4 Church Fathers on the Manly Power of Beards

via greatthoughtstreasury.com / Public Domain / Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons / ChurchPOP

To beard or not to beard?

That can be a tough question.

While today we tend to think of beards as simply a matter of taste, some of the Church Fathers took them a bit more seriously: they thought they were an important, almost necessary, marker of manhood.

Of course, the Church has no teaching on the matter, and there have been many great male saints that didn’t have a beard.

But since our age tends to downplay the importance of sexual difference, the Church Fathers might have something to teach us.

So here’s why some of the Church Fathers thought beards were so important:

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1) “The Beard Signifies the Courageous”: St. Augustine, 5th century

St. Augustine / Public Domain, via. reasons.org
St. Augustine / Public Domain, via. reasons.org

“The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man.” (Exposition on Psalm 133, 6)

2) “The Beauty of Manliness and Strength”: Lactantius, 4th century

Lactantius / via greatthoughtstreasury.com
Lactantius / via greatthoughtstreasury.com

“[T]he nature of the beard contributes in an incredible degree to distinguish the maturity of bodies, or to the distinction of sex, and to the beauty of manliness and strength.” (On the Workmanship of God, Chapter 7)

3) “The Form of a Man”: Apostolic Constitutions, unknown author, 4th century

The Twelve Apostles / Public Domain
The Twelve Apostles; only St. John, the youngest, is depicted without a beard. / Public Domain

“[I]t is not lawful for you, a believer and a man of God, to permit the hair of your head to grow long, and to brush it up together, nor to suffer it to spread abroad, nor to puff it up, nor by nice combing and platting to make it curl and shine; since that is contrary to the law, which says thus, in its additional precepts: You shall not make to yourselves curls and round rasures.

“Nor may men destroy the hair of their beards, and unnaturally change the form of a man. For the law says: You shall not mar your beards. For God the Creator has made this decent for women, but has determined that it is unsuitable for men. But if you do these things to please men, in contradiction to the law, you will be abominable with God, who created you after His own image.” (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 1, Section 2)

4) “The Symbol of Manhood”: Clement of Alexandria, 3rd century

Clement of Alexandria / Public Domain, Wikipedia
Clement of Alexandria / Public Domain, Wikipedia

“God wished women to be smooth, and rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane; but has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him, as an attribute of manhood, with a shaggy chest – a sign of strength and rule. […]

“This, then, the mark of the man, the beard, by which he is seen to be a man, is older than Eve… In this God deemed it right that he should excel, and dispersed hair over man’s whole body. Whatever smoothness and softness was in him He abstracted from his side when He formed the woman Eve, physically receptive, his partner in parentage, his help in household management, while he (for he had parted with all smoothness) remained a man, and shows himself man. […]

“It is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness. […] Let the chin have the hair. But let not twisted locks hang far down from the head, gliding into womanish ringlets. For an ample beard suffices for men. And if one, too, shave a part of his beard, it must not be made entirely bare, for this is a disgraceful sight. The shaving of the chin to the skin is reprehensible…” (The Instructor, Book 3, Chapters 3, 11)

So what do you think of the Church Fathers’ perspective on beards? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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