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The author praises Gratian’s zeal for instruction in the Faith, and speaks lowly of his own merits. Taught of God Himself, the Emperor stands in no need of human instruction; yet this his devoutness prepares the way to victory. The task appointed to the author is difficult: in the accomplishment whereof he will be guided not so much by reason and argument as by authority, especially that of the Nicene Council.
1. The Queen of the South, as we read in the Book of the Kings, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon.16611661 1 Kings x. 1. Likewise King Hiram sent to Solomon that he might prove him.16621662 1 Kings v. 1. So also your sacred Majesty, following these examples of old time, has decreed to hear my confession of faith. But I am no Solomon, that you should wonder at my wisdom, and your Majesty is not the sovereign of a single people; it is the Augustus, ruler of the whole world, that has commanded the setting forth of the Faith in a book, not for your instruction, but for your approval.
2. For why, august Emperor, should your Majesty learn that Faith which, from your earliest childhood, you have ever devoutly and lovingly kept? “Before I formed thee in thy mother’s belly I knew thee,” saith the Scripture, “and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.”16631663 “By sanctification is meant the grace of regeneration, which comprises virtues inspired, including both the habit of faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Now these support especially the innocent soul, so that with pious affection it nurses the doctrine revealed to it, is inclined thereto, loves it, takes it to itself, and advances in it.”—Hurter ad loc. The Emperor’s constant zeal in defence of the Faith against the Arians is to be regarded as due to his habit of faith and to the gifts of the Spirit. The citation is from Jeremiah i. 5. Sanctification, therefore, cometh not of tradition, but of inspiration; therefore keep watch over the gifts of God. For that which no man hath taught you, God hath surely given and inspired.
3. Your sacred Majesty, being about to go forth to war, requires of me a book, expounding the Faith, since your Majesty knows that victories are gained more by faith in the commander, than by valour in the soldiers. For Abraham led into battle three hundred and eighteen men,16641664 Gen. xiv. 14 ff. and brought home the spoils of countless foes; and having, by the power of that which was the sign of our Lord’s Cross and Name,16651665 The original form of the Cross was that of the letter T. The numerical value of the sign T (Tau), in Greek arithmetic was 300. Eighteen was represented by ιη, the first two letters of the name ᾽Ιησοὐς, Jesus. To St. Ambrose, therefore, it seemed that there was some mysterious power in the number 318, represented by the sign of the Cross and the first two letters of the Saviour’s name, thus—TIH. overcome the might of five kings and conquering hosts, he both avenged his neighbour and gained victory and the ransom of his brother’s son. So also Joshua the son of Nun, when he could not prevail against the enemy with the might of all his army,16661666 Joshua vi. 6. overcame by sound of seven sacred trumpets, in the place where he saw and knew the Captain of the heavenly host.16671667 Joshua vi. 13 f. For victory, then, your Majesty makes ready, being Christ’s loyal servant and defender of the Faith, which you would have me set forth in writing.
4. Truly, I would rather take upon me the duty of exhortation to keep the Faith, than that of disputing thereon; for the former means devout confession, whereas the latter is liable to rash presumption. Howbeit, forasmuch as your Majesty has no need of exhortation, whilst I may not pray to be excused from the duty of loyalty, I will take in hand a bold enterprise, yet modestly withal, not so much reasoning and disputing concerning the Faith as gathering together a multitude of witness.16681668 sc. from Scripture.
5. Of the Acts of Councils, I shall let that one be my chief guide which three hundred and eighteen priests, appointed, as it were, after the judgment of Abraham,16691669 See the note 2 on § 3. St. Ambrose is here speaking of the Œcumenical Council held at Nicæa in Bithynia, a.d. 325. Different accounts are given of the numbers present. Eusebius says there were 250 bishops in the Council; Athanasius and Socrates, “more than 300;” Sozomen “about 320.” The number 318, however, is also given by Athanasius as well as by Theodoret and Epiphanius. See Robertson’s History of the Church, Bk. II. ch. i. The victory over the infidel is, of course, the victory of the orthodox Catholics over Arius, and the Nicene Symbol may be regarded as the “trophy” commemorating the victory, the reality of which lay in getting the clause “of one substance with the Father” (ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί) subscribed to. The original Nicene Creed, it may be useful to observe, was not exactly the same in form as the symbol which now is generally known by that name, and which is part of the Eucharistic office of the English Church. This latter is an enlargement of the original, and it appears to have been in use for a considerable time (not less than seventy years) before it was produced at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. It obtained general acceptance by the middle of the sixth century. Towards the end of that century (589 a.d.) an additional clause, proclaiming the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son as well as the Father, was inserted at the Council of Toledo. This insertion was repudiated by the Church in the East, and became one of the causes of the separation of Eastern from Western Christendom. made (so 202to speak) a trophy raised to proclaim their victory over the infidel throughout the world, prevailing by that courage of the Faith, wherein all agreed. Verily, as it seems to me, one may herein see the hand of God, forasmuch as the same number is our authority in the Councils of the Faith, and an example of loyalty in the records of old.
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