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Comparing Marriage & Virginity

In one of his famous letters, St. Jerome praises Eustachia for taking the veil of a virgin and offers her advice. She was the daughter of the Roman widow Paula and the first young lady of the patrician families to enter this mode of life. Her action raised much criticism in those high circles. St. Jerome intended his instruction to be not just a private letter, but also a statement on the Church’s position on virginity.
In this excerpt, he defends virginity as higher than the married state.

St. Jerome

Some one will say, “Do you dare to disparage marriage, which is a state blessed by God?” I do not disparage marriage when I set virginity before it. ... Marriage is honored when it is placed next after virginity.

“Increase,” the Lord says, “and multiply and replenish the earth.” He who desires to replenish the earth may increase and multiply if he will. But the flock to which you belong is not on earth, but in Heaven. … Let them marry who eat their bread in the sweat of their brow, whose land brings forth thistle and thorns (Gen. 3:18-19) and whose crops are chocked with briars. My seed shall produce fruit a hundredfold - the reward of virginity is hundredfold; of widowhood, sixtyfold, and of married life, thirtyfold. “All cannot receive the Word of God but only they to whom it is given” (Mt 19:11).

Let others be eunuchs of necessity, but I [am chaste] of my own will. … Let them sew robes who have previously lost the unsown robe. Let them take pleasure in the crying of infants who, at their first coming into the world, lament that they are born. Eve was a virgin in Paradise; marriage only came after the coats of skins. Your homeland is paradise. Keep, therefore, your birthright and say, “Return unto your rest, O my soul!” (Ps. 124: 7).

For you to know that virginity is natural to man while marriage is a result of the fall, consider that marriage produces virgins, returning in the fruit what it had lost in the root. “A rod shall go forth from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall arise from his roots” (Is 11:1). The rod is the Mother of Our Lord, simple, pure, unsullied, drawing no germ of life from without, fruitful in singleness like God Himself. The flower of the rod is Christ, who says of Himself, “I am the flower of the field and the lily of the valley” (Ct 2:1). And in another place, He is foretold to be “a stone, cut out of the mountain without hands” (Dan 2), by which the Prophet signifies that He is to be born a virgin of a virgin. …

And so I praise marriage, because it brings forth virgins. Thus do I gather the rose from the thorns, the gold from the earth, the pearl from the shell.


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St. Jerome, Letter XXII to Eustachia

Posted February 4, 2012
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