Ambrose selected works 6317
06401 The marvel is, not that men have failed to know Christ, but that they have not listened to the words of the Scriptures. Christ, indeed, was not known, even of angels, save by revelation, nor again, by His forerunner. Follows a description of Christ’s triumphal ascent into heaven, and the excellence of its glory over the assumption of certain prophets. Lastly, from exposition of the conversation with angels upon this occasion, the omnipotence of the Son is proved, as against the Arians.
1). On consideration, your Majesty, of the reason wherefore men have so far gone astray, or that many—alas!—should follow diverse ways of belief concerning the Son of God, the marvel seems to be, not at all that human knowledge has been baffled in dealing with superhuman things, but that it has not submitted to the authority of the Scriptures.
2. What reason, indeed, is there to wonder, if by their worldly wisdom men failed to comprehend the mystery of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden,1 that mystery of which not even angels have been able to take knowledge, save by revelation?
3. For who could by force of imagination, and not by faith, follow the Lord Jesus, now descending from the highest heaven to the shades below, now rising again from Hades to the heavenly places; in a moment self-emptied, that He might dwell amongst us, and yet never made less than He was, the Son being ever in the Father and the Father in the Son?
4. Even Christ’s forerunner, though only in so far as representing the synagogue,2 doubted concerning Him, even he who was appointed to go before the face of the Lord, and at last sending messengers, enquired: “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?”3
5. Angels, too, stood spellbound in wonder at the heavenly mystery. And so, when the Lord rose again, and the heights of heaven could not bear the glory of His rising from the dead, Who of late, so far as regarded His flesh, had been confined in the narrow bounds of a sepulchre, even the heavenly hosts doubted and were amazed.
6. For a Conqueror came, adorned with wondrous spoils, the Lord was in His holy Temple, before Him went angels and archangels, marvelling at the prey wrested from death, and though they knew that nothing can be added to God from the flesh, because all things are lower than God, nevertheless, beholding the trophy of the Cross, whereof “the government was upon His shoulder,” and the spoils borne by the everlasting Conqueror, they, as if the gates could not afford passage for Him Who had gone forth from them, though indeed they can never o’erspan His greatness—they sought some broader and more lofty passage for Him on His return—so entirely had He remained undiminished by His self-emptying.
7. However, it was meet that a new way should be prepared before the face of the new Conqueror—for a Conqueror is always, as it were, taller and greater in person than others; but, forasmuch as the Gates of Righteousness, which are the Gates of the Old and the New Testament, wherewith heaven is opened, are eternal, they are not indeed changed, but raised, for it was not merely one man but the whole world that entered, in the person of the All-Redeemer.
8. Enoch had been translated, Elias caught up, but the servant is not above his Master. For “No man hath ascended into heaven, but He Who came down from heaven;”4 and even of Moses, though his corpse was never seen on earth, we do nowhere read as of one abiding in celestial glory, unless it was after that the Lord, by the earnest of His own Resurrection, burst the bonds of hell and exalted the souls of the godly. Enoch, then, was translated, and Elias caught up; both as servants, both in the body, but not after resurrection from the dead, nor with the spoils of death and the triumphal train of the Cross, had they been seen of angels.
9. And therefore [the angels] descrying the approach of the Lord of all, first and only Vanquisher of Death, bade their princes that the gates should be lifted up, saying in adoration, “Lift up the gates, such as are princes amongst you, and be ye lifted Up, O everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.”5
10. Yet there were still, even amongst the hosts of heaven, some that were amazed, overcome with astonishment at such pomp and glory as they had never yet beheld, and therefore they asked: “Who is the King of glory?”6 Howbeit, seeing that the angels (as well as ourselves) acquire their knowledge step by step, and are capable of advancement, they certainly must display differences of power and understanding, for God alone is above and beyond the limits imposed by gradual advance, possessing, as He does, every perfection from everlasting.
11. Others, again,—those, to wit, who had been present at His rising again, those who had seen or who already recognized Him,—made reply: “It is the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.”
12. Then, again, sang the multitude of angels, in triumphal chorus: “Lift up the gates, O ye that are their princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.”
13. And back again came the challenge of them that stood astonished: “Who is that King of glory? For we saw Him having neither form nor comeliness;7 if then it be not He, who is that King of glory?”
14. Whereto answer they which know: “The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of glory.” Therefore, the Lord of Hosts, He is the Son. How then do the Arians call Him fallible, Whom we believe to be Lord of Hosts, even as we believe of the Father? How can they draw distinctions between the sovereign powers of Each, when we have found the Son, even as also the Father, entitled “Lord of Saboath”? For, in this very passage, the reading in many copies is: “The Lord of Sabaoth, He is the King of glory.” Now the translators have, for the “Lord of Sabaoth,” rendered in some places “the Lord of Hosts,” in others “the Lord the King,” and in others “the Lord Omnipotent.” Therefore, since He Who ascended is the Son, and, again, He Who ascended is the Lord of Sabaoth, it surely follows that the Son of God is omnipotent!
06402 None can ascend to heaven without faith; in any case, he who hath so ascended thither will be cast out wherefore, faith must be zealously preserved. We ourselves each have a heaven within, the gates whereof must be opened and be raised by confession of the Godhead of Christ, which gates are not raised by Arians, nor by those who seek the Son amongst earthly things, and who must therefore, like the Magdalene, be sent back to the apostles, against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail. Scriptures are cited to show that the servant of the Lord must not diminish aught of his Master’s honour.
15). What shall we do, then? How shall we ascend unto heaven? There, powers are stationed, principalities drawn up in order, who keep the doors of heaven, and challenge him who ascends. Who shall give me passage, unless I proclaim that Christ is Almighty? The gates are shut,—they are not opened to any and every one; not every one who will shall enter, unless he also believes according to the true Faith. The Sovereign’s court is kept under guard.
16. Suppose, however, that one who is unworthy hath crept up, hath stolen past the principalities who keep the gates of heaven, hath sat down at the supper of the Lord; when the Lord of the banquet enters, and sees one not clad in the wedding garment of the Faith, He will cast him into outer darkness, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth,8 if he keep not the Faith and peace.
17. Let us, therefore, keep the wedding garment which we have received, and not deny Christ that which is His own, Whose omnipotence angels announce, prophets foretel, apostles witness to, even as we have already shown above.9
18. Perchance, indeed, the prophet hath spoken of His entering in not only with regard to the gates of the universal heaven; for there be other heavens also where-into the Word of God passeth, whereof it is said: “We have a great Priest, a High Priest, Who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.”10 What are those heavens, but even the heavens whereof the prophet sayeth that “the heavens declare the glory of God”?11
19. For Christ standeth at the door of thy soul. Hear Him speaking. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man open to Me, I will come in to him, and I will sup with him, and he with Me.”12 And the Church saith, speaking of Him: “The voice of my brother soundeth at the door.”13
20. He stands, then—but not alone, for before Him go angels, saying: “Lift up the gates, O ye the princes.” What gates? Even those of the which the Psalmist sings in another place also: “Open to me the gates of righteousness.”14 Open, then, thy gates to Christ, that He may come into thee—open the gates of righteousness, the gates of chastity, the gates of courage and wisdom.
21. Believe the message of the angels: “Be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in, the Lord of Sabaoth.” Thy gate is the loud confession made with faithful voice; it is the door of the Lord, which the Apostle desires to have opened for him, as he says: “That a door of the word may be opened for me, to proclaim the mystery of Christ.”15
22. Let thy gate, then, be opened to Christ, and let it be not only opened, but lifted up, if, indeed, it be eternal and not condemned to ruin; for it is written: “And be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors.” The lintel was lift up for Isaiah, when the seraph touched his lips and he saw the Lord of Sabaoth.
23. Thy gates shall be lifted up, then, if thou believest the Son of God to be eternal, omnipotent, above and beyond all praise and understanding, knowing all things, both past an d to come, whilst if thou judgest Him to be of limited power and knowledge, and subordinate, thou liftest not up the everlasting doors.
24. Be thy gates lifted up, then, that Christ may come in unto thee, not such a Christ as the Arians take Him to be—petty, and weak, and menial—but Christ in the form of God, Christ with the Father; that He may enter such as He is, exalted above the heaven and all things; and that He may send forth upon thee His holy Spirit. It is expedient for thee that thou shouldst believe that He hath ascended and is sitting at the right hand of the Father, for if in impious thought thou detain Him amongst things created and earthly, if He depart not for thee, ascend not for thee, then to thee the Comforter shall not come, even as Christ Himself hath told us: “For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you, but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.”16
25. But if thou shouldst seek Him amongst earthly beings, even as Mary of Magdala sought Him, take heed lest He say to thee, as unto her: “Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended unto My Father.”17 For thy gates are narrow—they give me no passage—they cannot be lifted up, and therefore I cannot come in.
26. Go thy way, therefore, to my brethren—that is, to those everlasting doors, which, as soon as they see Jesus, are lifted up. Peter is an “everlasting door,” against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail.18 Jn and James, the sons of thunder, to wit,19 are “everlasting doom.” Everlasting are the doors of the Church, where the prophet, desirous to proclaim the praises of Christ, says: “That I may tell all thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion.”20
27. Great, therefore, is the mystery of Christ, before which even angels stood amazed and bewildered. For this cause, then, it is thy duty to worship Him, and, being a servant, thou oughtest not to detract from thy Lord. Ignorance thou mayest not plead, for to this end He came down, that thou mayest believe; if thou believest not, He has not come down for thee, has not suffered for thee. “If I had not come,” saith the Scripture, “and spoken with them, they would have no sin: but now have they no excuse for their sin. He that hateth Me, hateth My Father also.”21 Who, then, hates Christ, if not he who speaks to His dishonour?—for as it is love’s part to render, so it is hate’s to withdraw honour.22 He who hates, calls in question; he who loves, pays reverence.
The words, “The head of every man is Christ …and the head of Christ is God” misused by the Arians, are now turned back against them, to their confutation. Next, another passage of Scripture, commonly taken by the same heretics as a ground of objection, is called in to show that God is the Head of Christ, in so far as Christ is human, in regard of His Manhood, and the unwisdom of their opposition upon the text, “He who planteth He who watereth are one,” is displayed. After which explanations, the meaning of the doctrine that the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, and that the faithful are in Both, is expounded.
28). Now let us examine some other objections raised by the Arians. It is written, say they, that “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”23 Let them, if they please, tell me what they mean by this objection—whether to join together, or to dissociate, these four terms. Suppose they mean to join them, and say that God is the Head of Christ in the same sense and manner as man is the head of woman. Mc what a conclusion they fall into. For if this comparison proceeds on the supposed equality of the terms of it, and these four—woman, man, Christ, and God—are viewed together as in virtue of a likeness resulting from their being of one and the same nature, then woman and God will begin to come under one definition.
29. But if this conclusion be not satisfactory, by reason of its impiety, let them divide, on what principle they will. Thus, if they will have it that Christ stands to God the Father in the same relation as woman to man, then surely they pronounce Christ and God to be of one substance, inasmuch as woman and man are of one nature in respect of the flesh, for their difference is in respect of sex. But, seeing that there is no difference of sex between Christ and His Father, they will acknowledge then that which is one, and common to the Son and the Father, in respect of nature, whereas they will deny the difference lying in sex.
30. Does this conclusion content them? Or will they have woman, man, and Christ to be of one substance, and distinguish the Father from them? Will this, then, serve their turn? Suppose that it will, then observe what they are brought to. They must either confess themselves not merely Arians, but very Photinians, because they acknowledge only the Manhood of Christ, Whom they judge fit only to be placed on the same scale with human beings. Or else they must, however contrary to their leanings, subscribe to our belief, by which we dutifully and in godly fashion maintain that which they have come at by an impious course of thought, that Christ is indeed, after His divine generation,24 the power of God, whilst after His putting on of the flesh, He is of one substance with all men in regard of His flesh, excepting indeed the proper glory of His Incarnation,25 because He took upon Himself the reality, not a phantom likeness, of flesh.
31. Let God, then, be the Head of Christ, with regard to the conditions of Manhood. Observe that the Scripture says not that the Father is the Head of Christ; but that God is the Head of Christ, because the Godhead, as the creating power, is the Head of the being created. And well said [the Apostle] “the Head of Christ is God;” to bring before our thoughts both the Godhead of Christ and His flesh, implying, that is to say, the Incarnation in the mention of the name of Christ, and, in that of the name of God, oneness of Godhead and grandeur of sovereignty.
32. But the saying, that in respect of the Incarnation God is the Head of Christ, leads on to the principle that Christ, as Incarnate, is the Head of man, as the Apostle has clearly expressed in another passage, where he says: “Since man is the head of woman, even as Christ is the Head of the Church;”26 whilst in the words following he has added: “Who gave Himself for her.”27 After His Incarnation, then, is Christ the head of man, for His self-surrender issued from His Incarnation.
33. The Head of Christ, then, is God, in so far as His form of a servant, that is, of man, not of God, is considered, But it is nothing against the Son of God, if, in accordance with the reality of His flesh, He is like unto men, whilst in regard of His Godhead He is one with the Father, for by this account of Him we do not take aught from His sovereignty, but attribute compassion to Him.
34. But who can with a good conscience deny the one Godhead of the Father and the Son, when our Lord, to complete His teaching for His disciples, said: “That they may be one, even as we also are one.”28 The record stands for witness to the Faith, though Arians turn it aside to suit their heresy; for, inasmuch as they cannot deny the Unity so often spoken of, they endeavour to diminish it, in order that the Unity of Godhead subsisting between the Father and the Son may seem to De such as is unity of devotion and faith amongst men, though even amongst men themselves community of nature makes unity thereof.
35. Thus with abundant clearness we disprove the objection commonly raised by Arians, in order to loosen the Divine Unity, on the ground that it is written: “But he who planteth and he who watereth are one.” This passage the Arians, if they were wise, would not quote against us; for how can they deny that the Father and the Son are One, if Paul and Apollos are one, both in nature and in faith? At the same time, we do grant that these cannot be one throughout, in all relations, because things human cannot bear comparison with things divine.29
36. No separation, then, is to be made of the Word from God the Father, no separation in power, no separation in wisdom, by reason of the Unity of the Divine Substance. Again, God the Father is in the Son, as we ofttimes find it written, yet [He dwells in the Son] not as sanctifying one who lacks sanctification, nor as filling a void, for the power of God knows no void. Nor, again, is the power of the one increased by the power of the other, for there are not two powers, but one Power; nor does Godhead entertain Godhead, for there are not two Godheads, but one Godhead. We, contrariwise, shall be One in Christ through Power received [from another] and dwelling in us.
37. The letter [of the unity] is common, but the Substance of God and the substance of man are different. We shall be, the Father and the Son. [already] are, one; we shall be one by grace, the Son is so by substance. Again, unity by conjunction is one thing, unity by nature another. Finally, observe what it is that Scripture hath already recorded: “That they may all be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee.”30
38. Mc now that He said not “Thou in us, and we in Thee,” but “Thou in Me, and I in Thee,” to place Himself apart from His creatures. Further He added: “that they also may be in Us,” in order to separate here His dignity and His Father’s from us, that our union in the Father and the Son may appear the issue, not of nature, but of grace, whilst with regard to the unity of the Father and the Son it may be believed that the Son has not received this by grace, but possesses by natural right of His Sonship.
06404 The passage quoted adversely by heretics, namely, “The Son can do nothing of Himself,” is first explained from the words which follow; then, the text being examined, word by word, their acceptation in the Arian sense is shown to be impossible without incurring the charge of impiety or absurdity, the proof resting chiefly on the creation of the world and certain miracles of Christ.
39). Again, another objection that the Arians bring up, denying that the Power of the Father and the Son can be one and the same, is rested on His saying: “Verily, verily, I say unto you; the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He hath seen the Father doing.”31 And therefore they affirm that the Son has done nothing of Himself, and can do nothing, save what He hath seen the Father doing.
40. O wise foreknowledge of the arguments of unbelievers, which made further provision of means whereby to answer questions, by adding the words that follow: “For whatsoever the Father doeth, the same doeth the Son also, in like fashion,”32 for this indeed is the sequel. Why, then, is it written: “The Son doeth the same things,” and not “such like things,” but that thou mightest judge that in the Son there is unity in the Father’s works, not imitation of them?
41. But to put their proofs in turn upon trial: I would have them answer the question, whether the Son sees the works of the Father. Does He see, I ask, or not? If He sees them, then He also does them; if He does them, let heretics cease to deny the omnipotence of Him Whom they confess able to do all things that He has seen the Father doing.
42. But what are we to understand by “hath seen”? Has the Son any need of bodily eyes? Nay, if they will affirm this of the Son, they will make out in the Father also a need of bodily activity,33 in order that the Son may see that which He Himself is to do.
43. Furthermore, what mean the words: “The Son can do nothing of Himself”? Let us put this question, and debate it. Now is there anything impossible to God’s Power and Wisdom? These, observe, are names of the Son of God, Whose Might is certainly not a gift received from another, but just as He is the Life,34 not depending upon another’s quickening action, but Himself quickening others, because He is the Life; so also He is Wisdom,35 not as one that is ignorant acquiring wisdom, but making others wise from His own store; so, too, He is Power,36 not as having through weakness obtained increase of strength, but being Himself Power, and bestowing power upon the strong.
44. How, then, does Power assert, as it were, under oath: “Verily, verily I say unto you,” which means: “Of a truth, of a truth, I tell you”?37 Truly, then, Thou speakest, Lord Jesus, and dost affirm, repeating indeed thy solemn declaration, that Thou canst do nothing, save what Thou hast seen the Father doing. Thou didst make the universe. Did Thy Father then make another universe, for Thee to take as a model? So must Thy blasphemers confess that there are two, or a multitude of universes, as philosophers affirm, and thus also entangle themselves in this heathen error,38 or, if they will follow the truth, let them say that what Thou hast made, Thou didst make, without any pattern.
45. Tell me, Lord, when Thou sawest Thy Father incarnate, and walking upon the sea, for I know not, I hold it impious to believe this thing of the Father, knowing that Thou only hast taken our flesh upon Thee. When sawest Thou the Father at a marriage-feast, turning water into wine?39 Nay, but I have read that Thou alone art the only Son, begotten of the Father. I have been taught that Thou alone, in the mystery of the Incarnation, wast born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin. The things, then, which we have cited as Thy doings, the Father did not, but Thou alone, without guidance of any work done by Thy Father, for the purchase of the world’s salvation with Thy Blood, didst come forth spotless from the Virgin’s womb.
46. When they say, “The Son can do nothing of Himself,” they indeed except nothing, so that one blasphemer has even said: “He cannot make even a gnat,”40 mocking with so headstrong profanity and with insolence so overweening the majesty of Supreme Power; yet perhaps they may think the mystery of Thine Incarnate Life a needful exception. But say, Lord Jesu, what earth the Father made without Thee. For without Thee He made no heaven, seeing that it is written: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established.”
47. But neither did the Father make the earth without Thee, for it is written: “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.”41 For if the Father made aught without Thee, God the Word, then not all things were made by the Word, and the Evangelist lies. Whereas if all things were made by the Word, and if by Thee all things begin to be, which before were not, then surely Thou Thyself, of Thyself, hast made what Thou didst not see made by the Father; though perchance our adversaries may have recourse to that theory of Plato, and place before Thee the ideas supposed by philosophers, which, indeed, we know have been exploded by philosophers themselves. On the other hand, if Thou Thyself hast of Thyself made all things, vain are the assertions of the unbelieving, which ascribe progress in learning to the Maker of all, Who of Himself supplies the teaching of His craft.
48. But if heretics deny that either the heavens or the earth were made by Thee, let them take heed into what a gulf they are by their own madness hurling themselves, seeing that it is written: “Perish the gods, which have not made heaven and earth.”42 Shall He then perish, O Arian, Who has found and saved that which had perished? But to purpose.
06405 Continuing the exposition of the disputed passage, which he had begun, Ambrose brings forward four reasons why we affirm that something cannot be, and shows that the first three fail to apply to Christ, and infers that the only reason why the Son can do nothing of Himself is His Unity in Power with the Father.
49). In what sense can the Son do nothing of Himself? Let us ask what it is that He cannot do. There are many different sorts of impossibilities. One thing is naturally impossible, another is naturally possible, but impossible by reason of some weakness. Again, there are things which are rendered possible by strength, impossible by unskilfulness or weakness, of body and mind. Further, there are things which it is impossible to change, by reason of the law of an unchangeable purpose, the endurance of a firm will, and, again, faithfulness in friendship.
50. To make this clearer, let us consider the matter in the light of examples. It is impossible for a bird to pursue a course of learning in any science or become trained to any art: it is impossible for a stone to move in any direction, inasmuch as it can only be moved by the motion of another body. Of itself, then, a stone is incapable of moving, and passing from its place. Again, an eagle cannot be taught in the ways of human learning.
51. It is, to take another example, impossible for a sick man to do a strong man’s work; but in this case the reason of the impossibility is of a different kind, for the man is rendered unable, by sickness, to do what he is naturally capable of doing. In this case, then, the cause of the impossibility is sickness, and this kind of impossibility is different from the first, since the man is hindered by bodily weakness from the possibility of doing.43
52. Again, there is a third cause of impossibility. A man may be naturally capable, and his bodily health may allow of his doing some work, which he is yet unable to do by reason of want of skill, or because his rank in life disqualifies him; because, that is, he lacks the required learning or is a slave.44
53. Which of these three different causes of impossibility, think you, which we have enumerated (setting aside the fourth) can we meetly assign to the case of the Son of God? Is He naturally insensible and immovable, like a stone? He is indeed a stone of stumbling to the wicked, a cornerstone for the faithful;45 but He is not insensible, upon Whom the faithful affection of sentient peoples are stayed. He is not an immovable rock, “for they drank of a Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”46 The work of the Father, then, is not rendered impossible to Christ by diversity of nature.
54. Perchance we may suppose some things were made impossible for Him by reason of weakness. But He was not weakly Who could heal the weaknesses of others by His word of authority. Seemed He weak when bidding the paralytic take up his bed and walk?47 He charged the man to perform an action of which health was the necessary condition, even whilst the patient Was yet praying a remedy for his disease. Not weak was the Lord of hosts when He gave sight to the blind,48 made the crooked to stand upright, raised the dead to life,49 anticipated the effects of medicine at our prayers, and cured them that besought Him, and when to touch the fringe of His robe was to be purified.50
55. Unless, peradventure, you thought it was weakness, you wretches, when you saw His wounds. Truly, they were wounds piercing His Body, but there was no weakness betokened by that wound, whence flowed the Life of all, and therefore was it that the prophet said: “By His stripes we are healed.”51 Was He, then, Who was not weak in the hour when He was wounded, weak in regard of His Sovereignty? How, then, I ask? When He commanded the devils, and forgave the offences of sinners?52 Or when He made entreaty to the Father?
56. Here, indeed, our adversaries may perchance enquire: “How can the Father and the Son be One, if the Son at one time commands, at another entreats?” True, They are One; true also, He both commands and prays: yet whilst in the hour when He commands He is not alone, so also in the hour of prayer He is not weak. He is not alone, for whatsoever things the Father doeth, the same things doeth the Son also, in like manner. He is not weak, for though in the flesh He suffered weakness for our sins yet that was the chastisement of our peace upon Him,53 not lack of sovereign Power in Himself.
57. Moreover, that thou mayest know that it is after His Manhood that He entreats, and in virtue of His Godhead that He commands, it is written for thee in the Gospel that He said to Peter: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”54 To the same Apostle, again, when on a former occasion he said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” He made answer: “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock will I build My Church, and I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”55 Could He not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on His own authority, He gave the kingdom, whom He called the Rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church? Consider, then, the manner of His entreaty, the occasions of His commanding. He entreats, when He is shown to us as on the eve of suffering: He commands, when He is believed to he the Son of God.
58. We see, then, that two sorts of impossibility furnish no explanation,56 inasmuch as the Power of God can be neither insensible nor weakly. Will you then proffer the third kind [as an account of the matter], namely, that He can do nothing, just as an unskilled apprentice can do nothing without his master’s instructions, or a slave can do nothing without his lord. Then didst Thou speak falsely, Lord Jesu, in calling Thyself Master and Lord, and Thou didst deceive Thy disciples by Thy words: “Ye call Me Master and Lord, and ye say well, for so I am.”57 Nay, but Thou, O Truth, wouldst never have deceived men, least of all them whom Thou didst call friends.58
59. Yet if our enemies sunder Thee from the Creator, as being unskilled, let them see how they affirm that skill was lacking to Thee, that is to say, to the Divine Wisdom; for all that, however, they cannot divide the unity of substance that Thou hast with the Father. It is not, indeed, by nature, but by reason of ignorance, that the difference exists between the craftsman and the unskilled; but neither is handicraft attributable to the Father, nor ignorance to Thee, for there is no such thing as ignorant wisdom.
60. Therefore, if insensibility is no attribute of the Son, and if neither weakness, nor ignorance, nor servility, let unbelievers put it to their minds for meditation that both by nature and sovereignty the Son is One with the Father, and by its working His power is not at cross-purpose with the Father, inasmuch as “all things that the Father hath done, the Son doeth likewise,” for no one can do in like fashion the same work that another has done, unless he shares in the unity of the same nature, whilst he is also not inferior in method of working.
61. Yet I would still enquire what it is that the Son cannot do, unless He see the Father doing it. I will take the fool’s line, and propound some examples drawn from things of a lower world. “I am become a fool; ye have compelled me.”59 What indeed is more foolish than to debate over the majesty of God, which rather occasions questionings, than godly instruction which is in faith.60 But to arguments let arguments reply; let words make answer to them, but love to us, the love which is in God, issuing of a pure heart and good conscience and faith unfeigned. And so I stickle not to introduce even the ludicrous for the confutation of so vain a thesis.
62. How, then, does the Son see the Father? A horse sees a painting, which naturally it is unable to imitate. Not thus does the Son behold the Father. A child sees the work of a grown man, but he cannot reproduce it; certainly not thus, again, does the Son see the Father.
63. If, then, the Son can, by virtue of a common hidden power of the same nature which He has with the Father, both see and act in an invisible manner, and by the fulness of His Godhead execute every decree of His Will, what remains for us but to believe that the Son, by reason of indivisible unity of power, does nothing, save what He has seen the Father doing, forasmuch as because of His incomparable love the Son does nothing of Himself, since He wills nothing that is against His Father’s Will? Which truly is the proof not of weakness but of unity.61
Ambrose selected works 6317