanding, but as we grow in years lay aside the rudeness of our faculties.
30. Let them say then that all things ought to have continued as at first; that the world once covered with darkness is now displeasing because it shines with the beams of the sun. And how much better is it to have dispelled the darkness of the mind than that of the body, and that the beam of faith has shone forth than that of the sun. So then the early stages of the world as of all else have been unsettled, that the venerable age of hoary faith might follow. Let those who are affected by this find fault with the harvest too, because it ripens late; or with the vintage, because it is in the fall of the year; or with the olive, because it is the latest of fruits.
31. So then our harvest too is the faith of the soul; the grace of the Church is the vintage of good works, which from the beginning of the world flourished in the saints, but in these last days is spread over the people; to the intent that all might perceive that it is not into rude minds that the faith of Christ has insinuated itself, but these opinions which before prevailed being shaken off (for without a contest there is no crown of victory) the truth was preferred according as is just.
32. If the old rites pleased, why did Rome adopt alien ones? I pass over the covering of the ground with costly buildings, and shepherds' huts glittering with the gold of a degenerate age 75. Why, to speak of the very subject of their complaint, have they admitted in their rivalry the images of captured cities, and of conquered gods, and the foreign rites of an alien superstition? Whence do they derive their precedent for Cybele washing her chariot in a |111 stream to counterfeit the Almo 76? Whence came the Phrygian seers, and the deities of faithless Carthage ever hateful to Rome, her for instance, whom the Africans worship as Caelestis 77, and the Persians as Mitra, the greater part of the world as Venus, the same deity under different names. So also they have believed Victory to be a goddess, which is in truth a gift not a power, is bestowed and does not rule, comes by the aid of legions not by the power of religion. Great forsooth is the goddess whom the number of soldiers claims, or the issue of the battle confers!
33. And her altar they now ask to have set up in the Senate-house at Rome, that is to say, where a majority 78 of Christians assemble. There are altars in all temples, an altar also in the temple of victories. Being pleased with numbers, they celebrate their sacrifices every where. But to insist on a sacrifice on this one altar, what is it but to insult over the Faith? Is it to be borne that while a Gentile sacrifices Christians must attend? Let their eyes, he says, drink in the smoke whether they will or no; their ears the music; their mouth the ashes; their nostrils the incense; and though they loathe it, let the embers of our |112 hearths besprinkle their faces. Is it not enough for him that the baths, the colonnades, the streets are filled with images? Even in that general assembly, are we not to meet upon equal terms? The believing portion of the Senate will be bound by the voices of them that call the gods to witness, by the oaths of them that swear by them. If they refuse, they will seem to prove their falsehood, if they acquiesce, to acquiesce in a sacrilege.
34. Where, he asks, shall we swear allegiance to your Majesties' laws and commands? Your minds then, of which your laws are the outward expression, gather support and secure fidelity by heathen rites. Moreover your Majesties' faith is assailed not only when you are present, but also, which is more, when you are absent, for you constrain when you command. Constantius, of illustrious memory, though not yet initiated into the sacred Mysteries, thought himself polluted by the sight of that altar; he commanded it to be removed, he did not command it to be replaced. His order bears all the authority of an Act, his silence does not bear the authority of a precept.
35. And let no one rest satisfied because he is absent. He is more to be considered present who unites himself to the minds of others than he who gives the testimony of his visible presence. It is a greater matter to be united in mind than to be joined in body. The Senate regards you as its presidents who summon its meetings; at your bidding it assembles; to you, not to the gods of the heathen, does she resign her conscience; you she prefers to her children though not to her faith. This is the affection worth seeking, an affection more powerful than dominion, if faith, which preserves dominion, be secured.
36. But perhaps some one may be influenced by the thought that if so, a most orthodox Emperor 79 has been left without his reward; as if the reward of good actions was to be estimated by the frail tenure of things present. And what wise man is there who knows not that human affairs move in a certain cycle and order, and meet not always |113 with the same success, but their state is subject to vicissitudes?
37. Who more fortunate than Cneius Pompeius was ever sent forth by the temples of Rome? But he, after compassing the circuit of the globe in three triumphs, vanquished in battle, and driven into exile beyond the bounds of the empire he had saved, perished by the hand of an Eunuch 80 of Canopus.
38. What nobler king than Cyrus king of the Persians has the whole Eastern world produced? He too, after he had conquered the most powerful princes in battle, and detained them as his prisoners, was worsted and slain by the arms of a woman 81. That king who had conferred on the vanquished the honour of sitting at meat with him, had his head cut off and enclosed in a vessel full of blood, and so was bid to satiate himself, exposed to the mockery of a woman. So in the course of his life like is not matched with like, but things most unlike.
39. Again who was more assiduous in sacrificing than Hamilcar 82 general of the Carthaginians? During the whole time of the battle he took his station between the ranks of the combatants, and there offered sacrifice: then, when he found himself vanquished, he threw himself upon the fire on which he was burning his victims, that he might extinguish even with his own body those flames which he had learnt availed him nothing.
40. And what shall I say of Julian? who blindly believing the answers of the diviners, deprived himself of the means of retreat 83. Thus even when the circumstances are |114 common there is not a common cause of offence, for our promises have deluded no one.
41. I have replied to those who harass me as though I had not been harassed: for my object has been to refute their Memorial, not to expose their superstitions. But let this very Memorial make your Majesty more cautious. For by pointing out that of a series of former Emperors, those who reigned first followed the rites of their ancestors, and their successors did not remove them, and by observing upon this, that if the religion of older ones was not an example, the connivance of the more recent ones was, they have plainly shewn that you owe it to the faith which you profess not to follow the precedent of heathen rites, and to brotherly love not to violate your brothers' ordinances. For if they for the sake of their own cause have praised the connivance of those Emperors, who being Christians, have not abrogated heathen decrees, how much more are you bound to shew deference to brotherly affection, and, whereas you would be bound to wink at what perhaps you did not approve, for fear of detracting from your brothers' decrees, now to maintain what you judge to be in accordance both with your own faith and the tie of brotherhood.
LETTER XIX. [A.D.385.]
VIGILIUS, to whom this letter is addressed, is supposed by the Benedictine Editors to have been the Bishop of Trent, (Tridentum,) who is commemorated in the Roman Martyrology. He had written to S. Ambrose, on his consecration as Bishop, to ask his guidance and instruction, and S. Ambrose replies, first with brief general directions, somewhat resembling those of Letter 11, and then dwells at length on the duty of preventing intermarriage between Christians and heathens, and recounts at full length, in support of this, the history of Samson. At the time when heathenism was rapidly dying out, it is clear how important a point this would seem, and we do not wonder at the stress which S. Ambrose lays on it.
AMBROSE TO VIGILIUS.
1. BEING newly consecrated to the sacred office, you |115 have requested me to furnish you with the outlines of your teaching. Having built up yourself as was fitting, seeing you have been thought worthy of so high an office, you have now to be informed how to build up others also.
2. And in the first place remember that it is the Church of God that is committed to you, and be therefore always on your guard against the intrusion of any scandal, lest the body thereof become as it were common by any admixture of heathen. It is on this account that Scripture says to you Thou shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan, but go to Mesopotamia, to the house of Bethuel (that is the house of Wisdom) and take thee a wife from thence.84 Mesopotamia is a country in the East, surrounded by the two greatest rivers in those parts, the Tigris and Euphrates, which take their rise in Armenia, falling, each by a different channel, into the Red sea; and so the Church is signified under the name of Mesopotamia, for she fertilizes the minds of the faithful by the mighty streams of wisdom and justice, pouring into them the grace of Baptism, the type of which was foreshewn in the Red sea, and washing away sin. Wherefore you must instruct the people that they should contract marriage not with strange-born but with Christian families.
3. Let no man defraud his hired servant of his due wages, for we too are the servants of our God, and look for the reward of our labour from Him. You then, (you must say) O merchant, whoever you be, refuse your servant his wages of money, that is, of what is vile and worthless, but to you will be denied the reward of heavenly promises: therefore thou shalt not defraud thy hired servant of his reward, as the Law saith.85
4. Thou shalt not give thy money upon usury, for it is written that he who hath not given his money upon usury shall dwell in the tabernacle of God,86 for he is cast down, who seeks for usurious gains.87 Therefore let the Christian, if he have it, give money as though he were not to receive it again, or at all events only the principal which he has given. By so doing he receives no small increase of grace. Otherwise to lend would be to deceive not to succour. For what can be more cruel than to give money to one |116 that hath not, and then to exact double? He that can not pay the simple sum how can he pay double the amount?
5. Let Tobit be an example to us, who never required again the money he had lent, till the end of his life; and that rather that he might not defraud his heir, than in order to levy and recover the money he had lent out.88 Nations have often been ruined by usury, and this has been the cause of public destruction. Wherefore it must be the principal care of us Bishops, to extirpate those vices which we find to prevail most extensively.
6. Teach them that they ought to exercise hospitality willingly rather than of necessity, so that in shewing this favour they may not betray a churlish disposition of mind, and thus in the very reception of their guest the kindness be spoilt by wrong, but rather let it be fostered by the practice of social duties, and by the offices of kindness. It is not rich gifts that are required of thee, but willing services, full of peace and accordant harmony. Better is a dinner of herbs 89 with grace and friendship than that the banquet should be adorned with exquisite viands, while the sentiment of kindness is lacking. We read of a people perishing by a grievous destruction on account of the violation of the laws of hospitality. Through lust also fierce wars have been kindled.90
7. But there is scarce any thing more pernicious than marriage with a foreigner; already the passions both of lust and disorder, and the evils of sacrilege are inflamed. For seeing that the marriage ceremony itself ought to be sanctified by the priestly veil and benediction, how can that be called a marriage when there is not agreement in faith? Since their prayers ought to be in common, how can there be the love of a common wedlock between those whose religion it different. Often have men ensnared by the love of women betrayed their faith, as did the Jews at Baal-phegor. For which cause Phineas took a sword, and slew the Hebrew and the Midianitish woman, and appeased the Divine vengeance, that the whole people might not be destroyed.91
8. And why should I bring forward more examples? I will produce one out of many, from the mention of which |117 will appear what an evil thing it is to marry a strange woman. Who ever was mightier or more richly endowed from his very cradle with God's Spirit than Samson the Nazarite? Yet was he betrayed by a woman, and by her means failed to retain God's favour. We will now narrate his birth and the course of his whole life arranged in the style of history, following the contents of the sacred Book, which in substance not in form is as follows.
9. The Philistines for many years kept the Hebrew people in subjection; for they had lost the prerogative of faith, whereby their fathers had gained victories. Yet had not their Maker wholly blotted out the mark of their election nor the lot of their inheritance; but as they were often puffed up by success, He for the most part delivered them into the hand of their enemies, that thus, after the manner of men, they might be led to seek for themselves the remedy of their evils from heaven. For it is when any adversity oppresses us, that we submit ourselves to God; good fortune is wont to puff up the mind. This is proved by experience, as in other instances, so particularly in that change of fortune whereby success returned again from the Philistines to the Hebrews.
10. After the spirit of the Hebrews had been so subdued by the pressure of a long subjection that no one dared with a manly spirit to rouse them to liberty, Samson, fore-ordained by the Divine oracle, was raised up to them. A great man he was, not one of the multitude, but first among the few, and beyond controversy far excelling all in bodily strength. And he is to be regarded by us with great admiration from the beginning, not because in his early abstinence from vice he gave signal proofs of temperance and sobriety, nor on account of his long preserving as a Nazarite his locks unshorn, but because from his very youth, which in others is an age of softness, he achieved illustrious deeds of virtue, perfect beyond the measure of human nature. By these he gained credence to the Divine prophecy, that it was not for nothing that such grace had gone before upon him, that an Angel came down by whom his birth beyond their hopes was announced to his parents, to be the leader and protector of his countrymen, |118 now for a length of years harassed by the tyranny of the Philistines.
11. His father was of the tribe of Dan, a man fearing God, born of no mean rank, and eminent above others, his mother was barren of body, but in virtues of the mind not unfruitful; seeing that in the sanctuary of her soul she was counted worthy to receive the visit of an Angel, obeyed his command and fulfilled his prophecy. Not enduring however to know the secrets even of God apart from her husband she mentioned to him that she had seen a man of God, of beautiful form, bringing her the Divine promise of future offspring, and that she, confiding in this promise, was led to share with her husband her faith in the heavenly promises. But he, informed of this, devoutly offered his prayers to God, that the grace of this vision might be conferred on him also, saying, To me, Lord, let Thine Angel come.92
12. I am of opinion therefore that it was not from jealousy of his wife, because she was remarkable for her beauty that he acted thus, as one writer 93 has supposed, but rather that he was filled with desire of the Divine grace, and sought to participate in the benefit of the heavenly vision. For one whose mind was depraved could not have found such favour with the Lord, as that an Angel should return to his house, who, having given those monitions which the Divine announcement made requisite, was suddenly carried away in the form of a smoking flame. This sight, which terrified the man, the woman interpreted more auspiciously, and so removed his solicitude, in that to see God is a sign of good not evil.
13. Now Samson, approved by such signal tokens from above, turned his thoughts as soon as he grew up, to marriage; whether this was that he abhorred those vague and licentious desires in which young men are wont to indulge, or that he was seeking an occasion of releasing the necks of his countrymen from the power of the hard yoke of the Philistines. Wherefore going down to Timnath, (this is the name of a city situated in those parts where the Philistines then dwelt,) he beheld a maiden of a pleasing form and beautiful countenance, and he besought his parents, by whoso company he was supported in his journey, to ask |119 her for him in marriage. But they, not knowing that his intention, either, if the Philistine refused her to him, to be more fierce against them, or, if they assented, to remove their disposition to injure their subjects; and since from such a connexion a certain equality and kindliness of intercourse would naturally grow, or, on the other hand, if any offence were given, this desire of revenge would be more vehement, deemed that this maiden ought to be avoided as a foreigner. But after they had vainly attempted to change the purpose of their son by urging upon him these lawful objections, they of their own accord acquiesced in his desire.
14. This request was granted; and Samson on his return to visit his promised bride, turned a little way out of the road, and straightway there met him a lion from the wood, fierce in its savage freedom. Samson had no companion, nor any weapon in his hand; but he felt ashamed to fly, and conscious power gave him courage. He caught the lion as it rushed upon him in his arms, and strangled it by the tightness of his embrace, leaving it near the wayside lying upon the underwood, for the spot was clothed with luxuriant herbage, and planted with vineyards. The skin of the beast he thought would be little esteemed by his beloved bride, for seasons such as these derive their grace not from savage trophies, but rather from gentle joys and festal garlands. On his returning by the same road he found an honeycomb in the belly of the lion, and carried it off as a gift to the maiden and her parents; for such gifts befit a bride. And having first tasted the honey, he gave them the comb to eat, but was silent as to whence it came.
15. But it happened on a certain day that a nuptial feast was held, and that the young men inspirited by the banquet provoked each other to sport by question and answer, and as they assailed each other with wanton jests, as is the wont on such occasions, the contest of pleasure waxed hot. And then Samson put forth this riddle to his comrades, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness,94 promising them as a reward of their sagacity if they guessed it, thirty sheets and as many changes |120 of garments according to the number of the company, while they on their part, if they could not solve the riddle, were to pay a like penalty.
16. But they, unable to untie the knot and to expound the riddle, induced his wife, partly by intimidation, partly by importunate entreaties, to require from her husband the solution of the riddle to be a token of conjugal affection in return for her love. And she, either terrified, and won over as women are wont to be, as if complaining tenderly of her husband's aversion, began to profess grief that she, the consort and intimate of his whole life, had not learnt this, but that she was treated like the others as one to whom her own husband's secret should not be confided. Thou dost but hate me, she said, and lovest me not, thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people and hast not told it me.95
17. Samson's mind, otherwise inflexible, was softened by these and the like blandishments of his wife, and discovered to her his riddle, and she told it to her countrymen. And they, having thus but just learned it on the seventh day, which was the term prescribed for its solution, answered after this manner, What is sweeter than honey, or what is stronger than a lion? To which he replied. Nor is ought more treacherous than a woman; If ye had not ploughed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle, and he straightway went down to Ascalon, and slew thirty men, and taking their spoils, bestowed on the men who had expounded the riddle their promised reward.96
18. But the perfidy of the maiden being thus discovered, he abstained from intercourse with her, and returned to his father's house. The damsel, disturbed in mind, and justly dreading that the wrath of this mighty man would be kindled into fury by this wrong, gave her hand to another man, one whom Samson, relying on his fidelity, had brought with him as his bridesman to his marriage. But neither by this expedient of a marriage did she avoid offence. For when the affair was disclosed, and he was forbidden to return to his wife, and her father said that she was married to another man, but that he might, if he chose, marry her sister, he was exasperated by the affront, and determined to take a |121 public revenge for his domestic injury. Wherefore he took three hundred foxes, and in the heat of summer, when the corn was now ripe in the fields, he tied them together two and two by the tails, and fastened a burning firebrand between them, binding it with a firm knot, and by way of avenging his wrong turned them loose among the sheaves which the Philistines had cut. But the foxes, terrified by the fire, scattered flames whichever way they turned, and burnt the harvest. And the Philistines, incensed by the loss of all their corn in that region, told it to the princes of their land. And they sent men to Timnath, and burnt in the fire the woman who had been faithless to her husband, and her parents and all her house; saying that she had been the cause of this injury and devastation, and ought not to have provoked a man who could avenge himself by a public calamity.
19. But Samson did not forgive the Philistines their wrong, nor rest content with this measure of vengeance, but he slew them with a great slaughter, and many of them fell by the sword. And he retired to Etam, a torrent in the wilderness, where was a rock, a stronghold of the tribe of Judah. Now the Philistines, not daring to attack him, nor scale the steep heights on which this fortress stood, began to assail with threats of war the tribe of Judah: but when they saw that the plea of the men of Judah was a good one, that it was neither just nor fair nor expedient for them to destroy their own subjects and tributaries, especially for another man's fault, they took counsel, and required that the author of the outrage should be delivered up to them, in order that his countrymen might be exonerated from the consequences of it.
20. These terms being imposed upon them, the men of Judah gathered together three thousand of their tribe and went up to him, and premising that they were subject to the Philistines, and obliged to obey them, not willingly but by terror, they thus sought to turn away from themselves the odium of their act, throwing it upon those by whom they were constrained. Wherefore he thus replied, What kind of Justice is it, O children of Abraham, that the satisfaction 1 have taken for my bride first over-reached and |122 then torn from me should be injurious to me, and that I may not safely avenge this private injury? Have ye so turned your minds to the low offices of slaves, as to become the ministers of the insolence of others, and to turn your arms against yourselves? If I must perish, because I gave free vent to my grief, I had rather perish by the hand of the Philistines. My home has been attempted, my wife tampered with, if I have not been allowed to live without harm from them, at least let my own countrymen be free from the guilt of my death. I did but requite the injury I had received, I did not inflict one. Judge ye whether it was an equal return. They complain of the loss of their home, I of the loss of my wife; compare the sheaves of corn, with a companion of the marriage bed. They have sanctioned my grief by avenging my injuries. Consider to what an office they have appointed you. They desire you to put to death that man, whom they themselves have judged worthy to be avenged on those who wronged him, and to whose vengeance they ministered. But if your necks are thus bowed down to these proud men, deliver me into the hand of the enemy, slay me not yourselves; I refuse not to die, but I shrink from implicating you in my death. If from fear ye comply with their insolence, bind my hands with chains: though unarmed they will break their bonds and find a weapon for themselves. They will assuredly consider that you have satisfied the imposed condition, if you deliver me alive into their hands.
21. When they heard this, though three thousand men had come up, they swore to him that they would make no attempt on his life, only he must submit to be bound, in order that they might formally surrender him, and so keep clear of the crime of which they were accused.
22. Their word being pledged he came out of the cave, and left his fastness on the rock, and was bound with two ropes. When he saw the mighty men of the Philistines drawing near to seize him, his spirit rose within him, and he brake all his bands, and taking up a jaw bone of an ass that lay near he slew a thousand men, and put to flight the rest by this exploit of valour, whole hosts of armed soldiers giving way to one unarmed man. Thus those who |123 ventured to close with him hand to hand he slew without effort; the others saved themselves by flight. Wherefore to this day the place is called Agon 97, because there Samson by his great valour achieved a glorious contest.
23. And I would that his moderation in victory had been equal to his courage against the enemy. But as is frequently the case, with mind unused to prosperity, he ascribed to himself the issue of the battle, which was due to the Divine favour and protection, saying, With the jaw bone of an ass have I slain a thousand men.98 Nor did he build an altar to God, nor offer a victim, but neglecting sacrifice and assuming to himself the glory, to immortalize his triumph by a memorial name he called the place, The slaying of the jaw bone.
21. And now he began to burn with thirst, and there was no water, and yet he had great need of it. Wherefore perceiving that there is nothing so easy for human strength, as not to be rendered difficult by the absence of Divine aid, he besought God not to lay to his charge that he had ascribed ought to himself, giving Him all the glory of the victory, by the words, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of Thy servant,99 and now help me, for lo, I die of thirst, and thirst gives me over into the hand of those over whom Thou hast given me so great a triumph. Wherefore God in His mercy clave a hollow place in the jaw bone which Samson had cast aside, and a stream of water flowed from it, and Samson drank, and his spirit revived, and he called the place 'the invoking of the spring,' because by his suppliant prayers he made amends for his boast of victory, and thus two judgements were opportunely declared, the one that arrogance soon incurs offence, the other that without any offence humility gains reconciliation.
25. Having, in the course of events closed his war with the Philistines, and shunning the sloth of his countrymen, Samson now betook himself to Gaza, which was in the |124 region of the Philistines, and lodged there. When the men of Gaza knew this they did not dissemble or pass it over, but beset his lodging in haste, and guarded all the doors of the house that he might not escape by night. But Samson knowing their design, in the middle of the night forestalling the snare which had been laid for him, took the pillars of the house in his arms, and carried the whole structure and the weight of the roof on his back, up to a high hill above Hebron, a city inhabited by the Hebrews.
26. But now his licence transgressed the limits not only of his paternal territory, but of good morals, such as ancient discipline had prescribed, and this brought upon him destruction in the end. For although he had experienced in his first marriage the treachery of a foreign wife, and ought to have avoided it in future, he did not shun connecting himself with the harlot Delilah, and by his passionate love of her opened a way for the craft of his enemies to assail him. For the Philistines came up to her, and promised each of them to give her eleven hundred pieces of silver if she would disclose to them wherein his assurance of strength lay, that by means of this knowledge they might entrap and take him.
27. But she having once prostituted herself for money, began during the banquet and the blandishments of love, cunningly and craftily to inquire of him in what respect his strength excelled that of others, and at the same time, as if solicitous and fearful for his safety, to entreat him to confide to his beloved by what means he could be bound and subdued into the power of others. But he, still self-possessed and unshaken, opposed craft to the allurements of the harlot, and told her that if he were bound with withs yet green and not dried, his strength would be like that of other men. When the Philistines learnt this from Delilah, they bound him while asleep with green withs, and then awoke him as though on a sudden, but found that he had not fallen off from his accustomed fortitude, but bursting its bonds his freed strength was able to resist and drive back a host of assailants.
28. This having failed, Delilah, as if she had been |125 mocked began with complaints to renew her arts and to require a pledge of his love. Samson, still firm of purpose, intimated to her that, if he were bound by seven ropes which had never been used, he would fall into the hands of the enemy, but this also was in vain. The third time he disclosed part of the secret, and now drawing nearer to his fall, told her that, if the seven locks of his head were unfastened and woven 100 to about a cubit's length, his strength would depart from him. But herein also he deluded those who were plotting against his life.
29. But last of all the wanton woman complaining that she had been so often deceived, and grieving that her lover deemed her unworthy to be entrusted with his secret, and that under her pretext of succour her treacherous purpose was suspected, won his confidence by her tears. By this means, and because also it was ordained that this man of hitherto unshaken fortitude should fall into calamity, Samson was touched and opened to her his heart. He told her that he possessed within him the power of God, that he was sanctified to the Lord, and that by His command he let his hair grow, and that if it were shorn, he would cease to be a Nazarite, and lose the use of his strength. The Philistines having discoverd through her means the man's weakness, bring her the reward of her perfidy, thus binding her to the commission of the crime.
30. And she, having wearied him by the wanton blandishments of love, threw him into slumber, and then caused the seven locks of his hair to be cut by a razor, whereupon by his transgression of the commandment his strength was immediately lost. When he woke out of sleep, he said, I will go out as at other times, and shake myself 101 against mine adversaries, but he was no longer sensible of activity and strength, his vigour was gone, his grace was departed. Wherefore, considering within himself that he had incautiously trusted to women, and that, convicted of infirmity, it would be sheer folly for him to contend any longer, he |126 gave up his eyes to blindness, and his hands to the fetters, and being bound with chains he entered the confinement from which he had been for a long season free.
31. But in process of time his hair began to grow again; and on the occasion of a great feast Samson is brought out of prison to the assembly of the Philistines, and set in sight of the people. There were nearly three thousand in number, men and women; and they insulted him with bitter reproaches, and carried him about in mockery, a trial harder to be borne than the very reality of captivity by a man conscious of innate power. For to live and die is natural, to be a laughing stock is counted a disgrace. Desirous therefore either of consoling himself by avenging so great an indignity, or of forestalling it for the future by death, he pretended that from the weakness of his limbs and the weight of his fetters he could not support himself, and desired the boy who guided his steps to bring him to the nearest pillars by which the whole house was supported. Being brought near, he grasped with both hands the props of the building, and while the Philistines were intent on the sacrificial feast which they were offering to Dagon their god, by whose help they deemed their adversary had been delivered into their power, reckoning a woman's perfidy as a gift from above, he called unto the Lord, and said,'O Lord God, remember me I pray Thee this once, that I may be avenged of the heathen for my two eyes,102 and that they give not glory to their gods as if by their help they had gotten me into their power. Let me die with the Philistines, that they may find my weakness to have been no less fatal to them than my strength.'
32. Then he shook the columns with great force, and broke them in pieces, whereon followed the downfall of the upper roof, crushing Samson himself and casting down all those who were looking on from above. Thus were a great number of men and women slain together, and by an end not unworthy or disgraceful, but excelling all his former victories, the dying Samson obtained a triumph. For although to that point and thenceforward he was invincible, and incomparable during life among men versed in war, yet in death he conquered himself, and shewed an |127 unconquerable soul, so as to despise and count for nothing that end of life which all men fear.
33. Thus it was through his valour that the last day of his life was also the sum of his victories, and that he met not a captive but a triumphant end. But to have been entrapped by a woman is to be ascribed to nature rather than to the man, because it was by the condition of his humanity more than through his own fault that he fell; for this is wont to be overcome, and yield to the allurements of wickedness. Wherefore, since Scripture bears witness that he slew more in his death than while in the light of life, it would seem that his captivity happened rather for the destruction of his adversaries than for his own fall and humiliation. For he whose burial was more efficacious than his living strength cannot be said to have found himself inferior. Lastly, he was overwhelmed and buried not by the weapons but by the bodies of his enemies, and thus, covered by his own triumph, he left a glorious memorial to posterity. For he judged his countrymen, whom he found enslaved, twenty years, and buried in his native soil, left them inheritors of liberty.
34. By this example then it is plain that alliances with strangers should be avoided, lest through love for our wife the snares of treachery should be successful.
Farewell and love us, as we love you.
LETTER XX. [A.D. 385.]
AFTER the death of Gratian the empire of the West was nominally in the hands of Valentinian the 2nd, but, as he was a mere boy, the real power was exercised by his mother Justina, who was an Arian. S. Ambrose had already resisted her successfully in the question of the election of a Bishop at Sirmium (see note in p. 39), and although he had performed a difficult and dangerous service for them two years before this, in going on an embassy to Maxirnus after the death of Gratian, Justina and Valentinian were bitterly hostile to him, and supported the Arian faction against him. In March, A.D. 385, S. Ambrose was summoned to the Palace, as he himself relates in the Sermon of which he gives an account in this letter (§ 15 sqq.) and called upon to give up one of the Churches, the Portian Basilica, outside the walls, for the use of the Arians. This he refused, and was so |128 energetically supported by the people of Milan, that the demand was for the time withdrawn. Various other efforts were then made either to induce him to yield or to get him out of the way, (one of the latter is recounted in a note on the Sermon against Auxentius § 15) but they all failed. At last on the Friday before Palm Sunday a fresh demand is made, not for the Portian Basilica, as a promise had been given that no further claim should be made upon it, but for the New Basilica which was within the walls. It is at this point that the narrative which S. Ambrose gives in this letter to his sister Marcellina begins. It recounts the occurrences from the Friday to the Wednesday in Holy Week, when the persecution was again for the time abandoned.
1. IN nearly all your letters you inquire anxiously about the Church; hear then what is going on. The day after I received the letter in which you told me how you had been troubled in your dreams, a heavy weight of troubles began to assail me. It was not now the Portian Basilica, that is the one without the walls, which was demanded, but the new Basilica, that is, one within the walls, which is larger in size.
2. In the first place some chief men 103, counsellors of state, appealed to me to give up the Basilica, and restrain the people from raising any commotion. I replied as a matter of course, that a Bishop could not give up God's house.
3. On the following day the people expressed their approval in the Church, and the Prefect 104 also came thither, and began to urge us to yield up at least the Portian Basilica. The people were clamorous against this, whereupon he departed, saying, that he would report matters to the Emperor.
4. On the following day, which was the Lord's day, |129 having dismissed the catechumens after the lessons and sermon, I was explaining the Creed to some candidates for Baptism in the Baptistery of the Church. There the news was reported to me that, on learning that officials 105 had been sent from the palace to the Portian Basilica, and were putting up the Imperial hangings 106, many of the people were proceeding thither. I however continued my ministrations, and began to celebrate the Eucharist 107.
5. While I was offering, tidings were brought me that the populace had seized upon one Castulus, whom the Arians called a priest. While making the oblation I began to weep bitterly and to beseech God's aid that no blood might be shed in the Church's quarrel; or if so, that it might be my own, and that not for my people only, but even for the ungodly themselves. But, to be brief, I sent some presbyters and deacons, and rescued the man.
6. The severest penalties were immediately decreed; first upon the whole body of merchants. And thus, during the sacred period of the last Week, wherein the debtor was wont to be loosed from his bonds, chains are placed on innocent men's necks, and two hundred pounds' weight of gold is demanded within three days. They reply they Mall willingly give as much, or twice as much again, so that they may not violate their faith. The prisons too were filled with tradesmen.
7. All the Officials of the palace, the Recorders, the Proctors, the Apparitors of the several Courts, on the pretext of its being unlawful for them to be present at seditious assemblies, were commanded to keep at home, severe threats were held out against men of high rank in case the Basilica was not delivered up. The persecution |130 raged, and had an opening been afforded, they seemed likely to break out into every kind of outrage.
8. I myself had an interview with the Counts and Tribunes, who urged me to give up the Basilica without delay, declaring that the Emperor was acting on his rights, inasmuch as he had supreme power over all things. I replied that if he required of me what was my own, my estate, my money, or the like, I would not refuse it, although all my property really belonged to the poor, but that sacred things were not subject to the power of the Emperor. 'If my patrimony be required,' I said, 'take it; if my person, here it is. Will you drag me away to prison, or to death? I will go with pleasure. I will not entrench myself by gathering a multitude round me, I will not lay hold of the Altar and beg for my life; rather will I offer myself to death for the Altar.'
9. In fact my mind was shaken with fear when I found that armed men had been sent to occupy the Basilica, I was seized with dread lest in protecting the Church, blood might be shed which would tend to bring destruction on the whole city. I prayed that if so great a city or even all Italy were to perish I might not survive. I shrank from the odium of shedding blood, and I offered my own throat to the knife. Some officers of the Goths 108 were present; I addressed them, saying, 'Is it for this that you have become citizens of Rome, to shew yourselves disturbers of the public peace? Whither will you go, if everything here is destroyed?'
10. I was called upon to calm the people. I replied that it was in my power not to excite them, that it was in God's Hand to pacify them. That if I was considered the instigator, I ought to be punished, that I ought to be banished into whatever desert places of the earth they chose. Having said this, they departed, and I spent the |131 whole day in the old Church. Thence I returned home to sleep; that if any man wished to arrest me, he might find me prepared.
11. When, before dawn, I passed out over the threshold, I found the Basilica surrounded and occupied by soldiers. And it was said that they had intimated to the Emperor that he was at liberty to go to Church if he wished it, that they would be ready to attend him if he were going to the assembly of the Catholics; otherwise that they would go to the assembly which Ambrose had convened.
12. Not a single Arian dared come out, for there were none among the citizens, only a few of the royal household, and some of the Goths, who, as of old they made their waggon their home, so now make the Church their waggon. Wherever that woman goes, she carries with her all those of her own communion. The groans of the people gave me notice that the Basilica was surrounded; but while the lessons are being read word is brought me that the New Basilica also is full of people, that the crowd seemed greater than when all were at liberty, that they were calling for a Reader. To be brief, the soldiers themselves, who were found to have occupied the Basilica, being informed of my directions that the people should abstain from communion with them, began to come to our assembly. At the sight of them the minds of the women are agitated, one of them rushes forth. But the soldiers themselves exclaimed that they had come to pray not to fight. The people raised a cry. In the most modest, most resolute, most faithful manner they entreated that I would go to that Basilica. In that Basilica also the people were reported to desire my presence.
14. Then I began the following discourse: Ye have heard, my sons, the lesson from the book of Job, which according to the usual service of the season, is now in course. By use the devil knew that this book was to be declared, already all the power of his temptations is laid open and betrayed, and therefore he exerted himself to-day with greater violence. But thanks be to our God Who hath so confirmed you in faith and patience. I went up into the pulpit to admire Job, I found I had all of you to admire |132 as Jobs. Job lives again in each of you, in each the patience and virtue of that saint is reflected. For what more opportune could be said by Christian men than that which the Holy Spirit hath spoken in you this day? 'We petition your Majesty, we use no force, we feel no fear, but we petition.' This is what becomes Christians, to desire peace and quiet fear, and still not to let the steadfastness of faith and truth be shaken even by peril of death. For the Lord is our Guide, Who will save those who hope in Him.109
15. But let us come to the lessons set before us. Ye see that power of temptation is given to the devil to prove the good. The wicked one envies our progress in good, he tempts us in various ways. He tempted holy Job in his patrimony, he tempted him in his sons, he tempted him by bodily pains. The stronger is tempted in his own person, the weaker in that of others. Me too he would fain have despoiled of the riches which I possess in you, and he desired to waste this patrimony of your tranquillity. Yourselves also he desired to snatch from me, my good children for whom I daily offer sacrifice; you he endeavoured to involve in the ruins of the public confusion. Already then I have incurred two kinds of temptation. And perhaps the Lord, knowing my weakness, hath not yet given him power over my body: though I myself desire it, though I offer it, He perhaps still judges me unequal to this contest, and exercises me by diverse labours. Even Job himself did not begin with this contest, but was perfected by it.
16. But Job was tempted by the accumulated tidings of evil, he was tempted by his wife who said, Curse God, and die.110 Ye behold how many things are suddenly stirred up against us, the Goths, the troops, the heathen, the fine of the tradesmen, the punishment of the saints. Ye observe what is commanded, when it is said 'Deliver up the Basilica;' Curse God, and die. But here it is not only 'Speak against God,' but also 'Act against God.' The command is, 'Betray the altars of God.'
17. So then we are pressed by the Imperial mandates, but we are strengthened by the words of Scripture, which answered, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women |133 speaketh.111 Not slight therefore is that temptation, for temptations which come through the agency of women we know to be more severe. Lastly, Adam also was betrayed by Eve, and thereby it came to pass that he betrayed the Divine commandments. Becoming aware of this error, and his guilty conscience accusing him, he desired to hide himself, but could not; wherefore God says to him, Adam where art thou? 112 that is, what wert thou before? where hast thou now begun to be? where did I place thee? whither hast thou fallen? thou ownest thyself naked, because thou hast lost the garments of a good faith. The things wherewith thou desirest to clothe thyself are leaves. Thou hast cast aside the fruit, thou desirest to lie hid under the leaves of the tree, but thou art betrayed. For one woman's sake thou hast chosen to depart from thy God, therefore thou fliest from Him when thou soughtest to see. Thou hast chosen to hide thyself with one woman, to leave the mirror of the world, the abode of Paradise, the Grace of Christ.
18. Why need I add that Elijah also was cruelly persecuted by Jezebel? that Herodias caused John the Baptist to be put to death? Each man seems to suffer from this or that woman; for me, in proportion as my merits are less, my trials are heavier. My strength is weaker, but I have more danger. Women succeed each other, their hatreds are interchanged, their falsehoods are varied, the elders are gathered together, the plea of wrong to the Emperor is put forward. What explanation is there then of such grievous temptation to such a worm as I am, but that it is not me but the Church that they persecute.
19. At length came the command, 'Deliver up the Basilica;' I reply, 'It is not lawful for us to deliver it up, nor for your Majesty to receive it. By no law can you violate the house of a private man, and do you think that the house of God may be taken away? It is asserted that all things are lawful to the Emperor, that all things are his. But do not burden your conscience with the thought that you have any right as Emperor over sacred things. Exalt not yourself, but if you would reign the longer, be subject to God. It is written, God's to God and Caesar's to Caesar.113 The palace is the Emperor's, the Churches are the Bishop's. |134 To you is committed jurisdiction over public not over sacred buildings.' Again the Emperor is said to have issued his command, ' I also ought to have one Basilica;' I answered 'It is not lawful for thee to have her.114 What hast thou to do with an adultress who is not bound with Christ in lawful wedlock?'
20. While I was engaged with this subject, it was reported to me that the Imperial hangings were taken down, the Church filled with people, and that my presence was required; straightway I turned my discourse to this, saying, How deep and profound are the oracles of the Holy Spirit! Remember, brethren, what was read at matins and how we responded with deep grief of mind, O God the heathen are come into Thine inheritance.115 And truly the heathen came, nay, even more than the heathen, for the Goths came and men of divers nations, they came armed with weapons, and surrounded and seized the Basilica. Ignorant of Thy Greatness we grieved for this, but our ignorance was mistaken.
21. The heathen came, but truly into Thine inheritance they came, for they who came as heathen were made Christians. They who came to invade Thine inheritance, were made coheirs of God; those whom I accounted enemies are become my defenders; I have as comrades those whom I esteemed adversaries. Thus has that been fulfilled which the prophet David spake of the Lord Jesus, that His Dwelling is in peace 116, there brake He the horns of the bow, the shield, the sword, and the battle.117 For whose office, whose work is this but Thine, Lord Jesus? Thou sawest armed men coming to Thy temple, on the one hand the people groaning and collecting in a crowd that they might not seem to give up the Basilica, on the other hand the soldiers commanded to use force. Death was before my eyes, lest in the midst of all this madness should break out into licence. But Thou, O Lord plantedst Thyself in the midst, and madcst the twain one. Thou restrainedst the soldiers, saying, If ye run to arms, if they who are within My temple are disturbed, What profit is there in My blood?118 All thanks therefore be to Thee, O Christ. It |135 was not an enemy, not a messenger but Thou 0 Lord hast delivered Thy people, Thou hast put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.
22. Thus I spoke, wondering that the Emperor's mind could be softened by the zeal of the soldiers, by the entreaties of the Counts, by the prayers of the people. Meanwhile I am informed that a Secretary was come with the mandate. I retired a little, and he notified to me the mandate. 'What has been your design,' says he, 'in acting against the Emperor's orders?' I replied, 'What has been ordered I know not, nor am I aware what is alleged to have been wrongly done.' He says, 'Why have you sent presbyters to the Basilica? If you are a tyrant I would fain know it, that I may know how to arm myself against you.' I replied by saying that I had done nothing which assumed too much for the Church, but when I heard it was filled with soldiers, I only uttered deeper groans, and though many exhorted me to proceed thither, I replied, 'I cannot give up the Basilica, yet I must not fight.' That afterwards, when I was told that the Imperial hangings were removed, and that the people required me to go thither, I had directed the presbyters to do so, but that I was unwilling to go myself, saying, 'I trust in Christ that the Emperor himself will espouse our cause.'
23. If this seems like domineering, I grant indeed that I have arms, but only in the name of Christ; I have the power of offering up my body. Why, I asked, did he delay to strike if he considered my power unlawful? By ancient right Priests have conferred sovereignty, never assumed it, and it is a common saying that Emperors have coveted the Priesthood more often than Priests sovereignty. Christ fled that He might not be made a king. We have a power of our own. The power of a Priest is his weakness; When I am weak, it is said, then am I strong.119 But let him against whom God has raised up no adversary: beware lest he raise up a tyrant for himself. Maximus did not say that I domineered over Valentinian, though he complains that my embassage prevented his passing over into Italy. I added, that priests were never usurpers, but that they had often suffered from usurpers. |136
24. The whole of that day was past in this affliction; meanwhile the boys tore in derision the Imperial hangings. I could not return home, because the Church was surrounded by a guard of soldiers. We recited the Psalms with our brethren in the little Basilica belonging to the Church.
25. On the following day, the book of Jonah was read in due course, after which, I began this discourse; We have read a book, my brethren, wherein it is foretold that sinners shall return again to repentance. They are accepted on this footing, that their present state is considered an earnest of the future. I added that this just man was even willing to incur blame, rather than behold or denounce destruction on the city; and, since that prophecy was mournful, that he was also grieved because the gourd had withered; that God had said to the prophet, Art thou greatly angry for the gourd? and Jonah had answered, I am greatly angry. Then the Lord said, if the withering of the gourd was a grief to him, how much more ought he to care for the salvation of so many souls; and therefore that He had suspended the destruction which had been prepared for the whole city.120
26. Immediate tidings are brought to me that the Emperor had commanded the soldiers to retire from the Church; and that the fine which had been imposed on the merchants on their condemnation should be restored. What joy then prevailed among the whole people, what applause, what congratulations! Now it was the day whereon the Lord delivered Himself up for us, the day whereon there is a relaxation of penance in the Church. The soldiers eagerly brought the tidings, running in to the altars, and giving the kiss, the emblem of peace. Then I perceived that God had smitten the worm which came when the morning rose, that the whole city might be preserved.121
27. These are the past events, and would that they were terminated, but the excited words of the Emperor show that heavier trials are awaiting us. I am called a tyrant, and even more than tyrant. For when the Counts besought the Emperor to go to the Church, and said that they did so at the request of the soldiers, he replied, 'You would |137 deliver me up to chains, if Ambrose bade you.' I leave you to judge what awaits us after these words; all shuddered at hearing them, but there are those about him who exasperate him.
28. Lastly Calligonus the Grand Chamberlain 122 ventured to address himself specially to me. 'Do you, while I live, despise Valentinian? I will have your head.' I replied, 'May God grant you to fulfil your threat: I shall suffer as becomes a Bishop, you will act as befits an enunch.' May God indeed turn them aside from the Church; may all their weapons be directed against me, may they satiate their thirst in my blood!
[Footnotes and marginalia moved to end and numbered]
1. a Dacia Ripensis. The original Province of Dacia was beyond the Danube. It was conquered and included in the Empire by Trajan. In the time of Aurelian it was abandoned again, and the Danube re-established as the frontier. Then the Roman colonists were removed to the South of the Danube, into the central district of Moesia, which was then called Dacia Aureliani. This was afterwards divided into two Provinces, called Dacia Ripensis and Dacia Mediterranea, Ripensis being the northern part, extending along the bank of the Danube, whence the name.
2. b "Damasus was made Pope on the death of Liberius A.D. 366. Ursinus, called by some Ursicinus, was, as Damasus had been, Deacon at Rome, and could not endure the exaltation of his former colleague who is suspected of having taken part with Felix, the successor to the power of Liberius, when exiled by the Arians. Ursinus was factiously consecrated by one Bishop, and a contest ensued in which even much blood was shed. Ursinus was banished, and being recalled the next year, was banished again after two months. In 371 he was allowed to leave his place of exile, and only excluded from Rome and the suburbicarian provinces. In 378 he held the factious meetings mentioned in the letter, and was exiled to Cologne. He continued to petition Gratian to restore him, and hence the request of the Bishops at Aquileia." Note in Newman's Fleury vol. 1 p. 38.
3. c i.e. Julianus Valens, Bp. of Petavio, mentioned in the preceding letter.
4. 1 after the first and second admonition E.V.
5. Titus iii. 10.
6. 2 S. John 10.
7. 1 Tim. iii. 3-7.
8. a This Lucius was the person who, after the death of S. Athanasius, was forced upon the Church of Alexandria as Bishop, in the place of Peter who had been duly elected, by the Governor of the Province. His crimes and cruelties are recorded at length by Theodoret. Eccl. Hist. iv. 21, 22. He was eventually expelled from the see he had usurped, and is mentioned by Socrates, Hist. Eccl. v. 7, as afterwards dwelling at Constantinople and sharing the fate of Demophilus.
9. b Demophilus was originally Bishop of Beroea, (probably Beroea in Thrace,) and was deposed from his office for Arianism. In A.D. 370, on the death of Eudoxius, he was elected by the Arian party Bishop of Constantinople, in opposition to Evagrius. He was supported by Valens who was then Emperor, and Evagrius banished. In 380 A.D. after the accession of Theodosius, matters were changed. Theodosius offered to maintain him in his see, if he subscribed the Nicene Confession, but he refused, and withdrew, and maintained, in conjunction with Lucius and others, Arian worship outside the walls of Constantinople. He died A.D. 386. He is mentioned by S. Ambrose (De Fide 1. 6. 45.) as a leader of one of the various forms of Arianism.
10. c This refers to the long schism which had existed in the Church at Antioch, ever since 331 A.D. when Eustathius was deposed by the Arian party: in 361 A.D. Meletius was elected as successor to Eudoxius, having previously subscribed the Creed of Acacius (Socr. ii. 44.); but on his accepting the Nicene Creed, and acknowledging the Homoousion, he was deposed, and banished by the Emperor Constantius, and Euzoius, an Arian, appointed in his stead, who was afterwards succeeded by Dorotheus, (who was afterwards transferred to Constantinople, 385 A. D.) Meanwhile Meletius had returned from exile, but the extreme orthodox party refused to recognise him, because he had at first been appointed as a Semi-Arian, and elected Paulinus, though the Council of Alexandria had urged them to submit to Meletius, so that, as Socrates says, when recounting the Bishops of the chief sees in the year 379, the the Church at Antioch trixh~ dih&|rhto. Paulinus was supported by the Church of Alexandria and by the Bishops of the West, and, as appears from the statements of this letter, a compromise had been proposed, that when either Meletius or Paulinus died, both parties would acknowledge the survivor. The Bishops at Aquileia urge the Emperor to enforce this, not aware that Flavian had already been elected as Meletius' successor at the Council of Constantinople. The schism was thus perpetuated, and continued till 415 A.D.
What the difficulty about Timotheus was, is not certain. He had been consecrated Bishop of Alexandria that same year, after the death of Peter, the successor of S. Athanasius. Tillemont (vol. x. p. 139) suggests that it was probably connected with the question of the succession at Antioch.
11. d The enemy are the Goths under Fritigern. See Gibbon ch. 26.
12. e The reading 'pactum' which is suggested by Valerius is here adopted instead of 'factum', which seems to give no satisfactory sense.
13. f Fleury remarks on this 'This letter plainly shews that the Bishops who were there present (i.e. at the Council of Aquileia) either did not acknowledge the Council which had been lately held at Constantinople to be an Oecumenical Council, or that they were not yet informed of what had been transacted in it.
14. a In the regard of the question between Nectarius and Maximus, the Western Bishops had been deceived by the latter. Maximus, called the Cynic because he retained the outward garb of a Cynic philosopher after he professed to have become a Christian, was irregularly consecrated at Constantinople, but was never recognised, and was formally pronounced by the Council not to be a true Bishop. He then went about trying to stir up other Churches in his favour. See Prof. Bright's Hist, of the Church pp. 160— 166.
Nectarius was elected after the resignation of Gregory Nazianzen, during the Council of Constantinople. He, like S. Ambrose, was unbaptized and held a high civil office at the time of his election.
15. b This is translated from an ingenious and probable conjecture of Valesius.
16. c The text through this long sentence is confused and ungrammatical, but it conveys the general sense expressed in the translation with tolerable clearness.
17. d i. e. Gratian.
18. a The sense is here to be elicited probably by repeating the word 'quod,' so that the sentence should run, 'dogma nescio quod, quod Apollinaris asseritur.'
19. b There seems to be something corrupt in the text. Perhaps we should read 'moventur,' 'the dangerous parts of Illyricum are in commotion;' or 'suspecta' has taken the place of some word, such as 'superiora,' which would stand in antithesis to 'maritima.'
20. c It may complete the subject of this series of letters to remind the reader that about the same time that the Council of the Italian Bishops was held, Theodosius convened a second Council at Constantinople to deal with the questions raised by the Westerns, where most of the Bishops who had formed the previous General Council re-assembled. They replied to the invitation to another General Council at Rome by a Synodical letter, which is given at full length by Theodoret (Eccles. Hist. v. 9). In it they excuse themselves from attending, on the ground of their presence being required in their own Dioceses, especially after the long exile of many of them, and the prevalence of Arian usurpation, wishing that they 'had the wings of a dove,' to fly to their Western brethren. They then give a summary of the doctrinal decisions of the two Councils, and announce that they have sent three Bishops as deputies to explain all things more fully to them, and, with reference to the disputed successions at Constantinople and Antioch, give their assurance to their brethren that both Nectarius and Flavian were canonically elected, and the elections ratified both by the clergy and the faithful of each diocese, and by the Council, reminding them of the ancient Canon re-affirmed at Nicaea that each province should settle all such questions for themselves.
21. a Acholius, or Ascholius, as he is called by Socrates, was the Bishop who baptised Theodosius, during an illness which seized him on a campaign against the Goths. He was present at the Council of Constantinople, and afterwards at that of Rome, not as one of the deputies from the East, but probably because his see had been so recently transferred to the Eastern Empire, that he might seem to belong to both East and West. (Tillemont Ambr. ch. xxxi.) It was there that he met S. Ambrose, who had gone to Rome to attend the Council, and had fallen ill. His death must have occurred in A.D. 383, for his successor Anysius was Bishop before the death of Damasus, Bishop of Rome, who died in A.D. 384. Theodoret therefore (B. v. ch. 18.) must be wrong in making him the Bishop who wrote to S. Ambrose an account of the massacre at Thessalonica, which occurred in A.D. 390. But the passage of Theodoret occurs in only one MS., and is perhaps not genuine.
22. Ps. lv. 7.
23. Phil. i. 24.
24. Ps. xlviii. 7.
25. Baruch iii. 24,25.
26. b The Goths had been settled within the boundaries of the Empire by Valens in A. D. 376, when they implored his protection against the Huns. He established them in Moesia, when; they soon revolted, and ravaged Thrace, uniting with their former enemies, the Huns, and other barbarians. Valens was defeated and slain by them in A. D. 378, and then they overran all the neighbouring provinces. There is a graphic account in Gibbon. ch. xxvi.
27. 2 Kings. vi. 18.
28. Ib. vii. 6.
29. 2 Kings ii. 4.
30. S. Matt. xxv. 21.
31. 1 Kings x. 24.
32. Deut. xxxiii. 8.
33. Ib. 9.
34. Ecclus. xliv. 15.
35. c The Benedictine text here reads 'claudebatur.' Several MSS, as the editors mention in a note, have 'claudebat.' They themselves suggest 'claudieabat.' But 'claudebat' really gives the same meaning, and there seems little doubt that it is the true reading. It comes from claudeo or claudo, (for both forms are to be found,) meaning 'to be lame,' 'to halt.' It occurs three times in Cicero.
36. Deut. xxxiii. 9.
37. Deut. xxxiii.16.
38. 2 Cor. xii. 2.
39. S. Matt. xii. 48.
40. 2 Chron. ix. 21.
41. Ps. lxviii. 14.
42. Cant. v. 2.
43. Gen. xxviii.13.
44. Wisd. iv. 9.
45. Isa. lx. 8.
46. 2 Chron. ix. 21.
47. Ps. xcvi. 5.
48. a 'fisco vel arcae.' The 'fiscus,' or imperial treasury, received whatever was assigned to the Emperor individually, distinguished from the 'acrarium,' which received what belonged to the senate, as representing the old respublica: 'area' is sometimes used in late writers as equivalent to 'fiscus,' sometimes, when distinguished from it, as here, it signifies the city funds, which were distinct from both.
49. b Julian's edict, forbidding the Christians to teach in the schools of grammar and rhetoric, is mentioned with disapproval by Gibbon ch. xxiii.
50. c i. e. his half brother Gratian.
51. S. Luke xvi. 13.
52. d i. e. Maximus.
53. e Valentinian the 1st.
54. f This is sometimes represented as an exaggerated piece of rhetoric on S. Ambrose's part, not to be regarded as representing a real truth: but it may very well do so, for Valentinian was almost constantly occupied with wars on the frontiers of the empire, and it does not appear from his life that be was ever at Rome during his reign. Milan, not Rome, was the chief seat of the Western Emperors at this time, when they were not with their armies.
55. a The Praefectus Urbi at this time 'was regarded as the direct representative of the Emperor,' and, among other duties, ' he had every month to make a report to the Emperor of the transactions of the Senate,' and also was 'the medium through which the Emperors received the petitions and presents from their capital.' Dict. of Ant. sub voc.
56. b By the 'late emperor' is meant Julian; 'his successor' is Valentinian the 1st, and the 'last Emperors' are Valentinian the 1st and Valens.
57. c There is a play here on the words 'nomen' and 'numen.'
58. d Symmachus is thinking of Virgil's invocation,
Di patrii, Indigetes,et Romule, Vestaque Mater, &c.
Georg. i. 498.
The Di patrii are explained as being those brought by Aeneas into Italy, Indigetes those native to the soil of Italy.
59. e In strict law a slave's peculium was the property of his owner, but custom had allowed it to be regarded as his own property.
60. f Another trace of Virgil:
Cum jam glandes atque arbuta sacrae
Deficerent silvae et victum Dodona negaret. Georg.i. 158.
61. g Valentinian the 1st, as Symmachus mentions above, had tolerated the heathen rites, and this he here represents as having availed to win the special favour of the gods.
62. a This is an official title of honour. There were three ranks among those who held office under the Emperors, 1 Illustres. 2 Spectabiles, 3 Clarissimi, which is the one here applied to Symmachus. The latter was applied to all senators: the other two were reserved for the higher offices of state. See Gibbon, ch. xvii.
63. b He is referring apparently to Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, but somewhat exaggerates the brevity of their reigns. Galba reigned nearly seven months, Otho three months, Vitellius nearly eight months.
64. c The captive Emperor is Valerian, who, A.D. 260, was taken prisoner by Sapor king of Persia, and treated with the utmost indignity. The other is his son Gallienus, and S. Ambrose's expression with regard to him may be explained by a sentence of Gibbon, (ch. xi. init.) 'Under the deplorable reigns of Valerian and Gallienus, the empire was oppressed and almost destroyed by the soldiers, the tyrants, and the barbarians.'
65. Wisd. iv. 9.
66. Prov. xxi. 1.
67. d S. Ambrose refers here to a law of Valentinian's, forbidding the Clergy from receiving bequests from widows and unmarried females. It was addressed to Damasus, Bishop of Rome. S. Ambrose's caution in de Off. Min. 1, 20, 87, shews that control was needed. S. Jerome, speaking of this law says, 'I do not complain of the law, but grieve that we have deserved it.'
68. e In the provincial towns the political power in the times of the Emperors had passed into the hands of the curia or provincial Senate; and, with the power, many burdensome and extensive duties, were laid upon the curiales or decurions, as they were called. (See § 15.) Exemption from these had been granted first by Constantine; afterwards, as it was found that persons sought Holy Orders in order to evade civil duties, the privilege was restrained: and various changes were introduced by different Emperors. A full outline of the various laws is given in a learned note in Newman's Fleury, vol. i. p. 162. where the text is speaking of S. Ambrose's Letter to Theodosius, (infr. Lett, xl.) where he again complains of the same hardship. The subject is also more fully dealt with by Bingham Antiq. B.V. ch. iii. § 14-16.
69. f 'Conferte' is here adopted as a manifest emendation of 'conferet.' The transfer of two letters is a common mistake of copyists.
70. g This was the case in Julian's reign, as may be seen in Theod. iii. 12.
71. h The reading of all the other Edd. 'sacri nemoris' for 'agri nemorum' is here adopted, as yielding a clearer sense.
72. i Pannonia was at this time divided into three provinces, viz. Pannonia Prima and Secunda, and Valeria Ripensis.
73. k Rhaetia Secunda was the name given to Vindelicia when separated again from Rhaetia proper, shortly before the time of Constantine: it had been united to it about the end of the first century.
74. l The Reading 'nuda gignentium' is adopted from Ed. Rom. The phrase occurs in Sallust Jug. 79, 6. 'Gignentia' is used for plants, trees &c. The clause 'quae nos' &c. is strange, but probably refers to the torpidity of winter, which is felt by man as well as by the lower creation.
75. m This passage seems suggested by reminiscences of Virgil, the phrase 'absconditam pretio humum' possibly from Aen. iv, 211. urbem Exiguam pretio posuit, while in the latter part S. Ambrose perhaps had in his mind the description of Evander's town in Aen. viii. Sec especially ll. 347-366.
76. n The story of Cybele being brought to Rome, and landing outside; the city, where the little stream of tbe Almo joins the Tiber, is told at length by Ovid, Fast. iv. 250-348. In commemoration of tbe washing of the Statue and sacred implements at the landing, an annual ceremony was maintained, which seems to have been popular, from the numerous allusions to it in later writers. See Lucan 1. 600, Martial iii. 47. 2, Stat. Silv. v. 1. 222, Sil. Ital. viii. 305, all quoted in Dict. of Geogr. When the rites were performed away from Rome, the nearest river was conventionally made the Almo for the time. It is remarkable that Ammianus Marcellinus xxiii, 3,7. mentions as one of the Emperor Julian's last acts, his keeping the day of this rite, when on his last campaign against the Persians, and performing all the ceremonies at Callinicum or Nicephorium on the Euphrates.
77. o Venus Caelestis is a Latin equivalent of 'Afrodi/th ou)rani/a, and this name was transferred, according to Herodotus (Bk. i. ch. 105.) to the Phoenician goddess Astarte, or Ashtaroth. The same author also (B. i. ch. 131.) identifies Aphrodite with the Persian goddess Mitra, which however is shewn by Prof. Rawlinson, ad loc., to be an error, as Mithras is the sun-god of the Persians. The Temple of Venus Caelestis, or Astarte, at Carthage was very shortly after this time converted into a Christian Church, as recorded by Gibbon on the authority of Prosper. Aquitan. (ch. xxviii).
78. p S. Ambrose's repeated assertions, that the Christians formed a majority in the Senate, are characterised by writers unfavourable to Christianity as unfounded, but they produce no proof. Gibbon (ch. xxviii. note 12.) simply says that it is an assertion 'in contradiction to common sense.' But as a large majority of the Senate voted for the abolition of the worship of Jupiter about the same time, as Gibbon himself records, common sense would seem rather to agree with S. Ambrose.
79. q Referring to the unhappy end of Gratian whom the previous year(A.D. 383.) had been overpowered by Maximus, who revolted in Britain, and attacked him in Gaul. His troops deserted him and he was put to death by Maximus' orders.
80. r Pompeius was murdered, as he landed in Egypt, after escaping from Pharsalia, by Achillas an Eunuch and one of the guardians of king Ptolemy.
81. s Tomyris queen of the Massagetae. See the story in Herod. i. 214.
82. t This is the first of the famous Hamilcars, the one who led the great invasion of Sicily in B. C. 480, and was totally defeated by Gelon. Herodotus, 15 vii. ch. 167, tolls the story to which S. Ambrose alludes as the account given by the Carthaginians of his end.
83. u S. Ambrose is alluding to the famous story of Julian burning his fleet, after crossing the Tigris to attack Sapor, king of Persia, in his own dominions. This was regarded afterwards by the Christians as an act of judicial blindness. See Augustine de Civ. Dei iv. 29, v. 21. Ammianus, xxiv. 7. asserts that he repented of the order as soon as it was issued, but was too late to stop the flames. Gibbon endeavours to justify the act, and says, 'had he been victorious we should now admire his conduct.' See his narrative in ch. xxiv. The author of his life in the Dict. of Ant. styles it 'the best thing he could have done, if his march into the interior of Persia, had been dictated by absolute necessity.' Setting these hypotheses aside, and looking only at the actual result, we may fairly think that the Christian interpretation of the facts, even if over-strongly expressed, is the truer.
84. Gen. xxviii. 1, 2.
85. Deut. xxiv. 14.
86. Ps. xv. 1. 6.
87. Ps. xvii. 13.
88. Tobit iv. 21.
89. Prov. xv 17.
90. Judges xx. 44. Gen. xxxiv. 25.
91. Num. xxv. 8.
92. Judges xiii. 8.
93. 1 He here refers to Josephus Antiq. v. ch. iv.
94. Judg.xiv, 14.
95. Judg.xiv. 16.
96. ib. 18.
97. a The name given in the Hebrew is Ramath Lehi, which means, 'the hill or lifting up of the jaw-bone.' S. Ambrose interprets it below 'maxillae interfectionem.' He would seem to be here suggesting a Greek etymology. The Benedictine note suggests that the name Agon is a confusion on his part from the word siagw_n in Josephus.
98. Judges xv. 16.
99. Ib. 18.
100. b The, words 'quasi in cubitum intexti' are probably from the Old Latin Version of the Bible. Field, on Origen's Hexapla in Ioe. (Judg. xvi. 13.) mentions that some MSS of LXX read e0an u(fa&nhj w(sei ph~xun or w(j e0pi\ ph~xun, which may very well have been translated by some such words as the above, in the Old Latin Version which S. Ambrose used.
101. Judges xvi. 20.
102. Judges xvi. 28.
103. a The expression 'principes virtutum' seems to be a phrase from the Old Testament. In the Vulgate we find 'rex virtutum' Ps. lxvii, (lxviii. E.V.) 13, whore the E.V. has 'kings of armies,' and in Judith xiv. 17 (19 K.V.) 'Quod quum audissent, principes virtutis Assyriorum,' and in 1 Macc. v. 56. 'Azarias princeps virtutis.' The 'comites consistoriani' formed a sort of cabinet (consistorium) or privy council to the Emperor. The Benedictine Editors take 'principes virtutum' as meaning the Magistri militum, but the absence of any conjunction is against this.
104. b This must mean the Praefectus praetorio Italiae, one of the four great Viceroys, under whom the Dioceses of the Empire were placed. He was supreme overall Italy, and the countries north of it to the Danube, and the western part of the north of Africa. He had under him three Dioceses, containing thirty Provinces.
105. c The title given them is 'Decani.' They seem to have, been something like the lictors of the great officers of state, under the republic.
106. d These 'vela' or hangings were a token that the building was claimed for the 'fiscus,' or private property of the Emperor, Gibbon in his grand way says, 'the splendid canopy and hangings of the royal scat were arranged in the customary manner,' but, as is noticed by the writer of the Life of S. Ambrose in Dict. of Christian Biog. it is clear from the sequel of the narrative (see § 20) that they were outside, not inside the Church.
107. e The words in the original are 'missam facere.' Prof. Bright in his History notes that this is 'the earliest instance, apparently, of this term being used for the Eucharistic service.'
108. f 'The introduction of barbarians into the Roman armies became every day more universal, more necessary, and more fatal. The most daring of the Scythians, of the Goths, and of the Germans, were enrolled not only in the auxiliaries of their respective nations, but in the legions themselves, and among the most distinguished of the Palatine troops.' (Gibbon, ch. xvii.) The Goths were Arians. It was much about this time that Ulfilas, the apostle of the Goths, made his famous translation of the Bible into Gothic. See Bright's Hist. of the Church p. 157.
109. Ps. xvii. 7.
110. Job ii. 9.
111. ib. 10.
112. Gen. iii. 9.
113. S. Matt. xxii. 21.
114. S. Matt. xiv. 4.
115. Ps. lxxix. 1.
116. g This is the Vulgate rendering of 'At Salem is His Tabernacle.'
117. Ps. lxxvi. 2,3.
118. Ps. xxx. 9.
119. 2 Cor. xii. 10.
120. Jonah iv. 9.
121. Ib. 7.
122. h On the high rank and great influence of the Praepositus cubiculi, or Grand Chamberlain, see Gibbon ch. xvii. They ranked with the Praefecti praetorio and other highest officers of state as Illustres. See note on Lett. xvii. § 1.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2004. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.
|Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts