St. Ambrose – Bk 3 – Chapter 10

st-john-the-baptist1Observations on the words of John the Baptist (John 1:30), which may be referred to divine fore-ordinance, but at any rate, as explained by the foregoing considerations, must be understood of the Incarnation. The precedence of Christ is mystically expounded, with reference to the history of Ruth.
63. But [say they] it is written: After me comes a Man, Who is made before me, because He was before me; John 1:30 and so they argue: See, He Who was aforetime is ‘made.’ Let us take the words by themselves. After me comes a Man. He, then, Who came is a Man, and this is the Man Who was made. But the word man connotes sex, and sex is attributed to human nature, but never to the Godhead.
64. I might argue: The Man [Christ Jesus] was in pre-existence so far as His body was foreknown, though His power is from everlasting— for both the Church and the Saints were preordained before the worlds began. But here I lay aside this argument, and urge that the being made concerns not the Godhead, but the nature of the Incarnation, even as John himself said: This is He of Whom I said: After me comes a Man, Who was made before me.
65. The Scripture, then, having, as I showed above, discovered the twofold nature in Christ, that you might understand the presence of both Godhead and Manhood, here begins with the flesh; for it is the custom of Holy Writ to begin without fixed rule sometimes with the Godhead of Christ, and descend to the visible tokens of Incarnation; sometimes, on the other hand, to start from its humility, and rise to the glory of the Godhead, as oftentimes in the Prophets and Evangelists, and in St. Paul. Here, then, after this use, the writer begins with the Incarnation of our Lord, and then proclaims His Divinity, not to confound, but to distinguish, the human and the divine. But Arians, like Jew vintners, mix water with the wine, confounding the divine generation with the human, and ascribing to the majesty of God what is properly said only of the lowliness of the flesh.
66. I have no fears of a certain objection they are likely to put forward, namely, that in the words cited we have a man— for some have, Who comes after me. But here, too, let them observe what precedes. The Word, it is said, was made flesh. John 1:14 Having said that the Word was made flesh, theEvangelist added no mention of man. We understand man there in the mention of flesh, and flesh by the mention of man. After the statement made, then, that the Word was made flesh, there was no need here to particularly mention man, whom he already intended by using the name flesh.
67. Later on, St. John uses the lamb, that takes 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 comes 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 comes 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.
68. But the abounding activity of the spiritual understanding makes it a pleasing exercise to sally forth and drive into a corner the Arians, who will understand the term made in this passage, not of the manhood, but of the Godhead [of Christ]. What ground, indeed, is left for them to take their stand upon, when the Baptist has declared that after me comes One Who is made before me, that is, Who, though in the course of earthly life He comes after me, yet is placed above the degree of my worth and grace, and Who has title to be worshipped as God. For the words comes after me belong to an event in time, but was before me signify Christ’s eternity; and is made before me refer to His pre-eminence, forasmuch as, indeed, the mystery of the Incarnation is above humandeserving.
69. Again, St. John Baptist also taught in less weighty language what ideas they were he had combined, saying: After me comes a Man, Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear, setting forth at least the more excellent dignity [of Christ], though not the eternity of His Divine Generation. Now these words are so fullyintended of the Incarnation, that Scripture has given us, in an earlier book, a human counterpart of the mystic sandal. For, by the Law, when a man died, themarriage bond with his wife was passed on to his brother, or other man next of kin, in order that the seed of the brother or next of kin might renew the life of the house, and thus it was that Ruth, though she was foreign-born, but yet had possessed a husband of the Jewish people, who had left a kinsman of near relation, being seen and loved of Boaz while gleaning and maintaining herself and her mother-in-law with that she gleaned, was yet not taken of Boaz to wife, until she had first loosed the shoe from [the foot of] him whose wife she ought, by the Law, to have become.
70. The story is a simple one, but deep are its hidden meanings, for that which was done was the outward betokening of somewhat further. If indeed we should rack the sense so as to fit the letter exactly, we should almost find the words an occasion of a certain shame and horror, that we should regard them as intendingand conveying the thought of common bodily intercourse; but it was the foreshadowing of One Who was to arise from Jewry— whence Christ was, after the flesh— Who should, with the seed of heavenly teaching, revive the seed of his dead kinsman, that is to say, the people, and to Whom the precepts of the Law, in their spiritual significance, assigned the sandal of marriage, for the espousals of the Church.
71. Moses was not the Bridegroom, for to him comes the word, Loose your shoe from off your foot, Exodus 3:5 that he might give place to his Lord. Nor wasJoshua, the son of Nun, the Bridegroom, for to him also it was told, saying, Loose your shoe from off your foot, Joshua 5:16 lest, by reason of the likeness of his name, he should be thought the spouse of the Church. None other is the Bridegroom but Christ alone, of Whom St. John said: He Who has the bride is theBridegroom. John 3:29 They, therefore, loose their shoes, but His shoe cannot be loosed, even as St. John said: I am not worthy to loose the latchet of His shoe. John 1:27
72. Christ alone, then, is the Bridegroom to Whom the Church, His bride, comes from the nations, and gives herself in wedlock; aforetime poor and starving, but now rich with Christ’s harvest; gathering in the hidden bosom of her mind handfuls of the rich crop and gleanings of the Word, that so she may nourish with fresh food her who is worn out, bereaved by the death of her son, and starving, even the mother of the dead people—leaving not the widow and destitute, while she seeks new children.
73. Christ, then, alone is the Bridegroom, grudging not even to the synagogue the sheaves of His harvest. Would that the synagogue had not of her own will shut herself out! She had sheaves that she might herself have gathered, but, her people being dead, she, like one bereaved by the death of her son, began to gather sheaves, whereby she might live, by the hand of the Church— the which sheaves they who come in joyfulness shall carry, even as it is written: Yet surely shall they come with joy, bringing their sheaves with them.
74. Who, indeed, but Christ could dare to claim the Church as His bride, whom He alone, and none other, has called from Libanus, saying: Come hither fromLibanus, my bride; come hither from Libanus? Song of Songs 4:8 Or of Whom else could the Church have said: His throat is sweetness, and He is altogetherdesirable? Song of Songs 5:26 And seeing that we entered upon this discussion from speaking of the shoes of His feet—to Whom else but the Word of Godincarnate can those words apply? His legs are pillars of marble, set upon bases of gold. Song of Songs 5:15 For Christ alone walks in the souls and makes His path in the minds of His saints, in which, as upon bases of gold and foundations of precious stone the heavenly Word has left His footprints ineffaceably impressed.
75. Clearly we see, then, that both the man and the type point to the mystery of the Incarnation.

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