Are we to paint ourselves out that our neighbours may perish? Let it now be granted that excellence of form be not be feared, as neither troublesome to its possessors, nor destructive to its desirers, nor perilous to its compartners; 2 let it be thought to be not exposed to temptations, not surrounded by stumbling-blocks: it is enough that to angels of God 3 it is not necessary. For, where modesty is, there beauty is idle; because properly the use and fruit of beauty is voluptuousness, unless any one thinks that there is some other harvest for bodily grace to reap.
In those things wherein our sphere of labour lies, let our joy lie. Thus a thing which, from whatever point you look at it, is in your case superfluous, you may justly disdain if you have it not, and neglect it you have.
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Let a holy woman, if naturally beautiful, give none so great occasion for carnal appetite. Certainly, if even she be so, she ought not to set off her beauty , but even to obscure it. Let none of you think that, if she abstain from the care of her person, 13 she will incur the hatred and aversion of husbands. Every husband is the exactor of chastity; but beauty a believing husband does not require, because we are not captivated by the same graces 14 which the Gentiles think to be graces: 15 an un believing one, on the other hand, even regards with suspicion, just from that infamous opinion of us which the Gentiles have.
For whom, then, is it that you cherish your beauty? If for a believer, he does not exact it: if for an un believer, he does not believe in it unless it be artless. These suggestions are not made to you, of course, to be developed into an entire crudity and wildness of appearance; nor are we seeking to persuade you of the good of squalor and slovenliness; but of the limit and norm and just measure of cultivation of the person. There must be no overstepping of that line to which simple and sufficient refinements limit their desires—that line which is pleasing to God.
For they who rub 17 their skin with medicaments, stain their cheeks with rouge, make their eyes prominent with antimony, 18 sin against Him. To them, I suppose, the plastic skill 19 of God is displeasing! In their own persons, I suppose, they convict, they censure, the Artificer of all things! For censure they do when they amend, when Edition: current; Page: [ 21 ] they add to, His work; taking these their additions, of course, from the adversary artificer.
That adversary artificer is the devil. He it is, undoubtedly, who adapted ingenious devices of this kind; that in your persons it may be apparent that you, in a certain sense, do violence to God. Whatever is born is the work of God. Our servants borrow nothing from our personal enemies: soldiers eagerly desire nothing from the foes of their own general; for, to demand for your own use anything from the adversary of Him in whose hand 3 you are, is a transgression. Shall a Christian be assisted in anything by that evil one?
But how alien from your schoolings 4 and professions are these things! How unworthy the Christian name, to wear a fictitious face, you, on whom simplicity in every form is enjoined! I see some women turn the colour of their hair with saffron. They are ashamed even of their own nation, ashamed that their procreation did not assign them to Germany and to Gaul: thus, as it is, they transfer their hair 7 thither!
Ill, ay, most ill, do they augur for themselves with their flame-coloured head, 8 and think that graceful which in fact they are polluting! O temerity! The age which is the object of our wishes and prayers blushes for itself! The more old age tries to conceal itself, the more will it be detected. Here is a veritable eternity, in the perennial youth of your head! Well do you speed toward the Lord; well do you hasten to be quit of this most iniquitous world, 15 to whom it is unsightly to approach your own end! What service, again, does all the labour spent in arranging the hair render to salvation?
Why is no rest allowed to your hair, which must now be bound, now loosed, now cultivated, now thinned out? Some are anxious to force their hair into curls, some to let it hang loose and flying; not with good simplicity: beside which, you affix I know not what enormities of subtle and textile perukes; now, after the manner of a helmet of undressed hide, as it were a sheath for the head and a covering for the crown; now, a mass drawn backward toward the neck. It has been pronounced that no one can add to his own stature. In vain do you labour to seem adorned: in vain do you call in the aid of all the most skilful manufacturers of false hair.
I shall then see whether you will rise with your ceruse and rouge and saffron, and in all that parade of headgear: 6 whether it will be women thus tricked out whom the angels carry up to meet Christ in the air! But nothing can rise except flesh and spirit sole and pure. From things which are condemned abstain, even at the present day. At the present day let God see you such as He will see you then.
Of course, now, I, a man, as being envious 10 of women, am banishing them quite from their own domains. Are there, in our case too, some things which, in respect of the sobriety 11 we are to maintain on account of the fear 12 due to God, are disallowed? For where God is, there modesty is; there is sobriety, 14 her assistant and ally.
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How, then, shall we practise modesty without her instrumental mean, 15 that is, without sobriety? Wherefore, with regard to clothing also, and all the remaining lumber of your self-elaboration, 19 the like pruning off and retrenchment of too redundant splendour must be the object of your care.
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For what boots it to exhibit in your face temperance an unaffectedness, and a simplicity altogether worthy of the divine discipline, but to invest all the other parts of the body with the luxurious absurdities of pomps and delicacies? How intimate is the connection which these pomps have with the business of voluptuousness, and how they interfere with modesty, is easily discernible from the fact that it is by the allied aid of dress that they prostitute the grace of personal comeliness: so plain is it that if the pomps be wanting, they render that grace bootless and thankless, as if it were disarmed and wrecked.
On the other hand, if natural beauty fails, the supporting aid of outward embellishment supplies a grace, as it were, from its own inherent power. First, then, blessed sisters , take heed that you admit not to your use meretricious and prostitutionary garbs and garments: and, in the next place, if there are any of you whom the exigencies of riches, or birth, or past dignities, compel to appear in public so gorgeously arrayed as not to appear to have attained wisdom, take heed to temper an evil of this kind; lest, under the pretext of necessity, you give the rein without stint to the indulgence of Edition: current; Page: [ 23 ] licence.
Why, are there not many, withal, who so do, and seal themselves up to eunuchhood for the sake of the kingdom of God, 9 spontaneously relinquishing a pleasure so honourable, 10 and as we know permitted? Sufficiently, therefore, have you, too, used your riches and your delicacies; sufficiently have you cut down the fruits of your dowries, before receiving the knowledge of saving disciplines.
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It was God, no doubt, who showed the way to dye wools with the juices of herbs and the humours of conchs! It had escaped Him, when He was bidding the universe to come into being, 19 to issue a command for the production of purple and scarlet sheep! It was God, too, who devised by careful thought the manufactures of those very garments which, light and thin in themselves , were to be heavy in price alone; God who produced such grand implements of gold for confining or parting the hair; God who introduced the fashion of finely-cut wounds for the ears, and set so high a value upon the tormenting of His own work and the tortures of innocent infancy, learning to suffer with its earliest breath, in order that from those scars of the body—born for the steel!
So true is it that it is not intrinsic worth, 20 but rarity, which constitutes the goodness of these things : the excessive labour, moreover, of working them with arts introduced by the means of the sinful angels, who were the revealers withal of the material substances themselves, joined with their rarity, excited their costliness, and hence a lust on the part of women to possess that costliness.
But, if the self-same angels who disclosed both the material substances of this kind and their charms—of gold, I mean, and lustrous 21 stones—and taught men how to work them, and by and by instructed them, among their other instructions , in the virtues of eyelid-powder and the dyeings of fleeces, have been condemned by God, as Enoch tells us, how shall we please God while we joy in the things of those angels who, on these accounts, have provoked the anger and the vengeance of God?
Now, granting that God did foresee these things; that God permitted them; that Esaias finds fault with no garment of purple, 22 represses no coif, 23 reprobates no crescent-shaped neck ornaments; 24 still let us not, as the Gentiles do, flatter ourselves with thinking that God is merely a Creator, not likewise a Downlooker on His own creatures. For how far more usefully and cautiously shall we act, if we hazard the presumption that all these things were indeed provided 25 at the beginning and placed in the world 26 by God, in order that there should now be means of putting to the proof the discipline of His servants, in order that the licence of using should Edition: current; Page: [ 24 ] be the means whereby the experimental trials of continence should be conducted?
Do not wise heads of families purposely offer and permit some things to their servants 1 in order to try whether and how they will use the things thus permitted; whether they will do so with honesty, or with moderation?
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Moreover, what causes have you for appearing in public in excessive grandeur, removed as you are from the occasions which call for such exhibitions? For you neither make the circuit of the temples, nor demand to be present at public shows, nor have any acquaintance with the holy days of the Gentiles. Either some brother who is sick is visited, or else the sacrifice is offered, or else the word of God is dispensed.
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Whichever of these you like to name is a business of sobriety 6 and sanctity, requiring no extraordinary attire, with studious arrangement and wanton negligence. Is it according to the decree 11 of Gentiles, or according to the decree of God, that it becomes Christians to walk? Let us only wish that we may be no cause for just blasphemy!
Else, if you so do, what inferiority would the poor unhappy victims of the public lusts have beneath you? And yet, even the Scriptures suggest to us the reflection , that meretricious attractivenesses of form are invariably conjoined with and appropriate 13 to bodily prostitution. That powerful state 14 which presides over 15 the seven mountains and very many waters, has merited from the Lord the appellation of a prostitute. Whence we gather an additional confirmation of the lesson, that provision must be made in every Edition: current; Page: [ 25 ] way against all immodest associations 1 and suspicions.
Why is a thing from which I am averse hoped for in me?
Why does not my garb pre-announce my character, to prevent my spirit from being wounded by shamelessness through the channel of my ears? Grant that it be lawful to assume the appearance of a modest woman: 2 to assume that of an im modest is, at all events, not lawful. If you hide your lamp beneath a bushel, 8 you must necessarily be left quite in darkness, and be run against by many.
The things which make us luminaries of the world are these—our good works. What is good, moreover, provided it be true and full, loves not darkness: it joys in being seen, 9 and exults over the very pointings which are made at it.