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AMBROSIASTER: The name commonly used for the unknown author of the Commentaria in xiii. epistolas beati Pauli, which, from about 850 until the time of Erasmus, were commonly ascribed to Ambrose of Milan. This opinion, which is not yet quite extinct, has no support in ancient tradition, and there are many reasons against it—such as the style, the Scripture version used, the opinion about the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the attitude toward Greek literature. But the idea that it is a compilation made about 800 is equally baseless. The Codex Cassinensis, though lacking Romans, shows that the commentary had its recognized form earlier than 570. The Scripture text is consistent, belonging to a time before Jerome and to the recension known as the Itala. The anthropology is naive pre-Augustinian; the eschatology is still millenarian; the polemics against heresy point to the period about 380; the filioque is lacking. Numerous small details of historical allusion point to the same date.
Little success has attended the attempt to identify the author. Because Augustine in 420 quoted a passage as from sanctus Hilarius, some critics have been inclined to see in the Ambrosiaster’s work a part of the lost commentary of Hilary of Poitiers on the Epistles. For a long time it was thought that Augustine referred to the Roman deacon Hilary, the partizan of Lucifer of Calaris. The presbyter Faustinus, the opponent of Damasus and author of a treatise on the Trinity, has also been suggested. But neither the style, the Scripture version used, nor the christology is his. The author was probably a presbyter of the Roman Church; possibly Augustine and he were both quoting Hilary. The attempt to identify him, on the ground of notable similarities, with the author of the pseudo-Augustinian Quæstiones ex utroque testamento has not met with general approval.
Though the work of Ambrosiaster does not, from an antiquarian standpoint, belong to the most interesting relics of Christian antiquity, its exegesis 153 is often valuable, distinguished by soberness, clearness, and richness of thought, and singularly unbiased and objective for its period. Certain prejudices, as against the speculations and “sophistries” of the Greeks, and against the deacons, are explicable by the circumstances of the time assigned above to its composition. The author repeatedly remarks that the institutions of the Church have undergone essential alterations since the apostles’ time. Of great interest are his remarks about the primitive organization, which he considers to have been very informal, all teaching and all baptizing as occasion offered. He thinks that the primitive institutions were modeled after the synagogue; that presbyters and bishops were originally the same, as indeed, he says, they still are fundamentally; that the Roman Church was founded not by the apostles, but by certain Jewish Christians, who imposed a Judaic form upon it to be corrected by better-informed later arrivals; that not Peter alone, but Paul also, had a primacy. In a manuscript written about 769 by Winitharius, a monk of St. Gall, and elsewhere, Origen is named as the author, which is explicable by the presence of certain Origenistic ideas.
In 1899 Dom Morin (Revue d’histoire et de littérature religieuse) suggested as the author of the “Ambrosiaster” works Isaac the Jew, a professed convert, who prosecuted Pope Damasus on a capital charge and who was said by the friends of the pope to have relapsed to Judaism and “profaned the Christian mysteries” (382 A.D.). In 1903 Morin withdrew this identification in favor of Decimius Hilarianus Hilarius, prefect of Rome in 383, and pretorian prefect of Italy in 396. A. Souter (formerly of Caius College, Cambridge, now professor at Mansfield College, Oxford), in an article in the Sitzungsberichte of the Vienna Academy, 1904, and in A Study of Ambrosiaster (TS, vol. vii., No. 4, 1905) adopted the later view of Morin, and from an exhaustive study of manuscripts and comparison of the Ambrosiastrian works with contemporary writings has concluded that this view “entirely satisfies the conditions of the problem,” and he advises those who may incline to a different view to “read the works of the author carefully in the forthcoming Vienna edition [part of which he is himself editing] before coming to a conclusion on the subject.” C. H. Turner, fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, expressed hearty approval of Morin’s first identification and, in an article in JTS (Apr., 1906, pp. 355 sqq.), refuses to be convinced by the arguments of Morin or those of Souter that Decimius Hilarianus Hilarius rather than Isaac the Jew wrote the “Commentaries” and the “Questions.” The writer’s millenarianism, extraordinary familiarity with Jewish history and customs, and unstrongly favorable to the theory that the books usually friendly attitude toward Judaism are were written by Isaac and are as strongly inimical to the theory that the official Decimius Hilarianus Hilarius was the author. Equally in favor of Isaac’s authorship are allusions by Jerome to views regarding the genealogies, ascribed to some Judaizing teacher whose name he does not deign to mention, which are identical with those of “Ambrosiaster.” A young Roman Catholic scholar Joseph Wittig, has recently advocated the Isaac hypothesis, and has called attention to the fact that “Isaac” and “Hilary” both mean “laughing” as a means of accounting for the ascription of the “Commentaries” to Hilary by Augustine. Recent writers (Harnack, Jülicher, Morin, Souter, Turner, and others) are agreed in attributing the Commentaria and the Quæstiones to the same author. The Commentaria as “the earliest commentary on the Pauline epistles” and the Quæstiones as “the earliest substantial book on Biblical difficulties,” are of considerable importance. Jülicher pronounces the Commentaria “the best commentary on St. Paul’s epistles previous to the sixteenth century,” and Harnack is equally appreciative. Several other extant works are attributed to the same author.
Bibliography: His work is usually included among the works of Ambrose; it is in MPL, xvii. and in P. A. Ballerini, Ambrosii Opera, iii. 349-372, 971-974, Milan, 1877. Consult A. Souter, A Study of Ambrosiaster, Oxford, 1905 (claims to prove finally that Ambrosiaster was Hilary the layman); C. Oudin, Commentarius de scriptoribus ecclesiasticis, i. 481 sqq., Leipsic, 1722; J. B. Pitra, Spicilegium Solesmense, i., pp. xxvi-xxxiv., 49-159, 567, Paris, 1852; J. H. Reinkens, Hilarius von Poitiers, pp. 273, Schaffhausen, 1864; DCB, i. 89-90; J. Langen, Commentarium in Epistolas Paulinas . . . Bonn, 1880; H. B. Swete, Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Minor Epistles of St. Paul, i., p. lxxviii., ii., p. 351, Cambridge, 1880-82; Marold, Der Ambrosiaster nach Inhalt und Ursprung, ZWT, xxvii. (1884) 415-470.
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