Christian headcovering

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Headcovering in the Dutch Restored Reformed Church

Christian headcovering is the veiling of the head by women in a variety of Christian traditions. Some cover only in public worship, while others believe they should cover their heads all the time. The Biblical basis for headcoverings is found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.[1] Though head covering was practiced by most Christian women up until the 1960s,[2] it is now a minority practice among contemporary Christians in the West.


Old Testament[edit]

Genesis 24:65, Numbers 5:18 and Isaiah 47:2 are references in the Old Testament referring to a headcovering for women. Although there is no positive command for women to cover their heads in the Old Testament, there are non-canonical rabbinical writings on tzniut, meaning "modesty" (Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's Stone of Help 115, 4; Orach Chayim 75,2; Even Ha'ezer 21, 2 4).[3]

New Testament[edit]

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 contains the only reference in the New Testament referring to a headcovering for women, and the uncovering of the heads of men. Various early Church Fathers, such as Hermas,[4] Clement of Alexandria,[5] Jerome,[6] Augustine of Hippo[7] and Tertullian[8] also mentioned women's headcoverings.[non-primary source needed] Early Christian art shows women wearing headcoverings.[9]

During the ensuing centuries, women have worn head coverings during the meetings of the church, that is, when "praying or prophesying" take place (1Corinthians 11:5). However, during the twentieth century, the practice of headcovering gradually disappeared from many churches, which dropped their requirement that women cover their heads during worship services. At different points in history, the style of the covering varied.[10]


Catholic women wearing a Mantilla during Holy Week in Seville, Spain

The requirement that women cover their heads in church was introduced as a universal law for the Latin Rite of the Church for the first time in 1917 with canon 1262[11] of its first Code of Canon Law. It was not addressed in the 1983 revision of the Code, which declared the 1917 Code abrogated.[12] According to the new Code, former law only has interpretive weight in norms that are repeated in the 1983 Code; all other norms are simply abrogated. There is no provision made for norms that are not repeated in the 1983 Code.[13] Some have argued that it is still obligatory, advancing several grounds for their opinion, including the claim that headcovering for women is a centennial and immemorial custom (cf. canon 5 of the Code of Canon Law)[14][15] It was never universally obligatory for members of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Salvadoran women wear distinctive regional veils for national celebrations. Salvadoran Veils are an important traditional folkloric adornment for women in El Salvador's cultural attire. It's common for some women, especially older town women, who out of preference, choose to wear a veil when going to Catholic church, festivals, as well for normal daily activities.

In some countries where women no longer as a matter of course wear hats when going outdoors, Catholic women do wear headcoverings in church. Traditionalist Catholic women do.[16] The forms range from a mantilla to a hat or a simple headscarf. If mantillas are worn, they are usually black (or any color but white) for married and white for unmarried women.

For men, the 1917 Code of Canon Law prescribed that they should uncover their heads unless approved customs of peoples were against it. In the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church it is obligatory for bishops to wear the zucchetto headcovering during certain parts of the liturgy, while use of the biretta, once obligatory for all diocesan clergy (as opposed to members of religious institutes), remains permitted for them. In all rites of the Catholic Church, bishops wear a mitre or a corresponding headcovering in church. Nevertheless, the mitre is removed in certain parts of the liturgy, and the zucchetto is also removed during the Eucharistic Prayer, which is always done uncovered, even for bishops, cardinals or the Pope.

Some religious orders such as the Benedictines and the Carthusians use the hoods of their habits to cover their heads during certain parts of liturgies.


Among the Protestant reformers, Martin Luther encouraged wives to wear a veil in public worship[17] and John Knox and John Calvin both called for women to wear headcoverings in public worship.[18][19][20] Other commentators who have advocated headcovering during public worship include John Gill, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, A. R. Fausset, A. T. Robertson, Harry A. Ironside[21] and Charles Caldwell Ryrie.[22] In fact, until the 20th century no Reformed theologian taught against head coverings for women in public worship. While Anabaptists, Amish, and Mennonites advocate the wearing of headcoverings at all times, as a woman might pray or prophesy at any time, the Reformed teaching is that "praying and prophesying" refers to the activities taking place in public worship, as the Apostle Paul is dealing with public worship issues in 1st Corinthians, chapter 11. Their proof text is that women are in the same epistle commanded not to speak in the meetings of the church, so the apostle is obviously not addressing a practice women are to observe while they are publicly praying or preaching themselves. Anabaptists disagree and many women in their communities are so concerned with violating what they believe to be a command outside of public worship that they wear headcoverings to bed and in the shower, as they might offer a prayer then as well, and thus be in sin. Reason, however, would dictate that if Christian women were to wear head coverings at all times, then men, who in the same passage are commanded to uncover the head, would always be forbidden to wear hats or cover their heads. The Reformers understood the head covering mandate for women in public worship to be a sign of her submission to her husband, as the Scriptures declare "Christ is the head of man, man is the head of the woman". Anabaptists have argued, however, that a woman is obligated to rebel against her husband if he forbids her to wear the covering at all times, for it is better to obey God than to obey man. (1st Corinthians 11:3)

In Sweden the use of veil was common in older times, but faded away in the early 20th century and when women started going to church without a veil in the mid 1920s it caused little concern and within a decade most agreed that Swedish Christian women were not veiled, nor ever had been, nor should be.[23]

Current practice[edit]

Amish women wearing coverings.

Headcovering, at least during worship services, is still promoted or required in a few denominations and among the more traditional Catholics. Among these are Catholics who live a plain life and are known as Plain Catholics. Some Anabaptist denominations, including the Amish, Old Order Mennonite and Conservative Mennonites, conservative Church of the Brethren, the Old German Baptist Brethren,[24] the Hutterites,[25] and the Apostolic Christian Church; some Pentecostal churches, such as the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Christ's Forgiveness Ministries;The Pentecostal Mission, the Deeper Christian Life Ministry, and the Christian Congregation in the United States, like Congregação Cristã no Brasil; the Laestadian Lutheran Church, the Plymouth Brethren; and the more conservative Scottish and Irish Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches. In those Protestant denominations which have no official expectation that women cover, some individuals choose to practice headcovering according to their understanding of 1 Corinthians 11.

Eastern Christianity[edit]

Some Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches require women to cover their heads while in church; an example of this practice occurs in the Russian Orthodox Church.[26] In Albania, Christian women often wear white veils, although their eyes are visible; moreover, in that nation, in Orthodox Christian church buildings, women are separated from men by latticework partitions during the church service.[27]

In other cases, the choice may be individual, or vary within a country or jurisdiction. Among Orthodox women in Greece, the practice of wearing a head covering in church gradually declined over the course of the 20th century, and today is only practiced by very elderly women of a particular generation that is now over 80 years old. In the United States, the custom can vary depending on the denomination and congregation, and the origins of that congregation.

The male clergy of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches often have long hair and untrimmed beards if they are monastics, but married clergy often have standard haircuts. Eastern Orthodox clergy of all levels have head coverings, sometimes with veils in the case of monastics or celibates, that are donned and removed at certain points in the services. In US churches they are less commonly worn.

Bishops, archimandrites and archpriests wear mitres when wearing their liturgical vestments, which have their own rules concerning donning and doffing.

Orthodox nuns wear a head covering called an apostolnik, which is worn at all times, and is the only part of the monastic habit which distinguishes them from Orthodox monks.

Western Christianity[edit]

Samoan Assemblies of God women in ministry wearing hats

In Continental Europe and North America at the start of the 20th century, women in most mainstream Christian denominations wore head coverings during church services.[28] These included many Anglican[29] Baptist,[30] Methodist,[31] Presbyterian[18][19][32] and Roman Catholic Churches.[33] At worship, in parts of the Western World, many women started to wear bonnets in lieu of headcoverings, and later, hats became predominant.[34][35] However, eventually, in North America, this practiced started to decline,[28] with some exceptions, such as among conservative Mennonites and Amish, for example.[36] In nations in regions such as the Indian subcontinent, nearly all women wear head coverings during church services.[37] Female Jehovah's Witness may only lead prayer and teaching when no baptized male is available to, and must do so wearing a head covering;[38][39] male Witnesses are to remove any headcovering (hats) when representing even a small group in public prayer.[40] Female members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or "Mormons", are required to veil their faces during temple worship ceremonies.[41]


There are four main reasons that the Apostle Paul gives for head covering in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

1. Creation Order: The first reason for head covering is the order of authority found in a pre-fall creation. The roles of headship are listed in 1 Corinthians 11:3 which states “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ”. So a head covering, being a Christian symbol of submission to authority is forbidden to be worn by the man, who is the head. In contrast, the woman is commanded to wear it to symbolize her submission to male authority. Paul expands upon this creation order in 1 Corinthians 11:7-10a where he says “For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head…”. Paul pointing back to Genesis as a reason for head covering is used as an argument against the view that head covering was merely a cultural custom.

2. Angels: The second reason for head covering is "because of the Angels". This comes from 1 Corinthians 11:10 where Paul says “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” We cannot know for certain what Paul meant by this verse since it is only given as a reason and not explained. Some popular interpretations of this passage are 1) An appeal not to offend the angels by our disobedience 2) a command to accurately show them a picture of the created order (Ephesians 3:10, 1 Peter 1:12) 3) a warning for us to obey as a means of accountability, since the angels are watching (1 Timothy 5:21) 4) to be like the angels who cover themselves in the presence of God (Isaiah 6:2) 5) not to be like the fallen angels who did not stay in the role that God created for them (Jude 1:6).

3. Nature: The third reason for head covering is what nature teaches us about gender distinctions (1 Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul gave the example of how nature teaches us about our hair lengths. He said, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:14-15). What he is saying is there are distinct differences between men and women seen in the natural order (like our hair lengths). When a gender distinction is disregarded and crossed (like men having long hair and women having short hair) that dishonors a person. Since a head covering in this context is a feminine symbol of being under male authority, what nature teaches us is that it’s for women only and for a man to wear a covering would be dishonorable. This is exactly what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5.

4. Church Practice: The final reason for head covering is an appeal to the standard practice of all churches. Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 11:16, “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.” The churches of God were spread out geographically over thousands of miles over such places as modern day Israel, Turkey & Greece. All these churches had a mixture of Jews and Gentiles fellowshipping in them and are from different cultures. Despite this, they all practiced head coverings showing that this was a Christian symbol rather than one of culture.


Some Christians[who?] interpret the passage as a cultural mandate that was only for the first-century Corinthian church. However it cannot be said there is any evidence that Paul was seeking to distinguish Christian women from temple prostitutes with short hair. There appears to be a lack of historical evidence showing that short hair was the distinguishing mark of a prostitute in Corinth during Roman times or that Roman Corinth was a center of temple prostitution, bearing in mind depictions of prostitutes in Roman wall paintings (29) and Strabo's comments in Geography 8.6.20c referring to temple prostitutes which applied only to Greek Corinth in existence several centuries before the time of Paul, not the Roman Corinth of Paul's day; Other Christians believe that long hair is intended to be the headcovering (see 1 Corinthians 11:14-15).[42] Still others believe that a woman’s husband is her covering.[citation needed] Yet another view, propagated by feminist theologian Katharine Bushnell, holds that 1 Corinthians 11 itself even teaches that women should not cover their heads at all.[43]


  1. ^ 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
  2. ^ Morse Earle, Alice. Two Centuries of Costume in America. The Macmillan Company. p. 582. 
  3. ^ Schiller, Mayer (1995). "The Obligation of Married Women to Cover Their Hair". The Journal of Halacha 30: 81–108. 
  4. ^ "Concerning the Trial and Tribulation that are to Come Upon Men". Pastor of Hermas. Ante-Nicene Fathers. 
  5. ^ "On Clothes". The Instructor. Ante-Nicene Fathers. 
  6. ^ Schaff, Philip (1994). Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 1-56563-116-1. [page needed]
  7. ^ Augustine. "How Man is the Image of God. Whether the Woman is Not Also the Image of God. How the Saying of the Apostle, that the Man is the Image of God, But the Woman is the Glory of the Man, is to Be Understood Figuratively and Mystically". On the Trinity. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. [non-primary source needed]
  8. ^ Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume Four, Book One, Part Three—On the Veiling of Virgins[verification needed]
  9. ^ Shank, Tom (1988). Let Her Be Veiled. Eureka, MT: Torch Publications. pp. 51–8. OCLC 19708234. [unreliable source?]
  10. ^[full citation needed][self-published source?]
  11. ^[full citation needed][non-primary source needed]
  12. ^ Canon 6 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law[non-primary source needed]
  13. ^ Canon 6, section 2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law[non-primary source needed]
  14. ^[non-primary source needed]
  15. ^ Michael, Jacob (August 27, 2010). "Still Binding? The Veiling of Women and Meatless Fridays". [self-published source?]
  16. ^ The practice is not universal even among Traditionalists: as can be seen in this video, not all the women attending Mass in the church of St Nicholas de Chardonnet in Paris, which is run by the Society of St. Pius X, wear a head covering, even those singing in the choir.[non-primary source needed]
  17. ^ Susan C. Karant-Nunn, Merry E. Wiesner (ed.). Luther on Women: A Sourcebook. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. Otherwise and aside from that, the wife should put on a veil, just as a pious wife is duty-bound to help bear her husband's accident, illness, and misfortune on account of the evil flesh. 
  18. ^ a b John Knox, "The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women", Works of John Knox, David Laing, ed. (Edinburgh: Printed for the Bannatyne Club), IV:377[non-primary source needed]
  19. ^ a b Seth Skolnitsky, trans., Men, Women and Order in the Church: Three Sermons by John Calvin (Dallas, TX: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1992), pp. 12,13.[non-primary source needed]
  20. ^ Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (and related passages)[self-published source?]
  21. ^ Epistle to the Corinthians, H. A. Ironside, 1938, pp. 323-340
  22. ^ Ryrie Study Bible, Moody Press, 1976, comments on I Corinthians 11:1-16, p.1741
  23. ^ As a veil: The Christian veil in a Swedish context Hallgren Sjöberg, Elisabeth ;2014
  24. ^ Thompson, Charles (2006). The Old German Baptist Brethren: Faith, Farming, and Change in the Virginia Blue Ridge. University of Illinois Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-252-07343-6. 
  25. ^ Hostetler, John (1997). Hutterite Society. The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 105. ISBN 0-8018-5639-6. 
  26. ^ Gdaniec, Cordula (1 May 2010). Cultural Diversity in Russian Cities: The Urban Landscape in the Post-Soviet Era. Berghahn Books. p. 161. ISBN 9781845456658. Retrieved 27 October 2012. According to Russian Orthodox tradition women cover their heads when entering a church. 
  27. ^ Edwin E. Jacques (1995). The Albanians: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present. McFarland. p. 221. ISBN 0899509320. Retrieved 27 October 2012. Poujade (1867, 194) noted that Christian women frequently used white veils. Long after independence from Turkey, elderly Orthodox women in Elbasan could be seen on the street wearing white veils, although usually their eyes were visible. Turkish influence upon the Christian community is seen also in latticework partitions in the rear of the Orthodox churches, the women being kept behind the screen during mass. 
  28. ^ a b Kraybill, Donald B. (5 October 2010). Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. JHU Press. p. 103. ISBN 9780801896576. Retrieved 13 November 2012. During the 20th century, the wearing of head coverings declined in more assimilated groups, which gradually interpreted the Pauline teaching as referring to cultural practice in the early church without relevance for women in the modern world. Some churches in the mid-20th century had long and contentious discussions about wearing head coverings because proponents saw its decline as a serious erosion of obedience to scriptural teaching. 
  29. ^ Muir, Edward (18 August 2005). Ritual in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. ISBN 9780521841535. Retrieved 13 November 2012. In England radical Protestants, known in the seventeenth century as Puritans, we especially ardent in resisting the churching of women and the requirement that women wear a head covering or veil during the ceremony. The Book of Common Prayer, which became the ritual handbook of the Anglican Church, retained the ceremony in a modified form, but as one Puritan tract put it, the "churching of women after childbirth smelleth of Jewish purification." 
  30. ^ Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 2012. Abingdon Press. 2012-04-01. p. 131. ISBN 9781426746666. Retrieved 13 November 2012. The holy kiss is practiced and women wear head coverings during prayer and worship. 
  31. ^ Morgan, Sue (2010-06-23). Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800-1940. Taylor & Francis. p. 102. ISBN 9780415231152. Retrieved 13 November 2012. Several ardent Methodist women wrote to him, asking for his permission to speak. Mar Bosanquet (1739-1815) suggested that if Paul had instructed women to cover their heads when they spoke (1. Cor. 11:5) then he was surely giving direction on how women should conduct themselves when they preached. 
  32. ^ Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (and related passages)[self-published source?]
  33. ^ Henold, Mary J. (2008). Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement. UNC Press Books. p. 126. ISBN 9780807859476. Retrieved 13 November 2012. At that time, official practice still dictated that Catholic women cover their heads in church. 
  34. ^ Courtais, Georgine De (1 February 2006). Women's Hats, Headdresses And Hairstyles: With 453 Illustrations, Medieval to Modern. Courier Dover Publications. p. 130. ISBN 9780486448503. Retrieved 13 November 2012. Although hats were not considered sufficiently respectable for church wear and very formal occasions they were gradually taking the place of bonnets, at least for younger women. 
  35. ^ Mark, Rebecca; Vaughan, Robert C. (2004). The South. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 175. ISBN 9780313327346. Retrieved 13 November 2012. The red and orange turban described by the anonymous observer also looks forward to the flamboyant Sunday hats worn by African American middle-class women into the twenty-first century, hats celebrated stunningly by Michael Cunningham and Graig Marberry in Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats. 
  36. ^ DeMello, Margo (14 February 2012). Faces around the World. ABC-CLIO. p. 303. ISBN 9781598846188. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  37. ^ Haji, Nafisa (2011-05-17). The Sweetness of Tears. HarperCollins. p. 316. ISBN 9780061780103. Retrieved 13 November 2012. I went to church, something I'd never expected to do in Pakistan. Sadiq told me that his grandfather's nurse, Sausan, was Christian. Presbyterian. My second Sunday in Karachi, I went to services with her. I was glad of the clothese that Haseena Auntie had helped me shop for, because all the women in church covered their heads, just like Muslim women, with their dupattas. 
  38. ^ "Head Coverings—When and Why?". Keep Yourselves in God’s Love. Watch Tower. 2008. pp. 209–12. 
  39. ^ "Questions From Readers", The Watchtower, July 15, 2002, page 27.
  40. ^ "Should You Cover Your Head During Prayer?", The Watchtower, February 15, 1977, page 127-128.
  41. ^ “The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 (Winter 1987): 33-76.
  42. ^ Merkle, Ben. "Headcoverings and Modern Women". Archived from the original on January 3, 2-11.  Check date values in: |archivedate= (help)
  43. ^ Bushnell, Katharine (1921). God's Word to Women. Minneapolis, MN: Christians for Biblical Equality. ISBN 0-9743031-0-0. [page needed]

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