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St. Jerome (A.D. 340?-420)

Against Jovinianus -- Book I (Selections)
Why Men Should Not Marry

 

 

Examples Showing Why Men Should Not Marry

48. When Theophrastus thus discourses [in the preceding Golden Book of Marriage], are there any of us, Christians, whose conversation is in heaven and who daily say "I long to be dissolved, and to be with Christ," whom he does not put to the blush? Shall a joint-heir of Christ really long for human heirs ? And shall he desire children and delight himself in a long line of descendants, who will perhaps fall into the clutches of Antichrist, when we read that Moses and Samuel preferred other men to their own sons, and did not count as their children those whom they saw to be displeasing to God?

When Cicero after divorcing Terentia was requested by Hirtius to marry his sister, he set the matter altogether on one side, and said that he could not possibly devote himself to a wife and to philosophy. Meanwhile that excellent partner, who had herself drunk wisdom at Tully's fountains, married Sallust his enemy, and took for her third husband Messala Corvinus, and thus, as it were, passed through three degrees of eloquence.

Socrates had two wives, Xantippe and Myron, grand-daughter of Aristides. They frequently quarreled, and he was accustomed to banter them for disagreeing about him, he being the ugliest of men, with snub nose, bald forehead, rough-haired, and bandylegged. At last they planned an attack upon him, and having punished him severely and put him to flight, vexed him for a long time.

On one occasion when he opposed Xantippe, who from above was heaping abuse upon him, the termagant soused him with dirty water, but he only wiped his head and said, "I knew that a shower must follow such thunder as that."

Metella, consort of L. Sulla the Fortunate (except in the matter of his wife) was openly unchaste. It was the common talk of Athens, as I learnt in my youthful years when we soon pick up what is bad, and yet Sulla was in the dark, and first got to know the secrets of his household through the abuse of his enemies.

Cn. Pompey had an impure wife Mucia, who was surrounded by eunuchs from Pontus and troops of the countrymen of Mithridates. Others thought that he knew all and submitted to it; but a comrade told him during the campaign, and the conqueror of the whole world was dismayed at the sad intelligence.

Cato, the Censor, had a wife Actoria Paula, a woman of low origin, fond of drink, violent, and (who would believe it?) haughty to Cato. I say this for fear anyone may suppose that in marrying a poor woman he has secured peace.

When Philip, king of Macedon, against whom Demosthenes thundered in his Philippics, was entering his bed-room as usual, his wife in a passion shut him out. Finding himself excluded he held his tongue, and consoled himself for the insult by reading a tragic poem.

Gorgias the Rhetorician recited his excellent treatise on Concord to the Greeks, then at variance among themselves, at Olympia. Whereupon Melanthius his enemy observed: "Here is a man who teaches us concord, and yet could not make concord between himself, his wife, and maid-servant, three persons in one house." The truth was that his wife envied the beauty of the girl, and drove the purest of men wild with daily quarrels.

Whole tragedies of Euripides are censures on women. Hence Hermione says, "The counsels of evil women have beguiled me."

In the semibarbarous and remote city Leptis it is the custom for a daughter-in-law on the second day to beg the loan of a jar from her mother-in-law. The latter at once denies the request, and we see how true was the remark of Terence, ambiguously expressed on purpose -- "How is this? do all mothers-in-law hate their daughters-in-law?"

We read of a certain Roman noble who, when his friends found fault with him for having divorced a wife, beautiful, chaste, and rich, put out his foot and said to them, "And the shoe before you looks new and elegant, yet no one but myself knows where it pinches."

Herodotus tells us that a woman puts off her modesty with her clothes. And our own comic poet thinks the man fortunate who has never been married.

Why should I refer to Pasiphaë, Clytemnestra, and Eriphyle, the first of whom, the wife of a king and swimming in pleasure, is said to have lusted for a bull, the second to have killed her husband for the sake of an adulterer, the third to have betrayed Amphiaraus, and to have preferred a gold necklace to the welfare of her husband.

In all the bombast of tragedy and the overthrow of houses, cities, and kingdoms, it is the wives and concubines who stir up strife. Parents take up arms against their children; unspeakable banquets are served; and on account of the rape of one wretched woman Europe and Asia are involved in a ten years' war.

We read of some who were divorced the day after they were married, and immediately married again. Both husbands are to blame, both he who was so soon dissatisfied, and he who was so soon pleased.

Epicurus the patron of pleasure (though Metrodorus his disciple married Leontia) says that a wise man can seldom marry, because marriage has many drawbacks. And as riches, honours, bodily health, and other things which we call indifferent, are neither good nor bad, but stand as it were midway, and become good and bad according to the use and issue, so wives stand on the border line of good and ill.

It is, moreover, a serious matter for a wise man to be in doubt whether he is going to marry a good or a bad woman.

Chrysippus ridiculously maintains that a wise man should marry, that he may not outrage Jupiter Gamelius and Genethlius. For upon that principle the Latins would not marry at all, since they have no Jupiter who presides over marriage. But if, as he thinks, the life of men is determined by the names of gods, whoever chooses to sit will offend Jupiter Stator.

 

The Snares of Marital Love; Chastity Recommended to Women

49. Aristotle and Plutarch and our Seneca have written treatises on matrimony, out of which we have already made some extracts and now add a few more: "The love of beauty is the forgetting of reason and the near neighbour of madness; a foul blot little in keeping with a sound mind. It confuses counsel, breaks high and generous spirits, draws away men from great thoughts to mean ones; it makes men querulous, ill-tempered, foolhardy, cruelly imperious, servile flatterers, good for nothing, at last not even for love itself. For although in the intensity of passion it burns like a raging fire, it wastes much time through suspicions, tears, and complaints: it begets hatred of itself, and at last hates itself."

The course of love is laid bare in Plato's Phaedrus from beginning to end, and Lysias explains all its drawbacks -- how it is led not by reason, but by frenzy, and in particular is a harsh gaoler over lovely wives.

Seneca, too, relates that he knew an accomplished man who before going out used to tie his wife's garter upon his breast, and could not not bear to be absent from her for a quarter of an hour; and this pair would never take a drink unless husband and wife alternately put their lips to the cup; and they did other things just as absurd in the extravagant outbursts of their warm but blind affection. Their love was of honourable birth, but it grew out of all proportion. And it makes no difference how honourable may be the cause of a man's insanity. Hence Xystus in his Sentences tells us that "He who too ardently loves his own wife is an adulterer." It is disgraceful to love another man's wife at all, or one's own too much. A wise man ought to love his wife with judgment, not with passion. Let a man govern his voluptuous impulses, and not rush headlong into intercourse.

There is nothing blacker than to love a wife as if she were an adulteress. Men who say they have contracted marriage and are bringing up children, for the good of their country and of the race, should at least imitate the brutes, and not destroy their offspring in the womb; nor should they appear in the character of lovers, but of husbands. In some cases marriage has grown out of adultery; and, shameful to relate! men have tried to teach their wives chastity after having taken their chastity away. Marriages of that sort are quickly dissolved when lust is satiated. The first allurement gone, the charm is lost.

What shall I say, says Seneca, of the poor men who in numbers are bribed to take the name of husband in order to evade the laws promulgated against bachelors? How can he who is married under such conditions be a guide to morality, teach chastity, and maintain the authority of a husband?

It is the saying of a very learned man, that chastity must be preserved at all costs, and that when it is lost all virtue falls to the ground. This holds the primacy of all virtues in woman. This it is that makes up for a wife's poverty, enhances her riches, redeems her deformity, gives grace to her beauty; it makes her act in a way worthy of her forefathers whose blood it does not taint with bastard offspring; of her children, who through it have no need to blush for their mother, or to be in doubt about their father; and above all, of herself, since it defends her from external violation. There is no greater calamity connected with captivity than to be the victim of another's lust.

The consulship sheds lustre upon men; eloquence gives eternal renown; military glory and a triumph immortalise an obscure family. Many are the spheres ennobled by splendid ability. The virtue of woman is, in a special sense, purity. It was this that made Lucretia the equal of Brutus, if it did not make her his superior, since Brutus learnt from a woman the impossibility of being a slave. It was this that made Cornelia a fit match for Gracchus, and Porcia for a second Brutus.

Tanaquil is better known than her husband. His name, like the names of many other kings, is lost in the mists of antiquity. She, through a virtue rare among women, is too deeply rooted in the hearts of all ages for her memory ever to perish.

Let my married sisters copy the examples of Theano, Cleobuline, Gorgente, Timoclia, the Claudias and Cornelias; and when they find the Apostle conceding second marriage to depraved women, they will read that before the light of our religion shone upon the world wives of one husband ever held high rank among matrons, that by their hands the sacred rites of Fortuna Muliebris were performed, that a priest or Flamen twice married was unknown, that the high priests of Athens to this day emasculate themselves by drinking hemlock, and once they have been drawn in to the pontificate, cease to be men.

 

From The Principle Works of St. Jerome, tr. W.H. Fremantle, A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. VI. New York, 1893. (paragraphing and chapter titles supplied) [Hilles 281.7.VI]

 

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