Concerning Widows.

 Chapter I.

 Chapter II.

 Chapter III.

 Chapter IV.

 Chapter V.

 Chapter VI.

 Chapter VII.

 Chapter VIII.

 Chapter IX.

 Chapter X.

 Chapter XI.

 Chapter XII.

 Chapter XIII.

 Chapter XIV.

 Chapter XV.

Chapter XIII.

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,”86    S. Matt. xxv. 11, 12. 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.…”87    There would seem to be a passage lost here. 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.”88    S. Matt. v. 28. 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.

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.”89    Gal. v. 12 [very loose]. 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.”90    S. Matt. xix. 12.

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.”91    Prov. xi. 1. 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.”92    Prov. xx. 10. 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.”93    S. Matt. xix. 12.

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 bread94    S. John vi. 9. lest they should faint by the way, and administered His Body to others,95    S. Matt. xxvi. 26. 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.96    1 Cor. vii. 25. 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.”97    1 Cor. vii. 26.

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.


Allato Evangelii loco de spadonibus, eos qui vel natura vel hominum violentia tales facti sunt, non magnopere ob id laudandos: qui vero proprias manus in se converterint, damnandos ait; hanc actionem ostendens neque utilem esse, cum mentis concupiscentiam minime auferat: neque honestam, cum certamini locum non relinquat. Solos igitur praedicandos illos qui per continentiam se ipsi vicerint: sed cogendum ad hoc neminem esse, quando nec Apostolus, nec Christus ipse praecepto constrinxerit eam virtutem; unde intelligas non improbari matrimonii vota, 0257Csed castitatis anteferri.

75. Ideo ergo praeceptum non datur, consilium datur; praeceptum enim castitatis est, consilium integritatis: Sed non omnes capiunt verbum istud, sed quibus datum est. Sunt enim spadones qui de matris utero sic nati sunt (Matth. XIX, 11, 12); in quibus 0258A naturae necessitas, non virtus est castitatis hominibus. Et sunt spadones qui se ipsos castraverunt; voluntate utique, non necessitate. Et sunt spadones qui facti sunt ab hominibus. Et ideo magna in iis continentiae gratia; quia voluntas facit, non infirmitas continentem. Nam decet integrum divini operis servare munus. Nec illis forte parum sit lubrico corporis non teneri; nam si erepta est subeundi istius palma certaminis, erepta etiam materia periculi: et quamvis non queunt coronari, non queunt tamen vinci. Habent alia genera virtutum, quibus commendare se debeant, si fides firma sit, proflua misericordia, aliena avaritia, frequens gratia. Sed in istis nulla culpa; quia facti ignorantia.

76. Non eadem causa eorum, qui in se ipsos ferro 0258B utuntur, quo non imprudenter defleximus; sunt enim qui virtutis loco ponant, ferro culpam compescere. De quibus etsi nostram nolumus proferre sententiam, quamvis sint statuta 207 majorum; considerent tamen, ne quis id ad professionem infirmitatis trahat, non ad firmitatis gloriam. Ergo nemo militet, ne aliquando vincatur: nec pedis utatur obsequio, qui gradiendi periculum reformidat: nec oculi intendat officio, qui concupiscentiae timet lapsum. Sed quid prodest carnem abscindere, cum etiam culpa sit in ipso aspectu? Nam et qui viderit mulierem ad concupiscendum, jam moechatus est eam in corde suo (Matth. V, 28). Et quae similiter virum in concupiscentiam viderit, adulteratur. Castos ergo, non infirmos esse nos convenit: pudicos oculos 0258C habere, non debiles.

77. Nemo igitur, ut plerique arbitrantur, se debet abscindere, sed magis vincere; victores enim recipit Ecclesia, non victos. Et quid argumentis utar, cum praesto sit Apostolici forma praescripti? Sic enim habes: Utinam et abscindantur qui volunt vos circumcidi 0259A (Gal. V, 12)! Cur enim coronae occasio, et virtutis usus eripitur homini, qui natus ad laudem est, ad victoriam praeparatus, qui potius virtute animae castrare se possit? Sunt enim spadones qui se ipsos castraverunt propter regnum coelorum (Matth. XIX, 12).

78. Sed et hoc non omnibus imperatur, sed ab omnibus flagitatur. Etenim qui mandata dat, decretorum semper tenere debet mensuram: et qui pensa distribuit, aequitatem debet examinis reservare: Statera enim fallax, abominatio est apud Deum (Prov. XI, 1). Est ergo minus pondus et majus: sed utrumque non recipit Ecclesia; Pondus enim majus et minimum, et mensurae duplices, immunda in conspectu Domini utraque (Prov. XX, 10). Sunt pensa quae 0259B dividit sapientia; et ita dividit ut virtutem, viresque aestimet singulorum. Et ideo dicit: Qui potest capere, capiat (Matth. XIX, 12).

79. Scit enim creator omnium affectus esse varios singulorum; et ideo praemiis virtutem provocavit, non infirmitatem vinculis alligavit. Scit et ille gentium Doctor (Rom. VII, 23 et seq.), bonus morum auriga nostrorum, et quidam interiorum rector affectuum, qui de se ipso didicerat legi mentis legem corporis repugnare; eamdem tamen Christi gratiae cedere: scit, inquam, varios incursus mentium repugnare; et ideo neque in tantum adhortationem integritatis intendit, ut aboleret gratiam nuptiarum: neque ita conjugium praetulit, ut studia integritatis exstingueret. Sed a continentiae persuasione incipiens, 0259C ad incontinentiae remedia descendit: et cum bravium supernae vocationis fortioribus demonstrasset; deficere tamen in via neminem passus est: ita plaudens prioribus, ut non despiceret et sequentes; didicerat enim et ipse, quia Dominus Jesus aliis panem hordeaceum (Joan. VI, 5 et seq.), ne in via deficerent, aliis corpus suum (Matth. XXVI, 26), ut ad regnum contenderent, ministravit.

80. Nec Dominus ipse praeceptum imposuit, 208 sed voluntatem invitavit: nec Apostolus praeceptum statuit, sed consilium dedit (I Cor. VII, 25). Sed non hoc humanum consilium, humanarum virium habere mensuram: divinae munus misericordiae confitetur in se esse collatum; ut fideliter sciret prima praeferre, secunda disponere. Et ideo Existimo, inquit, 0259D non statuo, sed existimo bonum esse propter instantem necessitatem (Ibid., 26).

81. Non ergo copula nuptialis quasi culpa vitanda, sed quasi necessitatis sarcina declinanda. Lex enim astrinxit uxorem, ut in laboribus et in tristitia filios generet, et conversio ejus ad virum sit, quod ei ipse dominetur (Gen. III, 16). Ergo laboribus et doloribus in generatione filiorum addicitur nupta, non vidua: 0260A et dominatui viri sola subditur copulata, non virgo. Omnium autem horum virgo libera est, quae Verbo Dei suum spopondit affectum, quae sponsum benedictionis cum facibus exspectat (Matth. XXV, 4), bonae lumine voluntatis accenso. Et ideo provocatur consiliis, non vinculis illigatur.