Daily Reading for January 21 • Agnes, Martyr at Rome, 304
It is fortunate that since today is the birthday of a virgin, it is about virgins I am to speak. . . .It is the birthday of Saint Agnes: let men marvel, let children not lose hope, let the married be astounded, let the unmarried seek to resemble her. What can we say worthy of her whose very name was not devoid of glowing praise? In piety, she excelled her years; in virtue, she was above nature. It seems to me that she bore not a human name but one that was a prophecy of her martyrdom by which she showed what she was to be. . . .
It is reported that she was martyred when she was twelve years old. The more abominable the cruelty that did not spare such meager years, so much more the great power of faith that even at her age found witness. . . . Is this a new type of martyrdom? Not yet of proper age for punishment, she was already ripe for victory. Hard to rival but easy to be crowned, she qualified for an instructorship in courage while she yet bore the disadvantage of youth. . . . All wept: she was without a tear. Most marveled that she was so promptly prodigal with her own life, a life that she had not yet drunk in but now gave up as if she had gone through it. All were astonished that already there was a witness to God who until now could not herself bear witness because of her youth. To sum up, she brought it about that she should be believed concerning God, she who as yet should not be believed concerning humans. What is beyond nature is from the Father of nature.
From On Virgins by Ambrose, written in 377 A.D. for his sister Marcellina, who had taken a vow of virginity; quoted in Women in the Early Church by Elizabeth A. Clark (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1983).