Ambrose selected works 20320

Chapter XX.

After the terrible siege of Samaria was ended in accordance with Elisha’s prophecy, he relates what regard the four lepers showed for what was virtuous.

117). Why need we wonder that the people of the Lord had regard for what was seemly and virtuous when even the lepers—as we read in the books of the Kings—showed concern for what is virtuous?

118. There was a great famine in Samaria,166 for the army of the Syrians was besieging it. The king in his anxiety was making the round of the guards on the walls when a woman addressed him, saying: This woman persuaded me to give up my son—and I gave him up, and we boiled him and did eat him. And she promised that she would afterwards bring her son and that we should eat his flesh together, but now she hath hidden her son and will not bring him. The king was troubled because these women seemed to have fed not merely on human bodies, but on the bodies of their own children; and being moved by an example of such awful misery, threatened the prophet Elisha with death. For he believed it was in his power to break up the siege and to avert the famine; or else he was angry because the prophet had not allowed the king to smite the Syrians whom he had struck with blindness.167

119. Elisha sat168 with the elders at Bethel, and before the king’s messenger came to him he said to the elders: “See ye how the son of that murderess hath sent to take away mine head?” Then the messenger entered and brought the king’s command threatening instant danger to his life. Him the prophet answered:169 “To-morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel in the gate of Samaria.” Then when the messenger sent by the king would not believe it, saying: “If the Lord would rain abundance of corn from heaven, not even so would that come about,” Elisha said to him: “Because thou hast not believed, thou shall see it with thine eyes, but shall not eat of it.”

120. And suddenly170 in the camp of Syria was there heard, as it were, a sound of chariots and a loud noise of horses and the noise of a great host, and the tumult of some vast battle. And the Syrians thought that the king of Israel had called to his help in the battle the king of Egypt and the king of the Amorites, and they fled at dawn leaving their tents, for they feared that they might be crushed by the sudden arrival of fresh foes, and would not be able to withstand the united forces of the kings. This was unknown in Samaria, for they dared not go out of the town, being overcome with fear and also being weak through hunger.

121. But there were four lepers171 at the gate of the city to whom life was a misery, and to die would be gain. And they said one to another: “Behold we sit here and die. If we enter into the city, we shall die with hunger; if we remain here, there are no means of living at hand for us. Let us go to the Syrian camp, either they will quickly kill us or grant us the means of safety.” So they went and entered into the camp, and behold, all was forsaken by the enemy. Entering172 the tents, first of all on finding food they satisfied their hunger, then they laid hold of as much gold and silver as they could. But whilst they were intent on the booty alone, they arranged to announce to the king that the Syrians had fled, for they thought this more virtuous than to withhold the information and keep for themselves the plunder gained by deceit.

122. At this information the people173 went forth and plundered the Syrian camp. The supplies of the enemy produced an abundance, and brought about cheapness of corn according to the prophet’s word: “A measure of fine flour for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel.” In this rejoicing of the people, that officer on whose hand the king leaned died, being crushed and trodden under foot by the people as the crowds kept hurrying to go out or returned with great rejoicing.

Chapter XXI.

(Est in danger of her life followed the grace of virtue; nay, even a heathen king did so, when death was threatened to a man most friendly to him, For friendship must ever be combined with virtue, as the examples of Jonathan and Ahimelech show.

123). Why did Queen Esther174 expose herself to death and not fear the wrath of a fierce king? Was it not to save her people from death, an act both seemly and virtuous? The king of Persia himself also, though fierce and proud, yet thought it seemly to show honour to the man who had given information about a plot which had been laid against himself,175 to save a free people from slavery, to snatch them from death, and not to spare him who had pressed on such unseemly plans. So finally he handed over to the gallows176 the man that stood second to himself, and whom he counted chief among all his friends, because he considered that he had dishonoured him by his false counsels.

124. For that commendable friendship which maintains virtue is to be preferred most certainly to wealth, or honours, or power. It is not wont to be preferred to virtue indeed, but to follow after it.177 So it was with Jonathan,178 who for his affection’s sake avoided not his father’s displeasure nor the danger to his own safety. So, too, it was with Ahimelech, who, to preserve the duties of hospitality, thought he must endure death rather than betray his friend when fleeing.179

Chapter XXII.

Virtue must never be given up for the sake of a friend. If, however, one has to bear witness against a friend, it must be done with caution. Between friends what candour is needed in opening the heart, what magnanimity in suffering, what freedom in finding fault! Friendship is the guardian of virtues, which are not to be found but in men of like character. It must be mild in rebuking and averse to seeking its own advantage; whence it happens that true friends are scarce among the rich. What is the dignity of friendship? The treachery of a friend, as it is worse, so it is also more hateful than another’s, as is recognized from the example of Judas and of Job’s friends.

125). Nothing, then, must be set before virtue; and that it may never be set aside by the desire for friendship, Scripture also gives us a warning on the subject of friendship. There are, indeed various questions raised among philosophers;180 for instance whether a man ought for the sake of a friend to plot against his country or not, so as to serve his friend? Whether it is right to break one’s faith, and so aid and maintain a friend’s advantage?

126. And Scripture also says: “A maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow, so is a man that beareth false witness against his friend.”181 But note what it adds. It blames not witness given against a friend, but false witness. For what if the cause of God or of one’s country compels one to give witness? Ought friendship to take a higher place than our religion, or our love for our fellow-citizens? In these matters, however, true witness is required so that a friend may not be assailed by the treachery of a friend, by whose good faith he ought to be acquitted. A man, then, ought never to please a friend who desires evil, or to plot against one who is innocent.

127. Certainly, if it is necessary to give witness, then, when one knows of any fault in a friend, one ought to rebuke him secretly—if he does not listen, one must do it openly. For rebukes are good,182 and often better than a silent friendship. Even if a friend thinks himself hurt, still rebuke him; and if the bitterness of the correction wounds his mind, still rebuke him and fear not. “The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of flatterers:”183 Rebuke, then, thy erring friend; forsake not an innocent one. For friendship ought to be steadfast184 and to rest firm in true affection. We ought not to change our friends in childish fashion at some idle fancy.

128. Open thy breast to a friend that he may be faithful to thee, and that thou mayest receive from him the delight of thy life. “For a faithful friend is the medicine of life and the grace of immortality.”185 Give way to a friend as to an equal, and be not ashamed to be beforehand with thy friend in doing kindly duties. For friendship knows nothing of pride. So the wise man says: “Do not blush to greet a friend.”186 Do not desert a friend in time of need, nor forsake him nor fail him, for friendship is the support of life. Let us then bear our burdens as the Apostle has taught:187 for he spoke to those whom the charity of the same one body had embraced together. If friends in prosperity help friends, why do they not also in times of adversity offer their support? Let us aid by giving counsel, let us offer our best endeavours, let us sympathize with them with all our heart.

129. If necessary, let us endure for a friend even hardship. Often enmity has to be borne for the sake of a friend’s innocence; oftentimes revilings, if one defends and answers for a friend who is found fault with and accused. Do not be afraid of such displeasure, for the voice of the just says: “Though evil come upon me, I will endure it for a friend’s sake.”188 In adversity, too, a friend is proved, for in prosperity all seem to be friends. But as in adversity patience and endurance are needed, so in prosperity strong influence is wanted to check and confute the arrogance of a friend who becomes overbearing.

130. How nobly Job when he was in adversity said: “Pity me, my friends, pity me.”189 That is not a cry as it were of misery, but rather one of blame. For when he was unjustly reproached by his friends, he answered: “Pity me, my friends,” that is, ye ought to show pity, but instead ye assail and overwhelm a man with whose sufferings ye ought to show sympathy for friendship’s sake.

131. Preserve, then, my sons, that friendship ye have begun with your brethren, for nothing in the world is more beautiful than that. It is indeed a comfort in this life to have one to whom thou canst open thy heart,190 with whom thou canst share confidences, and to whom thou canst entrust the secrets of thy heart. It is a comfort to have a trusty man by thy side, who will rejoice with thee in prosperity, sympathize in troubles, encourage in persecution. What good friends those Hebrew children were whom the flames of the fiery furnace did not separate from their love of each other!191 Of them we have already spoken. Holy David says well: “Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant, inseparable in their life, in death they were not divided.”192

132. This is the fruit of friendship; and so faith193 may not be put aside for the sake of friendship. He cannot be a friend to a man who has been unfaithful to God. Friendship is the guardian of pity and the teacher of equality, so as to make the superior equal to the inferior, and the inferior to the superior.194 For there can be no friendship between diverse characters,195 and so the good-will of either ought to be mutually suited to the other. Let not authority be wanting to the inferior if the matter demands it, nor humility to the superior. Let him listen to the other as though he were of like position—an equal, and let the other warn and reprove like a friend, not from a desire to show off, but with a deep feeling of love.

134. Let not thy warning be harsh, nor thy rebuke bitter,196 for as friendship ought to avoid flattery, so, too, ought it to be free from arrogance. For what is a friend but a partner in love,197 to whom thou unitest and attachest thy soul, and with whom thou blendest so as to desire from being two to become one; to whom thou entrustest thyself as to a second self, from whom thou fearest nothing, and from whom thou demandest nothing dishonourable for the sake of thine own advantage. Friendship is not meant as a source of revenue,198 but is full of seemliness, full of grace. Friendship is a virtue, not a way of making money. It is produced, not by money, but by esteem; not by the offer of rewards, but by a mutual rivalry in doing kindnesses.

134. Lastly, the friendships of the poor are generally better than those of the rich,199 and often the rich are without friends, whilst the poor have many. For true friendship cannot exist where there is lying flattery. Many try fawningly to please the rich, but no one cares to make pretence to a poor man. Whatsoever is stated to a poor man is true, his friendship is free from envy.

135. What is more precious than friendship which is shared alike by angels and by men? Wherefore the Lord Jesus says: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that they may receive you into eternal habitations.”200 God Himself makes us friends instead of servants, as He Himself says: “Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.”201 He gave us a pattern of friendship to follow. We are to fulfil the wish of a friend, to unfold to him our secrets which we hold in our own hearts, and are not to disregard his confidences. Let us show him our heart and he will open his to us. Therefore He says: “I have called you friends, for I have made known unto you all things whatsoever I have heard of My Father.”202 A friend, then, if he is a true one, hides nothing; he pours forth his soul as the Lord Jesus poured forth the mysteries of His Father.

136. So he who does the will of God is His friend and is honoured with this name. He who is of one mind with Him, he too is His friend. For there is unity of mind in friends, and no one is more hateful than the man that injures friendship. Hence in the traitor the Lord found this the worst point on which to condemn his treachery, namely, that he gave no sign of gratitude and had mingled the poison of malice at the table of friendship. So He says: “It was thou, a man of like mind, My guide and Mine acquaintance, who ever didst take pleasant meals with Me.”203 That is: it could not be endured, for thou didst fall upon Him Who granted grace to thee. “For if My enemy had reproached Me I could have borne it,204 and I would have hid Myself from him who hated Me.” An enemy can be avoided; a friend cannot, if he desires to lay a plot. Let us guard against him to whom we do not entrust our plans; we cannot guard against him to whom we have already entrusted them. And so to show up all the hatefulness of the sin He did not say: Thou, My servant, My apostle; but thou, a man of like mind with Me; that is: thou art not My but thy own betrayer, for thou didst betray a man of like mind with thyself.

137. The Lord Himself, when He was displeased with the three princes who had not deferred to holy Job, wished to pardon them through their friend, so that the prayer of friendship might win remission of sins. Therefore Job asked and God pardoned. Friendship helped them whom arrogance had harmed.205

138. These things I have left with you, my children, that you may guard them in your minds—you yourselves will prove whether they will be of any advantage. Meanwhile they offer you a large number of examples, for almost all the examples drawn from our forefathers, and also many a word of theirs, are included within these three books; so that, although the language may not be graceful, yet a succession of old-time examples set down in such small compass may offer much instruction).

Introduction to the Three Books of St. Ambrose on the Holy Spirit

The three books on the Holy Spirit are, as St. Ambrose says himself, a sequel to those on the Faith, and the two treatises together have been sometimes quoted as if one, with the title, De Trinitate. But we see from Gratian’s letter to St. Ambrose, and from the reply, that each treatise is separate, and the De Spiritu Sancto was written some years later, a.d. 381.

In the first book St. Ambrose commences by allegorizing the history of Gideon and the fleece, seeing in the drying of the fleece and the moistening of the threshing-floor a type of the Holy Spirit leaving the Jews and being poured out on the Gentiles. Passing to his more immediate subject, he proves that the Holy Spirit is above the whole Creation and is truly God, alleging as a special argument that the sin against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven, here or hereafter. He shows how the Holy Spirit is in Scripture called the Spirit of God; that He spake by the prophets and apostles; that He sanctifies men, and is typified by the mystical ointment spoken of in Scripture. Next, St. Ambrose treats of His oneness with the other two Persons of the Holy Trinity, and shows that His mission in no way detracts from this oneness, but that there is in all the Divine Persons a perfect unity of peace, love, and other virtues.

The second book commences with a treatment of the history of Samson in the same way as that of Gideon in Book I. Samson always succeeded so long as the Holy Spirit was with him, but fell into misfortune so soon as he was forsaken. It is shown that the power of the Holy Spirit is the same as that of the Father and the Son, and that there is an agreement in design and working, and in vivifying man. He is Creator and therefore to be worshipped, and He worked with the Father and the Son in founding the Church, and in conclusion is proved the unity of operation in the Three Persons.

The third book continues the same argument, showing that the mission of prophets and apostles, and even of the Son Himself, is to be referred to the Spirit, yet without any subjection on the part of the Son, seeing that the Spirit also receives His mission from the Father and the Son. The Godhead of the Holy Spirit is next taken up and proved, when occasion is taken also to show that there are not three Gods or three Lords, for the Three Divine Persons are one in holiness and nature; and the work is concluded with a summary of some of the principal arguments.

There can be but little doubt that this is the work, and St. Ambrose the author, bitterly attacked by St. Jerome; the whole passage may be read in the Apology of Rufinus, p. 470, in vol. 3,of this series. St. Ambrose is compared to a daw decked in another bird’s plumage, and charged with writing “bad things in Latin taken from good things in Greek,” and St. Jerome even took the trouble to translate a work of St. Didymus on the Holy Spirit (from the preface to which the above extracts are taken), in order that those who did not know Greek might, St. Jerome hoped, recognize the plagiarisms.

Rufinus vigorously defends St. Ambrose, and, pointing out many inconsistencies in his opponent, says: “The saintly Ambrose wrote his book on the Holy Spirit not in words only but with his own blood, for he offered his life-blood to his persecutors, and shed it within himself, though God preserved his life for future labours.”206

The truth is that St. Ambrose being a good Greek scholar, and having undertaken to write on the Holy Spirit, studied what others had written before him, and made use of what had been urged by SS. Basil, Didymus, and other. The opinion of the great St. Augustine concerning this treatise may be set against that of St. Jerome. "St. Ambrose when treating of the deep subject of the Holy Spirit, and showing that He is equal with the Father and the Son, yet makes use of a simple style of discourse; inasmuch as his subject required no the embellishments of language, but proofs to move the minds of his readers."207 

1 (Ps 39,1 [xxxviii.] ).
2 (Pr 5,15,
3 (Pr 20,5,
4 (.
5 Cic). de Off. III. 1. Scipio, born b.c. 234. He was the greatest Roman of his time, a famous general and the conqueror of Hannibal. His exploits in Africa won him the surname of Africanus. Owing to jealous intrigues he in b.c. 185 left Rome and retired to his estate, where he passed the rest of his days in peaceful employments. Cicero (de Off. III. 1) relates on Cato’s authority that he used to say: “Nunquam se minus otiosum esse quam cum otiosus, nec minsolum quam cum solus esset.
6 (Ex 14,16,
7 (Ex 17,11,
8 (Ex 24,17,
9 (Ps 85,8 [lxxxiv.] .
10 (Ac 5,15-16).
11 1R 17,1.
12 1R 17,16 ff.
13 2R 6,8 ff.
14 Cic). de Off. III. 1, §2.
15 2R 4,16.
16 2R 4,34.
17 2R 4,41.
18 2R 4,44.
19 2R 6,6.
20 2R 5,10.
21 2R 3,17.
22 2R 7,1.
23 (Rm 8,35 Rm 8,38,
24 (2Co 6,9 ff.
25 “utile.” Some read “inutile.
26 Cic). de Off. III. 3, §11).
27 Cic). de Off. III. 3, §13.
28 Cic). de Off. III. 3, §14.
29 Cic). de Off. III. 4, §16.
30 S. Mt 5,48.
31 (Ph 3,12,
32 (Ph 3,15,
33 (Ez 28,3,
34 1R 4,29-30.
35 Cic). de Off. III. 4, §19.
36 (1Co 10,23-24,
37 (Ph 2,3-4,
38 (Pr 9,12,
39 (Rm 8,29).
40 (Ph 2,6-7,
41 The text here runs as follows: “Considera, O homo, unde nomen sumseris; ab humo utique.
42 (1Co 12,17,
43 (1Co 12,26,
44 (Pr 22,28,
45 (Ex 23,4,
46 (Ex 22,2,
47 (Lv 19,13 Lv 19,
48 (Dt 23,19).
49 (Ps 37,21 [xxxvi.] .
50 Cic). de Off. III. 5, §25.
51 (Pr 14,3,
52 Cic). de Off. III. 6.
53 Cic). de Off. III. 10, §42.
54 Cic). de Off. 23, §89.
55 S. Mt 26,52).
56 Cic). de Off. III. 7, §33.
57 Cic. de Off. III. 7, §37.
58 Cic). de Off. III. 9.
59 (1Tm 1,9,
60 (1S 26,2).
61 (.
62 (1S 26,23.
63 S. Mt 14,3.
64 (Col 3,3,
65 (Col 3,4,
66 (Ps 71,15 [LXX.]. “Sanctus in negotiationem introisse se negat,” says St. Ambrose, from Ps 71,15. According to the Septuagint, “ouk egnwn pragmateia,” which in the old Latin versions became “quoniam non cognovi negotiationes” (the Vulgate has “literaturam” for “negotiationes”).
67 (Pr 11,26).
68 S. Lc 12,17.
69 (Pr 11,26, Ambrose cites the same verse each time, but the first time according to LXX. The second time he varies the commencement).
70 Cic). de Off. III. 11, §67.
71 It is not certain to what date the famine mentioned by St. Ambrose is to be referred, nor is the name of the prefect of the city certainly known. The Praefectus Urbis was at this time the highest officer of the city, directly representing the emperor, and except to the latter there was no appeal from his decisions. Amongst other duties he exercised a supervision over the importation, exportation, and prices of provisions. As St. Ambrose, §48, calls him “sanctissimus senex,” he was probably a Christian.
72 (Dt 8,3,
73 tua curia. Ed. Med. has “tua cura.
74 (Nb 13,27-28,
75 (Nb 14,3,
76 (Nb 14,11 ff.
77 (Nb 14,29,
78 (Nb 14,37,
79 (Jos 14,6).
80 Cic). de Off. III. 19, §75.
81 Cic). de Off. III. 15, §64.
82 (Ps 7,4,
83 (1S 24,10.
84 (.
85 1R 21,3.
86 This hardly agrees with 1R 21,16.
87 1R 21,23.
88 (Pr 20,10,
89 (Pr 11,i.
90 Cic). de Off. III. 15, §61.
91 (Ps 15,3 [xiv.] .
92 (Jos 9,3 ff.
93 (Pr 14,15).
94 (Jos 9,27,
95 Cic). de Off. III. 19.
96 Cic). de Off. III. 14. This story is related by Cicero as a clear example of downright fraud, against which in his time there was no remedy at law.
97 Cic). de Off. III. 18.
98 (Ac 5,2,
99 S. Mt 8,20.
100 (Ps 52,2 [li.] .
101 (1S 22,9).
102 (1Th 4,6,
103 Cic). de Off. III. 24, §93.
104 c. 5, §35.
105 S. Mc 6,28.
106 Cic). de Off. III. 25.
107 (Jg 11,35,
108 (Jg 11,40,
109 (Gn 22,13,
110 (Nb 14,12,
111 (Nb 16,21,
112 Cic). de Off. III. 10, §45.
113 (Jg 11,36).
114 Jdt 12,20.
115 Jdt 15,1 ff.
116 2R 6,20.
117 Cic). de Off. III. 11, §49).
118 S. Mt 14,4.
119 Sus. 5,23.
120 This affair happened in the war which Pyrrhus waged against the Roman people. Caius Fabricius was the general who refused to take advantage of the base offer.
121 Cic). de Off. III. 22.
122 (Ex 7,19,
123 (Ex 9,10,
124 (Ex 9,23,
125 (Ex 9,29,
126 (Ex 10,22,
127 (Ex 12,29,
128 (Nb 12,3,
129 (Ex 7,12).
130 S. Jn 3,14.
131 (Ex 4,6-7,
132 (Ex 32,32,
133 Tb 2,4.
134 Tob. 7,11.
135 Cec). de Off. III, 13.
136 (2M 1,19 2M 1,
137 (2M 1,20 ff).
138 (2M 1,36 2M 1,
139 (2M 2,1 ff.
140 (Lv 9,24 Lv 9,
141 (Lv 10,2 Lv 10,
142 (2M 2,5 2M 2,
143 S. Jn 1,33.
144 (Jr 20,9,
145 (Ac 2,3,
146 (Ac 2,13,
147 (1Co 3,13,
148 (1Co 3,15).
149 (Dt 4,24,
150 (Jr 2,13,
151 S. Lc 12,49.
152 S. Jn 7,37-38.
153 1R 18,30 ff.
154 (2M 2,11,
155 (Rm 6,6,
156 (1Co 10,1-2,
157 (Gn 7,23,
158 (1Co 5,3 1Co 5,5,
159 (Jg 19,1–3.
160 (Jg 4–9).
161 (Jg 19,10–21.
162 (Jg 19,22–26.
163 (Jg 20,1 ff.
164 (Jg 20,48,
165 (Jg 21,1 ff.
166 .
167 2R 6,22.
168 2R 6,32).
169 2R 7,1-2.
170 2R 7,6-7.
171 2R 7,3-4.
172 2R 7,8-9.
173 .
174 (Est 4,16,
175 (Est 6,10,
176 (Est 7,9-10,
177 Cic). de Off. III. 10, §43.
178 (1S 20,27.
179 (1S 22,17).
180 Cic). de Off. III. 10.
181 (Pr 25,18,
182 Cic). de Off. I. 17.
183 (Pr 27,6,
184 Cic). de Amic. 19, §67.
185 (Si 6,16,
186 (Si 22,25,
187 (Ga 6,2,
188 (Si 22,26,
189 (Jb 19,21,
190 Cic). de Amic. 6, §22.
191 (Da 3,16 ff.
192 (2S 1,23.
193 Cic). de Off. III. 10, §44).
194 Cic). de Amic. 19, §69.
195 Cic). de Amic. 14, §50.
196 Cic). de Off. I. 38, §137.
197 Cic). de Amic. 21, §80.
198 Cic). de Amic. 15, §51.
199 Cic). Lact. 15, §53.
200 S. Lc 16,9.
201 S. Jn 15,14.
202 S. Jn 15,15.
203 (Ps 54,13-14[lv.].
204 (Ps 54,12 [lv.] .
205 (Jb 42,7-8).
206 This is really in excess of the number which are now to be considered as fixed in date).
207 De doct. Christ. IV. c. 21).

Three Books on the Holy Spirit.


To the Emperor Gratian.

Book I.

24100 The choice of Gideon was a figure of our Lord’s Incarnation, the sacrifice of a kid, of the satisfaction for sins in the body of Christ; that of the bullock, of the abolition of profane rites; and in the three hundred soldiers was a type of the future redemptic through the cross. The seeking of various signs by Gideon was also a mystery, for by the dryness and moistening of the fleece was signified the falling away of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, by the water received in a baSin the washing of t apostles’ feet. St. Ambrose prays that his own pollution may be washed away, and praises the loving-kindness of Christ. The same water sent forth by the Son of God effects marvellous conversions; it cannot, however, be sent by any other, since it is the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit, Who is subject to no external power.

1). When Jerubbaal, as we read, was beating out wheat1 under an oak, he received a message from God in order that he might bring the people of God from the power of strangers into liberty. Nor is it a matter of wonder if he was chosen for grace, seeing that even then, being appointed under the shadow of the holy cross and of the adorable Wisdom in the predestined mystery of the future Incarnation, he was bringing forth the visible grains of the fruitful corn from their hiding places, and was [mystically] separating the elect of the saints from the refuse of the empty chaff. For these elect, as though trained with the rod of truth, laying aside the superfluities of the old man together with his deeds, are gathered in the Church as in a winepress. or the Church is the winepress of the eternal fountain, since from her wells forth the juice of the heavenly Vine.

2. And Gideon, moved by that message, when he heard that, though thousands of the people failed, God would deliver His own from their enemies by means of one man,2 offered a kid, and according to the word of the Angel, laid its flesh and the unleavened cakes upon the rock, and poured the broth upon them. And as soon as the Angel touched them with the end of the staff which he bore, fire burst forth out of the rock, and so the sacrifice which he was offering was consumed.3 By which it seems clear that that rock was a figure of the Body of Christ, for it is written: “They drank of that rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.”4 Which certainly refers not to His Godhead, but to His Flesh, which watered the hearts of the thirsting people with the perpetual stream of His Blood.

3. Even at that time was it declared in a mystery that the Lord Jesus in His Flesh would, when crucified, do away the sins of the whole world, and not only the deeds of the body, but the desires of the soul. For the flesh of the kid refers to sins of deed, the broth to the enticements of desire as it is written: “For the people lusted’ an evil lust, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?”5 That the Angel then stretched forth his staff, and touched the rock, from which fire went out,6 shows that the Flesh of the Lord, being filled with the Divine Spirit, would burn away all the sins of human frailty. Wherefore, also, the Lord says: “I am come to send fire upon the earth.”7

4. Then the man, instructed and fore-knowing what was to be, observes the heavenly mysteries, and therefore, according to the warning, slew the bullock destined by his father to idols, and himself offered to God another bullock seven years old.8 By doing which he most plainly showed that after the coming of the Lord all Gentile sacrifices should be done away, and that only the sacrifice of the Lord’s passion should be offered for the redemption of the people. For that bullock was, in a type, Christ, in Whom, as Esaias said, dwelt the fulness of the seven gifts of the Spirit.9 This bullock Abraham also offered when he saw the day of the Lord and was glad.10 He it is Who was offered at one time in the type of a kid, at another in that of a sheep, at another in that of a bullock. Of a kid, because He is a sacrifice for sin; of a sheep, because He is an unresisting victim; of a bullock, because He is a victim without blemish.

5. Holy Gideon then saw the mystery beforehand. Next he chose out three hundred for the battle, so as to show that the world should be freed from the incursion of worse enemies, not by the multitude of their number, but by the mystery of the cross. And yet, though he was brave and faithful, he asked of the Lord yet fuller proofs of future victory, saying: “If Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, O Lord, as Thou hast said, behold I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor, and if there shall be dew on the fleece and dryness on all the ground, I shall know that Thou wilt deliver the people by my hand according to Thy promise. And it was so.”11 Afterwards he asked in addition that dew should descend on all the earth and dryness be on the fleece.

6. Some one perhaps will enquire whether he does not seem to have been wanting in faith, seeing that after being instructed by many signs he asked still more. But how can he seem to have asked as if doubting or wanting in faith, who was speaking in mysteries? He was not then doubtful, but careful that we should not doubt. For how could he be doubtful whose prayer was effectual? And how could he have begun the battle without fear, unless he had understood the message of God? for the dew on the fleece signified the faith among the Jews, because the words of God come down like the dew.

7. So when the whole world was parched with the drought of Gentile superstition, then came that dew of the heavenly visits on the fleece. But after that the lost sheep of the house of Israel12 (whom I think that the figure of the Jewish fleece shadowed forth), after that those sheep, I say,13 “had refused the fountain of living water,” the dew of moistening faith dried up in the breasts of the Jews, and that divine Fountain turned away its course to the hearts of the Gentiles. Whence it has come to pass that now the whole world is moistened with the dew of faith, but the Jews have lost their prophets and counsellors.

8. Nor is it strange that they should suffer the drought of unbelief, whom the Lord deprived of the fertilising of the shower of prophecy, saying: “I will command My clouds that they rain not upon that vineyard.”14 For there is a health-giving shower of salutary grace, as David also said: “He came down like rain upon a fleece. and like drops that drop upon the earth.”15 The divine Scriptures promised us this rain upon the whole earth, to water the world with the dew of the Divine Spirit at the coming of the Saviour. The Lord, then, has now come, and the rain has come; the Lord has come bringing the heavenly drops with Him, and so now we drink, who before were thirsty, and with an interior draught drink in that Divine Spirit.

9. Holy Gideon, then, foresaw this, that the nations of the Gentiles also would drink by the reception of faith, and therefore he enquired more diligently, for the caution of the saints is necessary. Insomuch that also Joshua the son of Nun, when he saw the captain of the heavenly host, enquired: “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?”16 lest, perchance, he might be deceived by some stratagem of the adversary.

10. Nor was it without a reason that he put the fleece neither in a field nor in a meadow, but in a threshing-floor, where is the harvest of the wheat: “For the harvest is plenteous, but the labourers are few;”17 because that, through faith in the Lord, there was about to be a harvest fruitful in virtues.

11. Nor, again, was it without a reason that he dried the fleece of the Jews, and put the dew from it into a basin, so that it was filled with water, yet he did not himself wash his feet in that dew. The prerogative of so great a mystery was to be given to another. He was being waited for Who alone could wash away the filth of all. Gideon was not great enough to claim this mystery for himself, but “the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”18 Let us, then, recognize in Whom these mysteries are seen to be accomplished. Not in holy Gideon, for they were still at their commencement. Therefore the Gentiles were surpassed, for dryness was still upon the Gentiles, and therefore did Israel surpass them, for then did the dew remain on the fleece.

12. Let us come now to the Gospel of God. I find the Lord stripping Himself of His garments, and girding Himself with a towel, pouring water into a basin, and washing the disciples’ feet.19 That heavenly dew was this water, this was foretold, namely, that the Lord Jesus Christ would wash the feet of His disciples in that heavenly dew. And now let the feet of our minds be stretched out. The Lord Jesus wills also to wash our feet, for He says, not to Peter alone, but to each of the faithful: “If I wash not thy feet thou wilt have no part with Me.”20

13. Come, then, Lord Jesus, put off Thy garments, which Thou didst put on for my sake; be Thou stripped that Thou mayest clothe us with Thy mercy. Gird Thyself for our sakes with a towel, that Thou mayest gird us with Thy gift of immortality. Pour water into the basin, wash not only our feet but also the head, and not only of the body, but also the footsteps of the soul. I wish to put off all the filth of our frailty, so that I also may say: “By night I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them?”21 )

14. How great is that excellence! As a servant, Thou dost wash the feet of Thy disciples; as God, Thou sendest dew from heaven. Nor dost Thou wash the feet only, but also invitest us to sit down with Thee, and by the example of Thy dignity dost exhort us, saying: “Ye call Me Master and Lord, and ye do well, for so I am. If, then, I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet.”22

15. I, then, wish also myself to wash the feet of my brethren, I wish to fulfil the commandment of my Lord, I will not be ashamed in myself, nor disdain what He Himself did first. Good is the mystery of humility, because while washing the pollutions of others I wash away my own. But all were not able to exhaust this mystery. Abraham was, indeed, willing to wash feet,23 but because of a feeling of hospitality. Gideon, too, was willing to wash the feet of the Angel of the Lord who appeared to him,24 but his willingness was confined to one; he was willing as one who would do a service, not as one who would confer fellowship with himself. This is a great mystery which no one knew. Lastly, the Lord said to Peter: “What I do thou knowest not now, but shalt know hereafter.”25 This, I say, is a divine mystery which even they who wash will enquire into. It is not, then, the simple water of the heavenly mystery whereby we attain to be found worthy of having part with Christ.

16. There is also a certain water which we put into the basin of our soul, water from the fleece and from the Book of Judges; water, too, from the Book of Psalms.26 It is the water of the message from heaven. Let, then, this water, O Lord Jesus, come into my soul, into my flesh, that through the moisture of this rain27 the valleys of our minds and the fields of our hearts may grow green. May the drops from Thee come upon me, shedding forth grace and immortality. Wash the steps of my mind that I may not sin again. Wash the heel28 of my soul, that I may be able to efface the curse, that I feel not the serpent’s bite29 on the foot of my soul, but, as Thou Thyself hast bidden those who follow Thee, may tread on serpents and scorpions30 with uninjured foot. Thou hast redeemed the world, redeem the soul of a single sinner.

17. This is the special excellence of Thy loving-kindness, wherewith Thou hast redeemed the whole world one by one. Elijah was sent to one widow;31 Elisha cleansed one;32 Thou, O Lord Jesus, hast at this day cleansed a thousand. How many in the city of Rome, how many at Alexandria, how many at Antioch, how many also at Constantinople! For even Constantinople has received the word of God, and has received evident proofs of Thy judgment. For so long as she cherished the Arians’ poison in her bosom, disquieted by neighbouring wars, she echoed with hostile arms around. But so soon as she rejected those who were alien from the faith she received as a suppliant the enemy himself, the judge of kings, whom she had always been wont to fear, she buried him when dead, and retains him entombed.33 How many, then, hast Thou cleansed at Constantinople, how many, lastly, at this day in the whole world!

18. Damasus cleansed not, Peter cleansed not, Ambrose cleansed not, Gregory cleansed not;34 for ours is the ministry, but the sacraments are Thine. For it is not in man’s power to confer what is divine, but it is, O Lord, Thy gift and that of the Father, as Thou hast spoken by the prophets, saying: “I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh, and their sons and their daughters shall prophesy.”35 This is that typical dew from heaven, this is that gracious rain, as we read: “Agracious rain, dividing for His inheritance.”36 For the Holy Spirit is not subject to any foreign power or law, but is the Arbiter of this own freedom, dividing all things according to the decision of His own will, to each, as we read, severally as He wills.37

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