Notebook

Time to Read

Ambrose of Milan — bishop, statesman, poet — was an exceptionally busy man. Yet he knew how to be still. I am always touched by Augustine’s description of him in Book VI of the Confessions. Augustine was no respecter of persons. Yet there is awe in his account of this man who so deeply influenced his life: ‘Often when I was present—for [Ambrose] did not close his door to anyone and it was customary to come in unannounced—I have seen him reading silently, never in fact otherwise. I would sit for a long time in silence, not daring to disturb someone so deep in thought, and then go on my way.’ This passage, often cited as a clue to the reading habits of Antiquity (reading aloud was clearly the norm), reminds anyone in leadership of how important it is to keep up determined, concentrated study in the midst of all other the claims on one’s attention. ‘Let no vain or unmeaning word issue out of your mouth’, wrote Ambrose to the newly appointed bishop Constantius. To heed that counsel, one must constantly re-ground oneself in intelligent statements of essentials, nurturing, forming and setting a standard for one’s own intellect.