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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness...: Chapter 57

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 57 [XXIX.]—The Good of Marriage; Four Different Cases of the Good and the Evil Use of Matrimony.

The good, then, of marriage lies not in the passion of desire, but in a certain legitimate and honourable measure in using that passion, appropriate to the propagation of children, not the gratification of lust. 410 That, therefore, which is disobediently excited in the members of the body of this death, and endeavours to draw into itself our whole fallen soul, (neither arising nor subsiding at the bidding of the mind), is that evil of sin in which every man is born. When, however, it is curbed from unlawful desires, and is permitted only for the orderly propagation and renewal of the human race, this is the good of wedlock, by which man is born in the union that is appointed. Nobody, however, is born again in Christ’s body, unless he be previously born in the body of sin. But inasmuch as it is evil to make a bad use of a good thing, so is it good to use well a bad thing. These two ideas therefore of good and evil, and those other two of a good use and an evil use, when they are duly combined together, produce four different conditions:—[1] A man makes a good use of a good thing, when he dedicates his continence to God; [2.] He makes a bad use of a good thing, when he dedicates his continence to an idol; [3.] He makes a bad use of an evil thing, when he loosely gratifies his concupiscence by adultery; [4.] He makes a good use of an evil thing, when he restrains his concupiscence by matrimony. Now, as it is better to make good use of a good thing than to make good rise of an evil thing,—since both are good,—so “he that giveth his virgin in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.”  411 This question, indeed, I have treated at greater length, and more sufficiently, as God enabled me according to my humble abilities, in two works of mine,—one of them, On the Good of Marriage, and the other, On Holy Virginity. They, therefore, who extol the flesh and blood of a sinful creature, to the prejudice of the Redeemer’s flesh and blood, must not defend the evil of concupiscence through the good of marriage; nor should they, from whose infant age the Lord has inculcated in us a lesson of humility, 412 be lifted up into pride by the error of others. He only was born without sin whom a virgin conceived without the embrace of a husband,—not by the concupiscence of the flesh, but by the chaste submission of her mind. 413 She alone was able to give birth to One who should heal our wound, who brought forth the germ of a pure offspring without the wound of sin.


Footnotes

37:410

[The editions, but apparently no Mss., add here the somewhat sententious words: “Voluntas ista, non voluptas illa, nuptialis est,”—which may, perhaps, be rendered: “Wedded desire is willingness, not wantonness.”—W.]

37:411

1 Cor. vii. 38.

37:412

Matt. xviii. 4.

37:413

Luke 1:34, 38.


Next: Chapter 58

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