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ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily
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Sec. I.—Concerning Widows.

The Age at Which Widows Should Be Chosen.

I. Choose your “widows not under sixty years of age,”28692869     Vid. 1 Tim. v. 9.   that in some measure the suspicion of a second marriage may be prevented by their age. But if you admit one younger into the order of widows, and she cannot bear her widowhood in her youth, and marries, she will procure indecent reflections on the glory of the order of the widows, and shall give an account to God; not because she married a second time, but because she has “waxed wanton against Christ,”28702870     1 Tim. v. 11.   and not kept her promise, because she did not come and keep her promise with faith and the fear of God.28712871     Not in one V. ms.   Wherefore such a promise ought not to be rashly made, but with great caution: “for it is better for her not to vow, than to vow and not to pay.”28722872     Eccles. v. 5.   But if any younger woman, who has lived but a while with her husband, and has lost him by death or some other occasion, and remains by herself, having the gift of widowhood, she will be found to be blessed, and to be like the widow of Sarepta, belonging to Sidon, with whom the holy prophet of God, Elijah,28732873     1 Kings xvii. 9.   lodged. Such a one may also be compared to “Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser, which departed not from the temple, but continued in supplications and prayers night and day, who was fourscore years old, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity, who glorified the coming of Christ, and gave thanks to the Lord, and spake concerning Him to all those who looked for redemption in Israel.”28742874     Luke ii. 36, etc.   Such a widow will have a good report, and will be honoured, having both glory with men upon earth, and eternal praise with God in heaven.  

That We Must Avoid the Choice of Younger Widows, Because of Suspicion.

II. But let not the younger widows be placed in the order of widows, lest, under pretence of inability to contain in the flower of their age, they come to a second marriage, and become subject to imputation. But let them be assisted and supported, that so they may not, under pretence of being deserted, come to a second marriage, and so be ensnared in an unseemly imputation. For you ought to know this, that once marrying according to the law is righteous, as being according to the will of God; but second marriages, after the promise, are wicked, not on account of the marriage itself, but because of the falsehood. Third marriages are indications of incontinency. But such marriages as are beyond the third are manifest fornication, and unquestionable uncleanness. For God in the creation gave one woman to one man; for “they two shall be one flesh.”28752875     Gen. ii. 24.   But to the younger women let a second marriage be allowed after the death of their first husband, lest they fall into the condemnation of the devil, and many snares, and foolish lusts, which are hurtful to souls, and which bring upon them punishment rather than rest.  

What Character the Widows Ought to Be Of, and How They Ought to Be Supported by the Bishop.

III. But the true widows are those which have had only one husband, having a good report among the generality for good works; widows indeed, sober, chaste, faithful, pious, who have brought up their children well, and have entertained strangers unblameably, which are to be supported as devoted to God. Besides, do thou, O bishop, be mindful of the needy, both reaching out thy helping hand and making provision for them as the steward of God, distributing seasonably the oblations to every one of them, to the widows, the orphans, the friendless, and those tried with affliction.  

That We Ought to Be Charitable to All Sorts of Persons in Want.

IV. For what if some are neither widows nor widowers, but stand in need of assistance, either through poverty or some disease, or the maintenance of a great number of children? It is thy duty to oversee all people, and to take care of them all. For they that give gifts do not of their own head give them to the widows, but barely bring them in, calling them free-will offerings, that so thou that knowest those that are in affliction mayest as a good steward give them their portion of the gift. For God knows the giver, though thou distributest it to those in want when he is absent. And he has the reward of well-doing, but thou the blessedness of having dispensed it with a good conscience. But do thou tell them who was the giver, that they may pray for him by name. For it is our duty to do good to all men, not fondly preferring one or another, whoever they be. For the Lord says: “Give to every one that asketh of thee.”28762876     Luke vi. 30   It is evident that it is meant of every one that is really in want, whether he be friend or foe, whether he be a kinsman or a stranger, whether he be single or married. For in all the Scripture the Lord gives us exhortations about the needy, saying first by Isaiah: “Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor which have no covering into thine house. If thou seest the naked, do thou cover him; and thou shalt not overlook those which are of thine own family and seed.”28772877     Isa. lviii. 7   And then by Daniel He says to the potentate: “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel please thee, and purge thy sins by acts of mercy, and thine iniquities by bowels of compassion to the needy.”28782878     Dan. iv. 27   And He says by Solomon: “By acts of mercy and of faith iniquities are purged.”28792879     Prov. xvi. 6   And He says again by David: “Blessed is he that has regard to the poor and needy; the Lord shall deliver him in the evil day.”28802880     Ps. xli. 1   And again: “He hath dispersed abroad, he hath given to the needy, his righteousness remaineth for ever.”28812881     Ps. cxii. 9.   And Solomon says: “He that hath mercy on the poor lendeth to the Lord;28822882     Instead of “Lord,” one V. ms. reads “God.”   according to his gift it shall be repaid him again.”28832883     Prov. xix. 17.   And afterwards: “He that stoppeth his ear, that he may not hear him that is in want, he also shall call himself, and there shall be none to hear him.”28842884     Prov. xxi. 13.    

That the Widows are to Be Very Careful of Their Behavior.

V. Let every widow be meek, quiet, gentle, sincere, free from anger, not talkative, not clamorous, not hasty of speech, not given to evil-speaking, not captious, not double-tongued, not a busybody. If she see or hear anything that is not right, let her be as one that does not see, and as one that does not hear. And let the widow mind nothing but to pray for those that give, and for the whole Church; and when she is asked anything by any one, let her not easily answer, excepting questions concerning the faith, and righteousness, and hope in God, remitting those that desire to be instructed in the doctrines of godliness to the governors. Let her only answer so as may tend to the subversion of the error of polytheism, and let her demonstrate the assertion concerning the monarchy of God. But of the remaining doctrines let her not answer anything rashly, lest by saying anything unlearnedly she should make the word to be blasphemed. For the Lord has taught us that the word is like “a grain of mustard seed,”28852885     Matt. xiii. 31.   which is of a fiery nature, which if any one uses unskilfully, he will find it bitter. For in the mystical points we ought not to be rash, but cautious; for the Lord exhorts us, saying: “Cast not your pearls before swine, lest they trample them with their feet, and turn again and rend you.”28862886     Matt. vii. 6.   For unbelievers, when they hear the doctrine concerning Christ not explained as it ought to be, but defectively, and especially that concerning His incarnation or His passion, will rather reject it with scorn, and laugh at it as false, than praise God for it. And so the aged women will be guilty of rashness, and of causing blasphemy, and will inherit a woe. For says He, “Woe to him by whom my name is blasphemed among the Gentiles.”28872887     Isa. lii. 5.    

That Women Ought Not to Teach, Because It is Unseemly; And What Women Followed Our Lord.

VI. We do not permit our “women to teach in the Church,”28882888     1 Cor. xiv. 34.   but only to pray and hear those that teach; for our Master and Lord, Jesus Himself, when He sent us the twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, did nowhere send out women to preach, although He did not want such. For there were with us the mother of our Lord and His sisters; also Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus; Salome, and certain others. For, had it been necessary for women to teach, He Himself had first commanded these also to instruct the people with us. For “if the head of the wife be the man,”28892889     1 Cor. xi. 3.   it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head. Let the widow therefore own herself to be the “altar of God,” and let her sit in her house, and not enter into the houses of the faithful, under any pretence, to receive anything; for the altar of God never runs about, but is fixed in one place. Let, therefore, the virgin and the widow be such as do not run about, or gad to the houses of those who are alien from the faith. For such as these are gadders and impudent: they do not make their feet to rest in one place, because they are not widows, but purses ready to receive, triflers, evil-speakers, counsellors of strife, without shame, impudent, who being such, are not worthy of Him that called them. For they do not come to the common station of the congregation on the Lord’s day,28902890     “On the Lord’s day” not in one V. ms.   as those that are watchful; but either they slumber, or trifle, or allure men, or beg, or ensnare others, bringing them to the evil one; not suffering them to be watchful in the Lord, but taking care that they go out as vain as they came in, because they do not hear the word of the Lord either taught or read. For of such as these the prophet Isaiah says: “Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxen gross,28912891     Isa. vi. 9, 10.   and they hear heavily with their ears.”28922892     Inserted from one V. ms.    

What are the Characters of Widows Falsely So Called.

VII. In the same manner, therefore, the ears of the hearts of such widows as these are stopped, that they will not sit within in their cottages to speak to the Lord, but will run about with the design of getting, and by their foolish prattling fulfil the desires of the adversary. Such widows, therefore, are not affixed to the altar of Christ: for there are some widows which esteem gain their business; and since they ask without shame, and receive without being satisfied, render the generality more backward in giving. For when they ought to be content with their subsistence from the Church, as having moderate desires, on the contrary, they run from one of their neighbours’ houses28932893     Probably the reading should be, “they go round the houses of the rich.”   to another, and disturb them, heaping up to themselves plenty of money, and lend at bitter usury, and are only solicitous about mammon, whose bag is their god; who prefer eating and drinking before all virtue, saying, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;”28942894     Isa. xxii. 13; 1 Cor. xv. 32   who esteem these things as if they were durable and not perishing things. For she that uses herself to nothing but talking of money, worships mammon instead of God,—that is, is a servant to gain, but cannot be pleasing to God, nor resigned to His worship; not being able to intercede with Him continuously on account that her mind and disposition run after money: for “where the treasure is, there will the heart be also.”28952895     Matt. vi. 21   For she is thinking in her mind whither she may go to receive, or that a certain woman her friend has forgot her, and she has somewhat to say to her. She that thinks of such things as these will no longer attend to her prayers, but to that thought which offers itself; so that though sometimes she would pray for anybody, she will not be heard, because she does not offer her petition to the Lord with her whole heart, but with a divided mind. But she that will attend to God will sit within, and mind the things of the Lord day and night, offering her sincere petition with a mouth ready to utter the same without ceasing. As therefore Judith, most famous for her wisdom, and of a good report for her modesty, “prayed to God night and day for Israel;”28962896     Judith ix. 1, etc.   so also the widow who is like to her will offer her intercession without ceasing for the Church to God. And He will hear her, because her mind is fixed on this thing alone, and is not disposed to be either insatiable, or covetous, or expensive; when her eye is pure, and her hearing clean, and her hands undefiled, and her feet quiet, and her mouth prepared for neither gluttony nor trifling, but speaking the things that are fit, and partaking of only such things as are necessary for her maintenance. So, being grave, and giving no disturbance, she will be pleasing to God; and as soon as she asks anything, the gift will come to her: as He says, “While thou art speaking, I will say, Behold, I am here.”28972897     Isa. lviii. 9   Let such a one also be free from the love of money, free from arrogance, not given to filthy lucre, not insatiable, not gluttonous, but continent, meek, giving nobody disturbance, pious, modest, sitting at home, singing, and praying, and reading, and watching, and fasting; speaking to God continually in songs and hymns. And let her take wool, and rather assist others than herself want from them; being mindful of that widow who is honoured in the Gospel with the Lord’s testimony, who, coming into the temple, “cast into the treasury two mites, which make a farthing. And Christ our Lord and Master, and Searcher of hearts, saw her, and said, Verily I say unto you, that this widow hath cast into the treasury more than they all: for all they have cast in of their abundance, but this woman of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.”28982898     Mark xii. 42; Luke xxi. 3, 4    

The widows therefore ought to be grave, obedient to their bishops, and their presbyters, and their deacons, and besides these to the deaconesses, with piety, reverence, and fear; not usurping authority, nor desiring to do anything beyond the constitution without the consent of the deacon: as, suppose, the going to any one to eat or drink with him, or to receive anything from anybody. But if without direction she does any one of these things, let her be punished with fasting, or else let her be separated on account of her rashness.  

That the Widows Ought Not to Accept of Alms from the Unworthy No More Than the Bishop, or Any Other of the Faithful.

VIII. For how does such a one know of what character the person is from whom she receives? or from what sort of ministration he supplies her with food, whether it does not arise from rapine or some other ill course of life? while the widow does not remember that if she receives in a way unworthy of God, she must give an account for every one of these things. For neither will the priests at any time receive a free-will offering from such a one, as, suppose, from a rapacious person or from a harlot. For it is written, “Thou shalt not covet the goods that are thy neighbour’s;”28992899     Ex. xx. 17   and, “Thou shalt not offer the hire of an harlot to the Lord God.”29002900     Deut. xxiii. 18   From such as these no offerings ought to be accepted, nor indeed from those that are separated from the Church. Let the widows also be ready to obey the commands given them by their superiors, and let them do according to the appointment of the bishop, being obedient to him as to God; for he that receives from such a one who is worthy of blame, or from one excommunicated, and prays for him, while he purposes to go on in a wicked course, and while he is not willing at any time to repent, holds communion with him in prayer, and grieves Christ, who rejects the unrighteous, and confirms them by means of the unworthy gift, and is defiled with them, not suffering them to come to repentance, so as to fall down before God with lamentation, and pray to Him.  

That Women Ought Not to Baptize, Because It is Impious, and Contrary to the Doctrine of Christ.

IX. Now, as to women’s baptizing, we let you know that there is no small peril to those that undertake it. Therefore we do not advise you to it; for it is dangerous, or rather wicked and impious. For if the “man be the head of the woman,”29012901     1 Cor. xi. 3   and he be originally ordained for the priesthood, it is not just to abrogate the order of the creation, and leave the principal to come to the extreme part of the body. For the woman is the body of the man, taken from his side, and subject to him, from whom she was separated for the procreation of children. For says He, “He shall rule over thee.”29022902     Gen. iii. 16.   For the principal part of the woman is the man, as being her head. But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted them to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of a priest? For this is one of the ignorant practices of the Gentile atheism, to ordain women priests to the female deities, not one of the constitutions of Christ. For if baptism were to be administered by women, certainly our Lord would have been baptized by His own mother, and not by John; or when He sent us to baptize, He would have sent along with us women also for this purpose. But now He has nowhere, either by constitution or by writing, delivered to us any such thing; as knowing the order of nature, and the decency of the action;29032903     [“The eternal fitness of things.”]   as being the Creator of nature, and the Legislator of the constitution.  

That a Layman Ought Not to Do Any Office of the Priesthood: He Ought Neither to Baptize, Nor Offer, Nor Lay on Hands, Nor Give the Blessing.

X. Neither do we permit the laity to perform any of the offices belonging to the priesthood; as, for instance, neither the sacrifice, nor baptism, nor the laying on of hands, nor the blessing, whether the smaller or the greater: for “no one taketh this honour to himself, but he that is called of God.”29042904     Heb. v. 4.   For such sacred offices are conferred by the laying on of the hands of the bishop. But a person to whom such an office is not committed, but he seizes upon it for himself, he shall undergo the punishment of Uzziah.29052905     2 Chron. xxvi.    

That None But a Bishop and Presbyter, None Even of the Inferior Ranks of the Clergy, are Permitted to Do the Offices of the Priests; That Ordination Belongs Wholly to the Bishop, and to Nobody Else.

XI. Nay, further, we do not permit to the rest of the clergy to baptize,—as, for instance, neither to readers, nor singers, nor porters, nor ministers,—but to the bishops and presbyters alone, yet so that the deacons are to minister to them therein. But those who venture upon it shall undergo the punishment of the companions of Corah.29062906     Num. xvi.   We do not permit presbyters to ordain deacons, or deaconesses, or readers, or ministers, or singers, or porters, but only bishops; for this is the ecclesiastical order and harmony.  

The Rejection of All Uncharitable Actions.

XII. Now, as concerning envy, or jealousy, or evil-speaking, or strife, or the love of contention, we have said already to you, that these are alien from a Christian, and chiefly in the case of widows. But because the devil, who works in men, is in his conduct cunning, and full of various devices, he goes to those that are not truly widows, as formerly to Cain (for some say they are widows, but do not perform the injunctions agreeable to the widowhood; as neither did Cain discharge the duties due to a brother: for they do not consider how it is not the name of widowhood that will bring them to the kingdom of God, but true faith and holy29072907     Instead of “holy,” one V. ms. reads “divine.”   works). But if any one possesses the name of widowhood, but does the works of the adversary, her widowhood will not be imputed, but she will be thrust out of the kingdom, and delivered to eternal punishment. For we hear that some widows are jealous, envious calumniators, and envious at the quiet of others. Such widows as these are not the disciples of Christ, nor of His doctrine; for it becomes them, when one of their fellow-widows is clothed by any one, or receives money, or meat, or drink, or shoes, at the sight of the refreshment of their sister to say:—  

How the Widows are to Pray for Those that Supply Their Necessities.

XIII. Thou art blessed, O God, who hast refreshed my fellow-widow. Bless, O Lord, and glorify him that has bestowed these things upon her, and let his good work ascend in truth to Thee, and remember him for good in the day of his visitation. And as for my bishop, who has so well performed his duty to Thee, and29082908     Not in one V. ms.   has ordered such a seasonable alms to be bestowed on my fellow-widow, who was naked, do Thou increase his glory, and give him a29092909     Not in one V. ms.   crown of rejoicing in the day of the revelation of Thy visitation. In the same manner, let the widow who has received the alms join with the other in praying for him who ministered to her.  

That She Who Has Been Kind to the Poor Ought Not to Make a Stir and Tell Abroad Her Name, According to the Constitution of the Lord.

XIV. But if any woman has been good, let her, as a prudent person, conceal her own name, not sounding a trumpet before her, that her alms may be with God in secret, as the Lord says: “Thou, when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand cloth, that thine alms may be in secret.”29102910     Matt. vi. 3, 4.   And let the widow pray for him that gave her the alms, whosoever he be, as being the holy altar of Christ;29112911     Instead of “Christ,” one V. ms. reads “of God.”   and “the Father, who seeth in secret, will render to him that did good openly.” But those widows which will not live according to the command of God, are solicitous and inquisitive what deaconess it is that gives the charity, and what widows receive it. And when she has learned those things, she murmurs at the deaconess who distributed the charity, saying, Dost not thou see that I am in more distress, and want of thy charity? Why, therefore, hast thou preferred her before me? She says these things foolishly, not understanding that this does not depend on the will of man, but the appointment of God. For if she is herself a witness that she was nearer, and, upon inquiry, was in greater want, and more naked than the other, she ought to understand who it is that made this constitution, and to hold her peace, and not to murmur at the deaconess who distributed the charity, but to enter into her own house, and to cast herself prostrate on her face to make supplication to God that her sin may be forgiven her. For God commanded the deaconess who brought the charity not to proclaim the same, and this widow murmured because she did not publish her name, that so she might know it, and run to receive; nay, did not only murmur, but also cursed her, forgetting Him that said: “He that blesseth thee is blessed, and he that curseth thee is cursed.”29122912     Gen. xxvii. 29.   But the Lord says: “When ye enter into an house, say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it; but if it be not worthy, your peace shall return to you.”29132913     Luke x. 5, 6; Matt. x. 12, 13.    

That It Does Not Become Us to Revile Our Neighbours, Because Cursing is Contrary to Christianity.

XV. If, therefore, peace returns upon those that sent it, nay, upon those that before had actually given it, because it did not find persons fit to receive it, much rather will a curse return upon the head of him that unjustly sent it, because he to whom it was sent was not worthy to receive it: for all those who abuse others without a cause curse themselves, as Solomon says: “As birds and sparrows fly away, so the curse causeless shall not come upon any one.”29142914     Prov. xxvi. 2.   And again he says: “Those that bring reproaches are exceeding foolish.”29152915     Prov. x. 18.   But as the bee, a creature as to its strength feeble, if she stings any one, loses her sting, and becomes a drone; in the same manner you also, whatsoever injustice you do to others, will bring it upon yourselves. “He hath graven and digged a pit, and he shall fall into the same ditch that he has made.”29162916     Ps. vii. 15.   And again: “He that diggeth a pit for his neighbour, shall fall into it.”29172917     Prov. xxvi. 27.   Wherefore he that avoids a curse, let him not curse another; for “what thou hatest should be done to thee, do not thou to another.”29182918     Tob. iv. 16.   Wherefore admonish the widows that are feeble-minded, strengthen those of them that are weak, and praise such of them as walk in holiness. Let them rather bless, and not calumniate. Let them make peace, and not stir up contention.  


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