Homily by St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.
The Divine Scriptures teach us that we are behoven to praise the lives, not only of those concerning whom we are to speak honourably, but the lives also of their fathers, so as to show that that which we will praise in our subjects was in them a gift inherited from the bright purity of the source from which they came. What other meaning can the holy Evangelist have had in this place but to glorify St John the Baptist, as well for having been the offspring of such parents, as for his miracles, his life, his gifts, and his sufferings So likewise is praise ascribed to Hannah, the mother of Samuel so also did Isaac draw from his parents that noble godliness which he in his turn bequeathed to his children. Thus it is told not only that Zacharias was a Priest, but a Priest of the course of Abia, that is to say, of a family noble among the noblest.
And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron. Thus we see that the noble blood of St John was inherited not only from parents, but from an ancient ancestry, not illustrious indeed by worldly power, but worshipful for the tradition of a sacred succession. Such were the forefathers whom it well became the Fore-runner of the Christ to have, that it might manifestly fall to his lot, not as a sudden gift, but as an heir-loom, to preach belief in the coming of the Lord. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless. What do they make of this text who, to take them some consolation for their own sins, hold that man cannot exist without oftentimes sinning, and quote to that end that which is written in Job Not one is clean, even though his life on the earth be but one day
To such we must reply by asking them first to tell us what they mean by a man without sin whether it be one who hath never sinned, or one who hath ceased to sin. If they mean by a man without sin one who hath never sinned, I myself agree in their position, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Rom. iii. 23. But if they mean to deny that he who hath reformed his old crooked ways, and changed his life for a new one, on purpose to avoid sin, cannot avoid sin, I am not able to subscribe to their opinion while I read that Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing but that it should be holy and without blemish.