A letter from Pelagius (413)
1, 1. Even if I could claim to possess natural talent of a high quality and an equally high degree of artistic skill and believed myself for that reason to be capable of fulfilling with ease the obligation of writing, I would still not be able to enter upon this arduous task without considerable fear of the difficulties involved. It is to Demetrias that I have to write, that virgin of Christ who is both noble and rich and, which is more important, spurns both nobility and riches; assuredly it is as difficult for me to instruct her as it is easy for all to praise her out of admiration for her outstanding virtue. Who could possibly lack words to sing the praises of one who, though born in the highest station, brought up in the height of wealth and luxury, held fast by the strength and variety of this life's delights as if in the grip of the most tenacious of fetters, suddenly broke free and exchanged all her bodily goods simultaneously for goodness of the soul? Of one who cut off with the sword of faith, that is, her own free will, the very flower of a life still only just beginning and, by crucifying her flesh with Christ, dedicated it as a living and holy sacrifice to God and for love of virginity renounced the prospect of providing posterity for a very noble stock? An easy, simple way to make a speech is to let the very richness of the subject-matter speed it along its course; but we have to proceed along a very different road, since our purpose is to write a manual of instruction for the virgin, not an encomium, to portray not so much the virtues which she has already acquired as those which she has still to acquire, and to order the remainder of her life rather than to honour that part of it which is now in the past.
2. It is, however, very hard to deal with the character of one in whom there is such desire to learn, such eagerness for perfection that no teaching, however admirable, can really meet her needs: she rightly remembers what worldly wealth and honour she has rejected, what pleasures she has renounced, in a word, what attractions of this present life she has spurned, and for that reason she is dissatisfied with this common, mediocre kind of life of ours and, finding herself to be easily capable of being cheapened by mere association with the majority, seeks something new and unusual and looks for a special and singular quality of some kind in her life. She wants her conduct to become no less an object of wonder than her conversion has been: already noble in this world, she desires to be even nobler before God and seeks in her moral conduct values as precious as the objects which she spurned in this world. What outpouring of talent will ever satisfy a mind so enthusiastic and dedicated, so thirsty for a high degree of perfection? What power of speech, what fluency will ever be able to express in mere words all that this virgin is ready to fulfil by deeds? Yet we are entitled to crave indulgence when we offer a gift for the adornment of the Lord's temple which is only in proportion to our own powers, nor need we have any fear of exposing ourselves voluntarily to the malicious stings of envy by writing so rashly to such a noble virgin; we write at the request, nay, by the command of her venerable mother, who solicits it from us in a letter sent across the sea and revealing the remarkable force of her heartfelt desire. Thus she shows us with the greatest of ease the zeal and care with which she has planted the heavenly seed in her daughter and how she now desires it to be watered by others just as punctiliously. And so, free from any charge of rashness or of vain ambition, let us bend our energies to our appointed task and let us not lose confidence on the grounds of our moderate ability, since we do believe that it is being assisted both by the mother's faith and by the daughter's merit.
2, 1. Whenever I have to speak on the subject of moral instruction and the conduct of a holy life, it is my practice first to demonstrate the power and quality of human nature and to show what it is capable of achieving, and then to go on to encourage the mind of my listener to consider the idea of different kinds of virtues, in case it may be of little or no profit to him to be summoned to pursue ends which he has perhaps assumed hitherto to be beyond his reach; for we can never enter upon the path of virtue unless we have hope as our guide and companion and if every effort expended in seeking something is nullified in effect by despair of ever finding it. 1 also think that on this occasion, when the good in our nature calls for a fuller exposition commensurate with the greater perfection of life which has to be inculcated in the listener's mind, I have special grounds for adhering to the same sequence of exhortation as I have followed in my other minor works, in order that the mind may not become more negligent and sluggish in its pursuit of virtue as it comes to believe less in its ability to achieve it, supposing itself not to possess something simply because it is unaware that it is present within. When it is desirable for a man to put a certain capacity to use, it always has to be brought to his attention, and any good of which human nature is capable has to be revealed, since what is shown to be practicable must be put into practice. Let us then lay this down as the first basis for a holy and spiritual life: the virgin must recognize her own strengths, which she will be able to employ to the full only when she has learned that she possesses them. The best incentive for the mind consists in teaching it that it is possible to do anything which one really wants to do: in war, for example, the kind of exhortation which is most effective and carries most authority is the one which reminds the combatant of his own strengths.
2. First, then, you ought to measure the good of human nature by reference to its creator, I mean God, of course: if it is he who, as report goes, has made all the works of and within the world good, exceeding good, how much more excellfcnt do you suppose that he has made man himself, on whose account he has clearly made everything else? And before actually making man, he deter¬mines to fashion him in his own image and likeness and shows what kind of creature he intends to make him. Next, since he has made all animals subject to man and set him as lord over creatures which have been made more powerful than men either by their bodily size and greater strength or by the weapons which they have in their teeth, he makes it abundandy clear how much more gloriously man himself has been fashioned and wants him to appreciate the dignity of his own nature by marvelling that strong animals have been made subject to him. For he did not leave man naked and defenceless nor did he expose him in his weakness to a variety of dangers; but, having made him seem unarmed outwardly, he provided him with a better armament inside, that is, with reason and wisdom, so that by means of his intelligence and mental vigour, in which he surpassed the other animals, man alone was able to recognize the maker of all things and to serve God by using those same faculties which enabled him to hold sway over the rest. Moreover, the Lord of Justice wished man to be free to act and not under compulsion; it was for this reason that 'he left him free to make his own decisions' (Sir.15.14)22 and set before him life and death, good and evil, and he shall be given whatever pleases him (ibid. 17). Hence we read in the Book Deuteronomy also: I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you may live (Dt.30.19).
3, 1. That is why we must now take precautions to prevent you from being embarrassed by something in which the ignorant majority is at fault for lack of proper consideration, and so from supposing, with them, that man has not been created truly good simply because he is able to do evil and is not obliged by the overpowering inclination of his own nature to do good on compulsion and without any possibility of variation. If you reconsider this matter carefully and force your mind to apply a more acute understanding to it, it will be revealed to you that man's status is better and higher for the very reason for which it is thought to be inferior: it is on this choice between two ways, on this freedom to choose either alternative, that the glory of the rational mind is based, it is in this that the whole honour of our nature consists, it is from this that its dignity is derived and all good men win others' praise and their own reward. Nor would there be any virtue at all in the good done by the man who perseveres, if he could not at any time cross over to the path of evil.23
2. It was because God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in man the possibility of choosing either alternative, that he made it his peculiar right to be what he wanted to be, so that with his capacity for good and evil he could do either quite naturally and then bend his will in the other direction too. He could not claim to possess the good of his own volition, unless he were the kind of creature that could also have possessed evil. Our most excellent creator wished us to be able to do either but actually to do only one, that is, good, which he also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do his will by exercising our own. That being so, this very capacity to do evil is also good - good, I say, because it makes the good part better by making it voluntary and independent, not bound by necessity but free to decide for itself. We are certainly permitted to choose, oppose, approve, reject, and there is no ground for preferring the rational creature to the others except that, while all the others possess only the good derived from their own circumstances and necessity, it alone possesses the good of free will also.
But most of those who, from lack of faith as much as of knowledge, deplore the status of man, are - I am ashamed to admit it - criticising the Lord's work and asserting that man ought to have been so made that he could do no evil at all, and we are then in a position where what is moulded says to its moulder: Why have you made me thus (Rom.9.20)? And these most shameless of men, while hiding the fact that they are managing quite well with what they have been made, would prefer to have been made otherwise; and so those who are unwilling to correct their own way of life appear to want to correct nature itself instead, the good of which has been so universally established in all that it sometimes reveals itself and brings itself to notice even in pagans who do not worship God. For how many of the pagan philosophers have we heard and read and even seen for ourselves to be chaste, tolerant, temperate, generous, abstinent and kindly, rejecters of the world's honours as well as its delights, lovers of justice no less than knowledge? Whence, I ask you, do these good qualities pleasing to God come to men who are strangers to him? Whence can these good qualities come to them, unless it be from the good of nature? And since we see the qualities of which I have spoken contained either all in one person or severally in several persons and since the nature of all is one and the same, by their example they show each other that all qualities which are found either all together in all or severally in each one are able to exist in all alike. But if even men without God can show what kind of creatures they were made by God, consider what Christians are able to do whose nature and life have been instructed for the better by Christ and who are assisted by the aid of divine grace as well.
4, 1. Come now, let us approach the secret places of our soul, let everyone examine himself more attentively, let us ask what opinion our own personal thoughts have of this matter, let our conscience itself deliver its judgement on the good of nature, let us be instructed by the inner teaching of the mind, and let us learn about each of the good qualities of the mind from no other source but the mind itself. Why is it, I ask you, that we either blush or fear at every sin we commit, displaying our guilt for what we have done at one moment by the blush on our countenance, at another by its pallor, anxiously trying to avoid any witness even of our smallest offences and suffering pangs of conscience all the while? And why, on the other hand, are we happy, resolute, bold after every good deed we have done and, if this fact is hidden from sight, desire and wish it to be seen in broad daylight? Why else unless it is because nature itself is its own witness and discloses its own good by the very fact of its disapproval of evil and, by putting its trust only in a good deed, shows what alone benefits it? Hence it comes about that frequently, though a murderer's identity remains concealed, torments of conscience make furious attacks on the author of the crime, and the secret punishment of the mind takes vengeance on the guilty man in hiding; nor is there any room for escape from punishment after the crime has been committed, since guilt is itself the penalty. That is why the innocent man, contrariwise, enjoys the peace of mind that comes from a good conscience even while undergoing torture and, though he fears punishment, still glories in his innocence.
2. There is, I maintain, a sort of natural sanctity in our minds which, presiding as it were in the mind's citadel, administers judgement equally on the evil and the good and, just as it favours honourable and upright actions, so too condemns wrong deeds and, on the evidence of conscience, distinguishes the one side from the other by a kind of inner law; nor, in fine, does it seek to deceive by any display of cleverness or of counterfeit brilliance in argument but either denounces or defends us by our thoughts themselves, surely the most reliable and incorruptible of witnesses. This is the law which the apostle recalls when he writes to the Romans, testifying that it is implanted in all men and written as it were on the tablets of the heart: For when gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears them witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them (Rom.2.15,16). It is this law that all have used whom scripture records as having lived in sanctity and having pleased God between the time of Adam and that of Moses: some of these must be set before you as examples, so that you may not find it difficult to understand how great is the good of nature, when once you have satisfied yourself that it has replaced the law in the task of teaching righteousness.
5,1. Abel was the first to follow this mistress and so served the Lord that, when he offered him a victim, his sacrifice was so gratefully received by God that it aroused the jealousy of his brother, and the Lord himself, recalling this righteous man in the Gospel, briefly set forth the grounds of his perfection (cf. Mt.23.35). For every form of virtue is contained under the name of righteousness: we read that the blessed Enoch so pleased God that he snatched him away from the midst of mortals and translated him from his earthly habitation, after reach¬ing perfection in this world. Noah is said to have been 'a righteous man, blame¬less in his generation' (Gen.6.9), and his holiness is all the more to be admired in that he alone was found to be righteous, when literally the whole world was declining from righteousness, nor did he seek a model of holiness from another but supplied it himself. And for that reason, when the destruction of the whole world was imminent, he alone of all men was found worthy to hear the words: Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation (Gen.7.1).
2. Before God, moreover, that man is esteemed righteous who is holy both in body and heart: Melchizedek is said to have been 'a priest of God' (Gen.14.18), and his merit can be easily understood from this fact, that he signified in advance the Lord's sacrament which was to come later and expressed the mystery of the body and the blood by the sacrifice of bread and wine and by the manner of this sacrifice of his prefigured the priesthood of Christ, to whom it is said by the Father: Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek (Heb.5.6; cf. Ps. 110.4). Also, because he blesses Abraham, the first of the father of the nations by his faith, he highlights most distinctly the example of him who by his faith has bestowed a blessing both on Jews and gentiles. Lot too, following the holy Noah in virtue, did not forsake righteousness, though living among examples of so many sinners, but, as the example of the whole world could not overcome the latter, so he too maintained his holiness against the vices of the multitude, when all the region in which he lived was sinning; and he, as the blessed Peter says, 'was righteous in his seeing and hearing' (2 Pet.2.8) and, set as he was among most evil men, shunned their evil deeds both with his eyes and with his ears and for that reason was snatched away from the fire, as Noah had been snatched away from the Flood.
3. What shall I say of Abraham, friend of God, what of Isaac and Jacob? How completely they fulfilled the will of the Lord we are able to determine even from this, that he wanted himself to be named their God as an intimate and special mark of distinction; I am, he said, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Mt.22.32); this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations (Ex.3.15). Joseph, a faithful servant of the Lord from boyhood, is shown to be even more righteous and perfect through his tribulations: first he was sold into slavery to the Ishmaelites by his brothers and then sold again by those by whom he had seen himself worshipped in a dream; next, though handed over to an Egyptian master, yet he always retained the freeborn dignity of his soul and by his example taught slaves and free men alike that it is not a man's personal situation that tells against him when he sins but his mental attitude.
4. At this point, I beg you, virgin, pause for a moment or two and carefully consider the chaste attitude of Joseph's mind: as a young man he is desired by his master's wife but resists her attempts to make him desire her; she solicits, he rebuffs, and so the one who is accustomed to give the orders in all other matters is reduced to coaxing and begging in this one alone, since the lover of God cannot be vanquished by the love of a woman nor can his chaste mind be swayed by his adolescence or his lover's authority. Having been rebuffed several times, his mistress now sets her ambushes closer to his lines of defence: in secret and with no witnesses she lays hand upon him shamelessly and in even more wanton language urges him to commit the crime; yet not even thus is he overcome but returns deeds for deeds, as he has previously returned words for words and, having refused when asked, he now escapes when trapped and, before that word in the gospel was spoken: Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already com¬mitted adultery with her in his heart (Mt.5.28); he, after having been seduced not only by the sight of her but almost by her very embrace, still does not lust after the woman.
5. You have marvelled at the strength of this man's chastity; now regard his benevolence. Before the prophet said: Let no man remember in his heart the ill will of his neighbour (Lev.19.18), he repaid hatred with love and, when he saw his brothers - nay rather, the enemies who were once his brothers - and wanted to be recognized by them, he bore witness that it was love, not resentment, that he felt for them; he kissed each of them in turn and with the water of his tears, which he poured over the necks of his frightened brothers, washed away their hatred with tears of love and loved them always with true brotherly love both during his father's lifetime and after his death. Nor did he recall to mind the pit into which he was cast down to die or give a thought to the way in which his brotherhood had been sold for a price but, 'repaying good for evil' (Rom.12.17), he fulfilled the apostle's instruction when he was still subject only to the law of nature.
6, 1. What shall I say of the blessed Job, that most renowned athlete of God, whose wealth was snatched from him, whose estate was utterly destroyed, whose sons and daughters died all together, and who, after all this, yet fought against the devil to the very end with his body? Everything that he possessed on the outside was taken from him, and his external possessions suddenly fell away, so that those more truly his own stood out clearly; he was as if stripped of absolutely all his outer garments and yet was able to stand triumphant in his nakedness, stronger and less encumbered, and, by bearing his own punishment, to overcome again the same enemy whom he had previously defeated by bearing his own losses. This is the testimony of the Lord himself upon him: Have you considered my servant Job? For there is none like him on the earth, a man against whom there is no complaint, a true worshipper of God, keeping himself away from all evil (Job.1.8; 2.3). Nor was this testimony undeserved, for, as he himself says, he always feared the Lord as the waves raging over him and was unable to bear the weight of his presence; at no time did he dare to scorn one whom he believed to be ever present with him but said: I am safe, for my heart does not reproach me for any of my days (Job 27.6).
2. Even before the time when the Lord enjoined that enemies should be loved, Job could say: If I have rejoiced at the troubles of my enemy, if I have said in my heart, 'It has been well done' (Job 31.29). When the Lord had not yet commanded in his gospel: Give to every one who begs from you (Lk.6.30), Job could already say: If I suffered a poor man to go out of my door with his purse empty (cf. Job 31.32). When he had not been able to read that word of the apostle: Masters, treat your servants justly and fairly (Col.4.1), Job could call confidently to the Lord: If I have harmed a manservant, if I have injured a maidservant, Lord, you know all (Job 31.13). Before the same apostle enjoined the rich 'not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches' (1 Tim.6.17), he could possess his riches in such a way as to show himself to be rich in other respects: I put no trust in riches or in precious stones (cf. Job 31.24).
And he proved this not in words only but by deeds, since he did not grieve when he lost everything but could still say through it all: The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; as it pleased the Lord, so it has been done; blessed be the name of the Lord for ever. Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there (Job 1.21). When we lose something, we show with what affection we possess it, and the desire for enjoyment is betrayed by our grief at our loss; for how could a man experience desire for something when lost, if he had no desire for it when he possessed it? What a man Job was! A man of the gospel before the gospel was known, a man of the apostles before their commands were uttered! A disciple of the apostles who, by opening up the hidden wealth of nature and bringing it out into the open, revealed by his own behaviour what all of us are capable of and has taught us how great is that treasure in the soul which we possess but fail to use and, because we refuse to display it, believe that we do not possess it either.
7. After the many things which we have said about nature we have also shown its good by the examples of holy men and have proved it. And lest, on the other hand, it should be thought to be nature's fault that some have been unrighteous, I shall use the evidence of the scriptures, which everywhere lay upon sinners the heavy weight of the charge of having used their own will and do not excuse them for having acted only under constraint of nature. In Genesis we read: The brothers Simeon and Levi have carried out their wickedness of their own free will (Gen.49.5,6). To Jerusalem the Lord said: Because they themselves have forsaken my way which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, but have followed the will of their own evil hearts (Jer.9.13,14). And again the same prophet: And you sinned against the Lord and did not obey his voice and refused to walk in his commands and in his laws and in his testimonies (Jer.44.23). He spoke also through the prophet Isaiah: If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword (Is.1.19,20). And again: All of you shall bow down in the slaughter; because, when I called, you did not obey, when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did evil before my eyes and chose what I did not delight in (Is.65.12). The Lord also says in the gospel: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not (Mt.23.37)! When we see 'willing' and 'not willing', 'choosing' and 'rejecting', it is not the force of nature but the freedom of the will that is then understood to be at work. The books of both Testaments are full of evidence of this kind, wherein all good, as well as all evil, is described as voluntary, and we omit it now only for the sake of brevity, especially when we know that, dedicated as you are to sacred reading, you can drink more copious draughts direct from the fountain itself.
8.1. Yet we do not defend the good of nature to such an extent that we claim that it cannot do evil, since we undoubtedly declare also that it is capable of good and evil; we merely try to protect it from an unjust charge, so that we may not seem to be forced to do evil through a fault in our nature, when, in fact, we do neither good nor evil without the exercise of our will and always have the freedom to do one of the two, being always able to do either. For on what grounds are some to be judges, others to be judged, unless it is because the will works in different ways in one and the same nature and because, though all of us are able to do the same, we actually do different things? And so, in order that this essential fact may stand out more clearly, we must cite some examples. Adam is cast out of paradise, Enoch is snatched away from the world; in both the Lord shows freedom of choice at work, for, just as the one who sinned could have pleased the Lord, so the other, who did please him, could have sinned instead. Neither would the former have deserved to be punished nor the latter to be chosen by a just God, unless both had been able to choose either course of action. This is how we are to understand the matter of Cain and Abel and also of Jacob and Esau, the twin brothers, and we have to realize that, when merits differ in the same nature, it is will that is the sole cause of an action.
2. Noah in his righteousness rejected the world when it was destroyed by flood because of its sins, Lot in his holiness passed judgement on the crimes of the Sodomites; and the fact that those first men were without the rebukes of the law for the space of so many years gives us no small grounds for acknowledging the good of nature, not, assuredly, because God at any time did not care for his creatures but because he knew that he had made human nature such that it would suffice them in place of the law for the practice of righteousness. In a word, as long as a nature which was still comparatively fresh was in vigorous use and long habituation to sinning did not draw a dark veil, as it were, over human reason, nature was set free and left without law; but when it had now become buried beneath an excess of vices and as if tainted with the rust of ignorance, the Lord applied the file of the law to it, and so , thoroughly polished by its frequent admonishments, it was enabled to recover its former brilliance.
3. Nor is there any reason why it is made difficult for us to do good other than that long habit of doing wrong which has infected us from childhood and corrupted us little by little over many years and ever after holds us in bondage and slavery to itself, so that it seems somehow to have acquired the force of nature. We now find ourselves being resisted and opposed by all that long period in which we were carelessly instructed, that is, educated in evil, in which we even strove to be evil, since, to add to the other incentives to evil, innocence itself was held to be folly. That old habit now attacks our new-found freedom of will, and, as we languish in ignorance through our sloth and idleness, unaccus¬tomed to doing good after having for so long learned to do only evil, we wonder why sanctity is also conferred on us as if from an outside source.
So much then by way of a cursory explanation of the good of nature, as it is also stated in another of my works: it was something which we had to provide in order to pave your way to perfect righteousness and make it more level and easier for you to run along in the knowledge that there is nothing uneven or unapproachable confronting you. Even before the law was given to us, as we have said, and long before the arrival of our Lord and Saviour some are reported to have lived holy and righteous lives; how much more possible must we believe that to be after the light of his coming, now that we have been instructed by the grace of Christ and reborn as better men: purified and cleansed by his blood, encouraged by his example to pursue perfect righteousness, we ought surely to be better than those who lived before the time of the law, better even than those who lived under the law, since the apostle says: For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Rom.6.14).
9, 1. Since we have said enough on these matters in my opinion, let us now begin our instruction of a perfect virgin who by the purity of her moral life bears witness at one and the same time to the good of nature and the good of grace, since she has always drawn her inspiration from both of these sources. A virgin's first concern and first desire ought therefore to be to get to know the will of her Lord and to seek out diligently what pleases and what displeases him; in this way she may render to God, in the words of the apostle, her 'spiritual obedience' (Rom.12.1 J, and may be enabled to direct the entire course of her life in accordance with his purpose. For it is impossible for anyone to please someone, if he does not know what it is that pleases him, and he could well give offence even by his vow of obedience, if he has not learned in advance how to obey. And just as doing the will of the Lord is more important than knowing it, so knowing is prior to doing; the former takes precedence in order of time, the latter in order of merit, and it is for this reason that the prophet says: And you, Israel, be not ignorant (cf. Lev.4.; Num.15); and the blessed Paul: And if any one does not recognize this, he shall not be recognized (1 Cor.14.38), and likewise elsewhere: Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph.5.17). The beginning of obedience is wishing to know what is enjoined, and to have learned what you are to do is a part of your act of obedience.
2. So you must realize that in the divine scriptures, which alone enable you to understand the complete will of God, certain things are forbidden, some are allowed, some are advised: evil things are forbidden, good things are enjoined; intermediate things are allowed, perfect things are advised; and all sin is con¬tained in the two classes which are given pride of place, since God's command is involved in both, and the one who commands is entitled to forbid as well as to enjoin. For righteousness is enjoined on everyone without exception, as the Saviour says, briefly but most comprehensively, in the gospel: Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them also (Mt.7.12), that is, that we should inflict no evil upon others but offer them everything which is good, because we want both of these injunctions to be observed by others in their behaviour to us. This judgement binds everyone with just as much force as a commandment nor is it permitted to anyone at all to transgress what is imposed on everyone, and either to do what is forbidden or not to do what is enjoined is open contempt of God. The two classes which follow, however, one of which is allowed, the other advised, have been left under our control, so that we may either enjoy what is allowed and be satisfied with less honour as a result or reject even what is permitted for the sake of a greater reward. Marriage is allowed, so is the use of meat and wine, but abstinence from all three is advised by more perfect counsel; freedom to marry has a bearing on the honour attached to virginity, and indul¬gence in meat highlights the virtue of abstinence.
3. You, virgin, have disdained the marriage which you were permitted to make before you disdained it; burning with love for a greater reward, you have dedicated your virginity to God not because it was commanded but because it was praised, and you have translated the apostle's advice into a law for yourself; so having set foot on the wider field which you have chosen for the contest, you have thought not so much of the labours of the course as of the prize for victory. You had read, I believe, that eulogy of perpetual chastity which is in the gospels, and the words of the Lord himself had excited you with the desire to preserve your virginity, when he praised the opinion of Peter on this matter on the grounds of the very magnitude and difficulty of the undertaking and, promising the kingdom of heaven to those who become eunuchs of their own choice, said: He who is able to receive this, let him receive it (Mt.19.12). And so, when an undertaking is so great, I do not command it, 1 do not impose it, but I offer it; nor do I compel anyone to undertake it but I challenge them to do so. Though it may appear to refer to men only, yet it is not addressed to men alone; rather, an equal reward for virginity is promised to both sexes, and the apostle says that he does not in fact have a commandment of the Lord concerning virgins but that he is merely giving advice; he says, therefore: Do you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me (2 Cor.13.3)?
10, 1. Having therefore followed the counsel of perfection, having set out to win the state of blessedness which attaches itself to a special intention, see to it that you keep the general commandment also. I have stated this before, and I now repeat it again, that in the matter of righteousness we all have one obliga¬tion: virgin, widow, wife, the highest, middle and lower stations in life, we are all without exception ordered to fulfil the commandments, nor is a man released from the law if he proposes to do more than it demands. Indeed, no one ought to avoid the things that are not permitted more than he who has rejected what was permitted nor does anyone give so firm a promise to fulfil the commandments as the man whose love of perfection has led him to ascend above their requirements and, while resolving to do more than has been commanded, shows that less has been demanded of him than he has been able to achieve. Next, if a man claims to be so obedient that he obeys with pleasure even the divine counsel, how can he escape the obligation to obey the divine commandment, since the former is a matter of choice, the latter of necessity? Of virginity it is said: He who is able to receive this, let him receive it (Mt.19.12); it is not said of righteousness: He who is able to do this, let him do it, but: Every tree that does not bear good fruit shall be cut down and thrown into the fire (Mt.3.10; Lk.3.9). Consider then, I beg you, the great difference between counsel and command: the former makes an exception for some, the latter embraces everyone without exception; the former offers a reward, the latter punishment; the former invites you to do something, the latter threatens you if you fail to do it.
2. So, distinguishing between these two by using your reason to the best of your ability, observe what you are offering and what you owe; or rather, now that you owe two debts, both your virginity, which you have voluntarily offered to God, and righteousness, which he himself has enjoined, pay both of these in full. The servant who pleases the Lord is the one who, while performing some piece of work voluntarily, yet carries out his orders as well, who does not do one thing in place of another but does both, and who does not alter the nature of his al¬legiance but adds to its scope. Do not let yourself be deceived by the examples of those women who, while applauding themselves on their chastity alone, reject the will of God and follow the dictates of their own wills. What they want to do is to offer the good of perpetual chastity not along with righteousness but in its place and to count the reward for their virginity as part of their compensation for sins; and in return for that prize they seek freedom from punishment or, in the grip of a folly which is even more shameless, consider that they should be given crowns in the kingdom of heaven and preference there over others, when they have closed up their own way of approach to it by transgression of the command¬ments given to them: Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven, he shall enter the kingdom himself (Mt.7.21). And let them remember the foolish virgins who had to be driven away from the bridegroom's door and to whom it had to be said, '1 do not know you,' and let them be joined to those of whom the Lord himself says: On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' But I will declare to them, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you; depart from me, all you evildoers' (Mt.7.22,23).
But the path that you have to tread is far different, you who have trampled under foot the love of this world and, by always considering the things which are of God, wish to show yourself a virgin of the apostles, you who await the Lord's coming as holy in spirit as you are in body and, continually pouring the oil of holy works into the lamp of your soul, are prepared to meet the bridegroom in the company of the wise virgins. You must avoid that broad path which is worn away by the thronging multitude on their way to their death and continue to follow the rough track of that narrow path to eternal life which few find. You have already laid down all the greatest encumbrances and in the very first moment of your conversion you have overcome everything which either delays you or recalls you from the journey of the spiritual life; you have spurned the pleasures of marriage, the concern for posterity, the attractions of luxury, the ostentation of the world, the desire for wealth, and you can say with Paul: The world has been crucified to me, and 1 to the world (Gal.6.14). What kind of completion is to be expected from one who has made such a beginning? Exert this same virtue of yours, this same sensibility, in what remains to be done and now, with that same strength of mind which enabled you to drive away the occasions of vice which presented themselves, reject the vices themselves; let your virginity be embellished with moral purity, let your perfect approach to life be followed by perfection in life itself.
4. Surely, if the life of the world had been to your taste, you would be taking pains to see that no one surpassed you in riches, in bodily adornments, in abundance of everything and in public esteem; as it is now, and since a different inclination calls for a different life, take care that no one surpasses you in the good life, no one excels you in moral purity, no one wins a place above you in the pursuit of virtue. And, in respect of those possessions which we mentioned first above, it was not your concern to ensure either that you surpassed everyone else or that no one else surpassed you, for all of them are sought from outside and whatever one hopes to receive from another source belongs to others, not one¬self. The possessions mentioned afterwards, however, are under your control and are truly yours, since they do not come from outside but are produced in the heart itself. Not everyone who seeks the former finds them nor does he who has found them always keep them, since chance can snatch them away just as it can provide them; but everyone who seeks the latter finds them, and he who has found them need never fear that they may be snatched away from him, for the only good possessions are those which we neither find nor lose at any time save by the exercise of our own free choice.
11,1. In this respect too, then, you have possessions which rightly entitle you to be set above others, indeed even more so; for everyone realizes that your nobility in the physical sense and your wealth belong to your family, not to you, but no one except you yourself will be able to endow you with spiritual riches, and it is for these that you are rightly to be praised, for these that you are deservedly set above others, and they are things which cannot be within you unless they come from you. Is this spiritual life to be the only one which does not strive after progress and in which each and every one is supposed to stay just as he was at the outset instead of striving to achieve greater things in his desire for growth? And when men can never be satisfied with the progress that they are making in all their worldly pursuits, is this to be the sole field of human endeav¬our in which it is considered sufficient to have done no more than make a start? In earthly things we burn with zeal but in heavenly we are as cold as ice; in small matters we show the greatest liveliness but when faced with those which are more important, we become paralysed.
2. It makes one ashamed when one thinks what enthusiasm there is in the world, with what solicitude men strive daily to attain greater perfection in all their individual enthusiasms. Enthusiasm for letters, for example, is quenched at absolutely no time of life; rather, to employ an aphorism of a secular author, it becomes more ardent with the very passage of time. Love of wealth is insatiable, desire for honour knows no fulfilment; possessions destined to meet with a speedy end are sought endlessly. But divine wisdom, heavenly riches, immortal honours we neglect in our indifference and sloth, and, as for spiritual riches, either we do not touch them at all or, if we get a slight taste of them, we at once suppose that we have had enough. The divine Wisdom invites us to its feasts in quite different terms: Those who eat me, she says, will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more (Sir.24.21). No one can have enough of such feasts or ever suffers from squeamishness because he has had too much: the more he drinks from that source the greater will be each man's capacity and eagerness for more. The Lord says in the gospel: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Mt.5.6); for he wishes us always to be hungering and thirsting for righteousness here, in order that we may receive satisfaction from the repayment which we are given for our righteousness in the hereafter.
12. We must weigh well the sense of these words and, as a result, desire righteousness as strongly as we desire food and drink when hungry or thirsty, and to all without exception who desire the promise of eternal life we must say this. But your special task now is to consider how much you have to excel in magnanimity as one who has undertaken to do more than others are even obliged to do, prompted by your desire for a greater reward. In defining the nature of the virgin of Christ, the apostle set her far apart from the wife, distinguishing between the merit of the single state and that of matrimony by the different purposes underlying them: The unmarried woman and virgin is anxious about the affairs of the, Lord, how to please God, to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband (1 Cor.7.34). She who is holy in body and spirit does no wrong with her members or her mind; but to do wrong is possible not only in the case of chastity but in any area of righteousncss also, for if, though a virgin in body and in spirit, she nevertheless sins with her hands, eyes, ears or tongue, how can she be said to be holy in body? Secondly, if she has been corrupted by hatred, envy, greed or anger, how can she acquire holiness of spirit? And if the married woman, whose attachment to her marriage makes her think 'how she may please her husband' and how much she can leave for her children and who, in the grip of the manifold cares of this world, turns her attention too infrequently to consideration of the will of God, yet is unable to excuse herself for sinning, what shall the virgin do, who has been released from all the impediments of this world and, free from other responsibilities, has en¬tered a school, as it were, of chastity?
13. If then you wish to make the extent of your intention equal to your morals and to be joined with God in everything, if you wish to make the light, agreeable yoke of Christ even lighter and more agreeable for you to bear, now especially devote your care to the blessed life, now apply yourself to ensuring that fresh zeal may always be kindling the glowing faith of your recent conversion and that the practice of holy conduct may the more easily grow in you at what is still a tender age. Whatever you implant in yourself at the outset will remain, and the rest of your life will run along on the course set by your beginning. At the very commencement the end has to be kept in mind: try even now to be the kind of person you want to be when you reach the last day. Habit is what nourishes both vices and virtues, and it is strongest in those with whom it has grown bit by bit from the start of their lives. The first five years are the best for moral training, for there is a flexible, yielding quality in them which can easily be shaped and directed according to the wishes of the instructor, and in almost all forms of life it is the tender one which is more quickly habituated. It is easy for small trees, while still young and with roots which can hardly be described as firm, to be moved in any direction as long as they are responsive to every guiding touch; since they are by nature curved for the most part, they are speedily corrected at the behest of the cultivator. Animals which are delicate and still in the earliest stages of their life are usually tamed without much trouble, and the more quickly they are weaned from the habit of indulging their feeling that they are free to wander, the more easily do their necks become used to the yoke or their teeth to the bit. Enthusiasm for literature is also better planted in tender minds, and that which first setdes in the mind usually becomes more deeply rooted in the facul¬ties. This same principle is most of all valid in the conduct of the good life: while the child's age is still flexible and its mind is easily led, the habit of doing good must be exercised and strengthened by the practice of constant meditation; only the best things must occupy the mind, and the practice of holy conduct must be implanted at a deeper level. Then indeed the mind climbs to the height of perfection and uses the advantage of long habit so as to acquire the ability to live well and, marvelling at its own qualities, will come to suppose that what it has learned was actually born with it or, in some measure, within it.
14.1 Consider, I beg you, how much holiness is looked for from you by your grandmother and mother, who, since they think of you as a new and brilliant light born to their family, have now transferred to you alone the whole concern of their minds and follow with a remarkable display of enthusiasm and approval the course which you intend to pursue. And, having shaped you for moral purity from the beginning of your life, they now desire to be surpassed by you, reckoning your victory to be to their credit. Their extraordinary faithfulness to God was most clearly revealed at the time when you declared your intention: then, al¬though they had already prepared you for marriage, as soon as they learned of your changed wishes, they immediately encouraged you to pursue your new choice and gave a wonderfully prompt assent to it. With the authority of their will they gave added strength to a decision about which you were bound to be a little apprehensive in view of your age, made your vow the common vow of all three of you and, though they have seen many members of their family occupying the highest positions of honour, at no time rejoiced for any of them as they did for you, for they had never seen such a mark of greatness and distinction in anyone. Indeed, you alone have bestowed upon your house an honour which it has not previously possessed throughout its long history: the male members of it have produced memorable consulships, and the register of the most distinguished order in our state has frequently included names from your illustrious house, yet nothing has ever won greater distinction than this honour of yours, which has been inscribed not on a tablet made of earthly material but in the book of immortal memory.
2. They received tumultuous applause all over the world, and the common people expressed their pleasure by the remarkable unanimity shown in their acclaim of the well-earned honours which their consuls had gained; yet the glory attached to your honour is far greater, since it has given cause for joy in heaven and rejoicing to the angels. Through your action it is not courtesans who are enriched but virgins of Christ who are sustained, it is not the hunter and the charioteer who are made wealthy but Christ's poor who are supported. At their consulship divers provinces throughout the world to which your house's power extends sent exotic wild beasts and unknown animals to stain the soil of the cruel arena either with their own or with human blood; to you, however, chosen maidens are sent for you to present to God as most precious offerings and to challenge to follow your example by professing perpetual chastity - in service not to you but to God along with you. The glorious news of your act of public profession has spread abroad and become common talk among all men, and the whole world has become so exultant at your conversion that people seem to have wanted all along for something to happen which, now that it has happened, they are still scarcely able to credit for all their great joy.
3. Kept in high suspense by the start which you have made and by this foretaste of the fame which is to be yours, all men and women are anxious to hear some wonderful news of you, and those who have appreciated the virtue shown by your initial declaration of intent now look forward to that which will appear in your future conduct. Consider now that the faces and eyes of all are turned upon you and that the entire world has settled down to watch the spectacle of your life. Take care not to disappoint so many, if they find in you less than they are looking for. But why am I talking with you about mere men and dragging their expectations into my encouragement of you? Your struggle is being wit¬nessed by God himself, the ruler and Lord of all, with his army of angels; for you, as you strive with the devil, he prepares the crown of eternal life and makes a heavenly prize your spur to victory. See what spirit, what valour, you have to bring to this great spectacle, and measure the magnitude of the contest by the eminence of its spectators!
15. So, in this great struggle which you are about to undertake let your chief concern, the first object of all your preparation, be to win an overwhelming victory for virtue in this war of extermination, to swear fealty to all God's commands against the camp of the devil and not simply to shun the things that are forbidden but also to fulfil those which are commanded. For it is not enough for you to refrain from evil, if you refrain from good as well: the law of God is divided into two classes of orders and, while it forbids evil, it also enjoins good, and it prohibits neglect of itself on either count: it is not only the servant who does what is forbidden who has neglected God but also the one who has not done what was commanded. We have already, a little earlier, quoted the judgement: Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Mt.7.19). Do we then flatter ourselves on not being weighed down by evil fruit, when we are to be condemned for remaining unproductive of good? According to our understanding of this statement the Father will break off every branch which does not bear fruit in the Son, and he who hides in a napkin a talent which he has received is condemned by the Lord as a useless and good-for-nothing servant: it is culpable not only to have diminished that talent but also not to have increased it. Do not suppose that some commands are to be ignored simply because they are less burdensome, for both those that are very weighty and those that are very light have been commanded by God, and neglect of any command¬ment whatsoever is an affront to the one who gives it. Hence the blessed Paul addresses this instruction to us: Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, as children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in this world (Phil.2.14,15).
1. Let us pause for a little while at this point, virgin, and taking each of the words used by the apostle separately, examine those most precious pearls with which the bride of Christ must be adorned. What he says above is: 'Do every¬thing'; so we are not to select some of God's commandments as if to suit our own fancy but to fulfil all of them without exception, nor to spurn some of his instructions as being mean and insignificant tasks but to have regard in all matters for the majesty of the one who gives them.38 Surely no command from God can seem contemptible in our eyes, if we always bear in mind the identity of its author and respond 'without grumbling and questioning'. We see base and ignoble masters being openly ignored by their servants, who are accustomed to resist them to their face in response to all their demands, even the smallest. But this is not permitted nowadays in relation to noble persons: the more powerful the masters the more disposed to obey are the servants, who tend to obey even more willingly when ordered to perform more difficult tasks; indeed, at a king's command all are so ready for action, standing at their posts to obey, that they are even keen to be given their orders, and they not only believe that they will deserve well of their masters if they carry out those orders but consider the service which they give to be a sign of their master's favour in view of the dignity of the one who has given the orders, as if the fact that they have been given them at all is an indication that they have already deserved well of him.
2. It is God himself, however, that eternal, ineffable majesty and incalcul¬able power, who sends us his holy scriptures and the writ of his own command¬ments truly worthy of our worship, and yet we fail to receive them at once with joy and reverence nor do we consider the command of so mighty, so illustrious an authority as a great kindness, especially when it is not the advantage of the one giving the order which is being sought but the interest of the one who obeys it; on the contrary, with a proud and casual attitude of mind, in the manner of good-for-nothing and haughty servants, we cry out against the face of God and say, 'It is hard, it is difficult, we cannot do it, we are but men, we are encompassed by frail flesh.' What blind madness! what unholy foolhardiness! We accuse God of a twofold lack of knowledge, so that he appears not to know what he has done, and not to know what he has commanded; as if, forgetful of the human frailty of which he is himself the author, he has imposed on man commands which he cannot bear. And, at the same time, oh horror!, we ascribe iniquity to the righteous and cruelty to the holy, while complaining, first, that he has com¬manded something impossible, secondly, that man is to be damned by him for doing things which he was unable to avoid, so that God - and this is something which even to suspect is sacrilege - seems to have sought not so much our salvation as our punishment!
And so the apostle, knowing that nothing impossible has been com¬manded by the God of justice and majesty, deprives us of this fault of ours of 'grumbling and questioning', which is wont to be found especially when com¬mands are unjust or the standing of the one who gives them does not entide him to do so. Why do we indulge in pointless evasions, advancing the frailty of our nature as an objection to the one who commands us? No one knows better the true measure of our strength than he who has given it to us nor does anyone understand better how much we are able to do than he who has given us this very capacity of ours to be able; nor has he who is just wished to command anything impossible or he who is good intended to condemn a man for doing what he could not avoid doing.
17, 1. The words which follow are: 'That you may be blameless and innocent' - that is, with reference to the fully perfect life. This one word 'blameless', which describes a qualification which God also orders to be investigated when electing a bishop, is quite sufficient; for how circumspect, how holy, is a life which incurs no blame! And who can be holier than the man who holds fast to the virtue of true innocence, never promising one thing in his heart and falsely declaring another with his lips? Again, 'As children of God without blemish': there is no more powerful exhortation than one in which divine scripture calls us to be children of God, for who would not blush and fear to do anything unworthy of so great a Father with the result that the man who is said to be a child of God is himself made a slave of vice? And that is why he adds: 'Without blemish', for it is not becoming that the stain of sin should be found in the children of God, because he himself is the fount of righteousness. 'In the midst of a crooked and perverse nation': that is to say, however vast the multitude of sinners that surrounds you, however countless the examples of vice, you ought still to be so mindful of your heavenly birth that, while living among evil men, you may yet overcome all evil. 'Among whom you shine as lights in this world': again we read in the gospel: Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mt. 13.43).
2. Life is compared to a reward, so that those who are to be given the brightness of the sun in the future shine forth here with a like splendour of righteousness and light up the blindness of unbelievers with works of holiness. That is the sense which is to be applied to this passage uttered by the same apostle in the course of a discussion with the Corinthians: There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor.15.41,42). In the kingdom of heaven there are different dwelling-places in accordance with the merits of individuals; for diversity in works makes for diver¬sity of rewards, and a man will shine there in glory as much as he has shone here in holiness.
Now, therefore, direct your mind's attention to complete moral perfec¬tion and prepare yourself to lead a heavenly life for a heavenly reward: let a virgin's holiness shine forth for all to see in the manner of a star and reveal the magnitude of her future reward by the unusual quality of her behaviour. Your progress in good is easier because you are not held back by the habit of evil in the mind nor have we any fear that vices will slow down your progress in virtue and the harmful seeds sown by the devil kill off the growing crops of Christ. For if even those who by long habit of sinning have somehow buried the good of nature are able to be restored by repentance and, by changing their chosen way of life, to wipe out one habit by another and leave the ranks of the worst for those of the best, how much more able are you to overcome evil habits which have never succeeded in overcoming you, since for you it is not so much a matter of driving vices out as of keeping them away! Without doubt there are pursuits which it is easier not to take up at all than to lay down again, once taken up.
18, 1. Nor again is there such pleasure attached to these vices that we ought to prefer them to virtues because of it, since not all of them offer the inducement of delight and even those which seem the sweetest are rejected by the majority. Of all vices there are two which deceive men most with their own special pleasure, namely gluttony and lust, and these become progressively more difficult to give up as they become more pleasant to indulge in; yet these vices, so troublesome and so dangerous because of the delight taken in them, we have seen to be so spurned by many that virgins, for example, have persisted throughout their lives in total abstinence from them - to say nothing of those who, after a long period of indulgence in gastronomic delights and a long-stand¬ing enjoyment of lust, have dedicated themselves to self-control and chastity and exchanged both of these vices for virtues which are their exact opposites.
2. There is, however, a very different consideration applying to other vices, which though they have no special charm about them, yet contain the causes of much bitterness, and, since they are much easier to avoid altogether, you will rarely come across people avoiding them. What pleasure, I ask you, does envy offer to the envious man, when envy itself tears him apart with the hidden claws of conscience and makes another's happiness the source of his own anguish? What reward does another receive from hatred except dread darkness in the soul and the horrors of a confused mind, as with grief on his face and in his heart he tortures himself with the very wish which makes him want to harm another? What benefit does his anger confer on the angry man, who, tormented by the savagest pricks of conscience, is so deprived by it of all judgement and reason that, while angry, he is believed to be out of his right mind? Run through all the sins in turn in like manner and you will find in them as many torments of the mind as there are vices which, to be sure, can be overcome more easily in that they have no pleasure with which to attract us. How much more difficult, how much harder it is - and I refrain from mentioning the labours of chastity — to abstain from wine and meat and even from olive-oil, and without benefit of these barely to exist on short commons sometimes for a period of two or three days, to disregard limbs enfeebled by fasts and vigils, to spurn the consolation of a warm bath, to deny the body its necessities and, so to speak, to do violence to one's nature! Show such greatness of spirit in all other respects and then consider what you are unable to achieve.
But we, for shame!, because of a certain delight that we take in sin, exhibit some natural strength in some respects, while in others we become apathetic and, after spurning bodily pleasures out of love of virtue, once again give in to our evil ways to such an extent that we do not even spare a thought for the possibility that they can be got rid of. Where is the purpose in all this, where is the new way of life? I attack objectives which are difficult and call for great effort without a thought of failure, while believing that tasks which are easier cannot be performed. I overcome the most difficult obstacles only to be over¬come myself by mere trifles. I surmount the heights and the steeps unwearied only to faint when I reach the plains. I am happy to flee from what delights me and yet unwilling to avoid what torments me. This is how it is with those who, disregarding God's will, seek only what wins them praise more easily and quickly results in fame but neglect the benefits of good moral conduct which are less conspicuous. On the other hand, you, who have trodden underfoot the world and its desires in order that, having done so, you make of them a step, as it were, on which to climb to heaven, you must not seek this world's glory. Concentrate rather on pleasing only the one who is often displeased with what pleases men and who will one day judge the judgements of men themselves. Your abstinence and fasting please God all the more because they are offered to him along with moral sanctity, so that actions which others use as a mere facade to cover up their vices become in you adornments of true virtue.
19, 1. Consider, I beseech you, that high rank with which you have been made glorious before God and through which you were reborn in baptism to become a daughter of God and, again, by your consecration as a virgin began to be a bride of Christ; let this honour conferred upon you remind you of the need to devote care to your vocation on both these counts. There must be no room for negligence when the prizes which have to be protected are so splendid: the greater the value of a garment the greater the precaution which must be taken to protect it from stain; a jewel procured with much gold is kept with greater care, and, in general, all important possessions are guarded with greater vigilance. Hence you too, if you wish to guard yourself adequately, ought always to consider your own honour to be a precious possession, since everyone treats himself with less caution the lower the opinion he has of himself. It is for this reason that we are so often given the name 'children of God' in divine scripture, as it is said through the prophet: And I will be your Father, and you shall be my children, says the Lord Almighty (2 Sam.7.14), and the apostle says: Be imitators of God as beloved children (Eph.5.1), and the blessed John says: Beloved, we are God's children now; and it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him, let him purify himself as he is pure (1 Jn.3.2,3). He wishes frequently to impress upon us the high worth of the heavenly teaching given to us and to turn our sense of shame into a mark of honour.
2. That is why the Lord himself, when calling on us to practise benev¬olence, says: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Lk.6.27), and: Pray for those who persecute and slander you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (Mt.5.44,45); for it is not the case that God so makes mankind capable of love that the gentleness of mind and kindliness which ought to be so evident in the Christian are found in abundance in evil men also. But let the Christian imitate the loving-kindness of God, who makes his sun rise on the good and on the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust (ibid.45). So, let us not find you, above all else, harming anyone even by word, so that you may apply yourself instead to helping everyone you can in every possible way and, as the apostle says, repay no one evil for evil but only evil with good. And let no word of disparagement escape the virgin's lips: we have enough worthless people, people seeking to make a name for themselves by making others out to be worthless; they imagine that they can win themselves a high reputation by disparaging others and, being unable to find favour on their own merits, wish to find it by comparison with those who are still worse than they.
3. We have said too little about the need for you to refrain not only from disparagement yourself but even from at any time believing another's disparage¬ment; this practice of disparagement is a very grave fault, because it makes another appear worthless, and you are to avoid defamation with the ears no less than the tongue. Be mindful of the scripture, when it says: Do not agree with those who disparage a neighbour, and you will not take a burden of sin on yourself on his account (Lev.19.16,17?), and elsewhere: See that you fence in your ears with thorns and listen to no evil tongue (Sir.28.24—6). For the listener, who makes the detractor what he is, is the real accuser, and if he but avert his ears, tighten the muscles of his face and check the movement of his eyes by refusing to look, he can then prove the detractor to be guilty of slanderous talk, so that the latter learns not to be so ready to say what he has now found to be not readily listened to. Hence the saintly James asserts that 'he is a perfect man' who 'makes no mistakes in what he says' (Jas.3.2), and the scripture says: Death and life are in the power of the tongue. But let not your tongue know how to lie, slander and swear oaths, because a lying mouth kills the soul (cf. Wis. 1.11); and according to the apostle: Revilers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6.10).
And Christ himself forbade swearing, when he said: But I say to you, Do not swear at all; and again: Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil (Mt.5.34,37). The apostle, briefly disposing of the vices of the mouth, says: Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only such as is good for edifying faith, that it may impart grace to those who hear (Eph.4.29). And let a virgin's speech be discreet, unassuming and infrequent and esteemed not so much for its eloquence as for its modesty. Let all marvel at your modesty, while you stay silent, and at your discretion, when you speak; let your utterance be always gentle and calm; let it be adorned by sweetness mingled with dignity, by wisdom mixed with modesty; let it be firm and balanced, most accept¬able as being appropriate to itself, and let there be due proportion of silence and talk. Nor should the virgin's mouth speak at all when it were better to have been silent; she should speak with great caution as one who must avoid not only evil speech but also speech which is superfluous.
20, 1. Let it be a task for your highest knowledge and understanding to distin¬guish between vices and virtues which, though always contrary to each other, yet are linked in some cases by such resemblance that they can scarcely be distin¬guished at all. For how many reckon pride as liberty, adopt flattery as humility, embrace malice instead of prudence and confer the name of innocence on foolishness, and, deceived by a misleading and most dangerous likeness, take pride in vices instead of virtues? And though you ought to employ a very acute intelligence to distinguish all these and, by following all the virtues with their strict limits of demarcation, never to depart from them at all, yet you must be especially careful to avoid false humility and to follow that true humility which Christ taught us and in which pride is not included, for many pursue the shadow of this virtue, few its reality. It is very easy to wear a modest garment, to give a more submissive greeting, to kiss the hands and knees with warm affection, to promise humility and gentleness with head bent to the ground and eyes down¬cast, to make subdued conversation in a low, faint voice, to sigh frequently and at every word to proclaim oneself a miserable sinner, then straightway to raise one's eyebrows, if offended by a frivolous speech, lift one's neck and suddenly exchange that refined tone of voice for a wild shout. It was another sort of humility that Christ taught us, encouraging us to follow his example when he said: Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart (Mt.l 1.29). When he was reviled, he did not revile in turn; when he suffered, he did not threaten (1 Pet.2.23); and this kind of humility is what the blessed Peter instils in us, saying: A tender heart and a humble mind, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling (1 Pet.3.9). Eschew verbal fictions at all times, dispense with feigned gestures and keep your conciliatory speeches for the proper occasions. Endurance of insult reveals the truly humble.
2. Therefore, let there be no room in your mind for any vice at any time: let there be no sign of pride, arrogance or haughtiness in you. Before God there is nothing more exalted than humility, and he himself speaks through the prophet: On whom shall I look, unless it be he that is humble and quiet and trembles at my word (Is.66.2)? And never let your spirit flare up in anger, since it is the nursery of hatred; let your mind be so full of the fear of God that you dare not be indignant at all but, rather, overcome your anger with fear. The blessed apostle, cleansing our soul and preparing it to become the dwelling-place of God, cries out and says: Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, with all malice (Eph.4.31). 21,1. Beware of flatterers as your enemies: their speeches are smoother than olive-oil, but they themselves are like poisoned darts; they corrupt shallow souls with feigned praise and inflict their agreeable wounds on over-credulous minds. This vice has increased in our time and has now reached its furthest limit and so is incapable of being extended any farther. It is a subject and a study to which we have all devoted ourselves, so that we think it an obligation to play this game of mockery, and what we offer to others gladly as a kind of service we ourselves gladly accept from others in turn, praising in advance those by whom we wish to be praised in the hope of receiving praise ourselves. Often we put up a token resistance to the words of flatterers to their face but in the secret places of our mind we take delight in them and consider that we have received the greatest possible benefit if we are commended even with counterfeit praise, never giving a thought to what we really are instead of to what we may appear to others to be. So things have reached such a pretty pass that, blind to true merit, we care only for men's opinion of it and seek evidence for the quality of our life not from our conscience but from our reputation. Happy the mind that conquers this vice and neither flatters at any time nor believes flatterers, that neither deceives another nor is itself deceived, that neither does this great wrong at any time nor suffers it! Never let there be anything false or counterfeit in you; consider that your conscience, which assuredly is always exposed to God's eyes, occupies itself with a host of concerns; never hold fast to one thing in your heart while voicing another with your lips; let anything which is shameful to say be also shameful even to think.
2. It is well known by now to everyone and has become common knowl¬edge how useful and necessary to this vocation of yours is the virtue of fasting and abstinence, especially at your time of life when it is easier for the body to fall prey to the onset of passion, which is why refraining from eating meat and drink¬ing wine has been praised in the apostle's utterance on the subject; love of chast¬ity must avoid anything that has the power to inflame the body or supplies fuel to pleasure. Yet we do not want you to be so weighed down by the labour involved in this task of yours that you immediately collapse under its weight; for there are many who, through the excessive ardour of their mind, fail to calculate the ex¬tent of their own strength and, suddenly tumbling to the ground, have almost succumbed to weakness before achieving sanctity by their vocation. Moderation is best in everything and due sense of proportion is praiseworthy in all circum¬stances; the body has to be controlled, not broken. Therefore, let holiness be sought in moderation, and fastings, which so weaken the body, be practised in uncomplicated ways and with all humility of mind, lest they inflate the spirit and lest a matter calling for humility create pride instead and vices be born of virtue: But I - as he (sc. the psalmist) says - when they brought trouble on me, I wore sackcloth, I humbled my soul with fasting (Ps.35.13). Poor clothing, cheap food, wearisome fasts ought to quench pride, not nourish it. Who would turn a regimen for healing into a wound, damaging parts that are sound by the very means by which the parts already damaged are to be cured? Or what hope of sal¬vation will remain, if those spiritual remedies of yours turn out to be poisons?
22, 1. Let your works of mercy provide the justification for the labours of fasting, and your abstinence be made more acceptable because it helps to nourish the poor; the Lord says through the mouth of the prophet: I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hos.6.6), and in the gospel of Christ we read the words: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Mt.5.7). But this responsibility I ask your grandmother and mother to undertake in your place: let them perform this role for you, let them raise your treasure on high to heaven, let it be their part to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, receive strangers into their home and invest money in the poor for Christ's sake and in hope of eternal reward, for it was he who said: As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me (Mt.25.40). And, especially while your spirit is maturing in its vocation, you should withdraw from all such occupations, devoting all your zeal and care to the ordering of your way of life; this should demand your time and occupy your mind to such an extent that you cease to feel yourself to be a rich woman or the mistress of a household and remember your noble birth only insofar as it leads you to compete with your family's distinction by your holy conduct, progress to greater nobility by adding spiritual virtue to noble birth, and pride yourself more on the kind of nobility which makes men sons of God and co-heirs with Christ. If you always have regard for this kind of nobility, believing that in it you possess a greater reason for joy, then you will cease to pride yourself on anything which gives you less.
2. Let all that dignity which you derive from your famous family and the illustrious honour of the Anician blood be transferred to your soul; let that man be counted famous, lofty and noble, let that man consider himself to be guarding his nobility and keeping it intact, who thinks it beneath him to become a slave to vices and to be overcome by them: For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved (2 Pet.2.19). What can be more unworthy than servitude of the soul, what more base than that moment when either hatred masters it or envy rules over it, when either greed takes possession of it or anger holds it captive, or indeed any other vices claim it for themselves? It is impossible for anyone to flatter himself on his family's nobility, if he is a slave in more important respects; it is much more unworthy to be a slave in one's mind than with one's body. I do not think that I need warn you to keep your public appearances sparing and infrequent, since even consideration for worldly propriety will have taught you this much from your infancy and you should therefore have no difficulty in realizing that in this life you have to devote much greater care to the protection of something to which seclusion is more appropriate. I do advise you also to set a fixed limit on those visits which people have to pay to your bedchamber in order to tender their respects: do not allow them to become overfrequent or daily events, lest they appear not so much to be performing a duty as to be giving you cause for restlessness.
23, 1. Though you are under an obligation to devote your whole lifetime to God's work and it is fitting that not a single hour be devoid of spiritual growth, since you must 'meditate on the law of the Lord day and night' (Ps.1.2), yet there should be a fixed and appointed number of hours when you are more completely free for God and are bound as if by statute to the most intense mental concentra¬tion. It is best therefore to assign a morning period to this work, that is, the best part of the day, and up to the third hour to exercise your soul, so to speak, in this gymnasium in which it wrestles spiritually and daily engages in heavenly combat. During these hours each day pray in a more private part of the house with the door of your bedchamber shut (Mt.6.6). Even when you are in the city subject yourself to this discipline of solitude, remove yourself for a while from the company of men and join yourself more closely to God; then, when you return to the sight of your own family, show them the fruits of your reading and prayer. In that place of solitude you ought above all else to be feeding your soul on divine utterances and filling it with as much of this richer nutriment as may be able to satisfy it for the whole day.
2. Read the holy scriptures in such a way that you never forget that they are the words of God, who commands us that we should not only know his law but also fulfil it; for it is of no advantage to have learned what has to be done, if we then fail to do it. The divine text is put to best use if you hold it up to yourself like a mirror, so that your soul looks, as it were, at its own reflection in it and either corrects all the ugly blemishes or touches up the features which are attractive. Reading should be frequently interspersed with prayer, and such a pleasing alternation in your holy task should arouse even more a soul continu¬ously clinging to God: at one time, therefore, let the sequence of heavenly history instruct, at another a holy song of David delight, at another the Wisdom of Solomon inform, at another the rebukes of the prophets arouse, at another the perfection of the evangelists and apostles unite you with Christ in a life of complete sanctity.
Plant deep in your memory the things that must be kept in readiness for use and maintain them in good order by continually reflecting upon them; turn over frequently in your mind those which still have to mature, so that this persistence in divine study and spiritual training may embellish your conduct as a virgin and your sensibility and bestow holiness and wisdom upon you. That is why the scriptures say: Those who seek God shall find wisdom with righteousness (cf. Mt.6.33). But your reading must be done in moderation and a limit imposed upon it by prudence and not by fatigue; for just as immoderate fasting, overen thusiastic abstinence and vigils of extravagant and disproportionate length are seen as evidence of lack of restraint and bring it about by their excessive nature that it becomes impossible thereafter to perform such works even in a moderate way, so too intemperate enthusiasm for reading can come in for criticism, and thus a practice which is praiseworthy when kept within appropriate limits, is liable to be blameworthy if it exceeds them.
24, 1. It must be stated as a general principle, albeit briefly and summarily, that with good practices as well as bad whatever exceeds the bounds of moderation becomes a vice instead of a virtue. The ordering of the perfect life is a formidable matter, formidable, I say, and dependent for its success on a considerable degree of effort and study, and it calls for consummate wisdom to know what is the end which one is pursuing and how to pursue it and, by showing discretion in every act, to do nothing which is likely to make one regret having done it. Within the space of an hour one's conduct can undergo change, and fasting, abstinence, psal¬mody and keeping vigil demand a conscious act of will more than constant prac¬tice. The man who begins something as soon as he has willed it is perfect for this; or, to put it in another way, those who bring bodily strength fresh from the world to their vocation are able to follow it more easily. But to change one's moral life and to fashion in oneself special virtues of the mind and then to bring them to perfection is a matter which calls for intensive study and long practice. That is why so many of us grow old in the pursuit of this vocation and yet fail to gain the objectives for the sake of which we came to it in the first place.
2. But your conduct has to be something new, your moral seriousness, patience, compassion and godliness objects of wonder: whatever is holier and more perfect, whatever can commend you more highly to God and make you greater in heaven, that is what you must always pursue and embrace. The bride of Christ must be more splendidly adorned than anything else, since the greater the one whom one is seeking to please the greater the effort which is required in order to please him. The maidens of the secular world who prepare themselves for marriage and prefer to take advantage of the apostle's concession than to follow his advice and to accept the remedy for incontinence, that is, marriage, rather than the reward for continence, take pains to get themselves up with remarkable care and to make their natural physical beauty attractive by use of the cosmetic art so as to please their bridegrooms and excite them to greater love. This is their special concern day by day, colouring their faces with the appropri¬ate paints, entwining their hair with gold, beautifying their heads with glittering gems and pearls, suspending a family fortune from their ears, decorating their arms and bosoms with bracelets and letting precious stones enclosed in gold hang down onto their breasts from their necks.
3. Your bridegroom requires no less adornment on your part, since he has made his universal Church to be without spot or wrinkle, has purified her by washing her with the water of salvation and desires her to become more beautiful day by day, so that, once cleansed of vices and sins, she may be for ever adorned with the splendour of virtues. If this is what he requires of his whole Church, which contains both widows and brides, how much more, do you think, will he expect of a virgin who seems to have been picked out from all his Church's most brilliant array of decorations like a flower, as it were, worthy of even greater honour? So you must put on all the adornment which will enable you to please Christ, believe that, even if you have no desire to appear beautiful to men, your face is beautiful enough for God, and as a decoration for your head keep only what you acquired by the sacrament of unction, when a diadem of royal unguent was placed upon you as a token of the mystery of the kingdom of heaven.
4. As for the ears, their best ornaments are the words of God; it is for them alone that the hearing of the virgin should be prepared, they are what she should prefer to the most precious of stones. As for her limbs, all of them without exception must be adorned with works of holiness, and the whole beauty of her virginal soul, like a necklace made of jewels, must gleam with the multicoloured brilliance of her virtues. Then will the King truly desire your beauty, saying to you: You are all fair, my love; there is no flaw in you (Song 4.7). These adorn¬ments of which I have spoken will also be your strongest protection, since the same qualities which are able to adorn you for God are also able to arm you against the devil, who sometimes enters the soul through some trivial vice or other and, if the bulwarks of our virtue do not resist him, drives us back from our post and straightway becomes our lord instead of our enemy. It is because of this that the scripture exhorts us and says: If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place (Ec.10.4).
25, 1. From the very time when you were first consecrated to the Lord through your profession of virginity, our enemy's hatred of you grew, since, as one who counts another's gains as his own losses, he considers that, if there is anything which it pains him to find you about to possess, he has lost it himself. You need to employ a great deal of vigilance and attention, and the richer you have begun to be before God the more watchfully you must guard against the enemy: the traveller who is naked and goes empty-handed has no fear of the robber's ambush, and the poor man sleeps secure from nocturnal thieves, even if he does not make sure that his door is bolted; but the rich man's wealth makes him imagine a burglar's entry and robs him of his sleep at night through continu¬ous worry. Hence your wealth too, your heavenly treasure, requires your care and protection: the richer you are the more vigilant you ought to be, for he who possesses more has good reason to be more afraid of losing it.
2. The creator of envy does not cease to envy, and he who was once cast out himself by God is tortured by envy which becomes so much the greater as he sees someone more greatly honoured before his eyes. He envied Eve her place in paradise; how much more does he envy you yours in the kingdom of heaven! Even now he is prowling around everywhere, believe me, seeking to devour you, as the blessed Peter says (1 Pet.5.8); he stalks his prey like a roaring lion or like a cunning enemy with eyes everywhere, and he reconnoitres every possible way of approach to your soul to see if there is some point which is weak and less secure, through which he can creep in. Even now he is searching everywhere and probing every single point for a place to wound, and you must look out for ambushes with great care, so that, like Paul, you may not be ignorant of his designs (2 Cor.2.11): when he is describing the terrible powers and principalities of the devil, he yet urges us on to battle and reveals the forces of the enemy to us only in order to increase the vigilance of our soldiers, for he does not want us to be fearful but ready for the fray, he does not counsel flight but supplies us with weapons: Therefore, he says, take the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph.6.13). And straightway, handing us the separate items of equipment one by one, he added these words: Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equip¬ment of the gospel of peace, and at all times taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, with all prayer and supplication (ibid. 13-17).
3. And since it is possible even for women to triumph in this war, take up these weapons of Paul's and look forward to certain victory with so great a leader to urge you on. For if you possess all these items of equipment, you will advance to the spiritual battle free from danger nor will you fear the devil with all his army: For a thousand will fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but they will not come near you (Ps.91.7). The blessed James too, that veteran soldier of Christ, promises us a victory in this war with no less authority: Submit yourselves therefore, he says, to God; but resist the devil and he will flee from you (Jas.4-7). He shows how we ought to resist the devil, if we are indeed in sub¬mission to God, and, by doing his will, to merit divine grace also and to resist the evil spirit more easily with the aid of the Holy Spirit. But the devil does not fight against us in the open order of battle or come to grips with us in the open face to face but overcomes us by trickery and deceit and uses our own will against us; our enemy acquires strength from our consent to his actions and, as it is often said, cuts our throat with our own sword.
But an enemy who cannot overcome an opponent unless the latter is willing to be overcome is weak; so let us cast despair aside, let us put every vestige of fear of our adversaries far from our mind, let us not assist our enemies but defeat them. They indeed can give counsel but it is ours to choose or reject their suggestions, for they harm us not by compelling but by counselling, and they do not extort our consent from us but court it, which is why Ananias is asked: Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5.3)? Surely the apostle would never lay this as a charge against him if the devil had done it without the help of his own will. Eve too is herself condemned by the Lord precisely because she was overcome by one whom she was able to overcome, for she who was overcome would not have deserved punishment for unrighteousness by the Lord, had she herself not been able to overcome.
26, 1. The prime device of this most evil of all enemies, his most cunning statagem, is to employ notions as a means of wearing down souls inexperienced in coping with them and to assail minds newly embarked on their chosen vocation with that feeling of depression which sometimes results from their conduct itself, so that a mind may be easily deterred from making progress with a project as it begins to realize how harsh are the first steps involved. So it is his normal practice to implant in such a mind thoughts so base and so impious that the one who is tempted by them, believing the thought which has assailed him to be his own, comes to regard himself as having been made less effective in his vocation by his own unclean spirit and to reckon that his soul was much purer when he still loved the things of the world. For our enemy in his supreme cunning wishes to arouse in those whom he envies the dread of failure in their vocation that arises from despair of ever attaining holiness, in order that, even if he does not actually succeed in dissuading them from their purpose under press¬ure of despondency, he may surely be able to hold up their progress.
2. That is why you must above all lovingly study the holy scriptures, why your soul must be illuminated by divine utterances, why the dark shadows of the devil have to be dispersed by the flash of God's word; for the devil is quick to flee from the soul which is illuminated by divine speech, which is always occupied with heavenly thoughts, in which God's word, whose force the evil spirit is unable to endure, is constantly present. For that reason the blessed apostle compared it to a sword when listing the arms for use in the war of the spirit (Eph.6.17). It is perfectly safe, however, for the mind to become accustomed to differentiating between one thought and another - always subject, of course, to careful and watchful control - and, at the first stirring of the mind, either to approving or to disapproving of what it is thinking, so that it either nourishes good thoughts or immediately destroys bad ones. In this lie the source of good and the origin of sin, and thought is the beginning of every great offence in the heart, painting every single deed on the tablet of the heart, as it were, before doing it; for every deed and every word, whichever it may be, is laid out for inspection in advance and its future is decided by thoughtful consideration.
You can see what a brief moment sometimes separates a man's thinking each thought and his putting that thought into action, nor is anything at all done by the tongue or the hand or other limbs, unless thoughts have previously dictated it; hence the Lord also says in the gospel: Out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, adultery, fornication, murder, theft, false witness, greed, evil, trick¬ery, unchastity, the evil eye, blasphemy, pride, folly. These are what defile men (Mt.15.19,20). Therefore, all your care and attention must be concentrated on keeping watch, and it is particularly necessary for you to guard against sin in the place where it usually begins, to resist temptation at once the very first time it appears and thus to eliminate the evil before it can grow and spread. When something has to be feared from its smallest beginnings and is the more easily overcome the more speedily it is resisted, one must not wait for it to grow; that is why divine scripture exclaims: Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life (Pr.4.23).
27, 1. One has to make a distinction, however, between those of one's thoughts which the will favours and embraces affectionately, those which are wont to flit past the mind like an insubstantial shadow and merely show a glimpse of themselves in passing - the Greeks call them typoi, 'impressions' - and also those, to be sure, which offer promptings to a mind which is resistant and unwilling and as glad when they are expelled as it was sad when they were admitted in the first place. In those which show themselves only fleetingly to the mind and reveal themselves as if in flight, there is no underlying sin at all and no sign of fight; but with those which the soul struggles against for some time and which the will resists, we can expect an even contest. Either we consent to them and are conquered or we reject them and conquer them and win a victory in battle.
3. 2. Thus sin exists only in the thought which has given the mind's consent to a suggestion, which flatters and fosters its own evil tendency and longs for it to erupt into action. This kind of thought, even if it is prevented from reaching any outcome and so fails to fulfil the wish that lies behind it, is nevertheless con¬demned as a criminal act by the Lord. We read this in the Gospel: Everyone, it says, who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt.5.28); that is to say, before God, to whom everything is known even before it is done, the complete wish to act is reckoned as equivalent to the actual deed. You ought therefore - for I often repeat something which I want to be done invariably - you ought, I say, to meditate on holy scriptures without ceasing and fill your mind with them, to deprive evil thoughts of room to settle in by packing your soul with divine feelings and to show how much you love God by your love of his law. Hence the scripture says: Those who fear the Lord will seek his approval, and those who love him will be filled with his law (Sir.2.19). Then, realizing how much his wisdom helps you to love him, how much assist¬ance there is in his divine law, you too will sing joyfully to the Lord with David: I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee (Ps.l 19.11). For the soul always needs to be aroused by spiritual spurs and to be revived daily with increased fervour; application to prayer, illumination from reading, attention to vigils, these are its incentives by day and night. For nothing is worse in this vocation than idleness, which not only does not make new gains but also wastes those already won. It is the way of the holy life to delight in progress and gain strength as it takes place; in idleness it becomes lethargic and fails altogether. The mind must be renewed by fresh growth in virtue every day, and we must measure our journey through life not by what has been completed but by what remains to be done. As long as we are in this body, we should never believe that we have attained perfection, since, by refusing to believe that, we give ourselves a better chance of arriving at our goal; as long as we strive towards the objective ahead of us, we do not slip back, but when we begin to stand still, we take the downward path, and it is our lot not to advance but already to go backwards.
4. Let us make an end of all sloth and useless complacency based on the success of our labours in the past. If we do not want to go back, we must run on; the blessed apostle, living for God day by day, always paying attention not to what he has done before but to what he ought to be doing now, says: Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God (Phil.3.13,14). If the blessed Paul, the vessel of election, who had been so clothed in Christ that he could say: It is no longer 1 who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal.2.20), yet still strains forward, still grows and progresses, what should we do whose only desire must be that at our end we may be compared with Paul at his beginning? Imitate therefore the one who said: Be imitators of me, as I too am of Christ (1 Cor.4,16). Forget all that is past and think that you are starting afresh each day, and do not reckon the past to be the present day, since it is on the present day that you must serve God. You will guard your gains best if you are always searching for more; if you cease to acquire more, your present store of acquisitions will suffer loss.
28. 'The labour is great,' you may perhaps say. True; but just think what we have been promised: all work tends to be lightened when the reward for it is considered, and it is hope of obtaining such a reward that consoles us for our labour. This is why the hardy farmer rejoices in the fact that by the sheer strength of his plough he has broken into pieces a field long left unploughed with its fertile soil lying fallow, and in some strange way he is happy to measure his hope of getting a crop for his labours by the very difficulty of the work involved. So too the greedy trader despises the sea, when he dares to look on the foaming waves and the raging winds and, in the midst of all his toil and danger, thinks only of the gain which will result from it and forgets his weariness and fear at one and the same time. Consider then, I beg you, the size of your reward, if something which is so immense can be considered at all. After the soul has departed, after the flesh has died, after the dust and the ashes, you, as a virgin, will be restored to a better state: the body that has been entrusted to the earth will be lifted up high to heaven, and your mortality exchanged for immortality. Thereafter you will be given the company of angels, will receive the kingdom of heaven and will abide with Christ for ever. What then will you give in repayment to the Lord for all that he has given you in repayment (Ps.l 16.12)? What will you consider difficult to do, when you have one who repays you with rewards so great? The answer is in the blessed apostle's words: None of the sufferings of the present time are worth comparing with the future glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom.8.18). What can we either do or suffer in this short life of ours that is worthy to be repaid with immortality?
29. It is for this reason that the same apostle says: For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor.4.17). Let honours be rejected, riches despised; let our life itself too be disdained for love of martyrdom, since these are all possessions which, if not surrendered in order to win the prize of eternity, would still perish at some time or other, for those who are always striving to possess something lose even that in the end. How many we can recall seeing installed in possession of the greatest honours only to fall suddenly from the highest pinnacle of their earthly power, because they thought in their pride and elation that they were something other than mere mortals, only to reveal to us by their end what they really were! For in this world what is there that is lasting? What is there that is solid and real? What is there that is not brief, uncertain and subject to chance? What good is there in a thing which you are always in fear of losing, which you are afraid will be taken away from you or know will have to be left behind you? Even if it is not snatched from you by a calamity, it must surely be lost to you in death; even if our life were to be extended over a thousand years and we were to reach the last day of our whole life still in daily enjoyment of the pleasure given by luxuries, of what value, I ask, is that long stretch of time, if it is destroyed in the end? Of what profit is a pleasure which, as soon as it has ceased, will seem never to have existed at all? Come now, turn over in your mind the period of your life which is past. Will not all the past seem to you to have been like a shadow, all that you now see to be dim and uncertain like an insubstantial dream? An enfeebled old man can also experience this same feeling and can rightly say with the prophet: My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass (Ps. 102.11).
1. But if we can say as much even in this world, where our life, though short, is still highly valued because it is in the present, what are we likely to say in the future, when, with the greater knowledge of eternity, all that is past counts for nought? As you turn over these points carefully in your mind and despise the shortness of this life in contemplation of eternity, dismiss from it also with even greater determination the world which you have dismissed already and prepare yourself exclusively for that great day on which the world's glory must be brought to an end, that day, I say, which our Saviour compared to a flood (Mt.24.39) and which will catch out by its stealthy arrival many who have been lulled into a false sense of security (1 Thess.5.2). Describing it, the blessed Peter also says: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the Lord God, because of which the heaven will be kindled and dissolved, and all the elements will melt with fire (2 Pet.3.10—12)? It came to pass recently, as you yourself have heard, when to the shrill sound of the war-trumpet and the shouts of the Goths Rome, the mistress of the world, trembled under the weight of a sad fear. Where stood our order of nobility then? Where were the occupiers of the fixed, distinct grades of their hierarchy? Everything was thrown into confusion and disorder by fear, in every home there was lamentation, and terror was spread through all alike. Slave and noble were on the same footing: all saw the same image of death, except that those whose life was more pleasant feared it more.
2. If we are so afraid of the human hand of a mortal foe, what shall we do when the heavenly trumpet begins to thunder with a fearful blast and the whole world reverberates at the same time to that voice of the archangel which is louder than any war-trumpet? When it is not arms made by human hands that we see brandished over us but the very powers of the heavens in turmoil, as the prophet says: When the Lord comes to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it (Is.13.9)? What terror, what darkness, what gloomy shadows will beset us then, when that day finds us, so often and so many times forewarned, yet still unprepared! Then, he says, will all the tribes of the earth mourn over themselves, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with much power and glory; then they will say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us, and to the rocks, Open yourselves up for us (Mt.24.30; Lk.23.30).
3. So be it with those who are preoccupied with the manifold cares of this world and give no thought to its end. But as for you, whose meditation day and night is of the coming of Christ, whose pure conscience longs for the presence of God, who can afford to await the end of the world as the time appointed for your reward, you will have cause for rejoicing from heaven, not for fear. Then, mingling with the choruses of the blessed and accompanied by holy virgins, you will fly upwards to meet your bridegroom and will say: I have found him whom my soul has sought (Song 3.4). Nor will you have any more to fear that you will be separated from him at any time, since you will be given once and for all the glory of immortality and the splendour of incorruption, and you will be with Christ always, as the apostle says: For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command from the archangel and with the sound of God's trumpet. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall be always with the Lord (1 Thess.4-16,17). Let this then be your constant care and concern; let these be the thoughts that revolve continually in the virgin's heart; to them let your efforts be directed throughout the day, on them lay down your head to rest at night, for them let your soul awake again in the morning. No labour ought to seem too difficult, no time too long to wait, when the prize at stake is nothing less than everlasting glory.
CAP. I.---Si summo ingenio parique fretus scientia, officium scribendi facile me implere posse crederem: tamen tam arduum hoc opus ingredi, sine magno difficultatis timore non possem. Scribendum tamen est ad Demetriadem virginem Christi, virginem nobilem, virginem divitem, et quod his majus est, ardore fidei, nobilitatem divitiasque calcantem. Quam utique, pro tam insignis admiratione virtutis, ut laudare omnibus facile, ita docere difficile est. Cui enim oratio deesse possit in ejus laude celebranda: quae summo loco nata, in summis opibus deliciisque nutrita, tantis tamque variis hujus vitae blandimentis, velut tenacissimis quibusdam irretita vinculis, subito eruperit, cunctaque simul corporis bona, animi virtute mutaverit? Quae florem adhuc ipsum incuntis aetatis, quodam fidei gladio, id est, voluntate succiderit? Et crucifigens cum Christo carnem suam, vivam, sanctamque hostiam sacraverit Deo, ac nobilissimi sanguinis posteritatem, virginitatis amore contempserit? Prona autem et facilis dicendi via est, quae ipsa ubertate materiae cursum orationis accendit: sed nobis alio magis itinere pergendum est, quibus propositum est, institutionem virginis, non laudem scribere: nec tam paratas jam virtutes ejus exprimere, quam parandas: magisque reliquam ordinare vitam, quam ornare praeteritam. Est autem difficillimum cum ejus persona facere, in qua cupiditas tanta discendi est, tantusque perfectionis ardor, ut ei quamlibet perfecta doctrina par esse vix possit. Meminit enim recteque meminit, quas mundi opes gloriamque respuerit, quibus voluptatibus renuntiaverit, quas denique contempserit vitae praesentis illecebras. Et ideo contenta non est communi hoc mediocrique genere vivendi; et quod facile ipsa multorum societate vilescat, novum aliquid et inusitatum requirit: praecipuum ac singulare quoddam flagitat. Non minus conversationem suam quam conversionem cupit esse mirabilem. In saeculo nobilis, apud Deum cupit esse nobilior. Tam pretiosa requirit in moribus, quam contempsit in rebus. Hunc utique tam devotae mentis ardorem, hanc tantae perfectionis sitim, quod umquam satiabit flumen ingenii? Quae vis aliquando orationis, quae copia tantum verbis exprimere poterit, quantum parata est virgo rebus implere? Nobis vero donanda est venia, qui ad ornandum Domini tabernaculum, secundum vires nostras munus offerimus. Nec veremur ne temere scribendo, ad tantae nobilitatis virginem, ultro nos morsibus tradamus invidiae. Scribimus enim petente sancta matre ejus, immo jubente, idque a nobis transmarinis litteris, miro cum desiderio animi flagitante: quae facile ostendit, quo studio quantaque cura in filia germen coeleste plantaverit, dum illud tam sollicite cupit ab aliis irrigari. Remoti igitur a temeritate, et ab ambitione liberi, proposito insudemus operi. Nec de mediocritate diffidimus ingenii, quod credimus, et fide matris, et merito virginis adjuvari.
CAP. II.---Quoties mihi de institutione morum, et sanctae vitae conversatione dicendum est, soleo prius humanae naturae vim qualitatemque monstrare, et quid efficere possit, ostendere: ac jam inde audientis animum ad species incitare virtutum: ne nihil prosit ad ea vocari, quae forte sibi impossibilia esse praesumpserit. Nequaquam enim virtutum viam valemus ingredi, nisi spe ducamur comite. Siquidem appetendi omnis conatus perit consequendi desperatione. Quem ego exhortationis ordinem, cum in aliis quoque Opusculis tenuerim, tunc hic maxime observandum puto: ubi eo plenius naturae bonum declarari debet, quo instituenda est vita perfectior, ne tanto remissior sit ad virtutem animus ac tardior, quanto minus se posse credat: et dum quod inesse sibi ignorat, id se existimat non habere. Proferenda semper in notitiam ea res est, cujus usus desideratur, et explicandum est, quidquid bonum natura potest, cum quidquid posse probatur, implendum est. Haec igitur prima sanctae ac spiritualis vitae fundamenta jaciantur, ut vires suas virgo agnoscat: quas demum bene exercere poterit, cum eas se habere didicerit. Optima enim animi incitamenta sunt, cum docetur aliquis posse quod cupiat. Nam et in bello ea exhortatio maxima est, eaque plurimum auctoritatis habet, quae pugnatorem de viribus suis admonet. Primum itaque debes naturae humanae bonum de ejus auctore metiri, Deo scilicet, qui cum universa mundi, et quae intra mundum sunt, opera bona, et valde bona fecisse referatur: quanto, putas, praestantiorem ipsum hominem fecit: propter quem omnia etiam intelligitur illa condidisse! Quem dum ad imaginem et similitudinem suam facere disponit, antequam faciat, qualem sit facturus, ostendit. Deinde cum subjecit ei universa animalia: eumque etiam constituit eorum dominum, quae vel mole corporis, vel virium magnitudine, vel armis dentium multo valentiora homine fecerit: satis declarat, quanto pulchrius sit homo ipse conditus, quem vel ex hoc voluit naturae suae intelligere dignitatem, dum fortia sibi subjecta miratur animalia. Neque enim nudum illum, ac sine praesidio reliquit, nec diversis periculis velut exposuit infirmum. Sed quem inermem extrinsecus fecerat, melius intus armavit: ratione scilicet atque prudentia, ut per intellectum vigoremque mentis, quo caeteris praestabat animalibus, factorem omnium solus agnosceret: et inde serviret Deo, unde aliis dominabatur. Quem tamen justitiae exsecutorem Dominus voluntarium esse voluit, non coactum. Et ideo reliquit eum in manu consilii sui (Eccli. XV). Posuitque ante eum vitam et mortem, bonum et malum: et quod placuerit ei, dabitur illi. Unde etiam in Deuteronomio legimus: Vitam et mortem dedi ante faciem tuam, benedictionem et maledictionem: elige tibi vitam, ut vivas (Deuter. XXX).
CAP. III.---Hinc jam providendum est, ne forte illud remordeat te, in quo temere imperitum vulgus offendit. Et ideo non vere bonum factum hominem putes, quia is facere malum potest: nec ipsa naturae violentia astringitur ad immutabilis boni necessitatem. Nam si diligenter retractes, et ad subtiliorem intellectum cogas animum: hinc tibi melior status hominis ac superior apparebit, unde putatur inferior. In hoc enim gemini itineris discrimine, in hac utriusque libertate partis, rationabilis animae decus positum est. Hinc, inquam, totus naturae nostrae honor consistit: hinc dignitas, hinc denique optimi quique laudem merentur, hinc praemium. Nec esset omnino virtus ulla in bono perseverantis si is ad malum transire non potuisset. Volens namque Deus rationabilem creaturam voluntarii boni munere, et liberi arbitrii potestate donare: utriusque partis possibilitatem homini inserendo, proprium ejus fecit esse quod velit, ut boni ac mali capax naturaliter utrumque posset: et ad alterutrum voluntatem deflecteret. Neque enim aliter spontaneum habere poterat bonum: nisi ea creatura, quae etiam malum habere potuisset. Utrumque nos posse voluit optimus Creator, sed unum facere, bonum scilicet, quod et imperavit: malique facultatem ad hoc tantum dedit, ut voluntatem ejus ex nostra voluntate faceremus. Quod cum ita sit, hoc quoque ipsum quod etiam mala facere possumus, bonum est. Bonum, inquam, quia boni partem meliorem facit. Facit enim ipsam voluntariam sui juris: non necessitate devinctam, sed judicio liberam. Licet quippe nobis eligere, refutare, probare, respuere. Nec est quo magis rationabilis creatura caeteris praeferatur, nisi quod cum omnia alia conditionis tantum, ac necessitatis bonum habeant, haec sola habeat etiam voluntatis. Sed plerique impie, non minus quam imperite, cum super statu hominis quaeritur (vereor dicere), quasi reprehendentes opus Domini, talem illum aiunt debuisse fieri, qui omnino facere non posset malum. Dicit itaque figmentum ei, qui se finxit: Quid me fecisti sic (Rom. IX)? Et improbissimi hominum, dum dissimulant idipsum bene administrare quod facti sunt: aliter se factos fuisse malunt, ut qui vitam suam emendare nolunt, videantur emendare velle naturam. Cujus bonum ita generaliter cunctis institutum est, ut in gentilibus quoque hominibus, qui sine ullo cultu Dei sunt, se nonnumquam ostendat, ac proferat. Quam multos enim philosophorum et audivimus et legimus, et ipsi vidimus castos, patientes, modestos, liberales, abstinentes, benignos, et honores mundi simul, et delicias respuentes, et amatores justitiae non minus quam scientiae! Unde, quaeso, hominibus alienis a Deo placent? Unde autem illis bona nisi de naturae bono? Et cum ista quae dixi, vel omnia in uno, vel singula in singulis haberi videamus, cum omnium natura una sit, exemplo suo invicem sibi ostendunt, omnia in omnibus esse posse, quae vel omnia in omnibus, vel singula in singulis inveniantur. Quod si etiam sine Deo homines ostendunt, quales a Deo facti sunt: vide quid Christiani facere possunt, quorum in melius per Christum natura et vita instructa est: et qui divinae quoque gratiae juvantur auxilio.
CAP. IV.---Age jam ad animae nostrae secreta veniamus: seipsum unusquisque attentius respiciat. Interrogemus quid de hoc sentiant propriae cogitationes. Ferat sententiam de naturae bono ipsa conscientia bona: instruamur domestico magisterio animi: et mentis bona non aliunde magis quaeque, quam ab ipsa mente discamus. Quid illud, obsecro, est, quod ad omne peccatum, aut erubescimus, aut timemus: et culpam facti, nunc rubore vultus, nunc pallore monstramus: ac trepidante animo, etiam in minimis delictis testem effugimus; conscientia remordemur? ex diverso autem in omni bono laeti, constantes, intrepidi sumus: idque si occultum est, palam etiam fieri cupimus, et volumus: nisi quod testimonio sibi est ipsa natura, quae hoc ipso declarat bonum suum, quo ei malum displicet: et dum in bono tantum opere confidit: quid solum eam deceat, ostendit? Hinc est illud quod frequenter carnifice occulto, in auctorem sceleris, conscientiae tormenta desaeviunt: et latentem reum, secreta mentis poena persequitur. Nec ullus post culpam impunitati locus est, cum sit reatus ipse supplicium. Hinc est quod econtrario innocens etiam inter ipsa tormenta fruitur conscientiae securitate: et cum de poena metuat, de innocentia gloriatur. Est enim, inquam, in animis nostris naturalis quaedam (ut ita dixerim) sanctitas: quae par velut in arce animi praesidens, exercet mali bonique judicium: et ut honestis rectisque actibus favet: ita sinistra opera condemnat, atque ad conscientiae testimonium diversas
partes domestica quadam lege dijudicat. Nec illo prorsus ingenio, aut fucato aliquo argumentorum colore decipit: ipsis nos cogitationibus fidelissimis et integerrimis sane testibus, aut arguit, aut defendit. Hujus legis, scribens ad Romanos, meminit Apostolus: quam omnibus hominibus insitam velut in quibusdam tabulis cordis scriptam esse, testatur: Cum enim, inquit, gentes, quae legem non habent, naturaliter quae legis sunt, faciunt: hujuscemodi legem non habentes, ipsi sibi sunt lex. Qui ostendunt opus legis scriptum in cordibus suis: testimonium reddente eis conscientia eorum, et inter se invicem accusantium cogitationum, aut etiam defendentium [Rom. II, 14, 15]. Hac lege usi sunt omnes, quos inter Adam atque Moysen sancte vixisse, atque placuisse Deo, Scriptura commemorat. Quorum tibi, exempli causa, aliqui proponendi sunt: ut facile intelligas, quantum sit naturae bonum, cum eam legis vice docuisse justitiam probaveris.
CAP. V.---Abel primus hanc magistram secutus, ita Dominum promeruit, ut dum ei offerret hostiam, tam grate sacrificium ejus acceptum Deo fuerit, ut fratrem in invidiam concitaret (Gen. XXIV, seq.). Quem justum in Evangelio Dominus ipse commemorans (Matth. XXIII, 33), breviter perfectionem ejus exposuit. Omnis enim virtutum species, uno justitiae nomine continetur. Beatum Enoch ita placuisse Deo legimus, ut eum e medio mortalium raperet: et in mundo consummatum, de mundi habitatione transferret (Gen. V, 24). Noe justus in generatione sua, et perfectus, asseritur: cujus sanctitas eo magis est admirabilis, quod, toto prorsus a justitia declinante mundo, solus justus inventus est: nec ab alio sanctitatis quaesivit exemplum, sed ipse praebuit. Et ideo, totius orbis imminente naufragio, solus ex omnibus meruit audire: Intra tu et domus tua in arcam: quia te vidi justum in generatione ista coram me. Ante Deum autem ille justus probatur, qui et corpore sanctus est et corde. Melchisedec sacerdos Dei legitur (Gen. XIV, 18): cujus meritum facile ex hoc intelligi potest, quod multo post futurum Domini sacramentum ante signavit: ac sacrificio panis et vini, mysterium corporis et sanguinis expressit: ac sacerdotii sui typo, Christi sacerdotium figuravit, cui a Patre dicitur: Tu es sacerdos in aeternum secundum ordinem Melchisedec (Psal. CIX, 4). Nam et quod benedicit Abraham principem Patriarcharum, qui per circumcisionem pater Judaeorum est, per fidem gentium: illius signatissime ostendit figuram, qui per fidem suam et Judaeis donavit benedictionem et gentibus. Lot quoque, sancti Noe virtutem secutus, inter tot peccantium exempla, justitiam non reliquit. Et ut illum totius mundi exemplum non vicit: ita hic tota illa, in qua habitat, regione peccante, contra multitudinis vitia tenuit sanctitatem. Qui (ut beatus Petrus ait) visu et auditu justus erat (II Petr. II, 8): et inter pessimos positus, mala eorum et oculis aversabatur et auribus: atque ideo simili exemplo, ut ille diluvio, ita hic est ereptus incendio.
Quid Abraham amicum Dei, quid Isaac et Jacob memorem? Quam perfecte impleverint Domini voluntatem, vel hinc possumus aestimare, quod familiari quadam et praecipua dignitate, eorum se Deum voluit nominari. Ego sum, inquit, Deus Abraham, Deus Isaac, et Deus Jacob (Matth. XXII, 32; Luc. XX, 37). Hoc nomen meum sempiternum et memoriale in generationes generationum. Joseph fidelis Domini famulus a puero, tribulationibus magis justus et perfectus ostenditur [Al. magnis justus ostenditur]: qui primum a fratribus, Ismaelitis, in servum addictus est (Gen. XXXVII, 28): ab eisque venditus, a quibus se viderat adorandum. Deinde Aegyptio Domino traditus, semper tamen ingenuam animae tenuit dignitatem: docuitque exemplo suo, et servos et liberos in peccando, non conditionem cuiquam obesse, sed mentem. Hic, quaeso, remorare paulisper: et castum animum, sollicite, virgo, considera. Concupiscitur a domina Joseph adolescens: nec ad concupiscentiam provocatur: rogatur, et fugit. Una hac in re et blanditur et supplicat, quae in caeteris imperabat. Amor Dei, mulieris amore non vincitur. Castum animum, nec aetas adolescentiae permovet, nec diligentis auctoritas. Contempta frequenter domina, propiores adolescenti insidias tendit. In secreto ac sine testibus, manu impudens apprehendit: ac procacioribus verbis hortatur ad crimen. Ne hic quidem vincitur, sed ut verba verbis, ita res rebus refert. Nam qui frequenter rogatus negaverat: nunc comprehensus [Aug. astringitur] aufugit, et antequam illud evangelicum diceretur: Qui viderit mulierem ad concupiscendum eam, jam moechatus est eam in corde suo (Matth. V, 28): ille non aspectu solum, sed ipso pene complexu provocatus a femina, feminam non concupivit. Castitatis virtutem hucusque mirata es: nunc respice benignitatem. Priusquam Propheta diceret: Unusquisque malitiam proximi sui non reminiscatur in corde suo (Levit. XIX, 18): ille pro odio reddidit charitatem, et cum videret fratres suos, immo inimicos ex fratribus, cumque ab eis cognosci vellet, dilectionis affectum pro dolore testatus est: Deosculabatur singulos (Gen. XLV, 15); et irriguis fletibus, paventium colla perfundens, odium fratrum charitatis lacrymis abluebat: quos tam vivo patre quam mortuo, germano semper dilexit amore. Nec recordatus est illum, in quo ob necem fuit dejectus, lacum. Non cogitavit addictam germanitatem pretio, sed pro malis bonum retribuens (Rom. XII, 17), apostolicum praeceptum sub naturae adhuc lege complevit.
CAP. VI.---Quid de beato Job dicam, famosissimo illo athleta Dei: qui post direptas opes, et funditus deleta patrimonia: post filiorum ac filiarum unum subito interitum, ad ultimum proprio contra diabolum corpore dimicavit (Job I, II)? Auferebantur omnia, quae extrinsecus possidebat, et extranea bona repente decidebant, ut magis propria clarescerent. Omnibus prorsus velut indumentis exuitur, ut expeditius ac fortius nudus triumphet, et hostem, quem ferendo damna ante superaverat, rursus tolerando supplicia devincat. De quo tale ipsius Domini testimonium est: Numquid considerasti puerum meum Job? Non est enim similis ei quisquam in terris: homo sine querela, verus Dei cultor, abstinens se ab omni malo (Ibid.). Nec immerito. Semper enim, ut ipse ait, tamquam tumentes super se fluctus, timebat Dominum, et praesentiae ejus pondus ferre non poterat: nec audebat aliquando contemnere, quem semper adesse credebat; dicebatque: Securus sum, non enim reprehendit me cor meum in omni vita mea (Ibid.). Qui antequam Dominus inimicos praeciperet esse diligendos, dicere poterat: Si in malis inimici mei gavisus sum: si dixi in corde meo, Bene factum est (Job XXXI, 32). Necdum Evangelicum illud sonuerat: Omni petenti te tribue (Luc. VI, 30), et jam ille dicebat: Si exire passus sum inopem januam meam sinu vacuo. Nondum legerat illud Apostoli: Domini, quod justum est et aequum, servis praestate (Col. IV, 1): et confidens clamabat ad Dominum: Si servo nocui, si ancillam laesi, omnia tu scis, Domine. Priusquam idem Apostolus praeciperet divitibus non sublime sapere, neque sperare in incerto divitiarum (I Tim. VI, 17): sic habuit ille divitias ut se alibi divitem esse monstraret. In divitiis, inquit, non confidebam, nec in lapide pretioso (Job. XXXI, 24). Et hoc non verbis tantum, sed ipsius quoque rebus probavit: qui cum omnia perderet, non dolebat, dicebatque per singula: Dominus dedit, Dominus abstulit: sicut Domino placuit, ita factum est: sit nomen Domini benedictum in saecula. Nudus exivi de utero matris meae, nudus redeam illuc (Job. I, 21). Quo enim affectu possideamus aliquid, docemus cum id amittimus: et cupiditatem fruendi, carendi dolor prodit; quam qui in carendo non habuit, in possidendo quonam modo habuit? O virum ante Evangelium evangelicum, et apostolicum ante apostolica praecepta! discipulum apostolorum: qui aperiens occultas divitias naturae, et in medium proferens, ex se quid omnes possimus, ostendit: docuitque quantus sit ille thesaurus animae, quem nos sine usu possidemus: et quod proferre nolumus, nec habere nos credimus.
CAP. VII.---Post multa quae de natura diximus: etiam sanctorum exemplis bonum ejus ostendimus, ac probavimus. Et ne econtrario ad ejus culpam pertinere putetur, quod aliqui iniqui fuerint, Scripturarum utar testimoniis, quae peccantes ubique crimine voluntatis gravant, non excusant necessitate naturae. In Genesi legimus: Simeon et Levi fratres consummaverunt iniquitatem suam, ex volontate sua (Gen. XLIX, 6). Ad Jerusalem Dominus locutus est: Propter quod ipsi dimiserunt viam meam, quam dedi ante faciem eorum: et non exaudierunt vocem meam, sed abierunt post voluntatem cordis sui mali. (Jer. IX, 13). Et rursus idem propheta: Et peccastis Deo, et non exaudistis vocem ejus, et in mandatis illius et in legitimis, et in testimoniis ejus ambulare notuistis (Ibid. XLIV, 10). Per Isaiam quoque prophetam Dominus locutus est: Si volueritis et audieritis me, quae sunt bona terrae, manducabitis. Si autem nolueritis, neque audieritis me: gladius vos consumet (Isai. I, 19). Et rursum: Omnes vos occisione decidetis: quia vocavi vos, et non exaudistis: locutus sum, et neglexistis: et fecistis malum ante conspectum meum [Al. Domini], et quae nolebam, elegistis. Ipse quoque Dominus in Evangelio ait: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, quae occidis prophetas, et lapidas eos qui ad te missi sunt: quoties volui congregare filios tuos, quemadmodum gallina congregat pullos suos sub alis suis, et noluisti (Matth. XXIII, 37)! Ubi velle videmus et nolle, eligere et refutare, ibi non vis naturae, sed libertas intelligitur voluntatis. Plena sunt utriusque Testamenti volumina hujuscemodi testimoniis: quibus tam bonum omne quam malum, voluntarium semper esse scribitur, quae nos modo brevitatis causa omittimus: maxime cum sciamus te sacrae lectioni deditam, de ipso uberius fonte potare.
CAP. VIII.---Neque vero nos ita defendimus naturae bonum, ut eam dicamus malum non posse facere, quam utique boni ac mali capacem etiam profitemur, sed ab hac eam tantummodo injuria vindicamus, ne ejus vitio ad malum videamur impelli, qui nec bonum sine voluntate faciamus, nec malum: et quibus liberum est unum semper ex duobus agere, cum semper utrumque possimus. Unde enim alii judicaturi sunt, alii judicandi: nisi quod in eadem natura dispar voluntas est: et quia cum omnes idem possimus, diversa faciamus? Itaque ut hoc ipsum clarius lucere possit, aliqua exempla sunt proferenda. Adam de paradiso ejicitur, Enoch de mundo rapitur. In utroque Dominus libertatem arbitrii ostendit. Ut enim placere potuit ille qui deliquit: ita potuit peccare iste qui placuit. Non enim a justo Deo aut ille puniri meruisset, aut hic eligi: nisi uterque utrumque potuisset. Hoc de Cain et Abel fratribus, hoc etiam de Jacob et Esau geminis intelligendum est. Ac sciendum solam voluntatis causam esse, cum in eadem natura merita diversa sint. Exstinctum peccatis suis diluvio mundum, Noe justus redarguit, et Sodomorum crimina Lot sanctitas judicavit. Nec illud est parvum argumentum ad comprobandum naturae bonum, quod illi primi homines per tot annorum spatia, absque ulla admonitione legis fuerunt: non utique quod Deo aliquando creaturae suae cura non fuerit: sed quia se talem sciebat hominum fecisse naturam, ut eis pro lege ad exercendam justitiam sufficeret. Denique quamdiu recentioris adhuc naturae usus viguit: nec humanae rationi velut quamdam caliginem, longus usus peccandi obduxit, sine lege dimissa est natura. Ad quam Dominus nimiis jam vitiis obrutam, et quadam ignorantiae rubigine infectam, limam legis admovit, ut hujus frequenti admonitione expoliretur, et ad suum posset redire fulgorem. Neque vero alia nobis causa difficultatem bene faciendi facit, quam longa consuetudo vitiorum, quae nos infecit a parvo: paulatimque per multos corrupit annos, et ita postea obligatos sibi et addictos tenet, ut vim quodammodo videatur habere naturae. Omne illud tempus, quo negligenter edocti, id est, ad vitia eruditi sumus: quo mali etiam esse studuimus, cum ad incitamenta nequitiae, innocentia pro stultitia duceretur: nunc nobis resistit, contraque nos venit: et novam voluntatem impugnat usus vetus; et miramur cur nobis per otium atque desidias nescientibus, etiam quasi ab alio sanctitas conferatur: qui nullam consuetudinem boni facimus, cum malum tamdiu didicerimus? Haec de naturae bono cursim, quasi in alio opere dicta sint: quod ideo a nobis faciendum fuit, ut tibi planiorem viam ad perfectam justitiam sterneremus, quam eo facilius currere possis, quo in ea nihil asperum, nihil inaccessibile esse cognoveris. Nam si etiam ante legem, ut diximus, et multo ante Domini nostri Salvatoris adventum juste quidam vixisse et sancte referantur: quanto magis post illustrationem adventus ejus, nos id posse credendum est, qui instructi per Christi gratiam, et in meliorem hominem renati sumus: qui sanguine ejus expiati atque mundati, illiusque exemplo ad perfectam justitiam incitati, meliores illis esse debemus, qui ante legem fuerunt: meliores etiam quam fuerunt sub lege, dicente Apostolo: Peccatum in vobis jam non dominabitur. Non enim estis sub lege, sed sub gratia (Rom. VI, 14).
CAP. IX.---Et quoniam sufficienter de his, ut puto, diximus: nunc instituamus perfectam virginem, quae ex utroque semper accensa, et naturae simul et gratiae bonum morum sanctitate testetur. Prima igitur virginis cura, primumque studium sit, scire voluntatem Domini sui, et quid ei placeat, quidve displiceat, diligenter inquirere, ut secundum Apostolum rationabile Deo reddat obsequium (Ibid. XII, 1): totumque vitae suae cursum ex ejus possit ordinare sententia. Impossibile est enim ei quemquam placere, cui quid placeat, ignorat: fierique potest, ut etiam obsequendi voto offendat, cui quomodo obsequi debeat, ante non didicit. Et ut majus est, voluntatem Domini facere quam nosse: ita prius est nosse, quam facere. Illud enim merito praecedit: hoc ordine. Unde Propheta dicit: Et tu, Israel, noli ignorare. Et beatus Paulus: Qui autem ignorat, ignorabitur. Idemque alibi: Propterea nolite fieri imprudentes, sed intelligentes, quae sit voluntas Domini (Ephes. V, 17). Initium obedientiae est quid praecipiatur, velle cognoscere: et pars est obsequii didicisse quid facias. Scito itaque in Scripturis divinis, per quas solas potes plenam Dei intelligere voluntatem, prohiberi quaedam, concedi aliqua, nonnulla suaderi. Prohibentur mala, praecipiuntur bona: conceduntur media, perfecta suadentur. In duobus illis quae priori loco sunt, peccatum omne concluditur: in utroque enim Dei continetur imperium. Et non solum praecipere, sed et prohibere ipsum, jubentis est. Generaliter namque omnibus mandatur justitia: quam Salvator in Evangelio, breviter quidem, sed plenissime comprehendens, ait: Quaecumque vultis ut faciant vobis homines, haec et vos facite illis (Matt. VII, 12): hoc est, ut nihil mali inferamus aliis, sed praestemus omne, quod bonum est: quia volumus hoc ab aliis in nos utrumque servari. Haec sententia aequo jure praecepti universos tenet. Nec ulli omnino transgredi licet, quod omnibus imperatum est: apertusque contemptus Dei est, vel facere prohibita, vel jussa non facere. Duo vero reliqua, quae sequuntur: quorum unum conceditur, et suadetur aliud, in nostra potestate dimissa sunt: ut aut cum minori gloria concessis utamur, aut ob majus praemium etiam ea, quae nobis permissa sunt, respuamus. Conceduntur quidem nuptiae, carnium usus et vini: sed horum omnium abstinentia, consilio perfectiore suadetur. Ad virginitatis honorem pertinet licentia nuptiarum: et escarum indulgentia virtutem abstinentiae clariorem facit. Contempsisti, virgo, conjugium licitum tibi, priusquam contemneretur. Majoris praemii amore flagrans, vovisti Deo non imperatam, sed laudatam virginitatem: et consilio Apostoli, legem tuam fecisti latiorem. Certaminis ingressa campum: non tam laborem cursus, quam bravium victoriae cogitasti. Legeras, credo, illud evangelicum de perpetua castitate praeconium: et ipsius te Domini sermo ad amorem servandae virginitatis accenderat, qui Petri super hoc sententiam, ipsa rei magnitudine ac difficultate laudavit: et voluntariis spadonibus regnum coelorum promittens, ait: Qui potest capere, capiat (Matth. XIX, 12). Rem itaque tam magnam non impero, non impono, sed offero. Neque quemquam ad hoc cogo, sed provoco. Quamquam de viris tantum sonare videatur, non solis tamen viris dicitur, sed aequalis utrique sexui virginitatis palma promittitur. Et Apostolus de virginibus praeceptum quidem se dicit non habere Domini, sed dat consilium. Dicit itaque: An experimentum quaeritis ejus, qui in me loquitur Christus (II Cor. XIII, 3)?
CAP. X.---Perfectionis igitur secuta consilium, beatitudinem specialis aggressa propositi, serva generale mandatum. Dixi, idemque nunc repeto. In causa justitiae omnes unum debemus: virgo, vidua, nupta, summus, medius, et imus gradus, aequaliter jubentur implere praecepta. Nec a lege solvitur, qui supra legem facere proponit. Quinimmo nullus magis illicita vitare debet, quam qui respuit quae licebant. Nec quisquam ita a se mandata pollicetur implenda, ut ille qui amore perfectionis supra mandata conscendit, et dum amplius statuit facere quam praeceptum est, ostendit minus sibi praeceptum esse quam potuerit. Deinde qui tantae se esse obedientiae profitetur, ut etiam consilium divinum libenter audiat, quomodo non debet audire praeceptum? Illa enim res electionis est, ista necessitatis. De virginitate dicitur: Qui potest capere, capiat (Matth. VII, 19). De justitia non dicitur: Qui potest facere, faciat. Sed omnis arbor quae non facit fructum bonum, excidetur, et in ignem mittetur. Considera, quaeso, quantum a consilio distet imperium. Ibi aliquos excipit: hic generaliter omnes comprehendit. Ibi praemium proponit, hic poenam. Ibi invitat ut facias: hic nisi feceris, comminatur. Haec igitur optima ratione distinguens, animadverte quid offeras, animadverte quid debeas. Immo quia utrumque jam debes, et virginitatem, quam ultro obtulisti Deo, et justitiam quam ipse praecepit, integrum utrumque persolve. Ille servus Domino placet, qui ita aliquid ultro operis exercet, ut tamen etiam imperata perficiat: qui non facit aliud pro alio, sed utrumque: nec mutat, sed addit obsequium. Nec te earum exempla decipiant, quae sibi in sola castitate plaudentes, ut post suas voluntates [Aug. voluptates] eant, Dei voluntatem abjiciunt. Quae perpetuae castitatis bonum non cum justitia, sed pro justitia offerre volunt, et in compensatione peccatorum, praemium virginitatis annumerant: atque pro praemio, impunitatem petunt: vel certe impudentiori vecordia coronandas esse se putant, et in regno coelorum caeteris praeferendas, quae sibi mandatorum transgressione aditum clausere regni coelorum. Non omnis, Christus inquit, qui dicit mihi, Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum coelorum: sed qui facit voluntatem Patris mei, qui in coelis est, ipse intrabit in regnum coelorum (Matth. VII, 21). Meminerint stultas virgines a sponsi januis repellendas; dicendum eis: Nescio vos: Illisque jungendas esse, de quibus Dominus ipse ait: Multi dicent mihi in illa die: Domine, Domine, nonne in nomine tuo daemonia ejecimus? et in nomine tuo virtutes multas fecimus? et tunc confitebor illis: Amen dico vobis, nescio vos, discedite a me omnes, qui operamini iniquitatem (Luc. XIII, 26, 27). Tibi vero longe est alia via ingrediendum, quae, saeculi amore calcato, semper cogitando quae Dei sunt, apostolicam te exhibere vis virginem, quae tam spiritu sancta quam corpore, Domini praestolaris adventum: et animae tuae lampadi, sanctorum jugiter operum infundis oleum, et sapientibus juncta virginibus, in sponsi obviam praepararis. Fugienda tibi lata illa via est, quam multorum ad mortem euntium comitatus terit. Et ad vitam aeternam, angusti illius itineris, quod pauci reperiunt, callis tenendus est. Deposuisti jam impedimenta vel maxima, et omne quidquid a spiritualis vitae cursu, vel retardat, vel revocat, prima statim conversione vicisti. Respuisti conjugii voluptatem, posteritatis curam, illecebras deliciarum, saeculi pompam, divitiarum cupidinem, et cum Paulo potes dicere: Mihi mundus crucifixus est, et ego mundo (Gal. VI, 14). Cujus tale principium est, qualis debet esse perfectio? Hanc mihi tu virtutem: hunc animum etiam in reliquis affer: eaque vi mentis, qua vitiorum occasiones depulisti, vitia nunc ipsa respue. Ornetur morum sanctitate virginitas, et perfectum gradum vitae perfectio subsequatur. Certe si saecularis vita tibi placuisset, dares operam, ne quis te divitiis, ne quis corporalibus ornamentis, ne quis rerum omnium pompa et honore praecederet: nunc quoniam diversum studium diversam vitam desiderat: cura, ne quis te in bene vivendo transcendat: ne quis morum sanctitate superet: ne quis tibi in virtutibus praeferatur. Et in illis, quae ante diximus, non erat tuum, ut aut tu omnes vinceres, aut nemo te. Cuncta enim illa foris petuntur: et quidquid aliunde speratur, alienum est. Haec vero in tua potestate sunt, et vere propria, quae non extrinsecus veniunt, sed in ipso corde generantur. Illa enim, nec omnis, qui quaerit, invenit; nec qui invenerit, semper tenet: quia ut ea commodare, ita et eripere casus potest. Haec autem et omnis qui quaerit, invenit: et qui invenerit, eripi sibi numquam timet. Ista enim sola bona sunt: quae sine voluntate, nec invenimus aliquando, nec perdimus.
CAP. XI.---Habes ergo et hic per quae merito praeponaris aliis, immo hic magis. Nam corporalis nobilitas atque opulentia, tuorum intelliguntur esse, non tua. Spirituales vero divitias nullus tibi, praeter te, conferre poterit. In his ergo jure laudanda es: in his merito caeteris praeferenda es: quae nisi ex te, et in te esse non possunt. An sola ista vita est, quae certamen non habeat de profectu, et in qua unusquisque hoc tantum debeat permanere quod coepit, nec ullo augmenti desiderio ad majora contendat? Et cum in omnibus mundi studiis, profectu non satientur homines, hic tantum coepisse sufficiet? Ferventissimi in terrenis, frigidissimi in coelestibus sumus. Et summam in rebus parvis exhibentes alacritatem, ad majora torpescimus. Considerare pudet, quantus sit fervor in saeculo, qua cura singula quaeque studia hominum quotidie ad perfectiora nitantur. Litterarum ardor nulla prorsus aetate exstinguitur, immo (ut saecularis auctoris utar sententia) ipsa magis aetate inflammatur. Divitiarum amor insatiabilis est, expleri nescit honorum cupido. Celerem habiturae res finem, sine fine quaeruntur. Nos divinam sapientiam, coelestes divitias, immortales honores pigra quadam dissimulatione negligimus: et spirituales divitias, aut ne attingimus quidem, aut si leviter degustaverimus, continuo nos putamus esse satiatos. Aliter nos divina Sapientia ad suas invitat epulas. Qui edunt me, inquit, adhuc esurient: et qui me bibunt, adhuc sitient (Eccl. XXIV, 29). Nullus umquam talibus expletur epulis: nec aliquando patitur de satietate fastidium. Tanto unusquisque capacior, tanto avidior erit, quanto inde plus hauserit. Dominus in Evangelio: Beati, ait, qui esuriunt et sitiunt justitiam: quoniam ipsi saturabuntur (Matth. V, 6), vult enim esurire nos hic semper ac sitire justitiam, ut in futuro, justitiae retributione satiemur.
CAP. XII.---Consideranda vis ipsa verborum est, et ita nobis desideranda est justitia: ut in fame, vel siti, cibus desideratur ac potus. Et hoc in commune omnibus est dicendum iis, qui vitae immortalis promissa desiderant. Jam tuum est aestimare quantum animo praestare debeas: quae majoris praemii desiderio, plus facere proposuisti, quam vel alias facere necesse est. Apostolus definiens Christi virginem longe eam separavit a nupta: et diversis studiis, singularitatis meritum conjugiique divisit: Innupta, inquit, et virgo cogitat quae Dei sunt: quomodo placeat Deo, ut sit sancta corpore et spiritu. Quae autem nupta est, cogitat quae sunt mundi, quomodo placeat viro (I Cor. VII, 32, 33, 34). Quae corpore et spiritu sancta est, nec in membris, nec in mente delinquit. Delinquere autem non in causa castitatis tantum esse potest, sed etiam in quacumque parte justitiae. Quamvis enim virgo corpore, virgo sit spiritu: et nihilominus, aut manibus, aut oculis, aut auribus, peccet, aut lingua: quomodo corpore sancta dicenda est? Deinde si vel odio infecta, vel invidia, vel avaritia, vel iracundia sit: quomodo spiritu obtinet sanctitatem? Et si nupta, quae amore conjugii cogitat, quomodo placeat viro suo (Ibid. VII, 34): quantum liberis relinquat, quae variis mundi astricta curis, rarius ad voluntatem Dei respicit: tamen de peccatis excusare se non potest: quid faciet virgo, quae soluta ab omnibus hujus mundi impedimentis, ac libera, scholam quamdam castitatis ingressa est?
CAP. XIII.---Si vis itaque propositi tui magnitudinem aequare moribus, et per omnia Deo copulari: si leve ac suave jugum Christi, suavius tibi leviusque vis facere: nunc maxime in beata vita curam impende: nunc stude, ut calentem recentis fidem conversionis, novus semper ardor accendat, et in tenera adhuc aetate facilius sanctae conversationis usus inolescat. Quidquid in te primum institueris, hoc manebit, et ad initiorum tuorum regulam reliqua vita decurret. Finis in ipso exordio cogitandus est. Qualis ad illum ultimum diem pervenire cupis, talis nunc jam esse conare. Consuetudo est, quae aut vitia, aut virtutes alit, quaeque in his plurimum valet, cum quibus ab ineunte aetate simul creverit. Optimi sunt ad institutionem morum primi quique anni. Habent enim in se lentum quiddam et molle, quod facile formari queat: atque ad arbitrium volentis trahi: et in cunctis fere rebus citius assuescitur omne quod tenerum est. Novellas adhuc et vix firmae radicis arbusculas, dum ad omnem ductum sequaces sunt, in quamlibet partem flecti facile est. Quae natura plerumque curvatae, cito ad arbitrium colentis corriguntur. Tenera et primae adhuc aetatis animalia, sine labore domari solent. Quantoque citius a vagandi libertate dissueta sunt: tanto facilius vel colla jugo, vel frenis ora insuescunt. Ipsa quoque litterarum studia teneris melius inseruntur ingeniis. Idque penitus inhaerere sensibus solet, quod primitus sederit in mente. Hoc idem plurimum etiam in bene vivendi ratione valet: dum adhuc mobilis est aetas, et animus duci facilis: exercenda boni consuetudo, et jugi meditatione confirmanda est. Occupandum est optimis rebus ingenium: et sanctae conversationis usus altius inferendus est. Tunc vero ad perfectionis fastigium animus ascendit: et longae consuetudinis beneficio utitur ad bene vivendi facultatem. Et virtutes suas ipse etiam miratus secum, quodam modo in se putabit natum esse quod didicit.
CAP. XIV.---Respice, obsecro, quantum a te sanctitatis avia materque exspectant; quae cum te quasi novum et illustre quoddam lumen generi suo natum esse putant: nunc in te solam omnem curam animi transtulerunt: et propositi tui cursum, miris studiis ac favore succendunt. Cumque ipsae te ad honestatem morum ab ineunte aetate formaverint: nunc a te vinci cupiunt, tuamque victoriam suam laudem esse putant: quarum egregia erga Deum fides in professione tua maxime claruit, cum te jam nuptiis praeparatam, simul atque aliud velle didicerunt, mira continuo assensus celeritate, ad id quod elegeras, cohortatae sunt. Et trepidam pro aetate sententiam, voluntatis suae auctoritate firmaverunt: tuumque votum commune fecerunt: quae cum multos suorum in altissimo dignitatis gradu viderint, de nullo ita, ut de te, aliquando laetatae sunt. Nihil enim tam magnum, nihil tam praeclarum in quoquam viderant. Sola quippe praestitisti generi tuo, quod longa retro aetate non habuit. Licet ediderit virilis sexus memorabiles consulatus: et amplissimi ordinis fastus, illustris familiae nomina frequens audierit: nihil umquam tamen in genere vestro hoc tuo honore fuit praestantius, qui non corporali albo, sed in libro memoriae immortalis insertus est. Cum exceperint illi theatrales toto orbe plausus: miraque acclamandi conspiratione insignia consulum merita, laetum vulgus expresserit: longe tamen tui honoris est gloria major, quae gaudium in coelis fecit, angelisque laetitiam. Per te enim non meretriculae locuplentantur, sed aluntur virgines Christi: non venator et auriga ditantur, sed sustentantur pauperes Christi. Ad consulatum eorum diversae totius orbis provinciae, ad quas domus vestrae potentia extenditur, peregrinas feras et ignota animalia transmiserunt, quae crudelis arenae solum vel suo, vel hominum sanguine cruentarent. Ad te vero electae quaeque virgines mittuntur: quas tu pretiosissimum munus offeras Deo, tuoque exemplo ad perpetuam provoces castitatem: non tibi, sed tecum Deo, servituras. Haec professionis tuae gloria rumore celebri vulgata est per cunctos, et ita ad conversationem tuam totus exsultavit orbis, ut quod prae ingenti gaudio vix adhuc homines credere poterant, id semper videantur optasse. Multum his initiis, multum famae tuae odore suspensi, omnes mirum de te nescio quid audire desiderant. Et qui profectionis tuae cognovere virtutem: nunc conversationis exspectant. In te nunc puta cunctorum ora oculosque conversos, et ad spectaculum vitae tuae totum consedisse mundum. Cave, ne per te tantorum animi offendantur: nec minus in te inveniant quam requirunt. Verum quid ego tecum de hominibus ago, eorumque de te exspectationem ad cohortationem tuam traho? Deus ipse omnium rector ac Dominus, cum omni angelorum militia certamen tuum spectat: tibi contra diabolum dimicanti parat aeternitatis coronam, et coeleste praemium incitamentum victoriae facit. Huic tanto spectaculo vide quem animum, quam debeas efferre virtutem: et certaminis magnitudinem de spectantium dignitate metire.
CAP. XV.---Haec itaque tibi in hoc agone subeundo praecipua cura sit: hic primus accinctus, internecionis bellum virtute devincere, et adversum diaboli castra in omnia praecepta Dei jurare: nec tantummodo declinare vetita, sed jussa complere. Neque enim tibi sufficit a malis otiosam esse, si otiosa fueris a bonis: cum lex Dei duplici mandatorum genere distincta sit, et mala prohibens, bona imperet: atque ab utraque parte contemptum sui vetet. Non enim solum ille servus contempsit Dominum, qui prohibita fecerit, sed et qui jussa non fecerit. Dicta a nobis paulo ante sententia est: Omnis arbor quae non facit fructum bonum, excidetur, et in ignem mittetur (Matt. VII, 19). Et blandimur nobis si malis fructibus non gravemur, qui damnandi sumus, si a bonis steriles manserimus (Joan. XV, 2)? Juxta hanc intelligentiam, abscindet Pater omnem palmitem fructum non ferentem in Filio. Et qui acceptum talentum in sudario abscondit, quasi inutilis servus et nequam, damnatur a Domino (Matt. XXV, 30). Nec minuisse solum, sed et non auxisse, culpabile est. Non ideo aliqua putes contemnenda esse mandata, quia leviora sunt. Tam enim maxima illa quam minima a Deo imperata sunt: et contemptus cujuscumque praecepti, praecipientis injuria est. Unde beatus Paulus clamat, et docet: Omnia facite sine murmuratione et haesitatione: ut sitis irreprehensibiles, et simplices, sicut filii Dei immaculati, in medio nationis pravae et perversae: inter quos lucetis sicut luminaria in hoc mundo (Phil. II, 14, 15).
CAP. XVI.---Remoremur hic, virgo, paulisper: et pretiosissimas margaritas, quibus exornanda est sponsa Christi, per singula Apostoli verba pensemus. Omnia, inquit, facite. Non enim quasi ad arbitrium nostrum, quaedam ex mandatis Dei debemus eligere, sed generaliter universa complere. Nec aliqua praecepta ejus quasi vilia munuscula ac parva contemnere: sed imperantis in omnibus majestatem aspicere. Nullum quippe mandatum Dei contemptibile nobis videri potest, si ejus semper cogitemus auctorem, sine murmuratione et haesitatione. Viles et ignobiles dominos palam contemni videmus a servulis: eisque ad minima quaeque praecepta in faciem resisti solere. At hoc in personas nobiles jam non admittitur: quantoque potentiores domini, tanto servi ad obedientiam proniores sunt: cumque difficiliora praecipiunt, libentius audiuntur. Certe ad regis imperium, ita omnes parati sunt, et in procinctu obedientiae constituti, ut etiam optent juberi. Et non solum bene merituros esse se credunt, si jussa fecerint, sed tamquam jam meruissent quod jussi sunt, ita pro dignitate praecipientis servitium beneficii loco ducitur. Nobis vero Deus ipse, aeterna illa majestas ineffabilis atque inaestimabilis potestas: sacras litteras et vere adorandos praeceptorum suorum apices mittit, et non statim cum gaudio ac veneratione suscipimus: nec pro magno ducimus beneficio, tantae ac tam illustris potestatis imperium: maxime cum non jubentis quaeritur commodum, sed utilitas obsequentis, verum econtrario fastidioso ac remisso animo, superborum nequam servorum more, in os Domini reclamamus et dicimus: Durum est, arduum est, non possumus, homines sumus, fragili carne circumdamur. O caecam insaniam! O profanam temeritatem! Duplici ignorantia accusamus Deum scientiae, ut videatur nescire quod fecit, nescire quod jussit: quasi oblitus fragilitatis humanae, cujus auctor ipse est, imposuerit homini mandata quae ferre non possit. Simulque (proh nefas!) ascribimus iniquitatem justo, pio crudelitatem: dum eum primo impossibile aliquid praecepisse conquerimur: deinde pro his damnandum putamus hominem, ab eo quae vitare non potuit: ut (quod etiam suspicari sacrilegium est) videatur Deus non tam salutem nostram quaesisse quam poenam. Itaque Apostolus, sciens a Domino justitiae ac majestatis nihil impossibile esse praeceptum, aufert a nobis vitium murmurandi. Quod tunc utique nasci solet, cum aut iniqua sunt quae jubentur, aut jubentis minus digna persona est. Quid tergiversamur incassum, et praecipienti opponimus naturae fragilitatem? Nemo magis novit mensuram virium nostrarum, quam qui ipsas vires nobis dedit. Nec quisquam melius quantum possimus intelligit, quam qui ipsam virtutem nobis nostri posse donavit. Nec impossibile aliquid voluit imperare, qui justus est; nec damnaturus hominem fuit, pro eo quod vitare non potuit, qui pius est.
CAP. XVII.---Sequitur: Ut sitis irreprehensibiles et simplices ad omnem morum perfectionem. Unum hoc sufficere verbum potest, quod etiam in episcopo eligendo Deus quaeri jubet. Quam enim circumspecta vita est, quam sancta est, quae nihil reprehensionis incurrit! Quis autem sanctior potest esse, quam qui, verae simplicitatis virtutem tenens, numquam aliud corde promittit, aliud ore vultuque mentitur. Sicut filii Dei immaculati. Non est exhortatio vehementior, quam qua nos Scriptura divina filios Dei vocat. Quis enim non erubescat, et metuat tanto patre agere aliquid indignum, ut qui dicitur Dei filius, ipse efficiatur vitii servus? Et idcirco adjungit, Ut simus immaculati. Neque enim convenit in filiis Dei, quia ipse est fons justitiae, peccati maculam reperiri. In medio nationis pravae, et perversae, hoc est dicere: Quamvis infinita vos cingat peccantium multitudo, et innumera sint exempla vitiorum: vos tamen ita coelestis nativitatis memores esse debetis, ut inter malos viventes, omne malum vincatis. Inter quos lucetis, ait, sicut luminaria in hoc mundo. Et rursum in Evangelio legimus: Tunc justi fulgebunt sicut sol in regno patris eorum (Matt. XIII). Comparatur vita praemio, ut qui in futuro solis fulgore donandi sunt, hic jam simili justitiae claritate resplendeant, et infidelium caecitatem, operibus sanctitatis illuminent. Huic loco ille sensus aptandus est, quem ad Corinthios idem Apostolus disserens, ait: Alia claritas solis, alia claritas lunae, alia claritas stellarum. Stella autem a stella differt in claritate, sic et resurrectio mortuorum (I Cor. XV, 41, 42). Dispares sunt in regno coelorum per singulorum merita mansiones. Diversitas enim operum, diversitatem facit praemiorum: quantumque aliquis hic in sanctitate fulserit, tantum ibi fulgebit in honore. Nunc ergo ad omnem morum perfectionem mentis aciem intende, et ad coeleste praemium coelestem vitam para. Resplendeat omnibus clarissimi in modum sideris sanctitas virginis: et futuri praemii magnitudinem, de novitate conversationis ostendat. Tibi facilior in bonis cursus est, quam malorum animi consuetudo non retinet. Nec timemus ne te a virtutibus vitia retardent, et maligna diaboli semina Christi frugem necent. Nam si etiam illi qui longo peccandi usu, bonum quodammodo obruere naturae, instaurari per poenitentiam possunt: et mutata voluntate vivendi, consuetudinem consuetudine exstinguere, ac optimi quique de pessimis fieri: quanto magis tu potes illa superare a quibus superata non es: cui non tam expellanda sunt vitia, quam refellenda! Quae utique non suscipere facilius est, quam semel suscepta deponere.
CAP. XVIII.---Nec vero eorum tanta dulcedo est, ut ea debeamus praeferre virtutibus, cum nec in omnibus sit delectationis illecebra, et a plerisque ea etiam, quae videntur dulcissima, respuantur. Duo namque sunt ex omnibus vitia, quae maxime homines decipiunt sui voluptate, gula scilicet ac libido, quae deponere eo difficilius est, quo eis uti dulcius est; et tamen haec vitia tam molesta, tamque delectatione sui periculosa, ita a multis calcari vidimus, ut tota aetate virgines permanserint in summa abstinentia. Ut de illis taceam, quae post deliciarum longum fluxum, et inveteratum usum libidinis, castitati ac temperantiae se dederint; et utrumque vitium, contraria sibi virtute mutaverint. Aliorum vero vitiorum est longe diversa ratio, quae cum nihil habeant jucunditatis, tamen multum amaritudinis habent, quaeque cum ad vitandum multo sint faciliora, raro a quibus vitentur, invenies. Quid, oro te, invido, delectationis praestat invidia, quem secretis quibusdam conscientiae ungulis livor ipse decerpit, et alienam felicitatem tormentum ejus facit? Quid vero alter ab odio mercedis accipit, nisi horribiles animae tenebras, et confusae mentis horrorem? Qui vultu semper animoque moerente, voto quo alteri vult nocere, seipsum cruciat? Quid autem iracundo furor suus confert, quem saevissimis exagitatum stimulis conscientiae, ita ab omni consilio ac mente deturbat, ut dum irascitur, insanire credatur? Similiter curre per singula, invenies tot animae tormenta quot vitia: quae utique eo facilius vinci possunt, quo nulla illiciunt nos voluptate. Quanto illud difficilius, quanto durius, ut de castitatis labore taceam, abstinere a vino carnibusque, ipso quoque etiam oleo, et vilem sine his cibum post biduum interdum triduumque, vix capere! fracta jejuniis vigiliisque membra, fomenta balnei contemnere, necessarias res negare corpori, et vim quamdam inferre naturae! Da tantam in caeteris magnitudinem animi, et vide quid non possis efficere. Sed nos, proh pudor! quadam delectatione peccati, cum in quibusdam ostendimus quamdam vim naturae nostrae, in aliis omnino torpescimus, et qui voluptates corporis, virtutum amore contempsimus, rursum amore vitiorum tormenta suscipimus. Atque ita malis nostris cedimus, ut ea nec putemus posse deponi. Quod hoc, quaeso, consilium, quaenam haec nova vivendi ratio est? Res difficiles et laboris plenas securus aggredior, et faciliora non posse fieri credo. Vinco maxima, vincendus a parvis. Excelsa, et ardua indefessus exsupero, et cum venitur ad plana, deficio. Libenter fugio quod delectat, et nolo vitare quod cruciat. Verum haec eorum sunt, qui, Dei voluntate contempta, id solum petunt, quod laudem facilius invenit, quod cito exit in famam: morum vero bona quae secretiora sunt negligunt. Tu vero, quae calcasti mundum et concupiscentias ejus, ut, calcato eo, gradum tibi quemdam ascendendi ad coelum faceres, mundi gloriam ne requiras. Illi tantum placere stude, cui saepe displicet, quod hominibus placet, et qui ipsa hominum judicia judicaturus est. Abstinentia tua et jejunium eo magis Deo grata sunt, quo cum sanctis moribus offeruntur, ut quae in aliis sunt umbracula vitiorum, in te sint ornamenta virtutum.
CAP. XIX.---Respice, obsecro, ad ipsam, qua apud Deum illustrata es, dignitatem, qua per baptismum in Dei filiam renata es, rursumque per consecrationem virginitatis, sponsa Christi esse coepisti. Ex utroque, hic tuus honor te ad sollicitudinem tui propositi admoneat. At nullus debet esse ibi negligentiae locus, ubi tam praeclara servanda sunt. Pretiosior custoditur quaeque vestis timidius a macula. Multo quaesita auro gemma, majori sollicitudine possidetur, et generaliter grandi cura magna quaeque servantur. Unde et tu si teipsam bene custodire cupis, debes honorem tuum semper pretium cogitare. Tanto enim se unusquisque negligentius utitur, quanto se existimat viliorem. Non ob aliam causam magis nobis in Scripturis divinis tam frequenter filiorum Dei nomen imponitur, ut illud quod dicitur per prophetam: Et ego ero vobis in patrem, et vos eritis mihi in filios et filias (Phil. III, 17), dicit Dominus omnipotens. Et Apostolus: Estote imitatores Dei, sicut filii charissimi. Et beatus Joannes inquit: Charissimi, nunc filii Dei sumus, et nondum apparuit quid erimus. Scimus quoniam cum apparuerunt, similes ei erimus, quoniam videbimus eum sicuti est, ut qui habet hanc spem in eo, sanctificet se, sicut et ille sanctus est (I Joan. III, 2, 3). Vult nobis coelestis doctrinae dignitatem qua donati sumus, frequenter ingerere, et honorem nostrum peccandi pudorem facere. Unde etiam Dominus ipse, ad perfectam nos benignitatem vocans, ait: Diligite inimicos vestros, benefacite his qui oderunt vos. Et: Orate pro persequentibus, et calumniantibus vos, ut sitis filii patris vestri, qui in coelis est (Matth. V, 45). Non est enim quod sic homines Deo faciat amabiles, ut pietas mentis, et bonitas, quae tanta in Christiano esse debet, ut etiam in malis abundet. Deique imitetur benevolentiam, qui solem suum oriri facit super bonos et malos, et pluit super justos et injustos (Rom. XII, 13). Hoc itaque tibi, vel in primis absit, ut nemini vel in verbo etiam noceas, ut in omnibus quibuscumque poteris, prodesse studeas, et ne vicem quidem mali reddens, pro malis bona, dicente Apostolo, restituas. Numquam detractio ex ore virginis procedat. Vilium satis hominum est, et suam laudem quaerentium, alios viles facere; quia alterius vituperatione se laudari putant; et qui suo merito placere non possunt, placere volunt in comparatione pejorum. Parum diximus, non solum ipsa non detrahas, sed ne detrahenti quidem aliquando credas. Pessimum est hoc vitium, quod alterum vilem facit videri. Non minus auribus quam lingua fugias detractionem. Scripturae memor esto, quae dicit: Non eris consentaneus derogantibus adversus proximum tuum, et non accipies super illo peccatum (Levit. IX, 18). Et alibi: Sepi aures tuas spinis, et noli audire linguam nequam (Eccl. XXVIII, 35). Accusator est enim auditor, qui facit detractorem, qui si avertat aures, et vultum contrahat, ac oculos abnuendo contineat, male loquentem etiam tacens arguit, ut discat non libenter dicere, quod didicerit non libenter audiri. Sollicitam satis ori tuo custodiam pone. Non enim est quidquam in nobis, quo facilius peccare possimus quam lingua. Unde sanctus Jacobus illum esse perfectum asserit, qui non offendit in verbo (Jac. III, 2). Et Scriptura dicit: Mors et vita est in manibus linguae (Sap. I, 11). Mentiri autem, maledicere atque jurare lingua tua nesciat. Quia et os quod mentitur, occidit animam: Et qui maledicunt, regnum Dei non possidebunt, juxta Apostolum (I Cor. V, 11). Et jurare ipse Christus prohibuit, qui dixit: Ego autem dico vobis, non jurare omnino. Et rursum: Sit autem sermo vester, est, est: non, non: quod autem amplius est, a malo est (Matth. V, 34, 37). Apostolus, breviter oris vitia resecans, ait: Omnis sermo malus ex ore vestro non procedat; sed si quis bonus ad aedificationem fidei, ut det gratiam audientibus (Ephes. IV, 29). Sit autem sermo virginis prudens, modestus et rarus, nec tam eloquentia pretiosus quam pudore. Mirentur omnes tuam, te tacente, verecundiam; te loquente, prudentiam. Mite ac placidum semper eloquium tuum. Ornet mixta cum gravitate suavitas, cum pudore sapientia. Sit certa atque librata, suique opportunitate gratissima, silentii verbique ratio. Nec umquam omnino virginis os loquatur, ut tacuisse melius sit. Cum ingenti cautione debet loqui, cui non solum malus, sed etiam otiosus sermo vitandus est:
CAP. XX.---Summa tibi scientia sit, notitia summa, vitia, virtutesque distinguere, quae quamquam semper contraria sibi sint, aliqua tamen ex eis tanta junguntur similitudine, ut discerni omnino vix possint. Quam multi enim superbiam libertatis loco ducunt, adulationem pro humilitate suscipiunt, malitiam prudentiae amplectuntur vice, et stultitiae simplicitatis nomen imponunt, atque fallaci ac pessima decepti similitudine, vitiis pro virtutibus gloriantur. Et quamquam haec omnia subtilissima intelligentia debeas separare, cunctasque virtutes cum suis lineis insequendo, nusquam prorsus abscedere: praecipue tamen fictam humilitatem fugiens, illam sectare quae vera est, quam Christus docuit, humilitatem, in qua non sit superbia inclusa. Multi enim hujus virtutis umbram, veritatem ejus sequuntur pauci. Perfacile est enim aliquam vestem habere contentam, salutare submissius, manus et genua deosculari, inclinato in terram capite, oculisque dejectis, humilitatem ac mansuetudinem polliceri, lenta voce tenuique sermones infringere, suspirare crebrius, et ad omne verbum peccatorem ac miserum se clamare. Et si vel levi sermone offensus sit, continuo attollere supercilium, levare cervicem, et delicatum illum oris sonum insano repente clamore mutare. Aliam nos humilitatem Christus docuit, qui nos ad exemplum suum hortatur, dicens: Discite a me, quia mitis sum et humilis corde (Matth. XI, 29). Qui cum malediceretur, non maledicebat; cum pateretur, non comminabatur. Quam nobis humilitatem beatus Petrus insinuat: Misericordes, inquit, et humiles, non reddentes malum pro malo, nec maledictum pro maledicto (I Pet. II, 22). Auferantur omnia figmenta verborum, cessent simulati gestus, et ante occasionem sermo placidus. Verum humilem patientia ostendit injuriae. Nullus ergo umquam in mente tua ullius sit vitii locus. Nihil in te superbum, nihil arrogans, nihil denique fastidiosum. Apud Deum non est quidquam humilitate sublimius. Ipse loquitur per prophetam: Super quem alium requiescam, nisi super humilem, et quierum, et trementem sermones meos (Isa. LXVI, 2)? Et numquam in iram exardescat animus, quod est seminarium odii. Tantus mentem tuam repleat timor Dei, ut indignari omnino non audeas, et iram metu vincas. Beatus Apostolus, mundans animam nostram, eamque in habitaculum Dei praeparans, clamat et dicit: Omnis amaritudo, et ira, et indignatio, et clamor, et blasphemia auferatur a vobis cum omni malitia (Eph. IV, 31).
CAP. XXI.---Adulatores ut inimicos cave, quorum sermones super oleum molles, et ipsi sunt jacula. Corrumpunt fictis laudibus leves animas et male credulis mentibus blandum vulnus infligunt. Crevit hoc in nostra aetate vitium, et in ultimo fine stetit, nec jam augeri potest. In hanc omnes nos scholam studiumque dedimus, ut officium putemus illudere. Quodque ipsi ab aliis libenter accipimus, id aliis quasi quoddam munus offerimus. Et spe recipiendae laudis, eos a quibus laudari volumus, ante laudamus. Saepe adulantium resistimus verbis ad faciem, et in secreto mentis favemus, maximumque fructum cepisse nos ducimus, si vel fictis laudibus praedicamur. Nec cogitamus quid ipsi simus, sed quid alteris esse videamur. Unde eo perducta res est, ut, neglecta veritate meriti, de sola opinione curemus, qui testimonium vitae nostrae, non a conscientia nostra, sed a fama petimus. Beata mens est, quae perfecte hoc vitium vincit, et nec adulatur aliquando, nec adulanti credit. Quae nec decipit alterum, nec ipsa decipitur, tantumque hoc malum nec facit aliquando, nec patitur. Nihil umquam in te fictum sit, nihil omnino fucatum. Conscientiam tuam, quae certe Deo semper patet, in multitudine versari puta. Numquam aliud corde teneas, aliud ore proferas. Quidquid pudet dicere, pudeat etiam cogitare. Illud vero notunt jam omnibus atque divulgatum est, quam utilis quamque huic proposito necessaria est, jejuniorum et abstinentiae virtus, maxime in his annis, in quibus corpori major aestus inest. Non manducare itaque carnem, neque bibere vinum, Apostolica voce laudatum est (Rom. XII, 15, 21). Quidquid illud est quod inflammare corpus potest, quod fomentum suggerit voluptati, castitatis amore fugiendum est. Nec tamen ita magno hujus rei labore gravari te volumus: ut sub ipso statim onere succumbas, per quod multi dum nimio fervore mentis rationem suarum virium non haberent, subito conciderunt, et pene ante debilitatem, quam sanctitatem de proposito suo consecuti sunt. Optimus est in omni re modus, et laudabilis ubique mensura. Corpus non frangendum, sed regendum est. Sint ergo moderata sancta, et simplicia in omni mentis humilitate jejunia, quae ita attenuent corpus, ne animum elevent, ne res humilitatis gignat superbiam, et vitia de virtute nascantur. Ego, inquit, cum mihi molesti essent, induebar cilicio, et humiliabam in jejunio animam meam (Psal. XXXV, 13). Vestis abjectio, cibi vilitas, jejunii lassitudo, exstinguere debent, non nutrire superbiam. Quis rem medicinae vulnus faciat? et inde sana laedat quaeque, unde jam laesa curanda sunt? Aut quae supererit spes salutis, si ista animae remedia sint venena?
CAP. XXII.---Laborem jejunii tui, misericordiae opera commendent, et abstinentia tua, pauperum refectione sit gratior. Dominus loquitur per prophetam: Misericordiam volo, et non sacrificium (Ose. VI, 6). In Evangelio Christi verba legimus: Beati misericordes, quoniam ipsi misericordiam consequentur (Matth. V, 7). Sed quaeso hanc curam vice tua avia materque suscipiant. Illae has partes pro te agant. Illae thesaurum tuum in coelum levent. Illarum sit esurientes alere cibo, vestire nudos, visitare infirmos, peregrinos tecto suscipere, et aeterni spe praemii, Christo in pauperibus fenerari: qui dixit: Quodcumque fecistis uni ex his fratribus meis minimis, mihi fecistis (Matt. XXV, 45). Tibi vero, maxime dum in proposito maturescat animus, ab omnibus occupationibus recedendum est, et omne studium omnisque cura in ornandis moribus exhibenda. Quibus ita vacare debes, et totam occupare mentem, ut non divitem te sentias esse, nec dominam. Nobilitatis ad hoc tantum memineris, ut cum claritate generis, morum sanctitate contendas: et cum nobilitate corporis, animi virtute nobilior proficias: magisque illa nobilitate glorieris, quae filios Dei et cohaeredes Christi facit. Ad quam si semper inspicias: dum credis gaudium te habere quod majus est, desinis de eo quod minus est gloriari. Omnis ista praeclari generis dignitas, et illustre Anicii sanguinis decus, ad animam transferantur. Ille clarus, ille sublimis, ille sit nobilis, ille tunc integram nobilitatem suam servare se putet, si dedignetur servire vitiis, ab eisque non superari: A quo enim quis superatur, hujus et servus est (II Pet. II, 15). Quid enim hac servitute animi indignius, quidve turpius, quam cum in eo, aut dominatur odium, aut regnat invidia? quam cum eum aut avaritia possidet, aut captum ira tenet, vel certe caetera sibi vitia vindicant? Non est quod sibi aliquis de nobilitate generis blandiatur: si ex meliore parte sit famulus. Multo est indignius mente servire, quam corpore. Superfluum arbitror te monere, quam parca in procedendo debeas esse, quam rara: cum te hoc etiam saecularis ab infantia honestas docuerit, et facile intelligas id tibi multo magis in hac vita esse servandum, quam maxime secretum decet. Illud admoneo, ut ipsis quoque salutationibus, quae tibi in cubiculo tuo exhibendae sunt, certissimum modum ponas: non sint nimiae, neque quotidianae, ne non tam officium, quam inquietudinem praestare videantur.
CAP. XXIII.---Et quamquam omne vitae tuae tempus divino debeas operi consecrare: et nullam prorsus horam a spirituali profectu vacuam esse conveniat, cum tibi in lege Domini die ac nocte meditandum sit (Psal. I); debet tamen aliquis esse determinatus et constitutus horarum numerus, quo plenius Deo vaces, et qui te ad summam animi intentionem, velut quadam lege contineat. Optimum est ergo huic operi matutinum deputari tempus, id est meliorem diei partem, et usque ad horam tertiam animam quotidie in coelesti agone certantem, hoc velut spiritualis quodam palestrae exerceri gymnasio. His tu per singulos dies horis in secretioris domus parte ora, clauso cubiculo tuo (Matth. VI, 6). Adhibe tibi etiam in urbe solitudinem, et remota paulisper ab hominibus, propius Deo jungere: aspectuique tuorum reddita, lectionis fructum et orationis ostende. Nihil enim in hoc secreto magis agere debes, quam animam divinis eloquiis pascere. Et quantum ei per totam sufficere possit diem, hoc eam veluti cibo pinguiore satiare. Ita Scripturas sacras lege, ut semper memineris Dei illa verba esse, qui legem suam non solum sciri, sed etiam impleri jubet. Nihil enim prodest facienda didicisse, et non facere. Optime uteris lectione divina, si eam tibi adhibeas speculi vice, ut ibi velut ad imaginem suam anima respiciat, et vel foeda quaeque corrigat, vel pulchra plus ornet. Lectionem frequenter interrumpat oratio, et animam jugiter adhaerentem Deo, grata vicissitudo sancti operis accendat. Nunc te igitur ordo instruat coelestis historiae: nunc sanctum David oblectet canticum: nunc Salomonis erudiat Sapientia: nunc ad timorem Domini, increpationes incitent prophetarum: nunc Evangelica et Apostolica perfectio te Christo in omni morum sanctitate conjungat. Quae paranda sunt, memoriae penitus insere: eaque jugi meditatione conserva. Quae maturanda sunt, frequenter revolve, ut divinum hoc studium, et coelestis schola, et mores simul virginis ornent et sensum, tradantque tibi cum sapientia sanctitatem. Unde Scriptura dicit: Qui quaerunt Deum, invenient sapientiam cum justitia. Sit autem ipsa lectio temperata, cui finem consilium, non lassitudo imponat. Nam ut immoderata jejunia et ardor abstinentiae, et enormes inordinataeque vigiliae, intemperantiae coargnuntur, idque nimietate sui pariunt, ut haec ipsa postea, nec mediocriter quidem fieri possint; ita studium lectionis in reprehensionem intemperans cadit, quodque laudabile est in tempore suo, fit de nimietate sui culpabile.
CAP. XXIV.---Generaliter quidem, sed breviter strictimque dicendum est: in bonis quoque rebus quidquid modum excesserit, vitium est. Magna est, magna, inquam, et quae grandi studio constat, perfectae vitae ratio, consummataeque sapientiae est, scire quid quo insequaris modo, et ad omnem actum praeferendo consilium: nihil facere quod fecisse poeniteat. Intra unius horae spatium mutatur habitus: jejunare, abstinere, psallere, vigilare, non tam studio opus habent, quam voluntate. Quidlibet incipiens, statim ut voluerit, ad ipsa perfectus est: immo illi hoc facilius facere possunt, qui recentes corporis vires de saeculo ad propositum afferunt. Mores vero mutare, singulasque virtutes animi formare in se, atque perficere, grandis studii est, et longae consuetudinis. Itaque multi in proposito senescimus, et ea, propter quae ad ipsum propositum venimus, non habemus. Tua vero conversatio nova esse debet, mira gravitas, patientia, mansuetudo, pietas: quidquid sanctius est atque perfectius, quidquid magis Deo te commendare potest, et majorem in coelo facere, id semper sequere, id semper amplectere (I Cor. VII, 34). Sponsa Christi nihil debet esse ornatius. Tanto majore placendi studio opus est, quanto major est ille cui placendum est. Saeculi vero virgines, quae se nuptiis praeparant, et indulgentiam magis Apostoli, quam consilium sequi malunt, magisque amplectuntur incontinentiae remedium, quam praemium continentiae, ut sponsis placeant, eosque in amorem sui magis incitent, mira se sollicitudine formare student, et naturalem corporis pulchritudinem, ornandi arte commendant. Haec est illis per dies singulos cura praecipua: decentibus fucis colorare faciem, implicare auro crinem, et ardentes concharum lapides, capitis honorem facere, suspendere ex auribus patrimonia, brachia ornare monilibus ac latera, et inclusas auro gemmas a collo in pectus demittere. Non minorem sponsus tuus requirit ornatum, qui cum universam Ecclesiam salutaris aquae lavacro purificatam sine macula rugaque reddiderit, quotidie cupit eam fieri pulchriorem, ut semel a vitiis peccatisque mundata, semper ornetur decore virtutum (Ephes. V, 26, 27). Et si hoc a tota requirit Ecclesia, in qua et viduae continentur etnuptae: quantum, putas, exspectat a virgine, quae ex pulcherrimo hoc quodam Ecclesiae parato, velut augustior quidam flos videtur electa! Assume ergo omnem illum ornatum, per quem placere Christo potes. Satis pulchram Deo crede faciem tuam, si hominibus pulchra apparere non studeas. Istud ornamentum serva capitis, quod acquisivisti Chrismatis sacramento, cum tibi in coelestis regni mysterium, diadema quoddam regalis unctionis impositum est. Optima ornamenta sunt aurium, verba Dei. Ad ea sola paratus esse debet auditus virginis: eaque pretiosissimis lapidibus anteferre. Omnia prorsus membra decorentur operibus sanctitatis: totaque virginalis animi pulchritudo, gemmati monilis instar, vario virtutum fulgore resplendeat. Tunc vere concupiscet rex decorem tuum, dicetque tibi: Tota formosa es, proxima mea, et macula non est in te (Cant. V, 7). Et haec tibi ornamenta quae dixi, etiam erunt munimenta maxima: et quae ipsa te ornare Deo, et contra diabolum armare possint, qui per leve interdum quodcumque vitium ad animam ingreditur: et si virtutum propugnacula non resistant, nostro nos repellit loco, et continuo de hoste fit dominus. Propter quod Scriptura nos adhortatur, et dicit: Si spiritus potestatem habentis ascenderit super te, locum tuum ne dimiseris (Eccl. X, 4).
CAP. XXV.---Ab eo jam tempore, quo primum per virginitatis professionem Domino consecrata es, adversarii in te crevit odium. Et qui aliena lucra pro suis damnis habet, se amisisse ducit, quidquid te possessuram dolet. Grandi tibi opus est vigilantia, grandique cura: et tanto sollicitius cavendus est inimicus, quanto apud Deum ditior esse coepisti. Vacuus viator et nudus non timet latronis insidias. Securus a nocturnis furibus dormit pauper, etiam si claustra non muniat. Diviti vero opes suae latronis semper imaginantur occursum, et jugi sollicitudine, noctium somnum adimunt. Unde tuae quoque divitiae, coelestis thesaurus, ista cautione indigent atque custodia. Quanto ditior es, tanto debes esse vigilantior. Qui enim plus possidet, plus debet timere ne perdat. Invidere non cessat auctor invidiae. Et qui semel a Deo ipse projectus est, tanto majori livore torquetur, quanto aliquem apud eum viderit clariorem. Qui invidit Evae paradisum, quanto magis invidet tibi regnum coelorum! Cuncta, mihi crede, ille nunc circumit, ut beatus Petrus ait, devorandi te cupidus (I Pet. V, 8): in modum rugientis leonis ingreditur, vel more dolosi hostis universa perlustrans, explorat omnes aditus animae tuae: an sit aliquid infirmum et minus tutum, per quod possit irrepere. Rimatur nunc ille omnia, et singula quaeque pertentans, quaerit vulneri locum: cujus tu insidias sollicite debes providere, ut quae cum Paulo non ignores astutias ejus (II Cor. II, 11). Qui cum terribiles diaboli potestates principatusque describat, nos nihilominus hortatur ad pugnam, hostiumque vim pandit, ut augeat sollicitudinem militum. Non enim vult nos esse timidos, sed paratos. Denique non fugam suadet, sed arma suggerit: Propterea, inquit, accipite arma Dei, ut possitis resistere in die malo, ac in omnibus perfecti stare (Ephes. VI, 13). Ac statim instrumenta singula spiritualis pugnae tradens, addidit et dixit: State ergo succincti lumbos vestros in veritate: et induti loricam justitiae, et calceati pedes in praeparatione Evangelii pacis, in omnibus assumentes scutum fidei, in quo possitis omnia tela nequissimi ignea exstinguere: et galeam salutis assumite, et gladium spiritus, quod est verbum Dei, per omnem rationem et obsecrationem. Et quoniam de hoc bello licet etiam feminis triumphare, suscipe haec arma Pauli, et tanti hortatione ducis certam praesume victoriam. Haec enim si tu omnia instrumenta possideas, secura procedes ad praelium spirituale, nec pavebis diabolum cum toto exercitu suo. Cadent enim a latere tuo mille, et decem millia a dextris tuis: ad te autem non appropinquabunt (Psal. XCI, 7). Beatus quoque Jacobus ille Christi miles emeritus non minor nobis auctoritate de hoc bello victoriam pollicetur: Subditi, inquit, estote Deo: resistite autem diabolo, et fugiet a vobis (Jac. IV, 7). Ostendit quomodo resistere debeamus diabolo, si utique simus subditi Deo, ejusque faciendo voluntatem, ut divinam etiam mereamur gratiam: et facilius nequam spiritui, auxilio sancti Spiritus resistamus. Neque vero aperta contra nos pugnat acie, nec publica nobiscum fronte congreditur, sed dolo vincit ac fraude, nostraque contra nos utitur voluntate. De consensu nostro adversarius vires accipit, nostroque nos, ut dici solet, jugulat gladio. Infirmus hostis est qui non potest vincere nisi volentem. Procul a nobis desperatio, procul omnis ab animo recedat pavor adversariorum. Non adjuvemus, sed vincamus adversarios. Dant illi quidem consilium, sed nostrum est vel eligere, vel respuere quod suggerunt. Non enim cogendo, sed suadendo nocent. Non extorquent a nobis consensum, sed expetunt. Unde etiam Ananiae dicitur: Quare tentavit cor tuum Satanas mentiri te Spiritui sancto (Actor. V, 3)? Quod utique illi Apostolus numquam imputaret, si id absque ipsius voluntate diabolus fecisset. Ipsa etiam Eva ideo condemnatur a Domino (Gen. II): quia ab eo quem poterat superare, superata est. Nec enim meruisset a Domino, injustitiae puniri quae victa est, nisi vincere ipsa potuisset.
CAP. XXVI.---Hujus nequissimi hostis est illa vel prima calliditas, et ars doli plena, fatigare cogitationibus rudes animas: et novellis in proposito mentibus de ipsa interdum conversatione afferre moerorem: ut facile ab hujus rei profectu deterreatur animus, cujus initia amara cognoverit. Itaque solet tam sordidas nonnumquam et impias cogitationes inserere menti, ut qui tentatur, dum suum illud putat esse quod cogitat, deteriorem se per spiritum immundum proposito suo arbitretur effectum; multoque puriorem animam habuisse se credat, cum adhuc res saeculi amaret. Vult enim his, quibus invidet callidissimus inimicus horrorem propositi ex desperatione facere sanctitatis, ut eos, obsidente tristitia, et si a proposito non revocat, certe retineat a profectu. Propter quod maxime sanctarum tibi Scripturarum studium diligendum est: illuminanda divinis eloquiis anima: et coruscante Dei verbo, diaboli repellendae sunt tenebrae. Cito enim fugit ille ab ea anima, quam sermo divinus illuminat, quae coelestibus semper cogitationibus occupatur, in qua assiduum est Dei verbum, cujus vim nequam spiritus non potest ferre. Et idcirco beatus illud Apostolus spiritalis belli inter caetera instrumenta gladio comparavit (Ephes. V, 17). Est autem futissimum atque perfectum, ut assuescat animus sollicita semper pervigilique custodia discernere cogitationes suas: et ad primum animi motum vel probare, vel reprobare, quod cogitat: ut vel bonas cogitationes alat, vel statim exstinguat malas. Hic namque fons est boni, et origo peccandi, omnisque ingentis delicti in corde principium est cogitatio, quae unumquodque opus velut in quadam cordis tabula depingit, antequam faciat. Nam sive ille actus, sive sermo sit, ut proferatur, ante disponitur, et cogitationum consilio discernitur quod fururum est. Vides quam brevi interdum momento quaeque ista quis cogitet, cogitataque perficiat: nec quicquam omnino, vel lingua, vel manu, caeterisque membris agitur, nisi cogitationes ante dictaverint. Unde et Dominus in Evangelio dicit: De corde hominis procedunt cogitationes malae, adulterium, fornicatio, homicidia, furta, falsa testimonia, avaritia, nequitia, dolus, impudicitia, oculus malus, blasphemia, superbia, stultitia. Haec sunt quae coinquinant homines (Matth. XV, 19, 20). Omnis ergo sollicitudo tua, omnis intentio debet esse in custodia. Ibi te maxime oportet observare peccatum, ubi nasci solet: statimque ad primam tentationis repugnare faciem: et malum antequam crescat, exstinguere. Nec enim exspectandum est augmentum ejus rei, quae timeri debet a parvo: et quae tanto facilius vincitur, quanto ei citius repugnatur. Ideo clamat Scriptura divina: Omni custodia serva cor tuum: ex eo enim exitus vitae (Prov. IV, 21).
CAP. XXVII.---Distinguendum est autem inter istas cogitationes, quibus voluntas favet, quas cum dilectione amplectitur, et inter eas cogitationes, quae tenuis umbrae modo praetervolare mentem solent, seseque tantummodo, vel transeundo monstrare: quas Graeci τύπους vocant: vel certe inter illas quae repugnanti ac invito animo suggerunt, quibus mens cum horrore quodam renititur ac resistit: quibus ut contristatur admissis, ita gaudet expulsis. In illis quidem quae se leviter menti ostendunt, et quasi fugiendo demonstrant se, nec peccatum omnino, nec pugna est. In iis autem, cum quibus aliquandiu anima luctatur, quibus resistit voluntas, aequale certamen est. Aut enim consentimus, et vincimur: aut respuimus et vincimus, et acquirimus de pugna victoriam. In illa ergo tantummodo cogitatione peccatum est, quae suggestioni consensum mentis dedit: quae malum suum blande fovet: quae in factum gestit erumpere. Hujusmodi, cogitatio etiamsi ex aliquo impedita casu, non impleat voluntatem, nihilominus actione criminis condemnatur a Domino: ut illud in Evangelio legimus: Qui viderit, inquit, mulierem ad concupiscendum eam, jam moechatus est eam in corde suo (Matt. V, 28). Apud Deum, cui nota sunt omnia etiam antequam fiant, voluntas perfecta faciendi, reputatur pro opere facti. Qua de re debes (saepe enim repeto quod fieri semper volo) sanctas Scripturas sine intermissione meditari, hisque tuam replere mentem: et malis cogitationibus locum auferens, divinis animum sensibus occupare: quantumque Deum diligas, ex dilectione legis ejus ostendere. Unde Scriptura dicit: Qui timent Dominum, inquirent quod beneplacitum est illi: et qui diligunt eum, replebuntur lege ejus (Eccl. II, 7). Tunc sentiens quantum ad ejus amorem adjuvet te sapientia: quantum sit in te divinae legis auxilium, et Domino cum David laeta cantabis, In corde meo abscondi eloquia tua, ut non peccem tibi (Ps. CXVIII, 16, 31 et seqq.). Excitandus est enim spiritualibus stimulis semper animus, et majori quotidie ardore renovandus. Orationis instantia, illuminatio lectionis, sollicitudo vigiliarum, et diurna, et nocturna ejus incitamenta sunt. Nihil enim in hoc proposito otio deterius est: quod non solummodo non acquirit nova: sed etiam parta consumit. Sanctae vitae ratio processu gaudet et crescit: cessatione torpescit, et deficit. Quotidianis ac recentibus virtutum incrementis mens instauranda est: et vivendi nobis hoc iter, non de transacto, sed de reliquo metiendum. Quamdiu sumus in hoc corpore, numquam nos ad perfectum venisse credamus: sic enim melius pervenitur. Tamdiu non relabimur retro, quamdiu ad priora contendimus. At ubi coeperimus stare, descendimus: nostrumque non progredi, jam reverti est. Cesset omnis ignavia, et inutilis de praeterito labore securitas. Si volumus non redire, currendum est. Beatus Apostolus de die in diem vivens Deo non quid ante fecisset, sed quid facere deberet semper attendens, dicebat: Fratres, ego me non arbitror comprehendisse aliquid. Unum autem, quae quidem sunt retro obliviscens, ad ea vero quae sunt priora me extendens, ad destinatum persequor bravium supernae vocationis Dei (Phil. III, 13, 14). Si beatus Paulus vas electionis, qui ita Christum indutus erat, ut diceret: Vivo autem jam non ego, vivit vero in me Christus (Gal. II, 20); adhuc tamen se extendit, adhuc crescit et proficit: quid nos facere debemus, quibus optandum est, ut in fine nostro, Pauli principio comparemur? Ergo tu hunc imitare qui dixit: Imitatores mei estote, sicut et ego Christi (I Cor. IV, 11). Obliviscere omne praeteritum: et quotidie inchoare te puta: ne pro praesenti die, quo debes servire Deo, praeteritum imputes. Optime quaesita custodies, si semper inquiras. Damnum parata sentient, si parare cessaveris.
CAP. XXVIII.---Dicas forsitan: Grandis labor est. Sed respice quod promissum est: Omne opus leve fieri solet, cum ejus pretium cogitatur: et spes praemii solatium est laboris. Sic durus agricola inaratum diu campum, et pinguiores otio glebas violento vomere scidisse se gaudet, et mirum in modum ipsa operis difficultate laetus spem segetis de labore metitur. Sic negotiator avidus maria contemnit; spectare ausus fluctuum spumas rabiemque ventorum. Dumque in omni labore ac periculo lucrum cogitat, et lassitudinem simul obliviscitur et timorem. Considera, quaeso, magnitudinem praemii tui, si tamen considerari potest quidquid immensum est. Post abscessum animae, post carnis interitum, post favillas et cinerem, in meliorem statum virgo reparanda es. Mandatum terrae corpus in coelum elevandum est: et mortale tuum immortalitatis honore mutandum est. Post haec angelorum es donanda consortio: regnum acceptura coelorum, ac in perpetuum mansura cum Christo. Quid ergo retribues Domino pro omnibus quae retribuit tibi (Psal. CXV)? Quid tanto remuneratore durum putabis, cujus tanta sunt praemia? Unde beatus Apostolus, Nullae, inquit, sunt condignae passiones hujus temporis ad futuram gloriam, quae revelabitur in nobis (Rom. VIII, 18). Quid enim dignum vel facere, vel pati possumus in brevi hoc tempore vitae nostrae: cum id immortalitate sit compensandum?
CAP. XXIX.---Propter quod idem Apostolus ait: Id enim quod in praesenti saeculo est momentaneum ac leve tribulationis nostrae: supra modum in sublimitate, aeternum gloriae pondus operatur in nobis (II Cor. IV, 17). Respuantur honores, despiciantur divitiae. Ipsa quoque vita nostra martyrii amore comtemnatur. Et haec omnia etiam si pro aeternitatis praemio non darentur, essent tamen quandoque peritura. Amittunt etiam hoc illi qui semper cupiunt possidere. Quam multos memoria nostra retinet in maximis honoribus ac divitiis constitutos, repente de summo illo potentiae fastigio concidisse: et eos qui tumore elati, aliud quiddam quam homines esse se putabant, exitu tandem suo docuisse nos quid fuerint. Quid enim in hoc mundo stabile? Quid vero firmum est? Quid porro non breve et incertum, et casui non serviens? Quale istud bonum est, quod semper timeas amittere? quod vel auferendum abs te metuas, vel a te relinquendum scias? Nam et si nullo id eripiatur casu, vel morte certe perdendum est. Et si vita nostra tendatur per mille annos: et ad extremum illum totius diem aetatis, quotidiana deliciarum voluptate veniamus: quale hoc, quaeso, diu est, quod fine deletur! Aut quis illius voluptatis fructus est, qui statim ut cessaverit, videbitur tibi non fuisse? Age jam, transactum vitae tuae tempus animo revolve. Nonne [Col.0043D] videbitur tibi umbra quaedam fuisse quod transiit: et ad instar somnii tenuis, incertum esse omne quod videtur? Hoc idem et decrepitus senex sentire potest, cui convenit dicere cum propheta: Dies mei sicut umbra declinaverunt, et ego sicut fenum arui (Psal. XXI).
CAP. XXX.---Quod si haec etiam hic possumus dicere: ubi quamvis brevis, tamen quia praesens est vita ista, magni penditur: quid in futuro dicturi sumus, ubi majore aeternitatis praesentia transactum omne pro nihilo est? Haec tu tecum diligenter revolvens, et brevitatem vitae hujus aeternitatis contemplatione despiciens, ipsum quoque contemptum mundi, majori animi virtute contemne: et ad illum tantum diem totam para te, in quo mundi gloria finienda est. Illum, inquam, diem, quem Salvator diluvio comparavit: qui multos fallaci securitate deceptos, furtivo, ut ait Apostolus, comprehendet adventu (I Thess. V, 2). Quem beatus quoque Petrus describens ait: Adveniet autem dies Domini sicut fur: in qua coeli magno impetu transibunt. Elementa vero a calore resolventur. Cum igitur haec omnia dissolvenda sint, quales oportet nos esse in sanctis conversationibus et pietatibus exspectantes et properantes in adventum Domini Dei, in quo coeli ardentes solventur, et elementa ignis calore tabescent (II Pet. III, 10)? Recens factum est, et quod ipsa audisti, cum ad stridulae buccinae sonum, Gothorumque clamorem, lugubri oppressa metu domina orbis Roma contremuit. Ubi tunc nobilitatis ordo? ubi certi et distincti illius dignitatis gradus? Permixta omnia, et timore confusa, omni domui planctus, et aequalis fuit per cunctos pavor. Unum erat servus et nobilis. Eadem omnibus imago mortis: nisi quia magis eam timebant illi, quibus fuerat vita jucundior. Si ita mortalis timemus hostis humanam manum: quid faciemus cum clangore terribili tuba intonare de coelo coeperit: et ad illam archangeli vocem, omni buccina clariorem, totus simul remugiet mundus? cum viderimus super nos non manufacta arma concuti, sed et virtutes coelorum commoveri, sicut Propheta dicit: Cum venerit Dominus ponere orbem terrae desertum: et peccatores perdere ex eo (Isa. XIII, 4): quis tunc nobis pavor, quae caligo, quae tenebrae, cum nos saepius ac toties admonitos, et tamen imparatos dies ille repererit? Tunc, inquit, plangent super se omnes tribus terrae: et videbunt Filium hominis venientem in nubibus coeli cum virtute multa et majestate. Tunc dicent montibus. Cadite super nos: et collibus, Operite nos: et petris, Aperite vos nobis (Matth. XXIV, 30 et seqq. Luc. XXI, 27 et seqq.). Verum haec eorum sint, qui variis hujus mundi detenti curis, de mundi non cogitant fine. Tu vero cui adventus Christi dierum noctiumque meditatio est, cui pro conscientiae puritate, Domini est optanda praesentia: quae consummationem saeculi quasi certum praemii tui tempus exspectas, exsultationem de coelo capies, non timorem. Tunc enim tu sanctorum mixta choris, et sanctis comitata virginibus, sponso obviam subvolabis, et dices: Inveni quem quaesivit anima mea (Cant. III, 4). Nec ullius jam temporis separationem timebis, quae semel immortalitatis gloria, et incorruptionis splendore donanda es: et cum Christo semper futura es, Apostolo dicente: Quoniam ipse Dominus in jussu et in voce archangeli, et in tuba Dei descendet de coelo: et mortui qui in Christo sunt, resurgent primi. Deinde nos qui vivimus: qui relinquimur, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Domino in aere: et ita semper cum Christo erimus (I Thess. IV, 16, 17). Haec sit igitur cura tua semper, hoc studium: haec jugiter virginis corde volvantur. In his totius diei versetur labor. In his nocturnus somnus reponatur. In haec anima rursus evigilet. Etenim nullus labor durus: nullum tempus longum videri debet, quo gloria aeternitatis acquiritur.
When Demetrias decided to vow herself to virginity at 14, though she was about to be married, her mother wrote to Jerome and to Pelagius, asking them to send her words of guidance for her new life and both complied. She presumably also asked Augustine, who apparently did not, but he did write warning Juliana about the dangers of Pelagian views, a warning she received rather coldly.1 The suspect views, which Leo I would attack in a later letter to Demetrias, deal with natural good rather than original sin, and man's ability to choose between good and evil not necessarily relying on divine grace.
1. See Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: University of California, 1967), 355-56.
PL30.cc.15-45; B.R. Rees, The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1991).