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The history of headcoverings in the Church

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While most Christian women today do not veil their heads, many are surprised to learn that wearing headcoverings was actually the rule throughout the history of the Church. It was taken for granted that when Paul spoke about a woman covering her head in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, what was being prescribed was a universal practical that issued naturally from God's moral law, that symbolized the authority the husband has over the wife. Below is a list of quotations from historically important theologians that make it clear that wearing such coverings was the universal practice of the Christian Church. Various paintings and mosaics of Christian women throughout history likewise makes it clear that veils were universally donned by women throughout Church history.

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"And let all the women have their heads covered with an opaque cloth, not with a veil of thin linen, for this is not a true covering"(Hippolytus)

"I also admonish you second group of women, who are married, not to outgrow the discipline of the veil. Not even for a moment of an hour. Because you can't avoid wearing a veil, you should not find some other way to nullify it. That is, by going about neither covered nor bare. For some women do not veil their heads, but rather bind them up with turbans and woollen bands. It's true that they are protected in front. But where the head properly lies, they are bare.

Others cover only the area of the brain with small linen coifs that do not even quite reach the ears.... They should know that the entire head constitutes the woman. Its limits and boundaries reach as far as the place where the robe begins. The region of the veil is co-extensive with the space covered by the hair when it is unbound. In this way, the neck too is encircled.

The pagan women of Arabia will be your judges. For they cover not only the head, but the face also. . . . But how severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve, who remain uncovered even during the recital of the Psalms and at any mention of the name of God? For even when they are about to spend time in prayer itself, they only place a fringe, tuft [of cloth], or any thread whatever on the crown of their heads. And they think that they are covered!" [Tertullian, The Veiling of Virgins The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4 pp. 27-29,33]

"If thou desirest to be one of the faithful, and to please the Lord, O wife, do not superadd ornaments to thy beauty, in order to please other men; neither affect to wear fine broidering, garments, or shoes, to entice those who are allured by such things. For although thou dost not these wicked things with design of sinning thyself, but only for the sake of ornament and beauty, yet wilt thou not so escape future punishment, as having compelled another to look so hard at thee as to lust after thee, and as not having taken care both to avoid sin thyself, and the affording scandal to others. But if thou yield thyself up, and commit the crime, thou art both guilty of thy own sin, and the cause of the ruin of the other’s soul also. Besides, when thou hast committed lewdness with one man, and beginnest to despair, thou wilt again turn away from thy duty, and follow others, and grow past feeling; as says the divine word: “When a wicked man comes into the depth of evil, he becomes a scorner, and then disgrace and reproach come upon him.”25752575 Prov. xviii. 3. For such a woman afterward being wounded, ensnares without restraint the souls of the foolish. Let us learn, therefore, how the divine word triumphs over such women, saying: “I hated a woman who is a snare and net to the heart of men worse than death; her hands are fetters.”25762576 Eccles. vii. 26. And in another passage: “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is beauty in a wicked woman.”25772577 Prov. xi. 22. And again: “As a worm in wood, so does a wicked woman destroy her husband.”25782578 Prov. xii. 4 in LXX. And again: “It is better to dwell in the corner of the house-top, than with a contentious and an angry woman.”25792579 Prov. xxi. 9, 19 You, therefore, who are Christian women, do not imitate such as these. But thou who designest to be faithful to thine own husband, take care to please him alone. And when thou art in the streets, cover thy head; for by such a covering thou wilt avoid being viewed of idle persons. Do not paint thy face, which is God’s workmanship; for there is no part of thee which wants ornament, inasmuch as all things which God has made are very good. But the lascivious additional adorning of what is already good is an affront to the bounty of the Creator. Look downward when thou walkest abroad, veiling thyself as becomes women."

"IX. Avoid also that disorderly practice of bathing in the same place with men; for many are the nets of the evil one. And let not a Christian woman bathe with an hermaphrodite; for if she is to veil her face, and conceal it with modesty from strange men, how can she bear to enter naked into the bath together with men? But if the bath be appropriated to women, let her bathe orderly, modestly, and moderately. But let her not bathe without occasion, nor much, nor often, nor in the middle of the day, nor, if possible, every day; and let the tenth hour of the day be the set time for such seasonable bathing. For it is convenient that thou, who art a Christian woman, shouldst ever constantly avoid a curiosity which has many eyes"(The Apostolic Constitutions)

"Let the woman observe this, further. Let her be entirely covered, unless she happens to be at home. For that style of dress is grave, and protects from being gazed at. And she will never fall, who puts before her eyes modesty, and her shawl; nor will she invite another to fall into sin by uncovering her face. For this is the wish of the Word, since it is becoming for her to pray veiled." [Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 3.12]

Demanding then a law of God, you have that common one prevailing all over the world, engraved on the natural tables to which the apostle too is wont to appeal, as when in respect of the woman's veil he says, "Does not even Nature teach you?" - as when to the Romans, affirming that the heathen do by nature those things which the law requires, he suggests both natural law and a law-revealing nature. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 96

Christ is the Head of the Christian man - (for his head) is as free as even Christ is, under no obligation to wear a covering, not to say a crown. But even the head which is bound to have the veil, I mean woman's, as already taken possession of by this very thing, is not open also to a crown. She has the burden of her own humility to bear. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 102

But that point which is promiscuously observed throughout the churches, whether virgins ought to be veiled or no, must be treated of. For they who allow to virgins immunity from head-covering, appear to rest on this; that the apostle has not defined "virgins" by name, but "women," as "to be veiled;" Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 687

"Every woman," said he, "praying and prophesying with head uncovered, dishonors her own head." What is "every woman”, but woman of every age, of every rank, of every condition? "Every man." As, then, in the masculine sex, under the name of "man" even the "youth" is forbidden to be veiled; so, too, in the feminine, under the name of "woman," even the "virgin" is bidden to be veiled… For indeed it is "on account of the angels" that he said women must be veiled, because on account of "the daughters of men" angels revolted from God. Who then, would contend that "women" alone - that is, such as were already wedded and had lost their virginity - were the objects of angelic concupiscence, unless "virgins" are incapable of excelling in beauty and finding lovers? Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 688

Why do you denude before God what you cover before men? Will you be more modest in public than in the church? Be veiled, virgin, if virgin you are; for you ought to blush. If you are a virgin, shrink from (the gaze of) many eyes. Let no one wonder at your face; let no one perceive your falsehood. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3 pg. 689

Nay, rather banish quite away from your "free" head all this slavery of ornamentation. In vain do you labor to seem adorned: in vain do you call in the aid of all the most skilful manufacturers of false hair. God bids you "be veiled." I believe (He does so) for fear the heads of some should be seen! Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.22

It behooves our virgins to be veiled from the time that they have passed the turning-point of their age: that this observance is exacted by truth, on which no one can impose prescription - no space of times, no influence of persons, no privilege of regions. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.27

Throughout Greece, and certain of its barbaric provinces, the majority of Churches keep their virgins covered. There are places, too, beneath this (African) sky, where this practice obtains; lest any ascribe the custom to Greek or barbarian Gentilehood. But I have proposed (as models) those Churches which were founded by apostles or apostolic men. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.28

"If any," he says, "is contentious, we have not such a custom, nor (has) the Church of God." So, too, did the Corinthians themselves understand him. In fact, at this day the Corinthians do veil their virgins. What the apostles taught, their disciples approve. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.32-33

But even if it is "on account of the angels" that she is to be veiled, doubtless the age from which the law of the veil will come into operation will be that from which "the daughters of men" were able to invite concupiscence of their persons, and to experience marriage. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.24

And as they veil their head in presence of heathens, let them at all events in the church conceal their virginity, which they do veil outside the church. They fear strangers: let them stand in awe of the brethren too. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.35

For some, with their turbans and woolen bands, do not veil their head, but bind it up; protected, indeed, in front, but, where the head properly lies, bare. Others are to a certain extent covered over the region of the brain with linen coifs of small dimensions - I suppose for fear of pressing the head - and not reaching quite to the ears. If they are so weak in their hearing as not to be able to hear through a covering, I pity them. Let them know that the whole head constitutes "the woman." Its limits and boundaries reach as far as the place where the robe begins. The region of the veil is co-extensive with the space covered by the hair when unbound; in order that the necks too may be encircled. For it is they which must be subjected, for the sake of which "power" ought to be "had on the head:" the veil is their yoke. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.37

Arabia's heathen females will be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely, that they are content, with one eye free, to enjoy rather half the light than to prostitute the entire face. A female would rather see than be seen. And for this reason a certain Roman queen said that they were most unhappy, in that they could more easily fall in love than be fallen in love with; whereas they are rather happy, in their immunity from that second (and indeed more frequent) infelicity, that females are more apt to be fallen in love with than to fall in love. Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.37

To us the Lord has, even by revelations, measured the space for the veil to extend over. For a certain sister of ours was thus addressed by an angel, beating her neck, as if in applause: "Elegant neck, and deservedly bare! it is well for you to unveil yourself from the head right down to the loins, lest withal this freedom of your neck profit you not!" And, of course, what you have said to one you have said to all. But how severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve, who, amid (the recital of) the Psalms, and at any mention of (the name of) God, continue uncovered; (who) even when about to spend time in prayer itself, with the utmost readiness place a fringe, or a tuft, or any thread whatever, on the crown of their heads, and suppose themselves to be covered? Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.37

In a 1525 sermon, Martin Luther wrote:

Women, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife” [Eph 5:22-23]. Again to the Colossians in the third chapter [3:18]. Because of this, the wife has not been created out of the head, so that she shall not rule over her husband, but be subject and obedient to him.

For that reason the wife wears a headdress, that is, the veil on her head, as St. Paul writes in 1. Corinthians in the second chapter, that she is not free but under obedience to her husband.

John Calvin, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 11, writes:

For it is all one as if she were shaven. He now maintains from other considerations, that it is unseemly for women to have their heads bare. Nature itself, says he, abhors it. To see a woman shaven is a spectacle that is disgusting and monstrous. Hence we infer that the woman has her hair given her for a covering. Should any one now object, that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not, for it is such a covering as requires another thing to be made use of for covering it. And hence a conjecture is drawn, with some appearance of probability — that women who had beautiful hair were accustomed to uncover their heads for the purpose of showing off their beauty. It is not, therefore, without good reason that Paul, as a remedy for this vice, sets before them the opposite idea — that they be regarded as remarkable for unseemliness, rather than for what is an incentive to lust.

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