Quinisext Council, Canon 40.previous | next
Since it is very conducive to salvation for one to become closely attached to God by retiring from the turmoil of life, we must not welcome without examination those who unseasonably choose the solitary (or monastic) life, but must observe the definition handed down to us by the Fathers even in these matters, so as to make it incumbent upon us to welcome the confession (or promise, as we say in English) of a life in accordance with God then, when it is already certain and has been done with consent and judgment, after the completion of the reason. Therefore let anyone who is about to submit to the monastic yoke and who is not less than ten years old, the test for this resting with the president, if he deems the time to be more advantageous for growth as preparation for entrance into and continuance in the solitary life. For even though St. Basil the Great in his sacred Canons welcomes the girl who voluntarily offers herself to God and embraces virginity when passing through her seventeenth year, and makes it a law for her to be enrolled in the battalion of Virgins, yet, even so, following the example with respect to widows and deaconesses closely we have allowed those choosing the solitary life the said time proportionately. For in the divine Apostle it is written: “Let not a widow be taken into the number under sixty years old if she has been the wife of one husband” (1 Tim. 5:9). The sacred Canons, on the other hand, give instructions to the effect that a deaconess can be ordained only when she is at least forty years old, the Church having by the grace of God become mightier and advancing forward, and the tendency of the faithful to keep the divine commandments having become firmly fixed and secure, after exquisitely perceiving which fact quite recently we have seen fit to decree the blessing of grace upon the one about to undertake the struggle of living in accordance with God, impressing it precisely like a seal quickly and hence seeking to prevent him from lingering too long, and urging him forward into the arena, or rather indeed we might say impelling him to the choice and state of what is good.
(c. XIX of the 1st; c. XV of the 4th; c. XIV of the 6th; cc. VI, LI, CXXXV of Carthage; cc. XVIII, XXIV of Basil.)
Those who wish to become monks or nuns ought not, according to the present Canon, to be accepted without examination, and at an unseasonable or improper time and in defiance of the definition prescribed by the divine Fathers (and especially St. Basil the Great), but only then ought the confession and promise they make to God to be accepted as reliable and representative of their state of mind, when the judgment of their reasoning faculty has reached its maturity, as Basil the Great asserts in his c. XVIII and especially in his Definition 15 in extenso. So, in sum, let the one who is about to become a monk be not less than ten years old; but, nevertheless, let it be in the power of the bishop to try him out and to increase the number of years for him (in proportion, that is to say, to his natural knowledge) if he deems it more to the person’s interest. For although Basil the Great specifies in his aforesaid Canon that a virgin girl over sixteen or seventeen years may be admitted to the battalion of virgins, we nevertheless, following the example of the widows and deaconesses, have reduced the sixteen or seventeen years of St. Basil to ten years, because the Apostle prescribes that a widow may be admitted to the Church if she is not less than sixty years old, while the Fathers of the 4th say that a woman may be ordained a deaconess when she is forty years old, in their c. XV, seeing the Church of God to be advancing with the grace of God, and the constancy shown by Christians in the keeping of the divine commandments. Giving these facts due thought, we have decreed this Canon, engraving in the tender soul of the one about to commence the spiritual struggles of monks, as a seal, the blessing of divine grace, and bracing him by means of this Canon, not to neglect the business of virtue for a long time, but rather to choose the good portion so much the sooner. But c. VI of Carthage says also that virgins ought to be consecrated to God by only the bishop; and c. LI of the same Council says that they ought to be provided for by him also, or, in his absence, by the presbyter.
 Let no one be surprised to see that while St. Basil the Great, on the one hand, asserts, in his c. XVIII, that completion and discretion of the reasoning faculty is attained in virgins over sixteen or seventeen years of age, the present Council, on the other hand, in the Canon in hand, says that it is attained in the tenth year of one’s age, since such maturity of the reasoning faculty is attained in some persons more quickly, and in others more slowly. For some persons, being of an acuter and finer nature, acquire more rapidly than others the power of discerning and distinguishing what is good and what is bad, according to Balsamon. Hence it is that sacred Timothy in his c. XVIII says that sins of some persons are judged by God beginning with the tenth year of their age, while those of others are not judged till later years. But if sins are judged by God beginning with the tenth year of a person’s age, it is manifest that these sins are done after the attainment of the age of discretion, or of the complete development of the reasoning faculty. For divine Basil (in Definition 15 in extenso) says that “after the perfect development of the reasoning power both honors and punishments are bestowed on those sinning or those succeeding by the righteous Judge according to the merit of their works.” Divine Chrysostom, too, would have it (in his sermon to a faithful father) that young people ought to wrestle with their passions and vice beginning with the tenth year of their age and ought to be punished for the sins they commit from then on. Hence John of Kitros, in his c. IV, says that male children ought to confess their sins to confessors from the fourteenth year of their age and up, whereas female children ought to do so beginning with their twelfth year. I need scarcely remark in passing that some modern teachers would have it that in the present wicked generation girls should begin confessing their sins when six years old, and boys when eight years old, “because iniquity increased” (Matt. 24:12), and “because the imagination of man’s intellect is assiduously inclined to evil things from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). But others again, being of a denser and more sluggish nature, acquire the discernment of what is good and what is bad later and at a more advanced stage in their life, i.e., when they come to be older. Hence God says that the Israelites could discern good and evil when over twenty years old. “And the Lord’s anger was kindled in that day, and he swore, saying, Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, knowing as they do well enough what is good and what is evil” (Num. 32:10-11). Canon CXXXV of Carthage, on the other hand, says that virgins are to take the habit when they become twenty-five years old, except only in case there should arise any necessary circumstance, such as that of rapine or danger of death. And, generally speaking, to repeat what the said c. XVIII of Timothy asserts, the perfect and complete development of the reasoning faculty of everyone, and consequently the ability to discern good and evil, is to be judged in accordance with his natural knowledge and prudence. And if we care to tell the truth, with the advancing years of our period, children constantly grow more and more wicked and evil-minded, and consequently even before the tenth year of their age some of them are able to discern what is good and especially what is evil. On all these grounds, therefore, the present Council, not only for the advancement of the Church and of Christians, as it itself says, but also for the acuter discernment of good and evil as a result of natural processes of the mind, which it does not say, would have them become monks beginning with the tenth year of their age, since it is told by Solomon that prudence (Note of Translator. — Because the English language possesses no word exactly equivalent to the corresponding Greek word, most persons try to express the idea by means of the English word wisdom, instead of prudence, but by doing so they deprive the language of word signifying what the Greeks call sophia, usually translated into English by the word wisdom) in men is gray hair and agedness, “wisdom is gray hair unto men” (Wisd. Sol. 4:9); and by Elijah in Job: “It is not the aged that are wise, neither do old men know how to judge; but it is a spirit in mortals, and a breath of the Almighty that teacheth” (Job 32:9-10). Besides, since this Council did not stand upon ten years as the limit, but gave the prelate leave to increase them, while the lst-&-2nd decrees that those wishing to become monks or nuns should try it out for three years, in its c. V, herein, behold, you can see for yourselves that again the number of years becomes nearly enough to coincide with the sixteen years specified by St. Basil, during which the one about to become a monk or nun being adolescent, and consequently able to discern whether he can maintain virginity or not, his or her confession (Note of Translator. — Here, as also often elsewhere, by the term “confession” is meant, in reality, what is denoted in English by the word promise or vow) is to be considered reliable and authenticated. But we ought to note here in addition that it would in truth be an exceedingly fine thing if, in accordance with this Canon, “young and beardless men” became monks as soon as they passed the tenth year of their age, or even the thirteenth year thereof (allowing three years, that is to say, for trial), and started at this tender and gentle age of theirs contending and fighting against their passions, and against the ruler of the world (usually called the “Devil” in English, a Greek word which in reality means “traducer”), and were introduced directly in the beginning to the exercise of all good things (or, in plainer English, all virtues), according to St. Basil the Great (Definition 15 in extenso). “For,” says Jeremiah, “it is a good thing for a man when he lifts up a yoke from his youth” (Jer. 2:20). But inasmuch as this generation of ours has become prone to passions, the bishop, as is commanded by this same Canon, ought to increase the number of years in regard to those about to adopt the monastic style of life until they reach the point of growing a beard, since this is also more to the interest of the very persons themselves who are going to become monks, in order that the judgment of their reasoning faculty may be rendered more perfect (i.e., more maturely developed), and consequently the trial likewise, and in order to preclude their becoming a cause of scandalization and perdition to the monks dwelling with them, as a result of their beardless and girlish face. And see in the Footnote to c. III of the First, and c. XVI of Gangra.
 The example of the widows and deaconesses which the Canon adduces here is not inept, as some have said, in view of the fact that the reference is to widows in the one case and to deaconesses in the other. But neither is it with regard to temperance in marriage, which the deaconesses are able to exercise in their fortieth year, and the widows in the sixtieth year, of their age, that the Canon introduces these women into the midst of the argument. But then, on the same ground, neither is it that which Zonaras asserts, to the effect that the deaconess, being a virgin and never having tasted of pleasure (of the sensual kind, one must add in English, which language lacks a word corresponding to the more intelligible Greek word hedone, whence we have the useful term hedomism), if she has succeeded in preserving her chastity up to the fortieth year of her age, shall be convinced that she can safely remain a virgin henceforth, whereas the widow, having tasted of the pleasure (of the sensual kind) afforded by her husband, needs all the sixty years to complete a more satisfactory test by trial to ensure that henceforth she shall be able to abstain from it: for these two hypotheses are inconsistent with the meaning and acceptation of the present Canon. Reconciling as much as possible the example, we say that the widow whom St. Paul mentions, notwithstanding the fact that she used to be enrolled in the Widowed Battalion without any ritual imposition of hands, according to chapters 1 and 2 of Book III of the Apostolic Injunctions, in order to be ministered to by the Church, according to c. XXIV of St. Basil, and to be furnished with a sufficiency to supply her with the necessaries of life. Just as St. Paul himself goes on to say by adding: “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let him or her relieve them, and let not the Church be burdened, so that she may relieve those women who really are widows” (1 Tim. 5:17). Although, I say, this widow used to be enrolled in the Widowed Battalion, and not in the Battalion of Deaconesses, yet, in spite of this fact, since deaconesses were also ordained also from these once-married (or monogamous) widows, it is obvious that these deaconesses used to be ordained when sixty years old. And the reason is that if the lower battalion of widows were enrolled after so many years, i.e., at such an advanced age, in order to preclude their slipping away from Christ, how much the more ought not the widows, and deaconesses by virtue of an imposition of hands, to be ordained after so many years, whose marriage after ordination would have been incomparably more unlawful than the marriage of (unordained) widows, and consequently the fear engendered on this account, by comparison, would have been greater? Not only, however, is this shown by argument, but also by the facts. For Sozomen (Book VII, ch. 17) bears witness to the fact that Emperor Theodosius made a law (before the Fourth and the present Council were held) that no woman should receive any ministration (i.e., relief or assistance) unless she had children or unless she had become sixty years old. “This is the cause that led Emperor Theodosius to provide for the (enhancement of the) good report and decency of the Churches by making a law that women should not be allowed God’s relief unless they had children and became over sixty years old, in accordance with St. Paul’s express command.” But the Fourth Ecum. C. reduced these sixty years of deaconesses to forty, by decreeing in a general and indefinite manner that no deaconess should be ordained until forty years of age, irrespectively, that is to say, of whether she was one of the virgins or one of the once-married (or, in Greek, monogamous) widows. So for the reasons reckoned up here the example of the widows and deaconesses which the Canon cites is germane to the issue and is eminently consistent with its meaning. For it compares deaconesses with deaconesses that have been drawn from the ranks of the widows. As for the fact that deaconesses actually were ordained from among these once-married widows, that is corroborated: a) by the Apostolic Injunctions, which say, in Book VII, ch. 17: “Let a chaste virgin become a deaconess; or, otherwise, one that is a believer and honest”; b) c. XLVIII of the present 6th, which says that the wife of one destined to become a bishop, may, if she be worthy, become a deaconess; and c) that famous Olympias who, though a widow, was a deaconess. The fact, too, that the marriage of deaconesses was more unlawful than the marriage of widows is shown by reference to c. XV of the 4th and c. XXIV of Basil: for the former anathematizes any deaconess that has married together with the man who married her; while the latter, of Basil, only excommunicates any widow that has married by denying her Communion until she ceases from her dirtiness. This too is perfectly reasonable in view of the fact that the widows were wont to promise and solemnly undertake not to get married a second time, just as did Anna the daughter of Phanuel, and in accordance with ch. 1 of Book III of the Apostolic Injunctions, and in accordance with that which St. Paul says, to wit: “Having been damned because they disregarded their first faith” (1 Tim. 5:12). See also the Footnote to c. XIX of the First.
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