Liberality to the poor is recommended by the example of the widow the Gospel, whose two mites were preferred to the large gifts of the rich. The two mites are treated as mystically representing the two Testaments. What that treasure is for which we are taught to offer, after the example of the wise men, three gifts, or after that of the widow, two. St. Ambrose concludes the chapter by an exhortation to widows to be zealous in good works.
27. In the same book, too, but in another place, we are taught how fitting it is to be merciful and liberal towards the poor, and that this feeling should not be checked by the consideration of our poverty, since liberality is determined not by the amount of our possessions, but by the disposition of giving. For by the voice of the Lord that widow is preferred to all of whom it was said: “This widow hath cast in more than all.”37 S. Luke xxi. 3. In which instance the Lord characteristically teaches all, that none should be held back from giving assistance through shame at his own poverty, and that the rich should not flatter themselves that they seem to give more than the poor. For the piece of money out of a small stock is richer than treasures out of abundance, because it is not the amount that is given but the amount that remains which is considered. No one gives more than she who has left nothing for herself.
28. Why do you, rich woman, boast yourself by comparison with the poor, and when you are all loaded with gold, and drag along the ground a costly robe, desire to be honoured as though she were inferior and small in comparison with your riches, because you have surpassed the needy with your gifts? Rivers too overflow, when they are too full, but a draught from a brook is more pleasant. New wine foams while fermenting, and the husbandman does not consider as lost that which runs over. While the harvest is being threshed out, grains of corn fall from the groaning floor; but though the harvests fail, the barrel of meal wastes not, and the cruse full of oil gives forth.38 1  Kings xvii. 16. But the draught emptied the casks of the rich, while the tiny cruse of oil of the widow gave abundance. That, then, is to be reckoned which you give for devotion, not what you cast forth disdainfully. For in fine, no one gave more than she who fed the prophet with her children’s nourishment. And so since no one gave more, no one had greater merit. This has a moral application.
29. And considering the mystical sense, one must not despise this woman casting in two mites into the treasury. Plainly the woman was noble who in the divine judgment was found worthy to be preferred to all. Perchance it is she who of her faith has given two testaments for the help of man, and so no one has done more. Nor could any one equal the amount of her gift, who joined faith with mercy. Do you, then, whoever you are, who exercise your life the practice of widowhood, not hesitate to cast into the treasury the two mites, full of faith and grace.
30. Happy is she who out of her treasure brings forth the perfect image of the King. Your treasure is wisdom, your treasure is chastity and righteousness, your treasure is a good understanding, such as was that treasure from which the Magi, when they worshipped the Lord, brought forth gold, frankincense, and myrrh;39 S. Matt. ii. 11. setting forth by gold the power of a king, venerating God by the frankincense, and by myrrh acknowledging the resurrection of the body. You too have this treasure if you look into yourself: “For we have this treasure in earthen vessels.”40 2 Cor. iv. 7. You have gold which you can give, for God does not exact of you the precious gift of shining metal, but that gold which at the day of judgment the fire shall be unable to consume. Nor does He require precious gifts, but the good odour of faith, which the altars of your heart send forth and the disposition of a religious mind exhales.
31. From this treasure, then, not only the three gifts of the Magi but also the two mites of the widow are taken, on which the perfect image of the heavenly King shines forth, the brightness of His glory and the image of His substance. Precious, too, are those hardly earned gains of chastity which the widow gives of her labour and daily task, continually night and day working at her task, and by the wakeful labour of her profitable chastity gathering treasure; that she may preserve the couch of her deceased husband unviolated, be able to support her dear children, and to minister to the poor. She is to be preferred to the rich, she it is who shall not fear the judgment of Christ.
32. Strive to equal her, my daughters: “It is good to be zealously affected in a good thing.”41 Gal. iv. 18. “Covet earnestly the best gifts.”42 1 Cor. xii. 31. The Lord is ever looking upon you, Jesus looks upon you when He goes to the treasury, and you think that of the gain of your good works assistance is to be given to those in need. What is it, then, that you should give your two mites and gain in return the Lord’s Body? Go not, then, empty into the sight of the Lord your God,43 Exod. xxxiv. 20. empty of mercy, empty of faith, empty of chastity; for the Lord Jesus is wont to look upon and to commend not the empty, but those who are rich in virtues. Let the maiden see you at work, let her see you ministering to others. For this is the return which you owe to God, that you should make your return to God from the progress of others. No return is more acceptable to God than the offerings of piety.
193 CAPUT V.
Liberalitatis erga pauperes exemplum in vidua Evangelica proponitur, cujus duo minuta largioribus divitum 0242D donis ostenduntur esse potiora. Docetur etiam hisce duobus minutis utrumque Testamentum signatum esse. Quis ille thesaurus sit, unde magorum exemplo tria munera, aut Evangelicae viduae instar, 0243A duo aera depromi jubeamur? Post quae sequitur ad viduas bonorum operum studio inflammandas exhortatio.
27. Docuit etiam libro eodem, sed alio loco, quam misericordem in pauperes et liberalem esse conveniat, nec paupertatis debere contemplatione revocari; quia liberalitas non cumulo patrimonii, sed largitatis definitur affectu. Denique Dominica voce illa vidua omnibus antefertur, de qua dictum est: Vidua haec plus omnibus misit (Luc. II, 3). In quo moraliter Dominus instituit universos, ne quis a collatione ministerii, paupertatis pudore revocetur: nec sibi divites blandiantur, quod plus videantur conferre quam pauperes. Uberior est enim nummus e parvo, quam thesaurus e maximo; quia non quantum detur, 0243B sed quantum resideat, expenditur. Nemo plus tribuit, quam quae nihil sibi reliquit.
28. Quid tu, dives, egeni comparatione te jactas; et cum tota onereris auro, pretiosam per humum trahens vestem, quasi inferior tuis et parva divitiis, honorari desideras, quia inopem collatione vicisti? Et flumina superfluunt, cum redundant; gratior tamen haustus e rivulo est. Spumant et musta dum fervent, nec damnum putat agricola quod effluxerit. Gementibus areis, dum caeditur messis, frumenta desiliunt: sed deficientibus messibus, non deficit hydria de farina, et plena olei testa desudat. Exinanivit tamen dolia divitum siccitas, cum viduae pauxillulum olearium redundarit (III Reg. XVII, 15). 0243C Non ergo quid fastidio exspuas, sed quantum devotione conferas, aestimandum est. Denique nulla plus tribuit, quam illa quae de filiorum alimentis pavit prophetam. Et ideo quia nulla plus contulit, nulla plus meruit. Haec moraliter.
29. Nec mystice tamen despexeris hanc mulierem in gazophylacium duo aera mittentem. Magna plane femina, quae divino judicio meruit omnibus anteferri. Ne forte illa sit quae de fide sua ad subsidium hominum duo testamenta contulerit; et ideo nulla plus fecit. Nec quisquam hominum quantitatem potuit collationis ejus aequare, quae fidem cum misericordia copulavit. Et tu igitur quaecumque vitam studio viduitatis exerces, ne dubites ad gazophylacium duo aera deferre, vel fidei plena, vel gratiae.
0243D 30. Felix illa quae de thesauro suo integram Regis imaginem profert. Thesaurus tuus sapientia, thesaurus tuus castitas atque justitia est, thesaurus tuus intellectus bonus: quasi ille thesaurus 194 fuit, de quo magorum viri, aurum, thus, myrrham, cum adorarent Dominum, protulerunt (Matth. II, 11): auro regis potentiam declarantes, Deum thure venerantes, myrrha resurrectionem corporis confitentes. 0244A Habes et tu thesaurum hunc, si in te requiras: Habemus enim thesaurum in vasis fictilibus (II Cor. IV, 7). Habes aurum quod conferas; non enim renitententis metalli pretium de te Deus exigit, sed illud aurum quod in judicii die nequeat ignis exurere. Nec dona pretiosa deposcit, sed odorem fidei, quem altaria tui cordis exhalent, et religiosae mentis spiret affectus.
31. Ex hoc igitur thesauro non solum magorum tria munera, sed etiam duo viduae aera promuntur, in quibus integra coelestis imago regis effulgeat, splendor gloriae ejus, et imago substantiae. Bona et illa plane laboriosa stipendia castitatis, quae de suo opere, quotidianoque penso, conferat vidua, nocturnis pariter ac diurnis jugi exercens labore pensa 0244B temporibus, et pudicitiae quaestuosae pervigili opere mercedem congregans; ut intemeratum defuncti conjugis cubile custodiat, alere dulces liberos possit, ministrare pauperibus. Haec est praeferenda divitibus: haec est quae Christi judicium non timebit.
32. Hanc aemulamini, filiae: Bonum est enim aemulari in bono. Aemulamini meliora charismata (Gal. IV, 18). Spectat vos Dominus semper; spectat, inquam, Jesus, cum ad gazophylacium accedit, et de bonorum operum mercedibus stipem putatis egentibus conferendam. Quantum est igitur ut aera tua conferas, et Christi corpus acquiras! Noli ergo vacua prodire in conspectum Domini Dei tui, vacua misericordiae, vacua fidei, vacua castitatis; non enim inanes Dominus, sed virtutibus opimas spectare Jesus 0244C et laudare consuevit. Videat te adolescentula laborantem, videat ministrantem. Haec est enim merces quam Deo debes, ut de aliarum quoque profectibus mercedem tuam Deo conferas. Nulla merces Deo melior, quam ea quae habet pietatis munera.