A translation of the Ambrosiaster text on I Corinthians 14.
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 14
[Col. 267] (Vers. 1) “Follow after charity, be zealous for spiritual gifts, but rather that you may prophecy.” Rather he urges one is to have after charity the desire of prophesying because to whatever degree greater may be the spiritual ranks which he specifies, this here nevertheless is better which profits to the benefit of the Church that they should learn every matter of the divine law. In fact in that which by he gave the soul. He learns in accordance with it himself the gift. Solomon says, “to know the law is understanding of the best kind” (Wisdom 6:16). In fact by relying on charity, knowledge is not being puffed-up but has been tamed, accomplishing according to the benefit in all things.
(Vers. 2) “For the one who speaks in a tongue is not speaking to men but to God, but no one hears for by the spirit he is speaking mysteries.” This is what he says because he who is speaking in an unknown language is speaking to God because he himself knows all things. Human beings certainly do not know, for that reason as well no one has been accomplished by this thing. “for by the spirit he is speaking mysteries.” It is not making sense because he is unfamiliar with what he is saying.
(Vers. 3) “But the one who prophecies is speaking to men for the edification, exhortation and the encouragement.” For one is being built up when he learns the solution of the inquiries. For the exhortation happens to that one, that he should allow the requirement of prophesying. He should be truly taking counsel because he seems to be making light of the teachings in regard to the hope. For knowledge of the law strengthens souls, and appeals to the increase of a better hope.
(Vers. 4) “The one who speaks in a language [Col. 268] [personally] builds himself up. The one who certainly prophecies builds up the Church.” That is to say this person, that he only knows by accident what he speaks, edifies only with himself. On the other hand, the one who prophecies, edifies all the common people, provided that anyone who is to speak is to be understood by everyone. He teaches the prophets [are] the interpreters of the Scriptures just as indeed the prophet is to predict future things which they are in a state of ignorance. Therefore too in this place he makes known it is being appointed to prophesy as long as the sense of the Scriptures, a sense which has been concealed in many ways.
(Vers. 5) “While I wish you all to speak in tongues, however more rather that you should prophecy.” He could not prohibit to speak in languages which he teaches to be such a superior gift of the holy Spirit but rather learning is bound to be had by means of prophecy because it is more productive. “For greater is the one who prophecies than the one who speaks in a language, unless it is being interpreted.” Because if he will be able to interpret, it will not be inferior because it edifies the Church. For this is greater because it profits all. For in fact this one who is speaking in languages by the gift of God which is likewise being interpreted, just as those 12 in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:4).
(Vers. 6) “Now then brothers if I would come to you speaking in languages, what will I profit you unless I should speak to you either in a revelation or knowledge, or prophecy or instruction?” The one signifies all these things, for nobody will be able to teach unless he is being understood.
(Vers. 7, 8) “Yet some things without a soul gives sound whether a pipe or harp, if they did not give a distinction of sound, how will it be recognized, what is being played by the pipe or what is being played on a harp? And if the trumpet indeed produces an uncertain sound, by such a thing will it prepare them for battle?” Seeing that the examples persuade more easily than words, he points out by examples by which they should easily understand those ones must not to speak in languages in the Church who cannot interpret. Namely anyone that should be speaking, is no-one to be understanding anything?
(Vers. 9) “So also you by means of a language except you have produced expressive speech, how will it be known what it is you are speaking? For you will be speaking into the air.” This is accomplishing nothing. “For suppose there are many kinds of languages in this world and none without a voice.” “There are (certainly) many kinds of languages,” it says, but they possess [their] very own meanings of voice so that they may be understood.
(Vers. 10,11) “If then I would not know the power of the voice, I am to him to whom I am speaking a barbarian and he who is speaking to me a barbarian.” Certainly he does not teach it being desirous that in turns they be seen with each other by a foreign language of a barbarian. But because it is a matter of mutual agreement it has to be in good shape with them in order that they should boast to the delight on either side through the unity of understanding.
(Vers. 12) “So also you, seeing that you are zealous imitators, seek that you prophecy for the building-up of the Church.” Because it is useful to explain the Scriptures (for the mind is being inspired and rejoices when it learns something about the Scriptures and how much more does it become the importance in this office, so much it abandons sins)  therefore he teaches transformational learning by this office.
(Vers. 13) “Therefore the one who speaks in a language, he should pray that he may interpret.” Him who desires to speak in tongues, he teaches that one ought to pray in order that he should receive the gift of interpreting for the purpose that he may be useful in his zeal to others.
(Vers. 14) “For if I will have prayed in a language, my spirit prays but my mind is without fruit.” It is clear to disregard our soul, if he should speak in a language which he does not know just as Latin men who are singing Greek, by being a delightful sound of words, yet these ones do not know anything they would say. However the Spirit which was given in baptism, knows anything the soul may pray for, while speaking or whether he concludes in a strange language himself. But on the other hand the mind which is the soul is without fruit. For who can have fruit who does not know what he is to be speaking?
(Vers. 15) “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, I will also pray with understanding. I am also to say a Psalm by the spirit and I am to say a Psalm also with understanding.” He says this, because when he speaks in any specific language which he was [previously] unfamiliar with, so by the spirit, which he prays with understanding but yet again the soul is not ignorant in the like manner and of the Psalm.
(Vers. 16) “Else, if you should bless with the spirit.” It is this, if you are to be speaking the praise of God to those who are hearing in a unknown language, “who is to supply the realm of the uneducated? How is he to say amen upon your blessing because he does not know what you are to be saying.” The unskilled is the one who hears what he does not understand, he is ignorant of the end of the speech, and does not respond amen, it is the truth, in order that the benediction be confirmed. For the confirmation of the prayer is being satisfied through these who respond “amen” in order that they should approve everything that has been said as the testimony of truth by the minds of those who hear.
(Vers. 17) “For you give thanks well.” He teaches about him, who had become acquainted with speaking to himself because he knows what he is to be saying. “But no other is being built-up.” If, by all means you are meeting for the purpose of building up the Church, they ought to speak in it, a place where those who are hearing may understand. For instance of what benefit is it that anyone should speak in a language which he only knows that everyone who hears it would profit nothing? For that reason he ought to be silent in the Church, that if two should be speaking, that they should profit those who are hearing.
(Vers. 18) “I thank God that I speak in the language of every one of you.” Seeing that he stated to speak in languages as being the higher gift of the holy Spirit, for that reason he assigns to God that he was to be able to speak in every language. And lest by chance a competitor was appearing to speak this by means of jealousy, he indeed shows himself to speak in the languages of all of these and because it does not greatly benefit.
(Vers. 19) “But in the Church,” it is said, “I wish to speak five words according to the Law that I may also build up others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” He [Paul] says it to be more useful speaking in small words in the making of a speech in order that everyone should understand than to have a lengthy speech in obscurity. [Col. 270] These were from the Hebrew who at length in the Syrian language and for the most part by Hebrew women who were indulging in homilies or presentations for approval. For they were boasting calling themselves Jews according to the right of Abraham, that the same apostle held this to no account teaching, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Indeed these ones who are mimicking, they prefer to speak in their unknown language to the people in the Church which belongs to them.
(Vers. 20) “Brothers, do not wish to produce [things] by the senses of a child but let one be in malice of childhood that you would be perfect in senses.” He wishes those to be perfect, that they are to understand that it is to be necessary for the instruction of the Church. The ones who are withdrawing from malice and errors, they were eager for these things which they were accomplishing for the benefit of the brothers. For this is perfect in sense that he urges it in order that he should be useful to anyone, especially with the brothers.
(Vers. 21) In the law it was written, “Because in other languages and in other lips I will speak to this people and they still will not here me, says the Lord” (Isaiah 28:11). The Lord spoke this about this that He knew these ones would not believe in the Saviour. For speaking in other languages and in other lips the New Testament is to be preached as Jeremiah the prophet says: “Behold the days will come, says the Lord, and I will accomplish the New Covenant to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah, not according to that which I made with their fathers” (Jeremiah 31:31). It is this, for the method had been altered to speak in a different way which they themselves had the words of the old law. When they hear to release the Sabbath, the new moon being purged, to be free of circumcision, to be altering the sacrifices, to be permitting foods which have been prohibited to eat a little while ago, preaching Christ the God of God. This is speaking in other languages and other lips. And so neither did the faithless want to listen to God. Thus one is able also to understand that because many of the Jews were spiteful and therefore it was not worthy to speak to them the Gospel in a revelation, that they spoke to them in parables, and therefore that it is not being shown to them who are the ones who understand because they were wicked neither also would they reform themselves. While the ones who have merit were benefitting themselves to hear the words of God by means of the the exposition. From whence the disciples say to the Lord: “Lord, why do you speak to those in parables?” (Matt. 13:10). And the Lord, “because it was given to you”, it says, “to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but not to those, that those who do see, are not to see, and those who hear are not to understand” (Matt. 13:11 and 13 [parts]). Lest the unworthy ones would secure salvation that these ones judged achievement according to their own merit, neither in any way did the ones who had been driven back to God want to make amends.
(Vers. 22) “Therefore languages they are as a sign.” It is this, the words of God have been concealed by a veil of unknown languages, nor do they appear by deceit, and when the unknown languages are being heard, it is to be a sign, because it was made on account of faithlessness, lest the ones hearing are to understand. “By all means it is not for those who believe, but for the non-believers.” [Col. 271] This is what he said, because they go on in languages to the unbeliever for the purpose of hiding the meanings. “but prophecy is not for the disobedient but for those who believe.” This is, it is not relevant for the believers to hear a language which they should not understand. But to the unbeliever, they are not worthy to understand even as Isaiah the prophet Isaiah says, “Go and say to this people, you will able to listen by hearing and you will not understand, etc.,” (Isaiah 6:9).
(Vers. 23) “If the whole Church will come together as one and they are to speak in every language, but when infidels or common persons are to enter, will they not say because you are mad?” It is clear that if everyone is to speak in diverse languages, a certain undisciplined commotion of the people occurs as if the madness of suffering.
(Vers. 24, 25) “But if everyone is to prophecy, and moreover any infidel or uneducated is to enter, being rebuked in all, being proved false in all, the secrets of his heart are made manifest. Then at that time this one who falls on [his] face will pay homage to God, proclaiming that God is among you.” For when he understands and is being understood, the ones who hear are praising God and giving glory to God, he discerns [it] to be true and is bound to give homage in worship, by which he sees nothing to carry-on according to colour, nothing according to darkness, just as [it is] with the pagans, to which the eyes are veiled from. Not that they can call those ones who can see sacred, they see for the purpose to be making sport with their various foolish ways. For all who desire the dark corners of deceit also demonstrate false things instead of true ones. For that reason there is nothing crafty, [and] nothing under the veil, but simply one God is to be praised. “From whom they are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom is all things” (I Cor. 8:6). For if it is being shown whether no one exists who is to understand or rather by that [situation] itself he is being brought to nothing, one is able to say that there exists a certain separation and emptiness which therefore is being sung in languages because it is of shame.
(Vers. 26) “What is it then brothers? When you come together each one of you has a song.” That is they are speaking praise to God through song. “He has a teaching.” This is, he has a narration of the meaning by spiritual wisdom. “He has a revelation.” That is, prophecy regarding the hidden things by the agency of the holy Spirit is a basis for discussion which reaches to the mind of every person. “He has a language.” That those who were able to speak in a language, they were not to be discouraged, he permitted them to speak in languages. Still yet interpretation was to follow. He therefore says, “He has an interpretation.” That if an interpreter was to be present, a spot was to be given belonging to those preparing to speak in languages.
“Let all things be done for the edification of the Church.” This conclusion is that no one is to be useless in the Church, and this to the greater extent the one who is bound to exert himself, that even the unskilled ones are to contribute. Neither that it is to be through the inexperience of a gloomy person. Therefore for that reason he wishes all persons who have been prepared to come together with the diverse spiritual gifts, in order that the minds are watchful for these ones in greed, encouraging each other in turns, they were to emulate the best gifts for the glory of the brothers.
(Vers. 27) “If any speaks in a language, by two, or at the most three and specifically that one shall interpret,” This is, two or three and no more are to be speaking in languages but one at a time, not each at the same time. Lest they were to appear to be insane. “at the most three.” Lest the ones speaking in languages and their translations were to occupy the day and prophets do not have the time explaining the Scriptures which they are illuminators of the whole Church.
[Editors note: There is a substantial shift in vocabulary, grammar and style begins after verse 27 until the end of this chapter. It is often incoherent and hard to follow as a translator. I have left parts of the following in a machine-translation state. The remainder of this chapter from verse 28 on is not guaranteed for complete accuracy]
(Vers. 28) “That if there would be no interpreter, let him be silent in the Church. He is to speak to himself and to God.” This is, let him silently pray inside himself or he is to speak to God who hears all [any type of] silence. For the person ought to speak in the Church which should be profitable for everyone.
(Vers. 29) “For two or three prophets are to speak, and others are to examine or to inquire.” He insisted the method itself by which it was about to be asserted, “Two or three are to speak.” However each one at a time as above. While the others are entrusted to examine those who come in a doubtful state, or those whom anyone cannot understand, whose characters have been turned away, in order that they are to make clear to be an impostor in the discussion.
(Vers. 30) “That if it [any thing] would be a revelation to someone else who is sitting, the first is to be silent.” That is, [it is] preferable he is to allow for the one below [his status] in order that if he is able, he should speak. Not that it is to be done reluctantly, because the gift can be given also to that person. While he appears to be inferior because he has not been allowed for more useful things. For just as the whole cannot be parceled out in one, although better, it cannot be for some, however much inferior [they are] that nothing is being imparted [to them], for no one is devoid [of some type of gift] in the grace of God.
(Vers. 31) “For you are all to prophecy by each one at a time, that all are to learn, and all are to be encouraged.” This tradition is of the Synagogue which he wishes us to continually follow because he is certainly writing to Christians but to those who have been reared Gentiles, not from the Jews. That the ones that remain are possibly debating, seniors with rank according to the throne, attending on the tribune’s seats, the most extraordinary on the pavement above the mats. If anyone would be [in] a revelation, the one that must be gifted is to receive in advance a designated place, neither one ought to be looked down upon, because they are the members of the body.
(Vers. 32) “And the spirit of prophets is subject to the prophets.” Namely because it is one and the same Spirit, that to such a degree by the prophets who are speaking about the future that they who reveal the Scriptures [are] by the same [prophets], he mixes each one [together] with the reckoning and character of the original sources, for that reason he said; “is subject to prophets.” It was for the purpose to illuminate the natural tendencies from this expectation because the Spirit is to encourage useful endeavors. For he comes to assist a matter which is about to be expounded-on for the optimal desire nearest to God. That he is to fulfill the will of the noblest intention. For instance the same thing was also written concerning the Saviour. “for they were drinking of of the spiritual rock which follows, for the rock was Christ.” This is, that also [those] being the subject, which are also being followed, for he was following, that with those who are failing by human standards, he was to draw near to provide help. Therefore the one having been made subject of the Spirit was being called that it was to help the noblest attempts, when he furnishes, for the one having been made subject appears that he completes in the beginning one or the other.
[Col. 273] (Vers. 33) “For he is not the author of dissension but of peace.” Because he is then the author of peace, by which the Saviour is saying, “My peace I give to you, peace I leave with you” (John 14:27). No one is not to govern the other one [from] speaking, nor should one be obliged for speaking, the eagerness is bound to be contradicted, that it is resisted, lest it potentially makes for discord in the body. Namely which those being called upon in peace, they ought to be eager in patience, lest the laws of peace be unbound. “Even as I teach in all the Churches of the saints.” With this assertion he encourages them, that he anticipates in advance what they are doing, when similarly he shows himself to preach in the Churches of the saints.
(Vers. 34) “Your women are to remain silent in the Church.” Now he relates what he had overlooked namely just as he instructs the women to cover-up in the Church (I Cor. 11:5), in a manner that shows they are peaceful and modest. It is worth the trouble that they are being covered. For if man is in the image of God, [it is] not with the woman, and has been subjected under the male in the law of nature; how much greater ought they to be subject in the Church on account of respect of him [of the male], that it had been entrusted of these that the leader is of a man as well. “Namely, it is not being permitted for them to speak, but to be in silence, as also the law says.” What does the law say? “Your change is to your husband, and he will be master over you.” This law is special. From this source Sara was calling her husband Abraham, lord, and by this they are being ordered to be in silence, lest the decree be diminished in what has been said above in the law, of whom mindful of Sarah, she was subject to her husband, as it was written, however much it is to be one flesh (Gen. 2:24), but it is being commanded to be subject as as result of two reasons, because she is from man and entered into sin through the female gender.
(Vers. 35) “On the other hand if they want to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is shameful for women to speak in Church.” It is shameful, because it is against the teaching that in the Church of God, he instructs that the women are to be subject to their husbands who assume to speak on matters of the law. While they understand the man is to have the highest rank in that place and more competent than themselves, that in the house of God they are to be idle with requests, holding back [their] speech. They are to lay open [their] ears that they are to listen in such a way the mercy of God has conquered death through Christ, who had become king over the women. For if they should intend to speak in the Church, it is a dishonour, for that reason because they are being covered-up in order that they are to appear humble. This matter, when they demonstrate shamefulness themselves that it is also a reproach to husbands, for likewise the husbands are being marked according to the haughtiness of [their] wives.
(Vers. 36) “Can it be the word of God had proceeded from you or can it be it came for you only?” They are words of accusing, namely like they had become pompous, as if this status was to have been promised for themselves and from the apostles who are preaching, by their example the rest of the gentiles were to be called to the faith whether they were to be some who were able to receive the grace of God. Namely, they were boasting about themselves as if they were granted a greater privilege than they were to receive, these ones are adding to the faith, from which he says, “Or did the word of God come for you only.” For everyone who wants to acquire something which he knows [is] not to be needed by someone, while in some form he approaches to the acquisition with disgust, as if it is a better benefit by selling. For that reason this Apostle argued in regards to the Corinthians that they were showing themselves of such a great many things in the glorification of foolishness, as if these one were not to be listening to the words of the faith, that no one who were to be believing were to be that [way] even as to the Jews he says, “It was necessary to you first to speak the words of this life. But because you rebuffed it, undeserving are you who are preparing for eternal life. Behold, we turn to the gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
(Vers. 37) “If any are being esteemed to be a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize what I write to you, that they are commandments of the Lord.” This teaching touches on the above having been mindful of the false apostles by which they have been corrupted, who are not divinely inspired for the needs of men, but they were teaching earthly things. For that reason in this place he teaches it is no value to deliver his own personal opinion, but of the Lord, that to anyone who are to pursue securing favour are not to give glory to men but to God, by which confidence he also continually preaches, possessing a free conscience because he does not want to please men but God. From which he does not behave unseemly with sinners so that that they may grow up, but also he admonishes so that they may desist [from sin].
(Vers. 38) “But if anyone does not know, he will not be known.” More correctly that the one who exists who does not know of the Lord which the Apostle speaks about, he will be not known by the Lord in the day of judgement, when the Lord says, “Amen I say to you, I do not know you” (Math. 25:12).
(Vers. 39) “On account of that brothers, cherish the ambition of prophesying.” As much as you will, he is to argue these things and blames and chastises about many things, because they had pulled-away from that tradition by him. Yet he still calls them brothers because Isaiah says to the people of the the Lord: “Say to them, they do not rightly walk in my ways, you are our brothers” (Isaiah 66:5). That then one was to take comfort with such a thing said after reproofs, [because] he calls them brothers. And he urges for the ambition of prophecy in order that they were to be more prepared with the constant debate and explanation of the divine law [and] that they could learn to identify the perverse things that it are the preachings of false-apostles.
“And be unwilling to prohibit speaking in languages.” And this by means of charity, that whoever can speak in languages, if an interpreter would be at hand, they are not to be forbidden, it is not to be causing dissension.
(Vers. 40) “Moreover let all things be honourably done and according to order.” This is, according to the order which was stated above. For that is to be honourably done because it is being done in peace and instruction.■
Translated from the Latin text found in MPL. Vol. 17. Ad. Opera S. Ambrosii Appendix. Comment. In Epist. Ad I Cor. Col. 257ff
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The Latin Ambrosiaster text can be found at The Ambrosiaster Latin text on I Corinthians 12-14