Ambrose selected works 20209
20209 Though justice and prudence are inseparable, we must have respect to the ideas of people in general, for they make a distinction between the different cardinal virtues.
48. It is clear also, according to the sacred Scriptures, which are the older, that wisdom cannot exist without justice, for where one of these two is, there the other must be also. With what wisdom did Daniel expose the lie in the false accusation brought against him by his thorough examination, so that those false informers had no answer ready to hand!86 It was a mark of prudence to convict the criminals by the witness of their own words, and a sign of justice to give over the guilty to punishment, and to save the innocent from it.
49. There is therefore an inseparable union between wisdom and justice; but, generally speaking,87 the one special form of virtue is divided up. Thus temperance lies in despising pleasures, fortitude may be seen in undergoing labours and dangers, prudence in the choice of what is good, by knowing how to distinguish between things useful and the reverse; justice, in being a good guardian of another’s rights and protector of its own, thus maintaining for each his own. We can make this fourfold division in deference to commonly received ideas; and so, whilst deviating from those subtle discussions of philosophic learning which are brought forth as though from some inner recess for the sake of investigating the truth, can follow the commonly received use and their ordinary meaning. Keeping, then, to this division, let us return to our subject.
Men entrust their safety rather to a just than to a prudent man. But every one is wont to seek out the man who combines in himself the qualities of justice and prudence. Solomon gives us an example of this. (The words which the queen of Sheba spoke of him are explained). Also Daniel and Joseph.
50. We entrust our case to the most prudent man we can find, and ask advice from him more readily than we do from others. However, the faithful counsel of a just88 man stands first and often has more weight than the great abilities of the wisest of men: “For better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of others.”89 And just because it is the judgment of a just man, it is also the conclusion of a wise one: in the one lies the result of the matter in dispute, in the other readiness of invention.
51. And if one connects the two, there will be great soundness in the advice given, which is regarded by all with admiration for the wisdom shown, and with love for its justice. And so all will desire to hear the wisdom of that man in whom those two virtues are found together, as all the kings of the earth desired to see the face of Solomon and to hear his wisdom. Nay, even the queen of Sheba came to him and tried him with questions. She came and spoke of all the things that were in her heart, and heard all the wisdom of Solomon, nor did any word escape her.90
52. Who she was whom nothing escaped, and that there was nothing which the truth-loving Solomon did not tell her, learn, O man, from this which thou hearest her saying: “It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy words and of thy prudence, yet I did not believe those that told it me until I came, and mine eyes had seen it; and behold the half was not told me. Thou hast added good things over and above all that I heard in mine own land. Blessed are thy women and blessed thy servants, which stand before thee, and that hear all thy prudence.”91 Recognize the feast of the true Solomon, and who are set down at that feast; recognize it wisely and think in what land all the nations shall hear the fame of true wisdom and justice, and with what eyes they shall see Him, beholding those things which are not seen. “For the things that are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”92
53. What women are blessed but those of whom it is said “that many hear the word of God and bring forth fruit”?93 And again: “Whosoever doeth the word of God is My father and sister and mother.”94 And who are those blessed servants, who stand before Him, but Paul, who said: “Even to this day I stand witnessing both to great and small;”95 or Simeon, who was waiting in the temple to see the consolation of Israel?96 How could he have asked to be let depart, except that in standing before the Lord he had not the power of departing, but only according to the will of God? Solomon is put before us simply for the sake of example, of whom it was eagerly expected that his wisdom should be heard.
54. Joseph also when in prison was not free from being consulted about matters of uncertainty. His counsel97 was of advantage to the whole of Egypt, so that it felt not the seven years’ famine, and he was able even to relieve other peoples from their dreadful hunger.
55. Daniel, though one of the captives, was made the head of the royal counsellors. By his counsels he improved the present and foretold the future.98 Confidence was put in him in all things, because he had frequently interpreted things, and had shown that he had declared the truth.
20211 A third element which tends to gain any one’s confidence is shown to have been conspicuous in Moses, Daniel, and Joseph.
56. But a third point seems also to have been noted in the case of those who were thought worthy of admiration99 after the example of Joseph, Solomon, and Daniel. For what shall I say of Moses whose advice all Israel always waited for,100 whose life caused them to trust in his prudence and increased their esteem for him? Who would not trust to the counsel of Moses, to whom the elders reserved for decision whatever they thought beyond their understanding and powers?
57. Who would refuse the counsel of Daniel, of whom God Himself said: “Who is wiser than Daniel?”101 How can men doubt about the minds of those to whom God has given such grace? By the counsel of Moses wars were brought to an end, and for his merit’s sake food came from heaven and drink from the rock.
58. How pure must have been the soul of Daniel to soften the character of barbarians and to tame the lions!102 What temperance was his, what self-restraint in soul and body! Not unworthily did he become an object of admiration to all, when—and all men do admire this,—though enjoying royal friendships, he sought not for gold, nor counted the honour given him as more precious than his faith. For he was willing to endure danger for the law of God rather than to be turned from his purpose in order to gain the favour of men.
59. And what, again, shall I say of the chastity and justice of Joseph, whom I had almost passed by, whereby on the one hand he rejected the allurements of his mistress and refused rewards, on the other he mocked at death, repressed his fear, and chose a prison? Who would not consider him a fit person to give advice in a private case, whose fruitful spirit and fertile mind enriched the barrenness of the time with the wealth of his counsels and heart?103
20212 No one asks counsel from a man tainted with vice, or from one who is morose or impracticable, but rather from one of whom we have a pattern in the Scriptures.
60). We note therefore that in seeking for counsel, uprightness of life, excellence in virtues, habits of benevolence, and the charm of good-nature have very great weight. Who seeks for a spring in the mud? Who wants to drink from muddy water? So where there is luxurious living, excess, and a union of vices, who will think that he ought to draw from that source? Who does not despise a foul life? Who will think a man to be useful to another’s cause whom he sees to be useless in his own life? Who, again, does not avoid a wicked, ill-disposed, abusive person, who is always ready to do harm? Who would not be only too eager to avoid him?104
61. And who will come to a man however well fitted to give the best of advice who is nevertheless hard to approach? It goes with him as with a fountain whose waters are shut off. What is the advantage of having wisdom, if one refuses to give advice? If one cuts off the opportunities of giving advice, the source is closed, so as no longer to flow for others or to be of any good to oneself.
62. Well can we refer this to him who, possessing prudence, has defiled it with the foulness of a vicious life and so pollutes the water at the source. His life is a proof of a degenerate spirit.105 How can one judge him to be good in counsel whom one sees to be evil in character? He ought to be superior to me, if I am ready to trust myself to him. Am I to suppose that he is fit to give me advice who never takes it for himself, or am I to believe that he has time to give to me when he has none for himself, when his mind is filled with pleasures, and he is overcome by lust, is the slave of avarice, is excited by greed, and is terrified with fright? How is there room for counsel here where there is none for quiet?
63. That man of counsel whom I must admire and look up to, whom the gracious Lord gave to our fathers, put aside all that was offensive. His follower he ought to be, who can give counsel and protect another’s prudence from vice; for nothing foul can mingle with that.
20213 The beautyof wisdom is made plain by the divine testimony. From this he goes on to prove its connection with the other virtues.
64). Is there any one who would like to be beautiful in face and at the same time to have its charm spoilt by a beast-like body and fearful talons? Now the form of virtues is so wonderful and glorious, and especially the beauty of wisdom, as the whole of the Scriptures tell us. For it is more brilliant than the sun, and when compared with the stars far outshines any constellation. Night takes their light away in its train, but wickedness cannot overcome wisdom.106
65. We have spoken of its beauty, and proved it by the witness of Scripture. It remains to show on the authority of Scripture107 that there can be no fellowship between it and vice, but that it has an inseparable union with the rest of the virtues. “It has a spirit sagacious, undefiled, sure, holy, loving what is good, quick, that never forbids a kindness, kind, steadfast, free from care, having all power, overseeing all things.” And again:108 “She teacheth temperance and justice and virtue.”
20214 Prudence is combined with all the virtues, especially with contempt of riches.
66). Prudence, herefore, works through all things, she has fellowship with all that is good. For how109 can she give good advice unless she have justice too, so that she may clothe herself in consistency, not fear death, be held back by no alarm, no fear, nor think it right to be turned aside from the truth by any flattery, nor shun exile, knowing that the world is the fatherland of the wise man. She fears not want, for she knows that nothing is wanting to the wise man, since the whole world of riches is his. What is greater than the man that knows not how to be excited at the thought of money, and has a contempt for riches, and looks down as from some lofty vantage-ground on the desires of men? Men think that one who acts thus is more than man: “Who is this,” it says, “and we will praise him. For wonderful things hath he done in his life.”110 Surely he ought to be admired who despises riches, seeing that most place them even before their own safety.
67. The rule of economy and the authority of self-restraint befits all, and most of all him who stands highest in honour; so that no love for his treasures may seize upon such a man, and that he who rules over free men may never become a slave to money. It is more seemly that in soul he should be superior to treasures, and in willing service be subject to his friends. For humility in- creases the regard in which one is held. It is praiseworthy and right for the chief of men to have no desire for filthy lucre incommon with Syrian traders and Gilead merchants, nor to place all their hope of good in money, or to count up their dailygains and to calculate their savings like a hireling.
20215 Of liberality. To whom it must chiefly be shown, and how men of slender means may show it by giving their service and counsel.
68). But if it is praiseworthy to have one’s soul free from this failing, how much more glorious is it to gain the love of the people by liberality which is neither too freely shown to those who are unsuitable, nor too sparingly bestowed upon the needy.
69. There are many kinds of liberality.111 Not only can we distribute and give away food to those who need it from our own daily supply, so that they may sustain life; but we can also give advice and help to those who are ashamed to show their want openly, so long as the common supplies of the needy are not exhausted. I am now speaking of one set over some office. If he is a priest or almoner, let him inform the bishop of them, and not withhold the name of any he knows to be in any need, or to have lost their wealth and to be now reduced to want; especially if they have not fallen into this trouble owing to wastefulness in youth, but because of another’s theft, or through loss of their inheritance from no fault of their own, so that they cannot now earn their daily bread.
70. The highest kind of liberality is, to redeem captives, to save them from the hands of their enemies, to snatch men from death, and, most of all, women from shame, to restore children to their parents, parents to their children, and, to give back a citizen to his country. This was recognized when Thrace and Illyria were so terribly devastated.112 How many captives were then for sale all over the world! Could one but call them together, their number would have surpassed that of a whole province. Yet there were some who would have sent back into slavery those whom the Church had redeemed. They themselves were harder than slavery itself to look askance at another’s mercy. If they themselves (they said) had come to slavery, they would be slaves freely. If they had been sold, they would not refuse the service of slavery. They wished to undo the freedom of others, though they could not undo their own slavery, unless perchance it should please the buyer to receive his price again, whereby, however, slavery would not be simply undone but redeemed.
71. It is then a special quality of liberality to redeem captives,113 especially from barbarian enemies who are moved by no spark of human feeling to show mercy, except so far as avarice has preserved it with a view to redemption. It is also a great thing to take upon oneself another’s debt, if the debtor cannot pay and is hard pressed to do so, and where the money is due by right and is only left unpaid through want. So, too, it is a sign of great liberality to bring up children, and to take care of orphans.
72. There are others who place in marriage maidens that have lost their parents, so as to preserve their chastity, and who help them not only with good wishes but also by a sum of money. There is also another kind of liberality which the Apostle teaches: “If any that believeth hath widows let him relieve them, that the Church be not burdened by supplying them, that it may have enough for those that are widows indeed.”114
73. Useful, then, is liberality of this sort; but it is not common to all. For there are many good men who have but slender means, and are content with little for their own use, and are not able to give help to lighten the poverty of others. However, another sort of kindness is ready to their hand, whereby they can help those poorer still. For there is a twofold liberality:115 one that gives actual assistance, that is, in money; the other, which is busy in offering active help, is often much grander and nobler.
74. How much grander it was for Abraham to have recovered his captured son-in-law by his victorious arms,116 than if he had ransomed him! How much more usefully did holy Joseph help King Pharaoh by his counsel to provide for the future. than if he had offered him money! For money would not have bought back the fruitfulness of any one state; whilst he by his foresight kept the famine for five years117 from the whole of Egypt.
75. Money is easily spent; counsels can never be exhausted. They only grow the stronger by constant use. Money grows less and quickly comes to an end, and has failed even kindness itself; so that the more there are to whom one wants to give, the fewer one can help; and often one has not got what one thinks ought to be given to others. But as regards the offer of advice and active help, the more there are to spend it on, the more there seems to be, and the more it returns to its own source. The rich stream of prudence ever flows back upon itself, and the more it has reached out to, so much the more active becomes all that remains.
20216 Due measure must be observed in liberality, that it may not be expended on worthless persons, when it is needed by worthier ones. However, alms are not to be given in too sparing and hesitating a way. One ought rather to follow the example of the blessed Joseph, whose prudence is commended at great length.
76). It is clear, then,118 that there ought to be due measure in our liberality, that our gifts may not become useless. Moderation must be observed, especially by priests, for fear that they should give away for the sake of ostentation, and not for justice’ sake. Never was the greed of beggars greater than it is now. They come in full vigour, they come with no reason but that they are on the tramp. They want to empty the purses of the poor—to deprive them of their means of support. Not content with a little, they ask for more. In the clothes that cover them they seek a ground to urge their demands, and with lies about their lives they ask for further sums of money. If any one were to trust their tale too readily, he would quickly drain the fund which is meant to serve for the sustenance of the poor. Let there be method in our giving, so that the poor may not go away empty nor the subsistence of the needy be done away and become the spoil of the dishonest. Let there be then such due measure that kindness may never be put aside, and true need never be left neglected.
77. Many pretend they have debts. Let the truth be looked into. They bemoan the fact that they have been stripped of everything by robbers. In such a case give credit only if the misfortune is apparent, or the person is well known; and then readily give help. To those rejected by the Church supplies must be granted if they are in want of food. He, then, that observes method in his giving is hard towards none, but is free towards all, We ought not only to lend our ears to hear the voices of those who plead, but also our eyes to look into their needs. Weakness calls more loudly to the good dispenser than the voice of the poor. It cannot always be that the cries of an importunate beggar will never extort more, but let us not always give way to impudence. He must be seen who does not see thee. He must be sought for who is ashamed to be seen. He also that is in prison must come to thy thoughts; another seized with sickness must present himself to thy mind, as he cannot reach thy ears.
78. The more people see thy zeal in showing mercy, the more will they love thee, I know many priests who had the more, the more they gave, For they who see a good dispenser give him something to distribute in his round of duty, sure that the act of mercy will reach the poor. If they see him giving away either in excess or too sparingly, they contemn either of these; in the one case because he wastes the fruits of another’s labours by unnecessary payments, on the other hand because he hoards them in his money bags. As, then, method119 must be observed in liberality, so also at times it seems as though the spur must be applied. Method, then, so that the kindness one shows may be able to be shown day by day, and that we may not have to withdraw from a needful case what we have freely spent on waste. A spur, because money is better laid out in food for the poor than on a purse for the rich. We must take care test in our money chests we shut up the welfare of the needy, and bury the life of the poor as it were in a sepulchre.
79. Joseph could have given away all the wealth of Egypt, and have spent the royal treasures; but he would not even seem to be wasteful of what was another’s. He preferred to sell the corn rather than to give it to the hungry. For if he had given it to a few there would have been none for most. He gave good proof of that liberality whereby there was enough for all. He opened the storehouses that all might buy their corn supply, lest if they received it for nothing, they should give up cultivating the ground. For he who has the use of what is another’s often neglects his own.
80. First of all, then, he gathered up their money, then their implements, last of all he acquired for the king all their rights to the ground.120 He did not wish to deprive all of them of their property, but to support them in it. He also imposed a general tax,121 that they might hold their own in safety. So pleasing was this to all from whom he had taken the land, that they looked on it, not as the selling of their rights, but as the recovery of their welfare. Thus they spoke: “Thou hast saved our lives, let us find grace in the sight of our Lord.”122 For they had lost nothing of their own, but had received a new right. Nothing of what was useful to them had failed, for they had now gained it in perpetuity.
81. O noble man!123 who sought not for the fleeting glory of a needless bounty, but set up as his memorial the lasting benefits of his foresight. He acted so that the people should help themselves by their payments, and should not in their time of need seek help from others. For it was surely better to give up part of their crops than to lose the whole of their rights. He fixed the impost at a fifth of their whole produce, and thus showed himself clear-sighted in making provision for the future, and liberal in the tax he laid upon them. Never after did Egypt suffer from such a famine.
82. How splendidly he inferred the future. First, how acutely, when interpreting the royal dream, he stated the truth. This was the king’s first dream.124 Seven heifers came up out of the river well-favoured and fat-fleshed, and they fed at the banks of the river. And other bullocks ill-favoured and lean-fleshed came up out of the river after the heifers, and fed near them on the very edge of the river. And these thin and wretched bullocks seemed to devour those others which were so fat and well-favoured. And this was the second dream.125 Seven fat ears full and good came up from the ground. And after them seven wretched ears, blasted with the wind and withered, endeavoured to take their place. And it seemed that the barren and thin ears devoured the rich and fruitful ears.
83. This dream Joseph unfolded as follows: that the seven heifers were seven years, and the seven ears likewise were seven years,—interpreting the times by the produce of cattle and crops. For both the calving of a heifer takes a year, and the produce of a crop fills out a whole year. And they came up out of the river just as days, years, and times pass by and flow along swiftly like the rivers. He therefore states that the seven earlier years of a rich land will be fertile and fruitful but the latter seven years will be barren and unfruitful, whose barrenness will eat up the richness of the former time. Wherefore he warns them to see that supplies of corn are got together in the fruitful years that they may help out the needs of the coming scarcity.
84. What shall we admire first? His powers of mind, with which he descended to the very resting-place of truth? Or his counsel, whereby he foresaw so great and lasting a need? Or his watchfulness or justice? By his watchfulness, when so high an office was given him, he gathered together such vast supplies; and through his justice he treated all alike. And what am I to say of his greatness of mind? For though sold by his brothers into slavery,126 he took no revenge for this wrong, but put an end to their want. What of his gentleness, whereby by a pious fraud he sought to gain the presence of his beloved brother whom, under pretence of a well-planned theft, he declared to have stolen his property, that he might hold him as a hostage of his love?127
85. Whence it was deservedly said to him by his father: “My son Joseph is enlarged, my son is enlarged, my younger son, my beloved. My God hath helped thee and blessed thee with the blessing of heaven above and the blessing of the earth, the earth that hath all things, on account of the blessings of thy father and thy mother. It hath prevailed over the blessings of the everlasting hills and the desires of the eternal hills.”128 And in Deuteronomy: “Thou Who wast seen in the bush, that Thou mayest come upon the head of Joseph, upon his pate. Honoured among his brethren, his glory is as the firstling of his bullocks; his horns are like the horns of unicorns. With his horn he shall push the nations even to the ends of the earth. They are the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh.”129
20217 What virtues ought to exist in him whom we consult. How Joseph and Paul were equipped with them.
86). Such, then, ought he to be who gives counsel to another, in order that he may offer himself as a pattern in all good works, in teaching, in trueness of character, in seriousness. Thus his words will be wholesome and irreproachable, his counsel useful, his life virtuous, and his opinions seemly.
87. Such was Paul, who gave counsel to virgins,130 guidance to priests,131 so as to offer himself as a pattern for us to copy. Thus he knew how to be humble, as also Joseph did, who, though sprung from the noble family of the patriarchs, was not ashamed of his base slavery; rather he adorned it with his ready service, and made it glorious by his virtues. He knew how to be humble who had to go through the hands of both buyer and seller, and called them, Lord. Hear him as he humbles himself: “My lord on my account knoweth not132 what is in his house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand, neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife; how, then, can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”133 Full of humility are his words, full, too, of chastity. Of humility, for he was obedient to his Lord; of an honourable spirit, for he was grateful;134 full, also, of chastity, for he thought it a terrible sin to be defiled by so great a crime.
88. Such, then, ought the man of counsel to be. He must have nothing dark, or deceptive, or false about him, to cast a shadow on his life and character, nothing wicked or evil to keep back those who want advice. For there are some things which one flies from, others which one despises.135 We fly from those things which can do harm, or can perfidiously and quietly grow to do us hurt, as when he whose advice we ask is of doubtful honour, or is desirous of money, so that a certain sum can make him change his mind. If a man acts unjustly, we fly from him and avoid him. A man that is a pleasure seeker and extravagant, although he does not act falsely, yet is avaricious and too fond of filthy lucre; such an one is despised. What proof of hard work, what fruits of labour, can he give who gives himself up to a sluggish and idle life, or what cares and anxieties ever enter his mind?
89. Therefore the man of good counsel says: “I have learnt in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.”136 For he knew that the root of all evils is the love of money,137 and therefore he was content with what he had, without seeking for what was another’s. Sufficient for me, he says, is what I have; whether I have little or much, to me it is much. It seems as though he wanted to state it as clearly as possible. He makes use of these words: “I am content,” he says, “with what I have.” That means: “I neither have want, nor have I too much. I have no want, for I seek nothing more. I have not too much, for I have it not for myself, but for the many.” This is said with reference to money.
90. But he could have said these words about everything, for all that he had at the moment contented him; that is, he wanted no greater honour, he sought for no further services, he was not desirous of vainglory, nor did he look for gratitude where it was not due; but patient in labours, sure in his merits, he waited for the end of the struggle that he must needs endure. “I know,” he says, “how to be abased.”138 An untaught humility has no claim to praise, but only that which possesses modesty and a knowledge of self. For there is a humility that rests on fear, one, too, that rests on want of skill and ignorance. Therefore the Scripture says: “He will save the humble in spirit.”139 Gloriously, therefore, does he say: “I know how to be abased;” that is to say, where, in what moderation, to what end, in what duty, in which office. The Pharisee knew not how to be abased, therefore he was cast down. The publican knew, and therefore he was justified.140
91. Paul knew, too, how to abound, for he had a rich soul, though he possessed not the treasure of a rich man. He knew how to abound, for he sought no gift in money, but looked for fruit in grace. We can understand his words that he knew how to abound also in another way. For he could say again: “0 ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.”141
92. In all things he was accustomed both to be full and to be hungry. Blessed is he that knows how to be full in Christ. Not corporal, but spiritual, is that satiety which knowledge brings about. And rightly is there need of knowledge: “For man lives not by bread alone, but by every word of God.”142 For he who knew how to be full also knew how to be hungry, so as to be always seeking something new, hungering after God, thirsting for the Lord. He knew how to hunger, for he knew that the hungry shall eat.143 He knew, also, how to abound, and was able to abound, for he had nothing and yet possessed all things.144
20218 We learn from the fact of the separation of the ten tribes from King Rehoboam what harm bad counsellors can do.
93). Justice, then, especially graces men that are set over any office;145 on the other hand, injustice fails them and fights against them. Scripture itself gives us an example, where it says, that when the people of Israel, after the death of Solomon, had asked his son Rehoboam to free their neck from their cruel yoke, and to lighten the harshness of his father’s rule, he, despising the counsel of the old men, gave the following answer at the suggestion of the young men: “He would add a burden to the yoke of his father, and change their lighter toils for harder.”146
94. Angered by this answer, the people said: “We have no portion in David, nor inheritance in the son of Jesse. Return to your tents, O Israel. For we will not have this man for a prince or a leader over us.”147 So, forsaken and deserted by the people, he could keep with him scarce two of the ten tribes for David’s sake.
20219 Many are won by justice and benevolence and courtesy, but all this must be sincere.
95). It is plain, then, that equity strengthens empires, and injustice destroys them. How could wickedness hold fast a kingdom when it cannot even rule over a single family? There is need, therefore, of the greatest kindness, so that we may preserve not only the government of affairs in general, but also the rights of individuals. Benevolence is of the greatest value; for it seeks to embrace all in its favours, to bind them to itself by fulfilling duties, and to pledge them to itself by its charm.
96. We have also said that courtesy of speech has great effect in winning favour. But we want it to be sincere and sensible, without flattery, lest flattery should disgrace the simplicity and purity of our address. We ought to be a pattern to others not only in act but also in word, in purity, and in faith. What we wish to be thought, such let us be;148 and let us show openly such feelings as we have within us. Let us not say an unjust word in our heart that we think can be hid in silence, for He hears things said in secret Who made things secret, and knows the secrets of the heart, and has implanted feelings within. Therefore as though under the eyes of the Judge let us consider all we do as set forth in the light, that it may be manifest to all.
Ambrose selected works 20209