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.
39. I fear, I say, greatly for you, lest, when you boast that you will follow the Lamb wheresoever He shall have gone, you be unable by reason of swelling pride to follow Him through strait ways. It is good for you, O virgin soul, that thus, as you are a virgin, thus altogether keeping in your heart that you have been born again, keeping in your flesh that you have been born, you yet conceive of the fear of the Lord, and give birth to the spirit of salvation. Fear, indeed, there is not in charity, but perfect charity, as it is written, casts out fear: but fear of men, not of God: fear of temporal evils, not of the Divine Judgment at the last. Be not high-minded, but fear. Love the goodness of God; fear His severity: neither suffers you to be proud. For by loving you fear, lest you grievously offend One Who is loved and loves. For what more grievous offense, than that by pride you displease Him, Who for your sake has been displeasing to the proud? And where ought there to be more that chaste fear abiding for ever and ever, than in you, who hast no thought of the things of this world, how to please a wedded partner; but of the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord? That other fear is not in charity, but this chaste fear quits not charity. If you love not, fear lest you perish; if you love, fear lest you displease. That fear charity casts out, with this it runs within. The Apostle Paul also says, “For we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but we have received the spirit of adoption of sons, wherein we cry, Abba, Father.”(Rom8:15:). I believe that he speaks of that fear, which had been given in the Old Testament, lest the temporal goods should be lost, which God had promised unto those not yet sons under grace, but as yet slaves under the law. There is also the fear of eternal fire, to serve God in order to avoid which is assuredly not yet of perfect charity. For the desire of the reward is one thing, the fear of punishment another. They are different sayings, Whither shall I go away from Your Spirit, and from Your face whither shall I flee?(Ps139:7) and, One thing I have sought of the Lord, this I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord through all the days of my life, (Ps27:4) that I may consider the delight of the Lord, that I be protected in His temple: and, Turn not away Your face from me:(Ps27:9) and, My soul longs and faints unto the courts of the Lord.(Ps84:2)Those sayings let him have had, who dared not to lift up his eyes to heaven; and she who was watering with tears His feet,(Lk7:38) in order to obtain pardon for her grievous sins; but these do you have, who art careful about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit.(1Cor7:34) With those sayings there companies fear which has torment, which perfect charity casts forth; but with these sayings there companies chaste fear of the Lord, that abides for ever and ever. And to both kinds it must be said, Be not high-minded, but fear; that man neither of defense of his sins, nor of presumption of righteousness set himself up. For Paul also himself, who says, “For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear;” (Rom8:15) yet, fear being a companion of charity, says, With fear and much trembling was I towards you:(1Cor2:3)and that saying, which I have mentioned, that the grafted wild olive tree be not proud against the broken branches of the olive tree, himself made use of, saying, Be not high-minded, but fear; himself admonishing all the members of Christ in general, says, With fear and trembling, work out your own salvation; (Phil2:12) for it is God Who works in you both to will and to do, according to His good pleasure; that it seem not to pertain unto the Old Testament what is written, Serve the Lord in fear, and rejoice unto Him with trembling.
40. And what members of the holy body, which is the Church, ought more to take care, that upon them the holy Spirit may rest, than such as profess virginal holiness? But how does He rest, where He finds not His own place? What else than a humbled heart, to fill, not to leap back from; to raise up, not to weigh down? Whereas it has been most plainly said, “On whom shall rest My Spirit?”(Ps95:11) On him that is humble and quiet, and trembles at My words.(Is66:2) Already you live righteously, already you live piously, you live chastely, holily, with virginal purity; as yet, however, you live here, and are you not humbled at hearing, What, is not human life upon earth a trial? Does it not drive you back from over-confident arrogance, Woe unto the world because of offenses? Do you not tremble, lest you be accounted among the many, whose love waxes cold, because that iniquity abounds? Do you not smite your breast, when you hear?Wherefore, whoever thinks that he stands, let him see to it lest he fall? Amid these divine warnings and human dangers, do we yet find it so hard to persuade holy virgins to humility?
41. Or are we indeed to believe that it is for any other reason, that God suffers to be mixed up with the number of your profession, many, both men and women, about to fall, than that by the fall of these your fear may be increased, whereby to repress pride; which God so hates, as that against this one thing The Highest humbled Himself? Unless haply, in truth, you shall therefore fear, less, and be more puffed up, so as to love little Him, Who has loved you so much, as to give up Himself for you, because He has forgiven you little, living, forsooth from childhood, religiously, piously, with pious chastity with inviolate virginity. As though in truth you ought not to love with much greater glow of affection Him, Who, whatsoever things He has forgiven unto sinners upon their being turned to Him, suffered you not to fall into them. Or indeed that Pharisee, who therefore loved little, because he thought that little was forgiven him, was it for any other reason that he was blinded by this error, than because being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish his own, he had not been made subject unto the righteousness of God? But you, an elect race, and among the elect more elect, virgin choirs that follow the Lamb, even you by grace have been saved through faith; and this not of yourselves, but it is the gift of God: not of works, lest haply any be elated. For we are His workmanship, created in Jesus Christ in good works, which God has prepared, that in them we may walk. What therefore, by how much the more you are adorned by His gifts, shall you by so much the less love Him? May He Himself turn away so dreadful madness! Wherefore for as much as the Truth has spoken the truth, that he, unto whom little is forgiven, loves little; do ye, in order that you may love with full glow of affection Him, Whom you are free to love, being loosened from ties of marriage, account as altogether forgiven unto you, whatever of evil, by His governance, you have not committed. For your eyes ever unto the Lord, for as much as He shall pluck out of the net your feet, and, Except the Lord shall have kept the city, in vain has he watched who keeps it. And speaking of Continence itself the Apostle says, But I would that all men were as I myself; but each one has his own proper gift from God; one in this way, and another in that way. Who therefore bestows these gifts? (1Cor7:7) Who distributes his own proper gifts unto each as He will? Forsooth God, with Whom there is not unrighteousness, and by this means with what equity He makes some in this way, and others in that way, for man to know is either impossible or altogether hard: but that with equity He makes, it is not lawful to doubt. What, therefore, have you, which you have not received? And by what perversity do you less love Him, of Whom you have received more?
42. Wherefore let this be the first thought for the putting on of humility, that God’s virgin think not that it is of herself that she is such, and not rather that this best gift comes down from above from the Father of Lights, with Whom is no change nor shadow of motion. For thus she will not think that little has been forgiven her, so as for her to love little, and, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and wishing to establish her own, not to be made subject to the righteousness of God. In which fault was that Simon who was surpassed by the woman, unto whom many sins were forgiven, because she loved much. But she will have more cautious and true thoughts, that we are so to account all sins as though forgiven, from which God keeps us that we commit them not. Witnesses are those expressions of pious prayers in holy Scriptures, whereby it is shown, that those very things, which are commanded by God, are not done save by His Gift and help, Who commands. For there is a falsehood in the asking for them, if we could do them without the help of His grace. What is there so generally and chiefly charged, as obedience whereby the Commandments of God are kept? And yet we find this wished for. You, says he, hast charged, that Your commandments be greatly kept. Then it follows, “O that my ways were directed to keep Your righteousness(Ps120:5):” then shall I not be confounded, while I look unto all Your commandments.(Ps120:6). That which he had set down above that God had commanded, that he wished might of himself be fulfilled. This is done assuredly, that there be not sin; but, if there has been sin, the command is that one repent; lest by defense and excuse of sin he perish through pride, who has done it, while he is unwilling that what he has done perish through repentance. This also is asked of God, so that it may be understood that it is not done, save by His grant from Whom it is asked. Set, says he, O Lord, a watch to my mouth, and a door of continence around my lips (Ps141:3): let not my heart turn away unto evil words, to make excuses in sins with men that work unrighteousness. If, therefore, both obedience, whereby we keep His commandments, and repentance whereby we excuse not our sins, are wished for and asked, it is plain that, when it is done, it is by His gift that it is possessed, by His help that it is fulfilled, yet more openly is it said by reason of obedience. By the Lord the steps of a man are directed, and He shall will His way: and of repentance the Apostle says, if haply God may grant unto them repentance.
43. Concerning continence also itself has it not been most openly said, And when I knew that no one can be continent unless God give it, this also itself was a part of wisdom, to know whose gift it was? But perhaps continence is the gift of God, but wisdom man bestows upon himself, whereby to understand, that that gift is, not his own, but of God. Yea, The Lord makes wise the blind: and, The testimony of the Lord is faithful, it gives wisdom unto little ones: and, If any one want wisdom, let him ask of God, Who gives unto all liberally, and upbraids not, and it shall be given to him. But it becomes virgins to be wise, that their lamps be not extinguished. How wise, save not having high thoughts, but consenting unto the lowly. For Wisdom Itself has said to man, Lo, piety is wisdom! If therefore you have nothing, which you have not received, Be not high-minded, but fear. And love not little, as though Him by Whom little has been forgiven to you; but, rather, love Him much, by Whom much has been given to you. For if he loves, unto whom it has been given not to repay: how much more ought he to love, unto whom it has been given to possess. For both, whosoever continues chaste from the beginning, is ruled by Him; and whosoever is made chaste instead of unchaste, is corrected by Him; and whosoever is unchaste even unto the end, is abandoned by Him. But this He can do by secret counsel, by unrighteous He cannot: and perhaps it is for this end that it lies hid, that there may be more fear, and less Pride.
44. Next let not man, now that he knows that by the grace of God he is what he is, fall into another snare of pride, so as by lifting up himself for the very grace of God to despise the rest. By which fault that other Pharisee both gave thanks unto God for the goods which he had, and yet vaunted himself above the Publican confessing his sins. What therefore should a virgin do, what should she think, that she vaunt not herself above those, men or women, who have not this so great gift? For she ought not to feign humility, but to set it forth: for the feigning of humility is greater pride. Wherefore Scripture wishing to show that humility ought to be true, after having said, By how much you are great, by so much humble yourself in all things, added soon after, And you shall find grace before God: assuredly where one could not humble one’s self deceitfully.
45. Wherefore what shall we say? Is there any thought which a virgin of God may truly have, by reason of which she dare not to set herself before a faithful women, not only a widow, but even married? I say not a reprobate virgin; for who knows not that an obedient women is to be set before a disobedient virgin? But where both are obedient unto the commands of God, shall she so tremble to prefer holy virginity even to chaste marriage, and continence to wedded life, the fruit an hundred-fold to go before the thirty-fold? Nay, let her not doubt to prefer this thing to that thing; yet let not this or that virgin, obeying and fearing God dare to set herself before this or that women, obeying, and fearing God; otherwise she will not be humble, and God resists the proud! What, therefore, shall she have in her thoughts? Forsooth the hidden gifts of God which nought save the questioning of trial makes known to each, even in himself. For, to pass over the rest, whence does a virgin now, although careful of the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord but that haply, by reason of some weakness of mind unknown to herself, she be not as yet ripe for martyrdom, whereas that women, whom she rejoiced to set herself before, may already be able to drink the Cup of the Lord’s humiliation, which He set before His disciples, to drink first, when enamored of high place? Whence, I say, does she know, but that she herself be not as yet Thecla, that other be already Crispina. Certainly unless there be present trial, there takes place no proof of this gift.
46. But this is so great, that certain understand it to be the fruit an hundred-fold. For the authority of the Church, bears a very conspicuous witness, in which it is known to the faithful in what place the Martyrs, in what place the holy nuns deceased, are rehearsed at the Sacraments of the Altar. But what the meaning is of that difference of fruitfulness, let them see to it, who understand these things better than we; whether the virginal life be in fruit an hundred-fold, in sixty-fold the widowed, in thirty-fold the married; or whether the hundred-fold fruitfulness be ascribed unto martyrdom, the sixty-fold unto continence, the thirty-fold unto marriage; or whether virginity by the addition of martyrdom, fill up the hundred-fold, but when alone be in sixty-fold, but married persons bearing thirty-fold arrive at sixty-fold, in case they shall be martyrs: or whether, what seems to me more probable, for as much as the gifts of Divine grace are many, and one is greater and better than another, whence the Apostle says, But emulate ye the better gifts; we are to understand that they are more in number than to allow of being distributed under those different kinds. In the first place, that we set not widowed continence either as bearing no fruit, or set it but level with the desert, of married charity, or equal it unto virgin glory; or think that the Crown of Martyrdom, either established in habit of mind, although proof of trial be wanting, or in actual making trial of suffering, be added unto either one of those these chastities, without any increase of fruitfulness. Next, when we set it down that many men and women so keep virginal chastity, as that yet they do not the things which the Lord says, “If you will to be perfect, go, sell all that you have, and give unto the poor,and you shall have treasure in Heaven: and come, follow me (Mt19:21) ; and dare not unite themselves to those dwelling together, among whom no one says that any thing is his own, but all things are unto them common; do we think that there is no addition of fruitfulness unto the virgins of God, when they do this? Or that the virgins of God are without any fruit, although they do not this? Therefore there are many gifts, and some brighter and higher than others, each than each. And at times one is fruitful in fewer gifts, but better; another in lower gifts, but more. And in what manner they be either made equal one to another, or distinguished one from another, in receiving eternal honors who of men would dare to pronounce? Whereas yet it is plain both that those differences are many, and that the better are profitable not for the present time, but for eternity. But I judge that the Lord willed to make mention of three differences of fruitfulness, the rest He left to such as understand. For also another Evangelist has made mention only of the hundred-fold: we are not, therefore, are we, to think that he either rejected, or knew not of, the other two, but rather that he left them to be understood?
47. But, as I had begun to say, whether the fruit an hundred-fold be virginity dedicated to God or whether we are to understand that interval of fruitfulness in some other way, either such as we have made mention of, or such as we have not made mention of; yet no one, as I suppose, will have dared to prefer virginity to martyrdom, and no one will have doubted that this latter gift is hidden, if trial to test it be wanting. A virgin, therefore, has a subject for thought, such as may be of profit to her for the keeping of humility, that she violate not that charity, which is above all gifts, without which assuredly whatever other gifts she shall have had, whether few or many, whether great or small, she is nothing. She has, I say, a subject for thought, that she be not puffed up, that she rival not; forsooth that she so make profession that the virginal good is much greater and better than the married good, as that yet she know not whether this or that married woman be not already able to suffer for Christ, but herself as yet unable, and she herein spared, that her weakness is not put to the question by trial. For God, says the Apostle, is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tried above what you are able but will make with the trial a way out, that you may be able to bear it. Perhaps, therefore, those men or women keeping a way of married life praiseworthy in its kind, are already able, against an enemy forcing to unrighteousness, to contend even by tearing in pieces of bowels, and shedding of blood; but these men or women, continent from childhood, and making themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, still are not as yet able to endure such, either for righteousness, or for chastity itself. For it is one thing, for truth and a holy purpose, not to consent unto one who would persuade and flatter, but another thing not to yield even to one who tortures and strikes. These lie hidden in the powers and strength of souls, by trial they are unfolded, by actual essay they come forth. In order, therefore, that each be not puffed up by reason of that, which he sees clearly that he can do, let him humbly consider that he knows not that there is perchance something more excellent which he cannot do, but that some, who neither have nor profess that of which he is lawfully self-conscious, are able to do this, which he himself cannot do. Thus will be kept, not by feigned but by true humility, In honor preventing one another, and, esteeming each the other higher than himself. END Of Virgins:…#6