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One of the more peculiar episodes in the story of Sampson is his two encounters with a lion (Judges 14:5-9). In the first encounter he kills the lion with his bare hands. In the second, he finds a swarm of bees in the mouth of the lion’s carcass. In the Introduction to the second book of his treatise On the Holy Spirit, St. Ambrose sees in these episodes a prophecy:

And perhaps this was not only a prodigy of valour, but also a mystery of wisdom, an utterance of prophecy. For it does not seem to have been without a purpose that, as he was going to his marriage, a roaring lion met him, which he tore asunder with his hands, in whose body, when about to enjoy the wished-for wedlock, he found a swarm of bees, and took honey from its mouth, which he gave to his father and mother to eat. The people of the Gentiles which believed had honey, the people which was before savage is now the people of Christ.

Here St. Ambrose makes an observation that is largely taken for granted, if not forgotten — the civilizing effect of Christianity. While pagan Rome can rightly be classified as one of the great civilizations of the ancient world, it was a civilization that was built on the backs of slaves, gleefully threw away human life in the pursuit of entertainment and infanticide by exposure of the unwanted or the defective was normal. By modern standards, pagan Rome was extremely barbaric. This changed with the coming of Christ.

For example, St. Ambrose faced down Emperor Theodosius over the murder of 7,000 innocents in Thessalonica. Theodosius — the emperor of the most powerful empire in the world — had to make a public penance that lasted several months.

The first hospitals and poor houses were founded by Christians. In the ancient world, those who had the means would flee in the face of disease. Only after an epidemic would run its course would the wealthy return to the cities and have the mess cleaned up. Christians would stay and care for the ill, regardless of religion or background. By this simple act of love — brining food and water — Christians increased the survival rate of disease dramatically.

Our own modern world and the promotion of equality was born out of the civilizing power of Christianity. The world without the Church was brutal and oppressive. It is worth remembering that a world with the Church, having been civilized by the advent of Christ, is a much, much better world than a world without Christianity.