Ambrose of Milan, "Concerning Virgins" (outline)

Background: "Concerning Virgins" was one of Ambrose's first published works after his conversion and consecration as a bishop in 374AD. The essay purports to be written to his sister Marcellina, who was consecrated as a virgin in the basilica at Rome in 352AD, on the anniversary of St.Agnes' martyrdom. Agnes of Rome, legend has it, was a consecrated virgin who was martyred in 304AD for her faith as well as for her refusal to be wed to the local prefect Sempronius. Legends surrounding the manner of her martyrdom include her hair growing to cover her naked form, being dragged along the street to a whorehouse, and those who attempted to defile her being blinded or struck dead. The essay itself is in the form of a panegyric (eulogy) that praises the pious dead.

I.                   Introduction (1-4): Why Ambrose is authorized and empowered to write on this topic despite his own failings.

II.                  Agnes as a new kind of double martyr (5-9)

III.                The superiority of Christian virgins (10-19)

A.     The tradition of holy virginity (10-13)

B.     The false tradition of pagan (vestal) virginity (14-19)

IV.               The advantages of virginity (20-31)

A.     Christ the virgin (20-22)

B.     The downside to married life (23-27)

C.    The foolishness of pursuing physical beauty and fashion (28-30)

D.    Holy Church as immaculate virgin mother (31)

V.                Addressing the concerns of parents (32-34)

VI.               The superiority of virginity (35-45)

A.     Superior virginal beauty (35-36)

B.     Like a ruling queen and spouse (37-38)

C.    The perfume of their garments (39)

D.    Like an unstained bee (40-42)

E.     Like a flower of the field (43-44)

F.     Like a garden enclosed (45)

VII.             Be prepared to stay a signet of the Lord (46-51)

VIII.            The chastity of angels (52-53)

IX.               Possessions and dowries (54-64)

A.     Being free of possessions (54-55)

B.     Foolishness of parents trying to prevent their daughters (56-58)

C.    Higher praise and renown for the family (59-61)

D.    God will repay for the sacrifice (62-64)

X.                 Final example (65)--"Young girls, you see the reward of devotion. Parents be warned by the example of obstruction."

Exploratory Questions

        Is virginity commendable? Under what circumstances?

        Is virginity beautiful? How so?

        Is virginity superior to marriage? Why or why not?

        Can one be espoused to Jesus? What would it entail?

        Do you find any of Ambrose's reasons convincing? Why or why not?


"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding