From Paul to Pulpit: Men’s Hair and the Apostolic Tradition

In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul develops a lengthy argument concerning order and submission, connecting Creation’s hierarchy to the male and female relationship and extending the premise to appropriate hair length as a sign of natural and God-given position: “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man” (11.6). Paul instructs men not to pray or prophesy with their head covered (v. 4) and rhetorically poses the question: “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him?” (v.14). This apostolic admonition has far-reaching cultural and theological implications; for instance, every time a man removes his hat to pray, greet a woman, or sing the national anthem, he is (perhaps unknowingly) complying with the social norms rooted in the Pauline epistle. Long hair for men did not originate with the free-love hippies of the 1960s. In fact, two millennia of patristic, pulpit, and popular literature evidence the Church’s on-going war against the un-cropped Christian man.

In his Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, Saint Chrysostom appeals to Paul’s teaching, quoting the Apostle verbatim (Schaff, Saint Chrysostom 176). Clement of Alexandria, an early Egyptian cleric, interestingly maintains that a man should cut his hair short but should not interfere with the growth of the beard: “About the hair, the following seems right. Let the head of men be shaven . . . But let the chin have the hair. But let not twisted locks hang far down from the head, gliding into womanish ringlets.” He called the beard the “mark of the man” and concluded “the hair of the chin is not to be disturbed, as it gives no trouble, and lends to the face dignity and paternal terror” (Schaff, Fathers of the Second Century 286). The beard is still characteristic of Eastern Orthodox religious.

In the West, the Roman Catholic Church progressively adopted a divergent position on beards. In the seventh century, the pope forbade priests to wear beards and required the shaving of the top of the head, or tonsure, for friars (Cooper 102). The issue was revisited by Pope Gregory VII, who issued a ban on bearded clerics in 1073 (Cox 137). St. Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, cut male penitents’ hair; and in 1096, the Archbishop of Rouen anathematized long-haired men, refusing them admittance to Catholic sanctuaries. In 1105, the Bishop of Amiens denied the Eucharist to any would-be communicants wearing a beard (Cooper 102).

Even monarchs were not excluded from rebuke on the issue of long hair. William II, William Rufus, was criticized by St. Anselm for adopting effeminate hairstyles, and “nearly all young men of the Court [grew] their hair long like girls” and assumed a “mincing gait.” In his Lenten sermon, Anselm appealed to the king and his courtiers to renounce their unmanliness, and many repented, cutting their locks (Bosanquet 49). Ordericus Vitalis, chronicler of English ecclesiastical history, records one of the most remarkable invectives against hirsute men in a sermon preached by Bishop Serlo of Seez to King Henry I and his nobles. Serlo appealed to Paul’s authority and accused the royal parishioners openly:

All of you wear your hair in woman’s fashion, which is not seemly for you who are made in the image of God and ought to use your strength like men. Paul the apostle, who was a chosen vessel and teacher of the Gentiles, showed how unseemly and detestable it is for men to have curly locks . . . The perverse sons of Belial grow the tresses of women on their heads . . . Many imitate these utterly depraved fashions, not realizing how much evil is in the long tresses of which they boast. So, glorious king, I beg of you to a set a praiseworthy example to your subjects; let them see first in you how they ought to prepare themselves. (Chibnall 67)

At this, Vitalis records that the Bishop Seez produced shears and closely cropped the hair of King Henry, the Count of Meulan, and the king’s household. The company “trod their once-cherished locks under foot as contemptible refuse” (Chibnall 67).

In 1628 William Prynne, a Puritan minister, published The Vnlovelinesse of Loue-Lockes railing against the effeminacy of English youths: “Is it not now held the accomplished Gallantrie of our youth, to Frizle their haire like Women: and to become Womanish . . . even in the vary length, and culture of their Lockes, and Haire?” (Shapiro 408). Thomas Hall, pastor at Kingsnorton, published The Loathsomness of Long Hair in 1653, castigating men with uncut tresses.

In Colonial America, the situation was much the same. The Harvard College Book of 1649 declared: “ . . . the wearing of long hair after the manner of ruffians and barbarous Indians has begun to invade New England and contrary to rule of God’s word which says it is a shame for a man to wear long hair” (qtd. in Rudofsky 128). All thirteen colonies adopted laws concerning the appropriate length of men’s hair (Cooper 103).

While long and elaborate wigs dominated the style of the 17th and 18th Centuries, the 19th Century saw a return to shorter hairstyles for men. Both in Europe and America, men adopted shorter hair, but the war on long-haired men resumed with intensity in the 1960s when men began growing their locks and beards as a sign of social rebellion. Businesses and schools began adopting strict codes to regulate men’s hair length. In 1968, the principal of the Brian McMahon High School in Norwalk, Connecticut expelled 51 boys for having long hair. Bishop Brady High School in Concord, New Hampshire transported 18 boys by bus to a local barber for shearing under threat of suspension in the same year. A nationwide billboard campaign depicting a shaggy youth advised: “Beautify America, get a haircut” (Cook 29).

The United Pentecostal Church International maintains a strong position against inordinately long hair for men and facial hair. The regulations are both biblically and culturally informed, founded on Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians and buttressed by the correlative Christian traditions that grew out of his apostolic precept. The historical continuum of writings and sermons on the subject of men’s unshorn hair demonstrates the consistent stance of the Church against worldliness in the face of changing fashion and folly. Modern Apostolics are inheritors of the rich teachings of previous generations and must retain a faithful dedication to Paul’s epistlary instruction in order to demonstrate submission to Christ and headship in the home, shining forth to the world “the image and glory of God.”

Matthew Shaw is a librarian at Ball State University. He lives in Muncie, Indiana with his wife, Brandi, and his four sons. He attends River of Life Church.

Works Cited:

Bosquanet, Geoffrey, trans. Historia Novorum in Anglia. Philadelphia: Dufour, 1965.

Chibnall, Marjorie, ed. & trans. The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis. Vol. VI.
Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978.

Cook, Joan. “In the 60’s, Hair was a Fighting Word.” The New York Times. 31 Decmber 1969, p. 29.

Cooper, Wendy. Hair: Sex Society Symbolism. New York: Stein and Day, 1971.

Rudofsky, Bernard. The Unfashionable Human Body. Garden City, New York:
Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971.

Schaff, Philip. Father sof the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras,
Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1889.

Schaff, Philip. Saint Chrysostom: Homiles on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians.
Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1889.

Shapiro, Susan C. “’Yon Plumed Danderbat’: Male ‘Effeminacy’ in English Satire and
Criticism.’ The Review of English Studies. XXXIX (155): 400-412.

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