Chief good

Daily Reading for December 7 • Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 397

While engaged in reading, after resting my mind for a while and desisting from study, I began to meditate on that versicle which in the evening we had sung at Vigils, Thou art fairer than the children of men, and, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring good tidings of Him. And truly nothing is more beautiful than that chief good, the very preaching of which is beyond measure lovely, and specially the progress of continuous discourse, and the footsteps, so to speak, of apostolic preaching. But who is equal to these things? They to whom God gave not only to preach Christ, but also to suffer for Him.

Let us, as far as we can, direct our minds to that which is beautiful, seemly, and good, let us be occupied therein, let us keep it in mind, that by its illumination and brightness our souls may become beautiful and our minds transparent. For if our eyes, when obscured by dimness, are refreshed by the verdure of the fields and are able by the beauty of a grove or grassy hill to remedy every defect of the failing vision, while the very pupils and balls of the eye seem to be coloured with the hue of health: how much more does this eye of the mind, beholding that chief good, and dwelling and feeding thereupon, brighten and shine forth, so as to fulfil that which is written, My soul shall be satisfied even as it were with marrow and fatness. Moreover, he who has a skilful knowledge of the souls of his flock, pays attention to wild grasses, that he may obtain much pasturage: for by the sweeter kind of herbage lambs are made fatter, and the milky juice more healthful. On these pastures those fat ones have fed, who have eaten and worshipped, for good indeed are those pastures wherein is placed the saint of God.

There is grass also, whereby the flocks of sheep are nourished, for whence come the fleeces of wisdom, and the clothing of prudence. And perchance this is the grass of the mountain, upon which the words of the prophet distil as the showers upon the grass, and which the wise man carefully gathers, that he may have a fleece for a covering, that is, for a spiritual garment. And thus proper food and clothing are provided for that soul which cleaves to the chief Good, that Good Which is Divine, and which the Apostle Peter exhorts us to seek for, that by the acquisition of such knowledge we may become partakers of the Divine nature. The knowledge hereof the good God opens to His saints, and grants it out of His good treasury. . . .

In Him therefore let us be and in Him abide, of Whom Isaiah says, How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of Him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace. . . . May this Good which the merciful God gives to them that seek Him come into our soul, and into our inmost heart. He is our Treasure, He is our Way, He is our Wisdom, He is our Righteousness, our Shepherd, the good Shepherd, He is our Life.

From a letter of Ambrose to Irenaeus (389), in The Letters of S. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (Oxford: James Parker and Rivingtons, 1881), letter 29.

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