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Advice for Reforming Your Wife

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Advice for Reforming Your Wife

James Dodson

by John Chrysostom.


Yea, if thou have a wife fond of dress, gaping and eager after modes of painting the face, and dissolved in great luxury, and talkative, and foolish (although it is not of course possible that all these should concur in one woman; however let us frame in our discourse a woman of that sort).

"Why then is it," some one may say, "that thou fashionest a woman, and not a man?" There are men too worse than this woman. But forasmuch as the authority is intrusted to men, we accordingly are framing a woman, for the present, not as though vice more abounded in them. For there are many things to be found in men also, which are not amongst women; as for instance man-slaying, breaking open of tombs, fighting with wild beasts, and many such like things. Think not therefore that we do this as undervaluing the sex; it is not, it is not this, but thus it was convenient at present to sketch out the picture. Let us then suppose such a woman, and her husband endeavor in every way to reform her. How then shall he reform her? Not by enjoining all at once, but the easier things first, and in matters by which she is not vehemently possessed. For if thou hasten to reform her entirely at the beginning, thou hast ruined all. Do not accordingly take off her golden ornaments at once, but let her have them, and wear them for a time, for this seems a less evil than her paintings and shadings. Let these therefore be first taken away, and not even these by fear and threatening, but by persuasion and mildness, and by blaming of others, and by your own opinion and judgment. And tell her continually, that to thee a countenance so decked up is not lovely, but rather in a high degree unpleasing, and persuade her above all things that this vexes thee. And after thine own suffrage, bring in also the judgment expressed by others, and say that even beautiful women are wont to be disfigured by this; that thou mayest root out the passion. And say nothing yet of hell, or of the kingdom, for thou wilt talk of these things in vain: but persuade her that she please thee more by displaying the work of God undisguised; but she who tortures, and strains, and daubs her countenance, doth not even to people in general appear fair and beautiful. And first by common reasonings and the suffrages of all men expel the pest, and when thou hast softened her down by these words, add also the other considerations. And though thou shouldest speak once and not persuade her, do not grow weary of pouring in the same words, a second and a third time and often; not however in a wearisome kind of way, but sportively; and do thou now turn from her, now flatter and court her.

Seest thou not the painters, how much they rub out, how much they insert, when they are making a beautiful portrait? Well then, do not thou prove inferior to these. For if these, in drawing the likeness of a body, used such great diligence, how much more were it meet for us, in fashioning a soul, to use every contrivance. For if thou shouldest fashion well the form of this soul, thou wilt not see the countenance of the body looking unseemly, nor lips stained, nor a mouth like a bear's mouth dyed with blood, nor eyebrows blackened as with the smut of some kitchen vessel, nor cheeks whitened with dust like the walls of the tombs. For all these things are smut, and cinders, and dust and signals of extreme deformity.

But stay: I have been led on unobserving, I know not how, into these expressions; and while admonishing another to teach with gentleness, I have been myself hurried away into wrath. Let us return therefore again unto the more gentle way of admonition, and let us bear with all the faults of our wives, that we may succeed in doing what we would. Seest thou not how we bear with the cries of children, when we would wean them from the breast, how we endure all for this object only, that we may persuade them to despise their former food? Thus let us do in this case also, let us bear with all the rest, that we may accomplish this. For when this hath been amended, thou wilt see the other too proceeding in due order, and thou wilt come again unto the ornaments of gold, and in the same way wilt reason concerning them likewise, and thus by little and little bringing thy wife unto the right rule, thou wilt be a beautiful painter, a faithful servant, an excellent husbandman.

Together with these things remind her also of the women of old, of Sarah, of Rebecca, both of the fair and of them that were not so, and point out how all equally practiced modesty. For even Leah, the wife of the patriarch, not being fair, was not constrained to devise any such thing, but although she were uncomely, and not very much beloved by her husband, she neither devised any such thing, nor marred her countenance, but continued to preserve the lineaments thereof undisfigured, and this though brought up by Gentiles.

But thou that art a believing woman, thou that hast Christ for thine head, art thou bringing in upon us a satanic art? And dost thou not call to mind the water that dashed over thy countenance, the sacrifice that adorns thy lips, the blood that hath reddened thy tongue? For if thou wouldest consider all these things, though thou wert fond of dress to the ten thousandth degree, thou wilt not venture nor endure to put upon thee that dust and those cinders. Learn that thou hast been joined unto Christ, and refrain from this unseemliness. For neither is he delighted with these colorings, but He seeks after another beauty, of which He is in an exceeding degree a lover, I mean, that in the soul. This the prophet likewise hath charged thee to cherish, and hath said, "So shall the King have pleasure in thy beauty."

Let us not therefore be curious in making ourselves unseemly. For neither is any one of God's works imperfect, nor doth it need to be set right by thee. For not even if to an image of the emperor, after it was set up, any one were to seek to add his own work, would the attempt be safe, but he will incur extreme danger. Well then, man works and thou addest not; but doth God work, and dost thou amend it? And dost thou not consider the fire of Hell? dost thou not consider the destitution of thy soul? For on this account it is neglected, because all thy care is wasted on the flesh.

But why do I speak of the soul? For to the very flesh everything falls out contrary to what ye have sought. Consider it. Dost thou wish to appear beautiful? This shows thee uncomely. Dost thou wish to please thy husband? This rather grieves him; and causes not him only, but strangers also, to become thine accusers. Wouldest thou appear young? This will quickly bring thee to old age. Wouldest thou wish to array thy self honorably? This makes thee to be ashamed. For such an one is ashamed not only before those of her own rank, but even those of her maids who are in her secret, and those of her servants who know; and, above all, before herself.

But why need I say these things? For that which is more grievous than all I have now omitted, namely, that thou dost offend God; thou underminest modesty, kindlest the flame of jealousy, emulatest the harlot women at their brothel.

All these things then consider, ye women, and laugh to scorn the pomp of Satan and the craft of the devil; and letting go this adorning, or rather disfiguring, cultivate that beauty in your own souls which is lovely even to angels, and desired of God, and delightful to your husbands; that ye may attain both unto present glory, and unto that which is to come. To which God grant that we may all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.