The Rehabilitation of Eve
Full title: “The Rehabilitation of Eve in the De institutione uirginis of Ambrose of Milan”, in Religion in the Ancient World: New Themes and Approaches, ed. M. Dillon, Amsterdam. Hakkert, pp. 367-382.
by Kim E. Power
Given Ambrose’s influence on asceticism in general and Augustine in particular,(2) it is surprising that there has been little scholarly work of recent date on his ascetic texts.(3) His doctrine on Eve has received brief discussion in surveys of historical thought by Tavard ,(4) Lamirande ,(5) Clark ,(6) Thraede ,(7) and Miles .(8) Tavard argued that Ambrose presented the only profound typology of womanhood in the Latin world. His uniformly positive interpretation of Ambrose’s thought puts him at odds with Thraede who concludes that overall, Augustine’s theology of the imago Dei in woman is potentially more egalitarian.(9) Elizabeth Clark has suggested that the focus on Eve in the later Latin fathers was a response to Jovinian’s argument that sexual relationships existed in paradise and that asceticism was no more meritorious than marriage.(10) Certainly it was just before Jovinian’s condemnation by Pope Siricius in 392, that Ambrose preached his sermon On the consecration of a virgin and the perpetual virginity of Mary. The debate with Jovinian may explain why Ambrose suddenly introduced a portrait of a virginal Eve into his sermon on Mary’s virginity, after ignoring her in all his earlier treatises on virginity, but it will not explain why he finds it necessary to “rehabilitate” her in a manner distinctively different to writers such as Tertullian, Jerome and Augustine, who constructed an Eve /Mary dualism, where Mary replaces Eve as the true “mother of the living,” and Eve becomes a symbol of death through sin.(11) Today I want to explore Ambrose’s reformation of Eve, concentrating on those passages where he alters his earlier interpretation in De paradisio. I believe that a more detailed analysis of the texts will indicate that Ambrose’s interpretation of Eve is more ambiguous and nuanced than the positions espoused by either Tavard and Thraede, and directed to a goal more complex than that suggested by Clark.
The cultural context
The ascetical debates of the late fourth century took place against the background of a culture that assumed the ontological inferiority of women.(12) The primitive Christian communities, with their counter-cultural ethos, had bequeathed to the post-Constantinian church ambiguous traditions concerning the role of the Christian woman. On the one hand were the baptismal formulas, found in Gal. 3:28; on the other, were the household codes of the Pastoral epistles, exemplified by 1 Timothy. However, the lacunae between the cultural paradigms and Christian experience of women’s fortitude, courage and faith and leadership qualities, particularly during persecution, caused major problems in the fourth century.(13) These women had publicly displayed all the characteristics previously attributed to men, in numbers large enough to challenge the cultural assumptions about women. Furthermore, the Acts of the martyrs had immortalised certain of these women as symbolising the salvific role of “the One who was crucified for them.”(14)
The post-Constantinian church, powerfully engaged with Roman culture and in the process of baptising neo-Platonist and Stoic philosophies, needed to account for the manner of this transformation from weakness to power.(15) It was no longer enough to simply invoke the power of God. Ambrose is concerned to explain the whys and the wherefores of the process. His solution was grounded in the cultural assumption that men and women shared the same human essence, but inauspicious variable could cause the embryo to stop short of full human potential and be born female. In this system, if the essence is identical, the matter can be reformed into a fuller human being.(16) I will give just one example taken from the De institutione virginis which illustrates his position.(17)
Antequam Verbum Dei reciperet, hiems erat inhonora, sine fructu: ubi Verbum Dei recepit, et mundus ei est crucifixus, aestas est facta. Denique fervore sancti Spiritus vaporata, flos esse coepit, et spirare odorem fidei, fragrantiam castitatis, suavitatem gratiae.
Before she received the Word of God, she was winter, unsightly, and without fruit. When she received the Word of God, and the world was crucified to her, summer was created.(18) At last, infused with the heat(19) of the holy Spirit, she began to flower(20) and to breathe forth(21) the perfume of faith, the fragrance of chastity, the sweetness of grace.(22)
Thus, the Word of God could reform women into virile or manly creatures. However, she who is not a believer, remains merely woman.(23) However, it took more than a theological argument to break down the prejudices of the mass of new converts to Christianity. As Ambrose notes in De institutione the ‘common’ male tendency was to blame women for sin:
Accusamus autem plerumque femineum sexum, quod erroris causam invexerit: et non consideramus quanto justius in nos objurgatio retorqueatur. Nam ut repetamus a principio, et rerum exordia interrogemus, quantum ei delatum sit, investigabimus: et quam in misera conditionis humanae fragilitate femina tamen invenerit gratiam.
In fact, we commonly accuse the feminine sex because it introduced the cause of sin: and we do not consider how the rebuke could be turned back on us far more justly.(24) For, in order to return to the beginning, and examine the sources of this matter,(25) we shall investigate how much responsibility she must bear:(26) and what grace woman shall nevertheless find in the distressing fragility of the human condition.(27)
In returning to the beginnings, in order to reinterpret them, Ambrose uses the technique common to innovators who justify the new by demonstrating that it is truer to a group’s origins than whatever is commonly accepted. Perhaps his use of the first person plural was because his own early interpretations, influenced by 1 Tim. 2:14,(28) had also blamed women unilaterally for the world’s ills.
Keeping this background in mind I want to explore his mature position, commenting on the issues on which he changed his emphasis or interpretation over time.
1. Woman’s creation as good.
Ambrose never deviates from his position that the creation of woman was a positive good for humankind. “It was not good for man to be alone”, and therefore God created a helper for him who shares one flesh with him. This mystery points to two truths;
a) the one origin and one nature of the human race;
b) The mystery of Christ and the church
a) the one origin and one nature of the human race;
Eve/woman was made from Adam’s rib so that we might realise that the physical nature of both man and woman is identical and that there is one source for the propagation of the human race.…God willed it that human nature be established as one. (29)
This citation encapsulates very well the medical model I outlined above. Ignoring the marital implications of the text, Ambrose focuses on the common humanity of Adam and Eve, although in De paradisio he emphasises that this does not mean that they are equal. Instead, Adam’s creation outside paradise and Eve’s within it, reveals that accidents of birth have nothing to do with virtue.(30)
b) as the mystery of Christ and the church changes over time it will be discussed later in the contexts of its interpretation.
In both treatises Ambrose found it necessary to explain why God had not praised the creation of man as he praised all his other works: In De paradisio, the sole reason given is that before woman’s creation, human kind was not complete and therefore not worthy of praise. Although inferior, Eve was created as a procreative assistant for Adam; like the earth she receives, confines and fosters the seed, causing it to grow and to fruit in good time.(31) He finds it necessary to justify that an inferior can be a helper in her procreative role.
In that respect therefore, woman is a good helper even though in an inferior position. We find examples of this even in our own experience. We see how men in high and important offices often enlist the help of men who are below them in rank and esteem.(32)
Thus, God’s statement that all creation was very good included both sexes.(33) In the later text, Ambrose has found a further reason why her creation is good.(34) All God’s other works can be praised because they are praised for their appearance which is the manifestation of their nature. But human beings’ appearance, though more “noble” and “excellent” than other creatures, is their least important dimension.(35)
Hence, God reserved praise of human beings, because the goodness of the interior self, must first be tested.(36) Ambrose presents this delay as a good for humanity; if, he says, God had immediately praised us when he looked on us, he would have been valuing us according to the assessment of our bodies. But only irrational creatures are judged by the appearance of their bodies; those fully rational “should surrender praise common to all.”(37) Human beings distinguish themselves
Homo igitur mihi non tam vultu quam affectus admirandus emineat atque excellat;…et ideo laudatio eius non in exordio, sed in fine est: nemo enim nisi legitime certaverit, coronatur.
because their disposition of mind is admirable, not their countenance…their praise is not in their beginnings but in their ends: for no one receives the wreath of victory unless they have duly laboured.(38)
It is important to note the subtle nuancing of his preaching which harnesses Roman ideals of honour and shame to the Wisdom literature, to teach that God’s gifts are rewards tied to human effort and labour,(39) and that those things for which one might be praised in common with other people, are not really worthy of praise. In his view, the fully rational individual will only value elite and individualistic moral achievement.(40)
In these first sections of chapter 3 Ambrose is setting the true criteria for human judgement of others, which are to be applied to both sexes. Human beings are not to be despised as “cheap” because of their bodily form, but valued for their interior image of God; and they are not to be judged collectively, but individually for their achievement of virtue. However, one must be aware that he believed virtue would manifest itself in the body through gait, tone of voice, and serious demeanour. (41)
In doing so Ambrose attempts to counter the collective judgement of women according to their looks and inferior strength, rather than their deeds. Women, who valuing the things of God, display individual virtue reaching elite spiritual standards, thereby demonstrate their ‘full rationality,’ gain access to the honour previously reserved for ‘rational’ men. Such women he has already portrayed in chapters 1 and 2 as the ascetic and consecrated virgin, reformed by the Word, integrated in body mind and soul, worthy to be praised for her interior conformation to the image of Christ.
2. Eve was the first to sin
Eve was the first to sin, and responsible for sin.(42) Here I must disagree with Tavard who says that even in his early work, Ambrose leaves open the question of responsibility for sin.(43) What Ambrose said was this:
It seems to me, however, that the initial violation and deceit was due to the woman. Although there seems to be an element of uncertainty in deciding which of the two was guilty, we can discern the sex which was liable first to do wrong. Add to this the fact that she stands convicted in court whose previous error is afterward revealed. The woman is responsible for the man’s error and not vice-versa.(44)
However, over time there was a major change in his stance on both Eve’s motivation and her culpability. In the 377 text, she sins because of cupidity,(45) weakness in judgement,(46) and what is more serious, aware that she had sinned, she deliberately “lures” Adam into sin because she is afraid of leaving the garden alone.(47) There is one extenuating circumstance: Eve did not hear the command not to eat from God directly but from Adam, and that this was a factor in her succumbing to temptation.(48) Adam’s lapse is Eve’s fault, because he believed she would assist him. His only fault was trusting his wife,(49) and his is the first rebuke because the weaker sex begins by an act of disobedience, whereas the stronger sex is more liable to feelings of shame and forgiveness. The female furnished the occasion for wrongdoing, the male the opportunity to feel ashamed.(50)
Eve is not totally lost though, because she readily confesses her sin. Consequently, her punishment is lighter. She is placed under her husband’s rule so she will not sin again and dishonour her husband.(51) It is in this context of Eve’s sin and punishment that the Genesis text, “two in one flesh” is interpreted as a mystery of Christ and the church. Here, the “two in one flesh” is not a mystical union, but the service of the inferior to the superior. Eve is to serve her husband as the church serves Christ. Such servitude, says the young bishop, is a gift, for that is how Christians grow strong. Whoever wishes to be first must serve.(52)
In De inst. virginis we find a startling contrast. Eve
Mulier excusationem habet in peccato, vir non habet. Illa ut Scriptura asserit, a sapientissimo omnium serpente decepta est, tu a muliere: id est, illam superior creatura decepit, te inferior; te enim mulier decepit, illam malus licet, tamen angelus. Si tu inferiori non potuisti resistere, quomodo illa potuit superiori? Culpa tua illam absolvit.
Woman has an excuse for sin, man does not. As Scripture asserts, she was deceived by the wisest of all, the serpent, you men, by a woman. Which is to say, a superior creature deceived her, and an inferior one deceived you: for a woman deceived you, but an angel, even though an evil angel, deceived her. If you cannot resist an inferior, how could she resist a superior? Your sin absolves hers.(53)
Adding to Adam’s guilt was his inability to remain firm in his resolve when he had personally received God’s command. If Adam, could not remain steadfast, then how could she, his inferior?(54) Even then Adam’s shame is not complete. In this analysis, his dialogue with God gets a very different interpretation. Ambrose points out that, in reality, there is no dialogue. God simply accuses Adam, who responds by blaming his wife. Following his accusation, God does not accuse but questions Eve who voluntarily makes full confession: The young Ambrose had understood God as giving her a lighter punishment because of this. The older Ambrose subtly transforms this into “greater absolution.”(55) Concomitant with this shift in emphasis is the transformation of her primary punishment from subjection to male rule, to her bearing her children in pain and sorrow. According to Ambrose, Eve receives the lighter sentence, because Adam’s punishment is dissolution into dust.(56) Ambrose argues from this contrived disparity of their sentences that Eve’s was the lesser responsibility. The “lightness” of Eve’s sentence is a moot point here and more a sleight of hand than real. In the Genesis text, both men and women shared the death penalty, and both received parallel sentences in this life – she to bear children in greater pain(57) and he to till the earth in suffering (Gen. 2: 16-19).
Finally, Ambrose argues that Adam’s response to God’s interrogation shows that Adam refused to accept full responsibility for his crime, blaming Eve, even before God has accused her, whereas Eve accepted full responsibility. Her confession, which exonerates him, is “medicine” for her sin.(58) What is more, she showed mercy to the man who showed her none, “preferring if possible to absolve her accuser rather than to bind him.”(59) In addition, as we saw above, in the fullness of time grace, in the person of Jesus, was born from her fragility.(60) Ambrose had also found excuses for Eve in the De officiis , written c. 387, half way between the two texts we are exploring. Adam and Eve, being one flesh, and hopefully one spirit, had goodwill set within them by God. Therefore Eve believed the serpent because she had no experience of malevolence.(61)
3. Eve as source of redemption
A central tenet of Ambrose’s thought was that if woman sinned, she also brought salvation. Even in the De paradisio he explains this understanding clearly. Influenced by 1 Tim 2:15’s teaching that women will be saved by child bearing, Ambrose turns this future promise into a present reality, arguing that in this role, in the person of Mary, woman bore Christ, and so has been saved already.(62) In De institutione virginis he will develop his thought further when he offers two reasons for Eve’s redemption. Firstly, having borne her children in sorrow, woman has worked out her penal servitude and been forgiven.(63) Secondly, Eve has returned again in Mary: Eve and Mary do not oppose each other as extremes of virtue, rather they merge into one figure. Eve-Mary has not only brought the world the song of virginity, she gave birth to Christ: through her, God has called many women and consecrated the virginal womb, “the temple of modesty.”(64)
4. Eve as symbol of Church and Life
Finally, we come to a most significant aspect of Ambrose’s thought. In De institutione virginis, he offers a new symbolic meaning of “two in one flesh”; whilst still a mystery of the church, the image no longer symbolises women’s servitude, but is interpreted through the lens of Ephesians 5: 31-32. Eve, created from Adam’s side prefigures grace; through her the mystery of the church’s relationship to heaven is fulfilled, and thanks to her Christ has descended. Both Eve and the church are fittingly called Life.(65) Through Eve, humanity has been given birth, and through the church, believers are born to eternal life. Here, Eve plays the symbolic role usually attributed to Mary.(66) However, it is notable that in interpreting the meaning of “two in one flesh” that Ambrose never applies it to sexual intercourse within marriage. That cannot symbolise heavenly things.(67) Intercourse did not occur until after Eve’s expulsion from the garden. Adam and Eve are one flesh, “because she was taken from her husband, not because she has known man”;(68) just as Eve is ‘flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone’, so we as members of Christ’s body are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.(69)
Certainly, Eve symbolises earthly life and the church spiritual life, nevertheless, in this context, it is apparent that in the recapitulation of salvation history, there need be no ontological dysfunction in women, just as there manifestly could be none in the church. God is now related to earthly life as he was related to Adam and Eve in Paradise, when, significantly, they were celibates. In the perpetual virginity of Mary, paradisial virginity has returned to the earth. Innocence is regained, incarnated in the bodies of the virgins of the church, who have conquered even Satan.(70) In them the angelic life is permeating the world:
Truly after the Lord came into the body and fused into one a fellowship of divinity and of body, then it was that this heavenly way of life was implanted in human bodies, spread through the whole world. This is what the angels ministering on earth revealed as a race which was to come, which would offer the Lord ministry by the sacrifice of an immaculate body. This is the ministry which a host of angels singing praise promised on earth.(71)
Earlier I mentioned Ambrose’s agenda in rehabilitating Eve. Certainly, he is addressing the question of sexuality in Eden. If Clark’s reconstruction of Jovinian’s argument is correct, then certainly Ambrose is reacting quickly to suppress any counter ascetical arguments based on Adam and Eve’s sexual relationship in Paradise. He firmly established their virginal state, which is recapitulated in Jesus and Mary.
But the context in De institutione offers further clues to his goal. Having disposed of Eve’s responsibility for sin in Paradise, Ambrose moves immediately to challenge the stereotype of woman as seductress.(72) He firmly states that “it is no vice in a woman to be born what she is,” and that to blame her for her beauty is to blame the divine artist, God. Rather, the vice lies in men who seek out women for the wrong reasons. Men should wed women for their character, not their beauty. For even a strong man may lose his head over a woman’s beauty,(73) and he may seduce women who are weaker than himself, if he values beauty rather than virtue. In an ambiguous passage Ambrose writes
Si ergo uxor tentatio est, esto cautior, quaere remedium adversus tentationis periculum. Vigilate, inquit, et orate, ne intretis in tentationem.
If a wife is a temptation, be more careful, seek the cure for the danger of temptation. “Stay awake,” he said, “and pray lest you enter into temptation” (Mt. 26:41)(74)
It is possible that Ambrose was referring to the sin of adultery, but I consider this unlikely for two reasons. Firstly, the omission of the personal pronoun in the Latin indicates that the woman in question is the man’s own wife, and secondly, if he had meant adultery, he would neither have scrupled to say so, nor stopped at advising caution. That a wife might be a temptation to sexual sin might be surprising to modern mentality, but not to the Christians of late antiquity. It is clear from second century writings onward that Christian couples were exhorted to observe long and frequent periods of abstinence, and that, in Milan specifically, there was a stream of opinion that considered all committed married Christians should be continent, as were Adam and Eve before their Fall.(75) Hence a wife might unwittingly even, become a sexual temptation, for which the remedy is prayer and fasting. Ambrose here kills two birds with one stone: he subtly exhorts men to marital chastity by challenging men to equal women’s penitence and piety. Women’s recognition of sin within themselves, typified in Eve’s confession of culpability, leads them to fast and pray, not only when mandatory, but voluntarily, on a daily basis. Referring to the exhortation to stay awake and pray he states pithily,
Dominus hoc dixit, vir audivit, mulier implevit .… Ambo manducastis, cur sola jejunat? hoc est, ambo delinquistis, cur sola remedium quaerit errori?
The Lord said this, man heard it, women fulfilled it. … Both of you ate, why is she the only one to fast? That is to say, both of you went astray, why is she the only one who seeks a remedy for the mistake?(76)
Ambrose’s argument is consistent with other evidence indicating that women were more devout than men in late antiquity.(77) However, Ambrose does not seek to shame men, by using women’s example, in the way that Augustine will later do.
Having hammered home his point that Eve has sincerely confessed, done penance and been forgiven, in several different ways he immediately summons Eve, in the person of the virgin Ambrosia, into the centre of the ecclesial community. This Eve, living a penitential life, not only regains Paradise but is carried off into heaven.(78) To emphasise her complete rehabilitation he traces her redemptive history through biblical typology. He adduces Sarah’s laughter at Isaac’s birth as clear evidence that woman no longer brings forth her children in sorrow but in joy;(79) this use of Sarah allows Ambrose to call upon the typos of Isaac and Jesus as authority for his argument and to develop it further. If Isaac is a prophetic type for Jesus, then Sarah is a type of Eve-Mary. God bid Abraham, “Listen to Sarah your wife!” (Gen. 21:12) If the mother of Isaac deserved to be heard, how much more do Christian women, graced in the person of Mary mother of God, deserve to be heard argues Ambrose? Woman now has a voice in the community, because Mary is the new Eve. Her new name, Mary, means “God brought forth from me,” according to Ambrose.(80) As Miriam sweetened the bitter waters at Mara with charcoal, Mary sweetened the bitterness of the human condition with grace of the Word of God, united in Jesus.(81)
So it would seem that Ambrose’s goals were not simply to counter Jovinian, but to establish the validity of ascetic women as exemplars of piety, who could lead by example if not teach in church.(82) In this context he is not only praising virgins and widows, whom he proclaimed as the priesthood of chastity,(83) but married women who may have wanted to persuade their spouses into continent marriages.(84) Ambrose’s vision of ascetic Christianity, as exemplified by pious women, met with many obstacles. Some of these lay in strongly entrenched cultural stereotypes and myths concerning women, further reinforced by negative Christian images of Eve.(85) His brave attempt to rehabilitate Eve to establish the validity of women’s right to teach through the body language at least, could not survive Augustine’s development of the doctrine of original sin.
Whilst my reading of these passages does not permit me to conclude with Tavard that in Ambrose’s typology Eve is presented as the principle of completion and perfection of humanity,(86) I would agree that his portrait of Christian womanhood is significant for several reasons.
- Firstly it offers evidence of an ecclesial tradition that accepted that women could image Christ in his salvific role;
- Secondly, it indicates the important role played by women in the development of the ascetic movement, and offers a model of partnership between men and women, albeit with asymmetrical power;(87)
- Thirdly, it facilitated new social relationships in asserting women’s right to choose virginity over marriage, and ascetic women’s standing as equal to men’s in the community;(88)
- Finally, it helped establish a new praxis, by which ascetics both male and female could insert themselves into this new world;
1. Significant examples of general studies on women and asceticism in the early church are George Tavard, Woman in Christian tradition, London: Univeristy of Notre Dame Press, 1973; Roger Gryson, The ministry of women in the early church, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976; :Jo-Ann MacNamara, “Sexual equality and the cult of virginity in early Christian thought” in Feminist studies, vol. 3, (1976), pp. 145-158; Elizabeth A. Clark and H. Richardson, Women and Religion, New York: Harper and Row, 1977; Elizabeth A. Clark Ascetic piety and women’s faith,: Essays on late ancient Christianity, studies in women and religion 20, Lewiston, Queenstown: Edwin Mellen Press, 1979; andWomen in the early church, Message of the fathers of the church series, 13, Delaware: Glazier Press, 1983; Bernadette Brooten, “Early Christian women and their cultural context: Issues of method in historical reconstruction” in Feminist perspectives on Biblical scholarship, ed. Adela Yarbro Collins, Chico, California: Scholar’s Press, 1985, pp. 65-91; Peter Brown, The body and society: Men, women and sexual renunciation in early Christianity, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988; Virginia Burrus “The heretical woman as symbol in Alexander, Athanasius, Epiphanius and Jerome.” HTR, 84. 3. (1991) pp. 229-48.
2. For a reassessment of Ambrose’s influence on western asceticism David Hunter, “Who is the Virgin Bride?” Paper presented at NAPS Conference, May, 1992; and “Helvidius, Jovinian and the virginity of Mary in late fourth-century Rome,” JECS, 1, 1, (1993), pp.47-71.
3. Post 1960 I have been able to find only Peter Brown in The body and society. Yves-Marie Duval, “L’originalité du De virginibus dans le mouvement ascétique occidental. Ambroise, Cyprien, Athanase,” in Ambroise de Milan: XVI e Centeniare de son élection épiscopale, ed. Yves Marie Duval, Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1974, pp. 9-66.
4. George Tavard, Woman, in the Christian tradition, London/Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1973, pp. 100, 102-109.
5. Émilien Lamirande, “Quelques visages de séductrices pour une théologie de la condition féminine selon Saint Ambroise,” Science et esprit, XXXI, 2, (1979), pp. 173-189 does not focus on ascetic texts.
6. Elizabeth A. Cark, “Heresy, asceticism, Adam, and Eve: Interpretations of Genesis 1-3 in the later Latin fathers” in Ascetic piety and women’s faith: Essays on Late Ancient Christinity, Lewiston/Queenston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1986, pp. 361, 357.
7. Klaus Thraede, “Zwischen Eva und Maria: das Bild der Frauen bei ambrosius und Augustine auf dem Hintergrund der Zeit” in Frauen in Spätantike ind Frühmittelalter: Lebenbedingungen – Lebensnormen – Lebensformen Redaktion by Ursula Vorwerk, Sigmaringen: Jan thorbecke Verlag: 1990, pp. 129-139. Thraede refers to Ambrose only in the most general terms. The focus of his study is the cultural context of early Chritianity.
8. Margaret Miles, Carnal Knowing: Female nakedness and religious meaning in the Christian West. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. Miles refers only to Ambrose’s treatment of Eve in De paradisio.
9. See Tavard, Woman, pp. 100, 102-109;
10. Clark, “Heresy,” pp. 361,357.
11. This is one of the earliest affirmations of Mary’s universal motherhood. The doctrine of Irenaeus is in Against heresies. Vols. 1-2, ANCL, Vols. 5 and 9, Eds. Roberts and Donaldson, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1868, 1869. See also F. Quasten, Patrology, Vol. 1, Utrecht: Spectrum Books, 1960, p. 297, and A. J. Mc Kenzie, “The patristic witness to Mary as the new Eve,” Marian Studies, 29, 1978, pp. 67-78.
12. Kim E. Power, “Sexuality and sanctity” paper presented at the SBL/AAR International Conference, Melbourne, July, 1992.
13. Eusebius, HE, on the martyrs of Lyon, Acts of Perpetua, Ambrose, De virginibus on Agnes.
14. Eusebius HE 5. 1.33-1.47, pp. 144-145; cf. Ambrose, De virg. 2. 35. PL. 16 228 C. Shiels, p. 56. hic una virgo, quae primo etiam sexum vinceret.
15. Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve and the Serpent, New York: Vintage Books, 1989, p. 82, cites Ramsaey Macmullen, Christianising the Roman Empire, (AD 100-400), New haven/London: 1984, p. 86, to the effect that in the century after Constantine’s conversion the number of Christians grew from approximately 5 million to 30 million.
16. My argument here it takes its cue from the research of Thomas Laqueur, Making sex: body and gender from the Greeks to Freud, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. See also, Pieter Willem Van der Horst, “Sarah’s seminal emission: Hebrews 11:11 in the light of ancient embryology,” in Greeks, Romans and Christians: Essays in honor of Abraham Malherbe, Eds David L. Balch, Everett Ferguson and Wayne Meeks, Minneapolis, Fortess Press, 1990, pp.287-302; Jean-Jacques Aubert, “Threatened wombs: Aspects of ancient uterine magic,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine studies, 30, 3, (1989), pp. 421-449. For the influence of the model on ambrose in particular see Kim E. Power, “Philosophy, medicine and gender inthe ascetic texts of Ambrose of Milan,” Ancient history in a modern university: a tribute to Edwin Judge, Macquarie University, July, 1993.
17. For women as inferior to men in their ‘natural state, see notes * above and De viduis, 7.37; 8.44. PL. 16 259 A; 261 A. NPNF 2. 10, pp. 397; 398-99.
18. Reversal of imagery. The natural beauty of the virgin in the bloom of youth is really winter until Christ fecundates her soul. Other unmarried women are winter compared to the virgin bride who is fertile summer.
19. [lit; raging heat] here is the medical model. The great heat of spirit of holiness is infused into her, acting as a fertilising agent. Ipso facto, the infuser must be male/masculine.
20. flos = flower, honey of blossom, crown, head of something, ornament most flourishing condition, youthful innocence of virgins flos aetatis.
21. See the perfume imagery in the SS.
22.De inst. virg. 1. 3. PL. 16 320 A. Cf similar references to the church in De mysteriis sive initiandis, 1. 56-57, FC 44, pp. 26-27.
23. Expos. in ev. sec. Luc. 10. 161 CC. 14, p. 392. Quae non credit mulier est et adhuc corporei sexuas appellatione signatur; nam quae credit ocurit in virum perfectum, un mensuram aetatis plenitudinis Christi, carens iam nomine saeculi, coprois sexu, lubrico iuventutis, multiloquio senectutine. And De virginitate 4. 20. PL 16 285 B, Callam, p. 15. See also Ep. 69 to Irenaeus, FC 26 Ep. 78, pp. 435-437, where he defines some of the differences between men and women. The whole letter is based on the asumption of men’s innate superiority.
24. The occasion was the profession of a virgin, Ambrosia.
25. Because of Eden I think he means, but I’m not sure how best to put it.
26. De inst. virg. 3.16, PL. 16. 323 B.-D
27. De inst. virg. .3. 16 PL. 16. 323 C.
28. Ambrose cites 1 Tim. 2. 14-15in De paradisio 10. 48; 12. 56; 14. 72. CSEL 32.1 FC 42. pp. 327; 337; 351.
29.De paradisio 10. 48 CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 327. Cf. De inst. virg. .4. 23 PL. 16. 325 B. Although he does not go into such detail in De inst. virginis. he points out that although Eve was made from flesh and Adam from mud, they are both made from mud; in the case of Eve it was simply ‘pre-formed’ into flesh.
30.De paradisio 4. 24, CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 301.
31.De paradisio 10. 48; 46;CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 327, 325. Cf. De inst. virg. 3.22. PL. 16. 325 Ambrose does not mention procreations but see De off. 28. 134, PL. 16 67 C, NPNF 2/10, p. 23. De off. is dated either 386/389 so is close to De inst. virg.
32.De paradisio 10. 48 CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 327.
33.De paradisio 10. 46 CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 325.
34.De inst. virg. 3.17 – 22. PL. 16. 324 A 325 B.
35.De inst. virg. 3.17. PL. 16. 324 A.
36. De inst. virg. 3. 18-19. PL. 16. 324 B-C.
37. De inst. virg. 3. 20. PL. 16. 324 C.
38. De inst. virg. 3. 21. PL. 16. 324 D-325 A. Note that in the Latin, the “marked” linguistic gender expresses the male gender as normative.
39. Clark suggests that such arguments in early ascetic treatises supported the devleopment of ascetic Pelagiansim.
40. De inst. virg. 3. 21. PL. 16. 324 D. Cf De virginibus, 1. 6. 30. PL. 16. 208 A. Bright, p. 90.
41. De off. 18. 71-75 PL. 16. 48D-49 D. NPNF 2/10, pp. 13-14.
42. De paradisio 4. 24. CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 302; De inst. virg. 4. 25. PL. 16. 325 Cf. De virginitate, 13. 81., PL. 16. 300 D, Callam, p. 41. this is one of the few places where an overtly sexual innuendo is found. Satan entered through Eve’s “window” and “door” a term he uses extensively for virginal genitalia, and so all the “gates” of the virginal body, including the mouth, must be closed to deny him entrance. If Eve’s door had remained closed, Adam would not have been deceived. There is conflict re the dating of this tract, with Dudden following Palanqué dating it at 377 and Callam, following Cazzaniga, dating it at 388/90.
43. Tavard, Woman, p. 105.
44. De paradisio 12. 56 CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 336.
45. De paradisio 6. 33-34. CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 311-312.
46. De paradisio 4. 24. CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p.
47. De paradisio 6. 33-34. CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 310-312. Having been created to be a helper to man, woman drew him into sin instead.
48. De paradisio 12. 54 CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. pp. 332-333. De inst. virg. 4. 26. PL. 16. 326 A.
49. De paradisio 13. 62. CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 343.
50. De paradisio 14.70. CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 349
51. Note that it is her husband’s honour that is at stake here. Not God’s honour or even her own. Cf. the anthopological resaerch concerning women and male honour in S. Ortner and H. Whitehead, Sexual Meanings.
52. De paradisio 14. 72. CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 350. Cf. references to wives as slaves in De virginibus, 27, 55-56, PL. 16 Bright, pp. 89,97-98; Exh. 3. 19-25; 4.21. PL. 16. 357 C -358 C; 358 A. In the Exhortatio his agenda is different. He is concerned here with the attractions of virginity, one of which is self-determination, as opposed to the bonds of matrimony, which he is intent to paint in graphic terms.
53. De inst. virg. .4. 25. PL. 16. 325 D-326 A.
54. De inst. virg. .4. 26. PL. 16. 325 D-326 A.
55. De inst. virg. 4. 27. PL. 16. 326 B.
56. De inst. virg. 4. 26. PL. 16. 326 A.
57. The fathers tend to ignore the comparative nature of this suffering. That is the Genesis text does not say that Eve will begin to suffer in childbirth but that her pain will increase. Gen. 3:16.
58. De inst. virg. .4.28 PL. 16. 326 B.
59. De inst. virg. 4. 27. PL. 16. .
60. De inst. virg. .4. 29. PL. 16. 326 C.
61. De off. 32. 169 PL. 16. 78 B. NPNF, 2/10, P. 29.
62. De paradisio 10.46. CSEL 32.1 FC 42. p. 325
63. De inst. virg. 4. 29. PL. 16. 326 C.
64. De inst. virg. 5. 33. PL. 16. 327 C -328 A. Cf. Exh. 4. 26 PL. 16. 359 A. “through his birth of a virgin he acquitted the fall of a woman.”
65. De inst. virg. 4. 24. PL. 16. 325 B. Cf De virginibus, 1. 6. 31. PL. 16. 208 B. Bright, p. 91.Exh. 7. 43. PL. 16. 364 B, where he emphasises that the church’s labour is without the sadness of labour, as compared to women who bear in sadness. Again, his change of emphasis is related to his desire to make marriage seem unattractive as compared to virginity, and also to highlight the dispensation of grace as opposed to that of nature.
66. This is a very different stance to Augustine’s later treatment of Eve, where Eve’s children are born to death until reborn in mother church. K. E. Power, “To love more ardently” St. Augustine on virginitas,” Tjurunga, 1991.
67. De Cain et Abel, 1. 46. CSEL 32/1 . FC 42, p. 399-400.
68. De inst. virg. 5. 36. PL. 16. 329 C
69. Epistle 76 to Iranaeus,
70. De virginibus, 1. 4. 19. PL. 16 206 A. Bright, p. 87. Cf. Exh. 6. 36. PL. 16. 361 D. They symbolise that Adam who existed before sin, that Eve who existed before the deceitful state of the serpent might have shed his venom, before they were tripped up by his snares, in that they did not have that by which they were disordered. This trans. may need to be tidied but I want to keep the idea that sex is of itself a disorder that came with sin, and the play on words so that confundo means both joined together, confused and confounded.
71. De virginibus, 1. 3. 13. PL. 16 203 A-B, Bright, p. 86.
72. De inst. virg. 4. 30-31. PL. 16. 326 C -327 B.
73. De inst. virg. 4. 30. PL. 16. 327 A. Cf. De off. 20. 87 PL. 16. 54 B, NPNF 2/10, p. 16. Quam multos etiam fortes decepit illecebra? De Romeston translates illecebra by passion; enticements or inducements might be a closer trans.
74. De inst. virg. 4. 31. PL. 16. 327 A.
75. Augustine, Confessiones,; 2nd Century, Clement of Alexandria; See discussion in Peter Brown, The body and society: men, women and sexual renunciation in early Christianity, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988; Brundage, Law ;
76. De inst. virg. 4. 31. PL. 16. 327 B. Ambrose’s argument is consistent with other evidence indicating that women were more devout than men in late antiquity. However, Ambrose does not seek to shame men, by using women’s example, in the way that Augustine did later. In De vidius, Ambrose states that temperance is a womanly virtue, and he gives a history of women as leaders in the battles of faith. for the former see 7. 40 PL. 16. 260 A. NPNF 2/10, p. 398; the latter, 8. 50, PL. 16, 263 A. NPNF 2/10, p. 399. See also Contra Celsum, Christianity a religion of women and slaves, Augustine, exhorting men to be more devout lest they reveal themselves as effeminate and secondary sources*.
77. In De vidius, Ambrose states that temperance is a womanly virtue, and he gives a history of women a leaders in the battles of faith. for the former see 7. 40 PL. 16. 260 A. NPNF 2/10, p. 398; the latter, 8. 50, PL. 16, 263 A. NPNF 2/10, p. 399. See also Contra Celsum, Christianity a religion of women and slaves, Augustine, exhorting men to be more devout lest they reveal themselves as effeminate and secondary sources*.
78. De inst. virg. 5. 32. PL. 16. 327 C.
79. See Exh. 3. 15 PL. 16. 355 D. Consider the words Ambrose places in the mouth of Juliana: “you are the son of my vows much more than of my pains.”
80. De inst. virg. 5. 32-33. PL. 16. 327 C -328 B. This parallels the change of address to Mary Magdalene in Christ’s post resurrection appearance. When she fails to recognize him she is “woman.” When he calls her by name she is renewed in faith and becomes a “virile” or manly Christian. Expos. evan. sec. Luc. 10. 161, CC 14, p. 43.
81. De inst. virg. 5. 34. PL. 16. 328 B. Cf. De virginibus, 12, PL. 16. 202 D Bright, p. 85, where Miriam leading the singing after the Exodus is a type of the church which sings praise to God.
82. For his opposition to women teaching in church see Expos. evan. sec. Luc. 10. 166. CC 14, p. 393
83. De virginibus, 1. 7. 33. PL. 16. 209, B. Bright, p. 91. Virgo Dei donum est, munus parentis, sacerdotium castitas. Virgo matris hostia est, cuius quotidiano sacrificio vis divina placatur.
84. And it is a married woman that he holds up as exemplar in Exh. Here he actually places the words of the major part of his sermon in Juliana’s mouth; Thus she teaches indirectly through Ambrose.
85. It is clear from his earlier sermons that there was opposition to his ascetic preaching in Milan, as there was opposition to Jerome in Rome, especially after Blaesilla’s death. See the work of David Hunter on Ambrosiaster, and Hagith Sara Sivan, “On hymens and holiness in Late Antiquity: Opposition to aristocratic female asceticism at Rome” SBL/AAR International Conference, Melbourne. July, 1992.
86. Tavard, Woman, p. 103.
87. For my understanding of the social function of ascetcism I am dependent upon Richard Valantasis, “The social function of asceticism,” NAPS Meeting, Chicargo, May, 1992.
88. On the opposition to such enhancement of status see David G. Hunter, “The paradise of patriarchy: Ambrosiaster on women as (not) God’s image,” JTS 43, 2, (1992), 447-469. Hunter situates the whole late fourth century debate concern in whether women were made in God’s image in the context in the debates over the role asceticism assigned to women and their influence in the church. For Augustine’s teaching on woman as imago Dei see Power, Augustine’s theology, ch. 4.
This website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.
The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.
You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.
Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.
The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.