( 347 - 419 )

Calling  Married   Believers  to Sexual  Abstinence


Marriage is only allowed as second best.

Letter 123. To Ageruchia, 4.
(An appeal to this widow not to marry again)    Lastly, that Paul may compress into a few words all the reasons for such marriages, he shews the motive of his command by saying: "for some are already turned aside after Satan."   Thus he allows to the incontinent a second marriage, or in case of need a third, simply that he may rescue them from Satan, preferring that a woman should be joined to the worst of husbands rather than to the devil.  To the Corinthians he uses somewhat similar language: "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.   But if they cannot contain, let them marry:  for it is better to marry than to burn.  "Why, O apostle, is it better to marry? —  He answers immediately: because it is worse to burn."



Husband and wife should imitate virginal incorruption by sexual abstinence.

Against Jovinianus, Book 1, 7.  "It is good,"  the Aposle says, "for a man not to touch a woman."   If it is good not to touch a woman, it is bad to touch one:  for there is no opposite to goodness but badness.   But if it be bad and the evil is pardoned, the reason for the concession is to prevent worse evil.   But surely a thing which is only allowed because there may be something worse has only a slight degree of goodness . . . .We must notice the Apostle's prudence.   He did not say, it is good not to have a wife:   but, it is good not to touch a woman:  as though there were danger even in the touch:  as though he who touched her, would not escape from her who "hunteth for the precious life," who causeth the young man's understanding to fly away.    "Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk upon hot coals, and his feet not be scorched?"   As then he who touches fire is instantly burned, so by the mere touch the peculiar nature of man and woman is perceived, and the difference of sex is understood . . . .But inasmuch as he who is once married has no power to abstain except by mutual consent, and may not reject an unoffending partner, let the husband render unto the wife her due.   He bound himself voluntarily that he might be under compulsion to render it.  "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer."  What, I pray you, is the quality of that good thing which hinders prayer?  which does not allow the body of Christ to be received?   So long as I do the husband's part, I fail in continency.   The same Apostle in another place commands us to pray always.   If we are to pray always, it follows that we must never be in the bondage of wedlock, for as often as I render my wife her due, I cannot pray.   The Apostle Peter had experience of the bonds of marriage.    See how he fashions the Church, and what lesson he teaches Christians: "Ye husbands in like manner dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honour unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life;  to the end that your prayers be not hindered."   Observe that, as S. Paul before, because in both cases the spirit is the same, so S. Peter now, says that prayers are hindered by the performance of marriage duty.   When he says "likewise," he challenges the husbands to imitate their wives, because he has already given them commandment: "beholding your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel: but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."   You see what kind of wedlock he enjoins.   Husbands and wives are to dwell together according to knowledge, so that they may know what God wishes and desires, and give honour to the weak vessel, woman.    If we abstain from intercourse, we give honour to our wives:  if we do not abstain, it is clear that insult is the opposite of honour.   He also tells the wives to let their husbands "see their chaste behaviour, and the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit."    Words truly worthy of an apostle, and of Christ's rock!   He lays down the law for husbands and wives, condemns outward ornament, while he praises continence, which is the ornament of the inner man, as seen in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit.   In effect he says this: Since your outer man is corrupt, and you have ceased to possess the blessing of incorruption characteristic of virgins, at least imitate the incorruption of the spirit by subsequent abstinence, and what you cannot show in the body exhibit in the mind.   For these are the riches, and these the ornaments of your union, which Christ seeks.”



Second marriages are only slightly better than prostitution.

Against Jovinianus, Book 1, 14. "The Apostle compares monogamy with digamy, and as he had subordinated marriage to virginity, so he makes second marriages inferior to first, and says, "A wife is bound for so long time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.   But she is happier if she abide as she is, after my judgement: and I think that I also have the Spirit of God."   He allows second marriages, but to such persons as wish for them and are not able to contain . . . . And similarly the words to Timothy, "I desire therefore that the younger widows marry, bear children, rule the household, give none occasion to the adversary for reviling: for already some are turned aside after Satan," and so on.   For as on account of the danger of fornication he allows virgins to marry, and makes that excusable which in itself is not desirable, so to avoid this same fornication, he allows second marriages to widows.   For it is better to know a single husband, though he be a second or third, than to have many paramours: that is, it is more tolerable for a woman to prostitute herself to one man than to many."



Woman's punishment, incurred through Eve's sin,
may be undone through childbearing,
only if she bears children who remain virgins.

Against Jovinianus, Book 1, 27. But we toil to no purpose.   For our opponent urges against us the Apostolic sentence and says, "Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression: but she shall be saved through the child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety."   Let us consider what led the Apostle to make this declaration: "I desire therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing."    So in due course he lays down rules of life for the women and says "In like manner that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works.   Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection.   But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness."   And that the lot of a woman might not seem a hard one, [because of God] reducing her to the condition of a slave to her husband, the Apostle recalls the ancient law and goes back to the first example: that Adam was first made, then the woman out of his rib; and that the Devil could not seduce Adam, but did seduce Eve; and that after displeasing God she was immediately subjected to the man, and began to turn to her husband; and he points out that she who was once tied with the bonds of marriage and was reduced to the condition of Eve, might blot out the old transgression by the procreation of children: provided, however, that she bring up the children themselves in the faith and love of Christ, and in sanctification and chastity . . .  You see how you are mastered by the witness of this passage also, and cannot but be driven to admit that what you thought was on the side of marriage tells in favour of virginity.   For if the woman is saved in child-bearing, and the more the children the greater the safety of the mothers, why did he add "if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with chastity"? Will the woman not then be saved, if she bear children who will remain virgins: if what she has herself lost, she attains in her children, and makes up for the loss and decay of the root by the excellence of the flower and fruit."



For a man, it is better not to marry to avoid the burden of having a wife.

Against Jovinianus, Book 1, 28.  "No one can know better than Solomon who suffered through women, what a wife or woman is.   Well then, he says in the Proverbs: . . ."Like a worm in wood, so a wicked woman destroyeth her husband."   But if you assert that this was spoken of bad wives, I shall briefly answer: What necessity rests upon me to run the risk of the wife I marry proving good or bad?  "It is better," he says, "to dwell in a desert land, than with a contentious and passionate woman in a wide house."   How seldom we find a wife without these faults, he knows who is married.   Hence that sublime orator, Varius Geminus says well "The man who does not quarrel is a bachelor."   "It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a contentious woman in a house in common." . . . . "A continual dropping on a wintry day" turns a man out of doors, and so will a contentious woman drive a man from his own house.   She floods his house with her constant nagging and daily chatter, and ousts him from his own home, that is the Church.   Hence the same Solomon says . . . "The horseleech had three I daughters, dearly loved, but they satisfied her not, and a fourth is not satisfied when you say Enough; the grave, and woman's love, and the earth that is not satisfied with water, and the fire that saith not, Enough."   The horse-leech is the devil, the daughters of the devil are dearly loved, and they cannot be satisfied with the blood of the slain: the grave, and woman's love, and the earth dry and scorched with heat.   It is not the harlot, or the adulteress who is spoken of;  but woman's love in general is accused of ever being insatiable;  put it out, it bursts into flame;  give it plenty, it is again in need;  it enervates a man's mind, and engrosses all thought except for the passion which it feeds.   What we read in the parable which follows is to the same effect: "For three things the earth doth tremble, and for four which it cannot bear:   for a servant when he is king: and a fool when he is filled with meat:  for an odious woman when she is married to a good husband: and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.  " See how a wife is classed with the greatest evils. But if you reply that it is an odious wife, I will give you the same answer as before—the mere possibility of such danger is in itself no light matter.   For he who marries a wife is uncertain whether he is marrying an odious woman or one worthy of his love.   If she be odious, she is intolerable.    If worthy of love, her love is compared to the grave, to the parched earth, and to fire.



Virginity belongs to paradise. Marriage began after the fall.

Against Jovinianus, Book 1, 29. "Behold, this have I found, saith the Preacher, one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. Behold this only have I found, that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions."   He says that he had found man upright.    Consider the force of the words.   The word man comprehends both male and female.  "But a woman," he says, "among all these have I not found."   Let us read the beginning of Genesis, and we shall find Adam, that is man, called both male and female.   Having then been created by God good and upright, by our own fault we have fallen to a worse condition; and that which in Paradise had been upright, when we left Paradise was corrupt.   If you object that before they sinned there was a distinction in sex between male and female, and that they could without sin have come together, it is uncertain what might have happened.    For we cannot know the judgements of God, and anticipate his sentence as we choose.   What really happened is plain enough,—that they who in Paradise remained in perpetual virginity, when they were expelled from Paradise were joined together.   Or if Paradise admits of marriage, and there is no difference between marriage and virginity, what prevented their previous intercourse even in Paradise?   They are driven out of Paradise; and what they did not there, they do on earth;  so that from the very earliest days of humanity virginity was consecrated by Paradise, and marriage by earth.   "Let thy garments be always white."    The eternal whiteness of our garments is the purity of virginity.    "In the morning we sowed our seed, and in the evening let us not cease."   Let us who served marriage under the law, serve virginity under the Gospel.



Corruption attaches to all sexual intercourse, even in a legitimate marriage.

Against Jovinianus, Book 1, 37.  "If the wisdom of the flesh is enmity against God, and they who are in the flesh cannot please God",  I think that they who perform the functions of marriage love the wisdom of the flesh, and therefore are in the flesh.   The Apostle being desirous to withdraw us from the flesh and to join us to the Spirit, says afterwards: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.   And be not fashioned according to this world:  but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.   For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think;  but to think according to chastity" (not soberly as the Latin versions badly render), but "think," he says, "according to chastity".    Let us consider what the Apostle says: "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God."   What he says is something like this—God indeed permits marriage, He permits second marriages, and if necessary, prefers even third marriages to fornication and adultery.    But we who ought to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service, should consider, not what God permits, but what He wishes:  that we may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.    It follows that what He merely permits is neither good, nor acceptable, nor perfect.    And he gives his reasons for this advice: "Knowing the season, that now it is high time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed.   The night is far spent, and the day is at hand."    And lastly: "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."   God's will is one thing, His indulgence another.   Whence, writing to the Corinthians, he says, "I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.   I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.   For ye are yet carnal."   He who is in the merely animal state, and does not receive the things pertaining to the Spirit of God (for he is foolish, and cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned), he is not fed with the food of perfect chastity, but with the coarse milk of marriage.   As through man came death, so also through man came the resurrection of the dead.   As in Adam we all die, so in Christ we shall all be made alive.   Under the law we served the old Adam, under the Gospel let us serve the new Adam.   For the first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.  "The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is of heaven.   As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.    And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.   Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption."   This is so clear that no explanation can make it clearer: "Flesh and blood," he says, "cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption."   If corruption attaches to all intercourse, and incorruption is characteristic of chastity, the rewards of chastity cannot belong to marriage. . . . And by way of more fully explaining what the Apostle did not wish them to be he says elsewhere: "I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ."    But if you choose to apply the words to the whole Assembly of believers, and in this betrothal to Christ include both married women, and the twice-married, and widows, and virgins, that also makes for us.   For whilst he invites all to chastity and to the reward of virginity, he shows that virginity is more excellent than all these conditions.

EXCERPTS taken from:
... a larger document — researched, prepared and e-published
at: www.womenpriests.org

More of the many writings of Jerome can be found at:   www.ccel.org


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