(Courtauld Institute Galleries, London)

has become the mother-in-law of Christ.[57] Yet special case though he may be, and although Jerome the rhetorician may often get in the way of Jerome the Christian writer, his advocacy of virginity and the terms in which it is conducted cannot be so easily set aside, for they belong within a much wider and very deeply rooted contemporary discourse. Ambrose and Augustine in the West, as well as Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom in the East, not to mention the targets of Jerome's own polemics and Augustine's opponent Julian of Eclanum, concerned themselves with the same issues. These now presented themselves in terms of an absolute polarity of opposites: if in the divine sphere the Incarnation represented the impossible, the negation of nature, it might seem that virginity did likewise in the human sphere. It was seen, for example, as overcoming the disadvantages of female gender: if the Virgin Mary canceled the sin of Eve, for

[57] On this letter see Kelly, Jerome, 100 ff.

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