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Explanation of the Gospel
St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor
Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D.
(PL 15, col. 1633.  Book IV in Luke, pars. 68-79, and also text of Roman Breviary.)
1. When the Lord had healed many and various kinds of illnesses the multitudes began to be oblivious of time and place, in their eagerness to be healed.  Evening comes on, they still follow Him.  They come to a lake; they press upon Him.  And so He goes up into the ship of Peter.  This is that ship which, according to Matthew, had lately been tossed about by the waves (Mt. viii. 24), and which, according to Luke, is filled with fishes: that you may know that though the beginnings of the Church were stormy, Her later times shall be abounding.  For they are fish who traverse this life.  Then He slept amid His Disciples.  Here He teaches.  He sleeps amid the frightened; He watches with the steadfast.  But hear the Prophet (Cant. v. 2) telling us how Christ sleeps: I sleep, and my heart watcheth. 

2. And the holy Matthew rightly believed we must not lightly pass over this evidence of divine power, where He commands the winds.  For here we have not human authority; for as you have heard, the Jews declare (Lk. iv. 36) that with a word, He commands the unclean spirits and they go out.  Here is a sign of heavenly power.  That the troubled sea is made calm, that the elements are obedient to the command of the divine voice, that things without sense receive an understanding of 
obedience: here a mystery of divine power is revealed to us.  That the waves of the world grow still, that an unclean spirit is quietened; the one happening does not contradict the other, but both the one and the other is brought about.  You have before you in the elements a miracle; in the mysteries you have a proof. 

3. Therefore, that ship which the holy Matthew had anticipated, this the holy Luke chose for himself, namely, that from which Peter would fish.  That ship is not tossed about which has Peter aboard, but that which has Judas.  Although many meritorious Disciples sailed in it, nevertheless the perfidy of the traitor tossed it up and down.  Peter was in both the one and the other; but one who is safe through his own good life is endangered by the crimes of others.  Let us beware then of the unbelieving; let us be on our guard against a traitor; lest because of one person many of us be threatened by the waves.  So that ship will not be tossed about in which prudence navigates, where there is no treachery, where the wind of faith blows.  For how could that be troubled where He is present Who is the stability of the Church?  Where there is little faith there is trouble and unrest; where there is perfect love there is calm. 

4. Accordingly, though He commanded the others to let down their nets, only to Peter was it said: Launch out into the deep, that is, into the deeps of preaching.  For what is so deep as to look upon the depths of the riches of God, to know the Son of God, and to take upon oneself to declare the Divine Generation; which though the human mind cannot with the full power of reason comprehend, yet the fulness of faith can.  For though I may not know how He was born; yet I may not not know that He is born.  I know not the line of His generation, but I confess the Author of His Birth.  We were not present when the Son of God was born of the Father; but we were present when He was called Son of God by the Father.  If we cannot believe in God, in whom shall we believe?  For all that we believe, we either believe by sight or by hearing.  Sight is often deceived; hearing is based on faith.  Is the character of one who lays claim to another searched into?  If good men should speak, we would think it a crime not to believe them.  God lays claim to the Son; the Son confirms this; the sun hiding its light confesses it; the trembling earth bears witness to it.  Into this deep of investigation the Church is led by Peter; that it may see here the Son of God rising from the dead, and there the Holy Spirit pouring forth. 

5. What are the nets of the Apostles which they are commanded to let down, if not the forms of words, and as it were certain profundities of speech, and the subtleties of discussion, which do not let go those that come to their nets?  And well is it said that the Apostles use nets in their fishing, since they do not destroy those they catch, but save them, and draw them upwards from the depths to the light; bringing those who are wavering, from the knowledge of the lowest things to the knowledge of the highest. 

6. There is another, apostolic, kind of fishing, and in this kind the Lord commanded Peter only to go fishing, saying: Cast in a hook, and that fish which shall first come up, take (Mt. xvii. 26).  This is indeed a great and spiritual lesson; Christian men are taught that they are to be subject to the higher authorities, so that no one may think that the decree of an earthly king is to be set at naught.  For if the Son of God pays the tribute to authority who are you to think it must not be paid?  And He paid the tribute Who had nothing; but you who follow after the gain of this world, why do you not acknowledge the authority of this world?  Why, through a sort of obstinacy of mind, do you hold yourself above the world, seeing you are subject to the world through your own miserable greed? 

7. The didrachma, which was the price of our soul and body, is therefore paid; promised under the Law (Exod. xxx. 32), it was paid under the Gospel; and not without purpose is it found in the mouth of a fish: For from out thy own mouth shalt thou be justified (Mt. xii. 37).  Truly is it said that our confession of faith is the price of our immortality; for it is written that, with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Rom. x. 10). 

8. And perhaps this first fish is the first martyr (witness); holding in its mouth the didrachma, that is, the price of the tribute.  Christ is our didrachma.  That first martyr, Stephen namely, therefore held a treasure in his mouth, when in his passion he spoke to Christ.  But let us return to our original subject, and learn humility from the Apostle. 

9.  Master, he says, we have laboured all the night, and have taken nothing; but at thy word I will let down the net.  And I, O Lord, know that it is night to me when you do not command me.  No one has yet given in his name; it is still night.  I have cast the net of my voice all through Epiphany, and I have caught nothing.  I cast it through the day; I wait for your command: at thy word I will let down the net.  O vain presumption, O fruitful humility!  He who before had taken nothing, at the word of the Lord encloses a very great multitude of fish.  For this is not a work of human skill; it is the fruit of the divine calling.  The arguments of men pass away; it is by their own faith the people believe. 

10. The nets are broken, but the fish do not escape.  Companions are called to help, that is, those in the other ship.  What is this other ship if not Judea, from which James and John were chosen?  Judea was made his sanctuary (Ps. cxiii. 2).  They come therefore from the Synagogue to the ship of Peter, that is, to the Church: that they may fill both ships.  For in the name of Jesus every knee shall bend, whether of Jew or of Greek; Christ is all in all (Col. iii. 11).  In me this over-fulness awakens mistrust, lest by their fulness the ships come close to sinking; for it must be that heresies come, that the good may be confirmed. 

11. We can also consider the other ship as another church; for from one church many others are derived.  Here is another task for Peter: for whom his catch of fishes is already an anxiety.  But the man of God who is perfect (II Tim. iii. 17), just as he knows how to gather in those that were dispersed, can also safeguard those that are gathered in.  Those Peter catches by his word, these he credits to the Word: he denies they are his catch, his work. 

Depart from me, O Lord, he says, for I am a sinful man.  For he is struck with fear at the divine blessings: and the more he had merited them, the less does he presume on this.  Let you also say: Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man, so that the Lord may answer you also: Fear not.   For the Lord is kind to those who confess their sins.  Fear not also to attribute what is yours to the Lord: for what is His He has made over to us.  He knows nothing of envy; He does not snatch away from us; He does not rob us.  See how good the Lord is, Who has given so much to men; so that they even have power to give Life.