Ambrose of Milan, Pauline Authorship of Hebrews, and Biblical Theology

In the myriads of current biblical theologies, some have focused on whole Bible theologies whereas others have only focused on authorial biblical theologies (i.e., Pauline Theology, Petrine Theology, Johannine Theology, etc.). Ambrose of Milan, a Late 4th century Western Father, provides an intriguing word to the inter-relationship of authorial thought. Especially in modern Pauline theologies, how many incorporate Hebrews into the worldview of Pauline thought? Not many, if at all.

There are few Ancient Homilies on Hebrews. Origen has the earliest known homily, though non-extant. Current researchers are familiar with it because Eusebius mentions the homily in Ecclesiastical History. In our Modern/Post-Modern era, Hebrews 6:4–6 continues to provide exegetes and Bible readers trouble. The same was in early Christendom as well. Even the Ancient Homilies and comments on Hebrews 6:4–6 prove troubling to early interpreters.

Fearing anachronistic terms and importing them into a historical era where no such discipline existed, Ambrose mentions the tensions of Hebrews 6:4–6 as a biblical theologian. He, however, stays within the same authorial corpus and asks how to reconcile potential differences. He asks the following about the possibility of no forgiveness given to those committing post-baptismal sins.

Could Paul teach in opposition to his own act? He had at Corinth forgiven sin through penance; how could he himself speak against his own decision? (Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Repentance, 2.2.7 [NPNF 10.345])

I’m merely pointing to Ambrose’s tension and his theological interpretation. First, he assumes Pauline authorship of Hebrews. Second, he is assuming no contradictions exist in his texts. Furthermore, he appeals to the author, and not the greater text of Scripture, to find an answer.

This is merely a question and reveals nothing of my presuppositions: What if modern Pauline theologies incorporated Hebrews into their theological construction? How much would it affect modern views of Paul? Where would the academic discussions go?

Here is the following of Abmrose of Milan on Hebrews 6:4–6:

It was right first of all to remove our anxiety, and to let us know that even after baptism, if any sinned their sins could be forgiven them, lest a false belief in a reiterated baptism should lead astray those who were destitute of all hope of forgiveness. And secondly, it was  right to set forth in a well-reasoned arguments that baptism is not to be repeated…So, then, that which he says in this Epistle to the Hebrews, that it is impossible for those who have fallen to be ‘renewed unto repentance, crucifying again the Son of God, and putting him to open shame,’ must be considered as having reference to baptism, wherein we crucify the Son of God in ourselves, that the world may be by him crucified for us…But Christ was crucified once, and died to sin once, and so there is but one, not several baptisms…And indeed I might say also to any one who thought that this passage spoke of repentance, that things which are impossible with men are possible with God; and God is able whensoever he wills to forgive us our sins, even those which we think cannot be forgiven…it seemed impossible that sins should be forgiven through repentance, but Christ gave this power to his apostles, which has been transmitted to the priestly office. That, then, has become possible which was impossible. But, by a true reasoning, he convinces us that the reiteration by anyone of the sacrament of baptism is not permitted. (Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Repentance, 2.2.7–12 [NPNF 10.345–46])

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Please consult: Steve R. Harmon. “Hebrews in Patristic Perspective.” Review and Expositor, 102 (Spring 2005): 215–33.

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