At the close of three centuries of persecution in the Roman Empire, Christianity led many young persons to decide to give themselves exclusively to God’s service. Although the path of celibacy was indicated by the Lord himself, and recommended by St. Paul, its characteristics became clearer through the writings of St. Ambrose, one of the earliest Fathers of the Church.
In 377 AD, Ambrose issued several homilies and letters which marked out the path of celibacy as a higher and greater calling than marriage, in response to a letter from his sister, Marcellina, who had chosen this path and wanted advice on how to live it.
In the translator’s introduction to these homilies, James Shiel sheds light on the culture, manners, and mores of Roman society at that time, to show how those who followed a path of celibacy would live among their contemporaries. St. Ambrose laid out an understanding of how to be in the world, but not of the world, as Jesus had told his Apostles and followers. That framework would lead a person to focus on God and souls with a love and dedication that matched those who sought the world’s riches and glory. A new path to holiness was blazed, which would transform the culture of the late Roman Empire, a path that still challenges the culture of today.