Document: Letter 36
Date: after 386
Addressee: Honorantius
English Translation: FC 26.283-285
Summary of Contents: On questions of the soul and other scriptural issues

Our letters are forming a chain and we seem to be letting the chips fly in the presence of one another. I get the material for my letter writing from your questioning, and you get yours from my explanations.

You have pointed out that you wonder of what spirit it was said: “Because he pleads for us with unutterable groaning.” Let us go on, so that the reading will make clear what we are searching for: “But in like manner the Spirit also helps the weakness of our prayer.” Does not this seem to be the Holy Spirit, for He is our helper, to whom it is said: “You are my help; cast me not off, and abandon me not, O God, my Savior.”

What other spirit could teach Paul what to pray for? The Spirit of Christ teaches, as Christ also teaches His disciples to pray. And, after Christ, who would teach if not His Spirit whom He Himself sent to teach and direct our prayers? We pray with the Spirit; we pray, too, with the understanding. In order that the understanding be able to pray well, the Spirit goes on ahead and leads it on to a level road, so that things of the flesh or things less or greater than our strength may not surprise it: “Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit.” Moreover, it has been written: “Seek the great and the little will be given you. Seek heavenly things and those of earth will be given.”

He wishes us to seek greater things, not to linger among earthly ones. He who allots to each according as He wills knows what He will give. Sometimes, knowing our limitations of which we are ignorant, He says: “You cannot now receive this.” I pray for the sufferings of a martyr for myself the Holy Spirit is willing but when He sees the weakness of my flesh, fearing that while I seek too great things I may lose the smaller ones, He says: “You cannot receive these.” What opportunities I have had, and have been called back almost from the goal! A good doctor knows what food is suitable for the state of illness, and at what stage in the course of the recovery. Sometimes the taking of food brings back good health, but if one takes it at the wrong time or takes what is not suitable he is imperiled.

Therefore, since we do not know what we pray for, and how we should pray, the Holy Spirit asks for us. He is the Spirit of Jesus, our Advocate. And He asks with unspeakable groanings, as Christ, too, grieves for us. And God the Father says: “My bowels are in pain.” We read that He was often angry and grieved. He groans that He may take away our sins, that He may teach us to do penance. It is a reverent groan, filled with power, of which the Prophet says: “My groaning is not hidden from you.” He did not hide like Adam, but He said: “Behold, I am the shepherd. But as for this flock, in what has it been sinful? It is I that have sinned; punish me.”

From this comes the groaning of the Spirit of God, and the groaning of the Prophet, well nigh ineffable because it is heavenly. The things that Paul heard in heaven were ineffable. Thus, men should not utter what is hidden to men, although known to God. He, the searcher of our hearts, knows all things, but He searches what the Spirit has purified. Therefore, God knows what the Spirit is asking and what is the wisdom of the Spirit which pleads for the saints, as you read: “The Spirit also pleads for us.” It is those for whom Christ suffered and whom He cleansed with His blood for whom also the Spirit pleads.

Farewell, and as a son love us, because we love you.

Translation from FC 26.283-285, adapted by SMT

Ambrose Abbreviations

Back to the Writings of Ambrose

Last updated: 5-10-2011

No Responses yet