Where Rubber Hits the Road

Ambrose, bishop of Milan between c. 374, and 397 A.D., was a man of extraordinary courage and wisdom. He confronted emperors and soldiers, apparently unconcerned with the consequences for himself, so long as he could glorify God and protect his flock. His treatise on “The Duties of the Clergy” was distributed in about 391. Ambrose urges pastors to fortitude (courage), warns them of their responsibility to protect those in their care, and advises how courage may be fostered. To be courageous, you must understand what is valuable.

The glory of fortitude, therefore, does not rest only in the strength of one’s body or of one’s arms, but rather on the courage of the mind. Nor is the law of courage exercised in causing, but in driving away all harm. He who does not keep harm off a friend, if he can, is as much in fault as him who causes it. . . .

And in very truth, rightly is that called fortitude, when a man conquers himself, restrains his anger, yields and gives way to no allurements, is not put out by misfortunes, nor gets elated by good success, and does not get carried away by every varying change as by some chance wind. . . .

This, then, is the first notion of fortitude. For fortitude of the mind can be regarded in two ways. First, as it counts all externals as very unimportant, and looks on them as rather superfluous and to be despised than to be sought after. Secondly, as it strives after those things which are the highest, and all things in which one can see anything moral . . . with all the powers of the mind. For what can be more noble than to train thy mind so as to not place a high value on riches and pleasures and honours, nor to waste all thy cares on these? When thy mind is thus disposed, thou must consider how all that is virtuous and seemly must be placed before everything else; and thou must so fix thy mind upon that, that if aught happens which may break thy spirit, whether loss of property, or the reception of fewer honours, or the disparagement of unbelievers, thou mayest not feel it, as thou wert above such things; nay, so that even dangers which menace thy safety, if undertaken at the call of justice, may not trouble thee.1


1 Ambrose, “Duties of the Clergy,” St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 10, 2nd ser. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Printing Company, 1996), 31-32. In other versions, see 1.36.179-182.

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