Part 4
Chapter 3—Of Original Sin

Section 24—Ambrosius Mediolanensis. A.D. 380.

Ambrose of Milain abounds with testimonies to the doctrine of original sin, and the depravity and weakness of human nature: “We have all,” says he,[1] “sinned in the first man, and through a succession of nature, a succession also of the fault is transfused from one to all. Adam is in each of us, for in him human nature failed, because through one sin passed upon all.” Again[2] “The species of mankind may be considered in one: Adam was, and in him all were; Adam perished, et in illo omnes perierunt, and in him all have perished.” And in another place he says,[3] “All men are born under sin, quorum ipso ortis in vitio est, whose very beginning itself is in sin, according to Psalm 51:5.” And elsewhere he thus expresses himself:[4] “I am fallen in Adam, I am cast out of paradise in Adam, am dead in Adam; how could he call me back, unless he had found me in Adam, as obnoxious to fault in him? A debt to death, so justified in Christ.” Once more, says he,[5] “We are all begotten in bondage. Why dost thou assume the arrogance of liberty in a servile condition? Why dost thou usurp the titles of nobility, O servile inheritance. Thou knowest not that the fault of Adam and Eve has bound thee to servitude.” Yea, he says,[6] antequam nascamur maculamur contagio, “‘before we were born we are spotted with the infection;' and before the use of light we receive the injury of its original; we are conceived in iniquity;” with more that follows to the same purpose. It would be too tedious to transcribe all the passages of this father which speak of this doctrine; I shall therefore refer the learned reader to the places in the margin,[7] which he may consult at his leisure. Hence he frequently inculcates the inability of man to do any good thing of himself, and the necessity of divine grace and assistance. “We often talk,” says he,[8] “of avoiding this world; I wish the affection was as cautious and careful as the talk is easy; but what is worse frequently the allurement of earthly lust creeps in, and a flood of vanities seizes the mind, that what you study to shun, that you think of, and roll over in your heart; which to beware of is difficult to men, to put off, impossible. Moreover, that this is a matter rather of wish than affection, the prophet testifies, saying, Incline my heart to thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness: Non enim in potestate nostra est cor nostrum, ‘for our heart is not in our own power.' Who is so happy as always in his cart to ascend? But how can this be without divine help? Truly by no means, according to Psalm 84:5.” Again:[9] “Who can ascend from earthly things to heavenly, from the shadow to, clearness, from the exemplar to the inner chambers of truth, by human steps, sine divino ductu, without divine guidance?” And in another place he says,[10] “Because human nature without divine aid is weak, it requires God a helper to heal it.” Elsewhere he says,[11] “Neither can any say, that man can procure more for himself than what is bestowed upon him by a divine gift.” Having mentioned the complaint and conduct of the apostle Paul, in Romans 7:23-25, he makes this observation,[12] “that if he that was stronger did not commit himself to his own strength, that he might escape the body of death, but sought help from Christ, quid nos facere oportet infirmiores, what should we do who are more infirm?” He ascribes men's having a will to that which is good, and the beginning of every good action, unto God. “He that follows Christ,” he observes,”[13] “being asked why he should be a Christian, may answer, it seemed good to me; which, when he says, he does not deny that it seemed good to God; a Deo enim preparatur voluntas hominum, ‘for the will of men is prepared by God;' for that God is honored by a saint is owing to the grace of God.” Again:[14] “you see that everywhere the power of God cooperates with human endeavors; no man can build any thing without the Lord; nemo quidquam incipere sine Domino, no man can begin, any thing without the Lord.” As for man in a state of unregeneracy, Ambrose was so far from supposing that he has a free will to that which is good, that he represents him in a state of bondage and slavery; “The soul.” says he,[15] “is fastened as with nails to corporal pleasures, and when it is once immersed in earthly lusts, it sticks fast, so that it is difficult, to fly back on high, front whence it descends, sine favore Dei, without the grace of God.” Again:[16] “Every passion is servile, for he that commits sin is the servant of sin; and what is worse, multorum servus est, ‘he is the servant of many;' he that is subject to vices has given himself up to many lords, so that he can scarcely come out of the service.” Once more:[17] “He that is in sin cannot be said to be free, but a servant, whom the grievous bonds of sin hold.” I do not remember that either Vossius or Dr. Whitby has either produced or referred to one single passage in this father in favor of free will.


[1] Apolog. David. 2, c. 12, p. 519, 520.

[2] In Luc. 1. 7, p. 169.

[3] De Poenitent. 1. 1, c. 3, p. 388.

[4] De Fide Resurrect. In obit. satyr, p. 322.

[5] De Jacob. 1. 1, c. 3. p. 314.

[6] Enarr. In Psalm 1. p. 835.

[7] De Noe, c. 12, p. 194; de Jacob, 1. 1, c. 3, p. 313; Apolog David. l, c. 5, p. 496, et c. 8, p. 512; de Tobia, c. 6, p. 589, c. 23, p. 601; Enarr. in Psalm 48, p 825, 826, in Psalm 119. Zad. p. 1052, Koph, p. 1057, Res. p. 1065; in Luc. 1. 4. p. 72, 1. 7, p. 133; de Initiaud. c. 6, p. 347; vide plura in Aug. contr, duas Epist. Pelag. 1. 4, c. 11.

[8] De Fuga Seculi. c. 1, p. 351.

[9] Enarr. In Psalm 119. Gimel, p. 894.

[10] Expos. in Isaiah apud Aug. contr, duas Epist. Pelag. 1. 4, c. 11.

[11] De Paradiso, c. 5, p. 116.

[12] De Abraham, 1. 2, c. 6, p. 251.

[13] In Luc. 1. 1, p. 8.

[14] Ibid.1. 2, p. 88.

[15] Ibid. 1.4, p. 71.

[16] De Jacob. 1. 2. c. 3 p 327.

[17] Enarr. in Psalm 36, p. 689.