When in Rome, do as the Romans do . . .

The famous adage ʻWhen in Rome, do what the Romans doʻ is often attributed to St. Augustine.  More specifically, however, the phrase is actually a paraphrase of the wisdom of  his mentor St. Ambrose that St. Augustine records in his 36th and 54th letter.

Here is the relevant passage from his 54th letter:

“When my mother followed me to Milan, she found the Church there not fasting on Saturday. She began to be troubled, and to hesitate as to what she should do; upon which I, though not taking a personal interest then in such things, applied on her behalf to Ambrose, of most blessed memory, for his advice. He answered that he could not teach me anything but what he himself practised, because if he knew any better rule, he would observe it himself. When I supposed that he intended, on the ground of his authority alone, and without supporting it by any argument, to recommend us to give up fasting on Saturday, he followed me, and said: “When I visit Rome, I fast on Saturday; when I am here, I do not fast. On the same principle, do you observe the custom prevailing in whatever Church you come to, if you desire neither to give offence by your conduct, nor to find cause of offence in another’s.” When I reported this to my mother, she accepted it gladly; and for myself, after frequently reconsidering his decision, I have always esteemed it as if I had received it by an oracle from heaven.”

(Augustine of Hippo. "Letters of St. Augustin". Trans. J. G. Cunningham. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Ed. Philip Schaff, 1886.)

image from the 'Public domain' via wikimedia commons. Ambrosius Francisco de Zurbarán