Sunday, 20 August 2017

Never a Hat?

From "The Pilot", 1967, comes this, an interesting historical ramble.

Some Church Customs Explained
By S.G. Thicknesse

Never a Hat?

IN Jerusalem to-day, as in all places the world over where there are strict Muslims or strict Jews, men cover their heads when they pray, as they do when they eat or appear in public. There seems anciently to have been a different custom among the Jews: for example, Samson seems to have gone bareheaded and so, to his cost, did Absalom.

By the time of Christ, however, the other custom had become established, and it was understood that men covered their heads in order to show their humility and reverence before God. Their hair had in some sense become sacred, as it still is among Oriental peoples. It was something to be especially respected as a token that man had been made in the image of God. For a Jew to swear by his head or by his hair was a solemn oath; for a Jew to appear uncovered was a shame.

Probably Westerners rather vaguely think that all Christian men worship bare-headed, following St. Paul's ruling in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (ch. xi). But in fact there seems to have been neither this revolutionary intent nor effect in St. Paul's letter. St. Paul seems to have made not a general ruling but the notable decision that it was proper for Christians to follow the honourably accepted local custom in such matters as dress.

He therefore expected that Corinthian Christian men should go to church bare-headed, as they went elsewhere.

Certainly St. Paul has been taken in this sense. So, for example, converted Jews in Palestine through the first centuries kept strictly to every tittle of the Jewish law and custom, including the covering of the head. Similarly, Christian Arabs in Jordan to-day wear their head- coverings in church, though without the encircling cord, as they do as a sign of respect in everyday life.

Equally in the matter of the veiling of women, St. Paul was commending and confirming the best local customs.

It was not only deeply shocking to honourable Jews but also to honourable Greeks and Romans, that women should go bare-headed. It appears that some of the women converts at Corinth, inhabitants of the most important city of Greece under the Roman Empire, had misinterpreted St. Paul's teaching that `in Christ there can be no male or female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus'.

By copying the bare heads of the men, these women had been urging a revolution in social as well as in spiritual status, and it was to them that St. Paul addressed his arguments, justifying the honourable local customs for them as well as for the men.

Later in the West, Tertullian commented that a Christian prayed with bare head as he had no need to conceal a blush because of his prayers, unlike the heathen who, he insinuated, certainly needed to be hidden by their head-gear. St. Cyprian in Africa repeated the same argument.

Yet although it had become the custom for Christian men to appear in church uncovered-a custom strengthened by a different practice among lively pagans-some head-dresses were, in time, to appear on the heads of Christian men at worship. As soon as Christianity spread into the cold countries and, farther south, the old imperial provinces forgot their ancient austerity, Christians, like their neighbours, adopted the variety of hats suited to their rank.

Gradually these hats began to make their appearance, at first on notable heads, in church. So, from the tenth century, some bishops wore mitres in church on ceremonial occasions. Soon clerical head-dress in general became so varied and profuse that rules had to be made about it.

The Gregorian sacramentary, for instance, noted that no cleric should appear in church with a covered head `unless he have an infirmity'. It has been argued from the text that this applied only to the season of Lent.

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