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.
32. Wherefore a few witnesses, which the Lord deigns to suggest to my mind, I proceed to mention, from out the teaching of Christ concerning humility, such as perhaps may be enough for my purpose. His discourse, the first which He delivered to His disciples at greater length, began from this. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. And these without all controversy we take to be humble. The faith of that Centurion He on this account chiefly praised, and said that He had not found in Israel so great faith, because he believed with so great humility as to say, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. (Mt8:8); (Lk7:6). Whence also Matthew for no other reason said that he came unto Jesus, (whereas Luke most plainly signifies that he came not unto Him himself, but sent his friends,) save that by his most faithful humility he himself came unto Him more than they whom he sent. Whence also is that of the Prophet, The Lord is very high, and has respect unto things that are lowly: but what are very high He notes afar off; assuredly as not coming unto Him. Whence also He says to that woman of Canaan, O woman, great is your faith; be it done unto you as you will; whom above He had called a dog, and had made answer that the bread of the sons was not to be cast to her. And this she taking with humility had said, “Even so, Lord; for the dogs also eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”(Mt15:27); Mk7:28); (Lk16:21) And thus what by continual crying she obtained not, by humble confession she earned. Hence also those two are set forth praying in the Temple, the one a and the other a Publican, for the sake of those who seem to themselves just and despise the rest of men, and the confession of sins is set before the reckoning up of merits. And assuredly the Pharisee was rendering thanks unto God by reason of those things wherein he was greatly self-satisfied. I render thanks to You, says he, that I am not even as the rest of men, unjust extortioners, adulterers, even as also this publican. “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all things whatsoever I possess. But the Publican was standing afar off, not daring to lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beating his breast, saying, God be merciful unto me a sinner.” (Lk18:12) But there follows the divine judgment, Verily I say unto you, “the Publican went down from the Temple justified more than that Pharisee”. (Lk18:14) Then the cause is shown, why this is just; “For as much as he who exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Lk14:11);(Lk18:14) Therefore it may come to pass, that each one both shun real evils, and reflect on real goods in himself, and render thanks for these unto the Father of lights, from Whom comes down every best gift, and every perfect gift, and yet be rejected by reason of the sin of haughtiness, if through pride, even in his thought alone, which is before God, he insult other sinners, and specially when confessing their sins in prayer, unto whom is due not upbraiding with arrogance, but pity without despair. What is it that, when His disciples were questioning among themselves, who of them should be greater, He set a little child before their eyes, saying, Unless you shall be as this child, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven? Did He not chiefly commend humility, and set in it the desert of greatness? Or when unto the sons of Zebedee desiring to be at His side in lofty seats He so made answer, as that they should rather think of having to drink the Cup of His Passion, wherein “He humbled Himself even unto death, even the death of the Cross,”(Phil2:8) than with proud desire demand to be preferred to the rest; what did He show, save, that He would be a bestower of exaltation upon them, who should first follow Him as a teacher of humility? And now, in that, when about to go forth unto His Passion, He washed the feet of His disciples, and most openly taught them to do for their fellow disciples and fellow-servants this, which He their Lord and Master had done for them; how greatly did He commend humility? And in order to commend this He chose also that time, wherein they were looking on Him, as immediately about to die, with great longing; assuredly about to retain in their memory this especially, which their Master, Whom they were to imitate, had pointed out to them as the last thing. But He did this at that time, which surely He could have done on other days also before, wherein He had been conversant with them; at which time if it were done, this same would indeed be delivered, but certainly would not be so received.
33. Whereas, then, all Christians have to guard humility, for as much as it is from Christ that they are called Christians Whose Gospel no one considers with care, but that he discovers Him to be a Teacher of humility; specially is it becoming that they be followers and keepers of this virtue, who excel the rest of men in any great good, in order that they may have a great care of that, which I set down in the beginning, By how much you are great, by so much humble yourself in all things, and you shall find grace before God. Wherefore, because perpetual Continence and specially virginity, is a great good in the Saints of God, they must with all watchfulness beware, that it be not corrupted with pride.
34. Paul the Apostle censures evil unmarried women, curious and prating, and says that this fault comes of idleness. But at the same time, says he, being idle they learn to go about to houses: but not only idle, but curious also and prating, speaking what they ought not. Of these he had said above, But younger widows avoid; for when they have past their time in delights, they wish to wed in Christ; having condemnation, in that they have made void their first faith: that is, have not continued in that, which they had vowed at the first. And yet he says not, they marry, but they wish to marry. (1Cor7:25-40) For many of them are recalled from marrying, not by love of a noble purpose, but by fear of open shame, which also itself comes of pride, where by persons fear to displease men more than God. These, therefore, who wish to marry, and do not marry on this account, because they cannot with impunity, who would do better to marry than to be burned, that is, than to be laid waste in their very conscience by the hidden flame of lust, who repent of their profession, and who feel their confession irksome; unless they correct and set right their heart, and by the fear of God again overcome their lust, must be accounted among the dead; whether they pass their time in delights, whence the Apostle says, But she who passes her time in delights, living, is dead; or whether in labors and fasting, which are useless where there is no correction of the heart, and serve rather for display than amendment. I do not, for my part, impose on such a great regard for humility, in whom pride itself is confounded, and bloodstained by wound of conscience. Nor on such as are drunken, or covetous, or who are lying in any other kind whatever of damnable disease, at the same time that they have profession of bodily continence, and through perverse manners are at variance with their own name, do I impose this great anxiety about pious humility: unless haply in these evils they shall dare even to make a display of themselves, unto whom it is not enough, that the punishments of these are deferred. Nor am I treating of these, in whom there is a certain aim of pleasing, either by more elegant dress than the necessity of so great profession demands, or by remarkable manner of binding the head, whether by bosses of hair swelling forth, or by coverings so yielding, that the fine network below appears: unto these we must give precepts, not as yet concerning humility, but concerning chastity itself, or virgin modesty. Give me one who makes profession of perpetual continence, and who is free from these, and all such faults and spots of conduct; for this one I fear pride,for this so great good I am in alarm from the swelling of arrogance. The more there is in any one on account of which to be self-pleased, the more I fear, lest, by pleasing self, he please not Him, Who resists the proud, but unto the humble gives grace. (Jas4:6)
35. Certainly we are to contemplate in Christ Himself, the chief instruction and pattern of virginal purity. What further precept then concerning humility shall I give to the continent, than what He says to all, Learn of Me, in that I am meek and lowly of heart? when He had made mention above of His greatness, and, wishing to show this very thing, how great He was, and how little He had been made for our sakes, says, I confess to You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, in that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto little children. Even so, O Father, in that so it has been pleasing before You. All things have been delivered unto Me of My Father: and no one knows the Son save the Father; and no one knows the Father, save the Son, and he to whom the Son shall have willed to reveal Him.”(Mt11:27) “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” (Mt11:28) “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, in that I am meek and lowly of heart.” (Mt11:29) He, unto Whom the Father has delivered all things, and Whom no one knows but the Father, and Who alone, (and he, unto whom He shall have willed to reveal Him),knows the Father, says not, Learn of Me to make the world, or to raise the dead, but, in that I am meek and lowly of heart. O saving teaching? O Teacher and Lord of mortals, unto whom death was pledged and passed on in the cup of pride, He would not teach what Himself was not, He would not bid what Himself did not. I see You, O good Jesus, with the eyes of faith, which You have opened for me, as in an assembly of the human race, crying out and saying, Come unto Me, and learn of Me. What, I beseech You, through Whom all things were made, O Son of God, and the Same Who was made among all things, O Son of Man to learn what of You, come we to You? For that “I am meek, says He, and lowly of heart.” Is it to this that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in You are brought, that we learn this of You as a great thing, that You are meek and lowly of heart? Is it so great a thing to be little, that it could not at all be learned unless it were brought to pass by You, Who art so great? So indeed it is. For by no other way is there found out rest for the soul, save when the unquiet swelling has been dispersed, whereby it was great unto itself, when it was not sound unto You.
36. Let them hear You, and let them come to You, and let them learn of You to be meek and lowly, who seek Your Mercy and Truth, by living unto You, unto You, not unto themselves. Let him hear this, laboring and laden, who is weighed down by his burden, so as not to dare to lift up his eyes to heaven, that sinner beating his breast, and drawing near from afar. Let him hear, the centurion, not worthy that You should enter under his roof. (Mt8:8). Let him hear, Zaccheus, chief of publicans, restoring fourfold the gains of damnable sins. Let her hear, the woman in the city a sinner, by so much the more full of tears at Your feet, the more alien she had been from Your steps. Let them hear, the harlots and publicans, who enter into the kingdom of heaven before the Scribes and Pharisees. Let them hear, every kind of such ones, feastings with whom were cast in Your teeth as a charge, forsooth, as though by whole persons who sought not a physician, whereas You came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.(Lk5:32) All these, when they are converted unto You, easily grow meek, and are humbled before You, mindful of their own most unrighteous life, and of Your most indulgent mercy, in that, “where sin has abounded, grace has abounded more.” (Rom5:20).
37. But regard the troops of virgins, holy boys and girls: this kind has been trained up in Your Church: there for You it has been budding from its mother’s breasts; for Your Name it has loosed its tongue to speak, Your Name, as through the milk of its infancy, it has had poured in and has sucked, no one of this number can say, I, who before was a blasphemer, and persecutor, and injurious, but I obtained mercy, in that I did in being ignorant, in unbelief. Yea more, that, which You did not command, but only set forth, for such as would, to seize, saying, Whoever can receive, let him receive; they have seized, they have vowed, and, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, not for that You threatened, but for that You exhorted, they have made themselves eunuchs. To these cry out, let these hear You, in that You are meek and lowly of heart. Let these, by how much they are great, by so much humble themselves in all things, that they may find grace before You. They are just: but they are not, are they, such as You, justifying the ungodly? They are chaste: but them in sins their mothers nurtured in their wombs. They are holy, but You are also Holy of Holies. They are virgins, but they are not also born of virgins.
They are wholly chaste both in spirit and in flesh: but they are not the Word made flesh. And yet let them learn, not from those unto whom You forgive sins, but from You Yourself, The Lamb of God Who take away the sins of the world,(Jn1:29), in that You are meek and lowly of heart.
38. I send you not, soul that art religiously chaste, that hast not given the reins to fleshly appetite even so far as to allowed marriage, that hast not indulged your body about to depart even to the begetting one to succeed you, that hast sustained aloft your earthly members, afloat to accustom them to heaven; I send you not, in order that you may learn humility, unto publicans and sinners, who yet enter into the kingdom of heaven before the proud: I send you not to these: for they, who have been set free from the gulf of uncleanness, are unworthy that undefiled virginity be sent to them to take pattern from. I send you unto the King of Heaven, unto Him, by Whom men were created, and Who was created among men for the sake of men; unto Him, Who is fair of beauty above the sons of men, and despised by the sons of men on behalf of the sons of men: unto Him, Who, ruling the immortal angels, disdained not to do service unto mortals. Him, at any rate, not unrighteousness, but charity, made humble; Charity, which rivals not, is not puffed up, seeks not her own; for as much as Christ also pleased not Himself, but, as it is written of Him, The reproaches of such as reproached You have fallen upon Me. Go then, come unto Him, and learn, in that He is meek and lowly of heart. You shall not go unto him, who dared not by reason of the burden of unrighteousness to lift up his eyes to heaven, but unto Him, Who by the weight of charity came down from heaven. You shall not go unto her, who watered with tears the feet of her Lord, seeking forgiveness of heavy sins; but you shall go unto Him, Who, granting forgiveness of all sins, washed the feet of His own disciples. I know the dignity of your virginity; I propose not to you to imitate the Publican humbly accusing his own faults; but I fear for the Pharisee proudly boasting of his own merits. I say not, Be such as she, of whom it was said, There are forgiven unto her many sins, in that she has loved much;(Lk7:47); but I fear lest, as thinking that you have little forgiven to you, you love little. END #5 of Virgins