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3. I went, therefore, to Simplicianus, the spiritual father of Ambrose (then
a bishop), whom Ambrose truly loved as a father. I recounted to him all the
mazes of my wanderings, but when I mentioned to him that I had read certain
books of the Platonists which Victorinus--formerly professor of rhetoric at
Rome, who died a Christian, as I had been told--had translated into Latin, Simplicianus
congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers,
which were full of fallacies and deceit, "after the beggarly elements of this
world," whereas in the Platonists,
at every turn, the pathway led to belief in God and his Word.
Then, to encourage me to copy the humility of Christ, which is hidden from the
wise and revealed to babes, he told me about Victorinus himself, whom he had
known intimately at Rome. And I cannot refrain from repeating what he told me
about him. For it contains a glorious proof of thy grace, which ought to be
confessed to thee: how that old man, most learned, most skilled in all the liberal
arts; who had read, criticized, and explained so many of the writings of the
philosophers; the teacher of so many noble senators; one who, as a mark of his
distinguished service in office had both merited and obtained a statue in the
Roman Forum--which men of this world esteem a great honor--this man who, up
to an advanced age, had been a worshiper of idols, a communicant in the sacrilegious
rites to which almost all the nobility of Rome were wedded; and who had inspired
the people with the love of Osiris and
dog Anubis, and a medley crew
Of monster gods who `gainst Neptune stand in arms
`Gainst Venus and Minerva, steel-clad Mars,"
Rome once conquered, and now worshiped; all of which old Victorinus had with
thundering eloquence defended for so many years--despite all this, he did not
blush to become a child of thy Christ, a babe at thy font, bowing his neck to
the yoke of humility and submitting his forehead to the ignominy of the cross.
4. O Lord, Lord, "who didst bow the heavens and didst descend, who didst touch
the mountains and they smoked,"
by what means didst thou find thy way into that breast? He used to read the
Holy Scriptures, as Simplicianus said, and thought out and studied all the Christian
writings most studiously. He said to Simplicianus--not openly but secretly as
a friend--"You must know that I am a Christian." To which Simplicianus replied,
"I shall not believe it, nor shall I count you among the Christians, until I
see you in the Church of Christ." Victorinus then asked, with mild mockery,
"Is it then the walls that make Christians?" Thus he often would affirm that
he was already a Christian, and as often Simplicianus made the same answer;
and just as often his jest about the walls was repeated. He was fearful of offending
his friends, proud demon worshipers, from the height of whose Babylonian dignity,
as from the tops of the cedars of Lebanon which the Lord had not yet broken
down, he feared that a storm of enmity would descend upon him.
But he steadily gained strength from reading and inquiry, and came to fear lest
he should be denied by Christ before the holy angels if he now was afraid to
confess him before men. Thus he came to appear to himself guilty of a great
fault, in being ashamed of the sacraments of the humility of thy Word, when
he was not ashamed of the sacrilegious rites of those proud demons, whose pride
he had imitated and whose rites he had shared. From this he became bold-faced
against vanity and shamefaced toward the truth. Thus, suddenly and unexpectedly,
he said to Simplicianus--as he himself told me--"Let us go to the church; I
wish to become a Christian." Simplicianus went with him, scarcely able to contain
himself for joy. He was admitted to the first sacraments of instruction, and
not long afterward gave in his name that he might receive the baptism of regeneration.
At this Rome marveled and the Church rejoiced. The proud saw and were enraged;
they gnashed their teeth and melted away! But the Lord God was thy servant's
hope and he paid no attention to their vanity and lying madness.
5. Finally, when the hour arrived for him to make a public profession of his
faith--which at Rome those who are about to enter into thy grace make from a
platform in the full sight of the faithful people, in a set form of words learned
by heart--the presbyters offered Victorinus the chance to make his profession
more privately, for this was the custom for some who were likely to be afraid
through bashfulness. But Victorinus chose rather to profess his salvation in
the presence of the holy congregation. For there was no salvation in the rhetoric
which he taught: yet he had professed that openly. Why, then, should he shrink
from naming thy Word before the sheep of thy flock, when he had not shrunk from
uttering his own words before the mad multitude?
So, then, when he ascended the platform to make his profession,
everyone, as they recognized him, whispered his name one
to the other, in tones of jubilation. Who was there among
them that did not know him? And a low murmur ran through
the mouths of all the rejoicing multitude: "Victorinus!
Victorinus!" There was a sudden burst of exaltation at the
sight of him, and suddenly they were hushed that they might
hear him. He pronounced the true faith with an excellent
boldness, and all desired to take him to their very heart--indeed,
by their love and joy they did take him to their heart.
And they received him with loving and joyful hands.