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16. For that also is no foolish question which is wont to be proposed, that whoso can may say, which widow is to be preferred in desert; whether one who hath had one husband, who, after having lived a considerable time with her husband, being left a widow with sons born to her and alive, hath made profession of continence; or she who as a young woman having lost two husbands within two years, having no children left alive to console her, hath vowed to God continence, and in it hath grown old with most enduring sanctity. Herein let them exercise themselves, if they can, by discussing, and by showing some proof to us, who weigh the merits of widows by number of husbands, not by the strength itself of continence. For, if they shall have said, that she who hath had one husband is to be preferred to her who hath had two; unless they shall have alleged some special reason or authority, they will assuredly be found to set before excellence of soul, not greater excellence of soul, but good fortune of the flesh. Forsooth it pertained unto good fortune of the flesh, both to live a long time with her husband, and to conceive sons. But, if they prefer her not on this account, that she had sons; at any rate the very fact that she lived a long time with her husband, what else was it than good fortune of the flesh? Further, the desert of Anna herself is herein chiefly commended, in that, after she had so soon buried her husband, through her protracted life she long contended with the flesh, and overcame. For so it is written, “And there was Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was far advanced in many days; and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow even unto eighty-four years, who used not to depart from the Temple, by fastings and prayers serving day and night.”22602260    Luke ii. 36, 37 You see how the holy widow is not only commended in this, that she had had one husband, but also, that she had lived few years with a husband from her virginity, and had with so great service of piety continued her office of widowed chastity even unto so great age.


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