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Monday, 4 March 2013

Anything is possible this week....Part 67: DoC: St. Ambrose and Perfection

All on one week, the next Doctor of the Church to be considered, St. Ambrose,  was baptised  ordained and consecrated bishop of Milan. In the next section of this series, I shall look at the rest of  Latin Doctors of the Church, from the classical period.

SS. Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory the Great, will finish this section, which began with Augustine of Hippo.

I shall begin with two small sections from Ambrose'  On the Duties of the Clergy, found here: (and my comments are in red):

Chapter 11.

It is proved by the witness of Scripture that all duty is either ordinary or perfect. To which is added a word in praise of mercy, and an exhortation to practise it.

36. Every duty is either ordinary or perfect, a fact which we can also confirm by the authority of the Scriptures. For we read in the Gospel that the Lord said: If you will enter into life, keep the commandments. He says: Which? Jesus said to him: You shall do no murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honour your father and your mother, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. These are ordinary duties, to which something is wanting.

Well, the first thing, repeated many times here for all of us, is to break away from sin by allowing God to take us through purgation of sins and to move into the life of the virtues...One sees Christ using the word "perfect" in this passage below. I have left the links on the Scripture references.

37. Upon this the young man says to Him: All these things have I kept from my youth up, what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him: If you will be perfect, go and sell all your goods and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me. Matthew 19:20-21 And earlier the same is written, where the Lord says that we must love our enemies, and pray for those that falsely accuse and persecute us, and bless those that curse us. Matthew 5:44 This we are bound to do, if we would be perfect as our Father Who is in heaven; Who bids the sun to shed his rays over the evil and the good, and makes the lands of the whole universe fertile with rain and dew without any distinction. Matthew 5:45 This, then, is a perfect duty (the Greeks call itκατόρθωμα), whereby all things are put right which could have any failings in them.

Ambrose writes here, that the clergy are especially called to perfection. But, all of us are....

38. Mercy, also, is a good thing, for it makes men perfect, in that it imitates the perfect Father. Nothing graces the Christian soul so much as mercy; mercy as shown chiefly towards the poor, that you may treat them as sharers in common with you in the produce of nature, which brings forth the fruits of the earth for use to all. Thus you may freely give to a poor man what you have, and in this way help him who is your brother and companion. Thou bestowest silver; he receives life. You give money; he considers it his fortune. Your coin makes up all his property.

39. Further, he bestows more on you than thou on him, since he is your debtor in regard to your salvation. If you clothe the naked, you clothe yourself with righteousness; if you bring the stranger under your roof, if you support the needy, he procures for you the friendship of the saints and eternal habitations. That is no small recompense. You sow earthly things and receive heavenly. Do you wonder at the judgment of God in the case of holy Job? Wonder rather at his virtue, in that he could say: I was an eye to the blind, and a foot to the lame. I was a father to the poor. Their shoulders were made warm with the skins of my lambs. The stranger dwelt not at my gates, but my door was open to every one that came. Job 29:15-16 Clearly blessed is he from whose house a poor man has never gone with empty hand. Nor again is any one more blessed than he who is sensible of the needs of the poor, and the hardships of the weak and helpless. In the day of judgment he will receive salvation from the Lord, Whom he will have as his debtor for the mercy he has shown.

This is the duty to live out the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy, mentioned on this blog in the past. These ARE NOT OPTIONS.

And, for youth, who have duties which are both those which are ordinary and those which are towards perfection, Ambrose states this....

Chapter 17.

The duties of youth, and examples suitable to that age, are next put forth.

65. Since it has been made sufficiently plain that there will be punishment for wickedness and reward for virtue, let us proceed to speak of the duties which have to be borne in mind from our youth up, that they may grow with our years. A good youth ought to have a fear of God, to be subject to his parents, to give honour to his elders, to preserve his purity; he ought not to despise humility, but should love forbearance and modesty. All these are an ornament to youthful years. For as seriousness is the true grace of an old man, and ardour of a young man, so also is modesty, as though by some gift of nature, well set off in a youth.

66. Isaac feared the Lord, as was indeed but natural in the son of Abraham; being subject also to his father to such an extent that he would not avoid death in opposition to his father's will. Genesis 22:9 Joseph also, though he dreamed that sun and moon and stars made obeisance to him, yet was subject to his father's will with ready obedienceGenesis 37:9 So chaste was he, he would not hear even a word unless it were pure; humble was he even to doing the work of a slave, modest, even to taking flight, enduring, even to bearing imprisonment, so forgiving of wrong as even to repay it with good. Whose modesty was such, that, when seized by a woman, he preferred to leave his garment in her hands in flight, rather than to lay aside his modesty.Genesis 39:12 MosesExodus 4:10 also, and Jeremiah, Jeremiah 1:6 chosen by the Lord to declare the words of God to the people, were for avoiding, through modesty, that which through grace they could do.

To be continued........And, by the way, the Four Latin Fathers, or Latin Doctors, are Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, Jerome and Gregory the Great.