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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 2

< States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church‎ | Part 1/Section 1‎ | Article 2/Paragraph 2. Virginity


THE learned Cornelius a Lapide enumerates the prerogatives of virginity. The first is, that virgins compose the angelic family which Christ came to set upon earth. He who was adored by angels in heaven, says St. Jerome, wished to have angels in this world also.[1] " Men and women who keep virginity are angels, and not of a common kind, but of a very high and noble class. Free from the bonds of the flesh, the heavenly spirits observe virginity in the kingdom of God. Standing near the throne of the Lord of the universe, they are in a place and of a nature that save them from the slightest stain. But the virgins of earth are still more astonishing in their virtue and angelic purity ; for they practise them against the assaults of Satan and the evil tendencies of our fallen nature."[2] St. John Chrysostom uses similar language.[3]

But there is still another glory of virginity. In the words of St. Ambrose, it sought in heaven the skies, the heavens, the stars, and the angels, to reach the Word of God in the bosom of his Father.[4]

A third glory of virginity is that, according to St. Jerome, it is a wholeburnt offering. And, indeed, it gives up and consecrates the soul and the body of man to God and to heavenly things.[5]

In the fourth place, the virgin is the spouse of Jesus Christ. " The virgin is wedded to the Lord," exclaims the most eloquent doctor of the Greek Church. " When that is said, all that remains for us is silence, for nothing can surpass that dignity. She who marries a king looks upon herself as the happiest of women : but should you not, virgins, make every sacrifice, even that of life itself, were it necessary, to please Him whom you have chosen? He is no man of earth, he is no slave : he is the God who reigns in the heavens. He is above every principality and power ; above every virtue and name that can be spoken. He spreads out the heavens, he shakes the earth, the cherubim fall down before him, he is inaccessible to the seraphim, but for you he is a spouse, and even more than a spouse."[6] Nor is this blessed union barren, it is rich in fruit ; but its fruits are spiritual, not corporal. Its fruits are virtues : alms and other works of charity, holy examples by which virgins bring and beget other souls to Jesus Christ.[7]

Fifthly, Jesus Christ loves virgins, first, as his spouses. If the virgin is careful to please our Lord, she must know how eager he is to please his spouse. The woman, who has chosen a mortal man as the guide and guardian of her life, receives, in return for her care and submission, the advice and continual assistance of her husband. Far more so the virgin, as a reward for her zeal to please God, can always rely on the paternal watchfulness of Providence, to whose hands she has confided, with fullest trust, the entire care of her life."[8] History, in relating to us all the torments of virgins in the first persecutions of the Church, also informs us that none of these glorious martyrs was ever dishonored. Lions fell prostrate before Thecla when she was abandoned to their fury ; and more than once angels descended from heaven to shield the virtue of the spouses of Christ.[9] Again, Jesus Christ loves virgins as his choicest soldiers. " In a battle," says St. Chrysostom, " every one does not occupy indifferently any place whatever. Some are stationed in the wings, some in the centre of the army. Others are the special body-guard of the king, and go wherever he goes. It is the same with the body of virgins. A band of men, more surely to the presence of the monarch than virgins tell of the presence of Christ. The former encircle the royal carriage ; but virgins, like the cherubim of heaven, are the royal carriage, and, as the seraphim, they form, at the same time, its beautiful escort."[10]

Sixthly, virgins are the glory of Christianity, the most distinguished portion of the flock of Christ, the richest jewels and ornaments of the Church. For this reason, St. Ambrose teaches that virginity is a mark, a characteristic, of the true religion.[11] Unbelievers may admire virginity, but only the Church of God, says St. Chrysostom, has put it in practice.[12]

Furthermore, in heaven virgins shall enjoy a special reward, and wear a remarkable crown.[13] The virgin is a queen in heaven, though perhaps on earth she was a slave, despised, ignorant, poor, and an outcast. Jesus Christ gives her not only a glorious immortality, but he clothes her as his spouse in a robe of surpassing splendor.[14]

" O virgins!" exclaims St. Augustine, "you will appear at the nuptials of the Lamb, singing a new canticle, and playing on your harps. That canticle is not the one which the rest of men sing. You alone know its strains. In heaven virgins follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes.

And where does the Lamb go? What is that place into which none but you even dare to follow him? What are those bowers, those lovely fields ? Indeed, joy is the vesture of that home of delights ; not the vain, silly, and treacherous joy of this present life, nor even the joy experienced in heaven by those who have practised virginity. Your joys are different from all others. Where soever the Lamb goes, you shall follow him on account of your virginity of body and of soul. And, in truth, to follow is to imitate. Others may imitate his poverty or his humility, you alone can imitate his virginity. Behold that Lamb! he has run a virginal career. How can they follow him who have lost what can never be recovered ? Follow him, guarding perseveringly what you have vowed to him with so much generosity. Unable to follow him, the multitude of the faithful will see you forming his escort. They will see you, but without envy ; they will rejoice to behold in you what they themselves do not possess."[15]

Having explained the glories of virginity, Cornelius a Lapide ends with these words, which it is important to note: " All these prerogatives," says he, " belong as well to virgins living in their families as to those who dwell in a convent. There were no convents in the days of St. Paul or of St. Ignatius the Martyr. Hence, when they praised virginity, their eulogies were given to virgins that lived in the houses of their parents." We may also remark with St. Clement that the nobler name and the higher place in heaven are promised to virgins of either sex, namely : to men as well women.[16] We shall close the subject of virginity with the words of St. Chrysostom : " I have shown you all the excellence of virginity ; I have explained to you all its advantages ; you are now free to make choice of it. I do not attempt to force you against your will to the practice of virtue."[17]


  1. Corn, in I Cor. vii, 34. Hieron. ad Enstoch., epist. 22.
  2. DC vera virginitate, inter opera S. Basilii, torn. 2, n. 51.
  3. Homil. fest. S, Aloys. Gonz. (Brev. Rom.)
  4. Corn., I Cor. vii, 34; Arribr., De virginitate, lib. I, c. iii.
  5. Corn., ibid., et Hieron., Brev. in Ps. 95.
  6. De cohabit, illicit.
  7. Corn, in I Cor. vii, 34.
  8. de vera virginitate , n. 24.
  9. Ibid, in I Cor. vii, 35.
  10. Chrysost., De cohabit, illicit., lib. 2, 6.
  11. Corn, in I Cor. vii, 35, ibid.
  12. De virginitate, c. i.
  13. Cornel., ibid.
  14. De vera virginitate, inter op. S. .Basil., n. 26.
  15. De sancta virgin., c. xxvii.
  16. Epist. ad virgines, c. iv.
  17. De virginitate, c. Ixxvi. See also La virginile, by the Abbe Coulin.