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.”98 1 Cor. vii. 1. And again: “I would that all men were even as I myself;”99 1 Cor. vii. 7. and once more: “It is good for them if they remain even as I;”100 1 Cor. vii. 8. and a fourth time: “It is good for the present distress.”101 1 Cor. vii. 26. 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;102 The reference would seem to be to the “Lex Julia et Papia Poppæa,” 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. 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.
Etsi vidua non acceperit praeceptum, consilium tamen tam frequens tamque utile illam accepisse, ut contemnendum non videatur. Nolle se cuiquam laqueum injicere, cum Ecclesiae ager ipso quoque ditetur conjugio: sed viduitatem quae laudatur ab Apostolo, bonam negari nequaquam posse; unde non perfunctorie in eos agit, quorum legibus illam noverat esse proscriptam.
0260B 82. Sed nec vidua praeceptum accipit, sed consilium: consilium autem non semel datum, sed saepe repetitum. Nam et primo dixit: Bonum est enim mulierem non tangere (I Cor. VII, 4); et iterum: Volo sic omnes homines esse sicut et meipsum (Ibid., 7); et tertio: Bonum est illis, si sic maneant sicut et ego (Ibid., 8); et quarto: Bonum est propter instantem necessitatem (Ibid., 26): et hoc placere Domino, et hoc honestum esse: postremo beatiorem esse in viduitate perseverantiam, non tantum suo consilio, sed etiam Dei Spiritu definivit. Quaenam igitur talis consiliarii benignitatem recuset, qui et voluntati habenas indulgeat, et id suadeat aliis quod in se expertus utile judicavit, non facilis comprehendi, nec 0260C fastidiosus aequari? Quae igitur refugiat sancta fieri corpore et spiritu; cum supra laborem sit praemium, supra usum gratia, supra opus merces?
83. Atque hoc ita dico, non ut laqueum caeteris injiciam, sed ut commissi mihi ruris operarius agrum hunc Ecclesiae fertilem cernam, nunc integritatis flore vernantem, nunc viduitatis gravitate pollentem, nunc etiam conjugii fructibus redundantem. Nam etsi diversi, unius tamen agri fructus sunt: nec tanta hortorum lilia, quantae aristae segetum, messium spicae, compluriumque spatia camporum recipiendis 209 aptantur seminibus, quam redditis novales fructibus feriantur,
84. Bona ergo viduitas, quae toties Apostolico judicio praedicatur; haec enim magistra fidei, magistra 0260D est castitatis. Unde et illi qui deorum suorum adulteria et probra venerantur, coelibatus et viduitatis statuere poenas; ut aemuli criminum multarent studia virtutum: specie quidem qua fecunditatem quaererent, sed studio quo propositum castitatis abolerent. Nam confectis et miles stipendiis arma deponit, et relicto officio quod gerebat, ad propria veteranus rura dimittitur; ut et ipse exercitae laboribus vitae 0261A requiem consequatur, et alios, spe futurae quietis, subeundis faciat operibus promptiores. Agricola quoque maturior torquendam aliis stivam committit, et juvenili gravatus opera, providentiam curae senilis explorat: vitem facilis tondere quam premere, ut juvenescentem luxuriam reprimat, et adolescentem lasciviam falce succidat, parcorum quamdam partuum castitatem docens etiam in vitibus expetendam.
85. Similis huic vidua velut emeritis veterana stipendiis castitatis, etsi conjugii arma deponat; domus tamen totius pacem gubernat: etsi vehendis oneribus otiosa, maritandis tamen junioribus provida: ubi cultus utilior, ubi fructus uberior sit, quarum copula aptior, senili gravitate disponit. Itaque 0261B si maturioribus potius quam junioribus committitur ager, cur putes utiliorem nuptam esse quam viduam? Quod si persecutores fidei, persecutores fuerunt etiam viduitatis: utique fidem sequentibus viduitas non pro supplicio fugienda est, sed tenenda pro praemio.