Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ambrose on Justification

Luther: "Moreover I am not the only one, or even the first, to say that faith alone justifies. Ambrose said it before me, and Augustine and many others" [LW 35:197].

Ambrose: "God chose that man should seek salvation by faith rather than by works, lest any should glory in his deeds and should thereby incur sin."

No, Luther doesn't use this Ambrose quote. But, I've been trying to track down the context of this Ambrose quote, as well as finding out which texts of Ambrose Luther had, and to what he meant. The LW edition, usually footnoting such obscurities, doesn't have a footnote for this point at LW 35:197. Luther was probably referring to Ambrose commenting on Romans 3:28.

I came across an interesting web page: Ambrose on Justification: A Study in the Catholicity of Lutheran Theology. The page is from a Lutheran. The author cites the Ambrose quote as "In ps. 43 enarr. 14; quoted in Dudden II, p. 627". "Dudden" is: F. Holmes Dudden, The Life and Times of St. Ambrose (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935), Vol. II.

"ps. 43 enarr. 14" is "Explanations of Twelve Psalms of David (Enarrationes in xii psalmos davidicos) LT: PL 14:963-1238; CSEL 64. The volume contains Ambrose's sermons on Psalm 1, 35-40, 43, 45, 47-48, and 61. The commentary/sermon on Psalm 43 is incomplete, because Ambrose died [source].

The same Ambrose quote is used by a pro-Roman Catholic site. After citing this same quote, the web page goes on to state:

Ambrose would also say: "Without the support of faith good works cannot stand" (On the Duties of the Clergy, 2, 7). That means that with the support of faith, good works can stand. If they can stand, then they certainly do not lead one to boast in himself, they do not lead one to sin. Ambrose has in mind a distinction here between "works" leading us to boast in God and "works" leading us to boast in ourselves. These latter works can never stand, with or without the support of faith.

Phillip Schaff explains the view of Ambrose on justification:

"As to justification, St. Ambrose ascribes the whole work to the Holy Spirit, Who seals us in our hearts, as we receive the outward sign in our bodies. Through the Holy Spirit we receive a share of the grace of adoption. Christ was perfect according to the fulness of His Majesty ; we are perfected by a continual progress in virtue."

9 comments:

Ken said...

I read somewhere that before Erasmus, for many years, the writings of what is now known as "Ambrosiaster" (Erasmus came up with that name for his writings; we don't know exactly who he was) were thought to be Ambrose's; so Luther may be referring to those quotes. There are several of them, where this unknown writer says, "by Faith alone"

The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, (Thomas Oden, general Editor of the entire series), Romans Edited by Gerald Bray, Volume VI (Romans), IVP (ICCS), 1998, p. 101, Abrosiaster's commentary on Romans 3:24.

“They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone (Latin: sola fide) they have been made holy by the gift of God.”

Ibid, p. 112, commenting on Romans 4:5:

“How then can the Jews think that they have been justified by the works of the law in the same way as Abraham, when they see that Abraham was not justified by the works of the law but by faith alone (Latin: sola fide) ? Therefore there is no need of the law when the ungodly is justified before God by faith alone ( Latin: per solam fidem).”

Gerald Bray, Ibid, Volume VII ( I and II Corinthians), comment on I Cor. 1:4, p. 6 :

“God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works. By faith alone (Latin: sola fide) he receives the forgiveness of sins.”

James White makes a very good point, on page 133 of The God Who Justifies after citing these passages:
“At the very least, such statements refute clearly the common assertion that Luther coined the phrase “sola fide”.

James Swan said...

Yes,

I have that Oden volume, as well as Dr. White's book. However, of the few sources I checked, most seem to think ps. 43 enarr. 14 is the work of Ambrose. Although, there is a quote which is very similar from Ambrosiaster (thx, Skyman):

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), wrote while commenting on 1 Cor. 1:4b: God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works. By faith alone he receives the forgiveness of sins. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VII: 1-2 Corinthians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 6.

Latin Text: Datam dicit gratiam a Deo in Christo Jesu, quae gratia sic data est in Christo Jesu; quia hoc constitutum est a Deo, ut qui credit in Christum, salvus sit sine opere: sola fide gratis accipit remissionem peccatorum. In Epistolam B. Pauli Ad Corinthios Primam, PL 17:185.

Ken said...

I always appreciate you(James Swan), Dr. White, and Skyman's attention to the details and resources on these matters.

I learn a lot from you guys. Thanks.
Keep pressing on - Philippians 3:7-14

dtking said...

James,

Here's the Latin text, but it needs a fuller translation...

Latin text: Ex mandato ergo Dei salus homini, non ex sua operatione confertur. Deus enim maluit ut salus homini fide potius, quam operibus quaereretur; ne quis gloriaretur in suis factis, et peccatum incurreret. In Psalmum XLIII Enarratio, §14, PL 14:1097A.

James Swan said...

Here's the Latin text, but it needs a fuller translation...

So, am I right that we're actually dealing with Ambrose?

dtking said...

So, am I right that we're actually dealing with Ambrose?

Yes, this is from Ambrose's commentary on the Psalms.

James Swan said...

Yes, this is from Ambrose's commentary on the Psalms.

Even I get one right from time to time :)

Jordan Cooper said...

I have thought of doing my doctoral dissertation on Ambrose's theology of justification. In my personal opinion, he is closer to Luther's theology than was Augustine. Read his work "On Jacob and the Happy Life".
I would not recommend Oden as far as Patristic theology is concerned. His book "the Justification Reader" was full of out of context quotes from Patristic sources. Thus he often makes the fathers look more Protestant than they actually were.
I would also recommend looking at Chrysostom's commentary on Galatians.

David Jay Webber said...

"I have thought of doing my doctoral dissertation on Ambrose's theology of justification."

That would be very worthwhile.

"In my personal opinion, he is closer to Luther's theology than was Augustine."

This is not just a personal opinion - yours or anyone elses. It's pretty evident from Ambrose's writings. Look especially at these excerpts.