Silence Is Not Always Golden

With experience in ministry I am learning the wisdom of talking less. As is says in Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” At the same time, we sometimes fall into the opposite trap of saying too little. For the Christian leader this is equally dangerous. About this truth, Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (c. 339 – 397) has a brief and poignant word for us.

Ambrose, Bishop of Milan between 374 and 397, has long been recognized as one of the great early Christian thinkers. He was no ivory tower academic however, and he regularly addressed emperors and others in authority on their public and moral duty. On one occasion, he confronted the Roman Emperor Theodosius who had just ordered a massacre in Thessalonica, in retaliation for an act of insurrection. The most probable date for his book, On the Duties of the Clergy, is 391, the year after he rebuked Emperor Theodosius. In an earlier passage from that book, he has been warning pastors against hasty and thoughtless speech. Here, though, he warns pastors that if they fail to speak out, they will have to give an account to God for their silence.

“What then? Ought we to be dumb? Certainly not. For: “there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.”1 If, then, we are to give account for an idle word, let us take care that we do not have to give it also for an idle silence.”2


1 Ecclesiastes 3:7

2 Ambrose, “Duties of the Clergy,” Some Principle Works of St. Ambrose, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 10 (Oxford,: James Parker and Company, 1896), 2. In other translations see: Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 9.

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