I brought this one up to this part of the list because of the season of Advent, 2013. This is a reminder of why we are preparing in Advent, not only for the Coming of Christ at Christmas, but for His Coming to us in death.
'Since their eternal happiness, consisting in the vision of God, exceeds the common state of nature, and especially in so far as this is deprived of grace through the corruption of original sin, those who are saved are in the minority. In this especially, however, appears the mercy of God, that He has chosen some for that salvation, from which very many in accordance with the common course and tendency of nature fall short.'
St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church
'Live with the few if you want to reign with the few.'
St. John Climacus, Father of the Church
'If you wish to imitate the multitude, then you shall not be among the few who shall enter in by the narrow gate.'
St. Augustine, Doctor and Father of the Church
'Do you not perceive how many qualities a priest must have that he may be strong in his teaching, patient, and hold fast to the faithful word which is according to doctrine? What care and pains does this require! Moreover, he is answerable for the sins of others. To pass over everything else: If but one soul dies without Baptism, does it not entirely endanger his own salvation? For the loss of one soul is so great an evil that it is impossible to express it in words. For if the salvation of that soul was of such value that the Son of God became man and suffered so much, think of how great a punishment must the losing of it bring.'
St. John Chrysostom, Doctor and Father of the Church
'We were so fortunate to be born in the bosom of the Roman Church, in Christian and Catholic kingdoms, a grace that has not been granted to the greater part of men, who are born among idolaters, Mohammedans, or heretics. . . How thankful we ought to be, then, to Jesus Christ for the gift of faith! What would have become of us if we had been born in Asia, in Africa, in America, or in the midst of heretics and schismatic? He who does not believe is lost. He who does not believe shall be condemned. And thus, probably, we also would have been lost.'
St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church
In the Great Deluge in the days of Noah, nearly all mankind perished, eight persons alone being saved in the Ark. In our days a deluge, not of water but of sins, continually inundates the earth, and out of this deluge very few escape. Scarcely anyone is saved.'
St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church
'How few the Elect are may be understood from the multitude being cast out.'
St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor and Father of the Church
'There are many who arrive at the faith, but few who are led into the heavenly kingdom. Behold how many are gathered here for today's Feast-Day: we fill the church from wall to wall. Yet who knows how few they are who shall be numbered in that chosen company of the Elect?'
Pope St. Gregory the Great, Doctor and Father of the Church
'The greater part of men will set no value on the blood of Christ, and will go on offending Him.'
St. Isidore of Seville, Doctor and Father of the Church
'They who are to be saved as Saints, and wish to be saved as imperfect souls, shall not be saved.'
Pope St. Gregory the Great, Doctor and Father of the Church
'. . . let us bear in mind that unless we are humble we shall not only do no good, but we shall not be saved. "Unless you . . . become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." In order, then, to enter into the kingdom of heaven, we must become children, not in age, but in humility. St. Gregory says that as pride is a sign of reprobation, so humility is a mark of predestination.'
St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church
'It is certain that few are saved.'
St. Augustine, Doctor and Father of the Church
'Many begin well, but there are few who persevere.'
St. Jerome, Doctor and Father of the Church
'What is the number of those who love Thee, O God? How few they are! The Elect are much fewer than the damned! Alas! The greater portion of mankind lives in sin unto the devil, and not unto Jesus Christ. O Saviour of the world, I thank Thee for having called and permitted us to live in the true faith which the Holy Roman Catholic Church teaches. . . But alas, O my Jesus! How small is the number of those who live in this holy faith! Oh, God! The greater number of men he buried in the darkness of infidelity and heresy. Thou hast humbled Thyself to death, to the death of the cross, for the salvation of men, and these ungrateful men are unwilling even to know Thee. Ah, I pray Thee, O omnipotent God, O sovereign and infinite Good, make all men know and love Thee!'
St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church
'Out of one hundred thousand sinners who continue in sin until death, scarcely one will be saved.'
St. Jerome, Doctor and Father of the Church
'It is certainly a great happiness for some sinners who after a bad life are converted at their death, and are saved; but these cases are very rare: ordinarily he that leads a bad life dies a bad death.'
St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church
'So that you will better appreciate the meaning of Our Lord's words, and perceive more clearly how few the Elect are, note that Christ did not say that those who walked in the path to Heaven are few in number, but that there were few who found that narrow way. It is as though the Saviour intended to say: The path leading to Heaven is so narrow and so rough, so overgrown, so dark and difficult to discern, that there are many who never find it their whole life long. And those who do find it are constantly exposed to the danger of deviating from it, of mistaking their way, and unwittingly wandering away from it, because it is so irregular and overgrown.'
St. Jerome, Doctor and Father of the Church
'I do not speak rashly, but as I feel and think. I do not think that many bishops are saved, but that those who perish are far more numerous.'
St. John Chrysostom, Doctor and Father of the Church
'The Apostle commands us to rejoice, but in the Lord, not in the world. For, you see, as Scripture says, whoever wishes to be a friend of this world will be counted as God's enemy. Just as a man cannot serve two masters, so too no-one can rejoice both in the world and in the Lord.'
I highly recommend reading some if not all the works of Bonaventure if you are attracted to Franciscan spirituality and perfection. He is a great theologian. One cannot praise his works enough. Unlike Thomas Aquinas, the Aristotelian, Bonaventure is a Platonist, and may appeal to that group of philosophers sympathetic to Plato today. He was made a cardinal and was present at the Council of Lyon.
Francisco de Zurbarán 1598 -1664
Saint Bonaventure and St Thomas Aquinas before the Crucifix
I can only look at his work briefly, as excellent as his many things are.
There is a story that St. Thomas Aquinas visited Bonaventure when he was writing his life of St. Francis, and found him in ecstasy. Thomas said,"Let us leave a saint to work for a saint". Out of all his writings, I am choosing a section on silence, the largest problem of the laity today.
This is from Holiness of Life.
"In the multitude of words there shall not
want sin." I quote from the Book of Proverbs.
Obviously, a religious aiming to perfect
his ways, will find silence a very helpful
virtue. To speak seldom, and then but briefly,
prevents sin. Where there is too much talk,
God is in one way or another offended, and
reputations suffer. On the other hand let only
the virtue of silence come into its own and
people get their due. If we deal fairly with
one another, and practise the virtue of justice,
we establish the bond of peace. This means
that where silence is observed the fruits of
peace are gathered as easily as fruit is gathered
from a heavily laden tree. Of all places in the world peace is essential
in the cloister. Silence is of paramount importance
.... because by
means of silence peace of mind and body is
preserved. Dilating on the virtue of silence
Isaias the prophet said: "The work of justice
shall be peace, and the service of justice shall
be quietness" ! or silence. It is as though he
said : The nature of silence is such that it acts as a preservative of the godly virtue justice.
It encourages peaceful ways and enables
men to live in peace and harmony. We
may lay it down as a principle that unless a man
diligently "sets a guard to his tongue," he
must lose all the graces he has acquired and
necessarily and quickly fall into evil ways.
"The tongue," wrote the Apostle St. James,
"is indeed a little member and boasteth great
things." It is "a fire, a world of iniquity."
According to the commentators, St. James
meaning is that almost all evil deeds are inspired
or perpetrated by the tongue.
How can the lay person in the world create silence? I suggest several things.
The first is not having a television. The second is not having the radio on all
the time. Third, simplify your life so that you are less busy. One does not need to do all the activities offered to one, even in a parish or community.
Learn to cultivate interior silence, so that you can be in a room with people
and still be silent.
If one cannot cultivate silence, one will be lost in the rush of chaos to come.
The second Franciscan Doctor of the Church to be considered is St. Bonaventure, the great theologian of the Franciscan Order.
St. Bonaventure's writings are worth reading if anyone is interested in the development of "Franciscanism". I think it is fair to say that without Bonaventure, there would be no Franciscan Order, which to me, is the meaning of this painting.
As this series is concentrating on spirituality and perfection, I shall choose just a few sections from St. Bonaventure. He is called the Seraphic Doctor and he died in 1274. He wrote quite a bit on the life of prayer and mysticism, so one is "spolied for choice."
The language is that of the Bride and Bridegroom.
Here is one small section and by now, those of you who are following this series, will recognize the movements of purification, illumination and unity. Bonaventure's language is similar to that of St. John of the Cross.
The flesh of Christ, therefore, flowered like the rose through the beauty of brightness (per pulchritudinem claritatis). For as the rose in its beauty is among flowers, so the splendour of light is among colour. "As the refulgent rainbow among the clouds of glory, and as the flower of roses in the days of spring, so did he shine in the temple of God" (Ecclus 50. 8, 7). The "clouds of glory" (or of the heavenly homeland) are those who have the first robe and are looking forward to the second. For a cloud has a relationship to the serenity that follows and the rain that precedes. The saints have a similar relationship to the flesh because of their desire for their bodies. The "refulgent rainbow" (the Son of God) has a stringed instrument, namely the uprightness of the inflexible divinity and the curved wood of the humanity in humility. "The flower of roses in the days of spring" refers to the flesh reddened in blood in springtime and now "shining in the temple of God", that is, the Church tnumphant. That "city has no need of the sun, nor of the moon, to shine in it. For the glory of God has enlightened it, and the Lamb is its lamp" (Apoc. 21. 23). And in another place, "the Gentiles shall walk in your light" (Is. 60. 7), when he "will conforin our lowly body to his glorious body" (Phil. 3. 21), so that we may shine like the sun, when its light will be sevenfold (cf Is. 30. 26)
I cannot do justice, to make a pun, on Ambrose' excellent work on the four cardinal virtues. A tiny bit on his discussion of justice will wrap up his part in this perfection series. The next person to be considered will be St. Jerome. Ambrose has a very interesting section on justice as regards marriage. Here is a snippet, plus more. That man was made for the sake of man we find stated also in the books of Moses, when the Lord says: It is not good that man should be alone, let us make him an help meet for him.Genesis 2:18 Thus the woman was given to the man to help him. She should bear him children, that one man might always be a help to another. Again, before the woman was formed, it was said of Adam: There was not found an help-meet for him.Genesis 2:20 For one man could not have proper help but from another. Amongst all the living creatures, therefore, there was none meet for him, or, to put it plainly, none to be his helper. Hence a woman was looked for to help him.
That God is Just is one reason why He created Eve for Adam and Adam for Eve. One of the aspects of justice is that we are here for each other and not merely for ourselves. God saw, of course, that man needed help in the perfection to which he was called. In other words, Man is made perfect with Woman. How wonderful that justice determines this relationship. God created Man to compliment Woman and Woman to compliment Man. This is justice at work. Love is found in the mutual aid and support given each to each. Meditate on this great mystery. This is more than mere sexual compatibility; it is spiritual wholeness. 135. Thus, in accordance with the will of God and the union of nature, we ought to be of mutual help one to the other, and to vie with each other in doing duties, to lay all our advantages as it were before all, and (to use the words of Scripture) to bring help one to the other from a feeling of devotion or of duty, by giving money, or by doing something, at any rate in some way or other; so that the charm of human fellowship may ever grow sweeter among us, and none may ever be recalled from their duty by the fear of danger, but rather account all things, whether good or evil, as their own concern. Thus holyMoses feared not to undertake terrible wars for his people's sake, nor was he afraid of the arms of the mightiest kings, nor yet was he frightened at the savagery of barbarian nations. He put on one side the thought of his own safety so as to give freedom to the people.
Ambrose gives us a profound example of justice in Moses. His willingness to go against the pagans in order to fulfill God's Plan for taking His People into the Holy Land. This is the great mystery, to use this word again, of the conquest of Canaan. People, including each one of us, need a place to be holy. We need a holy land ourselves. Men need to conquer that land, to make safe havens for their wives and children. This was the reason for governments, for monarchies, for democracies. Moses, in cooperation with God, made a slave people into a nation. This is just. It is proper that we all have a God-space. As Catholics, our space is the Church, and God's Justice is that all men are saved through the merits of the Catholic Church. 136. Great, then, is the glory of justice; for she, existing rather for the good of others than of self, is an aid to the bonds of union and fellowship among us. She holds so high a place that she has all things laid under her authority, and further can bring help to others and supply money; nor does she refuse her services, but even undergoes dangers for others.
This is one reason why the Catholic Church condemns socialism. Governments are only as just as the individuals who create them. Justice must be a virtue found in the souls and hearts, intellects and wills of individuals, who carry out justice. Can one imagine a beautiful society in which marriage, families, individuals all created by God, are protected in justice? Justice brings together citizens and binds them with a common vision of self-giving. This is the true society and it is found in the Church. 137. Who would not gladly climb and hold the heights of this virtue, were it not that greed weakens and lessens the power of such a virtue? For as long as we want to add to our possessions and to heap up money, to take into our possession fresh lands, and to be the richest of all, we have cast aside the form of justice and have lost the blessing of kindness towards all. How can he be just that tries to take from another what he wants for himself?
The destroyers of justice are greed, narcissism, selfishness, hatred, strife, contentious spirits, consumerism, covetousness. unreasonable desires, idolatry, envy, jealousy and so on. These sins destroy an individual and a nation. All these things destroy Christian communities as well, which is tragic.
138. The desire to gain power also enervates the perfect strength and beauty of justice. For how can he, who attempts to bring others under his own power, come forward on behalf of others? And how can a man help the weak against the strong, when he himself aspires to great power at the cost of liberty?
Justice is beautiful as an attribute of God. Humility is the key to justice.
Without the abdication of power, there is no justice.
In this past month, we have had a great example of justice in the resignation of the Pope.
This is the last entry on Ambrose. I am sorry to leave him. The links are for you all to read more.
I shall be jumping into the middle of a discussion on the Four Cardinal Virtues by Ambrose. The commentary by me is in red. As a reminder, these four virtues are, and I use upper case for emphasis, Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Courage or Fortitude. I have left on the links for those who want to read more.
I have written about these before, of course, but St. Ambrose has tremendous wisdom, so this is not merely a repetition of the basics. Ambrose relates these virtues to the lives of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament, but I skip to this section below.
126. The first source of duty, then, is prudence. For what is more of a duty than to give to the Creator all one's devotion and reverence? This source, however, is drawn off into other virtues. For justice cannot exist without prudence, since it demands no small amount of prudence to see whether a thing is just or unjust. A mistake on either side is very serious. For he that says a just man is unjust, or an unjust man is just, is accursed with God. Wherefore does justice abound unto the wicked? says Solomon. Nor, on the other hand, can prudence exist without justice, for piety towards God is the beginning of understanding. On which we notice that this is a borrowed rather than an original idea among the worldly wise, for piety is the foundation of all virtues.
As in this entire series on perfection, one notices a hierarchy of movement. Piety, that is, the virtue by which we give God His due reverence, worship and service, must accompany the four cardinal virtues. If we are merely "good atheists", these virtues cannot be brought to perfection, as God is not the source nor the goal of the life of virtue. Without the focus on God, these virtues lack the means as well as the end for which these are given. Prudence is practical, helping us judge our actions and those of others. Prudence allows us to walk in the world and make good and right decisions. But, these actions must have God as the goal, the focus.
127. But the piety of justice is first directed towards God; secondly, towards one's country; next, towards parents; lastly, towards all. This, too, is in accordance with the guidance of nature. From the beginning of life, when understanding first begins to be infused into us, we love life as the gift of God, we love our country and our parents; lastly, our companions, with whom we like to associate. Hence arises truelove, which prefers others to self, and seeks not its own, wherein lies the pre-eminence of justice.
To be just, one give each person his due and God His due. But, again, in pursuing perfection, justice cannot be a mere exercise in fairness or magnanimity. God is the root and goal of justice.
He Himself is All-Just, All-Good, All-Righteous. Without Him, we can be thinking we are just when we are merely trying to please ourselves or others. Am I good to others for my sake, for their sake or for the sake of God Himself?
128. It is ingrained in all living creatures, first of all, to preserve their own safety, to guard against what is harmful, to strive for what is advantageous. They seek food and converts, whereby they may protect themselves from dangers, storms, and sun—all which is a mark of prudence. Next we find that all the different creatures are by nature wont to herd together, at first with fellows of their own class and sort, then also with others. So we see oxen delighted to be in herds, horses in droves, and especially like with like, stags, also, in company with stags and often with men. And what should I say on their desire to have young, and on their offspring, or even on their passions, wherein the likeness of justice is conspicuous?
129. It is clear, then, that these and the remaining virtues are related to one another. For courage, which in war preserves one's country from the barbarians, or at home defends the weak, or comrades from robbers, is full of justice; and to know on what plan to defend and to give help, how to make use of opportunities of time and place, is the part of prudence and moderation, and temperance itself cannot observe due measure without prudence. To know a fit opportunity, and to make return according to what is right, belongs to justice. In all these, too, large-heartedness is necessary, and fortitude of mind, and often of body, so that we may carry out what we wish.
I want to emphasize the phrases "large-heartedness" and "fortitude of mind".
Without generosity, without a heart which wants to be all and give all to God for His sake, one will be closing the door to perfection.
St. Francis said, "My God never says 'enough''. And, so, too, we are called to do the hard thing, to follow the difficult roads in order to perfect the virtues with which God has graced us.
"Fortitude of mind" is necessary. This is a kind of courage or steadfastness in the mind, created either by nature and grace or through grace and suffering.
Toughness of mind is absolutely essential for the path of perfection. Otherwise, one gives up when the going gets tough.
Can you decide to follow the call to perfection? Do you want to be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect?
I think a short comment from Ambrose is sufficient today for looking at Justice. How little there is in the world. Ambrose points out that justice, like all the virtues, comes from faith. Without real faith in Christ, there can be no justice in the world. I like how the Doctor of the Church writes that the Church is the outward form of justice. No state can be. The Church was instituted by Christ and therefore is the most perfect of all institutions. That the Church falls into sin is the result of the lack of justice of Her members. And, if the leg is sick, the Body is sick, and so on. Good works are just works, from a healthy, holy person. God bless all just priests and laity. God protect all just nuns, sisters and mothers. St. Joseph is called "just" because he was righteous, that is, holy. Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect. The foundation of justice therefore is faith, for the hearts of the just dwell on faith, and the just man that accuses himself builds justice on faith, for his justice becomes plain when he confesses the truth. So the Lord says through Isaiah: Behold, I lay a stone for a foundation in Sion.Isaiah 28:16 This means Christ as the foundation of the Church. For Christ is the object of faithto all; but the Church is as it were the outward form of justice, she is the common right of all. For all in common she prays, for all in common she works, in the temptations of all she is tried. So he who denies himself is indeed a just man, is indeed worthy of Christ. For this reason Paul has made Christ to be the foundation, so that we may build upon Him the works of justice,1 Corinthians 3:11 while faith is the foundation. In our works, then, if they are evil, there appears unrighteousness; if they are good, justice. To be continued.....
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):
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 Christiansoul 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....
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 truegrace 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 obedience. Genesis 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 39:12Moses, Exodus 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.
In Chapter 18 on his book on perfection for the clergy, Ambrose takes a digression into speaking to youth on modesty. He connects modesty with chastity.
On the different functions of modesty. How it should qualify both speech and silence, accompany chastity, commend our prayers to God, govern our bodily motions; on which last point reference is made to two clerics in language by no means unsuited to its object. Further he proceeds to say that one's gait should be in accordance with that same virtue, and how careful one must be that nothing immodest come forth from one's mouth, or be noticed in one's body. All these points are illustrated with very appropriate examples.
67. Lovely, then, is the virtue of modesty, and sweet is its grace! It is seen not only in actions, but even in our words, so that we may not go beyond due measure in speech, and that our words may not have an unbecoming sound. The mirror of our mind often enough reflects its image in our words. Sobriety weighs out the sound even of our voice, for fear that too loud a voice should offend the ear of any one. Nay, in singing itself the first rule is modesty, and the same is true in every kind of speech, too, so that a man may gradually learn to praise God, or to sing songs, or even to speak, in that the principles of modesty grace his advance.
Some people think that what we call "manners" are things with which society can dispense. On the edge of the fall of the Roman Empire. as the barbarians were edging towards Rome, a fall which was inevitable, but in the future, Ambrose could see that there was a need for grace in speech and deportment. Wouldn't it be nice if those in the Catholic Church before and after Mass understood the necessity for silence? Would it not be wonderful if those in the media would understand reticence?
68. Silence, again, wherein all the other virtues rest, is the chief act of modesty. Only, if it is supposed to be a sign of a childish or proud spirit, it is accounted a reproach; if a sign of modesty, it is reckoned for praise. Susanna was silent in danger, and thought the loss of modesty was worse than loss of life. She did not consider that her safety should be guarded at the risk of her chastity. To God alone she spoke, to Whom she could speak out in true modesty. She avoided looking on the face of men. For there is also modesty in the glance of the eye, which makes a woman unwilling to look upon men, or to be seen by them. Too often in our culture, we believe that speech must be aggressive to be taken seriously. We believe that speech shows integrity, and silence means deception. This is a new and odd idea which has grown with the over-stimulation of the media. The silent man or woman was honored in older stories and folktales, as those listening could understand that humility meant reflection, reticent, right judgement, a quiet spirit. Youth do not have to be loud.
69. Let no one suppose that this praise belongs to chastity alone. For modesty is the companion of purity, in company with which chastity itself is safer. Shame, again, is good as a companion and guide of chastity, inasmuch as it does not suffer purity to be defiled in approaching even the outskirts of danger. This it is that, at the very outset of her recognition, commends the Mother of the Lord to those who read the Scriptures, and, as a credible witness, declares her worthy to be chosen to such an office. For when in her chamber, alone, she is saluted by the angel, she is silent, and is disturbed at his entrance, and the Virgin's face is troubled at the strange appearance of a man's form. And so, though she was humble, yet it was not because of this, but on account of her modesty, that she did not return his salutation, nor give him any answer, except to ask, when she had learned that she should conceive the Lord, how this should be. She certainly did not speak merely for the sake of making a reply. Silence marks the mature Christian who does not have to prove anything to anybody. Are we too argumentative just for the sake of pride? Can we not wait, listen, reflect? The silence of the desert fathers and the monastic life of Ambrose indicated a healthy balance of contemplation and action. One gives up rights in being silent. The humble man is wiser than he who speaks too much and about nonsense. I am an idea person. Too many conversations are about things, such as vacations, cars, clothes. How sad that people are stuck in the pride of goods, rather than in the contemplation of God. 70. In our very prayers, too, modesty is most pleasing, and gains us much grace from our God. Was it not this that exalted the publican, and commended him, when he dared not raise even his eyes to heaven? Luke 18:13-14 So he was justified by the judgment of the Lord rather than the Pharisee, whom overweening pride made so hideous. Therefore let us pray in the incorruptibility of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price,1 Peter 3:4 as St. Peter says. A noble thing, then, is modesty, which, though giving up its rights, seizing on nothing for itself, laying claim to nothing, and in some ways somewhat retiring within the sphere of its own powers, yet is rich in the sight of God, in Whose sight no man is rich. Rich is modesty,for it is the portion of God. Paul also bids that prayer be offered up with modesty and sobriety. 1 Timothy 2:9 He desires that this should be first, and, as it were, lead the way of prayers to come, so that the sinner's prayer may not be boastful, but veiled, as it were, with the blush of shame, may merit a far greater degree of grace, in giving way to modesty at the remembrance of its fault. The is nothing wrong with shame. Shame means one is not arrogant about sin.
71. Modesty must further be guarded in our very movements and gestures and gait. For the condition of the mind is often seen in the attitude of the body. For this reason the hidden man of our heart (our inner self) is considered to be either frivolous, boastful, or boisterous, or, on the other hand, steady, firm, pure, and dependable. Thus the movement of the body is a sort of voice of the soul.
I know some ladies who have commented here and on other blogs would disagree with this reading. However, I am convinced that deportment mirrors virtue. Why we have, as a culture, come to prize a lack of manners with honesty is beyond me. How we hold ourselves, body language, can be that of walking in virtue and peace. 72. You remember, my children, that a friend of ours who seemed to recommend himself by his assiduity in his duties, yet was not admitted by me into the number of the clergy, because his gestures were too unseemly. Also that I bade one, whom I found already among the clergy, never to go in front of me, because he actually pained me by the seeming arrogance of his gait. That is what I said when he returned to his duty after an offense committed. This alone I would not allow, nor did my mind deceive me. For both have left the Church. What their gait betrayed them to be, such were they proved to be by the faithlessness of their hearts. The one forsook his faith at the time of the Arian troubles; the other, through love of money, denied that he belonged to us, so that he might not have to undergo sentence at the hands of the Church. In their gait was discernible the semblance of fickleness, the appearance, as it were, of wandering buffoons.
Ambrose is referring to arrogance. I see it at dinner parties. The loud man who must boast of his business acumen, his success. Such a man is graceless. I see it in women who dress younger than their years. A forty-seven year old walking and dressing like a teen indicates a disjoint in the soul. A conversation behind me on a bus loud and full of self-righteous gossip can prove to be two hardened hearts, as charity is lacking. A narcissist cannot stop interrupting or talking. These things show a lack of virtue and maturity. Why do we value these coarse traits?
73. Some there are who in walking perceptibly copy the gestures of actors, and act as though they were bearers in the processions, and had the motions of nodding statues, to such an extent that they seem to keep a sort of time, as often as they change their step.
74. Nor do I think it becoming to walk hurriedly, except when a case of some danger demands it, or a real necessity. For we often see those who hurry come up panting, and with features distorted. But if there is no reason for the need of such hurry, it gives cause for just offense. I am not, however, talking of those who have to hurry now and then for some particular reason, but of those to whom, by the yoke of constant habit, it has become a second nature. In the case of the former I cannot approve of their slow solemn movements, which remind one of the forms of phantoms. Nor do I care for the others with their headlong speed, for they put one in mind of the ruin of outcasts. Ambrose is referring to the road-rage of his time. I see this in Bayswater. Men walking on the pavement not making way for women, not deferring to ladies. This is a violence of our times, a sign of arrogance and superiority.
75. A suitable gait is that wherein there is an appearance of authority and weight and dignity, and which has a calm collected bearing. But it must be of such a character that all effort and conceit may be wanting, and that it be simple and plain. Nothing counterfeit is pleasing. Let nature train our movements. If indeed there is any fault in our nature, let us mend it with diligence. And, that artifice may be wanting, let not amendment be wanting.
Modesty and manners indicate a humble, gentle spirit. This can be learned. In a community, these traits are absolutely necessary for the peace of the whole. Families must retrench and teach the gentility which flows from the virtues. Anything less is selfishness.
76. But if we pay so much attention to things like these, how much more careful ought we to be to let nothing shameful proceed out of our mouth, for that defiles a man terribly. It is not food that defiles, but unjust disparagement of others and foul words.These things are openly shameful. In our office indeed must no word be let fall at all unseemly, nor one that may give offense to modesty. But not only ought we to say nothing unbecoming to ourselves, but we ought not even to lend our ears to words of this sort. Thus Joseph fled and left his garment, that he might hear nothing inconsistent with his modesty. Genesis 39:12 For he who delights to listen, urges the other on to speak. To avoid senseless and uncharitable talk, I am accused of being anti-social. But, the truth is that it is more virtuous to run away from gossip and wasteful, silly talk than to engage in it.
77. To have full knowledge of what is foul is in the highest degree shameful. To see anything of this sort, if by chance it should happen, how dreadful that is! What, therefore, is displeasing to us in others, can that be pleasing in ourselves? Is not nature herself our teacher, who has formed to perfection every part of our body, so as to provide for what is necessary and to beautify and grace its form? However she has left plain and open to the sight those parts which are beautiful to look upon; among which, the head, set as it were above all, and the pleasant lines of the figure, and the appearance of the face are prominent, while their usefulness for work is ready to hand. But those parts in which there is a compliance with the necessities of nature, she has partly put away and hidden in the body itself, lest they should present a disgusting appearance, and partly, too, she has taught and persuaded us to cover them.
78. Is not nature herself then a teacher of modesty? Following her example, the modesty of men, which I suppose is so called from the mode of knowing what is seemly, has covered and veiled what it has found hid in the frame of our body; like that door which Noah was bidden to make in the side of the ark; Genesis 6:16 wherein we find a figure of the Church, and also of the human body, for through that door the remnants of food were cast out. Thus the Maker of our nature so thought of our modesty, and so guarded what was seemly and virtuous in our body, as to place what is unseemly behind, and to put it out of the sight of our eyes. Of this the Apostle says well: Those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary, and those members of the body which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour, and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.1 Corinthians 12:22-23 Truly, by following the guidance of nature, diligent care has added to the grace of the body. In another place I have gone more fully into this subject, and said that not only do we hide those parts which have been given us to hide, but also that we think it unseemly to mention by name their description, and the use of those members.
79. And if these parts are exposed to view by chance, modesty is violated; but if on purpose, it is reckoned as utter shamelessness. Wherefore Ham, Noah's son, brought disgrace upon himself; for he laughed when he saw his father naked, but they who covered their father received the gift of a blessing. Genesis 9:22For which cause, also, it was an ancient custom in Rome, and in many other states as well, that grown-up sons should not bathe with their parents, or sons-in-law with their fathers-in-law, in order that the great duty of reverence for parents should not be weakened. Many, however, cover themselves so far as they can in the baths, so that, where the whole body is bare, that part of it at least may be covered.
This type of respect is almost unknown in our too-laid back society.
Today, I saw an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist in blue jeans. We have lost the sense of respectful honor for God, for each other. We have no sense of time an place for actions, speech, dress. The sacredness of Mass is ruined by the senseless talk of who is going where and what is happening tomorrow. Modesty and humility, propriety and virtue go hand in hand. A child can learn to be modest and virtuous. He has the grace from baptism to be so. Nothing is lacking but example and discipline. If parents are modest, children will be as well.
80. The priests, also, under the old law, as we read in Exodus, wore breeches, as it was told Moses by the Lord: And you shall make them linen breeches to cover their shame: from the loins even to the thighs they shall reach, and Aaron and his sons shall wear them, when they enter into the tabernacle of witness, and when they come unto the altar of the holy place to offer sacrifice, that they lay not sin upon themselves and die.Exodus 28:42-43 Some of us are said still to observe this, but most explain it spiritually, and suppose it was said with a view to guarding modesty and preserving chastity. Without outward discipline, there is no interior discipline. Without interior discipline, one cannot pursue perfection. The hierarchy of the soul is reflected in the integrity of the body. To be continued....The next section I "discuss" here will be St. Ambrose on the Four Cardinal Virtues...so much, so little time.