Ambrosiaster's theological anthropology: Nature, law and grace in the commentaries on the Pauline epistles and the “Quaestiones veteris et novi testamenti CXXVII”

Joshua David Papsdorf, Fordham University


Ambrosiaster was an influential, yet anonymous, Latin commentator on Paul who flourished in the late fourth century. This dissertation is a systematic study of his theological anthropology organized around four phases in salvation history. First, it addresses Ambrosiaster's understanding of creation and prelapsarian human nature. Second, it considers the effects of Adam's Fall and the nature of the relationship between pagans and God. Third, it deals with Ambrosiaster's understanding of Judaism and the Jewish people. Fourth, and finally, it looks at man as a Christian. Each section presents an overview of Ambrosiaster's thought drawn from the commentaries and Quaestiones and supported by extensive citations of the texts. Taken as a whole, the study yields a remarkably consistent theological anthropology based on: Ambrosiaster's emphasis on the plain sense of scripture, a Christus Victor soteriology, and a belief that mankind was created with the primary purpose of countering Satan's rebellion. The dissertation concludes with mixed appraisals of Ambrosiaster's work. As a Pauline exegete, he succeeds in emphasizing Paul's pastoral concerns and his hopefulness regarding virtuous pagans and non-Christian Jews, but he fails to reflect the true importance of divine grace and initiative in Paul's thought. Regarding his relationship to the Pelagian controversy, despite Augustine's use of Ambrosiaster's phrase quasi in massa to describe mankind's sin in Adam, Ambrosiaster is not proto-Augustinian, nor is he proto-Pelagian. Ambrosiaster's theological anthropology is of a different sort, so, while both Augustine and Pelagius draw from his work, it does not naturally lead to either. Finally, as a theologian, Ambrosiaster displays some remarkably prescient insights, particularly in regard to the hope of salvation for non-Christians, but his overall system is seriously flawed by his inordinate emphasis on Satan's role in creation and his corresponding depiction of the cosmos and mankind as instruments designed to counter Satan rather than free expressions of God's glory and love.

Subject Area

Religious history|Theology

Recommended Citation

Papsdorf, Joshua David, "Ambrosiaster's theological anthropology: Nature, law and grace in the commentaries on the Pauline epistles and the “Quaestiones veteris et novi testamenti CXXVII”" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3310423.