Ambrose Virgins 325
To an objection that the state of widowhood might indeed be endurable if circumstances were pleasant, St. Ambrose replies that pleasant surroundings are more dangerous than even trouble; and goes to show by examples taken from holy Scripture, that widows may find much happiness in their children and their sons-in-law. They should have recourse to the Apostles, who are able to help us, and should entreat for the intercessions of angels and martyrs. He touches then on certain complaints respecting loneliness, and care of property, and ends by pointing out the unseemliness of a widow marrying who has daughters either married already or of marriageable age.
326 52). You have learnt, then, you who are widows, that you are not destitute of the help of nature, and that you can maintain sound counsel. Nor, again, are you devoid of protection at home, who are able to claim even the highest point of public power.
53. But perhaps some one may say that widowhood is more endurable for her who enjoys prosperity, but that widows are soon broken down by adversity, and easily succumb. On which point not only are we taught by experience that enjoyment is more perilous for widows than difficulties, but by the examples in the Scriptures that even in weakness widows are not usually without aid,56 and that divine and human support is furnished more readily to them than to others, if they have brought up children and chosen sons-in-law well. And, finally, when Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with violent fever, Peter and Andrew besought the Lord for her: “And He stood over her and commanded the fever and it left her, and immediately she arose and ministered unto them.”57
54. “She was taken,” it is said, “with a great fever, and they besought him for her.”58 You too have those near you to entreat for you. You have the Apostles near, you have the Martyrs near; if associated with the Martyrs in devotion, you draw near them also by works of mercy. Do you show mercyand you will be close to Peter. It is not relationship by blood but affinity of virtue which makes near, for we walk not in the flesh but in the Spirit. Cherish, then, the nearness of Peter and the affinity of Andrew, that they may pray for you and your lusts give way. Touched by the word of God you, who lay on the earth, will then forthwith rise up to minister to Christ. “For our conversation is in heaven, whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”59 For no one lying down can minister to Christ. Minister to the poor and you have ministered to Christ. “For what ye have done unto one of these,” He says, “ye have done unto Me.”60 You, widows, have then assistance, if you choose such sons-in-law for yourselves, such patrons and friends for your posterity.
55. So Peter and Andrew prayed for the widow. Would that there were some one who could so quickly pray for us, or better still, they who prayed for the mother-in-law, Peter and Andrew his brother. Then they could pray for one related to them, now they are able to pray for us and for all. For you see that one bound by great sin is less fit to pray for herself, certainly less likely to obtain for herself. Let her then make use of others to pray for her to the physician. For the sick, unless the physician be called to them by the prayers of others, cannot pray for themselves. The flesh is weak, the soul is sick and hindered by the chains of sins, and cannot direct its feeble steps to the throne of that physician. The angels must be entreated for us, who have been to us as guards; the martyrs must be entreated, whose patronage we seem to claim for ourselves by the pledge as it were of their bodily remains. They can entreat for our sins, who, if they had any sins, washed them in their own blood; for they are the martyrs of God, our leaders, the beholders of our life and of our actions. Let us not be ashamed to take them as intercessors for our weakness, for they themselves knew the weaknesses of the body, even when they overcame.
56. So, then, Peter’s mother-in-law found some to pray for her. And you, O widow, find those who will pray for you, if as a true widow and desolate you hope in God, continue instant in supplications, persist in prayers,61 treat your body as dying daily, that by dying you may live again; avoid pleasures, that you, too, being sick, may be healed. “For she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.”62
57. You have no longer any reason for marrying, you have some to intercede for you. Say not, “I am desolate.” This is the complaint of one who wishes to marry. Say not, “I am alone.” Chastity seeks solitude: the modest seek privacy, the immodest company. But you have necessary business; you have also one to plead for you. You are afraid of your adversary; the Lord Himself will intervene with the judge and say: “Judge for the fatherless, and justify the widow.”63
58. But you wish to take care of your inheritance. The inheritance of modesty is greater, and this a widow can guard better than one married. A slave has done wrong. Forgive him, for it is better that you should bear with another’s fault than expose it. But you wish to marry. Be it so. The simple desire is no crime. I do not ask the reason, why is one invented? If you think it good, say so; if unsuitable, be silent. Do not blame God, do not blame your relatives, saying that protection fails you. Would that the wish did not fail! And say not that you are consulting the interests of your children, whom you are depriving of their mother.
59. There are some things permissible in the abstract, but not permissible on account of age. Why is the bridal of the mother being prepared at the same time with that of the daughters, and often even afterwards? Why does the grown-up daughter learn to blush in the presence of her mother’s betrothed rather than her own? I confess that I advised you to change your dress, but not to put on a bridal veil; to go away from the tomb, not to prepare a bridal couch. What is the meaning of a newly-married woman who already has sons-in-law? How unseemly it is to have children younger than one’s grand-children!
St. Ambrose returns again to the subject of Christ, speaking of His goodness in all misery. The various ways in which the good Physician treats our diseases, and the quickness of the healing if only we do not neglect to call upon Him. He touches upon the moral meaning of the will, which he shows was manifested in Peter’s mother-in-law, and lastly points out what a minister of Christ and specially a bishop ought to be, and says that they specially must rise through grace.
60). But let us return to the point, and not, while we are grieving over the wounds of our sins, leave the physician, and whilst ministering to the sores of others, let our own go on increasing. The Physician is then here asked for. Do not fear, because the Lord is great, that perhaps He will not condescend to come to one who is sick, for He often comes to us from heaven; and is wont to visit not only the rich but also the poor and the servants of the poor.64 And so now He comes, when called upon, to Peter’s mother-in-law. “And He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she arose and ministered unto them.”65 As He is worthy of being remembered, so, too, is He worthy of being longed for, worthy, too, of love, for His condescension to every single matter which affects men, and His marvellous acts. He disdains not to visit widows, and to enter the narrow rooms of a poor cottage. As God He commands, as man He visits.
327 61. Thanks be to the Gospel, by means of which we also, who saw not Christ when He came into this world, seem to be with Him when we read His deeds, that as they, to whom He drew near, borrowed faith from Him, so may He, when we believe His deeds, draw near to us.
62. Do you see what kinds of healing are with Him? He commands the fever, He commands the unclean spirits, at another place He lays hands on them. He was wont then to heal the sick, not only by word but also by touch. And do you then, who burn with many desires, taken either by the beauty or by the fortune of some one, implore Christ, call in the Physician, stretch forth your right hand to Him, let the hand of God touch your inmost being, and the grace of the heavenly Word enter the veins of your inward desires, let God’s right hand strike the secrets of your heart. He spreads clay on the eyes of some that they may see,66 and the Creator of all teaches us that we ought to be mindful of our own nature, and to discern the vileness of our body; for no one can see divine things except one who through knowledge of his vileness cannot be puffed up. Another is bidden to show himself to the priest, that he may for ever be free from the scales of leprosy.67 For he alone can preserve his purity, both of body and soul, who knows how to show himself to that priest, Whom we have received as an Advocate for our sins, and to Whom is plainly said: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech.”68
63. And be not afraid that there will be any delay in healing. He who is healed by Christ has no hindrances. You must use the remedy which you have received; and as soon as He has given the command, the blind man sees, the paralytic walks, the dumb speaks, the deaf hears, she that has a fever ministers, the lunatic is delivered. And do you, then, who ever after an unseemly fashion languish for desire of anything, entreat the Lord, show Him your faith, and fear no delay. Where there is prayer, the Word is present, desire is put to flight, lust departs. And be not afraid of offending by confession, take it rather as a right, for you who were before afflicted by an intense disease of the body will begin to minister to Christ.
64. And in this place can be seen the disposition of the will of Peter’s mother-in-law, from which she received for herself, as it were, the seed corn of what was to come, for to each his will is the cause of that which is to come. For from the will springs wisdom, which the wise man takes in marriage to himself, saying: “I desire to make her my spouse.”69 This will, then, which at first was weak and languid under the fever of various desires, afterwards by the office of the apostles rose up strong to minister unto Christ.
65. At the same time it is also shown what he ought to be who ministers to Christ, for first he must be free from the enticements of various pleasures, he must be free from inward languor of body and soul, that he may minister the Body and Blood of Christ. For no one who is sick with his own sins, and far from being whole, can minister the remedies of the healing of immortality. See what thou doest, O priest, and touch not the Body of Christ with a fevered hand. First be healed that thou mayest be able to minister. If Christ bids those who are now cleansed, but were once leprous, to show themselves to the priests,70 how much more is it fitting for the priest himself to be pure. That widow, then, cannot take it ill that I have not spared her, since I spare not myself.
66. Peter’s mother-in-law, it is written, rose up and ministered to them. Well is it said, rose up, for the grace of the apostleship was already furnishing a type of the sacrament. It is proper to the ministers of Christ to rise, according to that which is written: “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.”71
Having shown that the pretexts usually alleged for second marriages have no weight, St. Ambrose declares that he does not condemn them, though from the Apostle’s words he sets forth their inconveniences, though the state of those twice married is approved in the Church, and he takes occasion to advert to those heretics who forbid them. And he says that it is because the strength of different persons varies that chastity is not commanded, but only recommended.
67. I say, then, that widows who have been in the habit of giving neither are in want of their necessary expenses, nor of help, who in very great dangers have often guarded the resources of their husbands; and further, I think that the good offices of a husband are usually made up for to them by sons-in-law and other relatives, and that God’s mercy is more ready to help them, and therefore, when there is no special cause for marrying, the desire of so doing should not exist.
68. This, however, I say as a counsel, we do not order it as a precept, stirring up the wills of widows rather than binding them. for I do not forbid second marriages, only I do not advise them. The consideration of human weakness is one thing, the grace of chastity is another. I say more, I do not forbid second, but do not approve of often repeated marriages, for not everything is expedient which is lawful: “All things are lawful to me,” says the Apostle, “but all things are not expedient.”72 As, also, to drink wine is lawful, but, for the most part. it is not expedient.
69. It is then lawful to marry, but it is more seemly to abstain, for there are bonds in marriage. Do you ask what bonds? “The woman who is under a husband is bound by the law so long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead she is loosed from the law of her husband.”73 It is then proved that marriage is a bond by which the woman is bound and from which she is loosed. Beautiful is the grace of mutual love, but the bondage is more constant. “The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband.”74 And lest this bondage should seem to be rather one of sex than of marriage, there follows: “Likewise, also, the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.” How great; then, is the constraint in marriage, which subjects even the stronger to the other; for by mutual constraint each is bound to serve. Nor if one wishes to refrain can he withdraw his neck from the yoke, for he is subject to the incontinence of the other. It is said: “Ye are bought with a price, be not ye servants of men.”75 You see how plainly the servitude of marriage is defined. It is not I who say this, but the Apostle; or, rather. it is not he, but Christ, Who spoke in him. And he spoke of this servitude in the case of good married people. For above you read: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified by his believing wife; and the unbelieving wife by her believing husband.”76 And further on: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not bound in such cases.”77 If, then, a good marriage is servitude, what is a bad one, when they cannot sanctify, but destroy one another?
328 70. But as I exhort widows to keep the grace of their gift, so, too, I incite women to observe ecclesiastical discipline, for the Church is made up of all. Though it be the flock of Christ, yet some are fed on strong food, others are still nourished with milk, who must be on their guard against those wolves who are hidden in sheep’s clothing, pretending to all appearance of continence, but inciting to the foulness of incontinence. For they know how severe are the burdens of chastity, since they cannot touch them with the tips of their fingers; they require of others that which is above measure, when they themselves cannot even observe any measure, but rather give way under the cruel weight. For the measure of the burden must always be according to the strength of him who has to bear it; otherwise, where the bearer is weak, he breaks down with the burden laid upon him; for too strong meat chokes the throats of infants.
71. And so as in a multitude of bearers their strength is not estimated by that of a few; nor do the stronger receive their tasks in accordance with the weakness of others, but each is allowed to bear as great a burden as he desires, the reward increasing with the increase of strength; so, too, a snare is not to be set for women, nor a burden of continence beyond their strength to be taken up, but it must be left to each to weigh the matter for herself, not compelled by the authority of any command, but incited by increase of grace. And so for different degrees of virtue a different reward is set forth, and one thing is not blamed that another may be praised; but all are spoken of, in order that what is best may be preferred.
The difference between matters of precept and of counsel is treated of, as shown in the case of the young man in the Gospel, and the difference of the rewards set forth both for counsels and precepts is spoken of.
72). Marriage, then, is honourable, but chastity is more honourable, for “he that giveth his virgin ill marriage doeth well, but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.”78 That, then, which is good need not be avoided, but that which is better should be chosen. And so it is not laid upon any, but set before him. And, therefore, the Apostle said well: “Concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, yet I give my counsel.”79 For a command is issued to those subject, counsel is given to friends. Where there is a commandment, there is a law; where counsel, there is grace. A commandment is given to enforce what is according to nature, a counsel to incite us to follow grace. And, therefore, the Law was given to the Jews, but grace was reserved for the elect. The Law was given that, through fear of punishment, it might recall those who were wandering beyond the limits of nature, to their observance, but grace to incite the elect both by the desire of good things, and also by the promised rewards.
73. You will see the difference between precept and counsel, if you remember the case of him in the Gospel, to whom it is first commanded to do no murder, not to commit adultery, not to bear false witness; for that is a commandment which has a penalty for its transgression. But when he said that he had fulfilled all the commandments of the Law, there is given to him a counsel that he should sell all that he had and follow the Lord,80 for these things are not imposed as commands, but are offered as counsels. For there are two ways of commanding things, one by way of precept, the other by way of counsel. And so the Lord in one way says: “Thou shalt not kill,” where He gives a commandment; in the other He says: “If thou wilt be perfect, sell all that thou hast.” He is, then, not bound by a commandment to whom the choice is left.
74. And so they who have fulfilled the commandments are able to say: “We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do.”81 The virgin does not say this, nor he who sold all his goods, but they rather await the stored-up rewards like the holy Apostle who says: “Behold we have forsaken all and followed Thee, what shall we have therefore?”82 He says not, like the unprofitable servant, that he has done that which was his duty to do, but as being profitable to his Master, because he has multiplied the talents entrusted to him by the increase he has gained, having a good conscience, and without anxiety as to his merits he expects the reward of his faith and virtue. And so it is said to him and the others: “Ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, shall also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the tribes of Israel.”83 And to those who had faithfully preserved their talents He promises rewards indeed, though smaller saying: “Because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.”84 Good faith, then, is due, but mercy is in the rewards. He who has kept good faith has deserved that good faith should be kept with him; he who has made good profit, because he has not sought his own benefit, has gained a claim to a heavenly reward.
St. Ambrose, treating of the words in the Gospel concerning eunuchs, condemns those who make themselves such. Those only deserve praise who have through continence gained the victory over themselves, but no one is to be compelled to live this life, as neither Christ nor the Apostle laid down such a law, so that the marriage vow is not to be blamed, though that of chastity is better.
75. So, then, a commandment to this effect is not given, but a counsel is. Chastity is commanded, entire continence counselled. “But all men cannot receive this saying, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs which were so born from their mothers womb,”85 in whom exists a natural necessity not the virtue of chastity. “And there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs,” of their own will, that is, not of necessity. “And there are eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men. …”86 And, therefore, great is the grace of continence in them, because it is the will, not incapacity, which makes a man continent. For it is seemly to preserve the gift of divine working whole. And let them not think it too little not to be impeded by the inclination of the body, for if the reward for going through that conflict is taken from their reach, the matter of sin is also removed, and though they cannot receive the crown, no more can they be overcome. They have other kinds of virtues by which they ought to commend themselves if their faith be firm, their mercifulness abundant, avarice far from them, grace abundant. But in them there is no fault, for they are ignorant of the act of sin.
76. The case is not the same of those who mutilate themselves, and I touch upon this point advisedly, for there are some who look upon it as a holy deed to check by the evil violence of this sort. And though I am not willing to express my own opinion concerning them, though decisions of our forefathers are in existence; but then consider whether this tends not rather to a declaration of weakness than to a reputation for strength. On this principle no one should fight lest he be overcome, nor make use of his feet, fearing the danger of stumbling, nor let his eyes do their office because he fears a fall through lust. But what does it profit to cut the flesh, when there may be guilt even in a look? “For whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already with her in his heart.”87 And likewise she who looks on a man to lust after him commits adultery. It becomes us, then, to be chaste, not weak, to have our eyes modest, not feeble.
329 77. No one, then, ought, as many suppose, to mutilate himself, but rather gain the victory; for the Church gathers in those who conquer, not those who are defeated. And why should I use arguments when the words of the Apostle’s command are at hand? For you find it thus written: “I would that they were mutilated who desire that you should be circumcised.”88 For why should the means of gaining a crown and of the practice of virtue be lost to a man who is born to honour, equipped for victory? how can he through courage of soul mutilate himself? “There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.”89
78. This, however, is not a commandment given to all, but a wish set before all. For he who commands must always keep to the exact scope of the commandments, and he who distributes tasks must observe equity in looking into them, for: “A false balance is abomination to the Lord.”90 There is, then, an excess and a defect in weight, but the Church accepts neither, for: “Excessive and defective weights and divers measures, both of them are alike abominable in the sight of the Lord.”91 There are tasks which wisdom apportions, and apportions according to the estimate of the virtue and strength of each. “He that is able to receive it let him receive it.”92
79. For the Creator of all knows that the dispositions of each are different, and therefore incited virtue by rewards, instead of binding weakness by chains. And he, the teacher of the Gentiles, the good guide of our conduct, and instructor of our inmost affections, who had learnt in himself that the law of the flesh resists the law of the mind, but yields to the grace of Christ, he knows, I say, that various movements of the mind are opposed to each other; and, therefore, so expresses his exhortations to chastity, as not to do away with the grace of marriage, nor has he so exalted marriage as to check the desire of chastity. But beginning with the recommendation of chastity, he goes on to remedies against incontinence, and having set before the stronger the prize of their high calling, he suffers no one to faint by the way; approving those who take the lead so as not to make little of those who follow. For he, himself, had learnt that the Lord Jesus gave to some barley bread93 lest they should faint by the way, and administered His Body to others,94 that they might strive for the kingdom.
80. For the Lord Himself did not impose this commandment, but invited the will, and the Apostle did not lay down a rule, but gave a counsel.95 But this not a man’s counsel as to things within the compass of man’s strength, for he acknowledges that the gift of divine mercy was bestowed upon him, that he might know how faithfully to set first the former, and to arrange the latter. And, therefore, he says: “I think,” not, I order, but, “I think that this is good because of the present distress.”96
81. The marriage bond is not then to be shunned as though it were sinful, but rather declined as being a galling burden. For the law binds the wife to bear children in labour and in sorrow, and is in subjection to her husband, for that he is lord over her. So, then, the married woman, but not the widow, is subject to labour and pain in bringing forth children, and she only that is married, not she that is a virgin, is under the power of her husband. The virgin is free from all these things, who has vowed her affection to the Word of God, who awaits the Spouse of blessing with her lamp burning with the light of a good will. And so she is moved. by counsels, not bound by chains.
Though a widow may have received no commandment, yet she has received so many counsels that she ought not to think little of them. St. Ambrose would be sorry to lay any snare for her, seeing that the field of the Church grows richer as a result of wedlock, but it is absolutely impossible to deny that widowhood, which St. Paul praises, is profitable. Consequently, he speaks severely about those who have proscribed widowhood by law.
82). But neither has the widow received any command, but a counsel; a counsel, however, not given once only but often repeated. For, first, it is said: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”97 And again: “I would that all men were even as I myself;”98 and once more: “It is good for them if they remain even as I;”99 and a fourth time: “It is good for the present distress.”100 And that it is well pleasing to the Lord, and honourable, and, lastly, that perseverance in widowhood is happier, he lays down not only as his own judgment, but also as an aspiration of the Holy Spirit. Who, then, can reject the kindness of such a counsellor? Who gives the reins to the will, and advises in the case of others that which he has found advantageous by his own experience, he who is not easy to catch up, and is not hurt at being equalled. Who, then, would shrink from becoming holy in body and spirit, since the reward is far above the toil, grace beyond need, and the wages above the work?
83. And this, I say, not in order to lay a snare for others, but that as a good husbandman of the land entrusted to me, I may see this field of the Church to be fruitful, at one time blossoming with the flowers of purity, at another time strong in the gravity of widowhood, and yet again abounding with the fruits of wedlock. For though they be diverse, yet they are the fruits of one field; there are not so many lilies in the gardens as ears of corn in the fields, and many more fields are prepared for receiving seed than lie fallow after the crops are gathered in.
84. Widowhood is, then, good, which is so often praised by the judgment of the apostles, for it is a teacher of the faith and a teacher of chastity. Whereas they who honour the adulteries and the shame of their gods appointed penalties for celibacy and widowhood;101 that zealous in pursuit of crimes they might punish the study of virtues; under the pretext, indeed, of seeking increase of the population, but in reality that they might put an end to the purpose of chastity. For the soldier, when his time is ended, lays aside his arms, and leaving the rank which he held, is dismissed as a veteran to his own land, that he may obtain rest after the toils of a laborious life, and cause others to be more ready to undergo labour in the hope of future repose. The labourer, too, as he grows too old, entrusts the guiding of the plough to others, and worn out by the toil of his youth, enjoys in his old age that which his foresight has cared for, still ready to prune the vine rather than to press the grapes, so as to check the luxuriance of early life, and to cut off with his pruning knife the wantonness of youth, teaching, as it were, that blessed fruitfulness is to be aimed at even in the vine.
85. In like manner the widow, as a veteran, having served her time, though she lays aside the arms of married life, yet orders the peace of the whole house: though now freed from carrying burdens, she is yet watchful for the younger who are to be married; and with the thoughtfulness of old age she arranges where more pains would be profitable, where produce would be more abundant, which is fitted for the marriage bond. And so, if the field is entrusted to the elder rather than to the younger, why should you think that it is more advantageous to be a married woman than a widow? But, if the persecutors of the faith have also been the persecutors of widowhood, most certainly by those who hold the faith, widowhood is not to be shunned as a penalty, but to be esteemed as a reward.
330 St. Ambrose meets the objection of those who make the desire of having children an excuse for second marriage, and especially in the case of those who have children of their former marriage; and points out the consequent troubles of disagreements amongst the children, and even between the married persons, and gives a warning against a wrong use of Scripture instances in this matter.
86). Perhaps, however, it may seem good to some that marriage should again be entered upon for the sake of having children. But if the desire of children be a reason for marrying, certainly where there are children, the reason does not exist. And is it wise to wish to have a second trial of that fruitfulness which has already been tried in vain, or to submit to the solitude which you have already borne? This is the case of those who have no children.
87. Then, too, she who has borne children, and has lost them (for she who has a hope of bearing children will have an intenser longing), does not she, I say, seem to herself to be covering over the deaths of her lost children by the celebration of a second marriage? Will she not again suffer what she is again seeking? and does she not shrink at the graves of her hopes, the memories of the bereavements she has suffered, the voices of the mourners? Or, when the torches are lit and night is coming on, does she not think rather that funeral rites are being prepared than a bridal chamber? Why, then, my daughter, do you seek again those sorrows which you dread, more than you look for children whom you no longer hope for? If sorrow is so grievous, one should rather avoid than seek that which causes it.
88. And what advice shall I give to you who have children? What reason have you for marrying? Perhaps foolish light-mindedness, or the habit of incontinence, or the consciousness of a wounded spirit is urging you on. But counsel is given to the sober, not to the drunken, and so my words are addressed to the free conscience which is whole in each respect. She that is wounded has a remedy, she that is upright a counsel. What do you intend to do then, my daughter? Why do you seek for heirs from without when you have your own? You are not desiring of children, for you have them, but servitude from which you are free. For this true servitude, in which love is exhausted, which no longer the charm of virginity, and early youth, full of holy modesty and grace, excites; when offences are more felt, and rudeness is more suspected, and agreement less common, which is not bound fast by love deeply rooted by time, or by beauty in its prime of youth. Duty to a husband is burdensome, so that you are afraid to love your children and blush to look at them; and a cause of disagreement arises from that which ordinarily causes mutual love to increase the tender affections of parents. You wish to give birth to offspring who will be not the brothers but the adversaries of your children. For what is to bring forth other children other than to rob the children which you have, who are deprived alike of the offices of affection and of the profit of their possessions.
89. The divine law has bound together husband and wife by its authority, and yet mutual love remains a difficult matter. For God took a rib from the man, and formed the woman so as to join them one to the other, and said: “They shall be one flesh.”102 He said this not of a second marriage but of the first, for neither did Eve take a second husband, nor does holy Church recognize a second bridegroom. “For that is a great mystery in Christ and in the Church.103 Neither, again, did Isaac know another wife besides Rebecca,104 nor bury his father, Abraham, with any wife but Sarah.”105
90. But in holy Rachel106 there was rather the figure of a mystery than a true order of marriage. Notwithstanding, in her, also, we have something which we can refer to the grace of the first marriage, since he loved her best whom he had first betrothed, and deceit did not shut out his intention, nor the intervening marriage destroy his love for his betrothed. And so the holy patriarch has taught us, how highly we ought to esteem a first marriage, since he himself esteemed his first betrothal so highly. Take care, then, my daughter, lest you be both unable to hold fast the grace of marriage, and also increase your own troubles).
1 (1Co 7,34,
2 (1Co 7,39-40,
3 1  1R 17,9.
4 S. Lc 1,26-27.
6 S. Mt 6,26.
7 (Gn 1,29-30,
8 (1Tm 5,3-4,
9 (1Tm 5,3-4,
10 (1Co 7,34,
11 (1Tm 5,5,
12 (1Tm 5,9,
13 The rule of St. Paul as to age was not always strictly observed after early days, though probably so in the experience of St. Ambrose, though the Benedictine Editors think that he did not uphold the restriction, but it is spoken of in the Exhort. Virginitatis, §25, where Juliana of Bononia speaks of herself as “adhuc immaturam viduitatis stipendiis,” not yet old enough to receive widow’s pay. See Dict. Chr Antiq., art. Widows).
14 (1Tm 5,10,
15 (1Tm 5,11,
16 (1Co 7,9,
17 (Is 1,17,
18 (Ps 146,9 [cxlv.] 9.
19 (Ps 132,15 [cxxxi.] 15 [LXX.].
20 1  1R 17,14.
21 S. Lc 4,25.
22 S. Lc 13,7.
23 (Is 54,1).
24 (Is 54,4,
25 (Is 54,7,
26 1  1R 17,14.
27 1R 17,14.
28 (Ps 72,6 [lxxi.] .
29 (Jg 6,37 ff.
30 (Ps 76,1 [lxxv.] .
31 S. Lc 2,36, Lc 2,37.
32 Sus. 63.
33 S. Lc 2,37.
34 S. Lc 1,28.
35 S. Lc 2,41.
36 S. Lc 21,3).
37 1R 17,16.
38 S. Mt 2,11.
39 (2Co 4,7 2Co 4,
40 (Ga 4,18,
41 (1Co 12,31,
42 (Ex 34,20).
43 (Rt 2,2,
44 S. Lc 6,21.
45 (Ps 102,9 [ci.] .
46 Judith 8,11 ff.
47 (1Co 10,31,
48 Jdt 10,3 ff
49 S. Jn 1,30.
50 (Jdt 4,4 ff.
51 St. Jerome agrees with St. Ambrose in believing that Deborah literally was a judge, as indeed seems conclusive from the Scriptural account, but doubts whether she was a widow and mother of Barak, and is probably right in the latter case. Whether Lapidoth, however, was still alive is not so clear. St. Jerome, Ep. ad Furiam, §17).
52 (Jdt 4,8 [LXX.].
53 The word Barak signifies lightning. It is probably the same as the Punic Barca, the surname of Hamilcar, father of Hannibal, or possibly was a family name.
54 S. Mt 25,34.
55 (2Co 10,4).
56 (1Tm 5,16,
57 S. Lc 4,39.
58 S. Lc 4,38.
59 (Ph 3,20 Ph 3,
60 S. Mt 25,40.
61 (1Tm 5,5,
62 (1Tm 5,6).
63 (Is 1,17,
64 S. Lc 4,18.
65 S. Lc 4,38.
66 S. Jn 9,6.
67 S. Lc 5,14.
68 (Ps 110,4 [cix.] ).
69 Ap 8,2.
70 S. Lc 17,14.
71 (Ep 5,14,
72 (1Co 6,12,
73 (Rm 7,2,
74 (1Co 7,4).
75 (1Co 7,23,
76 (1Co 7,14,
77 (1Co 7,15,
78 (1Co 7,28,
79 (1Co 7,25,
80 S. .
81 S. Lc 17,10).
82 S. Mt 19,27.
83 S. Mt 19,28.
84 S. Mt 25,21.
85 S. Mt 25,11-12.
86 There would seem to be a passage lost here.
87 S. Mt 5,28.
88 (Ga 5,12 [very loose].
89 S. Mt 19,12.
90 (Pr 11,1).
91 (Pr 20,10.
92 S. Mt 19,12.
93 S. Jn 6,9.
94 S. Mt 26,26.
95 (1Co 7,25,
96 (1Co 7,26,
97 (1Co 7,1,
98 (1Co 7,7,
99 (1Co 7,8,
100 (1Co 7,26).
101 The reference would seem to be to the “Lex Julia et Papia Poppoea,” but the object of this law was not, as St. Ambrose seems to imply, to check celibacy, but to meet the growing licentiousness of the age, which avoided the obligations of married life while indulging in every kind of impure abominations).
102 (Gn 2,24,
103 (Ep 5,32,
104 (Gn 24,67,
105 (Gn 25,10,
106 (Gn 29,28 ff).
107 This is really in excess of the number which are now to be considered as fixed in date).
Ambrose Virgins 325