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Chapter I.

The holy look of virginity is precious indeed in the judgment of all who make purity the test of beauty; but it belongs to those alone whose struggles to gain this object of a noble love are favoured and helped by the grace of God. Its praise is heard at once in the very name which goes with it; “Uncorrupted 1346 ” is the word p. 344 commonly said of it, and this shows the kind of purity that is in it; thus we can measure by its equivalent term the height of this gift, seeing that amongst the many results of virtuous endeavour this alone has been honoured with the title of the thing that is uncorrupted. And if we must extol with laudations this gift from the great God, the words of His Apostle are sufficient in its praise; they are few, but they throw into the background all extravagant laudations; he only styles as “holy and without blemish 1347 ” her who has this grace for her ornament. Now if the achievement of this saintly virtue consists in making one “without blemish and holy,” and these epithets are adopted in their first and fullest force to glorify the incorruptible Deity, what greater praise of virginity can there be than thus to be shown in a manner deifying those who share in her pure mysteries, so that they become partakers of His glory Who is in actual truth the only Holy and Blameless One; their purity and their incorruptibility being the means of bringing them into relationship with Him? Many who write lengthy laudations in detailed treatises, with the view of adding something to the wonder of this grace, unconsciously defeat, in my opinion, their own end; the fulsome manner in which they amplify their subject brings its credit into suspicion. Nature’s greatnesses have their own way of striking with admiration; they do not need the pleading of words: the sky, for instance, or the sun, or any other wonder of the universe. In the business of this lower world words certainly act as a basement, and the skill of praise does impart a look of magnificence; so much so, that mankind are apt to suspect as the result of mere art the wonder produced by panegyric. So the one sufficient way of praising virginity will be to show that that virtue is above praise, and to evince our admiration of it by our lives rather than by our words. A man who takes this theme for ambitious praise has the appearance of supposing that one drop of his own perspiration will make an appreciable increase of the boundless ocean, if indeed he believes, as he does, that any human words can give more dignity to so rare a grace; he must be ignorant either of his own powers or of that which he attempts to praise.



τὸ ἄφθορον; this is connected just below with the Divine φθαρσία. In commenting on the meaning of this latter word at the close of the Epistle to the Ephesians, Bishop Ellicott prefers to take it with γαπώντων, “in a manner and an element that knows neither change, diminution, nor decay” (“in uncorruptness” R.V.): although in the six other passages where it occurs in S. Paul “it refers directly or indirectly to a higher sphere than the present.” i.e. of immortality above, and might so, if the construction allowed, be taken with χάρις. This illustrates Gregory’s use of φθαρσία in its human relation.


Eph. v. 27 (of the church).

Next: Chapter II