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from issue no. 01 - 2010

“He wept with ease”

Giovanni Battista Montini Archbishop of Milan,
7 December 1959

by Giovanni Battista Montini Archbishop of Milan

Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose

“Those who form a conception of Ambrose from the episodes that made him famous for his strength, or the writings that give us the idea of him as a doctor rather prone to allegorical transposition of the scriptural texts, would miss full knowledge of him: he was not an authoritarian and severe man; energetic and fearless, yes, but full of human understanding and goodness. Indeed he makes goodness the mother of all virtues: ‘Omnes virtutes bonitas tamquam mater fecunda amplectitur’. And he made goodness the program for himself and for his priests: ‘First of all,’ he states in his De officiis, “we must realize that nothing is as useful as being loved, and nothing is as useless as not being loved’ and therefore let us seek “first of all to have influence through peace of mind and the goodness of spirit on the good dispositions of men. Goodness is in fact dear to the people and pleases everyone, and there’s nothing that more penetrates into human feelings’. And that goodness in him was a virtue even more evident than the graveness, which is so characteristic of his person, we are told by his way of dealing and speaking: it was not for nothing that the honeycomb became his symbol, and Saint Augustine forever remembered the loving welcome that he received, on coming to Milan, from Ambrose, and was enchanted immediately by his sweet discourse.
This is the language of a pastor. And pastor, we know, Ambrose was in excellent fashion, so much that in later centuries he became a model of this charity, all directed at understanding, helping, curing, teaching, at correcting all those who came within the range of his meetings.
Ambrose was a generous-hearted man, and with immense love, which surfaces in many references, he loved the Church. When he speaks of it he vibrates with enthusiasm. And he loved the Empire, as magistrate, as bishop, we know. He loved the people: who does not remember the generosity with which he sold the sacred vessels of his churches to pay the ransom of prisoners to the barbarians, after the Roman defeat at Adrianople? ‘Better to keep the chalices of the living than those of metal’, he was to write recalling the episode later. The Church loses nothing, when it earns charity. And for the poor he had warm tones of tenderness, just as he addressed vehement words to the extravagant and selfish rich of his time...
And that St Ambrose’s spirit had a register capable of moving others one sees from his own emotivity. He wept easily. And not just to show the defenselessness of the bishop against the armed might of his opponents: ‘Lacrimae meae arma sunt; talia enim munimenta sunt sacerdotis’: my tears are my weapons; these are the defenses of a bishop; but because he was immediately moved. His biographer Paulinus tells us that when people turned to him to plead guilty and submit to penance, Ambrose ‘wept in such fashion as to induce even the penitent to tears’. And one sees that emotion was so natural to Ambrose, that he also attributes it to joy: ‘Habet et laetitia lacrimas suas’, joy also has its tears.
And his tears flowed likewise when he was brought news of death for some of his priests, those priests, whom he said he did not love less for having begot them in the Gospel than if they were his natural children. And at the thought of the benefits he had received from Christ, almost a wail escapes him: ‘Vae mihi, si non dilexero!’, woe to me if I do not love“.

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