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NPNF2-10. Ambrose: Selected Works and Letters
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Chapter III.

St. Ambrose returns to the story of the widow of Sarepta, and shows that she represented the Church, hence that she was an example to virgins, married women, and widows. Then he refers to the prophet as setting forth Christ, inasmuch as he foretold the mysteries and the rain which was to come. Next he touches upon and explains the twofold sign of Gideon, and points out that it is not in every one’s power to work miracles, and that the Incarnation of Christ and the rejection of the Jews were foreshadowed in that account.

14. To return to what was treated of above,33213321    1 [3] Kings xvii. 14. what is the meaning of the fact that when there was a very great famine in all the land, yet the care of God was not wanting to the widow, and the prophet was sent to sustain her? And when in this story the Lord warns me that He is about to speak in truth,33223322    S. Luke iv. 25. He seems to bid my ears attend to a mystery. For what can be more true than the mystery of Christ and the Church? Not, then, without a purpose is one preferred amongst many widows. Who is such an one, to whom so great a prophet who was carried up into heaven, should be guided, especially at that time when the heaven was shut for three years and six months, when there was a great famine in the whole land? The famine was everywhere, and yet notwithstanding this widow did not want. What are these three years? Are they not, perchance, those in which the Lord came to the earth and could not find fruit on the fig-tree, according to that which is written: “Behold, there are three years that I came seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none.”33233323    S. Luke xiii. 7.

15. This is assuredly that widow of whom it was said: “Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not, break forth and cry, thou that availest not with child; for many are the children of the desolate, more than of her who hath an husband.”33243324    Isa. liv. 1. And well is she a widow of whom it is well said: “Thou shalt not remember thy shame and thy widowhood, for I am the Lord Who make thee.”33253325    Isa. liv. 4. And perchance therefore is she a widow who has lost her Husband indeed in the suffering of His body, but in the day of judgment shall receive again the Son of Man Whom she seemed to have lost. “For a short time have I forsaken thee,”33263326    Isa. liv. 7. He says, in order that, being forsaken, she may the more gloriously keep her faith.

16. All, then, have an example to imitate, virgins, married women, and widows. And perchance is the Church therefore a virgin, married, and a widow, because they are one body in Christ. She is then that widow for Whose sake when there was a dearth of the heavenly Word on earth, the prophets were appointed, for there was a widow who was barren, yet reserved her bringing forth for its own time.

17. So that his person does not seem to us of small account, who by his word moistened the dry earth with the dew of heaven, and unlocked the closed heavens certainly not by human power. For who is he who can open the heavens except Christ, for Whom daily out of sinners’ food is gathered, an increase for the Church? For it is not in the power of man to say: “The barrel of meal shall not waste, and the cruse of oil shall not fail, until the day on which the Lord shall send rain on the earth.”33273327    1 [3] Kings xvii. 14. For though it be the rule of the prophets to speak thus, the voice is in truth that of the Lord. And so it is stated first: “For thus saith the Lord.”33283328    1 [3] Kings xvii. 14. For it is of the Lord to vouch for a continuance of heavenly sacraments, and to promise that the grace of spiritual joy shall not fail, to grant the defences of life, the seals of faith, the gifts of virtues.

18. But what does this mean: “Until the day on which the Lord shall send rain on the earth”? except that He, too, “shall come down like rain upon a fleece, and like the drops that water the earth.”33293329    Ps. lxxii. [lxxi.] 6. In which passage is disclosed the mystery of the old history where Gideon, the warrior of the mystic conflict, receiving the pledge of future victory, recognized the spiritual sacrament in the vision of his mind, that that rain was the dew of the Divine Word, which first came down on the fleece, when all the earth was parched with continual drought, and by a second true sign, moistened the floor of all the earth with a shower, whilst dryness was upon the fleece.33303330    Judg. vi. 37 ff.

19. For the prescient man observed the sign of the future growth of the Church. For first in Judæa the dew of the divine utterance began to give moisture (for “in Jewry is God known”),33313331    Ps. lxxvi. [lxxv.] 1. whilst the whole earth remained without the dew of faith. But when Joseph’s flock began to deny God, and by venturing on various enormous offences to incur guilt before God, then when the dew of the heavenly shower was poured on the whole earth, the people of the Jews began to grow dry and parched in their own unbelief, when the clouds of prophecy and the healthful shower of the Apostles watered the holy Church gathered together from all parts of the world. This is that rain, now condensed from earthly moisture, now from mountain mists, but diffused throughout the whole world in the salutary shower of the heavenly Scriptures.

20. By this example, then, it is shown that not all can merit the miracles of divine power, but they who are aided by the pursuits of religious devotion, and that they lose the fruits of divine working who are devoid of reverence for heaven. It is also shown in a mystery that the Son of God, in order to restore the Church, took upon Himself the mystery of a human body, casting off the Jewish people, from whom the counsellor and the prophet and the miracles of the divine benefits were taken away,33323332    Isa. iii. 2. because that as it were by a kind of national blemish they were not willing to believe in the Son of God.


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