St. Ambrose was the Archbishop of Milan during the fourth century. He was one of the most influential figures in the early church, and tradition holds that after St. Augustine converted to Christianity, Ambrose baptized him.
Ambrose presented significant arguments against a heresy of the early church called Arianism. The Arians were a non-Trinitarian sect who believed that Jesus Christ is subordinate to God. This belief holds that Jesus did not always exist but was begotten at some point in time by God the Father. Ambrose used the Nicene Creed to frame Arian theology as outside of orthodoxy.
For us today, we can learn from parents of the church like Ambrose. In his book Exposition of the Christian Faith, he writes, “Faith is profitable, therefore, when her brow is bright with a fair crown of good works.” He cites James 2:14-26 to support this point. In other words, our lives should reflect who we follow. For Ambrose, we follow Jesus, part of the triune God. He goes on:
If the Son had His origin in nothing, He is not Son; if He is a creature, He is not the Creator; if He was made, He did not make all things; if He needs to learn, He has no foreknowledge; if He is a receiver, He is not perfect; if He progress, He is not God. If He is unlike the Father He is not the Father’s image; if He is Son by grace, He is not such by nature; if He have no part in the Godhead, He has it in Him to sin.Exposition of the Christian Faith, Book 2, Section 14
The preceding paragraph summarizes who Jesus is. God did not make Jesus. Jesus is a co-eternal part of the Holy Trinity. Having Ambrose’s articulation of Jesus’ role in the God-head is helpful as we (a) try to understand why we follow him, and (b) prepare for Trinity Sunday (June 7, 2020).
The foundation of our faith is belief in Jesus Christ. Beyond belief, we must wrestle with how we live. Or, to put it another way, we must decide what we do with this knowledge of life in Christ. If Jesus is a subordinate part of God, who at some point became one with God, then how does he have the power to bring us into eternal union with God?
Some people might wonder why we need to explain the nature of Jesus as part of the Trinity. That’s okay. We don’t all need to ask the same questions. Others might find theological engagement with the nature of God less applicable to the events of any given day. That’s okay. Some might disagree with Trinitarian theology and find the Arian argument appealing. To those, let’s keep talking.
Part of life in Christ is faith seeking understanding. This was the life motto of another early church parent St. Anselm. He wrote it in Latin, fides quaerens intellectum. Exploring the nature of the Trinity and applying it to life falls under this idea of fides quaerens intellectum, or faith seeking understanding.
Ambrose’s idea of the head of faith being “bright with a fair crown of good works” applies to us today. We have the chance to build on that crown every day. We can live in a way that points to God. We can make choices based on the Gospel accounts of how Jesus lived. We can add to the crown without forgetting that it is a crown of faith, and it is based in belief in Christ.
Let your life speak of your faith in God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.