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The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary
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22. And now that I am about to institute a comparison between virginity and marriage, I beseech my readers not to suppose that in praising virginity I have in the least disparaged marriage, and separated the saints of the Old Testament from those of the New, that is to say, those who had wives and those who altogether refrained from the embraces of women: I rather think that in accordance with the difference in time and circumstance one rule applied to the former, another to us upon whom the ends of the world have come. So long as that law remained, 4244 “Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth”; and 4245 “Cursed is the barren woman that beareth not seed in Israel,” they all married and were given in marriage, left father and mother, and became one flesh. But once in tones of thunder the words were heard, 4246 “The time is shortened, that henceforth those that have wives may be as though they had none”: cleaving to the Lord, we are made one spirit with Him. And why? 4247 Because “He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife. And there is a difference also between the wife and the virgin. She that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” Why do you cavil? Why do you resist? The vessel of election says this; he tells us that there is a difference between the wife and the virgin. Observe what the happiness of that state must be in which even the distinction of sex is lost. The virgin is no longer called a woman. 4248 “She that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit.” A virgin is defined as she that is holy in body and in spirit, for it is no good to have virgin flesh if a woman be married in mind.
“But she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” Do you think there is no difference between one who spends her time in prayer and fasting, and one who must, at her husband’s approach, make up her countenance, walk with mincing gait, and feign a shew of endearment? The virgin’s aim is to appear less comely; she will wrong herself p. 345 so as to hide her natural attractions. The married woman has the paint laid on before her mirror, and, to the insult of her Maker, strives to acquire something more than her natural beauty. Then come the prattling of infants, the noisy household, children watching for her word and waiting for her kiss, the reckoning up of expenses, the preparation to meet the outlay. On one side you will see a company of cooks, girded for the onslaught and attacking the meat: there you may hear the hum of a multitude of weavers. Meanwhile a message is delivered that the husband and his friends have arrived. The wife, like a swallow, flies all over the house. “She has to see to everything. Is the sofa smooth? Is the pavement swept? Are the flowers in the cups? Is dinner ready?” Tell me, pray, where amid all this is there room for the thought of God? Are these happy homes? Where there is the beating of drums, the noise and clatter of pipe and lute, the clanging of cymbals, can any fear of God be found? The parasite is snubbed and feels proud of the honour. Enter next the half-naked victims of the passions, a mark for every lustful eye. The unhappy wife must either take pleasure in them, and perish, or be displeased, and provoke her husband. Hence arises discord, the seed-plot of divorce. Or suppose you find me a house where these things are unknown, which is a rara avis indeed! yet even there the very management of the household, the education of the children, the wants of the husband, the correction of the servants, cannot fail to call away the mind from the thought of God. 4249 “It had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women”: so the Scripture says, and afterwards Abraham received the command, 4250 “In all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice.” She who is not subject to the anxiety and pain of child-bearing and having passed the change of life has ceased to perform the functions of a woman, is freed from the curse of God: nor is her desire to her husband, but on the contrary her husband becomes subject to her, and the voice of the Lord commands him, “In all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice.” Thus they begin to have time for prayer. For so long as the debt of marriage is paid, earnest prayer is neglected.