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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. X:
Dogmatic Treatises, Ethical Works, and Sermons.: Chapter IV. The passage quoted adversely by heretics, namely, “The Son can do nothing of Himself,” is first explained from the words which follow; then, the text being examined, word by word, their acceptation in the Arian sense is shown to be impossible without incurring the charge of impiety or absurdity, the proof resting chiefly on the creation of the world and certain miracles of Christ.

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Chapter IV.

The passage quoted adversely by heretics, namely, “The Son can do nothing of Himself,” is first explained from the words which follow; then, the text being examined, word by word, their acceptation in the Arian sense is shown to be impossible without incurring the charge of impiety or absurdity, the proof resting chiefly on the creation of the world and certain miracles of Christ.

39. Again, another objection that the Arians bring up, denying that the Power of the Father and the Son can be one and the same, is rested on His saying: “Verily, verily, I say unto you; the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He hath seen the Father doing.” 2360 And therefore they affirm that the Son has done nothing of Himself, and can do nothing, save what He hath seen the Father doing.

40. O wise foreknowledge of the arguments of unbelievers, which made further provision of means whereby to answer questions, by adding the words that follow: “For whatsoever the Father doeth, the same doeth the Son also, in like fashion,” 2361 for this indeed is the sequel. Why, then, is it written: “The Son doeth the same things,” and not “such like things,” but that thou mightest judge that in the Son there is unity in the Father’s works, not imitation of them?

41. But to put their proofs in turn upon trial: I would have them answer the question, whether the Son sees the works of the Father. Does He see, I ask, or not? If He sees them, then He also does them; if He does them, let heretics cease to deny the omnipotence of Him Whom they confess able to do all things that He has seen the Father doing.

42. But what are we to understand by “hath seen”? Has the Son any need of bodily eyes? Nay, if they will affirm this of the Son, they will make out in the Father also a need of bodily activity, 2362 in order that the Son may see that which He Himself is to do.

43. Furthermore, what mean the words: “The Son can do nothing of Himself”? Let us put this question, and debate it. Now is there anything impossible to God’s Power and Wisdom? These, observe, are names of the Son of God, Whose Might is certainly not a gift received from another, but just as He is the Life, 2363 not depending upon another’s quickening action, but Himself quickening others, because He is the Life; so also He is Wisdom, 2364 not as one that is ignorant acquiring wisdom, but making others wise from His own store; so, too, He is Power, 2365 not as having through weakness obtained increase of strength, but being Himself Power, and bestowing power upon the strong.

44. How, then, does Power assert, as it were, under oath: “Verily, verily I say unto you,” which means: “Of a truth, of a truth, I tell you”? 2366 Truly, then, Thou speakest, Lord Jesus, and dost affirm, repeating indeed thy solemn declaration, that Thou canst do nothing, save what Thou hast seen the Father doing. Thou didst make the universe. Did Thy Father then make another universe, for Thee to take as a model? So must Thy blasphemers confess that there are two, or a multitude of universes, as philosophers affirm, and thus also entangle themselves in this heathen error, 2367 or, if they will follow the truth, let them say that what Thou hast made, Thou didst make, without any pattern.

45. Tell me, Lord, when Thou sawest Thy Father incarnate, and walking upon the sea, for I know not, I hold it impious to believe this thing of the Father, knowing that Thou only hast taken our flesh upon Thee. When sawest Thou the Father at a marriage-feast, turning water into wine? 2368 Nay, but I have read that Thou alone art the only Son, begotten of the Father. I have been taught that Thou alone, in the mystery of the Incarnation, wast born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin. The things, then, which we have cited as Thy doings, the Father did not, but Thou alone, without guidance of any work done by Thy Father, for the purchase of the world’s salvation with Thy Blood, didst come forth spotless from the Virgin’s womb.

46. When they say, “The Son can do nothing of Himself,” they indeed except nothing, so that one blasphemer has even said: “He cannot make even a gnat,” 2369 p. 268 mocking with so headstrong profanity and with insolence so overweening the majesty of Supreme Power; yet perhaps they may think the mystery of Thine Incarnate Life a needful exception. But say, Lord Jesu, what earth the Father made without Thee. For without Thee He made no heaven, seeing that it is written: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established.”

47. But neither did the Father make the earth without Thee, for it is written: “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.” 2370 For if the Father made aught without Thee, God the Word, then not all things were made by the Word, and the Evangelist lies. Whereas if all things were made by the Word, and if by Thee all things begin to be, which before were not, then surely Thou Thyself, of Thyself, hast made what Thou didst not see made by the Father; though perchance our adversaries may have recourse to that theory of Plato, and place before Thee the ideas supposed by philosophers, which, indeed, we know have been exploded by philosophers themselves. On the other hand, if Thou Thyself hast of Thyself made all things, vain are the assertions of the unbelieving, which ascribe progress in learning to the Maker of all, Who of Himself supplies the teaching of His craft.

48. But if heretics deny that either the heavens or the earth were made by Thee, let them take heed into what a gulf they are by their own madness hurling themselves, seeing that it is written: “Perish the gods, which have not made heaven and earth.” 2371 Shall He then perish, O Arian, Who has found and saved that which had perished? But to purpose.



S. John v. 19.


S. John v. 19.


i.e. that the Father is not a Spirit (S. John iv. 24) but exists in bodily shape.


S. John xiv. 6.


1 Cor. i. 24.


1 Cor. i. 24.


S. John v. 19.


Namely, the error of postulating two mutually exclusive infinites.


S. John ii. 4. For the walking on the sea, vide S. Mark vi. 48.


As a matter of fact, gnats and insects generally are far from being the least wonderful of God’s works. In them as much as, if not more than, in anything we may recognize His eternal power and wisdom and Godhead. Cf. Prov. vi. 6-8.


S. John 1:3, Ps. 33:6.


Jer. x. 11.

Next: Chapter V. Continuing the exposition of the disputed passage, which he had begun, Ambrose brings forward four reasons why we affirm that something cannot be, and shows that the first three fail to apply to Christ, and infers that the only reason why the Son can do nothing of Himself is His Unity in Power with the Father.

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