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

Wishing to answer the above-stated objection somewhat more fully, he maintains that this request, had it not been impossible in itself, would have been possible for Christ to grant; especially as the Father has given all judgment to Him; which gift we must understand to have been given without any feature of imperfection. However, he proves that the request must be reckoned amongst the impossibilities. To make it really possible, he teaches that Christ’s answer must be taken in accordance with His human nature, and shows this next by an exposition of the passage. Lastly, he once more confirms the reply he has given on the impossibility of Christ’s session.

67. I ask now whether they think the request made by the wife and sons of Zebedee was possible or impossible to human circumstances, or to any created being? If it was possible, how is it that He Who made all things which were not had not the power of granting a seat to His apostles on His right hand and on His left? or how was it that He, to Whom the Father gave all judgment, could not judge of men’s merits?

68. We know well in what way He gave it; for how did the Son, who created all things out of nothing, receive it as though in want? Had He not the judgment of those whose natures He had made? The Father gave all judgment to the Son, “that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.”25942594    S. John v. 23. It is not therefore the power of the Son, but our knowledge of it, that increases; nor does what is learnt by us add aught to His being, but only to our advantage; so that by knowing the Son of God, we may have eternal life.

69. As, then, in our knowledge of the Son of God His honour, but our profit, not His, is concerned; if any one thinks that the power of God is augmented by that honour, He must also believe that God the Father can receive augmentation; for He is glorified by our knowledge of Him, as is the Son: as it is written on the word of the Son: “I have glorified Thee upon the earth.”25952595    S. John xvii. 4. Therefore if that which was asked for was at all possible, it certainly was in the power of the Son to grant it.

70. Let them show, if they consider it possible, who of men or of other created beings sits either on the right hand or the left of God. For the Father says to the Son: “Sit Thou on My right hand.”25962596    Ps. cx. 1. Therefore if any one sits on the right hand of the Son, the Son is found to be sitting (to speak in human wise) between Himself and the Father.

71. A thing impossible for man, then, was asked of Him. But He was unwilling to say that men could not sit with Him; seeing that He desired His divine glory should be veiled, and not revealed before He rose again.25972597    S. Matt. xvii. 9. For before this, when He had appeared in glory between His attendants Moses and Elias, He had warned His disciples that they should tell no man what they had seen.

72. Therefore if it was not possible for men or other created beings to merit this, the Son ought not to seem to have less power because He gave not to His apostles, what the Father has not given to men or other created beings. Or else let them say to which of them He has given it. Certainly not to the angels; of whom Scripture says that all the angels stood round about the throne.25982598    Rev. vii. 11. Thus Gabriel said that he stands, as it says: “I am Gabriel that stand before God.”25992599    S. Luke i. 19.

73. Not to the angels, then, has He given it, nor to the elders who worship Him that sitteth; for they do not sit upon the seat of majesty, but as the Scripture has said, round about the throne; for there are four and twenty other seats, as we have it in the Revelation of John: “And upon the seats four and twenty elders sitting.”26002600    Rev. iv. 4. In the Gospel also the Lord Himself says: “When the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”26012601    S. Matt. xix. 28. He did not say that a share in His own throne could be given to the apostles, but that there were those other twelve thrones; which, however, we ought not to think of as referring to actual sitting down, but as showing the happy issue of spiritual grace.

74. Lastly, in the Book of the Kings, Micaiah the prophet said: “I saw the Lord God of Israel sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing around Him, on His right hand and on His left.”26022602    1 Kings xxii. 19. How then, when the angels stand on the right hand and on the left of the Lord God, when all the host of heaven stands, shall men sit on the right hand of God or on His left, to whom is promised as a reward for virtue likeness to the angels, as the Lord says: “Ye shall be as the angels in heaven?”26032603    S. Matt xxii. 30. “As the angels,” He says, not “more than the angels.”

75. If, then, the Father has given nothing more than the Son, the Son certainly has given nothing less than the Father. Therefore the Son can in no wise be less than the Father.

76. Suppose, however, that it had been possible for men to obtain what was desired; what does it mean when He says: “But to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give to you”?26042604    S. Matt. xx. 23. What is “Mine”? Above He said: “Ye shall drink indeed of My cup;” and again He added: “It is not Mine to give to you.” Above He said “Mine,” and again lower down He said “Mine.” He made no change. And so the earlier passages tell us why He said “Mine.”

77. For being asked by a woman as man to allow her sons to sit on His right hand and His left, because she asked Him as man, the Lord also as though only man answered concerning His Passion: “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?”26052605    S. Matt. xx. 22.

78. Therefore because He spoke according to the flesh of the Passion of His Body, He wished to show that according to the flesh He left behind Him an example and pattern to us of the endurance of suffering; but that according to His position as man He could not grant them fellowship in the throne above. This is the reason why He said: “It is not Mine;” as also in another place He says: “My doctrine is not Mine.”26062606    S. John vii. 16. It is not, He says, spoken after my flesh; for the words which are divine belong not to the flesh.

79. But how plainly He showed His tenderness for His disciples, whom He loved, saying first: “Will ye drink of My cup?” For as He could not grant what they sought, He offered them something else, so that He might mention what He would assign to them, before He denied them anything; in order that they might understand that the failure lay more in the equity of their request to Him, than in the wish of their Lord to show kindness.

80. “Ye shall indeed drink of My cup,” He says; that is, “I will not refuse you the suffering, which My flesh will undergo. For all that I have taken on Myself as man, ye can imitate. I have granted you the victory of suffering, the inheritance of the cross. ‘But to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give to you.’” He did not say, “It is not Mine to give,” but: “It is not Mine to give to you;” meaning by this, not that He lacked the power, but that His creatures were wanting in merit.

81. Or take in another way the words: “It is not Mine to give to you,” that is, “It is not Mine, for I came to teach humility; it is not Mine, for I came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister; it is not Mine, for I show justice, not favour.”

82. Then, speaking of the Father, He added: “For whom it has been prepared,” to show that the Father also is not wont to give heed merely to requests, but to merits; for God is not a respecter of persons.26072607    Acts x. 34. Wherefore also the Apostle says: “Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate.”26082608    Rom. viii. 29. He did not predestinate them before He knew them, but He did predestinate the reward of those whose merits He foreknew.

83. Rightly then is the woman checked, who demanded what was impossible, as a special kind of privilege from Him the Lord, Who of His own free gift granted not only to two apostles, but to all the disciples, those things which He had adjudged to be given to the saints; and that too without a prayer from any one, as it is written: “Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”26092609    S. Matt. xix. 28.

84. Therefore, although we may think the demand to have been possible, there is no room for false attacks. However, when I read that the seraphim stand,26102610    Isa. vi. 2. how can I suppose that men may sit on the right hand or the left of the Son of God? The Lord sits upon the cherubim, as it says: “Thou that sittest upon the cherubim, show myself.”26112611    Ps. lxxx. 1. And how shall the apostles sit upon the cherubim?

85. And I do not come to this conclusion of my own mind, but because of the utterances of our Lord’s own mouth. For the Lord Himself later on, in commending the apostles to the Father, says: “Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.”26122612    S. John xvii. 24. But if He had thought that the Father would give the divine throne to men, He would have said: “I will that where I sit, they also may sit with Me.” But He says: “I will that they be with Me,” not “that they may sit with Me;” and “where I am,” not “as I am.”

86. Then follow the words: “That they may see My glory.” Here too He did not say: “that they may have My glory,” but “that they may see” it. For the servant sees, the Lord possesses; as David also has taught us, saying: “That I may see the delight of the Lord.”26132613    Ps. xxvii. 4. And the Lord Himself in the Gospel has revealed it, stating: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”26142614    S. Matt. v. 8. “They shall see,” He says; not “They shall sit with God upon the cherubim.”

87. Let them therefore cease to think little of the Son of God according to His Godhead, lest they should think little also of the Father. For he who believes wrongly of the Son cannot think rightly of the Father; he who thinks wrongly of the Spirit cannot think rightly of the Son. For where there is one dignity, one glory, one love, one majesty, whatsoever thou thinkest is to be withdrawn in the case of any one of the Three Persons, is withdrawn from all alike. For that can never have completeness which thou canst separate and divide into various portions.


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