Document: Letter 5
Date: 380
Addressee: Syagrius, Bishop of Verona
English Translation: FC 26.152-163
Summary of Contents: On false charges against a virgin named Indicia

You have intimated in your letter our need to be careful that the beloved people of Verona do not dispute our decision. I do not think that they will do so; such, certainly, is not their custom. There is no shred of doubt that, if they do dispute, it will be of an ordinary matter. If they are provoked to come here, let them return to you with their grievances settled, especially since we have reached our decision jointly with our brethren and fellow priests. People know that you had to make your judgment without the helping advice of any brother. Yet you made your decision before the trial with the result that a virgin, who had been highly esteemed by blessed Zeno and consecrated by his blessing, was many years later subjected to the danger of imprisonment, although she knew neither the author of the charge, nor the accuser, nor the avowed informer.

Envy was stirred up against her by liars and heretics, as they choose, by degraded individuals seeking, because of their wickedness, avarice, and intemperance, a liberty for their own wantonness, and, finally, by those who had been cast out and debarred from her home, who by their works of a different color concealed the pretense of their first appearance.

You set up in your court accusers of the same sort and witnesses who did not dare make a charge or bind themselves with the informer’s role. So you decided to judge the virgin by an examination, a virgin whom no one censured, no one brought to trial. Where is the formality of inquiry, where is there provision for such a trial? If we consult the state laws, they demand an accuser; if the Church laws, we find: ‘On the word of two or three witnesses every word stands.’ Take as witnesses those who were not enemies two or three days ago, so that men in anger may not desire to harm the accused or, being harmed themselves, wish for vengeance.

The disposition of the witnesses needs to be unhampered, yet in such a way that the accuser may first come into the midst of the case. Those priests of the Jews first put their hands on the head of Susanna and pronounced the accusation, adding at the same time the weight of proof which the people unwisely accepted, for they had been led into error. But by a divine judgment through the Prophet, almighty God laid bare the true state of affairs and showed that the testimony was false. As a result, it became clear to all that those who failed to prove the accusation and to establish the proof wished to sow envy to the peril of the innocent, confident that, if ill will assaulted the mind of the crowd, whose ears were filled beforehand, prejudice might enter into the examination of the truth. For, when unfounded rumor enters, it blocks the ears, seizes the mind, and, if proof be wanting, rumor is accepted in place of the real charge.

For these reasons we examined into the accuser and determined that the instigator of the whole scene, Maximus, should get our full attention. But in his statement he abandoned the charge which he had formed with eagerness and had brought forward by word. However, he kept pressing with effect and followed up his demands with skilled eloquence. At the same time he kept running away from his responsibility, for he lacked the substance of proof, knowing that he was at fault. Finally, after spreading rumors and even composing and sending letters, he sought to aggravate the ill will toward the charge, but integrity was not to be oppressed and tricked. For, had the judgment had proof, an inspection would never have been demanded,

I cannot imagine what he wants and how he will make the test while you believe that you must have recourse to the service of a midwife. Will it then become permissible to accuse all persons, and, when the accusations are without proof, will it be allowable to demand an inspection of the private parts, and will holy virgins always be handed over to sport of this sort, which is horribly shocking to the eye and ear? Even in your letter you attempt the utmost delicacy of expression. Can those matters which cannot sound in another’s ears without loss of shame be tried in a virgin without embarrassment?

You have located a cheap slave, a shameless home-born slave. How may you not misuse her shameless services and prostitute the other’s modesty, especially since there is nothing more holy in a maiden than her sense of modesty?

Does one not seek out a holy maiden, provided only that her modesty remains uninjured? The virgin of the Lord is weighed on her own scales in giving proof of herself and needs no borrowed dowry to prove herself a virgin. And no inspection of hidden and secret parts, but modesty, evident to all, gives proof of her integrity. She does not please God unless the soberness of her manner sets approval upon her. She is not approved by the Lord if she needs the testimony of a midwife, which is usually secured at a price. Does she appear to you to abound in fidelity if she can be bought and deceived, so that she excuses the guilty, covers up crime, or does not know and cannot detect disgrace?

Nor do I consider that statement of your letter a just one, namely, that unless she is inspected her integrity is imperiled and she will be disquieted by uncertainty regarding herself. Have all those who were not inspected put peril in the path of their modesty? Are those about to marry to be inspected beforehand so that they may marry with greater approval? Are those about to take the veil to be first subjected to a handling of this sort? For they are not visited but handled, and according to your opinion one unapproved is more lawfully inspected than a consecrated person.

What of the fact that medical experts say that the trust- worthiness of an inspection is not clearly understood and this has been the opinion of older doctors of medicine? We know from former experience that between midwives a difference arises and a question is raised with the result that there is more doubt regarding the one who has given herself over to an inspection than of one who has not. In fact, we found this to be so in a recent case when a slave girl from Altinum, having been inspected and charged with wrong, later at Milan not by my command but by that of Nicensis, a tribune and a notary at the wish of her master and patron, was visited by one of the most skillful and wealthy women of this profession. And although these qualifications were found in her, so that neither the midwife’s poverty made her trustworthiness suspect nor lack of training made her ignorant, a question still remains.

What advantage was it for her to be inspected when she still is under a cloud of disapproval? For, as each person wished, he asserted that the woman physician was either ignorant or had been bribed. Thus, the harm of undergoing inspection is without effect. What will be done next? Shall a girl be examined as often as someone appears who does not trust her? If she ever refuses to be visited, she will, according to your assertion, confess her crime. And it is easier to refute what one never did than what one did. The midwives will be at odds, fearing that some favor once granted will not be granted again. She will be only one of several, although even in large cities this practice of doctoring is found among few women. She will, I say, be either bad-willed or unskilled, whom the barriers of modesty leave unpracticed and through lack of skill she will put a mark on unblemished modesty. You see into what danger you bring a maiden’s profession when you decide to have recourse to a midwife, so that now she is not only imperiled by the loss of her sense of modesty but also by the uncertainty of the midwife.

Let us now consider just what is the duty of a midwife, for we read of midwives even in the Old Testament, but not of inspectresses. They came to women in labor, not to virgins; they came to receive the child, not to put modesty to the test. They are called midwives that they may stand midway in pain, or at least that the child may not fall to the ground when the walls of the uterus are relaxed. In a second and a third place in Scripture we find midwives on hand, always for a birth, not for an inspection first of all, when Rachel was in labor, then when Thomar was giving birth, and third when Pharao ordered the killing of all the male Hebrews by the midwives, the time when they answered that the Hebrew women did not give birth in the manner of theEgyptians but were delivered before the midwives reached them. The reason mentioned above proved advantageous for the salvation of the Hebrews; for others it proved damaging to their reliance on midwives who knew how to lie for their own safety and to deceive for an excuse.

Why should we take suspect and doubtful measures when there are greater documents and proofs for testing the truth, where the marks are clearer that modesty has been violated? What is more public than harm done to modesty and the deflowering of virginity? Surely, nothing so proclaims itself as does the loss of chastity. The belly swells, the burden of the fetus makes the person’s gait heavy to omit other signs through which it is betrayed although the knowledge is kept secret.

Perhaps, on a pretext of sterility, some can cover up vice, but when the child is delivered and disposed of or slain (when ill will rather than proof suggests this), and when this is circulated in the ears of all, if one has given birth, freedom from calumny is absolutely impossible. The virgin of whom we are speaking was, to be sure, at Verona; she had frequent visits from girls and women; she was always held in honor. Priests visited her because of her modesty, a mirror of dignity. How, then, could she have concealed a crime which would reveal itself by her appearance? How did she cover herself? How has she not tried to flee the gaze of women, the eyes of all who greeted her? How, when in labor, did she check her cries? The pain does not permit this, for even Scripture says that those pains which a woman has in labor are very great. The day of the Lord comes suddenly, it says, and in an unexpected way like the pains of childbirth, which forestall all one’s efforts to hide them.

Evidence of these signs, which even women feel ashamed of, are of greater reliability. In fact, Elizabeth secluded herself for five months because, having been barren, she had conceived in her old age. By these signs the very virginity of Mary was under suspicion to those ignorant of the mystery. And even Joseph, to whom the Virgin was espoused, held the signs in suspicion while he still did not know the mystery of the Lord taking flesh.

Why, then, do we maintain that virgins should not be inspected? I do not consent to what I have never read; surely, I cannot believe it true. Yet, because we do many things for appearance’s sake and not for the sake of truth, and through error we frequently make many assertions (for there are many persons who do not know how to act rightly except through fear of punishment), let us leave this task to those whom shame does not deter but fear of harm alone keeps from evil, those in whom there is no regard for modesty, no charm of chastity, but only fear of penalty. Let us leave this to slaves whose fear is to be caught rather than to have sinned. Far be it that a holy virgin should make the acquaintance of a midwife, for then there comes to mind not an examination of modesty but delivery and the seeking of a remedy for pain. Let us leave this to those who have recourse to it when they have been pursued with insults, overwhelmed by witnesses, choked by arguments let them then present themselves for inspection when they are maintaining custody of their body, provided this can be detected in those in whom the charm of modesty and training in chastity is faltering. The case is going badly when the body has to be consulted for stronger proof than the mind. I prefer virginity made manifest by works of character rather than in the body’s enclosure.

Now, it is strange your writing that this was revealed to you by certain persons who never talked with you, and your believing that she should be under suspicion unless she has been visited [by a midwife]. You have seized upon a formula for coming to a decision, but what sort of persons are they who try to tell us priests what to do? But we have freed you from need of making a most serious decision, so that you do not have to follow up the prescribed formula. What difference will it be for us if we have not obeyed their wishes?

I know that there are several persons there who are godfearing. At times we have observed and learned that there are some who regret this calumny having been devised. Although they are very hostile, they still have not favored Maximus, because the virgin in question does not visit their homes or salute or solicit their women. What will happen? How shall we free her of this charge? It becomes a serious crime for a maiden to be within the secrecy of her own home, to be shut in her own chamber! Yet the passage in Scripture reveals that Mary was found at home like this when the archangel Gabriel came to her. Susanna withdrew inside to escape the crowd. And when she bathed she had the orchard closed. What is more excellent (especially in a maiden whose private parts demand modesty) than this retirement? What is safer than retirement and what is more liberating to all one’s actions? Such a maiden assumes the tasks of modesty, not of anxiety. I have discussed the cases of others; I must now answer your letter.

I am surprised, my brother, that you were not the accuser, for it is you who are making a great defense of Maximus. Yet, you have grieved with a parent’s sorrow over the ill will which has arisen from the rumor that spread abroad when that fellow was unable to deny that he was a hostile and opposing party to the lawsuit and, after the strife was already aroused, obtained charges against the holy virgin. Then, after he had built a wall and made separate entrances for his wife and the virgin, the association between blood sisters was rent, and in other ways, too, the girl had cause to regret that she had asked to live with her relatives in the country. How is that person not the accuser, who has already shown the feelings of an accuser, who has by his statement introduced the accusation, has filled your ears with cries, and having brought in persons who bear witness to the crime, now demands an investigation.

You argued you could not deny that you had written to Indicia, for Maximus, on the advice of others or through personal grievances, had made a very serious charge. This letter alone is proof enough of the charge. Yet I have thought I should not press you regarding the letter you sent to me, although I have noticed that the one you gave the girl was different from that which you wrote to me. And since your letters were not consistent, I decided to consult you, not blame you. What gain could the testimony expect from the fact that it differed from what you wrote to me, namely, that she had been charged with a heinous crime? Is it to imply that a child was said to have been delivered and buried? Almost as though you would write this to Indicia and not to me! When she heard in your letter that Maximus was being introduced for the accusation, she produced your letter in which she proved that he was the instigator of the charge. She had not read those given to me nor did she know what they contained.

I have been horrified from the first at the calumny, for I realized that no verdict was intended, but that they wanted harm done to a girl, demanding the inspection and visitation of a maiden and not removing a charge of any sort. Who would not realize that a case fraudulently framed from the first was to remain inconsistent and not in conformity with itself? Cheap women went to the monastery, and it reached the ears of a new neighbor, Maximus. He informed the bishop; those who were said to have maintained this were gone and had been forced to flight, as was patent to us. Those who said that they had heard the rumor were called to the church, whereupon they betrayed Renatus and Leontius, those two men of iniquity whom Jezabel opposed, Daniel convicted, and the Jewish people suborned, so that by false testimony they assailed the very author of their life. Yet, at the same time as they devised the crime and set out (to omit no details) according to Leontius, they had joined Maximus and those others who spread the rumor. Yet, when they stood in my court and I questioned them on the history of the case from the beginning, they related different discordant details, being divided not by space but by falsehood.

Then, when they did not agree with one another and had removed Mercurius and Lea, persons of the cheapest sort and of detestable character, and she had fled to Teudule, not knowing the charge thrown at her how before she had been alone on the couch of Renatus another slave also appeared to say that she was tainted with lewdness with this same Renatus. On the very day set for the investigation they went to the bishop’s court although on the day previous this same Renatus had suddenly asserted that they would leave.

For these reasons I set a day for the trial, but when no one made an accusation and no witness came forward, I intimated to my holy sister that you were asking the inspection and visitation of the aforementioned virgin in her presence. She piously objected to the inspection and said in defense of the virgin that she had observed in Indicia nothing except a maidenly modesty and holiness. She had lived at Rome in our house when I was not there, she had been given to no frequenting of sinfulness, and she hoped that with her a share in the kingdom of God was being saved for her by the Lord Jesus.

I also mentioned our daughter Paterna, for she never leaves her, her love being proof of her life. What she says without oath must be compared to a pledge of faith. Calling God to witness, she maintained that the virgin was a stranger to the crime for which she was being sought out, nor did anything in her conduct show that she was failing to live a good life.

We also questioned a freeborn nurse, whose status, in no way harmed or degenerate, would permit the liberty of speaking the truth, and whose faith and age were a guarantee to the truth, while her capacity as a nurse implied knowledge of what is secret. She also said that she had seen nothing unbecoming in the maiden, no action seemed reprehensible to her, even had she been her parent.

Moved by these considerations, we declared that Indicia had never failed in her duties as a virgin. The sentence so involved Maximus and Renatus and Leontius that hope of their return [to the sacraments] was held out only for Maximus if he corrected his error; and Renatus and Leontius remained excommunicated unless, perhaps, proving their remorse and daily deploring their deed, they showed themselves worthy of mercy.

Farewell, brother, and love us, because we love you.

Translation from FC 26.152-163, adapted by SMT

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