Church Fathers, Day 152: St. Ambrose tells us to ignore insults and keep silent

Church Fathers, Day 152: St. Ambrose tells us to ignore insults and keep silent December 20, 2014

saint_ambrose_2Ignore insults and keep silent

Is someone abusing or insulting you? Best to keep silent, says St. Ambrose. You will keep yourself from sin, and people will think better of you.

But we must also guard against anyone who provokes us, and spurs us on, and exasperates us, and supplies what will excite us to licentiousness or lust. So if anyone reviles us, irritates, stirs us up to violence, tries to make us quarrel— let us keep silence. Let us not be ashamed to become mute. For whoever irritates us and does us an injury is committing sin, and wishes us to become like himself.

Certainly if you are silent, and hide your feelings, he is likely to say, “Speak if you dare; but you don’t dare. You’re dumb. I’ve made you speechless.” If you are silent, he is the more excited. He thinks himself beaten, laughed at, little thought of, and ridiculed. If you answer, he thinks he has become the victor, because he has found one like himself. For if you are silent, people will say, “That man has been abusive, but this one held him in contempt.” If you return the abuse, they will say, “Both have been abusive.” Both will be condemned, neither will be acquitted.

Therefore it is his object to irritate, so that I may speak and act as he does. But it is the duty of a just man to hide his feelings and say nothing, to preserve the fruit of a good conscience, to trust himself rather to the judgment of good men than to the insolence of someone who insults him, and to be satisfied with the stability of his own character. For that is to “bridle my mouth” (Psalm 39:1), since one who has a good conscience ought not to be troubled by false words, nor ought he to make more of another’s abuse than of the witness of his own heart.

St. Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy, 1.5


If I’m insulted—at work, at school, on the highway—do I have the strength to keep from returning the abuse?


Father, I desire to be at peace with all. Teach me to bear the insults of others cheerfully out of love for you. 

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