St. Ambrose – Bk 4 – Chapter 4

Throne2The 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 has seen the Father doing.John 5:19 And therefore they affirm that the Son has done nothing of Himself, and can do nothing, save what He has 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 does, the same does the Son also, in like fashion, John 5:19 for this indeed is the sequel. Why, then, is it written: The Son does the same things, and not such like things, but that you might 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 has 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, 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, John 14:6 not depending upon another’s quickening action, but Himself quickening others, because He is the Life; so also He is Wisdom, 1 Corinthians 1:24 not as one that is ignorant acquiring wisdom, but making others wise from His own store; so, too, He is Power, 1 Corinthians 1:24 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? John 5:19 Truly, then, You speak, Lord Jesus, and affirm, repeating indeed your solemn declaration, that You can do nothing, save what You have seen the Father doing. You made the universe. Did Your Father then make another universe, for You to take as a model? So must Your blasphemers confess that there are two, or a multitude of universes, as philosophers affirm, and thus also entangle themselves in this heathen error, or, if they will follow the truth, let them say that what You have made, You made, without any pattern.

45. Tell me, Lord, when You saw Your Father incarnate, and walking upon the sea, for I know not, I hold it impious to believe this thing of the Father, knowing that You only have taken our flesh upon You. When did You see the Father at a marriage-feast, turning water into wine? Nay, but I have read that You alone are the only Son, begotten of the Father. I have been taught that You alone, in the mysteryof the Incarnation, were born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin. The things, then, which we have cited as Your doings, the Father did not, but You alone, without guidance of any work done by Your Father, for the purchase of the world’s salvation with Your Blood, came 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, mocking with so headstrong profanity and with insolence so overweening the majesty of Supreme Power; yet perhaps they may think the mystery of Your Incarnate Life a needful exception. But say, Lord Jesus, what earth the Father made without You. For without You 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 You, for it is written: All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made. For if the Father made anything without You, 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 You all things begin to be, which before were not, then surely You Yourself, of Yourself, hast made what You did not see made by the Father; though perchance our adversaries may have recourse to that theory of Plato, and place before You the ideas supposed by philosophers, which, indeed, we know have been exploded by philosophers themselves. On the other hand, if You Yourself hast of Yourself 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 You, 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. Jeremiah 10:11Shall He then perish, O Arian, Who has found and saved that which had perished? But to purpose.

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