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number of those who have been hurried away by the passions of youth and the seductions of sense, into all sorts of disorder, who yet have had by the example of this superhuman life impressed upon them, all through this riot of passion, the sense and the craving for better things? And when the time of awakening comes, how often has the victim of the world become the victim of divine love? and one who without this standard of purity, selfdenial, and unworldliness, set up continually before her eyes, would have ended at best with a skin-deep repentance, becomes through long years a model of penance, from a Duchess de la Vallière, Sister Louisa of Mercy. How often has the Carmelite, Benedictine, Dominican, or Franciscan robe covered hearts the sublimity of whose penitence has rivalled the fairest fruits of innocence ? as in the long line of the Church's doctors none shines with so bright a light as he who wasted many years of his youth among the false pleasures of Carthage, but who, when the moment of conversion came, was wrought upon not by the Christian life in the exhibition of common virtues, but by the tale of those two youths, who, being in the Emperor's court with fair prospects and affianced brides, were moved to give up all this by meeting with a little book containing the life of St. Anthony in the desert. Of such conversions history during eighteen hundred years has been full. They are due to the glorious and enchanting light which the
Virginal Life casts out beyond itself into the darkness of the world around. It is the sight of those who pass over the ocean of the world without being tost by its billows (to quote again the words of St. Ambrose), which kindles the ray of hope and then of desire in so many souls all but merged in the waves, and moves them to seek that haven
Thus the honour and excellence of Virginity, springing forth from the very cradle of Christianity and the Person of its Author, are found in the course of centuries to be a new element communicated to human life, of power sufficient to make society other than it was before its introduction. Its work on each individual heart we have touched upon ; but on its collective work a few words remain to be said. When we glanced over Europe as it was under the brilliant civilisation of the reign of Augustus, we found it in possession of great material prosperity, of a general peace and an advancing commerce.
Examined more accurately from the moral point of view, society is seen to be dominated by the three main desires of the human heart, the love of pleasure, the love of wealth, the love of honour. There is no resistance any where to these desires ; they are in full possession of man.
Look again upon Euro e at the end of fifteen centuries, and what do we see? A circle of kindred nations has sprung up, possessing similar political
and social institutions, and one religion. In all the countries from the Mediterranean to the farthest inhabited northern land, great houses are found in which men and women severally dwell, who have under different rules each by a distinct solemn act accepted and bound themselves to the Virginal Life. These houses, springing up at various intervals in the preceding centuries, were each of them the fruit not of compulsion, but of free choice, not imposed by force on the conquered, or established by means of taxes, but produced by the gifts of men in the first instance, continued on from generation to generation by such gifts, when men and women gave not only their wealth but themselves. These houses were one and all the fruit of a free choice in man of the supernatural over the natural ; not a transient choice, but a choice for life; not a choice of one generation, but a choice of many. At that time there were houses which numbered thirty continuous generations of men among their inhabitants, who from age to age chose poverty instead of riches, humility and subordination to others, and resignation of their own will, instead of pride ; purity and self-denial instead of bodily pleasures and the heart's affections. They were houses of penitence; houses of prayer; houses too of intellectual thought and training. They formed even collectively but a small portion of the population, a portion replenishing itself by a spiritual attraction, but sufficiently numerous that there should not be a single range of country from the north of Norway to the Straits of Gibraltar and the sunny Cyclades, not a city or town within these vast limits, which did not see at least one example of a house wherein men or women lived together under the triple vow of Continence, Poverty, and Obedience. In these countries there was to be seen at times and in various proportions violence, cruelty, and wrong, shedding of blood, and sensual living; but there was always, thanks to the institution on which we have been dwelling, a higher and nobler example, bearing witness against violence and worldliness, breathing peace, suggesting penitence, calling back the wandering, maintaining and supporting the innocent, or, what sums up all this and much more in one word, exhibiting the life of Christ on earth. For on what did these religious houses live ? What was their very reason for being? Let every thing else in the world be as before, but take away one fact, that the Son of God had become Man, had lived on earth and died for man, and these houses would have had nothing to live upon, nothing which should originally call them into being, nothing which should support and prolong their life, nothing which could enable them for a single year to exist. Their poverty would have no meaning; their obedience no bond; their continence no prototype; their vows no constraining power, no influence of ever-present aid ; their austere life
no justification and no attraction. But given this one fact, and their life has found its proper original, its standard, and its strength. From the Incarnation they were born; upon it they lived; in it they hoped; through it they flourished. They are the progeny of the Virgin and the Virgin's Son. In them the creative Word of their Lord has found its perpetual execution: they have seen, loved, and followed Him, making themselves as He was for the kingdom of heaven by the force of a powerful will, which was their own, and yet His working in them, and stronger than earth's strongest things. Therefore in them the old prophecy of the sweetest prophet concerning Messiah's times is fulfilled, and they have given them in His house and within His walls a place and a name better than of sons and daughters. Theirs is something beyond even the inheritance of children, an everlasting name which shall never perish. For they are the carrying out through the long ages of Christendom in time and space of the very life which their Lord led on earth: they are those in whom even the pagan of old and now discerns and reverences the image of their Lord. St. Augustine has given us both the order of their birth and the power of their life. “No corporeal fecundity produces this race of virgins; they are no offspring of flesh and blood. Ask
the mother of these? It is the Church. None other bears these sacred virgins but that one espoused to a