Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, September 24, 2012

St. Ambrose: The Virtues and the Beatitudes

SAINT AMBROSE FITTED THE CARDINAL VIRTUES into the teachings of Jesus as found in the New Testament. St. Ambrose found a connection between the beatitudes--the central focus of Christian life--and the cardinal virtues. He found there to be a parallel between the Lucan presentation of the beatitudes which are four in number with the four cardinal virtues of Christian life.  Given the focus of the Church on the  moral teachings of Jesus as found in the beatitudes, such a move would have been considered essential.

We find St. Ambrose's direct connection of the beatitudes in his exposition of the Gospel of Luke (Expositio Evangelii Secundum Lucam, 5.64-67).  The beatitudes in Luke are found in Luke 6:20–22, when Jesus addresses his followers in the so-called "Sermon on the Plain."  These are followed by the four "woes" that are parallel to the beatitudes in 6:24-26.

Accordingly, we have "Blessed are you who are poor: for yours is the kingdom of God."  Those who are poor display the virtue of temperance, a temperance which overcomes the seductions of the goods of the present life.  A temperate man will avoid the woe that Jesus imparts to the rich, for they have received their consolation in this life.  In the Ambrosian synthesis, the woes that Jesus imparts to the rich, are warnings against those who are intemperate.

"Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied," is a reference to those who hunger and thirst for the virtue of justice, a virtue which looks toward the needs of neighbor with a compassionate heart, one full of largesse and altruism.  Woe to those who are unjust, those who are filled now at the expense of their neighbor.

"Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh" is a reference to Christian prudence, one which avoids the mundane, and seeks the eternal, the lasting.  Woe to those who are imprudent, who laugh now, for they eventually will grieve and weep.

St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan

Finally, the virtue of fortitude or courage is tied to the last Lucan beatitude: "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!  Behold, your reward will be great in heaven."  Woe when, because you renounced the Son of Man for lack of courage, you are well-spoken of.   The crown of suffering is the "consummation of courage" for the Christian.

While the Lucan four-fold version of the beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke fit nicely with the four-fold scheme of the cardinal virtues, the beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew did not fit so nicely.  Yet Ambrose managed to find a parallel even here, largely through the use of allegory.  He insisted that the eight beatitudes of the Gospel of St. Matthew were reducible to the four of the Gospel of Luke and therefore also the four cardinal virtues.  "The four are in the eight, and the eight in the four," sed in istis octo illae quattuor sunt et in his quattuor illae octo.  (Exp. ev. sec. Lucam, 5.49)

The Matthean beatitudes are found in Matthew 5:3-10, and are part of the Sermon on the Mount:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:3) 
  • Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4) 
  • Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (5:5) 
  • Blessed they who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be satisfied. (5:6) 
  • Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7) 
  • Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (5:8) 
  • Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. (5:9) 
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)

There are numerous ways where the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew and the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke may be reconciled or synthesized.  One way is to expand each Lucan beatitude into two Matthean beatitudes, so that two Matthean beatitudes correlate to one of Luke's beatitudes.  The other method--which was the method chosen by St. Ambrose--is to see all the beatitudes are contained within one another.

It was a Platonic nostrum that all the virtues had to be had together, so that the virtues while "ontologically distinct, are unified operationally."  One will recall that for Socrates the union of virtue was even more unified as "essentially one while operationally many."  Houser, 36.  So we find in St. Ambrose a Platonic, even a Socratic notion of one overarching virtue, a binding together of beatitude to beatitude, of virtue to virtue in a circular chain of virtue:

Therefore, the virtues are so connected and chained together, that whoever has one seems to have them all; and there accrues to the saints one virtue.
Conexae igitur sibi sunt concatenataeque virtutes, ut qui unam habet plures habere videatur, et sanctis una conpetit virtus.

Exp. ev. sec. Lucam, 5.62-3.  It was this synthesis of St. Ambrose that was to influence the teachings of the Fathers and the medieval "masters" or magistri.

No comments:

Post a Comment