Friday, 3 April 2015

Andrew Selby: Ambrose's 'Inspired' Moderation of Tertullian's Christian Ethics

Whereas Tertullian emphasizes strenuous effort in the Christian life, Ambrose frequently speaks of grace as the foundation for sanctification. Certainly, socio-political factors contribute to this difference. But it will be argued that Ambrose's pro-Nicene doctrine of the Holy Spirit plays a significant role in his call for ongoing repentance in the Christian life in distinction from his Latin predecessor.
Ambrose's De sacramentis and De paenitentia will be contrasted with Tertullian's De baptismo and De paenitentia. Despite the fact that Tertullian at times articulates a pneumatology in which the Paraclete displays a number of divine characteristics, the Spirit scarcely factors into his understanding of the Christian life in these two texts.
Ambrose's texts, on the other hand, were written after he defended the consubstantiality of the Spirit with the Father and the Son in De Spiritu Sancto. Armed with the assumption that the Spirit is God, Ambrose can claim in his later works that the Third Person both initiates faith as gift and increases the virtue of Christians as they participate in the sacraments and pray. Additionally, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is only unforgivable to the extent that someone refuses to repent, thus acknowledging the Spirit's power to forgive even serious repeated sins.
While Ambrose has other reasons for moderating the rigor of the Church's ethics, he justified this pastoral program with the theological resources furnished to him by his pro-Nicene pneumatology.
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