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
25. Nor indeed has the Holy Ghost failed to speak what should be of open and unshaken avail against these men, most shamelessly and madly obstinate, and should repel their assault, as of wild beasts, from His sheep-fold, by defenses that may not be stormed. For, after He had said concerning eunuchs, I will give unto them in My house and in My wall a named place, much better than of sons and daughters; lest any too carnal should think that there was any thing temporal to be hoped for in these words, straightway He added, “An eternal name I will give unto them, nor shall it ever fail:”(Is56:5) as though He should say, Why do you draw back, impious blindness? Why do you draw back? Why do you pour the clouds of your perverseness over the clear (sky) of truth? Why in so great light of Scriptures do you seek after darkness from out which to lay snares? Why do you promise temporal advantage only to holy persons exercising continence? An eternal name I will give unto them: why, where persons keep from all sexual intercourse, and also in the very fact that they abstain from these, have thought of the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord, do you essay to refer them unto earthly advantage? An eternal name I will give unto them. Why contend you that the kingdom of heaven, for the sake of which holy eunuchs have made themselves eunuchs, is to be understood in this life only? An eternal name I will give unto them. And if haply in this place you endeavor to take the word itself eternal in the sense of lasting for a long time, I add, I heap up, I tread in, nor shall it ever fail. What more seek you? What more say you? This eternal name, whatever it be, unto the eunuchs of God which assuredly signifies a certain peculiar and excellent glory, shall not be in common with many, although set in the same kingdom, and in the same house. For on this account also, perhaps, it is called a name, that it distinguishes those, to whom it is given, from the rest.
26. What then, say they, is the meaning of that penny, which is given in payment to all alike when the work of the vineyard is ended? Whether it be to those who have labored from the first hour, or to those who have labored one hour? What assuredly does it signify, but something, which all shall have in common, such as is life eternal itself, the kingdom of heaven itself, where shall be all, whom God has predestined, called, justified, glorified? For it behooves that this corruptible put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality. This is that penny, wages for all. Yet star differs from star in glory; so also the resurrection of the dead. These are the different merits of the Saints. For, if by that penny the heaven were signified, have not all the stars in common to be in the heaven? And yet, There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, another of the stars. (1Cor15:41) If that penny were taken for health of body, have not all the members, when we are well, health in common; and, should this health continue even unto death, is it not in all alike and equally? And yet, God has set the members, each one of them, in the body, as He would; that neither the whole be an eye, nor the whole hearing, nor the whole smelling: and, whatever else there is, it has its own property, although it have health equally with all. Thus because life eternal itself shall be alike to all, an equal penny was assigned to all; but, because in that life eternal itself he lights of merits shall shine with a distinction, there are many mansions in the house of the Father: and, by this means, in the penny not unlike, one lives not longer than another; but in the many mansions, one is honored with greater brightness than another.
27. Therefore go on, Saints of God, boys and girls, males and females, unmarried men, and women; go on and persevere unto the end. Praise more sweetly the Lord, Whom ye think on more richly: hope more happily in Him, Whom ye serve more instantly: love more ardently Him, whom you please more attentively. With loins girded, and lamps burning, wait for the Lord, when He comes from the marriage. You shall bring unto the marriage of the Lamb a new song, which you shall sing on your harps. Not surely such as the whole earth sings, unto which it is said, Sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, the whole earth : but such as no one shall be able to utter but you. For thus there saw you in the Apocalypse a certain one beloved above others by the Lamb, who had been wont to lie on His breast, and who used to drink in, and burst forth, the Word of God above wonders of heaven. He saw you twelve times twelve thousand of holy harpers, of undefiled virginity in body, of inviolate truth in heart; and he wrote of you, that you follow the Lamb wherever He shall go. Where think we that This Lamb goes, where no one either dares or is able to follow save you? Where think we that He goes? Into what glades and meadows? Where, I think, the grass are joys; not vain joys of this world, lying madnesses; nor joys such as shall be in the kingdom of God itself, for the rest that are not virgins but distinct from the portion of joys of all the rest. Joy of the virgins of Christ, of Christ, in Christ, with Christ, after Christ, through Christ, for Christ. The joys peculiar to the virgins of Christ, are not the same as of such as are not virgins, although of Christ. For there are to different persons different joys, but to none such. Go (enter) into these, follow the Lamb, because the Flesh of the Lamb also is assuredly virgin. For this He retained in Himself when grown up, which He took not away from His Mother by His conception and birth. Follow Him, as you deserve, in virginity of heart and flesh, wheresoever He shall have gone. For what is it to follow, but to imitate? Because Christ has suffered for us, leaving us an example,(1Pet2:21) as says the Apostle Peter, that we should follow His steps. Him each one follows in that, wherein he imitates Him: not so far forth as He is the only Son of God, by Whom all things were made; but so far forth as, the Son of Man, He set forth in Himself, what behooved for us to imitate. And many things in Him are set forth for all to imitate: but virginity of the flesh not for all; for they have not what to do in order to be virgins, in whom it has been already brought to pass that they be not virgins
28. Therefore let the rest of the faithful, who have lost virginity, follow the Lamb, not wherever He shall have gone, but so far as ever they shall have been able. But they are able every where, save when He walks in the grace of virginity. Blessed are the poor in spirit; imitate Him, Who, whereas He was rich, was made poor for your sakes.Blessed are the meek; imitate Him, Who said, Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.Blessed are they that mourn; imitate Him, Who wept over Jerusalem. Blessed are they, who hunger and thirst after righteousness; imitate Him, Who said, My meat is to do the will of Him Who sent Me.Blessed are the merciful; imitate Him, Who came to the help of him who was wounded by robbers, and who lay in the way half-dead and despaired of. Blessed are the pure in heart; imitate Him, Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.Blessed are the peace-makers; imitate Him, Who said on behalf of His persecutors, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.Blessed are they, who suffer persecution for righteousness sake; imitate Him, Who suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you follow His steps. These things, whoever imitate, in these they follow the Lamb. But surely even married persons may go in those steps, although not setting their foot perfectly in the same print, yet walking in the same paths.
29. But, lo, That Lamb goes by a Virgin road, how shall they go after Him, who have lost what there is no way for them to recover? Do ye, therefore, do ye go after Him, His virgins; do ye there also go after Him, in that on this one account wherever He shall have gone, you follow Him: for unto any other gift whatsoever of holiness, whereby to follow Him, we can exhort married persons, save this which they have lost beyond power of recovery. Follow him, therefore, by holding with perseverance what you have vowed with ardor. Go when you can, that the good of virginity perish not from you, unto which you can do nothing, in order that it may return. The rest of the multitude of the faithful will see you, which cannot unto this follow the Lamb; it will see you, it will not envy you: and by rejoicing together with you, what it has not in itself, it will have in you. For that new song also, which is your own, it will not be able to utter; but it will not be unable to hear, and to be delighted with your so excellent good: but you, who shall both utter and hear, in that what you shall say, this you shall hear of yourselves, will exult with greater happiness, and reign with greater joy. But they will have no sorrow on account of your greater joy, to whom this shall be wanting. Forsooth That Lamb, Whom you shall follow wherever He shall have gone, will not desert those who cannot follow Him, where you can. Almighty is the Lamb, of Whom we speak. He both will go before you, and will not depart from them, when God shall be all in all. And they, who shall have less, shall not turn away in dislike from you: for, where there is no envying, difference exists with concord. Take to you, then, have trust, be strong, continue, you who vow and pay unto the Lord your God vows of perpetual continence, not for the sake of this present world, but for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
30. You also who have not yet made this vow, who are able to receive it, receive it. Run with perseverance, that you may obtain. Take ye each his sacrifices, and enter ye into the courts of the Lord, not of necessity, having power over your own will. For not as, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, can it so be said, You shall not wed. The former are demanded, the latter are offered. If the latter are done, they are praised: unless the former are done, they are condemned. In the former the Lord commands us what is due; but in the latter, if you shall have spent any thing more, on His return He will repay you. Think of (whatever that be) within His wall a place named, much better than of sons and of daughters. Think of an eternal name there. Who unfolds of what kind that name shall be? Yet, whatever it shall be, it shall be eternal. By believing and hoping and loving this, you have been able, not to shun marriage, as forbidden, but to fly past it, as allowed.
31. Whence the greatness of this service, unto the undertaking of which we have according to our strength exhorted, the more excellent and divine it is, the more does it warn our anxiety, to say something not only concerning most glorious chastity, but also concerning safest humility. When then such as make profession of perpetual chastity comparing themselves with married persons, shall have discovered, that, according to the Scriptures, the others are below both in work and wages, both in vow and reward, let what is written straightway come into their mind, By how much you are great, by so much humble yourself in all things: and you shall find favor before God. The measure of humility for each has been given from the measure of his greatness itself: unto which pride is full of danger, which lays the greater wait against persons the greater they be. On this follows envying, as a daughter in her train; forsooth pride straightway gives birth to her, nor is she ever without such a daughter and companion. By which two evils, that is, pride and envying, is the devil (a devil). Therefore it is against pride, the mother of envying, that the whole Christian discipline chiefly wars. For this teaches humility, whereby both to gain and to keep charity; of which after that it had been said, Charity envies not; as though we were asking the reason, how it comes to pass that it envies not, he straightway added, is not puffed up; as though he should say, on this account it has not envying, in that neither has it pride. Therefore the Teacher of humility, Christ, first emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man. He humbled Himself, made obedient even unto death, even the death of the Cross. But His teaching itself, how carefully it suggests humility, and how earnest and instant it is in commanding this, who can easily unfold, and bring together all witnesses for proof of this matter? This let him essay to do, or do, whosoever shall wish to write a separate treatise on humility; but of this present work the end proposed is different, and it has been undertaken on a matter so great, as that it has chiefly to guard against Pride. END # 4