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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Preface.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

The choice of Gideon was a figure of our Lord’s Incarnation, the sacrifice of a kid, of the satisfaction for sins in the body of Christ; that of the bullock, of the abolition of profane rites; and in the three hundred soldiers was a type of the future redemption through the cross. The seeking of various signs by Gideon was also a mystery, for by the dryness and moistening of the fleece was signified the falling away of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, by the water received in a basin the washing of the apostles’ feet. St. Ambrose prays that his own pollution may be washed away, and praises the loving-kindness of Christ. The same water sent forth by the Son of God effects marvellous conversions; it cannot, however, be sent by any other, since it is the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit, Who is subject to no external power.

1. When Jerubbaal, as we read, was beating out wheat 783 under an oak, he received a message from God in order that he might bring the people of God from the power of strangers into liberty. Nor is it a matter of wonder if he was chosen for grace, seeing that even then, being appointed under the shadow of the holy cross and of the adorable Wisdom in the predestined mystery of the future Incarnation, he was bringing forth the visible grains of the fruitful corn from their hiding places, and was [mystically] separating the elect of the saints from the refuse of the empty chaff. For these elect, as though trained with the rod of truth, laying aside the superfluities of the old man together with his deeds, are gathered in the Church as in a winepress. For the Church is the winepress of the eternal fountain, since from her wells forth the juice of the heavenly Vine.

2. And Gideon, moved by that message, when he heard that, though thousands of the people failed, God would deliver His own from their enemies by means of one man, 784 offered a kid, and according to the word of the Angel, laid its flesh and the unleavened cakes upon the rock, and poured the broth upon them. And as soon as the Angel touched them with the end of the staff which he bore, fire burst forth out of the rock, and so the sacrifice which he was offering was consumed. 785 By which it seems clear that that rock was a figure of the Body of Christ, for it is written: “They drank of that rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.” 786 Which certainly refers not to His Godhead, but to His Flesh, which watered the hearts of the thirsting people with the perpetual stream of His Blood.

3. Even at that time was it declared in a mystery that the Lord Jesus in His Flesh would, when crucified, do away the sins of the whole world, and not only the deeds of the body, but the desires of the soul. For the flesh of the kid refers to sins of deed, the broth to the enticements of desire as it is written: “For the people lusted an evil lust, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?” 787 That the Angel then stretched forth his staff, and touched the rock, from which fire went out, 788 shows that the Flesh of the Lord, being filled with the Divine Spirit, would burn away all the sins of human frailty. Wherefore, also, the Lord says: “I am come to send fire upon the earth.” 789

4. Then the man, instructed and foreknowing what was to be, observes the heavenly mysteries, and therefore, according to the warning, slew the bullock dep. 94 stined by his father to idols, and himself offered to God another bullock seven years old. 790 By doing which he most plainly showed that after the coming of the Lord all Gentile sacrifices should be done away, and that only the sacrifice of the Lord’s passion should be offered for the redemption of the people. For that bullock was, in a type, Christ, in Whom, as Esaias said, dwelt the fulness of the seven gifts of the Spirit. 791 This bullock Abraham also offered when he saw the day of the Lord and was glad. 792 He it is Who was offered at one time in the type of a kid, at another in that of a sheep, at another in that of a bullock. Of a kid, because He is a sacrifice for sin; of a sheep, because He is an unresisting victim; of a bullock, because He is a victim without blemish.

5. Holy Gideon then saw the mystery beforehand. Next he chose out three hundred for the battle, so as to show that the world should be freed from the incursion of worse enemies, not by the multitude of their number, but by the mystery of the cross. And yet, though he was brave and faithful, he asked of the Lord yet fuller proofs of future victory, saying: “If Thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, O Lord, as Thou hast said, behold I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor, and if there shall be dew on the fleece and dryness on all the ground, I shall know that Thou wilt deliver the people by my hand according to Thy promise. And it was so.” 793 Afterwards he asked in addition that dew should descend on all the earth and dryness be on the fleece.

6. Some one perhaps will enquire whether he does not seem to have been wanting in faith, seeing that after being instructed by many signs he asked still more. But how can he seem to have asked as if doubting or wanting in faith, who was speaking in mysteries? He was not then doubtful, but careful that we should not doubt. For how could he be doubtful whose prayer was effectual? And how could he have begun the battle without fear, unless he had understood the message of God? for the dew on the fleece signified the faith among the Jews, because the words of God come down like the dew.

7. So when the whole world was parched with the drought of Gentile superstition, then came that dew of the heavenly visits on the fleece. But after that the lost sheep of the house of Israel 794 (whom I think that the figure of the Jewish fleece shadowed forth), after that those sheep, I say, 795 “had refused the fountain of living water,” the dew of moistening faith dried up in the breasts of the Jews, and that divine Fountain turned away its course to the hearts of the Gentiles. Whence it has come to pass that now the whole world is moistened with the dew of faith, but the Jews have lost their prophets and counsellors.

8. Nor is it strange that they should suffer the drought of unbelief, whom the Lord deprived of the fertilising of the shower of prophecy, saying: “I will command My clouds that they rain not upon that vineyard.” 796 For there is a health-giving shower of salutary grace, as David also said: “He came down like rain upon a fleece, and like drops that drop upon the earth.” 797 The divine Scriptures promised us this rain upon the whole earth, to water the world with the dew of the Divine Spirit at the coming of the Saviour. The Lord, then, has now come, and the rain has come; the Lord has come bringing the heavenly drops with Him, and so now we drink, who before were thirsty, and with an interior draught drink in that Divine Spirit.

9. Holy Gideon, then, foresaw this, that the nations of the Gentiles also would drink by the reception of faith, and therefore he enquired more diligently, for the caution of the saints is necessary. Insomuch that also Joshua the son of Nun, when he saw the captain of the heavenly host, enquired: “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” 798 lest, perchance, he might be deceived by some stratagem of the adversary.

10. Nor was it without a reason that he put the fleece neither in a field nor in a meadow, but in a threshing-floor, where is the harvest of the wheat: “For the harvest is plenteous, but the labourers are few;” 799 because that, through faith in the Lord, there was about to be a harvest fruitful in virtues.

11. Nor, again, was it without a reason that he dried the fleece of the Jews, and put the dew from it into a basin, so that it was filled with water, yet he did not himself wash his feet in that dew. The prerogative of so great a mystery was to be given to another. He was being waited for Who alone could wash away the filth of all. Gideon was not great enough to claim this mystery for himself, but “the Son of Man p. 95 came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” 800 Let us, then, recognize in Whom these mysteries are seen to be accomplished. Not in holy Gideon, for they were still at their commencement. Therefore the Gentiles were surpassed, for dryness was still upon the Gentiles, and therefore did Israel surpass them, for then did the dew remain on the fleece.

12. Let us come now to the Gospel of God. I find the Lord stripping Himself of His garments, and girding Himself with a towel, pouring water into a basin, and washing the disciples’ feet. 801 That heavenly dew was this water, this was foretold, namely, that the Lord Jesus Christ would wash the feet of His disciples in that heavenly dew. And now let the feet of our minds be stretched out. The Lord Jesus wills also to wash our feet, for He says, not to Peter alone, but to each of the faithful: “If I wash not thy feet thou wilt have no part with Me.” 802

13. Come, then, Lord Jesus, put off Thy garments, which Thou didst put on for my sake; be Thou stripped that Thou mayest clothe us with Thy mercy. Gird Thyself for our sakes with a towel, that Thou mayest gird us with Thy gift of immortality. Pour water into the basin, wash not only our feet but also the head, and not only of the body, but also the footsteps of the soul. I wish to put off all the filth of our frailty, so that I also may say: “By night I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them?” 803

14. How great is that excellence! As a servant, Thou dost wash the feet of Thy disciples; as God, Thou sendest dew from heaven. Nor dost Thou wash the feet only, but also invitest us to sit down with Thee, and by the example of Thy dignity dost exhort us, saying: “Ye call Me Master and Lord, and ye do well, for so I am. If, then, I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s feet.” 804

15. I, then, wish also myself to wash the feet of my brethren, I wish to fulfil the commandment of my Lord, I will not be ashamed in myself, nor disdain what He Himself did first. Good is the mystery of humility, because while washing the pollutions of others I wash away my own. But all were not able to exhaust this mystery. Abraham was, indeed, willing to wash feet, 805 but because of a feeling of hospitality. Gideon, too, was willing to wash the feet of the Angel of the Lord who appeared to him, 806 but his willingness was confined to one; he was willing as one who would do a service, not as one who would confer fellowship with himself. This is a great mystery which no one knew. Lastly, the Lord said to Peter: “What I do thou knowest not now, but shalt know hereafter.” 807 This, I say, is a divine mystery which even they who wash will enquire into. It is not, then, the simple water of the heavenly mystery whereby we attain to be found worthy of having part with Christ.

16. There is also a certain water which we put into the basin of our soul, water from the fleece and from the Book of Judges; water, too, from the Book of Psalms. 808 It is the water of the message from heaven. Let, then, this water, O Lord Jesus, come into my soul, into my flesh, that through the moisture of this rain 809 the valleys of our minds and the fields of our hearts may grow green. May the drops from Thee come upon me, shedding forth grace and immortality. Wash the steps of my mind that I may not sin again. Wash the heel 810 of my soul, that I may be able to efface the curse, that I feel not the serpent’s bite 811 on the foot of my soul, but, as Thou Thyself hast bidden those who follow Thee, may tread on serpents and scorpions 812 with uninjured foot. Thou hast redeemed the world, redeem the soul of a single sinner.

17. This is the special excellence of Thy loving-kindness, wherewith Thou hast redeemed the whole world one by one. Elijah was sent to one widow; 813 Elisha cleansed one; 814 Thou, O Lord Jesus, hast at this day cleansed a thousand. How many in the city of Rome, how many at Alexandria, how many at Antioch, how many also at Constantinople! For even Constantinople has received the word of God, and has received evident proofs of Thy judgment. For so long as she cherished the Arians’ poison in her bosom, disquieted by neighbouring wars, she echoed with hostile arms around. But so soon as she rejected those who were p. 96 alien from the faith she received as a suppliant the enemy himself, the judge of kings, whom she had always been wont to fear, she buried him when dead, and retains him entombed. 815 How many, then, hast Thou cleansed at Constantinople, how many, lastly, at this day in the whole world!

18. Damasus cleansed not, Peter cleansed not, Ambrose cleansed not, Gregory cleansed not; 816 for ours is the ministry, but the sacraments are Thine. For it is not in man’s power to confer what is divine, but it is, O Lord, Thy gift and that of the Father, as Thou hast spoken by the prophets, saying: “I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh, and their sons and their daughters shall prophesy.” 817 This is that typical dew from heaven, this is that gracious rain, as we read: “A gracious rain, dividing for His inheritance.” 818 For the Holy Spirit is not subject to any foreign power or law, but is the Arbiter of His own freedom, dividing all things according to the decision of His own will, to each, as we read, severally as He wills. 819


Footnotes

93:783

Judg. vi. 11.

93:784

Judg. vi. 14.

93:785

Judg. vi. 19-21.

93:786

1 Cor. x. 4.

93:787

Num. xi. 4.

93:788

Judg. vi. 21.

93:789

S. Luke xii. 49.

94:790

Judg. vi. 26.

94:791

Isa. xi. 2.

94:792

S. John viii. 56.

94:793

Judg. vi. 36.

94:794

S. Matt. xv. 24.

94:795

Jer. ii. 13.

94:796

Isa. v. 6.

94:797

Psa. 72.6.

94:798

Josh. v. 13.

94:799

S. Luke x. 2.

95:800

S. Matt. xx. 28.

95:801

S. John xiii. 4.

95:802

S. John xiii. 8.

95:803

Song of Sol. 5.3.

95:804

S. John 13:13, 14.

95:805

Gen. xviii. 4.

95:806

Whence this statement is derived cannot be ascertained. Possibly it is merely an assumption of St. Ambrose founded on his estimate of Gideon’s character.

95:807

S. John xiii. 7.

95:808

Psa. 23.2.

95:809

Psa. 75.11.

95:810

Alia est iniquitas nostra, alia calcanei nostri, in quo Adam dente serpentis est vulneratus et obnoxiam hereditatem successionis humanæ suo vulnere dereliquit, ut omnes illo vulnere claudicemus.” St. Aug. Exp. Psal. xlviii. 6, and St. Ambrose, Enar. in Ps. xlviii. 9: “Unde reor uniquitatem calcanei magis lubricum deliquendi quam reatum aliquem nostri esse delicti.” This lubricum delinquendi, the wound of Adam’s heel, seems to have been understood of concupiscence, which has the nature of sin, and is called sin by St. Paul.

95:811

Gen. iii. 15.

95:812

S. Luke x. 19.

95:813

1 Kings 17.9.

95:814

2 Kings 5.14.

96:815

Athanaricus, king or judex of the West Goths in Dacia, defeated in 369 by the Emperor Valens. Subsequently, in 380, being defeated by the Huns and some Gothic chiefs, he was forced to take refuge in Constantinople, when he was received with all the honour due to his rank. He died the next year.

96:816

Damasus of Rome, Peter of Alexandria, Gregory of Constantinople, and St. Ambrose himself. Peter had died by this time, but the fact was probably not yet known at Milan.

96:817

Joel ii. 28.

96:818

Psa. 68.9.

96:819

1 Cor. xii. 11.


Next: Chapter I. St. Ambrose commences his argument by complimenting the Emperor, both for his faith and for the restitution of the Basilica to the Church; then having urged that his opponents, if they affirm that the Holy Spirit is not a servant, cannot deny Him to be above all, adds that the same Spirit, when He said, “All things serve Thee,” showed plainly that He was distinct from creatures; which point he also establishes by other evidence.

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