“Every woman who prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head.” (Cor. 11:5).
“There is neither male or female, for ye are one in Christ.” (Gal. 3:28)
There is considerable resistance, even among so-called traditional Catholics, to women covering their heads in Church, or to use the more common phrase, to women wearing veils. Now, the veiling of woman is an Apostolic command (I Cor, XI:4-16), and hence the attitude of a faithful Catholic is one which accepts Apostolic injunctions without question.
Let it be clear from the start that the idea that Paul was only accommodating himself to Jewish or middle eastern practice and that therefore such restrictions no longer apply, is a totally modernist concept. Tertullian specifically states that this command applies “everywhere and always.”
St. Paul provides us with two reasons for this practice. The first is that “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man… the man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man, for the man is not of the woman but the woman of the man.” The second reason, perhaps less explicit, is that a woman should have a cover over her head (‘power’ being an alternate word for ‘cover’) “because of the angels.”
The first reason seemingly speaks to the subordinate role of women. Paul however is not concerned with the sexes as such, but rather with higher realities of which men and women are reflections. As Claude Chavasse explains: “the sexes signify eternal varities, and for that reason they must illustrate the qualities of direction and submission. It is not because Paul is a ‘typical oriental’ that he says ‘the head of the woman is the man,’ but because she is the type of the Church and he of Christ. …just as the Church should have no Head but Christ, so the woman should have no head but her husband.” The church fathers in discussing this issue make it clear that this “subordination” in no way implies that women are inferior to men or in any way limited in their relationship to God. Paul himself says that “in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female.” However, within the social relationship, reflecting the relationship of the Church to Christ, she does have a subordinate position. As Ambrosiaster says “Although man and woman are of the same substance, the man has relational priority because he is the head of the woman. He is greater than she is by cause and order, but not by substance. Woman is the glory of man, but there is an enormous distance between that and being the glory of God.” Severian of Gabala, another early father is even more explicit: “what we are talking about here is not nature but a relationship.”
Under normal conditions the majority of women live within the married state. The family is in fact the building block of any healthy society. Those imbued with socialist ideation – conscious or unconscious – no longer consider the family as a norm and whatever loyalties they have are more oriented towards the government, which encourages single parent “families,” same sex “marriages,” homosexuality and a host of parallel agendas. But for the Catholic, the family unit remains the norm, and to understand the proper status of women in the married state we should turn once again to St. Paul, who speaks to this in Chapter 5 of his letter to the Ephesians:
“For the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all thing. Husbands love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life. …so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself… This is a great sacrament.” I am fully aware that feminists dislike this passage because it speaks of obedience. Yet, under normal circumstances the father is head of the family. In this he reflects the priest who is “father” to the community, and both in turn reflect God who is “our Father in Heaven.” The father of the family is spiritually responsible for those under his care, and following the teaching of Our Lord, he can say: “if you love me you will obey my commandments.” He is of course himself under the obligation of obedience to Christ. He rules the family by “divine right,” – “right” being an older word for “law.” If he rules by other than divine right, that is, if he institutes his own private rules for those of God, he becomes a tyrant. If indeed the head of the family is to pattern his behavior after Christ, the woman should have little trouble in giving him obedience. The end result of such a relationship is that the family itself becomes a mini-Church, or a Nazareth in which the children can grow up “subject” to their parents as Jesus was to Mary and Joseph. St. Paul tells us in the next sentence that children are obliged to obey their parents. It will be argued that this is a rather “idealized” picture, but if the normal has become only an idealized picture in our age, this is indeed a tragedy, the fruits of which we see all around us.
The feminist agenda holds that women and men are equal. It is the subordinate role that rankers the modernist woman. Now clearly justice requires that working women should have equality in the workplace. There is no justification for paying women less or making them work longer hours for the same pay as men. But this in no way militates against the Pauline precept. The feminist attitude is not entirely modern. St. Chrysostom commented in the fourth century that “a woman does not acquire a man’s dignity by having her head uncovered but rather loses her own. Her shame and reproach thus derive from her desire to be like a man as well as from her actions” (Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 25.4). He likens the situation to a governor approaching a king without the symbols of his office, and holds that a woman in covering her head in church is approaching God with the symbol of her office. For those in religion, the same subordinate role requires their obedience both to the rule and to the superior who is spiritually speaking, Christ. If there is “rebellion” in the family, there is even greater rebellion in the orders, and this very often starting with the superiors who are themselves refusing obedience to Christ.
All this does not deny that women are of the same substance as man, but rather gives expression to a relationship between them. As Ambrosiaster says, “man is the head of the woman. He is greater than she is by cause and order, but not by substance. Woman is the glory of man, but there is an enormous distance between that and being the glory of God.” (Commentary on Paul’s Epistles). Augustine further comments that “it is not as though one part of humanity belongs to God as its author and another to darkness, as some claim. Rather the part that has the power of ruling and the part that is ruled are both from God” (Against the Manicheans 3.26.40).
The idea of obedience is of course not without its difficulties. Paul stresses this with regard to marriage. It is often forgot that if obedience is incumbent upon the wife, it is also incumbent upon the husband to be Christ-like. Like a king who rules by divine right - that is by God’s laws, so also the husband must rule as an alter Christus. If he were to rule by his own law, he would in fact be a despot. If then the husband is truly Christ-like, than obedience becomes a blessing.
What is frequently not realized is that it is far better, as St. Bernard says, to live under obedience than to be placed in command. Of course we are all under obedience to Christ, but as is true in any organization, Obedience flows from the “top,” through a hierarchy of authorities to those below. Obedience is not blind and can never be used to command what is sinful. One must always understand what one is obeying.
Feminists like to proclaim that God is a woman. In this claim they point to an important fact, namely that the male–female polarity has its origin in God and not in man. Why it is that God, who in his Absoluteness is without gender, is nevertheless rendered in creation as masculine, while Nature - that is Natura Naturans Creatrix is referred to as feminine. Let us consider the act of creation. In God Essence and Nature are united. In creation there is a division between Essence and Nature, Heaven from Earth, and subject from object. Nature then “recedes from likeness to God, yet even insofar as it has being in this wise, it retains a certain likeness to the divine being” (Summa Theol 1.14.11 ad 3). Henceforth Essence is the Creator and active power, Nature, the means of creation and passive recipient of form. “Nature as being that by which the generator generates” (Damascene, De fide orthodoxa 1.18). The relationship between man to woman is a likeness to the relationship between Essence and Nature, and marriage is a symbol and reflection of the identification of Essence and Nature in divinis. This same relationship is repeated in the course of our everyday functioning.
God then, who in His essence is neither male nor female, contains within His essence the archetypes of Absoluteness and Infinititude. In manifestation these archetypes separate. (In Taoist terms into Yin and Yang ) His absoluteness becomes the masculine or “active” pole and His infinitude the feminine or “passive” pole. Thus in Genesis we read that “the Spirit moved upon the face of the waters” – the waters symbolizing the “all possibility” of creation, and metaphysically understood as representing the Blessed Mother of whom it is said “I was set up from eternity and of old before the earth was made.” Hence, as an Eastern text puts it, “all creation is feminine relative to God.” The masculine reflects the absolute nature of God and hence justice, rigor and majesty. The feminine reflects the infinite nature of God which is seen as reflected in the qualities of mercy, generosity and beauty, in indeed in the infinitude of all creation. It is precisely this quality of infinitude that manifests itself in mercy and generosity that makes the women’s function of giving birth and nurturing so central to her fulfillment. Those who deny this would do well to consider the struggles many single women face as they approach the menopause – a sort of recognition that they have let one of the most important aspects of their womanly nature slip by unfulfilled. So many have succumbed to the idea of a “career” without in fact recognizing that the majority of careers open to them are little more than becoming factory workers or secretaries – hardly vocations such as truly utilize all their creative faculties. (Of course, men are also limited in attaining truly vocational forms of employment.)
There is yet another level that reflects this relationship – in every human being, be he biologically male or female. Every individual is constructed, as it were, of three components – Spirit, psyche (which includes our thinking processes and opinions) and body. Now the Spirit is considered masculine and the psyche and body (often considered as the “psycho-physical”) is considered female. The later of course is meant to be subordinate to the higher, which is to say the Spirit of God that dwells within every individual. Such is incorporated in the myths of every nation. St. George was only able to free the princess or psyche after he had slain the dragon. And it was the kiss of the golden prince that released Snow white from her somnolent state – the result of her partaking of the poisoned apple. Hero and Heroine are two selves - duo sunt in homine - immanent Spirit (ASoul of the soul,@ Athis self= immortal Self@) and individual soul or self: Eros and Psyche, or metaphysically speaking, Male and Female. These two, cohabitant Inner and Outer Man are at war with one another, and there can be no peace between them until the victory has been won and the soul, or self, this AI,@ submits. It is not without reason that the Heroine is so often described as haughty, disdainful, and “orgelleuse.” Philo and Rumi repeatedly equate this soul, our lesser self, with the Dragon, and it is this soul that we are told to Ahate@ if we would be disciples of the Sun of Men. The myth of the Loathly Bride survives in St. Bonaventura=s prediction of Christ=s Marriage to the Church: AChrist will present his Bride, whom he loved in her baseness and all her foulness, glorious with his own glory, without spot or wrinkle.@
Eckhart places the following admonition in the mouth of his spiritual daughter “I know very well that women can never come into heaven; they have to become men first. It is to be understood like this. They must perform manly deeds and must have manly hearts with full strength so that they may resist themselves in all sinful things
According to Matthias Scheeben, Marriage ranks as a Sacrament because it is a figure of the union between God and the Church, and as a consequence, of the union also between God and the soul. The importance of this relationship is explained by Scotus Erigina:
"The woman is the rational soul [anima], whose husband [literally vir or 'man' (with the connotation of 'active power') not maritus or conjunx] is understood to be the animus, which is variously named now intellect [intellectus], now mind [mens], now animus and often even spirit [spiritus]. This is the husband of whom the Apostle speaks "the head of the woman is the man, the head of the man is Christ, the head of Christ is God." I other words, the head of the anima is the intellectus, and the head of the intellectus is Christ. Such is the natural order of the human creature. The soul must be submitted to the rule of the mind, the mind to Christ, and thereby the whole being is submitted through Christ to God the Father... Spirit revolves perpetually about God and is therefore well named the husband and guide of the other parts of the soul, since between it and its creator no creature is interposed. Reason in turn revolves around the knowledge and causes of created things, and whatever spirit receives through eternal contemplation it transmits to reason and reason commends to memory. The third part of the soul is interior sense, which is subordinate to reason as the faculty which is superior to it, and by means of reason is also subordinate to spirit. Finally, below the interior sense in the natural order is the exterior sense, through which the whole soul nourishes and rules the fivefold bodily senses and animates the whole body. Since, therefore, reason can receive nothing of the gifts from on high unless through her husband, the spirit, which holds the chief place of all nature, the woman or anima is rightly ordered to call her husband or intellectus with whom and by whom she may drink spiritual gifts and without whom she may in no wise participate in gifts from on high. For this reason Jesus says to her, 'Call your husband, come hither.' Do not have the presumption to come to me without your husband. For, if the intellect is absent, one may not ascend to the heights of theology, nor participate in spiritual gifts." ”
Similarly, Meister Eckhart teaches in his commentary on the Scriptural passage “Happy is the man that dwells in wisdom”:
“I have often said there are two powers in the soul: One is the man and one is the woman. The power in the soul that one calls the man is the highest power of the soul in which God shines bare; for into this power nothing enters but God, and this power is continually in God. And so if a person were to take all things in this power he would take them not as they are things, but as they are in God. Therefore a person should dwell continually in this power because all things are alike in this power. This is why that person is happy who dwells continually in this power; he dwells continuously in God. That we may dwell continually in God, may we receive the help of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.”
There is yet another reason why women are veiled, and that is that every soul is, at least potentially, the bride of Christ. "To love God, " says St. Bernard, "is to be married to Him. Happy the soul who rejoices in this chaste and blessed embrace which is naught else than pure and holy love.” While this is as true for man as for woman, in the relationship that exists between them, it is the woman who most clearly gives witness to this potentiality. And as such, like a bride, she should be veiled
Again, beauty, a quality that women manifest, is of a mysterious nature, for it is itself a reflection of that super-essential quality most clearly seen in the Blessed Virgin and ultimately having its origin in God. But Beauty is appropriately veiled, for its real nature is hidden and we see but its remote reflection in the female form. The veiling of women then is not a denigrating imposition placed on them by men, but rather reflects their own intrinsic glory as mothers, daughters and brides of Christ.
The model then is nothing less than the Blessed Virgin for she manifests all these varied levels and qualities to the fullest possible degree. While she was highly educated (having studied in the Temple from the ages of 3 to 12), and while she often functioned outside the confines of her home, she in many ways remained “hidden.” She only spoke seven times in Scripture and always in an attitude that bespoke humility and submission to her role. In this there is a mysterious quality that in fact, every woman has – a quality that requires veiling that both protects and hides. This is why in traditional iconography she is always portrayed with her head covered. Just as the Blessed Mother is the mother, daughter and bride of Christ, so also every woman is potentially the same. And brides are to be veiled in public. In traditional representation of Our Lady she is almost always depicted as veiled. Women who accept the practice of veiling then are assuming to themselves the virtues of the Blessed Virgin, who of course is both the daughter, wife and mother of Our Lord. To reject the veil is to state, consciously or unconsciously that one has no desire to follow the pattern established by Our Lady.
The second reason Paul gives is “because of the angels.” Cornelius Lapide comments: “the literal sense is that women ought to have a covering on the head out of reverence to the angels; not because angels have a body, and can be provoked to lust, as Justin, Clement, and Tertullian thought – this is an error – but because angels are witnesses of the honest modesty or the immodesty of women, as also of their obedience or disobediences. Dennis the Carthusian further points out that in church, especially during Mass, angels are present, and just as veiling reflects the proper attitude of women before God, for they are potentially brides of Christ, so also they should be veiled before His angels, (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Theodoret), Sts. Thomas, Anselm, and Clement understand by “angels” good and holy men. Ambrose, Anselm and St. Thomas take it to mean priests and Bishops who in Rev. ii are called angels, and who might be provoked to lust by the beauty of women with uncovered heads.”
At this point, let us consider the exact words of Paul: “Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head - it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then, she should cut of her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor man of woman; for a woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves; is it proper for woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him. But if a woman has long hair, it is her pride. For her hair is given to her for covering. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.” (I Cor. XI: 4-16}
The commentary on this passage provided by the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture is of great help: “The difference between men and women lies not in their nature, but in their relationship (Chrysostom, Severian of Gabala). Woman is the glory of man, but there is an enormous distance between that and the glory of God (Ambrosiaster). A man who approaches the throne of God should wear the symbols of his office, which in this case is represented by having his head uncovered (Chrysostom). Just as God has nobody over him in all creation, so man has no one over him in the natural world. But woman lives under the protection of man (Saverian). The relation of man and woman to God makes all the difference in understanding their relation to each other (Ambrosiaster, Chrysostom). Being covered is a mark of voluntary subjection (Ambrosiaster), calling the woman to be humble and preserve her virtue (Tertullian, Chrysostom). Since woman is the glory of man, it is shameful for a woman to desire to be like a man (Chrysostom). In the Genesis narrative man precedes woman in the order of their creation (Epiphanius, Theodoret of Cyr). The woman was created with gifts of serving, the man with gifts of ordering (Theodoret of Cyr). Paul appears to be not confining his instruction about hair to a particular plae and time (Tertullian). He appealed to church tradition (Chrysostom), to nature (Ambrosiaster, Ambrose) and to the argument from general consent of reasonable people in these matters (Chrysostom). Since hair is potentially erotic, it can play into temptation (Pelagius). Natural hair is preferred to deceptive wigs (Clement of Alexandria)” .
To avoid the confusion raised by the term “prophesizing” it should be noted that this term is used in several places in Scripture (Chron 30:1; Sam. 10:10) to denote “giving praise to God.” St. Paul forbids women to speak or take a public role in the assembly, so in what way can she “prophesy”? The fathers interpret this as directing women to sing those parts of the service in which everyone sings. Similarly, where woman are said to require veils because of the Angels, most of the Fathers interpret Angels as priests and bishops.
Some of the Fathers point to the fact that man has priority in creation: Indeed, “woman was created after man and for man, to be his helpmate, to serve him and not vice versa” (Theodoret of Cyr). Cornrelius Lapide further comments on the statement that “woman is the glory of the man “ ”Women was made of man to his glory, as his workmanship and image; therefore she is subject to him, and should be veiled as a token of subordination. The woman, like the man, is endowed with a rational soul, with intellect, will, memory, liberty, and is equally with the man, capable of every degree of wisdom, grace, and glory. The woman, therefore, is the image of the man, but only improperly; for the woman as regards the rational soul, is man’s equal, and both man and woman have been made in the image of God, but the woman was made from the man, after him, and is inferior to him. Hence the Apostle does not say that “the woman is the image of the man,” but only “the woman is the glory of the man.”(Commentary on Corinthians).
It was and still is the Jewish custom for men to cover their heads when praying and clearly Paul is in no way accommodating himself to such practice. The Church father explain the reason that man’s head is uncovered by teaching that during the Old Dispensation, Christ was hidden, but now He is clearly visible. Others point to the crown of thorns that Christ bore to the Cross without any other head covering. “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, inasmuch as he is the image and glory of God.” Man, being the image of the glory of God, or the glorious image of God, in whom the majesty and power of God shines forth most clearly. He is placed on the topmost step in nature, and is as it were God’s vice-regent, ruling everything. which of course includes members of his family. Thus it is that Tertullian calls the veil “the burden of their humility,” and St. Chrysostom “the sign of submission.” Clearly then, the veil may be a sign of humility and subjection, but it is also a badge of honor.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that in the majority of traditional societies, while women are instructed to take efforts to please their husbands, efforts to be attractive to others is frowned upon. Head covering is therefore seen as an important aspect of modesty and Christ Himself said “let your modesty appear before men“ (Phil. 4:5). It is only in the privacy of the home, in the presence of the family and close friends, that the head is uncovered. Long before the coming of Christ head coverings were used by women in Judea, Troy, Rome, Arabia and Sparta. Valarius Maximus relates the sever punishment inflected by C. Sulpicius on his wife: he divorced her because he had found her out of doors with uncovered head. Tertullian tells us that “the gentile women of Arabia will rise up and judge us, for they cover not only the head, but also the whole face.” Similarly, “among Jewish women, so customary is it to wear a head-covering that they may be known by it.” (de Vel Virg.) The practice of covering the head in Islamic society is also based on the injunction to be modest. Not all Islamic lands demand the burka, and many use the hijab or simple head covering so often seen in the West. Finally, within Christiandom we see this same principle in the marriage ceremony where the bride to be is veiled until the priest declares her status as a married women. Only then is the veil lifted before the husband. The mystery of the woman’s beauty is reserved for the husband and the home.
A remnant of this attitude prevailed in the west for many years, and up until about 40 years ago women rarely were seen outside the home without a hat – and indeed with hats to which were attached short veils. Currently, modesty in dress, especially among the younger generation, seems to be a relic of the past and many it would seem have the same attitude about covering of their heads in church.
03 juin 2006
“Every woman who prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head.” (Cor. 11:5).