Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 2008
Ambrose, bishop of Milan (Italy) in a philosophical treatise about duties "De officiis" discusses how modesty of clerics should express itself in their physical movement. He refers to two unnamed men from Milan who did not carry themselves physically in a proper way. One of them was not admitted by Ambrose to the clergy and later became an Arian, another was later involved in some financial mismanagment. Milan, the late 380s.
Book 1
71. Est etiam in ipso motu, gestu, incessu tenenda uerecundia. Habitus enim mentis in corporis statu cernitur. Hinc homo cordis nostri absconditus aut leuior aut iactantior aut turbidior, aut contra grauior et constantior et purior et maturior aestimatur. Itaque uox quaedam est animi corporis motus.
72. Meministis, filii, quemdam amicum, cum sedulis se uideretur commendare officiis, hoc solo tamen in clerum a me non receptum quod gestus eius plurimum dedeceret; alterum quoque, cum in clero repperissem, iubere me ne umquam praeiret mihi quia uelut quodam insolentis incessus uerbere oculos feriret meos. Id que dixi cum redderetur post offensam muneri. Hoc solum excepi nec fefellit sententia: uterque enim ab Ecclesia recessit ut qualis incessu prodebatur, talis perfidia animi demonstraretur. Namque alter Arianae infestationis tempore fidem deseruit, alter pecuniae studio, ne iudicium subiret sacerdotale, se nostrum negauit. Lucebat in illorum incessu imago leuitatis, species quaedam scurrarum percursantium.
In chapters 73 and 74, Ambrose says that movements should neither be too slow nor too hurried. He advocates moderateness:
75. Est etiam gressus probabilis in quo sit species auctoritatis, grauitatis que pondus, tranquillitatis uestigium, ita tamen si studium desit atque adfectatio sed motus sit purus ac simplex; nihil enim fucatum placet. Motum natura informet. Si quid sane in natura uitii est, industria emendet ut ars desit, non desit correctio.
(ed. Testard 2000: 27-28; summary M. Szada)
Book 1
71. Modesty ought to be maintained in all our physical movement as well, in the way we carry ourselves, and in the way we walk. It is from the attitude of the body that the condition of the spirit is gauged. This is the evidence upon which people form their opinions of ‘the hidden man of our heart’, concluding that here is someone who is rather fickle, perhaps, or boastful, or prone to get upset—or, alternatively, that this is a person who is altogether firm and steady, pure, and mature. The movement of the body thus acts as a kind of voice for the soul.
72. You will recall, my sons, a certain friend of ours. He appeared to commend himself by carrying out his duties with due care, yet I still refused to admit him into the body of the clergy. I had one reason only, and it was this: he carried himself physically in a way that was totally unseemly. You will recall another man, too. He was already a member of the clergy when I first encountered him, but I issued instructions that he was never to walk in front of me, for the cocky way in which he walked was—to be frank—painful for me to behold. And I said just that when he was restored to his office after committing his offence. I had no other reason but this to reject these men; but I did not prove mistaken in my judgement, for both of them went on to leave the church: they showed themselves to be every bit as faithless in spirit as their style of walking had suggested. One deserted the faith at the time of the Arian onslaught; the other was so keen on money that he was prepared to say he was not one of us, so as to escape being judged by his bishop. The hallmark of the fickleness inside these men was plain in the way they walked—they had all the appearance of wandering jesters.
In chapters 73 and 74, Ambrose says that movements should neither be too slow nor too hurried. He advocates moderateness:
75. There is, though, another type of gait, one of which we can approve, which gives an impression of authority, of firmness and gravity, and a sense of calm purpose. The important thing is to keep studied effort and affectation out of it, and to allow your movement to be natural and simple; for no kind of falsehood can ever be pleasing. Let nature herself shape your movement. If, of course, there is some flaw in the style nature has given you, then by all means try to put it right with a little hard work: it is artificiality that needs to be kept out of things, not an appropriate measure of correction.
(trans. Davidson 2001: 159-163)

Place of event:

  • Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia
  • Milan

About the source:

Author: Ambrose of Milan
Title: De officiis, On duties
Origin: Milan (Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Ambrose of Milan most probably wrote "De officiis" in the late 380s. With some probability, we can identify Ambrose`s allusion to "the times of Arian onslaught" to his confrontation with the Arians over the basilicas in Milan in 385-386 (see [1947] and [1951]). Similarly, the story about a certain urban prefect of Rome who failed to cope with the food shortage in the city may refer to Q. Aurelius Symmachus who was the prefect in 384. For the more detailed discussion on dating and references to the secondary literature see Davidson 2001: 3-5.
Ambrose to some extent modelled his work on the famous treatise by Cicero also titled De officiis. Ambrose follows Cicero in dividing his work into three books and he refers to Cicero`s considerations about what is virtuous, what is practical and about the opposition between the virtuous and practical. Ambrosian De officiis, however, is neither a Christian rendering of the classical pagan philosophical treatise nor the consistent refutation of Cicero, though he is evoked critically in several places. As Ivor Davidson proposed, De officiis is rather "designed to be a sign of Ambrose`s church`s relationship to the saeculum." (Davidson 2001: 59; see also McLynn 1994: 255-256). It is not devised to systematically respond to Cicero (and pagans in general) on philosophical grounds, and therefore much of the argument relies on the Scriptural exempla. These show that new Christian and clerical officialdom is superior to any former pagan elites because of its higher purposes and responsibility toward God. For this interpretation see Davidson 2001: 45-64.
The immediate addressees of the treatise are Ambrose`s clerics, especially the young ones as he frequently addresses them in a fatherly manner and makes allusions to their young age and lack of experience (e.g. I.65-66, 81, 87, 212, 217-218, II.97-101). It seems, however, also very probable that Ambrose`s had also in mind a wider readership of literary secular elites (Davidson 2001: 63-64).
Two primary families of the manuscript tradition name the treatise "De officiis". In the third, the longer version appears - "De officiis ministrorum". Although this is most possibly a corrective gloss, as Davidson notices (2001: 1), the longer title is more frequently used in modern scholarship. Ancient allusions to the treatise give the shorter version (Augustine, Letter 82.21; Cassiodorus, Institutiones 1.16.4).
M. Testard ed., Ambroise de Milan, Les devoirs, 2 vols., Paris 1984-1992 (with French translation)
M. Testard ed., Ambrosii Mediolanensis De officiis, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 15, Turnhout 2000
English translation with commentary:
I. Davidson ed., Ambrose, De officiis, 2 vols., Oxford 2001
N. McLynn, Ambrose of Milan. Church and Court in Christian Capital, Oxford 1994


Described by a title - Clericus
    Impediments or requisits for the office - Improper/Immoral behaviour
      Attributes of clerical status
        Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
          Administration of justice - Ecclesiastical
          Economic status and activity
          Theoretical considerations - On priesthood
            Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: M. Szada, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER2008,