Chapter 9. Demetrias

"He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord; for not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth."


AUGUSTINE was the founder of the monastic system in Africa; a system which, with all its possible perversions, and its historical fortunes, has a distinct doctrinal place in the evangelical dispensation. Even viewed as a mere human addition to the institutions of that dispensation, Monachism has as fair a claim on us for a respectful treatment as the traditionary usages of the Rechabites had upon the Jews, which are implicitly sanctioned in the reward divinely accorded to the filial piety which occasioned them. If a Protestant says, that it may be abused, this is only what I might object with at least equal force against many of his own doctrines, such as justification by faith only, which he considers true and important nevertheless. But even if it could be convicted of superstition, fanaticism, priestcraft, and the other charges which he brings against it, still anyhow he surely must acknowledge it to be, not a simple self-originated error, but merely a corruption of what is in itself good—the result of a misunderstanding of primitive faith and strictness; nothing more. However, perhaps he {164} will go on to ask what is the force of "merely" and "nothing more," as if a corruption were not an evil great enough in itself. But let me ask him in turn, could his present system, in which he glories so much, by any possibility be corrupted, to use his word, into monasticism? is there any sort of tendency in it towards—rather, are not all its tendencies from—such a result? If so, it is plain that the religious temper of Protestant times is not like that of the primitive Church, the existing liability in systems to certain degeneracies respectively being a sort of index of the tone and temper of each. As the corruptions, so are the respective originals. If his system never could become superstitious, it is not primitive. Clearly, then, whether or not Monachism is right, he at least is wrong, as differing in mind and spirit from that first Christian system, which did become monastic.

One great purpose answered by Monachism in the early ages was the maintenance of the Truth in times and places in which great masses of Catholics had let it slip from them. Under such sad circumstances, the spouse of Christ "fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God." Thus in those perilous Arian waters, which "the serpent cast out after the woman,"

    When withering blasts of error swept the sky,
    And Love's last flowers seemed fain to droop and die,
        How sweet, how lone the ray benign
        On sheltered nooks of Palestine!
    Then to his early home did Love repair,
And cheered his sickening heart with his own native air.

That was the cave of Bethlehem, to which St. Jerome retired; but Augustine's monasteries were not intended for this purpose. They were intended as the refuge of {165} piety and holiness, when the increasing spread of religion made Christians more secular. And we may confidently pronounce that such provisions, in one shape or other, will always be attempted by the more serious and anxious part of the community, whenever Christianity is generally professed. In Protestant countries, where monastic orders are unknown, men run into separatism with this object. Methodism has carried off many a man who was sincerely attached to the Established Church, merely because that Church will admit nothing but what it considers "rational" and "sensible" in religion.


There is another reason for such establishments, which applies particularly to women; convents are as much demanded, in the model of a perfect Church, by Christian charity, as monastic bodies can be by Christian zeal. I know not any more distressing development of the cruel temper of Protestantism than the determined, bitter, and scoffing spirit in which it has set itself against institutions which give dignity and independence to the position of women in society. As matters stand, marriage is almost the only shelter which a defenceless portion of the community has against the rude world;—a maiden life, that holy estate, is not only left in desolateness, but oppressed with heartless ridicule and insult;—whereas, foundations for single women, under proper precautions, at once hold out protection to those who avail themselves of them, and give dignity to the single state itself, and thus save numbers from the temptation of throwing themselves rashly away upon unworthy objects, thereby transgressing their own sense of propriety, and embittering their future life.

And if women have themselves lost so much by the {166} established state of things, what has been the loss of the poor, sick, and aged, to whose service they might consecrate that life which they refuse to shackle by the marriage vow? what has been the loss of the ignorant, sinful, and miserable, among whom those only can move without indignity who bear a religious character upon them; for whom they only can intercede or exert themselves, who have taken leave of earthly hopes and fears; who are secured by their holy resolve, from the admiring eye or the persuasive tongue, and can address themselves to the one heavenly duty to which they have set themselves with singleness of mind? Those who are unmarried, and who know, and know that others know, that they are likely one day to marry, who are exposed to the thousand subtle and fitful feelings of propriety, which, under such circumstances, are ever springing up in the modest breast, with a keen sensitiveness ever awake, and the chance of indefinable sympathies with others any moment arising, such persons surely may be beautiful in mind, and noble and admirable in conduct, but they cannot take on them the high office of Sisters of Mercy.

However, this chapter is to have nothing to do with monasteries or communities, if this be any relief to the Protestant reader, but is to furnish a specimen of what to some persons may seem as bad, yet has been undeniably a practice of Christians, not from the fourth century, but from the time of St. Philip's daughters in the Acts, viz.: the private and domestic observance of an ascetic life for religion's sake, and to the honour of Christ.

"There were always ascetics in the Church," says the learned Bingham, "but not always monks retiring to the deserts and mountains, or living in monasteries and cells, as in after ages. Such were all those that inured themselves to greater degrees of abstinence and fasting than other men. In like manner, they who {167} were more than ordinarily intent upon the exercise of prayer, and spent their time in devotion, were justly thought to deserve the name of ascetics. The exercise of charity and contempt of the world in any extraordinary degree, as when men gave up their whole estate to the service of God or use of the poor, was another thing that gave men the denomination and title of ascetics. The widows and virgins of the Church, and all such as confined themselves to a single life, were reckoned among the number of ascetics, though there was neither cloister nor vow to keep them under this obligation. Origen alludes to this name, when he says the number of those who exercised themselves in perpetual virginity among the Christians was great in comparison of those few who did it among the Gentiles. Lastly, all such as exercised themselves with uncommon hardships or austerities, for the greater promotion of piety and religion, as in frequent watchings, humicubations, and the like, had the name ascetics also."—Antiqu. vii. 1, §§ 1-3.

At present the only representatives among Protestants of these ancient solitaries are found in those persons whom they commonly taunt and ridicule under the name of "old maids" and "single gentlemen;" and it sometimes is seriously objected to the primitive doctrine of celibacy, that "bachelors are just the most selfish, unaccommodating, particular, and arbitrary persons in the community;" while "ancient spinsters are the most disagreeable, cross, gossiping, and miserable of their sex." Dreariness unmitigated, a shivering and hungry spirit, a soul preying on itself, a heart without an object, affections unemployed, life wasted, self-indulgence in prosperous circumstances, envy and malice in straitened; deadness of feeling in the male specimen, and impotence of feeling in the female, concentrated selfishness in both; such are the only attributes with which the imagination of modern times can invest St. Ambrose, bishop and confessor, or St. Macrina, sister of the great Basil. Now it may seem an unaccountable waywardness in one who has been brought up in the pure light of the nineteenth {168} century, but I really am going to say a few words about such an old maid, or holy virgin, as we please to call her. In the year 413, the rich and noble Demetrias, a descendant of some of the most illustrious Roman houses, and moving in the highest circles, as we now speak, of the metropolis of the world, devoted herself at Carthage to a single life. It will be worth while to relate some particulars of her history.


She was the daughter of Anicius Hermogenianus Olybrius, who was consul A.D. 395, and Anicia Juliana, his relation. Her father, who died young, was son of the well-known Sextus Probus, prefect of Italy from 368 to 375, who addressed St. Ambrose, while yet a catechumen, and appointed to a civil post in Liguria, in the celebrated and almost prophetic words, "Act not as magistrate, but as bishop." The riches of this prefect were so abundant, that some Persian noblemen, who in the year 390 came to Milan to St. Ambrose, went, as the second object of curiosity, to Rome, to see the grandeur of Probus. His wife, that is, the paternal grandmother of Demetrias, Anicia Faltonia Proba, belonged, as her first name shows, to one of the most noble families in Rome. The consulate seemed hereditary in it; its riches and influence were unbounded; while its members appear to have been Christians from the time of Constantine, or, as some suppose, from the time of the persecutions. Of the same illustrious house was Juliana, the mother of Demetrias.

Rome was taken by Alaric in 410; and on this most awful visitation, among other heirs of grace, three women were found in the devoted city,—Faltonia Proba, Juliana, and Demetrias,—grandmother, mother, and daughter,— {169} two widows and a girl. Faltonia, and Juliana, her daughter-in-law, had, in the days of their prosperity exerted themselves at Rome in favour of St. Chrysostom, then under persecution, and now, in their own troubles, they found a comforter and guide in St. Augustine. So closely was Christendom united then, that ladies in Rome ministered to one bishop at Constantinople, and took refuge with another in Africa. At first they seem all to have fallen into the hands of the barbarians, and many of the holy virgins of the city, who had sought protection with Proba, were torn from her house. At length, obtaining liberty to leave Rome, she embarked for Africa with her daughter-in-law and grand-daughter, and a number of widows and virgins who availed themselves of her departure to escape likewise. Our history shall be continued in the following letter, written by St. Augustine to this high-born and well-connected lady:—


"Bearing in mind your request and my promise, that I would write to you on the subject of prayer, when He to whom we pray had given me time and power, I ought, without delay, to discharge my engagement, and in the love of Christ consult your pious desire. How much that request of yours delighted me, as showing your high sense of a high duty, words cannot express. Indeed, how should you rather employ your widowhood than in continued prayer, night and day, according to the admonition of the Apostle? For he says, 'Let her that is a widow indeed, and desolate, hope in God, and continue in supplications and prayers night and day;' although it is at first sight strange, that one who is noble according to this world, like you, rich, and mother of such a family, and therefore, though a widow, not desolate, should have her heart engaged and supremely possessed by the care to pray, save that you have the wisdom to perceive that in this world and in this life no soul can be beyond care. {170}

"Therefore, He who has given you that thought, is in truth doing therein what He promised so wonderfully and pitifully to His disciples, when saddened, not for themselves, but for the race of man, and despairing that any could be saved, on His saying, that it was easier for a camel to enter a needle's eye than for a rich man the kingdom of heaven; He answered them, 'With God is easy what with man is impossible.' He, even while He was yet here in the flesh, sent the rich Zacchæus into the kingdom of heaven; and after that He was glorified by His resurrection and ascension, imparting His Holy Spirit, He made many rich persons to contemn this world, and to increase in riches by losing the desire of them. For why should you, for instance, be thus anxious to pray to God, but that you trusted in Him? and why should you trust in Him, did you trust in uncertain riches, and despise that most wholesome precept of the Apostle, 'Charge the rich of this world not to be high-minded, nor to hope in uncertain riches, but in the living God, that they may obtain true life'?

"And so, for love of that true life, you ought to think yourself, even in this world, desolate, whatever be your outward prosperity. In this life's darkness, in which we are pilgrims from the Lord, and walk by faith, not by sight, the Christian soul ought to esteem itself desolate, lest it cease from prayer; and to learn to fix the eye of faith on the words of divine and holy Scriptures, as a lamp in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the morning star arise in our hearts. This is the true life, which the rich are bid lay hold of by good works; and this is true consolation, for which the widow now has desolation, and though she have sons and grandsons, and order her household piously, urging it on all of hers that they put their trust in God, yet she says in prayer, 'For Thee my soul, for Thee my flesh, O how many ways, hath thirsted, in a desert land, where there is no way and no water.'"

Then he refers to our Lord's own precept of prayer, and to the reasons of His giving it:

"To obtain this blessed life, we are taught by the true blessed Life Himself to pray not much speaking, as though the more wordy we were, the surer we were heard; since we pray to Him, who, as the Lord Himself says, knows our necessities before we ask of Him. But if so, it may seen strange, why, though He has forbidden much {171} speaking, yet, while knowing our necessities before we ask of Him, He has encouraged us to pray, in the words, 'One ought always to pray, and not to faint.' It may surprise us, until we understand, that our Lord and God does not wish our will to be made clear to Him, which He cannot but know, but that, our desire being exercised in prayers, we may be able to receive what He prepares to give. In faith indeed, and hope, and charity, we are always praying, with uninterrupted desire; but we ask God in words also, at certain intervals of hours and times, that by those outward signs we may admonish ourselves, and may see into ourselves, what progress we have made in this desire, and may stimulate ourselves the more to heighten it. We recall our minds at certain hours to the business of prayer, from those other cares and businesses, by which that desire itself is, in a measure, chilled; admonishing ourselves, by the words of prayer, to reach forward to that which we desire, lest what is already chilling may altogether cool, and may be altogether quenched, unless now and then rekindled.

"This being the case, even prolonged prayer, when one has time for it,—that is, when other good and necessary actions are not superseded, though even in the midst of them, we ought in desire ever to be praying,—such long prayer is neither wrong nor useless. Nor is this continued prayer, as some think, much speaking: many words is one thing, a continued affection another. For it is written of the Lord Himself, that He 'passed the night in prayer,' and that He prayed 'more largely;' in which what did He but set us an example?—in this world making supplications in season, with the Father hearing them for evermore.

"The brethren in Egypt are said to make frequent prayers, but those as short as possible, and somehow darted forward rapidly, lest lively attention, which is so necessary in praying, should become faint and dull by a slow performance; and thus they themselves show plainly that this attention, as it should not be wearied out if it cannot be sustained, so it is not prematurely to be broken if it can. To speak much, is to urge our necessities in prayer with superfluous words; but to pray much, is to knock for Him to whom we pray, with prolonged and pious exercise of the heart. This is often done more by groans than speeches, by weeping than by addresses. For He sets our tears in His sight, and our groaning is not hid from Him, who, having made all things by His Word, does not ask for words of man.

"Pray, then, as a widow of Christ, who have not yet the sight of {172} Him whose aid you entreat. And though you be most opulent, pray as one of the poor; for you have not yet the true riches of the world to come, where there is no dread of loss. Though you have children and grandchildren, and a numerous household, yet pray as one desolate; for all temporal things are uncertain, though they are to remain even to the end of this life for our consolation. And surely, remember to pray with earnestness for me. For I am unwilling that you should render to me my dangerous honour, yet should withhold that my necessary support. Christ's household prayed for Peter and for Paul; and, while it is my joy that you are of His household, it is my need incomparably more than that of Peter or Paul that brotherly prayers should be my succour. Strive ye in prayer, in a peaceable and holy strife; not striving against each other, but against the devil, the enemy of all saints. By fastings, and watchings, and all chastisement of the body, prayer is especially aided. Let each of you do what she can; what one cannot, she does in her who can; if so be, in her who can, she loves that, which she therefore does not do herself because she cannot. Accordingly, she who has less strength must not hinder her who has more, and she who has more must not be hard with her who has less. For your conscience is owed to God; to none of yourselves owe ye anything, but to love one another. May God hear you, who is able to do above what we ask or understand."—Ep. 130.


The exiled ladies seem to have settled down in Carthage, and we hear nothing of them for several years. At the end of that time, a remarkable event happened; Demetrias, who now had arrived at woman's estate, declared her resolve of devoting herself to a single life; as it would seem, at her own instance, though Augustine and Alypius, by this time bishop of Thagaste, were unconscious instruments in her determination. Her mother and grandmother appear to have been backward in the matter, or rather to have destined her, as a matter of course, to a married life, and to have provided her with a husband. Fame was not slow in spreading the news of her singular resolve far and wide. The rank and {173} prospects of the party making it, and the intercommunion of the Catholic Church, afforded reason and means for its dissemination. It reached the East, where Proba had possessions, and it penetrated into the monastery at Bethlehem, which was the home of St. Jerome. This celebrated Father was then in his eighty-third year; but "his eye was not dim, neither were his teeth moved." Old age neither hindered nor disinclined him from taking an interest in the general concerns of the Church. At the instance of Proba and Juliana, he addressed to Demetrias a letter, or rather tract, in order to encourage her in her determination; and as it happens to relate some of the circumstances under which that determination was made, it may suitably here be introduced to the reader's notice.

Before entering into them, a word or two about St. Jerome. I do not scruple then to say, that, were he not a saint, there are words and ideas in his writings from which I should shrink; but as he is a saint, I shrink with greater reason from putting myself in opposition, even in minor matters and points of detail, to one who has the magisterium of the Church pledged to his saintly perfection. I cannot, indeed, force myself to approve or like these particulars on my private judgment or feeling; but I can receive things on faith against both the one and the other. And I readily and heartily do take on faith these characteristics, words or acts, of this great Doctor of the Universal Church; and think it is not less acceptable to God or to him to give him my religious homage than my human praise.

"It is the rule of rhetoricians," says he, "to adduce grandfathers, and forefathers, and every past distinction of the line, for the glory of him who is the subject of their praise; that fertile root may spake up for barren branches, and what is wanting in the fruit may {174} show to advantage in the stem. I ought to recount the famous names of the Probi or Olybrii, and the illustrious line of Anician blood, in which none, or next to none, has failed of the consulate; or I ought to bring forward Olybrius, our maiden's father, who, to the grief of all Rome, was unmaturely carried off. I dare not say more, lest I deal ungently with the holy matron's wound, and the recounting of his virtues be a renewing of her grief. A pious son, a dear husband, a kind lord, a courteous citizen, a consul when a boy, but a senator more illustrious in the amiableness of his life. Happy in his death, who saw not his country's ruin; still happier in his off-spring, who has added to the nobility of his ancestress Demetrias, by the perpetual chastity of Demetrias his daughter.

"But what am I about? In forgetfulness of my purpose, while I advise this young maiden, I have been praising the world's goods, whereas rather it is the very praise of our virgin, that she has despised them all, regarding herself not as noble, not as surpassing rich, but as a child of man. An incredible fortitude, amid jewels and silk, troops of slaves and waiting-women, the obsequiousness and attentions of a thronging household, and the refined dainties of a lordly establishment, to have longed for painful fastings, coarse garments, spare diet! In truth, she had read the Lord's words, 'They who are clothed in soft garments are in the houses of kings.' She gazed in wonder at the life of Elias and John Baptist, both of them with their loins girt and mortified with a leathern belt; and one of them appearing in the spirit and power of Elias, the Lord's forerunner, prophesying in his parent's womb, and even before the day of judgment praised by the Judge's voice. She admired the ardour of Anna, daughter of Phanuel, who, up to the extreme of age, served the Lord in His temple with prayer and fastings. She longed for the choir of Philip's four virgin daughters, and wished herself one of these, who, by virginal chastity, had gained the gift of prophecy. By these and like meditations, she nourished her mind, fearing nothing more than to grieve grandmother and mother, whose pattern encouraged her, whose intention frightened her,—not that the holy resolve displeased them, but, for the greatness of the thing, they durst not wish it. A trouble came upon that recruit of Christ, and, like Esther, a hatred of her apparel. They say who saw her and know (holy and noble ladies, whom the fierce tempest of enemies drove from the Gallic coast to inhabit these holy places, by way of Africa), that at nights, when no one knew, except the virgins in her mother's and grandmother's company, she was never clad in {175} linen, never reposed on soft down; but on the bare earth, with her tiny hair-cloth for bedding, and her face bedewed with continual tears, there was she, prostrate in heart at her Saviour's knees, that He would accept her resolve, fulfil her longing, and soften grandmother and mother."


The time came, as with so many also in this day, when the struggle between nature and grace must have its issue; St. Jerome proceeds:

"When now the day of her marriage was at hand, and the wedding apartment was preparing, secretly, and without witnesses, and with the night for her comforter, it is said she armed herself by counsels such as these: 'What doest thou, Demetrias? why such fright in defending thy honour? thou must be free and bold. If such thy fear in peace, what had been thy deed in martyrdom? If thou canst not brook the look of relatives, how couldst thou brook the tribunal of persecutors? If man's pattern does not stir thee, let Agnes, blessed martyr, encourage and quiet thee, who overcame her age and her tyrant, and consecrated by martyrdom her profession of chastity. Thou knowest not, poor maid, thou knowest not, it seems to whom thou owest thy virginity. It is a while since thou didst tremble amid barbarian hands, and didst hide thyself in the bosom and the robe of grandmother and mother. Thou didst see thyself a captive, and thy honour not thine own. Thou didst shudder at the savage faces of the foe; didst see with silent groan God's virgins carried off. Thy city, once the head of the world, is the Roman people's grave; and wilt thou on the Libyan shore, an exile, accept an exile spouse? Who shall be thy bridemaid? What train shall conduct thee? Shall the harsh Punic sing thy liberal Fescennine? Away with all delay. God's perfect charity casteth out fear. Take the shield of faith, the breastplate of justice, the helmet of salvation; go out to battle. Honour rescued has its own martyrdom. Why apprehensive of thy grandmother? why in fear of thy parent? Perhaps they have a will, because they deem that thou hast none.' On fire with these incentives, and many more, she cast from her the ornaments of her person and secular dress, as if they were encumbrances to her resolve. Costly necklaces, precious pearls, brilliant jewels, she replaces in their cabinet; she puts on a common tunic, {176} and over it a more common cloak; and, without notice, suddenly throws herself at her grandmother's knees, showing who she was only by weeping and lamentation. Aghast was that holy and venerable lady, seeing the altered dress of her grandchild; while her mother stood astounded with delight. What they wished, they could not believe. Their voice was gone; their cheeks flushed and paled, they feared, they rejoiced; their thronging thoughts went to and fro. Grandchild and grandmother, daughter and mother, rush tumultuously upon each other's lips. They weep abundantly for joy, they raise the sinking maid with their hands, they clasp her trembling form. They acknowledge in her resolve their own mind, and they express their joy that the virgin was making a noble family more noble by her virginity. She had found a deed which she might offer to her race,—a deed to slake the ashes of the Roman city.

"Gracious Jesu! what exultation then in the whole household. As if from a fruitful root many virgins budded out at once, and a crowd of dependents and handmaidens followed the example of their patroness and mistress. The profession of virginity became rife in every house; their rank in the flesh various, their reward of chastity the same. I say too little. All the Churches through Africa almost danced for joy. Not cities alone, but towns, villages, even cottages, were pervaded by the manifold fame of it. All the islands between Africa and Italy were filled with this news; it tripped not in its course, and the rejoicing ran forward. Then Italy put off her mourning garb, and the shattered walls of Rome in part recovered their pristine splendour, thinking that God was propitious to themselves in the perfect conversion of their nursling. The report penetrated to the shores of the East, and even in the inland cities the triumph of Christian glory was heard. Who of Christ's virgins but boasted in her fellowship with Demetrias? what mother but cried blessing upon thy womb, O Juliana? I never praised in Proba the antiquity of her race, the greatness of her wealth and influence, either as a wife or a widow, as others, perhaps, in a mercenary strain. My object is, in ecclesiastical style, to praise the grandmother of my maiden, and to render thanks that she has strengthened her grandchild's will by her own. Else my monastic cell, common food, mean dress, and age upon the eve of death, and store for a brief span, rid me of all reproach of flattery. And now, what remains of my treatise shall be directed to the virgin herself: a noble virgin: noble not less by sanctity {177} than by birth, who is in the more danger of a lapse, the higher she has ascended."


Then he proceeds to give her some good practical advice:

"One thing especially, child of God, will I admonish you, to possess your mind with a love of sacred reading. When you were in the world, you loved the things of the world; to rouge and whiten your complexion, to deck your hair, and rear a tower of borrowed locks. Now, since you have left the world, and by a second step after baptism have made engagement with your adversary, saying to him, 'I renounce thee, devil, with thy words, thy pomp, and thy works:' keep the covenant thou hast pledged. I speak this, not from any misgiving about you, but according to the duty of a fearful and cautious monitor, dreading in you even what is so safe.

"The arms of fasting are also to be taken up, and David's words to be sung, 'I humbled my soul in fasting;' and 'I ate ashes as it were bread;' and, 'When they were sick, I put on sackcloth.' For a meal, Eve was cast out of Paradise; Elias, exercised by a fast of forty days, is carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire. Moses is fed forty days and nights by intercourse and converse with God; proving, in his own instance, the exact truth of the saying, 'Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' The Saviour of man, who left us the pattern of His perfection and life, after baptism, is forthwith taken in the Spirit to fight against the devil, and after beating down and crushing him, to give him over to His own disciples to trample on. Against the young of either sex our enemy uses the ardour of their time of life; these are the fiery darts of the devil which both wound and inflame, and are prepared by the king of Babylon for the three children. And as at that time a Fourth, having the form as of the Son of Man, mitigated the infinite heat, and amid the conflagration of a raging furnace, taught the flame to lose its virtue, and to threaten to the eye what to the touch it did not fulfil; so, also, in a virginal mind, by celestial dew and strict fasts, the fire of youth is quenched, and the life of Angels is compassed in a human frame. {178}

"Nor yet do we enjoin on you unmeasured fastings, or an extravagant abstinence from food, which at once breaks delicate frames, and makes them sickly, ere the foundation of holy conversation is yet laid. Even philosophers have held that 'virtues are a mean, vices extreme;' and hence one of the seven sages says, 'Nothing too much.' You should fast short of panting and failing in breath, and of being carried or led by your companions; but so far as to subdue your appetite, yet to be able to attend to sacred reading, psalms, and watching as usual. Fasting is not an absolute virtue, but the foundation of other virtues; and 'sanctification and honour,' 'without which no man shall see God,' is a step for such as are mounting to the highest, nor will it crown the virgin, if it be alone."

Lastly, he speaks of the great virtue of obedience, the special characteristic of a spouse of Christ:

"Imitate your heavenly Spouse; 'be subject' to your grandmother and mother. See no man, youths especially, except with them. It is their pattern, it is the holy conduct of their house, which has taught you to seek virginity, to know Christ's precepts, to know what is expedient for you, what you ought to choose. Therefore, do not think that what you are belongs to yourself alone; it is theirs who have brought out in you their own virtue, and budded forth in you, as the most costly flower of 'honourable marriage and the bed undefiled;' a flower which will not bear its perfect fruit till you humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and ever remember what is written, 'God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.' Now where grace is in question, there is not recompensing of works, but bounty of a giver, according to the Apostle's saying, 'Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.' And yet to will and not to will is ours; yet not ours, what is even ours, without God's showing mercy.

"I end as I began, not content with one admonition. Love Holy Scriptures, and Wisdom will love thee; love her, and she will keep thee; honour her, and she will embrace thee. Let these be the ornaments abiding on thy neck and in thine ears. Let thy tongue know nought but Christ; let it have power to utter nought but what is holy. Let the sweetness of thy grandmother and {179} mother ever be in thy mouth, whose following is the very form of holiness."—Ep.130.


Sage and sobering as is the advice here given (and I wish I had room to extract more of it), yet, I suppose, under the circumstances, a calm looker-on might have thought it not uncalled for,—might have apprehended, as perhaps St. Jerome did himself, that when a young lady was brought out as a pattern to the whole Catholic world, written to and about by bishops and doctors of the Church, by grave and aged men, the most remarkable personages of their time,—under such circumstances, without some special and almost miraculous gift of grace, the said maiden's head stood in danger of being turned by the compliment. And holy and admirable as Demetrias was, she was, in fact, for awhile in hazard, and that from the influence of the particular heresy of the day, which was a temptation especially adapted to her case. When sinners repent and turn to God, and, by way of showing sorrow and amendment, subject themselves to voluntary mortifications, the memory of what they were, and the prospect of judgment to come, are likely, it is to be hoped, to keep them from spiritual pride. But when a young and innocent girl, whose baptismal robe the world has not sullied, takes up a self-denying life in order to be nearer to God, and to please Him more entirely, who does not see the danger she is in of self-importance and self-conceit,—the danger of forgetting that she is by nature a sinner, as others, and that whatever she has of spiritual excellence, and whatever she does praiseworthy, is entirely of God's supernatural grace? And to a person so disposed, Pelagius was at that day at hand a ready tempter, prepared to sanctify {180} all these evil feelings, and to seal and fix them as if on the basis of religious principle. The heresiarch was on the earth in person, when Demetrias renounced the world, and he did not neglect the occasion. By this time the noble exiles had apparently returned to Rome; and Pelagius despatched a letter, or rather treatise, still extant, with a view of instructing and guiding the daughter of the Olybrii and Anicii. He professes to write it at the instance of Juliana; nor is it surprising that the latter should not have been able to detect the doctrinal errors of a man of unblemished life, who, three years after, contrived to baffle the Apostolic see,—the very see which St. Jerome, in a part of the foregoing letter which I have not found room to translate, recommends to Demetrias as the guide of her faith.

It is not to my purpose here to make extracts from Pelagius's treatise, which is full of good advice, and does no more than imply, though it does imply, his uncatholic opinions of the power and perfectibility of unaided human nature. These opinions one would almost suspect that Jerome was indirectly opposing in some portions of the foregoing letter, as if the aged saint, now near his end, had a forecast of the temptation which was coming on mother and daughter. But however this may be, we have, in the year 417, a direct remonstrance, addressed by Augustine and Alypius to Juliana, on the subject of Pelagius's treatise, the author of which, however, they did not know for certain at the time. Proba, at this date, seems to have been dead.

"It was a great satisfaction to us, lady,—honoured for services of Christian duty, and our deservedly illustrious daughter,—that your letter happened to find us together at Hippo, and able to convey to you our joint gratulations at the news of your welfare, and lovingly assure you of ours, which we trust is dear to you. {181} For we are sure you understand the debt of religious affection we owe you, and the care we have for you in the sight of God and man. So highly, indeed, has our ministry been blessed in your house, by our Saviour's grace and pity, that when a human marriage had already been arranged, the holy Demetrias preferred the spiritual embrace of that Spouse who is beautiful above the children of men, and whom she has wedded in order that the spirit may be more fruitful while the flesh remains inviolate. Yet this influence of our exhortations on that believing and noble virgin would have been unknown to us, had not your own letters most happily and authentically informed us, after our departure, when in a little while she had made profession of virginal chastity, that this great gift of God, which He plants and waters by His servants, Himself giving the increase, had been the produce of our husbandry.

"No one, under these circumstances, can call it intrusion, if, with a most affectionate interest, we are solicitous in warning you against doctrines contrary to the grace of God. For, though the Apostle bids us be instant in preaching the word, not in season only, but out of season, we do not reckon you among such as would deem our word or writing out of season, when we speak to warn you seriously against unsound doctrine. Accordingly you accepted our former admonition with gratitude in the letter to which we now reply, saying, 'I am full of thanks for your reverence's pious advice, bidding me deny my ears to these men, who often corrupt our venerable faith with their erroneous writing.'

"Your following words, in which you say that 'you and your small household are far removed from such men; and that your whole family so strictly follows the Catholic faith as never to have deviated, never been betrayed into any heresy, not only fatal, but even small,' give us still greater ground for speaking to you concerning those who are trying to corrupt what hitherto has been sound. How can we forbear to warn those whom we are so bound to love, after reading a treatise which some one has written ... in which the holy Demetrias may learn, if so be, that her virginal sanctity and all her spiritual riches are her own work; and, as a perfection of her blessedness, may be taught (if we may say the words) to be ungrateful to her God? So it is; these are the words, 'You are possessed of that for which you are deservedly preferred to others; nay, the more, in that your personal nobility and opulence belong to your friends, not to you; but spiritual riches none but yourself can provide for you. In that is your right praise, your {182} deserved preference, which cannot be except of thee and in thee.' Forbid it, that a virgin of Christ should take pleasure in such words, who has a religious understanding of the innate poverty of the human heart, and therefore wears no ornaments there but the gifts of her Bridegroom! Who was it that separated you from the mass of death and perdition which is in Adam? He surely, who came to seek and to save that which was lost. When, then, a man hears the Apostle ask, 'Who made thee to differ?' shall he answer, 'My religious will, my faith, my justice,' and not rather go on to hear what follows, 'What hast thou which thou hast not received?'

"We have that opinion of the Christian conduct and humility in which this pious maiden has been trained, that we feel assured, that on reading the words in question, if she read them, she sighed deeply, and humbly struck her breast, perhaps wept, and earnestly prayed the Lord, to whom she is dedicated, and by whom she is sanctified, that as the words were not hers, but another's, so her faith may not be of such a temper as to admit of the thought that she has what may give her title to glory in herself, not in the Lord. For her glory is indeed in herself, not in the words of others, according to the Apostle's saying, 'Let every one prove his own work, and so he shall have glory in himself, and not in another.' But forbid it that she should be her own glory, and not He, to whom it is said, 'My glory, and the lifter up of my head.' For then is her glory religiously in her, when God, who is in her, is Himself her glory; from whom she has all the goods which make her good, and will have all which will make her better, as far as in this life she can be better; and which will make her perfect, when she is perfected by divine grace, not by human praise.

"However, we had rather have your assurance in writing, that, we are not deceived in this view of her feelings. We know full well that you and all yours are, and ever have been, worshippers of the undivided Trinity. But there are fatal heresies on other points of doctrine. Such is that which has been the subject of this letter, on which, perhaps, we have said more than is sufficient to a judgment so faithful and conscientious as yours is."—Ep. 188.


That this letter produced the result intended, cannot be doubted. What became of Juliana after this does not appear, though it is supposed she died at Rome. {183} As to Demetrias, it is interesting to find extant a treatise of a later date addressed to her on the subject of humility. It has been ascribed by some to St. Prosper, by others to St. Leo, and introduces the subject of Pelagianism. A sentence or two will show us the style of the work. "Enter," says the author, "into the chamber of thy mind, and in the secret place of that thy most pure conscience look round on what ornaments are there stored up for thee; and, whatever splendid, whatever beautiful and costly, thou shalt there find, doubt not it is of divine workmanship and a gift, and so in all the goods of thy opulence acknowledge both the grace of the Giver, and His right of ownership. For thou hast received what thou hast; and whatever has accrued to thee by the diligence of thy efforts, through Him has it been increased by whom it was begun. Therefore, thou must use what God has bestowed; and must even beg of Him that thou mayst use His gifts faithfully and wisely."—c. 22. It may be observed that this author, whoever he is, seems not to have seen St. Austin's letter to Juliana on the same subject. It is pleasant to find that, while the ancient bishops and teachers exhorted the rich to renunciation of the world, they did not flatter them on their complying, but kept a vigilant eye on them, from youth to age, lest they should find a temptation where they looked for a blessing.

This work was written about A.D. 430; the last notice which history has preserved to us of this holy and interesting lady is after the sack of Rome by Genseric, when she might be about sixty years of age. She ends as she began. The sacred edifices had suffered in various ways from the fury and cupidity of the barbarians; St. Leo, who had dissuaded Genseric from burning the city, exerted his influence in various directions after their retiring, {184} to add to the number of churches. Under his advice, Demetrias built the Basilica of St. Stephen, on property of her own, situated on the Latin road, three miles from Rome. With mention of this good deed, of which there is yearly memory in the Roman breviary on the 11th of April, the festival of St. Leo, we may suitably take our leave of one who preferred giving her wealth to the Church to spending it in the aggrandizement of some patrician house.

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