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THE TRUE SPOUSE OF JESUS CHRIST;
THE NUN SANCTIFIED BY THE VIRTUES OF HER STATE.
BY ST. ALPHONSUS MARIE LIGUORI
CHAPTER I. - THE MERIT OF VIRGINS WHO HAVE CONSECRATED THEMSELVES TO GOD.
1. They become like the Angels, and are the Spouses of Jesus Christ.
VIRGINS who have the happiness of dedicating themselves to the love of Jesus Christ by consecrating to him the lily of their purity, are, in the first place, as dear to God as his angels. They shall, says the Redeemer, be like the angels of God in heaven. 1 Such is the immediate fruit of the virtue of chastity. Hence St. Ambrose says, that " whoever preserves this virtue is an angel, and that whoever violates it is a demon." 2 Baronius relates that when a certain virgin, called Georgia, was at the point of death a great multitude of doves was seen hovering about her; that when her body was brought to the church they flew to that part of the roof which corresponded to the place where the corpse had been put, and remained there till after the interment. By all who saw them, these doves were regarded as angels paying respect and homage to the body of the virgin. Chastity is justly styled an angelic and celestial virtue.
1 " Erunt sicut Angeli Dei in coelo." Matt. Xxii. 30.
2" Cast has angelos facit: qui earn serya.Yit, angelus est; qui perdidit, diabolus." De Virg. 1. i.
"Because," says St. Ambrose, " this virtue has ascended even to the heavens, and thence taken an example to be imitated on earth; and because only in heaven, the residence of its spouse, it is practised in all its perfection." l Besides, a virgin that consecrates herself to Jesus Christ becomes his spouse. Hence, writing to his disciples, St. Paul did not hesitate to say: I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." 2 I have promised to present to Jesus Christ your souls as so many chaste spouses. In the parable of the virgins, Jesus himself wished to be called their spouse: They went out to meet the bridegroom .... they went in with him to 4
marriage. 3 The Redeemer, whenever he speaks of virgins, calls himself their spouse; but where he speaks of others, he calls himself master, pastor, or father. Hence that elegant verse of St. Gregory Nazianzen, " and chaste virginity is adorned by Christ her spouse." 4These espousals are perfected in faith. And I will espouse thee to me in faith?5 Jesus Christ has, in a special manner, merited for mankind the gift of virginity, and is therefore followed by virgins whithersoever he goeth. 6 The Mother of God once said to a soul, that a spouse of Jesus Christ ought to have a great esteem for all virtues, but that purity, by which she is principally assimilated to her divine spouse, should hold the first place in her heart. St. Bernard assured us that all just souls are spouses of the Lord. 7 1" E cÅ“lo accersivit quod imitaretur in terris; vivendi sibi usum quÃ¦sivit e cÅ“lo, quÃ¦ sponsum sibi invenit in coelo." De Virg. 1, i. 2 " Despondi vos uni viro virginem castam exhibere Christo." 2 Cor. xi. 2. 3 " Exierunt obviam Sponso. . . . Introierunt cum eo ad nuptias." Matt. xxv. i. 4 " Castaque virginitas decoratur conjuge Christo." Carm. Virginit. 5 " Sponsabo te mihi in fide." Os. ii. 20. 6 " Sequuntur Agnum, quocunque ierit." Apoc. xiv. 4. 7. Sponsa nos ipsi sumus, et omnes simul una sponsa. et animÃ¦ singulorum quÃ¦i singulae sponsne." Domi. 1. p. Epiph. s. 2.
But St. Anthony of Padua adds that virgins -consecrated to God are his spouses in a special manner. 1 Hence St. Fulgentius calls Jesus Christ the only spouse of all consecrated virgins. 2 A young person desirous of settling in the world, will, if she be prudent, in the first place carefully inquire into the circumstances and dispositions of all who pretend to her affections, and will diligently seek to ascertain who of these is most deserving of her heart; and from whom she may expect the greatest happiness in this life. A religious, on the day of her profession, is espoused to Jesus Christ; for in the ceremony of profession the bishop says to the novice about to be professed : I espouse thee to Jesus Christ; may he preserve thee inviolate. Receive, then, as his spouse, the ring of faith, that, if thou serve him with fidelity, he may give thee an eternal crown. Let us, then, ask the spouse of the Canticles who is this divine bridegroom. Tell me, O sacred spouse, what are the qualities of thy beloved, the only object of thy affection, who renders thee the happiest of women ? What manner of one is thy beloved of the beloved, O thou most beautiful among women 3 She will answer: My beloved is white and ruddy, chosen out of thousands. 4My beloved is rendered white by his innocence, and ruddy by the ardor with which he loves his spouses. In a word, he is so loving, so perfect in all virtues, and at the same time so courteous and affable, that he is of all spouses the most dear and amiable. 1 " Omnes animÃ¦ sponsÃ¦ sunt Christi, specialius tamen virgines." De Virg. s. 2. 2 " Unus omnium sacrarum virginum sponsus." Ep. ad prob. De virg. c. 4. 3 " Qualis est Dilectus tuus ex dilecto, o pulcherrima mulierum ?" Cant. v. 9. 4 Dilectus metis candidus et rubicundus, electus ex millibus." Ibid.
" There is nothing," says St. Eucherius, "more glorious, nothing more beautiful, nothing more magnificent, than he is." 1 " These happy virgins, then," says St. Ignatius, Martyr, " who are consecrated to Jesus Christ, may be assured that they have obtained the most beautiful, the most noble, the most opulent, and most amiable spouse that can be found in heaven or on earth." 2 Hence Blessed Clare of Montevallo used to say that her virginity was so dear to her, that rather than lose it she would be content to suffer the pains of hell during her whole life. Hence, as we learn from St. Ambrose, the glorious virgin St. Agnes, when to her was offered for husband the son of the Roman Prefect, justly answered that she had found a better spouse. 3 St. Domitilla, the emperors niece, through a love of virginity refused the hand of Count Aurelian; and when it was argued that she might lawfully marry him, because, although a Gentile, he would allow her to remain a Christian, she replied: "If to a young woman were offered the choice of a monarch or a peasant, which would she prefer ? If I marry Aurelian, I must renounce the nuptials of the King of heaven, and would not that be the extreme of folly ? You may, therefore, tell the count that I cannot accede to his proposal." Thus she preserved her virginity, which she had consecrated to Jesus Christ; and rather than prove unfaithful to her divine spouse, she suffered to be burned alive by her barbarous lover. 4 1 " Nihil illo magnificentius, nihil gloriosius, nihil pulchrius, nihil munificentius." De Contemptu M. 2 " Virgines agnoscant cui se consecrarunt." Ep. ad Antioch. 3 " Sponsum offertis; meliorem reperi." DC J irg. 1. I. 4 Croiset, Exerc., May 12.
The holy virgin St. Susanna made a similar reply to the Emperor Diocletian, who offered her the title of Empress, on the condition that she would marry his son-in-law Maximin, whom he had created Caesar. In punishment of her refusal she was rewarded with the crown of martyrdom. 5
Many other holy virgins have declined the nuptials of earthly monarchs to become the spouses of Jesus Christ. Thus blessed Jane, the Infanta of Portugal, refused the hand of Louis XI. King of France; Blessed Agnes, that of the Emperor Ferdinand II.; and Elizabeth, the daughter and heiress of the King of Hungary, rejected the proposal of marriage with Henry, the Archduke of Austria.
2. How much more Happy are Virgins than Married Women even in this Life. Besides, the virgin that consecrates herself to Jesus Christ is devoted entirely to God, in body as well as in mind. The unmarried woman, says St. Paul, and the virgin -thinketh on the things of the Lord ; that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 1 Virgins consecrated to God think only of God, and desire only to belong to him without reserve; but married persons, being of the world, can think of nothing but of the things of the world. Hence the Apostle adds: and this I speak for your profit; not to cast a snare upon you, but for that which is decent, and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord, without impediment? Thus poor worldlings meet with insurmountable difficulties in the way of virtue; and the more exalted their rank, the greater the obstacles to their sanctification. 1 Mulier innupta et virgo cogitat quÃ¦ Domini sunt, ut sit sancta corpora et spiritu; quÃ¦ autem nupta est, cogitat quÃ¦ mundi sunt, quo-modo placeat viro." i Cor. vii. 34. 2 Porro hoc ad utilitatem vestram dico . . . ., ad id quod honestum est, et quod facultatem prÃ¦beat sine impedimento Dominum obsecrandi." Ibid. iii. 35.
To become a saint in the world, it is necessary for the married woman to adopt the means of sanctification, to frequent the sacraments, to make long and frequent mental prayer, to practise many interior and exterior mortifications, to love contempt, humiliations, and poverty; in a word, to make every effort in her power to please God. She must, then, be perfectly detached from the world, and all its goods, and perfectly free from the control and tyranny of human ties. But how can a married person find the time, the opportunities, and helps necessary for recollection, and continual application to the things of God ? She that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how to please her husband. The married woman must provide for her family, educate her children, please her husband, his parents, brothers, and relatives, who are sometimes to her a constant source of trouble. Hence the Apostle says, her heart must be divided, and her affections fixed partly on her husband, partly on her children, and partly on God. What time can she have for continual prayer, for frequent Communion, when, with all her efforts, she is not able to attend to the wants of the house? The husband must be attended; if his directions be neglected, or his commands be not immediately executed, he breaks out into complaints and reproaches. The servants disturb the house, at one time by their clamour or their quarrels, at another by their importunate demands. The children, if small, are a perpetual source of annoyance, either by their cries and screams, or by the endless variety of their wants; if grown up, they are an occasion of still greater inquietude, fears and bitterness, by associating with bad companions, by the dangers to which they are exposed, or the infirmities with which they are afflicted. How, in the midst of so many difficulties and embarrassments, is it possible for the married woman to attend to prayer, or to preserve recollection ? And, as to her Communions, they can scarcely be as frequent as once a week. She may indeed have strong desires of sanctification; but to pay great and constant attention to the affairs of her soul will be morally impossible. The very privation of the opportunities of attending to the things of God may be made a source of great merit by patient submission to the divine will, in the unhappy state in which she is placed. All this is indeed possible; but to practise patience and resignation, in the midst of so many troubles and distractions, without the aid of prayer, of spiritual reading, or of the sacraments, will be exceedingly difficult and almost impracticable. But would to God that seculars were exposed to no other evils than the obstacles to their devotions, to constant prayer, and the frequent use of the sacraments. Their greatest misfortune is to be in continual danger of losing the grace of God and their own immortal souls. They must appear like their equals, they must employ servants, and support their rank. They must go abroad to visit their friends, and in these visits they must converse with a variety of characters. At home they must hold constant intercourse with their own families, with their relatives, and with the friends of their husband. Oh ! how great on such occasions is the danger of losing God ! This is not understood by young persons, but it is well known to those who are settled in the world, and who are daily exposed to such dangers.
Oh ! how unhappy and miserable is the life of the generality of married persons ! I have known the circumstances, the feelings and dispositions, of numberless married persons, from the highest to the lowest classes of society, and how few of them were content ! The bad treatment of husbands, the disaffection of children, the wants of the family, the control of relatives, the pains of childbirth, which are always accompanied with danger of death, the scruples and anxiety of conscience regarding the flight of occasions, and the education of children, plunge poor seculars into endless troubles and agitation, and fill their souls with continual regret for not having been called to a happier and more holy state. God grant that, in the midst of such troubles and agitation, many of them may not lose their immortal souls, and that, along with passing through a hell in this life, they may not be condemned to an eternity of torments in the next. Such is the unhappy condition of many of those who have engaged in the married state. But you will ask, Are there no saints among so many thousands of married persons ? I answer, that there are some who sanctify themselves in the world by suffering a continual martyrdom, by bearing, for Godâ€™s sake, all crosses and troubles with patience and cheerfulness, and by peacefully and lovingly offering themselves in all things to God. There are some who attain this high degree of perfection: but they are as rare as white flies. And you will find that such holy souls are always employed in works of penance, and that they continually aspire after the sanctity and disengagement of those who have consecrated their virginity to Jesus Christ, devoted their lives to the glory of God, and have embraced a state of constant happiness. The state, then, of virgins consecrated to Jesus Christ, and who are entirely devoted to his divine love, is of all states the most happy and sublime. They are free from the dangers to which married persons are necessarily exposed. Their affections are not fixed on their families, nor on men of the world, nor on goods of the earth, nor on the dress and vanities of women. To appear like their equals, and to please their husbands, married persons must wear rich apparel and costly ornaments; but a virgin consecrated to Jesus Christ only requires a garment which will cover her body. In her, vanity of dress or the decoration of her person would be a scandalous exhibition. Besides, consecrated virgins are not troubled with the cares of a house, a family, and a husband; their sole concern, the only desire of their hearts, is to please Jesus Christ, to whom they have dedicated their souls and bodies, and all their affections. They are unshackled by worldly ties, by subjection to friends or to relatives, and are far removed from the noise and tumult of the world. Hence they have more time and better opportunities for prayer, spiritual reading, and frequent Communion. Their minds are more free to think on the affairs of their soul, and to practise recollection and union with God. " She that is a virgin," says Theodoret, " has her mind free from. useless thoughts."1 A religious, then, has no other occupation than to hold constant and familial converse with God. OEcumenius, in his commentary on the words of St. Paul, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit, says, " that her body is sanctified by chastity, and her spirit by familiarity with God." 2 St. Anselm says that in the mere exemption from the cares of the world, to think on the things of the Lord, virgins receive an abundant compensation for all their temporal sacrifices. 3 Hence the saint adds, that virgins consecrated to God not only shall receive great glory in heaven, but shall be also rewarded beforehand by the enjoyment of continual peace on earth. 4 1 "Qui enim est virgo, ab inutilibus cogitationibus liberam habet animam." In I Cor. vii. 32. 2 " Ut sit sancta corpore et spiritu. Corpore sancta, propter casti-tatem; spiritu sancta, propter familiaritatem cum Deo." in i Cor. vii. 34. 3 " Si nulla merces amplior virginem sequeretur, sufficeret ei hÃ¦c sola prÃ¦latio: cogitare quÃ¦ Domini sunt." 4 " Non solum in future saeculo gloriam, sed et in prÃ¦senti requiem abet virginitas." In I Cor. vii.
3. Excellence of Virginity.
Virgins who aspire to perfection are the beloved of Jesus Christ, because they have consecrated to him their bodies and their souls, and seek nothing in this life but to do his holy will. St. John, because he was a virgin, was called the beloved disciple of Jesus: "whom Jesus loved"1 Hence in the divine office we read of him that he was chosen, a virgin, by the Lord, and of all the apostles was the most beloved? 2 Virgins are called the first-fruits of God. For, says St. John, they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the first-fruits to God, and to the Lamb 3 But why are virgins called the first-fruits of God ? Because, says Cardinal Hugo, 4 in his commentary on the preceding passage, as firstfruits are the most delicious, so virgins consecrated to God are most pleasing and dear to him. The spouse in the canticles feedeth among the lilies? 5 One of the sacred interpreters, explaining these words, says, that "as the devil revels in the uncleanness of lust, so Christ feeds on the lilies of chastity." 6 Venerable Bede asserts that the hymn of the virgins is more agreeable to the Lamb than that of all the other saints. 7 1 "Quem diligebat Jesus." John, xiii. 23. 7
2 " Virgo est electus a Domino, atque inter caeteros magis dilectus." Die 27 Dec. resp. i. 3" Virgines enim sunt. Hi sequuntur Agnum, quocumque ierit. Hi cmpti sunt ex hominibus primitiÃ¦ Deo et Agno." Apoc. xiv. 4. 4 " Sicut primitiÃ¦ fructuum delectabiliores sunt." 5 " Qui pascitur inter lilia." Cant. ii. 16. 6" Sicut diabolus cceno libidinis saginatur, ita Christus castimoniÃ¦ liliis pascitur." Aponius, In Cant. 1. 5. 7"Cantus a Virginibus modulati suaviorem Agno harmoniam efficiunt, quam si omnes alii SanctL canere contenderent"
So great is the excellence of virginity, that the Holy Ghost says, no price is worthy of a continent soul 1Hence Cardinal Hugo teaches that, in the other vows, a dispensation is sometimes granted, but not in the vow of chastity; because such is the value of continence, that its loss cannot be compensated." 2 The price of chastity may be estimated by the answer of Mary to the Archangel Gabriel: How shall this be done, because I know not man ? 3 By these words she showed her readiness to renounce the offered dignity of Mother of God rather than forfeit her virginal integrity. St. Cyprian says that " virginity is the queen of all virtues and the possession of every good." 4 Speaking of virginity, St. Ephrem says, " if you have loved it, you will be favored by the Lord in all things." 5 St. Bernardine of Sienna teaches that " virginity prepares the soul to see her spouse Jesus by faith in this life, and by glory in the next." 6 Oh ! what an immense weight of glory is prepared for those who dedicate their virginity to Jesus Christ ! The Redeemer showed to that great servant of God, Lucretia Orsini, the sublime dignity to which consecrated virgins are raised in heaven. In the vision she exclaimed, " Oh ! how dear are virgins to God and to Mary !" Theologians teach that virgins are honored in heaven with a special crown of glory and of joy.
1 " Omnis ponderatio non est digna continentis animÃ¦." Ecclus. xxvi. 20. 2 " Inde est quod votum continentire non habet dispensationem, quia non haLet compensationem," In Ecclus. xxvi. 20. 3 " Quomodo fiet istud, quoniam virum non cognosce ?" Luke , i. 34. 4 " Virginitas est regina virtutum, possessio omnium bonorum." 5 " Hanc (virgin itatem) si amaveris, a Domino in omnibus prosperaberis." De Virt. c. 9. 6 Virginitas prÃ¦parat animam ad videndum in prÃ¦senti Jesum Sponsum per fidem, et in future per gloriam." T. ii. s. 48, a. I.
And no man, says St. John, could say the canticle, but those hundred and forty-four thousand who were purchased from the earth. 1 St. Augustine, explaining this passage, says that the joys of the virgins are not given to the other saints of God. 2 4. Means to preserve Virginal Purity. But to be the virginal spouse of Jesus Christ it is not sufficient to be a virgin; it is necessary to be a prudent virgin, and to carry a lamp always filled with oil, that is, a heart inflamed with the love of God. The foolish virgins were indeed virgins; but, because their lamps were extinguished, they were shut out from the marriage, and were told by the bridegroom that he knew them not. 3 A virgin, then, who wishes to be a true spouse of the Redeemer, ought to desire and seek nothing but to love and please Jesus Christ. " If," says St. Bernard, " he become a spouse, he will change his language, and say: If I am a spouse, where is my love? God requires to be feared as a master, to be honored as a father, and to be loved as a spouse." 4 To be a faithful lover of Jesus Christ her spouse, and to preserve unsullied the lily of her purity, a virgin must adopt the necessary means. The principal means of acquiring an ardent love of Christ are mental prayer, Communion, mortification, retirement. Although each of these means is fully discussed in another part of this work, still a brief notice of them in this place will not be irrelevant. 1 " Et nemo poterat cantare canticum, nisi ilia centum quadraginta quatuor milla, qui empti sunt de terra." Apoc. xiv. 3. 2 " Gaudia propria Virginum Christi non sunt eadem non virginum, quamvis Christi; nam sunt aliis, sed nullis talia." DC Virginit. c. 27. 3 "Nescio vos." Matt. xxv. 12. 4 " Si Sponsum se exhibeat, mutabit vocem, et dicet: Si ego sponsus, ubi est amor meus? Exigit ergo Deus timeri ut Dominus, honorari ut Pater, ut Sponsus amari." In Cant. s. 83.
The first means to love Jesus Christ is mental prayer. Mental prayer is that blessed furnace in which the soul is inflamed with divine love. And, says holy David, â€œin my meditation a fire shall flame outâ€?1 In temptations against purity, the immediate invocation of the divine aid is absolutely necessary. The Venerable Sister Cecilia Gastelli used to say, that without prayer, chastity cannot be preserved. As I knew, says Solomon, that I could not otherwise be continent, except God gave it, I went to the Lord and besought him with my whole heart? 2 The second means is the holy Communion. This, says St. Bonaventure, is the cellar of wine into which the King of heaven brings his spouses " to set in order charity" in their hearts, teaching them to love God above all things, and their neighbors as themselves. 8
The third means is mortification. As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters? 3 As the lily blooms among the thorns, so virginity is preserved only in the midst of mortification. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to say that " chastity flourishes only among thorns." To fulfil the obligations of the religious state, in the midst of amusements, worldly attachments, and conversations with seculars, in the midst of sensual gratifications, of indulgence of the palate, of the eyes, and of the ears, is utterly impossible. Religious purity can be preserved only among the thorns of mortification. "A virgin," says St. Basil, " should be immaculate in all things in the tongue, the ears, the eyes, the touch, and above all in the mind." 4 1 " In meditatione mea exardescet ignis." Ps. xxxviii. 4. 2 " Et ut scivi quoniam aliter non possem esse continens, nisi Deus det . . ., adii Dominum, et deprecatus sum illum." Wisd. viii. 21. 3 " Sicut lilium inter spinas." Cant. ii. 2. 4 " Nulla in parte mÅ“chari convenit virginem, non lingua, non aure, non oculo.non tactu; multoque minus animo." De Vera Virg.
To be faithful to her spouse, a virgin must be immaculate in her tongue by the delicacy of her language, and by abstinence as much as possible from conversations with men; she must be immaculate in the ears, by shunning, like death itself, all worldly discourses; immaculate in her eyes by the modesty of her looks, always restrained so as never to fix them on the face of a man; immaculate in the touch, always observing the greatest caution towards herself and others; but, above all, immaculate in her soul, rejecting every unchaste thought, as soon as it is presented to the mind, by invoking the assistance of Jesus and Mary. As a queen tempted by a vile slave contemptuously turns away without condescending to notice him, so the spouse of Jesus Christ should reject with disdain and horror every immodest thought which intrudes itself into the mind. To preserve her soul and body free from stain, she must also chastise her flesh, by fasting, abstinence, by disciplines and other penitential works. And if she has not health or strength to practise such mortifications, she ought at least to bear in peace her infirmities and pains, and to accept cheerfully the contempt and ill-treatment that she receives from others. The spouse follows the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. 1 Jesus Christ has not walked before us in the way of pleasures and honors; no, he has chosen the rugged path of pains and opprobrium. Hence many holy virgins have loved sufferings and contempt, and have joyfully encountered torments and death. The fourth means is retirement. Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtle doves." 2 The spouse in the canticle is compared to the turtle, because the turtle avoids the company of other birds, and delights in solitude. A religious appears beautiful in the eyes of Jesus Christ only in retirement and at a distance from the society of men. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi was accustomed to say that chastity is a plant that thrives only in inclosed gardens and in the midst of thorns.