11. Porro juniores viduas rejice; quum enim lascivire coeperint adversus Christum, nubere volunt;
12. Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.
12. Habentes condemnationem, quod primam fidem rejecerint.
13. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also, and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.
13. Simul autem et otiosae discunt circuire domos; nec solum otiosae, verum etiam garrulae et curiosae, loquentes quae non oportet.
9. Let a widow be chosen.He again points out what kind of widows should be taken under the care of the Church; fa89 and more clearly than he had formerly done.
Not under sixty years of age. First, he describes the age, sixty years; for, being supported at the public expense, it was proper that they should have already reached old age. Besides, there was another and stronger reason; for they consecrated themselves to the ministry of the Church, which would have been altogether intolerable, if there were still a likelihood of their being married. They were received on the condition that the Church should relieve their poverty, and that, on their part, they should be employed in ministering to the poor, as far as the state of their health allowed. Thus there was a mutual obligation between them and the Church. It was unreasonable that those who were under that age, and who were still in the vigor of life, should be a burden to others. Besides, there was reason to fear that they would change their mind and think of being married again. These are two reasons why he does not wish any to be admitted “under sixty years of age.”
Who hath been the wife of one man. As to the desire of marrying, that danger had been sufficiently guarded against, when a woman was more than sixty years old; especially if, during her whole life, she had not been married to more than one husband. It may be regarded as a sort of pledge of continence and chastity, when a woman has arrived at that age, satisfied with having had but one husband. Not that he disapproves of a second marriage, or affixes a mark of ignominy to those who have been twice married; (for, on the contrary, he advises younger widows to marry;) but because he wished carefully to guard against laying any females under a necessity of remaining unmarried, who felt it to be necessary to have husbands. On this subject we shall afterwards speak more fully.
10 For good works. Those qualifications which are next enumerated relate partly to honor, and partly to labor. There can be no doubt that the assemblies of widows were honorable, and highly respectable; and, therefore, Paul does not wish that any should be admitted into them, but those who had excellent attestations of the whole of their past life. Besides, they were not appointed in order to lazy and indolent inactivity, but to minister to the poor and the sick, until, being completely worn out, they should be allowed honorably to retire. Accordingly, that they may be better prepared for the discharge of their office, he wishes them to have had long practice and experience in all the duties which belong to it; such as — labor and diligence in bringing up children, hospitality, ministering to the poor, and other charitable works.
If it be now asked, Shall all that are barren be rejected, because they have never borne any children? We must reply, that Paul does not here condemn barrenness, but the daintiness of mothers, who, by refusing to endure the weariness of bringing up their children, sufficiently shew that they will be very unkind to strangers. And at the same time he holds out this as an honorable reward to godly matrons, who have not spared themselves, that they, in their turn, shall be received into the bosom of the Church in their old age.
By a figure of speech, in which a part is taken for the whole, he means by the washing of the feet all the services which are commonly rendered to the saints; for at that time it was customary to “wash the feet.” fa90 An employment of this nature might have the appearance of being mean and almost servile; and therefore he makes use of this mark for describing females who were industrious, and far from being fastidious or dainty. What next follows relates to liberality; and, lastly, he expresses the same thing in general terms, when he says, if she hath been diligent in every good work; for here he speaks of acts of kindness.
11. Refuse younger widows. He does not enjoin that they be excommunicated from the Church, or have any mark of disgrace put upon them; but he only asserts that they must not be rewarded by obtaining that honor which he has already mentioned. And if the Spirit of God, by the mouth of Paul, declares that no woman under sixty years of age deserves to be admitted into that order, because at that age the unmarried state was dangerous; what effrontery was it, afterwards, to lay down a law of celibacy for young women in all the warmth of youthful years? Paul, I say, does not allow of abstaining from marriage till they are in extreme old age, and altogether beyond the danger of incontinence. They afterwards came to forty years as the age for putting the veil on virgins, and next to thirty; and at length they began to put the veil — indiscriminately, and without exception — on females of any age. They allege, that continence is much easier for virgins, who have never had a husband, than it is for widows. But they will never succeed in proving, that there is no reason to dread that danger against which Paul guards and commands others to guard. Accordingly, it is rash, and even cruel, to lay a snare for those who still are young girls, and who would have been fitter for the married state.
For when they have begun to be wanton against Christ. He says that they are “wanton against Christ,” who, forgetting the condition to which they were called, indulge in unbecoming mirth; for they ought to have kept themselves under the yoke of modesty, as becomes grave and respectable females. Accordingly, a more luxurious and abandoned course of life is a sort of wantonness against Christ, to whom they had pledged their fidelity. As Paul had seen many instances of this kind, he meets it by a general remedy, that none should be admitted who were of an age that could ever induce them to desire to be married.
How many monsters of crimes are produced every day in Popery by that compulsory celibacy of nuns! What barriers does it not deliberately break through! And therefore, although this course had at first appeared to be commendable, yet, taught by experiments so many and so terrible, they ought to have somewhat complied with in the counsel of Paul. But they are so far from doing this, that they provoke the wrath of God more and more, from day to day, by their obstinacy. Nor do I speak of nuns only, but priests and monks are also compelled by them to observe perpetual celibacy. Yet disgraceful lusts rage amongst them, so that hardly one in ten lives chastely; and in monasteries, the least of the evils is ordinary fornication. If they would incline their heart to hear God speaking by the mouth of Paul, they would instantly have recourse to this remedy which he prescribes; but so great is their pride, that they furiously persecute all who remind them of it.
Some read the words thus: — “When they become wanton, they will marry in opposition to Christ.” Although this makes little difference as to Paul’s meaning, the former view is preferable.
12. Having condemnation, because they have renounced their first faith. “To have condemnation,” is interpreted by some as signifying “to deserve reproof.” But I take it to be a statement of greater severity, that Paul terrifies them by the damnation of eternal death; as if he reproved them by saying that that excellent order, which ought rather to have united them to Christ, was the very ground of their condemnation. And the reason is added, that they entirely “revolt from the faith “of baptism and from Christianity. I am aware that there are some who interpret it differently; that is, that they break the pledge which they gave to the Church by marrying, having formerly promised that they would live unmarried till death. This is exceedingly absurd. Besides, why should he call it their first faith?
Accordingly, Paul rises to greater vehemence against them, and magnifies the enormity of the offense, by saying that not only would they bring disgrace on Christ and his Church by departing from the condition to which they had agreed, but they likewise broke their “first faith “by wicked revolt. Thus it usually happens, that he who has once transgressed the bounds of modesty gives himself up to all impudence. It grieved him that the levity of those women was a reproach to the godly, and that their lustfulness was reproved, or, at least, was liable to reproof. This led them to proceed to greater and greater degrees of licentiousness, till they renounced Christianity. That amplification is exceedingly appropriate; for is there anything more absurd than that they should, through a wish to promote the advantage of persons, open the door to the denial of Christ?
The attempt of the Papists to support, by means of this passage, a vow of perpetual celibacy, is absurd. Granting that it was customary to exact from the widows an engagement in express terms, still they would gain nothing by this admission. First, we must consider the end. The reason why widows formerly promised to remain unmarried, was not that they might lead a holier life than in a state of marriage, but because they could not, at the same time, be devoted to husbands and to the Church; but in Popery, they make a vow of continence, as if it were a virtue acceptable to God on its own account. Secondly, in that age they renounced the liberty of marrying at the time when they ceased to be marriageable; for they must have been, at least, sixty years old, and, by being satisfied with being once married, must have already given a proof of their chastity. But now, vows are made among the Papists to renounce marriage, either before the time, or in the midst of time ardor of youthful years.
Now we disapprove of the tyrannical law about celibacy, chiefly for two reasons. First, they pretend that it is meritorious worship before God; and secondly, by rashness in vowing, they plunge souls into destruction. Neither of these was to be found in the ancient institution. They did not make a direct vow of continence, as if the married life were less acceptable to God, but only, so far as it was rendered necessary by the office to which they were elected, they promised to keep from the tie of marriage for their whole life; nor did they deprive themselves of the liberty of marrying, till the time when, though they had been ever so free, it was foolish and unreasonable for them to marry. In short, those widows differed as much from the nuns, as Anna the prophetess from Claude the Vestal. fa91
13. And not only so, but they grow idle. Nothing is more becoming in women than keeping the house; and hence, among the ancients, a tortoise fa92 was the image of a good and respectable mother of a family. But there are many who are diseased with the opposite vice. Nothing delights them more than the liberty of running from one place to another, and especially when, being freed from the burden of a family, they have nothing to do at home.
Tattlers and busybodies. Besides, those widows, under the pretense of the respect due to the public character which they sustained, had more easy access to many persons. This opportunity, obtained through the kindness of the Church, they abused for purposes of “idleness;” and next, as usually happens, from slothfulness sprung curiosity, which is also the mother of talkativeness. Most true is the saying of Horace: “Shun an inquisitive person, for he is always a tattler.” fa93 “No trust should be placed,” as Plutarch says, “in inquisitive persons, for, as soon as they have heard anything, they are never at rest till they have blabbed it out.” This is especially the case with women, who, by nature, are prone to talkativeness, and cannot keep a secret. With good reason, therefore, has Paul joined together these three things, sloth, inquisitiveness, and tattling.