THIS, the longest and latest, and certainly not the least interesting, of S. Ambrose's Letters, is addressed to the Church of Vercellae, which, owing to intestine divisions, had been for some time without a Bishop. S.Ambrose first urges them to remember Christ's Presence among them, and to proceed to Election with that thought especially in their minds. He then speaks of two followers of Jovinian, Sarmatio and Barbatianus, 58 who had introduced their evil doctrines among them, and so fostered divisions. This leads him to dwell at length on the evils of sensuality and the benefits of self-denial, on the profit of fasting, and the excellence of a virgin life, and bids them 'stand fast,' and not be led astray by false teachers. Then he recurs to the subject of the election of a Bishop, and bids them lay aside all evil feelings, and choose one worthy of so high an office, setting before them the examples of our Lord Himself, of Moses and Aaron. He then speaks of the qualities to be looked for in a true Bishop, and urges them to choose one worthy to succeed to the see of the holy martyr Eusebius, and, recurring to the examples of the old Testament, dwells on the history of Elijah. He ends by a general exhortation to all the Church of Vercellae to the chief Christian virtues, after the model of S. Paul's Epistles, to which the outline of this letter bears a general resemblance. Some questions as to its genuineness have been alluded to in the notes. There seems no sufficient reason for doubting that it is a genuine letter of S. Ambrose. It is thoroughly Ambrosian in style and method, and in its treatment of Scripture, especially of the history of the old Testament and of the lives of the great saints of the old dispensation. It was written not more than a year before S. Ambrose's death.
AMBROSE, SERVANT OF CHRIST, CALLED TO BE BISHOP, TO THE CHURCH OF VERCELLAE, AND TO THEM WHO CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, GRACE UNTO YOU FROM GOD THE FATHER AND HIS ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON BE FULFILLED IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.
I AM overcome by grief that the Church of the Lord, which is among you, has still no Bishop, and alone in all the regions of Liguria and Aemilia, of Venetia and the adjacent parts of Italy, stands in need of those ministrations which other Churches were wont to ask at her hands, and, what causes me still more shame, the contention 4 which causes this delay is ascribed to me. For as long as there are dissensions among you, how can either we 59 determine anything, or you make your election, or any man accept the election, so as to undertake among men who are at variance an office difficult to bear the weight of, even among those that agree?
Are you the scholars of a confessor, are you the offspring of those righteous fathers, who as soon as they saw holy Eusebius 5, though before he was unknown to them, put aside their own countrymen, and forthwith approved of him; and required no more than the sight of him for their approval? Rightly did he who was chosen unanimously by the Church, turn out so eminent a man, rightly was it believed that he whom all demanded was chosen by the judgment of God. It is fitting therefore that you follow the example of your fathers, especially since it behoves you, who have been trained by so holy a Confessor, to be better than your fathers, forasmuch as you have been trained and taught by a better preceptor; and to show forth a visible sign of your moderation and concord, by unanimously agreeing to the choice of a Bishop.
If the Lord has said, If two of you shall agree as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven: For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in, the midst of them; how much less, when many are assembled in the name of the Lord, where all agree together in their petitions, how much less ought we in any wise to doubt that there the Lord Jesus will be present to inspire their will and grant their petition, to preside over the ordination and confer the grace?
Make yourselves therefore worthy that Christ should stand in the midst of you; for wheresoever is peace there is Christ, for Christ is Peace; wheresoever is righteousness there is Christ, for Christ is Righteousness. Let Him stand in the midst of you, that you may see Him, that it be not said to you also, There standeth One among you, Whom ye know not. The Jews saw Him not, for they believed not on Him; we behold Him by devotion, and see Him by faith.
Let Him therefore stand in the midst of you, that you may have the heavens which declare the glory of God, opened to you; that you may do His will and work His works. The heavens are opened to him who sees Jesus, as they were opened to Stephen, when he said, Behold I see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Jesus stood as an intercessor, He stood, as being eager to assist His soldier Stephen in his combat; He stood as being prepared to crown His martyr.
Let Him therefore stand in the midst of you, that you may not fear Him when seated on His throne, for seated thereon He will judge, according to the saying of Daniel, I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the books were opened, and the Ancient of days did sit. And in the 82nd Psalm it is written, God standeth in the congregation of princes, He decideth among gods. So then being seated He judges, standing He decides. He judges concerning them that are not perfected, He decides among the gods. Let Him stand for you as a Defender, as the good Shepherd, that cruel wolves may not attack you.
Nor is it without reason that my admonition directs itself to this point; for I hear that Sarmatio and Barbatianus 6 have come among you, vain boasters, who assert that there is no merit in abstinence, no grace in a strict life, none in virginity, that all are to be rated at one price, that they who chastise their flesh, in order to bring it into subjection to the body, are beside themselves. But had the Apostle Paul thought it a madness, he never would have practised it himself, nor written it for the instruction of others. Yet he thus glories, saying, But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself be found a reprobate . So that they who chastise not their own bodies, yet would fain preach to others, are themselves accounted reprobates.
For is there aught so reprobate 8 as that which excites us to impurity, to corruption, to wantonness? as the fuel of lust, the enticer to pleasure, the nurse of incontinence, the incentive of desire? What new school has sent forth these Epicureans? No school of philosophers, as they affirm, but of ignorant men who are setters forth of pleasure, who persuade to luxury, who hold chastity to be useless. They were with us, but they were not of us, for we blush not to say what the Apostle John said. It was when placed here that they first fasted, within the monastery they were under restraint; there was no room for licence, all opportunity of jesting and altercation was cut off.
This these men of delicacy could not bear. They departed, and when they desired to return were not received, for I had heard many things concerning them against which it behoved me to be on my guard; I admonished them, but in vain. Thus they began to boil over and spread abroad what might prove the miserable incentives of all kinds of vice. Thus they lost the fruits of their fasting, they lost the fruits of having contained themselves a little while. And now with Satanic malice they envy others those good works, the fruits of which they have themselves lost.
What virgin can hear without grieving that her chastity will have no reward? Far be it from her readily to give credence to this, still less let her lay aside her earnestness, or change the intention of her mind. What widow, were she to find her widowhood profitless, would choose to preserve inviolate her first marriage-vow, and live in sorrow, instead of allowing herself to be comforted? What wife is there who hearing that no honour is due to chastity, might not be tempted by unwatchful heedlessness of mind or body? And that is why the Church, in her sacred Lessons, in the discourses of her priests, daily sends forth the praises of chastity, the glory of virginity.
Vainly then has the Apostle said, I wrote to you in an Epistle not to company with fornicators: and lest perhaps they should say, 'We speak not of the fornicators of this world, but we say that he who has been baptized into Christ ought not to be deemed a fornicator, but whatever his life may be, it will be accepted by God,' the Apostle has added; Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, and below, If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? And to the Ephesians, But fornication, and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not once be named among you, as becometh saints, adding straightway, For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. This, it is plain, is said of the baptized, for they receive an inheritance who are baptized into the death of Christ, and are buried together with Him, that they may rise together with Him. Wherefore they are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, heirs of God because the Grace of God is conveyed to them, and coheirs of Christ because they are renewed according to His life; heirs also of Christ because by His Death He grants to them as Testator His inheritance.
Now such as these, who have somewhat to lose, ought more to take heed to themselves than they who have nothing. These ought to act with greater caution, to avoid the snares of vice and the incentives to sin, which chiefly arise out of meat and drink. The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Even Epicurus himself, whose example these men prefer to that of the Apostles, he, the champion of pleasure, while he denies that it produces evil, denies not that certain consequences flow from it, from which evils are generated: he maintains too that not even the life of the licentious, which is filled with pleasures of this kind, can be said to be objectionable, unless it be assailed by the fear of pain or death. How far removed he is from the truth, may be discovered even from this, that he declares pleasure to be the work of God in man as its originator, as his follower Philomarus 9 maintains in his Epitomes, referring this opinion to the Stoics as its authors.
But this is refuted by holy Scripture, which teaches us that pleasure was instilled into Adam and Eve by the snares and enticements of the Serpent. For the Serpent itself is pleasure, and, in accordance with this, the passions of pleasure are various and slippery, and infected by the poison, so to speak, of corrupt enticement. Hence it is plain that Adam, deceived by the sensual appetite, fell from his obedience to God, and the reward of grace. How then can pleasure recal us to Paradise, when it alone cast us out of Paradise?
Wherefore the Lord Jesus, willing to strengthen us against the temptations of the Devil, fasted before His combat, to teach us that otherwise we cannot conquer the snares of evil. Moreover, the Devil himself employed the force of pleasure in launching the first dart of his temptations, saying, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. To which the Lord replies, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God; nor would He do it, although within His power, that He might teach us by this wholesome precept to attend rather to love of reading, than to pleasure. Now seeing they deny that we ought to fast, let them be prepared with some reason why Christ fasted, unless it were that His fast might be an example to us. Lastly in a subsequent instance He has taught us that except by fasting evil cannot easily be conquered. These are His words, This kind of evil spirits goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
Or what can be the meaning of Scripture which teaches that Peter fasted, and that it was while he was fasting and praying that the mystery of the baptism of the Gentiles was revealed to him? what but to convince us that the Saints themselves by fasting are advanced in virtue? It was while fasting that Moses received the Law, and in like manner, Peter, while fasting, was taught the grace of the New Testament. To Daniel also it was vouchsafed through fasting to stop the mouths of the lions, and to behold the events of times to come. Lastly, what hope of salvation can there be for us, unless by fasting we wash away our sins, since Scripture says, Fasting and alms purge away sin?
Who then are these new teachers who deny the merit of fasting? Are they not heathen words which say, Let us eat and drink? And well does the Apostle tell them, saying, If after the manner of men I have fought with the beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. That is to say, What did it profit me to contend even unto death, save that I might redeem my body? For in vain is it redeemed if there is no hope of the resurrection. If therefore all hope of this is to be abandoned, let us eat and drink, let us not lose the fruit of things present, seeing that future things are not within our grasp. It is for those then to indulge in meat and drink, who have nothing to hope for after death.
Lastly, the Epicureans, the champions of pleasure, assert that death is nothing to us: what is dissolved, they say, is insensible, and what is insensible is nothing to us. By this they show plainly that they live by the body only and not by the mind, and do not perform the functions of the soul but of the body only, in that by separation of soul and body they deem all their vital functions to be dissolved, the merits of their virtues and all vigor of their souls to perish, that with his bodily senses the whole man fails, and that, though the body itself is not immediately dissolved, the mind leaves not a relic behind it. Then they would have the soul perish sooner than the body, whereas even according to their own opinion they ought to remember that the flesh and bones remain after death; and, would they abide by the truth, they ought not to deny the grace of the resurrection.
Well therefore does the Apostle, confuting these persons, admonish us not to be overthrown by such opinions, saying, Be not deceived, evil communications corrupt good manners. Be sober 10 unto righteousness and sin not; for some are ignorant of God. To be sober then is good, for drunkenness is sin.
But as to Epicurus, this advocate of pleasure, him of whom we make such frequent mention, in order to prove that these men are disciples of the heathens, and follow either the sect of the Epicureans or the man himself who was excluded even by philosphers from their company as the pattern of luxury, what if we can prove even him to be more tolerable than these men? Now he asserts, as Demarchus tells us, that it is not drinking-bouts, nor banquettings, nor the birth of sons, nor the embraces of women, nor a large supply of fish and such delicacies provided for sumptuous feasts, it is not these which make life sweet, but sober discourse. He added also that they who are not excessive in seeking the dainties of the table, are moderate in the use of them. The man who cheerfully limits himself to the juices of plants and to bread and water, despises delicate feasts, for from these arise many evils. Elsewhere too they say that it is not excessive banquets and revels which make pleasure sweet, but a temperate life.
Seeing then that philosphy has renounced these men, shall not the Church exclude them? They themselves too, as is usual in a bad cause, often attack themselves by their own arguments. For although it be their main opinion, that there is no sweetness of pleasure but that which arises from eating and drinking; yet, perceiving that they cannot lay down so shameful a definition without the utmost disgrace, and that none stand by them, they have sought to disguise it under the gloss of colourable arguments, and thus one of them has said, In seeking pleasure by means of feasting and song, we have lost that which is derived from hearing that Word whereby alone we can be saved.
Do we not then perceive in this complicated discussion how inconsistent and variable these men are? Scripture condemns them, for it has not passed over those whom the Apostles confuted, as Luke records in the Acts of the Apostles, which he has written in narrative style, Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the 66 Stoics encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods.
Yet not even from this number did the Apostle part devoid of success. For Dionysius the Areopagite, and Damaris his wife, with many others, believed. And thus by their acts this assembly of the learned and eloquent proved themselves vanquished by the simple discourse of the faithful. What then do these men mean by attempting to pervert those whom the Apostle has won, and Christ redeemed with His own blood, insisting that the baptized have no need to apply themselves to the exercise of virtue; that they are not injured by revellings, by excess of pleasure; that they who deprive themselves of such things are foolish; that virgins ought to marry and bear children; widows also ought to renew that carnal commerce which they had better never have known; and that although they might be able to contain themselves they are mistaken in refusing again to enter into the bond of marriage?
What then? Shall we put off the man and put on the beast? shall we strip off Christ, and be clothed over and over with the garments of Satan? The very heathen sages held that pleasure was not to be esteemed honourable, lest they should seem to couple men with brutes, and can we instil the habits of animals into the human breast, and engrave on the rational mind the irrational instincts of wild beasts?
Yet there are many kinds of animals, who when they have lost their mate, will no longer copulate, but lead, as it were, a solitary life. Many also feed on simple herbs and only quench their thirst in the pure stream; you may also often see dogs refuse food which they have been forbidden, and, if bid to refrain, close up their hungry jaws. Do men then require to be recalled from that in which even mute animals have learnt from man's teaching not to transgress?
But what is more excellent than abstinence, which makes even the years of youth to be old, and produces an old age of conduct? For as by excess of food and drunkenness even old age is inflamed, so on the other hand, the insolence of youth is restrained by sparing food and by the flowing stream. Fire without us is quenched by the pouring on of water, no wonder then if even internal heat is allayed by draughts from the brook; for the flame is nourished or fails, according as it is fed or not. As hay, stubble, wood, oil, and the like are the fuel of fire, and feed it, and if you withdraw or do not supply them the fire is quenched, so also the warmth of the body is nourished or diminished by food; by food it is excited and by food allayed. Gluttony therefore is the mother of lust.
And shall we not say that temperance is accordant with nature, and with that Divine law, which in the very origin of all things, gave us to drink of the fountains and to eat of the fruit of trees? After the flood the just man found himself tempted by wine. Wherefore let us use the natural drink of temperance, and would that we all could do so. But since we are not all strong, the Apostle says, Use a little wine for thine often infirmities. It is to be drunk then because of infirmity not for pleasure, and therefore as a remedy, sparingly, not as a luxury, profusely.
Again, Elijah, when the Lord God was training him to the perfection of virtue, found a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head; and in the strength of that meat he fasted forty days. Our fathers, when they passed over the sea on foot, drank water, not wine. It was when fed on their homely food and drinking water, that Daniel repressed the rage of the lions, and the Hebrew children saw the fiery furnace playing round their limbs with harmless flames.
And why should I speak of men only? Judith, in no wise moved by the luxurious banquet of Holofernes, won a triumph which men's arms had found desperate, by the sole merit of her temperance, delivering her country from invasion, and slaying with her own hand the captain of the host: a manifest example both that this warrior dreaded by the people had become enervated by his luxury, and that temperance in food had made this woman stronger 68 than men. It was not in her sex that she surpassed nature, but by her spare diet she conquered. Esther obtained favour from the proud king by her fasts. Anna, a widow of about fourscore and four years, serving in the temple with fastings and prayers night and day, came to the knowledge of Christ, and John the Teacher of abstinence, and, as it were, a new Angel upon earth, was His herald.
O foolish Elisha! to feed the prophets with wild and bitter gourds; O Ezra unmindful of Scripture though from memory thou dost restore Scripture! O sinless Paul, to glory in fasting, if fasting avails nothing!
But how can that not profit whereby our vices are purged? And if you offer it together with humility and mercy, then, as Isaiah has said by the Divine Spirit, thy bones shall be made fat, and thou shalt be like a watered garden! Thy soul then is fattened, and its virtues are enriched by the spiritual fat of fasting, and thy fruits are multiplied by the richness of thy mind, that thou mayest be made drunk, as it were, with soberness, as is that cup whereof the Prophet speaks, And my cup which inebriateth me, how goodly is it!
But not only is that temperance praiseworthy which is sparing in food, but that also which restrains desires. For it is written, Go not after thy lusts, but refrain thyself from thine appetites. If thou givest thy soul the desires that please her, she will make thee a laughing stock to thine enemies! and again, Wine and women will make men of understanding to fall away! Hence Paul teaches temperance even in marriage; for he who commits excess therein is, as it were, an adulterer, and violates the Apostolical law.
But how can I express the greatness of the grace of virginity, which was counted worthy to be chosen by Christ, to be the bodily temple of God, wherein dwelt, as we read, the fulness of the Godhead bodily! A virgin conceived the Saviour of the world, a virgin brought forth the Life of the universe. Ought not then virginity to be above all other states 16 which was profitable to all in Christ? A virgin 69 bore Him Whom this world cannot contain or support. He, born of the womb of Mary, preserved inviolate her chastity, and the seal of her virginity. Therefore Christ found in the Virgin what He would take for His own, what the Lord of all would assume to Himself. By the woman and the man our flesh was cast out of Paradise, by the Virgin it was re-united to God.
And what shall I say of the other Mary, the sister of Moses, who, leading the female band, passed on foot over the straights of the sea? By the same grace Thecla was reverenced even by lions, so that the unfed beasts, lying at the feet of their prey, underwent a holy fast, neither with wanton look nor sharp claw venturing to harm the virgin, for even by a look the sanctity of virginity is profaned.
Again, with what reverence has the holy Apostle spoken, Noiv concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, yet I give my judgement as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord. Commandment he has not, but counsel; for that which is above the Law is not commanded, but counselled and advised. Nor is any authority assumed, but grace is shewn, and that not by any chance person, but by him who hath obtained mercy of the Lord. Are then the counsels of these men better than those of the Apostles? The Apostle says, I give my counsel, but they dissuade all from leading a virgin's life.
And we ought to wonder at the greatness of the commendation of it which the Prophet, or rather Christ in the person of the Prophet, has expressed in one short verse. A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Christ says this to the Church, whom He would have a virgin without spot or wrinkle. Virginity is a fertile garden, which bears many fruits of a good odour; a garden inclosed because it is surrounded on all sides with the Avail of chastity; a fountain sealed, in that virginity is the fountain and source of modesty, and that which keeps unbroken the seal of purity; that fountain wherein is reflected the image of God, since with chastity of body accords likewise holy simplicity.
Nor can any one doubt that the Church herself is a virgin, whom even at Corinth the Apostle Paul espoused, that he might present her a chaste virgin to Christ. Thus in his first Epistle he gives counsel and sets a high value on the gift of virginity, for that it is not disquieted by the needs of this present world, nor defiled by its corruptions, nor agitated by its storms. In the latter he espouses the Corinthians to Christ, that so, in the purity of that people, he may ratify the virginity of the Church.
Answer me now, O Paul, in what way for the present distress dost thou give counsel? He that is unmarried, thou sayest, careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord, adding further, the unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit. She has therefore a bulwark against the storms of this world, and thus shielded and fortified by the Divine protection she is disquieted by none of the blasts of this world. Counsel then is good, because therein lies profit, but in commandment is a bond 18. Counsel leads forward the willing, commandment binds the reluctant. So that if any follow this counsel, and repent not, she hath profited; on the other hand, if she change her purpose, she hath no ground to accuse the Apostle, for she ought to have judged better of her own weakness, and thus she is responsible to herself for her own choice, for she has bound herself by a bond and knot heavier than she can bear.
Wherefore, as a good physician, who desires both to preserve for the strong the stability of their virtue, and to restore health to the weak, he gives to the one counsel, to the other a remedy; Whoso is weak, let him eat herbs; let him take a wife; he that is stronger, let him use the strong meat of continence. And he well adds; He that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well, but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment, and I think also that I have the Spirit of God. Now having the counsel of God consists in examining all things diligently, in urging what is best, and pointing out what is safest.
A careful guide points out many ways, that each person may walk on which he will, and which he finds suitable for himself: provided only he lights on one which will lead him into the camp. Good is the way of virginity, but, being lofty and steep, it requires the stronger sort. Good too is the way of widowhood, not so difficult as the former, but, being rocky and rough, it requires the more cautious sort. Good too is the way of matrimony, but, being smooth and direct, it arrives by a longer circuit at the camp of the faithful, and this way is trodden by the larger number. We have therefore the rewards of virginity, the merits of widowhood, there is also a place for conjugal chastity. They are the degrees and advances of several virtues.
Stand stedfast therefore in your hearts, that no man may unsettle or overthrow you. The Apostle has taught us what 'to stand' signifies, that is, what was said to Moses, For the place whereon thou standest is holy ground; for no one stands but he who stands by faith, who stands firm in the resolution of his heart. In another place too we read, But as for thee, stand thou here by Me. Both are addressed to Moses by the Lord, both the place whereon thou standest is holy ground, and stand thou here by Me, that is to say, 'thou standest with Me, if thou standest in the Church. For the place itself is holy, the land itself bears the fruit of holiness, and is rich with the haunts of virtueI
'Stand therefore in the Church, stand where I appeared to thee, there I am with thee. For where the Church is, there is the most secure resting-place for thy soul; there is the support of thy mind, when I appeared to thee out of the bush. Thou art the bush, I am the fire: the fire in the bush, and I in the flesh. And therefore am 1 the fire, that I may give thee light, that I may burn up thy thorns, that is, thy sins, and discover to thee My grace.'
Stand firm therefore in your hearts, and drive away from the Church those wolves which seek to carry off prey. Let there be no sloth in you, nor an evil mouth or bitter tongue. Sit not with vain persons, for it is written, I have not dwelt with vain persons. Listen not to those who detract from their neighbours, lest, hearing others, ye be yourselves excited to do likewise, and it be said to each of you, Thou satest and spakest against thy brother.
Sitting we speak against others, but standing up we praise the Lord, as it is said; Behold now, praise the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord; ye that stand in the house of the Lord. He who sits, to speak of the habit of the body, is, as it were, dissolved by ease, and relaxes the energy of his mind. But the careful watchman, the unwearied scout, the wakeful sentinel who keeps the outposts of the camp, these stand. The brave warrior also, who would prevent the designs of his enemy, stands 19 ready in his rank ere he is looked for.
Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall. He who stands is free from detraction, for it is by the talk of the idle that slander is disseminated and rancour displayed. Wherefore the Prophet says, I have hated the congregation of the wicked, and will not sit among the ungodly. And in the 37th Psalm, which is full of moral precepts, he has placed in the very outset, Be not malignant among them that are malignant, neither be thou envious against the evil-doers. Malignity does more harm than malice, for its property is neither pure simplicity nor open malice; but a hidden malevolence, and it is more difficult to guard against what is concealed than against what is known; and so our Saviour bids us beware of evil spirits, for they captivate us by the outward show of charming pleasures, and the false show of other things, holding forth honour as a lure to ambition, wealth to riches, power to pride.
Wherefore in every act, but especially in the search after a Bishop, by whose model the life of all is formed, malignity ought to be absent, that by a composed and peaceful exercise of judgment he may be preferred to all 73 who is to be chosen from all and who may heal all. For a gentle-minded man is the physician of the heart, of that whereof our Lord also in the Gospel has professed Himself a Physician, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
He is the good Physician, Who has taken upon Him our infirmities, Who has healed our sicknesses, and yet He, as it is written, glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest, but He that said unto Him, even the Father, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee, as He saith also in another place, Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedeck. And as He was to be the type of all priests, He took upon Him our flesh, that in the days of His flesh, He might offer up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto God the Father, and though He were the Son of God, might even learn obedience from the things He suffered, in order to teach us, that He might become to us the Author of salvation. Finally, having accomplished His sufferings, and being Himself made perfect, He gave health to all, He bore the sin of all.
Thus He Himself chose Aaron the High Priest, that human ambition might not sway the choice, but the grace of God; no voluntary offering, nor taking upon himself, but a heavenly call, that he might offer gifts for sins, who could have compassion on sinners for that he himself also, it is written, is compassed with infirmity. A man should not take this honour to himself, but he that is called of God as was Aaron; so also Christ did not assume but received His priesthood.
And further, since the succession derived by descent from Aaron produced heirs of his race rather than partakers of his righteousness, therefore there came the antitype of that Melchisedeck whom we read of in the Old Testament, the true Melchisedeck, the true King of Peace, the true King of Righteousness, for this is the interpretation of his name; being without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, whicli also has reference to the Son of God, for in His Divine generation, He had no mother, and in His birth from the Virgin Mary He knew no father; Who, born of the Father alone before the world, and from the Virgin alone in the world, could have no beginning of days, for He was in the beginning. And how could He have any end to His life, Who is the Author of life to all? He is the Beginning and the Ending. But this is referred to also by way of example, that a Bishop ought to be without father and without mother, in that it is not nobility of birth, but holiness of life and preeminence in virtue that is chosen in him.
Let him possess faith and ripeness of conduct, not one without the other, but let both continue in one, with good works and deeds. Wherefore the Apostle Paul wishes us to be imitators of those who by faith and patience possess the promises of Abraham, of him who by patience was counted worthy to receive and possess the grace of the blessing promised to him. The prophet David has admonished us that we ought to be imitators of holy Aaron, for he has proposed him to us, among the saints of the Lord, as an example for our imitation, saying, Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among such as call upon His Name.
An example worthy to be followed by all truly was he, seeing that when death, owing to the rebels, was spreading among the people, he placed himself between the living and the dead, thereby to arrest death so that no more might perish. Of a priestly mind and temper truly was he, who thus with pious zeal offered himself, as a good Shepherd, for the Lord's flock. Thus he broke the sting of death, checked its violence, refused to let it pass. Thus piety aided his services, because he offered himself for those who resisted.
Wherefore let those also who separate themselves learn to fear the anger of the Lord, and to appease His priests. What? did not the earth open and swallow up Dathan Korah and Abiram on account of their schism? For when Korali Dathan and Abiram stirred np two hundred and fifty men against Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from them, they rose up against them, saying, Let it suffice for you that all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. 75
Wherefore the Lord was angry and spake to the whole congregation. The Lord knoweth them that are His, and hath drawn His saints to Himself; and those whom He hath not chosen, He has not so drawn to Himself. And the Lord commanded that Korah and all those who together with him had rebelled against Moses and Aaron, the priests of the Lord, should take censers, and put incense therein, that he who was chosen of the Lord, might be declared to be holy among the ministers of the Lord.
And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi, seemeth it but a small thing unto you that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord? and below, Seek ye the priesthood also? for which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the Lord: and what is Aaron that ye murmur against him?
The whole people therefore, weighing the cause of offence, that these men, though unworthy, wished to fill the office of the priesthood, and therefore separated themselves, murmuring against the Lord, and censuring His judgment in the choice of their priests, were seized with great fear, and oppressed with apprehension of punishment. But at the general entreaty that all may not be involved in destruction through the insolence of a few, the guilty are marked out, and two hundred and fifty men with their leaders are separated from the rest, the earth quakes and is rent asunder in the midst of the people, a deep gulf is opened and swallows up the offenders, and thus they are removed from the pure elements of creation, so as neither to pollute the air by breathing it, nor the heavens by looking on them, nor the sea by their touch, nor the earth by their burial.
The punishment ceased, the wickedness ceased not; for owing to this very act a murmuring arose among the people that by means of the priests the people had perished. Indignant at this the Lord would have destroyed all, had He not first been moved by the prayers of Moses and Aaron, and afterwards, at the intercession of Aaron His 76 priest, (in order to render their pardon more humiliating,) consented to spare their life at the prayer of those, whose prerogative they had denied.
Miriam the prophetess herself, she who with her brethren had crossed the straights of the sea dryshod, because, being still ignorant of the mystery of the Ethiopian woman, she had murmured against her brother Moses, became leprous white as snow, and even at the prayer of Moses was scarcely healed of this great plague. This her murmuring however is to be considered as a type of the Synagogue, which, uninstructed in the mystery of this Ethiopian woman, that is, of the Gentile Church, utters daily reproaches, and envies that people by whose faith she herself will also be relieved from the leprosy of her unbelief, according as we read, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
And that we may observe that it is Divine rather than human grace which operates in priests, of all those rods which Moses received from the tribes and laid by, the rod of Aaron alone budded, and thus the people perceived that the Divine commission is a gift which is to be looked for in a priest, and though they before thought that a similar prerogative belonged to themselves, they now ceased to claim the same privilege for a merely human election. But this rod, what else does it indicate, but that priestly grace never decays, and in the utmost lowliness has in the exercise of its functions the flower of strength committed to it, or because this also has reference to a mystery? Nor is it without a meaning that we deem this to have taken place near the end of the life of Aaron the priest. It appears to be intimated that the ancient Jewish people, decaying and worn away by the long-continued infidelity of their priesthood, will in the latter times be reclaimed to zealous faith and devotion by the example of the Church, and by the aid of reviving grace will again put forth the blossoms which have so long been dead.
But what is signified by the fact that on the death of Aaron it was not to all the people, but to Moses alone, who is among the priests of the Lord, that God gave the command to invest with the garments of Aaron the priest Eleazar his son, what but to teach us that a priest ought to be consecrated by a priest, and clothed with his proper garments, that is, with priestly virtues; and then, when it appears that he lacks no part of his priestly array, but is complete in all things, that he should be brought near to the holy altars. For being about to offer for the people, he ought to be chosen by the Lord, and approved by the people; and this lest some grave cause of offence should be found in him whose duty it is to intercede for the sins of others. No ordinary degree of virtue befits a priest, for he ought sedulously to shun not only more heinous sins, but even the smallest; he ought to be open to compassion, not to revoke his promise, to raise the fallen, to sympathise with sorrow, to preserve meekness, to love piety, to drive away or stifle wrath, to be a trumpet to rouse the people to devotion, or to soothe them into tranquillity.
It is an old saying; Accustom yourself to be single-minded that your life may be as a picture, and ever preserve the same stamp which it has received. How can he be one and the same, who at one time is inflamed with anger, at another, boils with bitter indignation, whose countenance burns and then changes to paleness, varying and changing colour every moment. But suppose that it is natural to be angry, or that for the most part there is cause to be so; it also is the part of a man to moderate his wrath, and to resist being carried away by brutal fury, so as riot to know how to be appeased; it is his duty not to embitter family discord, for it is written, A wrathful man diggeth up sin. He is not one with himself who is double-minded, nor he who cannot restrain his wrath, of whom David says well, Be ye angry, and sin not. Such a one does not command his anger, but rather indulges his natural passions, which cannot indeed be prevented but may be moderated. Although then we are angry, let our passion admit only such emotion as is according to nature, not sin which is contrary to nature. For it is intolerable that he who undertakes to govern others should be unable to govern himself.
And so the Apostle has given us a model, that it behoves a Bishop to be blameless, as he also says elsewhere, For a Bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God, not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre. For how can the compassion of the almsgiver and the avarice of the coveter agree together?
I have set down those things which I have learnt are to be avoided; it is the Apostle who teaches what virtues are needed, and he tells us that the gainsayers are to be convinced with patience, and commands a Bishop to be the husband of one wife, and this not in order to exclude him from marriage, (for this is beyond the bounds of the precept,) but that by conjugal chastity he may preserve the grace of his Washing; nor again, that he may feel that he has the sanction of Apostolical authority for begetting children after he is a priest, for he speaks of one having children, not of one begetting them or marrying again.
And I have thought it better to touch upon this, because many persons argue as if the being husband of one wife had reference to a man marrying once after Baptism, seeing that by Baptism all the sin which would interpose any obstacle is removed. True indeed it is that in Baptism all sins and offences are washed away, so that even to one who has polluted his body with many women not united to him by wedlock, all is remitted. But Baptism does not dissolve marriage, if a man has married again, for it is sin, not the Law, which is destroyed by the Bath, and in marriage there is no sin but a law. Being therefore a law it is not dissolved as if it were a fault, but retained, in that it is a law. Now the Apostle has laid down a rule saying, If any be blameless, the husband of one wife. So that if any man be blameless, the husband of one wife, he conies under the forms of the rule for undertaking the priestly office, but he who marries again incurs not indeed the sin of pollution, but loses the prerogative of a priest.
We have declared what the law prescribes, let us speak also of what is prescribed by reason. But in the first place we are to understand that the Apostle has not ordained this with reference to Bishops and Presbyters79 only, but that the Fathers of the Nicene Council 20 have also decreed that no man should be a cleric at all who has contracted a second marriage. For how can he give consolation or honour to a widow; how can he exhort her to continue a widow, or to preserve that faith to her husband which he has not preserved to his own first marriage? Or what difference would there be between the people and the priest, if they were bound by the same laws? The life of the priest ought to be pre-eminent as well as his graces, for he who obliges others by his precepts ought himself to observe the precepts of the law.
How vehemently I resisted ordination! and when I was at last constrained to consent, how I strove that it might be postponed! but the popular impulse prevailed over prescribed rules. And yet it was approved by the judgement of the Bishops of the West, and its example followed by those of the East; and this notwithstanding the prohibition to ordain a novice, lest he be lifted up with pride. If my ordination was not postponed, it was owing to a constraining force, and if proper humility be not wanting to the priest, where the fault does not lie with him no blame will be imputed.
G But if even in other Churches such deliberation is used in ordination, how much care is required in that of Vercellae, where two duties seem equally required of the Bishop, monastic severity and ecclesiastical discipline. For Eusebius of blessed memory was the first to bring together in the West these two differing requisites, and though living in the city observed the monastic institute, and with the government of his Church united the sobriety of an ascetic life. Great increase accrues to the grace of the priesthood when young men are thus obliged to practise abstinence and to obey the laws of chastity, and, though living within the city, to renounce its customs and ways.
Hence sprung those famous men Elijah, Elisha, and John the son of Elizabeth, who clothed in sheepskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, wandered about in deserts, in mountains thickets and precipices, among pathless rocks, in horrid caves, through marshy fords, of whom the world was not worthy. Hence Daniel, Ananias, Azarias and Misael, who were brought up in the royal palace, were fed sparingly as though they had been in the desert, with coarse food and water to drink. Rightly then did the king's servants prevail over kingdoms, shake off the yoke and set at nought captivity, subdue kingdoms, conquer the elements, quench the violence of fire, escape the edge of the sword, stop the mouths of lions, out of weakness were made strong, shrank not from the mockings of men, seeing that they hoped for heavenly rewards, nor dreaded the darkness of the prison, since on them had shone the brightness of eternal light.
Following their example, holy Eusebius 24 left his country and kindred, and preferred foreign sojourn to the enjoyment of home. For the faith's sake he also chose and desired the hardships of exile, having for his companion Dionysius of blessed memory, who chose a voluntary banishment in preference to the Emperor's friendship. Thus when these illustrious men, beset by arms, hemmed round by soldiers, were being carried off from the greater church, they triumphed over the imperial power. Troops of soldiers and the din of arms could not rob them of their faith, but they subdued the fierceness of the brutal mind, depriving it of power to hurt the Saints. For, as it is written in Proverbs, the king's wrath is as the roaring of a lion.
He confessed himself vanquished, by requesting them to relinquish their purpose, but they deemed their pen of reeds more powerful than his iron swords. Thus it was unbelief, not the faith of the Saints, which was wounded and fell: they for whom a heavenly abode was prepared needed not a sepulchre in their own country. They wandered through the world as having nothing, yet possessing all things. Every place whither they were sent appeared full of delights, nor could they feel any want who always abounded in faith. They were tempted but not overcome, in fastings in labours, in watchings, in prisons; out of weakness they were made strong. Fed to the full by fasting they looked not for the charms of pleasure; refreshed by the hope of eternal grace, the burning summer parched them not, nor did the cold of icy regions break them down; for the warm breath of devotion invigorated them; they feared not the bonds of men, for Jesus had loosed them; they desired not to be redeemed from death, for they looked forward to be raised again by Christ.
Holy Dionysius again prayed that his life might close in exile, fearing that, if he returned, he should find the minds of the clergy or people perplexed by the doctrines and customs of the unbelieving, and he won this grace and carried with him with calm mind the peace of the Lord. Thus as holy Eusebius first lifted up the standard of confession, so blessed Dionysius, dying in his exile, won a higher title even than martyrdom.
Now this endurance in holy Eusebius throve under the monastic discipline, and by being accustomed to a stricter rule, he imbibed a power of bearing hardships. For it is certain that in the higher kinds of Christian devotion these two things are the most excellent, the Clerical function and the Monastic rule. The first is trained to be obliging and courteous in its behaviour, the second is accustomed to abstinence and endurance; the one lives as on a theatre, the other in secret; the one is seen, the other hidden. It is the saying of one who was a noble combatant, We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to Angels. Worthy truly was he to have Angels as his spectators, when he wrestled that he might attain the prize of Christ, when he contended that he might lead on earth an Angel's life, that he might overcome the wickedness of spirits in heaven, for he wrestled with spiritual wickedness. Rightly was the world a spectator of him whom it was called on to imitate.
Thus one of these lives is on the stage, the other in the cell; the one contends with the distractions of the world, the other with the lusts of the flesh; the one subdues, the other flees from corporal pleasures; the one regulates, the other refrains itself, for to the perfect it is said, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. Now he follows Christ who can say, Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.
Paul denied himself, when, knowing that chains, bonds and tribulations awaited him in Jerusalem, he voluntarily exposed himself to these dangers, saying, Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus. And though many stood round him, weeping and beseeching, they did not affect his resolution, so strict a censor over itself is a ready faith.
Thus the one kind of life fights, the other retires into seclusion; the world is triumphed over by the one, and placed at a distance by the other; to the one the world is crucified, and to it the world, to the other the world is unknown; the one has more temptations and therefore a more signal victory; the other falls less frequently and more easily keeps guard over itself.
So also Elijah himself, that the word of his mouth might be confirmed, was sent by the Lord to the brook Cherith. Both Ahab and Jezebel threatened him, Elijah feared and rose up, and went in the strength of that spiritual meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God; and he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there, and afterwards was sent from thence to anoint kings. Thus he was inured to endurance by dwelling in the desert, and as though fed by coarse viands unto the fatness of virtue, went forth increased in strength.
John also grew up in the desert, and baptized the Lord, and there first exercised himself in constancy, that afterwards he might reprove kings.
And now, seeing that we have cursorily passed over, in treating of holy Elijah's dwelling in the desert, the names of places which are not without meaning, let us return to consider this. Elijah was sent to the brook Cherith, there the ravens fed him, in the morning they brought him bread, in the evening flesh. And with reason did they bring him bread in the morning, for bread strengthens man's heart., and it was with mystical food that the prophet was fed. In the evening he was supplied with flesh. Understand what thou readest; for Cherith is understanding, Horeb signifies, 'heart' or 'as heart;' of Beersheba the signification is the 'well of the seventhI or ' of the oath.'
Elijah first went to Beersheba, to the mysteries and sacraments of the Divine and holy Law, afterwards he was sent to the Brook, to the stream of that river which makes glad the city of God. Here you perceive the two Testaments, and their single Author; the ancient Scriptures as a deep and dark well whence you have to draw water with difficulty, for He Who was to fill it full was not yet come, as He said in after times, I am not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. Therefore the Saint is commanded by the Lord to pass over the brook, for he who shall drink of the New Testament is not only a river, but out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water, rivers of understanding, rivers of meditation, spiritual streams, which yet are dried up in time of unbelief, lest the profane and faithless should drink of them.
And there the ravens acknowleged the Lord's prophet whom the Jews acknowleged not. They fed him whom that royal and noble nation persecuted. Who is Jezebel who persecuted him, but the Synagogue, vainly flowing, vainly abounding in the Scriptures, which it neither keeps nor understands? Who are the ravens that fed him, but they whose young ones call upon Him, to whose cattle He giveth fodder, as we read, and feedeth the young ravens that call upon Him. These ravens knew whom they were feeding; for they had a spiritual intelligence, and brought food to that stream of sacred knowledge.
He too feeds the prophet who understands and keeps what is written. Our faith supports him, our advance gives him nourishment; he feeds on our minds and senses, his discourse is sustained by our understanding of it. We give him bread in the morning, in that, placed in the light of the Gospel, we bring to him the stablishing of our hearts. By these things is he nourished and strengthened and fills the mouths of them that fast, to whom the unbelief of the Jews administered no food of faith. All prophetic words are fasting diet to them, for they cannot discern its interior richness, to them it is food weak and thin, such as cannot make fat their bones.
Perhaps the reason why they brought him flesh in the evening was that it is, as it were, stronger food, such as the Corinthians, who were weak, could not bear, and were therefore fed with milk by the Apostle; and thus in the evening of the world stronger meat was brought, in the morning of the world bread. And so since it was the Lord Who commanded this food to be administered to him, we may suitably address Him in this place with these prophetic words, Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to praise Thee, and below, Thou preparest their corn, for so Thou providest for the earth.
But now I think we have said enough of the teacher, let us now follow up the lives of his disciples, who have given themselves to praise the Divine Name, and celebrate it with hymns night and day. For this is the service of Angels, always to be praising God, and with frequent prayers to propitiate and beseech the Lord. They give themselves to reading, and occupy their minds with continual labours, separated from all female society, they mutually protect each other. What a life this is, wherein there is nothing you need to fear, but much for you to imitate! The pain of fasting is repaid by tranquillity of mind, alleviated by custom, made supportable by rest, or beguiled by occupation; worldly solicitude does not burthen nor outward troubles engross it, nor do the distractions of the city draw down upon it any difficulty.
For the maintenance or teaching of this gift an instructor is to be sought: what kind of one he ought to be you perceive, and by your unanimous aid we shall be able to obtain him, if you mutually forgive one another, if any of you consider himself injured by the other. For it is not the sole condition of virtue not to hurt him who has not hurt you, but it consists also in forgiving him who has injured you. We are generally injured by the fraud of others, by the guile of our neighbour, but we must not deem it to be the part of justice to repay guile with guile, and fraud with fraud. For if justice be a virtue, it must be free from the imputation of crime, and not return evil for evil. For what kind of virtue is it for you to do yourself what you punish in another? This is merely to propagate iniquity, not to punish it; and the character of the person whom you injure, whether he be just or unjust, makes no difference, for you ought not to have done evil. Nor does the mode of your trangression signify, whether it proceed from the desire of avenging yourself, or of injuring others, for in neither kind are you free from blame. There is no difference between being ungodly and unjust, and therefore it is said, Fret not thyself because of the ungodly, neither be thou envious against the evil-doers, and above, I have hated the congregation of the wicked. Thus he comprehends all, without exception; he points to their wickedness without enquiring for the cause.
And what can be a better model than the Divine justice? For the Son of God says, Love your enemies. And again He says, Pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. So far does He remove the love of revenge from the perfect, that he enjoins upon them charity towards their persecutors. And as in the Old Testament He said, To Me belongeth vengeance, I will repay, so in the Gospel He commands us to pray for them that injure us, that He Who has threatened to punish them may not do so. For He desires you to pardon of your own free-will, with which He agrees according to His promise. And if you call for vengeance, you know that the unrighteous is more severely punished by his own thoughts, than by judicial severity.
And as no man's life can be free from adversities, let us take care that they do not befal us by our own fault. For no man is condemned more severely by another's judgment than the foolish man, who is the author of his own misery, is by his own. Wherefore let us avoid such occupations as are troublesome and contentious, which bear no fruit, but only bring obstacles. But we ought to 86 see that we have no cause to be ashamed either of our choice or of our act; for it is the part of a prudent man, to guard against having to feel frequent sorrow for his acts, since it is the prerogative of God alone never td repent. For what is the fruit of justice but calmness of mind, or what does living justly bring with it, but a life of tranquillity? According to the model of the master will be the condition of the whole house. But if this is required in a family, how much more in the Church, where both rich and poor, bond and free, Greek and Scythian, noble and plebeian, are all one in Christ Jesus.
Let no man suppose that because he is rich more deference ought to be shewn him. In the Church he is rich, who is rich in faith, for the faithful have a whole world of riches. What wonder is it that the faithful should possess the world, seeing he possesses the heritage of Christ, which is more precious than the world? Ye were redeemed with precious blood, is said to all, and not to the rich only. But if ye would be rich, follow him who says, Be ye holy in all manner of conversation. This is said not to the rich only but to all, for He judges without respect of persons, according to the faithful testimony of His Apostle. Wherefore, says he, pass the time of your sojourning here not in indulgence, nor pride, nor elation of heart, but in fear. Upon this earth ye have received what is temporal, not what is eternal, use therefore those temporal things as knowing that you must shortly depart hence.
Trust not therefore in riches, for all these things must be left behind, and faith alone will accompany you; justice indeed, if faith precede, will also be your companion. Why do riches entice you? Not with silver and gold, not with silken vests and riches were ye redeemed from your vain conversation; but with the precious blood of Christ. He therefore is rich who is an heir of God, and co-heir of Christ. Despise not then a poor man, it is He Who hath made thee rich. Scorn not a needy man; lo! the poor crieth, and the Lord heareth him. Reject not a needy man; for Christ, when He was rich became poor, and this for thy sake, that by His poverty He might make thee rich. Exalt not thyself therefore, as though thou wert rich, for He sent forth His disciples without money.
And the chief of these said, Silver and gold have I none. He glories in his poverty as if he shunned contamination. Silver and gold he says, have I none, he does not say, gold and silver, for he who knows not the use of these things knows not the relative value of them. Silver and gold have I none, but faith I have. I am rich enough in the name of the Lord Jesus, which is above every name. Silver I have none, nor do I ask for it, gold I have not, nor do I desire it, but I have that which ye that are rich are without, which even ye esteem of more value, and this I give to the poor, namely, to say in the name of Jesus, Strengthen ye the weak hands and lift up the feeble knees.
But if ye would be rich, become poor. For ye shall in all things be made rich, if ye become poor in spirit. It is not money but the disposition which makes a man rich.
There are those who humble themselves when riches abound, and this is well and prudently done, for the law of nature is enough for all, and what suffices to her is easily found, but where lust is, there, in the abundance of riches, is still poverty. And no man is born poor, but becomes so. Thus poverty lies not in nature but in our notions of it, and therefore to find riches is easy to nature, but difficult for lust. In proportion to man's gains this thirst for gain increases, and he is, as it were, inflamed by the intoxication of his lusts.
Why do ye seek to accumulate riches as though they were necessary? Nothing is so necessary as to know what is not necessary. Why do ye cast the blame upon the flesh? it is not the lust of the belly, but the desires of the mind which make a man insatiable. Is it the flesh which blots out the hope of the future; is it the flesh which takes away the sweetness of spiritual grace; is it the flesh which obstructs faith; is it the flesh which in every way defers to the frantic domination of vain opinions? The flesh loves rather that frugal temperance, which relieves it of its burthen, which endues it with health, for so it rids itself of keen anxiety, and obtains for itself tranquillity.
But riches in themselves are not blameable. For the ransom of a man's life are his riches, for he who gives to the poor, redeems his soul. There is therefore scope for virtue even in these material riches. Ye are as it were pilots, in a great sea. If any man steers well his ship, he quickly passes over the sea, and reaches his haven, but he who cannot manage his property is sunk together with his burthen. Wherefore it is written, The rich man's strength is his strong city.
And what is this city but Jerusalem, which is in heaven, in which is the kingdom of God? Good is this possession, which brings perpetual fruit. Good is this possession, which we do not leave behind us, but possess in heaven. He who finds himself in this possession says, The Lord is my portion. He says not, My portion stretches and extends itself to such and such limits. He says not, My portion is among such and such neighbours, unless haply with reference to the Apostles, the prophets and the saints of the Lord, for these are the portion of the just. He says not, My portion is in the meadows, or in the woods, or in the fields, unless perchance in the fields of the wood, wherein the Church is found, of which it is written, We found it in the wood. He says not, Troops of horses are my portion, for a horse is counted but a vain thing to save a man. He says not, Herds of oxen asses or sheep are my portion, except so far as he numbers himself among those herds which know their owner, and with that ass which shuns not the crib of Christ; that lamb too is his portion which was brought to the slaughter, and that sheep which before her shearers was dumb, which opened not his mouth; by whose humility judgment has been exalted. And it is rightly said, before her shearers because, on that Cross He put off what was but accidental, not part of His essence, for He put off His body, but lost not His Divinity.
It is not every one therefore who can say the Lord is my portion. Not the covetous man, for avarice comes and says; Thou art my portion, I have thee in subjection, thou art my slave, thou hast sold thyself to me with that gold, thou hast adjudged thyself to be mine with these goods. The sensual man says not, Christ is my portion, because luxury comes and says, Thou art my portion, 1 have brought thee into subjection to myself by that banquet, I have caught thee by the snare of those feasts, I keep thee in my bondage by the constraints of thy gluttony. Wilt thou not acknowledge that thou didst set a higher value on the indulgence of thy appetite than on thy life? I condemn thee by thine own judgment; deny it if thou canst; but thou canst not. Again, thou hast reserved nothing for thy subsistence, thou hast spent it all on thy table. The adulterer cannot say, The Lord is my portion, for lust comes and says, I am thy portion, thou hast enslaved thyself to me by the love of that damsel, by a night spent with that harlot thou hast committed thyself to my dominion. The traitor cannot say, Christ is my portion, because his wickedness immediately seizes upon him and says, He is deceiving thee, O Lord Jesus, this man is mine.
We have an example of this, for, Avhen Judas had received the sop from Christ, the devil entered into his heart, as claiming him for his own possession, retaining his right to his own portion, and saying, This man is not Thine but mine; my servant, Thy betrayer; to me, then, he manifestly belongs. With Thee he sits at table, but it is I who feed him, from Thee he has received bread, from me money; with Thee he drinks, but to me he has sold Thy Blood. And the event proved how truly he spoke. Then Christ departed from him, and Judas also left Jesus, and followed the devil.
How many masters has he, who deserts that one Master! But let us not desert Him. Who would fly from Him Whom Paul and Timothy follow, bound with chains, but voluntary ones, chains which do not bind but loose, chains in which they glory, saying, Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy. Bondage under Him is more honourable than freedom and release from others. Who then would fly from peace, who would fly from salvation, who would fly from pity, who would fly from redemption?
Ye see, my sons, what they have become who have followed this course, how they, though dead, still work. Now as we join in praising their virtue, let us also study to attain to their diligence, and silently recognize in ourselves that which we speak of with approval in others. Nothing effeminate, nothing frail can deserve praise, The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. Our fathers ate the Paschal lamb in haste. Faith makes good speed, devotion is lively, hope unwearied; it loves not perturbations of the soul, but it loves to pass from profitless inactivity to fruitful labour. Why put off till tomorrow? you may still gain to-day; beware lest you fail to attain the one, and lose the other also. The loss even of one hour is not unimportant; one hour forms part of our whole life.
There are some young persons who wish straightway to arrive at old age, that they may no longer be subject to the will of their elders, and there are old men who would return if they could to youth. Now I can approve of neither of these desires; the young men, disdaining things present, desire that their life may be changed, the old men that it may be prolonged. But it is in the power of the young to become old by gravity of mind, and of the old to grow young by vigorous actions. For it is not age so much as discipline which brings with it correction of life. How much more therefore ought we to lift up our hopes to the kingdom of God, where our life will be renewed, and where there will be a change not of age but of grace.
It is not by indolence or sleep that we obtain for ourselves a reward. The sleeper cannot work, there comes no fruit from indolence, but rather loss. Esau, being slothful, lost the first-fruits of blessing, choosing to receive rather than to seek for food. The industrious Jacob found grace at the hands of both his parents.
But Jacob, although superior in virtue and grace, gave way to his brother's anger, who was indignant that his younger brother should be preferred to him. Wherefore it is written, Give place unto wrath, to the intent that displeasure against another may not draw you also into sin, while wishing to resist and to be avenged. If you will consent to yield you may remove the blame both from yourself and from him. Imitate the patriarch, who by his mother's advice went into a far country. And who was this mother? Rebecca, that is, patience. For who could give this counsel but patience? The mother loved her son, and chose that he should be separated from herself rather than from God. And thus as a good mother she gave benefits to both her sons, but on her younger son she conferred a blessing which he had power to keep. For she did not prefer one son to the other, but she preferred diligence to sloth, faith to unbelief. And even on her elder son she conferred no little favour, for she sent away the younger, to save him from unworthy fratricide.
His piety not his fault having thus banished him from his parents, he conversed with God, he increased in his estate, in his children, in grace. Nor was he elated by these things on meeting with his brother, but he humbled himself and did obeisance, not to his brother, implacable as he was, but to God Whom in his person he honoured. Therefore he bowed down to him seven times, being the number which signifies remission, for it was not a man that he adored, but Him of Whom He foresaw in spirit that He should come in the flesh, to take away the sins of the world. And this mystery is unfolded to you in the reply of Peter, who says, How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him, till seven times? Thus you see this forgiveness of sins is a type of that great sabbath, of that perpetual rest of grace; and therefore it receives the gift of contemplation.
But what is the meaning of his setting in array his wives, and sons, and all his servants, and commanding them to bow themselves to the earth? It was not to the earth, as an element, which is often filled with blood, which is the receptacle of crimes, and which is made hideous by desolate rocks, or by precipices, or by a barren and hungry soil, but as that Flesh Which was to be our salvation. And perhaps this is that mystery which the Lord has taught thee in the words, I say not unto thee, until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.
Do ye therefore forgive the wrongs done to you, that ye may be the sons of Jacob. Be not provoked as was Esau. Imitate holy David, who as a good teacher, has left us an example in the words, For the love that I had unto them, lo! they take now the contrary part, but I give myself unto prayer, and so when men reviled him, he prayed. Prayer is a good shield, a shield which wards off' contumely, which repels curses, and throws them back on the heads of those who utter them, so that they are wounded by their own weapons: Let them curse, it is said, but bless Thou. That curse of men is to be courted, for it obtains for us a blessing from the Lord.
For the rest, my most dearly beloved, remembering that Jesus suffered without the gate, do ye go forth from this earthly city, for your city is Jerusalem, which is above. Do ye dwell there that ye may say, For our conversation is in heaven. Jesus went forth from the city, that ye, going forth from the world, may be above the world. Moses alone, who saw God, had his tabernacle without the camp when he talked with God; and when sacrifices were offered for sin, the blood indeed was carried to the altar, but the bodies were burned without the camp; for no man living among the temptations of this world can lay aside sin, nor can his blood be accepted by God until he has put off the defilement of this body.
Love hospitality, for thereby holy Abraham found favour in God's sight, received Christ as his guest, and Sarah, already worn with age, obtained grace to bear a son; Lot also escaped the flames which destroyed Sodom. And thou also mnyest receive Angels, if thou wilt offer hospitality to strangers. And what shall I say of Rahab, who, by performing this office, escaped destruction?
Compassionate those who are kept in bondage, as though ye also were bondsmen. Console those who are under sorrow; It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting. From the one we win the merit of discharging a duty, from the other the stain of a transgression. And again in the one case the reward is yet hoped for, in the other it is received. Sympathise with those who suffer as if ye suffered together with them.
Let a woman be obedient not servile to her husband, let her offer herself to be ruled not coerced. Let the husband also direct his wife as her governour, honour her as the companion of his life, share with her as his fellow-heir in grace.
Mothers, wean your own children, love them, and pray for them, but pray that their life may be prolonged above this earth, rather than in it, for there is nothing longlived in this earth, and that which seems permanent is at the best short and fragile. Admonish them rather to take up the Cross of Christ than to love this life.
Mary, the mother of the Lord stood by the cross of her Son; it is no other than the holy Evangelist John who teaches me this. Others have told us that in the Lord's passion the earth was shaken, the heaven covered with darkness, the sun withdrew its light, the thief, after a faithful confession, was received into paradise. John has taught what the others have not, how when nailed to the Cross He spoke to His mother, esteeming rather this exhibition of pious offices to His mother than that gift of a heavenly kingdom, which, after triumphing over His pains, He conferred. For if it be pious to grant pardon to the thief, much more pious is it that the Son should shew such solicitous honour to His Mother: Behold, He says, thy son, Behold thy mother. Christ testified from the Cross, and distributed the offices of piety between the mother and the disciple. The Lord made not only a public but also a private Testament, and John signed this His Testament, a witness worthy of so great a Testator, a good Testament, not of money but of eternal life, written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, Who says, My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
Nor did Mary fall below what became the Mother of Christ. When the Apostles fled she stood before the Cross, and with pious eyes looked upon the wounds of her Son, for she expected to see not the death of her Offspring, but the salvation of the world. Or perhaps because she who was the Palace 26 of the King had learnt that the redemption of the world would ensue from the death of her Son, she thought that by her own death she might add something to the general good. But Jesus needed no helper for the redemption of all, Who without any helper saved all. Wherefore He says, I am become like a man without help; free among the dead. He received the affection of His Mother, but He sought not aid from others.
Imitate her, ye holy mothers, who in her only and beloved Son exhibited such an example of maternal virtue, for your children cannot be dearer to you than hers was, nor did the Virgin seek consolation in the bearing of another son.
Masters, command your servants not as your inferiors in rank, but as remembering that they are partakers of the same nature as yourselves. Servants also, serve your masters cheerfully, for every one ought cheerfully to endure that state whereunto he is born; and obey not only the good, but also the froward. For what merit has your service, if ye serve the good diligently; but if ye serve the froward also ye have merit, for neither do the free obtain any reward, if, having transgressed, they are punished by the judges, but herein lies their merit if they suffer wrongfully. Thus if ye, considering Jesus Christ, serve even austere masters with patience, ye will have your reward. For the Lord Himself suffered, the just from the unjust, and with admirable patience nailed our sins to His Cross, that he who shall imitate Him may wash away his sins in His blood.
In short, turn all of you to the Lord Jesus. Take pleasure in this life so that it be with a good conscience; let the hope of immortality make you patient of death, let your assurance of the resurrection be confirmed by the grace of Christ; let there be truth and simplicity, faith and confidence, abstinence and holiness, industry and sobriety, modest conversation, learning without vanity, sobriety of doctrine, faith not intoxicated by heresy. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, Amen.