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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Chapter III. Explanation of the parable of the Prodigal Son, in which St. Ambrose applies it to refute the teaching of the Novatians, proving that reconciliation ought not to be refused to the greatest offender upon suitable proof of repentance.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter III.

Explanation of the parable of the Prodigal Son, in which St. Ambrose applies it to refute the teaching of the Novatians, proving that reconciliation ought not to be refused to the greatest offender upon suitable proof of repentance.

13. And the Apostle does not contradict p. 347 the plain teaching of Christ, Who set forth, as a comparison of a repentant sinner, one going to a foreign country after receiving all his substance from his father, wasted it in riotous living, and later, when feeding upon husks, longed for his father’s bread and then gained the robe, the ring, the shoes, and the slaying of the calf, 3069 which is a likeness of the Passion of the Lord, whereby we receive forgiveness.

14. Well is it said that he went into a foreign country who is cut off from the sacred altar, for this is to be separated from that Jerusalem which is in heaven, from the citizenship and home of the saints. For which reason the Apostle says: “Therefore now ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God.” 3070

15. “And,” it is said, “wasted his substance.” Rightly, for he whose faith halts in bringing forth good works does consume it. For, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” 3071 And faith is a good substance, the inheritance of our hope.

16. And no wonder if he was perishing for hunger, who lacked the divine nourishment, impelled by the want of which he says: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.” Do you not see it plainly declared to us, that we are urged to prayer for the sake of gaining the sacrament? and do you wish to take away that for the sake of which penance is undertaken? Deprive the pilot of the hope of reaching port, and he will wander uncertainly here and there on the waves. Take away the crown from the athlete, and he will fail and lie on the course. Take from the fisher the power of catching his booty, and he will cease to cast the nets. How, then, can he, who suffers hunger in his soul, pray more earnestly to God, if he has no hope of the heavenly food?

17. “I have sinned,” he says, “against heaven, and before thee.” He confesses what is clearly a sin unto death, that you may not think that any one doing penance 3072 is rightly shut out from pardon. For he who has sinned against heaven has sinned either against the kingdom of heaven, or against his own soul, which is a sin unto death, and against God, to Whom alone is said: “Against Thee only have I sinned, and done evil before Thee.” 3073

18. So quickly does he gain forgiveness, that, as he is coming, and is still a great way off, his father meets him, gives him a kiss, which is the sign of sacred peace; orders the robe to be brought forth, which is the marriage garment, which if any one have not, he is shut out from the marriage feast; places the ring on his hand, which is the pledge of faith and the seal of the Holy Spirit; orders the shoes to be brought out, 3074 for he who is about to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, about to feast on the Lamb, ought to have his feet protected against all attacks of spiritual wild beasts and the bite of the serpent; bids the calf to be slain, for “Christ our Passover hath been sacrificed.” 3075 For as often as we receive the Blood of the Lord, we proclaim the death of the Lord. 3076 As, then, He was once slain for all, so whensoever forgiveness of sins is granted, we receive the Sacrament of His Body, that through His Blood there may be remission of sins.

19. Therefore most evidently are we bidden by the teaching of the Lord to confer again the grace of the heavenly sacrament on those guilty even of the greatest sins, if they with open confession bear the penance due to their sin.


Footnotes

347:3069

S. Luke xv. 13 ff.

347:3070

Eph. ii. 19.

347:3071

Heb. xi. 1.

347:3072

Penitentiam agere must here and elsewhere be translated thus, for it implies not mere repentance, but the undergoing outward discipline. The word penitentia means both repentance and penance.

347:3073

Psa. 51.4.

347:3074

Ex. xii. 11.

347:3075

1 Cor. v. 7.

347:3076

1 Cor. xi. 26.


Next: Chapter IV. St. Ambrose turns against the Novatians themselves another objection concerning blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, showing that it consists in an erroneous belief, proving this by St. Peter's words against Simon Magus, and other passages, exhorting the Novatians to return to the Church, affirming that such is our Lord's mercy that even Judas would have found forgiveness had he repented.

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