Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/Against Two Letters of the Pelagians/Book IV/Chapter 30
Chapter 30.—The Testimonies of Ambrose Concerning God’s Grace.
The Pelagians say that merit begins from man by free will, to which God repays the subsequent aid of grace. Let the venerable Ambrose here also refute them, when he says, in his exposition of the prophet Isaiah, “that human care without divine help is powerless for healing, and needs a divine helper.” Also, in the treatise which is inscribed, “On the Avoidance of the World,” he says: “Our discourse is frequent on the avoidance of this world; and I wish that our disposition were as cautious and careful as our discourse is easy. But what is worse, the enticement of earthly lusts frequently creeps in, and the flowing forth of vanities takes hold of the mind, so that the very thing that you desire to avoid you think upon, and turn over in your mind; and this it is difficult for a man to beware of, but to get rid of it is impossible. Finally, that that is rather a matter to be wished than to be accomplished the prophet testifies when he says, ‘Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to avarice.’ For our heart and our thoughts are not in our power, seeing that they are suddenly forced forth and confuse the mind and the soul and draw them in other directions from those which you have proposed for them;—they recall to things of time, they suggest worldly things, they obtrude voluptuous thoughts, they inweave seducing thoughts, and, in the very season in which we are proposing to lift up our mind, vain thoughts are intruded upon us, and we are cast down for the most part to things of earth; and who is so happy as always to rise upwards in his heart? And how can this be done without the divine help? Absolutely in no manner. Finally, of old Scripture says the same thing, ‘Blessed is the man whose help is of Thee, O Lord; in his heart is going up.’” What can be said more openly and more sufficiently? But lest the Pelagians perchance should answer that, in that very point in which divine help is asked for, man’s merit precedes, saying that that very thing is merit, that by his prayer he is desiring that divine grace should come to his assistance, let them give heed to what the same holy man says in his exposition of Isaiah. He says: “And to pray God is a spiritual grace; for no man says that Jesus is the Lord, except in the Holy Spirit.” Whence also, expounding the Gospel according to Luke, he says: “You see certainly that everywhere the power of the Lord cooperates with human desires, so that no man can build without the Lord, no man can undertake anything without the Lord.” Because such a man as Ambrose says this, and commends God’s grace, as it is fitting for a son of promise to do, with grateful piety, does he therefore destroy free will? Or does he mean grace to be understood as the Pelagians in their different discourses will have to appear nothing but law—so that, for instance, God may be believed to help us not to do what we may know, but to know what we may do? If they think that such a man of God as this is of this mind, let them hear what he has said about the law itself. In the book “On the Avoidance of the World,” he says: “The law could stop the mouth of all men; it could not convert their mind.” In another place also, in the same treatise, he says: “The law condemns the deed; it does not take away its wickedness.” Let them see that this faithful and catholic man agrees with the apostle who says, “Now we know that what things soever the law says, it says to those who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Because by the law no flesh shall be justified in His sight.” For from that apostolic opinion Ambrose took and wrote these things.
- Work cited, ch. 1.
- Ps. cxix. 36.
- Ps. lxxxiv. 5 [LXX.].
- 1 Cor. xii. 13.
- Commentary on Luke, lib. ii. ch. 3, p. 84.
- Ch. 15.
- Ch. 39.
- Rom. iii. 19, 20.