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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Chapter X. Christ's eternity being proved from the Apostle's teaching, St. Ambrose admonishes us that the Divine Generation is not to be thought of after the fashion of human procreation, nor to be too curiously pried into. With the difficulties thence arising he refuses to deal, saying that whatsoever terms, taken from our knowledge of body, are used in speaking of this Divine Generation, must be understood with a spiritual meaning.

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Chapter X.

Christ’s eternity being proved from the Apostle’s teaching, St. Ambrose admonishes us that the Divine Generation is not to be thought of after the fashion of human procreation, nor to be too curiously pried into. With the difficulties thence arising he refuses to deal, saying that whatsoever terms, taken from our knowledge of body, are used in speaking of this Divine Generation, must be understood with a spiritual meaning.

62. Hear now another argument, showing clearly the eternity of the Son. The Apostle says that God’s Power and Godhead are eternal, and that Christ is the Power of God—for it is written that Christ is “the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.” 1788 If, then, Christ is the Power of God, it follows that, forasmuch as God’s Power is eternal, Christ also is eternal.

63. Thou canst not, then, heretic, build up a false doctrine from the custom of human procreation, nor yet gather the wherewithal for such work from our discourse, for we cannot compass the greatness of infinite Godhead, “of Whose greatness there is no end,” 1789 in our straitened speech. If thou shouldst seek to give an account of a man’s birth, thou must needs point to a time. But the Divine Generation is above all things; it reaches far and wide, it rises high above all thought and feeling. For it is written: “No man cometh to the Father, save by Me.” 1790 Whatsoever, therefore, thou dost conceive concerning the Father—yea, be it even His eternity—thou canst not conceive aught concerning Him save by the Son’s aid, nor can any understanding ascend to the Father save through the Son. “This is My dearly-beloved Son,” 1791 the Father saith. “Is” p. 212 mark you—He Who is, what He is, forever. Hence also David is moved to say: “O Lord, Thy Word abideth for ever in heaven,” 1792 —for what abideth fails neither in existence nor in eternity.

64. Dost thou ask me how He is a Son, if He have not a Father existing before Him? I ask of thee, in turn, when, or how, thinkest thou that the Son was begotten. For me the knowledge of the mystery of His generation is more than I can attain to, 1793 —the mind fails, the voice is dumb—ay, and not mine alone, but the angels’ also. It is above Powers, above Angels, above Cherubim, Seraphim, and all that has feeling and thought, for it is written: “The peace of Christ, which passeth all understanding.” 1794 If the peace of Christ passes all understanding, how can so wondrous a generation but be above all understanding?

65. Do thou, then (like the angels), cover thy face with thy hands, 1795 for it is not given thee to look into surpassing mysteries! We are suffered to know that the Son is begotten, not to dispute upon the manner of His begetting. I cannot deny the one; the other I fear to search into, for if Paul says that the words which he heard when caught up into the third heaven might not be uttered, 1796 how can we explain the secret of this generation from and of the Father, which we can neither hear nor attain to with our understanding?

66. But if you will constrain me to the rule of human generation, that you may be allowed to say that the Father existed before the Son, then consider whether instances, taken from the generation of earthly creatures, are suitable to show forth the Divine Generation. 1797 If we speak according to what is customary amongst men, you cannot deny that, in man, the changes in the father’s existence happen before those in the son’s. The father is the first to grow, to enter old age, to grieve, to weep. If, then, the son is after him in time, he is older in experience than the son. If the child comes to be born, the parent escapes not the shame of begetting. 1798

67. Why take such delight in that rack of questioning? 1799 You hear the name of the Son of God; abolish it, then, or acknowledge His true nature. You hear speak of the womb—acknowledge the truth of undoubted begetting. 1800 Of His heart—know that here is God’s word. 1801 Of His right hand—confess His power. 1802 Of His face—acknowledge His wisdom. 1803 These words are not to be understood, when we speak of God, as when we speak of bodies. The generation of the Son is incomprehensible, the Father begets impassibly, 1804 and yet of Himself and in ages inconceivably remote hath very God begotten very God. The Father loves the Son, 1805 and you anxiously examine His Person; the Father is well pleased in Him, 1806 you, joining the Jews, look upon Him with an evil eye; the Father knows the Son, 1807 and you join the heathen in reviling Him. 1808



Rom. i. 20—“His eternal power and Godhead.” 1 Cor. i. 23-24—“We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, and to none other, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”


Ps. cxlv. 3.


S. John xiv. 6.


Matt. 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35.


Ps. cxix. 89.


Ps. cxxxix. 5.


Phil. iv. 7. The better-known version “The peace of God” is supported by stronger ms. authority.


Cf. Isa. 6:2, Exod. 3:6. But perhaps the reference is to Job xxxi. 26-28—“If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness, and my heart hath been secretly enticed, and my mouth hath kissed my hand, this also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge, for I should have denied the God that is above.” Another passage to which reference may be made is Job xl. 4—“Behold, I am vile, what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand on my mouth.”


2 Cor. xii. 2-5.


The analogy, as made by the Arians, certainly was open to St. Ambrose’s censure. We should remember, however, that a man is not properly a father until his child is born.


St. Ambrose perhaps thought that the curse laid upon human conception and birth (Gen. iii. 16) displayed itself as well in the initial as in the final stages.


Quæstionum tormenta. The use of racks and such-like machines (tormenta, fr. torqueo—wist) was resorted to, in the old Roman practice, in the examination (quæstio) of slaves.


The ref. is perhaps to Is. xlix. 5.


1 Sam. 13:14, 2 Sam. 7:21.


Ps. xcviii. 2.


Ps. xxvii. 9.


Without suffering any change in Himself.


S. John v. 20.


Matt. 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22.


S. John 5:22, 23, John 3:35, John 17:1, 2, 5.


S. Luke 23:36, 37.

Next: Chapter XI. It cannot be proved from Scripture that the Father existed before the Son, nor yet can arguments taken from human reproduction avail to this end, since they bring in absurdities without end. To dare to affirm that Christ began to exist in the course of time is the height of blasphemy.

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