From a reader:

I am now wondering about beards for clerics of the Roman Rite (if, as Benedict once asked, the Latin Rite still exists). [If Benedict existed… some scholars of late-antiquity have their doubts…] It is my understanding that priests and seminarians of the Latin Rite were clean shaven. I know that St. Charles Borromeo wrote concerning this for example. A number of dioceses do not allow their seminarians to wear beards (e.g. ____), but there is a contigent of men here that are all starting to wear them. It looks terrible. Is there anything in writing still in force proscribing them?

It is true that for a very long time Latin rite clerics (therefore seminarians) were forbidden facial hair and and jewelry because they are “vanities”.   Think about some of the spectacular trends in male facial hair in ages past.  As Jack Aubrey would say, “Vanity ain’t in it.”



Since I am an unreconstructed ossified manualist, I think priests and diocesan seminarians of the Latin Rite should be clean shaven. Yes, I know that it is no longer the law and I know that some men chose beards for skin reasons and not for vanity, but that is where I stand.  I stand there, damn it!  No beard!  No mustaches, d’ya hear?  Off with them, then!

A bishop doesn’t have the right under law to require a diocesan seminarian to shave every day… think about it.  However, he can, for one reason or another, chose to keep the man as a seminarian or not.

Seminarians have the right to Christian burial… sort of.  It’s a power thing, like it or not.

However, the physical appearance of priests reflects on the priesthood and the diocese.  The bishop has a responsibility to uphold both the reputation of priests and the dignity of the whole presbyterate and diocese.

I recommend these things as gifts to seminarians and priests with beards.

shaving soap

GREAT stuff.

And this:

shaving brush

In the meantime, remember that some seminarians are actually pretty young and are still figuring out what they want to do with those, as Bill Cosby put it, “little tiny hairs growin’ out my face”.

Look… common sense has to prevail here.  Men grow beards.  So long as they are decent, and since the law does not now forbid them for Latin rite clerics, fine.  If they are scruffy and make the priest look like an idiot….. well… they have to figure that out on their own, just as would be the case in academia, an office, on Wall Street… or in the Occupy Wall Street crowd wherein I believe beards are also lice infested and laden with souvenirs of unpurchased meals.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The lack of facial hair on Latin Rite priests was one of the smaller contentions between the Eastern and Western Church before 1054. I find it interesting that the West considered having beards a vanity since their absence was considered vanity in the East, as well as some other reasons.

  2. ajbasso says:

    is there any significance to the frequency and prominence of beards among monastics, particularly the more traditional houses?

  3. siciliano says:

    seriously, beards? i mean, our Lord is depicted in many paintings with a beard. so what’s the problem? and whether or not one is clean shaven, isn’t what they believe and teach more important than whether or not they are clean shaven? oh for the love of God, get over it. [Did you, for the love of God, read the top entry? Really?]

  4. siciliano says:

    there is a saying in italian, “l’abito non fa monaco” or the habit doesn’t make the monk. i think this should apply to beards/no beards. [Perhaps when (if?) you are a priest or a monk, the “l’abito” argument will have more substance? o{]:¬) ]

  5. mitch_wa says:

    can we at the very least request bishops with beards… one thing the Eastern Orthodox have right is “bishopy” looking bishops

  6. digdigby says:

    As a Jewish convert I can’t help but recall the Yiddish proverb: “Better a Jew with no beard than a beard with no Jew.”

  7. basilorat says:

    When I was in college seminary in the 1980’s, we switched first from cassock and surplice at chapel, to permission for facial hair, which had to be approved by the bishop, which he did in 1985. I do recall the late French Cardinal Tisserant sporting a rather long beard, and he was Dean of the College of Cardinals.

    We studied with the Capuchins. It was a long standing custom they were required to grow beards in the novitiate, and if they could not grow one, dispensation was requried! [Were these Franciscans actually disguised diocesan seminarians?]

  8. Shonkin says:

    Oh, for crying out loud!
    Saint Peter (the first Pope!) is always depicted wearing a beard. Since he was a Jew, and Jewish men mostly wore beards, that is probably accurate.
    I agree that scruffy, untended facial hair is inappropriate on a priest. So is uncombed head hair, for the same reason. But to say priests should not have beards is silly.
    Seminarians? Hey, if you want to treat seminary as a boot camp, then shave them and give them all weekly buzz cuts, if that’s what discipline calls for. Otherwise, why the wails and flails about facial hair? [Did you read the top entry and think before posting?]

  9. Emilio III says:

    I had always assumed it was a matter of custom. Since the Roman fashion was for clean shaven and the Greek fashion for bearded men, it seemed logical that the Eastern and Western rites would follow their ancient models. I have no objection to a priest looking like Stonewall Jackson, but would seriously object to one looking like Ambrose Burnside!

  10. Will D. says:

    If the Shroud of Turin is anything to go by, let alone the images of St. Paul and St. Peter, I’m going to forgo shaving tomorrow. Priests ought not to look like ungroomed men from the wilderness, but I don’t think a reasonably well-groomed beard is such a bad thing.

  11. CMRose says:

    I find this to be an interesting topic. In my mind it is bald with a beard (Eastern Rites–extreme) or clean shaven with a Roman tonsure (granted you don’t seen many of those anymore)… We have to be within our patrimony first and foremost. For the most part, I think we are Latins here. Latins fall under the Roman Patrimony. The Romans are clean shaven — not only ecclesiastically, but traditionally and culturally as well. Therefore, it only stand to reason that our priests/monks/seminarians would shave. Whereas, say I am a Maronite Catholic (which I am not, I am a Latin. I am fond of the legitimate rite of the Church and the last non-Roman liturgy I attended was Maronite. St. Rafqa, pray for us). It would be outside my culture and my patrimony for my priests/monks/seminarians to be clean shaven. This is legitimate diversity!

    I’d probably be very obnoxious to my brother, who is a seminarian, if he decided shaving was optional. I’m thinking gifts of shaving greeting cards, soaps, etc. I mean, what else are little sisters for if not to drive their brothers insane over the little things? :-)

  12. The other day, I was fortunate to receive a gift, from a dear friend, of Seignadou shaving soap, with boar bristle brush and oversize mug. The soap is made by Dominican nuns in Summit, New Jersey.

    I myself prefer to be clean-shaven in the Roman style, mainly because when I have a beard, I’ve been told that I look like a pirate. Although that may not be a bad thing.

  13. I’ve long assumed that short hair on men was a Roman custom, but recently I’ve heard that it comes from England’s New Model Army (of great infamy). Wonder if anyone knows more about this.

  14. I’m going to come at this from a slightly different angle.
    PREMISE 1: Beards are one thing that is, and must always remain, a masculine phenomenon. No amount of militant feminism in the world can change the fact that only men can grow beards under normal biological circumstances.
    PREMISE 2: Authentic masculinity has been….. maybe lacking? At least not a priority for the Latin priesthood for a few decades now. Some places worse than others. I think most of you will agree with me that as a Church we’d see some spiritual benefit from re-awakening the masculinity of the Roman Churches.
    CONCLUSION: A priest or seminarian might if he so chooses legitimately grow a well-maintained beard as part of his own personal approach at rediscovering the masculinity of the Roman Catholic Church.

    As additional evidence, I will refer to the many hundreds [?] of bearded saints depicted in our iconography.

    This is coming from a young man who’s had a full beard for two and a half years now, with one misguided two week exception. Maybe I’m biased. ^_^

  15. abasham says:

    What are we to think of this bearded bishop from the funeral of Pope Pius XII? Does anyone know who this is or whether he was a member of some order which required beards?

  16. abasham says:

    What are we to think of this bearded bishop from the funeral of Pope Pius XII? Does anyone know who this is or whether he was a member of some order which required beards?


  17. As Basilorat said above, it was Cardinal Tisserant.

  18. Hugh Farey says:

    Growing a beard is a vanity? On the contrary, it is surely vanity of the most self-indulgent kind to devote some six months of your life to nothing more than carefully scraping away what God has seen fit to put there in the first place. Several Eastern religions deny their adherents the vanity of shaving, and surely most first century cultures did the same, including the Jews. Only people with such poor personal hygiene that they fear infestation or infection need to shave…

  19. pelerin says:

    The beard of Cardinal Tisserant was tiny when compared to the beard of Blessed Daniel Brottier! The Spiritans (and other missionary orders) working in Africa a century or more ago sported magnificent beards (that of Blessed Daniel probably being the most spectacular). I asked a retired Spiritan (with a small beard) why the missionaries all wore beards and he told me he thought it was to emphasise their masculinity as they wore cassocks and did not want to be mistaken for women! I am not sure whether he was joking or not but when you look at photographs of missionary priests from the late 1800s and early 19th century they all seem to have worn beards.

  20. As I understand it the obligation for Latin rite clergy to be shaven applied to both diocesans and regular except for the Camaldolese hermits and the Capuchins. I suppose other orders also got permission for beards according to circumstances. As for the Capuchins our constitutions mandated a beard because it was “manly and austere” and, at least among our students, mirrors, scissors, and shaving kits etc were banned. It is probable that most bishops from before Vatican II that appear with beards are missionaries. Many of our friars today are clean-shaven, alas.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    Father Z,
    You have my permission as the unheard Mum to write to my son about facial hair and even send him the above gifts for Christmas. He is allowed to look like the poet-writer-logical genius he is with a beard like Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet, or Ewan McGregor in Revenge of the Sith. I have given up on appealing to tradition….

  22. puma19 says:

    Well sorry Fr Z, have to disagree with you on this. There are some US bishops with beards. And loads of US, European and Indian priests with beards. Many Indian bishops have beards. The late and great Cardinal Tisserant, a former Dean of the College of Cardinals had a beard, and so it never stopped him being Dean of the Sacred College. Besides most monks in European monasteries have beards. Vast numbers of carthusian monks have beards as do the Cistercian monasteries I’ve been to. This really ought not be an issue at all. It is the faith, the spirituality of the man, the priest, the bishop that is key. And besides many men have skin concerns which mean they need to have a beard. There are far greater issues to be concerned over – this is not one of them.
    And, think about it. How many Popes of recent centuries had beards??? That tells it own story of what we need to be discussing in this day and age of rampant atheism and secularism. QED.

  23. Pedantic Classicist says:

    As I’ve said before, I think the Holy Father would do much for East-West Ecumenism if he’d just grow a beard. It would be an act of humility and good will, like when Blessed Pope John Paul II returned the relics of Sts. Gregory Nazianzen and John Chrysostom to Constantinople in 2004. Trust me: a beard would go far in the East!

    On a more serious note, I do suppose requiring seminarians to shave ain’t so bad. But perhaps such an ethos should be presented positively rather than negatively. viz. “let’s all be clean-shaven together as a sign of our state in life and in tribute to a long-standing tradition,” rather than, “hey! Would-be-Fr. Meathead!! Get a haircut already or you’re outta here!!” etc

  24. bdchatfi says:

    The Franciscans of the Immaculate all have beards. Personally I feel that if a priest is going to have a beard then it shouldn’t be too trimmed. Beards or not can both be problems with vanity. Beards should be like the holy monks on Mt Athos. After all, all of our priests are priest-monks by law.

  25. I have noticed that in recent years a number of latin Rite clergy are wearing rings. To my understanding the ring is reserved to prelates by right, and to the married clergy, and among certain members of religious communities.. What is the resaon for this?

  26. JeffTL says:

    Hieromonk Gregory, I think it is to signify that they are in a commitment analogous to marriage — “off the market,” so to speak. Not entirely dissimilar to their use by religious.

  27. WaywardSailor says:

    Our Cardinal Archbishop in Boston, +Sean O’Malley, wears a beard. He is a Capuchin, so there is no surprise there. That does not, however, seem to have led to a rush to grow beards among the clergy of this archdiocese.

  28. Peter G says:

    Here in Australia we have priests with pony tails.Any suggestions as to what we should do with them?

  29. Dennis Martin says:

    Wot puma19 said. Except that to write of “vast numbers of Carthusian monks” sent my coffee flying over my keyboard. Disclaimer: I last shaved 40 years ago at the age of 19 and stopped trimming 2 years ago. I am seldom mistaken for a Carthusian (even though I have devoted my life to the study of the Carthusians) but frequently for an Orthodox priest (am a Latin-rite layman), occasionally for an Orthodox Jew (the north side of Chicago is heavily populated with Orthodox Jews). Always very positively.

    I have not yet been mistaken, on the streets of Chicago, for an Amishman, though my ancesters for centuries were Amish (whom I have compared usefully with the Carthusians in trying to explain why the latter are misunderstood because of being so cut-off from the world). Those who know the Amish know that Amishmen shave the upper lip (lest they be mistaken for soldiers, who were known for wearing the moustache in the 17th century when the Amish originated. I would not expect people on the street in Chicago to know that barbological detail.

    Amish are very traditional. Eastern Orthodox Christians are very traditional. Orthodox Jews are very traditional.

    So, may I thereby conclude that orthodoxy and beards, perforce long and untrimmed beards, go together? (And yes, being serious for a moment, it IS because of the masculinity issue, I think. I’ll go further, I think the masculinity is, at a deeper level, associated with paternality.)

    Do we not want orthodoxy in our seminarians? Is water wet? Ergo, seminarians should all grow beards, the longer the better :-)

    For once, I must disagree with Fr. Z. Horribile dictu!

  30. pjsandstrom says:

    Fr. Z, Are you sure you are not just envious of those who can and do grow beards?

  31. pelerin says:

    Peter G – I have seen one in England too. I like to think I am broadminded but I think a man with a pony tail looks ridiculous especially if they are bald on top, and definitely should be banned for a priest. I thought this fashion went out years ago. Peter G says ‘any suggestions’ and my answer would be ‘scissors.’

  32. Bryan Boyle says:

    Peter G: Pony tails? Unreconstructed Vatican_II-ista, I’m thinking, right? I recall one in my former diocese, was pastor of the parish I belonged to…and had a decidedly weird view of what his role was…I remember him using a squirt gun during Midnight Mass one year, saying it was a gift. Grrrrr….

    Anyway, going back to Fr.’s posting…to me…it has to do with one thing: obedience. Is seminary a boot camp? In some ways, yes. Just like in the military boot camp, your individuality, while there, is broken down and dissolved so you become part of a greater whole…in seminary, I’m thinking, your sinful nature and focus on yourself is (or it should be..) broken down so you are conformed to Christ. Not their interpretation of Him. But become one mind, soul, and spirit a “Man of the Church”. So…is it within the bounds that a bishop require his men to shave, bathe regularly, etc.? Yes. The bishop is the spiritual father…and on a practical level, that includes the checkbook. What’s the lesson from the readings a few weeks ago: if you can be trusted with small things, then greater responsibilities will be given you? If the bishop, to whom you will pledge obedience, requires for whatever reason, that you be clean shaven, present yourself in public only in clerics, have a neat, clean appearance…then, in filial love and sense of just who you are representing, don’t you owe that respect? Has nothing to do with whether you LIKE facial hair or any other vanity…save that for lounging around in the living room of the rectory. In public…you represent a contradiction…and what better way than obeying the rule you’ve pledged obedience to, regardless of whether you agree with it or not (assuming, of course, that it’s a lawful and morally correct rule…which, within the bounds of the Latin Rite…can’t see where clean shaven would NOT be…).

    Just my thoughts.

  33. Nathan says:

    Wait a second! How can people particpate without a beard? Doesn’t everybody have a right to a beard? Call in the Washington Post, quick!

    In Christ,

  34. APX says:


    Hieromonk Gregory, I think it is to signify that they are in a commitment analogous to marriage — “off the market,” so to speak.

    I find their collars give a pretty good “off the market” signal…when they wear them.

    Anyway…I can see how having to keep one’s facial hair properly groomed could be seen as a form of vanity, but then one could also argue
    that having to get frequent haircuts to maintain the “above the collar” look. While I find long scruffy beards to be just that, I think one must use prudence when deciding on facial hair. If you’re a priest of a certain age, then you can probably pull of a modest mustache, whereas a younger priest couldn’t without it being a distraction. That said, father probably shouldn’t go for something like a fu manchu or a goatee or soul patch. Common sense and prudence must prevail here. There are many different facial hair styles, some which could very easily turn into a form of vanity, or make you look like a tool and be an immodest distraction for congregants trying to focus on what’s happening on the altar but can’t seem to take their focus off “that thing growing from father’s face”.

  35. Dennis Martin says:

    I suppose it should have been barbalogical rather than barbological.

    If I recall correctly, the explanation for Latin clean-shavenness goes back to a commander ordering his soldiers to shave because the enemy was grabbing them by their beards and gaining an advantage over them in close quarter combat? That reason no longer obtains, for most of us, at least, so, grant the poor seminarians barbalogical discretio :-)=

    What would Jack Aubrey say? He himself and the other offciers were clean-shaven to signal their status and because they had (semi)-private accommodations and, in the case of the commander, a steward to shave him? Seems to point toward shaving being the vanity. (But it would have had to have been done with saltwater? No master and commander would have wasted precious fresh-water shaving every day?) But surely he permitted his sailors to be bearded? Were not most sailors bearded? Shipboard conditions were not exactly favorable for hundreds of men shaving daily. Is that not precedent enough for those sailing the bark of Peter? :-)=

  36. Dennis Martin says:

    APX and others keep harping on “long scruffy beards.” They’re only scruffy for, say a year or so, before they become truly long. Once a full beard it gets past about 6 inches, it becomes “long and flowing.” (Five inches a year is the average rate of growth, I’m told.) The cup is half full, not half empty. :-)======

  37. Widukind says:

    Interesting, especially about beards and masculinity. It was my observation years ago in the seminary, that those who had facial hair tended to either of two aberrations, or for some both.
    The one group were those who thought themselves sophisticated or intellectual – these were the avant-gard and the liberals. The other group, especially with just mustaches, had questionable masculinity and gender issues. In other words, it was a signal for being gay.

  38. Maxiemom says:

    If the beard is clean, does it really matter?

  39. AnAmericanMother says:

    Just from my experience, a beard on a Roman or Anglican priest looks . . . odd.
    And I have nothing against beards — my dear husband has had a full beard for 30+ years. Sometimes he looks like Stonewall Jackson, and sometimes he looks like Robert E. Lee, depending on when he’s been to the barber last. (If he had ever looked like Ambrose Burnside I would have gotten after him with the horse clippers . . . . which is how I used to cut my son’s hair. Sons – dogs – horses – just everybody get in line . . . . )
    I know of one bearded Episcopalian priest — he was a convert from Orthodox Judaism. Other than that, I can’t think of a priest here locally with a beard. One very prematurely bald priest went so far as to shave his head as well.
    If you have the sort of beard my husband has — very full with a tendency to creep down the neck as well as up over the cheekbones — then keeping it tidied up so you don’t look like the Wolfman (and don’t tear up your shirt collars) is as much trouble as shaving, if not more so.

  40. dcs says:

    I don’t mind a full beard on a priest at all. The late Abp. Lefebvre, for example, wore a beard for his entire time in Africa.

    What I do mind is faddish facial hair like a goatee or a Van Dyke. Look at pictures of Protestant clergymen from the XIXth century. They look ridiculous with their muttonchop sideburns and handlebar mustaches — like they are slaves to fashion. Whereas a full beard or a totally clean-shaven face is timeless. St. John Bosco looks like any priest today. St. Pius X looks like he’s ready to step out of a photo and celebrate Mass.

  41. ljc says:

    I’m sure there are good arguments on both sides, but if beards could be seen as vanities there’s no reason we can’t say that some shave their beards as a vanity. The argument just doesn’t work. I’m tempted to quote Clement of Alexandria about the vanity of those who shave, but suffice it to say, the argument works both ways.

  42. Kent says:

    Clean and trimmed. I see nothing wrong with that. It can actually be more time consuming to maintain a neat beard than to shave every day. Can it be a vanity? Yes, I suppose. Could it set apart a man from the general population? Yes, I think so. Could a distinguished beard set a present day traditional priest apart from liberal latter day priests? Maybe. Now lets talk a cap and a beard.

  43. Phil_NL says:

    @ Peter G – my solution cannot be typed out in full detail here, but I guess you can put 2 and 2 together if I suggest the use of the magnificent Sydney Harbor Bridge….

    Back on topic, I quite frankly find the arguments involving vanity (one way or the other) rather ludicrous. Priests aren’t by definition monks (in the West), and it would be over the top to demand from them a complete withdrawal from the world. Many a priest also likes good food, a good cigar etc. Are we going to throw an accusation of gluttony their way for eating in a fine restaurant? No thanks. A tonsure is more than enough.

    Monks have a different calling and therefore you could argue that some uniformity could be warranted, but even there you could argue either way.

    Of course, that doesn’t negate some practical problems:
    – a full beard may look fine and priestly, a clean shave chin may look fine and priestly, but the intermediate stage definately looks horrible. Shouldn’t we sent those priests who are growing beards on a three-month solitary retreat?
    – I got the impression that some priests grow a beard during lent as a form of penance (can’t think of another reason why it would coincide with lent each year). Now that doesn’t look too good either – and rather itchy, but should we deny the penitent?

  44. APX says:

    FWIW: I consider long beards to be scruffy. I don’t view Latin rite priests with beards to be orthodox. In my experiences, the ones I’ve known tended to be of the more unorthodox and hippie “all you need is love, maaaan” era, whereas those who are either clean shaven, or of a certain age and can pull-off a Ned Flanders style mustache without it look weird and distracting, tend to be of the more orthodox side of things.

    BTW: I don’t think the pope could grow a beard, as he would likely look more like jolly old St. Nick when he’s wearing his red and white trimmed vestments.

  45. AnAmericanMother says:

    Dennis Martin,
    If you look at engravings and cartoons from the period (and cartoons are a good way to see what the ‘standard’ in appearance is at any given time), most of the ABs went cleanshaven, with a tendency to longish sideburns that very occasionally met in the middle as a ‘fringe’ beard.
    Beards are very much a fashion of the times. During the reigns of George III and IV most people went cleanshaven, then the Victorians of course were notoriously hirsute. Around WWI beards began to disappear, then made a comeback, and so it goes.
    Mr. Joseph Palmer of Leominster, MA, a man born out of his time: Persecuted for wearing the beard.

  46. RichR says:

    I agree with the comments about masculinity. As a beard-grower, myself, I see it as a way to manifest my male-ness in a way that no female or child can. It may be subtle, but it is an exclusive symbol of manhood.

  47. BV says:

    I think the beard gives Capuchin Cardinal O’Malley a very dignified look. Interestingly, Capuchin Archbishop Chaput has one of the most squeaky-clean clean-shaven looks, and he also exudes dignity. I wish I could find it (probably in one of the books I read about him), but St. Pio of Pietrelcina was very unhappy when Capuchins were no longer required to have beards (among other changes in the order with which he was unahppy). But, being a great saint doesn’t mean someone was right on everything. Still, it is nice to see a Capuchin WITH a beard.

    When Fathers Groeschel, Apostoli, etc… went and formed the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, they brought back the requirement for the beard (at least, I haven’t seen a CFR friar without one! Do they all also have shaven heads?)

    This is a good topic, however, because I have often wondered why I have seen so few priests with mustaches or beards… and the same goes for popes. Who was the last pope to have a beard?

    I respectfully disagree with the requirement to be shaven, but I am not the authority – nor am I a priest – so I am not going to lose any sleep over it. I am sure the reasoning (as I have read some of above) has its meaningful basis in history and tradition.

    I would probably grow a beard myself it certain requirements of my job didn’t prevent me from doing so (the occasional need to wear a respirator). God gave men facial hair, therefore it is a good thing – if neatly kept.

  48. Blaise says:

    What we need is statistics on the number of bishops at the various councils wearing beards. Clearly 100% at the counsel of Jersulaem, but probably lowest at Vatican II perhaps? What does this tell us about the approach?
    Of course the fact that Marx and many another atheistic philosopher also wore beards might indicate something. Or the current Archbishop of Westminster, although of course he is not an atheistic philosopher (is he? )
    What about Luther, Calvin? Did they wear beards?

  49. Blaise says:

    And I am sure I have heard it said that Anglican Canon Law (yes apparently it does exist) prohibits a man with a moustache and no beard from being ordained. Which seems a sensible starting point.

  50. acp39 says:

    It is true that it is historically a part of Latin culture to be clean-shaven. Just as it was historically a part of Latin culture to wear tunics rather than trousers (which were considered barbaric).

    Can anyone explain why from 1534-1700 (which is relatively recent and mostly post-Trent) every Pope had facial hair?

    In light of this it seems that the tradition of beardless priests in the Latin rite must not have always been so absolute. Indeed I suspect it may have been the norm to have beard during that period. (unless the pope’s had some special quasi-monarchical privilege of growing facial hair).

  51. irishgirl says:

    WHen I first met my [future] brother-in-law back in the mid-1970s, he wore a mustache. One little less than a fuzzy caterpillar. Then, as time wore on, he wore a beard, but it was closely trimmed. Never went to his chest-he would have looked like a mountain man!
    I had a priest-friend who had a mustache. A very affectionate fellow [in a good way, of course], he always liked to ‘smooch’ the ladies of his acquaintance; and whenever I got one from him, it always felt ‘fuzzy’.
    Other priests I know of who wear facial hair are the Franciscans of the Renewal ( Fathers Benedict Groschel and Andrew Apostoli among them) have beards, more than a few of great bushy length, and some of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word (Mother Angelica’s priests and brothers) do as well.
    An American Mother-a ‘horse clipper’ to cut the hair of man and beast? Whoa-is that like the ones used for shearing sheep? I’ve seen those in action…..

  52. priests wife says:

    When visiting Romania, don’t be alarmed if you see a clean-shaven priest in the company of a wife and children- he’s just a Byzantine Catholic priest whose bishop has insisted that his priests be clean-shaven to identify them as non-Orthodox. Monks of either Church always have long beards.

    My husband has a well-trimmed beard when we are in the States (thank goodness- he looks about 20 without it)

  53. Gregg the Obscure says:

    I’ve often read of the clean-shaven priest being the norm, yet there are many notable exceptions. Now Padre Pio had the custom of his order, but that wouldn’t apply to St. Vincent de Paul, St. Francis de Sales or St. Damien of Molokai, none of whom were vain or modernistic. Seems to me it would be a matter between a given priest and his proper superior. [And the Code of Canon Law was introduced in 1917.]

  54. If facial hair is allowed for Catholic clerics, I foresee Call to Action and Wimminpreestes and the National (so-called) Catholic Reporter to organize protests, as this is yet one more instance of triumphalism, sexism and oppression!

    Seriously, I know several seminarians here with beards and I know of a few priests.

    An aside: when I was in the seminary, we didn’t have a dress code, and we had long since abandoned cassocks; clerical dress was strictly forbidden for anyone not actually a priest, and they seldom wore clerical attire. (It was the class of deacons before mine who started wearing clerical attire as deacons, and that caused a bit of stir; but canon law was on their side. FYI, now all the seminarians wear clerical attire after “candidacy.”) So, as you might imagine, guys would wear whatever combination of shirt and pants suited them.

    Seeing some of the, er, well, “odd” choices some guys made, led me to favor bringing back the cassock–just to cover up all that visual noise.

    Could be some clerics’ faces would benefit similarly from beards?

  55. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Those really short beards that look like a few days’ growth can look scruffy too, especially when it is shaved nowhere, even on the neck. That is what I call a “half-hearted beard.” I have wondered about this sorta, some of our O.P. priests have beards, both the longish kind and the short forgot-to-shave kind. Anything can be vain or not I guess. It depends on the person internally and we have no way of knowing about that.

  56. Supertradmum says:

    Re: Capuchins. There is a monastery here and some wear beards and some do not. The younger ones tend to be clean shaven and the older ones have beards. And at most Benedictine monasteries I have visited in England, the vast majority of monks, whether priests or not, are clean shaven.

    As to seculars, I prefer the shaved look myself, and feel it is a discipline, as well as part of tradition, in keeping with the Roman upper-class culture, i.e. St. Augustine, etc.

    And, just to make a personal comment, I do not care for beards, although two of my brothers and son sport such. And, if any man is interested in a woman’s point of view, I do not think beards have anything to do with masculinity. Pony-tails absolutely undercut that as well-horrid.

  57. Mike Morrow says:

    I always view clergy or other “religious” individuals with beards as signifying an extraordinarily vain affectation, something that is intended **explicitly** to call attention to one’s self to say “Look…I’m a holyman-tm and, by God, holier(looking) than thou if only by appearance!”

    Beards were not traditional for American diocesan priests in history before the Vatican II chaos. It is an alien, foreign, unwelcome innovation. That’s all the justification that is needed.

  58. Finarfin says:

    Blaise, Luther did not wear a beard. I guess it was because that was the tradition at the time? Here is a portrait of him. You can clearly see that he had no beard:


  59. kat says:

    Well, I can always tell when our priests are extra-tired, extra 0ver-worked (they’re always regularly over-worked!), or sick: their five-o’clock shadow becomes quite prominent! (“Uh oh, Father is pretty tired today…leave the poor man alone!”)
    : )

  60. TNCath says:

    I agree with Fr. Z. completely on this. However, I can’t help but be reminded of a certain mysterious looking canon at St. Peter’s Basilica who, in addition to his unbelievably long beard that reaches to his sternum, also sports a rather longish toupee! Whenever I see him, I always think of that wizard from the Harry Potter movies.

  61. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    Hi… Did this rule apply to members of religious orders who were also clerics… What about all of the Franciscans, Capuchin Franciscans, etc… ? What about St. Padre Pio and his confreres? Certainly they were clerics.

  62. ivan_the_mad says:

    To borrow from Russell Kirk (who was likely borrowing from Burke), we might consider as a guideline “tradition tempered by expediency”.

  63. Gauayn says:

    Luther did grow a beard after the Diet of Worms. It was presumably part of his “Junker George” disguise that he assumed while hiding out at the Wartburg. I’ve not seen him depicted with a beard after this period. That being said, many of his contemporaries and successors did sport beards: Philipp Melanchthon (who, admittedly, was not a cleric), Johannes Brenz, Martin Chemnitz, Johann Gerhard, et al.

  64. Dr. Eric says:

    Innocent XII appears to have been the last Pope to have a beard (more like a Van Dyke), he died in A.D. 1700.

  65. APX says:

    The “I forgot to shave”/ 5:00 shadow look is the trend for men this year according to GQ Magazine.

  66. Barbarossa says:

    It is a modern sensibility that makes wearing a beard seam less refined than not wearing a beard. And it is a silly sensibility at that. As you can tell with my moniker, I’m biased.

    I have no problem whatever with a priest with facial hair. Many men look better with it than without. I also have no problem whatever with the Church making whatever rules they like. I do have a problem with people disobeying the Church, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue in this case. Therefore, we are all free to hold our own opinions and should remember to be charitable to those who disagree.

    C.S. Lewis had Screwtape say, “Thus we have now for many centuries triumphed over nature to the extent of making certain secondary characteristics of the male (such as the beard) disagreeable to nearly all the females—and there is more in that than you might suppose.”

  67. Dominicanes says:

    St. Dominic had a beard…and it was red! I’m sure if his nuns were making shaving soap he would have used it! :-)

  68. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    I’m almost 70 and have had a beard for about 50 of those years. I got tired of trying to find a razor that didn’t leave my fair skin dappled with blood spots. In fact, because of my life experience I sometimes wonder if men who insist on shaving are some sort of masochists.
    And looking at the western saints, there are almost as many saints from the West with beards as there are eastern saints with beards. I particularly like the beaut of a beard St. Francis de Sales had. And of course St. Francis of Assisi was a western deacon with a beard.
    And my ordinary, Cardinal O’Malley, has a beard. Should I” set him straight” the next time I see him?????

  69. Widukind says:

    Years ago, for the clean-shaven, particularly for farmers and the like, there was no daily shaving, but rather shaving but once a week in preparation for Sunday. Thus one could see how shaving, if daily, could become vanity.

  70. LarryPGH says:

    Two thoughts…

    First, as a point of clarification: if the old rule was that clerics were to be clean-shaven, then seminarians were to be clean-shaven also, since, as Fr Z points out, they were clerics (once they went through tonsure). However, these days, one enters the clerical state at diaconate. Therefore, if we’re trying to stay true to the “way things used to be”, wouldn’t it be more authentic to say that deacons and priests should be clean-shaven, not deacons, priests, and seminarians?

    Second, in reply to Bryan Boyle: I think that the comparison of boot camp and seminary is a bit over-wrought. While boot camp is certainly meant as an indoctrination which tears down the identity as an individual and replaces it with an identity of an anonymous part of a group, I would argue that the goal of seminary is quite different. There, one is formed, not torn down, and not for the purpose of being re-created as a cog in a machine, but for an ontological change that enables him to participate in the munera of Christ.

  71. ChrisWhittle says:

    There is no universal practice on facial hair and beards in Catholicism and clergy to be more specific. Sean Cardinal O’Malley, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Boston, has a beard. Fr. Benedict Groschel has a beard. Many monks have beards. Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., has a gotee. Jesus had a beard, and God the Father had a beard. St. Francis of Assisi had a beard, so Franciscans generally are allowed to grow beards, as long as they are respectable (no extra untreated wiskers). St. Francis Xavier had a beard as well. Moses had a beard. But I know for a fact that the FSSP Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary doesn’t allow seminarians to grow beards. So I believe it’s up to the bishop or superior whether his subjects can grow beards or not.

    In the Eastern Rite and Orthodox Churches, all clerics that I’ve seen wear beards, so I wonder if it’s a requirement for them or not.

    Now, kids in Catholics schools are generally not allowed to grow facial hair, period. It’s part of their uniform. My preference is no facial hair, since I’m clean shaven, and will not allow my sons (if I marry and get any) to grow beards until they turn 18.

  72. ChrisWhittle says:

    Also tonsure shaves your head, not the beard.

  73. JMGriffing says:

    The traditional Eastern custom was that after a man was tonsured, he neither cut his hair nor shaved. Some say the hair must be parted in the center as a symbol of the two natures of Christ. The idea is that the monk (or priest) must even visually be an icon of Christ. For secular clergy, this was usually scaled back to just be those in the diaconate and above. In some instances, priests were told that if they did cut their hair, they should collect the pieces and burn it because the hair became sanctified by the laying on of hands at ordination.

    Being Orthodox, it is odd for me to see an Orthodox priest who is clean shaven, but it does sometimes seem odd to see Catholic priests who aren’t.

  74. AnAmericanMother says:

    finarfin, blaise,

    While Luther was clean-shaven, Calvin had quite an impressive beard. So did John Knox. Of the major figures, Luther and Zwingli were clean-shaven, which may be related to the fact that both were in orders?


    Sheep shearers are another order of magnitude up in the Big Iron department. They’re usually 220 watts (and serious big bucks – around $400). Since I have Labrador Retrievers with short, close-lying coats, they require no serious clipping (like poodles, say) and the clippers are just for touch-up work around the paw pads, etc. So I use my horse clippers (which are about the same as your average dog clipper). My old horse was a Tbred, and they have a naturally close-lying coat and don’t put on a lot of winter hair, so a cheap pair of clippers works for everybody, including the boy.

  75. hald says:

    I’ll just say that I haven’t shaved since the mid 1980’s. Neither my wife nor my children have seen me clean shaven except in photographs. Of course, I am neither Catholic nor clergy so there’s that.

  76. Andy Lucy says:

    With regard to WWJAD (What Would Jack Aubrey Do?), sailors of that period were required to be cleanshaven. As were Marines and soldiers. The reasoning behind this is simple… flintlock muskets and beards are a bad combination. I have lost facial hair many times at reenactments…

  77. DisturbedMary says:

    I live in NY where many 50 and older men have that unattractive 3 or 4 day beard growth which look like stubble. Most times it’s gray. I think of it as the liberal, progressive’s facial uniform. I know of one prominent priest with this kind of facial hair. Shave us Oh Lord.

  78. Norah says:

    In my corner of Australia, the only priest I have seen in the last 10 years to wear clerical dress or a soutane had/has a beard. My husband has worn either a moustache or beard or both for all of our married life. It’s not that I am biased , lol but I like a man with a beard.

    Mary, three or four day hair growth is stubble but a beard does not stop growing and thickening on the fourth day.

  79. amsjj1002 says:

    I understood that some Popes grew beards out of mourning, and it later became the trend. If so, I understand the reasoning why it started but boy, do I hate the long-term effects!

    Please, clean-shaven!

  80. This whole post and accompanying comments crack me up. Is there anything we will not debate and furiously so with all kinds of back up and support for our preferences? And I wonder why my children are able to argue with me so astutely about the smallest of things! : )

    My husband is currently supporting the “hunting goatee” for hunting season to “keep his face warm.” The funny part is he can’t really grow a full beard so what’s a goatee going to really do other than annoy me for a month and a half or so. I hate it!!! I like him clean shaven for sure. On the other hand, almost all the other men I know have beards except for my Dad who sported a 70’s mustache back in the day. My two parish priests both have beards and quite a few others that I know. I think it depends on the priest or man. If it suits them – then it looks nice and like it should be there. Whatever makes them happy, except for hubby – he needs to shave!

  81. jfm says:

    Re. Irenaeus G. Saintonge:
    Your thoughts about beards re-introducing a visible sign masculinity into the priesthood are interesting. It goes against what I always imagined, that the lack of beards of priests was tied to clerical celibacy (eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven) and an effort to shave away excesses of overt masculinity. Orthodox priests were expected to marry and have beards, and there seemed to be something less mystical, more worldly, less special, more ordinary about them in my mind.
    (Time and wisdom have change my perspective – I know several married Eastern Christian priests who are incredibly holy and special men.)

  82. Centristian says:

    I’m personally partial, in our own times, to the clean-shaven look for clerics of the Western Church. Bearded bishops rather vex me (in the most shallow sense, of course), as would a bearded cardinal (Tisserant notwithstanding). I could not conceive, in our times, of a bearded pope. It would jar and might actually appall me, in fact, even though I imagine that we have very likely had more bearded popes than non-bearded ones throughout the Church’s history.

    But why do I feel that way about clerical facial hair, I wonder? Ninety-nine out of 100 depictions of Our Lord give him facial hair. Same with most of the Apostles. That being so I wonder why it is that I am not crazy about the idea of Latin Rite clergy sporting facial hair (and why the thought of a bearded modern pope would nearly cause me to have a stroke).

    I think it is because, in our times, I tend to associate beards with the cultural Left for some reason. Hippies and scruffy students sport beards. Shallow male entertainment industry celebrities sport beards when they want to seem particularly profound for some cause or event (not realizing that it only makes them seem even more shallow). Academics wearing tweed blazers with elbow patches sport beards (usually salt and pepper beards). And the clergy assigned to campus ministry or to parishes of a certain reputation often sport beards (usually because they are also academics).

    On the other hand, most of the very non-liberal priests seen on EWTN sport beards. I can’t imagine Father Mitch Pacwa without one. I have seen old pictures of (then) Bishop Marcel Lefebvre sporting a beard, proof positive that one cannot not guage the orthodoxy of a cleric by his whiskers (or lack thereof).

    Despite my mild distaste for clerical facial hair in the modern Western Church, however, I have to say I’m always disappointed when I encounter an Eastern Rite priest who IS clean shaven!

  83. James Joseph says:

    I like my winter beard, and I have found that it actually helps me out spiritually.

    And besides, when it comes to lockstep-throwbacks I am practically a king-ram. Like Regine Pernoud, I loathe classicalism which was ushered in during the 1400’s. Methinks it sullies everything it touches. I don’t know, but as a historian I suspect that shaving has a lot to do with the whole crappy classical pronounciation and Lex Romana fiaschi.

  84. Gallia Albanensis says:

    I associate being clean-shaven with bourgeois money culture. My subjective outlook. I admire a priest (or anyone) who has a beard, for that reason.

  85. Ed the Roman says:

    I like beards because they take less time and take about ten pounds off my appearance. They add ten years to make up for it, but to the horror of my daughter and several female associates, *I don’t care*.

    It saves time even when wearing a goatee as I do now: the part that I don’t shave is the trickiest part to shave. I run clippers over it every couple of weeks when I cut my hair.

  86. John Nolan says:

    I remember being told as a child that priests had to be clean-shaven because they received from the chalice. I now know this not to be true. However a moustache is an adornment with military connotations and should not be worn by clerics. There was a period just before the First World War when moustaches were compulsory for British army officers. They are now optional, although beards (common in Victorian times) are not allowed, except for farriers in the Household Cavalry. The RN does not allow moustaches – it is a ‘full set’ or nothing. The sight of American priests and USN officers sporting moustaches looks to British eyes distinctly odd.

  87. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a big article on the beard issue. It’s not surprising that it would have been a big thing for priests to shave the beard in Roman, Celtic, and Germanic areas, because bushy beards and mustaches and long hair on men were all big distinctives of a barbarian as opposed to a Roman. (And it was a very big fashion and vanity thing for a Celt or a German man to have long flowing hair everywhere, particularly since it demanded a lot of upkeep and also was a big headwarmer in winter. And the ladies loved it. Insert poetry here.)

  88. In the East, however, they actually had large numbers of eunuchs running around, and it was very hard work to keep influential eunuch bureaucrats out of the priesthood and the episcopacy; so being cleanshaven like a Roman had a very different connotation. (Especially if you were plump in any way, which would increase the likelihood of an unfortunate interpretation of your status.)

  89. It occurs to me now that the period of popes and Western priests wearing beards back in the day, coincides almost exactly with the period of castrati choir singers serving the Church in Italy and France.

    So probably just coincidence.

  90. Fr. A.M. says:

    I’m with you on this one Father, and the shaving cream you recommend is very good !

    Just one thing : it was a praeter ius custom for clerics of the Latin Church to be clean shaven, rather than a law. There were, of course, exceptions (e.g. Capuchins, missionaries…).

  91. mike cliffson says:

    What a nice relaxing thread!
    Important for seminarians to learn obedience, either way.Easy to say from outside I know.
    Flippancy tempts:
    The Romans used PUMICE stone to shave with(mebbe just the troops on campaign, mebbe just the plebs….A good edge doesnt come cheap, even now, try buying those fancy Japanese kitchen knives)
    Try shaving with pumice stone. I have .Once.In a Roman throwback moment, about the time latin was being leached out of the mass. You must end up with skin like leather.( Handy for being YWH’s servant as in Isiah I suppose.)
    Fits the old Brit thing of open bedroom windows even at minus 20, cold showers and cold baths ditto, outdoor ablutions under the yard pump…
    If ascetic and hardened thus did Rome to the Roman empire oncet, Brits toBrit empire but a breath ago(with razors of good sheffield steel, mind you) , surely the kingdom of heaven ……………?
    But then face fungus IS such a macho thing! Twas merry in the hall /when the beards wagged all.
    And you get to eat twice! and as for soup!
    Did not The famed third magic puddin’ owner, Bunyip Bluegum, he of the clean -shaven face, dapper appearance, and unozly courteous speech, leave home in 1918 on account of his Victorian uncle’s facail topiary?
    And did not his uncle steadfastly uphold with the words, all but catholic in the thought expressed:
    “As noble thoughts the inward being grace
    “So noble whiskers dignify the face”

  92. AnAmericanMother says:


    “Whiskers alone are bad enough,
    Attached to faces coarse and rough,
    But how much greater their offense is,
    When stuck on Uncles’ countenances.”

    But he didn’t seem to object to Bill Barnacle’s whiskers.

    Absolutely love that book.

  93. AnAmericanMother says:

    John Nolan,
    Why farriers? I’ve held many a horse for the farrier, and can’t see how a beard would be a factor pro or con, either in shoeing or working the portable forge.

  94. Dear Fr. Z:

    I have read your original entry. I have also read all of the comments (so far). I believe that I may even have thought just a bit about the topic before responding.

    That said, I believe that you may be sorely mistaken in your conclusion.

    The common tradition, in both East and West, is that a priest is one who represents our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the West, I believe that the expression that you use is that the priest acts in persona Christi: that the priest acts in the person of Christ.

    In the East, we say that the priest is the icon of Christ. He is the image and likeness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. While there has been a great deal of sport made of the fact that most 20th century representations of Our Lord have been whitebread WASPs, any devout and intelligent inquiry into the subject indicates that all true iconological representations of our Lord and Savior are those of a man with a beard and long hair, parted in the middle. I cite the iconological record, and the Shroud of Turin, which I believe to be an icon made without hands, as testimony of that fact.

    That said, all bases for having shaven priests appear to be based on the fact that classical Romans were shaven, and Charlemagne and his imperial successors wished to emphasize that fact. For more information on that score, see: http://www.orthodoxengland.org.uk/v02i2.htm

    And as regards the suggestion that it is vanity that causes a man to grow a beard, I will say for my part that it is my vanity that causes me to shave mine: I look at least 20 years younger because I do so.

  95. By the bye, I LOVE Fr. Z’s quote of Bill Cosby:

    “Little tiny hairs, growing in my face”

    Let us just say that it speaks to my condition.

  96. Supertradmum says:


    You are correct in your awareness of what is trending. Here is Europe, the five o-clock shadow is the in thing and I hate it. It is supposed to be sexy. Just because of such trends, it is even more important for the Church to encourage a discipline, for an example to the rest of this crazy world. And, to clarify for all,there are no longer any rules of tonsure or beards for most orders, as these ended at least thirty years ago. I have discussed this recently with a Benedictine Abbott. Those rules ended, but with the Ministeria quaedam of 1972, a motu proprio, some orders have adopted at least the first tonsure, orders like the FSSPs and the Institute of Christ the King, as well as Benedict Groeschel’s Franciscans.

    However, as I have already stated, I much prefer the clean shaven look of the traditional Latin Rite. And, by the way, there are many Byzantine Catholic priests who shave. I know some personally.

  97. Supertradmum:

    Preferences are one thing. Holy Tradition is quite another.

    Holy Tradition is quite clear that our Lord Christ had long hair and a beard. It is equally clear that a priest of our Church is an icon of Christ.

    Which do you prefer: your preference, or Holy Tradition?

    Just asking.

  98. Jael says:

    After reading the top entry and thinking before posting, here goes:

    I think all this attention to externals is a vain waste of time. Let priests be clean shaven when their age is an even number, bearded when their age is an odd number. By doing this they’ll please some people half the time, and the others the rest of the time, thus pleasing everybody. And they’ll only be vain half the time. The itchy growing-out stage can be penance.

    By the way, as a female, I prefer big bushy beards. Always have.

  99. Supertradmum says:

    Bernard Brandt,

    The Latin Rite has, until recent time, followed the Roman custom of shaven faces for secular priests. This is not a new custom. The religious order have had varied and changing rules. As to preferences, I was speaking of men in general and not necessarily priests, although now I shall say I prefer priests with shaved faces. As to Christ wearing a beard, priests do not wear First Century dress of a carpenter either, so I do think the comparison is false. How the Second Son of the Blessed Trinity chose to dress and shave or not does not bear on the traditional look of the secular priest. Christ Our Lord did not wear a soutane or vestments either…yet He is the High Priest.

  100. Dear lady (or if you would prefer, Supertradmum):

    I will not dispute your preferences, as they are are a matter of taste, and this audience is well aware of the maxim: de gustibus non disputandum est (or, for the latin-less, as to taste, there is no dispute).

    Concerning customs, it is also beyond dispute that the custom among Latin clergy for nearly a millenium has been to have their priests shorn. Fr. Z has obviously made his preferences known as to the resumption of this, to my mind, quaint custom. You seem to share his preference. Well and good.

    The point that I was endeavoring to make, however, was that there is a difference between custom and tradition. The Roman custom has been, for a little while, to have shorn priests. The tradition of the Jews, our common Orthodox and Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church for its first millenium, was for their priests, and more particularly, their High Priest, not to suffer the indignity of daily or weekly scraping their faces with stone or metal instruments, but to preserve the face that the Lord God gave them.

    And no, dear lady, we do not have our priests wear the garb of a first century Jewish carpenter. But if you will note, those attentive to Holy Tradition have made sure that our priests wear the robes of a High Priest. I would beg to point out, however, that the garb of that Carpenter, in all of His humility, more strongly resembles that of the High Priest than that of the modern Three Piece Suit.

  101. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I can’t give Jael a gold star for her excellent suggestion but I will give an asterisk. * . There.

  102. While I cannot post a gold star on this otherwise estimable website, I can, however, post a link to a website that has such a star. Here it is:


    I would be happy to award that star to both Jael and Banjo pickin girl. They speak more sense than most in this entry (me included).

  103. Supertradmum says:


    We have an excellent example of a Latin Rite priest in the banner above.
    And, I realize it might not be First Century, but the art in the Catacombs, which I have seen, include a Beardless Christ as the Good Shepherd, Deacons, Prophets, and other holy men without beards. Christ was frequently depicted in Roman mythological terms as well, even in other places other than Rome. In the Dura-Europos House Church, dating from about 235 AD, Christ is painted three times without a beard: once as the Good Shepherd, once in the Healing the Paralytic and once in the Walking on the Water. In fact, there are more depiction in the earliest paintings and carvings of Christ without a beard than with..most likely because these were done by Gentiles rather than converted Jews, who were against depictions of God in the Old Covenant, and probably, most likely, this attitude did not change for a long time. As far as I can remember from art history, the earliest depictions of Christ with a beard are much later than the above examples. Of course, these depictions are not historical in the sense of a photograph, but show the common acceptance of the beardless Holy One, which was connected to the tradition of beardless priests in the Roman Empire and beyond. We are aware of the earliest beardless saints from traditional art as well, including St. Augustine, St. Stephen, St. Timothy, etc. The Catholic Church has never held Herself to the traditions of the First Century only, in these types of things anyway. In fact, one could make a case for an early necessary separation from Jewish tradition, as in the dropping of circumcision and dietary laws, and the growing Gentile Church, which was always larger than that of the Jewish converts.

  104. mike cliffson says:

    @An American mother.
    Me too. D’you think our host Fr Z, as a selfconfessed Anglosphere puddin’ predilect,does or might?

  105. Jael says:

    Oooo, thanks for the gold stars!

    The Church legislated against certain practices in early iconography, especially regarding portrayals of Jesus Christ and God the Father. The east has preserved these sensible directives much better than the west. Their canonical icons of Jesus are bearded, with his hair tied behind his head in a (gasp) pony tail.

    We can thereby conclude that Fr. Z needs to grow a pony tail. I’ll send him some cloth-covered rubber bands.

    (Just kidding in the second paragraph, obviously. Serious in the first).

  106. Dear lady,

    I have no doubt that Christian art in the Roman catacombs would tend to depict a beardless Christ. Nor do I doubt that the Dura-Europos House Church, found in what was then Roman controlled Syria, might have fresco icons of a beardless Christ. Rome had a cultural set against beards, to the point that the classical Romans made a false etymology of ???????? to refer to barbarians as those with beards.

    Again, the point is that all of our understanding of first century Judaism, and most of the depictions of Our Lord through the remaining early icons, indicate that Christ had a beard. While I grant that after the Council of Jerusalem, Christians were bound only by the Covenant of Noah, with the dropping of the Jewish dietary and other laws, I note that attempts at historical revisionism are usually practiced only by communists and other enemies of our Lord.

    If Christ was a first century Jew, then he had a beard. It is just that simple.

    And if orthodox and catholic priests are icons of Christ, they will endeavor to be imitators of Christ, even as the Apostle Paul has asked us all to be.

    Quite obviously, and to paraphrase the words of one of our commentors, it is better to have a priest without a beard than beard without a priest. So it is not necessary for a true priest to have a beard. But let us not have any nonsense about saying that it is improper for a priest to have a beard. That is preposterous, in its original meaning: those who attempt to say that are attempting to put the horse before the cart.

    And, while I occasionally beg to differ with Fr. Z, I will entirely agree with you that we have a true priest, secundum ordinem Melchizedek, in Father Z. This is a grace for which I will give thanks to God, and will hold up this true priest’s name.

  107. Jael says:

    It might be instructive to read about the class of icons based on the depictions of Christ “not made with hands.” It’s been a while since I’ve made a study of iconography, but I think that includes the veil of Veronica, and the depiction sent to King Abgar. This phenomenon is why the Church ruled Christ must be depicted with a beard and “pony tail.” It was because the authorities now knew for certain what He looked like. If I remember correctly, the legislation happened after one of these miraculous images came out of hiding and reached Constantinople.

    I personally believe the Shroud of Turin also proves Christ had a beard.

  108. Dear Jael,

    In fairness, I suspect that the ‘ponytail’ is because our Lord took the Nazirite vow (Numbers, 6.1-21) and that He was crucified before He could fulfill that vow (you know, shaving upon completion of the vow. Personally, I’m really pleased with the results, since I never did much like skinheads.)

    I would agree with you, though, that the Shroud of Turin is a true icon of Christ, made without hands, and more than sufficiently reflects our Savior’s hirsuteness (hirsuteity? hairyness? Perhaps I should just give up here.)

  109. Jael says:

    Dear Bernard Brandt,

    An Orthodox iconographer told me the canons required that Jesus be depicted with long hair, pulled back, because he dressed like a Rabbi, and that’s how Rabbi’s wore their hair. The canons forbade depicting Jesus with long loose hair hanging down in front for that reason.

    Were all Rabbi’s Nazirites? Sorry, I don’t have time to do the research right now…

  110. Centristian says:

    Bernard Brandt says:

    “If Christ was a first century Jew, then he had a beard. It is just that simple.”

    No, no, no…I just consulted my Nativity set: no beard.

  111. Jael says:

    You’re the first person on this blog to make me laugh. Thank you! One faux gold star! *

    Bernard Brandt:
    Upon further thought, I don’t see how Jesus could have been a Nazirite during his public ministry. He came “eating and drinking” and was even accused of being a winebibber. And if he became a Nazirite shortly before the crucifixion, he wouldn’t have had time to grow out his famous “pony tail.” (I’m open to an explanation…)

    Anyway, just because some highly Hellenized Jews at Dura Europa were anti-beard is no more proof of a shaven Jesus than Centristian’s Nativity set.

  112. Jael says:

    I think that priests should wear beards for the same reason Roman philosophers wore them. Here’s an interesting excerpt from a wikipedia article:

    “The importance of the beard to Roman philosophers is best seen by the extreme value that the Stoic philosopher Epictetus placed on it. As historian John Sellars puts it, Epictetus “affirmed the philosopher’s beard as something almost sacred…to express the idea that philosophy is no mere intellectual hobby but rather a way of life that, by definition, transforms every aspect of one’s behavior, including one’s shaving habits. If someone continues to shave in order to look the part of a respectable Roman citizen, it is clear that they have not yet embraced philosophy conceived as a way of life and have not yet escaped the social customs of the majority…the true philosopher will only act according to reason or according to nature, rejecting the arbitrary conventions that guide the behavior of everyone else.”

  113. Phil_NL says:

    Berndt Brand,

    The habit among the Eastern Churches to see priests as icons of Christ does not make that one bit relevant for the Western Church (which, in fact, allots a whole less emphasis on icons to begin with). And don’t forget that he Western tradition is just as old (a few decades on two millenia difference at most), and the actual divergence between the two started many centuries before the formal schism. So quite frankly, you may see priests as icons, well, fine, but there’s no reason whatsoever why this would have any meaning for the Western tradition.

    In fact, trying to look like Christ in apperance would in my book be one of the highest levels of vanity possible. It’s not in looks that we need to emulate Christ, but in the spirit – which is a whole lot harder. Now I don’t care one bit of priests have a beard or not provided that it looks decent, but transposing Eastern habits to the Western Church make me itch.

  114. Jael says:


    The theology of east and west is the same.

    Regarding icons, during the iconoclast controversy when the east was burning icons, it was the Pope in Rome who defended icons. There are beautiful ancient icons in western European churches. (And don’t forget the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna).

    And if you’ll peruse this website, you’ll see that the west also considers the priest as an icon of Christ.

  115. Phil_NL says:


    The theology is the same – or is it? Let’s ignore Vatican I for a change, which as I understand many in the East have issues with, and those orthodox who claim the filoque is heresy, and so on – but that does not mean that any argument or even tradition translates from East to West. (And the world would be too small if we tried it vice versa)

    For the record, I have nothing against icons. The mosaics in Ravenna – seen them twice – are breathtaking. But they are pieces of stone; it is a wholly different thing to see a priest, a person, as a depiction, let alone translate this into the idea that a priest should look like an icon. There I draw the line. Theological demands on outward appearance is something that we left at our Jewish roots, not to be taken up in the West.

  116. Phil_NL:

    If you wish to ignore the Eastern contribution to Holy Tradition, that is of course your business. Just so that you do not attempt in the process to assert, vainly, that it would be proper for the Roman Church to follow your poor example.

    For my part, I find your particular brand of Know-Nothingism as repellent as I do the tendency among some Orthodox to say that there is nothing of spiritual value in the West.

    Fortunately for the Roman Church, it resounds with the testimony of the saints, from the Blessed Benedict of Nursia to His present Holiness, Benedict XVI, who have repeatedly called us back to the treasures of Holy Tradition to be found in both East and West.

    Part of that treasury of tradition is the western concept that a priest is alter Christus or vicarius Christi. I find that these concepts harmonize quite nicely with the eastern concept of the priest as an icon of Christ, and the Pauline concept that the priest, like all of us, should be imitators of Christ.

    While I would agree with you that it is far more important that the priest be a priest, and not simply sport a beard, I would think that the willingness of a priest to submerge his own will to be an imitator of Christ would not be vanity, but the deepest form of humility.

    And finally, as regards your tendency to itch, I might suggest that you wash your clothing and your body a bit more often.

  117. Sam Urfer says:

    As a man, the clean-shaven look is ugly and unbecoming on grown men, no matter their state of life. The main reason I can imagine one defacing the natural order by shaving off the beard is to please a lover (as with the woman who dislikes her husbands goatee above), which seems inappropriate for a celibate.

    I realize this is my personal preference, and not an absolute binding on others. But if one way or the other had to be binding on clerics: grow the beard, don’t even trim it, per Leviticus. It is suitable to the priestly office.

  118. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Thank you. I haven’t had a gold star since second grade!

  119. Jael says:


    Since this is a Catholic blog, I assumed that in your post you were talking about the Catholic Church, east and west, in union with the Pope of Rome. I was not talking about the Eastern Orthodox Church. I was talking about the eastern Catholic Church.

    You used a small o for orthodox. You must have meant Orthodox, because orthodox Catholics do not believe the filioque is heresy.

  120. Jael says:

    Banjo pickin’ girl:

    You deserve a gold star just for being you. I lurked a long time before I decided to say anything, and I have always enjoyed your entries. I’ve even found myself wishing I could meet you. (Alas, I think you said you live in Florida…)

    * There!

  121. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Gosh, I had no idea, I thought I was being an idiot as usual. I live in the midwest, east of Illinois, south of Michigan, west of Pennsylvania, north of Tennessee. That narrows it down. I live just outside a capitol city that begins with a C.

  122. Phil_NL says:


    yes, that should have been a capital O. I must say that your designation of ‘east and west’ wasn’t too clear to me, thanks for the clarification.

    @bernardt brandt
    Gosh, and I thought I was in a bad mood….

  123. Phil_NL,

    As regards bad moods, you have no idea. . .

    As regards my expressing that mood, it helps if one doesn’t (repeatedly) mis-spell my name.

    Just a hint.

  124. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Jael, since you are new, would Fr. Z. cut you some slack if you submitted a picture of him in a Scunci? In a liturgical color of course.

  125. Jael says:

    Banjo pickin girl:
    Great idea, but I don’t know anyone with photoshop skills. I think he’d look cute. (Ooops, I hope that comment doesn’t cause him to slap an order to review all my stuff before posting).

    I’m intrigued by your map clues but will need to look it up later because I haven’t been to Mass yet for the Solemnity. We’re having a lovely Dominican Rite Missa Cantata.

  126. Banjo pickin girl says:

    That’s what the “where you’re from” post is for. —dangling part of speech

  127. Centristian says:

    This thread, as contentious and humorous as it has been, reminds me of how the rich diversity of the Church is vexing me at the moment as I try to plan a “home shrine”. I only have one religious image in my home at the moment, and that has been just fine with me…until I happened upon a website about home altars and was so charmed that I decided I just had to have one of my own.

    Faced with innumerable choices of themes from so many different traditions, I finally resolved that my own home shrine would attempt to evoke the tranquil atmosphere of a Spanish/California mission chapel. Alas. that theme would preclude icons, which I’m also drawn to. *Sigh*

    How delightful is the art of our Church, from East to West: from youthful Good Shepherds on Roman Catacomb walls to bearded Pantocrators in Russia or Greece; from stark Gaelic stone carvings to richly bedecked Virgins on the elaborate reredos of Latin America. To have to choose from amongst the splendor of the many elements of the Church’s diversity is a wonderful dilemma to have.

    To use the dumbed-down vernacular of our time, “it’s all good.”

  128. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Centristian, Instead of having a shrine on the pattern of a tradition or that somebody else has made, why not just have one with the things that speak to your own heart?

    I have a small space on top of a dresser. There is a crucifix on the wall with last year’s palms behind it. On the dresser are a Nativity set my friend gave me for Christmas the year before she died of cancer when we were both Methodists, and a plaque of the Our Father on a stand which she gave me at the same time, a second class relic of Katherine Drexel, a blessed candle from Candlemas, s small statue of Blessed Margaret of Castello, three used-up big glass candles, one St. Joseph, one Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and one Sacred Heart. One was bought in California even back before I was even considering being Catholic.

    So, this is a hodgepodge but each thing means something to my own faith history and journey.

  129. Alice says:

    I always thought home shrines were an Eastern thing. We’re Latins, so we have a crucifix in every room, an icon on this wall, a statue on that dresser, a picture of Divine Mercy over this desk, etc. Our parents’ houses and the houses of our devout Catholic friends also have seemingly random religious images scattered throughout. It’s kind of like Gary and Elaine and their gourds (or starfish).

  130. Jael says:


    The second-to-last paragraph of your last post was beautiful and poetic! All the best wishes for your altar. I can understand why a theme is appealing. How about sharing that website with us?

    I have an icon corner where I light candles. I also have some statues in other rooms. I’m curious about what the California mission altar would look like.

    BPG: How are things in Columbus, Ohio?

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