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

Ambrose answers those who press the words of the Lord to the mother of Zebedee’s children, by saying that they were spoken out of kindness, because Christ was unwilling to cause her grief. Ample reason for such tenderness is brought forward. The Lord would rather leave the granting of that request to the Father, than declare it to be impossible. This answer of Christ’s, however, is not to His detriment, as is shown both by His very words, and also by comparing them with other passages.

54. “How,” they say, “can the Son of God be the only true God, like to the Father, when He Himself said to the sons of Zebedee: ‘Ye shall drink indeed of My cup; but to sit on My right hand or on My left, is not Mine to give to you, but to those for whom it has been prepared of My Father’?”25822582    S. Matt. xx. 23. This, then, is, as you desire, your proof of divine inequality; though in it you ought rather to reverence the Lord’s kindness and to adore His grace; if, that is, you could but perceive the deep secrets of the virtue and wisdom of God.

55. For think of her who, with and for her sons, makes this request. It is a mother, who in her anxiety for the honour of her sons, though somewhat unrestrained in the measure of her desires, may for all that yet find pardon. It is a mother, old in years, devout in her zeal, deprived of consolation; who at that time, when she might have been helped and supported by the aid of her able bodied offspring, suffered her children to leave her, and preferred the reward her sons should receive in following Christ to her own pleasure. For they when called by the Lord, at the first word, as we read, left their nets and their father and followed Him.25832583    S. Matt. iv. 22.

56. She then, somewhat yielding to the devotion of a mother’s zeal, besought the Saviour, saying: “Grant that these my two sons may sit the one on Thy right hand, the other on Thy left in Thy kingdom.”25842584    S. Matt. xx. 21. Although it was an error, it was an error of a mother’s affections; for a mother’s heart knows no patience. Though eager for the object of her desires, yet her longing was pardonable, for she was not greedy for money, but for grace. Not shameless was her request, for she thought not of herself, but of her children. Contemplate the mother, reflect upon her.

57. But it is nothing wonderful if the feelings of parents for their children seem nothing to you, who think the love of the Almighty Father for His only-begotten Son a trifling matter. The Lord of heaven and earth was ashamed (to speak as accords with the assumption of our flesh and the virtues of the soul)—He was ashamed, I say, and, to use His own word, disturbed, to refuse a share even in His own seat to a mother making request for her sons. You maintain sometimes that the proper Son of the eternal God stands to give service, at other times you would have His co-session to be as that of an attendant, that is, not because there is a oneness of majesty, but because it is the order of the Father; and you deny to the Son of God, Who is true God, that which He plainly was unwilling to refuse to men.

58. For He thought of the mother’s love, who solaced her old age with the thought of her sons’ reward, and, though harassed with a mother’s longings, endured the absence of those dearest pledges of her love.

59. Think also of the woman, that is, the weaker sex, whom the Lord had not yet strengthened by His own Passion. Think, I say, of a descendant of Eve, the first woman, sinking under the inheritance of unrestrained passion, which had been passed on to all; one, too, whom the Lord had not yet redeemed with His own Blood, and from whom He had not yet washed out in His Blood the desire implanted in the hearts of all for unbounded honour even beyond what is right. Thus the woman offended owing to an inherited tendency to wrong.

60. And what wonder if a mother should strive to win preference for her children (which is far better than if she had done it for herself), when even the Apostles themselves, as we read, strove amongst themselves, as to who should have the preference?25852585    S. Luke xxii. 24.

61. The physician, therefore, ought not to wound a mother who has been deprived of all, nor a suffering mind, with shameful reproaches, lest when the request had been made and had been proudly denied, she should grieve over the condemnation of her petition as being unreasonable.

62. Lastly, the Lord, Who knew that a mother’s affection is to be honoured, answered not the woman, but her sons, saying: “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” When they say: “We are able,” Jesus says to them: “Ye shall drink indeed of My cup; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give to you, but to those for whom it is prepared of My Father.”25862586    S. Matt. xx. 22, 23.

63. How patient and kind the Lord is; how deep is His wisdom and good His love! For wishing to show that the disciples asked for no slight thing, but one they could not obtain, He reserved His own peculiar rights for His Father’s honour, not fearing to detract aught from His own rights: “Who thought it not robbery to be equal with God;”25872587    Phil. ii. 6. and loving, too, His disciples (for “He loved them,” as it is written, “unto the end”),25882588    S. John xiii. 1. He was unwilling to seem to refuse to those whom He loved what they desired; He, I say, the good and holy Lord, Who would rather keep some of His own prerogative secret, than lay aside aught of His love. “For charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not, and seeketh not her own.”25892589    1 Cor. xiii. 4.

64. Lastly, that you may learn it was no sign of weakness, but rather of tenderness, that He said: “It is not Mine to give to you;” note that when the sons of Zebedee make the request without their mother, He said nothing about the Father; for thus it is written: “It is not Mine to give to you, but those for whom it has been prepared.”25902590    S. Mark x. 40. So the Evangelist Mark has stated it. But when the mother makes this request on her sons’ behalf, as we find it in Matthew, He says: “It is not Mine to give to you, but to those for whom it has been prepared of My Father.”25912591    S. Matt. xx. 23. Here He added: “of My Father,” for a mother’s feelings demanded greater tenderness.

65. But if they think that by saying, “For whom it hath been prepared of My Father,” He assigned greater power to His Father, or detracted aught from His own; let them say whether they think there is any detraction from the Father’s power, because the Son in the Gospel says of the Father: “The Father judgeth no man.”25922592    S. John v. 22.

66. But if we think it impious to believe that the Father has handed over all judgment to the Son in such wise that He has it not Himself,—for He has it, and cannot lose what the Divine Majesty has by its very nature,—we ought to consider it equally impious to suppose that the Son cannot give what either men can merit, or any creature can receive; especially as He Himself has said: “I go unto My Father, and whatsoever ye shall ask of Him in My name, that will I do.”25932593    S. John xiv. 12, 13. For if the Son cannot give what the Father can give, the Truth has lied, and cannot do what the Father has been asked for in His name. He therefore did not say: “For whom it has been prepared of My Father,” in order that requests should be made only of the Father. For all things which are asked of the Father, He has declared that He will give. Lastly, He did not say: “Whatsoever ye shall ask of Me, that will I do;” but: “Whatsoever ye shall ask of Him in My name, that will I do.”


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