Ambrose selected works 20304
20304 As it has been shown that he who injures another for the sake of his own advantage will undergo terrible punishment at the hand of his own conscience, it is referred that nothing is useful to one which is not in the same way useful to all. Thus there is no place among Christians for the question propounded by the philosophers about two shipwrecked persons, for they must show love and humility to all.
24). Hence we infer50 that a man who guides himself according to the ruling of nature, so as to be obedient to her, can never injure another. If he injures another, he violates nature, nor will he think that what he has gained is so much an advantage as a disadvantage. And what punishment is worse than the wounds of the conscience within? What judgment harder than that of our hearts, whereby each one stands convicted and accuses himself of the injury that he has wrongfully done against his brother? This the Scriptures speak of very plainly, saying: “Out of the mouth of fools there is a rod for wrong-doing.”51 Folly, then, is condemned because it causes wrong-doing. Ought we not rather to avoid this, than death, or loss, or want, or exile, or sickness? Who would not think some blemish of body or loss of inheritance far less than some blemish of soul or loss of reputation?
25.It is clear, then,52 that all must consider and hold that the advantage of the individual is the same as that of all, and that nothing must be considered advantageous except what is for the general good. For how can one be benefited alone? That which is useless to all is harmful. I certainly cannot think that he who is useless to all can be of use to himself. For if there is one law of nature for all, there is also one state of usefulness for all. And we are bound by the law of nature to act for the good of all. It is not, therefore, right for him who wishes the interests of another to be considered according to nature, to injure him against the law of nature.
26. For if those who run in a race53 are, as one hears, instructed and warned each one to win the race by swiftness of foot and not by any foul play, and to hasten on to victory by running as hard as they can, but not to dare to trip up another or push him aside with their hand, how much more in the course of this life ought the victory to be won by us, without falseness to another and cheating?
27. Some ask54 whether a wise man ought in case of a shipwreck to take away a plank from an ignorant sailor? Although it seems better for the common good that a wise man rather than a fool should escape from shipwreck, yet I do not think that a Christian, a just and a wise man, ought to save his own life by the death of another; just as when he meets with an armed robber he cannot return his blows, lest in defending his life he should stain his love toward his neighbour. The verdict on this is plain and clear in the books of the Gospel. “Put up thy sword, for every one that taketh the sword shall perish with the sword. ”55 What robber is more hateful than the persecutor who came to kill Christ? But Christ would not be defended from the wounds of the persecutor, for He willed to heal all by His wounds.
28. Why dost thou consider thyself greater than another, when a Christian man ought to put others before himself, to claim nothing for himself, usurp no honours, claim no reward for his merits? Why, next, art thou not wont to bear thy own troubles rather than to destroy another’s advantage? For what is so contrary to nature as not to be content with what one has or to seek what is another’s, and to try to get it in shameful ways. For if a virtuous life is in accordance with nature—for God made all things very good—then shameful living must be opposed to it A virtuous and a shameful life cannot go together, since they are absolutely severed by the law of nature.
20305 The upright does nothing that is contrary to duty, even though there is a hope of keeping it secret. To point this out the tale about the ring of Gyges was invented by the philosophers. Exposing this, he brings forWard known and true examples from the life of David and John the Baptist.
29). To lay down here already the result of our discussion, as though we had already ended it, we declare it a fixed rule, that we must never aim at anything hut what is virtuous.56 The wise man does nothing but what can be done openly and without falseness,57 nor does he do anything whereby he may involve himself in any wrong-doing, even where he may escape notice. For he is guilty in his own eyes, before being so in the eyes of others; and the publicity of his crime does not bring him more shame than his own consciousness of it. This we can show, not by the made-up stories which philosophers use, but from the true examples of good men.
30. I need not, therefore, imagine a great chasm in the earth, which had been loosened by heavy rains, and had afterwards burst asunder, as Plato does.58 For he makes Gyges descend into that chasm, and to meet there that iron horse of the fable that had doors in its sides. When these doors were opened, he found a gold ring on the finger of a dead man, whose corpse lay there lifeless. He desiring the gold took away the ring. But when he returned to the king’s shepherds, to whose number he belonged, by chance having turned the stone inwards towards the palms of his hands, he saw all, yet was seen by none. Then when he turned the ring to its proper position, he was again seen by all. On becoming conscious of this strange power, by the use of the ring he committed adultery with the queen, killed the king, and took possession of the kingdom after slaying all the rest, who he thought should be put to death, so that they might be no hindrance to him.
31. Give, says Plato, this ring to a wise man, that when he commits a fault he may by its help remain unnoticed; yet he will be none the more free from the stain of sin than if he could not be hid. The hiding-place of the wise lies not in the hope of impunity but in his own innocency. Lastly, the law is not laid down for the just but for the unjust.59 For the just has within himself the law of his mind, and a rule of equity and justice. Thus he is not recalled from sin by fear of punishment, but by the rule of a virtuous life.
32. Therefore, to return to our subject, I will now bring forward, not false examples for true, but true examples in place of false. For why need I imagine a chasm in the earth, and an iron horse and a gold ring found on the fingers of a dead man; and say that such was the power of this ring, that he who wore it could appear at his own will, but if he did not wish to be seen, he could remove himself out of the sight of those who stood by, so as to seem to be away. This story, of course, is meant to answer the question whether a wise man, on getting the opportunity of using that ring so as to be able to hide his crimes, and to obtain a kingdom,—whether, I say, a wise man would be unwilling to sin and would consider the stain of sin far worse than the pains of punishment, or whether he would use it for doing wickedness in the hope of not being found out? Why, I say, should I need the pretence of a ring, when I can show from what has been done that a wise man, on seeing he would not only be undetected in his sin, but would also gain a kingdom if he gave way to it, and who, on the other hand, noted danger to his own safety if he did not commit the crime, yet chose to risk his own safety so as to be free from crime, rather than to commit the crime and so gain the kingdom.
33. When David fled from the face of King Saul,60 because the king was seeking him in the desert with three thousand chosen men to put him to death, he entered the king’s camp and found him sleeping. There he not only did him no injury, but actually guarded him from being slain by any who had entered with him. For when Abishai said to him: “The Lord hath delivered thine: enemy into thine hand this day, now therefore I will slay him,” he answered: “Destroy him not, for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?” And he added: “As the Lord liveth, unless the Lord shall smite him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall die in battle, and it be laid to me, the Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed.”61
34. Therefore he did not suffer him to be slain, but removed only his spear, which stood by his head, and his cruse of water. Then, whilst all were sleeping, he left the camp and went across to the top of the hill, and began to reproach the royal attendants, and especially their general Abner, for not keeping faithful watch over their lord and king. Next, he showed them where the king’s spear and cruse were which had stood at his head. And when the king called to him, he restored the spear, and said: “The Lord render to every man his righteousness and faithfulness, for the Lord delivered thee into my hand, but I would not avenge myself on the Lord’s anointed.”62 Even whilst he said this, he feared his plots and fled, changing his place in exile. However, he never put safety before innocency, seeing that when a second opportunity was given him of killing the king, he would not use the chance that came to him, and which put in his reach certain safety instead of fear, and a kingdom instead of exile.
35. Where was the use of the ring in John’s case,63 who would not have been put to death by Herod if he had kept silence? He could have kept silence before him so as to be both seen and yet not killed. But because he not only could not endure to sin himself to protect his own safety, but could not bear and endure even another’s sin, he brought about the cause of his own death. Certainly none can deny that he might have kept silence, who in the case of Gyges deny that he could have remained invisible by the help of the ring.
36. But although that fable has not the force of truth, yet it has this much to go upon, that if an upright man could hide himself, yet he would avoid sin just as though he could not conceal himself; and that he would not hide his person by putting on a ring, but his life by putting on Christ. As the Apostle says: “Our life is hid with Christ in God.”64 Let, then, no one here strive to shine, let none show pride, let none boast. Christ willed not to be known here, He would not that His Name should be preached in the Gospel whilst He lived on earth. He came to lie hid from this world. Let us therefore likewise hide our life after the example of Christ, let us shun boastfulness, let us not desire to be made known. It is better to live here in humility, and there in glory. “When Christ,” it says, “shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory.”65
We ought not to allow the idea of profit to get hold of us. What excuses they make who get their gains by selling corn, and what answer ought to be made to them. In connection with this certain parables from the Gospels and some of the sayings of Solomon are set before our eyes.
37). Let not, therefore, expediency get the better of virtue, but virtue of expediency. By expediency here I mean what is accounted so by people generally. Let love of money be destroyed, let lust die. The holy man says that he has never been engaged in business.66 For to get an increase in price is a sign not of simplicity but of cunning. Elsewhere it says: “He that seeketh a high price for his corn is cursed among the people.”67
38. Plain and definite is the statement, leaving no room for debate, such as a disputatious kind of speaking is wont to give, when one maintains that agriculture is considered praiseworthy by all; that the fruits of the earth are easily grown; that the more a man has sown, the greater will be his meed of praise; further, that the richer returns of his active labours are not gained by fraud, and that carelessness and disregard for an uncultivated soil are wont to be blamed.
39. I have ploughed, he says, carefully. I have sown freely. I have tilled actively. I have gathered good increase. I have stored it anxiously, saved it faithfully, and guarded it with care. Now in a time of famine I sell it, and come to the help of the hungry. I sell my own corn, not another’s. And for no more than others, nay, even at a less price. What fraud is there here, when many would come to great danger if they had nothing to buy? Is industry to be made a crime? Or diligence to be blamed? Or foresight to be abused? Perhaps he may even say: Joseph collected corn in a time of abundance, and sold it when it was dear. Is any one forced to buy it at too dear a price? Is force employed against the buyer? The opportunity to buy is afforded to all, injury is inflicted on none.
40. When this has been said, and one man’s ideas have carried him so far, another rises and says: Agriculture is good indeed, for it supplies fruits for all, and by simple industry adds to the richness of the earth without any cheating or fraud. If there is any error, the loss is the greater, for the better a man sows, the better he will reap. If he has sown the pure grain of wheat, he gathers a purer and cleaner harvest. The fruitful earth returns what she has received in manifold measure. A good field returns its produce with interest.
41. Thou must expect payment for thy labour from the crops of the fruitful land, and must hope for a just return from the fruitfulness of the rich earth. Why dost thou use the industry of nature and make a cheat of it? Why dost thou grudge for the use of men what is grown for all? Why lessen the abundance for the people? Why make want thy aim? Why make the poor long for a barren season? For when they do not feel the benefits of a fruitful season, because thou art putting up the price, and art storing up the corn, they would far rather that nothing should be produced, than that thou shouldst do business at the expense of other people’s hunger. Thou makest much of the want of corn, the small supply of food. Thou groanest over the rich crops of the soil; thou mournest the general plenty, and bewailest the garners full of corn; thou art on the lookout to see when the crop is poor and the harvest fails. Thou rejoicest that a curse has smiled upon thy wishes, so that none should have their produce. Then thou rejoicest that thy harvest has come. Then thou collectest wealth from the misery of all, and callest this industry and diligence, when it is but cunning shrewdness and an adroit trick of the trade. Thou callest it a remedy, when it is but a wicked contrivance. Shall I call this robbery or only gain? These opportunities are seized as though seasons for plunder, wherein, like some cruel waylayer, thou mayest fall upon the stomachs of men. The price rises higher as though by the mere addition of interest, but the danger to life is increased too. For then the interest of the stored-up crops grows higher. As a usurer thou hidest up thy corn, as a seller thou puttest it up for auction. Why dost thou wish evil to all, because the famine will grow worse, as though no corn should be left, as though a more unfruitful year should follow? Thy gain is the public loss.
42. Holy Joseph opened the garners to all; he did not shut them up. He did not try to get the full price of the year’s produce, but assigned it for a yearly payment. He took nothing for himself, but, so far as famine could be checked for the future, he made his arrangements with careful foresight.
43. Thou hast read how the Lord Jesus in the Gospel speaks of that corn-dealer who was looking out for a high price, whose possessions brought him in rich fruits, but who, as though still in need, said: “What shall I do? I have no room where to bestow my goods. I will pull down my barns and build greater,”68 though he could not know whether in the following night his soul would not be demanded of him. He knew not what to do, he seemed to be in doubt, just as though he were in want of food. His barns could not take in the year’s supply, and yet he thought he was in need.
44. Rightly, therefore, Solomon says: “He that withholdeth corn shall leave it for the nations,”69 not for his heirs, for the gains of avarice have nothing to do with the rights of succession. That which is not rightfully got together is scattered as though by a wind by outsiders that seize it. And he added: “He who graspeth at the year’s produce is cursed among the people, but blessing shall be his that imparteth it.” Thou seest, then, what is said of him who distributes the corn, but not of him that seeks for a high price. True expediency does not therefore exist where virtue loses more than expediency gains).
20307 Strangers must never be expelled the city in a time of famine. In this matter the noble advice of a Christian sage is adduced, in contrast to which the shameful deed committed at Rome is given. By comparing the two it is shown that the former is combined with what is virtuous and useful, but the latter with neither.
45). But they, too, who would forbid the city to strangers70 cannot have our approval. They would expel them at the very time when they ought to help, and separate them from the trade of their common parent. They would refuse them a share in the produce meant for all, and avert the intercourse that has already begun; and they are unwilling, in a time of necessity, to give those with whom they have enjoyed their rights in common, a share in what they themselves have. Beasts do not drive out beasts, yet man shuts out man. Wild beasts and animals consider food which the earth supplies to be common to all. They all give assistance to those like themselves; and man, who ought to think nothing human foreign to himself, fights against his own.
46. How much better did he act who, having already reached an advanced age, when the city was suffering from famine, and, as is common in such cases, the people demanded that strangers should be forbidden the city, having the office of the prefectship71 of the city, which is higher than the rest, called together the officials and richer men, and demanded that they should take counsel for the public welfare. He said that it was as cruel a thing for the strangers to be expelled as for one man to be cast off by another, and to be refused food when dying. We do not allow our dogs to come to our table and leave them unfed, yet we shut out a man. How unprofitable, again, it is for the world that so many people perish, whom some deadly plague carries off. How unprofitable for their city that so large a number should perish, who were wont to be helpful either in paying contributions or in carrying on business. Another’s hunger is profitable to no man, nor to put off the day of help as long as possible and to do nothing to check the want. Nay more, when so many of the cultivators of the soil are gone, when so many labourers are dying, the corn supplies will fail for the future. Shall we then expel those who are wont to supply us with food, are we unwilling to feed in a time of need those who have fed us all along? How great is the assistance which they supply even at this time. “Not by bread alone does man live.”72 They are even our own family; many of them even are our own kindred. Let us make some return for what we have received.
47. But perhaps we fear that want may increase. First of all, I answer, mercy never fails, but always finds means of help. Next, let us make up for the corn supplies which are to be granted to them, by a subscription. Let us put that right with our gold. And, again, must we not buy other cultivators of the soil if we lose these? How much cheaper is it to feed than to buy a working-man. Where, too, can one obtain, where find a man to take the place of the former? And suppose one finds him, do not forget that, with an ignorant man used to different ways, one may fill up the place in point of numbers, but not as regards the work to be done.
48. Why need I say more? When the money was supplied corn was brought in. So the city’s abundance was not diminished, and yet assistance was given to the strangers. What praise this act won that holy man from God! What glory among men! He, indeed, had won an honoured name, who, pointing to the people of a whole province, could truly say to the emperor: All these I have preserved for thee; these live owing to the kindness of the senate; these thy council73 has snatched from death!
49. How much more expedient was this than that which was done lately at Rome. There from that widely extended city were those expelled who had already passed most of their life in it. In tears they went forth with their children, for whom as being citizens they bewailed the exile, which, as they said, ought to be averted; no less did they grieve over the broken bonds of union, the severed ties of relationship. And yet a fruitful year had smiled upon us. The city alone needed corn to be brought into it. It could have got help, if it had sought corn from the Italians whose children they were driving out. Nothing is more shameful than to expel a man as a foreigner, and yet to claim his services as though he belonged to us. How canst thou expel a man who lives on his own produce? How canst thou expel him who supplies thee with food? Thou retainest thy servant, and thrustest out thy kindred! Thou takest the corn, but showest no good feeling! Thou takest food by force, but dost not show gratitude!
50. How wretched this is, how useless! For how can that be expedient which is not seemly. Of what great supplies from her corporations has Rome at times been deprived, yet she could not dismiss them and yet escape a famine, while waiting for a favourable breeze, and the provisions in the hoped-for ships.
51. How far more virtuous and expedient was that first-mentioned management! For what is so seemly or virtuous as when the needy are assisted by the gifts of the rich, when food is supplied to the hungry, when daily bread fails none? What so advantageous as when the cultivators are kept for the land, and the country people do not perish?
52. What is virtuous, then, is also expedient, and what is expedient is virtuous. On the other hand, what is not expedient is unseemly, and what is unseemly is also not expedient.
20308 That those who put what is virtuous before what is useful are acceptable to God is shown by the example of Joshua, Caleb, and the other spies.
53). When could our fathers ever have thrown off their servitude, unless they had believed that it was not only shameful but even useless to serve the king of Egypt?
54. Joshua, also, and Caleb, when sent to spy out the land, brought back the news that the land was indeed rich, but that it was inhabited by very fierce nations.74 The people, terrified at the thought of war, refused to take possession of their land. Joshua and Caleb, who had been sent as spies, tried to persuade them that the land was fruitful. They thought it unseemly to give way before the heathen; they chose rather to be stoned, which is what the people threatened, than to recede from their virtuous standpoint. The others kept dissuading, the people exclaimed against it. saying they would have to fight against cruel and terrible nations; that they would fall in battle, and their wives and children would be left for a prey.75
55. The anger of the Lord burst forth,76 so that He would kill all, but at the prayer of Moses He softened His judgment and put off His vengeance, knowing that He had already sufficiently punished those who were faithless, even if He spared them meanwhile and did not slay the unbelievers. However, He said77 they should not come to that land which they had refused, as a penalty for their unbelief; but their children and wives, who had not murmured, and who, owing to their sex and age, were guiltless, should receive the promised inheritance of that land. So the bodies of those of twenty years old and upwards fell in the desert. The punishment of the rest was put aside. But they who had gone up with Joshua, and had thought fit to dissuade the people, died forthwith of a great plague.78 Joshua and Caleb79 entered the land of promise together with those who were innocent by reason of age or sex.
56. The better part, therefore, preferred glory to safety; the worse part safety to virtue. But the divine judgment approved those who thought virtue was above what is useful, whilst it condemned those who preferred what seemed more in accordance with safety than with what is virtuous.
Cheating and dishonest ways of making money are utterly unfit for clerics whose duty is to serve all. They ought never to be involved in a money affair, unless it is one affecting a man’s life. For them the example of David is given, that they should injure none, even when provoked; also the death of Naboth, to keep them from preferring life to virtue.
57). Nothing is more odious than for a man to have no love for a virtuous life, but instead to be kept excited by an unworthy business in following out a low line of trade, or to be inflamed by an avaricious heart, and by day and by night to be eager to damage another’s property, not to raise the soul to the splendour of a virtuous life, and not to regard the beauty of true praise.
58. Hence rise inheritances sought by cunning words and gained under pretence of being self-restrained and serious. But this is absolutely abhorrent to the idea of a Christian man. For everything gained by craft and got together by cheating loses the merit of openness. Even amongst those who have undertaken no duty in the ranks of the clergy it is considered unfitting to seek for the inheritance of another. Let those who are reaching the end of their life use their own judgment, so that they may freely make their wills as they think best, since they will not be able to amend them later. For it is not honourable to divert the savings that belong to others or have been got together for them. It is further the duty of the priest or the cleric to be of use if possible to all and to be harmful to none.80
59. If it is not possible to help one without injuring another, it is better to help neither than to press hard upon one. Therefore it is not a priest’s duty to interfere in money affairs. For here it must often happen that he who loses his case receives harm; and then he considers that he has been worsted through the action of the intervener. It is a priest’s duty to hurt no one, to be ready to help all. To be able to do this is in God’s power alone. In a case of life and death, without doubt it is a grave sin to injure him whom one ought to help when in danger. But it is foolish to gain others’ hate in taking up money matters, though for the sake of a man’s safety great trouble and toil may often be undertaken. It is glorious in such a case to run risks. Let, then, this be firmly held to in the priestly duties, namely, to injure none, not even when provoked and embittered by some injury.81 Good was the man who said: “If I have rewarded evil to those who did me good.”82 For what glory is it if we do not injure him who has not injured us? But it is true virtue to forgive when injured.
60. What a virtuous action was that, when David wished rather to spare the king his enemy, though he could have injured him!83 How useful, too, it was, for it helped him when he succeeded to the throne. For all learnt to observe faith to their king and not to seize the kingdom, but to fear and reverence him. Thus what is virtuous was preferred to what was useful, and then usefulness followed on what was virtuous.
61. But that he spared him was a small matter; he also grieved for him when slain in war, and mourned for him with tears, saying: "Ye mountains of Gilboa, let neither dew nor rain fall upon you; ye mountains of death, for there the shield of the mighty is cast away, the shield of Saul. It is not anointed with oil, but with the blood of the wounded and the fat of the warriors. The bow of Jonathan turned not back and the sword of Saul returned not empty. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and very dear, inseparable in life, and in death they were not divided. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet with your ornaments, who put on gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan was wounded even to death. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant hast thou been unto me. Thy love came to me like the love of women. How have the mighty fallen and the longed-for weapons perished!84
62. What mother could weep thus for her only son as he wept here for his enemy? Who could follow his benefactor with such praise as that with which he followed the man who plotted against his life? How affectionately he grieved, with what deep feeling he bewailed him! The mountains dried up at the prophet’s curse, and a divine power filled the judgment of him who spoke it. Therefore the elements themselves paid the penalty for witnessing the king’s death.
63. And what, in the case of holy Naboth, was the cause of his death, except his regard for a virtuous life? For when the king demanded the vineyard from him, promising to give him money, he refused the price for his father’s heritage as unseemly, and preferred to shun such shame by dying. “The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee;”85 that is, that such reproach may not fall on me, that God may not allow such wickedness to be attained by force. He is not speaking about the vines—nor has God care for vines or plots of ground—but he says it of his fathers’ rights. He could have received another or the king’s vineyards and been his friend, wherein men think there is no small usefulness so far as this world is concerned. But because it was base he thought it could not be useful, and so he preferred to endure danger with honour intact, rather than gain what was useful to his own disgrace. I am here again speaking of what is commonly understood as useful, not that in which there is the grace of virtuous life.
64. The king could himself have taken it by force, but that he thought too shameless; then when Naboth was dead he grieved.86 The Lord also declared that the woman’s cruelty should be punished by a fitting penalty, because she was unmindful of virtue and preferred a shameful gain.87
65. Every kind of unfair action is shameful. Even in common things, false weights and unjust measures are accursed. And if fraud in the market or in business is punished, can it seem free from reproach if found in the midst of the performance of the duties of virtue? Solomon says: “A great and a little weight and divers measures are an abomination before the Lord. ”88 Before that it also says: “A false balance is abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is acceptable to Him. ”89
We are warned not only in civil law, but also in the holy Scriptures, to avoid fraud in every agreement, as is clear from the example of Joshua and the Gibeonites.
66). In everything, therefore, good faith is seemly, justice is pleasing, due measure in equity is delightful. But what shall I say about contracts, and especially about the sale of land, or agreements, or covenants? Are there not rules just for the purpose of shutting out all false deceit,90 and to make him whose deceit is found out liable to double punishment? Everywhere, then, does regard for what is virtuous take the lead; it shuts out deceit, it expels fraud. Wherefore the prophet David has rightly stated his judgment in general, saying: “Hehath done no evil to his neighbour.”91 Fraud, then, ought to be wanting not only in contracts, in which the defects of those things which are for sale are ordered to be recorded (which contracts, unless the vendor has mentioned the defects, are rendered void by an action for fraud, although he has conveyed them fully to the purchaser), but it ought also to be absent in all else. Candour must be shown, the truth must be made known.
67. The divine Scriptures have plainly stated (not indeed a legal rule of the lawyers but) the ancient judgment of the patriarchs on deceit, in that book of the Old Testament which is ascribed to Joshua the son of Nun. When the report had gone forth among the various peoples that the sea was dried up at the crossing of the Hebrews; that water had flowed from the rock; that food was supplied daily from heaven in quantities large enough for so many thousands of the people; that the walls of Jericho had fallen at the sound of the holy trumpets, being overthrown by the noise of the shouts of the people; also, that the king of Ai was conquered and had been hung on a tree until the evening; then the Gibeonites, fearing his strong hand, came with guile, pretending that they were from a land very far away, and by travelling so long had rent their shoes and worn out their clothing, of which they showed proofs that it was growing old. They said, too, that their reason for undergoing so much labour was their desire to obtain peace and to form friendship with the Hebrews, and began to ask Joshua to form an alliance with them. And he, being as yet ignorant of localities, and not knowing anything of the inhabitants, did not see through their deceit, nor did he enquire of God, but readily believed them.92
68. So sacred was one’s plighted word held in those days that no one would believe that others could try to deceive. Who could find fault with the saints in this, namely, that they should consider others to have the same feelings as themselves, and suppose no one would lie because truth was their own companion? They know not what deceit is, they gladly believe of others what they themselves are, whilst they cannot suspect others to be what they themselves are not. Hence Solomon says: “An innocent man believeth every word.”93 We must not blame his readiness to believe, but should rather praise his goodness. To know nothing of aught that may injure another, this is to be innocent. And although he is cheated by another, still he thinks well of all, for he thinks there is good faith in all.
69. Induced, therefore, by such considerations to believe them, he made an agreement, he gave them peace, and formed a union with them. But when he came to their country and the deceit was found out,—for though they lived quite close they pretended to be strangers,—the people of our fathers began to be angry at having been deceived. Joshua, however, thought the peace they had made could not be broken (for it had been confirmed by an oath), for fear that, in punishing the treachery of others, he should. be breaking his own pledge. He made them pay the penalty, however, by forcing them to undertake the lowest kind of work. The judgment was mild indeed, but it was a lasting one, for in their duties there abides the punishment of their ancient cunning, handed down to this day94 in their hereditary service.
Ambrose selected works 20304