De virginitate [ St Augustine: From the Retractions 2:23: After I had written ‘on the Good of Marriage,’ it was expected that I should write on Holy Virginity; and I did not delay to do so: and that it is God’s gift, and how great a gift, and with what humility to be guarded, so far as I was able I set forth in one volume. This book begins, etc.
Source. Translated by C.L. Cornish. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent
CityofGod.blog Commentary: Holy Virgins have been a “mark” of this Catholic Church from the beginning Jesus, Mary and St Joseph, “her most Chaste spouse” are our Holy family for imitation, how many of the Apostles? The City brings St Augustine time lasted “Of Holy Virgins” from his Theological and philosophical mind describing this holy dignity. He leaves the “spiritual” senses to the Mystics. The Church has many writers and lives to read and learn.
1. We lately put forth a book of the Good of Marriage, in which also we admonished and admonish the virgins of Christ, not, on account of that greater gift which they have received, to despise, in comparison of themselves, the fathers and mothers of the People of God; and not to think those men, (whom the Apostle sets forth as the olive, that the grafted wild olive be not proud,) who did service to Christ about to come hereafter, even by the begetting of sons, on this account of less desert, because by divine right continence is preferred to wedded life, and pious virginity to marriage. Forsooth in them were being prepared and brought forth future things, which now we see fulfilled in a marvelous and effectual manner, whose married life also was prophetic: whence, not after the wonted custom of human wishes and joys, but by the very deep counsel of God, in certain of them fruitfulness obtained to be honored, in certain also barrenness to be made fruitful. But at this time, towards them unto whom it is said, ‘if they contain not, let them be married, we must use not consolation, but exhortation.” (1Cor7:9) But them, unto whom it is said, “Whoever can receive, let him receive, we must exhort, that they be not alarmed;” and alarm that they be not lifted up. (1Cor7:9-40) Wherefore virginity is not only to be set forth, that it may be loved, but also to be admonished, that it be not puffed up.
2. This we have undertaken in our present discourse: may Christ help us, the Son of a virgin and the Spouse of virgin born after the flesh of a virgin womb, and wedded after the Spirit in virgin marriage. Whereas, therefore, the whole Church itself is a virgin espoused unto one Husband Christ, as the Apostle says, of how great honor are its members worthy, who guard this even in the flesh itself, which the whole Church guards in the faith? Which imitates the mother of her husband, and her Lord. For the Church also is both a mother and a virgin. For whose virgin purity consult we for, if she is not a virgin? Or whose children address we, if she is not a mother? Mary bare the Head of This Body after the flesh, the Church bears the members of that Body after the Spirit. In both virginity hinders not fruitfulness: in both fruitfulness takes not away virginity. Wherefore, whereas the whole Church is holy both in body and spirit, and yet the whole is not virgin in body but in spirit; how much more holy is it in these members, wherein it is virgin both in body and spirit?
3. It is written in the Gospel, of the mother and brethren of Christ, that is, His kindred after the flesh, that, when word had been brought to Him, and they were standing without, because they could not come to Him by reason of the crowd, He made answer, Who is My mother? Or who are My brethren? And stretching forth His Hand over His disciples, He says, These are My brethren: and whosoever shall have done the will of My Father, that man is to Me brother, and mother, and sister. What else teaching us, than to prefer to kindred after the flesh, our descent after the Spirit: and that men are not blessed for this reason, that they are united by nearness of flesh unto just and holy men, but that, by obeying and following, they cleave unto their doctrine and conduct. Therefore Mary is more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ, than in conceiving the flesh of Christ. For to a certain one who said, Blessed is the womb, which bare You, He Himself made answer, Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the Word of God, and keep it. Lastly, to His brethren, that is, His kindred after the flesh, who believed not in Him, what profit was there in that being of kin? Thus also her nearness as a Mother would have been of no profit to Mary, had she not borne Christ in her heart after a more blessed manner than in her flesh.
4. **** Her virginity if was on this account more pleasing and accepted, in that it was not that Christ being conceived in her, rescued it beforehand from a husband who would violate it, Himself to preserve it; but, before He was conceived, chose it, already dedicated to God, as that from which to be born. This is shown by the words which Mary spoke in answer to the Angel announcing to her her conception; How, says she, shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Which assuredly she would not say, unless she had before vowed herself unto God as a virgin. But, because the habits of the Israelites as yet refused this, she was espoused to a just man, who would not take from her by violence, but rather guard against violent persons, what she had already vowed. Although, even if she had said this only, How shall this take place? and had not added, seeing I know not a man, certainly she would not have asked, how, being a female, she should give birth to her promised Son, if she had married with purpose of sexual intercourse. She might have been bidden also to continue a virgin, that in her by fitting miracle the Son of God should receive the form of a servant, but, being to be a pattern to holy virgins, lest it should be thought that she alone needed to be a virgin, who had obtained to conceive a child even without sexual intercourse, she dedicated her virginity to God, when as yet she knew not what she should conceive, in order that the imitation of a heavenly life in an earthly and mortal body should take place of vow, not of command; through love of choosing, not through necessity of doing service. Thus Christ by being born of a virgin, who, before she knew Who was to be born of her, had determined to continue a virgin, chose rather to approve, than to command, holy virginity. And thus, even in the female herself, in whom He took the form of a servant, He willed that virginity should be free. ****
5. ****There is, therefore, no reason why the virgins of God be sad, because themselves also cannot, keeping their virginity, be mothers of the flesh. For Him alone could virginity give birth to with fitting propriety, Who in His Birth could have no peer. However, That Birth of the Holy Virgin is the ornament of all holy virginity and themselves together with Mary are mothers of Christ, if they do the will of His Father. For Mary also is on this account the Mother of Christ in a way more full of praise and blessing, according to His sentence mentioned above. “Whosoever does the will of my Father Who is in heaven, that one is to Me brother, and sister, and mother.”[Mt12:50;Mk3:35] All these degrees of nearness of kin to Himself, He shows forth in a spiritual manner, in the People whom He has redeemed: as brothers and sisters He has holy men and holy women, for as much as they all are co-heirs in the heavenly inheritance. His mother is the whole Church because she herself assuredly gives birth to His members, that is, His faithful ones. Also His mother is every pious soul, doing the will of His Father with most fruitful charity, in them of whom it travails, until Himself be formed in them. Mary, therefore, doing the will of God, after the flesh, is only the mother of Christ, but after the Spirit she is both His sister and mother. ****
6. And on this account, that one female, not only in the Spirit but also in the flesh, is both a mother and a virgin. And a mother indeed in the Spirit, not of our Head, Which is the Saviour Himself, of Whom rather she was born after the Spirit: for as much as all, who have believed in Him, among whom is herself also, are rightly called children of the Bridegroom: but clearly the mother of His members, which are we: in that she wrought together by charity, that faithful ones should be born in the Church, who are members of That Head: but in the flesh, the mother of the Head Himself. For it behooved that our Head, on account of a notable miracle, should be born after the flesh of a virgin, that He might thereby signify that His members would be born after the Spirit of the Church a virgin: therefore Mary alone both in Spirit and in flesh is a mother and a virgin: both the mother of Christ, and a virgin of Christ; but the Church, in the Saints who shall possess the kingdom of God, in the Spirit indeed is altogether the mother of Christ, altogether a virgin of Christ: but in the flesh not altogether, but in certain a virgin of Christ, in certain a mother, but not of Christ. Forsooth both faithful women who are married, and virgins dedicated to God, by holy manners, and charity out of a pure heart, and good conscience, and faith unfeigned, because they do the will of the Father, are after a spiritual sense mothers of Christ. But they who in married life give birth to (children) after the flesh, give birth not to Christ, but to Adam, and therefore run, that their offspring having been dead in His Sacraments, may become members of Christ, for as much as they know what they have given birth to.
7. I have said this, lest haply married fruitfulness dare to vie with virgin chastity, and to set forth Mary herself, and to say unto the virgins of God, She had in her flesh two things worthy of honor, virginity and fruitfulness; in as much as she both continued a virgin, and bore: this happiness, since we could not both have the whole, we have divided, that you be virgins, we be mothers: for what is wanting to you in children, let your virginity that has been preserved, be a consolation: for us, let the gain of children make up for our lost virginity. This speech of faithful women married, unto holy virgins, would any how be to be endured, if they gave birth to Christians in the flesh; that in this alone, save virginity, the fruitfulness of Mary in the flesh should be more excellent, that she gave birth to the Head Himself of these members, but they to the members of That Head: but now, although by this speech there vie such as on this one account wed and have intercourse with husbands, that they may have sons, and have no other thought of their sons, than to gain them for Christ, and do this so soon as they can: yet are not Christians born of their flesh, but made so afterwards: the Church giving them birth, through this, that in a spiritual manner she is the mother of the members of Christ, of Whom also after a spiritual manner she is the virgin. And unto this holy birth mothers also who have not borne in the flesh Christians, are workers together, that they may become what they know that they could not give birth to in the flesh: yet are they workers together through this, wherein themselves also are virgins and mothers of Christ, that is to say, in faith which works through love.
8. Therefore; no fruitfulness of the flesh can be compared to holy virginity even of the flesh. For neither is itself also honored because it is virginity, but because it has been dedicated to God, and, although it be kept in the flesh, yet is it kept by religion and devotion of the Spirit. And by this means even virginity of body is spiritual, which continence of piety vows and keeps. For, even as no one makes an immodest use of the body, unless the sin have been before conceived in the spirit, so no one keeps modesty in the body, unless chastity have been before implanted in the spirit. But, further, if modesty of married life, although it be guarded in the flesh, is yet attributed to the soul, not to the flesh, under the rule and guidance of which, the flesh itself has no intercourse with any beside its own proper estate of marriage; how much more, and with how much greater honor, are we to reckon among the goods of the soul that continence, whereby the virgin purity of the flesh is vowed, consecrated, and kept, for the Creator Himself of the soul and flesh.
CityofGod.blog. This concludes Post 1 “Of Holy Virgins, St Augustine explains their dignity in our Holy Church.