And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing: I pray you, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
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Ambrose of Milan
Some might still be struck by the fact that Abraham had a relationship with his slave girl when he was already conversing with God, as it is written: “Sarah said to Abraham, ‘See now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid to make children from her.’ ” And this is exactly what happened. But we should consider first of all that Abraham lived prior to the law of Moses and before the gospel; adultery, it seems, was not yet prohibited at this time. The penalty for the crime goes back only to the time of the law, which made adultery a crime. So there is no condemnation for the offense that precedes the law but only one based on the law. Abraham then cannot be said to have violated the law since he came before the law. Though in paradise God had praised marriage, he had not condemned adultery. In fact, he does not wish the death of sinners, and for this reason he promises the reward without exacting the penalty. Indeed, God prefers to stimulate with mild proddings than to terrify with severe threats. If you too sinned, when you were a pagan, you have an excuse. But now you have come to the church and have heard the law, “You shall not commit adultery,” you no longer have an excuse for the offense. However, since this discourse is directed also to those who are inscribed to receive the grace of baptism, if anyone has committed such a grave sin, let him be sure that he will be pardoned, but as one who has committed an offense. Let him know, however, that for the future he is obliged to abstain. Indeed, in the case of the adulterous woman spoken of in the Gospel, whom the scribes and Pharisees presented to the Lord, the Lord forgave her former sins but said, “Go, and from now on be careful not to sin any more.” In saying this to her, he says it to you. You have committed adultery as a pagan; you have sinned as a catechumen. The sin is forgiven you, remitted through baptism; go, and in the future, see that you do not sin. Such is the first defense of Abraham. .