Saint Ambrose on Law and Gospel
Accordingly, the Lord first gave the law; the mind of man devoted itself to the law by way of compliance and began to serve it so as to be subject to it. But the flesh was not subdued, because the wisdom of the flesh was not subject to the law and opposed its teachings [cf. Rom. 8:7]. For the flesh could not have been obedient to virtue, since it had been given over to its own desires and enveloped in its own panderings. Accordingly, we must work to keep the grace of God.
Therefore the mind is good if it is directed toward reason, but not at all perfect unless it enjoys the rule of Christ. The Lord Jesus comes to fix our [sinful] passions to His cross and to forgive our sins. In His death we have been justified, so that the whole world might be made clean by His blood. Indeed, in His death we have been baptized [cf. Rom. 6:3]. If, then, sins are forgiven us in His death, let the passions of our sins die in His death, let them be held fast by the nails of His cross. If we have died in His death, why are we called back again to worldly things as if we were alive to them? What have we to do with the elements of the world, with desires, with luxury and wanton behavior? We have died to these in Christ. But if we have died in Christ, we have arisen in Christ [cf. Rom. 6:8]; therefore let us dwell with Christ, let us seek with Christ the things that are above, not those that are earthly and corruptible [cf. Col. 3:1-2]. Christ, rising from the dead, left the old man fixed to the cross, but He raised up the new man.
Therefore Christ died so that we also might die to sin and rise again to God [cf. Rom. 6:11]. (“Jacob and the Happy Life,” I:17-18, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 65 [Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1972], pp. 131-32)
What need was there, then, that a law be proclaimed, if it was not going to be of help? We already had the natural law; each person was a law for himself and had the book of the law written in his heart [cf. Rom. 2:14-15]. We did not keep it; why was the other [i.e. the proclaimed law] added to it, when the flesh could not have gained justification in the works of that other [i.e. the natural law]? A bond was acquired, not a release; there was added the recognition of sin, but not the forgiveness of it. We all sinned; [with only the natural law] we were able to present an excuse by way of ignorance – [with the addition of the proclaimed law] everyone’s mouth has been blocked up [cf. Ps. 63:11, Rom. 3:19].
Nevertheless, the law was of help to me. I began to confess what I used to deny, I began to know my sin and not to cover over my injustice. I began to proclaim my injustice to the Lord against myself, and You forgave the impieties of my heart [cf. Ps. 32:5]. But this too is of help to me, that we are not justified by the works of the law [cf. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16]. Thus I do not have the wherewithal to enable me to glory in my own works, I do not have the wherewithal to boast of myself, and so I will glory in Christ [cf. Phil. 3:3]. I will not glory because I am righteous, but because I have been redeemed. I will not glory because I am free of sins, but because sins have been forgiven me. I will not glory because I am profitable or because anyone is profitable to me, but because Christ is an advocate in my behalf with the Father [cf. 1 John 2:1], because the blood of Christ has been poured out in my behalf. My guilt became for me the price of redemption, through which Christ came to me. On account of me, Christ tasted death. Guilt is more fruitful than innocence; innocence had made me proud, guilt rendered me subject. And so you see in what respects the giving of the law was of help to you. (“Jacob and the Happy Life,” I:20-22, pp. 132-33; text slightly corrected in accord with the original)
Accordingly, Jacob received his brother’s clothing, because he excelled the elder in wisdom [cf. Gen. 27:15]. Thus the younger brother took the clothing of the elder because he was conspicuous in the merit of his faith. Rebecca presented this clothing as a symbol of the Church; she gave to the younger son the clothing of the Old Testament, the prophetic and priestly clothing, the royal Davidic clothing, the clothing of the kings Solomon and Ezechias and Josias, and she gave it too to the Christian people, who would know how to use the garment they had received, since the Jewish people kept it without using it and did not know its proper adornments. This clothing was lying in shadow, cast off and forgotten; it was tarnished by a dark haze of impiety and could not be unfolded farther in their confined hearts. The Christian people put it on, and it shone brightly. They made it bright with the splendor of their faith and the light of their holy works. Isaac recognized the familiar fragrance that attached to his people [cf. Gen. 27:27], he recognized the clothing of the Old Testament, but the voice of the people of old he did not recognize; therefore he knew that it had been changed. For even today the same clothing remains, but the confession of a people of greater devotion begins to sound harmonious; Isaac was right to say, “The voice indeed is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau” [Gen. 27:22]. And Isaac “smelled the fragrance of his garments” [Gen. 27:27]. And perhaps that means that we are not justified by works but by faith, because the weakness of the flesh is a hindrance to works but the brightness of faith puts the error that is in man’s deeds in the shadow and merits for him the forgiveness of his sins. (“Jacob and the Happy Life,” II:9, pp. 150-51)
...it is the Lord Jesus Himself who was prefigured in Jacob, a man of two marriages, that is, one who shares both in the law and in grace. He admired the virgin Rachel first; she was predetermined to marriage with him and he loved her with devoted affection [cf. Gen. 29:18,30]. But Lia, like the law, entered in secretly and took him by surprise [cf. Gen. 29:22-27], and her eyes were somewhat weak [cf. Gen. 29:17], like the synagogue, that could not see Christ from blindness of spirit. Holy Rachel possessed beauty in abundant measure, and Jacob sought her over and beyond the first marriage [cf. Gen. 29:26-30]. She was a sign even then by the interpretation of her name that the preference would belong to the Church. Happy was Rachel, who took away her reproach by bearing a child of her own [cf. Gen. 30:23]; happy was Rachel, who concealed the false idols of the Gentiles and declared that their images were full of uncleanness [cf. Gen. 31:34-35]. ...
...holy Jacob...sees the camp of God nearby and says, “This is the encampment of God” [Gen. 32:3]; God’s help is generally with men of faith and men who have been perfected. Moreover, as one who had been perfected, he thought of reconciliation with his brother [cf. Gen. 32:4-21]. Accordingly he thought to invite Esau with humility and to prevail on him with kindnesses and considered that he could be won over with gifts as well. Therefore Jacob went along with his wives and children to meet his brother, so that even if Esau was angry at him, he would relent out of allegiance to ties of kinship [cf. Gen. 33:1-2]. “And he bowed down seven times on the ground” [Gen. 33:3]. ... What does it mean, that he bowed down seven times? The answer would remain open if one did not remember Peter’s question in the Gospel, “If my brother sins against me, how often shall I forgive him? Up to seven times?” [Matt. 18:21] and the answer of the Lord Jesus, “not only seven times, but even seventy times seven” [Matt. 18:22]. And so the holy patriarch foreshadows this in prophetic spirit, since he is looking to Christ who is coming and who would command that pardon be extended to one’s brother not only to seven times but even to seventy times seven. Thus, in view of this meeting, Esau would forgive his brother the injury he thought he had received; although the offended party, Esau would return to friendship, because the Lord Jesus was going to take flesh and come upon the earth for that very reason, to give us manifold pardon for our offenses.
Then, intending to ask for peace from his brother, Jacob slept in the encampment [cf. Gen. 32:14]. Perfect virtue possesses tranquillity and a calm steadfastness; likewise the Lord has kept His gift for those who are more perfect and has said, “My peace I leave to you, my peace I give to you” [John 14:27]. It is the part of those who have been perfected not to be easily influenced by worldly things or to be troubled with fear or tormented with suspicion or stunned with dread or distressed with pain. Rather, as if on a shore of total safety, they ought to calm their spirit, immovable as it is in the anchorage of faith, against the rising waves and tempests of the world. Christ brought this support to the spirits of Christians when He brought an inner peace to the souls of those who had proved themselves, so that our heart should not be troubled or our spirit be distressed. That this peace is beyond all understanding our apostolic teacher proclaimed when he said, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and feelings in Christ Jesus” [Phil. 4:7]. And so the fruit of peace is the absence of disturbance in the heart. In short, the life of the just man is calm, but the unjust man is filled with disquiet and disturbance. Therefore the ungodly man is struck down more by his own suspicions than most men are by the blows of others, and the stripes of the wounds in his soul are greater than those in the bodies of men who are lashed by others. ...
Therefore Jacob, who had purified his heart of all pretense and was manifesting a peaceable disposition, first cast off all that was his, then remained behind alone and wrestled with God [cf. Gen. 32:23-25]. For whoever forsakes worldly things comes nearer to the image and likeness of God. What is it to wrestle with God, other than to enter upon the struggle for virtue, to contend with one who is stronger and to become a better imitator of God than the others are? Because Jacob’s faith and devotion were unconquerable, the Lord revealed His hidden mysteries to him by touching the side of his thigh [cf. Gen. 32:26]. For it was by descent from him that the Lord Jesus was to be born of a virgin, and Jesus would be neither unlike nor unequal to God. The numbness in the side of Jacob’s thigh foreshadowed the cross of Christ, who would bring salvation to all men by spreading the forgiveness of sins throughout the whole world and would give resurrection to the departed by the numbness and torpidity of His own body. On this account the sun rightly rose on holy Jacob [cf. Gen. 32:32], for the saving cross of the Lord shone brightly on his lineage, and at the same time the Sun of Justice rises on the man who recognizes God [cf. Mal. 4:2], because He is Himself the Everlasting Light. But Jacob limped because of his thigh [cf. Gen. 32:32]. “On account of this the children of Israel do not eat the sinew even to the present day” [Gen. 32:33]. Would that they had eaten it and had believed! But because they were not about to do the will of God, therefore they did not eat. There are those, too, who take the passage in the following sense, that Jacob limped from one thigh. Two peoples flowed from his lineage, and there was then being revealed the numbness which one of them would presently exhibit toward the grace of faith. And so it is the people itself that limped by reason of the numbness of its unbelief.
Indeed, not long after the preceding revelation, Dina, Jacob’s daughter, was violated and deflowered of her modesty and virginity by the son of a stranger [cf. Gen. 34:1-5]. Her brothers, who did not understand the mystery, first offered the strangers an alliance in faith through intermarriage [cf. Gen. 34:13-17] and then killed them [cf. Gen. 34:25-29], out of a zealous desire for vengeance. But Jacob esteemed compassion with a forbearance that was moral, or he foresaw, with an understanding that was mystical, the mystery of the Church that would be gathered together from the nations. Therefore it was with reluctance and sorrow that he learned of that spectacle of the vengeance that had been taken [cf. Gen. 34:30]. On this account God’s answer was given to Jacob, who prophesied the coming of the Lord Jesus: “Arise and go up to Bethel” [Gen. 35:1], that is, to the house of bread, where Christ was born, as the prophet Michea gives testimony when he says, “And you, Bethlehem, house of Ephrata, are not too little to be among the first of Juda. For out of you will come forth the ruler in Israel, and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity” [Mich. 5:2]. Truly that is the house of bread, which is the house of Christ, who came to us from heaven as the bread of salvation [cf. John 6:51] so that now no one may be hungry, but each one may gain for himself the food of immortality. There the patriarch was commanded to dwell; there he was commanded to make an altar to God, who appeared to him [cf. Gen. 35:1]. There he took the strange gods and buried them under a turpentine tree [cf. Gen. 35:2-4]; there also Rachel was buried on the way to Ephrata, that is, Bethlehem [cf. Gen. 35:19]; and there Jacob set up a column over her grave [cf. Gen. 35:20].
What great mysteries these are! There, there is the Church of God, in which God appears and speaks with His humble servants. There the idols of the nations are taken away and buried, for the faith of the Church has destroyed every practice of paganism. But why, I ask, did he bury them under a turpentine tree? Assuredly that is an unproductive species. And so the gods of the nations are there, where no fruit is. There the earrings of the pagans are buried, and they gave them to Jacob [cf. Gen. 35:4] so that now they could grow used to hearing a new language and could forget the old sleep of unbelief, and so that their ears could become deaf to sacrilege and be purified for grace. ... But the truth of the Church did not shelter unbelief; rather it buried it and blocked the ears of the pagans. It is appropriate, too, that the holy Rachel was buried there, for all those who are baptized in Christ are buried together with Him. So we are taught by the Apostle, who says, “For we were buried with him by means of baptism into death, in order that, just as he has arisen from the dead, raised up through his own power, so we also may rise up by his grace” [Rom. 6:4]. Every deceit of the pagans really is buried at the time when someone has been washed free of his vices, because our old man, fastened to the cross, now does not know how to be a slave to the old sin. It is appropriate as well that a column is set up over Rachel’s grave, because the Church is the column and mainstay of the truth [cf. 1 Tim. 3:15]. (“Jacob and the Happy Life,” II:25-28,30-34, pp. 160-66)
The woman was immediately healed, because she drew to him in faith. And do you with faith touch but the hem of his garment. The torrential flow of worldly passions will be dried up by the warmth of the saving Word, if you but draw near to him with faith, if with like devotion you grasp at least the hem of his garment. O faith richer than all treasures! A faith stronger than all the powers of the body, more health-giving than all the physicians! (commentary on Luke 8:43-48, De Virginitate 100; quoted in F. Holmes Dudden, The Life and Times of St. Ambrose [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935], Vol. II, p. 628)
And they [the sons of Jacob] began to desire to plead their case to the man who was steward of the house at the door of the house [cf. Gen. 43:19-24]. They still hesitate to enter in and prefer to be justified from their works [cf. Gal. 2:16], for they desire to prove a case rather than to receive grace and so they are refuted at the gates. But the man who awaits the fruit of the virgin's womb and the inheritance of the Lord is dealing in the goods of the Son and is not ashamed at the gate. Rather, at the end of this life he drives back the enemy so that the latter, who is aware of his quite serious guilt, may not hinder him as he hastens to higher things. On this account, the steward answered them in a mystical sense. ...
This steward, then, answered them, “Peace be to you, have no fear. Your God and the God of your fathers has given you treasures in your sacks. I have received your good money” [Gen. 43:23]. They indeed had said to him, “We found the money of each one of us in our sacks. We have brought back our money in full weight” [v. 21]. O mighty mysteries, and mysteries clearly portrayed! This is to say: Why are you puffed up? Do you assume too often that the money you have in your sacks is your own? What indeed do you have which you have not received? But if you have received it, why do you boast as if you have not received it? Now you have been satisfied, you have become rich [cf. 1 Cor. 4:7-8]; you believe that you possess the money, but the God of your fathers has given the money to you. He is your God, He is the God of your fathers, and you have denied Him. But He grants pardon and forgiveness and receives you back if you should return. He is the one who does not ask your money but gives His own. He has given you money in your sacks. Now your sacks hold money, that used to hold mire; and therefore he is your companion who says, “You have cut off my sackcloth and have clothed me with gladness” [Ps. 30:11]. The gift of gladness is Christ, He is your money, He is your price. The Lord Jesus does not demand from you the price of His grain, does not ask the weight of your money. Your money is unsound, the money in your purse is not good. “I have received your good money” [Gen. 43:23]; that is, it is not your material money but your spiritual money that is good. You have brought it down out of faith and devotion like the sons of Jacob; it is expended without loss and is counted out without any deficit, seeing that for such a price the loss that is death is avoided and the profit that is life is gained. (“Joseph,” 9:48-51, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 65, pp. 221-22)
Now the law is twofold, being both a natural law and a written law. The natural law is in the heart, the written law on tablets [cf. 2 Cor. 3:3]. Therefore all are under the law, the natural law, but it does not belong to all men that each should be a law unto himself. However, that man is a law unto himself who does the commandments of the law of his own accord and manifests the work of the law written in his own heart. You possess the commandments to good in the law; still, we ought not merely to know them and listen to them in a careless fashion, but to do them as well. “For it is not they who hear the law that are just in the sight of God, but it is they who follow the law that will be justified” [Rom. 2:13]. You have come to know also the prohibitions of evil. First, nature herself is the teacher of good conduct. You know that one must not steal, and if your servant has stolen from you, you beat him, while if someone has lusted after your wife, you think he should be punished. Now, what you condemn in others you perpetrate yourself. You proclaim that one should not steal, but you steal; you say that one should not commit adultery, but you commit adultery. The law also followed, which was given through Moses, while through the law there followed recognition of sin [cf. Rom. 3:20]. You have learned what you should avoid, and yet you do what you know is forbidden. But what is the work of the law? Only that the whole world should be made subject to God, since it was not given only to the Hebrew but invited the stranger as well and did not exclude the proselyte. But because the law was able to block up the mouth of all men [cf. Rom. 3:19], yet could not change the heart, there was due the final remedy afforded by that last city [cf. Josh. 20:7-8]. In this there was to be a refuge of salvation, that the death of the chief priest might free us from all fear of death and divest us of all dread of it.
Who is he, but He of whom it was read, “Behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world”? [John 1:29]. “God has set him forth as a propitiation by his blood through faith, to manifest his justice” [Rom. 3:25]. Be satisfied now that He is the great high priest [cf. Heb. 4:14]. The Father swore an oath in His regard, saying, “You are a priest forever” [Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:21]. He said “forever,” rightly, because other, temporal priests are all subject to sin, whereas He possesses an inviolable priesthood [cf. Heb. 7:23-24]. All are subject to death, but He is always living [cf. Heb. 7:25]; for how could He perish who Himself is able to save others? “For such a one was fitting for us” [Heb. 7:26]. (“Flight from the World,” 3:15-16, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 65, pp. 292-93)
...because he [Adam] did not keep the commandment of God, he is condemned to the toil of his works – the earth indeed is cursed, but in the works of the sinner – and he is cursed until he is returned into earth [cf. Gen. 3.17-19]. And so then, Jesus took flesh that He might destroy the curse of sinful flesh, and He became for us a curse [cf. Gal. 3.13] that a blessing might overwhelm a curse, uprightness might overwhelm sin, forgiveness might overwhelm the sentence, and life might overwhelm death. He also took up death that the sentence might be fulfilled and satisfaction might be given for the judgment, the curse placed on sinful flesh even to death [cf. Gen 3.17-19]. Therefore, nothing was done contrary to God’s sentence when the terms of that sentence were fulfilled, for the curse was unto death but grace is after death. And so we are dead to the world; why do we still struggle in regard to the world? We are dead with Christ; why do we still seek after the activities of this life? We bear about in our body the death of Christ, so that the life also of Christ may be made manifest in us [cf. 2 Cor. 4.10]. (“Flight from the World,” 8:44, pp. 314-15)
So John comes in the spirit and power of Elias; for the one cannot exist without the other, as will also be found in what follows, when it says, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee” [Luke 1:35]. But this example may perhaps seem to be above us and above the Apostles; for also that retreat of the river’s waters to their source when the stream divided under Elias [cf. 2 Kings 2:14], as the Scripture says, “Jordan was turned back” [Psalm 114:5], signifies the future Mysteries of the Laver of salvation, whereby the children who have been Baptized are transformed from ill will to the origin of their nature. Why did the Lord Himself promise that the power of the Spirit would be bestowed on His Apostles, saying, “Ye shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit coining upon you” [Acts 1:8]? Then, in what follows, it says, “And suddenly there came a sound from Heaven, as if the Spirit was carried by a great force” [Acts 2:2]. A great force, indeed, because all the power of them by the Spirit of His mouth [Psalm 33:6]. And the power is that which the Apostles obtained from the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Saint John will fittingly go before the face of the Lord, he who was born a Forerunner and died a Forerunner. And, perhaps, this mystery may be celebrated in this our life and on this day. For the power of John precedes our soul when we prepare to believe in Christ, to prepare the ways of our soul for the Faith [cf Luke 3:4], and from the tortuous bypath of this life, straighten the paths of our communication, lest we fall by the digression of error, so that every valley of our soul may be filled with the fruits of power and every height of worldly merits may rather bow down in humble fear to the Lord [cf. Baruch 5:7], knowing that nothing which is perishable can be exalted. (Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, I:37-38, pp. 35-36)
He [Peter], then, who before was silent, to teach us that we ought not to repeat the words of the impious, this one, I say, when he heard: “But who do you say I am” [Matt. 16:15], immediately, not unmindful of his station, exercised his primacy, that is, the primacy of confession, not of honor; the primacy of belief, not of rank. That is to say: “Now let no one outdo me; now is my role; I ought to compensate for my silence; the fact that I was silent ought to be of benefit. My tongue does not have perplexities; faith should come forth without difficulty. While some were casting forth filth, although the filth of another’s impiety but proclaimed by them, who said that Christ was either Elias, or Jeremias, or one of the prophets; for that voice had filth, that voice had perplexities; while some, I say, are washing away this filth, while in some these perplexities are being eradicated, let our voice resound that Christ is the Son of God. My words are pure, in which expressed impiety has left no perplexities.”
This, then, is Peter, who has replied for the rest of the Apostles; rather, before the rest of men. And so he is called the foundation, because he knows how to preserve not only his own but the common foundation. Christ agreed with him; the Father revealed it to him. For he who speaks of the true generation of the Father, received it from the Father, did not receive it from the flesh [cf. Matt. 16:16-17].
Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter’s flesh, but of his faith, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Matt. 16:18]. But his confession of faith conquered hell. And this confession did not shut out one heresy, for, since the Church like a good ship is often buffeted by many waves, the foundation of the Church should prevail against all heresies.
The day will fail me sooner than the names of heretics and the different sects, yet against all is this general faith – that Christ is the Son of God, and eternal from the Father, and born of the Virgin Mary. The holy Prophet David describes him as a giant for the reason that He, one, is of double form and of twin nature, a sharer in divinity and body, who “as a bridegroom, coming out of his bride-chamber, hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way” [Ps. 19:5]. The bridegroom of the soul according to the Word, a giant of earth, because in going through the duties of our life, although He was always God eternal, He assumed the sacrament of the Incarnation...
Thus, He died according to the assumption of our nature, and did not die according to the substance of eternal life; and He suffered according to the assumption of the body, that the truth of the assumption of the body might be believed, and He did not suffer according to the impassible divinity of the Word which is entirely without pain. Finally, the same one said: “O God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me? [Ps. 22:1] – for, according to the flesh, He was forsaken, who according to divinity could have been neither deserted nor forsaken.
The same one also says: “Far from my salvation are the words of my sins” [Ps. 22:1], that is, let him not be deceived, who hears: “Why hast thou forsaken me?” – but let him understand that these words are said according to the flesh, which are very foreign to the fullness of His divinity, for the words of sins are foreign to God, since the sins of words are also foreign to Him; but since I have assumed the sins of others, I have assumed also the words of others’ sins, so that I say that I, who am always with God, have been forsaken by God the Father.
Therefore, He was immortal in death, impassible in His Passion. For just as the sting of death did not seize Him as God, hell saw Him as man. Finally, “He yielded up the ghost” [Matt. 27:50], and yet as master of putting off and of assuming a body, He yielded up the ghost; He did not lose it. He hung upon the cross, and threw all into disorder. He trembled on the cross, before whom this whole world trembled. He was in the midst of tortures, He received wounds, and He donated the heavenly kingdom. Having become the sin of all men, He washed away the sins of the human race. At last He died, and a second and a third time in exultation and in joy I say, He died, so that His death might become the life of the dead. (“The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord,” 32-35, 37-39, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 44 [Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1963], pp. 230-33)
O man, you did not dare to raise your face to heaven; you directed your eyes toward earth; and suddenly you received the grace of Christ; all your sins were forgiven. From an evil servant you became a good son [cf. Matt. 25.26; Gal 4.7]. So presume not from your own operation but from Christ’s grace. ‘By grace,’ He says, ‘you are saved’; so the Apostle says [Eph. 2.5]. There is no arrogance here, but faith. To preach what you have received is not pride but devotion. So raise your eyes to the Father, who begot you through the laver [of Baptism], to the Father, who redeemed you through His Son, and say, ‘Our Father.’ (“The Sacraments,” V:4:19, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 44, pp. 314-15)
Let us call to mind how kindly our Lord hath dealt with us, in that He taught us not only faith but manners also. For, having taken His place in the form of man, He was subject to Joseph and Mary [Luke 2:51]. Was He less than all mankind, then, because He was subject? The part of dutifulness is one, that of sovereignty is another, but dutifulness doth not exclude sovereignty. Wherein, then, was He subject to the Father’s law? In His body [i.e. according to his human nature], surely, wherein He was subject to His mother.
Let us likewise deal kindly, let us persuade our adversaries of that which is to their profit, “let us worship and lament before the Lord our Maker” [Ps. 45:6]. For we would not overthrow, but rather heal; we lay no ambush for them, but warn them as in duty bound. Kindliness often bends those whom neither force nor argument will avail to overcome. Again, our Lord cured with oil and wine the man who, going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among thieves [Luke 10:34]; having forborne to treat him with the harsh remedies of the Law or the sternness of Prophecy [cf. Luke 10:31-32].
To Him, therefore, let all come who would be made whole. Let them receive the medicine which He hath brought down from His Father and made in heaven, preparing it of the juices of those celestial fruits that wither not. This is of no earthly growth, for nature nowhere possesseth this compound. Of wondrous purpose took He our flesh, to the end that He might show that the law of the flesh had been subjected to the law of the mind. He was incarnate, that He, the Teacher of men, might overcome as man.
Of what profit would it have been to me, had He, as God, bared the arm of His power, and only displayed His Godhead inviolate? Why should He take human nature upon Him, but to suffer Himself to be tempted under the conditions of my nature and my weakness? It was right that He should be tempted, that He should suffer with me, to the end that I might know how to conquer when tempted, how to escape when hard pressed. He overcame by force of continence, of contempt of riches, of faith; He trampled upon ambition, fled from intemperance, bade wantonness be far from Him.
This medicine Peter beheld, and left His nets, that is to say, the instruments and security of gain, renouncing the lust of the flesh as a leaky ship, that receives the bilge, as it were, of multitudinous passions. Truly a mighty remedy, that not only removed the scar of an old wound, but even cut the root and source of passion. O Faith, richer than all treasure-houses; O excellent remedy, healing our wounds and sins!
Let us bethink ourselves of the profitableness of right belief. It is profitable to me to know that for my sake Christ bore my infirmities, submitted to the affections of my body, that for me, that is to say, for every man, He was made sin, and a curse [2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13], that for me and in me was He humbled and made subject, that for me He is the Lamb, the Vine, the Rock [John 1:29,36; 15:1; 1 Cor. 10:4], the Servant, the Son of an handmaid [Mark 10:45; John 13:4,5; Ps. 86:16; 116:16; Luke 1:38], knowing not the day of judgment, for my sake ignorant of the day and the hour [Matt. 24:36].
For how could He, Who hath made days and times, be ignorant of the day? How could He not know the day, Who hath declared both the season of Judgment to come, and the cause? [cf. Matt. 24:22,29; Ps. 96:13; 98:10] A curse, then, He was made not in respect of His Godhead, but of His flesh; for it is written: “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” [Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13]. In and after the flesh, therefore, He hung, and for this cause He, Who bore our curses, became a curse [cf. 5:11; 1 Cor. 1:22]. He wept that thou, man, mightest not weep long. He endured insult, that thou mightest not grieve over the wrong done to thee.
A glorious remedy – to have consolation of Christ! (“Of the Christian Faith,” II:88-95, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983 reprint], Second Series, Vol. X, pp. 235-36)
Behold the husbandry: in the house of the Pharisee [Luke 7:36 ff.], the sinful woman is glorified; in the house of the Law and the Prophet, not the Pharisee, but the Church is justified; for the Pharisee did not believe, but the woman believed. Then, he said, “If He were a Prophet, He would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him” [Luke 7:39]. But Judaea is the house of the Law which is written not on stones, but on the tablets of the heart [cf. 2 Cor. 3:3]. In this the Church is justified as already greater than the Law, for the Law does not know of the forgiveness of offences, the Law does not possess the mystery in which secret sins are cleansed, and, therefore, what is lacking in the Law is perfected in the Gospel.
... Understand why the Body of the Son is redolent with ointment. It is a Body which is laid aside, not a Body which is lost. His Body is the traditions of the Scriptures, His Body is the Church [cf. Eph. 1:23]. We are the fragrance of His Body’s perfume [cf. 2 Cor. 2:15], so it is fitting that we adorn the Death of His Body, even though She will not require our adornments, but the poor do require them. I shall adorn His Body if I become a preacher of His words and can reveal the Mystery of the Cross to the nations. He adorned it who said that, “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God” [1 Cor. 1:23-24]. The Cross is adorned, because that which through ignorance is thought foolish is through the Gospel valued as wise, so that we may teach how the power of the adversary is destroyed through the Cross of the Lord. I poured ointment on the Body of the Lord and that which was thought dead begins to breathe.
Therefore, each undertakes to purchase with his own labour and effort of virtues the alabaster box of ointment [cf. Luke 7:37], not something cheap and common, but the precious ointment of alabaster and the ointment of trust. For one who gathers the flowers of faith and preaches Jesus Christ crucified to the whole Church [cf. Gal. 6:14], which as the Body of Christ [cf. Eph. 1:23] is dead to the world, rests in God and pours out the ointment of his faith. The Whole house begins to be fragrant [cf. John 12:3] with the Lord’s Passion, with His Death, with His Resurrection, so that each among the number of the sacred people can say, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Gal. 6:14]. The perfume is manifest, the ointment is fragrant on the body, if anyone can – and would that I could – confidently say, “For the world is crucified to me” [Gal. 6:14]. The world is crucified, not for him who loves riches, nor him who loves worldly honours, nor him who loves what are his own, but for him who loves what belongs to Jesus Christ; not for him who loves what is seen, but for him who loves what is not seen [cf. 2 Cor. 4:18]; not for him who longs for life, but for him who hastens to be dissolved and to be with Christ [cf. Philip. 1:23]. For this is to take up the Cross and follow Christ [cf. Luke 9:23], so that we may die with Christ and be buried together with Him [cf. Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12], so that we may be fragrant with the ointment which the woman poured upon Him for His Burial [cf. Matt. 26:12]. That is no common ointment with which the Name of Christ is spread far and wide. Hence, also, it is said by a Prophet, “Thy Name is ointment poured forth” [Canticle 1:3]; so poured forth, that faith may emit a stronger fragrance. Thus, through that woman, we understand the meaning of the Apostle’s saying: “Sin abounded, that Grace might abound” [Rom. 5:20]. For if sin had not abounded in that woman, Grace would not have abounded, for she acknowledged her sin and brought down Grace. And, therefore, the Law is needful, for through the Law I recognized sin [cf. Rom. 3:20, 7:7]. If there had been no Law, sin would have lain hidden. By acknowledging sin, I seek pardon. Therefore, through the Law I recognize kinds of sins and the offence of prevarication; I run to penitence, I pursue Grace. Thus, the Law is the author of good which sends to Grace. (Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke [Etna, California: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, second edition 2003], VI:23, 33-35, pp. 206-07, 210-12)
“It came to pass when all the people were Baptized, that Jesus also being Baptized, and praying, Heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape, as a dove, upon Him, and a voice came from Heaven, ‘Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased’” [Luke 3:21-22]. Thus, the Lord was Baptized, wishing not to be cleansed, but to cleanse the waters, so that washed through the Flesh of Christ which did not know sin, they had the right to Baptism [cf. 1 Cor. 5:21]. And, therefore, he who comes to the Laver of Christ lays aside his sins. (Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, II:83, p. 79)
Then, from what follows, He [Christ] teaches that He Who came for three years has not come before time; for ye have: “Behold, for these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none; cut it down therefore; why cumbereth it the ground?” [Luke 13:7]. He came to Abraham, He came to Moses, He came to Mary, i.e., He came in the sign of the circumcision, He came in the Law, He came in the Body. We recognize His Coming from His miracles: firstly, purification; secondly, sanctification; thirdly, justification. Circumcision purified, the Law sanctified, Grace justified: one in all and all one [cf. John 17:21]. For none can be purified, save he who feared the Lord; none deserves to receive the Law, save he who is purified of guilt; none attains to Grace, unless he has known the Law. Therefore, the people of the Jews could be neither purified, because they had circumcision of the body, but not of the spirit; nor sanctified, because they who pursued the carnal rather than the spiritual were ignorant of the virtue of the Law – for “the Law is spiritual” [Rom. 7:14] –; nor justified, because they did not repent of their transgressions and, therefore, knew not Grace. Thus, fittingly is no fruit found in the synagogue and, therefore, it is ordered to be cut down [cf. Luke 13:7]. But a good husbandman and, perchance, he on whom is the foundation of the Church [cf. 1 Cor. 3:11], foreseeing that another must be sent to the Gentiles, but he to those who are of the circumcision [cf. Acts 11:2], piously intervenes, lest it be cut down, trusting in his calling that the people of the Jews can also be saved through the Church and, therefore, says, “Let it alone this year also, until I dig about it, and dung it” [Luke 13:8]. (Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, VII:165-76, pp. 303-04)
Our price is the blood of Christ. Hence the Apostle Peter says: “Not with gold or silver you were redeemed, but with the precious blood” [1 Peter 1:18]. And Paul says: “You have been bought with a price. Do not become the slaves of men” [1 Cor. 7:23]. Therefore, not without reason did they marvel in the Gospel on seeing the Lord Jesus sitting on a colt, because the race of the Gentiles is to Christ like a victim, which, according to the Law, is considered to be unclean. Hence we read in the Scriptures that the Levites redeemed them [cf. Exod. 13:13]. In this way they would be able by the sanctity of their lives and by their prayers to take away the sins of their people. Here in the figure of the Lamb we have the true Levite who was to come and preside over the mysteries. By His own Passion He would take away the sins of the world [cf. John 1:29]. The word “Levite” means “raised up for me” or “on me he is light.” The word “Levite” bears witness to a perfection in virtue by which the people attain holiness. He, therefore, is the expected [one] who was born of a virgin and who came for my salvation and for the salvation of the entire world. For me He was sacrificed; for me He tasted death; and for me, too, He rose from the dead. In Him has the redemption of all men been undertaken; in Him is their resurrection. He is the true Levite. We, His Levites, He would bring closer to God so that we might pray to Him unceasingly, hope for salvation from Him, shun all worldly affairs, and finally be numbered among the elect, as it is written: “O Lord, possess us” [Exod. 34:9]. Then alone is found true possession when we are not subject to the temptations of life and when we bring forth perfect fruit for all time. The Levite is one who redeems, because a man of wisdom redeems the man who is weak and foolish. He is like a physician who revives the spirit of his helpless patient. In imitation of that Physician who came down from heaven, he assuages the convalescent with healing words of wisdom, in order to point out to men the ways of wisdom and to reveal the paths of wisdom to little ones [cf. Ps. 19:8; Matt. 11:25]. He perceived that those who suffer cannot be healed without a remedy. For this reason He bestowed medicine on the sick and by His assistance made health available to all, so that whoever died could ascribe to himself the real causes of his death. That man [who died] was unwilling to be cured, although he had a remedy at hand which could effect his escape from death. The mercy of God has been made manifest to all. Those who perish, therefore, perish through their own negligence, whereas those who are saved are freed by the judgment of God, who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the recognition of truth [1 Tim. 2:4; cf. John 3:16-21; Luke 19:10]. (“Cain and Abel,” II:11, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 42 [Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1961], pp. 411-13)
But there are three kinds of death. One is the death due to sin, concerning which it was written: “The soul which sins shall itself die” [Ezek. 18:4]. Another death is the mystical, when someone dies to sin and lives to God [cf. Rom. 6:2; Gal. 2:19]; concerning this the Apostle likewise says: “For we were buried with him by means of Baptism into death” [Rom. 6:4]. The third is the death by which we complete our life-span with its functions – I mean the separation of soul and body. Thus we perceive that the one death is an evil, if we die on account of sins, but the other, in which the deceased has been justified of sin, is a good, while the third stands midway, for it seems good to the just and fearful to most men; although it gives release to all, it gives pleasure to few.
... For there are, so to speak, fetters of the body, and – what is worse – fetters of temptation, that bind us and fasten us to a harmful bondage by a law of sin. And at last, in its departure, we see how the soul of the dying man gradually frees itself from the bonds of the flesh and, passing out from the mouth, flies away as if freed from the prison, the poor abode that is the body.
And so holy David hastened to depart from this place of pilgrimage and said: “I am a wayfarer before you on the earth and a pilgrim like all my fathers” [Ps. 39:12]. And so, like a pilgrim, he hastened to that common homeland of all the saints; in view of the defilement of his stay here, he sought the forgiveness of his sins before his departure from life. For whoever has not received the forgiveness of his sins here, will not be there; and no one will be there who cannot attain to eternal life, because eternal life is the forgiveness of sins. And so he says: “Forgive me that I may find respite ere I depart and be no more” [Ps. 39:13]. (“Death as a Good,” 2:3,5, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 65, pp. 71-73)
Therefore because the just have the reward of seeing the face of God and “the light that enlightens every man” [John 1:9], let us henceforth clothe ourselves in zeal that our soul may draw near to God, that our prayer may draw near to Him, that we may cleave to Him in desire and may not be separated from Him. And taking this stand, let us be united to God by meditating and reading and searching, and let us come to know Him according to our ability. For only in part have we come to know Him here, because here all things are imperfect, but there all are perfect; here we are slight, but there we are strong. “We see now through a mirror in an obscure manner, but then face to face” [1 Cor. 13:12]. Then we will be allowed to look upon the glory of God, and His face will be revealed, but now we are enveloped in the thick substance of the body and covered over by the stains and pollutions of the flesh, as it were, and we cannot see with total clarity. “Who shall see my face and live?” Scripture said [Exod. 33:20], and rightly so. For our eyes cannot bear the sun’s rays and whoever turns too long in its direction is generally blinded, so they say. Now if one creature cannot look upon another creature without loss and harm to himself, how can he see the dazzling face of his eternal Creator while covered with the clothing that is this body? For who is justified in the sight of God [cf. Ps. 143:2], when the infant of but one day cannot be clean from sin [cf. Job 14:5, LXX] and no one can glory in his uprightness and purity of heart [cf. Prov. 20:9]?
And so let us not be afraid to be taken from among men, let us not dread the end that is due to all; in it Esdras finds the recompense of his devotion when the Lord says to him: “You will be taken up from among men and henceforth you will live with my Son and those who are like you” [cf. 4 Esd. 14:9]. Now if it was glorious and pleasing for him to live with those who were like him, how much more glorious and more pleasing it will be for us to go on to our betters and to live with those whose deeds we hold in admiration. ... Esdras revealed according to the revelation bestowed on him that the just would be with Christ and with the saints. ... Moses and Elias appeared with Christ [cf. Matt. 17:1-13]. Abraham hospitably received God and two others [cf. Gen. 18:1-15], Jacob looked upon God’s camp [cf. Gen. 32:1-2], and Daniel, at the revelation of the Holy Spirit, said that the just shone in heaven like the sun and the stars [cf. Dan. 12:3].
Trusting in them, let us go on without fear to Jesus our redeemer, and without fear let us advance to the council of the patriarchs and to our father Abraham, when the day comes, and let us go on without fear to the assembly of the saints and the congregation of the just. For we will go to our fathers, we will go to our instructors in the faith; even though our works are deficient, our faith will come to our aid and our inheritance will be maintained. We will go too where holy Abraham opens his bosom to receive the poor, as he also received Lazarus [cf. Luke 16:23]; in his bosom those who have endured bitter hardships in this world find rest. But now, father Abraham, reach out your hands again and again to take up the poor man from here, open your lap, open out your bosom to receive more, because very many have believed in the Lord. But although faith has grown, iniquity abounds and charity grows cold [cf. Matt. 24:12]. We will go to those who recline in the kingdom of God with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob [cf. Matt. 8:11] because they did not make excuses when they were invited to the banquet [cf. Luke 14:18]. We will go there, where there is a paradise of delight, where Adam, who fell among thieves [cf. Luke 10:30], cannot now weep for his wounds, where the robber as well rejoices in the fellowship of the heavenly kingdom [cf. Luke 23:43], where there are no clouds, no thunderstorms, no lightning flashes, no windstorm nor darkness nor evening nor summer nor winter, nor changing course of seasons, no cold, no hail, no rains, no need of sun or moon or mass of stars, but only the brightness of God will shine. For the Lord will be the light of all [cf. John 1:4], and “the true light that enlightens every man” [John 1:9] will shine for all.
We will go there, where the Lord Jesus has prepared mansions for His servants, that where He is, we also may be, for such is His will. Listen to Him telling what those mansions are: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions” [John 14:2], and telling His will: “I am coming again and am taking you to myself, that where I am, you also may be [John 14:3]. But you say that because He was speaking only to His disciples, He promised many mansions only to them; therefore He was preparing the mansions for the eleven disciples alone. And what of the statement that they shall come from all directions and recline in the kingdom of God [cf. Matt. 8:11]? On what account do we doubt the realization of God’s will? But for Christ, to will is to have acted. Therefore He showed the way and He showed the place, when He said: “And where I go you know and my way you know [John 18:4]. The place is with the Father, the way is Christ, just as He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me” [John 14:6]. Let us enter upon this way, let us hold to the truth, let us follow the life. He is the way that leads, the truth that strengthens, the life that is restored through Himself. And so that we may know His true will, in what follows He added this: “Father, I will that where I am, they also whom you have given me may be with me, that they may behold my glory, Father [John 17:24]. The repetition is a confirmation, as is “Abraham, Abraham!” [Gen. 22:1] and again: “It is I, I, who wipe out your offenses” [Isa. 43:25]. (“Death as a Good,” 11:49–12:54, pp. 106-09)
For just as there are gates of justice, in which the saints confess to the Lord, so there are gates of sin, in which the unholy have denied the Lord. Hear that the land of the dead is such: “Whoever touches the dead shall be unclean” [Numbers 19:11], and every evildoer is unclean in the sight of the Lord. And so whoever touches iniquity will be unclean, and whoever gives himself up to pleasures will be dead, for “she who gives herself up to pleasures is dead while she is still alive” [1 Tim. 5:6]. And those who are without faith go down while alive into hell; even though they appear to live with us, yet they are in hell. Whoever commits usury or theft is not alive, as you find in Ezechiel [cf. Ez. 33:18]. Whatever just man keeps the ordinances of the Lord that he may do them “will live, and will live in them” [Ez. 33:19]. And so such a one is in the land of the living, in the land where life is not hid, but free, where there is not shade, but glory. For here below not even Paul himself was living in glory. Indeed he groaned in the body of death. Hear him as he says: “For now our life is hidden with Christ in God; when Christ, our life, shall appear, then we too will appear with him in glory” [Col. 3:3-4].
Let us therefore hasten to life. Whoever touches life, lives. And indeed the woman touched it, who touched the fringe of His cloak and was released from death. And to her it is said: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” [John 20:17]. For if one who touches the dead man is unclean, then surely one who touches the living man is saved. Therefore let us seek the living man. ... Let us seek Him at the end of the ages and “embrace his feet and worship him” [Matt. 28:9], so that He may say to us also: “Do not be afraid” [Matt. 28:10], that is, “Do not be afraid about the sins of the age, do not be afraid about the iniquities of the world, do not be afraid about the surges of the bodily passions; I am the forgiveness of sins. Do not be afraid of the darkness; I am the light. Do not be afraid of death; I am life. Whoever comes to me “will not see death forever” [John 8:51], because He is the fullness of divinity, and to Him is honor and glory and perpetuity in the ages, both now and always and forever and ever. (“Death as a Good,” 12:56-57, Vol. 65, pp. 111-13)
But God is not to be judged by the statements of others, but by His own words. What mark of His mercy have we more ready at hand than that He Himself, through the prophet Hosea, is at once merciful as though reconciled to those whom in His anger He had threatened? For He says: “O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee, or what shall I do unto thee, O Judah? Your kindness,” etc. [Hosea 6:4] And further on: “How shall I establish thee? I will make thee as Admah, and as Zeboim” [Hosea 11:8]. In the midst of His indignation He hesitates, as it were, with fatherly love, doubting how He can give over the wanderer to punishment; for although the Jew deserves it, God yet takes counsel with Himself. For immediately after having said, “I will make thee as Admah and as Zeboim,” which cities, owing to their nearness to Sodom, suffered together in like destruction, He adds, “My heart is turned against Me, My compassion is aroused, I will not do according to the fierceness of Mine anger” [Hosea 11:8].
Is it not evident that the Lord Jesus is angry with us when we sin in order that He may convert us through fear of His indignation? His indignation, then, is not the carrying out of vengeance, but rather the working out of forgiveness, for these are His words: “If thou shalt turn and lament, thou shalt be saved” [Psalm 30:15, LXX]. He waits for our lamentations here, that is, in time, that He may spare us those which shall be eternal. He waits for our tears, that He may pour forth His goodness. So in the Gospel, having pity on the tears of the widow, He raised her son [Luke 7:13-15]. He waits for our conversion, that He may Himself restore us to grace, which would have continued with us had no fall overtaken us. But He is angry because we have by our sins incurred guilt, in order that we may be humbled; we are humbled, in order that we may be found worthy rather of pity than of punishment.
Jeremiah, too, may certainly teach when he says: “For the Lord will not cast off for ever; for after He has humbled, He will have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies, Who hath not humbled from His whole heart nor cast off the children of men” [Lamentations 3:31-32]. This passage we certainly find in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and from it, and from what follows, we note that the Lord humbles all the prisoners of the earth under His feet [Lamentations 3:34], in order that we may escape His judgment. But He does not bring down the sinner even to the earth with His whole heart Who raises the poor even from the dust and the needy from the dunghill. For He brings not down with His whole heart Who reserves the intention of forgiving. (“Concerning Repentance,” I, V:21-23, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. X, pp. 332-33)
So, then, Lord Jesus, come wholly to Thy Church, since Novatian makes excuse. Novatian says, “I have bought a yoke of oxen,” and he puts not on the light yoke of Christ, but lays upon his shoulders a heavy burden which he is not able to bear. Novatian held back Thy servants by whom he was invited, treated them contemptuously and slew them, polluting them with the stain of a reiterated baptism. Send forth, therefore, into the highways, and gather together good and bad [Luke 14:21], bring the weak, the blind, and the lame into Thy Church. Command that Thy house be filled, bring in all unto Thy supper, for Thou wilt make him whom Thou shalt call worthy, if he follow Thee. He indeed is rejected who has not the wedding garment, that is, the vestment of charity, the veil of grace. Send forth I pray Thee to all.
Thy Church does not excuse herself from Thy supper, Novatian makes excuse. Thy family says not, “I am whole, I need not the physician,” but it says: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved” [Jeremiah 17:14]. The likeness of Thy Church is that woman who went behind and touched the hem of Thy garment, saying within herself: “If I do but touch His garment I shall be whole” [Matthew 9:21]. So the Church confesses her wounds, but desires to be healed.
And Thou indeed, O Lord, desirest that all should be healed, but all do not wish to be healed. (“Concerning Repentance,” I, VII:30-32, p. 334)
How could John say that we should not pray for the sin unto death [1 John 5:16], who himself in the Apocalypse wrote the message to the angel of the Church of Pergamos? “Thou hast there those that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to put a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrines of the Nicolaitans. Repent likewise, or else I will come to thee quickly” [Revelation 2:14-16]. Do you see that the same God Who requires repentance promises forgiveness? And then He says: “He that hath ears let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna” [Revelation 2:17].
... let us enquire whether the writings of John in the Gospel agree with your interpretation. For he writes that the Lord said: “God so loved this world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that every one that believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life” [John 3:16]. If, then, you wish to reclaim any one of the lapsed, do you exhort him to believe, or not to believe? Undoubtedly you exhort him to believe. But, according to the Lord’s words, he who believes shall have everlasting life. How, then, will you forbid to pray for him, who has a claim to everlasting life? since faith is of divine grace, as the Apostle teaches where he speaks of the differences of gifts, for “to another is given faith by the same Spirit” [1 Corinthians 12:9]. And the disciples say to the Lord: “Increase our faith” [Luke 17:5]. He then who has faith has life, and he who has life is certainly not shut out from pardon; “that every one,” it is said, “that believeth on Him should not perish.” Since it is said, Every one, no one is shut out, no one is excepted, for He does not except him who has lapsed, if only afterwards he believes effectually.
We find that many have at length recovered themselves after a fall, and have suffered for the Name of God. Can we deny fellowship with the martyrs to these to whom the Lord Jesus has not denied it? Do we dare to say that life is not restored to those to whom Christ has given a crown? As, then, a crown is given to many after they have lapsed, so, too, if they believe, their faith is restored, which faith is the gift of God, as you read: “Because unto you it hath been granted by God not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer in His behalf” [Philippians 1:29]. Is it possible that he who has the gift of God should not have His forgiveness? ...
Therefore it is said: “That everyone that believeth in Him should not perish.” Let no one, that is, of whatever condition, after whatever fall, fear that he will perish. (“Concerning Repentance,” I, X:46; XI:48-49, 51, p. 337)
Let us consider another similar passage: “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” [John 3:36]. That which abideth has certainly had a commencement, and that from some offence, viz., that first he not believe. When, then, any one believes, the wrath of God departs and life comes. To believe, then, in Christ is to gain life, for “he that believeth in Him is not judged” [John 3:18].
But with reference to this passage they allege that he who believes in Christ ought to keep His sayings, and say that it is written in the Lord’s own words: “I am come a light into this world, that whosoever believeth in Me may not abide in darkness. And if any man hear My word and keep it, I judge him not” [John 12:47]. He judges not, and do you judge? He says, “that whosoever believeth on Me may not abide in darkness,” that is, that if he be in darkness he may not remain therein, but may amend his error, correct his fault, and keep My commandments, for I have said, “I will not the death of the wicked, but the correction” [Ezek. 23:11]. I said above that he that believeth on Me is not judged, and I keep to this: “For I am not come to judge the world, but that the world may be saved through Me” [John 3:17]. I pardon willingly, I quickly forgive, “I will have mercy rather than sacrifice” [Hosea 6:6], because by sacrifice the just is rendered more acceptable, by mercy the sinner is redeemed. “I come not to call the righteous but sinners” [Matt. 9:13]. Sacrifice was under the Law, in the Gospel is mercy. “The Law was given by Moses, grace by Me” [John 1:7].
And again further on He says: “He that despiseth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him” [John 12:48]. Does he seem to you to have received Christ’s words who has not corrected himself? Undoubtedly not. He, then, who corrects himself receives His word, for this is His word, that every one should turn back from sin. So, then, of necessity you must either reject this saying of His, or if you cannot deny it you must accept it.
It is also necessary that he who leaves off sinning must keep the commandments of God and renounce his sins. We ought not, then, to interpret this saying of him who has always kept the commandments, for if this had been His meaning He would have added the word always, but by not adding it He shows that He was speaking of him who has kept what he has heard, and what he heard has led him to correct his faults; he has then kept what he has heard.
But how hard it is to condemn to penance for life one who even afterwards keeps the commandments of the Lord, let Him teach us Himself Who has not refused forgiveness. Even to those who do not keep His commandments, as you read in the Psalm: “If they profane My statutes and keep not My commandments, I will visit their offences with the rod and their sins with scourges, but My mercy will I not take from them” [Ps. 89:31-32]. So, then, He promises mercy to all.
Yet that we may not think that this mercy is without judgment, there is a distinction made between those who have paid continual obedience to God’s commandments, and those who at some time, either by error or by compulsion, have fallen. And that you may not think that it is only our arguments which press you, consider the decision of Christ, Who said: “If the servant knew his Lord’s will and did it not, he shall be beaten with many stripes, but if he knew it not, he shall be beaten with few stripes” [Luke 12:47-48]. Each, then, if he believes, is received, for God “chasteneth every son whom He receiveth” [Heb. 12:6], and him whom He chasteneth He does not give over unto death, for it is written: “The Lord hath chastened me sore, but He hath not given me over unto death” [Ps. 118:18]. (“Concerning Repentance,” I, XII:53-58, pp. 338-39)
And so repenting, Ephraim says: “Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned, for Thou art the Lord my God. Surely in the end of my captivity I repented, and after I learned I mourned over the days of confusion, and subjected myself to Thee because I received reproach and made Thee known” [Jer. 31:19].
We see how to repent, with what words and with what acts, that the days of sin are called “days of confusion”; for there is confusion when Christ is denied.
Let us, then, submit ourselves to God, and not be subject to sin, and when we ponder the remembrance of our offences, let us blush as though at some disgrace, and not speak of them as a glory to us, as some boast of overcoming modesty, or putting down the feeling of justice. Let our conversion be such, that we who did not know God may now ourselves declare Him to others, that the Lord, moved by such a conversion on our part, may answer to us: “Ephraim is from youth a dear son, a pleasant child, for since My words are concerning him, I will verily remember him, therefore have I hastened to be over him; I will surely have mercy on him, saith the Lord” [Jer. 31:20].
And what mercy He promises us, the Lord also shows, when He says further on: “I have satiated every thirsty soul, and have satisfied every hungry soul. Therefore, I awaked and beheld, and My sleep was sweet unto Me” [Jer. 31:25,26]. We observe that the Lord promises His sacraments to those who sin. Let us, then, all be converted to the Lord.
But if they [others] be not converted, do you at least repent, who by many a slip have fallen from the lofty pinnacle of innocence and faith. We have a good Lord, Whose will it is to forgive all, Who called you by the prophet and said: “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions, and I will not remember, but do thou remember that we may plead together” [Isa. 43:25]. “I,” He says, “will not remember, but do thou remember,” that is to say, “I do not recall those transgressions which I have forgiven thee, which are covered, as it were, with oblivion, but do thou remember them. I will not remember them because of My grace, do thou remember them in order to correction; remember, thou mayest know that the sin is forgiven, boast not as though innocent, that thou aggravate not the sin, but [if] thou wilt be justified, confess thy sin.” For a shamefaced confession of sins looses the bands of transgression.
You see what God requires of you, that you remember that grace which you have received, and boast not as though you had not received it. You see by how complete a promise of remission He draws you to confession. (“Concerning Repentance,” II, II:36-41, p. 350)
Let us, then, mourn for a time, that we may rejoice for eternity. Let us fear the Lord, let us anticipate Him with the confession of our sins, let us correct our backslidings and amend our faults, lest of us too it be said: “Woe is me, my soul, for the godly man is perished from the earth, and there is none amongst men to correct them” [Micah 7:2].
Why do you fear to confess your sins to our good Lord? “Set them forth,” He says, “that thou mayest be justified.” The rewards of justification are set before him who is still guilty of sin, for he is justified who voluntarily confesses his own sin; and lastly, “the just man is his own accuser in the beginning of his speaking” [Proverbs 18:17]. The Lord knows all things, but He waits for your words, not that He may punish, but that He may pardon. It is not His will that the devil should triumph over you and accuse you when you conceal your sins. Be beforehand with your accuser: if you accuse yourself, you will fear no accuser; if you report yourself, though you were dead you shall live. (“Concerning Repentance,” II, VII:52-53, p. 352)
...the Lord Jesus knows also how to aid the weak, when there is no one who can prepare the feast, or bring the ointment, or carry with her a spring of living water. He comes Himself to the sepulchre.
Would that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to come to this sepulchre of mine, O Lord Jesus, that Thou wouldst wash me with Thy tears, since in my hardened eyes I possess not such tears as to be able to wash away my offence. If Thou shalt weep for me l shall be saved; if I am worthy of Thy tears I shall cleanse the stench of all my offences; if I am worthy that Thou weep but a little, Thou wilt call me out of the tomb of this body and will say: “Come forth,” that my meditations may not be kept pent up in the narrow limits of this body, but may go forth to Christ, and move in the light, that I may think no more on works of darkness but on works of light. For he who thinks on sins endeavours to shut himself up within his own consciousness.
Call forth, then, Thy servant. Although bound with the chain of my sins I have my feet fastened and my hands tied; being now buried in dead thoughts and works, yet at Thy call I shall go forth free, and shall be found one of those sitting at Thy feast, and Thy house shall be filled with precious ointment. If Thou hast vouchsafed to redeem any one, Thou wilt preserve him. ...
Let us, then, not be ashamed to say that our fault is more serious than that of him whom we think we must reprove, for this is what Judah did who reprimanded Tamar, and remembering his own fault said: “Tamar is more righteous than I” [Genesis 38:26]. In which saying there is a deep mystery and a moral precept; and therefore is his offence not reckoned to him, because he accused himself before he was accused by others.
Let us, then, not rejoice over the sin of any one, but rather let us mourn, for it is written: “Rejoice not against me, O my enemy, because I have fallen, for I shall arise; for if I sit in darkness the Lord shall be a light unto me, I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He maintain my cause, and execute judgment for me, and bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness. Mine enemy, too, shall see it and shall be covered with confusion, which said unto me, Where is the Lord thy God? Mine eyes shall behold her, and she shall be for treading down as the mire in the streets” [Micah 7:8-10]. And this not unreservedly, for he who rejoices at the fall of another rejoices at the victory of the devil. Let us, then, rather mourn when we hear that one has perished for whom Christ died...
So, then, it is fitting for us to believe both that sinners must repent and that forgiveness is to be given on repentance, yet still as hoping for forgiveness as granted upon faith, not as a debt, for it is one thing to earn, and another presumptuously to claim a right. Faith asks for forgiveness, as it were, by covenant, but presumption is more akin to demand than to request. Pay first that which you owe, that you may be in a position to ask for what you have hoped. Come with the disposition of an honest debtor, that you may not contract a fresh liability, but may pay that which is due of the existing debt with the possessions of your faith.
He who owes a debt to God has more help towards payment than he who is indebted to man. Man requires money for money, and this is not always at the debtor’s command. God demands the affection of the heart, which is in our own power. No one who owes a debt to God is poor, except one who has made himself poor. And even if he have nothing to sell, yet has he wherewith to pay. Prayer, fasting, and tears are the resources of an honest debtor, and much more abundant than if one from the price of his estate offered money without faith. (“Concerning Repentance,” II, VIII:70-72, 77-78, 80-81, pp. 354-55)
For he who is baptized is seen to be purified both according to the Law and according to the Gospel: according to the Law, because Moses sprinkled the blood of the lamb with a bunch of hyssop [Exodus 12:22]; according to the Gospel, because Christ’s garments were white as snow, when in the Gospel He showed forth the glory of His Resurrection. He, then, whose guilt is remitted is made whiter than snow. So that God said by Isaiah: “Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow” [Isaiah 1:18].
The Church, having put on these garments through the laver of regeneration, says in the Song of Songs: “I am black and comely, O daughters of Jerusalem” [Song 1:4]. Black through the frailty of her human condition, comely through the sacrament of faith. And the daughters of Jerusalem beholding these garments say in amazement: “Who is this that cometh up made white?” [Song 8:5]. She was black, how is she now suddenly made white?
The angels, too, were in doubt when Christ arose; the powers of heaven were in doubt when they saw that flesh was ascending into heaven. Then they said: “Who is this King of glory?” And whilst some said: “Lift up your gates, O princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in” [Ps. 24:8-9]. In Isaiah, too, we find that the powers of heaven doubted and said: “Who is this that cometh up from Edom, the redness of His garments is from Bosor, He who is glorious in white apparel?” [Isaiah 63:1]
But Christ, beholding His Church, for whom He Himself, as you find in the book of the prophet Zechariah, had put on filthy garments, now clothed in white raiment, seeing, that is, a soul pure and washed in the laver of regeneration, says: “Behold, thou art fair, My love, behold thou art fair, thy eyes are like a dove’s” [Song 4:1], in the likeness of which the Holy Spirit descended from heaven. The eyes are beautiful like those of a dove, because in the likeness of a dove the Holy Spirit descended from heaven.
And farther on: “Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are shorn, which are come up from the pool, which all bear twins, and none is barren among them, thy lips are as a cord of scarlet” [Song 4:2-3]. This is no slight praise. First by the pleasing comparison to those that are shorn; for we know that goats both feed in high places without risk, and securely find their food in rugged places, and then when shorn are freed from what is superfluous. The Church is likened to a flock of these, having in itself the many virtues of those souls which through the laver lay aside the superfluity of sins, and offer to Christ the mystic faith and the grace of good living, which speak of the cross of the Lord Jesus.
The Church is beautiful in them. So that God the Word says to her: “Thou art all fair, My love, and there is no blemish in thee,” for guilt has been washed away. “Come hither from Lebanon, My spouse, come hither from Lebanon, from the beginning of faith wilt thou pass through and pass on” [Song 4:7-8], because, renouncing the world, she passed through things temporal and passed on to Christ. And again, God the Word says to her: “How beautiful and sweet art thou made, O love, in thy delights! Thy stature is become like that of a palm-tree, and thy breasts like bunches of grapes” [Song 7:6-7].
And the Church answers Him, “Who will give Thee to me, my Brother, that didst suck the breasts of my mother? If I find Thee without, I will kiss Thee, and indeed they will not despise me. I will take Thee, and bring Thee into the house of my mother; and into the secret chamber of her that conceived me. Thou shalt teach me” [Song 8:1-2]. You see how, delighted with the gifts of grace, she longs to attain to the innermost mysteries, and to consecrate all her affections to Christ. She still seeks, she still stirs up His love, and asks of the daughters of Jerusalem to stir it up for her, and desires that by their beauty, which is that of faithful souls, her spouse may be incited to ever richer love for her.
So that the Lord Jesus Himself, invited by such eager love and by the beauty of comeliness and grace, since now no offences pollute the baptized, says to the Church: “Place Me as a seal upon thy heart, as a signet upon thine arm” [Song 8:6]; that is, thou art comely, My beloved, thou art all fair, nothing is wanting to thee. Place Me as a seal upon thine heart, that thy faith may shine forth in the fulness of the sacrament. Let thy works also shine and set forth the image of the God in Whose image thou wast made. Let no persecution lessen thy love, which many waters cannot quench, nor many rivers drown.
And then remember that you received the seal of the Spirit; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and godliness, and the spirit of holy fear [Isaiah 11:2], and preserved what you received. God the Father sealed you, Christ the Lord strengthened you, and gave the earnest of the Spirit in your heart [2 Cor. 5:5], as you have learned in the lesson from the Apostle. (“On the Mysteries,” VII:34-42, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. X, pp. 321-22)
Does he, a man full of blood and full of murder, dare to make mention to me of a discussion? He who thinks that they whom he could not mislead by his words are to be slain with the sword, giving bloody laws with his mouth, writing them with his hand, and thinking that the law can order a faith for man to hold. He has not heard what was read to-day: “That a man is not justified by the works of the law” [Gal. 2:16], or “I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I may live unto God” [Gal. 2:19], that is, by the spiritual law he is dead to the carnal interpretation of the law. And we, by the law of our Lord Jesus Christ, are dead to this law, which sanctions such perfidious decrees. The law did not gather the Church together, but the faith of Christ. For the law is not by faith, but “the just man lives by faith” [Gal. 3:11]. Therefore, faith, not the law, makes a man just, for justice is not through the law, but through the faith of Christ. But he who casts aside his faith and pleads for that the claims of the law, bears witness that he is himself unjust; for the just man lives by faith. (“Sermon against Auxentius,” 24, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. X, p. 434)
For death is the equal lot of all, making no distinctions for the poor and no exception for the rich. Therefore, although through one man’s sin death has passed unto all men [cf. Rom. 5:12], accordingly, him whom we do not refuse to acknowledge as the father of the human race we cannot refuse to acknowledge also as the author of death [cf. Rom. 5:18]. And just as we have death through one, so also through One we have the resurrection. Let us not refuse tribulation if we wish to gain the divine reward. For, as we read, Christ came “to save what was lost” [Luke 19:10], and “that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” [Rom. 14:9]. In Adam I fell, in Adam I was cast out of paradise, in Adam I died. How shall God call me back except He find me in Adam? For just as in Adam I am guilty of sin and owe a debt to death, so in Christ I am justified [cf. Rom. 5:8,9]. If, then, death is a debt, we ought to endure its payment. (“On the Death of His Brother Satyrus,” II:6, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 22 [Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953], pp. 199-200)
Peter was clean, but his feet must be washed, since he had the sin inherited from the first man, at the time when the serpent felled him and misled him into error. Thus Peter’s feet were washed to remove the hereditary sin. (commentary on John 13:10; quoted in Vladimir Moss, Against Romanides)
After resting my mind a while during my reading, turning from my intensive study, I began thinking of the versicle which we had used at first Vespers: “Thou art beautiful above the sons of men” [Ps. 45:2], and also: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good tidings” [Isa. 52:7]. Truly, nothing is more beautiful than the Highest Good which is exceedingly beautiful to preach, the setting forth of a continuous discourse, and the footsteps, as it were, of the preaching of the Apostles. Who is capable of this? Those to whom God gave the power not only to announce Christ but also to suffer for him.
... One who wisely understands the souls of his flock cares for the grass of his field so that he will have large pastures, for the sweet grasses make the lambs fatter, and their milk is more healthful. The rich use these pastures, they who “have eaten and adored” [Ps. 22:29], for it is the saint of God who is placed in these good pastures of faith.
The flocks of sheep are also nourished with that hay which makes them produce fleeces of wisdom and provides them the mantle of prudence. Perhaps, too, this is the mountain hay [cf. Prov. 27:35] upon which the Prophet’s words distilled “like snow upon the hay” [Deut. 32:2]. The wise man diligently seeks this so that his sheep may be a covering for him, a sort of spiritual cloak. Thus the soul which clings to the Highest Good, which is divine, has its own food and clothing. This is what the Apostle Peter urged us to search for, so that by acquiring this knowledge we may become partakers of the divine nature [2 Peter 1:4].
The good God discloses a knowledge of this to His saints, bringing it forth from His good treasures as the sacred writing proves: “The Lord swore to your fathers to give and open his excellent treasure” [Deut. 28:11,12]. From this heavenly treasure He gives rain to His earth in order to bless all the works of your hands. The rain signifies the utterance of the Scripture which bedews the soul which is rich and plentiful in good works so that it may have the rain of grace [cf. Deut. 32:2].
David went in search of the knowledge of this Good, as he himself declares: “One thing I have asked of the Lord; this I will seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to enjoy the sweetness of the Lord and to behold his temple.” And he immediately adds in this psalm that this is the Highest Good: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living” [Ps. 27:4,13]. Here [on earth] He is sought; there [in heaven] he will be fully seen face to face. This Good is in the house of God, in His secret abode and sanctuary. Again he says: “We shall be filled with the good things of thy house” [Ps. 65:4]. In another place, too, he shows that this is the fullness of blessings: “May the Lord bless thee out of Sion, that thou mayest see the welfare of Jerusalem” [Ps. 128:5]. Blessed is he, therefore, who lives there in the entrance of faith, in the abode of the spirit, in the dwelling of devotion, in the life of virtue.
Let us abide there and remain in Him of whom Isaias says: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach peace and preach good tidings!” [Isa. 52:7] Who are those who preach except Peter, Paul, and all the Apostles? What do they preach to us except the Lord Jesus? [cf. 1 Cor. 1:1] He is our peace, He is our Highest Good, for He is the Good from Good, and from a good tree is gathered good fruit [cf. Matt. 7:18]. Then, too, His spirit is good, that Spirit which receives the servants of God from Him and brings them into the right way [cf. Ps. 143:10]. Let no one who has the Spirit of God in him deny that He is good, since He says Himself: “Is thy eye evil because I am good?” [Matt. 20:15] May there come into our soul, into our innermost heart, this Good which the kind God gives to those who ask Him. He is our Treasure; He is our Way; He is our Wisdom, our Righteousness, our Shepherd and the Good Shepherd; He is our Life. (“Epistle 29” [to Irenaeus], The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 26 [Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954], pp. 437-40)
We were formerly under a harsh creditor [the Devil] who could not be satisfied or fully paid except by the death of the debtor. The Lord Jesus came; He saw us bound by a heavy debt. No one could pay his debt with his inheritance of innocence; I was able to take nothing of mine with which to free myself; He gave me a new kind of acquittal, enabling me to get another creditor, because I had not the means of discharging my debt. Yet, not nature, but sin, had made us debtors; by our sins we contracted heavy debts so that we who were free became bound, for a debtor is one who uses any of a creditor’s money. Sin is from the Devil. That wicked one, as it were, has these treasures among his possessions, for as Christ’s riches are virtues, so the Devil’s possessions are crimes. He had reduced the human race to everlasting captivity under a heavy debt of inherited liability, which our forefather [Adam], being under debt, had transmitted by legacy to his posterity. The Lord Jesus came; He offered His death for the death of all; He poured out His blood for the blood of everyone.
We, then, have changed our creditor; we have not entirely escaped, or, rather, we have escaped, but the debt remains, while the interest is canceled, the Lord Jesus saying: ‘To them that are bound: Come forth. And to them that are in prison: Go forth’ [Isa. 49.8], for your sins have been forgiven. He has forgiven all and there is no one whom He has not set free. For it is written that He forgave ‘all your sins, canceling the decree against us’ [Col. 2.13,14]. (“Epistle 41” [to Marcellina], The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 26, pp. 387-88)
In the Church a man is rich if he is rich in faith, for the faithful man has a whole world of riches. Is it strange that the faithful man owns the world, since he owns Christ’s inheritance, which is more priceless than the world? ‘You were redeemed with the precious blood’ surely was said to all, not only to the rich. But, if you wish to be rich, follow Him who says: ‘Be you also holy in all your behavior.’ ... Trust not in riches, because they must all be left here; only faith will go with you. Righteousness will be your companion if faith leads the way. Why do riches flatter you? ‘You were not redeemed with gold or silver,’ with possessions or silk garments, ‘from your vain manner of life, but by the precious blood of Christ Jesus’ [1 Peter 1.18,19,15,17]. He is rich who is an heir of God, a joint-heir of Christ. (“Epistle 63” [to the Church at Vercelli], The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 26, pp. 353-54)
...not only has a way to paradise been made anew for us through Christ, but also there has been won for us the honor of a throne in heaven through our partnership with the flesh of Christ’s Body. You need no longer doubt the possibility of your ascension, knowing that your partnership with the flesh of Christ continues in the kingdom of heaven, knowing that through His Blood reconciliation was made for all things, those on earth and in heaven (for he came down in order to fulfill all things), and by His Apostles, Prophets, and priests establishing the whole world and drawing together the Gentiles. Now, the purpose of our hope is the love of Him, that we may grow up to Him in all things, because He is the Head of all things, and by the building up of love we all rise up to Him into one body [cf. Eph. 4:15,16], according to the measure of our work.
We ought not despair of the members being united to their Head, especially since from the beginning we have been predestined in Him through Jesus Christ to be the adopted sons of God, and He has ratified this predestination, maintaining that which was foretold from the beginning, that “A man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh” [Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31], for it is a mystery of Christ and of the Church. Therefore, if the union of Adam and Eve is a great mystery in Christ and in the Church, it is certain that as Eve was bone of the bones of her husband, and flesh of his flesh, we also are members of Christ’s Body, bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh.
No other epistle [than the Epistle to the Ephesians] has given utterance to so great a blessing upon the people of God as this in which the great witness of divine grace signified not only that we were blessed by God, but blessed with all blessing in the spirit and in the heavens, and predestined to the adoption of sons, endowed also with grace in the Son of God; by this [grace] we have been filled with the knowledge of the mystery of the eternal will. Especially, then, in the fullness of time when all things were made peaceful in Christ – those of earth, and those of heaven – we have been established in this possession, so that what is of the Law and what is of grace might be fulfilled in us. And although according to the Law we seemed chosen, even in that season of youth which signifies a holy life, without the wantonness of youth or the weakness of age, we have also been taught to battle with lively virtues not only against flesh and blood, but also against every force of spiritual wickedness on high [cf. Eph. 6:12]. ...
Let us therefore be the possession of God, let Him be our portion, for in Him are the riches of His glory and of His inheritance. Who but God alone is rich, for He created all things? But He is ever richer in mercy, for He redeemed all men, and as the Author of nature He changed us, who were by nature children of wrath and liable to harm, so that we are the children of peace and charity. Who can change nature but He who created it? Therefore, He raised the dead and made those who were brought to life in Christ sit in heaven in the Lord Jesus Himself [cf. Eph. 2:4-6].
No one among men has earned the privilege of sitting on that seat of God of which the Father said only to the Son: “Sit thou at my right hand” [Ps. 110:1]. The grace in Him and His goodness have flowed upon us in Christ Jesus that, although we were dead by works, yet, having been redeemed by faith and saved by grace, He might give us the gift of deliverance, by which our very nature, as though raised from the dead, experiences the grace of a new vesture, and we, who were created in Christ, but fell away through the corruption of our guilty lineage, may walk doing good.
With the removal of those enmities which formerly existed in the flesh, peace with the universe has been made in heaven [cf. Eph. 2:14], that men might be like angels on earth, that Gentiles and Jews might be made one, that in one man might dwell the old and the new man, with the middle wall of partition removed, which once stood between them like a hostile barrier. Now, since the nature of our flesh has stirred up anger and discord and dissension, and the Law has bound us with the chains of guilt, Christ Jesus has by mortification subdued the wantonness and intemperance of the flesh, has made void the commandments contained in ordinances, declaring that the decrees of the spiritual law are not to be interpreted according to the letter, putting an end to the slothful rest of the sabbath and the superfluous rite of bodily circumcision, and laying open to all an approach to the Father in one spirit. How, then, can there be discord where there is one calling, one body, one spirit?
What else did Christ effect by His coming down except to deliver us from captivity into liberty, and to make that captivity captive which had been fettered by the bonds of unbelief, restrained now by the fetters of wisdom, every wise man putting his feet into its bonds? So it is written that, when He had descended, He ascended to fill all things [cf. Eph. 4:10], that we might all receive of His fullness [cf. John 1:16]. (“Epistle 76” [to Irenaeus], The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 26, pp. 475-78)
...it is certain that the Law given to Moses was not necessary. For, if men had been able to keep the natural law which God the Creator planted in the breast of each one, there would have been no need of that Law, which, written on stone tablets, rather enmeshed and entangled the weakness of human nature than freed and liberated it. Moreover, that there is a natural law written in our hearts the Apostle [Paul] also teaches when he writes that for the most part “The Gentiles do by nature what the Law prescribes, and since they do not read the Law, they yet have the work of the Law written in their hearts” [Rom. 2:14,15].
This law is not written, but inborn; it is not acquired by reading, but springs up in each one as from the flowing font of nature, and men’s minds drink from it. This law we should have kept even through fear of future judgment, which our conscience witnesses, revealing itself by silent thoughts before God, whereby our sin is reproved or our innocence justified. Therefore, that which has always been apparent to the Lord will be clearly revealed on the day of judgment, when the secrets of the heart, which were thought to be hidden, will be called to an account. ...
This law Adam broke, seeking to take for himself what he had not received, so that he might be like his own Creator and Maker, so that he might claim divine honor. Through disobedience he incurred guilt, and through arrogance he fell into sin. Had he not broken the command and had he been obedient to the heavenly precepts, he would have preserved for his heirs the prerogative of nature and of innocence which was his from birth. But because the authority of the natural law was corrupted and blotted out by disobedience, the written law was determined necessary, that man who had lost all might regain at least a part, and he who had lost what was his at birth might know and guard at least a part. Since the cause of his fall was pride, and pride sprang from the privilege of his innocence, it was necessary for some [written] law to be passed which would subdue and subject him to God. ...
The Law [of Moses] was passed, first, to remove all excuse for sin, lest any man might say: “I knew no sin, for I received no rule as to what to avoid.” Next, that it might make all men subject to God through their recognition of sin [cf. Rom. 3:19]. It made all subject, for it was given not only to the Jews, but it reached also the Gentiles, and converts from the Gentiles became their associates. ...
Sin abounded by the Law because through the Law came knowledge of sin [cf. Rom. 7:7] and it became harmful for me to know what through my weakness I could not avoid. It is good to know beforehand what one is to avoid, but, if I cannot avoid something, it is harmful to have known about it. Thus was the Law changed to its opposite, yet it became useful to me by the very increase of sin, for I was humbled. And David therefore says: “It is good for me that I have been humbled” [Ps. 119:71]. By humbling myself I have broken the bonds of that ancient transgression by which Adam and Eve had bound the whole line of their succession. Hence, too, the Lord came as an obedient man to loose the knot of man’s disobedience and deception. And as through disobedience sin entered, so through obedience sin was remitted. Therefore, the Apostle says: “For just as by the disobedience of one man the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one the many will be constituted just” [Rom. 5:19].
Here is one reason that the Law was unnecessary and became necessary, unnecessary in that it would not have been needed if we had been able to keep the natural law; but, as we did not keep it, the Law of Moses became needful to teach me obedience and loosen that bond of Adam’s deception which had ensnared his whole posterity. Yes, guilt grew by the Law, but pride, the source of guilt, was loosed, and this was an advantage to me. Pride discovered the guilt and the guilt brought grace.
Consider another reason. The Law of Moses was not needful; hence, it entered secretly. Its entrance seems not of an ordinary kind, but like something clandestine because it entered secretly into the place of the natural law. Thus, if she [i.e. the natural law] had but kept her place, this written law would never have entered it, but, since deception had banished that [natural] law and nearly blotted it out of the human breast, pride reigned and disobedience was rampant. Therefore, that other took its place so that by its written expression it might challenge us and shut our mouth, in order to make the whole world subject to God [cf. Rom. 3:19]. The world, however, became subject to Him through the Law, because all are brought to trial by the prescript of the Law, and no one is justified by the works of the Law; in other words, because the knowledge of sin comes from the Law, but guilt is not remitted, the Law, therefore, which has made all men sinners, seems to have caused harm.
But, when the Lord Jesus came He forgave all men the sin they could not escape, and canceled the decree against us by shedding His Blood [cf. Col. 2:14]. This is what He says: “By the Law sin abounded, but grace abounded by Jesus” [cf. Rom. 5:20], since after the whole world became subject He took away the sins of the whole world, as John bears witness, saying: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29] Let no one glory, then, in his own works, since no one is justified by his deeds, but one who is just has received a gift, being justified by Baptism. It is faith, therefore, which sets us free by the blood of Christ, for he is blessed whose sin is forgiven and to whom pardon is granted [cf. Ps. 32:1]. (“Epistle 73” [to Irenaeus], The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 26, pp. 464-68; translation slightly revised)
These are the words of Ambrose, which clearly support our position; he denies justification to works and ascribes it to faith, which liberates us through the blood of Christ. If you pile up all the commentators on the Sentences with all their magnificent titles – for some are called “angelic,” others “subtle,” and others “irrefutable” – read them and reread them, they contribute less to an understanding of Paul than this one sentence from Ambrose. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession IV:104-05, The Book of Concord, edited by Theodore G. Tappert [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959], p. 122)
Saint Ambrose of Milan
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