Today I begin the second book of St. Ambrose’s treatise On the Holy Spirit. Considering that it took me most of the forty days of the Nativity Fast to get through the first book, I do not have high expectations for finishing even the second book prior to Christmas, let alone book three. This becomes even more obvious reading the Introduction to the second book, in which are a plethora of Old Testament stories interpreted from a Christian point of view.
Rather than neglecting this gold-mine of interpretation and purposefully skimming through the second and third book in a fraction of the time it took me to get through book one, all in the name of completing the task I set before myself at the beginning of the forty days, I plan on continuing my survey of On the Holy Spirit after Christmas, but at a more leisurely pace. This will serve two functions. Firstly, I will be able to give books two and three the attention they deserve. Secondly, it will continue to give me a project that will allow me to blog more often in the afterglow of Christmas than I did this past year.
St. Ambrose begins his second book of his treatise On the Holy Spirit with the first verse of Scripture:
For of the Father it is written: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ (Gen. 1:1). Of the Spirit it is said: ‘The Spirit was borne upon the waters’ (Gen. 1:4). And well in the beginning of creation is there set forth the figure of baptism whereby the creature had to be purified. And of the Son we read that He it is Who divided light from darkness, for there is one God the Father Who speaks, and one God the Son Who acts.
While this particular interpretation of the opening verses of Scripture may be familiar to a lot of Christians, it is worth noting that St. Ambrose is writing this in the fourth century. It should also be understood that when the Fathers of the Church write about something, it represents something that has been passed down to them in some shape or form. So, although this particular interpretation is written down around A.D. 381 or shortly thereafter, it represents a teaching that had been ongoing long before.
St. Ambrose, however, takes this familiar interpretation and takes it one step farther:
But, again, that you may not think that there was assumption in the bidding of Him Who spoke, or inferiority on the part of Him Who carried out the bidding, the Father acknowledges the Son as equal to Himself in the execution of the work, saying: ‘Let Us make man after Our image and likeness’ (Gen. 1:26). For the common image and the working and the likeness can signify nothing but the oneness of the same Majesty.
Note how he ties the image and likeness of God in humanity to the Trinitarian reality of God. Thus, each and every human being is an image of the Trinity. This also means that all the ways that the Orthodox Church describes God in its dogma are in some way, fashion or form applicable to us.
For example, if God is one in essence (nature) and three in hypostasis (persons), humanity is also one in essence and a plethora of persons. Thus, our sins and our virtue affect all of humanity through our shared essence and nature. This is why it is critical for Orthodox Christians to participate in the services of worship. It is how we are able to pray during the Divine Liturgy:
Lord Jesus Christ, our God, hear us from Your holy dwelling place and from the glorious throne of Your kingdom. You are enthroned on high with the Father and are also invisibly present among us. Come and sanctify us, and let Your pure Body and precious Blood be given to us by Your mighty hand and through us to all Your people.
Amen. Amen. Amen.