Ambrose selected works 21116
21116 Comparison between the apostles and Novatians. The fitnessof the words, “Ye know not what spirit ye are of,” when applied to them. The desire of penance is extinguished by them when they take away its fruit. And thus are sinners deprived of the promises of Christ, though, indeed, they ought not to be too soon admitted to the mysteries. Some examples of repentance.
87). Inasmuch, then, as the Apostle forgave sins, by what authority do you say that they are not to be forgiven? Who has the most reverence for Christ, Paul or Novatian? But Paul knew that the Lord was merciful. He knew that the Lord Jesus was offended more by the harshness of the disciples than by their pitifulness.
88. Furthermore, Jesus rebuked James and John when they spoke of bringing down fire from heaven to consume those who refused to receive the Lord, and said to them: “Ye know not whose spirit ye are of; for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”131 To them, indeed, He said, “Ye know not whose spirit ye are of,” who were of His spirit; but to you He says, “Ye are not of My spirit, who hold not fast My clemency, who reject My mercy, who refuse repentance which I willed to be preached by the apostles in My Name.”
89. For it is in vain that you say that you preach repentance who remove the fruits of repentance. For men are led to the pursuit of anything either by rewards or results, and every pursuit grows slack by delay. And for this reason the Lord, in order that the devotion of His disciples might be increased, said that every one who had left all that was his, and followed God, should receive sevenfold more both here and hereafter.132 First of all He promised the reward here, to do away with the tedium of delay, and again hereafter, that we might learn to believe that rewards will also be given to us hereafter. Present rewards are then an earnest of those hereafter.
90. If, then, any one, having committed hidden sins, shall nevertheless diligently do penance, how shall he receive those rewards if not restored to the communion of the Church? I am willing, indeed, that the guilty man should hope for pardon, should seek it with tears and groans, should seek it with the aid of the tears of all the people, should implore forgiveness; and if communion be postponed two or three times, that he should believe that his entreaties have not been urgent enough, that he must increase his tears, must come again even in greater trouble, clasp the feet of the faithful with his arms, kiss them, wash them with tears, and not let them go, so that the Lord Jesus may say of him too: “His sins which are many are forgiven, for he loved much.”133
91. I have known penitents whose countenance was furrowed with tears, their cheeks worn with constant weeping, who offered their body to be trodden under foot by all, who with faces ever pale and worn with fasting bore about in a yet living body the likeness of death.
21117 That gentleness must be added to severity, as is shown in the case of St. Paul at Corinth. The man had been baptized, though the Novatians argue against it. And by the word “destruction” is not meant annihilation but severe chastening.
92). Why do we postpone the time of pardon for those who have mortified themselves, who during life have done themselves to death? “Sufficient,” says St. Paul, “to such a one is this punishment which is inflicted by the many; so that contrariwise, ye should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means he should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.”134 If the punishment which is inflicted by the many is sufficient for condemnation, the intercession which is made by many is also sufficient for the remission of sin. The Master of morals, Who both knows our weakness and is the interpreter of the will of God, wills that comfort should be given, lest sorrow through the weariness of long delay should swallow up the penitent.
93. The Apostle then forgave him, and not only forgave him, but desired that love to him should again grow strong. He who is loved receives not harshness but mercy. And not only did he himself forgive him only, but willed that all should forgive him, and says that he forgave for the sake of others, lest many should be longer saddened on account of one. “To whom,” says he, “ye have forgiven anything, I forgive also, for I also have forgiven for your sakes in the person of Christ, for we are not ignorant of his devices.”135 Rightly can he be on his guard against the serpent who is not ignorant of his devices, of which there are so many to our detriment. He is always desirous to do harm, always desirous to circumvent us, that he may cause death; but we ought to take heed lest our remedy become an occasion of triumph for him; for we are circumvented by him, if any one perish through overmuch sorrow, who might be set free by pitifulness.
94. And that we may know that this person was baptized, he added: “I wrote to you in my epistle to have no company with fornicators, not altogether with fornicators of this world.”136 And farther on he adds: “But now I write unto you not to keep company if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator.”137 Those whom he has joined together under one penalty, he willed to attain together to forgiveness. “If any be such,” he says, “with him not to eat.”138 How severe he is with the obstinate, how indulgent to those who seek. Against those rises up in arms the injury done to Christ, whilst the calling upon Christ aids these.
95. But lest any one be perplexed because it is written: “I have delivered such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh,”139 and should say: How can he attain forgiveness whose whole flesh has perished, seeing that it is evident that man was redeemed both in body and soul, and is saved in both and that neither the soul without the body, nor yet the body without the soul, since both are united by their fellowship in the deeds that have been done, can be without fellowship either in punishment or in reward? Let this suffice for an answer to him:That “destruction” does not mean the complete annihilation of the flesh, but its chastening. For as he who is dead to sin lives to God, so the allurements of the flesh perish, and the flesh dies to its lusts, in order that it may live again to purity and to other good works.
96. And what more suitable example can we take than one from our common mother? For the earth itself, from which we are all taken, when it is not worked and cultivated, seems to be desert; and the field dies to the vines or olive-trees with which it was planted, and yet it does not lose its own nutritive power, which is, as it were, its life. And then later, when cultivation begins once more, and the seed is sown for which the land seems suitable, it breaks forth again more fruitful than before with its products. It is not, then, anything so strange if our flesh is said to die, and yet is understood to be subdued rather than annihilated).
70 (Ba 3,1-2,
71 (Ba 5,1).
72 (1Jn 5,16,
73 (Ap 2,14-16.
74 (Ap 2,17,
75 (Ac 7,60,
76 S. Jn 3,16.
77 (1Co 12,9,
78 S. Lc 17,5.
79 (Ph 1,29).
80 The Samaritans took their name from the territory which they inhabited. But they called themselves Hebrew [Shomrim], Guardians, that is, of the Law. This idea is referred to here by St. Ambrowse as elsewhere by others of the Fathers.
81 S. Lc 10,33ff.
82 S. Lc 10,37.
83 S. Jn 3,36.
84 S. Jn 3,3.
85 S. Jn 12,47[not exact].
86 (Ez 23,11,
87 S. Jn 3,17.
88 (Os 6,6 Os 6,
89 S. Mt 9,13.
90 S. Jn 1,17.
91 S. Jn 12,48).
92 (Ps 89,31-32 [lxxxviii.].
93 S. Lc 12,47-48.
94 (He 12,6,
95 (Ps 118,18 [cxvii.] .
96 (Ps 80,5 [lxxix.] .
97 (1Co 4,21,
98 (Pr 23,13,
99 (1Co 5,1 ff.
100 (Jb 2,6,
101 (Mi 7,17,
102 (Jb 2,6,
103 (1Co 5,5).
104 (Jb 41,1 Jb 41,5 Jb 41,8 [LXX.].
105 (Is 11,6 Is 11,8-9,
106 (Gn 3,14,
107 (Gn 3,19,
108 (1Co 7,9 Pr 6,27,
109 Is 43,2.
110 Possibly from Pr 5,condensed.
111 S. Mt 5,28).
112 (Gn 39,7,
113 (Pr 6,25,
114 (Pr 6,2 [LXX.] very loosely.
115 (Ps 124,4. [cxxiii.] .
116 (Is 43,2,
117 (Ex 3,3,
118 (1Co 6,18,
119 Is 50,11.
120 (Pr 6,27,
121 (Pr 6,28,
122 (1Tm 5,23).
123 (Ps 27,2,
124 (2Co 12,7,
125 (1Co 5,7,
126 There is probably here a reference to a generous custom of antiquity, whereby if any one were visited by calamity and loss of goods, his friends contributed according to their power to present him with a gift which should help to re-establish him. St. Ambrose seems to apply this to the bearing one another’s burdens by mourning, fasting, and praying with the penitent, that God might be moved by the entreaties of all, offered with great energy, and forgive what might be lacking in the individual. It is an instructive commentary on the doctrine of the communion of saints.
127 S. Mt 16,11).
128 (1Co 5,7,
129 (1Co 5,7,
130 (1Co 5,2,
131 S. Lc 9,55-56.
132 S. Mt 19,29.
133 S. Lc 7,47).
134 (2Co 2,6,
135 (2Co 2,10,
136 (1Co 5,9,
137 (1Co 5,11,
138 (1Co 5,11,
139 (1Co 5,5).
St. Ambrose gives additional rules concerning repentance, and shows
that it must not be delayed.
1). Although in the former book we have written many things which may tend to the more perfect practice of repentance, yet inasmuch as a great deal more may be added, we will continue the repast so as not to seem to have relinquished the provisions of our teaching only half consumed.
2. For repentance must be taken in hand not only anxiously, but also quickly, lest perchance that father of the house in the Gospel who planted a fig-tree in his vineyard should come and seek fruit on it, and finding none, say to the vine-dresser: “Cut it down, why doth it cumber the ground?”1 And unless the vine-dresser should intercede and say: “Lord, let it alone this year also, until I dig about it and dung it, and if it bear fruit—well; but if not let it be cut down.”2
3. Let us then dung this field which we possess, and imitate those hard-working farmers, who are not ashamed to satiate the land with rich dung and to scatter the grimy ashes over the field, that they may gather more abundant crops.
4. And the Apostle teaches us how to dung it, saying: “I count all things but dung, that I may gain Christ,”3 and he, through evil report and good report, attained to pleasing Christ. For he had read that Abraham, when confessing himself to be but dust and ashes,4 in his deep humility found favour with God. He had read how Job, sitting among the ashes,5 regained all that he had lost.6 He had heard in the utterance of David, how God “raiseth the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill.”7
5. Let us then not be ashamed to confess our sins unto the Lord. Shame indeed there is when each makes known his sins, but that shame, as it were, ploughs his land, removes the ever-recurring brambles, prunes the thorns, and gives life to the fruits which he believed were dead. Follow him who, by diligently ploughing his field, sought for eternal fruit: “Being reviled we bless, being persecuted we endure, being defamed we entreat, we are made as the offscouring of the world.”8 If you plough after this fashion you will sow spiritual seed. Plough that you may get rid of sin and gain fruit. He ploughed so as to destroy in himself the last tendency to persecution. What more could Christ give to lead us on to the pursuit of perfection, than to convert and then give us for a teacher one who was a persecutor?
21202 A passage quoted by the heretics against repentance is explained in two ways, the first being that He 6,4 refers to the impossibility of being baptized again; the second, that what is impossible with man is possible with God.
6). Being then refuted by the clear example of the Apostle and by his writings, the heretics yet endeavour to resist further, and say that their opinion is supported by apostolic authority, bringing forward the passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “For it is impossible that those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, should if they fall away be again renewed unto repentance, crucifying again the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.”9
7. Could Paul teach in opposition to his own act? He had at Corinth forgiven sin through penance, how could he himself speak against his own decision? Since, then, he could not destroy what he had built, we must assume that what he says was different from, but not contrary to, what had gone before. For what is contrary is opposed to itself, what is different has ordinarily another meaning. Things which are contrary are not such that one can support the other. Inasmuch, then, as the Apostle spoke of remitting penance, he could not be silent as to those who thought that baptism was to be repeated. And it was right first of all to remove our anxiety, and to let us know that even after baptism, if any sinned their sins could be forgiven them, lest a false belief in a reiterated baptism should lead astray those who were destitute of all hope of forgiveness. And secondly, it was right to set forth in a well-reasoned argument that baptism is not to be repeated.
8. And that the writer was speaking of baptism is evident from the very words in which it is stated that it is impossible to renew unto repentance those who were fallen, inasmuch as we are renewed by means of the layer of baptism, whereby we are born again, as Paul says himself: “For we are buried with Him through baptism into death, that, like as Christ rose from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we, too, should walk in newness of life.”10 And in another place: “Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man which is created after God.”11 And elsewhere again: “Thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle,”12 because the eagle after death is born again from its ashes, as we being dead in sin are through the Sacrament of Baptism born again to God, and created anew. So, then, here as elsewhere, he teaches one baptism. “One faith,” he says, “one baptism.”13
9. This, too, is plain, that in him who is baptized the Son of God is crucified, for our flesh could not do away sin unless it were crucified in Jesus Christ. And then it is written that: “All we who were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death.”14 And farther on: “If we have been planted in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing that our old man was fastened with Him to His cross.”15 And to the Colossians he says: “Buried with Him by baptism, wherein ye also rose again with Him.”16 Which was written to the intent that we should believe that He is crucified in us, that our sins may be purged through Him, that He, Who alone can forgive sins, may nail to His cross the handwriting which was against us.17 In us He triumphs over principalities and powers, as it is written of Him: “He made a show of principalities and powers, triumphing over them in Himself.”18
10. So, then, that which he says in this Epistle to the Hebrews, that it is impossible for those who have fallen to be “renewed unto repentance, crucifying again the Son of God, and putting Him to open shame,” must be considered as having reference to baptism, wherein we crucify the Son of God in ourselves, that the world may be by Him crucified for us, who triumph, as it were, when we take to ourselves the likeness of His death, who put to open shame upon His cross principalities and powers, and triumphed over them, that in the likeness of His death we, too, might triumph over the principalities whose yoke we throw off. But Christ was crucified once, and died to sin once, and so there is but one, not several baptisms.
11. But what of the passage wherein the doctrine of baptisms is spoken of? Because under the Law there were many baptisms or washings, he rightly rebukes those who forsake what is perfect and seek again the first principles of the word. He teaches us that the whole of the washings under the Law are done away with, and that there is one baptism in the sacraments of the Church. But he exhorts us that leaving the first principles of the word we should go on to perfection. “And this,” he says, “we will do, if God permits,”19 for no one can be perfect without the grace of God.
12. And indeed I might also say to any one who thought that this passage spoke of repentance, that things which are impossible with men are possible with God; and God is able whensoever He wills to forgive us our sins, even those which we think cannot be forgiven. And so it is possible for God to give us that which it seems to us impossible to obtain. For it seemed impossible that water should wash away sin, and Naaman the Syrian20 thought that his leprosy could not be cleansed by water. But that which was impossible God made to be possible, Who gave us so great grace. In like manner it seemed impossible that sins should be forgiven through repentance, but Christ gave this power to His apostles, which has been transmitted to the priestly office. That, then, has become possible which was impossible. But, by a true reasoning, he convinces us that the reiteration by any one of the Sacrament of Baptism is not permitted.
21203 Explanation of the parable of the Prodigal Son, in which St. Ambrose applies it to refute the teaching of the Novatians, proving that reconciliation ought not to be refused to the greatest offender upon suitable proof of repentance.
13). And the Apostle does not contradict the plain teaching of Christ, Who set forth, as a comparison of a repentant sinner, one going to a foreign country after receiving all his substance from his father, wasted it in riotous living, and later, when feeding upon husks, longed for his father’s bread and then gained the robe, the ring, the shoes, and the slaying of the calf,21 which is a likeness of the Passion of the Lord, whereby we receive forgiveness.
14. Well is it said that he went into a foreign country who is cut off from the sacred altar, for this is to be separated from that Jerusalem which is in heaven, from the citizenship and home of the saints. For which reason the Apostle says: “Therefore now ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God.”22
15. “And,” it is said, “wasted his substance.” Rightly, for he whose faith halts in bringing forth good works does consume it. For, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”23 And faith is a good substance, the inheritance of our hope.
16. And no wonder if he was perishing for hunger, who lacked the divine nourishment, impelled by the want of which he says: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.” Do you not see it plainly declared to us, that we are urged to prayer for the sake of gaining the sacrament? and do you wish to take away that for the sake of which penance is undertaken? Deprive the pilot of the hope of reaching port, and he will wander uncertainly here and there on the waves. Take away the crown from the athlete, and he will fail and lie on the course. Take from the fisher the power of catching his booty, and he will cease to cast the nets. How, then, can he, who suffers hunger in his soul, pray more earnestly to God, if he has no hope of the heavenly food?
17. “I have sinned,” he says, “against heaven, and before thee.” He confesses what is clearly a sin unto death, that you maynot think that any one doing penance24 is rightly shut out from pardon. For he who has sinned against heaven has sinned either against the kingdom of heaven, or against his own soul, which is a sin unto death, and against God, to Whom alone is said: “Against Thee only have I sinned, and done evil before Thee.”25
18. So quickly does he gain forgiveness, that, as he is coming, and is still a great way off, his father meets him, gives him a kiss, which is the sign of sacred peace; orders the robe to be brought forth, which is the marriage garment, which if any one have not, he is shut out from the marriage feast; places the ring on his hand, which is the pledge of faith and the seal of the Holy Spirit; orders the shoes to be brought out,26 for he who is about to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, about to feast on the Lamb, ought to have his feet protected against all attacks of spiritual wild beasts and the bite of the serpent; bids the calf to be slain, for “Christ our Passover hath been sacrificed.”27 For as often as we receive the Blood of the Lord, we proclaim the death of the Lord.28 As, then, He was once slain for all, so whensoever forgiveness of sins is granted, we receive the Sacrament of His Body, that through His Blood there may be remission of sins.
19. Therefore most evidently are we bidden by the teaching of the Lord to confer again the grace of the heavenly sacrament on those guilty even of the greatest sins, if they with open confession bear the penance due to their sin.
21204 St. Ambrose turns against the Novatians themselves another objection concerning blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, showing that it consists in an erroneous belief, proving this by St. Peter’s words against Simon Magus, and other passages, exhorting the Novatians to return to the Church, affirming that such is our Lord’s mercy that even Judas would have found forgiveness had he repented.
20). But we have heard that you are accustomed to bring forward as an objection that which is written: “Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but blasphemies against the Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him, but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come.”29 By which quotation the whole of your assertion is destroyed and done away, for it is written: “Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.” Why, then, do you not remit them? Why do you bind chains which you do not loose? Why do you tie knots which you do not unfasten? Forgive the others, and deal with those who you think are bound for ever by the authority of the Gospel for sinning against the Holy Spirit.
21. But let us consider the case of those whom the Lord so binds, going back to the words before the passage quoted, that we may understand it more clearly: The Jews were saying: “This man doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, prince of the devils.” Jesus replied: “Every kingdom divided against itself shall be destroyed, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand; for if Satan casteth out Satan, he is divided against himself, how then shall his kingdom stand? But if I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?”30
22. Now we see plainly here that the words are expressly used of those who were saying that the Lord Jesus cast out devils through Beelzebub, to whom the Lord gave that answer, because they were of the heritage of Satan, who compared the Saviour of all to Satan, and attributed the grace of Christ to the kingdom of the devil. And that we might know that He was speaking of this blasphemy, He added: “O generation of vipers, how can ye speak good, being yourselves evil?” He says, then, that those who thus speak attain not to forgiveness.
23. Then, when Simon, depraved by long practice of magic, had thought he could gain by money the power of conferring the grace of Christ and the infusion of the Holy Spirit, Peter said: “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this faith, for thy heart is not right with God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if per-chance this thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee, for I see that thou art in the bond of iniquity and in the bitterness of gall.”31 We see that Peter by his apostolic authority condemns him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit through magic vanity, and all the more because he had not the clear consciousness of faith. And yet he did not exclude him from the hope of forgiveness, for he called him to repentance.
24. The Lord then replies to the blasphemy of the Pharisees, and refuses to them the grace of His power, which consists in the remission of sins, because they asserted that His heavenly power rested on the help of the devil. And He affirms that they act with satanic spirit who divide the Church of God, so that He includes the heretics and schismatics of all times, to whom He denies forgiveness, for every other sin is concerned with single persons, this is a sin against all. For they alone wish to destroy the grace of Christ who rend asunder the members of the Church for which the Lord Jesus suffered, and the Holy Spirit was given us.
25. Lastly, that we may know that He is speaking of those who destroy the unity of the Church, we find it written: “He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathered not with Me, scattereth.”32 And that we might know that He is speaking of these, He at once added: “Therefore I say unto you, every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but blasphemies against the Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men.” When He says, “Therefore say I unto you,” is it not evident that He intended the words following to be laid to heart by us beyond the others? And He rightly added: “A good tree bringeth forth good fruits, but a bad tree bringeth forth bad fruits,”33 for an evil association cannot produce good fruits. The tree, then, is the association; the fruits of the good tree are the children of the Church.
26. Return, then, to the Church, those of you who have wickedly separated yourselves. For He promises forgiveness to all who are converted, since it is written: “Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.”34 And lastly, the Jewish people who said of the Lord Jesus, “He hath a devil,”35 and “He casteth out devils through Beelzebub,” and who crucified the Lord Jesus, are, by the preaching of Peter, called to baptism, that they may put away the guilt of so great a wickedness.
27. But what wonder is it if you should deny salvation to others, who reject your own, though they lose nothing who seek for penance from you? For I suppose that even Judas might through the exceeding mercy of God not have been shut out from forgiveness, if he had expressed his sorrow not before the Jews but before Christ. “I have sinned,” he said, “in that I have betrayed righteous blood.”36 Their answer was: “What is that to us, see thou to that.” What other reply do you give, when one guilty of a smaller sin confesses his deed to you? What do you answer but this: “What is that to us, see thou to that”? The halter followed on those words, but the punishment is all the more severe, the smaller the sin is.
28. But if they be not converted, do you at least repent, who by many a slip have fallen from the lofty pinnacle of innocence and faith. We have a good Lord, Whose will it is to forgive all, Who called you by the prophet, and said: “I, even I, am He that blotteth out transgressions, and I will not remember, but do thou remember, and let us plead together.”37
21205 As to the words of St. Peter to Simon Magus, from which the Novatians infer that there was no forgiveness for the latter, it is pointed out that St. Peter, knowing his evil heart, might well use words of doubt, and then by some Old Testament instances it is pointed out that “perchance” does not exclude forgiveness. The apostles transmitted to us that penitence, the fruits of which are shown in the case of David. St. Ambrose then adduces the example of the Ephraimites, whose penitence must be followed in order to gain the divine mercy and the sacraments.
29). The Novatians bring up a question from the words of the Apostle Peter. Because he said, “if perchance,” they think that he did not imply that forgiveness would be granted on repentance. But let them consider concerning whom the words were spoken: of Simon, who did not believe through faith, but was meditating trickery. So too the Lord to him who said, “Lord, I will follow Thee withersoever Thou goest,” replied, “Foxes have holes.”38 For e knew that the man’s sincerity was not wholly perfect. If, then, the Lord refused to him who was not baptized permission to follow Him, because He saw that he was not sincere, do you wonder that the Apostle did not absolve him who after baptism was guilty of deceit, and whom he declared to be still in the bond of iniquity?
30. But let this be my answer to them. As to myself, I say that Peter did not doubt, and I do not think that so great a question can be burked by the questionable interpretation of a single word. For if they think that Peter doubted, did God doubt, Who said to the prophet Jeremiah: “Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and thou shall give an answer to all Judah, to those who come to worship in the Lord’s house, even all the words which I have appointed for thee to answer them. Keep not back a word, perchance they will hearken and be converted.”39 Let them say, then, that God also knew not what would happen.
31. But ignorance is not implied in that word, but the common custom of holy Scripture is observed, in order to simplicity of utterance. Inasmuch as the Lord says also to Ezekiel: “Son of man, I will send thee unto the house of Israel, to those who have angered Me, both themselves and their fathers, unto this day, and thou shall say unto them, Thus saith the Lord, if perchance they will hear and be afraid.”40 Did He not know that they could or could not be converted? So, then, that expression is not always a proof of doubt.
32 Lastly, the wise men of this world, who stake all their reputation on expressions and words, do not everywhere use the Latin word forte, “perchance,” or its Greek equivalent taca, as an expression of doubt. And so they say that their earliest poet used the words,
… h taca chrh
which is, “I shall soon be a widow;” and the passage goes on:
… taca gar se katakneousin AEAcaioi
But he had no doubt that when all were Joining in the attack one might well be laid low by all.
33. But let us use our own instances rather than foreign ones. You find in the Gospel that the Son Himself says of the Father (when He had sent His servants to His vineyard, and they had been slain), that the Father said, “I will send My well-beloved Son, perchance they will reverence Him.”42 And in another place the Son says of Himself: “Ye know neither Me nor My Father; for if ye knew Me, ye would perchance know My Father also.”43
34. If, then, Peter used those words which were used by God without any prejudice to His knowledge, why should we not assume that Peter also used them without prejudice to his belief? For he could not doubt concerning the gift of Christ, Who had given him the power of forgiving sins; especially since he was bound not to leave any place for the craftiness of heretics who desire to deprive men of hope, in order the more easily to insinuate into the despairing their opinion as to the reiteration of baptism.
35. But the apostles, having this baptism according to the direction of Christ, taught repentance, promised forgiveness, and remitted guilt, as David taught when he said: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin.”44 He calls each blessed both him whose sins are remitted by the font, and him whose sin is covered by good works. For he who repents ought not only to wash away his sin by his tears, but also to cover and hide his former transgressions by amended deeds, that sin may not be imputed to him.
36. Let us, then, cover our falls by our subsequent acts; let us purify ourselves by tears, that the Lord our God may hear us when we lament, as He heard Ephraim when weeping, as it is written: “I have surely heard Ephraim weeping.”45 And He expressly repeats the very words of Ephraim: “Thou hast chastised me and I was chastised, like a calf I was not trained.”46 For a calf disports itself, and leaves its stall, and so Ephraim was untrained like a calf far away from the stall; because he had forsaken the stall of the Lord, followed Jeroboam,47 and worshipped the calves, which future event was prophetically indicated through Aaron,48 namely, that the people of the Jews would fall after this manner. And so repenting, Ephraim says: “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned, for Thou art the Lord my God. Surely in the end of my captivity I repented, and after I learned I mourned over the days of confusion, and subjected myself to Thee because I received reproach and made Thee known.”49
37. We see how to repent, with what words and with what acts, that the days of sin are called “days of confusion;” for there is confusion when Christ is denied.
38. Let us, then, submit ourselves to God, and not be subject to sin, and when we ponder the remembrance of our offences, let us blush as though at some disgrace, and not speak of them as a glory to us, as some boast of overcoming modesty, or putting down the feeling of justice. Let our conversion be such, that we who did not know God may now ourselves declare Him to others, that the Lord, moved by such a conversion on our part, may answer to us: “Ephraim is from youth a dear son, a pleasant child, for since My words are concerning him, I will verily remember him, therefore have I hastened to be over him; I will surely have mercy on him, saith the Lord.”50
39. And what mercy He promises us, the Lord also shows, when He says further on: “I have satiated every thirsty soul, and have satisfied every hungry soul. Therefore, I awaked and beheld, and My sleep was sweet unto Me.”51 We observe that the Lord promises His sacraments to those who sin. Let us, then, all be converted to the Lord.
Ambrose selected works 21116