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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

St Gregory of Nyssa On Virginity, Complete

Translated by W. Moore and H. A. Wilson

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Page 27

Chapter XIII.

But seeing that Paradise is the home of living spirits, and will not admit those who are dead in sin, and that we on the other hand are fleshly, subject to death, and sold under sin [1430] , how is it possible that one who is a subject of death's empire should ever dwell in this land where all is life? What method of release from this jurisdiction can be devised? Here too the Gospel teaching is abundantly sufficient. We hear our Lord saying to Nicodemus, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit [1431] ." We know too that the flesh is subject to death because of sin, but the Spirit of God is both incorruptible, and life-giving, and deathless. As at our physical birth there comes into the world with us a potentiality of being again turned to dust, plainly the Spirit also imparts a life-giving potentiality to the children begotten by Himself. What lesson, then, results from these remarks? This: that we should wean ourselves from this life in the flesh, which has an inevitable follower, death; and that we should search for a manner of life which does not bring death in its train. Now the life of Virginity is such a life. We will add a few other things to show how true this is. Every one knows that the propagation of mortal frames is the work which the intercourse of the sexes has to do; whereas for those who are joined to the Spirit, life and immortality instead of children are produced by this latter intercourse; and the words of the Apostle beautifully suit their case, for the joyful mother of such children as these "shall be saved in child-bearing [1432] ;" as the Psalmist in his divine songs thankfully cries, "He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children [1433] ." Truly a joyful mother is the virgin mother who by the operation of the Spirit conceives the deathless children, and who is called by the Prophet barren because of her modesty only. This life, then, which is stronger than the power of death, is, to those who think, the preferable one. The physical bringing of children into the world--I speak without wishing to offend--is as much a starting-point of death as of life; because from the moment of birth the process of dying commences. But those who by virginity have desisted from this process have drawn within themselves the boundary line of death, and by their own deed have checked his advance; they have made themselves, in fact, a frontier between life and death, and a barrier too, which thwarts him. If, then, death cannot pass beyond virginity, but finds his power checked and shattered there, it is demonstrated that virginity is a stronger thing than death; and that body is rightly named undying which does not lend its service to a dying world, nor brook to become the instrument of a succession of dying creatures. In such a body the long unbroken career of decay and death, which has intervened between [1434] the first man and the lives of virginity which have been led, is interrupted.

[1430] hupo ten hamartian should perhaps be restored from Rom. vii. 14; though the Paris Edit. has hupo tes hamartias.

[1431] S. John iii. 6

[1432] 1 Tim. ii. 15.

[1433] Ps. cxiii. 9.

[1434] dia mesou ou gegonen. So Codd. Reg. Vat.; but the ou is manifestly a corruption arising from mesou.

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