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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.”17881788    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.” 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,”17891789    Ps. cxlv. 3. 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.”17901790    S. John xiv. 6. 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,”17911791    S. Matt. xvii. 5; S. Mark ix. 7; S. Luke ix. 35. the Father saith. “Is” 212mark you—He Who is, what He is, forever. Hence also David is moved to say: “O Lord, Thy Word abideth for ever in heaven,”17921792    Ps. cxix. 89.—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,17931793    Ps. cxxxix. 5.—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.”17941794    Phil. iv. 7. The better-known version “The peace of God” is supported by stronger ms. authority. 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,17951795    Cf. Is. vi. 2; Exod. iii. 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.” 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,17961796    2 Cor. xii. 2–5. 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.17971797    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. 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.17981798    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.

67. Why take such delight in that rack of questioning?17991799    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. 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.18001800    The ref. is perhaps to Is. xlix. 5. Of His heart—know that here is God’s word.18011801    1 Sam xiii. 14; 2 Sam. vii. 21. Of His right hand—confess His power.18021802    Ps. xcviii. 2. Of His face—acknowledge His wisdom.18031803    Ps. xxvii. 9. 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,18041804    Without suffering any change in Himself. and yet of Himself and in ages inconceivably remote hath very God begotten very God. The Father loves the Son,18051805    S. John v. 20. and you anxiously examine His Person; the Father is well pleased in Him,18061806    S. Matt. iii. 17; S. Mark i. 11; S. Luke iii. 22. you, joining the Jews, look upon Him with an evil eye; the Father knows the Son,18071807    S. John v. 22, 23; iii. 35; xvii. 1, 2, 5. and you join the heathen in reviling Him.18081808    S. Luke xxiii. 36, 37.

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