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NPNF2-10. Ambrose: Selected Works and Letters
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Chapter VIII.

Christ’s saying, “The Father is greater than I,” is explained in accordance with the principle just established. Other like sayings are expounded in like fashion. Our Lord cannot, as touching His Godhead, be called inferior to the Father.

59. It was due to His humanity, therefore, that our Lord doubted and was sore distressed, and rose from the dead, for that which fell doth also rise again. Again, it was by reason of His humanity that He said those words, which our adversaries use to maliciously turn against Him: “Because the Father is greater than I.”19801980    S. John xiv. 28.

60. But when in another passage we read: “I came out from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world, and go to the Father,”19811981    S. John xvi. 28. how doth He go, except through death, and how comes He, save by rising again? Furthermore, He added, in order to show that He spake concerning His Ascension: “Therefore have I told you before it come to pass, in order that, when it shall have come to pass, ye may believe.”19821982    S. John xiv. 20. For He was speaking of the sufferings and resurrection of His body, and by that resurrection they who before doubted were led to believe—for, indeed, God, Who is always present in every place, passes not from place to place. As it is a man who goes, so it is He Himself Who comes. Furthermore, He says in another place: “Rise, let us go hence.”19831983    S. John xiv. 31. In that, therefore, doth He go and come, which is common to Him and to us.

61. How, indeed, can He be a lesser God when He is perfect and true God? Yet in respect of His humanity He is less—and still you wonder that speaking in the person of a man He called the Father greater than Himself, when in the person of a man He called Himself a worm, and not a man, saying: “But I am a worm, and no man;”19841984    Ps. xxii. 6. and again: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.”19851985    Isa. liii. 7.

62. If you pronounce Him less than the Father in this respect, I cannot deny it; nevertheless, to speak in the words of Scripture, He was not begotten inferior, but “made lower,”19861986    Heb. ii. 9. that is, made inferior. And how was He “made lower,” except that, “being in the form of God, He thought it not a prey that He should be equal with God, but emptied Himself;”19871987    Phil. ii. 6, 7. not, indeed, parting with what He was, but taking up what He was not, for “He took the form of a servant.”19881988    Phil. ii. 6, 7.

63. Moreover, to the end that we might know Him to have been “made lower,” by taking upon Him a body, David has shown that he is prophesying of a man, saying: “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, but that Thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels.”19891989    Ps. viii. 5, 6. And in interpreting this same passage the Apostle says: “For we see Jesus, made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour because that He suffered death, in order that apart from God He might taste death for all.”19901990    Heb. ii. 9.

64. Thus, the Son of God was made lower than, not only the Father, but angels also. And if you will turn this to His dishonour; [I ask] is then the Son, in respect of His Godhead, less than His angels who serve Him and minister to Him? Thus, in your purpose to diminish His honour, you run into the blasphemy of exalting the nature of angels above the Son of God. But “the servant is not above his master.”19911991    S. Matt. x. 24. Again, angels ministered to Him even after His Incarnation, to the end that you should acknowledge Him to have suffered no loss of majesty by reason of His bodily nature, for God could not submit to any loss of Himself,19921992    For if that were so, God might cease to be God. whilst that which He has taken of the Virgin neither adds to nor takes away from His divine power.

65. He, therefore, possessing the fulness of Divinity and glory,19931993    Col. ii. 9. is not, in respect of His Divinity, inferior. Greater and less are distinctions proper to corporeal existences; one who is greater is so in respect of rank, or qualities, or at any rate of age. These terms lose their meaning when we come to treat of the things of God. He is commonly entitled the greater who instructs and informs another, but it is not the case with God’s Wisdom that it has been built up by teaching received from another, forasmuch as Itself hath laid the foundation of all teaching. But how wisely wrote the Apostle: “In order that apart from God He might taste death for all,”—lest we should suppose the Godhead, not the flesh, to have endured that Passion!

66. If our opponents, then, have found no means to prove [the Father] greater [than the Son], let them not pervert words unto false reports, but seek out their meaning. I ask them, therefore, as touching what do they esteem the Father the greater? If it is because He is the Father, then [I answer] here we have no question of age or of time—the Father is not distinguished by white hairs, nor the Son by youthfulness—and it is on these conditions that the greater dignity of a father depends.19941994    “In respect of age only does a father take precedence of his son amongst men, for in regard to generic nature the father is on a level with the son, and in other respects the son may even excel his father. But where the Persons are eternal, there is no difference constituted by age. Still, as St. Ambrose acutely remarks, the names ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ indicate indeed a distinction of Persons and mutual relations of those Persons, yet not diversity of nature—rather, in fact, suppose equality and unity of nature.”—Hurter in loc. But “father” and “son” are names, the one of the parent, the other of the child—names which seem to join rather than separate; for dutifulness inspires no loss of personal worth, inasmuch as kinship binds men together, and does not rend them asunder.

67. If, then, they cannot make the order of nature a support for any questioning, let them now believe the witness [of Scripture]. Now the Evangelist testifies that the Son is not lower [than the Father] by reason of being the Son; nay, he even declares that, in being the Son, He is equal, saying, “For the Jews sought to kill Him for this cause, that not only did He break the Sabbath, but even called God His own Father, making Himself equal to God.”19951995    S. John v. 10.

68. This is not what the Jews said—it is the Evangelist who testifies that, in calling Himself God’s own Son, He made Himself equal to God, for the Jews are not presented as saying, “For this cause we sought to kill Him;” the Evangelist, speaking for himself, says, “For the Jews sought to kill Him for this cause.”19961996    loc. cit. Moreover, he has discovered the cause, [in saying] that the Jews were stirred with desire to slay Him because, when as God He broke the Sabbath, and also claimed God as His own Father, He ascribed to Himself not only the majesty of divine authority in breaking the Sabbath, but also, in speaking of His Father, the right appertaining to eternal equality.

69. Most fitting was the answer which the Son of God made to these Jews, proving Himself the Son and equal of God. “Whatsoever things,” He said, “the Father hath done, the Son doeth also in like wise.”19971997    S. John. v. 19. The Son, therefore, is both entitled and proved the equal of the Father—a true equality, which both excludes difference of Godhead, and discovers, together with the Son, the Father also, to Whom the Son is equal; for there is no equality where there is difference, nor again where there is but one person, inasmuch as none is by himself equal to himself. Thus hath the Evangelist shown why it is fitting that Christ should call Himself the Son of God, that is, make Himself equal with God.

70. Hence the Apostle, following this revelation, hath said: “He thought it not a prey that He should be equal with God.”19981998    Phil. ii. 6. Here and in § 62 I have rendered “rapinam” in accordance with Lightfoot’s rendering of the original “ἁρπαγμός.” For that which a man has not he seeks to carry off as a prey. Equality with the Father, therefore, which, as God and Lord, He possessed in His own substance, He had not as a spoil wrongfully seized. Wherefore the Apostle added [the words]: “He took the form of a servant.” Now surely a servant is the opposite of an equal. Equal, therefore, is the Son, in the form of God, but inferior in taking upon Him of the flesh and in His sufferings as a man. For how could the same nature be both lower and equal? And how, if [the Son] be inferior, can He do the same things, in like manner, as the Father doeth? How, indeed, can there be sameness of operation with diversity of power? Can the inferior ever work such effects as the greater, or can there be unity of operation where there is diversity of substance?

71. Admit, therefore, that Christ, as touching His Godhead, cannot be called inferior [to the Father].19991999    “Surely it is clear that the Son, in respect of His Godhead, is not inferior to the Father, for there is, in the Father and the Son, one and the same Godhead. Still, the Greek Fathers allow that the Father is not only greater than the Son in respect of the latter’s human nature, but also in regard to personal properties, or a certain ‘personal dignity’—(ἀξ ωμα ὑποστατικόν).”—Hurter in loc. Canon Mason, in his Faith of the Gospel, remarks that whilst it is quite right to speak of “God and His Son” or “God’s Son,” the converse language, “God and His Father,” “God’s Father,” is not right. Yet S. Ambrose says, “Dubitat de Patre Deus.” See § 43. Christ speaks to Abraham: “By Myself have I sworn.”20002000    Gen. xxii. 16. Now the Apostle shows that He Who swears by Himself cannot be lower than any. Thus he saith, “When God rewarded Abraham with His promise, He swore by Himself, forasmuch as He had none other that was greater, saying, Surely with blessing will I bless thee, and with multiplying will I multiply thee.”20012001    Heb. vi. 13, 14. Christ had, therefore, none greater, and for that cause sware He by Himself. Moreover, the Apostle has rightly added, “for men swear by one greater than themselves,” forasmuch as men have one who is greater than themselves, but God hath none.

72. Otherwise, if our adversaries will understand this passage as referred to the Father, then the rest of the record does not agree with it. For the Father did not appear to Abraham, nor did Abraham wash the feet of God the Father, but the feet of Him in Whom is the image of the man that shall be.20022002    1 John iii. 2, 3; Gen. xviii. 4. Moreover, the Son of God saith, “Abraham saw My day, and rejoiced.”20032003    S. John viii. 56. It is He, therefore, Who sware by Himself, [and] Whom Abraham saw.

73. And how, indeed, hath He any greater than Himself Who is one with the Father in Godhead?20042004    S. John x. 30. Where there is unity, there is no dissimilarity, whereas between greater and less there is a distinction. The teaching, therefore, of the instance from Scripture before us, with regard to the Father and the Son, is that neither is the Father greater, nor hath the Son any that is above Him, inasmuch as in Father and Son there is no difference of Godhead parting them, but one majesty.


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