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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IX:
John of Damascus: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.: Concerning Virginity.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXIV.—Concerning Virginity.

Carnal men abuse virginity 2666 , and the pleasure-loving bring forward the following verse in proof, Cursed be every one that raiseth not up seed in Israel 2667 . But we, made confident by God the Word that was made flesh of the Virgin, answer that virginity was implanted in man’s nature from above and in the beginning. For man was formed of virgin soil. From Adam alone was Eve created. In Paradise virginity held sway. Indeed, Divine Scripture tells that both Adam and Eve were naked and were not ashamed 2668 . But after their transgression they knew that they were naked, and in their shame they sewed aprons for themselves 2669 . And when, after the transgression, Adam heard, dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return 2670 , when death entered into the world by reason of the transgression, then Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bare seed 2671 . So that to prevent the wearing out and destruction of the race by death, marriage was devised that the race of men may be preserved through the procreation of children 2672 .

But they will perhaps ask, what then is the meaning of “male and female 2673 ,” and “Be fruitful and multiply?” In answer we shall say that “Be fruitful and multiply 2674 ” does not p. 97b altogether refer to the multiplying by the marriage connection. For God had power to multiply the race also in different ways, if they kept the precept unbroken 2675 to the end 2676 . But God, Who knoweth all things before they have existence, knowing in His foreknowledge that they would fall into transgression in the future and be condemned to death, anticipated this and made “male and female,” and bade them “be fruitful and multiply.” Let us, then, proceed on our way and see the glories 2677 of virginity: and this also includes chastity.

Noah when he was commanded to enter the ark and was entrusted with the preservation of the seed of the world received this command, Go in, saith the Lord, thou and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives 2678 . He separated them from their wives 2679 in order that with purity they might escape the flood and that shipwreck of the whole world. After the cessation of the flood, however, He said, Go forth of the ark, thou and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives 2680 . Lo, again, marriage is granted for the sake of the multiplication of the race. Next, Elias, the fire-breathing charioteer and sojourner in heaven did not embrace celibacy, and yet was not his virtue attested by his super-human ascension 2681 ? Who closed the heavens? Who raised the dead 2682 ? Who divided Jordan 2683 ? Was it not the virginal Elias? And did not Elisha, his disciple, after he had given proof of equal virtue, ask and obtain as an inheritance a double portion of the grace of the Spirit 2684 ? What of the three youths? Did they not by practising virginity become mightier than fire, their bodies through virginity being made proof against the fire 2685 ? And was it not Daniel’s body that was so hardened by virginity that the wild beasts’ teeth could not fasten in it 2686 . Did not God, when He wished the Israelites to see Him, bid them purify the body 2687 ? Did not the priests purify themselves and so approach the temple’s shrine and offer victims? And did not the law call chastity the great vow?

The precept of the law, therefore, is to be taken in a more spiritual sense. For there is spiritual seed which is conceived through the love and fear of God in the spiritual womb, travailing and bringing forth the spirit of salvation. And in this sense must be understood this verse: Blessed is he who hath seed in Zion and posterity in Jerusalem. For does it mean that, although he be a whoremonger and a drunkard and an idolater, he is still blessed if only he hath seed in Sion and posterity in Jerusalem? No one in his senses will say this.

Virginity is the rule of life among the angels, the property of all incorporeal nature. This we say without speaking ill of marriage: God forbid! (for we know that the Lord blessed marriage by His presence 2688 , and we know him who said, Marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled 2689 ), but knowing that virginity is better than marriage, however good. For among the virtues, equally as among the vices, there are higher and lower grades. We know that all mortals after the first parents of the race are the offspring of marriage. For the first parents were the work of virginity and not of marriage. But celibacy is, as we said, an imitation of the angels. Wherefore virginity is as much more honourable than marriage, as the angel is higher than man. But why do I say angel? Christ Himself is the glory of virginity, who was not only-begotten of the Father without beginning or emission or connection, but also became man in our image, being made flesh for our sakes of the Virgin without connection, and manifesting in Himself the true and perfect virginity. Wherefore, although He did not enjoin that on us by law (for as He said, all men cannot receive this saying 2690 ), yet in actual fact He taught us that and gave us strength for it. For it is surely clear to every one that virginity now is flourishing among men.

Good indeed is the procreation of children enjoined by the law, and good is marriage 2691 on account of fornications, for it does away with these 2692 , and by lawful intercourse does not permit the madness of desire to be enflamed into unlawful acts. Good is marriage for those who have no continence: but that virginity is better which increases the fruitfulness of the soul and offers to God the seasonable fruit of prayer. Marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled, but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge 2693 .



Vide bk. ii. ch. 30.




Gen. ii. 23.


Gen. 4.7.


Gen. 4.19.


Gen. iv. 1.


Greg. Nyss., De opif., hom. 16.


Gen. i. 27.


Gen. 1.28.


Text, ἀπαραχάρακτον. Variant, ἀπαρεγχάρακτον, old trans. “in intransmutationem.”


Vid. supr., bk. ii. ch. 30.


Text αυξήυατα = increases. We have read αὐχήματα.


Gen. 6:18, Gen. 7:1.


Cf. Chrys., Hom. 28 on Genesis.


Gen. viii. 16.


2 Kings ii. 11.


2 Kings 4.34.


2 Kings 2.14.


2 Kings 2.9.


Dan. iii. 20.


Dan. 6.16.


Exod. 19:15, Num. 6:2.


St. John ii. 1.


Heb. xiii. 4.


St. Matt. xix. 11.


Simeon Thess., De initiat., ch. 33.


1 Cor. vii. 2.


Heb. xiii. 4.

Next: Concerning the Circumcision.

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