Of the Chastity of Mary

June 8, 2021 • 10 min

From The Glories of Mary, page 623
By St. Alphonsus Liguori

Section VI.


Since the fall of Adam the flesh being rebellious against reason, the virtue of chastity is the most difficult for men to practise. Of all combats, says St. Augustine, those of chastity are the most severe, for the battle is daily and the victory rare. 1

But eternal praise to the Lord who has given us in Mary a great example of this virtue. With justice says blessed Albertus Magnus, is Mary called the Virgin of virgins, for she being the first who offered her virginity to God, without the counsel or example of others, has brought to him all virgins who imitate her. 2 As David had already predicted: After her virgins shall be brought to the temple of the king: “Adducentur virgines post eam in templum regis.” 3

Without counsel or example; yes, for St. Bernard exclaims: Oh Virgin, who has taught thee to please God by virginity, and on earth to lead the life of an angel? 4 Ah! answers Sophronius, it is for this God has chosen this most pure Virgin for his mother, that she may be an example of chastity to all. 5 Hence St. Ambrose has called Mary the standard-bearer of chastity: “Quae signum Virginitatis extulit.”

By reason of this her purity the blessed Virgin was also called by the holy Spirit: Beautiful as the turtle-dove: Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtle-dove s: “Pulchrae sunt genae tuae sicut turturis.” 6 Mary, says St. Aponius, is a most chaste turtle: “Turtur pudicissima Maria.”

And therefore she has also been called a lily: As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters: “Sicut lilium inter spinas, sic amica mea inter filias.” 7 St. Denis the Carthusian, commenting on this passage, says, that she has been called a lily among thorns because all other virgins were thorns either to themselves or others; but the blessed Virgin has never been one to her self or others. 8

For by her presence alone she infused into all, thoughts and affections of purity: “Intuentium corda ad castitatem invitabat.” 9 And this is confirmed by St. Thomas, who says that the beauty of the blessed Virgin encouraged chastity in all who beheld her: “Pulchritudo B. Virginis intuentes ad castitatem excitabat.” 10

St. Jerome declares himself of the opinion that St. Joseph preserved his virginity by the society of Mary, for the saint thus writes against the heretic Helvidius, who denied the virginity of Mary: Thou sayest that Mary did not remain a virgin; I take it upon myself to maintain more than that, even that Joseph himself preserved his virginity through Mary. 11

A certain author says that the blessed Virgin so loved this virtue that to preserve it, she would have been ready to renounce even the dignity of mother of God. This we may learn from her own answer to the archangel: “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” 12 and from the words she afterwards added: Be it done to me according to thy word: “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum;” signifying by this that she gave her consent on the condition of which the angel had assured her, namely, that she should become a mother by means of the Holy Spirit alone.

St. Ambrose says: He who has preserved chastity is an angel, he who has lost it is a devil. 13 According to the words of our Lord: “They shall be as the angels of God in heaven.” 14 But the unchaste become odius to God as the devils. And St. Remigius said that the greater number of adults are lost through this vice.

The victory over this vice is rare, as has been said in the words of St. Augustine at the beginning of this section; but why is it rare? Because the means for conquering it are not put in use. The means are three according to Bellarmine, and the masters of the spiritual life: Fasting, avoiding dangerous occasions, and prayer: “Jejuniun, periculorum evitatio, et oratio.”

By fasting is meant mortification, particularly of the eyes and of the appetite. The most holy Mary, although she was full of divine grace, was so mortified with her eyes that she kept them always cast down, as St. Epiphanius and St. John Damascene inform us, and never fixed them on any one; they say that from her childhood she was so modest that she was the wonder of all. And hence St. Luke remarks, that in going to visit St. Elizabeth: She went with haste: “Abiit cum festinatione,” that she might not be long seen in public.

Philibert relates with regard to her food, that it was revealed to a hermit named Felix, that the infant Mary took milk only once a day. And St. Gregory of Tours asserts that, during her whole life, she fasted always: “Nullo tempore Maria non jejunavit;” and St. Bonaventure adds, that Mary would never have found so much grace unless she had been temperate in food, for grace and gluttony can not subsist together. 15 In a word, Mary practised mortification in every thing, so that of her it was said: My hands dropped with myrrh: “Manus meae stillaverunt myrrham.” 16

The second means is to fly the occasions of sin. He that is aware of the snares shall be secure: “Qui autem cavet laqueos, securus erit.” 17 Hence St. Philip Neri said, that in this warfare cowards conquer; that is, those who avoid dangerous occasions. Mary shunned as much as possible the sight of men; and therefore St. Luke says that in her visit to St. Elizabeth, she went with haste into the hill country: “Abiit in montana cum festinatione” And a certain author remarks that the Virgin left Elizabeth before the birth of the Baptist, as we learn from the Gospel itself, in which it is said that “Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house. Now Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son.” 18 And why did she not wait till his birth? In order to avoid the conversation and visits which would follow that event.

The third means is prayer. “And as I knew,” said the wise man, “that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it …, I went to the Lord and besought him.” 19 And the blessed Virgin revealed to St. Elisabeth, a Benedictine nun, that she had not acquired any virtue without effort and continual prayer. 20 St. John Damascene says that Mary is pure and a lover of purity: “Pura est et puritatem amans,” and therefore she cannot endure the impure. But whoever has recourse to her will certainly be delivered from this vice by only pronouncing her name with confidence. And the venerable John of Avila says that many temptations against chastity have been overcome solely by devotion to the immaculate Virgin.

Oh Mary, oh most pure dove, how many are in hell through the vice of impurity! Oh Lady, obtain for us that always in our temptations we may have recourse to thee, and invoke thee, saying: Mary, Mary, help us. Amen.

1 Inter omnia certamina duriora sunt praelia castitatis, ubi quotidiana est pugna et rara victoria.

2 Virgo virginum, quae sine consilio, sine exemplo munus virginitatis Deo obtulit, et per sui imitationem omnes virgines germinavit. Mar. p. 29.

3 Psal. lxiv. 15.

4 O Virgo quis te docuit Deo placere virginitate, et in terris angelicam ducere vitam. Hom. 4. Sup. Miss.

5 Christus matrem virginem elegit, ut ipsa omnibus esset exemplum castitatis. Ap. Parav. p. 2, c. 1.

6 Cant. i. 9.

7 Cant. ii. 2.

8 Omnes aliae virgines spinae fuerunt vel sibi vel aliis; B. Virgo nec sibi, nec aliis.

9 Id. S. Dio.

10 Ap. Par. loc. cit.

11 Tu dicis Mariam virginem non permansisse? Ego mihi plus vindico, etiam ipsum Joseph virginem fuisse per Mariam. L. adv. Helvid.

12 Quomodo fiet istud, quoniam virum non cognosco. Luc. i. 34.

13 Qui castitatem servavit, angelus est, qui perdidit, diabolus.

14 Matth. xxii.

15 Nunquam Maria tantam gratiam invenissit, nisi cibo temperatissima fuisset; non enim se compatiuntur gratia et gula.

16 Cant. v. 5.

17 Prov. xi. 15.

18 Mansit autem Maria cum ilia quasi mensibus tribus; et reversa est in domum suam. Elisabeth autem impletum est tempus pariendi, et peperit filium. Cap. i. 56.

19 Et ut scivi quoniam aliter non possem esse continens nisi Deus det … aii Dominum, et deprecatus sum illum. Sap. viii. 21.

20 Ap. S. Bon. de Vit. Chr. c. 3.

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