[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from a two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary. When there are lacunae in the Durham edition, I draw from R. M. Healey’s edition. Click here for the link to his formatting of the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary – 15 February 2021 – Ferial Day Following Quinquagesima Sunday; Monday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
[The image is of Francisco Zurbarán’s oil painting, “St. Jerome with St. Paula and St. Eustochium” (ca. 1640-1650)]
I Corinthians 7:1-24
Problems of Marriage
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) – and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?
Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was any one at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was any one at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Every one should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God.
Epistula XXII ad Eustochium (Letter 22 to Eustochium), 20.2-21.7 (Ancient Christian Writers 33, tr. Charles Mierow)
Concerning virgins, says the Apostle, I have no commandment of the Lord. And why? Because he too was a virgin – not by compulsion but of his own free will. Nor should we pay any attention to those who pretend that Paul had a wife. When he discusses continence and recommends perpetual chastity, he says: For I wish that all were as I myself am; and later: But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them to remain single as I do. And in another passage: Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a sister as a wife just like the rest of the Apostles? Why, therefore, does he not have a commandment of the Lord concerning virginity? Because that which is not taken by force but is voluntary has more value. Because if virginity had been commanded, marriage would seem to have been forbidden. And it would have been very hard to impose what is against nature and to require of mankind the life of angels, and in a certain manner to condemn the plan of creation.
Under the Old Law there was a different conception of happiness. Blessed is he who has seed in Sion and a family in Jerusalem, and cursed is the barren who did not bear children. And: Your children shall be like olive plants, around your table. But now the saying is: Do not think that you are a dry tree; you have an eternal place for sons and daughters in the heavens. Now the poor are blessed, and Lazarus is preferred to the rich in his purple. Now he that is weak is the stronger. The world used to be empty and – to say nothing of those who were types – the only blessing was that of children. But as the crop gradually increased, a reaper was sent in. Elijah was a virgin, Elisha was a virgin, many sons of the Prophets were virgins. To Jeremiah it is said: You shall not take a wife. Having been sanctified in the womb, he was forbidden to take a wife as the time of the captivity drew near.
The Apostle says the same thing in other words: I think, therefore, that this is good for the present necessity, that it is good for a person to remain as he is. What necessity is this that takes away the joys of marriage? It is the shortening of the time: It remains that they also who have wives be as if they had none. Nebuchadnezzar is near: The lion is come up out of his den. What end is to be served by my marrying a wife who will become the slave of a most haughty King? Or children, of whom the Prophet says, bewailing them: The tongue of the sucking child has stuck to the roof of his mouth for thirst; the little ones have asked for bread, and there was none to break it unto them. So then, as we have said, this virtue of continence used to be found solely in men, and Eve continuously bore children in sorrow. But after a virgin conceived in the womb and bore for us a Son upon whose shoulders is the government, God the mighty, the Father of the world to come, the curse has been abrogated. Death came through Eve, life through Mary. And therefore a richer gift of virginity has flowed upon women, because it began with a woman. Immediately after the Son of God set foot on earth, he established a new household for himself, so that he who was adored by angels in heaven might have angels also on earth.