Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in 413 | translated by J. G. Cunningham
TO PROBA AND JULIANA, LADIES MOST WORTHY OF HONOUR, DAUGHTERS JUSTLY FAMOUS AND MOST DISTINGUISHED, AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING IN THE LORD.
You have filled our heart with a joy singularly pleasant, because of the love we bear to you, and singularly acceptable, because of the promptitude with which the tidings came to us. For while the consecration of the daughter of your house to a life of virginity is being published by most busy fame in all places where you are known, and that is everywhere, you have outstripped its flight by more sure and reliable information in a letter from yourselves, and have made us rejoice in certain knowledge before we had time to be questioning the truth of any report concerning an event so blessed and remarkable. Who can declare in words, or expound with adequate praises, how incomparably greater is the glory and advantage gained by your family in giving to Christ women consecrated to His service, than in giving to the world men called to the honours of the consulship? For if it be a great and noble thing to leave the mark of an honoured name upon the revolving ages of this world, how much greater and nobler is it to rise above it by unsullied chastity both of heart and of body! Let this maiden, therefore, illustrious in her pedigree, yet more illustrious in her piety, find greater joy in obtaining, through espousals to her divine Lord, a pre-eminent glory in heaven, than she could have had in becoming, through espousal to a human consort, the mother of a line of illustrious men. This daughter of the house of Anicius has acted the more magnanimous part, in choosing rather to bring a blessing on that noble family by forbearing from marriage, than to increase the number of its descendants, preferring to be already, in the purity of her body, I like unto the angels, rather than to increase by the fruit of her body the number of mortals. For this is a richer and more fruitful condition of blessedness, not to have a pregnant womb, but to develop the soul's lofty capacities; not to have the breasts flowing with milk, but to have the heart pure as snow; to travail not with the earthly in the pangs of labour, but with the heavenly in persevering prayer. May it be yours, my daughters, most worthy of the honour due to your rank, to enjoy in her that which was lacking to yourselves; may she be stedfast to the end, abiding in the conjugal union that has no end. May many handmaidens follow the example of their mistress; may those who are of humble rank imitate this high-born lady, and may those who possess eminence in this uncertain world aspire to that worthier eminence which humility has given to her. Let the virgins who covet the glory of the Anician family be ambitious rather to emulate its piety; for the former lies beyond their reach, however eagerly they may desire it, but the latter shall be at once in their possession if they seek it with full desire. May the right hand of the Most High protect you, giving you safety and greater happiness, ladies most worthy of honour, and most excellent daughters! In the love of the Lord, and with all becoming respect, we salute the children of your Holiness, and above all the one who is above the rest in holiness. We have received with very great pleasure the gift sent as a souvenir of her taking the veil.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (NPNF I/I, Schaff). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.