A translation of the Ambrosiaster text on I Corinthians 13.
Translated from the Latin text found in MPL. Vol. 17. Ad. Opera S. Ambrosii Appendix. Comment. In Epist. Ad I Cor. Col. 257ff
For introductory notes on this translation along with commentary go to: Notes on Translating Ambrosiaster’s Corinthians 12-14.
Comment. In. Epist. I ad Corinthios 13
(Vers. 1) “If I should speak in the language of men and angels [Col. 265] but I do not have charity, I am one just like a sounding brass or a ringing cymbal.” Certainly a great grace appears to speak in diverse languages. But it is something even more if it is possible to know any language of angels, that is, if one has become spiritually acquainted with having been moved of an angel. Truly he shows to those made subject that this is not to be reckoned according to merit, but according to the glory of God. Consequently, he says that it is a sounding brass or ringing cymbal.
Because as the brass resounds by another strike and the cymbal rings, therefore it is also in this place with the person who is speaking in languages, has the effect and movement of the Holy Spirit, as also the Saviour says in a different place, “for it is not you [plural] that are speaking but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matt. 10:20). For a she-ass also had spoken in a human language to Balaam son of Beor (Num. 22:28) when he was adjudging the majesty of God and young children broke out in praise of God to the confusion of the Jews (Matt. 21:16). For not only that, the Saviour but also shows the stones can cry out to the condemnation of the faithless ones and to the glory of God (Luke 19:40). And between the very origins to the committal of faith, those who were being baptized were speaking in languages (Acts 10:46).
(Vers. 2) “And if I shall have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge but I do not have charity, it is profiting nothing with me.” Truly it profits nothing, for it is being prophesied to the glory of God, even as David the prophet says “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but give glory in your name” (Psalm 113:1).1 For instance Balaam also prophesied (Num. 24:17), although he was not a prophet but a soothsayer.2 And Caiphas prophesied (John 11:51), not by merit but through the position of the priest’s rank. And Saul prophesied (I Samuel 19:23), while already for the reason of disobedience he was filled-up by an evil spirit but by God’s reason, he was not able to seize David which he was desiring to kill.
“And if I will have known all the mysteries.” In fact Judas profited nothing having been with the apostles and became acquainted with mysteries when this enemy of charity handed over the Saviour. And Ezekiel the prophet demonstrates the devil to know the celestial mysteries, because that he was in paradise with God with a voice that shouted and bears witness to have had the most costly stones (Ezekiel 28:13), which stones the same Apostle signified the mysteries of the divine doctrine (I Cor. 3:12-15). And it profits to him nothing because forgetful of charity, he jumped into pride.3
“And if I would have all knowledge.” Knowledge benefits nothing to me if it is not charitable. In fact, it benefited nothing to the Scribes and Pharisees with the Saviour saying, “You have the key of knowledge, and neither do you enter nor do you permit others to enter.”4 (Luke 11:52) For charity through ill-will5 these ones who are corrupt have spun his knowledge to nothing. For both Tertullian and Novatian were not in small knowledge but because they ruined the alliances by means of a rivalry of charity, turned to a schism6, the heresies gave birth to their own destruction.7
“And if I would have all faith, so as that I could transport mountains.” Powers to do, or rather the power and glory of God is to cast out demons through faith, neither does this accomplish by [means of] merit, neither to anyone who would have been a diligent follower of a good moral life, as I mentioned above.
(Vers. 3) “And if I would have expended my every resource.” It was explained that if every resource be expended, it profits nothing with charity having been ignored, because charity is the head of the religion, and [the one] who does not have a head, does not have life. “And if I would surrender my body that I am ablaze, it profits me nothing.” Nothing profits without charity because charity is the religious foundation. Whatever then happens without charity, it is doomed.
(Vers. 4-8) “Charity is generous, it is kind.8 It is not being envious, nor is it being haughty, nor wrongly compels, it is not ambitious, it does not search for those things which they are for itself, it is not being provoked, nor thinks evil, it does not rejoice in unfairness, but revels in the truth. It endures, believes, hopes and puts up with all things. Charity at no time ceases.”
He taught so great the praises of charity that he appeared not to classify charity with the different unmerited acts and it is aimless to produce these things which they are giving service for different purposes. These people are not submitting to this [principle]. The Apostle John affirms from this, “God is charity” (I John 4:8), that the one who does not have charity, should understand that he does not have God. From also the Apostle Paul likewise says, “But God who is rich in mercy who had compassion on us according to His exceeding charity” (Eph. 2:4).9 Whoever then does not have charity, is ungrateful of the mercy of God because he does not value through whom he has been saved. So that henceforth those who were putting food ahead of brotherly charity were going about acquiring knowledge because they were severely missing the point. For that which is done in the present, remains in eternity with God.
(Vers. 9-10) “Whether prophecies would become purged or tongues would cease, or knowledge would be purged.10 For we know in part and we prophecy in part but when it will come what which is perfect, the former will be purged which are from the part.” He said all the gifts of the graces are to be purged because they cannot so much grasp the great extent that truth contains. Neither are we able either to grasp or explain the fullness of truth. In fact who can do it that can grasp all the human languages, is that of God? For that reason our imperfection will be destroyed. Not that which is truth will be ridden out, but while it is increasing what is lacking with imperfection will be destroyed. That is to say, the destruction of imperfection is when that which is imperfection is completed into truth.
[Col. 267] (Vers. 11) “While being a child, I was speaking as a child, I was with the sense of a child, I was speaking as a child but when I had become a man, I destroyed11 those things which were of a child.”
He says this because the holy ones of this world which are dying, they are going to discover more than is necessary than they reckon now, as John the Apostle said concerning the Saviour: “Then at that time we will see that one, even as He is,” (I John 3:2). In this life we are now small in comparison to the future life because as this life is imperfect so is also knowledge.
(Vers. 12) “We see now through a glass in an obscure manner then truly face to face.” It has now been revealed to see the images by faith, then the events themselves. “I presently know in part, then at that time I shall truly understand even as I am known.”12 That is, I will see what has been promised even as I am being seen. This is to be present near the Lord where Christ is.
(Vers. 13) “For there now remains faith, hope, charity, these three but the greatest of these is charity.” Charity is the greatest worthy acts because although faith is be made known, and hope is for the future life, charity has surpassed even as I mentioned above. From which as John the Apostle, “We know from this, it says, his charity because he himself laid down his own life for us,” (I John 3:16). Therefore justifiably greater is charity by which the human race has been restored.■
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The original Latin copy used for this translation can be found here: The Ambrosiaster Latin text on I Corinthians 12-14
- Psalm 113:1 in the Vulgate is…
- cum propheta non esset, sed hariolus. Hariolus can mean a prophet or soothsayer. What is a soothsayer as opposed to a prophet? In the Old Testament it was a synonym but here it is not so. I really don’t know what a soothsayer means here except Ambrosiaster is making the distinction between propheta and hariolus. Whatever hariolus means, it is considered negative.
- superbiam: from superbia. “In a bad sense, loftiness, haughtiness, pride, arrogance” or “In a good sense, lofty spirit, honorable pride.” I think this passage can be translated a number of very different ways. This passage is difficult to grasp the context and I am guessing here at the last sentence.
- The Vulgate reads: “quia tulistis clavem scientiae ipsi non introistis et eos qui introibant prohibuistis” whereas Ambrosiaster has “Vos habetis clavem scientiae, et neque vos intratis, neque alios sinitis introire.”
- per invidiam enim charitatem corrumpentes
- The text appears as “chisma” for which no Latin word exists and based on the context, I believe it to be a printing error. It should read schisma.
- Bray’s translation contains more text than what is available in the MPL source text that this edition works from
- The Vulgate reads: “caritas patiens est benigna est caritas non aemulatur non agit perperam non inflatur non est ambitiosa non quaerit quae sua sunt non inritatur non cogitat malum non gaudet super iniquitatem congaudet autem veritati. omnia suffert omnia credit omnia sperat omnia sustinet. caritas numquam excidit sive prophetiae evacuabuntur sive linguae cessabunt sive scientia destruetur.” Ambrosiaster’s version has many different usages than the Vulgate. Nothing that alters the reading severely but different.
- “Deus autem qui dives est in misericordia, propter multam charitatem suam misertus est nostri” the Vulgate reads “Deus autem qui dives est in misericordia propter nimiam caritatem suam qua dilexit nos.”
- both prophecy and knowledge use the stem evacuo. The Vulgate distinguishes and used destruetur. This is still part of verse 8 in the modern English Bible.
- destruxi whereas the Vulgate used evacuavi.
- et cognitus sum: the Douay-Rheims translates this as: “as I am known.” I am not so sure this is the best translation but I don’t have a better alternative nor want to take the time, so I will leave as is.