Methodius (Cont.)The Banquet of the Ten Virgins; or, Concerning Chastity. (Cont.)

Discourse III. – Thaleia. (Cont.)

Chap. IX. – The Dispensation of Grace in Paul the Apostle.

Now we should consider the case of the renowned Paul, that when he was not yet perfect in Christ, he was first born and suckled, Ananias preaching to him, and renewing him in baptism, as the history in the Acts relates. But when he was grown to a man, and was built up, then being moulded to spiritual perfection, he was made the help-meet and bride of the Word; and receiving and conceiving the seeds of life, he who was before a child, becomes a church and a mother, himself labouring in birth of those who, through him, believed in the Lord, until Christ was formed and born in them also. For he says, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you;” (Gal_4:19) and again, “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.” (1Co_4:15)

It is evident, then, that the statement respecting Eve and Adam is to be referred to the Church and Christ. For this is truly a great mystery and a supernatural, of which I, from my weakness and dulness, am unable to speak, according to its worth and greatness. Nevertheless, let us attempt it. It remains that I speak to you on what follows, and of its signification.


Chap. X. – The Doctrine of the Same Apostle Concerning Purity.

Now Paul, when summoning all persons to sanctification and purity, in this way referred that which had been spoken concerning the first man and Eve in a secondary sense to Christ and the Church, in order to silence the ignorant, now deprived of all excuse. For men who are incontinent in consequence of the uncontrolled impulses of sensuality in them, dare to force the Scriptures beyond their true meaning, so as to twist into a defence of their incontinence the saying, “Increase and multiply;” (Gen_2:18) and the other, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother;” (Gen_2:24) and they are not ashamed to run counter to the Spirit, but, as though born for this purpose, they kindle up the smouldering and lurking passion, fanning and provoking it; and therefore he, cutting off very sharply these dishonest follies and invented excuses, and having arrived at the subject of instructing them how men should behave to their wives, showing that it should be as Christ did to the Church, “who gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing35 of water by the Word,” 36 he referred back to Genesis, mentioning the things spoken concerning the first man, and explaining these things as bearing on the subject before him, that he might take away occasion for the abuse of these passages from those who taught the sensual gratification of the body, under the pretext of begetting children.


Chap. XI. – The Same Argument.

For consider, O virgins, how he,37 desiring with all his might that believers in Christ should be chaste, endeavours by many arguments to show them the dignity of chastity, as when he says,38

Now, concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman,” thence showing already very clearly that it is good not to touch39 a woman, laying it down. and setting it forth unconditionally. But afterwards, being aware of the weakness of the less continent, and their passion for intercourse, he permitted those who are unable to govern the flesh to use their own wives, rather than, shamefully transgressing, to give themselves tip to fornication. Then, after having given this permission, he immediately added these words, (1Co_7:5) “that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency;” which means, “if you, such as you are, cannot, on account of the incontinence and softness of your bodies, be perfectly continent, I will rather permit you to have intercourse with your own wives, lest, professing perfect continence, ye be constantly tempted by the evil one, and be inflamed with lust after other men’s wives.”


Chap. XII. – Paul an Example to Widows, and to Those Who Do Not Live with Their Wives.

Come, now, and let us examine more carefully the very words which are before us, and observe that the apostle did not grant these things unconditionally to all, but first laid down the reason on account of which he was led to this. For, having set forth that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman,” (1Co_7:1) he added immediately, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife” (1Co_7:2) – that is, “on account of the fornication which would arise from your being unable to restrain your voluptuousness “ – and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it tie with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to prayer;40 and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” (1Co_7:2-6) And this is very carefully considered. “By permission” he says, showing that he was giving counsel, “not of command; “ for he receives command respecting chastity and the not touching of a woman, but permission respecting those who are unable, as I said, to chasten their appetites. These things, then, he lays down concerning men and women who are married to one spouse, or who shall hereafter be so; but we must now examine carefully the apostle’s language respecting men who have lost their wives, and women who have lost their husbands, and what he declares on this subject.

“I say therefore,” he goes on, (1Co_7:8, 1Co_7:9) “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.” Here also he persisted in giving the preference to continence. For, taking himself as a notable example, in order to stir them up to emulation, he challenged his hearers to this state of life, teaching that it was better that a man who had been bound to one wife should henceforth remain single, as lie also did.41 But if, on the other hand, this should be a matter of difficulty to any one, on account of the strength of animal passion, he allows that one who is in such a condition may, “by permission,” contract a second marriage; not as though he expressed the opinion that a second marriage was in itself flood,42 but judging it better than burning. Just as though, in the fast which prepares for the Easter celebration, one should offer food to an other who was dangerously ill, and say,” In truth, my friend, it were fitting and good that you should bravely hold out like us, and partake of the same things,43 for it is forbidden even to think of food to-day; but since you are held down and weakened by disease, and cannot bear it, therefore, ‘by permission,’ we advise you to eat food, lest, being quite unable, from sickness, to hold up against the desire for food, you perish.” Thus also the apostle speaks here, first saying that he wished all were healthy and continent, as he also was, but afterwards allowing a second marriage to those who are burdened with the disease of the passions, lest they should be wholly defiled by fornication, goaded on by the itchings of the organs of generation to promiscuous intercourse, considering such a second marriage far preferable to burning and indecency. 


Chap. XIII. – The Doctrine of Paul Concerning Virginity Explained.

I have now brought to an end what I have to say respecting continence and marriage and chastity, and intercourse with men, and in which of these there is help towards progress in righteousness; but it still remains to speak concerning virginity – if, indeed, anything be prescribed on this subject. Let us then treat this subject also; for it stands thus (1Co_7:25-28): “Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress; I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife ? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.” Having given his opinion with great caution respecting virginity, and being about to advise him who wished it to give his virgin in marriage, so that none of those things which conduce to sanctification should be of necessity and by compulsion, but according to the free purpose of the soul. for this is acceptable to God, he does not wish these things to be said as by authority, and as the mind of the Lord, with reference to the giving of a virgin in marriage; for after he had said, (1Co_7:28) “if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned,” directly afterwards, with the greatest caution, he modified his statement, showing that he had advised these things by human permission, and not by divine. So, immediately after he had said, “if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned,” he added, “such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.” (1Co_7:28) By which he means: “I sparing you, such as you are, consented to these things, because yon have chosen to think thus of them, that I may not seem to hurry you on by violence, and compel any one to this.44 But yet if it shall please you who find chastity hard to bear, rather to turn to marriage; I consider it to be profitable for you to restrain yourselves in the gratification of the flesh, not making your marriage an occasion for abusing your own vessels to uncleanness.” Then he adds,45 “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none.” And again, going on and challenging them to the same things, he confirmed his statement, powerfully supporting the state of virginity, and adding expressly the following words to those which he had spoken before, he exclaimed, (1Co_7:32-34) “I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord:46 but he that is married careth for f the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” Now it is clear to all, without any doubt, that to care for the things of the Lord and to please God, is much better than to care for the things of the world and to please one’s wife. For who is there so foolish and blind. as not to perceive in this statement the higher praise which Paul accords to chastity? “And this,” he says, (1Co_7:35) “I speak for your own profit, not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely.”


Chap. XIV. – Virginity a Gift of God: The Purpose of Virginity Not Rashly to Be Adopted by Any One.

Consider besides how, in addition to the words already quoted, he commends the state of virginity as a gift of God. Wherefore he rejects those of the more incontinent, who, under the influence of vain-glory, would advance to this state, advising them to marry, lest in their time of manly strength, the flesh stirring up the desires and passions, they should be goaded on to defile the soul. For let us consider what he lays down:47 “ But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely towards his virgin,” he says,” if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let him marry;” properly here preferring marriage to “uncomeliness,” in the case of those who had chosen the state of virginity, but afterwards finding it intolerable and grievous, and in word boasting of their perseverance before men, out of shame, but indeed no longer having the power to persevere in the life of a eunuch. But for him who of his own free will and purpose decides to preserve his flesh in virgin purity, “having no necessity,” (1Co_7:37) that is, passion calling forth his loins to intercourse, for there are, as it seems, differences in men’s bodies; such a one contending and struggling, and zealously abiding by his profession. and admirably fulfilling it, he exhorts to abide and to preserve it, according the highest prize to virginity. For he that is able, he says, and ambitious to preserve his flesh pure, does better; but he that is unable, and enters into marriage lawfully, and does not indulge in secret corruption, does well. And now enough has been said on these subjects.

Let any one who will, take in his hand the Epistle to the Corinthians, and, examining all its passages one by one, then consider what we have said, comparing them together, as to whether there is not a perfect harmony and agreement between them. These things, according to my power, O Arete, I offer to thee as my contribution on the subject of chastity.

EUBOULIOS. Through many things, O Gregorion, she has scarcely come to the subject, having measured and crossed a mighty sea of words.

GREGORION. So it seems; but come, I must mention the rest of what was said in order, going through it and repeating it, while I seem to have the sound of it dwelling in my ears, before it flies away and escapes; for the remembrance of things lately heard is easily effaced from the aged.

EUBOULIOS. Say on, then; for we have come to have the pleasure of hearing these discourses.

GREGORION. And then after, as you observed, Thaleia had descended from her smooth and unbroken course to the earth, Theopatra, she said, followed her in order, and spoke as follows.


Discourse IV. – Theopatra.

Chap. I. – The Necessity of Praising Virtue, for Those Who Have the Power.

If the art of speaking, O virgins, always went by the same ways, and passed along the same path, there would be no way to avoid wearying you for one who persisted in the arguments which had already been urged. But since there are of arguments myriads of currents and ways, God inspiring us “at sundry times and in divers manners,”48 who can have the choice of holding back or of being afraid? For he would not be free from blame to whom the gift has been given, if he failed to adorn that which is honourable with words of praise. Come then, we also, according to our gifts, will sing the brightest and most glorious star of Christ, which is chastity. For this way of the Spirit is very wide and large. Beginning, therefore, at the point from which we may say those things which are suitable and fitting to the subject before us, I let us from thence consider it.


Chap. II. – The Protection of Chastity and Virginity Divinely Given to Men, That They May Emerge from the Mire of Vices.

Now I at least seem to perceive that nothing has been such a means of restoring men to paradise, and of the change to incorruption, and of reconciliation to God, and such a means of salvation to men, by guiding us to life, as chastity. And I will now endeavour to show why I think so concerning these things, that having heard distinctly the power of the grace already spoken of, you may know of how great blessings it has become the giver to us. Anciently, then, after the fall of man, when he was cast out by reason of his transgression, the stream of corruption poured forth abundantly, and running along in violent currents, not only fiercely swept along whatever touched it from without, but also rushing within it, overwhelmed the souls of men. And they,49 continuously exposed to this, were carried along dumb and stupid, neglecting to pilot their vessels,50 from having nothing firm to lay hold of. For the senses of the soul, as those have said who are learned in these things, when, being overcome by the excitements to passion which fall upon them from without, they receive the sudden bursts of the waves of folly which rush into them, being darkened turn aside from the divine course its whole vessel, which is by nature easily guided. Wherefore God, pitying us who were in such a condition, and were able neither to stand nor to rise, sent down from heaven the best and most glorious help, virginity, that by it we might tie our bodies fast, like ships, and have a calm, coming to an anchorage without damage, as also the Holy Spirit witnesses. For this is said in the hundred and thirty-sixth51 psalm, where the souls send joyfully up to God a hymn of thanksgiving,52 as many as have been taken hold of and raised up to walk with Christ in heaven, that they might not be overwhelmed by the streams of the world and the flesh. Whence, also, they say that Pharaoh was a type of the devil in Egypt, since he mercilessly commanded the males to be cast into the river, (Exo_1:16) but the females to be preserved alive. For the devil, ruling (Rom_5:14) from Adam to Moses over this great Egypt, the world, took care to have the male and rational offspring of the soul carried away and destroyed by the streams of passions, but he longs for the carnal and irrational offspring to increase and multiply.


Chap. III. – That Passage of David Explained;53 What the Harps Hung upon the Willows Signify; the Willow a Symbol of Chastity; the Willows Watered by Streams.

But not to pass away from our subject, come, let us take in our hands and examine this psalm, which the pure and stainless souls sing to God, saying:54 “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down; yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof,” clearly giving the name of harps to their bodies which they hung upon the branches of chastity, fastening them to the wood that they might not be snatched away and dragged along again by the stream of incontinence. For Babylon, which is interpreted “disturbance “or” confusion,” signifies this life around which the water flows, while we sit in the midst of which the water flows round us, as long as we are in the world, the rivers of evil always beating upon us. Wherefore, also, we are always fearful, and we groan and cry with weeping to God, that our harps may not be snatched off by the waves of pleasure, and slip down from the tree of chastity. For everywhere the divine writings take the willow as the type of chastity, because, when its flower is steeped in water, if it be drunk, it extinguishes whatever kindles sensual desires and passions within us, until it entirely renders barren, and makes every inclination to the begetting of children without effect, as also Homer indicated, for this reason calling the willows destructive of fruit.55 And in Isaiah the righteous are said to “spring up as willows by the water courses.” (Isa_44:4) Surely, then, the shoot of virginity is raised to a great and glorious height, when the righteous, and he to whom it is given to preserve it and to cultivate it, bedewing it with wisdom, is watered by the gentlest streams of Christ. For as it is the nature of this tree to bud and grow through water, so it is the nature of virginity to blossom and grow to maturity when enriched by words, so that one can hang his body56 upon it.


Chap. IV. – The Author Goes on with the Interpretation of the Same Passage.

If, then, the rivers of Babylon are the streams of voluptuousness, as wise men say, which confuse and disturb the soul, then the willows must be chastity, to which we may suspend and draw up the organs of lust which overbalance and weigh down the mind, so that they may not be borne down by the torrents of incontinence, and be drawn like worms to impurity and corruption. For God has bestowed upon us virginity as a most useful and a serviceable help towards incorruption, sending it as an ally to those who are contending for and longing after Zion, as the psalm shows, which is resplendent charity and the commandment respecting it, for Zion is interpreted “The commandment of the watchtower.”57 Now, let us here enumerate the points which follow. For why do the souls declare that they were asked by those who led them captive to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Surely because the Gospel teaches a holy and secret song, which sinners and adulterers sing to the Evil One. For they insult the commandments, accomplishing the will of the spirits of evil, and cast holy things to dogs, and pearls before swine, (Mat_7:6) in the same manner as those of whom the prophet says with indignation, “They read the law58 without; “59 for the Jews were not to read the law going forth out of the gates of Jerusalem or out of their houses; and for this reason the prophet blames them strongly, and cries that they were liable to condemnation, because, while they were transgressing the commandments, and acting impiously towards God, they were pretentiously reading the law, as if, forsooth, they were piously observing its precepts; but they did not receive it in their souls, holding it firmly with faith, but rejected it, denying it by their works. And hence they sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, explaining the law by distorting and degrading it, expecting a sensual kingdom, and setting their hopes on this alien world, which the Word says will pass away, (1Pe_2:10) where those who carry them captive entice them with pleasures, lying in wait to deceive them.


Chap. V. – The Gifts of Virgins, Adorned with Which They Are Presented to One Husband, Christ.

Now, those who sing the Gospel to senseless people seem to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, of which Christ is not the husbandman; but those who have put on and shone in the most pure and bright, and unmingled and pious and becoming, ornament of virginity, and are found barren and unproductive of unsettled and grievous passions, do not sing the song in a strange land; because they are not borne thither by their hopes, nor do they stick fast in the lusts of their mortal bodies, nor do they take a low view of the meaning of the commandments, but well and nobly, with a lofty disposition, they have regard to the promises which are above, thirsting for heaven as a congenial abode, whence God, approving their dispositions, promises with an oath to give them choice honours, appointing and establishing them “above His chief joy;” for He says thus: (Psa_137:5, Psa_137:6) “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy;” meaning by Jerusalem, as I said, these very undefiled and incorrupt souls, which, having with self-denial drawn in the pure draught of virginity with unpolluted lips, are “espoused to one husband,” to be presented “as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2Co_11:2) in heaven, “having gotten the victory, striving for undefiled rewards.” (Wis. 4:2) Hence also the prophet Isaiah proclaims, saying, (Isa_60:1) “Arise, shine,60 for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” Now these promises, it is evident to every one, will be fulfilled after the resurrection.61 For the Holy Spirit does not speak of that well-known town in Judea; but truly of that heavenly city, the blessed Jerusalem, which He declares to be the assembly of the souls which God plainly promises to place first, “above His chief joy,” in the new dispensation, settling those who are clothed in the most white robe of virginity in the pure dwelling of unapproachable light; because they had it not in mind to put off their wedding garment – that is, to relax their minds by wandering thoughts.


Chap. VI. – Virginity To Be Cultivated and Commended in Every Place and Time.

Further, the expression in Jeremiah,62 “That a maid should not forget her ornaments, nor a bride her attire,”63 shows that she should not give up or loosen the band of chastity through wiles and distractions. For by the heart are properly denoted our heart and mind. Now the breastband, the girdle which gathers together and keeps firm the purpose of the soul to chastity, is love to God, which our Captain and Shepherd, Jesus, who is also our Ruler and Bridegroom, O illustrious virgins, commands both you and me to hold fast unbroken and sealed up even to the end; for one will not easily find anything else a greater help to men than this possession, pleasing and grateful to God. There-fore, I say, that we should all exercise and honour chastity, and always cultivate and commend it.

Let these first-fruits of my discourse suffice for thee, O Arete, in proof of my education and my zeal. “And I receive the gift,” she said that Arete replied, “and bid Thallousa speak after thee; for I must have a discourse from each one of you.” And she said that Thallousa, pausing a little, as though considering somewhat with herself, thus spoke.


Discourse V. – Thallousa.

Chap. I. – The Offering of Chastity a Great Gift.64

I pray you, Arete, that you will give your assistance now too, that I may seem to speak something worthy in the first place of yourself, and then of those who are present. For I am persuaded, having thoroughly learnt it from the sacred writings, that the greatest and most glorious offering and gift, to which there is nothing comparable, which men can offer to God, is the life65 of virginity. For although many accomplished many admirable things, according to their vows, in the law, they alone were said to fulfil a great vow who were willing to offer themselves of their free-will. For the passage runs thus: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when either man or woman shall separate themselves . . . unto the Lord.”66 One vows to offer gold and silver vessels for the sanctuary when he comes, another to offer the tithe of his fruits, another of his property, another the best of his flocks, another consecrates his being; and no one is able to vow a great vow to the Lord, but he who has offered himself entirely to God.


Chapter II. Abraham’s Sacrifice of a Heifer Three Years Old, of a Goat, and of a Ram also Three Years Old: Its Meaning; Every Age to Be Consecrated to God; the Threefold Watch and Our Age.

I must endeavour, O virgins, by a true exposition, to explain to you the mind of the Scripture according to its meaning.67 Now, he who watches over and restrains himself in part, and in part is distracted and wandering, is not wholly given up to God. Hence it is necessary that the perfect man offer up all, both the things of the soul and those of the flesh, so that he may be complete and not lacking. Therefore also God commands Abraham,68 “Take Me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle dove, and a young pigeon;” which is admirably said; for remark, that concerning those things, He also gives this command, Bring them Me and keep them free from the yoke, even thy soul uninjured, like a heifer, and your flesh, and your reason; the last like a goat, since he traverses lofty and precipitous places, and the other like a ram, that he may in nowise skip away, and fall and slip off from the right way. For thus shalt thou be perfect and blameless, O Abraham, when thou hast offered to Me thy soul, and thy sense, and thy mind, which He mentioned under the symbol of the heifer, the goat, and the ram of three years old, as though they represented the pure knowledge of the Trinity.

And perhaps He also symbolizes the beginning, the middle, and the end of our life and of our age, wishing as far as possible that men should spend their boyhood, their manhood, and their more advanced life purely, and offer them up to Him. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ commands in the Gospels, thus directing: “Let not your lights be extinguished, and let not your loins be loosed. Therefore also be ye like men who wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are ye, when he shall make you sit down, and shall come and serve you. And if he come in the second, or in the third watch, ye are blessed.”69 For consider, O virgins, when He mentions three watches of the night, and His three comings, He shadows forth in symbol our three periods of life, that of the boy, of the full-grown man, and of the old man; so that if He should come and remove us from the world while spending our first period, that is, while we are boys, He may receive us ready and pure, having nothing amiss; and the second and the third in like manner. For the evening watch is the time of the budding and youth of man, when the reason begins to be disturbed and to be clouded by the changes of life, his flesh gaining strength and urging him to lust. The second is the time when, afterwards advancing to a full-grown man, he begins to acquire stability, and to make a stand against the turbulence of passion and self-conceit. And the third, when most of the imaginations and desires fade away, the flesh now withering and declining to old age.


Chap. III. – Far Best to Cultivate Virtue from Boyhood.

Therefore, it is becoming that we should kindle the unquenchable light of faith in the heart, and gird our loins with purity, and watch and ever wait for the Lord so that, if He should will to come and take any of us away in the first period of life, or in the second, or in the third, and should find us most ready, and working what He appointed, He may make us to lie down in the bosom of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Now Jeremiah says, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth;” (Lam_3:27) and “that his soul should not depart from the Lord.” It is good, indeed, from boyhood, to submit the neck to the divine Hand, and not to shake off, even to old age, the Rider who guides with pure mind, when the Evil One is ever dragging down the mind to that which is worse. For who is there that does not receive through the eyes, through the ears, through the taste and smell and touch, pleasures and delights, so as to become impatient of the control of continence as a driver, who checks and vehemently restrains the horse from evil? Another who turns his thoughts to other things will think differently; but we say that he offers himself perfectly to God who strives to keep the flesh undefiled from childhood, practising virginity; for it speedily brings great and much-desired gifts of hopes to those who strive for it, drying up the corrupting lusts and passions of the soul. But come, let us explain how we give ourselves up to the Lord.


Chap. IV. – Perfect Consecration and Devotion to God: What It Is.

That which is laid down in the Book of Numbers, (Num. 6:2, LXX) “greatly to vow a vow,” serves to show, as, with a little more explanation, I proceed to prove, that chastity is the great vow above all vows. For then am I plainly consecrated altogether to the Lord, when I not only strive to keep the flesh untouched by intercourse, but also unspotted by other kinds of unseemliness. For “the unmarried woman,” it is said,70 “careth for the things of the Lord, how she may please the Lord;” not merely that she may bear away the glory in part of not being maimed in her virtue, but in both parts, according to the apostle, that she may be sanctified in body and spirit, offering up, her members to the Lord. For let us say what it is to offer up oneself perfectly to the Lord. If, for instance, I open my mouth on some subjects, and close it upon others; thus, if I open it for the explanation of the Scriptures, for the praise of God, according to my power, in a true faith and with all due honour, and if I close it, putting a door and a watch upon it (Cf. Psa_139:4, and Psa_141:3) against foolish discourse, my mouth is kept pure, and is offered up to God. “My tongue is a pen.” (Psa_45:2) an organ of wisdom; for the Word of the Spirit writes by it in clearest letters, from the depth and power of the Scriptures, even the Lord, the swift Writer of the ages, that He quickly and swiftly registers and fulfils the counsel of the Father, hearing the words, “quickly spoil, swiftly plunder.”71 To such a Scribe the words may be applied, “My tongue is a pen;” for a beautiful pen is sanctified and offered to Him, writing things more lovely than the poets and orators who confirm the doctrines of men. If, too, I accustom my eyes not to lust after the charms of the body, nor to take delight in unseemly sights, but to look up to the things which are above, then my eyes are kept pure, and are offered to the Lord. If I shut my ears against detraction and slanders, and open them to the word of God, having intercourse with wise men, (Cf. Ecclus. 6:36) then have I offered up my ears to the Lord. If I keep my hands from dishonourable dealing, from acts of covetousness and of licentiousness, then are my hands kept pure to God. If I withhold my steps from going72 in perverse ways, then have I offered up my feet, not going to the places of public resort and banquets, where wicked men are found, but into the right way, fulfilling something of the73 commands. What, then, remains to me, if I also keep the heart pure, offering up all its thoughts to God; if I think no evil, if anger and wrath gain no rule over me, if I meditate in the law of the Lord day and night? And this is to preserve a great chastity, and to vow a great vow.


Chap. V. – The Vow of Chastity, and Its Rites in the Law; Vines, Christ, and the Devil.

I will now endeavour to explain to you, O virgins, the rest of that which is prescribed; for this is attached to your duties, consisting of laws concerning virginity, which are useful as teaching how we should abstain, and how advance to virginity. For it is written thus: (Num_6:1-4) “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord; he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried, all the days of his separation.” And this means, that he who has devoted and offered himself to the Lord shall not take of the fruits of the plant of evil, because of its natural tendency to produce intoxication and distraction of mind. For we perceive from the Scriptures two kinds of vines which were separate from each other, and were unlike. For the one is productive of immortality and righteousness; but the other of madness and insanity. The sober and joy-producing vine, from whose instructions, as from branches, there joyfully hang down clusters of graces, distilling love, is our Lord Jesus, who says expressly to the apostles, (Joh_15:1, Joh_15:5) “I am the true vine, ye are the branches; and my Father is the husbandman.” But the wild and death-bearing vine is the devil, who drops down fury and poison and wrath, as Moses relates, writing concerning him, (Deu_32:32, Deu_32:33) “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.” The inhabitants of Sodom having gathered grapes from this, were goaded on to an unnatural and fruitless desire for males. Hence, also, in the time of Noah, men having given themselves tip to drunkenness, sank down into unbelief, and, being overwhelmed by the deluge, were drowned. And Cain, too, having drawn from this, stained his fratricidal hands, and defiled the earth with the blood of his own family. Hence, too, the heathen, becoming intoxicated, sharpen their passions for murderous battles; for man is not so much excited, nor goes so far astray through wine, as from anger and wrath. A man does not become intoxicated and go astray through wine, in the same way as he does from sorrow, or from love, or from incontinence. And therefore it is ordered that a virgin shall not taste of this vine, so that she may be sober and watchful from the cares of life, and may kindle the shining torch of the light of righteousness for the Word. “Take heed to yourselves,” says the Lord, (Luk_21:34) “lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon yon unawares, as a snare.”


Chap. VI. – Sikera, a Manufactured and Spurious Wine, yet Intoxicating; Things Which Are Akin to Sins Are to Be Avoided by a Virgin; the Altar of Incense (a Symbol of) Virgins.

Moreover, it is not only forbidden to virgins in any way to touch those things which are made from that vine, but even such things as resemble them and are akin to them. For Sikera, which is manufactured, is called a spurious kind of wine, whether made of palms or of other fruit-trees. For in the same way that draughts of wine overthrow man’s reason, so do these exceedingly; and to speak the plain truth, the wise are accustomed to call by the name of Sikera all that produces drunkenness and distraction of mind, besides wine. In order, therefore, that the virgin may not, when guarding against those sins which are in their own nature evil, be defiled by those which are like them and akin to them, conquering the one and being conquered by the other, that is, decorating herself with textures of different cloths, or with stones and gold, and other decorations of the body, things which intoxicate the soul; on this account it is ordered that she do not give herself up to womanish weaknesses and laughter, exciting herself to wiles and foolish talking, which whirl the mind around and confuse it; as it is indicated in another place,74 “Ye shall not eat the hyaena and animals like it; nor the weasel and creatures of that kind.” For this is the straight and direct way to heaven, not merely not to avoid any stumbling-block which would trip up and destroy men who are agitated by a desire for luxuries and pleasures, but also from such things as resemble them.

Moreover, it has been handed down that the unbloody altar of God signifies the assembly of the chaste; thus virginity appears to be something great and glorious. Therefore it ought to be preserved undefiled and altogether pure, having no participation in the impurities of the flesh; but it should be set up before the presence of the testimony, gilded with wisdom, for the Holy of holies, sending forth a sweet savour of love to the Lord; for He says, (Exo_30:1-9) “Thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim-wood shalt thou make it. And thou shall make the staves of shittim-wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy-seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee. And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it; a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt-sacrifices nor meat-offering; neither shall ye pour drink-offering thereon.”


Chap. VII. – The Church Intermediate Between the Shadows of the Law and the Realities of Heaven.

If the law, according to the apostle, is spiritual, containing the images “of future good things,”75 come then, let us strip off the veil of the letter which is spread over it, and consider its naked and true meaning. The Hebrews were commanded to ornament the Tabernacle as a type of the Church, that they might be able, by means of sensible things, to announce beforehand the image of divine things. For the pattern which was shown to Moses (Exo_25:40) in the mount, to which he was to have regard in fashioning the Tabernacle, was a kind of accurate representation of the heavenly dwelling, which we now perceive more clearly than through types, yet more darkly than if we saw the reality. For not yet, in our present condition, has the truth come unmingled to men, who are here unable to bear the sight of pure immortality, just as we cannot bear to look upon the rays of the sun. And the Jews declared that the shadow of the image (of the heavenly things which was afforded to them), was the third from the reality; but we clearly behold the image of the heavenly order; for the truth will be accurately made manifest after the resurrection, when we shall see the heavenly tabernacle (the city in heaven “whose builder and maker is God” (Heb_11:10) “face to face,” and not “darkly” and “in part.” (1Co_13:12)


Chap. VIII. – The Double Altar, Widows and Virgins; Gold the Symbol of Virginity.

Now the Jews prophesied our state, but we foretell the heavenly; since the Tabernacle was a symbol of the Church, and the Church of heaven. Therefore, these things being so, and the Tabernacle being taken for a type of the Church, as I said, it is fitting that the altars should signify some of the things in the Church. And we have already compared the brazen altar to the company and circuit of widows; for they are a living altar of God, to which they bring calves and tithes, and free-will offerings, as a sacrifice to the Lord; but the golden altar within the76 Holy of holies, before the presence of the testimony, on which it is forbidden to offer sacrifice and libation, has reference to those in a state of virginity, as those who have their bodies preserved pure, like unalloyed gold, from carnal intercourse. Now gold is commended for two reasons: the first, that it does not rust, and the second, that in its colour it seems in a measure to resemble the rays of the sun; and thus it is suitably a symbol of virginity, which does not admit any stain or spot, but ever shines forth with the light of the Word. Therefore, also, it stands nearer to God within the Holy of holies, and before the veil, with undefiled hands, like incense, offering up prayers to the Lord, acceptable as a sweet savour; as also John indicated, saying that the incense in the vials of the four-and-twenty elders were the prayers of the saints. This, then, I offer to thee, O Arete, on the spur of the moment, according to my ability, on the subject of chastity. 

And when Thallousa had said this, Theopatra said that Arete touched Agathe with her sceptre, and that she, perceiving it, immediately arose and answered.


Discourse VI. – Agathe.

Chap. I. – The Excellence of the Abiding Glory of Virginity; the Soul Made in the Image of the Image of God, That Is of His Son; the Devil a Suitor for the Soul.

With great confidence of being able to persuade, and to carry on this admirable discourse, O Arete, if thou go with me, will I also endeavour, according to my ability, to contribute something to the discussion of the subject before us; something commensurate to my own power, and not to be compared with that which has already been spoken. For I should be unable to put forth in philosophizing anything that could compete with those things which have already been so variously and brilliantly worked out. For I shall seem to bear away the reproach of silliness, if I make an effort to match myself with my superiors in wisdom. If, however, you will bear even with those who speak as they can, I will endeavour to speak, not lacking at least in good will. And here let me begin.

We have all come into this world, O virgins, endowed with singular beauty, which has a relationship and affinity to divine wisdom. For the souls of men do then most accurately resemble Him who begat and formed them, when, reflecting the unsullied representation of His likeness, and the features of that countenance, to which God looking formed them to have an immortal and indestructible shape, they remain such. For the unbegotten and incorporeal beauty, which neither begins nor is corruptible, but is unchangeable, and grows not old and has need of nothing, He resting in Himself, and in the very light which is in unspeakable and inapproachable places, (Cf. Tim. Joh_6:16) embracing all things in the circumference of His power, creating and arranging, made the soul after the image of His image. Therefore, also, it is reasonable and immortal. For being made after the image of the Only-begotten, as I said, it has an unsurpassable beauty, and therefore evil spirits77 love it, and plot and strive to defile its godlike and lovely image, as the prophet Jeremiah shows, reproaching Jerusalem, “Thou hadst a whore’s forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed;” (Jer_3:3) speaking of her who prostituted herself to the powers which came against her to pollute her. For her lovers are the devil and his angels, who plan to defile and pollute our reasonable and clear-sighted beauty of mind by intercourse with themselves, and desire to cohabit with every soul which is betrothed to the Lord.


Chap. II. – The Parable of the Ten Virgins.78

If, then, any one will keep this beauty inviolate and unharmed, and such as He who constructed it formed and fashioned it, imitating the eternal and intelligible nature of which man is the representation and likeness, and will become like a glorious and holy image, he will be transferred thence to heaven, the city of the blessed, and will dwell there as in a sanctuary. Now our beauty is then best preserved undefiled and perfect when, protected by virginity, it is not darkened by the heat of corruption from without; but, remaining in itself, it is adorned with righteousness, being brought as a bride to the Son of God; as He also Himself suggests, exhorting that the light of chastity should be kindled in their flesh, as in lamps; since the number of the ten virgins s signifies the souls that have believed in Jesus Christ, symbolizing by the ten the only right way to heaven. Now five of them were prudent and wise; and five were foolish and unwise, for they had not the forethought to fill their vessels with oil, remaining destitute of righteousness. Now by these He signifies those who strive to come to the boundaries of virginity, and who strain every nerve to fulfil this love, acting virtuously and temperately, and who profess and boast that this is their aim; but who, making light of it, and being subdued by the changes of the world, come rather to be sketches of the shadowy image of virtue, than workers who represent the living truth itself.


Chap. III. – The Same Endeavour and Effort After Virginity, with a Different Result.

Now when it is said (Mat_25:1-46) that “the kingdom of heaven is likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom,” this means that the same way towards the goal had been entered upon, as is shown by the mark X.79 By profession they had equally proposed the same end, and therefore they are called ten, since, as I have said, they chose the same profession; but they did not, for all that, go forth in the same way to meet the bridegroom. For some provided abundant future nourishment for their lamps which were fed with oil, but others were careless, thinking only of the present. And, therefore, they are divided into two equal numbers of five, inasmuch as the one class preserved the five senses, which most people consider the gates of wisdom, pure and undefiled by sins; but the others, on the contrary, corrupted them by multitudes of sins, defiling themselves with evil. For having restrained them, and kept them free from righteousness, they bore a more abundant crop of transgressions, in consequence of which it came to pass that they were forbidden, and shut out from the divine courts. For whether, on the one hand, we do right, or, on the other, do wrong through these senses, our habits of good and evil are confirmed. And as Thallousa said that there is a chastity of the eyes, and of the ears, and of the tongue, and so on of the other senses; so here she who keeps inviolate the faith of the five pathways of virtue – sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing – is called by the name of the five virgins, because she has kept the five forms of the sense pure to Christ, as a lamp, causing the light of holiness to shine forth clearly from each of them. For the flesh is truly, as it were, our five-lighted lamp, which the soul will bear like a torch, when it stands before Christ the Bridegroom, on the day of the resurrection, showing her faith springing out clear and bright through all the senses, as He Himself taught, saying,80 “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I if it be already kindled?” meaning by the earth our bodies, in which He wished the swift-moving and fiery operation of His doctrine to be kindled. Now the oil represents wisdom and righteousness; for while the soul rains down unsparingly, and pours forth these things upon the body, the light of virtue is kindled unquenchably, making its good actions to shine before men, so that our Father which is in heaven may be glorified. (Mat_5:16)


Chap. IV. – What the Oil in the Lamps Means.

Now they offered, in Leviticus, (Lev_24:2, Lev_24:3) oil of this kind, “pure oil olive, beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually, without the veil . . . before the Lord.” But they were commanded to have a feeble light from the evening to the morning. For their light seemed to resemble the prophetic word, which gives encouragement to temperance, being nourished by the acts and the faith of the people. But the temple (in which the light was kept burning) refers to “the lot of their inheritance,” (Psa_105:11) inasmuch as a light can shine in only one house. Therefore it was necessary that it should be lighted before day. For he says, (Lev_24:3) “they shall burn it until the morning,” that is, until the coming of Christ. But the Sun of chastity and of righteousness having arisen, there is no need of other light.

So long, then, as this people treasured up nourishment for the light, supplying oil by their works, the light of continence was not extinguished among them, but was ever shining and giving light in the “lot of their inheritance.” But when the oil failed, by their turning away from the faith to incontinence, the light was entirely extinguished, so that the virgins have again to kindle their lamps by light transmitted from one to another, bringing the light of incorruption to the world from above. Let us then supply now the oil of good works abundantly, and of prudence, being purged from all corruption which would weigh us down; lest, while the Bridegroom tarries, our lamps may also in like manner be extinguished. For the delay is the interval which precedes the appearing of Christ. Now the slumbering and sleeping of the virgins signifies the departure from life; and the midnight is the kingdom of Antichrist, during which the destroying angel passes over the houses. (Exo_11:1-10, Exo_12:1-51) But the cry which was made when it was said,81 “Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him,” is the voice which shall be heard from heaven, and the trumpet, when the saints, all their bodies being raised, shall be caught up, and shall go on the clouds to meet the Lord. (1Th_4:16, 1Th_4:17)

For it is to be observed that the word of God says, that after the cry all the virgins arose, that is, that the dead shall be raised after the voice which comes from heaven, as also Paul intimates, (1Th_4:16) that “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first;” that is the tabernacles,82 for they died, being put off by their souls. “Then we which are alive shall be caught up together with them,” meaning our souls.83 For we truly who are alive are the souls which, with the bodies, having put them on again, shall go to meet Him in the clouds, bearing our lamps trimmed, not with anything alien and worldly, but like stars radiating the light of prudence and continence, full of ethereal splendour.


Chap. V. – The Reward of Virginity.

These, O fair virgins, are the orgies of our mysteries; these the mystic rites of those who are initiated in virginity; these the “undefiled rewards” (Wis. 4:2) of the conflict of virginity. I am betrothed to the Word, and receive as a reward the eternal crown of immortality and riches from the Father; and I triumph in eternity, crowned with the bright and unfading flowers of wisdom. I am one in the choir with Christ dispensing His rewards in heaven, around the unbeginning and never-ending King. I have become the torch-bearer of the unapproachable lights, 84 and I join with their company in the new song of the archangels, showing forth the new grace of the Church; for the Word says that the company of virgins always follow the Lord, and have fellowship with Him wherever He is. And this is what John signifies in the commemoration of the hundred and forty-four thousand. (Rev_7:4; Rev_14:4)

Go then, ye virgin band of the new ages. Go, fill your vessels with righteousness, for the hour is coming when ye must rise and meet the bridegroom. Go, lightly leaving on one side the fascinations and the pleasures of life, which confuse and bewitch the soul; and thus shall ye attain the promises, “This I swear by Him who has shown me the way of life.” This crown, woven by the prophets, I have taken from the prophetic meadows, and offer to thee, O Arete.

Agathe having thus admirably brought her discourse to an end, she said, and having been applauded for what she had uttered, Arete again commanded Procilla to speak. And she, rising and passing before the entrance, spoke thus.





35 [Laver (Gr. λουτρὸν). Compare Tit_3:5 and Calvin’s comment, Opp., tom. ii. p. 506, ed. 1667.]

36 Eph_5:25, Eph_5:26. [Baptismus = lavacrum animae. – Calvin, Ib., p. 350.]

37 Paul.

38 1Co_7:1. [All vulgar familiarity included.]

39 In the original the two words are different. In the quotation from St. Paul it is απτεσθαι; here it is προσψαύειν. Nothing could be gained by using two words in the translation. – Tr.

40 EV “Fasting and prayer.” As in the best MSS., τῇ νηστείᾳ καί is wanting in the text.

41 [See p. 316, supra (note), and also Eusebius, there cited. Per contra, see Lewin, vol. i. 382, 386.]

42 Καλόν. It is the same word which is translated good in ver. 1, “It is good for a man.”

43 i.e., participate in the same ordinances, and in their fruits.

44 Which I recommend.

45 1Co_7:29. [Nobody can feel more deeply than I do the immeasurable evils of an enforced celibacy; nobody can feel more deeply the deplorable state of the Church which furnishes only rare and exceptional examples of voluntary celibacy for the sake of Christ. On chastity, see Jer. Taylor’s Holy Living, Works, i. p. 424.]

46 A clause is omitted here in the text.

47 1Co_7:36. [On virginity, see Taylor, i. 426, ed. London, 1844.]

48 πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως. Heb_1:1.

49 i.e., αἱ ψυχαί.

50 The body.

51 Psa_137:1-9, EV and in Heb. [Does not our author follow the Hebrew here? I must think his reference here is to the 136th Psalm, as we have it. It is Eucharistic, and Psa_136:10-16 seem to be specially referred to.]

52 Or, Eucharistic hymn.

53 “By the waters of Babylon,” etc. [He passes to the next psalm.]

54 Psa_137:1, Psa_137:2. [Here is a transition to Psa_137:1-9, which has been the source of a confusion in the former chapter. This psalm is not Eucharistic, but penitential.]

55 Odyss. K’. 510.

56 ὄργανον. The word used for harp above, and here employed with a double meaning. [“Body” here = man’s physical system.]

57 In Hebrew the word means simply “a memorial.”

58 i.e., To those without.

59 Amos 4:5, LXX. The EV is, “Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the leaven.”

60 O Jerusalem.

61 Commentators have remarked the allusion to Phi_3:11. See Migne’s note. The thought of the marriage of the heavenly groom, Christ, to His virgin bride, the Church, at the second Advent, when “the dead shall be raised,” was obviously present to the mind of the writer.

62 Jer_2:32. The author, in quoting from the LXX, slightly alters the text, so as to make it almost a command, instead of a question. The original has ἐπιλήσεται; in the text it is ἐπιλαθέσθαι.

63 Literally, breastband.

64 [Compare vol. 5. p. 587, this series.]

65 Lit. game or toil, ἆθλον.

66 Lit. shall greatly vow a vow to offer, with sacrifices of purification, chastity to the Lord. Num_6:1, Num_6:2.

67 There are two readings. The above rendering may fairly embrace them both.

68 Gen_15:9. [Our author has in mind (the triad) 1Th_5:23.]

69 Luk_12:35-38. The author apparently quotes from memory.

70 1Co_7:34; quoted from memory.

71 Isa_8:1. The LXX is quoted from memory. The meaning, however, is nearer the original than the EV. Cf. Keil and Delitzsch, Bib. Com., in loc.

72 τὸ πορευτικόν, the power of going.

73 Divine.

74 Lev_11:29; not an exact quotation.

75 Heb_10:1. The apostle says, “a shadow,” and “not the very image.” The difference, however, is verbal only. – Tr.

76 An apparent confusion between the altar of incense, to which the author refers, and which stood in the Holy Place, and the Mercy-Seat, which was within the vale in the Holy of holies. – Tr.

77 πνευματικὰ τῆς πονηρίας (Eph_6:12). In EV “spiritual wickedness.”

78 [Which has suggested the form of this allegorical work.]

79 In Greek ί = ten. The word employed signifies the index of a sun-dial. – Tr. [The lamps found in the Roman catacombs have this mark (X), which is at once a monogram for Christ and a reference to the ten virgins. In the Greek the accented Iota might yet be associated with the initial of Jesus.]

80 Luk_12:49. The Latin version is certainly more accurate, “Quid volo nisi ut accendatur?” – Tr. [A visionary interpretation follows. But has not this text been too much overlooked in its literal significance? “It is the last time.” The planet is now on fire.]

81 Mat_25:6. [This parable greatly stimulated primitive celibacy.]

82 Bodies.

83 1Th_4:17. Commentators have remarked on the peculiarity of the interpretation. We give simply the writer’s meaning. – Tr.

84 Although the Greek word is not the same as in 1Ti_6:16, the meaning is probably this rather than unquenchable, as it is rendered in the Latin. – Tr. [See Discourse XI. cap. 2, infra.]