Patristic Evidence

Ambrosiaster on John 8:1-11 (350-370 A.D.)

Exerpted from: external evidence - Pericope de Adultera,
Internet Infidels Forum Thread (2005)

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Last Updated: Feb 15, 2009

Section 1: - Introduction to Ambrosiaster
Section 2: - Doctrines of Ambrosiaster
Section 3: - Sample Manuscript for Ambrosiaster
Section 4: - Internet Quotation for Ambrosiaster

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Ambrosiaster - The name given to the author of a commentary on all the Epistles of St. Paul, with the exception of that to the Hebrews. It is usually published among the works of St. Ambrose (P.L., XVII, 45-508).

Before each Epistle and its interpretation a short prologue is found which sets forth purpose and context. In the commentaries the text is given by sections; and for each portion a natural and logical explanation is furnished. All in all the commentary is an excellent work. Some modern scholars believe it the best that was written in ancient times. Its teaching is entirely orthodox, with, perhaps, the sole exception of the author's belief in the millennium.

The Latin text of the Pauline Epistles differs considerably from the Vulgate. According to all appearances it was taken from the version known as the "Itala". Reference to the Greek text is rarely found; in fact the writer seems to be ignorant of the Greek language.

The author hardly ever seeks a hidden or mystic sense in the text; hence it becomes evident how widely the commentary differs in character from the exegetical works of St. Ambrose. In his interpretation of Scriptural works St. Ambrose is not much given to research into the natural and literal meaning. Generally he is in quest of a higher allegoric or mystic sense. And although he distinguishes between the literal and the higher signification, still it is the latter principally that he tries to bring out.

Not so with Ambrosiaster. The natural and logical sense is the only object the writer has in view.

Date and Place of Composition

As to the time when the commentary was written, there are many indications which point to the latter part of the 4th century. Of the heresies or sects referred to, none antedates that period. The persecution of the Emperor Julian (361-363) is spoken of as a recent occurrence. Finally Pope Damasus (366-384) is mentioned as actually presiding (hodie) over the destinies of the Church.

It is quite likely that the writer lived in Rome; his reference to the primacy of St. Peter and the power wielded by Pope Damasus would suggest the idea. The identification of the writer however is not so easy. During the Middle Ages the commentary was commonly ascribed to St. Ambrose. The first doubts as to his authorship were raised by Erasmus in the 16th century; since that period the author has been known as Ambrosiaster (Pseudo-Ambrosius).

Authorship of Ambrosiaster's Commentary

Scholars have suggested a great variety of names. St. Augustine, in quoting a passage from the commentary, attributes it to St. Hilary; hence some writers believed that either St. Hilary of Poitiers, or St. Hilary of Pavia, or the schismatic deacon Hilary of Rome was meant.

Others sought the writer in St. Remigius, in the Pelagian Bishop Julian of Aeclanum, in the African writer Tyconius, in the schismatic priest Faustinus of Rome, or in the converted Jew Isaac of Rome. Most of these views are mere conjectures, or directly opposed to the facts known about the writer.

The more recent opinion is that the author of the commentaries is also the author of the pseudo-Augustinian "Quaestiones Veteris et Novi Testamenti".

According to a suggestion made by Dom Germain Morin, O.S.B., and adopted by A. Souter, the author of these commentaries was a distinguished layman of consular rank, by the name of Decimus Hilarianus Hilarius.

(Taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia Online: Written by Francis J. Schaefer. Transcribed by Linda Taylor. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907)

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Doctrines and Opinions
of Ambrosiaster

The content of Ambrosiaster is not usually examined when he is cited in regard to John 8:1-11, but it is important for our understanding of Ambrosiaster's testimony concerning the Pericope De Adultera.

Women are inferior

On 1 Timothy 3,11. “Because the apostle wants only a holy bishop to be created, as well as a deacon, he does not for that reason want the people to be different....

Therefore he also wants women who are manifestly inferior, to be without fault, in order that the Church of God be pure. But the Cataphrygians, falling into error, contend with vain presumption that, because the apostle , after addressing deacons, speaks to women, they too can be ordained as deacons, although they know that the apostles chose seven male deacons. For was there at the time no single woman fit to be found, since under the eleven apostles we read that there were holy women?

The heretics seemingly want to support their intention by the words of the law, rather than its sense. That is why, through the words of the apostle they try to contradict the meaning of the apostle. And though he orders the woman to keep silent in church, they on the contrary try to vindicate the authority of her ministry.”

The rights of man and woman are not equal

On 1 Corinthians 7,10-11. “ ‘A woman may not leave her husband. If she has left him, she may not remarry.’ This is the Apostle's advice, that, if she has left her husband because of his bad behaviour, she remain unmarried. ‘Or she should be reconciled to her husband.’ In case she cannot contain herself, because she does not want to fight against the flesh, she should be reconciled to her husband; for it is not permitted to the woman to marry (again) if she has divorced her husband because of (his) fornication or apostacy . . . . .

If however the man has apostacised, or seeks to change the use of his wife, the woman may neither marry another man or return to him. ‘And the husband should not divorce his wife.’ Understood however is: except in the case of fornication. And therefore the Apostle does not add, as in the case of the woman, that he should remain as he is when he has divorced her. For to a man it is allowed to take a (new) wife if he has divorced a (previous) wife who sinned since a man is not restricted by the law as the woman is; for the husband is the head of his wife.”

Women are not created in the image of God

On 1 Corinthians 14, 34. “ Women must cover their heads because they are not the image of God. They must do this as a sign of their subjection to authority and because sin came into the world through them. Their heads must be covered in church in order to honor the bishop. In like manner they have no authority to speak because the bishop is the embodiment of Christ. They must thus act before the bishop as before Christ, the judge, since the bishop is the representative of the Lord. Because of original sin they must show themselves submissive.”

“How can anyone maintain that woman is the likeness of God when she is demonstrably subject to the dominion of man and has no kind of authority? For she can neither teach nor be a witness in a court nor exercise citizenship nor be a judge-then certainly not exercise dominion.”

All truth is from the Holy Spirit

“Whatever is true comes from the Holy Spirit, no matter who expresses this truth.”

Latin: ‘Omne verum, a quocumque dicitur, a Spiritu Sancto est’

Patres Latini17, 245.


It seems quite apparent that although Ambrosiater is writing in the late 4th century, his attitudes (while popular among ecclesiastics in his own time and even today) are a virtual blueprint of a famous earlier 'father' who became a heretic: Tertullian. Tertullian was an extremist regarding the Law and sin, and promoted a harsh and strict ascetic lifestyle.

This makes it all the more remarkable that Ambrosiaster discusses the Pericope de Adultera, since his predecessor seemed to have taken pains to avoid a direct discussion of the passage.

We can refer the reader to our article on Tertullian here, for background to this attitude going back to 200 A.D.:

Tertullian on John 8:1-11 <-- Click Here.

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of Ambrosiaster

Sample page from a Medieval Copy of Ambrosiaster (England, 1130 A.D.)

Codex “Bramshill House, IV.” Written in England at Winchcombe Abbey ca. 1130-1140, by two scribes, the first of whom is the same scribe who copied the Bede now Oxford, Bod. Lib., Douce 368 (see N. R. Ker, English Manuscripts in the Century after the Norman Conquest, Oxford 1960, pl. 24).

Commentary by Ambrosiaster on the Pauline Epistles. CPL 184. PL 17:45-332D, 411B-420, 441-462, 421A, 423C-426A, 488D-494C. This manuscript missing 4 quires after f. 112 (end of commentary on 2 Corinthians, all of Galatians, all of Ephesians, beginning of Philippians); missing one leaf after f. 126 (part of Colossians); missing undetermined amount after f. 127 (end of Colossians, all of 1 Timothy, beginning of 2 Timothy); missing undetermined amount after f. 129 (end of 2 Timothy, all of Titus, all of Philemon); 1 and 2 Thessalonians are copied before Colossians. Each epistle commentary remaining with incipit (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Colossians) is prefaced by a chapter list; the chapter lists in this copy of Ambrosiaster retain forms of the Vetus Latina recension. The prologue to 2 Corinthians is that printed in the PL (not the one beginning “Sciens sanctus apostolus profecisse epistolam…” printed by A. Souter, “The Genuine Prologue to Ambrosiaster on Second Corinthians,” Journal of Theological Studies 4, 1903, 89-92), although the text of the commentary itself on 2 Corinthians begins differently here (but not in any large manner for any of the other commentaries) from that of the PL: “Paulus apostolus Ihesu Christi. Queritur cur in omnibus epistolis contra usum epistolarum primo suum nomen ponat…” A. Souter, A Study of Ambrosiaster (Cambridge 1905) 15, n. 12; same author, The Earliest Latin Commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul (Oxford 1927) 57; H. J. Vogels, “Die Überlieferung des Ambrosiasterkommentars zu den Paulinischen Briefen,” Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissen-schaften in Göttingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse (1959) 115, n. 5, all citing the present manuscript as “Bramshill House, IV.” Vogels lists 72 manuscripts of this text.

exerpted from:

Bibliography for Ambrosiaster:

SOUTER, A study of Ambrosiaster (Cambridge University Press, 1905);
BARDENHEWER, Patrologie (Freiburg, 1901), 382, 387;
NIRSCHL, Patrologie (Mainz, 1883), II.

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Internet Quotations
for Ambrosiaster

In June 2005, Andrew Criddle posted a helpful response to an inquiry regarding Ambrosiaster, on the Internet Infidels Forum online. The original thread can be found here:

Pericope de Adultera -- External Evidence <-- Click here for original thread on IIDB.ORG.

He gave a reference and the Latin quotation for the exerpt in which Ambrosiaster referred to the Pericope de Adultera:

Quote:Originally Posted by yummyfur

Does anyone have the actual qoute from Ambrosiaster? and the context?, this is one I don't have a book with, or have been able to find online so far.

Also a note, "Quaestiones Veteris et Novi Testamenti" was traditionaly attributed to Augustine, but later decided that it was written by the same author who wrote a commentary on Paul, that was originally atrributed to Ambrose, but later (starting with Erasmus, I think) was considered to be by some other author, thus the name Ambrosiaster or "Pseudo-Ambrose" was used.

"See [Willker's Textual Commentary on the PA]. The Ambrosiaster Quote comes from Quaestiones ex Utroque Mixtim CII Contra Novatianum and reads,

"dominus autem oblatae sibi meretrici pepercit, ei videlicet quam in adulterio se deprehendisse majores judaeorum dixerunt;
ut quia pia praedicatio incoeperat non condemnandum, sed ignoscendum doceret"

[anonymous work, assigned to Augustinus in earlier times, but now considered to be by Ambrosiaster.]

(366-384, "Quaestiones ex Utroque Mixtim – CII: Contra Novatianum", PL Migne Vol. 35, 2303):

Andrew Criddle

To this quotation we may add a quick translation:

"(that) the Master, in the offer,
restrained himself [showed mercy] toward the harlot,
whom one may see, a crowd of the Jews caught in adultery, they say;
due to the conscientious pronouncement from the start
not requiring her condemnation but her pardon,
that it might teach them likewise [mercy] ."

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