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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 28

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 28.—By What Judgment of God the Enemy Was Permitted to Indulge His Lust on the Bodies of Continent Christians.

Let not your life, then, be a burden to you, ye faithful servants of Christ, though your chastity was made the sport of your enemies.  You have a grand and true consolation, if you maintain a good conscience, and know that you did not consent to the sins of those who were permitted to commit sinful outrage upon you.  And if you should ask why this permission was granted, indeed it is a deep providence of the Creator and Governor of the world; and “unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out.” 82   Nevertheless, faithfully interrogate your own souls, whether ye have not been unduly puffed up by your integrity, and continence, and chastity; and whether ye have not been so desirous of the human praise that is accorded to these virtues, that ye have envied some who possessed them.  I, for my part, do not know your hearts, and therefore I make no accusation; I do not even hear what your hearts answer when you question them.  And yet, if they answer that it is as I have supposed it might be, do not marvel that you have lost that by which you can win men’s praise, and retain that which cannot be exhibited to men.  If you did not consent to sin, it was because God added His aid to His grace that it might not be lost, and because shame before men succeeded to human glory that it might not be loved.  But in both respects even the faint-hearted among you have a consolation, approved by the one experience, chastened by the other; justified by the one, corrected by the other.  As to those whose hearts, when interrogated, reply that they have never been proud of the virtue of virginity, widowhood, or matrimonial chastity, but, condescending to those of low estate, rejoiced with trembling in these gifts of God, and that they have never envied any one the like excellences of sanctity and purity, but rose superior to human applause, which is wont to be abundant in proportion to the rarity of the virtue applauded, and rather desired that their own number be increased, p. 19 than that by the smallness of their numbers each of them should be conspicuous;—even such faithful women, I say, must not complain that permission was given to the barbarians so grossly to outrage them; nor must they allow themselves to believe that God overlooked their character when He permitted acts which no one with impunity commits.  For some most flagrant and wicked desires are allowed free play at present by the secret judgment of God, and are reserved to the public and final judgment.  Moreover, it is possible that those Christian women, who are unconscious of any undue pride on account of their virtuous chastity, whereby they sinlessly suffered the violence of their captors, had yet some lurking infirmity which might have betrayed them into a proud and contemptuous bearing, had they not been subjected to the humiliation that befell them in the taking of the city.  As, therefore, some men were removed by death, that no wickedness might change their disposition, so these women were outraged lest prosperity should corrupt their modesty.  Neither those women then, who were already puffed up by the circumstance that they were still virgins, nor those who might have been so puffed up had they not been exposed to the violence of the enemy, lost their chastity, but rather gained humility; the former were saved from pride already cherished, the latter from pride that would shortly have grown upon them.

We must further notice that some of those sufferers may have conceived that continence is a bodily good, and abides so long as the body is inviolate, and did not understand that the purity both of the body and the soul rests on the steadfastness of the will strengthened by God’s grace, and cannot be forcibly taken from an unwilling person.  From this error they are probably now delivered.  For when they reflect how conscientiously they served God, and when they settle again to the firm persuasion that He can in nowise desert those who so serve Him, and so invoke His aid and when they consider, what they cannot doubt, how pleasing to Him is chastity, they are shut up to the conclusion that He could never have permitted these disasters to befall His saints, if by them that saintliness could be destroyed which He Himself had bestowed upon them, and delights to see in them.


Footnotes

18:82

Rom. 11.33.


Next: Chapter 29

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