The precepts of the Apostle concerning a widow indeed are laid down, such as, that she bring up children, attend to her parents, desire to please God, show herself irreproachable, set forth a ripeness of merits, have been the wife of one man. St. Ambrose notes, however, that a second marriage was not condemned by St. Paul, and adds that widows must have a good report for virtue with all. The reasons why younger widows are to be avoided, and what is meant by its being better to marry than to burn. St. Ambrose then goes on to speak of the dignity of widows, shown by the fact that any injury done to them is visited by the anger of God.
7. So, then, a widow is not only marked off by bodily abstinence, but is distinguished by virtue, to whom I do not give commandments, but the Apostle. I am not the only person to do them honour, but the Doctor of the Gentiles did so first, when he said: “Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let her first learn to govern her own house, and to requite her parents.”8 1 Tim. v. 3, 4. Whence we observe that each inclination of affection ought to exist in a widow, to love her children and to do her duty to her parents. So when discharging her duty to her parents she is teaching her children, and is rewarded herself by her own compliance with duty, in that what she performs for others benefits herself.
8. “For this,” says he, “is acceptable with God.”9 1 Tim. v. 3, 4. So that if thou, O widow, carest for the things of God, thou oughtest to follow after that which thou hast learnt to be well pleasing to God. And, indeed, the Apostle somewhat farther back,10 1 Cor. vii. 34. exhorting widows to the pursuit of continence, said that they mind the things of the Lord. But elsewhere, when a widow who is approved is to be selected, she is bidden not only to bear in mind but also to hope in the Lord: “For she that is a widow indeed,” it is said, “and desolate, must hope in God, and be instant in supplications and prayers night and day.”11 1 Tim. v. 5. And not without reason does he show that these ought to be blameless, to whom, as virtuous works are enjoined, so, too, great respect is paid, so that they are honoured even by bishops.
9. And of what kind she ought to be who is chosen the description is given in the words of the teacher himself: “Not less than threescore years old, having been the wife of one man.”12 1 Tim. v. 9. Not that old age alone makes the widow,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. but that the merits of the widow are the duties of old age. For she certainly is the more noble who represses the heat of youth, and the impetuous ardour of youthful age, desiring neither the tenderness of a husband, nor the abundant delights of children, rather than one who, now worn out in body, cold in age, of ripe years, can neither grow warm with pleasures, nor hope for offspring.
10. Nor in truth is any one excluded from the devotion of widowhood, if after entering upon a second marriage, which the precepts of the Apostle certainly do not condemn as though the fruit of chastity were lost, if she be again loosed from her husband. She will have, indeed, the merit of her chastity, even if it be tardy, but she will be more approved who has tried a second marriage, for the desire of chastity is conspicuous in her, for the other old age or shame seems to have put an end to marrying.
11. Nor yet is bodily chastity alone the strong purpose of the widow, but a large and most abundant exercise of virtue. “Well reported of for good works, if she have brought up children; if she have lodged strangers; if she have washed the saints’ feet; if she have ministered to those suffering tribulation; if, lastly, she have followed after every good work.”14 1 Tim. v. 10. You see how many practices of virtue he has included. He demands, first of all, the duty of piety; secondly, the practice of hospitality and humble service; thirdly, the ministry of mercy and liberality in assisting; and, lastly, the performance of every good work.
12. And he, therefore, that the younger should be avoided,15 1 Tim. v. 11. because they are not able to fulfil the requirements of so high a degree of virtue. For youth is prone to fall because the heat of various desires is inflamed by the warmth of glowing youth, and it is the part of a good doctor to keep off the materials of sin. For the first exercise in training the soul is to turn away sin, the second to implant virtue. Yet, since the Apostle knew that Anna, the widow of fourscore years, from her youth was a herald of the works of the Lord, I do not think that he thought that the younger should be excluded from the devotion of widowhood, especially as he said: “It is better to marry than to burn.”16 1 Cor. vii. 9. For certainly he recommended marriage as a remedy, that she who would else perish might be saved; he did not prescribe the choice that one who could contain should not follow chastity, for it is one thing to succour one who is falling, another to persuade to virtue.
13. And what shall I say of human judgments, since in the judgments of God the Jews are set forth as having offended the Lord in nothing more than violating what was due to the widow and the rights of minors? This is proclaimed by the voices of the prophets as the cause which brought upon the Jews the penalty of rejection. This is mentioned as the only cause which will mitigate the wrath of God against their sin, if they honour the widow, and execute true judgment for minors, for thus we read: “Judge the fatherless, deal justly with the widow, and come let us reason together, saith the Lord.”17 Isa. i. 17. And elsewhere: “The Lord shall maintain the orphan and the widow.”18 Ps. cxlvi. [cxlv.] 9. And again: “I will abundantly bless her widow.”19 Ps. cxxxii. [cxxxi.] 15 [LXX.]. Wherein also the likeness of the Church is foreshadowed. You see, then, holy widows, that that office which is honoured by the assistance of divine grace must not be degraded by impure desire.
Verae viduae praecepta traduntur ex Apostolo: scilicet ut liberos educet, parentes colat, Deo placere desideret, irreprehensibilem se exhibeat, meritorum maturitatem prae se ferat, uni viro fuerit copulata; ubi tamen secundas nuptias negat a Paulo fuisse condemnatas: adjicit demum eas apud omnes clara virtutum fama valere oportere. Cur fugiendae viduae juniores; quove modo nubere quam uri melius dicatur? Postremo hinc declaratur viduarum dignitas, quod ob illatas ipsis injurias ira gravissime divina moveatur.
0236D 7. Ergo vidua non abstinentia corporis tantum definitur, 0237A sed virtute designatur: cui praecepta non do ego, sed Apostolus tribuit. Honorificentiam non solus impartior, 188 sed gentium Doctor prius detulit dicens: Viduas honora, quae verae viduae sunt. Si qua autem vidua filios aut nepotes habet, discat primum suam domum regere, et mutuam vicem reddere parentibus (I Tim. V, 3, 4). Unde et advertitur utrumque pietatis affectum viduae inesse debere, ut filios diligat, parentibus deferat. Ita dum obsequium parentibus rependit, magisterium exercet in filios, suoque se ipsa remuneratur officio; cum id quod aliis defert sibi proficit.
8. Hoc enim, inquit, acceptum est coram Deo (Ibid.); ideo si cogitas, vidua, quae Dei sunt, debes id sequi quod Deo placere didicisti. Et supra quidem sanctus 0237B Apostolus ad continentiae studium viduas cohortatus, dixit eas cogitare quae sunt Domini (I Cor. VII, 34). Alibi autem ubi eligitur vidua quae probata est, non solum cogitare praecipitur, sed etiam sperare de Domino: Quae enim vere vidua est, inquit, et desolata, speret in Deum, et instet obsecrationibus et orationibus die ac nocte (I Tim. V, 5). Nec immerito has irreprehensibiles ostendit esse debere, quibus ut opus virtutis indicitur, ita etiam honorificentia larga defertur, ut etiam ab episcopis honorentur.
9. Qualis autem eligi debeat, ipsius Doctoris sermone describitur: Non minus, inquit, sexaginta annorum, quae fuerit unius viri uxor (Ibid., 9). Non quo senectus sola viduam faciat, sed quo viduitatis merita stipendia sint senectutis. Nam utique illa 0237C praeclarior, quae calorem adolescentiae, et junioris fervescentem edomat aetatis ardorem; nec mariti gratiam, nec uberiora liberorum oblectamenta desiderans: quam quae effeta jam corpore, frigida senectute, matura aevi, nec calere voluptatibus potest, nec sperare de partu.
10. Neque vero si qua in secundas nuptias inciderit, 0238A quas utique Apostolica praecepta non damnant, quasi fructu pudoris omisso, si rursus soluta fuerit viro, ab affectu viduitatis arcetur. Habebit illa quidem vel serae meritum castitatis, sed probatior erit quae alterius non fuerit experta conjugium; in illa enim eminet studium castitatis: huic aut senectus, aut pudor modum videtur fecisse nubendi.
11. Nec sola tamen castitas corporis viduae fortitudo est, sed magna et uberrima disciplina virtutis: Quae in operibus bonis testimonium 189 habeat, si filios educaverit, si hospitio receperit, si sanctorum pedes laverit, si tribulationem patientibus subministraverit, si postremo omne opus bonum fuerit subsecuta (Ibid. 10). Vides quam multas virtutum comprehenderit disciplinas: primum, pietatis officium: secundum, 0238B hospitalitatis studium, et humilitatis obsequium: tertium, misericordiae ministerium, liberalitatisque subsidium: ad summam omnis exsecutionem boni operis flagitavit.
12. Et ideo adolescentiores divitandas putat (Ibid., 11), eo quod non queant tantae operam implere virtutis. Etenim vicina est lapsibus adolescentia, quia variarum aestus cupiditatum fervore calentis inflammatur aetatis: bonique doctoris est, materiam arcere peccati. Prima enim institutionis est disciplina culpam avertere, secunda virtutem infundere. Tamen cum Apostolus sciret Annam illam ab adolescentia octogenariam viduam Dominicorum operum exstitisse praenuntiam (Luc. II, 36, 37), non puto quod juniores revocandas putarit a viduitatis 0238C affectu, maxime cum dixerit: Melius est nubere quam uri (I Cor. VII, 9). Nam utique pro remedio nuptias suasit, ut peritura sanetur: non pro electione praescripsit, ne castitatem continens sequatur; aliud est enim subvenire labenti, aliud suadere virtutem.
13. Et quid de humanis judiciis loquar, cum divinis judiciis in nullo gravius Judaei Dominum laesisse 0239A prodantur, quam quod viduae gratiam, minorumque jura violarent? Haec propheticis causa vocibus conclamatur, quae meritum Judaeis rejectionis invexerit. Haec sola causa delicti invidiam mitigatura memoratur si honoretur vidua, minoribusque aequi justitia judicii deferatur; sic enim habes: Judicate pupillo, et justificate viduam; et venite, disputemus, dicit Dominus (Esai. I, 17, 18). Et alibi: Pupillum et viduam suscipiet (Psal. CXLV, 9). Et alibi: Viduam ejus benedicens benedicam (Psal. CXXXI, 15). In quo Ecclesiae quoque figura praetexitur. Videtis igitur, sanctae viduae, nequaquam lubrico munus studio deserendum, quod divinae benedictionis subsidiis honoratur.