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dered the Virginal Life to be a dedication of the whole creature to the Creator; and again, a continual sacrifice offered to Him of that which is most precious in man; and again, the soul's espousal of the heavenly Bridegroom; or again, as compassing and involving the whole range of sanctity; or again, as an anticipation of the angelic life, and that the more wonderful because maintained amid a conflict to which that life is not exposed; or again, as the cutting-off of all human cares and anxieties, and so possessing a simple self-sufficiency resting upon God. It is a new form of expressing all the above, but a very striking one, when St. Chrysostome says, that self-denial, or to use his own word, the crucified life, is at once the root and the fruit of Virginity.* We must add two points to complete the picture. This life is not a command, but a choice; and so the more dear and precious to Him for whose sake it is chosen;t and the * For the above citations, see
S. Chrysostome, nepl tapdevias, 68. tom. i. 323.
et introite in atria Domini.”
αρετήν νύμφας του Χριστού καλείν είωθε η καθολική Εκκλησία,
ταύτας δε “Έλληνες δρώντες ώς ναόν ούσας του Λόγου θαυμάζουσι. S. Clemens Rom. Ep. i. de Virginitate, 3. Quicunque enim pro
fitetur coram Domino se servaturum castitatem, debet cingi
omni virtute sancta Dei," &c. Gallandi, tom. i. iv. S. Chrysost. ut sup. 79, 80. μάλλον δε και ρίζα και καρπός παρθενίας και
εσταυρωμένος βίος εστίν. . S. Ambrose, exhort. Virginit. 31, “Nullis in hoc sæculo curarum
anfractibus reflectitur," + S. Chrysost. ut sup. 41. περί τούτου φανερώς ο Χριστός διετάξατο, κωλύων eis énıtdynatos åvayhty ?ADEîn Td apâypa. And S. Aug. ut supra, 30.
value of it lies in its being consciously chosen, and chosen irrevocably;* and, lastly, it is not the mere result of human election, but at once man's freest choice and a special divine gift.
What has been here summed up in a few words might be illustrated at endless length from the writings of the first five centuries. Two contemporaries of the Apostles express it very strongly when they say, St. Ignatius of Antioch, that virginal purity is maintained “in honour of the Lord's flesh,”ť and St. Clement of Rome, that our Lord "put on the body in which He bore the conflict of the world from a holy Virgin, by which we may understand the majesty and glory of virginity.” I
This tradition springs without a break from our Lord through St. Paul and St. John, and diffuses itself into all lands and all times without an exception. And what the Christian writers teach, the Christian people executes.
For if this were but a matter of sentiment, a merely theoretical preference of an ideal condition, if it were but a Platonic Eutopia, or piece of Aristotelian reasoning, how little would it have counted!
* S. Aug. de sancta Virginitate, s. 11. “ Nec nos hoc in virginibus prædicamus quod virgines sunt, sed quod Deo dicatæ pia continentia virgines.” And s. 42.
ts. Ignat. Εp. ad Polyc. 5. εί τις δύναται εν αγνεία μένειν, εις τιμήν της σαρκός του Κυρίου, εν άκαυχησία μενέτω εάν καυχήσηται, απώλετο.
S. Clem. Rom. Ep. i. de Virginit. 6. “Uterus virginitatis sanctæ gestavit Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum filium Dei, et corpus quod gestavit Dominus noster et in eo agonem in hoc mundo fecit, ex virgine sancta induit. Hinc ergo intellige majestatem et gloriam virginitatis.” Gallandi, tom. i. vi.
As I have already remarked with regard to the Christian doctrine of marriage, so I may repeat with regard to this doctrine likewise, that the world would have been as slightly affected by such words, had they been unaccompanied by deeds, as it actually was by the sects of Grecian philosophy. But in this new people which had sprung up from east to west and from north to south, which was found in all the cities of the Roman dominion, there was likewise, from the date of our Lord's ascension onwards, found to be a certain portion which cultivated this new and unheard-of life. In the sex which had known no other duties than those of the mother, had possessed no other hold on man than the charm which belongs to the union of the sexes, there appeared suddenly young maidens who disregarded the joys of marriage, and the condition which up to that time had seemed to be the only hope of woman's life. Then first the young and beautiful were found to disdain what had hitherto been the prize of youth and beauty. And whereas among men the unmarried state of adults had only been a mark of presumed profligacy, there were now seen those who renounced for ever the bond of marriage, and with it the engagements, the ambition, and the success of the world, in order to give themselves to a life either of contemplative piety or of active charity, the one and the other previously unknown. During the ten generations of intermittent persecution which marked the first planting and youth of the Church, such a resolve could only be practised by man and woman in the secrecy of private life. There could not be public and avowed associations of those who sought to carry out a common purpose by mutual assistance. The virgin remained with a secret dedication in her father's house, and the youth, most generally giving himself to the special service of the sanctuary, did the like. But from the beginning both these classes existed. In the middle of the third century, after one of the longest periods of tranquillity which occur in these three hundred years, and when
peace and security had produced a considerable relaxation of Christian spirit, St. Cyprian addresses this class among women: “We are now,' says he, “speaking to virgins, for whom our solicitude must be greater in the proportion that their glory is more exalted. They are the flower of the Church's growth ; the grace of the spirit has in them its beauty and delicacy; they are our pride and bloom; in them praise and honour have their perfect and uncorrupt work; they are God's image reflecting the Lord's sanctity; the more illustrious portion of Christ's flock. In them exults, in them beauteously flowers the glorious fecundity of our mother the Church, and the more Virginity adds to its number, the more that mother's joy increases."* A hundred years later St. Athanasius, addressing the Emperor Constantius, said: “ The Son of God, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, after becoming man for us, and annulling death, and freeing our race from the bondage of corruption, in addition to all His other gifts bestowed on us this, to have upon earth the image of angelic sanctity, the Virginal Life. At least, those who possess this virtue, the Catholic Church is wont to call the Brides* of Christ. When the heathens round us behold these, they look up to them with admiration as a shrine of the Word. For in real truth no where is this sacred and heavenly profession carried out save among us Christians alone. And this is above all a very great proof that real and genuine piety exists among us only.”+ Fifty years later St. Augustine tells us : “ Undoubtedly the chief lesson and example of virginal purity must be contemplated in Christ Himself;" and then turning himself as it were to that Saviour to bestow on them the gift of humility, whose deep foundation was the more needed because of the height of the building to be raised upon it, he cries: “Look upon these troops of virgins, of holy youths and maidens. In Thy Church this race was brought up: for Thee burst forth its vigorous bloom from the mother's breast: there it lisped its first accents into Thy name, Thy name
* S. Cyprian de habitu Virginum, 4.