Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 1859
Bishop Ambrose of Milan (Italy) in a letter to Simplicianus, probably a presbyter in Milan, considers the issue of wisdom, freedom and spiritual enslavement. Ambrose of Milan, Letter 7 (Maur. 37), written in Milan, AD 386/397.
VII (Maur. 37)
Ambrosius Simpliciano Salutem.
1. Proxime cum veteris amoris usu familiaris inter nos sermo caederetur, delectari te insinuasti mihi, cum aliquid de Pauli apostoli scriptis coram populo ad disputandum adsumerem, quod eius profundum in consiliis vix conpraehendatur, sublime in sententiis audientem erigat, disputantem accendat, tum quia in plerisque ita se ipse suis exponat sermonibus, ut is, qui tractat, nihil inveniat, quod adiciat suum, ac si velit aliquid dicere, grammatici magis quam disputatoris fungatur munere. 2. In eo tamen quoniam et veteris adfectum amicitiae et, quod plus est, paternae gratiae amorem recognosco - nam vetustas habet aliquid cum pluribus consociabile, patrius amor non habet -, tum quia non ieiune me fecisse iam quod postulas arbitratus es, parebo voluntati tuae, admonitus praesertim et provocatus exemplo meo, quod mihi non difficillimum, quia non magnum aliquem, sed me ipsum imitabor, cum in meos, non magnos aliquos usus revertor. 3. Et de consiliis quidem cum beatae vitae imago adque effigies nostro sermone exprimeretur, putamus eam factam conplexionem, ut pluribus fortasse alias, tibi certe amanti nostri non inprobemur, licet difficilius sit tuo iudicio quam plurium non displicere; sed iudicii pondus adfectu ablevas eo que mihi blandior.
4. Haec autem epistula quoniam te absentem offendit, de sententiis Pauli est apostoli, qui nos a servitute in libertatem vocat dicens: Praetio empti estis, nolite fieri servi hominum, ostendens libertatem nostram in Christo esse, libertatem nostram in cognitione esse sapientiae.
In what follows, Ambrose considers the connection between wisdom and freedom.
(ed. Faller 1968: 19-26; summary M. Szada)
VII (Maur. 37)
Ambrose to Simplicianus, greetings.
1. You remarked recently when we were chatting in a way characteristic of our long-standing affection that it pleased you to have me preach to my people on some of the writings of the Apostle Paul. Since his depth of meaning is understood only with difficulty, he should lead the one who hears him to lofty thoughts and should set on fire the commentator. In some instances, in fact, the speaker engages in exegesis and, having nothing of his own to add, being anxious to say something, fulfills the task of grammarian rather than exegete. 2. I realize in this complaint the result of our old friendship and, what is more, a tenderly fatherly love (for the passage of time brings intimacy, along with many benefits, but a father's love does not). Then, too, because I feel that I have already done not without spirit what you are asking, I shall obey your wish, advised and instigated by my own pattern by no means difficult for me. I will not be imitating some great personage, but myself, as I return to some of my own insignificant practices. 3. Now, as regards our plan, I think that when we express in our sermons the metaphor and representation of the happy life, we have reached a conclusion which most persons, and especially you, a friend, will not find unsuitable. Yet it is more difficult not to displease your judgment than that of most others, though, by your devotion, you lighten the weight of your judgment and render it much milder to me.
4. Yet the Epistle, which troubled you after you were gone, has to do with the meaning of Paul the Apostle, who says in calling us from slavery to liberty: You have been bought with a price; do not become the slaves of men. In this he shows that our liberty consists in the knowledge of wisdom. This passage has been pitched and tossed on a great mass of discussion by philosophers, who say that every wise man is free, every fool is a slave.
In what follows, Ambrose considers the connection between wisdom and freedom.
(trans. Beyenka 1954: 286-287; in the translation Letter 54)



Place of event:

  • Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia
  • Milan

About the source:

Author: Ambrose of Milan
Title: Letters, Epistulae
Origin: Milan (Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Ambrose was a bishop of Milan from 374 until his death in 397. We have a collection of his letters organized in three parts. The first one consists of 77 letters organized in ten books most probably by Ambrose himself. He published his letters at some point after the death of Theodosius in 395. From this collection, Book 4 is missing, as are some letters of Books 2 and 4. The second part is the group of letters that survived outside the collection (extra collectionem), and the third is a group of letters concerning the council of Aquileia in 381 (together with the acts of this council). For a detailed discussion on the letters and further reading see Liebeschuetz 2010: 27–48 and Nauroy 2016: 146–160.
Ambrose`s addresee is here Simplicianus, most probably the same whom Augustine mentions in the Confessions 8.2 as the pater in accipienda gratia tunc episcopi Ambrosii ([1886]). In his letters to Simplicianus, Ambrose always expresses the filial affection which suggests seniority of Simplicianus. He succeeded Ambrose in the see of Milan in 397 being already very advanced in age. No source calls Simplicianus explicitely a presbyter, and that he was one is inferred from the indirect evidence. The present letter is not dated but in chapter 3 Ambrose makes reference to his work De Iacob et vita beata written in 386, so the letter must have been composed afterwards.
O. Faller ed., Epistulae et acta, epistularum libri I-VI, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Lationorum 82/1, Wien 1968
Saint Ambrose, Letters, trans. M. M. Beyenka, Washington D.C. 1954
J.H.W.G. Liebeschuetz, Ambrose of Milan: political letters and speeches, Liverpool 2010.
G. Nauroy, "The Letter Collection of Ambrose of Milan", [in:] Late Antique Letter Collections: A Critical Introduction and Reference Guide, ed. C. Sogno, B.K. Storin, E.J. Watts, Oakland, CA 2016, 146–160.
G. Nauroy, "Édition et organisation du recueil des lettres d’Ambroise de Milan: une architecture cachée ou altérée?", in: La correspondance d'Ambroise de Milan, textes réunis et préparés par A. Canellis, Saint-Étienne 2012, 19-61.


Writing activity - Correspondence
Travel and change of residence
Reverenced by
Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
Education - Theological interest
Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: M. Szada, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER1859,