Ambrose selected works 20229

Chapter XXIX.

20229 The property of widows or of all the faithful, that has been entrusted to the Church, ought to be defended though it brings danger to oneself. This is illustrated by the example of Onias the priest, and of Ambrose, bishop of Ticinum.

144). Great care must be taken that the property entrusted by widows remains inviolate. It should be guarded without causing complaint, not only if it belongs to widows, but to any one at all. For good faith must be shown to all, though the cause of the widow and orphans comes first.

145. So everything entrusted to the temple was preserved in the name of the widows alone, as we read in the book of the Maccabees.202 For when information was given of the money, which Simon treacherously had told King Antiochus could be found in large quantities in the temple at Jerusalem, Heliodorus was sent to look into the matter. He came to the temple, and made known to the high priest his hateful information and the reason of his coming.

146. Then the priest said that only means for the maintenance of the widows and orphans was laid up there. And when Heliodorus would have gone to seize it, and to claim it on the king’s behalf, the, priests cast themselves before the altar, after putting on their priestly robes, and with tears called on the living God Who had given them the law concerning trust-money to show Himself as guardian of His own commands. The changed look and colour of the high priest showed what grief of soul and anxiety and tension of mind were his. All wept, for the spot would fall into contempt, if not even in the temple of God safe and faithful guardianship could be preserved. Women with breasts girded, and virgins who usually were shut in, knocked at the doors. Some ran to the walls, others looked out of the windows, all raised their hands to heaven in prayer that God would stand by His laws.

147. But Heliodorus, undeterred by this, was eager to carry out his intention, and had already surrounded the treasury with his followers, when suddenly there appeared to him a dreadful horseman all glorious in golden armour, his horse also being adorned with costly ornaments. Two other youths also appeared in glorious might and wondrous beauty, in splendour and glory and beauteous array. They stood round him, and on either side beat the sacrilegious wretch, and gave him stroke after stroke without intermission. What more need I say? Shut in by darkness he fell to the ground, and lay there nearly dead with fear at this plain proof of divine power, nor had he any hope of safety left within him. Joy returned to those who were in fear, fear fell on those who were so proud before. And some of the friends of Heliodorus in their trouble besought Onias, asking life for him, since he was almost at his last breath.

148. When, therefore, the high priest asked for this, the same youths again appeared to Heliodorus, clad in the same garments, and said to him: Give thanks to Onias the high priest, for whose sake thy life is granted thee. But do thou, having experienced the scourge of God, go and tell thy friends how much thou hast learnt of the sanctity of the temple and the power of God. With these words they passed out of sight. Heliodorus then, his life having come back to him, offered a sacrifice to the Lord, gave thanks to the priest Onias, and returned with his army to the king, saying: “If thou hast an enemy or one who is plotting against thy power, send him thither and thou wilt receive him back well scourged.”

149. Therefore, my sons, good faith must be preserved in the case of trust-money, and care, too, must be shown. Your service will glow the brighter if the oppression of a powerful man, which some widow or orphan cannot withstand, is checked by the assistance of the Church, and if ye show that the command of the Lord has more weight with you than the favour of the rich.

150. Ye also remember how often we entered on a contest against the royal attacks, on behalf of the trust-money belonging to widows, yea, and to others as well. You and I shared this in common. I will also mention the late case of the Church at Ticinum, which was in danger of losing the widow’s trust-money that it had received.203 For when he who wanted to claim it on some imperial rescript demanded it, the clergy did not maintain their rights. For they themselves, having once been called to office and sent to intervene, now supposed that they could not oppose the emperor’s orders. The plain words of the rescript were read, the orders of the chief officer of the court were there, he who was to act in the matter was at hand. What more was to be said? It was handed over.

151. However, after taking counsel with me, the holy bishop took possession of the rooms to which he knew that the widow’s property had been carried. As it could not be carried away, it was all set down in writing. Later on it was again demanded on proof of the document. The emperor repeated the order, and would meet us himself in his own person. We refused. And when the force of the divine law, and a long list of passages and the danger of Heliodorus was explained, at length the emperor became reasonable. Afterwards, again, an attempt was made to seize it, but the good bishop anticipated the attempt and restored to the widow all he had received. So faith was preserved, but the oppression was no longer a cause for fear; for now it is the matter itself, not good faith, that is in danger.

Chapter XXX.

20230 The ending of the book brings an exhortation to avoid ill-will, and to seek prudence, faith, and the other virtues.

152). My sons, avoid wicked men, guard against the envious. There is this difference between a wicked and an envious man: the wicked man is delighted at his own good fortune, but the envious is tortured at the thought of an other’s. The former loves evil, the latter hates good. So he is almost more bearable who desires good for himself alone, than he who desires evil for all.

153. My sons, think before you act, and when you have thought long then do what you consider right. When the opportunity of a praiseworthy death is given let it be seized at once. Glory that is put off flies away and is not easily laid hold of again.

154. Love faith. For by his devotion and faith Josiah204 won great love for himself from his enemies. For he celebrated the Lord’s passover when he was eighteen yearsold, as no one had done it before him. As then in zeal he was superior to those who went before him, so do ye, my sons, show zeal for God. Let zeal for God search you through, and devour you, so that each one of you may say: “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. ”205 An apostle of Christ was called the zealot.206 But why do I speak of an apostle? The Lord Himself said: “The zeal of thine house hath eaten Me up.”207 Let it then be real zeal for God, not mean earthy zeal, for that causes jealousy.

155. Let there be peace among you, which passeth all understanding. Love one another. Nothing is sweeter than charity, nothing more blessed than peace. Ye yourselves know that I have ever loved you and do now love you above all others. As the children of one father ye have become united under the bond of brotherly affection.

156. Whatsoever is good, that hold fast; and the God of peace and love be with you in the Lord Jesus, to Whom be honour and glory, dominion and might, together with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Cic). de Off. II. 1.
2 S.
Mt 6,2).
3 S. Lc 23,43.
4 Hieronymus, often mentioned by Cicero. Cf. Cic). de Finib. II. 3.—He lived about b.c. 300, at Rhodes. He held that the nighest good consisted in freedom from pain and trouble.
5 Herillus. Cf. Cic). de Finib. V. 25. Of Carthage; a Stoic. The chief good, according to him, consisted in knowledge.
6 Aristotle, the famous philosopher and writer. Born b.c. 384. Taught chiefly at Athens, where Theophrastus was his pupil.
7 Theophrastus of Eresus in Lesbos, also a voluminous writer: He is mentioned by Cicero thus: “Soepe ab Aristotele, a Theophrasto mirabiliter caudatur scientia, hoc una captus Herillus scientiam summum bonum esse defendit.” (de Fin. V. 25).
8 Epicurus. Cf. Cic). Tuscul. V. 30. Born b.c. 342 in Samos. The founder of the Epicurean School of Philosophy. With him pleasure constituted the highest happiness, but probably not sensual pleasures. Cf. note on I. 50.
9 Callipho. Cic). Acad. II. 42: A disciple of Epicurus. The chief good of man he said consisted in the union of a virtuous life with bodily pleasure, or, as Cicero puts it, in the union of the man with the beast. (Cic). de Off. III. 33).
10 Diodorus living about b.c. 110, at Tyre. His view was as stated above by St. Ambrose, whereby an attempt was made to reconcile the Stoics and Epicureans.
11 Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic School.
12 S. Jn 17,3.
13 S. Mt 19,29.
14 (Ps 94,12 [xciii.] .
15 (Ps 112,1 [cxi.] .
16 (Ps 112,3 [cxi.] .
17 (Ps 112,5-6 [cxi.].
18 (Ps 112,9 [cxi.] ).
19 See St. Augustine, De Civit. Dei. XIX. 1.
20 (Ps 1,1-2,
21 (Ps 119,1,
22 S. Mt 5,11-12.
23 S. Mt 16,24.
24 (Ex 14.
25 (Nb 16,48,
26 Bel 5,39.
27 (Ph 3,7-8).
28 (Ex 16,13,
29 1R 17,6.
30 1R 17,14.
31 S. Mt 17,3.
32 S. Lc 6,20-21.
33 S. Lc 6,24-25.
34 1R 21,13-16.
35 (Gn 27,28,
36 (Gn 31,41,
37 (Gn 34,5,
38 (Gn 42,2).
39 (Ex 3,6,
40 (Gn 39,7,
41 (2S 12,16 2S 13,31 2S 18,33.
42 (2S 13,21.
43 S. Jn 20,29.
44 (Jb 1,14 ff.
45 Cic). de Off. II. 3.
46 (1Tm 4,8,
47 (1Co 6,12,
48 (Ps 30,9 [xxix.] .
49 (Is 3,10 [LXX.].
50 (1Co 7,35).
51 (Ps 119,36 [cxviii.] .
52 (Ph 3,8,
53 (1Tm 6,6,
54 (1Tm 4,8,
55 S. Mt 19,12.
56 Cic). de Off. II. 7.
57 Cic). de Off. II. 14.
58 (Ex 32,32,
59 (Ex 34,30,
60 (Dt 34,6).
61 (1S 17,32.
62 (2S 2,3.
63 (2S 2,20.
64 1R 2,5.
65 (2S 24,17.
66 (Ps 102,9 [ci.] .
67 (2S 5,1-2.
68 (Ps 89,20 [xxxviii.]
69 1R 11,34.
70 (1S 20,34.
71 (Si 29,10,
72 (Si 22,31,
73 (Si 6,16,
74 (1Co 13,7-8).
75 Cic). de Off. II. 7, §23.
76 Cic). de Off. II. 8, §30.
77 Cic). de Off. II. 9.
78 (Si 22,31,
79 Cic). de Off. II. 10.
80 (Ps 37,21[xxxvi.] 21.
81 (Ps 112,5[cxi.] 5.
82 1R 3,26 ff).
83 1R 3,26.
84 1R 3,28.
85 1R 3,9.
86 Bel and the Dragon 5,44
87 Cic). de Off. II. 10, §35.
88 Cic). de Off. II. 9, §34.
89 (Pr 27,6,
90 1R 10,2-3.
91 1R 10,6-8.
92 (2Co 4,18,
93 S. Lc 11,28.
94 S. Mt 12,50.
95 (Ac 26,22,
96 S. Lc 2,25.
97 (Gn 41,9 ff.
98 (Da ii.
99 Cic). de Off. II. 10, §36.
100 (Ex 18,13,
101 (Ez 28,3,
102 Bel and the Dragon 5,39.
103 (Gn 41,33 ff).
104 Cic). de Off. II. 10, §36.
105 Vide Virg. Aen. IV. 13: “degeneres animos timor arguit.
106 (Sg 7,29-30,
107 (Sg 7,22-23,
108 (Sg 8,7,
109 Cic). de Off. II. 11.
110 (Si 31,9).
111 Cic). de Off. II. 9, §32.
112 This was in the year 378. These provinces were invaded by the Goths, who after the defeat and death of Valens at Hadrianople ravaged the whole country, and carried away with them a vast number of captives and afterwards sold them into slavery. St Ambrose busied himself in redeeming all he could. He tells us himself how his efforts were met by the Arian party.
113 Cic). de Off. II. 16.
114 (1Tm 5,16,
115 Cic). de Off. II. 15, §52.
116 (Gn 14,16).
117 (Gn 41,53–57.
118 Cic). de Off. II. 15, §55.
119 Cic). de Off. II. 15, §54).
120 (Gn 47,14–20.
121 Cic). de Off. II. 21.
122 (Gn 47,25,
123 Cic). de Off. II. 23, 83.
124 (Gn 41,17 ff.
125 (Gn 41,22 ff.
126 (Gn 37,28,
127 (Gn 44,2 ff.
128 (Gn 49,22 Gn 49,25-26.
129 (Dt 33,16-17,
130 (1Co 7,25,
131 (1Tm 4,12 ff.
132 “propter me.” Cod. Dresd., Ed. Med. have “proeter me.
133 (Gn 39,8-9,
134 “humilitatis, quia domino deferebat; honorificentioe, quia referebat gratiam.” Others read: “humilitatis …deferebat honorificentiam, quia,” etc.
135 Cic). de Off. II, 10, §36.
136 (Ph 4,11,
137 (1Tm 6,10,
138 (Ph 4,12,
139 (Ps 34,18 [xxxiii.] .
140 S. Lc 18,11.
141 (2Co 6,14).
142 (Dt 8,3,
143 S. Mt 5,6.
144 (2Co 6,10,
145 Cic). de Off. II. 22, §77.
146 1R 12,4 ff.
147 1R 12,16.
148 Cic). de Off. II. 12, §43.
149 Cic). de Off. II. 13, §46.
150 (Ex 24,12 ff).
151 (Dt 34,9,
152 (Jos 3,15 ff.
153 (Jos 10,12-13,
154 (Ex 14,21, also Jos 10,12,
155 Gn 12,5.
156 1R 19,21.
157 (Ac 15,39-40,
158 (Ac 16,3,
159 (Tt 1,5,
160 Cic). de Off. II. 14, §51.
161 Cic). de Off. II. 18, §64.
162 (Gn xviii 1 ff.
163 (Gn 18,3,
164 (Gn 19,20
165 Cic). de Off. II. 20.
166 S. Mt 10,41.
167 S. Mt 10,42.
168 (Gn 18,1 ff.
169 (Gn 19,3,
170 S. Mt 25,36.
171 Cic). de Off. II. 20, §69.
172 (Pr 15,17,
173 (Pr 17,1,
174 Cic). de Off. II. 16.
175 (Pr 20,1
176 Cic). de Off. II. 12, §43.
177 (2S 14,25.
178 (2S 15,1-6.
179 Hushai is probably meant by this, who advised Absalom to delay his attack on the king.
180 (2S 18,5.
181 Cic). de Off. II. 6, §21).
182 Cic). de Off. II. 20, §69.
183 S. Lc 14,12-13).
184 S. Mt 10,9.
185 (Ac 3,6,
186 Cic). de Off. II. 20, §71.
187 “linguam auream.” Other readings are: “lineam auream,” or “regulam auream.
188 (Jos 7,21,
189 (Ex 20,17,
190 (Nb 22,17,
191 (Jg 16,6,
192 (Jg 14,6,
193 (Jg 15,14-15,
194 (Jg 16,20).
195 (Ph 2,4,
196 S. Mt 10,9.
197 2R 24,13).
198 (2Co 4,7,
199 S. Mt 25,35.
200 S. Mt 25,40.
201 2R 23,35.
202 (2M 3,
203 This was attempted by the Emperor Valentinian II., who was induced to act in this way by his mother Justina. She being an Arian was only too ready to harass in every possible way a Catholic bishop such as Ambrose of Ticinum was).
204 2R 23,21ff.
205 (Ps 69,9 [lxviii.] .
206 S. Lc 6,15.
207 S. Jn 2,17. St. John, however, only says: “The disciples remembered that it was written.”

Book III.


Chapter I.

We are taught by David and Solomon how to take counsel with our own heart. Scipio is not to be accounted prime author of the saying which is ascribed to him. The writer proves what glorious things the holy prophets accomplished in their time of quiet, and shows, by examples of their and others’ leisure moments, that a just man is never alone in trouble.

I). The prophet David taught us that we should go about in our heart as though in a large house; that we should hold converse with it as with some trusty companion. He spoke to himself, and conversed with himself, as these words show: “I said, I will take heed to my ways.”1 Solomon his son also said: “Drink water out of thine own vessels, and out of the springs of thy wells; ”2 that is: use thine own counsel. For: “Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters.”3 “Let no stranger,” it says, “share it with thee. Let the fountain of thy water be thine own, and rejoice with thy wife who is thine from thy youth. Let the loving hind and pleasant doe converse with thee.”4

2. Scipio,5 therefore, was not the first to know that he was not alone when he was alone, or that he was least at leisure when he was at leisure. For Moses knew it before him, who, when silent, was crying out;6 who, when he stood at ease, was fighting, nay, not merely fighting but triumphing over enemies whom he had not come near. So much was he at ease, that others held up his hands; yet he was no less active than others, for he with his hands at ease was overcoming the enemy, whom they that were in the battle could not conquer.7 Thus Moses in his silence spoke, and in his ease laboured hard. And were his labours greater than his times of quiet, who, being in the mount for forty days, received the whole law?8 And in that solitude there was One not far away to speak with him. Whence also David says: “I will hear what the Lord God will say within me.”9 How much greater a thing is it for God to speak with any one, than for a man to speak with himself!

3. The apostles passed by and their shadows cured the sick.10 Their garments were touched and health was granted).

4. Elijah spoke the word, and the rain ceased and fell not on the earth for three years and six months.11 Again he spoke, and the barrel of meal failed not, and the cruse of oil wasted not the whole time of that long famine.12

5. But—as many delight in warfare—which is the most glorious, to bring a battle to an end by the strength of a great army, or, by merits before God alone? Elisha rested in one place while the king of Syria waged a great war against the people of our fathers, and was adding to its terrors by various treacherous plans, and was endeavouring to catch them in an ambush. But the prophet found out all their preparations, and being by the grace of God present everywhere in mental vigour, he told the thoughts of their enemies to his countrymen, and warned them of what places to beware. And when this was known to the king of Syria, he sent an army and shut in the prophet. Elisha prayed and caused all of them to be struck with blindness, and made those who had come to besiege him enter Samaria as captives.13

6. Let us compare this leisure of his with that of others.14 Other men for the sake of rest are wont to withdraw their minds from business, and to retire from the company and companionship of men; to seek the retirement of the country or the solitude of the fields, or in the city to give their minds a rest and to enjoy peace and quietness. But Elisha was ever active. In solitude he divided Jordan on passing over it, so that the lower part flowed down, whilst the upper returned to its source. On Carmel he promises the woman, who so far had had no child, that a son now unhoped for should be born to her.15 He raises the dead to life,16 he corrects the bitterness of the food, and makes it to be sweet by mixing meal with it.17 Having distributed ten loaves to the people for food, he gathered up the fragments that were left after they had been filled.18 He makes the iron head of the axe, which had fallen off and was sunk deep in the river Jordan, to swim by putting the wooden handle in the water.19 He changes leprosy for cleanness,20 drought for rain,21 famine for plenty.22

7. When can the upright man be alone, since he is always with God? When is he left forsaken who is never separated from Christ? “Who,” it says, “shall separate us from the love of Christ? I am confident that neither death nor life nor angel shall do so.”23 And when can he be deprived of his labour who never can be deprived of his merits, wherein his labour receives its crown? By what places is he limited to whom the whole world of riches is a possession? By what judgment is he confined who is never blamed by any one? For he is “as unknown yet well known, as dying and behold he lives, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing all things.”24 For the upright man regards nothing but what is consistent and virtuous. And so although he seems poor to another, he is rich to himself, for his worth is taken not at the value of the things which are temporal, but of the things which are eternal.

Chapter II.

20302 The discussions among philosophers about the comparison between what is virtuous and what is useful have nothing to do with Christians. For with them nothing is useful which is not just. What are the duties of perfection, and what are ordinary duties? The same words often suit different things in different ways. Lastly, a just man never seeks his own advantage at the cost of another’s disadvantage, but rather is always on the lookout for what is useful to others.

8). As we have already spoken about the two former subjects, wherein we discussed what is virtuous and what is useful, there follows now the question whether we ought to compare what is virtuous and useful together, and to ask which we must follow. For, as we have already discussed the matter as to whether a thing is virtuous or wicked, and in another place whether it is useful or useless, so here some think we ought to find out whether a thing is virtuous or useful.25

9. I am induced to do this, lest I should seem to be allowing that these two are mutually opposed to one another, when I have already shown them to be one. For I said that nothing can be virtuous but what is useful, and nothing can be useful but what is virtuous.26 For we do not follow the wisdom of the flesh, whereby the usefulness that consists in an abundance of money is held to be of most value, but we follow that wisdom which is of God, whereby those things which are greatly valued in this world are counted but as loss.

10. For this catorqwma, which is duty carried out entirely and in perfection, starts from the true source of virtue.27 On this follows another, or ordinary duty. This shows by its name that no hard or extraordinary practice of virtue is involved, for it can be common to very many. The desire to save money is the usual practice with many. To enjoy a well-prepared banquet and a pleasant meal is a general habit; but to fast or to use self-restraint is the practice of but few, and not to be desirous of another’s goods is a virtue rarely found. On the other hand, to wish to deprive another of his property—and not to be content with one’s due—here one will find many to keep company with one. Those (the philosopher would say) are primary duties—these ordinary.28 The primary are found but with few, the ordinary with the many.

11. Again, the same words often have a different meaning. For instance, we call God good and a man good; but it bears in each case quite a different meaning.29 We call God just in one sense, man in another. So, too, there is a difference in meaning when we call God wise and a man wise. This we are taught in the Gospel: “Be ye perfect even as your Father Who is in heaven is perfect. ”30 I read again that Paul was perfect and yet not perfect. For when he said: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that. I may apprehend it. ”31 Immediately he added: “We, then, that are perfect.”32 There is a twofold form of perfection, the one having but ordinary, the other the highest worth. The one availing here, the other hereafter. The one in accordance with human powers, the other with the perfection of the world to come. But God is just through all, wise above all, perfect in all.

12. There is also diversity even among men themselves. Daniel, of whom it was said: “Who is wiser than Daniel? ”33 was wise in a different sense to what others are. The same may be said of Solomon, who was filled with wisdom, above all the wisdom of the ancients, and more than all the wise men of Egypt.34 To be wise as men are in general is quite a different thing to being really wise. He who is ordinarily wise is wise for temporal matters, is wise for himself, so as to deprive another of something and get it for himself. He who is really wise does not know how to regard his own advantage, but looks with all his desire to that which is eternal, and to that which is seemly and virtuous, seeking not what is useful for himself, but for all.

13. Let this, then, be our rule,35 so that we may never go wrong between two things, one virtuous, the other useful. The upright man must never think of depriving another of anything, nor must he ever wish to increase his own advantage to the disadvantage of another. This rule the Apostle gives thee, saying: “All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but each one another’s.”36 That is: Let no man seek his own advantage, but another’s; let no man seek his own honour, but another’s. Wherefore he says in another place: “Let each esteem other better than themselves, looking not each one to his own things, but to the things of others.”37

14. And let no one seek his own favour or his own praise, but another’s. This we can plainly see declared in the book of Proverbs, where the Holy Spirit says through Solomon: “My son, if thou be wise, be wise for thyself and thy neighbours; but if thou turn out evil, thou alone shalt bear it.”38 The wise man gives counsel to others, as the upright man does, and shares with him in wearing the form of either virtue.

Chapter III.

20303 The rule given about not seeking one’s own gain is established, first by the examples of Christ, next by the meaning of the word, and lastly by the very form and uses of our limbs. Wherefore the writer shows what a crime it is to deprive another of what is useful, since the law of nature as well as the divine law is broken by such wickedness. Further, by its means we also lose that gift which makes us superior to other living creatures; and lastly, through it civil laws are abused and treated with the greatest contempt.

15). If, then, any one wishes to please all, he must strive in everything to do, not what is useful for himself, but what is useful for many, as also Paul strove to do. For this is “to be conformed to the image of Christ,”39 namely, when one does not strive for what is another’s, and does not deprive another of something so as to gain it for oneself. For Christ our Lord,40 though He was in the form of God, emptied Himself so as to take on Himself the form of man, which He wished to enrich with the virtue of His works. Wilt thou, then, spoil him whom Christ has put on? Wilt thou strip him whom Christ has clothed? For this is what thou art doing when thou dost attempt to increase thine own advantage at another’s loss.

16. Think, O man, from whence thou hast received thy name—even from the earth,41 which takes nothing from any one, but gives freely to all, and supplies varied produce for the use of all living things. Hence humanity is called a particular and innate virtue in man, for it assists its partner.

17. The very form of thy body and the uses of thy limbs teach thee this. Can one limb claim the duties of another? Can the eye claim for itself the duties of the ear; or the mouth the duties of the eye; or the hand the service of the feet; or the feet that of the hands? Nay, the hands themselves, both left and right, have different duties to do, so that if one were to change the use of either, one would act contrary to nature. We should have to lay aside the whole man before we could change the service of the various members: as if, for instance, we were to try to take food with the left hand, or to perform the duties of the left hand with the right, so as to remove the remains of food—unless, of course, need demanded it.

18. Imagine for a moment, and give to the eye the power to withdraw the understanding from the head, the sense of hearing from the ears, the power of thought from the mind, the sense of smell from the nose, the sense of taste from the mouth, and then to assume them itself, would it not at once destroy the whole order of nature? Wherefore the Apostle says well: “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?”42 So, then, we are all one body, though with many members, all necessary to the body. For no one member can say of another: “I have no need of thee.” For those members which seem to be more feeble are much more necessary and require greater care and attention. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.43

19. So we see how grave a matter it is to deprive another, with whom we ought rather to suffer, of anything, or to act unfairly or injuriously towards one to whom we ought to give a share in our services. This is a true law of nature, which binds us to show all kindly feeling, so that we should all of us in turn help one another, as parts of one body, and should never think of depriving another of anything, seeing it is against the law of nature even to abstain from giving help. We are born in such a way that limb combines with limb, and one works with another, and all assist each other in mutual service. But if one fails in its duty, the rest are hindered. If, for instance, the hand tears out the eye, has it not hindered the use, of its work? If it were to wound the foot, how many actions would it not prevent? But how much worse is it for the whole man to be drawn aside from his duty than for one of the members only! If the whole body is injured in one member, so also is the whole community of the human race disturbed in one man. The nature of mankind is injured, as also is the society of the holy Church, which rises into one united body, bound together in oneness of faith and love. Christ the Lord, also, Who died for all, will grieve that the price of His blood was paid in vain.

20. Why, the very law of the Lord teaches us that this rule must be observed, so that we may never deprive another of anything for the sake of our own advantage. For it says: “Remove not the bounds which thy fathers have set. ”44 It bids a neighbour’s ox to be brought back if found wandering.45 It orders a thief to be put to death.46 It forbids the labourer to be deprived of his hire,47 and orders money to be returned without usury.48 It is a mark of kindly feeling to help him who has nothing, but it is a sign of a hard nature to extort more than one has given. If a man has need of thy assistance because he has not enough of his own wherewith to repay a debt, is it not a wicked thing to demand under the guise of kindly feeling a larger sum from him who has not the means to pay off a less amount? Thou dost but free him from debt to another, to bring him under thy own hand; and thou callest that human kindliness which is but a further wickedness.

21. It is in this very matter that we stand before all other living creatures, for they do not understand how to do good. Wild beasts snatch away, men share with others. Wherefore the Psalmist says: “The righteous showeth mercy and giveth.”49 There are some, however, to whom the wild beasts do good. They feed their young with what they get, and the birds satisfy their brood with food; but to men alone has it been given to feed all as though they were their own. That is so in accordance with the claims of nature. And if it is not lawful to refuse to give, how is it lawful to deprive another? And do not our very laws teach us the same? They order those things which have been taken from others with injury to their persons or property to be restored with additional recompense; so as to check the thief from stealing by the penalty, and by the fine to recall him from his ways.

22.Suppose, however, that some one did not fear the penalty, or laughed at the fine, would that make it a worthy thing to deprive another of his own? That would be a mean vice and suited only to the lowest of the low. So contrary to nature is it, that while want might seem to drive one to it, yet nature could never urge it. And yet we find secret theft among slaves, open robbery among the rich.

23. But what so contrary to nature as to injure another for our own benefit? The natural feelings of our own hearts urge us to keep on the watch for all, to undergo trouble, to do work for all. It is considered also a glorious thing for each one at risk to himself to seek the quiet of all, and to think it far more thankworthy to have saved his country from destruction than to have kept danger from himself. We must think it a far more noble thing to labour for our country than to pass a quiet life at ease in the full enjoyment of leisure.

Ambrose selected works 20229