Ambrose selected works 6406
06406 The fourth kind of impossibility (§49) is now taken into consideration, and it is shown that the Son does nothing that the Father approves not, there being between Them perfect unity of will and power.
64). The Son, moreover,—to consider now our fourth premiss,—is not self-assertive, for He, the Divine Assessor,62 hath done nought that is not in agreement with His Father’s Will. Further, the Father hath seen the things that the Son made, and pronounced them very good; for so it is written in Genesis: “And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good.”63
65. Now, did the Father say on that occasion, “Let there be such light as I Myself have made,” or “Let there be light”—light having as yet not existed; or did the Son ask what sort of light the Father made?64 Nay, the Son made light, according to His own Will, and so far in accordance with the Father’s good pleasure, that He approved. It is of new, original work by the Son that the place speaks.
66. Again, if, as Arian, expositions of the Scriptures make out, it is a discredit to the Son to have made what He saw, whereas the Scriptures present Him as having made what He [before] saw not, and to have given being to things which as yet were not, what should they say of the Father, Who praised that He had seen, as though He could not have foreseen the things that were to be made?
67. The Son, therefore, sees the Father’s work in like manner as the Father sees the Son’s, and the Father praises not the work as one would praise work of another’s doing, but recognizes it as His own, for “whatsoever things the Father hath done, the same doeth the Son, in like manner.” [So was it written, that] you might understand one and the same work to be the work both of the Father and of the Son. And thus the Son does nothing save what is approved of by the Father, praised by the Father, willed by the Father, because His whole Being is of the Father; and He is not as the created being, which commits many faults, ofttimes offending the Will of its Creator, in lusting after and falling into sin. Nought, then, is of the Son’s doing, save what is pleasing to the Father, forasmuch as one Will, one Purpose, is Theirs, one true Love, one effect of action.
68. Furthermore, to prove to you that it comes of Love, that the Son can do nothing of Himself save what He hath seen the Father doing, the Apostle has added to the words, “Whatsoever the Father hath done, the same things doeth the Son also, in like manner,” this reason: “For the Father loveth the Son,” and thus Scripture refers the Son’s inability to do, whereof it testifies, to unity in Love that suffers no separation or disagreement.
69. But if the inseparableness of the Persons in Love rest, as it truly does, upon [identity of] nature, thou surely they are also inseparable, for the same reason, in action, and it is impossible that the work of the Son should not be in agreement with the Father’s Will, when what the Son works, the Father works also, and what the Father works, the Son works also, and what the Son speaks, the Father speaks also, as it is written: “My Father, Who dwelleth in Me, He it is that speaketh, and the works that I do He Himself doeth.”65 For the Father appointed nought save by the exercise of His Power and Wisdom, forasmuch as He made all things wisely, as it is written: “In wisdom hast Thou made them all”66 and likewise, God the Word made nought without the Father’s participation.
70. Not without the Father does He work; not without His Father’s Will did He offer Himself for that most holy Passion, the Victim slain for the salvation of the whole world;67 not without His Father’s Will concurring did He raise the dead to life. For example, when He was at the point to raise Lazarus to life, He lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank Thee, for that Thou hast heard Me. And I knew that Thou dost always hear Me, but for the sake of the multitude that standeth round I spake, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me,”68 in order that, though speaking agreeably to His assumed character of man, in the flesh,69 He might still express His oneness with the Father in will and operation, in that the Father hears all and sees all that the Son wills, and therefore also the Father sees the Son’s doings, hears the utterances of His Will, for the Son made no request, and yet said that He had been heard.
71. Again, we cannot suppose that the Father hears not all, whatsoever the Son’s will resolves; and to show that He is always heard by the Father, not as a servant, not as a prophet, but as Son, He said: “And I knew that Thou dost always hear Me, but for the sake of the multitude which standeth round I spake, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me.”
72. It is for our sakes, therefore, that He renders thanks, lest we should suppose that the Father and the Son are one and the same Person, when we hear of one and the same work being wrought by the Father and the Son. Further, to show us that His rendering of thanks had not been the tribute due from one wanting in power, that, on the contrary, He, as Son of God, ever claimed for Himself the possession of divine authority, He cried, “Lazarus, come forth.” Here, surely, is the voice of command, not of prayer.
06407 The doctrine had in view for enforcement is corroborated by the truth that the Son is the Word of the Father—the Word, not in the sense in which we understand the term, but a living and active Word. This being so, we cannot deny Him to be of the same Will, Power, and Substance with the Father.
73. To return, however, to what we had in hand before, and finish the task set before us. The Son, as the Word. carries out His Father’s Will. Now, a word, as we understand and use it, is an utterance. There are syllables and sounds, which, however, are not at variance with the thought of our mind, and what we apprehend and are affected by inwardly we give token of by the testimony of the spoken word, which, as it were, works [for us]. But the words we speak have no direct efficacy in themselves, it is the Word of God alone, which is neither an utterance, nor an “inward concept,” as they call it, but works efficaciously, is living, and has healing power.
74. Wouldst thou know what is the nature of the Word—hear the Scriptures. “For the Word of God is living and mighty, yea, working effectually, sharp and keener than any the sharpest sword, piercing even to the sundering of soul and spirit, of limbs and marrow.”70
75. Hearest thou, then, the Word of God, and wilt separate Him from the Father’s Will and Power? Thou hearest Him called the living Word, the healing Word—seek not then to compare Him with the word of our mouth; for if the word we utter, through it have not eyes to see, nor ears to hear, yet speaks, and still the knowledge of what it speaks is wrought by virtue of hidden mysteries of man’s nature, how can he escape the charge of blasphemy, who requires that some sort of bodily vision and hearing shall go along with the Godhead in the Word of God, and thinks that the Son can do nothing of Himself, save what He shall have seen the Father doing, though (as we have said) there is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the same Will, both to do and not to do, and the same Power, by reason of unity in the same substance.
76. But if, though men are, as a rule, different in respect of their thoughts and feelings, they yet agree as to the meaning of a single proposition, what ought we to think as concerning the Father and the Son of God, seeing that in the Substance of the Godhead there is that is imitated by human love?
77. Let us, however, suppose—as our adversaries would have it—that the Son does, as it were, copy the pattern of that which He has seen His Father doing. But even this, we must confess, means that He is of the same substance, for none can completely imitate the working of another, unless he be one with him in the same nature.
06408 The heretical objection, that the Son cannot be equal to the Father, because He cannot beget a Son, is turned back upon the authors of it. From the case of human nature it is shown that whether a person begets offspring or not, has nothing to do with his power. Most of all must this be true since, otherwise, the Father Himself would have to be pronounced wanting in power. Whence it follows that we have no right to judge of divine things by human, and must take our stand upon the authority of Holy Writ, otherwise we must deny all power either to the Father or to the Son.
78). There is a fool’s demurrer, your Majesty, which certain persons are given to raising, in order to show the Father and the Son to be not equal together, saying that the Father is Almighty, because He hath begotten the Son, but that the Son is not Almighty, because He hath not been able to beget.
79. But see how wild is their blasphemy, how their philosophers’ logic confutes itself. For the raising of this question must lead either to their confessing with their own mouths that the Son is co-eternal with the Father, or, if they impose a beginning upon the Son’s existence, to their assigning of necessity a beginning to the Father’s power. When, therefore, they deny that the Son is Almighty, they are on the road to assert—which is impious—that the Father began to be Almighty by help of the Son.
80. For if the Father is Almighty by reason of begetting the Son, then, certainly, either the Son is co-eternal with the Father, because if the Father is eternally Almighty, then the Son also is eternal, or, if there was a time when there was not an eternal Son, there was by consequence a time when there was not an Almighty Father. For when they would make out that there was a time when the Son began to be, they are sliding back into [the error of] saying that the Father’s Power also has not been from everlasting, but began to be in consequence of the generation of the Son. So, in their desire to do dishonour to the Son of God, they do so increase His honour as to seem to make Him, contrary to all right belief, the source of His Father’s Power, though the Son saith, “All things that the Father hath are Mine”71 —that is to say, not the things which He has bestowed upon the Father, but which He has received from the Father, by right as the Son Whom the Father has begotten.
81. And therefore we do declare the Son to be Eternal Power;72 if, then, His Power and Godhead be eternal, surely His Sovereignty is eternal also. He, then, who dishonours the Son dishonours the Father, and is an enemy and offender against duty and love. Let us honour the Son, in Whom the Father is well pleased, for it is the Father’s pleasure that praise be given to the Son, in Whom He Himself is well pleased.
82. Let us, however, make answer to the conclusion they strive to establish; but we seem to have sought, in pursuit of a personal appeal, to escape from the difficulty of treating the question before us. The Father, they say, has begotten a Son; the Son has not. What proof is this that they are not equal? To beget is the Father’s natural function, as a Father, and no necessary outcome of His Sovereign Power.73 Furthermore, dutiful regard places persons on an equality with each other, and does not sunder them. Again, our own experience of what holds good amongst us frail mortals teaches us that it may frequently happen that weak men have sons, whilst stronger men have not; that slaves have children, whilst their masters are childless; and that the poor beget offspring, whilst rich men are unblessed with any.
83. But if our adversaries say that this too may be the result of infirmity, inasmuch as men may desire to beget children, but be unable to do so; then, though things divine are not to be judged of and determined by things human, yet let them understand that with men also, as with God, whether one has children or no, is not dependent upon or derived of his authoritative power, but upon the personal attributes of a father, and that begetting lies not in the power of our will, but is contingent upon our qualities of body; for if it were a matter of sovereign authority, then the mightier king would have the greater number of sons. To have sons, then, or to be childless, therefore, is not in necessary connection or relation to sovereign authority. Is it, then, so with nature?
84. If you [my Arian adversaries] regard what you object as natural weakness, and rely upon examples taken from the nature of mankind, remember that the Father’s nature is the same as the Son’s, and therefore you do either confess the Son to be a true Son, and dishonour the Father in the Person of the Son, by reason of Their unity in one and the same Nature (for as the Father is by Nature God, so also is the Son; whereas the Apostle says that the “gods many” are not so by nature, but are only so called); or, if you deny Him to be a true Son, that is to say, possessing the same Nature, then He is not begotten, and if the Son is not begotten, the Father did not beget Him.
85. The conclusion we come at, therefore, on the line of your persuasion, is that God the Father is not Almighty, because He could not beget, if He did not beget the Son, but created Him. But forasmuch as the Father is Almighty, He being, as you hold, the Almighty in so far as He is the only Author of Being, then surely He has begotten His Son, and not created Him. Howbeit, we ought to believe His word before yours. He says: “I have begotten,”74 and that more than once, witnessing to Himself as begetting.
86. It is no sign, then, of infirmity, whether of nature or authority, in Christ, that He has not begotten, for to beget, as we have already said ofttimes, bears no relation to supremacy of authority, but to a personal property in a nature.75 For if the Omnipotence of the Father is thereby constituted, that He hath a Son, then He might have been more Almighty had He begotten more Sons.
87. Then is His power exhausted in the begetting of One? Nay, but I will show that Christ also hath sons, whom He begets every day, but with that generation, or rather regeneration, which is related to personal authority rather than nature, for adoption is the exercise and bestowal of authority, and generation the manifestation of a property, as Scripture itself hath taught us: for Jn saith that “He was in this world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came to His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power76 to become sons of God, to them which believe in His Name.”77
88. We say, therefore, that it is the function and exercise of His Authority that He has made us sons of God, whereas the oracles of God discover that His generation is in relation to personal attribute, for the Wisdom of God saith: “I came forth out of the mouth of the Most High,”78 that is to say not of compulsion, but free, not under bond of authority, but born in a hidden birth, according to personal powers of Supreme Sovereignty and rightfulness of authority. Again, concerning the same Wisdom, Which is the Lord Jesus, the Father saith in another place: “Out of the womb I begat Thee, before the morning star.”79
89. Now this He said, not to make us think of a bodily womb,80 but to show that true generation is His proper activity,81 for if we understand the words as speaking of generation from a body, then [we imply] the Father Almighty conceived and brought forth in travail. But far be it from us that we should make this weak bodily frame the measure of God’s greatness. The word “womb” represents the hidden mystery, the inner sanctuary of the Father’s being, into which neither angels nor archangels nor powers nor dominations, nor any created nature, hath been able to enter. For the Son is always with the Father, and in the Father—with the Father, by virtue of the distinction, without division, proper to the Eternal Trinity;82 in the Father, by reason of the essential unity of the Divine Nature.
90. What room here, then, for one to sit in judgment upon the Godhead, to call in question the Father and the Son,—the One for begetting, the Other for not begetting. No man condemns his servant or handmaid for begetting (or bearing) offspring; but those Arians condemn Christ for not begetting—they do condemn Him, for they privately pass sentence of condemnation upon Him, when they take from His glory and dignity. The question, why they have not begotten offspring, does not lead those who are joined in marriage into loss of their love, or denial of each other’s merits, but the Arians, because Christ hath not begotten a Son, make light of His sovereignty.
91. Why, ask they, is the Son not a Father? Because, on the other side, the Father is not a Son. Why has not Christ begotten? Even because the Father is not begotten. Yet the Son stands none the lower, because He is not a Father; nor the Father, because He is not a Son, for the Son said: “All things that the Father hath are Mine”83 —so truly is generation involved in the Father’s personal attributes, and comes not by mere right of sovereignty.
92. The Substance of the Trinity is, so to say, a common Essence in that which is distinct,84 an incomprehensible, ineffable Substance. We hold the distinction, not the confusion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a distinction without separation; a distinction without plurality;85 and thus we believe in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as each existing from and to eternity in this divine and wonderful Mystery: not in twoFathers, nor in two Sons, nor in two Spirits. For “there is one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we by Him.”86 There is One born ofthe Father, the Lord Jesus, and therefore He is the Only-begotten.“There is also One Holy Spirit,”87 as the same Apostle hath said. So we believe,so we read, so we hold. We know the fact of distinction, we know nothing of the hidden mysteries; we pry not into the causes, but keep the outward signs vouchsafed unto us.
93. O monstrous wickedness, that they who have no power over their own procreation should claim and usurp power to enquire into the Divine Generation! Let them deny, them, that the Son is equal to the Father, forasmuch as He hath not begotten; let them deny that the Son is equal to the Father, because He hath a Father! But if they talked after this fashion about men, who sometimes desire to beget sons, yet cannot, we should call it an insult, just as we should so call it, if of two men, one having sons and the other childless, the latter were said to be inferior to the former on that ground. So monstrous also, I say, does it seem, in regard simply to men, that one should therefore be esteemed the more lightly because he hath a father. Peradventure, indeed, the Arians suppose that Christ is in the position of one in a family, and frets because He is not set free and independent of His Father’s authority, and is not empowered to administer the estate. But Christ is not under tutelage; nay, rather has He abolished all tutelage.88
94. How then, let them tell us, would they have these things to be?—a true generation, the true Son begotten of God the Father, that is, of the Substance of the Father, or of another substance? If they say “begotten of the Father, that is, of the Substance of God,” well and good, for then they acknowledge the Son as begotten of the Substance of the Father. If, then, they are of one Substance, surely they are also of one sovereign Power. Whereas, if the Son is begotten of another substance, how can the Father be Almighty, and the Son not Almighty? For what advantage hath God, if He have made His Son of another substance, when confessedly the Son, on His part, hath of another substance made us sons of God? The Son, therefore, is either of one Substance with the Father, or of one sovereign Power.
95. Our adversaries’ question, then, falls flat, because they cannot judge Christ—or rather, because He is clear, when He is judged.89 They are worthy, however, to be condemned upon their own sentence, who raise this question against us, for if the Son be therefore not equal to the Father, because He hath not begotten a Son, then by all means let them who sow discussions of this kind90 confess, if they have not children, that their very servants are to be preferred before themselves, inasmuch as they cannot be the equals of those who have children—whereas, if they have children, let them regard the merit thereof as due not to themselves, but of right to their sons.
96. The objection, then, holds not together, that the Son cannot be equal to the Father, by reason of the Father having begotten the Son, whilst the Son has begotten no Son of Himself, for the spring: begets the stream, though the stream begets no spring out of itself, and light begets radiance, and not radiance light, yet the nature of radiance and light is one.91
06409 Various quibbling arguments, advanced by the Arians to show that the Son had a beginning of existence, are considered and refuted, on the ground that whilst the Arians plainly prove nothing, or if they prove anything, prove it against themselves, (inasmuch as He Who is the beginning of all cannot Himself have a beginning), their reasonings do not even hold true with regard to facts of human existence. Time could not be before He was, Who is the Author of time—if indeed at some time He was not in existence, then the Father was without His Power and Wisdom. Again, our own human experience shows that a person is said to exist before he is born.
97. Now that our opponents have failed to maintain their objection against the truth of His Son’s equality with the Father, on the ground of His Generation, let them see that their well known device of controversy, their stock misrepresentation, is frustrated. Their common use is to propound this riddle: “How can the Son be equal with the Father? If He is a Son, then before He was begotten He was not in existence. If He was in existence, why was He begotten?” And men who advance difficulties raised by Arius yet sturdily deny that they are Arians.
98. Accordingly, they demand our answer, intending, if we say, “The Son existed before He was begotten,” to meet us with a subtle retort, that “If so, then, before He was begotten, He was created, and there is no difference between Him and the rest of created beings, for He began to be a creature before He began to be the Son.” To which they add: “Why was He begotten, when He was already in existence? Because He was imperfect, and in order that He might afterwards be made more perfect?” Whilst if we reply that the Son did not exist before He was begotten, they will immediately reply: “Then by being begotten He was brought into existence, not having existed before He was begotten,” so as to lead on from this to the conclusion that “the Son existed, when He did not exist.”92
99. But let those who propound this difficulty and endeavour to enwrap the truth in a cloud tell us themselves whether the Father exerts His power of begetting within or without limits of time. If they say “within limits of time,” then they will attribute to the Father what they object against the Son, so as to make the Father seem to have begun to be what He was not before. If their answer is “without such limits,” then what is left them but to resolve for themselves the problem they have propounded, and acknowledge that the Son is not begotten under limits and conditions of time, since they deny that the Father so begets?
100. If the Son, then, is not begotten within limits of time, we are free to judge that nothing can have existed before the Son, Whose being is not confined by time. If, indeed, there was anything in being before the Son, then it instantly follows that in Him were not created all things in heaven or in earth, and the Apostle is shown to have erred in so setting it down in his Epistle,93 whereas, if before He was begotten there was nothing, I see not wherefore He, before Whom none was, should be said to have been after any.
101. With the consideration whereof we must join another most blasphemous objection of theirs, which covers a subtle purpose to confuse the sense and understanding of simple folk. They ask whether everything that comes to an end had also at any time a beginning. If they are told that what has an end also had a beginning, then they return to the charge with the question whether the Father has ceased to beget His Son. This by our consent being granted them, they conclude that the generation of the Son had a beginning. The which if you allow, it seems to follow that if the Generation had a beginning, it appears to have begun in Him Who was begotten; so that one, who had not existed before, may be called “begotten”—their intent being to close the inquiry by laying down as conclusive that there was a time when the Son existed not.
102. Besides this, there are other vain objections, such as persons of their glibness of tongue would readily urge. If, say they, the Son is the Word of the Father, then He is called “begotten,” inasmuch as He is the Word. But then since He is the Word, He is not a work. Now the Father has spoken “in divers manners,”94 whence it follows that He has begotten many Sons, if He has spoken His Word, not created it as a work of His hands. O fools, talking as though they knew not the difference between the word uttered and the Divine Word, abiding eternally, born of the Father—born, I say, not uttered only—in Whom is no combination of syllables, but the fulness of the eternal Godhead and life without end!95
103. Follows another blasphemy, whereby they enquire whether it was of His own free will, or on compulsion, that the Father begat [His Son], intending, if we say, “Of His own free will,” that we should appear as though we acknowledged that the Father’s Will preceded the [Divine] Generation, and to answer that there being something that preceded the existence of the Son, the Son is not co-eternal with the Father, or that He, like the rest of the world, is a being created, forasmuch as it is written, “He hath made all things, as many as He would,”96 though this is spoken, not of the Father and the Son, but of those creatures which the Son made. Whereas if we answered that the Father begat [His Son] on compulsion, we should seem to have attributed infirmity to the Father.
104. But in the eternal Generation there is no foregoing condition, neither of will, nor of unwillingness, and therefore I can neither say that the Father begat of His free Will, nor yet that He begat on compulsion, for to beget depends not upon possibility as determined by will, but rather appears to stand in a certain right and property of the hidden being of the Father. For just as the Father is not good because He wills to be so, or is compelled to be so, but is above these conditions—is good, that is, by nature,—even so the putting forth of His generative power is neither of will nor of necessity.
105. Yet let us grant their proposal, Granted that the Generation depends on the Will of Him Who generates; when do they say that this act of will took place? If it was in the beginning, then, plainly; the Son was in the beginning. If the Will is eternal, then the Son also is eternal. If the Will began to exist, then God the Father, as He was, was so displeased with Himself, that He made a change in His condition, that is to say, without His Son He was displeasing to Himself; in His Son He began to be well pleased.
106. To follow out the consequences thereof. If the Father conceived, after the manner of human nature, a desire to beget, then did He also pass through all the experiences which befal men before the birth takes place—but we find that generation is not determined merely by will, but is an object of wish.
107. Thus do they betray their own ungodliness, who would have it that Christ’s generation had a beginning, in order that it may seem, not that true begetting of the Word abiding, but the utterance of words that pass and are forgotten, and that by intrusion of [the premiss of] a multitude of sons, they may [be warranted to] deny Christ’s personal possession of the divine attributes, to the end that He may be regarded as neither the only-begotten nor the first-begotten Son; and lastly, that given the belief that His existence had a beginning, it may also be deemed as appointed to have an end.
108. But neither had the Son of God any beginning, seeing that He already was at the beginning, nor shall He come to an end, Who is the Beginning and the End of the Universe;97 for being the Beginning, how could He take and receive that which He already had,98 or how shall He come to an end, being Himself the End of all things, so that in that End we have an abiding-place without end? The Divine Generation is not an event occurring in the course of time, and within its limits, and therefore before it time is not, and in it time has no place.
109. Again, their aimless and futile question finds no loophole for entry, even when directed upon the creation itself;99 nay, indeed, temporal existences appear, in certain cases, to admit of no division of time. For instance, light generates radiance, but we can neither conceive that the radiance begins to exist after the light, nor that the light is in existence before the radiance, for where there is a light,100 there is radiance, and where there is radiance there is also a light; and thus we can neither have a light without radiance, nor radiance without light, because both the light is in the radiance, and the radiance in the light. Thus the Apostle was taught to call the Son “the Radiance of the Father’s Glory,”101 for the Son is the Radiance of His Father’s light, co-eternal, because of eternity of Power; inseparable, by unity of brightness.
110. If then we can neither understand the mystery of, nor dissociate, these created objects in the sky above us, which we see, can we comprehend Him Whom we see not, Who is above every created existence, God, as He is in the very Holy of Holies of His own Generation? Can we make time a barrier between Him and the Son, when all time is the creation of the Son?
111. Let them cease therefore, and say no more that before He was begotten the Son was not. For the word “before” is a mark of time, whereas the Generation is before all times,102 and therefore that which comes after aught comes not before it, and the work cannot be before the maker, seeing that necessarily objects made take their commencement from the craftsman who makes them. How can the customary action of any created object be regarded as existing prior to the maker of it, whilst all time is a creation, and every creation has taken its being from its creator?
112. I would, therefore, further examine our opponents, who esteem themselves so cunning, and have them make good the application of their theory to human existence, seeing that they use it to disparage the glory of God’s Existence, and keep far away from any confession of an inscrutable mystery in the Divine Generation. I would have them find ground for their objection in the facts of human generation. Of God’s Son they assert that before He was begotten He was not,—that is to say, they say this of the Wisdom, the Power, the Word of God, Whose Generation knows nothing prior to itself. But if, as they would have us believe, there was a time when the Son existed not (the which it is blasphemy to affirm), then there was a time when God lacked the fulness of Divine Perfection, if afterwards He passed through a process of begetting a Son.
113. To show them, however, the weakness and transparency of their objection, though it has no real relation to any truth, divine or human, I will prove to them that men have existed before they were born. Else, let them show that Jacob, who whilst yet hidden in the secret chamber of his mother’s womb supplanted his brother, had not been appointed and ordained, ere ever he was born;103 let them show that Jeremiah had not likewise been so, before his birth, -Jeremiah, to whom the message comes: “Before I formed thee in thy mother’s womb, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth from the belly, I sanctified thee, and appointed thee for a prophet amongst the nations.”104 What testimony can we have stronger than the case of this great prophet, who was sanctified before he was born, and known before he was shaped?
114. What, again, shall I say of John, of whom his holy mother testifies that, whilst he yet lay in her womb, he perceived in spirit105 the presence of his Lord, and leaped for joy, as we remember it to be written, his mother saying: “For lo, as soon as the voice of the salutation entered mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”106 Was he, then, who prophesied, in existence or not? Nay, surely he was—surely he was in being who worshipped his Maker; he was in being who spake in his mother’s womb. And so Elisabeth was filled with the spirit of her son, and Mary sanctified by the Spirit of hers, for thus you may find it recorded, that “the babe leaped in her womb, and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.”107
115. Consider the proper force of each word. Elisabeth was indeed the first to hear the voice of Mary, but Jn was first to feel His Lord’s gracious Presence. Sweet is the harmony of prophecy with prophecy, of woman with woman, of babe with babe. The women speak words of grace, the babes move hiddenly, and as their mothers approach one another, so do they engage in mysterious converse of love; and in a twofold miracle, though in diverse degrees of honour, the mothers prophesy in the spirit of their little ones. Who, I ask, was it that performed this miracle? Was it not the Son of God, Who made the unborn to be?
116. Thus your objection fails of reconcilement with the truths of human existence—can it attain thereto with divine mysteries? What mean you by your principle that “before He was begotten He was not”? Was the Father engaged for some time in conception, so that certain epochs passed away before the Son was begotten? Was He, like women, in travail of birth, so that just this travail? What would you? Why seek we to pry into divine mysteries? The Scriptures tell me the necessary effects of the Divine Generation,108 not how it is done.
Ambrose selected works 6406