Recent Posts

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Doctors of The Church for September: Gregory the Great


Gregory the Great is called "The Apostle to the English" as he sent the missionaries from the Benedictines, which began the great monastery at Canterbury.

Of course, this wonderful Doctor of the Church gives his name to Gregorian Chant.


What better tribute today than an English choir singing Gregorian Chant.


Would like comments from Brits on this one...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11069121/Scottish-Independence-Yes-camp-closes-the-poll-gap.html

Doctors of The Church for September: Gregory the Great



One day, when St. Gregory the Great was aware of a person in his congregation who did not believe in the Real Presence, he stopped and asked God for a sign for this person.

At the Consecration, Christ appeared with His Bloody Wounds.

Such was the faith and care of this great saint.

Doctors of The Church for September: Gregory the Great


Gregory the Great, like St. Jerome, was a intrepid letter writer. I have chosen one out of many to show his real concern for practical matters.

Nothing should escape the attention of a holy man.

Epistle XXXII.

To Peter, Subdeacon of Sicily. Gregory to Peter, &c.
By information received from Romanus the guardian (defensore) I have learnt that the monastery of handmaidens of God which is on the farm of Monotheus has suffered wrong from our church of Villa Nova with respect to a farm belonging to the latter, which is said to have been leased to the said monastery. If this is so, let thy Experience restore to them the farm, and also the payments from the same farm for the two indictions during which thou hast exacted them. Moreover, since many of the Jews dwell on the estates of the Church, I desire that, if any of them should be willing to become Christians, some little of their dues be remitted to them, to the end that others also, incited by this benefit, may be moved to a like desire.
Cows which are now barren from age, or bulls which appear to be quite useless, ought to be sold, so that at least some profit may accrue from their price. But as to the herds of mares which we keep very unprofitably, I wish them all to be dispersed, and four hundred only of the younger kept for breeding; which four hundred ought to be presented to the farmers [1423] --so many to each, to the end that they may make some return to us from them in successive years: for it is very hard for us to spend sixty solidi on the herdsmen, and not get sixty pence from these same herds. Let then thy Experience so proceed that some may be divided among all the farmers, and others dispersed and converted into money. But so arrange with the herdsmen themselves throughout our possessions that they may be able to make some profit by cultivation of the ground. All the implements which, either at Syracuse or at Panormus, can be claimed by the Church must be sold before they perish entirely from age.
On the arrival of the servant of God, brother Cyriacus, at Rome I questioned him closely as to whether he had communicated with thee about the receiving of a bribe in the cause of a certain woman. And the same brother says that he had learnt the state of the case from thy telling him, for that he had been commissioned by thee to ascertain who was the person commissioned to pay the bribe. This I believed, and immediately received him familiarly into favour, introduced him to the people and clergy, increased his stipend [1424] , placed him in a superior rank among the guardians, praising his fidelity before all, in that he had acquitted himself so faithfully in thy service; and I have consequently sent him back to thee. But, inasmuch as thou art in great haste, and I, though sick, am desirous of seeing thee, do thou leave some one whom thou hast fully proved to take thy place in the Syracusan district, and thyself make haste to come to me, that, if it should please Almighty God, we may consult together as to whether thou thyself oughtest to return thither or another person should be appointed in thy place. At the same time I have sent Benenatus the notary to occupy thy place in the patrimony in the district of Panormus till such time as Almighty God may ordain what pleases Him.
I have strongly rebuked Romanus for his levity, because in the Guest-house (xenodochium) which he kept, as I have now discovered, he has been taken up more with his own profits than with [heavenly] rewards. Him, therefore, if it should haply seem good to thee, leave in thy place. See how thou mayest best fortify him, by alarming and admonishing him, that he may act kindly and carefully towards the peasants (rusticos [1425] ); and shew himself towards strangers and townspeople changed and active. In saying this, however, I am not selecting any person, but leave this to thy judgment. It is enough for me to have selected an occupier of thy place in the district of Panormus; and I wish thee to see thyself to providing one for the Syracusan district. When thou comest, bring with thee the moneys and ornaments (ornamenta) on the part, or of the substance of Antoninus. Bring also the payments of the ninth and tenth indictions which thou hast exacted, and with them all thy accounts. Take care, if it should please God, to cross the sea for this city before the anniversary of Saint Cyprian, lest any danger should ensue (which God forbid) from the constellation which always threatens the sea at that season.
Furthermore, I would have thee know that I have no slight compunctions of mind for having been grievously set against the servant of God Pretiosus for no grievous fault of his, and driven him from me, sad and embittered. And I wrote to the Lord bishop [1426] requesting him to send the man to me, if willing to do so; but he was altogether unwilling. Now him I ought not to distress, nor can I do so; since, occupied as he is in the causes of God, he ought to be supported by comfort, not depressed by bitterness. But the said Pretiosus, as I hear, is altogether distressed because he cannot return to me. I, however, as I have said, cannot distress the Lord bishop, who is not willing to send him, and I am doubtful between the two. Do thou then, if in thy little diminutive body thou hast the greater wisdom, manage the matter so that I may have my will, and the Lord bishop be not distressed. Yet, if thou see him to be at all distressed, say no more about it. I have, however, taken it amiss that he has excommunicated the Lord Eusebius [1427] , a man of so great age and in such bad health. Wherefore it is needful for thee to speak privately to the said Lord bishop, that he be not hasty in pronouncing sentences, since cases which are to be decided by sentences must needs be weighed beforehand with careful and very frequent consideration.
When the recruiting officers [1428] come, who, as I hear, are already raising recruits in Sicily, charge thy substitute to offer them some little present [1429] , so as to render them well-disposed towards him. But, before thou comest away, give also something, according to ancient custom, to the prætor's officials; but do it by the hands of him thou leavest in thy place, so as to conciliate their favour towards him. Also, lest we should seem to them to be at all uncivil, direct thy substitutes to carry out in all respects the orders we have given to thy Experience as to what is to be given to any individuals or monasteries. But when thou comest, we will, with the help of God consider together how these things should be arranged. The three hundred solidi which I sent to be given through thee to the poor I do not think ought to be committed to their discretion. Let them carry out, then, those directions I have spoken of with reference to particular places and persons.
Now I remember having written before now to say that the legacies, which, according to the representation of Antoninus the guardian (defensoris), are due from us to monasteries or others, were to be paid as had been appointed. And I know not why thy Experience has delayed to accomplish this. Wherefore we desire thee to pay in full our portion of these legacies from the moneys of the church, that when thou comest to me, thou mayest not leave there the groans of the poor against thee. Bring also with thee at the same time the securities which have been found relating to the substance of the same Antoninus.
I have learnt on the information of Romanus that the wife of Redemptus, when dying, directed by word of mouth one silver shell to be sold, and the proceeds given to her freedmen, and also left a silver platter to a certain monastery; in respect of both of which bequests we desire her wishes to be fully carried out, lest from the least things we be betrayed into greater sins.
Further, I have learnt on the information of the Abbot Marinianus that the building in the Prætorian Monastery is not yet even half completed: which being the case, what can we praise for it but thy Experience's fervour [1430] ? But even now let this admonition rouse thee; and, as far as thou canst, assert thyself in the construction of this same monastery. I said that nothing was to be given them for the cost; but I did not prohibit their building the monastery. But so proceed as to enjoin in all ways on him whom thou mayest depute in thy place at Panormus that he construct this same monastery at the charge of the ecclesiastical revenue, and that I may have no more private complaints from the abbot.
Moreover, I have learnt that thou knowest certain things on the farms, even in considerable numbers, to belong to others; but, owing to the entreaty of certain persons or to timidity, thou art afraid to restore them to their owners. But, if thou wert truly a Christian, thou wouldest be afraid of the judgment of God more than of the voices of men. Take notice that I unceasingly admonish thee on this matter; which if thou neglect to set right, thou wilt have also my voice for witness against thee. If thou shouldest find any of the laity fearing God who might receive the tonsure and become agents under the rector [1431] , I give my full con sent. It will be necessary that letters also be sent to them.
Concerning the case of the son of Commissus the scholasticus [1432] , thou hast taken advice; and it appears that what he claims is not just in law. We are unwilling to burden the poor to their disadvantage; but, inasmuch as he has given himself trouble in this matter, we desire thee to give him fifty solidi, which must certainly be charged in thy accounts. As to the expense thou hast incurred on the business of the Church in the case of Prochisus, either reimburse thyself there out of his revenues, or, should his revenues be clearly insufficient for the repayment, thou must needs receive what is due to thee here from the deacon. But presume not to say anything about Gelasius the subdeacon, since his crime calls for the severest penance even to the end of his life.
Furthermore, thou has sent me one sorry nag and five good asses. That nag I cannot ride, he is such a sorry one; and those good asses I cannot ride, because they are asses. But we beg that, if you are disposed to content us, you will let us have something suitable. We desire thee to give to the abbot Eusebius a hundred solidi of gold, which must certainly be charged in thy accounts. We have learnt that Sisinnius, who was a judge at Samnium, is suffering from grievous want in Sicily, to whom we desire thee to supply twenty decimates [1433] of wine and four solidi yearly. Anastasius, a religious person (religiosus [1434] ), is said to be living near the city of Panormus in the oratory of Saint Agna, to whom we desire six solidi of gold to be given. We desire also six solidi, to be charged in thy accounts, to be given to the mother of Urbicus the Prior [1435] . As to the case of the handmaiden of God, Honorata, what seems good to me is this: that thou shouldest bring with thee when thou comest all her substance which evidently existed before the time of the episcopate of John, bishop of Laurinum [1436] . But let the same handmaiden of God come with her son, that we may speak with her, and do whatever may please God. The volume of the Heptateuch [1437] out of the goods of Antoninus we desire to be given to the Prætorian monastery, and the rest of his books to be brought hither by thee.


Footnotes

[1423] Conductores. See I. 44, note 6. [1424] Presbyterium. The term, as here used, means apparently a pecuniary allowance to presbyters. Cf. V. 33, Ad Gaudentiam Episcopum; "Fraternitatem tuam præsentibus hortamur affatibus ut clericis Capuanæ Ecclesiæ quartam in presbyterium eorum de hoc quod ante dictæ ecclesiæ singulis annis accesserit juxta antiquam consuetudinem distribuere secundum personarum studeat qualitatem, quatenus aliquod stipendiorum habentes solatium, ministerium officiumque suum circa eamdem ecclesiam devotiore mente provocentur impendere." [1425] See I. 44, note 1. [1426] Maximianus (as appears from Epistle 34), whom Gregory had himself appointed bishop of Syracuse. Cf. II. 7, and note. [1427] This Eusebius was an abbot in Sicily. Letters follow about him to Maximianus (Ep. 34), and to him (Ep. 36). [1428] Scribonibus. The term denoted officers sent from the imperial court into the provinces for executing certain duties; in this case for raising recruits for the imperial army. Cf. V. 30, note 8. [1429] Parum aliquid xenii. On xenia, see II. 23, note 8. [1430] We note here the sarcastic vein in which Gregory from time to time pleasantly stimulates Peter to activity. [1431] I.e. the rector patrimonii. The purport of this direction seems be that agents from the laity might be appointed with advantage to assist the rector patrimonii; and these must first be made clerici by receiving the tonsure, so as to be qualified to act for the Church. The rectors themselves were usually at least subdeacons. [1432] Scholastici. The designation appears to have been applied generally to scholarly and learned persons. Cf. Hieron. in Catal. Scriptor. Eccles., "Serapion ob elegantiam ingenii cognomen scholastici meruit." In Gregory's Epistles it seems to denote usually men learned in the law, who might advise on legal points or sit as assessors. In I. 44 (to Peter the subdeacon) scholastici are spoken of as having given a legal opinion, Epistle 36 in Bk. IX. is addressed "Severo scholastico exarchi," and he is spoken of as one of those "qui assistant judicibus." Cf. also IX. 58, 59, for the employment of "Martinus Scholasticus, vir eloquentissimus," in a case of disputed jurisdiction over the primate of the African province of Bizacia. Such scholastici were evidently persons of importance. Gregory addresses them by the title of "Gloria vestra" (IV. 40), and of "Magnitudo tua" (IX. 58). In IX. 12 he speaks of the form of prayer which followed the words of institution in the Canon of the Mass as having been composed by a scholasticus (precem quam scholasticus composuerat), perhaps using the term in the general sense of a scholar. [1433] See I. 46, note. [1434] See I. 61, note 7. [1435] Præpositi. The word, though used also in a more general sense, usually denotes the Prior of a monastery, appointed as the Abbot's vice-gerent. [1436] Episcopi Laurinensis. If the reading is correct, the See intended is unknown. Holstein (Annot. in Geograph. Sacra, p. 21) suggests Carinensem, denoting the Sicilian See of Carine, or Camarina. [1437] I.e. the first seven books of the Bible.

 http://mb-soft.com/believe/txud/gregor36.htm


Doctors of The Church for September: Gregory the Great





In the perfection series using the Doctors of the Church, one has a hard time choosing something from St. Gregory, one of the few popes to be called "great".


I have chosen a selection from his famous life of St. Benedict (Life of Our Most Holy Father St. Benedict) because it perfectly describes the purgation of the senses in the Dark Night.

More later...

CHAPTER II.


How he overcame a temptation of the flesh.

The holy man being on a certain day alone, the tempter was at hand; for a little black bird, commonly called an ousel, began to fly about his face, and that so near as the holy man, if he would. might have taken it with his hand; but no sooner had he made the sign of the cross than the bird vanished. When presently so great a carnal temptation assailed him, that before the holy man had never felt the like. For the remembrance of a woman which some time he had seen, was so lively represented to his fancy by the wicked spirit, and so vehemently did her image inflame his breast with lustful desires, that almost overcome by pleasure, he was determining to leave the wilderness. But suddenly assisted with divine grace he came to himself, and, seeing near him a thicket full of nettles and briars, he threw off his garments and cast himself naked into the midst of those sharp thorns and nettles, where he rolled himself so long, that, when he rose up, all his body was pitifully rent; thus by the wounds of his flesh he cured those of his soul, by turning pleasure into pain; and by the vehemence of outward torments he extinguished the unlawful flame which burnt within overcoming sin by changing the fire. After which time, as he himself related to his disciples, he was so free from the like temptation, that he never felt any such motion.

Many after this began to forsake the world and to hasten to put themselves under his government. Being now altogether free from vice, he worthily deserved to be made a master of virtue. As it is commanded by Moses that the Levites should serve from five and twenty years and upward, and after fifty years they should be appointed to keep the holy vessels.

Doctors of The Church for September: Jerome

Jerome was a great letter writer. He wrote to his friends great letters of loving friendship. Some of his closest friends were pious women. 

Jerome struggled on the road to perfection. I like to read his comments, as they apply to my own life of trying to form the day around God's Will. His words speak to us today, those of us on the road to perfection.

Here are snippets from his works.

...and although to the saints their very sleep is a supplication, we ought to have fixed hours of prayer, that if we are detained by work, the time may remind us of our duty. Prayers, as every one knows, ought to be said at the third, sixth and ninth hours, at dawn and at evening. No meal should be begun without prayer, and before leaving table thanks should be returned to the Creator. We should rise two or three times in the night, and go over the parts of Scripture which we know by heart. When we leave the roof which shelters us, prayer should be our armor; and when we return from the street we should pray before we sit down, and not give the frail body rest until the soul is fed. In every act we do, in every step we take, let our hand trace the Lord’s Cross. (Letter 22.37)





Letter XII. To Antony, Monk.

The subject of this letter is similar to that of the preceding. Of Antony nothing is known except that some mss. describe him as “of Æmona.” The date of the letter is 374 a.d.

While the disciples were disputing concerning precedence our Lord, the teacher of 13humility, took a little child and said: “Except ye be converted and become as little children ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”158 And lest He should seem to preach more than he practised, He fulfilled His own precept in His life. For He washed His disciples’ feet,159 he received the traitor with a kiss,160 He conversed with the woman of Samaria,161 He spoke of the kingdom of heaven with Mary at His feet,162 and when He rose again from the dead He showed Himself first to some poor women.163 Pride is opposed to humility, and through it Satan lost his eminence as an archangel. The Jewish people perished in their pride, for while they claimed the chief seats and salutations in the market place,164 they were superseded by the Gentiles, who had before been counted as “a drop of a bucket.”165 Two poor fishermen, Peter and James, were sent to confute the sophists and the wise men of the world. As the Scripture says: “God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.”166 Think, brother, what a sin it must be which has God for its opponent. In the Gospel the Pharisee is rejected because of his pride, and the publican is accepted because of his humility.167

Now, unless I am mistaken, I have already sent you ten letters, affectionate and earnest, whilst you have not deigned to give me even a single line. The Lord speaks to His servants, but you, my brother servant, refuse to speak to me. Believe me, if reserve did not check my pen, I could show my annoyance in such invective that you would have to reply—even though it might be in anger. But since anger is human, and a Christian must not act injuriously, I fall back once more on entreaty, and beg you to love one who loves you, and to write to him as a servant should to his fellow-servant. Farewell in the Lord. 


And, part of, perhaps, his most famous letter of all...only part.

Letter XXII. To Eustochium.

Perhaps the most famous of all the letters. In it Jerome lays down at great length (1) the motives which ought to actuate those who devote themselves to a life of virginity, and (2) the rules by which they ought to regulate their daily conduct. The letter contains a vivid picture of Roman society as it then was—the luxury, profligacy, and hypocrisy prevalent among both men and women, besides some graphic autobiographical details (§§7, 30), and concludes with a full account of the three kinds of monasticism then practised in Egypt (§§34–36). Thirty years later Jerome wrote a similar letter to Demetrias (CXXX.), with which this ought to be compared. Written at Rome 384 a.d.

1. “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people and thy father’s house, and the king shall desire thy beauty.”331 In this forty-fourth332 psalm God speaks to the human soul that, following the example of Abraham,333 it should go out from its own land and from its kindred, and should leave the Chaldeans, that is the demons, and should dwell in the country of the living, for which elsewhere the prophet sighs: “I think to see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”334 But it is not enough for you to go out from your own land unless you forget your people and your father’s house; unless you scorn the flesh and cling to the bridegroom in a close embrace. “Look not behind thee,” he says, “neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain lest thou be consumed.”335 He who has grasped the plough must not look behind him336 or return home from the field, or having Christ’s garment, descend from the roof to fetch other raiment.337 Truly a marvellous thing, a father charges his daughter not to remember her father. “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do.”338 So it was said to the Jews. And in another place, “He that committeth sin is of the devil.”339 Born, in the first instance, of such parentage we are naturally black, and even when we have repented, so long as we have not scaled the heights of virtue, we may still say: “I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.”340 But you will say to me, “I have left the home of my childhood; I have forgotten my father, I am born anew in Christ. What reward do I receive for this?” The context shows—“The king shall desire thy beauty.” This, then, is the great mystery. “For this cause shall 23a man leave his father and his mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be” not as is there said, “of one flesh,”341 but “of one spirit.” Your bridegroom is not haughty or disdainful; He has “married an Ethiopian woman.”342 When once you desire the wisdom of the true Solomon and come to Him, He will avow all His knowledge to you; He will lead you into His chamber with His royal hand;343 He will miraculously change your complexion so that it shall be said of you, “Who is this that goeth up and hath been made white?”344


2. I write to you thus, Lady Eustochium (I am bound to call my Lord’s bride “lady”), to show you by my opening words that my object is not to praise the virginity which you follow, and of which you have proved the value, or yet to recount the drawbacks of marriage, such as pregnancy, the crying of infants, the torture caused by a rival, the cares of household management, and all those fancied blessings which death at last cuts short. Not that married women are as such outside the pale; they have their own place, the marriage that is honorable and the bed undefiled.345 My purpose is to show you that you are fleeing from Sodom and should take warning by Lot’s wife.346 There is no flattery, I can tell you, in these pages. A flatterer’s words are fair, but for all that he is an enemy. You need expect no rhetorical flourishes setting you among the angels, and while they extol virginity as blessed, putting the world at your feet.

3. I would have you draw from your monastic vow not pride but fear.347 You walk laden with gold; you must keep out of the robber’s way. To us men this life is a race-course: we contend here, we are crowned elsewhere. No man can lay aside fear while serpents and scorpions beset his path. The Lord says: “My sword hath drunk its fill in heaven,”348 and do you expect to find peace on the earth? No, the earth yields only thorns and thistles, and its dust is food for the serpent.349 “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”350 We are hemmed in by hosts of foes, our enemies are upon every side. The weak flesh will soon be ashes: one against many, it fights against tremendous odds. Not till it has been dissolved, not till the Prince of this world has come and found no sin therein,351 not till then may you safely listen to the prophet’s words: “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the trouble which haunteth thee in darkness; nor for the demon and his attacks at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.”352 When the hosts of the enemy distress you, when your frame is fevered and your passions roused, when you say in your heart, “What shall I do?” Elisha’s words shall give you your answer, “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”353 He shall pray, “Lord, open the eyes of thine handmaid that she may see.” And then when your eyes have been opened you shall see a fiery chariot like Elijah’s waiting to carry you to heaven,354 and shall joyfully sing: “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken and we are escaped.”355



4. So long as we are held down by this frail body, so long as we have our treasure in earthen vessels;356 so long as the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh,357 there can be no sure victory. “Our adversary the devil goeth about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”358 “Thou makest darkness,” David says, “and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their meat from God.”359 The devil looks not for unbelievers, for those who are without, whose flesh the Assyrian king roasted in the furnace.360 It is the church of Christ that he “makes haste to spoil.”361 According to Habakkuk, “His food is of the choicest.”362 A Job is the victim of his machinations, and after devouring Judas he seeks power to sift the [other] apostles.363 The Saviour came not to send peace upon the earth but a sword.364 Lucifer fell, Lucifer who used to rise at dawn;365 and he who was bred up in a paradise of delight had the well-earned sentence passed upon him, “Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord.”366 For he had said in his heart, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,” and “I will be like the Most High.”367 Wherefore God says 24every day to the angels, as they descend the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream,368 “I have said ye are Gods and all of you are children of the Most High. But ye shall die like men and fall like one of the princes.”369 The devil fell first, and since “God standeth in the congregation of the Gods and judgeth among the Gods,”370 the apostle writes to those who are ceasing to be Gods—“Whereas there is among you envying and strife, are ye not carnal and walk as men?”371

5. If, then, the apostle, who was a chosen vessel372 separated unto the gospel of Christ,373 by reason of the pricks of the flesh and the allurements of vice keeps under his body and brings it into subjection, lest when he has preached to others he may himself be a castaway;374 and yet, for all that, sees another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin;375 if after nakedness, fasting, hunger, imprisonment, scourging and other torments, he turns back to himself and cries “Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”376 do you fancy that you ought to lay aside apprehension? See to it that God say not some day of you: “The virgin of Israel is fallen and there is none to raise her up.”377

I will say it boldly, though God can do all things He cannot raise up a virgin when once she has fallen. He may indeed relieve one who is defiled from the penalty of her sin, but He will not give her a crown. Let us fear lest in us also the prophecy be fulfilled, “Good virgins shall faint.”378 Notice that it is good virgins who are spoken of, for there are bad ones as well. “Whosoever looketh on a woman,” the Lord says, “to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”379 So that virginity may be lost even by a thought. Such are evil virgins, virgins in the flesh, not in the spirit; foolish virgins, who, having no oil, are shut out by the Bridegroom.380

6. But if even real virgins, when they have other failings, are not saved by their physical virginity, what shall become of those who have prostituted the members of Christ, and have changed the temple of the Holy Ghost into a brothel? Straightway shall they hear the words: “Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground; there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldæans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstone and grind meal; uncover thy locks, make bare the legs, pass over the rivers; thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen.”381 And shall she come to this after the bridal-chamber of God the Son, after the kisses of Him who is to her both kinsman and spouse?382 Yes, she of whom the prophetic utterance once sang, “Upon thy right hand did stand the queen in a vesture of gold wrought about with divers colours,”383 shall be made naked, and her skirts shall be discovered upon her face.384 She shall sit by the waters of loneliness, her pitcher laid aside; and shall open her feet to every one that passeth by, and shall be polluted to the crown of her head.385 Better had it been for her to have submitted to the yoke of marriage, to have walked in level places, than thus, aspiring to loftier heights, to fall into the deep of hell. I pray you, let not Zion the faithful city become a harlot:386 let it not be that where the Trinity has been entertained, there demons shall dance and owls make their nests, and jackals build.387 Let us not loose the belt that binds the breast. When lust tickles the sense and the soft fire of sensual pleasure sheds over us its pleasing glow, let us immediately break forth and cry: “The Lord is on my side: I will not fear what the flesh can do unto me.”388
 
When the inner man shows signs for a time of wavering between vice and virtue, say: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance and my God.”389 You must never let suggestions of evil grow on you, or a babel of disorder win strength in your breast. Slay the enemy while he is small; and, that you may not have a crop of tares, nip the evil in the bud. Bear in mind the warning words of the Psalmist: “Hapless daughter of Babylon, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”390 Because natural heat inevitably kindles in a man sensual passion, he is praised and accounted happy who, when foul suggestions arise in his mind, gives them no quarter, but dashes them instantly against the rock. “Now the Rock is Christ.”391

7. How often, when I was living in the desert, in the vast solitude which gives to hermits a savage dwelling-place, parched by a burning sun, how often did I fancy myself 25among the pleasures of Rome! I used to sit alone because I was filled with bitterness. Sackcloth disfigured my unshapely limbs and my skin from long neglect had become as black as an Ethiopian’s. Tears and groans were every day my portion; and if drowsiness chanced to overcome my struggles against it, my bare bones, which hardly held together, clashed against the ground. Of my food and drink I say nothing: for, even in sickness, the solitaries have nothing but cold water, and to eat one’s food cooked is looked upon as self-indulgence. Now, although in my fear of hell I had consigned myself to this prison, where I had no companions but scorpions and wild beasts, I often found myself amid bevies of girls. My face was pale and my frame chilled with fasting; yet my mind was burning with desire, and the fires of lust kept bubbling up before me when my flesh was as good as dead. Helpless, I cast myself at the feet of Jesus, I watered them with my tears, I wiped them with my hair: and then I subdued my rebellious body with weeks of abstinence. I do not blush to avow my abject misery; rather I lament that I am not now what once I was. I remember how I often cried aloud all night till the break of day and ceased not from beating my breast till tranquillity returned at the chiding of the Lord. I used to dread my very cell as though it knew my thoughts; and, stern and angry with myself, I used to make my way alone into the desert. Wherever I saw hollow valleys, craggy mountains, steep cliffs, there I made my oratory, there the house of correction for my unhappy flesh. There, also—the Lord Himself is my witness—when I had shed copious tears and had strained my eyes towards heaven, I sometimes felt myself among angelic hosts, and for joy and gladness sang: “because of the savour of thy good ointments we will run after thee.”392

8. Now, if such are the temptations of men who, since their bodies are emaciated with fasting, have only evil thoughts to fear, how must it fare with a girl whose surroundings are those of luxury and ease? Surely, to use the apostle’s words, “She is dead while she liveth.”393 Therefore, if experience gives me a right to advise, or clothes my words with credit, I would begin by urging you and warning you as Christ’s spouse to avoid wine as you would avoid poison. For wine is the first weapon used by demons against the young. Greed does not shake, nor pride puff up, nor ambition infatuate so much as this. Other vices we easily escape, but this enemy is shut up within us, and wherever we go we carry him with us. Wine and youth between them kindle the fire of sensual pleasure. Why do we throw oil on the flame—why do we add fresh fuel to a miserable body which is already ablaze. Paul, it is true, says to Timothy “drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and for thine often infirmities.”394
But notice the reasons for which the permission is given, to cure an aching stomach and a frequent infirmity. And lest we should indulge ourselves too much on the score of our ailments, he commands that but little shall be taken; advising rather as a physician than as an apostle (though, indeed, an apostle is a spiritual physician). He evidently feared that Timothy might succumb to weakness, and might prove unequal to the constant moving to and fro involved in preaching the Gospel. Besides, he remembered that he had spoken of “wine wherein is excess,”395 and had said, “it is good neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine.”396 Noah drank wine and became intoxicated; but living as he did in the rude age after the flood, when the vine was first planted, perhaps he did not know its power of inebriation. And to let you see the hidden meaning of Scripture in all its fulness (for the word of God is a pearl and may be pierced on every side) after his drunkenness came the uncovering of his body; self-indulgence culminated in lust.397 First the belly is crammed; then the other members are roused. Similarly, at a later period, “The people sat down to eat and to drink and rose up to play.”398 Lot also, God’s friend, whom He saved upon the mountain, who was the only one found righteous out of so many thousands, was intoxicated by his daughters. And, although they may have acted as they did more from a desire of offspring than from love of sinful pleasure—for the human race seemed in danger of extinction—yet they were well aware that the righteous man would not abet their design unless intoxicated. In fact he did not know what he was doing, and his sin was not wilful. Still his error was a grave one, for it made him the father of Moab and Ammon,399 Israel’s enemies, of whom it is said: “Even to the fourteenth generation they shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever.”400

9. When Elijah, in his flight from Jezebel, 26 lay weary and desolate beneath the oak, there came an angel who raised him up and said, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold there was a cake and a cruse of water at his head.401 Had God willed it, might He not have sent His prophet spiced wines and dainty dishes and flesh basted into tenderness? When Elisha invited the sons of the prophets to dinner, he only gave them field-herbs to eat; and when all cried out with one voice: “There is death in the pot,” the man of God did not storm at the cooks (for he was not used to very sumptuous fare), but caused meal to be brought, and casting it in, sweetened the bitter mess402 with spiritual strength as Moses had once sweetened the waters of Mara.403 Again, when men were sent to arrest the prophet, and were smitten with physical and mental blindness, that he might bring them without their own knowledge to Samaria, notice the food with which Elisha ordered them to be refreshed. “Set bread and water,” he said, “before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.”404
 
And Daniel, who might have had rich food from the king’s table,405 preferred the mower’s breakfast, brought to him by Habakkuk,406 which must have been but country fare. He was called “a man of desires,”407 because he would not eat the bread of desire or drink the wine of concupiscence.

10. There are, in the Scriptures, countless divine answers condemning gluttony and approving simple food. But as fasting is not my present theme and an adequate discussion of it would require a treatise to itself, these few observations must suffice of the many which the subject suggests. By them you will understand why the first man, obeying his belly and not God, was cast down from paradise into this vale of tears;408 and why Satan used hunger to tempt the Lord Himself in the wilderness;409 and why the apostle cries: “Meats for the belly and the belly for meats, but God shall destroy both it and them;”410 and why he speaks of the self-indulgent as men “whose God is their belly.”411 For men invariably worship what they like best. Care must be taken, therefore, that abstinence may bring back to Paradise those whom satiety once drove out.

11. You will tell me, perhaps, that, high-born as you are, reared in luxury and used to lie softly, you cannot do without wine and dainties, and would find a stricter rule of life unendurable. If so, I can only say: “Live, then, by your own rule, since God’s rule is too hard for you.” Not that the Creator and Lord of all takes pleasure in a rumbling and empty stomach, or in fevered lungs; but that these are indispensable as means to the preservation of chastity. Job was dear to God, perfect and upright before Him;412 yet hear what he says of the devil: “His strength is in the loins, and his force is in the navel.”413

The terms are chosen for decency’s sake, but the reproductive organs of the two sexes are meant. Thus, the descendant of David, who, according to the promise is to sit upon his throne, is said to come from his loins.414 And the seventy-five souls descended from Jacob who entered Egypt are said to come out of his thigh.415 So, also, when his thigh shrank after the Lord had wrestled with him,416 he ceased to beget children. The Israelites, again, are told to celebrate the passover with loins girded and mortified.417 God says to Job: “Gird up thy loins as a man.”418 John wears a leathern girdle.419 The apostles must gird their loins to carry the lamps of the Gospel.420 When Ezekiel tells us how Jerusalem is found in the plain of wandering, covered with blood, he uses the words: “Thy navel has not been cut.”421 In his assaults on men, therefore, the devil’s strength is in the loins; in his attacks on women his force is in the navel.

12. Do you wish for proof of my assertions? Take examples. Sampson was braver than a lion and tougher than a rock; alone and unprotected he pursued a thousand armed men; and yet, in Delilah’s embrace, his resolution melted away. David was a man after God’s own heart, and his lips had often sung of the Holy One, the future Christ; and yet as he walked upon his housetop he was fascinated by Bathsheba’s nudity, and added murder to adultery.422 Notice here how, even in his own house, a man cannot use his eyes without danger. Then repenting, he says to the Lord: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight.”423 Being a king he feared no one else. So, too, with Solomon. Wisdom used him to sing her praise,424 and he treated of all plants “from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall;”425 and yet he went back from God because he was a lover of women.426 And, as if to show that near relationship is no safe27guard, Amnon burned with illicit passion for his sister Tamar.427



13. I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the church, their mother: stars over which the proud foe sets up his throne,428 and rocks hollowed by the serpent that he may dwell in their fissures. You may see many women widows before wedded, who try to conceal their miserable fall by a lying garb. Unless they are betrayed by swelling wombs or by the crying of their infants, they walk abroad with tripping feet and heads in the air. Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder. Yet it is these who say: “‘Unto the pure all things are pure;’429 my conscience is sufficient guide for me. A pure heart is what God looks for. Why should I abstain from meats which God has created to be received with thanksgiving?”430 And when they wish to appear agreeable and entertaining they first drench themselves with wine, and then joining the grossest profanity to intoxication, they say “Far be it from me to abstain from the blood of Christ.” And when they see another pale or sad they call her “wretch” or “manichæan;”431 quite logically, indeed, for on their principles fasting involves heresy. When they go out they do their best to attract notice, and with nods and winks encourage troops of young fellows to follow them. Of each and all of these the prophet’s words are true: “Thou hast a whore’s forehead; thou refusest to be ashamed.”432 Their robes have but a narrow purple stripe,433 it is true; and their head-dress is somewhat loose, so as to leave the hair free. From their shoulders flutters the lilac mantle which they call “ma-forte;” they have their feet in cheap slippers and their arms tucked up tight-fitting sleeves. Add to these marks of their profession an easy gait, and you have all the virginity that they possess. Such may have eulogizers of their own, and may fetch a higher price in the market of perdition, merely because they are called virgins. But to such virgins as these I prefer to be displeasing.

14. I blush to speak of it, it is so shocking; yet though sad, it is true. How comes this plague of the agapetæ434 to be in the church? Whence come these unwedded wives, these novel concubines, these harlots, so I will call them, though they cling to a single partner? One house holds them and one chamber. They often occupy the same bed, and yet they call us suspicious if we fancy anything amiss. A brother leaves his virgin sister; a virgin, slighting her unmarried brother, seeks a brother in a stranger. Both alike profess to have but one object, to find spiritual consolation from those not of their kin; but their real aim is to indulge in sexual intercourse. It is on such that Solomon in the book of proverbs heaps his scorn. “Can a man take fire in his bosom,” he says, “and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals and his feet not be burned?”435



15. We cast out, then, and banish from our sight those who only wish to seem and not to be virgins. Henceforward I may bring all my speech to bear upon you who, as it is your lot to be the first virgin of noble birth in Rome, have to labor the more diligently not to lose good things to come, as well as those that are present. You have at least learned from a case in your own family the troubles of wedded life and the uncertainties of marriage. Your sister, Blæsilla, before you in age but behind you in declining the vow of virginity, has become a widow but seven months after she has taken a husband. Hapless plight of us mortals who know not what is before us! She has lost, at once, the crown of virginity and the pleasures of wedlock. And, although, as a widow, the second degree of chastity is hers, still can you not imagine the continual crosses which she has to bear, daily seeing in her sister what she has lost herself; and, while she finds it hard to go without the pleasures of wedlock, having a less reward for her present continence? Still she, too, may take heart and rejoice. The fruit which is an hundredfold and that which is sixtyfold both spring from one seed, and that seed is chastity.436

16. Do not court the company of married ladies or visit the houses of the high-born. Do not look too often on the life which you despised to become a virgin. Women of the world, you know, plume themselves because their husbands are on the bench or in other 28high positions. And the wife of the emperor always has an eager throng of visitors at her door. Why do you, then, wrong your husband? Why do you, God’s bride, hasten to visit the wife of a mere man? Learn in this respect a holy pride; know that you are better than they. And not only must you avoid intercourse with those who are puffed up by their husbands’ honors, who are hedged in with troops of eunuchs, and who wear robes inwrought with threads of gold. You must also shun those who are widows from necessity and not from choice. Not that they ought to have desired the death of their husbands; but that they have not welcomed the opportunity of continence when it has come. As it is, they only change their garb; their old self-seeking remains unchanged. To see them in their capacious litters, with red cloaks and plump bodies, a row of eunuchs walking in front of them, you would fancy them not to have lost husbands but to be seeking them. Their houses are filled with flatterers and with guests. The very clergy, who ought to inspire them with respect by their teaching and authority, kiss these ladies on the forehead, and putting forth their hands (so that, if you knew no better, you might suppose them in the act of blessing), take wages for their visits. They, meanwhile, seeing that priests cannot do without them, are lifted up into pride; and as, having had experience of both, they prefer the license of widowhood to the restraints of marriage, they call themselves chaste livers and nuns. After an immoderate supper they retire to rest to dream of the apostles.437


17. Let your companions be women pale and thin with fasting, and approved by their years and conduct; such as daily sing in their hearts: “Tell me where thou feedest thy flock, where thou makest it to rest at noon,”438 and say, with true earnestness, “I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ.”439 Be subject to your parents, imitating the example of your spouse.440 Rarely go abroad, and if you wish to seek the aid of the martyrs seek it in your own chamber. For you will never need a pretext for going out if you always go out when there is need. Take food in moderation, and never overload your stomach. For many women, while temperate as regards wine, are intemperate in the use of food. When you rise at night to pray, let your breath be that of an empty and not that of an overfull stomach. Read often, learn all that you can. Let sleep overcome you, the roll still in your hands; when your head falls, let it be on the sacred page. Let your fasts be of daily occurrence and your refreshment such as avoids satiety. It is idle to carry an empty stomach if, in two or three days’ time, the fast is to be made up for by repletion. When cloyed the mind immediately grows sluggish, and when the ground is watered it puts forth the thorns of lust. If ever you feel the outward man sighing for the flower of youth, and if, as you lie on your couch after a meal, you are excited by the alluring train of sensual desires; then seize the shield of faith, for it alone can quench the fiery darts of the devil.441 “They are all adulterers,” says the prophet; “they have made ready their heart like an oven.”442 But do you keep close to the footsteps of Christ, and, intent upon His words, say: “Did not our heart burn within us by the way while Jesus opened to us the Scriptures?”443 and again: “Thy word is tried to the uttermost, and thy servant loveth it.”444 It is hard for the human soul to avoid loving something, and our mind must of necessity give way to affection of one kind or another. The love of the flesh is overcome by the love of the spirit. Desire is quenched by desire. What is taken from the one increases the other. Therefore, as you lie on your couch, say again and again: “By night have I sought Him whom my soul loveth.”445 “Mortify, therefore,” says the apostle, “your members which are upon the earth.”446 Because he himself did so, he could afterwards say with confidence: “I live, yet not I, but Christ, liveth in me.”447 He who mortifies his members, and feels that he is walking in a vain show,448 is not afraid to say: “I am become like a bottle in the frost.449 Whatever there was in me of the moisture of lust has been dried out of me.” And again: “My knees are weak through fasting; I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.”450

18. Be like the grasshopper and make night musical. Nightly wash your bed and water your couch with your tears.451 Watch and be like the sparrow alone upon the housetop.452 Sing with the spirit, but sing with the understanding also.453 And let your song be that of the psalmist: “Bless the 29Lord, O my soul; and forget not all his benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction.”454 Can we, any of us, honestly make his words our own: “I have eaten ashes like bread and mingled my drink with weeping?”455 Yet, should we not weep and groan when the serpent invites us, as he invited our first parents, to eat forbidden fruit, and when after expelling us from the paradise of virginity he desires to clothe us with mantles of skins such as that which Elijah, on his return to paradise, left behind him on earth?456 Say to yourself: “What have I to do with the pleasures of sense that so soon come to an end? What have I to do with the song of the sirens so sweet and so fatal to those who hear it?” I would not have you subject to that sentence whereby condemnation has been passed upon mankind. When God says to Eve, “In pain and in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children,” say to yourself, “That is a law for a married woman, not for me.” And when He continues, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband,”457 say again: “Let her desire be to her husband who has not Christ for her spouse.” And when, last of all, He says, “Thou shalt surely die,”458 once more, say, “Marriage indeed must end in death; but the life on which I have resolved is independent of sex. Let those who are wives keep the place and the time that properly belong to them. For me, virginity is consecrated in the persons of Mary and of Christ.”

19. Some one may say, “Do you dare detract from wedlock, which is a state blessed by God?” I do not detract from wedlock when I set virginity before it. No one compares a bad thing with a good. Wedded women may congratulate themselves that they come next to virgins. “Be fruitful,” God says, “and multiply, and replenish the earth.”459 He who desires to replenish the earth may increase and multiply if he will. But the train to which you belong is not on earth, but in heaven. The command to increase and multiply first finds fulfilment after the expulsion from paradise, after the nakedness and the fig-leaves which speak of sexual passion. Let them marry and be given in marriage who eat their bread in the sweat of their brow; whose land brings forth to them thorns and thistles,460 and whose crops are choked with briars. My seed produces fruit a hundredfold.461 “All men cannot receive God’s saying, but they to whom it is given.”

Some people may be eunuchs from necessity; I am one of free will.462 “There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. There is a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.”463 Now that out of the hard stones of the Gentiles God has raised up children unto Abraham,464 they begin to be “holy stones rolling upon the earth.”465 They pass through the whirlwinds of the world, and roll on in God’s chariot on rapid wheels. Let those stitch coats to themselves who have lost the coat woven from the top throughout;466 who delight in the cries of infants which, as soon as they see the light, lament that they are born. In paradise Eve was a virgin, and it was only after the coats of skins that she began her married life. Now paradise is your home too. Keep therefore your birthright and say: “Return unto thy rest, O my soul.”467 To show that virginity is natural while wedlock only follows guilt, what is born of wedlock is virgin flesh, and it gives back in fruit what in root it has lost. “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall grow out of his roots.”468 The rod469 is the mother of the Lord—simple, pure, unsullied; drawing no germ of life from without but fruitful in singleness like God Himself. The flower of the rod is Christ, who says of Himself: “I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys.”470 In another place He is foretold to be “a stone cut out of the mountain without hands,”471 a figure by which the prophet signifies that He is to be born a virgin of a virgin. For the hands are here a figure of wedlock as in the passage: “His left hand is under my head and his right hand doth embrace me.”472 It agrees, also, with this interpretation that the unclean animals are led into Noah’s ark in pairs, while of the clean an uneven number is taken.473
Similarly, when Moses and Joshua were bidden to remove their shoes because the ground on which they stood was holy,474 the command had a mystical meaning. So, too, when the disciples were appointed to preach the gospel they were told to take with them neither shoe nor shoe-latchet;475 and when the soldiers came to cast lots for the garments of Jesus476 they found no boots that they could take away. 30For the Lord could not Himself possess what He had forbidden to His servants.

20. I praise wedlock, I praise marriage, but it is because they give me virgins. I gather the rose from the thorns, the gold from the earth, the pearl from the shell. “Doth the plowman plow all day to sow?”477 Shall he not also enjoy the fruit of his labor? Wedlock is the more honored, the more what is born of it is loved. Why, mother, do you grudge your daughter her virginity? She has been reared on your milk, she has come from your womb, she has grown up in your bosom. Your watchful affection has kept her a virgin. Are you angry with her because she chooses to be a king’s wife and not a soldier’s? She has conferred on you a high privilege; you are now the mother-in-law of God. “Concerning virgins,” says the apostle, “I have no commandment of the Lord.”478 Why was this? Because his own virginity was due, not to a command, but to his free choice. For they are not to be heard who feign him to have had a wife; for, when he is discussing continence and commending perpetual chastity, he uses the words, “I would that all men were even as I myself.” And farther on, “I say, therefore, to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.”479 And in another place, “have we not power to lead about wives even as the rest of the apostles?”480 Why then has he no commandment from the Lord concerning virginity? Because what is freely offered is worth more than what is extorted by force, and to command virginity would have been to abrogate wedlock. It would have been a hard enactment to compel opposition to nature and to extort from men the angelic life; and not only so, it would have been to condemn what is a divine ordinance.

21. The old law had a different ideal of blessedness, for therein it is said: “Blessed is he who hath seed in Zion and a family in Jerusalem:”481 and “Cursed is the barren who beareth not:”482 and “Thy children shall be like olive-plants round about thy table.”483 Riches too are promised to the faithful and we are told that “there was not one feeble person among their tribes.”484 But now even to eunuchs it is said, “Say not, behold I am a dry tree,”485 for instead of sons and daughters you have a place forever in heaven. Now the poor are blessed, now Lazarus is set before Dives in his purple.486 Now he who is weak is counted strong. But in those days the world was still unpeopled: accordingly, to pass over instances of childlessness meant only to serve as types, those only were considered happy who could boast of children. It was for this reason that Abraham in his old age married Keturah;487 that Leah hired Jacob with her son’s mandrakes,488 and that fair Rachel—a type of the church—complained of the closing of her womb.489 But gradually the crop grew up and then the reaper was sent forth with his sickle. Elijah lived a virgin life, so also did Elisha and many of the sons of the prophets. To Jeremiah the command came: “Thou shalt not take thee a wife.”490 He had been sanctified in his mother’s womb,491 and now he was forbidden to take a wife because the captivity was near. The apostle gives the same counsel in different words. “I think, therefore, that this is good by reason of the present distress, namely that it is good for a man to be as he is.”492 What is this distress which does away with the joys of wedlock? The apostle tells us, in a later verse: “The time is short: it remaineth that those who have wives be as though they had none.”493

Nebuchadnezzar is hard at hand. The lion is bestirring himself from his lair. What good will marriage be to me if it is to end in slavery to the haughtiest of kings? What good will little ones be to me if their lot is to be that which the prophet sadly describes: “The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst; the young children ask for bread and no man breaketh it unto them”?494 In those days, as I have said, the virtue of continence was found only in men: Eve still continued to travail with children. But now that a virgin has conceived495 in the womb and has borne to us a child of which the prophet says that “Government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called the mighty God, the everlasting Father,”496 now the chain of the curse is broken. Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary. And thus the gift of virginity has been bestowed most richly upon women, seeing that it has had its beginning from a woman. As soon as the Son of God set foot upon the earth, He formed for Himself a new household there; that, as He was adored by angels in heaven, angels might serve Him also on earth. Then chaste Judith once more cut off the head of Holofernes.497 Then Haman—whose name means iniquity—was once 31more burned in fire of his own kindling.498 Then James and John forsook father and net and ship and followed the Saviour: neither kinship nor the world’s ties, nor the care of their home could hold them back. Then were the words heard: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”499 For no soldier goes with a wife to battle. Even when a disciple would have buried his father, the Lord forbade him, and said: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”500 So you must not complain if you have but scanty house-room. In the same strain, the apostle writes: “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married careth for the things of the world how she may please her husband.”501

22. How great inconveniences are involved in wedlock and how many anxieties encompass it I have, I think, described shortly in my treatise—published against Helvidius502—on the perpetual virginity of the blessed Mary. It would be tedious to go over the same ground now; and any one who pleases may draw from that fountain. But lest I should seem wholly to have passed over the matter, I will just say now that the apostle bids us pray without ceasing,503 and that he who in the married state renders his wife her due504 cannot so pray. Either we pray always and are virgins, or we cease to pray that we may fulfil the claims of marriage. Still he says: “If a virgin marry she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh.”505 At the outset I promised that I should say little or nothing of the embarrassments of wedlock, and now I give you notice to the same effect. If you want to know from how many vexations a virgin is free and by how many a wife is fettered you should read Tertullian “to a philosophic friend,”506 and his other treatises on virginity, the blessed Cyprian’s noble volume, the writings of Pope Damasus507 in prose and verse, and the treatises recently written for his sister by our own Ambrose.508 In these he has poured forth his soul with such a flood of eloquence that he has sought out, set forth, and put in order all that bears on the praise of virgins.

23. We must proceed by a different path, for our purpose is not the praise of virginity but its preservation. To know that it is a good thing is not enough: when we have chosen it we must guard it with jealous care. The first only requires judgment, and we share it with many; the second calls for toil, and few compete with us in it. “He that shall endure unto the end,” the Lord says, “the same shall be saved,”509 and “many are called but few are chosen.”510 Therefore I conjure you before God and Jesus Christ and His elect angels to guard that which you have received, not readily exposing to the public gaze the vessels of the Lord’s temple (which only the priests are by right allowed to see), that no profane person may look upon God’s sanctuary. Uzzah, when he touched the ark which it was not lawful to touch, was struck down suddenly by death.511 And assuredly no gold or silver vessel was ever so dear to God as is the temple of a virgin’s body. The shadow went before, but now the reality is come. You indeed may speak in all simplicity, and from motives of amiability may treat with courtesy the veriest strangers, but unchaste eyes see nothing aright. They fail to appreciate the beauty of the soul, and only value that of the body. Hezekiah showed God’s treasure to the Assyrians,512 who ought never to have seen what they were sure to covet. The consequence was that Judæa was torn by continual wars, and that the very first things carried away to Babylon were these vessels of the Lord. We find Belshazzar at his feast and among his concubines (vice always glories in defiling what is noble) drinking out of these sacred cups.513



24. Never incline your ear to words of mischief. For men often say an improper word to make trial of a virgin’s steadfastness, to see if she hears it with pleasure, and if she is ready to unbend at every silly jest. Such persons applaud whatever you affirm and deny whatever you deny; they speak of you as not only holy but accomplished, and say that in you there is no guile. “Behold,” say they, “a true hand-maid of Christ; behold entire singleness of heart. How different from that rough, un32sightly, countrified fright, who most likely never married because she could never find a husband.” Our natural weakness induces us readily to listen to such flatterers; but, though we may blush and reply that such praise is more than our due, the soul within us rejoices to hear itself praised.

Like the ark of the covenant Christ’s spouse should be overlaid with gold within and without;514 she should be the guardian of the law of the Lord. Just as the ark contained nothing but the tables of the covenant,515 so in you there should be no thought of anything that is outside. For it pleases the Lord to sit in your mind as He once sat on the mercy-seat and the cherubims.516 As He sent His disciples to loose Him the foal of an ass that he might ride on it, so He sends them to release you from the cares of the world, that leaving the bricks and straw of Egypt, you may follow Him, the true Moses, through the wilderness and may enter the land of promise. Let no one dare to forbid you, neither mother nor sister nor kinswoman nor brother: “The Lord hath need of you.”517 Should they seek to hinder you, let them fear the scourges that fell on Pharaoh, who, because he would not let God’s people go that they might serve Him,518 suffered the plagues described in Scripture. Jesus entering into the temple cast out those things which belonged not to the temple. For God is jealous and will not allow the father’s house to be made a den of robbers.519 Where money is counted, where doves are sold, where simplicity is stifled where, that is, a virgin’s breast glows with cares of this world; straightway the veil of the temple is rent,520 the bridegroom rises in anger, he says: “Your house is left unto you desolate.”521 Read the gospel and see how Mary sitting at the feet of the Lord is set before the zealous Martha. In her anxiety to be hospitable Martha was preparing a meal for the Lord and His disciples; yet Jesus said to her: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But few things are needful or one.522 And Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.”523 Be then like Mary; prefer the food of the soul to that of the body. Leave it to your sisters to run to and fro and to seek how they may fitly welcome Christ. But do you, having once for all cast away the burden of the world, sit at the Lord’s feet and say: “I have found him whom my soul loveth; I will hold him, I will not let him go.”524 And He will answer: “My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her.”525 Now the mother of whom this is said is the heavenly Jerusalem.526

25. Ever let the privacy of your chamber guard you; ever let the Bridegroom sport with you within.527 Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you. When sleep overtakes you He will come behind and put His hand through the hole of the door, and your heart528 shall be moved for Him; and you will awake and rise up and say: “I am sick of love.”529 Then He will reply: “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”530

Go not from home nor visit the daughters of a strange land, though you have patriarchs for brothers and Israel for a father. Dinah went out and was seduced.531 Do not seek the Bridegroom in the streets; do not go round the corners of the city. For though you may say: “I will rise now and go about the city: in the streets and in the broad ways I will seek Him whom my soul loveth,” and though you may ask the watchmen: “Saw ye Him whom my soul loveth?”532 no one will deign to answer you. The Bridegroom cannot be found in the streets: “Strait and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life.”533 So the Song goes on: “I sought him but I could not find him: I called him but he gave me no answer.”534 And would that failure to find Him were all. You will be wounded and stripped, you will lament and say: “The watchmen that went about the city found me: they smote me, they wounded me, they took away my veil from me.”535 Now if one who could say: “I sleep but my heart waketh,”536 and “A bundle of myrrh is my well beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts”;537 if one who could speak thus suffered so much because she went abroad, what shall become of us who are but young girls; of us who, when the bride goes in with the Bridegroom, still remain without? Jesus is jealous. He does not choose that your face should be seen of others. You may excuse yourself and say: “I have drawn close my veil, I have covered my face and I have sought Thee there and have said: ‘Tell me, O Thou whom my soul 33loveth, where Thou feedest Thy flock, where Thou makest it to rest at noon. For why should I be as one that is veiled beside the flocks of Thy companions?’”538 Yet in spite of your excuses He will be wroth, He will swell with anger and say: “If thou know not thyself, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock and feed thy goats beside the shepherd’s tents.”539 You may be fair, and of all faces yours may be the dearest to the Bridegroom; yet, unless you know yourself, and keep your heart with all diligence,540 unless also you avoid the eyes of the young men, you will be turned out of My bride-chamber to feed the goats, which shall be set on the left hand.541



26. These things being so, my Eustochium, daughter, lady, fellow-servant, sister—these names refer the first to your age, the second to your rank, the third to your religious vocation, the last to the place which you hold in my affection—hear the words of Isaiah: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation” of the Lord “be overpast.”542 Let foolish virgins stray abroad, but for your part stay at home with the Bridegroom; for if you shut your door, and, according to the precept of the Gospel,543 pray to your Father in secret, He will come and knock, saying: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man…open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”544 Then straightway you will eagerly reply: “It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled.” It is impossible that you should refuse, and say: “I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?”545 Arise forthwith and open. Otherwise while you linger He may pass on and you may have mournfully to say: “I opened to my beloved, but my beloved was gone.”546 Why need the doors of your heart be closed to the Bridegroom? Let them be open to Christ but closed to the devil according to the saying: “If the spirit of him who hath power rise up against thee, leave not thy place.”547 Daniel, in that upper story to which he withdrew when he could no longer continue below, had his windows open toward Jerusalem.548 Do you too keep your windows open, but only on the side where light may enter and whence you may see the eye of the Lord. Open not those other windows of which the prophet says: “Death is come up into our windows.”549

27. You must also be careful to avoid the snare of a passion for vainglory. “How,” Jesus says, “can ye believe which receive glory one from another?”550 What an evil that must be the victim of which cannot believe! Let us rather say: “Thou art my glorying,”551 and “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord,”552 and “If I yet pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ,”553 and “Far be it from me to glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world hath been crucified unto me and I unto the world;”554 and once more: “In God we boast all the day long; my soul shall make her boast in the Lord.”555 When you do alms, let God alone see you. When you fast, be of a cheerful countenance.556 Let your dress be neither too neat nor too slovenly; neither let it be so remarkable as to draw the attention of passers-by, and to make men point their fingers at you. Is a brother dead? Has the body of a sister to be carried to its burial? Take care lest in too often performing such offices you die yourself. Do not wish to seem very devout nor more humble than need be, lest you seek glory by shunning it. For many, who screen from all men’s sight their poverty, charity, and fasting, desire to excite admiration by their very disdain of it, and strangely seek for praise while they profess to keep out of its way. From the other disturbing influences which make men rejoice, despond, hope, and fear I find many free; but this is a defect which few are without, and he is best whose character, like a fair skin, is disfigured by the fewest blemishes. I do not think it necessary to warn you against boasting of your riches, or against priding yourself on your birth, or against setting yourself up as superior to others. I know your humility; I know that you can say with sincerity: “Lord, my heart is not haughty nor mine eyes lofty;”557 I know that in your breast as in that of your mother the pride through which the devil fell has no place. It would be time wasted to write to you about it; for there is no greater folly than to teach a pupil what he knows already. But now that you have despised the boastfulness of the world, do not let the fact inspire you with new boastfulness. Harbor 34not the secret thought that having ceased to court attention in garments of gold you may begin to do so in mean attire. And when you come into a room full of brothers and sisters, do not sit in too low a place or plead that you are unworthy of a footstool. Do not deliberately lower your voice as though worn out with fasting; nor, leaning on the shoulder of another, mimic the tottering gait of one who is faint. Some women, it is true, disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.558 As soon as they catch sight of any one they groan, they look down; they cover up their faces, all but one eye, which they keep free to see with. Their dress is sombre, their girdles are of sackcloth, their hands and feet are dirty; only their stomachs—which cannot be seen—are hot with food. Of these the psalm is sung daily: “The Lord will scatter the bones of them that please themselves.”559 Others change their garb and assume the mien of men, being ashamed of being what they were born to be—women. They cut off their hair and are not ashamed to look like eunuchs. Some clothe themselves in goat’s hair, and, putting on hoods, think to become children again by making themselves look like so many owls.560



28. But I will not speak only of women. Avoid men, also, when you see them loaded with chains and wearing their hair long like women, contrary to the apostle’s precept,561 not to speak of beards like those of goats, black cloaks, and bare feet braving the cold. All these things are tokens of the devil. Such an one Rome groaned over some time back in Antimus; and Sophronius is a still more recent instance. Such persons, when they have once gained admission to the houses of the high-born, and have deceived “silly women laden with sins, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,”562 feign a sad mien and pretend to make long fasts while at night they feast in secret. Shame forbids me to say more, for my language might appear more like invective than admonition. There are others—I speak of those of my own order—who seek the presbyterate and the diaconate simply that they may be able to see women with less restraint. Such men think of nothing but their dress; they use perfumes freely, and see that there are no creases in their leather shoes. Their curling hair shows traces of the tongs; their fingers glisten with rings; they walk on tiptoe across a damp road, not to splash their feet. When you see men acting in this way, think of them rather as bridegrooms than as clergymen. Certain persons have devoted the whole of their energies and life to the single object of knowing the names, houses, and characters of married ladies. I will here briefly describe the head of the profession, that from the master’s likeness you may recognize the disciples. He rises and goes forth with the sun; he has the order of his visits duly arranged; he takes the shortest road; and, troublesome old man that he is, forces his way almost into the bedchambers of ladies yet asleep. If he sees a pillow that takes his fancy or an elegant table-cover—or indeed any article of household furniture—he praises it, looks admiringly at it, takes it into his hand, and, complaining that he has nothing of the kind, begs or rather extorts it from the owner. All the women, in fact, fear to cross the news-carrier of the town. Chastity and fasting are alike distasteful to him. What he likes is a savory breakfast—say off a plump young crane such as is commonly called a cheeper. In speech he is rude and forward, and is always ready to bandy reproaches. Wherever you turn he is the first man that you see before you. Whatever news is noised abroad he is either the originator of the rumor or its magnifier. He changes his horses every hour; and they are so sleek and spirited that you would take him for a brother of the Thracian king.563

29. Many are the stratagems which the wily enemy employs against us. “The serpent,” we are told, “was more subtile than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.”564 And the apostle says: “We are not ignorant of his devices.”565 Neither an affected shabbiness nor a stylish smartness becomes a Christian. If there is anything of which you are ignorant, if you have any doubt about Scripture, ask one whose life commends him, whose age puts him above suspicion, whose reputation does not belie him; one who may be able to say: “I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Or if there should be none such able to explain, it is better to avoid danger at the price of ignorance than to court it for the sake of learning. Remember that you walk in the midst of snares, and that many veteran virgins, of a chastity never called in question, have, on the very threshold of death, let their crowns fall from their hands. 



35If any of your handmaids share your vocation, do not lift up yourself against them or pride yourself because you are their mistress. You have all chosen one Bridegroom; you all sing the same psalms; together you receive the Body of Christ. Why then should your thoughts be different?566 You must try to win others, and that you may attract the more readily you must treat the virgins in your train with the greatest respect. If you find one of them weak in the faith, be attentive to her, comfort her, caress her, and make her chastity your treasure. But if a girl pretends to have a vocation simply because she desires to escape from service, read aloud to her the words of the apostle: “It is better to marry than to burn.”567
Idle persons and busybodies, whether virgins or widows; such as go from house to house calling on married women and displaying an unblushing effrontery greater than that of a stage parasite, cast from you as you would the plague. For “evil communications corrupt good manners,”568 and women like these care for nothing but their lowest appetites. They will often urge you, saying, “My dear creature, make the best of your advantages, and live while life is yours,” and “Surely you are not laying up money for your children.” Given to wine and wantonness, they instill all manner of mischief into people’s minds, and induce even the most austere to indulge in enervating pleasures. And “when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ they will marry, having condemnation because they have rejected their first faith.”569