3 February 2014


At Mattins on the Advent Ember Days, we read extracts from S Ambrose's Book 2 in Lucam. Here are a few extracts.

The Angel went in to [Mary]. Learn that she was a virgin by her way of life; learn it by her modesty; learn it by the Angel's word; learn it by the Mystery. It is the characteristic of virgins to tremble, and to be afraid whenever a man enters; to fear every utterance of a man. Women should learn to imitate the resolve of her chastity. Alone in the innermost parts of the house, so that no man might see her, that only the Angel should find her; alone, without comrade, without a witness, lest she be corrupted by any ignoble address, she receives the greeting of the Angel ... 

... When Mary heard this, not as if unbelieving concerning his words, nor uncertain about his news nor doubtful about his example, but joyful for prayer, religious for duty, hasty for joy, she went to the hill-country. For, indeed, being now full of God, where should she go with haste except to the higher places? ... Mary, who previously lived alone in the most private recesses, was not delayed by the modesty of virginity from going out into the public realm, nor did the harshness of the mountains keep her from keenness, nor the difficulty of the journey from her duty ... Virgins: learn not to run around (circumcursare) other peoples' houses, not to hang around in the streets, not to gossip together in public. Mary was late leaving her home, but speedy once she was in public, and stayed with her cousin for three months.

Presumably, the habits S Ambrose castigates did exist, or he would not have wasted his time criticising them. It is the assumptions he can share with his hearers about what constitutes modest and decent behaviour that I wish to highlight.

Our society has lost, it seems to me, the entire concept of female modesty. This has been replaced by the bizarre notion that women can dress themselves and conduct themselves as shamelessly as they please and as publicly as they desire, but that a man who is misled into drawing inept conclusions from this is self-condemned.

I do not think our Christian forebears or the Greeks for whom Homer wrote or the Italian congregations to whom S Ambrose preached would have had any doubt that our society has been driven completely and incomprehensibly insane ... barking mad. To our shame, our Islamic neighbours are more likely to understand Christian and pagan antiquity, Homer and S Ambrose, than we are.

We are the strangers, the crazy misfits, the arrogant out-of-place tourists who plant our inappropriate and unwelcome feet in every other country, in every other culture, on every other age of history.

And we are so b****y pleased with ourselves.


Deborah Gyapong said...

Can we resurrect modesty without consigning all women to purdah? I am not sure I like this example from St. Ambrose. Jesus himself violated some of the taboos you had outlined in earlier post about not going to the well at certain times of the day and allowing the woman to anoint his feet with perfume. Can we not develop self-control, men and women, so that women do not have to be kept behind closed doors or wear body bags to prevent men from having lustful thoughts?

I am not Spartacus said...

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Orthodox Monk, John Bryennois (1350-1430/1)

We are baptized..but most of us not only do not know what a Christian is; they do not know how to make the sign of the cross – or if they do they are ashamed to make it. Our priests buy their ordination with gold, and, like most men, have premartial relations with their wives. In exchange for gifts they confer absolution from sins and communion in the Divine Gifts. Despite their vow of chastitythe monks cohabit shamelessly with nuns....gluttony, drunkeness, prostitution, adultrey, impurity, impudence, hatred, jealousy, envy robbery – such is the life of most of us. We have become proud, braggards, avaracious, egotists, ingrates, undisciplined, deserters, rapacious, traitors, impious, iniquitious, impenitent, intransigent....

Saint John Chrysostom:

Great is the tumult. Great the confusion here in church. Our assemblies differ in nothing from a tavern, so loud is the market, so great the disturbance, just as in the baths, in the markets, with everyone shouting and causing an uproar...The Church is not a barbershop, a perfumer's, not any other shop in the forum...we behave more imprudently than dogs and pay as much respect to Gid as a whore....from the way the women who assemble here adorn themselves more wantonly than the unchaste ones there. Hence we see that many profligates are enticed here by them, and if anyone is intending to corrupt a woman, I suppose no place seems better than church..

"Through their own eyes, Liturgy as the Byzantines saw it” Robert F. Taft, S.J.

And even though it is true that not much has changed, that is no reason for Fr. Hunwicke to surrender to the zeitgeist.

Well done, Father.

Patricius said...

Should women ever have been given the vote?

GOR said...

So that was where you were going! Et lux in tenebris lucet…

Well…sort of.

I’m not sure if this is a paean to female modesty or a condemnation of empire-building, as in: the former British Empire bringing ‘civilization’ to the less enlightened or the US Government bringing ‘democracy’ to all and sundry. Perhaps both.

If the latter, I would agree that we often appear to think we know what’s best for other people and the natives have little choice in the matter. If the former, I would be hesitant to hold up “our Islamic neighbours” as models.

It seems to me that Islamic female ‘modesty’ is not just seen as a virtue in itself so much as an effort to protect males from themselves. Plus the reward for martyrdom appears only to favor one gender. But, I may be wrong…

Francis Arabin said...

Should the lower orders have been given the vote in the first place? Old Bishop Grantly voted against the Reform Acts, of course.