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Ambrose (337?-397): The Source of an Idea

June 15, 2009

Ambrose:

Christ Suffered for the Church:

1) 47. But he was not so eager as to lay aside caution. He called the bishop to him, and esteeming that there can be no true thankfulness except it spring from true faith, he enquired whether he agreed with the Catholic bishops, that is, with the Roman Church? And possibly at that place the Church of the district was in schism. For at that time Lucifer had withdrawn from our communion, and although he had been an exile for the faith, and had left inheritors of his own faith, yet my brother did not think that there could be true faith in schism. For though schismatics kept the faith towards God, yet they kept it not towards the Church of God, certain of whose limbs they suffered as it were to be divided, and her members to be torn. For since Christ suffered for the Church, and the Church is the body of Christ, it does not seem that faith in Christ is shown by those by whom His Passion is made of none effect, and His body divided.  Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:168-169.

Christ Suffered for all:

1) “A certain creditor,” it says, “had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty” [St. Luke 7:41]. 24. Who are those two debtors if not the two peoples, the one from the Jews, the other from the Gentiles, beholden to the Creditor of the heavenly treasure? It says, “The one owed five hundred pence, the other fifty” [St. Luke 7:41]. Extraordinary is that penny on which the King’s image is written, which bears the imprint of the Emperor [cf. St. Mark 12:15-16]. To this Creditor we owe not material wealth, but assays of merits, accounts of virtues, the worth of which is measured by the weight of seriousness, the likeness of righteousness, the sound of confession. Woe is me if I do not have what I have received, truly, because only with difficulty can anyone pay off the whole debt to this Creditor; woe is me if I do not ask, “Remit my debt.” For the Lord would not have taught us so to pray that we ask for our sins to be forgiven [cf. St. Matthew 6:12] if He had not known that some would only with difficulty be worthy debtors [cf. St. Luke 11:4]. 25. But which is the people which owes more if not we by whom more is believed? God’s words were believed by them [cf. Romans 3:2], but His Virgin Birth by us. Ye have the talent [cf. St. Matthew 25:15], the Virgin Birth; ye have the hundredfold fruit of faith [cf. St. Matthew 13:8]. Emmanuel was believed, God with us [cf. St. Matthew 1:23]; the Cross, the Death, the Resurrection of the Lord were believed. Although Christ suffered for all, yet He suffered for us particularly, because He suffered for the Church. Therefore, there is no doubt that he who has received more, owes more [cf. St. Luke 12:48]. And according to me, perhaps he who owed more offended more, but through the Lord’s mercy, the case is changed, so that he who owed more loves more, if he nevertheless attains Grace. For he who gives it back possesses Grace, and he who possesses it repays, insofar as he possesses, for the possession consists in the repayment and the repayment in the possession. 26. And, therefore, since there is nothing which we can worthily repay to God–for what may we repay for the harm to the Flesh He assumed, what for the blows, what for the Cross, the Death, and the Burial? Woe is me if I have not loved! I dare to say that Peter did not repay and thereby loved the more; Paul did not repay–he, indeed, repaid death for death, but did not repay other debts, because he owed much. I hear himself saying, because he did not repay, “Who hath given to Him first, that he might be recompensed again?” [Romans 11:35]. Even if we were to repay cross for Cross, death for Death, do we repay that we possess all things from Him, and by Him, and in Him [cf. Romans 11:36]? Therefore, let us repay love for our debt, charity for the gift, grace for wealth; for he to whom more is given loves more [cf. St. Luke 7:42-43].”  Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), 201-202.

2) 13. Let these triumphant victims be brought to the place where Christ is the victim. But He upon the altar, Who suffered for all; they beneath the altar, who were redeemed by His Passion. I had destined this place for myself, for it is fitting that the priest should rest there where he has been wont to offer, but I yield the right hand portion to the sacred victims; that place was due to the martyrs. Let us, then, deposit the sacred relics, and lay them up in a worthy resting-place, and let us celebrate the whole day with faithful devotion. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:438.

Christ came to redeem all:

1) 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. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:264.

Christ slain for the salvation of the world:

1) 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; 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 stands round I spoke, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me,” in order that, though speaking agreeably to His assumed character of man, in the flesh,2398 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. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:271,

Sins of the world:

1) 3. Even at that time was it declared in a mystery that the Lord Jesus in His Flesh would, when crucified, do away the sins of the whole world, and not only the deeds of the body, but the desires of the soul. For the flesh of the kid refers to sins of deed, the broth to the enticements of desire as it is written: “For the people lusted an evil lust, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?” That the Angel then stretched forth his staff, and touched the rock, from which fire went out, shows that the Flesh of the Lord, being filled with the Divine Spirit, would burn away all the sins of human frailty. Wherefore, also, the Lord says: “I am come to send fire upon the earth.” Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:93.

2) 101. And so since he was separated from his parents through piety not on account of impiety, he talked with God, he increased in riches, in children, and in favour. Nor was he elated by these things when he met his brother; but humbly bowed down to him, not indeed considering him the pitiless, the furious, the degenerate, but Him Whom he reverenced in him. And so he bowed down seven times, which is the number of remission, for he was not bowing down to man, but to Him Whom he foresaw in the Spirit, as hereafter to come in human flesh to take away the sins of the world. And this mystery is unfolded to you in the answer given to Peter, when he said: “If my brother trespass against me how often shall I forgive him? Until seven times?” You see that remission of sins is a type of that great Sabbath, of that rest of everlasting grace, and therefore is given by contemplation. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:471-472.

Lamb of God references (sample):

1) Later on, St. John uses the lamb, that taketh away the sins of the world,” as an example; and to teach you plainly the Incarnation of Him, of Whom he had spoken before, he says: “This is He of Whom I said before: After me cometh a Man, Who is made before me,” to wit, of Whom I said that He was “made” as being man, not as being God. However, to show that it was He Who was before the worlds, and none other, that became flesh, lest we should suppose two Sons of God, he adds: “because He was before me.” If the words “was made” had referred to the divine generation, what need was there that the writer should add this, and repeat himself? But, having first said, with regard to the Incarnation only, “After me cometh a Man, Who is made before me,” he added: “because He was before me,” because it was needful to teach the eternity of [Christ’s] Godhead; and this is the reason why St. John acknowledged Christ’s priority, that He, Who is His own Father’s eternal Power, may be presented as on that account duly preferred. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:252.

Sins of the people:

1) 85. Let us see what follows: “For He did not indeed [straightway] put on Him the nature of angels, but that of Abraham’s seed. And thus was He able to be made like to His brethren in all things throughout, that He might become a compassionate and faithful Prince, a Priest unto God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people; for in that He Himself suffered He is able also to help them that are tempted. Wherefore, brethren most holy, ye who have each his share in a heavenly calling, look upon the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus, regard His faithfulness to His Creator, even as Moses was in his house.” These, then, are the Apostle’s words.

86. You see what it is in respect whereof the writer calls Him created: “In so far as He took upon Him the seed of Abraham;” plainly asserting the begetting of a body. How, indeed, but in His body did He expiate the sins of the people? In what did He suffer, save in His body–even as we said above: “Christ having suffered in the flesh”? In what is He a priest, save in that which He took to Himself from the priestly nation? Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:255-256

Christ died for all:

1) 19. So we see how grave a matter it is to deprive another, with whom we ought rather to suffer, of anything, or to act unfairly or injuriously towards one to whom we ought to give a share in our services. This is a true law of nature, which binds us to show all kindly feeling, so that we should all of us in turn help one another, as parts of one body, and should never think of depriving another of anything, seeing it is against the law of nature even to abstain from giving help. We are born in such a way that limb combines with limb, and one works with another, and all assist each other in mutual service. But if one fails in its duty, the rest are hindered. If, for instance, the hand tears out the eye, has it not hindered the use of its work? If it were to wound the foot, how many actions would it not prevent? But how much worse is it for the whole man to be drawn aside from his duty than for one of the members only! If the whole body is injured in one member, so also is the whole community of the human race disturbed in one man. The nature of mankind is injured, as also is the society of the holy Church, which rises into one united body, bound together in oneness of faith and love. Christ the Lord, also, Who died for all, will grieve that the price of His blood was paid in vain. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:70.

Redemption of the people:

1) 4. Then the man, instructed and foreknowing what was to be, observes the heavenly mysteries, and therefore, according to the warning, slew the bullock destined by his father to idols, and himself offered to God another bullock seven years old. By doing which he most plainly showed that after the coming of the Lord all Gentile sacrifices should be done away, and that only the sacrifice of the Lord’s passion should be offered for the redemption of the people. For that bullock was, in a type, Christ, in Whom, as Esaias said, dwelt the fulness of the seven gifts of the Spirit. This bullock Abraham also offered when he saw the day of the Lord and was glad. He it is Who was offered at one time in the type of a kid, at another in that of a sheep, at another in that of a bullock. Of a kid, because He is a sacrifice for sin; of a sheep, because He is an unresisting victim; of a bullock, because He is a victim without blemish. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:93-94.

Redemption of Creation:

1) [chapter title:] 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.  Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:249.

Redeemer of the world:

1) 86. For it is of the Lord to fill all things, Who says: “I fill heaven and earth.” If, then, it is the Lord Who fills heaven and earth, Who can judge the Holy Spirit to be without a share in the dominion and divine power, seeing that He has filled the world, and what is beyond the whole world, filled Jesus the Redeemer of the whole world? For it is written: “But Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, departed from Jordan.” Who, then, except one who possessed the same fulness could fill Him Who fills all things? Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:104.

2) 13. You hear that our fathers were under the cloud, and that a kindly cloud, which cooled the heat of carnal passions. That kindly cloud overshadows those whom the Holy Spirit visits. At last it came upon the Virgin Mary, and the Power of the Highest overshadowed her, when she conceived Redemption for the race of men. And that miracle was wrought in a figure through Moses. If, then, the Spirit was in the figure, is He not present in the reality, since Scripture says to us: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:318-319.

Universal redemption:

1) 230. In our writings this is put somewhat more plainly. For David says: “The Lord reigns, He is clothed with splendor.” And the Apostle says: “Walk honestly as in the day.” The Greek text has ευσχημoνως–and this really means: with good clothing, with a good appearance. When God made the first man, He created him with a good figure, with limbs well set, and gave him a very noble appearance. He had not given him remission of sins. But afterwards He, Who came in the form of a servant, and in the likeness of man, renewed him with His Spirit, and poured His grace into his heart, and put on Himself the splendor of the redemption of the human race. Therefore the Prophet said: “The Lord reigns, He is clothed with splendor.” And again he says: “A hymn beseems Thee, O God, in Sion.”324 That is: It is right and good to fear Thee, to love Thee, to pray to Thee, to honor Thee, for it is written: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” But we can also fear, love, ask, honor men; yet the hymn especially is addressed to God. This seemliness which we offer to God we may believe to be far better than other things. It befits also a woman to pray in an orderly dress, but it especially beseems her to pray covered, and to pray giving promise of purity together with a good conversation. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:37-38.

2) 16. There is also a certain water which we put into the basin of our soul, water from the fleece and from the Book of Judges; water, too, from the Book of Psalms. It is the water of the message from heaven. Let, then, this water, O Lord Jesus, come into my soul, into my flesh, that through the moisture of this rain809 the valleys of our minds and the fields of our hearts may grow green. May the drops from Thee come upon me, shedding forth grace and immortality. Wash the steps of my mind that I may not sin again. Wash the heel810 of my soul, that I may be able to efface the curse, that I feel not the serpent’s bite on the foot of my soul, but, as Thou Thyself hast bidden those who follow Thee, may tread on serpents and scorpions with uninjured foot. Thou hast redeemed the world, redeem the soul of a single sinner. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:95.

3) 17. This is the special excellence of Thy loving-kindness, wherewith Thou hast redeemed the whole world one by one. Elijah was sent to one widow; Elisha cleansed one; Thou, O Lord Jesus, hast at this day cleansed a thousand. How many in the city of Rome, how many at Alexandria, how many at Antioch, how many also at Constantinople! For even Constantinople has received the word of God, and has received evident proofs of Thy judgment. For so long as she cherished the Arians’ poison in her bosom, disquieted by neighbouring wars, she echoed with hostile arms around. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:96.

4) 46. Why should more be said? By the death of One the world was redeemed. For Christ, had He willed, need not have died, but He neither thought that death should be shunned as though there were any cowardice in it, nor could He have saved us better than by dying. And so His death is the life of all. We are signed with the sign of His death, we show forth His death when we pray; when we offer the Sacrifice we declare His death, for His death is victory, His death is our mystery, His death is the yearly recurring solemnity of the world. What now should we say concerning His death, since we prove by this Divine Example that death alone found immortality, and that death itself redeemed itself. Death, then, is not to be mourned over, for it is the cause of salvation for all; death is not to be shunned, for the Son of God did not think it unworthy of Him, and did not shun it. The order of nature is not to be loosed, for what is common to all cannot admit of exception in individuals. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:18-181.

5) [Chapter title:] 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. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:246.

6) 104. And so He needed no helper. For He needed none when He made the world, so as to need none when He would redeem it. No legate, no messenger, but the Lord Himself made it whole. “He spake and it was done.” The Lord Himself made it whole, Himself in every part, because all things were by Him. For who should help Him in Whom all things were created and by Whom all things consist?1611 Who should help Him Who makes all things in a moment, and raises the dead at the last trump? The “last,” not as though He could not raise them at the first, or the second, or the third, but an order is observed, not that a difficulty may be at last overcome, but that the prescribed number be accomplished. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:191.

7) 127. A harlot saw this; and she who in the destruction of the city lost all hope of any means of safety, because her faith had conquered, bound a scarlet thread in her window, and thus uplifted a sign of her faith and the banner of the Lord’s Passion; so that the semblance of the mystic blood, which should redeem the world, might be in memory. So, without, the name of Joshua was a sign of victory to those who fought; within, the semblance of the Lord’s Passion was a sign of salvation to those in danger. Wherefore, because Rahab understood the heavenly mystery, the Lord says in the Psalm: “I will be mindful of Rahab and Babylon that know Me.” Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:300.

8) 17. Thou, Lord Jesus, hast redeemed the world in one moment of time: shall Auxentius in one moment slay, as far as he can, so many peoples, some by the sword, others by sacrilege? He seeks my basilica with bloody lips and gory hands. Him to-day’s chapter answers well: “But unto the wicked said God: Wherefore dost thou declare My righteousness?”3483 That is, there is no union between peace and madness, there is no union between Christ and Belial. You remember also that we read to-day of Naboth, a holy man who owned his own vineyard, being urged on the king’s request to give it up. When the king after rooting up the vines intended to plant common herbs, he answered him: “God forbid that I should give up the inheritance of my fathers.”3485 The king was grieved, because what belonged by right to another had been refused him on fair grounds, but had been unfairly got by a woman’s device. Naboth defended his vines with his own blood. And if he did not give up his vineyard, shall we give up the Church of Christ?  Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:431-433.

9) 110. Nor was Mary below what was becoming the mother of Christ. When the apostles fled, she stood at the Cross, and with pious eyes beheld her Son’s wounds, for she did not look for the death of her Offspring, but the salvation of the world. Or perchance, because that “royal hall” knew that the redemption of the world would be through the death of her Son, she thought that by her death also she might add something to the public weal. But Jesus did not need a helper for the redemption of all, Who saved all without a helper. Wherefore also He says: “I am become like a man without help, free among the dead.” He received indeed the affection of His mother, but sought not another’s help. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:473.

Universal Reconciliation:

1) This Melchizedek, then, have we received as a priest of God made upon the model of Christ, but the one we regard as the type, the other as the original. Now a type is a shadow of the truth, and we have accepted the royalty of the one in the name of a single city, but that of the other as shown in the reconciliation of the whole world; for it is written: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself;”(3) that is to say, [in Christ was] eternal Godhead: or, if the Father is in the Son, even as the Son is in the Father, then Their unity in both nature(4) and operation is plainly not denied.  Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:255.

Of general interest:

John 3:16:

1) 128. Nor do we read only of the peace and grace of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but also, faithful Emperor, of the love and communion. For of love it has been said: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God.”[5]  We have heard of the love of the Father. The same love which is the Father’s is also the Son’s. For He Himself said: “He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him,”[6] And what is the love of the Son, but that He offered Himself for us, and redeemed us with His own blood.[7] But the same love is in the Father, for it is written: “God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son.”  St. Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, To the Emporer Gratian, Book I, Chapt XII Sect 128.

129. So, then, the Father gave the Son, and the Son gave Himself. Love is preserved and due affection is not wronged, for affection is not wronged where there is no distress in the giving up. He gave one Who was willing, He gave One Who offered Himself, the Father did not give the Son to punishment but to grace. If you enquire into the merit of the deed, enquire into the description of the affection. The vessel of election shows plainly the unity of this divine love, because both the Father gave the Son and the Son gave Himself. The Father gave, Who “spared not His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.”[1] And of the Son he also says: “Who gave Himself for me.”[2] “Gave Himself,” he says. If it be of grace, what do I find fault with. If it be that He suffered wrong, I owe the more. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:110.

Ambiguous:

1) 1. IF the highest end of virtue is that which aims at the advancement of most, gentleness is the most lovely of all, which does not hurt even those whom it condemns, and usually renders those whom it condemns worthy of absolution. Moreover, it is the only virtue which has led to the increase of the Church which the Lord sought at the price of His own Blood, imitating the lovingkindness of heaven, and aiming at the redemption of all, seeks this end with a gentleness which the ears of men can endure, in presence of which their hearts do not sink, nor their spirits quail. Ambrose, “Select Works and Letters,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 10:329.

[Some spelling modernized, underlining mine.]

credit to Joshua

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One Comment leave one →
  1. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    June 15, 2009 2:50 pm

    I have extensively updated the Ambrose file. I have retained the original, but included a lot more. Btw, new URL too.

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