The Way of the Barbers

Over at The Way of the Fathers, patristiblogger Mike has a post about his barber. That got me thinking, ….

Did you know that in ancient Rome a way to say that something was known by "every Tom, Dick, and Harry" (i.e., everyone) was that it was notum lippis et tonsoribus… "know by people with eye infections and barbers". In Latin lippus is an adjective for people who have inflamed eyes and who are bleary. In ancient Rome people were apparently susceptible to eye problems. Horace in Satire 1.7.3 says: omnibus et lippis notum et tonsoribus esse (cf. Horace Satire 1.5 for another example along with Terence Phormio 89; Plautus Amph. 1013). In fact, the only place on earth I have ever had an eye infection was in Rome! Hmmm… But let’s not lose sight of our focus on the barber and delay ourselves with this sheer nonsense.

Does St. Augustine mention barbers? By golly he does! Several times, as a matter of fact. Here is one example from en. ps. 38.12:

12. … All right then, now I will include your children in this question I am disussion with you. You who will pass away are storing up wealth for children who will pass away; or rather you who are already fading away are storing it up for those who are already fading away. I should not have said, "You will pass away," as though were were stable at present. You are not; for even today, for the point when we began speaking until the present moment, you know we have grown older. You cannot see your hair grown, yet even now as you stand here, or while you are busy with some work, or talking, your hair is growing. It does not grow suddenly, so as to send you scurrying to the barber. Our lifetime is flying past, for those who understand, and for those who take no notice, and for those intent on evil designs. You are passing away….

Here is another little snippet from Augustine refering to barbers. The bishop is talking about obedience and schism. This is from De utilitate ieiuniis 6.8 (SSPXers take note!):

6.8. "But which is superior?" you ask, "Must one obey?" Hark to what Christ says (for you called yourself a lover of justice): "I give you a new command, that you love each other". Listen then to your Lord who commanded that we love each other. Although He makes of us all members of His Body, which Body has only one Head and it is He the Lord and Savior, you on the other hand detach yourself from the members of Christ and do not love unity! Don’t you fear this in your own bodily members? If you dislocated your finger wouldn’t you run to the doctor who can put it right? Surely your body is just fine when its members are in order among themselves; and so you call yourself healthy and indeed you are healthy. But if something in your body is not in harmony with the other members, you seek someone to put things aright. Why then do you not seek to be corrected and be recalled return to company and put everything in order in your own body? Certainly in respect to the other parts of the body your hair is of rather less importance. What is there in your body that is more worthless than your hair? Of less significance? Of less value? Even so, if you wind up with a bad haircut you angry at the barber because a proper balance hasn’t been brought to your hair; but you don’t keep unity in the members of Christ.


Now… something is going on here with this issue of things are are known (and thus not known), unity in the Church, harmony of members, and barbers and the bleary eyed. Augustine also refers to lippi (drippy or bleary eyed) people several times in his extant works. Here is an interesting glance at his thought from s. 357.3, preached during the ending of the Donatist schism when unity was being imposed by the state even through the possibility of force. Keep in mind while you read this the division caused by the SSPX schism, the legislation of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II that the older form of Mass should be permitted generosly and widely by bishops and that respect be shown to those who have such aspirations. Think also of the fact that some of those who are separated from unity with the Church will probably resist unity no matter what Rome might grant. Okay, on with Augustine, who lived and fought through a similar but much more bitter crisis than that which we face:

3. Be at peace therefore, brothers and sisters, with each other. If you want to draw others to peace, you must first have it yourselves, first hold on to it yourselves. Let what you have glow in you, so as to kindle others. Heretics hate peace, and the bleary-eyed (lippus) hate the light. Does it follow therefore that light is bad, because the bleary-eyed cannot endure it? The blear-eyed hate light; and yet it is on account of light that the eye was created. So those who love peace and want what they love to be possessed by others with them, take pains to increase the possession by adding other possessors. So they should take pains to cure the eyes of the bleary-eyed, by any means available, any effort called for. They are cured reluctantly, they don’t like it while they are being cured; but as soon as they can really see the light, they will be delighted. Suppose they do get angry; don’t get tired of persevering. Be yourself the first to observe, lover of peace, and to take delight in the beauty of your beloved, and be on fire to draw others to her. Let them see what you see, love what you love, hold fast to what you hold fast.

Your beloved, whom you love, is addressing you; she says to you, "Love me, and immediately you have me. Bring along with you as many as you can to love me; I will remain chaste and undefiled. Bring along as many as you can; let them discover me, hold me, enjoy me. If many people seeing this light don’t spoil it, can many lovers spoil me? But they don’t want to come, because they lack the means with which to see me; they don’t want to come, because the splendor of peace dazzles they bleary eyes of dissension." Notice the pitiful voice of the bleary-eyed. They are told, "It has been decided that Christians should have peace."

When they received that sort of message, they said to one another, "Woe betide us!" Why? "Because unity is coming." What’s this? What words are these, "Woe betide us, because unity is coming?" With how much more justice could you say, "Woe betide us, because dissension is coming?" God forbid, though, that dissension should come; that is darkness for those who are able to see. Because unity is coming, we should all rejoice, brothers. Why are you terror-stricken? Was the word, "A wild beast is coming, fire is coming"? Unity is coming, light is coming.

If they wish to answer you truthfully, they will say, "We aren’t terror-stricken because a wild beast in coming; we aren’t cowards, after all. What terrifies us is that light is coming, because we are bleary-eyed." So we must take pains to cure them somehow. We have to share with them something that does not become restricted by sharing, we have to share with them as best we cann, to the best of our ability, as God may grant us.

Yes, Augustine is making an interesting connection between sight, light, and unity in the Church, as well as their opposites.

This reminds me of another place where Augustine says that the doctor does not stop cutting just because the patience is screaming for him to stop. Even those who are little inclined to frequent celebrations of the older form of Mass should be generous of spirit to those who desire it and help them to have them as often as they wish. Similarly, those who want the older form of Mass ought to be supportive of those positive things which they see when the Novus Ordo is celebrated properly. Would this not be a way of giving light and sight to the blind? And for those in position of ecclesiastical authority, of course it might bother to hear the laments of those who are not in perfect unity, but, as the doctor feels pain at the unpleasant task of cutting, perhaps personal dislike of the older forms of Mass can be over come so that the people who need them can be helped to greater unity and spiritual health.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Séamas says:

    “What is there in your body that is more worthless than your hair? Of less significance? Of less value?”

    Appendix? Fingernails? Belly button?

    Next post will be about St. Dominic, right?

    Then maybe a little something about the Holy Helpers?

    Who goes to a Dominican parish

  2. Catholic Lady says:

    Most mammals have claws, which are more or less curved and sharp. Running mammals have hooves, and us primates have fingernails.
    Fingernails are flat and much thinner than claws, and offer protection to the finger while at the same time enabling manipulation of objects with our fingertips. I find them to be useful tools for picking up small objects, scraping residue from some surfaces and of course for personal grooming.

    I doubt St. Augustine has addressed fingernails however.

  3. Cathy_of_Alex says:

    I second the Holy Helpers request-and don’t forget Catherine of Alexandria!

  4. whimsy says:

    I wish my four year old could read this. She “played beauty shop” with herself and her two year old sister today. Yes; she certainly does look out of harmony!

  5. Jon, T.O.P. says:

    Hmmm…I figured I’d wake up to a mea culpa, and see a nice post on St. Dominic.

    As one of the humbler members of the Dominici canes, may I suggest a name change for the blog?

    How about, “All Augustine, All the Time?” ;^)

  6. Boko Fittleworth says:

    The Dominicans refer to St. Augustine as “Holy Father Augustine” and his rule (Augustine’s) was read in the refectory when I was with them (the Dominicans).

  7. Jon, T.O.P. says:


    True, true. St. Dominic used Augustine’s rule intially as there was at the time a prohibition against erecting new orders in the Church.

    I was hoping that might be Father’s angle, but now we’ve gone and posted. I suppose we’ll have to wait till next year. Sniff!

  8. St. Dominic was originally an Augustinian canon in Palencia.

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