Ambrose selected works 6
The extant writings of St. Ambrose may be divided under six heads. I. Dogmatic; II. Exegetic; III. Moral; IV. Sermons; V. Letters; VI. A few Hymns.
1). De Fide. The chief of these are the Five Books on the Faith, of which the two first were written in compliance with a request of the Emperor Gratian, a.d. 378. Books III.-V. were written in 379 or 380, and seem to have been worked up from addresses delivered to the people [V. prol. 9, 11; III. I43; IV. 119]. This treatise vindicates the Divinity of Christ from the attacks of the Arians, and has always enjoyed the highest reputation, being quoted and referred to again and again.
2). De Spiritu Sancto. The three books on the Holy Spirit may be considered as a continuation of the above treatise, and were also addressed to Gratian in compliance with his request, a.d. 381. In this treatise St. Ambrose shows that the Holy Spirit is God, and of one nature and substance with the Father and the Son. He makes use of the Greek writers, SS. Didymus, Basil the Great, and Athanasius, and was on this ground attacked by St. Jerome. See Rufinus, Apol. adv. Hieron. II. 23–25.
3). De Incarnationis Dominicae Sacramento. The book on the Mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation owed its origin to a challenge to dispute publicly given to St. Ambrose by two Arian chamberlains of Gratian. On the day appointed they were, as Paulinus relates in his life of St. Ambrose, thrown out of the chariot which was conveying them and killed. On the next day, that the people might not be disappointed, this discourse was delivered, but the reference made to the absence of the challengers hardly suits the story of Paulinus. The treatise is a very valuable argument in defence of our Lord’s Divinity and Eternity, and that He is perfect God and perfect Man. In rewriting the address the Bishop added a refutation of the argument that the Begotten and the Unbegotten could not be of one nature and substance. The treatise may be considered as a supplement to that concerning the Faith.
4). De Mysteriis. A valuable treatise on the Mysteries, under which title St. Ambrose includes Baptism, with its complement, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. It is somewhat similar to the Catecheses Mystagogicae of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, expounding the doctrine and ceremonies of these sacraments. On doctrinal grounds the authenticity of the work has been impugned by some modern writers, but there is no sufficient foundation for their arguments, as the teaching may be paralleled in many other passages of St. Ambrose. The date is not certain, but may be about a.d. 387.
5). Libri duo de paenitentia. These books on Penitence were written about a.d. 384, against the Novatians. In the first book the writer proves that the power of forgiving sins was left by Christ to His Church. In the second book, insisting on the necessity of repentance and confession, he also refutes the Novatian interpretations of and St. . This treatise has also underservedly been questioned on doctrinal grounds by some moderns.
These treatises are all translated in this volume.
St. Ambrose was in the habit of explaining various books of holy Scripture in courses of lectures, which he subsequently worked up, often at the request of friends, into treatises in the shape in which they have come down to us. Of the class we have:
1). Hexaëmeron. This treatise, expounding the literal and moral sense of the work of the six days of creation [Gn 1,1–26], consists of nine addresses to the people of Milan, delivered in the last week of Lent, probably a.d. 389, and is now divided into six books. The writer has studied Origen, but followed rather the teaching of St. Hippolytus and Basil the Great, though he expresses himself often quite in a different sense.
2). De Paradiso. This is the earliest or one of the earliest of the extant writings of St. Ambrose, though the exact date is uncertain. In it he discusses what and where Paradise was, and the question of the life of our first parents there, the temptation, fall and its results, and answers certain cavils of the Gnostics and Manichees. He also enters into an allegorical exposition comparing Paradise with the human soul.
3). De Cain et Abel. The treatise is now divided into two books, but the division is too inartistic to have been made by the writer. As to the date, it was later than the last treatise, but probably not many months. The interpretations are very mystical, and touch upon moral and dogmatic questions.
4). De Noe et Arca. This treatise has reached us in a mutilated condition. It was written probably before the De Officiis and De Abraham, but after the works on Paradise and Cain and Abel, though the exact date cannot be determined. The exposition is literal and allegorical.
5). De Patriarchis. Seven books preached and written at various dates about 387 or 388. The same kind of interpretation is followed in these as in the former treatises.
6). De fuga saeculi. Written probably about a.d. 389–390. An instructive treatise setting forth the desirability of avoiding the dangers of the world, and for those who must live in the world, showing how to pass through them most safely.
7). De Elia et jejunio. A treatise composed from addresses delivered during Lent, certainly after a.d. 386, possibly 389.
8). De Tobia. A work quoted by St. Augustine (C. Jul. Pelag. I. 3, 10), consisting of sermons on the story of Tobias, and chiefly directed against the practice of usury.
9). De Nabuthe Jezraelita. One or two sermons against avarice, probably written about a.d. 395.
10). Libri 4,de interpellatione Job et David. The first and third books have Job, the second and fourth David, for their subject, and formed a course of sermons the date of which is uncertain.
11). Apologia prophetae David ad Theodosium Augustum. A number of addresses delivered, it would seem, about a.d. 384, quoted also by St. Augustine.
12). Enarrationes in 12,Psalmos Davidicos. Commentaries on Psalms 1, 35–40, 43, 45, 47, 48, 61 (according to St. Ambrose’s numbering). These seem to have been partly preached, partly dictated at various dates, and much in them is borrowed from St. Basil.
13). Expositio Psalmi 118,This treatise is one of the most carefully worked out of all the writings of St. Ambrose and consists of twenty-two addresses to the faithful, each address comprising one division of the Psalm. From various allusions, it would seem that the completed work dates from about a.d. 388.
14). Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam. The ten books of this commentary consist likewise of sermons in which St. Ambrose explained the Gospel during a period of one or two years, in 386 and 387.
63 Among the ethical or moral writings of St. Ambrose, the first place is deservedly assigned to:
1). De Officiis Ministrorum. In three books, which are translated in this series.
2). De Virginibus. Three books concerning Virgins, addressed to his sister Marcellina in the year 377, probably, like most of the treatises of St. Ambrose, revised from addresses, the first of which was delivered on the festival of St. Agnes, January 21. This would seem to have been perhaps the very earliest of the writings of St. Ambrose, judging from the opening chapter. The treatise is referred to by St. Jerome, St. Augustine, Cassian, and others.
3). De Viduis. This shorter work, concerning Widows, was probably written not very long after the last mentioned treatise.
4). De Virginitate. A treatise on Virginity, the date of which cannot certainly be fixed, but the writing De Viduis is referred to in chapter 9.
5). De Institutione Virginis. A treatise on the training and discipline of a Virgin, addressed to Eusebius, either bishop or a noble of Bologna, after St. Ambrose had admitted his niece to the rank of Virgins, probably about a.d. 391 or 392.
6). Exhortatio Virginitatis. A commendation of Virginity preached on the occasion of the consecration of a church at Florence by St. Ambrose, a.d. 393 or 394.
64 1). Contra Auxentium. A sermon against Auxentius, concerning giving up the basilicas to the Arians, usually inserted between the twenty-first and twenty-second of the letters of St. Ambrose.
2). De Excessu fratris Satyri. The two addresses on the occasion of the death of St. Ambrose’s brother Satyrus, translated in this volume.
3). De obitu Valentiniani Consolatio. The Emperor Valentinian having been murdered by Arbogastes, Count of Vienne, his body was brought to Milan, and remained two months unburied. At last Theodosius sent the necessary rescript, and at the funeral solemnities St. Ambrose delivered the address entitled the “Consolation.”
4). De obitu Theodosii oratio. A discourse delivered forty days after the death of the Emperor Theodosius before the Emperor Honorius at Milan.
The Benedictine Editors of St. Ambrose have divided his Epistles into two classes: the first comprising those to which they thought it possible to assign dates; the second those which afford no data for a conclusion. Probably in many cases the exact year is not so certain as the editors have made it appear, but they seem arranged in a fairly probable consecutive order.
1. To the Emperor Gratian, in reply to his request for a treatise on the Faith. Written a.d. 379, before August, as Gratian came to Milan in that month.
2. To Constantius, a bishop, on episcopal duties, and commending to him the care of the vacant see of Forum Cornelii, or Imola. Probably written about a.d. 379.
3, 4. To Cornelius, Bishop of Comum, the first a friendly letter, the second containing also an invitation to the consecration of a church by Bassianus, Bishop of Laus Pompeia, now Lodi Vecchio, near Milan. Written probably after a.d. 381.
5, 6. To Syagrius, Bishop of Verona. On a charge falsely brought against the Virgin Indicia. They may have been written a.d. 380).
7, 8. To Justus, perhaps Bishop of Lyons. On holy Scripture. If the conjecture that Justus was the Bishop of Lyons is correct, written about 380 or 381.
9–12. Letters concerning the Council of Aquileia, held a.d. 381, to the bishops of the provinces of Gaul, to the Emperor Gratian and his colleagues. Two men, Palladius and Secundianus, held Arian opinions, and the former appears to have asked Gratian to convoke a General Council, pleading that he was unjustly condemned. St. Ambrose pointed out to the Emperor that such a question as the orthodoxy of two persons could be settled by a local council in Italy; and as a result, by the Emperor’s mandate, a council of Italian bishops met at Aquileia, other bishops having also permission to attend. Palladius and Secundianus were condemned, and these letters have reference to the proceedings at the council. They were probably written by St. Ambrose in the name of the council, a.d. 381.
13, 14. Two letters addressed to Theodosius, the former relating the decisions of a council, probably held at Milan, on the Meletian schism at Antioch, and the latter further expressing the desire of the bishops for a council on this subject, and also on the opinions of Apollinaris. Written a.d. 381 or 382.
15. To the Bishops of Macedonia, in reply to their notification of the death of Acholius, Bishop of Thessalonica, who baptized Theodosius, and had met St. Ambrose at a council in Rome. Written a.d. 383.
16. To Anicius, on his election to succeed Acholius, whose labours and life are commended by St. Ambrose. Written a.d. 383.
17, 18. On the occasion of the attempt of Symmachus and the heathen senators to procure the restitution of the image and Altar of Victory in the Roman Senate-house, frustrated by St. Ambrose, a.d. 384.
19. To Vigilius, Bishop of Trent, subsequently martyred, written probably about a.d. 385.
20. To his sister, Marcellina, giving an account of the frustrated attempts of the Arian and imperial party to gain possession of a basilica at Milan, a.d. 385,
21. To the Emperor Valentinian II., declining the challenge to dispute with the Arian Auxentius before lay judges). a.d. 386.
22. To his sister Marcellina, giving an account of the finding of the bodies of SS. Gervasius and Protasius, and of the consequent miracles. Written a.d. 386.
23. To the bishops of the province of Aemilia, on the proper date for the observance of Easter, in 387. Written a.d. 386.
24. To Valentinian II., with an account of St. Ambrose’s second mission to Maximus on his behalf. Written probably a.d. 387.
25, 26. Inscribed the former to Studius, the second to Irenaeus, but from internal evidence these appear to be the same person. It deals with the question, how far a judge being a Christian may lawfully sentence any one to death. Written probably about a.d. 388.
27–33. Addressed to Irenaeus, on various questions. Written about a.d. 387.
34–36. To Orontianus, a cleric, on the soul and other questions. Written after 386.
37, 38. To Simplicianus, who became the successor of St. Ambrose in the see of Milan, setting forth that holiness is perfect freedom.
39. To Faustinus, on the occasion of the death of a sister. Written probably after a.d. 387.
40. To Theodosius. The Jewish synagogue at Callinicum in Mesopotamia having been destroyed by the Christians, and a meeting-house of the Valentinian heretics also burnt by the Catholics, Theodosius ordered that the bishop should rebuild the synagogue at his own expense, and the monks be punished. St. Ambrose remonstrates with the Emperor, and it would seem, from the following letter to his sister, at first unsuccessfully.
41. To his sister Marcellina, relating the circumstances alluded to above, and telling her of his sermon before the Emperor, and of his subsequent refusal to celebrate the Eucharist, until the Emperor had promised to rescind the order. The date of the two letters is a.d. 388.
42. Reply of St. Ambrose and a synod at Milan to the notification of Pope Siricius announcing the sentence of excommunication passed upon Jovinian and his followers.
43, 44. To Horontianus, in reply to his inquiries on some points connected with the Creation).
45. To Sabinus, Bishop of Placentia, in answer to questions concerning Paradise.
46. To the same, on the subject of an Apollinarian heretic.
47–49. To the same, with books and on private matters.
50. To Chromatius, probably Bishop of Aquileia, explaining how evil men may be used to utter true prophecies.
51. To Theodosius, after the massacre at Thessalonica. Written a.d. 390.
52. A private letter to Titianus.
53. To Theodosius, to express the sorrow of St. Ambrose at the death of Valentinian II., slain by Arbogastes.
54, 55. To Eusebius, not, it would seem, the Bishop of Bologna who was present at the Council of Aquileia, but rather a lay friend to whom St. Ambrose wrote his treatise on the training of a virgin. Probably written a.d. 392 or 393.
56. To Theophilus. The troubles of the church of Antioch through the Meletian schism might have terminated on the death of Paulinus, had he not on his deathbed consecrated Evagrius as his successor in violation of the canons. Theodosius, being pressed by the Western bishops, now summoned a council at Capua, commanding Flavian to attend, which command he however disobeyed. The council referred the matter to Theophilus of Alexandria and the bishops of Egypt. But Flavian, as Theophilus had informed St. Ambrose, refused to submit to their decision. This is the reply of St. Ambrose advising Theophilus to summon Flavian once more, and communicate the result to Pope Siricius. The letter must have been written quite at the end of a.d. 391, or the beginning of 392.
57. To Eugenius the usurper, to avoid whom St. Ambrose had left Milan, and to whose letters he had sent no reply. Written a.d. 393.
58. To Sabinus, Bishop, on the resolution of Paulinus and Therasia to forsake the world. Written probably a.d. 393.
59. To Severus, Bishop probably of Naples, telling him of James, a Persian priest, who had resolved to retire from the world into Campania, and contrasting this with his own troubles, owing to the invasion of Eugenius, a.d. 393 or 394.
60. To Paternus, against a proposed incestuous marriage.
61. To Theodosius, after his victory over Eugenius. Written a.d. 394.
62. To the same, urging him to be merciful to the followers of Eugenius. Written in the same year.
63. To the Church at Vercellae.
64. To Irenaeus, on the Manna.
65. To Simplicianus, on Exodus 24,6.
66. To Romulus, on Aaron’s making the calf of the golden earrings.
67. To Simplicianus, showing how Moses yielded to Aaron in matters relating to his priestly character.
68. To Romulus. Explanation of the text Dt 28,23.
69. To Irenaeus, answering a question as to the prohibition under severe penalties in the Mosaic law, of disguising the sex by dress.
70, 71. To Horontianus, on part of the prophecy of Micah.
72. To Constantius, on the rite of circumcision.
73–76. To Irenaeus. Why the law was given, and the scope of the Epistle to the Ephesians. The letter numbered 75 is plainly a continuation of 74, although inscribed to Clementianus, a difficulty similar to that about letter 26.
77, 78. To Horontianus, contrasting the condition of the Jew and the Christian.
79, 80. To Bellicius, on recovery from sickness, and on the miracle of healing the man blind from his birth.
81. To certain clergy, against despondency.
82. To Marcellus, concerning a lawsuit.
83. To Sisinnius, commending him for forgiving his son, who had married without consulting him.
84. To Cynegius.
85, 86. To Siricius, with thanks for letters, and commending Priscus).
87. To Segatius [more probably Phaebadius], Bishop of Agens, and Delphinus, Bishop of Bordeaux. Polybius, mentioned in the letter, was proconsul of Africa between the years 380 and 390.
88. To Atticus. Commendation of Priscus.
89. To Alypius. Acknowledgment of letters.
90. To Antonius. On the mutual affection of himself and St. Ambrose.
91. To Candidianus, probably a fellow-bishop. A letter of affection.
During the persecutions stirred up by the Arian Empress Justina, a.d. 385–6, referred to in his 20th letter, St. Ambrose and the faithful spent the whole night in the basilica, and the holy Bishop employed the people in singing psalms and hymns. A large number of hymns have been attributed to St. Ambrose, the number having by some editors been brought down to twelve, of which, however, only four are certainly his compositions.
1). Eterne rerum Conditor, referred to by St. Augustine, Retract. I. 21, and by St. Ambrose himself, Hexaëm. V. 24, 88. The hymn is still in use at Lauds on Sunday.
2). Deus Creator omnium. Quoted by St. Augustine, Conf. IX. 12, 32.
3). Jam surigil hora tertia. Also quoted by St. Augustine.
4). Veni Redemptor gentium. A Christmas hymn, quoted by Pope Celestine, a.d. 430, in a sermon against the Nestorians, preached before a synod at Rome, and also by other writers.
Of other hymns one commencing, Illuminans Altissimus, is quoted by Cassiodorus as an Epiphany hymn by St. Ambrose, and the same author refers to another, Orabo mente Dominum. The Benedictine Editors admit six other hymns, but they are supported by no authority anterior to Venerable Bede.
VII). Doubtful and Spurious Works.
This volume cannot of course comprehend the arguments and discussions necessary for any critical examination of certain works whether doubtful or certainly spurious, but their names may be given and certain conclusions stated.
1. Five books on the Jewish war, ordinarily attributed to Hegisippus. This is a translation into Latin and a condensation in part of the well-known work of Josephus. Ihm, a very thorough student of St. Ambrose, seems quite disposed to maintain after careful examination that this is the work of St. Ambrose.
2). De lege Dei. This treatise, a sort of compendium of Roman law in the fourth century, and comparison of it with the law of Moses, is ascribed, in a translation published by Mai,24 to St. Ambrose, who is said to have undertaken the work at the command of Theodosius. On the authenticity, however, of this treatise there probably will always remain much doubt.
3. Among works more or less doubtful are De Sacramentis, admitted by the Benedictines, but rejected, and apparently on sufficient grounds, by Ihm.
4). Apologia David altera. Suspected by Erasmus, Tillemont, and Ihm.
5). De lapsu Virginis consecratae. A severe castigation of a fallen virgin and of her seducer. The treatise seems to have been written by a certain Bishop of Nicetas, and a ms. at speaks of it as having been revised by St. Ambrose.
6. There are further three brief addresses ascribed by some persons to St. Ambrose, touching on the question of selling all and giving to the poor. Some of the matter is like St. Ambrose, but the same cannot be said of the diction and style.
VIII). Lost Writings of St. Ambrose.
1). Expositio Isaiae prophetiae, referred to by St. Augustine as well as by St. Ambrose himself.
2). Liber de Sacramento regenerationis sive de philosophia, referred to by St. Augustine.
3). Libellus ad Pansophium puerum, written a.d. 393–4, according to Paulinus in his life of St. Ambrose.
4). Libri quatuor regnorum, referred to in the introduction to the work on the Jewish war.
5). Expositio fidei, quoted by Theodoret and others as a writing of St. Ambrose).
1 Paulinus, who had been in constant attendance on St.Ambrose, and was with him at his death, wrote this life a few years after that event, at the request of St. Augustine).
2 Cont. Jul. Pelag. II. 32.
3 Cont. Jul. Pelag. I. 40.
4 Adv. Rufin. I. 2.
5 De Sp. S. I. 79, 80; De Fide, V. 91.
6 De Poen. I. 36.
7 For the force of the word transfigurantur in early ecclesiastical Latin, compare Tertullian, adv. Praxeam, c. 27: “Transfiguratio interremptio est pristini. Omne enim, quoacunque transfiguratur in aliud desinit esse quod fuerat, et incipit esse quod non erat.”
8 De Fid. IV. 124.
9 De Poen. II. 12, etc.
10 Ep. 22 De ob. Theod. 41–51; De Viduis., 55.
11 De Abrah. II. 61.
12 (Ps 118,59).
13 Ep. 63–78, De Parad. II. 7.
14 De Noe et Arca, XII. 60.
15 Hexaëm. V. 20.
16 Ep. 63, 30.
17 The exact date depends upon whether the passage “barbaracis motibus et bellorum procellis,” etc., Ep. lix., 12–3, refers to the war against Maximus, a.d. 387, or to that against Eugenius, a.d. 393–4; so that the birth year of St. Ambrose might be 333 or 340. The latter date is, however, most generally accepted.
18 Of the 116 provinces of the empire 37 were governed by magistrates with the title of consular.
19 De Exc. Sat. I. 25, 49, 58.
20 Auxentius, a Cappadocian, was ordained priest by Gregory, usurper of St. Athanasius, see of Alexandria. He was much esteemed by the Arians; and when after a synod at Milan, a.d. 355, the Catholic Bishop Dionysins was banished with many others, Auxentius was intruded in his stead, and, as St. Athanasius remarked, a Latin Church received as its pastor one who was ignorant of the Latin tongue, St. Hilary and others endeavoured to remove him, but in vain, and in 369 Auxentius was excommunicated in a synod at Rome, but succeeded in maintaining his post.
21 De Off. lib. I. c. 1,4.
22 Ep. 20,15).
23 St. Ambr. Ep. 57).
24 Scriptorum veterum nova Collectio, Vol. X).
Bishop of Milan
St. Ambrose, esteeming very highly the dignity of the ministerial office, was most desirous that the clergy of his diocese should live worthily of their high vocation, and be good and profitable examples to the people. Consequently he undertook the following treatise, setting forth the duties of the clergy, and taking as a model the treatise of Cicero, De Officiis.
The writer says that his object is to impress upon those whom he has ordained the lessons which he had previously taught them.1 Like Cicero, he treats of that which is right, becoming, or honourable [decorum], and what is expedient [utile];2 but with reference not to this life but to that which is to come, teaching in the first book that which is becoming or honourable; in the second, what is expedient; and in the third, considering both in conjunction.
In the first book he divides duties into “ordinary,” or the way of the commandments, binding upon all alike; and “perfect,” which consist in following the counsels. After treating then of some elementary duties, such as those towards parents and elders, he touches upon the two principles which lead the mind, reason and appetite, and shows that what is becoming consists in thinking of good and right things, and in the subjection of the appetite to reason,3 and supplies certain rules and examples, ending with a discussion on the four Cardinal Virtues, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.
1 II. 6, §25.
2 I. 9, §28.
3 I. 24, §106).
In the second book, passing from what is becoming to what is expedient, he points out that we can only measure what is really expedient by reference to eternal life, in contradiction to the errors of heathen philosophers, and shows that what is expedient consists in the knowledge of God and in good living. Incidentally he shows that what is becoming is really that which is expedient, and ends the book with several chapters of practical considerations.
In the third book he treats of duties of perfection, and lays down as a rule that in everything we must inquire what is expedient, not for individuals, but for many or for all. Nothing is to be striven after which is not becoming; to this everything must give place, not only expediency but even friendship and life itself. By many examples he then proves how holy men have sought after what was becoming, and have thereby secured what was expedient.
The object of St. Ambrose in basing his treatise on the lines of that of Cicero would seem to have been the confutation of some of the false principles of heathenism, and to show how much higher Christian morality is than that of the Gentiles. The treatise was probably composed about a.d. 391).
Three Books on the Duties of the Clergy.2010020101 A Bishop’s special office is to teach; St. Ambrose himself, however, has to learn in order that he may teach; or rather has to teach what he has not learnt; at any rate learning and teaching with himself must go on together.
1). I Think I shall not seem to be taking too much on myself, if, in the midst of my children, I yield to my desire to teach, seeing that the master of humility himself has said: “Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”1 Wherein one may observe both the humility and the grace of his reverence for God. For in saying “the fear of the Lord,” which seems to be common to all, he has described the chief mark of reverence for God. As, however, fear itself is the beginning of wisdom and the source of blessedness—for they that fear the Lord are blessed2 —he has plainly marked himself out as the teacher for instruction in wisdom, and the guide to the attainment of blessedness.
2. We therefore, being anxious to imitate his reverence for God, and not without justification in dispensing grace, deliver to you as to children those things which the Spirit of Wisdom has imparted to him, and which have been made clear to us through him, and learnt by sight and by example. For we can no longer now escape from the duty of teaching which the needs of the priesthood have laid upon us, though we tried to avoid it:3 “For God gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”4
3. I do not therefore claim for myself the glory of the apostles (for who can do this save those whom the Son of God Himself has chosen?); nor the grace of the prophets, nor the virtue of the evangelists, nor the cautious care of the pastors. I only desire to attain to that care and diligence in the sacred writings, which the Apostle has placed last amongst the duties of the saints;5 and this very thing I desire, so that, in the endeavour to teach, I may be able to learn. For one is the true Master, Who alone has not learnt, what He taught all; but men learn before they teach, and receive from Him what they may hand on to others.
4. But not even this was the case with me. For I was carried off from the judgment seat, and the garb [infulis] of office, to enter on the priesthood,6 and began to teach you, what I myself had not yet learnt. So it happened that I began to teach before I began to learn. Therefore I must learn and teach at the same time, since I had no leisure to learn before.7
20102 Manifold dangers are incurred by speaking; the remedy for which Scripture shows to consist in silence.
5). Now what ought we to learn before everything else, but to be silent, that we may be able to speak? lest my voice should condemn me, before that of another acquit me; for it is written: “By thy words thou shalt be condemned.”8 What need is there, then, that thou shouldest hasten to undergo the danger of condemnation by speaking, when thou canst be more safe by keeping silent? How many have I seen to fall into sin by speaking, but scarcely one by keeping silent; and so it is more difficult to know how to keep silent than how to speak. I know that most persons speak because they do not know how to keep silent. It is seldom that any one is silent even when speaking profits him nothing. He is wise, then, who knows how to keep silent. Lastly, the Wisdom of God said: “The Lord hath given to me the tongue of learning, that I should know when it is good to speak.”9 Justly, then, is he wise who has received of the Lord to know when he ought to speak. Wherefore the Scripture says well: “A wise man will keep silence until there is opportunity.”10
6. Therefore the saints of the Lord loved to keep silence, because they knew that a man’s voice is often the utterance of sin, and a man’s speech is the beginning of human error. Lastly, the Saint of the Lord said: “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not in my tongue.”11 For he knew and had read that it was a mark of the divine protection for a man to be hid from the scourge of his own tongue,12 and the witness of his own conscience. We are chastised by the silent reproaches of our thoughts, and by the judgment of conscience. We are chastised also by the lash of our own voice, when we say things whereby our soul is mortally injured, and our mind is sorely wounded. But who is there that has his heart clean from the impurities of sin, and does not offend in his tongue? And so, as he saw there was no one who could keep his mouth free from evil speaking, he laid upon himself the law of innocency by a rule of silence, with a view to avoiding by silence that fault which he could with difficulty escape in speaking.
7. Let us hearken, then, to the master of precaution: “I said, I will take heed to my ways;” that is, “I said to myself: in the silent biddings of my thoughts, I have enjoined upon myself, that I should take heed to my ways.” Some ways there are which we ought to follow; others as to which we ought to take heed. We must follow the ways of the Lord, and take heed to our own ways, lest they lead us into sin. One can take heed if one is not hasty in speaking. The law says: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God.”13 It said not: “Speak,” but “Hear.” Eve fell because she said to the man what she had not heard from the Lord her God. The first word from God says to thee: Hear! If thou hearest, take heed to thy ways; and if thou hast fallen, quickly amend thy way. For: “Wherein does a young man amend his way; except in taking heed to the word of the Lord?”14 Be silent therefore first of all, and hearken, that thou fail not in thy tongue.
8. It is a great evil that a man should be condemned by his own mouth. Truly, if each one shall give account for an idle word,15 how much more for words of impurity and shame? For words uttered hastily are far worse than idle words. If, therefore, an account is demanded for an idle word, how much more will punishment be exacted for impious language?
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