States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church/Part 1/Section 1/Article 2/Paragraph 2. Virginity/Chapter 1
Chapter 1: The Virtue of VirginityEdit
VIRGINITY, says the Angelical, is a special virtue whereby we keep, and determine always to keep, ourselves free from every sinful pleasure. The fixed renunciation of all that is contrary to virginity deserves praise on account of its end, which ought to be a readier devotion of one's self to the things of God. Virginity, materially considered, consists in an integrity of body unsullied by any wilful stain. When viewed as a virtue, it implies a vow always to maintain that integrity. Children at their birth possess the material part of this virtue ; but they have not the resolution to forever keep this integrity for God's sake, which resolution properly constitutes the virtue of virginity. Those who have never done anything that could make them forfeit virginity, but have not resolved to retain it forever, are virgins in body ; but they have not the virtue of virginity, which has its seat in the soul.
The virtue of virginity is lost even by the desire to do anything that would offend against bodily integrity. "Of what use is it for the body to keep pure, says St. Chrysostom, "if the nobler nature of the virgin, namely, her soul, has lost the splendor of virginity ? If the temple is in ruins, to what purpose do the barriers that surround it remain standing? When the throne is stained, what is the good of keeping clean the place where it rests? It is not by his hair, his staff, or his cloak, we recognize a philosopher, but by his actions and his thoughts. It is not arms and a belt that make a soldier, but strength and courage. Would it not, therefore, be ludicrous to make the virgin's virtue consist in simplicity of dress or modesty of countenance, without looking into the depths of her soul and penetrating into her most secret thoughts?"
The formal part of virginity, or the virtue that resides in the soul, may, when lost, be recovered by repentance, according to the teaching of St. Thomas. That is to say, when virginity of body has not been forfeited, guilty desires can be expiated by penance, and we may still practise the virtue of virginity. A man who intended to spend his fortune foolishly, but who has it still, may recall his silly intentions, and employ his wealth in abundant alms or in practising the virtue of munificence. But if he has squandered all that he owned, he may repent to no end : his sorrow will not restore him his lost goods, and he will remain incapable of generosity to the poor.
In like manner, observes St. Thomas, he, who through sin has lost virginity of body, can no longer, even by repentance, recover the matter of virginity : all he can get back is the resolution or determination to be a virgin. " God, who can do all things," wrote St. Jerome to Eustochium, "cannot restore a virgin that has fallen ; he can deliver her from the chastisement which she deserves, but he will not crown her who has profaned her body by sin."
If you lose the treasure of entire chastity, wrote the eloquent author of the work on " True Virginity," whatever you may do afterward, even though you should run over land and sea, go down into the abysses or rise into the immensity of the heavens, you will never be able to retrieve your loss. Indeed, how can that which has once been foul, become like what has always been without spot? Sin will undoubtedly be remitted through repentance ; but the soul sullied by sin, unable to become as one that never was tarnished, will have to lament her misfortune as long as she dwells in this life.
Tears of repentance, however, must be attended with trust in the mercy of God. For those who cannot practise virginity, there yet remains celibacy, or continence, whose value and excellence we have previously mentioned.
- St. Thorn., 2, 2, q. 152, a. 3; Ambr., De virginitate, lib. I, c. i.
- Hieron. ad Eustoch..- Peril et mente virginitas, epist. 22, n. 5.
- Chrysost., De vitginitate, c. vi, 7.
- St. Th., 2, 2, q. 152, a. 3, ad 3.
- St. Th., 2, 2, q. 152, a. 3, ad 3.
- Epist. 22.
- De vera virginitate, inter of era S. Basilii, torn. 2, n. 59.