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HE TITLE SEEMS TO BE THAT USED by St. Ambrose, judging from Chapter 63 of the work itself. Paulinus,
St. Ambrose's biographer, speaks of the work as The Incarnation of Our Lord, as does also Cassiodorus. Leo the Great and some others use the first title with the addition of the words against the Apollinarists.'
This work in one book is not dated with certainty. Most scholars agree in placing it after De fide, to which St. Ambrose refers in Chapters 62, 81, and 100 of this Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord, and even after the De Spiritu. It is to be noted that this work is sometimes described in the manuscripts as Book IV of De Spiritu or Book IX of the whole work: De fide, De Spiritu, and De Incarnatione. The earliest possible date seems to be late in the year 381.
The occasion of the work was a challenge hurled at St. Ambrose by two Arian chamberlains of the emperor, who took exception to certain expressions used by Ambrose in a sermon on the Incarnation. They were to meet publicly on the following day in the Portian Basilica. The story is told by
Paulinus (Chapter 18). Ambrose accepted the challenge and was on hand promptly. The chamberlains decided to go for a ride in a traveling--carriage first, and met their death in an accident. Meanwhile, Ambrose, unaware of all this, thought that they were planning to make a late and sudden appearance so as to confuse him. So as not to keep his congregation waiting, Ambrose began to preach, but he did not at once approach the topic of discussion. He discussed, rather, the Biblical story of the sacrifice of Cain and Abel, pointing out that God's words to Cain were applicable to all heretics, and hoping that meanwhile the chamberlains would put in an appearance. When they did not do so, he commenced his real sermon, refuting the Arians who denied the proper divinity of our Lord, and also refuting the Docetae and Apollinarians who denied our Lord's true humanity.
The sermon, according to a common practice of the day, was taken down by shorthand writers and was later transcribed. St. Ambrose then revised and amplified it. Even after the sermon was prepared for publication, Ambrose added an appendix (Chapters 79-116), consisting of an answer to an objection raised by Palladius of Ratiara after the Council of Aquileia, and referred to Ambrose by Gratian.
Thus, the work is divided into three main parts: Part 1 (Chapters 1.1 through 2.13), the introduction, including the discussion of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel; Part 2 (Chapters 3.14 through 7.78), the sermon proper on the Incarnation; and Part 3 (Chapters 8.79 through 10.116), the reply to the objections of Palladius of Ratiara.
THE SACRAMENT OF
RETHREN, I WISH MY DEBT TO BE PAID, but I do not
find my creditors of yesterday, unless, perchance,
they thought we must be disturbed by their sudden arrival, but true faith is never disturbed.
(2) Perhaps until they do come, let us turn our attention to those farmers who have been proposed, of whom this one, that is, Cain, offered the Lord a sacrifice from the fruits of the land; the other, namely, Abel, offered one of the firstborn of his flocks. I find no complaint to make as to the kind of gifts, except that Cain knew that his gifts gave displeasure, and the Lord said: 'If you offer rightly, but do not divide rightly, you have sinned.'?
(3) Where, then, is the crime? Where the fault? Not in the offering of the gift, but in the disposition of the mind with
1 The Bible story of the sacrifice of Cain and Abel had just been read
as the 'prophetic lesson' in the Mass. 2 Cf. Gen. 4.3,4,7.
which the offering is made. There are some who rightly think that one had selected what he should offer, the other offered the cheaper things that he had. But there is in us no such lack of understanding of spiritual sacrifice as to think that the Lord sought a corporal sacrifice, not a spiritual one. And so He added: 'Be still,' signifying that it is more tolerable to abstain from offering gifts than to offer a gift with a zeal lacking faith. For he who knows not how to divide, knows not how to judge; ‘but the spiritual man judgeth all things.' And so Abraham divided the sacrifice which he offered.
(4) Abel also knew how to divide, who offered a sacrifice from 'the firstlings of his flock, teaching that the gifts of the earth, which had degenerated in the sinner, will not please God, but those in which the grace of the divine mystery shone forth. Thus he prophesied that we were to be redeemed from fault through the passion of the Lord, of whom it is written: 'Behold the Lamb of God; behold, he who taketh away the sin of the world.' Thus, too, he made an offering from the firstlings, that he might signify the First-born. Therefore, he shows that God's true sacrifice would be us, of whom the Prophet says: 'Bring to the Lord the offspring of rams.' And worthily is he confirmed by the judgment of God.
(5) But to that reprobate it is said: 'Be still,' and this general sentence I think has been passed on all who are outside the Church. For here I perceive a figure of many peoples whom the divine sentence comprehends, whose gifts He already refused at that time in the gift of Cain.
3 1 Cor. 2.15. 4 Cf. Gen. 15.10. 5 Gen. 4.4. 6 John 1.29. 7 Ps. 28.1.
(6) For this is the general sentence against all impious men. And
So, if a Jew, who separates the Son of the Virgin Mary from God the Father, makes an offering, it is said to him: 'If you offer rightly, but do not divide rightly, you have sinned; be still.'1
(7) If a Eunomian, who on coming from the spring of Arian impiety slips in the copious mire of his perfidy as he asserts that the generation of Christ, which is above all things, is to be gathered from the traditions of philosophy, when surely the reasoning of creatures is one thing and the power of divine secrets another, makes an offering, it is said also to him: 'If you offer rightly, but do not divide rightly, you have sinned; be still.'
(8) This is said to a Sabellian,; who confuses the Father and the Son. This is said to a Marcionite, 4 who thinks that there is one God of the New and another of the Old Testament. This is said to Manichaeus5 and to Valentinus, who
1 Cf. Gen. 4.7. 2 A follower of Eunomius, Arian bishop of Cyzicus, in 360. 3 Sabellius, the doctor of Monarchianism, at the beginning of the third
century. Monarchianism, or Modalism, taught that the Son and the
Holy Ghost were modes of the Father. 4 Marcion was born toward the end of the first century at Sinope in
Pontus. Although the son of the bishop of that city, he became a rich merchant and spread his doubts of the truth of Christianity, which later became the heresy of Marcionism. He broke with the Church in 144. He taught that there is no connection between Judaism and Christianity, and so the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are different. Thus Christ, the Redeemer, is not the
same as the Jewish Messias, who has not yet come. 5 Manichaeus, or Manes, was the founder of Manichaeism, and was born
in Babylonia about 215. Manichaeism is essentially dualism, two eternal and opposing principles, one good, the other evil, Light and Darkness,
God and Matter. 6 Valentinus was the most influential leader of Gnosticism, an intellectual
and intricate kind of doctrine that took various forms in the course