On The Veiling Of Virgins by Tertullian
Chapter III.--Gradual Development of Custom, and Its Results. Passionate Appeal to Truth.
But not even between customs have those most chaste teachers chosen to examine. Still, until very recently, among us, either custom was, with comparative indifference, admitted to communion. The matter had been left to choice, for each virgin to veil herself or expose herself, as she might have chosen, just as (she had equal liberty) as to marrying, which itself withal is neither enforced nor prohibited. Truth had been content to make an agreement with custom, in order that under the name of custom it might enjoy itself even partially. But when the power of discerning began to advance, so that the licence granted to either fashion was becoming the mean whereby the indication of the better part emerged; immediately the great adversary of good things -- and much more of good institutions -- set to his own work. The virgins of men go about, in opposition to the virgins of God, with front quite bare, excited to a rash audacity; and the semblance of virgins is exhibited by women who have the power of asking somewhat from husbands, not to say such a request as that (forsooth) their rivals -- all the more |free| in that they are the |hand-maids| of Christ alone -- may be surrendered to them. |We are scandalized,| they say, |because others walk otherwise (than we do);| and they prefer being |scandalized| to being provoked (to modesty). A |scandal,| if I mistake not, is an example not of a good thing, but of a bad, tending to sinful edification. Good things scandalize none but an evil mind. If modesty, if bashfulness, if contempt of glory, anxious to please God alone, are good things, let women who are |scandalized| by such good learn to acknowledge their own evil. For what if the incontinent withal say they are |scandalized| by the continent? Is continence to be recalled? And, for fear the multinubists be |scandalized,| is monogamy to be rejected? Why may not these latter rather complain that the petulance, the impudence, of ostentatious virginity is a |scandal| to them? Are therefore chaste virgins to be, for the sake of these marketable creatures, dragged into the church, blushing at being recognised in public, quaking at being unveiled, as if they had been invited as it were to rape? For they are no less unwilling to suffer even this. Every public exposure of an honourable virgin is (to her) a suffering of rape: and yet the suffering of carnal violence is the less (evil), because it comes of natural office. But when the very spirit itself is violated in a virgin by the abstraction of her covering, she has learnt to lose what she used to keep. O sacrilegious hands, which have had the hardihood to drag off a dress dedicated to God! What worse could any persecutor have done, if he had known that this (garb) had been chosen by a virgin? You have denuded a maiden in regard of her head, and forthwith she wholly ceases to be a virgin to herself; she has undergone a change! Arise, therefore, Truth; arise, and as it were burst forth from Thy patience! No custom do I wish Thee to defend; for by this time even that custom under which Thou didst enjoy thy own liberty is being stormed! Demonstrate that it is Thyself who art the coverer of virgins. Interpret in person Thine own Scriptures, which Custom understandeth not; for, if she had, she never would have had an existence.