Ambrosiaster’s Interpretations of Romans 1:26-27

in Vigiliae Christianae
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Scholarly discussions of patristic interpretations of Romans 1:26-27 have overlooked the fact that Ambrosiaster revised his reading of the passage. In the first version of his commentary on Romans, Ambrosiaster understands verse 26 to refer to “unnatural” sexual relations between women and men, whereas in the second and third versions he understands the verse to refer to “unnatural” sexual relations between women. The paper examines the differences between the three versions, explains Ambrosiaster’s remarks, and situates his interpretation within the moral outlook and exegetical tradition of Latin Christian writers.

Ambrosiaster’s Interpretations of Romans 1:26-27

in Vigiliae Christianae




J. BoswellChristianity Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press1980). On reactions to Boswell’s book and its continuing influence see M. Kuefler “The Boswell Thesis” in M. Kuefler (ed.) The Boswell Thesis: Essays on Christianity Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press 2006) 1-31.


See F. Gori (ed.)Marii Victorini opera pars posterior: opera exegetica (CSEL 83/2; Vienna: Hoelder-Pichler-Tempsky1986) viii.


K.H. SchelklePaulus: Lehrer der Väter. Die altkirchliche Auslegung von Römer 1-11 (Düsseldorf: Patmos1959) 64 sees in Ambrosiaster’s comment on Roman 1:26 an allusion to the views of the Naasenes a sect discussed by Hippolytus (see p. 474 below). Wright “Early Christian Attitudes” 334 n. 15 includes Ambrosiaster’s commentary on Romans 1:26-27 in a list of patristic sources that in his view “depict homosexual intercourse as in conflict with man’s created nature” (p. 332). Brooten Love Between Women 356 n. 213 mentions that Ambrosiaster “takes Rom. 1:26 as referring to sexual relations between women.”


See e.g. A. SouterA Study of Ambrosiaster (TS 7.4; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1905) 197-200; H.J. Vogels Das Corpus Paulinum des Ambrosiaster (BBB 13; Bonn: P. Hanstein 1957) 15; Lunn-Rockliffe Ambrosiaster’s Political Theology 39-40.


AmbrosiasterIn Rom. 5:14.4 (CSEL 81/1: 172-74): βγ sic enim dicitur scriptum; In Rom. 12:11.1b (CSEL 81/1: 404-5): βγ in Graeco dicitur sic habere.


AmbrosiasterIn Rom. 5:14.4 (CSEL 81/1: 172-74): α ac si in Graeco sic habeat etiam in eos regnasse mortem qui non peccaverunt in similitudine praevaricationis Adae; βγ ac si in Graeco non ita cautum dicatur—sic enim dicitur scriptum etiam in eos regnasse mortem qui non peccaverunt in similitudinem praevaricationis Adae. Cf. B. and K. Aland et al. (eds.) Novum Testamentum Graece 27th corr. ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft 2006) apparatus at Rom. 5:14.


AmbrosiasterIn Rom. 5:14.1 (CSEL 81/1: 170-72): in eos qui peccaverunt in similitudine(m) praevaricationis Adae.


See now S.A. CooperMarius Victorinus’ Commentary on Galatians: Introduction Translation and Notes (Oxford: Oxford University Press2005) 188-90.


AmbrosiasterIn Rom. 5:14.4.e-5 (CSEL 81/1: 176-77).


H.J. Vogels“Ambrosiaster und Hieronymus,” Revue Bénédictine 66 (1954) 14-19.


JeromeEp. 27.3 (CSEL 542: 225-26).


AmbrosiasterIn Rom. 12:11.1b (CSEL 81/1: 404)


FröhlichEpistula ad Corinthios197-99.


See C.P. Hammond BammelDer Römerbrieftext des Rufin und seine Origenes-Übersetzung (Freiburg: Herder1985) 507:... qui extra naturam est... accensi sunt in desiderium sui in invicem... mercedem quam oportuit... in semetipsis; H.J. Frede Ein neuer Paulustext und Kommentar vol. 2 Die Texte (Freiburg: Herder 1974) 26:... in passiones contumeliae... accensi sunt in desiderio suo... mercedem quam oportuit... in semetipsis; T.S. de Bruyn Pelagius’s Commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1993; rpt. 2002) 169:... in desideriis suis... et mercedem quam oportuit.


Cf. AmbrosiasterIn Rom. 1:24.1 (CSEL 81/1: 46).


See C.A. WilliamsRoman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press1999) 231-44.


See WilliamsRoman Homosexuality50-51.


PhiloDe spec. leg. 3.20.113 (LCL 7: 546-47); Musonius Rufus 12.86.4-8 (O. Hense [ed.] C. Musonii Rufi reliquiae [Leipzig: B.G. Teubner 1905] 63-64); Athenagoras Leg. 33.1-2 (SC 379: 196-98); Clement of Alexandria Paed. 2.10.91 2.10.95 (SC 108: 176-77 182-85); Str. 3.7.58 3.11.71 (GCS 52: 222-23 228). This stance was not widely held at the time; cf. A.C. van Geytenbeek Musonius Rufus and Greek Diatribe trans. B.L. Hijmans (Assen: van Gorcum 1963) 71-77.


M. KueflerThe Manly Eunuch: Masculinity Gender Ambiguity and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press2001) 81-96 164-68.


P. BrownThe Body and Society: Men Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press1988) 377-78; D.G. Hunter “On the Sin of Adam and Eve: A Little-Known Defense of Marriage and Childbearing by Ambrosiaster” Harvard Theological Review 82 (1989) 283-99.


LactantiusInst. 6.23.2 15 17 (CSEL 19: 564-67).


LactantiusInst. 6.23.18 (CSEL 19: 567):... ita genitalem corporis partem quod nomen ipsum docet nulla alia causa nisi efficiendae subolis accepimus.


LactantiusInst. 6.23.11-12 (CSEL 19: 566): et tamen dicendum est quia fit: de istis loquor quorum taeterrima libido et execrabilis furor ne capiti quidem parcit.


LactantiusInst. 6.23.8 (CSEL 19: 565-66): idem etiam mares maribus adplicuit et nefandos coitus contra naturam contraque institutum dei machinatus est.


AugustineBon. coniug. 10.11 (CSEL 41: 202-3):... nec inmutetur in eum usum qui est contra naturam de quo apostolus tacere non potuit cum de corruptelis nimis inmundorum et inpiorum hominum loqueretur. In Nupt. 20.35 (CSEL 42: 289) written almost two decades later Augustine again appeals to Rom. 1:26 with reference to unnatural sexual relations within marriage.


AugustineBon. coniug. 11.12 (CSEL 41: 203): nam cum ille naturalis usus quando prolabitur ultra pacta nuptialia id est ultra propagandi necessitatem uenialis sit in uxore in meretrice damnabilis iste qui est contra naturam execrabiliter fit in meretrice sed execrabilius in uxore. Cf. Brooten Love Between Women 353-55.


AugustineBon. coniug. 11.12 (CSEL 41: 204): cum uero uir membro mulieris non ad hoc concesso uti uoluerit turpior est uxor si in se quam si in alia fieri permiserit.


SchelklePaulus: Lehrer der Väter64.


HippolytusHaer. 5.7.19 in M. Marcovich (ed.) Hippolytus: Refutatio omnium haeresium (PTS 25; Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter 1986) 147.


Cf. Lunn-RockliffeAmbrosiaster’s Political Theology59-60.


TertullianCor. 6.1 (CCSL 2: 1046-47): Sed et in priore epistolae naturalem usum conditionis in non naturalem masculos et feminas inter se demutasse affirmans ex retributione erroris in uicem poenae utique naturali usui patrocinatur. Some manuscripts have naturalibus (“things natural” or “nature”) instead of naturali usui (“natural use” or “natural intercourse”). The former reading is preferred by J. Fontaine (ed.) Tertullien: Sur la couronne. Édition introduction et commentaire (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France 1966) 86-87.


See now CooperMarius Victorinus’ Commentary182-246.


CooperMarius Victorinus’ Commentary200 206-9 213-14 224.


As e.g. at Gal 1:19; cf. CooperMarius Victorinus’ Commentary214.


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