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Chapter VI.

By way of leading up to his proof that Christ is not different from the Father, St. Ambrose cites the more famous leaders of the Arian party, and explains how little their witness agrees, and shows what defence the Scriptures provide against them.

43. The Arians, then, say that Christ is unlike the Father; we deny it. Nay, indeed, we shrink in dread from the word. Nevertheless I would not that your sacred Majesty should trust to argument and our disputation. Let us enquire of the Scriptures, of apostles, of prophets, of Christ. In a word, let us enquire of the Father, Whose honour these men say they uphold, if the Son be judged inferior to Him. But insult to the Son brings no honour to the good Father. It cannot please the good Father, if the Son be judged inferior, rather than equal, to His Father.

44. I pray your sacred Majesty to suffer me, if for a little while I address myself particularly to these men. But whom shall I choose out to cite? Eunomius?17511751    Eunomius, at one time Bishop of Cyzicus, came into prominence about 355 a.d. Like Arius, he taught that the Son was a creature, though the first and most perfect of God’s creatures; His office being to guide other creatures to knowledge of the source of their existence. Religion then in his view consisted in a right and complete intellectual apprehension of a metaphysical principle, and no more. The generation of the Son he regarded as an event in time, not supra-temporal. The point where Eunomius went beyond Arius was the assertion of the comprehensibility for the human mind of the Divine Essence. Those, he said, who declared God to be in His Essence incomprehensible, who taught that He could only know in part and by token, preached an unknown God, and denied all possible knowledge of God, and therefore, since without knowledge of God there could be no Christianity, did not even deserve the name of Christians. or Arius and Aëtius,17521752    Aëtius was Eunomius’ teacher. He became Bishop of Antioch, the see of which was secured for him by the Arian Eudoxius, who obtained Cyzicus for Eunomius. Aëtius and Eunomius were, however, deposed about a.d. 360. his instructors? For there are many names, but one unbelief, constant in wickedness, but in conversation divided against itself; without difference in respect of deceit, but in common enterprise breeding dissent. But wherefore they will not agree together I understand not.

45. The Arians reject the person of Eunomius, but they maintain his unbelief and walk in the ways of his iniquity. They say that he has too generously published the writings of Arius. Truly, a plentiful lavishing of error! They praise him who gave the command, and deny him who executed it! Wherefore they have now fallen apart into several sects. Some follow after Eunomius or Aëtius, others after Palladius or Demophilus and Auxentius, or the inheritors of this form of unbelief.17531753    Demophilus was Bishop of Constantinople under Valens (d. 378 a.d.), but on the accession of Theodosius the Great he was compelled to resign the see, which was given to Gregory of Nazianzus. Others, again, follow different teachers. Is Christ, then, divided?17541754    1 Cor. i. 13. Nay; but those who divide Him from the Father do with their own hands cut themselves asunder.

20846. Seeing, therefore, that men who agree not amongst themselves have all alike conspired against the Church of God, I shall call those whom I have to answer by the common name of heretics. For heresy, like some hydra of fable, hath waxed great from its wounds, and, being ofttimes lopped short, hath grown afresh, being appointed to find meet destruction in flames of fire.17551755    Hercules found it impossible to slay the Hydra (a monster water snake) of the Lernean marshes by merely striking off its head, inasmuch as whenever one was cut off, two immediately grew in its place. He was compelled to sear the wound with fire. One of the heads was immortal, and Hercules could only dispose of it by crushing it under a huge rock. Or, like some dread and monstrous Scylla, divided into many shapes of unbelief, she displays, as a mask to her guile, the pretence of being a Christian sect, but those wretched men whom she finds tossed to and fro in the waves of her unhallowed strait, amid the wreckage of their faith, she, girt with beastly monsters, rends with the cruel fang of her blasphemous doctrine.17561756    For Scylla and Charybdis, see Homer, Odyss. XI.; Virgil, Æn. III. 424 f. The strait, bestrewed with wreckage of the faith (1 Tim. i. 19) corresponds to the strait between the rock of Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. In order to avoid the latter, mariners were compelled to pass close under the former, whereupon the monster darted out and seized them, dragging them out of a ship as an angler whips a fish out of water (Odyss. XI. 251–255). The language of this passage shows plainly that St. Ambrose, in writing it, drew freely upon Virgil.

47. This monster’s cavern, your sacred Majesty, thick laid, as seafaring men do say it is, with hidden lairs, and all the neighbourhood thereof, where the rocks of unbelief echo to the howling of her black dogs, we must pass by with ears in a manner stopped. For it is written: “Hedge thine ears about with thorns;”17571757    Ecclus. xxviii. 28. and again: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers;”17581758    Phil. iii. 2. and yet again: “A man that is an heretic, avoid after the first reproof, knowing that such an one is fallen, and is in sin, being condemned of his own judgment.”17591759    Tit. iii. 10, 11. So then, like prudent pilots, let us set the sails of our faith for the course wherein we may pass by most safely, and again follow the coasts of the Scriptures.17601760    Virgil, Æn. III. 692 f. (Æneas’ coast-voyage round Sicily).


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