Church Fathers: Post-Nicene Fathers Vol 10: 30.01.63 Letter LXIII Part 1

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Church Fathers: Post-Nicene Fathers Vol 10: 30.01.63 Letter LXIII Part 1

TOPIC: Post-Nicene Fathers Vol 10 (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 30.01.63 Letter LXIII Part 1

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Epistle LXIII.

Limenius, Bishop of Vercellae, having died, the see remained long vacant owing to domestic factions. St. Ambrose, therefore, as Exarch, writes to the Christians at Vercellae, and commences by reference to the speedy and unanimous election of Eusebius, a former Bishop, and reminds them of the presence of Christ as a reason for concord, He refers next to two apostate monks, Sarmatio and Barbatianus, and inveighs against sensuality, which degrades men below the beasts. Thence he passes to the virtues required in a bishop, referring again to Eusebius, and to Dionysius, Bishop of Milan, comparing the clerical and monastic lives, and ends with exhortations to Christian virtue. The letter seems to have been written a.d. 396.

Ambrose, a servant of Christ, called to be a Bishop, to the Church of Vercellae, and to those who call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Grace be fulfilled unto you in the Holy Spirit from God the Father and His only-begotten Son.

1. I am spent with grief that the Church of God which is among you is still without a bishop, and now alone of all the regions of Liguria and Aemilia, and of the Venetiae all the and other neighbouring parts of Italy needs that care which other churches were wont to ask for themselves from it; and what is a greater source of shame to myself, the tension amongst you which causes the obstacle is laid to my charge. Now since there are dissensions among you, how can we decree anything, or you elect, or anyone agree to undertake this office amongst those who are at variance which he could hardly sustain amongst those who are at unity.

2. Is this the training of a confessor, are these the offspring of those righteous fathers who, as soon as they saw, approved of holy Eusebius, whom they had never known before, preferring him to their fellow-citizens, and he was no sooner amongst them than he was approved, and much more when they had observed him. Justly did he turn out so great a man, whom the whole Church elected, justly was it believed that he whom all had demanded was elected by the judgment of God. It is fitting then that you follow the example of your parents, especially since you who have been instructed by a holy confessor ought to be so much better than your fathers, as a better teacher has taught and instructed you, and to manifest a sign of your moderation and concord by agreeing in your requesthyperlink for a Bishop.

3. For if according to the Lord's saying, that which two shall have agreed upon on earth concerning anything which they shall ask, shall be done for them, as He says, by My Father, Who is in heaven, for: "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them,hyperlink how much less, where the full congregation is gathered in the Name of the Lord. Where the demand of all is unanimous, ought we to doubt that the Lord Jesus is there as the Author of that desire, and the Hearer of the petition, the Presider over the ordination, and the Giver of the grace?

4. Make yourselves then to appear worthy that Christ should be in your midst. For where peace is, there is Christ, for Christ is Peace; and where righteousness is, there is Christ, for Christ is Righteousness. Let Him be in the midst of you, that you may see Him, lest it be said to you also: "There standeth One in the midst of you, Whom ye see not."hyperlink The Jews saw not Him in Whom they believed not; we look upon Him by devotion, and behold Him by faith.

5. Let Him therefore stand in your midst, that the heavens, which declare the glory of God,hyperlink may be opened to you, that you may do His will, and work His works. He who sees Jesus, to him are the heavens opened as they were opened to Stephen, when he said: "Behold I see the heavens opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God."hyperlink Jesus was standing as his advocate, He was standing as though anxious, that He might help His athlete Stephen in his conflict, He was standing as though ready to crown His martyr.

6. Let Him then be standing for you, that you may not be afraid of Him sitting; for when sitting He judges, as Daniel says: "The thrones were placed, and the books were opened, and the Ancient of days did sit."hyperlink But in the eighty-first[second] Psalm it is written: "God stood in the congregation of gods, and decideth among the gods."hyperlink So then when He sits He judges, when He stands He decides, and He judges concerning the imperfect, but decides among the gods. Let Him stand for you as a defender, as a good shepherd, lest the fierce wolves assault you.

7. And not in vain is my warning turned to this point; for I hear that Sarmatio and Barbatianushyperlink are come to you, foolish talkers, who say that there is no merit in abstinence no grace in a frugal life, none in virginity, that all are valued at one price, that they are mad who chasten their flesh with fastings, that they may bring it into subjection to the spirit. But if he had thought it madness, Paul the Apostle would never himself have acted thus, nor written to instruct others. For he glories in it, saying: "But I chasten my body, and bring it into bondage, lest, after preaching to others, I myself should be found reprobate."hyperlink So they who do not chasten their body, and desire to preach to others, are themselves esteemed reprobates.

8. For is there anything so reprobate as that which excites to luxury, to corruption, to wantonness, as the incentive to lust, the enticer to pleasure, the fuel of incontinence, the firebrand of desire?What new school has sent out these Epicureans?Not a school of philosophers, as they themselves say, but of unlearned men who preach pleasure, persuade to luxury, esteem chastity to be of no use. They were with us, but they were not of us,hyperlink for we are not ashamed to say what the Evangelist John said. But when settled here they used to fast at first, they were enclosed within the monastery, there was no place for luxury, the opportunity of mocking and disputing was cut off.

9. This these dainty men could not endure. They went abroad, then when they desired to return they were not received; for I had heard many thinks which necessitated my being cautious; I admonished them, but effected nothing. And so boiling over they began to disseminate such things as made them the miserable enticers to all vices. They utterly lost the benefit of having fasted; they lost the fruits of their temporary continence. And so now they with Satanic eagerness envy the good works of others, the fruit of which themselves have failed to keep.

10. What virgin can hear that there is no reward for her chastity and not groan?Far be it from her to believe this easily, and still more to lay aside her zeal, or change the intention of her mind. What widow, when she learnt that there was no profit in her widowhood, would choose to preserve her marriage faith and live in sorrow, rather than give herself up to a happier condition?Who, bound by the marriage-bond, if she hear that there is no honour in chastity, might not be tempted by careless levity of body or mind?And for this reason the Church in the holy lessons, and in the addresses of her priests, proclaims the praise of chastity and the glory of virginity.

11. In vain, then, does the Apostle say: "I wrote to you, in an Epistle, not to mingle with fornicators;"hyperlink and lest perchance they should say, We are not speaking of all the fornicators of the world, but we say that he who has been baptized in Christ ought not now to be esteemed a fornicator, but his life, whatever it is, is accepted of God,hyperlink the Apostle has added "Not at all[meaning] with the fornicators of this world," and farther on, "If any that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one not even to eat. For what have I to do with judging them that are without?"hyperlink And to the Ephesians: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, and covetousness let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints."hyperlink And immediately he adds: "For this ye know, that no immodest person, nor unclean, nor covetous, which is an idolator, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."hyperlink It is clear that this is said of the baptized, for they receive the inheritance, who are baptized into the death of Christhyperlink and are buried together with Him, that they may rise again with Him. Therefore they are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ:hyperlink heirs of God, because the grace of Christ is conveyed to them; joint-heirs with Christ, because they are renewed into His life; heirs also of Christ; because to them is given by His death as it were the inheritance of the testator.

12. These then ought to take heed to themselves who have that which they may lose, rather than they who have it not. These ought to act with greater care, these ought to guard against the allurements of vice, or incentives to error, which arise chiefly from food and drink. For "the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play."hyperlink

13. Epicurushyperlink himself also, whom these persons think they should follow rather than the apostles, the advocate of pleasure, although he denies that pleasure brings in evil, does not deny that certain things result from it from which evils are generated; and asserts in fine that the life of the luxurious which is filled with pleasures does not seem to be reprehensible, unless it be disturbed by the fear either of pain or of death. But how far he is from the truth is perceived even from this, that he asserts that pleasure was originally created in man by God its author, as Philomarushyperlink his follower argues in his Epitomae, asserting that the Stoics are the authors of this opinion.

14. But Holy Scripture refutes this, for it teaches us that pleasure was suggested to Adam and Eve by the craft and enticements of the serpent. Since, indeed, the serpent itself is pleasure, and therefore the passions of pleasure are various and slippery, and as it were infected with the poison of corruptions, it is certain then that Adam, being deceived by the desire of pleasure, fell away from the commandment of God and from the enjoyment of grace. How then can pleasure recall us to paradise, seeing that it alone deprived us of it?

15. Wherefore also the Lord Jesus, wishing to make us more strong against the temptations of the devil, fasted when about to contend with him, that we might know that we can in no other way overcome the enticements of evil. Further, the devil himself hurled the first dart of his temptations from the quiver of pleasure, saying: "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."hyperlink After which the Lord said: "Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word of God;"hyperlink and would not do it, although He could, in order to teach us by a salutary precept to attend rather to the pursuit of reading than to pleasure. And since they say that we ought not to fast, let them prove for what cause Christ fasted, unless it were that His fast might be an example to us. Lastly, in His later words He taught us that evil cannot be easily overcome except by our fasting, saying: "This kind of devils is not cast out but by prayer and fasting."hyperlink

16. And what is the intention of the Scripture which teaches us that Peter fasted, and that the revelation concerning the baptism of Gentiles was made to him when fasting and praying,hyperlink except to show that the Saints themselves advance when they fast. Finally, Moses received the Law when he was fasting;hyperlink and so Peter when fasting was taught the grace of the New Testament. Daniel too by virtue of his fast stopped the mouths of the lions and saw the events of future times.hyperlink And what safety can there be for us unless we wash away our sins by fasting, since ScriptUre says that fasting and alms do away sin?hyperlink

17. Who then are these new teachers who reject the merit of fasting? Is it not the voice of heathen who say, "Let us eat and drink?" whom the Apostle well ridicules, when he says: "If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me if the dead rise not?Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."hyperlink That is to say, What profited me my contention even unto death, except that I might redeem my body?And it is redeemed in vain if there is no hope of the resurrection. And, consequently, if all hope of the resurrection is lost, let us eat and drink, let us not lose the enjoyment of things present, who have none of things to come. It is then for them to indulge in meats and drinks who hope for nothing after death.

18. Rightly then does the Apostle, arguing against these men, warn us that we be not shaken by such opinions, saying: "Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners. Be ye righteously sober and sin not, for some have no knowledge of God."hyperlink Sobriety, then, is good, for drunkenness is sin.

19. But as to that Epicurus himself, the defender of pleasure, of whom, therefore, we have made frequent mention in order to prove that these men are either disciples of the heathen and followers of the Epicurean sect or himself, whom the very philosophers exclude from their company as the patron of luxury, what if we prove him to be more tolerable than these men? He declares, as Demarchushyperlink asserts, that neither drinking, nor banquets, nor offspring, nor embraces of women, nor abundance of fish, and other such like things which are prepared for the service of a sumptuous banquet, make life sweet, but sober discussion. Lastly, he added that those who do not use the banquets of society in excess, use them with moderation. He who willingly makes use of the juices of plants alone together with bread and water, despises feasts on delicacies, for many inconveniences arise from them. In another place they also say: It is not excessive banquets, nor drinking which give rise to the enjoyment of pleasure, but a life of temperance.

20. Since, then, philosophy has disowned those men, is the Church not to exclude them?Seeing, too, that they, because they have a bad cause, frequently fall foul of themselves by their own assertions. For, although their chief opinion is that there is no enjoyment of pleasure except such as is derived from eating and drinking, yet understanding that they cannot, without the greatest shame, cling to so disgraceful a definition, and that they are forsaken by all, they have tried to colour it with a sort of stain of specious arguments; so that one of them has said: Whilst we are aiming at pleasure by means of banquets and songs, we have lost that which is infused into us by the reception of the Word, whereby alone we can be saved.

21. Do not they by these various arguments show themselves to us as differing and disagreeing one with the other? And Scripture too condemns them, not passing over those whom the Apostle refuted, as Luke, who wrote the book as a history, tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, "And certain also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers disputed with him. And some said, What does this babbler mean?And others said, He seemeth to be a setter forth of new gods."hyperlink

22. Yet from this hand too the Apostle did not go forth without success, since even Dionysius the Areopagite together with his wife Damaris and many others believed. And so that company of most learned and eloquent men showed themselves overcome in a simple discussion by the example of those who believed. What then do those men mean, who endeavour to prevent those whom the Apostle has gained, and whom Christ has redeemed with His own blood? asserting that the baptized ought not to give themselves to the discipline of the virtues, that revellings injure them not, nor abundance of pleasures; that they are foolish who go without them, that virgins ought to marry, bear children, and likewise widows to repeat that converse with man which they have once experienced with ill results; and that even if they can contain, they are in error who will not again enter the marriage bond.

23. What then?Would you have us put off the man in order to put on the beast, and stripping ourselves of Christ, clothe ourselves or be superclothed with the garments of the devil?But since the very teachers of the heathen did not think that honour and pleasure could be joined together, because they would seem thus to class beasts with men, shall we as it were infuse the habits of beasts into the human breast, and inscribe on the reasonable mind the unreasoning ways of wild beasts?

24. And yet there are many kinds of animals, which, when they have lost their fellow, will not mate again, and spend their time as it were in solitary life; many too live on simple herbs, and will not quench their thirst except at a pure stream; one can also often see dogs refrain from food forbidden them, so that they close their famishing mouths if restraint is bidden them. Must men then be warned against that wherein brutes have learned not to transgress?

26. But what is more admirable than abstinence, which makes even the years of youth to ripen, so that there is an old age of character?For as by excess of food and by drunkenness even mature age is excited, so the wildness of youth is lessened by scanty feasts and by the running stream. An external fire is extinguished by pouring on water, it is then no wonder if the inward heat of the body is cooled by draughts from the stream, for the flame is fed or fails according to the fuel. As hay, straw, wood, oil, and such like things are the nourishment which feeds fire, if you take them away, or do not supply them, the fire is extinguished. In like manner then the heat of the body is supported or lessened by food, it is excited by food and lessened by food. Luxury then is the mother of lust.

27. And is not temperance agreeable to nature, and to that divine law, which in the very beginning of all created things gave the springs for drink and the fruits of the trees for food?After the Flood the just man found wine a source of temptation to him.hyperlink Let us then use the natural drink of temperance, and would that we all were able to do so. But because all are not strong the Apostle said: "Use a little wine because of thy frequent infirmities."hyperlink We must drink it then not for the sake of pleasure, but because of infirmity, and therefore sparingly as a remedy, not in excess as a gratification.

28. Lastly, Elijah, whom the Lord was training to the perfection of virtue, found at his head a cake and a cruse of water; and then fasted in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights.hyperlink Our fathers, when they passed across the sea on foot,hyperlink drank water not wine. Daniel and the Hebrew children, fed with their peculiar food,hyperlink and with water to drink, overcame, the former the fury of the lions;hyperlink the latter saw the burning fire play around their limbs with harmless touch.hyperlink

26. And why should I speak of men? Judith, in no way moved by the luxurious banquet of Holophernes, carried off the triumph of which men's arms despaired, solely in right of her temperance; delivered her country from occupation and slew the leader of the expedition with her own hands.hyperlink A clear proof both that his luxury had enervated that warrior, terrible to the nations, and that temperance made this woman stronger than men. In this case it was not in her sex that nature was surpassed, but she overcame by her diet. Esther by her fasts moved a proud king.hyperlink Anna, who for eighty-four years in her widowhood had served God with fasts and prayers day and night in the temple,hyperlink recognized Christ, Whom John, the master of abstinence, and as it were a new angel on earth, announced.

30. O foolish Elisha, for feeding the prophets with wild and bitter gourds!hyperlink O Ezra forgetful of Scripture, though he did restore the Scriptures from memory!hyperlink foolish Paul, who glories in fastings,hyperlink if fastings profit nothing.

31. But how should that not be profitable by which our sins are purged? And if you offer this with humility and with mercy, your bones, as Isaiah said, shall be fat, and you shall be like a well-watered garden.hyperlink So, then, your soul shall grow fat and its virtues also by the spiritual richness of fasting, and your fruits shall be multiplied by the fertility of your mind, so that there may be in you the inebriation of soberness, like that cup of which the Prophet says: "Thy cup which inebriates, how excellent it is!"hyperlink

32. But not only is that temperance worthy of praise which moderates food, but also that which moderates lust. Since it is written: "Go not after thy lusts, and deny thy appetite. If thou givest her desires to thy soul, thou wilt be a joy to thine enemies;"hyperlink and farther on; "Wine and women make even wise men to fall away;"hyperlink So that Paul teaches temperance even in marriage itself; for he who is incontinent in marriage is a kind of adulterer, and violates the law of the Apostle.

33. And why should I tell how great is the grace of virginity, which was found worthy to be chosen by Christ, that it might be even the bodily temple of God, in which as we read the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily.hyperlink A Virgin conceived the Salvation of the world, a Virgin brought forth the life of all. Virginity then ought not to be left to itself, seeing that it benefited all in Christ. A Virgin bore Him Whom this world cannot contain or support. And when He was born from His mother's womb, He yet preserved the fence of her chastity and the inviolate seal of her virginity. And so Christ found in the Virgin that which He willed to make His own, that which the Lord of all might take to Himself. Further, our flesh was cast out of Paradise by a man and woman and was joined to God through a Virgin.

34. What shall I say concerning the other Mary,hyperlink the sister of Moses, who as leader of the women passed on foot the straits of the sea?hyperlink By the same gift Thecla also was reverenced by the lions, so that the unfed beasts stretched at the feet of their prey prolonged a holy fast, and harmed the virgin neither with wanton look nor claw, since virginity is injured even by a look.

35. Again, with what reverence for virginity has the holy Apostle spoken: "Concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, but I give my counsel, as having obtained mercy of the Lord."hyperlink He has received no commandment, but a counsel, for that which beyond the law is not commanded, but is rather advised by way of counsel. Authority is not assumed but grace is shown, and this is not shown by anyone, but by him who obtained mercy from the Lord. Are then the counsels of these men better than those of the apostles? The Apostle says, "I give my counsel," but they think it right to dissuade any from cultivating virginity.

36. And we ought to recognize what commendation of it the prophet, or rather Christ in the prophet, has uttered in a short verse; "A garden enclosed," says He, "is My sister, My spouse, a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain."hyperlink Christ says this to the Church, which he desires to be a virgin, without spot, without a wrinkle. A fertile garden is virginity, which can bear many fruits of good odour. A garden enclosed, because it is everywhere shut in by the wall of chastity. A sealed fountain, because virginity is the source and origin of modesty, having to keep inviolate the seal of purity, in which source the image of God is reflected, since the purity of simplicity agrees also with chastity of the body.

37. And no one can doubt that the Church is a virgin, who also in the Epistle to the Corinthians is espoused and presented as a chaste virgin to Christ.hyperlink So in the first Epistle he gives his counsel, and esteems the gift of virginity as good, since it is not disturbed by any troubles of the present time, nor polluted by any of its defilements, nor shaken by any storms; in the later Epistle he brings a spouse to Christ, because he is able to certify the virginity of the Church in the purity of that people.

38. Answer me now, O Paul, in what way thou givest counsel for the present distress.hyperlink "Because he that is without a wife is careful," he says, "for the things of the Lord, how he may please God." And he adds, "The unmarried woman and the virgin think of the things of the Lord, that they may be holy in body and spirit."hyperlink She has then her wall against the tempests of this world, and so fortified by the defence of divine protection she is disturbed by none of the blasts of this world. Good then is counsel, because there is advantage in counsel, but there is a bond in a commandment. Counsel attracts the willing, commandment binds the unwilling. If then anyone has followed counsel, and not repented, she has gained an advantage; but if she has repented, she has no ground for blaming the Apostle, for she ought herself to have judged of her own weakness; and so she is responsible for her own will, inasmuch as she bound herself by a bond and knot beyond her power to bear.

39. And so like a good physician, desiring to preserve the stability of virtue in the strong, and to give health to the weak, he gives counsel to the one, and points out the remedy to the others: "He that is weak eateth herbs,"hyperlink let him take a wife; he that has more power let him seek the stronger meat of virtue. And rightly he added: "For he who being steadfast hath settled in his own heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath determined this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin, doeth well. So then both he who giveth his own virgin in marriage, doeth well; and he that giveth her not in marriage, doeth better. A woman is bound by the law, for so long a time as her husband liveth. But if her husband have fallen asleep, she is freed, let her marry whom she will, only in the Lord. But she will be more happy if she abide as she is, after my counsel, for I think that I also have the Spirit of the Lord."hyperlink This is to have the counsel of God, to search diligently into all things, and to advise things that are best, and to point out those that are safest.

40. A careful guide points out many paths, that each may walk along the one which he prefers and considers suitable to himself, so long as he comes upon one by which he can reach the camp. The path of virginity is good, but being high and steep requires the stronger wayfarers. Good also is that of widowhood, not so difficult as the former, but being rocky and rough, it requires more cautious travellers. Good too is that of marriage; being smooth and even it reaches the camp of the saints by a longer circuit. This way is taken by most. There are then the rewards of virginity, there are the merits of widowhood, there is also a place for conjugal modesty. There are steps and advances in each and every virtue.

41. Stand therefore firm in your hearts, that no one overthrow you, that no one be able to make you fall. The Apostle has taught us what it is "to stand," that is what was said to Moses: "The place whereon thou standest is holy ground;"hyperlink for no one stands unless he stand by faith, unless he stands fixed in the determination of his own heart. In another place also we read: "But do thou stand here with Me."hyperlink Each sentence was spoken by the Lord to Moses, both "Where thou standest is holy ground," and "Stand here with Me," that is, thou standest with Me, if thou stand firm in the Church. For the very place is holy, the very ground is fruitful with sanctity and fertile with harvests of virtues.

42. Stand then in the Church, stand where I appeared to thee, where I am with thee. Where the Church is, there is the most solid resting place for thy mind, there the support of thy soul, where I appeared to thee in the bush. Thou art the bush, I am the fire; the fire in the bush, I in the flesh. Therefore am I the fire, that I may give light to thee, that I may consume thy thorns, that is, thy sins. and show thee My grace.

43. Standing firm then in your hearts, drive away from the Church the wolves which seek to carry off prey. Let there be no sloth in you, let not your mouth be evil nor your tongue bitter. Do not sit in the council of vanity; for it is written, "I have not sat in the council of vanity."hyperlink Do not listen to those who speak against their neighbours, lest whilst you listen to others, you be stirred up yourselves to speak against your neighbours, and it be said to each of you "Thou satest and spakest against thy brother."hyperlink

44. Men sit when speaking against others, they stand when they praise the Lord, to whom it is said: "Behold now, praise the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, ye that stand in the house of the Lord."hyperlink He who sits, to speak of the bodily habit, is as it were loosened by ease, and relaxes the energy of his mind. But the careful watchman, the active searcher, the watchful guardian, who keeps the outposts of the camp, stands. The zealous warrior, too, who desires to anticipate the designs of the enemy, stands in array before he is expected.

45. "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall."hyperlink He who stands does not give way to detraction, for it is the tales of those at ease in which detraction is spread abroad, and malignity betrayed. So that the prophet says: "I have hated the congregation of the malignant, and will not sit with the ungodly."hyperlink And in the thirty-sixth Psalm, which he has filled with moral precepts, he has put at the very beginning: "Be not malignant amongst the malignant, neither be envious of those who do iniquity."hyperlink Malignancy is more harmful than malice, because malignancy has neither pure simplicity nor open malice, but a hidden ill-will. And it is more difficult to guard against what is hidden than against what is known. For which reason too our Saviour warns us to beware of malignant spirits, because they would catch us by the appearance of sweet pleasures and a show of other things, when they hold forth honour to entice us to ambition, riches to avarice, power to pride.

46. And so both in every action, and especially in the demand for a bishop, by whom [as a pattern] the life of all is formed; malignity ought to be absent; so that the man who is to be elected out of all, and to heal all, may be preferred to all by a calm and peaceful decision. For "the meek man is the physician of the heart."hyperlink And the Lord in the Gospel called Himself this, when He said: "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick."hyperlink

47. He is the good Physician, Who has taken upon Him our infirmities, has healed our sicknesses, and yet He, as it is written, honoured not Himself to be made a High Priest, but He Who spake to Him. The Father said: "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee."hyperlink As He said in another place: "Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech." Who, since He was the type of all future priests, took our flesh upon Him, that "in the days of His flesh He might offer prayers and supplications with a loud voice and tears; and by those things which He suffered, though He was the Son of God, might seem to learn obedience, which He taught us, that He might be made to us the Author of Salvation?"hyperlink And at last when His sufferings were completed, as though completed and made perfect Himself, He gave health to all, He bore the sin of all.

48. And so He Himself also chose Aaron as priest, that not the will of man but the grace of God should have the chief part in the election of the priest;hyperlink not the voluntary offering of himself, nor the taking it upon himself, but the vocation from heaven, that he should offer gifts for sins who could be touched for those who sinned, for He Himself, it is said, bears our weakness.hyperlink No one ought to take this honour upon himself but they are called of God, as was Aaron,hyperlink and so Christ did not demand but received the priesthood.

49. Lastly, when the succession derived through family descent from Aaron, contained rather heirs of the family than sharers in his righteousness, there came, after the likeness of that Melchisedech, of whom we read in the Old Testament, the true Melchisedech, the true King of peace, the true King of righteousness, for this is the interpretation of the Name, "without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life,"hyperlink which also refers to the Son of God, Who in His Divine Generation had no mother, was in His Birth of the Virgin Mary without a father; begotten before the ages of the Father alone, born in this age of the Virgin alone, and certainly could have no beginning of days seeing He "was in the beginning."hyperlink And how could He have any end of life, Who is the Author of life to all?He is "the Beginning and the Ending."hyperlink But this also is referred to Him as an example, that a priest ought to be without father and without mother, since in him it is not nobility of family, but holiness of character and pro-eminence in virtue which is elected.

50. Let there be in him faith and ripeness of character, not one without the other, but let both meet together in one with good works and deeds. For which reason the Apostle Paul wishes that we should be imitators of them, who, as he says, "by faith and patience"hyperlink possess the promises made to Abraham, who by patience was found worthy to receive and to possess the grace of the blessing promised to him. David the prophet warns us that we should be imitators of holy Aaron, and has set him amongst the Saints of God to be imitated by us, saying: "Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among those that call upon His Name."hyperlink

51. A man clearly worthy to be proposed that all should follow him was he, for when a terrible death on account of the rebels was spreading over the people, he offered himself between the dead and the living, that he might arrest death, and that no more should perish.hyperlink A man truly of priestly mind and soul, who as a good shepherd with pious affection offered himself for the Lord's flock. And so he broke the sting of death, restrained its violence, refused it further course. Affection aided his deserts, for he offered himself for those who were resisting him.

52. Let those then who dissent learn to fear to rouse up the Lord, and to appease His priests. What! did not the earthquake swallow up Dathan, Abiron, and Korah because of their dissension?hyperlink For when Korah, Dathan, and Abiron had stirred up two hundred and fifty men against Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from them, they rose up against them and said: "Let it suffice you that all the congregation are holy, every one, and the Lord is amongst them."hyperlink

53. Whereupon the Lord was angry and spoke to the whole congregation. The Lord considered and knew those that were His, and drew His saints to. Himself; and those whom He chose not, He did not draw to Himself. And the Lord commanded that Korah and all those who had risen up with him against Moses and Aaron the priests of the Lord should take to themselves censers, and put on incense,hyperlink that he who was chosen of the Lord might be established as holy among the Levites of the Lord,54. And Moses said to Korah: "Hear me, ye sons of Levi: Is this a small thing unto you, that God hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, and brought you near to Himself, to minister the service of the Tabernacle of the Lord."hyperlink And farther on, "Seek ye the priesthood also, so that thou and all thy congregation are gathered against the Lord. And what is Aaron that ye murmur about him?"hyperlink

55. Considering, then, what causes of offence existed, that unworthy persons desired to discharge the offices of the priesthood, and therefore were causing dissensions; and were murmuring in censure of the judgment of God in the choice of His priest, the whole people were seized with a great fear, and dread of punishment came upon them all. But when all implore that all perish not for the insolence of few, those guilty of the wickedness are marked out; and two hundred and fifty men with their leaders are separated from the whole body of the people; and then the earth with a groan cleaves asunder in the midst of the people, a deep gulf opens, the offenders are swallowed up, and are so removed from all the elements of this world, as neither to pollute the air by breathing it, nor the heavens by beholding them, nor the sea by their touch, nor the earth by their sepulchres.

56. The punishment ceased, but the wickedness ceased not; for from this very thing a murmuring rose among them that the people had perished through the priests. In His wrath at this, the Lord would have destroyed them all, had He not been moved first by the prayers of Moses and Aaron, and afterwards also at the intervention of His priest Aaron (the humiliation of their forgiveness being thereby greater), He willed to give their lives to those whose privilege they had repudiated.

57. Miriam the prophetess herself, who with her brothers had crossed the straits of the sea on foot, because, being still ignorant of the mystery of the Ethiopian woman, she had murmured against her brother Moses, broke out with leprous spots,hyperlink so that she would scarcely have been freed from so great a plague, unless Moses had prayed for her. Although this murmuring refers to the type of the Synagogue, which is ignorant of the mystery of that Ethiopian woman, that is the Church gathered out of the nations, and murmurs with daily reproaches, and envies that people through whose faith itself also shall be delivered from the leprosy of its unbelief, according to what we read that: "blindness in part has happened unto Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved.hyperlink

58. And that we may observe that divine grace rather than human works in priests, of the many rods which Moses had received according to the Tribes, and had laid up, that of Aaron alone blossomed. And so the people saw that the gift of the Divine vocation is to be looked for in a priest, and ceased from claiming equal grace for a human choice though they had before thought that a similar prerogative belonged to themselves. But what else does that rod show, but that priestly grace never decays, and in the deepest lowliness has in its office the flower of the power committed to it, or that this also is refered to in mystery? Nor do we think that it was without a purpose that this took place near the end of the life of Aaron the priest. It seems to be shown that the ancient people, full of decay through the oldness of the long-continued unfaithfulness of the priests, being fashioned again in the last times to zeal in faith and devotion by the example of the Church, will again send forth with revived grace its flowers dead through so many ages.


1 The people demanded, requested, or acclaimed some one as bishop [postulavit], and he was then elected, if they thought well, by the clergy. St. Ambrose makes this clear [Ep. XV. 12], saying of Acholius. "Ad summum sacerdotium a Macedonicis obsecratus populis, electus a sacerdotibus."

2 S. Matt. xviii. 21.

3 S. John i. 26.

4 Ps. xix. [xviii.] 1.

5 Acts vii. 56.

6 Dan. vii. 9.

7 Ps. lxxxii. [lxxxi.] 1.

8 There were two apostate monks, followers apparently of Jovinian, who was condemned by synods at Rome and Milan a.d. 390.

9 1 Cor. ix. 27.

10 S. John ii. 19.

11 1 Cor. v. 9.

12 This was one of the errors of Jovinian.

13 1 Cor. v. 10, 1 Cor. v. 11.

14 Eph. v. 3.

15 Eph. v. 5.

16 Rom. vi. 3.

17 Rom. viii. 17.

18 1 Cor. x. 7.

19 See de Off. i. 50.

20 Who this may be is unknown, and the name, even, owing to various readings, is uncertain.

21 S. Matt. iv. 3.

22 S. Matt. iv. 4.

23 S. Matt. xvii. 21.

24 Acts x. 10.

25 Ex. xxxiv. 28.

26 Dan. vi. Dan. vii.

27 Tobit xii. 8, Tobit xii. 9.

28 1 Cor. xv. 32.

29 1 Cor. xv. 33.

30 Demarchus is mentioned by no writer besides St. Ambrose. The Benedictine editors suggest that Hermachus is meant, who succeeded Epicurus as leader of his school.

31 Acts xvii. 18.

32 Gen. ix. 20.

33 1 Tim. v. 23.

34 1 [3] Kings xix. 6.

35 Ex. xvii. 6.

36 Dan. i. 8.

37 Dan. vi. 22.

38 Dan. iii. 27.

39 Judg. xiii. i6.

40 Esth. iv. 16.

41 S. Luke ii. 37.

42 2 [4] Kings iv. 39.

43 Ezra vii. 6.

44 2 Cor. xi. 27.

45 Isa. lviii. 11.

46 Ps. xxiii. [xxii.] 5 [LXX.].

47 Ecclus. xviii. 30, Ecclus. xviii. 31.

48 Ecclus. xix. 2.

49 Col. i. 9.

50 i.e. Miriam, the Hebrew form of the name.

51 Ex. xv. 20.

52 1 Cor. vii. 25.

53 Cant. iv. 12.

54 2 Cor. xi. 2.

55 1 Cor. vii. 26.

56 1 Cor. vii. 32.

57 Rom. xiv. 2.

58 1 Cor. vii. 37-40.

59 Ex. iii. 5.

60 Deut. v. 31.

61 Ps. xxvi. [xxv.] 4.

62 Ps. l. [xlix.] 20.

63 Ps. cxxxiv. [cxxxiii.] 1, Ps. cxxxiv. [cxxxiii.] 2.

64 1 Cor. x. 12.

65 Ps. xxvi. [xxv.] 5.

66 Ps. xxxvii. [xxxvi.] 1.

67 Prov. xiv. 30 [LXX.].

68 S. Matt. ix. 12.

69 Heb. v. 5.

70 Heb. v. 5, quoted loosely.

71 Num. xvi. 40.

72 Heb. v. 2.

73 Heb. v. 4.

74 Heb. v. 3.

75 S. John i. 1.

76 Rev. i. 8.

77 Heb. vi. 12.

78 Ps. xcix. [xcviii.] 1.

79 Num. xvi. 48.

80 Num. xvi. 32.

81 Num. xvi. 3.

82 Num. xvi. 17.

83 Num. xvi. 8, Num. xvi. 9.

84 Num. xvi. 9-11.

85 Num. xii. 10.

86 Rom. xi. 25.