Ambrose on today’s 1st reading: Hosea

While not always very original, St. Ambrose of Milan (+397) was a stemwinder delivering spellbinder.  His Latin is elegant and his thought leads the careful listener down fascinating paths.  I say "listener", because these things should always be read aloud.  Ambrose is famous for having been able to read silently, as St. Augustine famously relates, but we should get the impact of these pieces not only through sight, but also by sound.

Ambrose commented on this passage from Hosea which we have for Holy Mass today, Monday of the 14th Week:

You have made a wise decision to seek an answer to the question whether there is some difference in God’s love of those who have had faith since childhood and of those who believed in the course of youth of later years.  Holy Scripture has not failed to note this problem, nor has it left your matter untouched.  Indeed, the Lord our God said meaningfully to the prophet Joel, "Lament with me over my spouse in sackcloth and for the husband of her youth," (Joel 1:8) while he wept either for the synagogue that formerly, in her virginity had been espoused to the Word of God, or perhaps for a soul that had fallen from grace.  Her offense had led her into serious crimes so that she became hated.  And, having been cast aside because of her stain of impurity and the foul marks of wickedness and the stains of unbelief, she became an object of pity and a person despised, far removed from the grace of that spouse who had been worthy to hear the words Ï will espouse thee to me in faith and justice and mercy."  (ep. 4.13.1 ad Irenaeum CSEL 82/1: 101 – FC 26:420)*

1. Differentia caritatis utrum sit aliqua apud deum eorum qui a pueritia crediderint et eorum qui iuventutis aut posterioris aetatis processu, prudenter requirendum putasti.  Nam hoc quoque scriptura divina non praetermisit neque intactum reliquit. Siquidem dominus deus noster ad Iohel prophetam non otiose ait: Lamentare ad me super sponsam praecinctam saccum in virum eius virginalem dolens synagogam, quae ante a virginitate sua desponsata dei verbo foret, vel animam certe, quae de bonis meritis decidisset, ita offendiculum incidisse peccatorum flagitiis, ut odia contraheret et inquinamento impietatis ac perfidiae obsoleta sordibus miserabili esset despectui, ‘longe mutata ab illius’ sponsae gratia, quae ante meruerat audire: Sponsabo te mihi in fide et iustitia et misericordia.

The point here is that just because one had the Faith from the very beginning, that is no guarantee of fidelity or smooth living afterwards.  Perseverance is necessary.  The people of Israel strayed and then did not embrace the Lord when he came.  Their status as the "chosen" People didn’t give them any guarantees. In fact, our status as baptized members of the Church does not provide any guarantee other than that which we have during this earthly life that, as a member of Christ’s Mystical Person, we will be offered the graces we need to reach heaven provided we cooperate and do our part. 


*If you are trying to look this up, keep in mind that the numbering of Ambrose’s letters is a real mess. There are various systems.  The Maurists numbers this letter as 31.  In the CSEL edition, it is Book IV, letter 13.  Easy, huh?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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One Comment

  1. Matt (englishcatholic - COL) says:

    Fr Z,

    Thank you for all the extracts from the Fathers you
    have posted recently. I always read them, and your
    commentaries, with interest. Keep up the good work!

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