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When St. Ambrose Rebuked an Emperor

The following story comes from the book The Making of the Magdalen by Katherine Ludwig Jansen (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 204-05.  [The only thing you have to know is that Mary Magdalen (the women who cried at Christ’s feet and wiped his feet with her hair) was the most common example of a repentant sinner in medieval preaching].    

There was some danger, however, in using penitents as models of comportment.  Ludovicus, a Franciscan preacher, seems to have encountered such a difficulty.  In the text of his Mary Magdalen sermon, he reports that there was always the possibility that obstinate parishioners, when asked why they had fallen into sin, would retort, “Don’t the saints sin?”  But the good friar anticipated the reply and circumvented the difficulty by citing an exemplum [example of their penitence].  Saint Ambrose, it seems, had rebuked a certain emperor for having asked, “Didn’t David sin?”  “If you have followed him erring,” replied the saint, “also follow him practicing penance.”  The emperor was duly impressed: “Pricked by conscience, he converted immediately to penance.”  


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