Ambrosiaster on the Old Latin Version

The following translation from Ambrosiaster’s Commentary on Romans (5:14) is a work in progress. The approach is non-literal yet with the intent to leave out nothing in the Latin text. The translation differs somewhat from G. L. Bray’s edition (Ambrosiaster Commentaries on Romans and 1–2 Corinthians [2009] 43) and the partial translations in A. Cain (Letters of Jerome [2009] 52) and S. Lunn-Rockliffe (Ambrosiaster’s Political Theology [2007] 22-23). Of course, I would appreciate any suggestions for improvements.

Vogels, ed. (CSEL 81)
4e. et tamen sic praescribere nobis volunt de Graecis codicibus, quasi non ipsi ab invicem discrepent, quod facit studium contentionis, quia enim propria quis auctoritate uti non potest ad victoriam, verba legis adulterat, ut sensum suum quasi verbis legis adserat, ut non ratio, sed auctoritas praescribere videatur, constat autem quosdam Latinos porro olim de veteribus Graecis translatos codicibus, 5. {quos incorruptos simplicitas temporum servavit et probat,} postquam autem a concordia animis dissidentibus et hereticis perturbantibus torqueri quaestiones coeperunt, multa inmutata sunt ad sensum humanum, ut hoc contineretur in litteris, quod homini videretur, unde etiam ipsi Graeci diversos codices habent. 5a.hoc autem verum arbitror, quando et ratio et historia et auctoritas conservatur, nam hodie quae in Latinis reprehenduntur codicibus, sic inveniuntur a veteribus posita, Tertulliano et Victorino et Cypriano … Yet this is what they want to prescribe for us on the basis of the Greek manuscripts, as though these same manuscripts did not have discrepancies among themselves, which provoke a spirit of controversy. For, alas, whoever is not able to prevail on their own authority changes the literal text to claim their own meaning seemingly on the basis of the literal text, so that, not reason, but the authority of the text would seem to prescribe [what they want]. But it is well-known that in very ancient times there were certain Latin [manuscripts] translated from old Greek manuscripts, {which the innocence of former times has safeguarded and guarantees without corruption.} But after matters under dispute became distorted, thrown out of harmony by dissenting and heretical minds, many [manuscripts] were altered to a human sense so that what seemed good to people would be preserved in the letter of the text, with the result that even the Greeks themselves have divergent manuscripts. I consider this to be the true [text], when reason, history, and authority are all preserved. For the text retained today in the Latin manuscripts is found the same in the ancients, Tertullian, Victorinus, and Cyprian.

Ambrosiaster’s (presumably) earlier version of the commentary has slightly different wording between the brackets:

Vogels, ed. (CSEL 81)
5.respondentes ad haec non tacemus, quia codices nostri ex Graecis veteribus originem habent, quos incorruptos simplicitas temporum probat Let us not keep silent responding to the latter, because our codices take their origin from ancient Greek copies, which the innocence of former times certifies to us without corruption.

2 thoughts on “Ambrosiaster on the Old Latin Version

  1. Hi Pete, Good to meet you at the colloquium this week. Do you think that Ambrosiaster’s comments can be applied to the whole Latin Bible or just the NT? Best wishes. Oliver

    • Hi Oliver,

      It was great to meet you as well!

      That is a good question. Since the context of Ambrosiaster’s remarks on the Greek copies is a discussion of Romans 5:14 — within a larger commentary on Romans, the simple and safe answer would be that he had only the NT in mind when he made them.

      That being said, it has been suggested plausibly that Ambrosiaster was responding in his Romans commentary to Jerome’s revision of the gospels on the basis of Greek manuscripts (H. J. Vogels, “Ambrosiaster und Hieronymus,” Revue Bénédictine 66 (1956), 14-19; A. Cain, The Letters of Jerome (Oxford, 2009) 51). For example, we can observe how Ambrosiaster’s tone changes between the first, second, and third editions of his commentary (α, β, γ) (CSEL 81/1, 176-177). By the time of γ, Ambrosiaster seems to have a clear (though unnamed) opponent in his sights. If so, Ambrosiaster would appear to be making a more general commentary on the Greek copies — not only of Romans (which AFAWK Jerome himself never revised), but also of the gospels.

      By the time of Ambrosiaster’s final edition of On Romans, Jerome had presumably moved on already to revising the Latin version on the basis of Hebrew manuscripts (according to his claim, anyway). As for Ambrosiaster’s view of Jerome’s OT revision (assuming he lived to learn about it), this would be speculation, but it seems probable on the face of it that his response would have been similar to his presumed response to Jerome’s NT revision, namely, resistance. After all, even more seemingly open-minded writers, such as Rufinus and Augustine, expressed serious reservations regarding Jerome’s Hebrew project. In view of Ambrosiaster’s generally conservative outlook (for example, on matters such as asceticism, the patriarchy, church order, Roman law, etc.), it is probably safer than not to assume a negative predisposition on his part towards any kind of change to the Latin scriptures.

      Nevertheless, Ambrosiaster’s perspective on Judaism is complex. He has been called sympathetic to or at least knowledgeable of Jewish customs (see S. Lunn-Rockliffe, Ambrosiaster’s Political Theology (Oxford, 2007) 40-41). In a series of papers from the turn of the twentieth century, Ambrosiaster was tentatively identified with a certain Jewish-Christian, Isaac of Rome (A.E. Burn, “The Ambrosiaster and Isaac the converted Jew,” Expositor 2 (1899) 368-375; T. Zahn, Theologisches Uteraturblatt, 7 July 1899; G. Morin, “L’Ambrosiaster et le juif converti Isaac”, Revue d’histoire et de littérature religieuse 4 (1899) 97-121). If there is any basis for such speculation, we might expect from Ambrosiaster a more sympathetic attitude towards Hebrew originals than their Greek counterparts.

      So given uncertainty concerning Ambrosiaster’s views on the Hebrew scriptures and the absence of specific remarks from him, I would be very hesitant to extend his remarks on the NT Greek copies to the OT. Thanks for commenting!

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