Abraham as Allegory for the Mind (St. Ambrose

Saint Ambrose as a Doctor of the Church. Detai...

Saint Ambrose as a Doctor of the Church. Detail from the manneristic frescos by Carlo Urbino on the ceiling of the altar chapel in the Cappella di sant’Aquilino in the Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore in Milan, Italy. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, May 18 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abraham represents the mind. In fact Abraham signifies passage. Therefore, in order that the mind, which in Adam had allowed itself to run to pleasure and to bodily attractions, should turn toward the ideal form of virtue, a wise man has been proposed to us as an example to imitate. Actually Abraham in Hebrew signifies “father,” in the sense that the mind, with the authority, the judgment and the solicitude of a father, governs the entire person. This mind then was in Haran, that is, in caverns, subject to the different passions. For this reason it is told, “Go from your country,” that is, from your body. From this land went forth the one whose homeland is in the heavens. ON ABRAHAM 2.1–2. 1

I am preaching on Genesis 12.1–4 next Sunday, so I am studying the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Here, Ambrose presents a highly allegorized version of Abraham. A century after him, Caesarius of Arles would carry this vision on. It is interesting to see Ambrose give Abraham almost a philosophical (Platonic?) flare. Note the use of “caverns” as the place to leave.

  1. Mark Sheridan, ed., Genesis 12–50 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 2.

Post By Joel Watts (10,057 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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