Skip to comments.St. Ambrose read without moving his lips!
Posted on 07/13/2006 12:56:03 PM PDT by siunevada
In the ancient world books were rare. If you had a book, you were probably wealthy. If you got your hands on a book, you had to remember what you read because you might not ever see that particular book again. There would be public readings of books so that more people could hear them. People had to read aloud, actually, to help their memory. The more senses you could involve, the easier it was to remember the material. This holds true today! But, in the ancient world, everyone who read, read aloud.
There is a famous moment recounted by St. Augustine in his Confessions (Bk VI) about visiting St. Ambrose. Augustine walked into the room where Ambrose was sitting and saw him staring at a book. He was reading and not even moving his lips! Augustine was so impressed by this that he would slip silently out of the room without saying anything to Ambrose, lest he disturb him. Augustine was very impressed by Ambrose and had wanted to talk to him about various problems and doubts. Because of all the people pressing around Ambrose, who was tremendously important and sought after, Augustine was never able to get near him in public.
Lets read the text and hear about it from Augustine himself! Remember, at this point Augustine is a hot property in Milan and not yet Christian, though interiorly twisting on the spikes of difficult doubts and problems. He wasnt really praying yet and he he still was considering things in very worldly terms.
6,3. Nor had I come yet to groan in my prayers that thou wouldst help me. My mind was wholly intent on knowledge and eager for disputation. Ambrose himself I esteemed a happy man, as the world counted happiness, because great personages held him in honor. Only his celibacy appeared to me a painful burden. But what hope he cherished, what struggles he had against the temptations that beset his high station, what solace in adversity, and what savory joys thy bread possessed for the hidden mouth of his heart when feeding on it, I could neither conjecture nor experience.
Nor did [Ambrose] know my own frustrations, nor the pit of my danger. For I could not request of him what I wanted as I wanted it, because I was debarred from hearing and speaking to him by crowds of busy people to whose infirmities he devoted himself. And when he was not engaged with themwhich was never for long at a timehe was either refreshing his body with necessary food or his mind with reading.
Now, as he read, his eyes glanced over the pages and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent. Often when we came to his roomfor no one was forbidden to enter, nor was it his custom that the arrival of visitors should be announced to himwe would see him thus reading to himself. After we had sat for a long time in silencefor who would dare interrupt one so intent?we would then depart, realizing that he was unwilling to be distracted in the little time he could gain for the recruiting of his mind, free from the clamor of other mens business. Perhaps he was fearful lest, if the author he was studying should express himself vaguely, some doubtful and attentive hearer would ask him to expound it or discuss some of the more abstruse questions, so that he could not get over as much material as he wished, if his time was occupied with others. And even a truer reason for his reading to himself might have been the care for preserving his voice, which was very easily weakened. Whatever his motive was in so doing, it was doubtless, in such a man, a good one.
Amazing stuff there. Notice that Augustine, writing many years after the scene he recounts, and now a bishop himself, understands what it is to be entirely lacking in free time. He wonders if Ambrose read quietly so that the intellectually hungry people around him wouldnt ask him to explain what he was reading, thus cutting short his own time for study. Also, Augustine himself later in life suffered from having a very weakened voice. In his sermons we actually hear him saying once in a while to the crowd that they had to stop making so much noice in their reactions to him, because his voice was too weak to shout over them! At any rate, Augustine puts a positive spin on what Ambrose did.
Busy tired clergymen understand each other.
Ambroses influence was pivotal for Augustine. Ambroses eloquent explanations of Scripture finally help break down Augustines prejudices against Scripture which as a professsional uber-orator he considered ugly and of little value. Augustine had bought into the criticism made by pagans of the Scriptures. Ambrose also helped Augustine make the philosophical move from perceiving the divinity as material to understanding Gods divinity as wholly immaterial. This was a key for Augustine and his intellectual conversion. Here is a passage from the same section of the Confessions, immediately following the one I just cited. Augustine is still talking about Ambroses influence on him:
4. But actually I could find no opportunity of putting the questions I desired to that holy oracle of thine in his heart, unless it was a matter which could be dealt with briefly. However, those surgings in me required that he should give me his full leisure so that I might pour them out to him; but I never found him so. I heard him, indeed, every Lords Day, "rightly dividing the word of truth" among the people. And I became all the more convinced that all those knots of crafty calumnies which those deceivers of ours had knit together against the divine books could be unraveled.
I soon understood that the statement that man was made after the image of Him that created him was not understood by thy spiritual sonswhom thou hadst regenerated through the Catholic Mother through graceas if they believed and imagined that thou wert bounded by a human form, although what was the nature of a spiritual substance I had not the faintest or vaguest notion. Still rejoicing, I blushed that for so many years I had bayed, not against the Catholic faith, but against the fables of fleshly imagination. For I had been both impious and rash in this, that I had condemned by pronouncement what I ought to have learned by inquiry. For thou, O Most High, and most near, most secret, yet most present, who dost not have limbs, some of which are larger and some smaller, but who art wholly everywhere and nowhere in space, and art not shaped by some corporeal form: thou didst create man after thy own image and, see, he dwells in space, both head and feet.
These passages ought to remind us how important mentors in the Faith can be. We read in 1 Peter 3:15: "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence". We must be ready to answer questions, give explanations for what we believe as Catholics. We can play a role, perhaps as Gods own finger, in directing someones mind and heart into the fullness of the Truth.
You might not be an Ambrose to someone elses Augustine, but you might help to save a wandering soul.
Some things never change.
Of course, that depends on the time period.
And with the capital transferred from Rome to Constantinople, and Rome in decay, Amianus Marcellinus described the libraries as "closed like tombs".
And, of course, Ambrose was the bishop in Milan, not the capital.
A Brief History of Roman Libraries
"Augustus, conscious that "a man is remembered by his works", created in Rome two great libraries with corresponding sections of Latin and Greek: one on the Campus Martius, the Portico of Octavia, in the year 33 b.C. It was one of the architectually most beautiful buildings of Rome, locked by one double colonnade, in the interior of which there were two temples, one dedicated to Jupiter and another one to Juno. The other, founded in the year 28 b.C., was on the Palatine, next to the temple of Apollo, and was constructed, like the temple, to commemorate the battle of Actium. It contained on a great porch, pictures of famous writers and a colossal statue of Apollo."
"Roman libraries were not important to education, being generally small collections, and because the demand of public reading was limited, since the Romans preferred to work in their private libraries or those of their friends. Private libraries became widespread thoughout the empire in the 1st Century AD. . . . The disintegration of the Roman Empire also brought about the collapse of the old traditional social order, and the light of the world that represented Rome first languished and finally it was extinguished for always. The cities were left, and the libraries that conserved were set ablaze, destroyed or simply left to ruin. Many of the works that filled the libraries disappeared for always, and only few books, by different ways, was preserved until today."
Augustine's text cited here itself doesn't suggest reading aloud was common, just that Augustine, the trained orator, thought Jerome's silence particularly noteworthy.
I see it as noteworthy for his intended audience. The pablik skul graduates and other poor in spirit have difficulty reading even now.
Hmmm...I thought these passages ought to remind us how important reading your Bibles can be.
Perhaps, similar to the Bible, there are several meanings to be gleaned from what is read.
Bishop & Doctor of the Church
St Ambrose with Saints
c. 1514 -- Panel
Saint Ambrose was born at Trier in about 340. He studied law at Rome, and was made bishop of Milan on December 7, 374. He defended the faith against the Arian heresy through his writings and teachings. He helped lead Augustine into the true faith. Ambrose died on Holy Saturday, April 4, 397.
You made Saint Ambrose an outstanding teacher of the Catholic faith
and gave him the courage of an apostle.
Raise up in Your Church more leaders after Your own heart,
to guide us with courage and wisdom.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
First Reading: Ephesians 3:8-12
To me[Paul], though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in Him.
Gospel Reading: John 10:11-16
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know My own and My own know me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed My voice. So there shall be one flock, one Shepherd.
Lord, Jesus Christ,
I approach your banquet table
in fear and trembling,
for I am a sinner,
and dare not rely on my own worth
but only on your goodness and mercy.
I am defiled by many sins
in body and soul,
and by my unguarded thoughts and words.
Gracious God of majesty and awe,
I seek your protection,
I look for your healing;
Poor troubled sinner that I am,
I appeal to you, the fountain of all mercy.
I cannot bear your judgment,
but I trust in your salvation.
Lord, I show my wounds to you.
I know my sins are many and great,
and they fill me with fear,
but I hope in your mercies,
for they cannot be numbered.
Lord Jesus Christ, eternal King, God and man,
crucified for mankind,
look upon me with mercy and hear my prayer,
for I trust in you.
Have mercy on me,
full of sorrow and sin,
for the depth of your compassion never ends.
Praise to you, saving sacrifice,
offered on the wood of the cross for me
and for all mankind.
Praise to the noble and precious blood,
flowing from the wounds of my crucified
Lord Jesus Christ
and washing away the sins of the whole world.
Remember, Lord, your creature,
whom you have redeemed with your blood.
I repent my sins,
and I long to put right what I have done.
Merciful Father, take away
all my offenses and sins;
purify me in body and soul,
and make me worthy to taste the holy of holies.
May your body and blood,
which I intend to receive,
although I am unworthy,
be for me the remission of my sins,
the washing away of my guilt,
the end of my evil thoughts,
and the rebirth of my better instincts.
May it incite me to do the works pleasing to you
and profitable to my health in body and soul,
and be a firm defense
against the wiles of my enemies. Amen.
Related link on the Vatican website:
Benedict XVI, General Audience, Saint Peter's Square, Wednesday, October 24, 2007, Saint Ambrose of Milan
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