Ambrose selected works 6216
06301 Statement of the reasons wherefore the matters, treated of shortly in the two former, are dealt with more at length in the three later books. Defence of the employment of fables, which is supported by the example of Holy Writ, wherein are found various figures of poetic fable, in particular the Sirens, which are figures of sensual pleasures, and which Christians ought to be taught to avoid, by the words of Paul and the deeds of Christ.
1). Forasmuch as your most gracious Majesty had laid command upon me to write for your own instruction some treatise concerning the Faith, and had yourself called me to your presence and encouraged my timidity, I, being as one on the eve of battle,1 composed but two books only, for the pointing out of certain ways and paths by which our faith progresses.
2. Seeing, however, that certain malicious minds, bent on sowing disputes, have not yet exhausted the force of their assaults, whilst your gracious Majesty’s pious anxiety calls me to further labours, inasmuch as you desire to try in more things him whom you have proved in a few, I am resolved to deal somewhat more particularly with the matters whereof I have already treated in a few words, lest it should be thought, not that I have advanced those propositions in quietness and confidence, but that I, having asserted them, doubted and so abandoned their defence.
3. Again, seeing that we spoke of the Hydra and Scylla (I. 6,46), and brought them in by way of comparison, to show how we must beware, whether of the ever-renewed outgrowths of infidelity, or the ill-omened shipwrecks made upon its shallows, if any one holds that such embellishments of an argument, borrowed from the romances of poets, are unlawful, and, from lack of opportunity to speak evil of my faith, assails something in my language, then let him know that not only phrases but complete verses of poetry have been woven into the text of Holy Writ.
4. Whence, for instance, came that verse, “His offspring truly are we,”2 whereof Paul, by prophetic experience,3 taught, makes use? The course of prophetic speech avoids neither the Giants4 nor the Valley of the Titans,5 and Isaiah spake of sirens and the daughters of ostriches.6 Jeremiah also hath prophesied concerning Babylon, that the daughters of sirens shall dwell therein,7 in order to show that the snares of Babylon, that is, of the tumult of this world, are to be likened to stories of old-time lust, that seemed upon this life’s rocky shores to sing some tuneful song, but deadly withal, to catch the souls of youth,—which the Greek poet himself tells us that the wise man escaped through being bound, as it were, in the chains of his own prudence.8 So hard a thing, before Christ’s coming, was it esteemed, even for the stronger, to save themselves from the deceitful shows and allurements of pleasure.
5. But if the poet judged the enticement of worldly pleasure and licence destructive of men’s minds and a sure cause of shipwreck, what ought we to think, for whom it hath been written: “Train not the flesh in concupiscence”?9 And again: “I chastise my body and bring it into servitude, lest whilst I preach to others, I myself become a castaway.”10
6. Truly, Christ won salvation for us, not by luxury but by fasting. Moreover, it was not to obtain favour for Himself, but to instruct us, that He fasted. Nor yet did He hunger because He was overcome by the weakness of the body, but by His hunger He proved that He had verily taken upon Himself a body; that so He might teach us that He had taken not only our body, but also the weaknesses of that body, even as it is written: “Surely He hath taken our infirmities and borne our sicknesses.”11
06302 The incidents properly affecting the body which Christ for our sake took upon Him are not to be accounted to His Godhead, in respect whereof He is the Most Highest. To deny which is to say that the Father was incarnate. When we read that God is one, and that there is none other beside Him, or that He alone has immortality, this must be understood as true of Christ also, not only to avoid the sinful heresy above-mentioned (Patripassianism), but also because the activity of the Father and the Son is declared to be one and the same.
7). It was a bodily weakness, then, that is to say, a weakness of ours, that He hungered; when He wept, and was sorrowful even unto death, it was of our nature. Why ascribe the properties and incidents of our nature to the Godhead? That He was even, as we are told, “made,” is a property of a body. Thus, indeed, we read: “Sion our mother shall say: ‘He is a man,’ and in her He was made man, and the Most High Himself laid her foundations.”12 “He was made man,” mark you, not “He was made God.”13
8. But what is He Who is at once the Most High and man, what but “the Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus Who gave Himself as a ransom for us”?14 This place indeed refers properly to His Incarnation, for our redemption was made by His Blood, our pardon comes through His Power, our life is secured through His Grace. He gives as the Most High, He prays as man. The one is the office of the Creator, the other of a Redeemer. Be the gifts as distinct as they may, yet the Giver is one, for it was fitting15 that our Maker should be our Redeemer.
9. Who indeed can deny that we have plain evidence that Christ is the Most High? He who knows otherwise makes the sacrament of Incarnation to be the work of God the Father.16 But that Christ is the Most High is removed beyond doubt by what Scripture hath said in another place, concerning the mystery of the Passion: “The Most High sent forth His Voice, and the earth was shaken.”17 And in the Gospel you may read: “And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare His ways.”18 Who is “the Highest”? The Son of God. He, then, Who is the Most High God is Christ.
10. Again, whilst God is everywhere said to be One God, the Son of God is not separated from this Unity. For He Who is the Most High is alone, as it is written: “And let them know that Thy Name is the Lord: Thou alone art Most High over all the earth.”19
11. And so the adversaries’ injurious conclusion is rejected with contempt and disgrace, which they drew from the Scripture speaking of God: "Who alone hath immortality and dwelleth in light unapproachable;20 for these words are written of God which Name belongs equally to Father and to Son.
12. If, indeed, wheresoever they read the Name of God, they deny that there is any thought of the Son [as well as the Father], they blaspheme, inasmuch as they deny the Son’s Divine Sovereignty, and they shall appear as though they shared the sinful error of the Sabellians in teaching the Incarnation of the Father. Let them, indeed explain how they can fail to interpret in a sense blasphemous to the Father the words of the Apostle: “In Whom ye did also rise again, by faith in the working of God, Who raised Him from the dead.”21 Let them also take warning from what follows of what they are running upon—for this is what comes after: “And though ye were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He quickened us with Him, pardoning us all our offences, blotting out the handwriting of the Ordinance, which was opposed to us, and removed it from our midst, nailing it to His Cross, divesting Himself of the flesh.”22
13. We are not, then, to suppose that the Father Who raised the flesh is alone [God]; nor, again, are we to suppose the like of the Son, Whose Body23 was raised again. He Who raised, did surely also quicken; and He who quickened, also pardoned sins; He who pardoned sins, also blotted out the handwriting; He Who blotted out the handwriting, also nailed it to the Cross: He who nailed it to the Cross, divested Himself of the flesh. But it was not the Father Who divested Himself of the flesh; for not the Father, but, as we read, the Word was made flesh.24 You see, then, that the Arians, in dividing the Father from the Son, run into danger of saying that the Father endured the Passion.
14. We, however, can easily show that the words treat of the Son’s action, for the Son Himself indeed raised His own Body again, as He Himself said: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it again.”25 And He Himself quickens us together with His Body: “For as the Father raiseth the dead and quickeneth them, so also the Son quickeneth Whom He will.”26 And He Himself hath granted forgiveness for sins, saying, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.”27 He too hath nailed the handwriting of the record to His Cross, in that He was crucified, and suffered in the body. Nor did any divest Himself of the flesh, save the Son of God, Who invested Himself therewith. He, therefore, Who hath achieved the work of our resurrection is plainly pointed out to be very God.
That the Father and the Son must not be divided28 is proved by the words of the Apostle, seeing that it is befitting to the Son that He should be blessed, only Potentate, and immortal, by nature, that is, and not by grace, as even the angels themselves are immortal, and that He should dwell in the unapproachable light. How it is that the Father and the Son are alike and equally said to be “alone.”
15). When, therefore, you read the Name “God,” separate neither Father nor Son, for the Godhead of the Father and the Son is one and the same, and therefore separate them not, when you read the words “blessed and only Potentate,”29 for the words are spoken of God, even as you may read: “I charge thee before God, Who quickeneth all things.”30 Christ also indeed doth quicken, and therefore the Name of God is meetly given both to the Father and to the Son, inasmuch as the effect of their activity is in agreement. Let us go on to the words following: “I Charge thee,” he says, “before God, Who quickeneth all things, and Jesus Christ.”31
16. The Word is in God, even as it is written: “In God will I praise His Word.”32 In God is His Eternal Power, even Jesus; in [speaking of] God, therefore, the Apostle hath witnessed to the unity of the Godhead, whilst by the Name of Christ he hath witnessed to the sacrament of the Incarnation.
17. Furthermore, to show that he hath spoken of the Incarnation of Christ, he added: “Who bore witness under Pontius Pilate with the good confession,” [I charge thee] “keep undefiled the commandment, until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, Which in His own good time the blessed and only Potentate shall manifest, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Who alone hath immortality, and dwelleth in light unapproachable, Whom no man hath seen, nor can see.”33 Those words, then, are written with regard to God, of which Name the dignity and truth are common to [both the Father and] the Son.
18. Why, then, should there be no thought of the Son in this place, seeing that all these things hold good of the Son also? If they do not so, then deny His Godhead, and so mayest thou deny what is proper to be said of God. His Blessedness cannot be denied, Who bestows blessings, for “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.”34 He cannot but be called “Blessed,” Who hath given us wholesome teaching, even as it is written: “Which is according to the Gospel of the beauty of the Blessed God.”35 His Power cannot be denied, of Whom the Father saith: “I have laid help upon One that is mighty.”36 And who dare refuse to acknowledge Him to be immortal, when He Himself bath made others also immortal, as it is written of the Wisdom of God: “By her shall I possess immortality.”37
19. But the immortality of His Nature is one thing, that of ours is another. Things perishable are not to be compared to things divine. The Godhead is the one only Substance that death cannot touch, and therefore it is that the Apostle, though knowing both the [human] soul and angels to be immortal, declared that God only had immortality. In truth, even the soul may die: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,”38 and an angel is not absolutely immortal, his immortality depending on the will of the Creator.39
20. Do not hastily reject this, because Gabriel dies not, nor Raphaël, nor Uriel.40 Even in their nature there is a capacity of sin, though not one of improvement by discipline,41 for every reasonable creature is exposed to influences from without itself, and liable to judgment. It is on the influences which work upon us that the award of judgment, and corruption, or advance to perfection, do depend, and therefore Ecclesiastes saith: “For God shall bring all His work to judgment.”42 Every creature, then, has within it the possibility of corruption and death, even though it do not [at present] die or commit sin; nor, if in anything it deliver not itself over to sin, hath it this boon of its immortal nature, but of discipline or of grace. Immortality, then, that is of a gift is one thing: immortality without the possibility of change is another.43
21. Do we deny the immortality of Christ’s Godhead,44 because He tasted death for all in the flesh? Then is Gabriel better than Christ, for Gabriel never died, but Christ gave up the ghost. But the servant is not above his lord,45 and we must discern the weakness of flesh from the eternity of Godhead. Christ’s Death had its source in the flesh, immortality is of the nature of Christ’s sovereignty. But if the Godhead brought it to pass that the flesh saw not corruption, the flesh being surely by nature liable to corruption, how could the Godhead itself have died?
22. And how is it that the Son dwelleth not in light unapproachable, if He is in the bosom of the Father, if the Father is Light, and the Son also is Light, because God is Light?46 Or, if we suppose some other light, beside the Light of the Godhead, to be the unapproachable Light, is, then, this Light better than the Father, so that He is not in that Light, Who, as it is written, is both with the Father and in the Father?47 Let men, therefore, not exclude the thought of the Son, when they read only of “God”—and let them not exclude that of the Father, when they read of “the Son” only.48
23. On earth, the Son is not without49 the Father, and thou thinkest that the Father is without the Son in heaven? The Son is in the flesh—(when I say “He is in the flesh” or “He is on earth,” I speak as though we lived in the days whose story is in the Gospel, for now we no longer know Christ “after the flesh”50 )—He is in the flesh, and He is not alone, as it is written: “And I am not alone, because the Father is with Me,”51 and think you that the Father dwells alone in the Light?
24. Lest you should regard this argument as mere speculation take this sentence of authority. “No man,” saith the Scripture,52 “hath seen God at any time, save the Only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father; He hath revealed Him.”53 How can the Father be in solitude, if the Son be in the bosom of the Father? How doth the Son reveal Him, Whom He seeth not? The Father, then, exists not alone.
25. Observe now what the “solitude” of the Father and of the Son is. The Father is alone, because there is no other Father; the Son is alone, because there is no other Son; God is alone, because the Godhead of the Trinity is One.
06304 We are told that Christ was only “made” so far as regards the flesh. For the redemption of mankind He needed no means of aid, even as He needed none in order to His Resurrection, whereas others, in order to raise the dead, had need of recourse to prayer. Even when Christ prayed, the prayer was offered by Him in His capacity as human; whilst He must be accounted divine from the fact that He commanded (that such and such things should be done). On this point the devil’s testimony is truer than the Arians’ arguments. The discussion concludes with an explanation of the reason why the title of “mighty” is given to the Son of Man.
26). It is now sufficiently made plain that the Father is not God in solitude, without the Son, and that the Son cannot be thought of as God alone, without the Father, for it is in respect of His flesh54 that we read that the Son of God was “made,” not in respect of His generation from God the Father.
27. Indeed, in what sense He was “made” He has declared by the mouth of the holy patriarch, saying: “For My soul is filled with sorrow to overflowing, and My life hath drawn near unto hell. I have been counted with them that go down into the pit; I have been made as a man free, without help, amongst the dead.”55 Here, then, we read: “I have been made as a man,” not “I have been made as God;” and again: “My soul overfloweth with sorrows.” “My soul,” mark you, not “My Godhead.” He was “made” in so far as that was concerned wherein He was due to hell,56 wherein He was reckoned with others, for the Godhead admits of no likeness which may be ground for classing it with others. Yet mark how the majesty of Godhead shows itself in Christ, even in that flesh which was appointed to death. Although He was “made” as a man, and “made” as flesh, yet He was made free amongst the dead, “free, without help.”
28. But how can the Son say here that He was without help, when it has already been said: “I have laid help upon One that is mighty”?57 Distinguish here also the two natures present. The flesh hath need of help, the Godhead hath no need. He is free, then, because the chains of death had no hold upon Him. He was not made prisoner by the powers of darkness, it is He Who exerted power amongst them.58 He is “without help,” because He Himself, the Lord, hath by no office of messenger or ambassador, but by His own might, saved His people. How could He, Who raised others to life, require any help in order to raise His own body?
29. And though men also have raised the dead, still they did this not of their own power, but in the Name of Christ. To ask is one thing, to command is another; to obtain is different from bestowing.
30. Elijah, then, raised the dead, but he prayed—he did not command.59 Elisha raised one to life after laying himself upon the dead body, in accordance with its posture;60 and, again, the very contact of Elisha’s corpse gave life to the dead, that the prophet might foreshow the coming of Him, Who, being sent in the likeness of sinful flesh,61 should, even after His burial, raise the dead to life).
31. Peter, again, when he healed Aeneas, said: “In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk.”62 Not in his own name, but in the Name of Christ. But “rise” is a command; on the other hand, it is an instance of confidence in one’s right,63 not an arrogant claim to power, and the authority of the command stood in the effective influence of the Name, not in its own might. What answer, then, make the Arians? Peter commands in the Name of Christ,—this on the one hand: on the other, they will have it that the Son of God did not command, but requested.
32. We read, they objected, of His uttering a prayer.64 But take note of the difference. He prays as Son of Man, He commands as Son of God. Will you not ascribe unto the Son of God what even the devil has ascribed? Will you accuse yourselves of greater wickedness than Satan’s? The devil saith: “If Thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it become bread.”65 Satan saith “command,” you say “entreat.” The devil believes that, at the word of God’s Son, the nature of an elementary substance may be exchanged for that of a composite one; you think that, unless the Son of God prefers a request, even His Will cannot be done. Again, the devil thinks that the Son of God is to be esteemed from His power,66 you that He is to be esteemed from His infirmity. The devil’s temptations are more tolerable than the Arians’ disputings.
33. Let us not, then, be troubled if we find the Son of Man entitled “mighty” in one place, and yet in another, that the Lord of glory was crucified.67 What might is greater than sovereignty over the powers of heaven? But this was in the hands of Him Who ruled over thrones, principalities, angels; for, although He was amongst the wild beasts, as it is written, yet angels ministered to Him, that you may perceive the difference between what is proper to the Incarnation, and what is proper to Sovereignty. So far as His flesh is concerned, then, He endures the assault of wild beasts; in regard of His Godhead,68 He is adored by angels.
34. We have learnt, then, that He was made man, and that His being made must be referred to His manhood. Furthermore, in another passage of Scripture, you may read: “Who was made for Him of the seed of David,”69 that is to say, in respect of the flesh He was “made” of the seed of David, but He was God begotten of God before the worlds.
06305 Passages brought forward from Scripture to show that “made” does not always mean the same as “created;” whence it is concluded that the letter of Holy Writ should not be made the ground of captious arguments, after the manner of the Jews, who, however, are shown to be not so bad as the heretics, and thus the principle already set forth is confirmed anew.
35). At the same time, becoming70 does not always imply creation; for we read: “Lord, Thou art become our refuge,”71 and “Thou hast become my salvation.”72 Plainly, here is no statement of the fact or purpose of a creation, but God is said to have become my “refuge” and have turned to my “salvation,”73 even as the Apostle hath said: “Who became for us74 Wisdom from God, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption,”75 that is, that Christ was “made” for us, of the Father, not created.Again, the writer has explained in the sequel in what sense he says that Christ was made Wisdom for us: “But we preach the Wisdom of God in doctrine of mystery, which Wisdom is hidden, foreordained by God before the existence of the world76 for our glory, and which none of the princes of this world knew, for had they known they would never have crucified the Lord of glory.”77 When the mystery of the Passion is set forth, surely there is no speaking of an eternal process of generation.
36. The Lord’s Cross, then, is my wisdom; the Lord’s Death my redemption; for we are redeemed with His precious blood, as the Apostle Peter bath said.78 With His blood, then, as man, the Lord redeemed us, Who also, as God, hath forgiven sins.79
37. Let us not, therefore, lay snares as it were in words, and eagerly seek out entanglements therein; let us not, because misbelievers make out the written word to mean that it means not, set forth only what this letter bears on the face of it, instead of the underlying sense. This way went the Jews to destruction, despising the deep-hidden meaning, and following only after the bare form of the word, for “the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive.”80
38. And yet, of these two grievous impieties, to ascribe to the Godhead what is true only of manhood is perchance more detestable than to attribute to spirit what belongs only to letter. The Jews feared to believe in manhood taken up into God, and therefore have lost the grace of redemption, because they reject that on which salvation depends; the Arians degrade the majesty of Godhead to the weakness of humanity. Detestable as are the Jews, who crucified the Lord’s flesh, more detestable still do I hold them who have believed that the Godhead of Christ was nailed to the Cross. So one who ofttimes had dealings with Jews said: “An heretic avoid, after once reproving him”81
39. Nor, again, are these men careful to avoid doing dishonour to the Father, in their impious application of the fact, that Christ was “made” Wisdom for us, to His incomprehensible generation, that transcends all limits and divisions of time; for, leaving it out of account that dishonour done to the Son is an insult to the Father, they do even carry their blasphemy in assault upon the Father, of Whom it is written: “Let God be made truthful, but every man a liar.”82 If indeed they think that the Son is spoken of, they do not foreclose against His generation,83 but in that they rest on the authority of this text they do confess that which they reject, namely, that Christ is God, and true God.
40. It would be a lengthy matter were I to pass in review each several place where we read of His being “made,” not indeed by nature, but by way of gracious dispensation. Moses, for example, saith: “Thou art made my Helper and Protector, to save me;”84 and David: “Be unto me for a God of salvation, and an house of refuge, that Thou mayest save me;”85 and Isaiah: “He is become an Helper for every city that is lowly.”86 Of a surety the holy men say not to God: “Thou hast been created,” but “By Thy grace Thou art made a Protector and Helper unto us.”
06306 In order to dispose of an objection grounded on a text in St. John, St. Ambrose first shows that the Arian interpretation lends countenance to the Manichaeans; then, after setting forth the different ways of dividing the words in this same passage, he shows plainly that it cannot, without dishonour to the Father, be understood with such reference to the Godhead as the Arians give it, and expounds the true meaning thereon.
41). We have no reason, therefore, to fear the argument which the Arians, in their reckless manner of expounding, use to construct, showing that the Word of God was “made,” for, say they, it is written: “That which has been made in Him is life.”87
42. First of all, let them understand that if they make the words “That which has been made” to refer to the Godhead, they entangle themselves in the difficulties raised by the Manichaeans, for these people argue: “If that which has been made in Him is life, then there is something which has not been made in Him, and is death,” so that they may impiously bring in two principles. But this teaching the Church condemns.
43. Again, how can the Arians prove that the Evangelist actually said this? The most part of those who are learned in the Faith read the passage as follows: “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that has been made.” Others read thus: “All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.” Then they proceed: “What has been made,” and to this they join the words “in Him;” that is to say, “But whatsover is has been made in Him.” But what mean the words “in Him”? The Apostle tells us, when he says: “In Him we have our being, and live, and move.”88
44. Howbeit, let them read the passage as they will, they cannot diminish the majesty of God the Word, in referring to His Person,89 as subject, the words “That which was made,”90 without also doing dishonour to God the Father, of Whom it is written: “But he who doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.”91 See then—here we read of man’s works being wrought in God, and yet for all that we cannot understand the Godhead as the subject of them. We must either recognize the works as wrought through Him, as the Apostle’s affirmation showeth that “all things are through Him, and were created in Him, and He is before all, and all things exist together in Him,”92 or, as the witness of the text here cited teaches us, we ought to regard the virtues whereby the fruit of life eternal is gained, as wrought in God—chastity, piety, devoutness, faith, and others of this kind, whereby the will of God is expressed.93
45. Just as the works, then, are the expression of the will and power of God the Father, so are they of Christ’s, even as we read: “Created in Christ in good works;”94 and in the psalm: “Peace be made in Thy power;”95 and again: “In wisdom hast Thou made them all.”96 “In wisdom hast Thou made,” mark you—not “Thou hast made wisdom;” for since all things have been made in wisdom, and Christ is the Wisdom of God, then this Wisdom is plainly not an accident, but a substance, and an everlasting one, but if the Wisdom hath been made, then is it made in a worse condition than all things, forasmuch as it could not, by itself, be made Wisdom. If, then, being made is oftentimes referred to something accidental, not to the essence of a thing, so may creation also be referred to some end had in view.97
06307 Solomon’s words, “The Lord created Me,” etc., mean that Christ’s Incarnation was done for the redemption of the Father’s creation, as is shown by the Son’s own words. That He is the “beginning” may be understood from the visible proofs of His virtuousness, and it is shown how the Lord opened the ways of all virtues, and was their true beginning.
46). Hereby we are brought to understand that the prophecy of the Incarnation, “The Lord created me the beginning of His ways for His works,”98 means that the Lord Jesus was created of the Virgin for the redeeming of the Father’s works. Truly, we cannot doubt that this is spoken of the mystery of the Incarnation, forasmuch as the Lord took upon Him our flesh, in order to save the works of His hands from the slavery of corruption, so that He might, by the sufferings of His own body, overthrow him who had the power of death. For Christ’s flesh is for the sake of things created, but His Godhead existed before them, seeing that He is before all things, whilst all things exist together in Him.99
47. His Godhead, then, is not by reason of creation, but creation exists because of the Godhead; even as the Apostle showed, saying that all things exist because of the Son of God, for we read as follows: “But it was fitting that He, through Whom and because of Whom are all things, after bringing many sons to glory, should, as Captain of their salvation, be made perfect through suffering.”100 Has he not plainly declared that the Son of God, Who, by reason of His Godhead, was the Creator of all, did in after time, for the salvation of His people, submit to the taking on of the flesh and the suffering of death?
48. Now for the sake of what works the Lord was “created” of a virgin, He Himself, whilst healing the blind man, has shown, saying: “In Him must I work the works of Him that sent Me.”101 Furthermore He said in the same Scripture, that we might believe Him to speak of the Incarnation: “As long as I am in this world, I am the Light of this world,”102 for, so far as He is man, He is in this world for a season, but as God He exists at all times. In another place, too, He says: “Lo, I am with you even unto the end of the world.”103
49. Nor is there any room for questioning with respect to “the beginning,” seeing that when, during His earthly life, He was asked, “Who art Thou?” He answered: “The beginning, even as I tell you.”104 This refers not only to the essential nature of the eternal Godhead, but also to the visible proofs of virtues, for hereby hath He proved Himself the eternal God, in that He is the beginning of all things, and the Author of each several virtue, in that He is the Head of the Church, as it is written: “Because He is the Head of the Body, of the Church;105 Who is the beginning, first-begotten from the dead.”106
50. It is clear, then, that the words “beginning of His ways,” which, as it seems, we must refer to the mystery of the putting on of His body, are a prophecy of the Incarnation. For Christ’s purpose in the Incarnation was to pave for us the road to heaven. Mc how He says: “I go up to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”107 Then, to give you to know that the Almighty Father appointed His ways to the Son, after the Incarnation,108 you have in Zechariah the words of the angel speaking to Joshua clothed in filthy garments: “Thus saith the Lord Almighty: If thou wilt walk in My ways and observe My precepts.”109 What is the meaning of that filthy garb save the putting on of the flesh?
51. Now the ways of the Lord are, we may say, certain courses taken in a good life, guided by Christ, Who says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”110 The way, then, is the surpassing power of God, for Christ, is our way, and a good way, too, is He, a way which hath opened the kingdom of heaven to believers.111 Moreover, the ways of the Lord are straight, as it is written: “Make Thy ways known unto me, O Lord.”112 Chastity is a way, faith is a way, abstinence is a way. There is, indeed, a way of virtue, and there is a way of wickedness; for it is written: “And see if there be any way of wickedness in me.”113
52. Christ, then, is the beginning of our virtue. He is the beginning of purity, Who taught maidens not to look for the embraces of men,114 but to yield the purity of their bodies and minds to the service of the Holy Spirit rather than to a husband. Christ is the beginning of frugality, for He became poor, though He was rich.115 Christ is the beginning of patience, for when He was reviled, He reviled not again, when He was struck, He did not strike back. Christ is the beginning of humility, for He took the form of a servant, though in the majesty of His power He was equal with God the Father.116 From Him each several virtue has taken its origin.
53. For this cause, then, that we might learn these divers virtues, “a Son was given us, Whose beginning was upon His shoulder.”117 That “beginning” is the Lord’s Cross—the beginning of strong courage, wherewith a way has been opened for the holy martyrs to enter the sufferings of the Holy War.
Ambrose selected works 6216