Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Catholic Beard

Since the beginning of time the beard has been a symbol of manliness. In various cultures and traditions the beard is what separates the men from women and the man from the boy. A beard has been known as a symbol of  humility, patience, and wisdom. We can trace the roots of the beard though our Jewish ancestors to Christianity where the tradition is still applied in the modern world today. People often look at the beard as a fashion statement, but it is more then that. For many men the beard is a pious practice, a sign of commitment and obedience to God, and a way to connect with our manly identity.

The Hebrew men of the Old Testament had long beards, and in fact was a disgrace when a man did not have a beard:
"So Hanun took David's servants, and shaved off half the beard of each, and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away. When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, "Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return."- 2 Samuel 10:4-5
Old Testament law did not allow any priest to shave their heads or their beards:
"They shall not make tonsures upon their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuttings in their flesh."- Leviticus 21:5
 Laymen were not excluded from growing a beard in the law of the Nazarene:
"...a razor shall not come upon his head, until the days be fulfilled which he vowed to the Lord: he shall be holy, cherishing the long hair of the head all the days of his vow to the Lord..."- Numbers 6:5-6
Jesus, being a devout Jew, had a beard as well. We can see this image portrayed on the Shroud of Turin:

Christians continued the tradition of beard growing and can be seen in abundance today in Eastern Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (Especially among Monastics) who take not only the principles of the Jewish law but also the words from St. Paul  in his letters to the Corinthians which relate to the above laws: I Cor. 11:14 & I Cor. 11: 4-7. 

Beards have been taken so seriously that they have started divisions in the Church. In the 11th Century it was one of the reasons for  Cardinal Humbert declaring Anathema on July 15, 1054 against Patriarch Michael in Constantinople who said: "While wearing beards and long hair you [Eastern Orthodox] reject the bond of brotherhood with the Roman clergy, since they shave and cut their hair." N. N. Voekov, The Church, Russia, and Rome, (in Russian), p. 98

Here's what the Church Fathers had to say about the beard:

“How womanly it is for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, and to arrange his hair at the mirror, shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them! . . . . For God wished women to be smooth and to rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane. But He has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him as an attribute of manhood, with a hairy chest, a sign of strength and rule.” – Clement of Alexandria (vol. 2, p. 275)
“This, then, is the mark of the man, the beard. By this, he is seen to be a man. It is older than Eve. It is the token of the superior nature. . . . It is therefore unholy to descrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness.” – Clement of Alexandria (vol. 2, p. 276)
 “Let the chin have the hair. . . . For an ample beard suffices it for men. . . . The hair on the chin is not to be disturbed.” – Clement of Alexandria (vol. 2, p. 286)
“The nature of the beard contributes in an incredible degree to distinguish the maturity of bodies, or to distinguish the sex, or to contribute to the beauty of manliness and strength.” – Lactantius (vol. 7, p. 288) 
“This sex of ours acknowledges to itself deceptive trickeries of form peculiarly its own–such as to cut the beard too sharply, to pluck it out here and there, to shave around the mouth.” – Tertullian (vol. 4, p. 22)

All in all, I am not at all saying that all Christian men are required to grow a beard, but now you have a good reason to do so!

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