2 He treateth of marriage, 4 showing it to be a remedy against fornication: 10 and that the bond thereof ought not lightly to be dissolved. 18, 20 Every man must be content with his vocation. 25 Virginity wherefore to be embraced. 35 And for what respects we may either marry, or abstain from marrying.
OW concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
Douay Rheims Version
Lessons relating to marriage and celibacy. Virginity is preferable to a married state.
OW concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
In this chapter he answers five questions of the Corinthians about the laws of matrimony, and about the counsel of virginity and celibacy—
i. The first question is whether matrimony and its use are lawful for a Christian, as being born again and sanctified. The answer is that they are lawful, and that, moreover, when either party demands his due, it ought to be given, and that therefore it is better to marry than to burn.
ii. The second is (ver. 10) concerning divorce, whether it is lawful, and S. Paul answers that it is not.
iii. The third is (ver. 12), If a believer have an unbelieving partner, can they continue to live together? He answers that they both can and ought, if the unbeliever consents to live in peace with the believer.
iv. The fourth is (ver.17) whether a man’s state is to be changed because of his faith; whether, e.g., a married person who was a slave when a heathen becomes free when a Christian, whether a Gentile becomes a Jew. He answers in the negative, and says that each should remain in his station.
v. The fifth is (ver. 25) whether at all events those who are converted to Christ as virgins ought to remain so. He replies that virginity is not enjoined on any as a precept, but that it is on all as a counsel, as being better than matrimony for six reasons:—
(a) Because of the present necessity, inasmuch as only a short time is given us for obtaining, not temporal but eternal gain: she that is a virgin is wholly intent in these things (ver. 26).
(b) Because he that is married is, as it were, bound to his wife with the wedding-bond, but the unmarried is free and unconstrained (ver.27).
(c) Because the unmarried is free from the tribulation of the flesh which attacks the married (ver. 28).
(d) Because a virgin thinks only of what is pleasing to God, but one that is married has a heart divided between God and his wife (ver.32).
(e) Because a virgin is holy in body and in soul, but the married not in body, and often not in soul (ver.34).
(f) Because he that is unmarried gives his virgin an opportunity to serve God without interruption, whereas the married have a thousand hindrances to piety and devotion (ver.35).
Ver. 1.—Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me. In answer to the questions you have put to me about the rights, use, and end of matrimony and the single life, I answer that it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Notice here from S. Anselm and Ambrose that certain false Apostles, in order to seem more holy, taught that marriage was to be despised, because of the words of Christ (S. Matt. x. 12), “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” which they interpreted as applying to all Christians, especially since the act of fornication, which had been so severely condemned by the Apostle in the preceding chapter, is physically the same as conjugal copulation. The Corinthians, therefore, asked S. Paul by letter whether Christians ought to be so chaste, and ought to be so much free for prayer, godliness, and purity as to be bound, even though married, to abstain altogether from intercourse with their wives.
It is good for a man not to touch a woman. It is beautiful, exemplary, and excellent. The Greek here is καλὸν. So Theophylact. Good is not here the same as useful or expedient, as Erasmus turns it, but denotes that moral and spiritual good which of itself conduces to victory over passion, to piety, and salvation (cf. vers. 32, 34, 35). To touch a woman or to know is with the Hebrews a modest form of speech, denoting the act of conjugal copulation.
S. Jerome (lib.i. contra Jovin.) adds that the Apostle says touch, “because the very touching of a woman is dangerous, and to be avoided by every man.” These are his words: “The Apostle does not say it is good not to have a wife, but ‘it is good not to touch a woman,’ as though there were danger in the touch, not to be escaped from by any one who should so touch her: being one who steals away the precious souls of men, and makes the hearts of youths to fly out of their control. Shall any one nurse a fire in his bosom and not be burnt? or walk upon hot coals and not suffer harm? In the same way, therefore, that he who touches fire is burnt, so when man and woman touch they feel its effect and perceive the difference between the sexes. The fables of the heathen relate that Mithras and Ericthonius, either on stone or in the earth, were generated by the mere heat of lust. Hence too Joseph fled from the Egyptian woman, because she wished to touch him; and as though he and been bitten by a mad dog and feared lest the poison should eat its way, he cast off the cloak that she had touched,” Let men and youths take note of these words.
Cardinal Vitriaco, a wise and learned man, relates of S. Mary d’Oignies that she had so weakened and dried up her body by fastings that for several years she felt not even the first motions of lust, and that when a certain holy man clasped her hand in pure spiritual affection, and thus caused the motions of the flesh to arise, she, being ignorant of this, heard a voice from heaven which said, “Do not touch me,” She did not understand it, but told it to another who did, and thenceforward she abstained from all such contact.
S. Gregory (Dial. lib. iv. c. 11) relates how S. Ursinus, a presbyter, had lived in chastity separated from his wife, and when he was on his death-bed, drawing has last breath, his wife came near and put her ear to his mouth, to hear if he still breathed. He, still having a few minutes to live, on perceiving this, said with as much strength as he could summon, “Depart from me, woman—a spark still lingers in the embers; do not fan it into a flame.” Well sung the poet:—
“Regulus by a glance, the Siren of Achelous with a song,
The Thessalian sage with gentle rubbing slays:
So with eyes, with hands, with song does woman burn,
And wield the three-forked light of angry Jove,”
S. Jerome rightly infers from this (lib. i. contra Jovin.) that it is an evil for a man to touch a woman. He does not say it is sinful, as Jovinian and others falsely alleged against him, but evil. For this touching is an act of concupiscence, and of the depraved pleasure of the flesh; but it is nevertheless excused by the good of wedlock, but is wholly removed by the good of the single life.
It may be urged from Gen, ii. 18, where it is said that it is not good for a man to be alone, that it is therefore good to touch a woman. I answer that in Genesis, God is speaking of the good of the species, Paul of the individual; God in the time when the world was uninhabited, Paul when it is full; God of temporal good, Paul of the good of the eternal life of the Spirit. In this it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
Ver. 2.—Nevertheless to avoid fornication let every man have his own wife. Lest being unmarried, and unwilling to live a chaste life, he fall into fornication. Every man, say Melancthon and Bucer, must include the priest and the monk. I reply that every man means every man that is free, not bound by vow, disease, or old age: for such are incapable if matrimony. Laws and documents must be interpreted according to their subject-matter: they only apply to those capable of receiving them, not to those who are not. To him then who is free, and unbound, and can fulfil the requirements of matrimony, the apostle gives to precept, but advice and permission, that if he fears to fall into fornication he should marry a wife, or keep to her that he has already married, rather than fall into any danger of committing such a sin. So the Fathers whom I will quote at ver. 9 all agree in saying. This must be the Apostle’s meaning, for otherwise he would contradict himself, for throughout the whole chapter he urges the life of chastity.
Moreover, the apostle is speaking primarily to the married alone, and not to the unmarried. To these latter he begins to speak in ver. 8, Now I say to the unmarried and widows, where the adversative now marks the change. He says too here let every man have, not let every man marry, because he is speaking to those who already had wives. So S. Jerome (lib. i. contra Jovin.) says, “Let every man that is married have his own wife,” i.e., continue to have her, not dismiss or repudiate her, but rather use her lawfully and chastely. The word have signifies not an inchoate but a continuous action. So 2 Tim. i. 13: “Hold fast the form of sound words,” where the same word is used. So in S. Luke xix. 26: Unto every one that hath (that uses his talent) shall be given; and from him that hath not (does not use), even that he hath shall be taken away from him; otherwise there cannot well be taken from a man what he has not. That this is the true meaning is evident from that follows in ver. 3.
Ver. 3.—Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence. A modest paraphrase for the conjugal debt.
Ver. 4.—The wife hath not power of her own body but the husband, She has not power, that is, over those members which distinguish woman from man, in so far as they serve for the conjugal act. Power she has not over them so as to contain at her own will or to have intercourse with another. That power belongs to the husband alone, and that for himself only, not for another. Cf. S. Augustine (contra Julian, lib. v.). The Greek is literally, has no right over her body, whether to contain or to hand it over to another.
Likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Hence it is clear that, though in the government of the family the wife should be subject and obedient to her husband, yet in the right of exacting and returning the marriage debt she is equal with her husband, has the same right over his body that he has over hers, and this from the marriage contract, in which each has given to the other the same power over the body, and received the same power over the other’s body. The husband, therefore, is as much bound to render his wife, as the wife her husband, faithfulness and the marriage debt. This is taught at length in their expositions of this passage by Chrysostom. Theophylact, Ścumenius, Primasius, Anselm, and by S. Jerome (Cit. 32, qu. 2, cap. Apostolus), who says that husband and wife are declared to be equal in rights and duties. “When, therefore,” says S. Chrysostom (Hom. 19), “a harlot comes and tempts you, say that your body is not your own but your wife’s. Similarly, let the wife say to any one who proposes to rob her of her chastity, ‘My body is not mine but my husband’s.’”
Ver. 5.—Defraud ye not one the other. By denying the marriage debt. The words and to fasting, though in the Greek, are wanting in the Latin. Hence Nicholas I., in his answers to the questions if the Bulgarians (c. 50), writes to them that, throughout the forty days of Lent, they should not come at their wives. But this is a matter of counsel.
And come together again. From this Peter Martyr and the Magdeburgians conclude that it is not lawful for married persons to vow perpetual continence by mutual consent. But the answer to this is that the Apostle is not prescribing but permitting the marriage act.
Ver. 6.—But I speak this by permission and not of commandment.
1. I permit the act of copulation by way of indulgence: I do not prescribe it. Nay, S. Augustine (Enchirid. c. 78) takes it: “I say this by way of pardon.” The Greek word denotes forgiveness, and hence S. Augustine gathers that it is a venial sin to have sexual connection, not for the sake of children but for carnal pleasure, and to avoid the temptations of Satan; for pardon is given to what is sinful. So too indulgence is given in what concerns sin, or at all events a lesser good, as S. Thomas has rightly observed.
2. That there is no precept given here is also evident, because the Apostle permits married people to contain for a time, that they may give themselves to fasting and to prayer; therefore, if they agree to devote their whole life to fasting and to prayer, he permits them to contain themselves for life.
3. He says come together, and gives the reason, “that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency;“ i.e., that there may be no danger of your falling into adultery, or other acts of impurity, because of your incontinency. Therefore, when the cause does not exist, viz., the danger of incontinency, as it does not exist in those who have sufficient high-mindedness to curb it and tame it, he permits them to be continent for life.
4. He says in ver. 7, “I would that all men were even as I myself,” i.e., not chaste in some way or other, but altogether continent, unmarried, nay, virgin souls, even as I, who am unmarried. So Ambrose, Theodoret, Theophylact, Anselm, Chrysostom, Ścumenius and Epiphanius (Hæres.78), S. Jerome (Ep. 22 ad Eustoch.)
5. In the early days of the Church many married persons, in obedience to this admonition of S. Paul, observed by mutual consent perpetual chastity, as Tertullian tells us (ad Uxor. lib. i. c. vi., and de Resurr. Carn. c. 8, and de Orland. Virg. c. 13). The same is said by the author of commentaries de Sing. Cleric., given by S. Cyprian.
Here are some examples of married persons, not merely of low estate, but people illustrious both for their birth and holiness and renown, who preserved their continency and chastity unimpaired in wedlock.
(1.) There are the Blessed Virgin and Joseph, who have raised the banner of chastity not only before virgins, but also before they married. (2.) We have the illustrious martyrs Cecilia and Valerian, who were of such merit that the body of S. Cecilia has been found by Clement VIII. in this age, after the lapse of so many centuries, undecayed and uninjured. (3.) There are SS. Julian and Basilissa, whose illustrious life is narrated by Surius. (4.) S. Pulcheria Augusta, sister of the Emperor Theodosius, made a vow to God of perpetual chastity, and on the death of Theodosius, married Marcian, stipulating that she should keep her vow, and raised him to the Imperial throne; and this vow was faithfully kept unbroken by both, as Cedrenus and others testify. (5.) We have the Emperor Henry II. and Cunegund, the latter of whom walked over hot iron to prove her chastity. (6.) There is the example of Boleslaus V., King of the Poles, who was called the Maid, and Cunegund, daughter of Belas, King if the Hungarians. (7.) King Conrad, son of the Emperor Henry IV., with Matilda his wife. (8.) Alphonse II. King of the Asturians, who by keeping himself from his wife gained the name of “the Chaste.” (9.) Queen Richardis, who, though married to King Charles the Fat, retained her virginity. (10.) Pharaildis, niece of S. Amelberga and Pepin, was ever-virgin though married. (11.) Edward III. and Egitha were virgin spouses. (12.) Ethelreda, Queen of the East Angles, though twice married, remained a virgin. (13.) We have two married people of Arvernum, spoken of by Gregory of Tours (de Gloria Conf. c. xxxii.): “When the wife was dead, the husband raised his hands towards heaven, saying: ‘I thank Thee, Maker of all things, that as Thou didst vouchsafe to intrust her to me, so I restore her to Thee undefiled by any conjugal delight.’ But she smilingly said: ‘Peace, peace, O man of God; it is snot necessary to publish our secret.’ Shortly afterwards the husband died and was buried in another place; and, lo! in the morning the two tombs were found together, as is today: and therefore natives there are wont to speak of them as the Two Lovers, and to pay them the highest honour.” Nowadays two examples of the same thing nay be found.
Ver. 7.—For I would that all men were even as I myself. That is so far as the single life and continency is concerned. The Apostle means that he wishes it if it could well be. I would, therefore, denotes as inchoate and imperfect act of the will. This is evident too from his subjoining,
But every man hath his proper gift of God. The word all again means each one, or all taken one by one, not collectively. For if all men in a body were to abstain, there would be no matrimony, and the human race and the world would come to an end together. In the same way we are said to be able to avoid all venial sins: that is, all taken singly, not collectively, or in other words, each one. Others take all collectively, inasmuch as if God were to inspire all men with this resolution of continency, it would be a sign that the number of the elect was completed, and that God wished to put an end to the world. But Paul was well aware that God at that time was willing the contrary, in order that the Church might increase and be multiplied through matrimony. The first explanation therefore is the sounder.
But everyman hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner and another after that, That is, he has his own gift of his own will, says the treatise de Castitate, falsely assigned to Pope Sixtus III., which is preserved in the Biblioth. SS. Patrum, vol. v. It is, however, the work of some Pelagian; for the tenor of the whole treatise is to show that chastity is the work of free-will, and of a man’s own volition, and not of the grace of God. (Cf. Bellarmine, de Monach. lib. ii. c. 31, and de Clericis, lib.i. c. 21, ad. 4.) But this is the error of Pelagius; for if you take away the grace of God from a man’s will it can no longer be called “his proper gift of God.” For the will if a man is nothing else but the free choice of his own will. For God has given to all an equal and similar gift of free-will; wherefore that one chooses chastity, another matrimony, cannot be said to e the gift of God if you take away His grace; but it would have to be attributed to the free choice of each man, and that choice therefore in diverse things is unlike and unequal.
Proper gift then denotes the gift of conjugal, virginal, or widowed chastity. But heretics say that priests therefore, and monks, if they have not the gift of chastity, may lawfully enter on matrimony. But by parity of reason, it might be said ghat therefore married people, if they have not the gift of conjugal chastity, as many adulterers have not, may lawfully commit adultery, or enter upon a second marriage with one that is an adulterer. Or again that if a wife is absent, is unwilling, or is ill, the husband may go to another woman, if he alleges that he has not the gift of widowed chastity. And although the passion of Luther may admit this excuse as valid, yet all shrink from it; and the Romans and other heathen, by the instinct of nature, regarded all such tenets as monstrous.
I reply, then, with Chrysostom and the Fathers cited, that the Apostle is here giving consolation and indulgence to the weak, and to those that are married, for having embraced the gift and state of conjugal chastity, then before they might have remained virgins. For of others that are not married he adds, It is good for them if they abide even as I; that is, it is good for them, if they will, to remain virgins; but this I do not command, nay, I am consoling the married, and I permit them the due use of wedlock, in order that they may avoid all scruple, by the reflection that each one has his own gift from God, and that they have the gift of wedlock, i.e., conjugal chastity; for matrimony itself is a gift of God, and was instituted by Him. God wills, in order to replenish the earth, in a general and indeterminate way, that some should be married; and yet this gift of wedlock is less than the gift of virginity.
It may be said that not only is matrimony a gift from God, but that one is a virgin and another married is also a gift from God. I answer that this is true enough, as when God inspires one with a purpose to lead a single life, and another a married life; as, e.g., in the case of a queen who may bear an honest offspring to the good of the realm and the Church; but still God does not always do this, but leaves it wholly to the decision of many whether they will choose the married or unmarried life.
It will be retorted, “How, then, is it that the Apostle says that each one has his proper gift of God?” I answer that this word gift is of two-fold meaning: (1.) It denotes the state itself of matrimony, or celibacy, or religion; (2.) The grace that is necessary and peculiar to this or that state. If you take the first, then each man’s own gift is from God, but only materially, inasmuch as that gift which each one has chosen for himself and made his own is also from God. For God instituted, either directly or by His Church, matrimony and celibacy and other states, and gave this or that state to each one according as he wished for it; and in this sense each one has his own gift, partly from God and partly from himself and his own will. But properly and formally, that this gift or that is proper to this or that man, is often a matter of free-will. Yet it may be said to be so far from God as the whole direction of secondary causes, and all good providence generally is from God. For God in His providence directs each one through his parents, companions, confessors, teachers, and through other secondary causes, by which it comes to pass that one devoted himself, though freely, to matrimony, another to the priesthood. For all this direction does not place him under compulsion, but leaves him free.
Here notice 1. that the Apostle might have said, “Every man hath his proper state of himself, having chosen it by an exercise of his free-will;” but he chose rather to say that “every man hath his proper gift of God,” because he wished to console the married. Lest any one, therefore, who was of scrupulous conscience and penitent should torture himself and say, “Paul wishes us to be like him, single and virgins; why ever did I then, miserable man that I am, enter into matrimony? It is my own fault that I did not embrace the better state of virginity, that I have deprived myself of so great a good, that I have plunged myself into the cares and distractions of marriage“—for this is how weak-minded, troubled, and melancholy people often look at things, and especially when they find difficulties in their state; and therefore they seek after higher and more perfect things, and torture themselves by attributing to their own imprudence the loss of some good, and the miseries that they have incurred—Paul, then, to obviate this, says that the gift, in the sense explained above, is not of man but of God. And therefore each one ought to be content with his state and calling, as being the gift of God—ought to be happy, perfect himself, and give thanks to God.
2. Gift may be the grace befitting each state. The married require one kind of grace to maintain conjugal fidelity, virgins another to live in virginity; and this grace peculiar to each is formally from God, because, it being given that you have chosen a certain state, whether of matrimony, or celibacy, or any other, God will give you the grace that is proper to that state to enable you, if you will, to live rightly in it. For this belongs to the rightly ordered providence of God, that since He has not seen fit to prescribe to each of us his state, but has left the choice of it, as well as mist other things, to our own free-will, He will not forsake a man when he has made his choice, but will give him the grace necessary for living honestly in that state. Consequently He will supply to all the means necessary to salvation, by which, if thy are willing, they will be enabled to live holily and be saved. For else it would be impossible for many to be saved, as, e.g., for religious and others who have taken a vow of chastity, for one married who has bound himself to a person that is hard to please, infirm, or detestable. To meet and overcome such difficulties they need to receive from God proper and sufficient grace. For neither the married can be loosed from matrimony, nor the religious from their vow, to adopt some other state more fitting for them.
In this the sense of this passage is: Choose whatever state you like, and God will give you grace to live in it holily. So Ambrose. And that this is the strict meaning if the Apostle is evident from the words, “For I would,” which import: I have said that I allow, but do not command, the state of wedlock; for I would that all would abstain from it, and cultivate chastity, and live a single life; but still each one has his own gift—let him be content with that, kat him exercise that. Let the single man who has received virginal or widowed chastity, i.e., the grace by which he can contain himself, look upon it as the gift of God; let the married, who has received conjugal chastity, i.e., the grace of using wedlock chastely, look upon it as the gift of God, be content with it, and use it as such.
Hence it follows (1.) that God gives to minks, even though they be apostates, the gift of sufficient grace to enable them, if they will, to live chastely; that is to say, if they pray to God, give themselves to fasting, to holy reading, to manual labour, to constant occupation. Otherwise they would be bound to an impossibility, and God would be wanting to them in things necessary, and they would not have the gift proper to their state, although the Apostle here asserts that each one, whether unmarried, or virgin, or married, has the gift of chastity proper to his state.
It follows (2.) that if any one changed his state for the better, God also changes and gives him a greater gift, and a greater measure of grace befitting that state, for this is necessary to a more perfect state. So the Council of Trent (Sess. xxiv. can. 9) lays down: “If any one says that clerks who have been placed in Holy Orders, or regulars who have solemnly professed chastity, and who do not think that they have the gift of chastity, can lawfully enter into matrimony, let him be anathema, since God does not deny it to them that seek for it, nor suffer us to be tempted above that we are able.”
Hath his gift of God. The gifts of God are twofold. 1. Some are wholly from God. So the gifts of Nature, which is but another name for god, inasmuch as He is the Author and Maker of Nature, are talent, judgment, memory, and a good disposition. The gifts of grace again are faith, hope, charity, and all the virtues infused by God, as the Author of grace.
2. Other gifts are from God indeed, but require for their due effect out co-operation. For example, all prevenient grace and good inspirations are gifts of God; so all good works, and the acts of all virtues, are gifts of God, says S. Augustine, because he gives (a) prevenient grace to excite us to these works and these actions, and (b) co-operating grace, by which He works with men to produce such things. Yet this grace so acts that man is left free, and has it in his power to act or not, to use this grace or not. In this sense all good works are gifts of God: yet they are free to man, and subject to his will and power. Of this second class the Apostle is here speaking in connection with the gift of chastity. The gift of chastity is, strictly speaking, an infused habit, or an acquired habit in those who already have it infused. But for those who have not yet the habit, there is sufficient help of grace, both internal and external, prepared for each one by God, so that by freely co-operating with it, each one may live in chastity, if he is willing to use that help. And this is evident from what is said in vers. 25, 35, 38, about the single life being counselled by God and Christ, who puts it before all men, and advises them to adopt it. But God does not advise a man to anything which is not in his power; but the single life is not in the power of each man, unless his will is helped by the grace of God. Therefore Christ has prepared, and is prepared to give to each one, this grace that is necessary to a single life and to virginity. If he is ready to give to each one virginal chastity, much more conjugal. Whoever, therefore, has his proper gift, that if his proper grace, in its beginning, will have it also in its perfect ending, if he will only pray to God earnestly and constantly to give him the grace prepared for him, and then co-operate vigorously with the grace that he has received.
Ver. 8.—I say, therefore, to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. I am unmarried: let them remain the same. Hence it is most evident that S. Paul has no wife, but was single.
Ver. 9.—But if they cannot contain, let then marry, for it is better to marry than to burn. This may be a reference to Ruth i. 13. It is better to marry than to burn, unless, that is, you are already wedded to Christ by a vow. Cf. S. Ambrose (ad Virg. Laps.c. v.). for to those who are bound by a vow of chastity, and are professed, as well as for husbands, it is better to burn and commit fornication than to marry a second time. For such marriage would be a permanent sacrilege or adultery, which is worse than fornication, or some momentary sacrilege; just as it is better to sin than to be in a constant state of sin, and to sin from obstinacy and contempt. But it is best of all neither to marry, nor to burn, but to contain, as Ambrose says; and this can be done by all tho have professed chastity, as was said in the last note, no matter how grievously they may be tempted. The Apostle going it so in his sore temptation, as many other saints have done, and especially he to whom the devils exclaimed, when they were overcome by him and put to confusion through the resistance he made to their temptation: “Thou hast conquered, hast conquered, for thou hast been in the fire and not been burnt.”
Burn here does not denote to be on fire, or to be tempted by the heat of lust, but to be injured and overcome by it, to yield and consent to it. For it is not he that feels the heat of the fire that is sain to be burnt by it, but he that is injured and scorched by it. So Virgil sings of Dido, who had been overcome by love for Æneas (Æn. 4. 68): “The ill-starred Dido burns and wanders frantically about the city.” Cf. also Ecclus. xxiii. 22. The Apostle is giving the reason why he wishes the incontinent and weak to marry, viz., lest they should burn, i.e., commit fornication; others, who are combatants of great soul, he wishes to contain. In other words, let those who do not contain marry, for it is better to marry than to burn. So Theodoret, Ambrose, Anselm, S. Thomas, Augustine (de Sancta Virgen, c. 74), Jerome (Apolog. pro Lib. contra Jovin.). “It is better,” says S. Jerome, “to marry a husband than to commit fornication.” And S. Ambrose says: “To burn is to be at the mercy of the desires; for when the will consents to the heat of the flesh it burns. To suffer the desires and not be overcome by them is the part of an illustrious and perfect man.”
It may be objected that S. Cyprian (Ep. 11 ad. Pompon. lib. i.) says of virgins who have consecrated themselves to Christ, that “if they cannot or will not persevere, it is better for them to marry than to burn.” But Pamelius, following Turrianus and Hosius, well replies that S. Cyprian is not speaking of virgins already consecrated but of those about to be. These he advises not to dedicate and vow themselves to Christ if they do not intend to persevere; and in the same epistle he points out that that would be adulterous towards Christ if, after a vow of chastity, they should be wedded to men. Like the apostle here, he is speaking, therefore, not of those who are already bound, but of those who are free. Erasmus therefore is wrong and impudent, as usual, in making a note in the margin of this passage of S. Cyprian’s, “Cyprian allows sacred virgins to marry.”
It may be objected secondly that S. Augustine says (de Sancta Virgin. c. 34) that those vowed virgins who commit fornication would do better to marry than to burn, i.e., than to be consumed by the flame of lust.
I answer (1.) that this is a mere passing remark of S. Augustine’s, meaning that for such it would be better, i.e., a less evil to marry than to commit fornication. He does not deny that they sin by marrying, but he only asserts that they sin less by marrying than by committing fornication. In the same way we might say to a robber, “It is better to rob a man than to kill him,” i.e., it is a less evil. (2.) For such it is even absolutely better to marry than to burn, if only they enter into wedlock lawfully, that is to say, with the consent of the Church and a dispensation of their vow of continency from the Pope. (3.) Possibly, and not improbably. S. Augustine’s meaning was that even for those who have no such dispensation it is better to marry than to commit fornication persistently, i.e., to live in a state of fornication and concubinage. And the reason is that such a one, if she marries, sins indeed grievously against her vow by marrying; yet still, after her marriage she may keep her vow of chastity and be free from sin, viz., by not exacting, but only paying the marriage debt, as the women commonly do of whom S. Augustine is here speaking. If, however, such a one is constantly breaking her vow, and she consequently sins more grievously than she would by marrying. For those acts of fornication constantly repeated seem to be a far worse evil and more grievously sinful than the single act of entering into a contract of marriage against a vow of continency. For though this one act virtually includes many, viz., the seeing and paying of the marriage debt as oft as it shall please either, yet this is only remotely and implicitly. But one who commits fornication constantly sins directly and explicitly, and daily repeats such actions; therefore he sins more grievously. For it is worse to sin explicitly and in many acts than by one tacit and implicit action.
Observe also that at the time of S. Augustine these maidens who had vowed and professes chastity, though they might sin by marrying, yet might contract a lawful marriage. For the Church, as S. Augustine gives us plainly enough to understand, had not at that rime made the solemn vow an absolute barrier to matrimony. Moreover, it is evident from his next words that S. Augustine is of opinion that such ought simply and absolutely to keep their vow of chastity; for he adds: “Those virgins who repent them of their profession and are wearied of confession, unless they direct their heart aright, and again overcome their lust by the fear of God, must be reckoned among the dead.”
Lastly, that the Apostle is here speaking to those who are free, and not to those who are bound by a vow, is proved at length by Chrysostom, Theodoret, Theophylact, Ścumenius, by Epiphanius (Hæres.61), Ambrose (ad Virgin. Lapsam c. 5), Augustine (de adulter. Conjug. lib. i. c. 15), Jerome (contra Jovin, lib. i.). S. Ephrem, 1300 years ago, being asked to whom this verse applies, wrote a most exhaustive treatise about it, in which he abundantly proves that it has to do, not with religious or the clergy, and those who have taken a vow of chastity, but with seculars who are free.
Vers. 10, 11.—And unto the married I command, &c. The Apostle now passes from the question of marriage to that of divorce; for, as this verse indicated, the Corinthians had put to Paul a second question, one relating to divorce. Granted that in matrimony its use was lawful, nay obligatory, as S. Paul has said, at all events may not one that is faithful to his marriage vow dissolve it and have a divorce? And again, when a divorce has taken place, may not the wife or the husband marry again? This verse and ver. 11 give the answer to the question.
He says let her remain unmarried. Hence it follows that divorce, even supposing it to be just and lawful, does not loose the marriage knot, but only dispenses with the marriage debt; so that if the wife os an adulteress it is not lawful for the innocent husband to enter into another marriage. And the same holds good for the wife if the husband is an adulterer.
We should take notice of this against the heretics Erasmus, Cajetan, and Catherinus, who say that this cannot be proved from Scripture, but only from the Canons. But they mistake, as is evident from this passage of S. Paul’s. For the Apostle is here speaking evidently of a just separation made by the wife when she is innocent, and injured by her husband committing adultery, for he permits her to remain separated, or to be reconciled to her husband. For if he were speaking if an unjust separation, such as when a wife flies from her husband without any fault on his side, he would have had not to permit of separation but altogether to order a reconciliation.
It may be said that the word reconciled points to some offence and injury done by the wife who caused the separation, and that therefore S. Paul is speaking if an unjust separation. I reply by denying the premiss. For reconcile merely signifies a return to mutual good-will; and the offending party in spoken of as being reconciled to the offended just as much as the offended to the offending. For instance, in 2 Macc. i. 5, it is said “that God may hear your prayers and be reconciled to you.” The Councils and Fathers explain this passage in this way, and lay down from it that fornication dissolves the marriage bond so far as bed and board are concerned, but not so that it is lawful to marry another. Cf. Concil. Milevit. c. 17; Concil. Elibert. c. 9; Concil. Florent. (Instruct. Armen. de Matrim.); Concil. Trident Sess. xx. can. 7); Pope Evaristus (Ep. 2); S. Augustine de Adulter. Conjug. (lib. ii. c. 4); S. Jerome (Ep. ad Amand.); Theodoret, Ścumenius, Haymo, Anselm and others.
It may be said that Ambrose, commenting on this verse, says that the Apostle speaks of the wife only, because it is never lawful for her to marry another after she is divorced; but that it is lawful for the husband, after putting away an adulterous wife, to marry another, because he is the head of the woman. I answer that from this and similar passages it is evident that this commentary on S. Paul’s Epistles is not the work of S. Ambrose, or at all events that these passages are interpolations. For in matrimony and divorce the same law governs the wife which governs the husband, as the true Ambrose lays down (in Lucam viii. and de Abraham, lib. i. c. 4). What then the Apostle says of the wife applies equally to the husband; for he is speaking to all that are married, as he says himself; and moreover, in ver. 5, he declared that the marriage rights of husband and wife are equal, and that each has equal power over the other’s body.
Let not the husband put away his wife. I.e., without grave and just cause; for it is allowed to put her away because of fornication and other just causes.
Ver. 12.—But to the rest speak I . . . let him not put her away.
The rest are those that are married and belong to different religions; and to them I say, that if a brother, i.e., one of the faithful, have a wife that is an unbeliever, &c. In other words, I have thus far spoken to married people when both are of the number of the faithful, as I implied in ver. 5, when I said “that ye may give yourselves to prayer.” Now, however, I am addressing those of whim one is a believer, the other an unbeliever. This is the explanation given by many together with S. Augustine, who will be quoted directly.
But if this is so it is certainly strange that the Apostle did not express himself more clearly, for by the addition of a single word he might have said more simply: “To the faithful who are married it is not I that speak but the Lord; but to the rest, viz., to those married couples of whom one is an unbeliever, I speak, not the Lord.” But by saying not to the faithful, but unto the married, he seems to speak in general terms of all that are married, whether believers or unbelievers. Nor is it to be objected to this that in ver.5 he speaks casually to the faithful, for there he is excepting from the general law which governs the marriage debt those of the faithful who are married, when by mutual consent they give themselves to prayer. But this exception is not to be made to cover all the marriage laws, which the Apostle in this chapter us laying down for all who are married. Moreover, the Apostle so far has not said a single word about the unbeliever, or about a difference of religion.
Hence we may say secondly and better, that the rest are those who are not joined in matrimony. For by the words but and the rest this verse is opposed to ver. 10, as will appear more clearly directly.
Speak I, not the Lord. “I command,” says Theodoret. But S. Augustine (de Adulter. Conjug. lib. i. c. 13 et seq.), Anselm, and S. Thomas interpret it: I give the following advice, viz., that the believing husband is not to put away an unbelieving wife who lives at peace with him, and vice versâ.
There is a third interpretation, and the best of all, given us from the Roman, Plantinian, and other Bibles, which put a full stop after the words, But to the rest speak I, not the Lord, this separating them from what follows and joining them to what precedes. We have then the meaning as follows: To the rest, viz., the unmarried, the Lord gives no command (supply command from ver, 10), but I say, and I advise what I said and advised before in ver. 8, viz., that it is good for them to remain as they are, unmarried.
This interpretation too is supported by the antithesis between the rest and the married, by which it is clear that the rest must be the unmarried, not married people of different faiths. Moreover, he explains himself in this way in ver. 25, where he says, “Now, concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord, yet I give my judgment,” which is identical with what he says here, “To the rest speak I, not the Lord.”
If any brother hath a wife that believeth not. This is the third question put to Paul by the Corinthians: Can one of the faithful that is married live with an unbelieving partner? S. Augustine and others, as I have said, connect these words with the preceding, which then give as the meaning: Although Christ permitted a believer to put away his wife that believeth not, yet I give as my advice that he do not put her away; for to put her away is neither expedient for her salvation nor for that of the children, if she is willing to live with a believer without casting reproach on her Creator and on the faith. Hence many doctors, cited by Henriquez (de Matrim. lib. xi. c. 8), gather indirectly by analogy that, since Paul forbids what Christ permits, one of the faithful that is married may, by Christ’s permission, put away an unbelieving partner that refuses to be converted, and contract another marriage. On the contrary, when both are believers, neither is allowed this, as has been said. But if we separate these words, as the Roman Bible does, from the preceding, by a full stop, nothing if the kind can be proved. Nay, Thomas Sanchez (de Matrim. vol. ii. disp. 73, no. 7), who does not read any full stop, as S. Augustine does not, and so refers these words to what follows, thinks that all that is exactly to be gathered from this is that Christ permits to a married believer separation a toro, but not dissolution of a marriage entered into with one that believes not. In the third place, this passage might be explained to mean that Christ laid down no law on this matter, but left it to be settled by His Apostles and His Church, according to needs of different ages, as, e.g., the Church afterwards declared the marriage of a believer with as unbeliever null and void, if one was a believer at the time of the marriage. According to S. Augustine’s reading, this rendering is obtained with difficulty; according to the Roman, not at all. For all that the Apostle means is that the believer is not to put away an unbeliever, if the latter is willing to live with the former. Cf. note to ver. 15.
Infidelity in S. Paul’s time was no impediment that destroyed a marriage contracted with a believer, nor did it prevent it from being contracted, if the believer ran no risk of apostatising, and if the unbeliever would consent to live in peace with the believer, retaining his faith, as S. Paul here lays down. But now by long custom it has become the law of the Church that not heresy but infidelity not only impedes, but also destroys a marriage which any one who was a believer at the time might wish to contract with an unbeliever.
Ver. 14.—For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife. Such union by marriage is holy. The believer, therefore, is not, as you so scrupulously fear, defiled by contact with an unbeliever, but rather the unbeliever, as Anselm says, is sanctified by a kind of moral naming and sprinkling of holiness, both because he is the husband of a holy, that is a believing, wife, and also because by not hindering his wife in her faith, and by living happily with her, he as it were paves the way for himself to be converted by the prayers, merits, words, and example of his believing wife, and so to become holy. So did S. Cecilia convert her husband Valerian; Theodora, Sisinnius; Clotilda, Clodævus. So say Anselm, Theophylact, Chrysostom.
S. Natalia, the wife of S. Adrian, is illustrious for having not only incited her husband to adopt the faith, but also most gloriously to undergo martyrdom for it. For when she had heard that women were forbidden to serve the martyrs, and that the prison-doors would not be opened to them, she shaved off her hair, and having donned man’s dress, she entered the prison and strengthened the hearts of the martyrs by her good offices. Other matrons followed her example. At length the tyrant Maximianus discovered the fraud, and ordered an anvil to be brought into the prison, and the arms and legs of the martyrs to be placed on it and smashed with a crow-bar. The lictors did as they had been ordered; and when the Blessed Natalia saw it, she went to meet them and asked them to begin with Adrian. The executioners did so, and when the leg of Adrian was placed on the anvil, Natalia caught hold of his foot and held it in position. Then the executioners aimed a blow with all their might, and cut off his feet and smashed his legs. Forthwith Natalia said to Adrian, “I pray thee, my lord, servant of Christ, while your spirit remains in you, stretch forth your hand that they may also cut that off, and that you may be made like the martyrs in all things: for greater sufferings have they endured than these.” Then Adrian stretched out his hand, and gave it to Natalia, who placed it on the anvil, and then the executioners cut it off. Then they took the anvil away, and soon after his spirit fled. Cf. his life, September 8th.
It is worth our notice what Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople, writes, in his exposition of the Council of Florence (Sess. v.) of Theophilus, a heretic and not a heathen emperor, son of Michael the Stammerer, who was saved by the prayers of his wife Augusta. He had made an onslaught on images, and his mouth was in consequence so violently pulled open that men might see down his throat. This brought him to his senses, and he kissed the holy image. Shortly afterwards he was taken away to appear before the tribunal of God, and through the prayers offered for him by his wife and by holy men he received the pardon; for the queen in her sleep saw a vision of Theophilus bound and being dragged by a vast multitude, going before and following. Before him were borne different instruments of torture, and she saw those following who were being led to punishment until they came into the presence of the terrible Judge, and before Him Theophilus was placed. Then Augusta threw herself at the feet of the Dread Judge, and with many tears besought Him earnestly for her husband. The terrible Judge said to her: “O woman, great is thy faith; for thy sake, and because of the prayers of thy priests, I pardon thy husband.” Then He said to His servants: “Loose him, and deliver him to his wife.” It is also said that the Patriarch Methodius, having collected and written down the names of all kinds of heretics, including Theophilus, placed the roll under the holy table. Then in the same night on which the queen saw the vision, he too saw a holy angel entering the great temple, and saying, “O Bishop, thy prayers are heard, and Theophilus has found pardon.” On awaking from sleep he went to the holy table, and lo! the unsearchable judgment of god, he found the name of Theophilus blotted out. Cf. also Baronuis (Annal. vol. ix., A.D. 842).
Else were your children unclean. If you were to put away a wife that believed not, your children would be looked upon as having been born in unlawful wedlock, and as therefore illegitimate. But, as it is, they are holy, i.e., clean—conceived and born in honourable and lawful wedlock. So Ambrose, Anselm, Augustine (de Peccat. Meritis. lib.ii. c. 26). In the second place they would be strictly unclean, because they would be enticed into infidelity, and educated in it by the unbelieving parent, who had sought for the divorce through hatred of his partner; and especially if it is the father that is the unbeliever, for in such cases the children for the most part follow the father. But if the believer remain in wedlock with the unbeliever, the children are holy, because, with the tacit permission of the unbeliever, they can easily be sanctified, baptized, and Christianly educated through the faith, the diligence, and care of the believer. So S. Augustine (de Peccat. Meritis. lib. iii. c. 12), and after Tertullian, S. Jerome (ad Paulin. Ep. 153). It is from this passage that Calvin and Beza have gathered their doctrine f imputed righteousness, teaching that the children of believers are strictly holy, and can be saved without baptism. They say that by the very fact that they are children of believers they are regarded as being born in the Church, according to the Divine covenant in Gen. xvii. “I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” Similarly, in the Civil Law, when one parent is free the children are born free.
But these teachers err, For (1.) the Apostle says equally that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. But it is not precisely correct to say that such a man is sanctified through his wife; neither, therefore, is it strictly true of the child. (2.) The Church is not a civil but a supernatural republic, and in it no one is born a Christian; but by baptism, which has taken the place of circumcision, every one is spiritually born again and is made holy, not civilly but really, by faith, hope, and charity infused into his soul. This is the mind of the Fathers and the whole Church. (3.) It is said absolutely in S. John iii. 5, that “except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” It is therefore untrue that any one not born of water, but merely of believing parents, can enter into the kingdom of God.
Ver. 15.—But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. If the unbeliever seek for a dissolution of the marriage, or will not live with his partner without doing injury to God, by endeavouring to draw her way to unbelief or to some wickedness, or by uttering blasphemy against God, or Christ, or the faith, then, as Sanchez lays down from the common consent of the Doctors of the Church (vol. ii. disp. 74), he by so acting is rightly regarded to wish for a separation; then let the unbeliever depart from the unbelieving, because it is better, says S. Chrysostom, to be divorced from one’s husband than from God.
Observe that the Apostle in this case allows a separation, not only a toro but also a vinculo; and therefore the believer may contract another marriage, this being a concession made by Christ in favour of the faith; otherwise a Christian man or woman would be subject to slavery. For it is a grievous slavery to be bound in matrimony to an unbeliever, so as not to be able to marry another, and to be bound to live a life of celibacy, even if the unbeliever depart. So S. Augustine (de Adulter. Conjug. lib. i. c. 13), S. Thomas, and S. Ambrose, who says: “The marriage obedience is not owing to him who scoffs at the Author of marriage, but in such case remarriage is lawful.”
Further, many doctors, cited by Henriquez (de Matrim. lib. xi. c. 8), amongst whom is S. Augustine (de Adulter. Conjug. lib. i. c. xix.), gather from this verse and from verse12 that the believer whose unbelieving partner is not willing to be converted, even though he may be willing to live with her without injury to God, has by this very fact a right to enter upon a new marriage. But S. Paul and the Canonical decrees (cap. quanto, cap. Gaudemus, tit, de Divort, and cap. Si Infidelis 28, qu. 2) only deal with the case where the unbeliever wishes to depart, or where he is a blasphemer against the faith. And, therefore, other doctors, cited by Henriquez, think that in this case it is lawful for the believer to marry again. And this opinion is the more sound not only for the reason given above, but also because the Fathers who support the first opinion rely on glosses on the various capitula, which are merely glosses of Orleans, and if anything darken the text.
Moreover, no gloss by itself can be the foundation of a right, or of a new law. Since, therefore, it is agreed that the marriage of unbelievers is true marriage, and that it is not dissolved by the conversion of either party, because there is no law of God or of the Church to dissolve it, it follows that they must hold to their contract, which by its very nature is indissoluble. This is strengthened by the consideration that each party possesses good faith; therefore it cannot set aside, unless it is agreed that either or both have no right to this marriage, or that one loses his right through the conversion of the other. This, however, is not agreed on, but is highly doubtful. In matters of doubt the position of the possessor is the stronger, and he ought not to be ousted from it because of any doubt that may arise.
Nevertheless, Sanchez adds (disp. 74, num. 9) that it is lawful for the believer to marry again, because it is now forbidden by the Church to live with an unbeliever who will not be converted, because of the danger of perversion which exists nearly always. The unbeliever is then looked upon as having departed, because he refuses to live with the believer in a lawful and proper manner. But Sanchez means that the Church now forbids in general a believer to continue to live with an unbeliever. But this is denied by Navarrus and others; for though the Fourth Council of Toledo forbids a believer to live with an unbeliever if he is a Jew, this was done merely because of the obstinate tenacity of the Jews to their creed. Neither here nor elsewhere is marriage with a heathen forbidden.
Moreover, the Council of Toledo was merely local, and this same canon has been differently interpreted by different authors, as Sanchez says (disp. 73, num. 6). And in truth it would be hard and a just cause of offence if, in India, China, and Japan, when the faith is first preached, Christians should be compelled to put away the wives that they had married when unbelievers, or if wives should be compelled to leave their husbands who were unwilling to be converted to Christianity, especially when they were in high position; for occasion would be taken from thence to exterminate Christians and their faith. The case is different in Spain and amongst Christians, where the Church might, without causing scandal, enact this, either by a general law (which as a matter of fact does not exist, as I have said), or by use and custom, by forbidding individuals in particular to remain in marriage with one that was not a believer, because of the danger of perversion. Such a precept it would be the duty of the believer to obey, and therefore it would not be he that was in fault, but the unbeliever, who, by refusing to live in marriage, according to the law binding on the believing partner and the precept of the Church, becomes the cause of the separation. By so acting, the unbeliever will be reckoned to wish for separation, and consequently it would be lawful for the believer to contract another marriage, as Sanchez learnedly argues. For example, Queen Cæsar, wife of the King of the Persians in the time of the Emperor Mauritius, fled secretly to Constantinople, and was there converted and baptized. When her husband requested her to return, she refused to do so unless he became a Christian. He when went to Constantinople and was there baptized, and assisted out of the font by Augustus, and having received his wife again, he returned joyfully to his home. This happened about the year 593, as Baronius related on the authority of Paul the Deacon and Gregory of Tours. All that has been said must be clearly understood to refer to matrimony contracted when both partied are unbelievers, followed by the conversion of one and the refusal of the other to be converted; for matrimony contracted by an unbeliever with a believer has been declared null and void by the Church since the time of S. Paul and thence it is that difference of faith is a barrier to matrimony. This was the reason why Theresa, sister of Adelphonsus, King of Liège, refused to marry Abdallah, King of the Arabs, unless he adopted the Christian faith. This he promised, but falsely. Therefore on the arrival of Theresa he forced her, in spite of her struggles; but being smitten by God with a sore disease, he was unable to be cured without sending back Theresa to her brother. This is told by Roderic, Vazæus, and Baronius (A. D. 983).
S. Eurosia too, daughter of the King of Bohemia, having been taken prisoner by the King of the Moors, chose death rather than marriage with him; and while she was patiently awaiting the sword of the executioner, she heard an angel saying, “Come, my elect, the spouse of Christ, receive the crown which the Lord hath prepared for you, and the gift that your prayers shall be heard as often as the faithful call upon you for help against rain or any storm whatsoever.” Having heard these words, her arms and legs having been lopped off, she gave up the ghost, being renowned for her miracles, as Lucius Marinæus Siculus related (de Rebus Hispan, lib. v.).
But God hath called us unto peace. Peace of conscience with God, and of agreement with men. Therefore, on our part, let us not depart from unbelieving husbands, but live with them as peacefully as we can. Secondly, and more fitly, peace here stands for that rest and tranquil life to which the Apostle is urging the married believer. Such a life in separation and solitude is to be preferred to marriage with an unbeliever who wishes to depart, and who is perpetually provoking the believer to quarrel, and disturbing his peace. This better agrees with the mention of departure which has gone just before these words, and of which I shall have more to say.
Ver. 16.—For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? If we take the first meaning of “peace” given above, the sense will be: Live in peace as far as you can, O believer, with your unbelieving partner, for you know not the good that he may derive thence: perhaps by living with him you will convert him and save him. So Chrysostom, Ambrose, Anselm, Theophylact, and others, If we take the second meaning of peace, the sense will be still better. Peace is the gift of Christ; to this have we been called by Christ, not to unhappy and quarrelsome slavery. If, therefore, the unbeliever seeks by quarrels, abuse, by threats against the faith and against his faithful partner, to drive her away, let her depart and live peacefully, and give up all hope of his conversion. For what ground of hope is there of one that is a heathen, blasphemous, and quarrelsome? Therefore, what do you know, or whence do you hope to save him?
Ver. 17.— But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. I have said this much about the marriage of an unbeliever with a believer, and about separation and divorce, if the unbeliever seek for it, and about living together in peace; but I do not wish to be understood to mean that a divorce is to be sought for, or that peace is to be broken, merely through lust and a desire to change one’s state, as, e.g., that a believer, because he is a believer and called to Christian liberty, may desire and find an excuse for changing his servile condition into one of freedom, his position as a Gentile into that if a Jew. I ordain, therefore, that each one of the faithful, whether he be a Jew or a Gentile, bond or free, maintain the state and condition which the Lord has given him, and which he had before he became a believer. Let each one walk in his own line; let him be content with that, and live as becometh a Christian; let him not grow restless to change his state because of his Christianity, and so cause the Gentiles to stumble.
This seems to be the answer to a fourth question put to Paul by the Corinthians, viz., whether Christians who had been slaves before conversion became free when they were made Christians—Christian liberty, it might seem, calls for this; and, again; whether Gentiles who had been made, or were about to be made Christians, ought to be circumcised as the Jews. For the Apostles and the first Christians were Jews, and were made into Christians out of Judaism, and hence some thought that Judaism was a necessary medium between heathenism and Christianity. To both questions Paul gives an answer in the negative.
Ver. 18.—Let him not become uncircumcised. For the possibility of the actual restoration of the forsaken, see Celsus (lib. vii. c. 25). For its actual use by apostate Jews, see 1 Macc. i. 18, and Josephus (Antiq. lib. xii. c. 6) and Epiphanius (de Ponder. et Mesur.). The latter says that Esau was the author of this practice, and that therefore it was said of him: “Esau have I hated.” He also tells us that Jews, when they passed over to the Samaritans, were commonly circumcised a second time, and that Symmachus, who was as famous as Aquila and Theodotion as an interpreter of Holy Scripture, was so treated. Similarly, the Anabaptists baptize again those who have left their ranks and then returned. There is a reference to this perhaps in Martial’s Epigram, where he speaks of not flying from the circumcised Jew, and in Juvenal’s [Hor. i. Sat. v. 100], saying, “Let the uncircumcised Jew believe it; I will not.”
S. Jerome, in commenting in Isa. liii., gives these words a mystical and symbolical meaning: “Art thou called being unmarried, then do not marry,” But this is outside the literal meaning.
Ver. 20.—Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. If one that is circumcised, or that is a slave, or married, come to Christianity, let him not on that account change his state, but remain circumcised, a slave, or married. The state was to be retained, provided it were one that was lawful and honest. S. Cyprian refused to admit actors to the sacraments or the Church.
S. Ephrem (Adhortat, 4, vol. ii.) says well: “In whatever work you have been called, strengthen your anchors and ropes, that you may be safe, as if in port, from all storms, and that your ship may not be driven out into the ocean.”
Ver. 21.—Art thou called being a servant? care not for it. Be not anxious about your state, as though slavery were inconsistent with your Christian profession; be rather glad that you have been set free by Christ from the slavery of sin and death, and made the servant of God, even though in this life you are the servant of man, so long as it shall seem good to God. Cf. the apophthegms quoted in the notes to Exod. i. 12.
There is a golden saying of S. Augustine (Sentent. num. 53); He says: “Whatever evil a master does to the righteous is not punishment for misdoing but a trial of their virtue. For a good man, even though he be a slave, is free; but a bad man, though he be a king, is a slave; nor does he serve one person only, but, what is far worse, he has as many masters as vices.” Again (num.24), he says: “God’s service is always freedom, for He is served, not of necessity but from love.”
But if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. 1. Use that slavery as a cause of humility to the glory of God. Hence Theodoret explains it thus: Grace knows no difference between slavery and freedom. Do not, therefore, flee from slavery as though it were inconsistent with the faith; but, if it is possible for you to obtain your freedom, yet go on as a slave and await your reward. So too it is explained by S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and S. Thomas. What follows is in perfect harmony with this exposition.
2. It is better, however, to explain it thus: If you gain your freedom, embrace it and enjoy it. The word rather points clearly to this meaning, for who is there that would not prefer freedom to slavery, especially if he is a slave of an unbeliever, so that he cannot serve Christ freely? S. Paul clearly advises this afterwards when he says, “Ye are bought with a price: be not ye the servants of men.”
We should notice that the Apostle is here speaking not of hired servants, such as are found among Christians now-a-days, but such as were the absolute property of their master, such as the Gentiles had, even when converted to Christianity, such as even now Christians have from the Turks and Moors. The opposition is between slaves and free-men.
S. Jerome (in Apolog. pro lib. ad Jovin.), following Origen (in Epis. ad. Rom. lib.i .), explains this passage of the service of matrimony. “If, like a slave, you have been bound to matrimony, care not for it; do not torture yourself as though it were impossible to live a godly life when married and attain salvation. Still, if you can persuade your wife to set you free and let you live separately as a single man, rather choose this.” But the former sense is the simpler and more relevant.
Ver. 22.—For he that is called in the Lord being a servant. These words, by a common Hebrew mode of speech, refer to the first clause of the preceding verse, and not to the words immediately preceding. The Apostle’s chief aim here is to teach slaves to be content with their servile condition, and to bear it patiently, until God in His providence should appoint them another by giving them their freedom. They have been already called in the Lord, i.e., by the Lord, to the faith and grace of Jesus Christ.
Is the Lord’s freedman. Has been set free by Christ, and called to Christian liberty. Slaves, if they become Christians, are not to seek to be set free from their master’s service, but are to rejoice that they have been called from the service of sin into the freedom of grace and adoption of the sons of God. Cf. Chrysostom here, and Hom. xix. (in Morali.), where the shows that there is no antagonism between slavery and Christianity.
Ver. 23.—Ye are bought with a price. By the blood of Christ, which is called the price of out redemption. So Ambrose. Christ bought and redeemed you with a heavy price from the slavery of sin, and has made you children, and, therefore, be not ye the servants of men: do not sell yourselves into slavery if you can enjoy freedom. This civil freedom befits the freedman of Christ, and in it he can more completely serve Christ, more so than he does any owner, especially one that is a heathen.
Constantine the Great, about the year 330, in honour of Christ, and as an indulgence to His religion, decreed that no Jew should have a Christian slave. Any Jew who should disobey was to be beheaded, and his slave set at liberty. He thought it impious that Christians, who had been redeemed by the death of Christ, should be subjected to the yoke of slavey by those who had slain the Redeemer. This law was confirmed by the three sons of Constantine (Sozomen, lib. iii. c. 17). S. Gregory too ordered that the slave of a Jew who wished to be converted to Christianity should at his admission become free (lib. iii. Ep. 9). The Fourth Council of Toledo (cap. 64) has a similar enactment.
This is to be understood of Jews and pagans who are subject to the jurisdiction of some Christian prince. The Christian slaves of such become by that very fact free, and may therefore leave their master; nay, if they are unbelievers, they may fly to the Church to become Christians and therefore free. For of these the laws say: In the case of those unbelievers who are not temporally subject to the Church or her members, the Church has not laid down the above-named right, although she might rightly do so. For she has authority of God; and unbelievers, by reason of their unbelief, deserve to lose their power over believers, who are transferred into children of God. But this the Church does not do, in order to avoid scandal, as S. Thomas says (pt. ii. qu. x. art. 10).
Others not amiss explain this passage thus: Do not be the servants of men in such a way as to neglect the obedience owing to God. For they become servants of men who regard the opinion of men above all things, and flatter them even when they order them to sin. So S. Chrysostom and Jerome (in Ep. ad Eph. vi.). For in Eph. vi. the Apostle bids servants serve their masters, not as men-pleasers, but as serving the Lord, and for the Lord’s sake.
Ver. 24.—Brethren, let every man wherein he is called therein abide with God. Whatever a man’s state when he comes to Christianity, whether bond or free, in that let him stay. With God implies that by so doing he will serve God, for if otherwise thee Gentiles would complain that Christianity made their slaves restless and ambitious of liberty.
Ver. 25.—Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment. I have no command that they are to remain virgins and serve God in that state, but I advise them to do so. This is the fifth question of the Corinthians, and the answer is that the law of Christ has no precept bidding them remain virgins, but that it is better for all to do so.
From this passage is proved the common opinion of the Fathers, that the single life is in our power if we seek it from God, and strive after it with undaunted fortitude, and co-operate with God’s grace through the appointed means. In this way every one can, if he likes, live unmarried, however much he may be by nature of habit inclined to impurity. Tertullian teaches this (de Monogam.), Chrysostom, Origen, Jerome (in S. Matt. c. xix.), Ambrose (de Viduis), Augustine (Enarr. in Ps. cxxxviii.), who says, “He who bids you take the vow, Himself helps you keep it.” And again (Conf. lib. vi. c. 11): “I know that thou wouldst give me continence if I were but to deafen Thy ears with my inward groaning.” S. Paul to plainly implies the same thing in this verse and in ver. 7, where he recommends virginity to all. He would not counsel us nor order us to do anything but what lay in our own power, i.e., save what we can do with the grace of God which God has prepared for us, and which He offers to us, only waiting for us to ask for it, and to be willing to co-operate with it.
Christ teaches the same in S. Matt. xix., where, on the Apostles’ saying that, because of the burden and difficulties of matrimony, it was not expedient to marry, He gave His approbation to what they said, adding: (1.) “All men cannot receive this saying.” Origen and Nazianzen (Orat. de tribus Eunuch. Gener.) takes this, “all are not capable of this saying,” understanding by capacity the natural leaning towards chastity, which all have not. But others take it better as meaning that all men do not approve of it, do not understand it, do not embrace chastity because of its difficulty. Hence Christ adds: (2.) “There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs,” viz., of their own free will they have made themselves chaste, and have strengthened their purpose by a life-long vow. For this is the signification of the word eunuch—moral impotence. If the meaning is otherwise, it would have been better for Christ to say, “There be some who are making themselves eunuchs, or endeavouring to make themselves eunuchs.” So S. Jerome, Epiphanius (Hæres. 58), Fulgentius (de Fide ad Petrum, c. iii.), Augustine (de Sancta Virgin. c. 30).
Christ adds (3.) that these eunuchs have made themselves such, not because of the inconveniences of marriage, nor even because of the Gospel, that they may preach it better, as heretics wrest these words of Christ, but “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” i.e., that they may merit to obtain it. So Origen, Hilary, Chrysostom, Euthymius, and S. Augustine (de Sancta Virgin. c. 23).
Lastly, Christ ends by saying: “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” These are the words of one who is exhorting and urging others to heroic virtue as well as to an illustrious reward. By these words, therefore, Christ puts before all a counsel of chastity as a thing that is most heroic and excellent. Christ does not say, says Chrysostom, all cannot, but all do not receive it, i.e., all indeed can receive it, but all do not wish to. He says: “The power of making themselves eunuchs has been given by God to those that have sought for it, have wished for it, and have laboured to obtain it.”
It may be objected, Why, then, does Christ say, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it?” For by these words He implies that all cannot receive it. I reply that by the words he that is able, He merely means that it is a hard and difficult matter. In other words, he who is willing to force himself, who is willing to strive with all his might to accomplish so arduous a task, let him receive it and obtain it. So in the comic writer it is said, “I cannot, mother, take this woman as my wife,” i.e., I am unwilling, because it is difficult for me to do so, because this wife does not please me. Frequently also in Scripture the difficult is spoken of as impossible. Again, all cannot contain by their own power, but by received power they can. They can pray, and by their prayers and co-operation obtain for themselves an immediate power of continence.
Although, therefore, all have not the gift of continency enabling them actually to contain, as all the righteous have not the gift of perseverance to enable them actually to persevere in grace; yet, just as all the righteous have the gift of perseverance by which they can, if they like, persevere, so can all have the gift of continency if only they seek for strength from God for it, and co-operate with God’s grace coming through the appointed means. It is different with the gift of prophecy, and other gifts that are given gratuitously, which frequently we can obtain neither by prayer nor by co-operation. Nevertheless, since there are some who both by nature and use are prone to lust, and have not the spirit to labour earnestly after that heroic virtue which by the grace of God they might have, but easily allow themselves to be led astray by nature and habit, so as to yield to the temptations of lust, hence it is better for them and others equally weak to enter into matrimony, “for it is better to marry than to burn.” Cf. vers. 2, 5, 9.
As one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I counsel virginity, as being he who has been mercifully called to the grace of Apostleship among the Gentiles, in order to counsel them faithfully. So Ambrose, Anselm, Theodoret. In other words, the more unworthy I am when compared with the other Apostles, the greater is the mercy and grace with which I have been called to the apostolate, and the more incumbent is it upon me to be faithful, and to give faithful counsel to those to whom I have been sent by Christ.
Ver. 26.—I suppose, therefore, that this is good. Either virginity, with Ambrose and others, or else that they remain virgins, as was said in the note to ver. 25.
For the present distress. The necessity, say some, of travelling about to evangelise the whole world, which would be difficult for one who was hampered by a wife and children. But Paul is not writing this to Apostles or Evangelists, but to the citizens of Corinth; and, therefore, others understand a reference to the distress of the persecutions and flights in the primitive Church. The virgins were well able to escape from tyrants, but the married, being weighed down with wife and children, found this difficult. At that time, therefore, celibacy was preferable to marriage. This is the way that heretics understand this passage.
But Calvin finds fault with this. He admits that the Apostle here counsels celibacy for the whole world and in all ages, even in such peaceful times as our own; but he understands the distress to be the disquiet and the various afflictions by which celibacy is to be counselled before matrimony. But this, though true, is far–fetched. I say, then, that the present distress is that which the Apostle defines and explains in vers. 28 and 29, and is two–fold. And here observe that the Greek word for present has two significations: (a) the literal present, opposed to the future, as in Rom. viii. 38 and 1 Cor. iii. 22; (b) it signifies imminent, urgent, pressing. Both meanings are suitable here.
1. This present distress is that which is incumbent on matrimony, and inseparable from it, arising from the difficulties, annoyances, and troubles, such as child–bearing, labour, the bringing up of children, the cares, anxieties, rivalries, quarrels, and maintenance of the family; the solicitude to grow rich and to form good alliances by marriage; overbearingness on the part of the husband; hastiness of temper, drunkenness, extravagance, poverty, bereavement, and the constant distraction of mind springing from all these, and the being occupied about such things. Explaining himself in ver. 28, he calls all these “trouble in the flesh,” and opposes this to the pleasure of marriage, So Ambrose, Anselm, Chrysostom, Theophylact.
2. It is simpler and more obvious to say that the present distress is the shortness of this life, which is always pressing upon us, and hurrying us onwards towards death and eternity. The present distress thus denotes the shortness of the time which is given us to gain eternal life, and which, therefore, is to be given, not to the world nor to matrimony, but to the soul and to God. So Chrysostom, Anselm, and S. Jerome (cont. Jovin. lib, i.). “This distress,” he says, “in the necessity of dying shortly.” In this short life we have the necessity laid in us of pleasing God, and of carefully preparing good works, that so we may live in bliss throughout eternity. Therefore we are counselled to virginity; for virginity can give itself wholly to God, while the married are distracted by the burdens of wedlock. As the ant throughout the summer lays up store of grain for the winter, so should we collect merits for eternity. S. Paul explains this distress in ver. 29: Do you, he seems to say, long for a wife, for children, for conjugal delights? Do you thirst for these things, and set your affections and thoughts on them? Is it your sole purpose to perpetuate your name, your family, your race? Are you heaping up riches, buying farms, building houses, as though you would dwell in them for ever? Recollect the saying of Horace, land and home and beloved wife must be left behind.” (Carmin. ii. 14. 21).
1. Why do you weary and torment yourself with toils? Why buy with such sorrows a short–lived pleasure, the fame of your name and family? Why hope for long endurance? Transient is whatever you see here, whatever you lust for; transitory this present life. Thirty years of manhood is all that is given us here below. Listen to the poet: “The short span of life forbids us to entertain any far–reaching hope.”
2. Death is pressing upon you: Towards it you are hastening with relentless speed. Judgment awaits you; an eternity is at hand, unending and inevitable. God is constraining you, and forcing you to prepare yourself for it and hasten towards it.
3. God has given you this short life, this present time—not that you may spend it in wedded bliss, not that you may found a family, or establish a seat, or enjoy the present as though you were to remain here for ever—but solely and entirely that in it, as the arena for virtue, you may hasten to your goal and to the prize of an eternity of bliss; that on that bliss you should hang with eyes, with mind, with soul, and for it earnestly strive, and keep it ever before you as your goal and the end of all your actions. Wherefore though the world is full of folly, there is none greater or made to suffer more than that which so neglects its supreme and everlasting good, and so eagerly pursues what is perishable and empty, at so great risk of eternal damnation.
4. Reflect daily. So much of my life has now flown by that perhaps not much is left. Every day that I live brings me nearer to death: what if it should meet me to-day or to-morrow? Have I so lived as not to fear to die? Have I laid by in store merits and good works by which I may live throughout eternity? On this thy salvation turns as on a hinge: why then dost thou not give thyself wholly to it?
5. Why do you busy yourself about other matters? Why do you divide your mind between your wife, your children, your household, so as to think throughout the day scarcely once of God or heaven? Why do you not collect yourself wholly for that one thing which is needful, and choose with Mary the best part? Why hunger after gain, wealth, position, and family alliances? All men’s cares—how empty are they! Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee, and then whose shall these things be which thou hast provided? Your sons succeed you and forget you; you will leave all your goods to ungrateful heirs, for whom you toiled and laboured and gave your body to death and your soul to hell. Even if they be grateful, they will have no power to set you free from hell.
6. Have pity on your soul: on that one precious soul which God gave you to take care of and save, bestow some thought. Call away your mind from wedlock, from your wife, from your children; your thoughts from your family, from the cares and business attending on a wife, all which things distract you, drown you, and swallow you up in the earth and earthly things.
7. Why do you not embrace that single life that I advise? It will give you leisure for thought how you may please God, not how you may please the world; how you may get yourself ready for your journey to heaven; how you may compose your ideas as befits the judgment that is to come; how you may stand before God. It will enable you to serve the Lord without hindrance freely, to worship Him constantly, so as by perseverance in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to merit in heaven to shine in glory, to stand close by God, and most blissfully to enjoy Him throughout eternity—where with S. Agnes (S. Ambrose, Serm. 90) you may ever sing, “I am united in heaven to Him whom on earth I lived with all the power of my mind;” and, “The kingdoms of the world and all the glory of them I despised, because of the love of my Lord Jesus Christ, on whom I believed, whom I loved, and for whom I longed.”
Maldonatus (in Notis Manusc.) says: “Because of the present distress, the approaching end of the world, let us not involve ourselves in earthly business such as matrimony, that so we may prepare ourselves for that end.”
From what has been said, the argument of Jovinian and Calvin falls to the ground. They say that the Apostle opposes the present to the future; therefore, if the single life is a good merely because of the present distress, it is not so because of the future reward. I answer that the antecedent is false; for the present distress is that which urges us to seek to prepare ourselves in this short life, by a single life, for our eternal reward. Moreover, S. Jerome (contra Jovin. lib. i.) says: “The Apostle joins together the present and the future, that no one may suppose that virgins are indeed happier so far as concerns spiritual things, but not as concerns material, when they are better off in both than those that are married—better off in time, better off in eternity.” S. Augustine says the same, and refutes at length this argument of Calvin’s (de Sancta Virgin. lib. vi. c. 22), as does the Apostle here in vers. 33 and 35, as I will prove there at greater length.
That it is good for a man so to be. This is merely a repetition of the first clause of this verse for the sake of emphasis. It is good for a man to remain unmarried.
Ver. 28.—If a virgin marry she hath not sinned. A virgin here of course is one that is capable of matrimony—free, and unwedded, and not dedicated to God. If such marry she does not sin. Cf. notes to ver. 2. So Theodoret, Theophylact, Photius, and Jerome.
Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh. By letting loose on themselves a host of ills through the bond of wedlock, says S. Basil (de Sancta Virgin.). It is the cares of marriage, of children, and of household matters that the Apostle means when he speaks of trouble in the flesh. Cf. S. Augustine (de Sancta Virgin. c. 16), S. Ambrose (de Virg. lib. i.), and S. Jerome (contra Jovin.). (1.) Trouble in the flesh, therefore, is that which has to do with the flesh and fleshly things, and which troubles the flesh. It is opposed to that pleasure of the flesh which is found in matrimony. This pleasure is to counterbalanced by this “trouble” that it is scarcely felt. For the pleasure derived from the conjugal act is very base and brutish, and makes a man, as Alexander the Great used to say, epileptic; it carries with it great shame, and is gone in a moment, and is followed by numerous inconveniences. For from the moment of its conception it is accompanied by loathing, sleeplessness, giddiness, melancholy, palpitation of the heart, foolish longings, and a thorough disturbance of the bodily economy. The grievous pains of child-bearing follow, which often end in death. (2.) When children are born they need to be constantly washed, fed, enswathed, clothed, put to bed, rocked to sleep, taken out for fresh air, and kept healthy, and sung to sleep to prevent them from crying; and so mothers have to be occupied day and night about their children, and can think of nothing else. (3.) The more children, the greater the number of anxieties. How great is the grief if he happen to die, or be led by bad society into crime and disgrace, or if he show himself rebellious to his parents; if he waste his father’s goods by gambling and drinking, if he make a reckless marriage! For even if the parents be most holy, yet it often happens that the children are wicked, and so torture their parents most grievously. We have examples in Adam and Cain, Noah and Ham, Abraham and Ishmael, Isaac and Esau, Jacob and Reuben with nearly all his brothers, David and Amnon and Absalom, and many others.
It was because of these burdens attending on marriage that S. Augustine, following S, Ambrose, would never advise any one to marry. Possidonius, in his life of him(c. xxvii.), says that he recommended these three things to be observed by a man of God: (a) never to ask for any one a wife, (b) not to support any one who thought of entering the army, (c) and in his country not to go to a banquet when invited. The reasons he gave were (a) that if the married couple were to quarrel they would blame him by whom they were united; (b) that if the soldier behaved himself so as to be unsuccessful, he would lay the blame on his adviser; (c) that if he frequently attended banquets, he might lose the measure of temperance that was fitting.
But I spare you. Since you prefer the state of trouble, viz., matrimony, I permit it. So Ambrose.
Ver. 29.—But this I say, brethren, the time is short. The duration of this life is short, so that we may not think of merely enjoying our wives and the things of this present life, but, as strangers and sojourners, use them for a short time, in order to travel better towards that glorious City into which we shall be enrolled as everlasting citizens. Ambrose takes the time here in a wider sense, as denoting the duration of he world. Time is short, and the day of judgment is at hand: do not, therefore, spend your time on the temporal pleasures of the world, but prepare yourselves for judgment.
It remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none. That they do not greatly devote themselves to the things of marriage so as to give their spirit, their mind, and their live more to their wives than to the Lord. So Ambrose and Anselm; S. Augustine (de Serm. Dom. in Mont. lib. i. c. xiv.), that they should by mutual consent live in chastity, if possible.
Ver. 30.—And they that buy as though they possessed not. Let them not regard themselves as possessors for ever, but only as tenants for life. Paul is forbidding that inordinate love of things which makes them possess us rather than we them. We are not to fix our heart on transitory things, not with inordinate affection cling to any creature that so soon passeth away. S. Anselm, S. Augustine (in Joan. Tract. 40), in giving to a rich man a rule for the due use of money, says beautifully: “Use money as a traveller in an inn uses a table, or a cup, or a ewer—as one soon to depart, not to abide for ever.”
That God might effectually teach the Jews this lesson, He appointed every fiftieth year to be a year of Jubilee, when all lands that had been sold should return without payment to their first owner. Cf. Lev. xxv. 23. He said to them in effect: “I, the Most High, have true and real dominion over your land; and therefore it belongs to Me to lay down what conditions of sale that I please, especially since I have put you into possession as settlers and colonists, and with you to always remain such. Wherefore I will and decree that all possessions whatsoever return in the year of Jubilee to their first owners, and that for this reason, that you may know, says Philo (de Cherubim), that God alone is the true Lord and possessor of all things, and that men have but usufruct of them, not dominion. “Hence,” says Philo, “it is clear that we use the goods of another; that we possess in the way of right and dominion neither glory, nor riches, nor power, not anything whatever, even if it be some power of the body or faculty of the mind: we merely have the usufruct of them while we live.”
Ver. 31.—And they that use this world as not abusing it. By not giving themselves to it overmuch. The Latin version translates the compound word as if it were a simple one—as not using it; but the meaning is the same. Not to use it is to abuse it by holding too tightly to it; for we must use things according to what they are. A world that is fleeting must therefore be used loosely, and by the way as it were, which is as though it were not used. But if you cling to the world you abuse it, for you use a thing that is ever changing, as though it were firm, fixed, and solid. For abuse, as Theophylact says, is use that is immoderate—exceeding the measure and mature of the thing. Hence the Syriac renders this passage, “Let not those that use this world use it beyond its proper measure.” Abuse is found in 1 Cor. ix. 18 in the sense of “use to the full.” Wherefore S. Basil (Reg. Brev. Interrog. 70) says: “The Apostle condemns abuse in the words, ‘use the world as not abusing it.’ The very need that we gave of things that are for use is the measure of their use. He who goes beyond what necessity enjoins is a victim, either to covetousness, or lust, or vain glory.”
S. Leo (Serm.5 de Jej. Sept. Mensis) says excellently: “In the love of God is no excess; in the love of the world everything is harmful. And therefore should we hold fast to the things that are eternal, use the things of time in passing, as being pilgrims hastening along the road which takes us back to our country, and regarding whatever good things the world has given us as rather sustenance on the road than inducements to remain. Therefore is it that the Apostle says: ‘The time is short, it remaineth that they that have wives be as though they had them not. &c.; ‘for the fashion of this world is passing away.’ But it is not easy to turn aside from the blandishments of form, of abundance, of novelty, unless in the beauty of visible things we love the Creator and not the creature.” Again (Serm. xi. de Quadrag.), after quoting these words of the Apostle, he adds: “Happy is the man who, in pure self-control, passes the time of his pilgrimage here, and does not rest contentedly in those things amongst which he must walk; who is s guest rather than a master in his earthly home; who does not depend on human affections, not lose sight of the Divine promises.”
For the fashion of this world passeth away. The Greek verb may be also translated “is deceitful” or “acts falsely.” For, as S. Augustine says (Ep. xxxix. ad Licentium): “The chains of this world gall while they seem to please, bring certain pain and uncertain pleasure, painful fear and fearful rest; a reality full of misery, and an empty hope of happiness. Will you of your own accord bind your hands and feet with these?” And again (Serm. xxiii. de Verb. Apostol.) he says: “Temporal things never cease to enflame us with expectation of their coming, to corrupt us when they do come, and to torture us when they have gone by. When longed for they enkindle, when obtained they lose their value, when lost they vanish away.” And S. Bernard says “Do not love the things of this world, for they burden us when we have them, defile us when we love them, and torture us when we lose them.”
Again, S. Gregory (lib. vi. Ep. ad Andream) says: “Our life is as the journey of a sailor: for the sailor stands, sits, lies down, and is borne along whither the shop carries him. So is it with us: whether waking or sleeping, whether silent or speaking, or walking, or willing or not willing, through the moments of time we are hastening daily to our end. When, then, the day of our end comes, what good will all that do us that we have so eagerly sought after, and so anxiously got together? It is not honour or riches that we should seek after: all these things must be left behind. But if we want to find what is good, let us live those things which we shall have for ever; if we fear what is evil, let us fear those sufferings which the lost suffer eternally.” Then, shortly after, he advises Andrew for the short span of our life and pilgrimage here, “to give himself to sacred reading, to meditate on heavenly words, to kindle himself with love of eternity, to do all good works in his power with his earthly things, and to hope for an everlasting kingdom as a reward for them. So to live is to have a part already in the life of eternity.” S. Jerome says, in his life of S. Hilarion, that “he was wont to remind every one that the fashion of this world is passing away, and that that is the true life which is purchased by the sufferings of this present life.”
Fashion. The nature, appearance, and fugitive state of the world, as Ambrose and Anselm say. The Apostle does not attribute form to the world, which is something more firm and constant, but fashion, which is ever changeful, fugitive, and ready to vanish away. Cf. note to Rom. xii. 2. “Do not,” says Anselm, “give the world a constant love; for the object of your love is inconstant. In vain do you firmly fix your heart on it: it flies while you love.” If the world is fugitive, so then is marriage and everything else contained in the world.
The day flies by; none knows the morrow’s fount, whether toil or rest it brings: so the world’s glory fades. So too Lipsius, our brother, a man as wise as lifted up above man and human things, was wont with great discernment to say, when we talked together, as we often did freely, of the vanity of knowledge and all human things, that he had long thought of what he would have inscribed on his tomb. It was this: “Do you wish me to speak to you still more loudly? All human things are smoke, shadow, vanity, stage-play, and in one word—nothing.”
For all the world’s a play in which this life’s story is given. Men are the platers; they have their exits and their entrances; and the place of the theatre is the earth. “One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever,” says Ecclesiastes i. 4. On the stage are two doors—that of birth for those coming on, that of death for those going off. Each receives the dress fitted to his part. He who personates a king will not take away with him the purple which he wore. Soon the comedy comes to an end. Seneca says that the same hour which gave us life began to end it. We often hear it said: “Tell me, O farm, O house, O prebend. O money, how many lords thou hast had, and how many yet await thee. Tell me where is Solomon and his wisdom, Samson and his strength, Absalom and his beauty, Cicero and his eloquence, Aristotle and his subtle intellect. Where are the illustrious princes, the things of old, the favour of governors, and strong limbs, the power of the princes of the world?” They are food for worms; they have returned to the dust. Transient as the morning dew, they have fled away. What seek you? What are you so eager for. Happy the man who was able to despise the world!
Gregory of Nazianzen enumerates in detail and describes most beautifully and tersely the empty and fugitive nature of everything in this world (de Vitæ Itineribus). He says: “Who am I, and whence came I into this life? and who shall I be, after that having been nursed for a short time in the lap of earth, I return from the dust to life? Where in His universe will God place me? Many are the sorrows that await the traveller on life’s road. and there is no good amongst men unalloyed with evil. And would that evils did not claim for themselves the greater part! Wealth is beset by snares, and the pride of high office and of thrones is the mere dream of a sleeper. To be subject to another’s power is grievous and burdensome. Poverty drags down; beauty is as short lived as the lightning of summer; youth is nothing more than a temporary glow; old age is the gloomy sunset of life. Words take wings, glory is but breath, nobility old blood, strength is shared with the wild-boar, satiety is disgusting, matrimony a bond, a large family is the mother of inevitable anxiety, to be bereaved is as a disease, the market is the seed-plot of vices, rest is feebleness, arts are practised by worthless men, the bread of another is scanty, agriculture is toilsome, the greater number of sailors go to the bottom, one’s native land is a prison, and the region beyond it a scorn.” Then he comprehends them all in one view, and holds up to our gaze the vanity of all things in many apt similitudes, saying: “All things, in short, are full of sorrow for mortals, all human things are fearful and yet ridiculous—like to thistle-down, to a shadow, to dew, to the idle wind, the flight of a bird, to a vapour, a dream, a wave, a ship, a foot-print, a breath; to dust, to a world perpetually changing all things as it revolves—now stable, now rotating, now falling, now fixed by seasons, days, nights, labours, death, sorrows, pleasures, diseases, calamities, prosperity. Not without great wisdom is it, O Christ, that you have so appointed that all the things of this life are uncertain and unstable. Doubtless it was that we might learn to glow with love and desire of something firm and settled, that we might tear away the mind from thoughts of the folly of the flesh, and might preserve pure and intact that image given us from above; might lead a life apart from this life, and, in short, by changing this world for another, bear with fortitude all the difficulties and trials of this life.”
S. Augustine too remarks appositely (Enarr. Ps. cx.) on the words, “He shall drink of the brook on the way,” that, “a brook is the current of man’s mortality. As a brook is swollen by the rains, overflows, roars as it goes, hurries along, and as it hurries hastens to its end, so is the whole current of mortality. men are born, they live, they die; and while they die others are born, What stands still here? what is there that does not hasten onwards? what is there that is not as it were collected from the rain, and on its way to the sea, unto the deep?”
The fashion of this world implies that it is dressed and masked as an actor. Just as if a man were to sell you a horse and its trappings, you would take off its covering and examine the body and limbs of the horse before buying—even so do here. The world offers you for sale dressed-up honours, masked pleasures, decorated riches. Remove the decorations, take off the mask, look what lurks behind them: you will see that all is foreign, slender, empty.
The Wise Man pathetically describes (v. 8) the complaint of the ungodly, and the late remorse that follows on the love of vanity; and he compares it to a slight shadow, a messenger hastening by, a ship cutting the sea, the flight of a bird, an arrow shot forth—to thistle-down, foam, smoke, wind, and to an inn where one spends a night. S. Jerome explains these images at length in his letter to Cyprianus, in which, commenting on Ps. xc. 4, he says: “Compared to eternity the length of all tome is short.” Then, at ver. 6, he says: “As in the morning the grass flourishes, and delights with its verdure the eyes of all that see it, and then gradually withers and loses its beauty, and is turned into hay to be trodden under foot, even so does the whole race of men show the freshness of spring in childhood, blossom in youth, and flourish in manhood; but suddenly, when he knows not, the head turns white, the face wrinkles, the skin contracts, and at last, in the evening of old age, he can scarcely move. He is hardly recognised for what he used to be, and seems almost changed into another man; and, lastly, as Symmachus turns Ps. xc.10, we are suddenly cut down and fly away.”
Ver. 32.—But I would have you without carefulness, and therefore living in virginity and celibacy.
Ver. 33.—But he that is married careth . . . how he may please his wife. “A woman,” says Plautus, “and a ship are never ornamented enough: he therefore that wants work had better marry a wife and fit out a ship.”
Ver. 34.—There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The Latin takes the first half of this clause with the preceding, and refers it to the husband. He that is married careth how he may please his wife and is divided. He is distracted by many anxieties, so that he cannot give himself to one Lord; but God claims a part, and his wife and children claim a part, and that the greater. So Ambrose takes it.
But the Greeks—Chrysostom, Ścumenius, Theophylact. Basil, and Ephrem—join them as above. The meaning, then, is that the pursuits of a wife and a virgin are different. As Chrysostom says, what separates a wife from a virgin is leisure and business: the virgin has leisure, and wife has business. But S. Jerome (contra Jovin. lib. i.) asserts that this reading is not the true one. The Greeks still support the latter reading, the Latins the former.
The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. “Holy” is pure and unstained. “A virgin,” says Ścumenius, “is holy in body, because of her chastity; she is holy in spirit, because of the close converse she holds with God, and because of the indwelling of the Spirit.”
Observe this plain testimony to evangelical counsel, and especially to that of virginity, Paul, in this chapter, frequently commends and counsels it (vers. 7, 8, 25, 26, 34, 35, 40). Hence Peter Martyr and Beza admit here that the maintenance of virginity is better than matrimony, as Luther thought, not only as a safeguard against temporal cares and troubles, but that it excels it also, as being better adapted for the service of God. Still they adds that virginity by itself is not an act of worship to God, and at all events not greater or better than marriage.
But it is certain that virginity in this state is in itself an illustrious virtue, one by which God is honoured and worshipped, far better and more excellent than matrimony, meriting a far greater reward, and having its peculiar crown of glory in heaven. I say “in this state,” for in the state of innocence virginity would not have been a virtue, nay, it would not have existed any more than concupiscence would.
What has been said is proved, 1. by the Apostle laying down here that virginity is holiness of body and of spirit, and that by it we please God. For the sense of the verse is: “As a married woman thinks how she may preserve her beauty and adorn herself, that she may please her husband, so a virgin thinks how she may preserve chastity and purity, that she may be holy in body and mind, that so she may please God.” So Anselm, Theophylact, Ścumenius, Chrysostom, and many others. She thinks, too, how she may adorn and increase this chastity with prayers and other virtues, that she may be still more pleasing to God, as Ambrose suggests. Therefore, through virginal chastity a virgin is pleasing to God, and therefore chastity itself is holiness. So the Apostle calls it here. If virginity is holiness, it is surely worship done to God.
2. In the following verses the Apostle speaks of celibacy as being honourable, that is, more so than marriage; therefore celibacy is a virtue; for the proper object of virtue is the good that is honourable.
3. Virginity by itself is a branch of temperance, and is an heroic exhibition of it, springing from the most perfect chastity, fortitude, and resolution, and is a perfect bridling of lust. It is often also enjoined by charity, religion, or a vow. Hence I argue thus: As concupiscence, and especially that of impurity, is an evil in itself, so to bridle it is good and pleasing to God, and to bridle it more completely is a greater good and more pleasing to God. But virginity does bridle it more, nay, it wholly bridles concupiscence, whereas marriage gives it play; therefore virginity is a greater good, and more pleasing to God, and better than matrimony. This the Apostle teaches us expressly in ver. 38, where he says: “He that giveth his virgin in marriage doeth well, but he that giveth her not doeth better.” Hence Fulgentius (c. iv. Ep. 3) says: “So much is virginity a virtue, that a virgin derives her name from virtue.” S. Jerome (contra Jovin. lib. i.) says: “Virginity is a sacrifice to Christ.”
In short, this is expressly taught against Jovinian, Calvin, and such men, by Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Athanasius, and Basil, in works written for the very purpose of proving this truth about virginity, and by S. Thomas (ii. ii. qu. 152), and by all Scholastic and Catholic doctors.
S. Aldhelm, Bishop of the West Saxons about A.D. 680, says excellently (Bibl. SS. Patrum, vol. iii. c. ix. de Laud. Virgin.): “Since there are three states in the Church—virginity, widowhood, and marriage—we have been taught by revelation from heaven, if the scale of merits is taken into account, that the difference fixed between them is of this kind: virginity is wealth, widowhood sufficiency, marriage poverty; virginity is peace, widowhood release, marriage captivity; virginity is a sun, widowhood a lamp, marriage darkness; virginity is a queen, widowhood a lord, marriage a handmaid.”
Tertullian also says (Lib. de Pudicitia): “Chastity is the flower of character, the body’s honour, the adornment of the sixes, the foundation of holiness, and every good mind instinctively leans towards it. Although it is seldom found, and scarcely ever is life-long, yet will it abide for a space in the world, if discipline lend its aid, and correction keep it in its bounds.”
S. Martin once, on seeing a meadow, one part of which the oxen had fed on, another part rooted up by the pigs, and a third part uninjured and variegated by different kinds of flowers, said: “The first part reminds us of marriage: it has been eaten down by cattle, but has not wholly lost the beauty of the herbage, though it retains none of the brightness that flowers give. The second part, which the unclean tribe of swine has rooted up, gives us a foul picture of fornication. The third, which has felt no injury, shows the glory of virginity: it is covered with luxuriant herbage, in it is an abundant crop of grass, it is adorned with flowers of all kinds, and shines as though adorned with radiant jewels.” So Sulpitius writes (Dial. 2, c. 11).
From all this we may gather eight prerogatives of virginity and the widowed life. 1. It is an imitation of the life and integrity of the angels; for the angels do not marry, but are wholly engaged on the service of God. Virgins do the same. Listen to S. Athanasius (de Virginitate): “O virginity, unfailing wealth, crown that fadeth not away, temple of God, abode of the Holy Spirit, pearl most precious, conqueror of death and hell, life of angels, crown of the Saints,” &c. And S. Chrysostom (de Virginitate, c. xi.): “Virginity far excels wedlock as heaven is above earth, as angels are higher than men.” And S. Augustine (de Sancta Virgin.c. xiii.): “Virginal as integrity is the portion of angels, and is a striving after life-long incorruption in a corruptible body.” Again, it is the distinguishing mark of that new race of angels planted by Christ on the earth, as S. Jerome says (Ep. 22 ad Eustoch.): “As soon as the Son of God came down to earth, He founded for Himself a new family, in order that He who was worshipped by angels in heaven might have angels on earth.” Cf. S. Fulgentius (Ep.3 ad Probam, c. 9).
2. Virginity is a whole burnt-offering, as S. Jerome says, when commenting on Ps. xcvi; for it devotes and consecrates to God and Divine things the body, and with it the mind. Hence S. Ignatius, in his Epistle to Tarsus, calls virgins “Christ’s priests.” “Value highly,” he says, “them that are living in virginity, as Christ’s priests.” Hence S. Ambrose, in his comment on Ps. cxix. 5, calls virgins “martyrs,” because they often have a severer struggle than martyrs, and slay for God’s sake their affections and the vital lusts of the soul.”
3. A virgin enters into a spiritual marriage with Christ, as I will explain at 2 Cor. xi. 2. The offspring of this marriage is not bodily but spiritual, viz., (a) virtuous works; (b) alms and other offices of charity; (c) holy examples, by which they bring more souls to serve Christ, and so bear them to Christ. So S. Cecilia not inly converted her husband Valerian and her brother Tiburtius and others, but also made them martyrs and virgins. Hence the Church says of her: “O Lord Jesus Christ, Sower of holy counsel, accept the fruits of the seeds which Thou didst sew in Cecilia,” and, “Thy hand-maiden Cecilia, like a bee loaded with honey, served Thee with store of good works,”
4. Virgins are more loved by Christ than others; for Christ as a Bridegroom loves virgins as His brides, as S. Ambrose says (de Virgin. lib. i.). Again, He loves them as His soldiers. Hence Ambrose says again: “This is that celestial warfare which the army of angels, praising God, carried on on earth.” On these soldiers see Chrysostom (Hom.71 on S. Matthew).
5. Virgins are the noblest part of the Church. Listen to S. Cyprian (de Discipl. et Habitu Virgin.): “Now I speak to the virgins whose glory is the higher as their purpose is better. They are the flower of the Church’s plant, the adornment of spiritual grace, a wine that gladdens, a complete and uncorrupted work of praise and honour, the image of God answering to the holiness of the Lord, the more illustrious portion of the flock of Christ.” And S. Jerome (contra Jovin. lib. ii.) says: “The Church’s necklace is adorned with virgins as its fairest jewels.” And Ecclus. xxvi. 15, says: “A shamefaced and faithful woman is a double grace,” i.e., in marriage (for he is speaking of that); and therefore it is much more true of continency in the single life.
Hence S. Athanasius (de Virgin.) lays down that virginity is a mark of true religion and of the Church. For virginity is advised, embraced, and extolled by true religion: by infidelity and heresy it is spoken against, rejected, and slighted. And S. Ambrose (de Viduis) says: “They who regard with veneration the adulteries and lasciviousness of their gods, punish celibacy and widowhood: being themselves ardent for wickedness, they would fain chastise those who are zealous for virtue.”
Wherefore heretics and infidels are not and cannot be virgins; for without the grace of God, the beginning of which is faith, it is impossible, amongst so many allurements and temptations of the flesh, to preserve chastity inviolate. Hence S. Athanasius (Apolog. ad Constant. Imp.) says: “Nowhere else save among Christians is that holy and heavenly precept of life-long virginity happily fulfilled.”
6. S. Cyprian says that “marriage replenishes the earth, continency heaven;” therefore, as S. Basil says, “virgins anticipate the glory of the resurrection;” for in this life, as in the next, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.
7. Virgins have in heaven a more excellent reward and crown: they follow the Lamb wherever He goes, singing a new song which no one else can sing (Rev. xiv. 3, 4).
8. Virginity makes man like the Blessed Trinity. And all this is as true of virgins that live in their own home as or those that live in a monastery; for in the time of S. Paul and Ignatius there were no monasteries. In counselling and praising virginity, therefore, they mean that which is maintained at home. So Philip the deacon had at his house four daughters that were virgins (Acts xxi. 9), who were also gifted with the spirit of prophecy, and that as a reward of their virginity, as S. Jerome says (ad Demet.). Philip the Apostle had before his call three daughters, of whom two grew old in virginity, as Polycrates says in S. Jerome (de Script. Eccles.). S. Thecla, by the exhortation of S, Paul, embraced virginity (S. Ambrose de Virgin. lib.ii.). S. Iphegenia, a king’s daughter, was induced by S. Matthew to do the same (“Abdias,” Life). So too did S. Flavia Domitilla, daughter of Clement, a Roman consul, when urged by S. Clement (Beda. Martyrol.7 May.); and S. Pudentiana and Praxedes, daughters of Pudens, a senator, and very many others. So many were there that S. Ambrose says (de Virgin. lib. iii.): “In the Eastern Church and in Africa there are more virgins consecrated than there are births in Milan and all Italy. And yet the race of men is not thereby diminished, but increased.” The reason of this is, that God is unwilling to be surpassed in generosity. If parents offer one or two of their offspring, He gives eight or ten in their place, giving fruitfulness and favourable labour, and filling the house with His blessing. So did He give to Hannah five children in the place of the one she offered to Him. So to the rich who give alms does God give greater wealth, and greater fertility to their fields, as S. Augustine says (Serm. 219 de Tempor.).
Ver. 35.—And I speak this for your own profit. I counsel you to remain single for your greater perfection and growth in spirit and in virtue.
Not that I may cast a snare upon you. Not that I wish to lay a necessity of continency upon you, or to force you to it. So Ścumenius, Theophylact, Chrysostom. For this precept would be a snare to those who find a difficulty in containing themselves, because it would deprive them of the remedy against incontinence, viz., marriage, and would drove them into the sin of fornication. It is evident from what follows that a snare, i.e., a precept, is contrasted with a counsel, for he goes in to say, but for that which is comely. In other words, he says what he does about the advantage of virginity, not by way of precept but of counsel, exhorting them to the more comely and better condition to be found in the single life. So Theodoret, Theophylact, Anselm, Ścumenius.
Peter Martyr and Bucer, therefore, are wrong in supposing that thus snare is the constraint of a vow; for such a vow is not imposed by the Apostle or any one else, but is self-imposed, as each one of his own free will takes a vow of chastity. He who takes a vow of his own accord, no more casts a snare round himself than one who of his own accord binds himself in marriage to one who is often quarrelsome and hard to live with. Moreover, vows are not taken except after some trial, and not without previous mature deliberation and counsel. In monasteries, e.g., a year of probation is given to novices, that they may test their strength and weigh well the cost. But if married people had such a year in which to try each other before marriage, I fancy that many would alter their minds; and yet when once they are married they are compelled to live with one that is often unknown, untried, and disliked. Why, the, should those who have made a solemn promise to God. and have professed chastity, after first trying their strength and their duty, be compelled to break their vows, which of their own accord they made to the Lord their God?
It is far more true to say that this dogma of Bucer and the Protestants is a snare. They say that chastity is impossible, and consequently that it is lawful to marry after taking the vows. For by this snare the souls of many religious, and of many married people are destroyed, so that adultery, uncleanness, and damnation follow. For, by persuading themselves that virginal or conjugal chastity is impossible, they are necessarily driven by this fond opinion into adultery and sacrilege.
That ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. 1. The single life affords abundant facilities for prayer and meditation and worship. So the Magdalene, sitting at the feet of Jesus, heard His words (S. Luke c. 39).
2. S. Jerome (contra Jovin.) renders it not as the Latin, that ye may have facilities for worshipping the Lord without hindrance, but as above. The Greek ευ̉πάρεδρον has two meanings (a) That constant attendance of any one; (b) assiduity in any work. As therefore, Socrates is said to have had his attendant genius, by whose counsel and advice he was ruled in all that he did; and as mage in their rings, and heresiarchs in the fabrication of their heresy (Iren. lib. i. c. 9 and 20) have attendant demons close at hand to prompt them, so here, vice versâ, the chaste are called attendants upon the Lord, i.e., His intimates and assessors, as it were, like some terrestrial angels who always behold through their chastity the face of their Father. Hence it is that the Fathers so commonly compare the chaste to angels. S. Bernard. Ep.42, says: “The chaste man and the angel differ in felicity, not in virtue: the angels chastity is more blest, the man’s more strong.” Climacus (Gradu. 15) and Basil (de Sancta Virgin.) say that by chastity we become like God, and have a kind of celestial and Divine incorruption. Nay, the heathen Cato used to sat that our life would be like the life of the gods if we could do without a wife, and that so a wife was a necessary evil. In this Cato erred; for S. Paul tells us that, through the grace of Christ, it is not necessary, but that both marriage and celibacy are free to every one. Hence Sir Thomas More, on being asked why he has married so tiny a wife, replied merrily, that out of evils he had freely and wisely chosen the least. The Wise Man says most truly (vi. 20): “It is chastity that makes us likest God; for, as Gregory of Nazianzen says (Carmen de Virgin.), the Blessed Trinity is he Virgin that all virgins imitate. He says: “The primal Triad is a virgin; for the Son is born of a Father that has no beginning, for He derived His Being from none;” and, as Ambrose (de Virgin. lib i.) says: “Virginity has descended from heaven to be imitated on earth. Transcending clouds, the air, and the angels, it has found the Word of God in the very bosom of the Father. Elias, because he was found to be free from all lusts of sexual delight, was taken up in a chariot to heaven.” And it was for this reason that virgins were seen by S. John, not on the mount but above it, in Rev. xiv., singing a new song before the throne of God, and following the Lamb wherever He goes. S. Jerome goes so far as t say that celibate and celestial are conjugate terms. Quinctilian says that Gaius the Jurisconsult held that celibates were “cślites.” or heavenly, because of their freedom from the burdens of marriage. By continency we are brought back to that unity from which we slipped away on all sides. This was well understood and shown by the four heroic sisters of the queen of the Emperor Theodosius, the most illustrious of whom was Pulcheria, who made a vow of chastity to God, and to whom Cyril wrote his book de Fide ad Reginas, of whom Nicephorus speaks (vol. i. lib. xiv. c. ii. p. 612). He adds that “day and night they worshipped God with hymns and praises, holding that idleness and ease were unbefitting the purpose with which they had embraced virginity.”
Hence it follows that the single life is the best for acquiring wisdom. Aristotle and other philosophers have laid this down, and Cicero showed by his actions that he thought so. For, after having divorced Terentia, he was asked why he did not marry again; and he said that it was impossible to at once devote one’s self to philosophy and to a wife, for he that is single and free from other cares can wholly devote himself to wisdom. Moreover, the single life tends to keep the heart pure, and ready to take in wisdom. It is again wonderfully enlightened by God, with whom it lives on terms of intimacy. For since, as the Apostle says here, the soul that is chaste is a close attendant upon and an assessor of God, it follows that it is also an assessor of the eternal wisdom of God: for this is an attendant and assessor of God. “Give me,” says Solomon, “give me, O Lord, the wisdom that attends in Thy abodes.” Hence it is that S. Jerome (contra Jovin. lib. i.) asserts that the Sibyls, because of their virginity, obtained from God the gift of prophecy.
Wisdom and chastity, as twin-sisters, were the companions of S. Gregory of Nazianzen. For, as Ruffinus (in Prolog. Apolog.) records, and also S. Aldhelm (de Laud. Virgin. c. 12), “when Nazianzen was studying at Athens, he saw in a vision two beautiful maidens, sitting one on his right and the other on his left, as he was sitting reading. Looking askance at them, as purity bade, he asked who they were and what they wished; but they, with more freedom than he, embraced him and said, ‘Do not be angry with us, young man, for we are well known to you: one of us is called Wisdom, the other Chastity; and we are sent by God to dwell with you, because you have prepares for us a pleasant and pure dwelling in your heart. We are your twin-sisters, Wisdom and Chastity.’”
It follows, in the second place, that God and His angels have such familiar communion with virgins, and give them such protection, that they attend upon them, and often preserve them safely from cruelty of tyrants. Of this S. Basil is a witness (de Vera Virgin.)
There is a famous instance of this in the life of S. Theophila, who was condemned to prostitution under the Emperor Maximian; and, while being led to it, she prayed thus: “My Jesu, my love, my light, my spirit, the guardian of my chastity and my life, look on her who has been betrothed to Thee; make haste to deliver Thy lamb from the teeth of the wolf; preserve, O my Bridegroom, Thy bride; preserve my chastity, Thou fount of chastity.” Then, when she entered the place of prostitution, she drew from her bosom the Gospel and read it attentively. Soon an angel stood by her side, and smote with death the first youth who approached her, the second with blindness, and punished the others wit different penalties, so that at last no one dared come near her. Then lust gave way to fear; and when many entered the place from religious motives, they saw Theophila sitting unharmed, and intent on her book. They saw too a youth standing near her, refulgent with light and of ineffable beauty, sending forth, as it were, darts of lightning from his eyes. He at length led out Theophila to the church, and placed her in the porch, and left her with “Peace be to thee,” to the amazement of the heathen, who exclaimed, “Who is such a God as the God of the Christians?” We have similar marvels in the life of S. Agnes, S. Cecilia, and S. Lucy, and other virgins. We frequently read in the lives and martyrdoms of the holy virgins that, when they were solicited to prostitute themselves by the promises or threats of evil-minded tyrants, and even publicly condemned to it, yet they all preserved their virginity, by the aid of God and the holy angels, and even added to its merit by martyrdom.
Ver. 36.—But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin. If any one think that it is unbecoming for himself and his daughter to be despised by men of the world, says Ephrem, because she is of more than marriageable age, i.e., the age when she is ripe for marriage, and need so require, if the father think that he ought to give her in marriage, either because she cannot contain, or because he seeks for children by her, or for other reasons, let him do what he will, let him give his daughter in marriage, or keep her as a virgin, if he so prefer it.
Observe that this saying of the Apostle’s does not imply that it is in the father’s power to keep his daughter a virgin if she is unwilling, or to give her to a husband of his own choosing against her will; nor does it imply that the consent of the daughter is insufficient to matrimony without that of her father of guardian, as the civil laws have laid down, by enacting that the marriages of sons or daughters are null and void without the consent of the head of the family. The opposite is laid down by the law natural, Divine, and canonical. The Apostle merely says here and in ver. 37, that it is prudent and fitting for parents, who see the inclination of their daughters or sons to marriage, to seek by their superior wisdom a suitable union for them, after the custom of their forefathers; and he says that the son and daughters ought, in such a matter, to follow the counsel and wish of their parents, if it be prudent to do so, unless they can allege some sufficient excuse. So did Abraham, Isaac and Tobias chose wives for their sons, and their wish was obeyed.
Let them marry. The plural is used to embrace the virgin and her wooer, and to signify that the latter is doing the former a dishonour, as is commonly the case; and to prevent it going further, he says, “Let them be joined in matrimony.” So Maldonatus (Notæ).
Ver. 37.—Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart . . . doeth well. This is linked on to the preceding, let him do what he will: if he give her in marriage he sinneth not, if he give her not he does well—nay, both father and daughter do better.
Having no necessity. Not being compelled, say heretics, to give his daughter in marriage, through lack of the gift of continence. This is to say that, if for this reason he keeps her unmarried, he does wrong; but he who is not under such necessity, if he keeps her unmarried does well.
But this is a mistake: for the words having no necessity, as well as hath power, are to be referred to the phrase to keep his virgin. He does well who keeps his daughter a virgin, unless necessity compel him to keep her unmarried, through poverty, infamy, or because no one will have her, or other causes of the same kind. For then it is a case of necessity, not of virtue. Virtue is where no necessity compels, but where piety impels, as, e.g., when any one, by an act of free–will, chooses virginity. So Chrysostom, Theophylact, Ścumenius.
But hath power over his own will. That is when the father can do what he wills, through his virgin daughter consenting to remain a virgin.
Observe these words of the Apostle, and learn from them that man has free–will, even in the moral and supernatural spheres, as, e.g., in the case of lifelong virginity. For the father cannot will it for the daughter unless she freely choose and embrace it.
Secondly, we might take the words having no necessity as meaning, not being bound by any precept, but having the power of free-will to choose without sin which he will. Virginity is not a matter of precept nut of counsel; he, therefore, that wishes his daughter to remain a virgin is not compelled to it by any law; yet he does well, because he fulfils the counsel of Christ and the Apostle.
Ver. 39.—But if her husband be dead. Literally, if he be asleep. With the faithful, death is called a sleep/ for they awaken from it at the resurrection. Hence pious Christians say, when one dies, that he is asleep in the Lord.
She is at liberty to be married to whom she will only in the Lord. The Greek Fathers understand in the Lord to mean, according to the law of the Lord, which beds us marry with self-restraint, and for the procreation of children, not to satisfy our lusts. S. Basil says (de Vera Virgin.): “What is it to marry in the Lord? It is not to be dragged, as a despicable slave, to concubinage, to please the flesh, but to choose marriage in sound judgment, and because it will make life more convenient. For this reason was it that the Creator ordained marriage as a necessity in nature.”
Secondly, in the Lord means in His church and religion. She may marry a Christian. So Ambrose, Theodoret, Theophylact, Anselm, Sedulius, S. Thomas, Augustine (de Adulter. Conjug. lib. i. c. 21).
Hence the Church afterwards, because of the danger of perversion, and because of its unseemliness, wholly forbade a Catholic to intermarry with a heretic, and disannulled the marriage of a Christian with a heathen. It is a mortal sin, therefore, to marry a heretic. We must except from this Germany, Poland, and France, where heretics live mingled with Catholics. For there a woman that is a Catholic is freely permitted, and, without danger of perversion, can remain in the faith, and bring up her children in it, as is said by S. Thomas, Sanchez (Disp. 72, no. 3, vol. ii.). But all such marriages are to be guarded against and dissuaded, because of the dangers they entail. Lastly, notice against Tertullian, the Montanists, Novatian, that second marriages are plainly sanctioned by this passage.
Fourthly, marriage in the Lord is that which is, according to the laws and usages of the Church, handed down by the Apostles, who represented the Lord and wielded His authority. The usages instituted by the Apostles and received by the whole Church are especially (a) that marriage should be solemnised in the presence of the priest lawfully deputed for the purpose. “It is seemly,” says S. Ignatius to Polycarp, “that men and women should be united with the approbation of the bishop, that marriages may be entered into according to the precept of the Lord, and not for the sake of concupiscence.” (b) Matrimony should be solemnised with a celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass. (c) Those who are contracting matrimony should receive the Eucharist. Tertullian (ad Uxorem, lib. ii.) says: “How can I sufficiently describe the happiness of that marriage which is blessed by the Church, confirmed by the oblation, and, when sealed, is recorded by the angels?”
Ver. 40.—But she is happier if she so abide. Happier here in a more peaceful and holy life, as well as in the greater bliss which awaits her in heaven. So Ambrose. Hence it appears that the state of widowhood in better than matrimony. It appears also from what has been said before and from the Fathers, cited at ver.7. Cf. S. Augustine (de Bono Viduit. vol. iv.) and S. Ambrose (de Viduis, vol. i.).
And I think also that I have the Spirit of God. The Spirit of counsel, according to which I think that I give good advice. So Anselm and others. Observe the stress laid on I. As other Apostles have, so have I also the Spirit of God. He modestly reminds hem if his authority, lest he should seem to give his advice according to human and not Divine wisdom. S. Augustine again observes (in Joan. tract 37) that I think is not an expression of doubt, but of asseveration and command.