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Catholics and Beards

So, what’s the deal with Catholic clergy not being able to grow beards?  Maybe this isn’t any sort of hard-and-fast rule anymore, but I can’t say as I’ve ever seen a Catholic clergyman in a beard before.  Ever.  I do remember hearing that one of the issues that was part of the parting of the ways between the Eastern and Western churches involved the fact that Orthodox priests favored beards while the church in the West did not.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it would seem at least plausible.

But seriously, what’s the deal?  Is there a real reason why Catholic priests don’t have beards?  Seems to me that a visible way to preserve the fullness of apostolic succession might involve trying to look similar to the Apostles.  Seems like beards would be part of that, right?


  1. Aaron G wrote:

    And rare is the Anglican without one.

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  2. Ben wrote:

    Hey, it’s Cardinal DiNardo! A fantastic extemporaneous speaker.

    I read somewhere that it was Chalemagne who forced the clergy to all shave in imitation of the “noble” Roman imperial style (as opposed to the “barbarian” practice of wearing beards.)

    I think that come the reunification, we should all compromise by wearing big honkin’ mustaches.

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  3. Ben wrote:

    “Bartlett notes that the Latin Church, as opposed to the Greek Church, insisted on clerical shaving and that this may have been associated with the commitment to celibacy, the ability to grow a beard being definitive of a man who had ‘come of age’ and was thus sexually active.” –Here.

    Apparently the main work on beards is the twelfth-century Apologia de Barbis by Burchardus de Bellevaux.

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    So, is the beard thing “still on the books” as it were, or has it just kinda become standard practice? I can’t imagine priests in certain countries not having beards.

    Also, I think that mustaches’s are basically a Protestant form of facial hair. Unfortunately.

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  5. EegahInc wrote:

    No way of knowing if it’s true, but anecdotally I once heard that for a period of time all priests were expected to be indistinguishable from another, so… no beards, uniformity of dress, etc.

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  6. michael wrote:

    A Catholic priest friend of mine has a pre-Vatican II “priest manual” from our diocese in his library and showed me that there was apparently a rule saying priests could not wear beards. The priest friend of mine has a beard. :)

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  7. Pontificator wrote:

    When I confronted the bottom-line decision whether to become Catholic or Orthodox, I had to choose Catholic, because I cannot grow a decent beard–moustache, yes, but not a beard. Sigh. ;-)

    Friday, February 29, 2008 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  8. kim fabricius wrote:

    I seem to remember that a few years ago the Greek Orthodox Church had a big debate about “to beard or not to beard”, some suggesting that a more clean-shaven priesthood would make the church more contemporary and accessible. The Fusion Faction lost.

    Rowan Williams, breaking an age-long tradition of beardless Archbishops of Canterbury, has had a love affair with Russian Orthodoxy that goes back to his adolescence. He explored its modern history when he was at Cambridge, and then he did his PhD on Vladimir Lossky at Oxford; and he has written a gem of a little book on the Desert Fathers. Williams sees Orthodoxy as the Christian tradition least infected by the ailments modernism. Here is an explanation for the beard. Another is that he just doesn’t like to shave. He doesn’t like sports – perhaps shaving is too much of a work-out.

    As for Protestants and moustaches, two words: Ned Flanders. My son’s friends used to refer to me as Ned Flanders – without a theological subtext, thank heavens! But my moustache dates to my sixties “hippy” years (at one time it made Nietzsche’s upper lip look barren); that is, it is not a confessional statement.

    Finally, one might reflect on shaving and mirrors. In the poetry of R. S. Thomas mirrors function as a source for the reassurance of identity during times of intense self-interrogation. The confessional? An explanation for beardless Roman priests? Probably just bullshit.

    Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 4:48 am | Permalink
  9. Nathan Smith wrote:

    Father John Kerns at St. Juan Diego’s parish west of Portland has a beard.

    Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  10. Dennis wrote:

    Wow…things we lifelong Catholics never notice.

    In retrospect, of all the priests I’ve ever known (and there have been a lot), I can only think of one who had one.

    Saying that, I think that Benedict Groeschel wears a beard. I also think Mitch Pacwa wears one too. Come to think of it…John Corapi wears one too. (All EWTN priests)

    Maybe EWTN isn’t as “Catholic” as we all thought!!!!

    Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    I think EWTN has a health Eastern Rite Catholic contingent.

    Saturday, March 1, 2008 at 10:20 pm | Permalink
  12. Matthew wrote:

    Father Groeschel is a religious priest, not a diocesan priest, so he follows the rule of his order.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

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