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Homily on 1 Corinthians 11.—On the Veiling of Women


Homily on 1 Corinthians 11.—On the Veiling of Women

James Dodson

1 Cor. 11:2. 

Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.

HAVING completed the discourse concerning the idol-sacrifices as became him, and having rendered it most perfect in all respects, he proceeds to another thing, which also itself was a complaint, but not so great a one. For that which I said before, this do I also now say, that he doth not set down all the heavy accusations continuously, but after disposing them in due order, he inserts among them the lighter matters, mitigating what the readers would else feel offensive in his discourse on account of his continually reproving.

Wherefore also he set the most serious of all last, that relating to the resurrection. But for the present he goes to another, a lighter thing, saying, "Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things." Thus when the offence is admitted, he both accuses vehemently and threatens: but when it is questioned, he first proves it and then rebukes. And what was admitted, he aggravates: but what was likely to be disputed, he shows to be admitted. Their fornication, for instance, was a thing admitted. Wherefore there was no need to show that there was an offence; but in that case he proved the magnitude of the transgression, and conducted his discourse by way of comparison. Again, their going to law before aliens was an offence, but not so great a one. Wherefore he considered by the way, and proved it. The matter of the idol-sacrifices again was questioned. It was however, a most serious evil. Wherefore he both shows it to be an offence, and amplifies it by his discourse. But when he doeth this, he not only withdraws them from the several crimes, but invites them also to their contraries. Thus he said not only that one must not commit fornication, but likewise that one ought to exhibit great holiness. Wherefore he added, "Therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit." (chap. 6:20.) And having said again that one ought not to be wise with the wisdom that is without, he is not content with this, but bids him also to "become a fool." (chap. 3:18.) And where he advises them not to go to law before them that are without, and to do no wrong; he goeth further, and takes away even the very going to law, and counsels them not only to do no wrong, but even to suffer wrong. (chap. 6:7, 8.)

And discoursing concerning the idol-sacrifices, he said not that one ought to abstain from things forbidden only, but also from things permitted when offence is given: and not only not to hurt the brethren, but not even Greeks, nor Jews. Thus, "give no occasion of stumbling," saith he, "either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the Church of God." (chap. 10:32.)

[2.] Having finished therefore all the discourses concerning all these things, he next proceeds also to another accusation. And what was this? Their women used both to pray and prophesy unveiled and with their head bare, (for then women also used to prophesy;) but the men went so far as to wear long hair as having spent their time in philosophy, and covered their heads when praying and prophesying, each of which was a Grecian custom. Since then he had already admonished them concerning these things when present, and some perhaps listened to him and others disobeyed; therefore in his letter also again, he foments the place, like a physician, by his mode of addressing them, and so corrects the offence. For that he had heretofore admonished them in person is evident from what he begins with. Why else, having said nothing of this matter any where in the Epistle before, but passing on from other accusations, doth he straightway say, "Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you?"

Thou seest that some obeyed, whom he praises; and others disobeyed, whom he corrects by what comes afterwards, saying, "Now if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom." (ver. 16.) For if after some had done well but others disobeyed, he had included all in his accusation, he would both have made the one sort bolder, and have caused the others to become more remiss; whereas now by praising and approving the one, and rebuking the other, he both refreshes the one more effectually, and causes the other to shrink before him. For the accusation even by itself was such as might well wound them; but now that it takes place in contrast with others who have done well and are praised, it comes with a sharper sting. However, for the present he begins not with accusation, but with encomiums and great encomiums, saying, "Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things." For such is the character of Paul; though it be but for small matters he weaves a web of high praise; nor is it for flattery that he doth so: far from it; how could he so act to whom neither money was desirable, nor glory, nor any other such thing? but for their salvation he orders all his proceedings. And this is why he amplifies the encomium, saying, "Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things."

All what things? For hitherto his discourse was only concerning their not wearing long hair and not covering their heads; but, as I said, he is very bountiful in his praises, rendering them more forward. Wherefore he saith,

"That ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you." It appears then that he used at that time to deliver many things also not in writing, which he shows too in many other places. But at that time he only delivered them, whereas now he adds an explanation of their reason: thus both rendering the one sort, the obedient, more steadfast, and pulling down the others’ pride, who oppose themselves. Further, he doth not say, "ye have obeyed, whilst others disobeyed," but without exciting suspicion, intimates it by his mode of teaching in what follows, where he saith,

Ver. 3. "But I would have ye know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of every woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."

This is his account of the reason of the thing, and he states it to make the weaker more attentive. He indeed that is faithful, as he ought to be, and steadfast, doth not require any reason or cause of those things which are commanded him, but is content with the ordinance alone. But he that is weaker, when he also learns the cause, then both retains what is said with more care and obeys with much readiness.

Wherefore neither did he state the cause until he saw the commandment transgressed. What then is the cause? "The head of every man is Christ." Is He then Head of the Gentile also? In no wise. For if "we are the Body of Christ, and severally members thereof," (chap. 12:27.) and in this way He is our head, He cannot be the head of them who are not in the Body and rank not among the members. So that when he says, "of every man," one must understand it of the believer. Perceivest thou how every where he appeals to the hearer’s shame by arguing from on high? Thus both when he was discoursing on love, and when on humility, and when on alms-giving, it was from thence that he drew his examples.

[2.] "But the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." Here the heretics rush upon us with a certain declaration of inferiority, which out of these words they contrive against the Son. But they stumble against themselves. For if "the man be the head of the woman," and the head be of the same substance with the body, and "the head of Christ is God," the Son is of the same substance with the Father. "Nay," say they, "it is not His being of another substance which we intend to show from hence, but that He is under subjection." What then are we to say to this? In the first place, when any thing lowly is said of him conjoined as He is with the Flesh, there is no disparagement of the Godhead in what is said, the Economy admitting the expression. However, tell me how thou intendest to prove this from the passage? "Why, as the man governs the wife, saith he, "so also the Father, Christ." Therefore also as Christ governs the man, so likewise the Father, the Son. "For the head of every man," we read, "is Christ." And who could ever admit this? For if the superiority of the Son compared with us, be the measure of the Fathers’ compared with the Son, consider to what meanness thou wilt bring Him. So that we must not try all things by like measure in respect of ourselves and of God, though the language used concerning them be similar; but we must assign to God a certain appropriate excellency, and so great as belongs to God. For should they not grant this, many absurdities will follow. As thus; "the head of Christ is God:" and, "Christ is the head of the man, and he of the woman." Therefore if we choose to take the term, "head," in the like sense in all the clauses, the Son will be as far removed from the Father as we are from Him. Nay, and the woman will be as far removed from us as we are from the Word of God. And what the Son is to the Father, this both we are to the Son and the woman again to the man. And who will endure this?

But dost thou understand the term "head" differently in the case of the man and the woman, from what thou dost in the case of Christ? Therefore in the case of the Father and the Son, must we understand it differently also. "How understand it differently?" saith the objector. According to the occasion. For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection, as thou sayest, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master. For what if the wife be under subjection to us? it is as a wife, as free, as equal in honor. And the Son also, though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God, it was as God. For as the obedience of the Son to the Father is greater than we find in men towards the authors of their being, so also His liberty is greater. Since it will not of course be said that the circumstances of the Son’s relation to the Father are greater and more intimate than among men, and of the Father’s to the Son, less. For if we admire the Son that He was obedient so as to come even unto death, and the death of the cross, and reckon this the great wonder concerning Him; we ought to admire the Father also, that He begat such a son, not as a slave under command, but as free, yielding obedience and giving counsel. For the counsellor is no slave. But again, when thou hearest of a counsellor, do not understand it as though the Father were in need, but that the Son hath the same honor with Him that begat Him. Do not therefore strain the example of the man and the woman to all particulars.

For with us indeed the woman is reasonably subjected to the man: since equality of honor causeth contention. And not for this cause only, but by reason also of the deceit (1 Tim. 2:14.) which happened in the beginning. Wherefore you see, she was not subjected as soon as she was made; nor, when He brought her to the man, did either she hear any such thing from God, nor did the man say any such word to her: he said indeed that she was "bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh:" (Gen. 2:23.) but of rule or subjection he no where made mention unto her. But when she made an ill use of her privilege and she who had been made a helper was found to be an ensnarer and ruined all, then she is justly told for the future, "thy turning shall be to thy husband." (Gen. 3:16.)

To account for which; it was likely that this sin would have thrown our race into a state of warfare; (for her having been made out of him would not have contributed any thing to peace, when this had happened, nay, rather this very thing would have made the man even the harsher, that she made as she was out of him should not have spared even him who was a member of herself:) wherefore God, considering the malice of the Devil, raised up the bulwark of this word and what enmity was likely to arise from his evil device, He took away by means of this sentence and by the desire implanted in us: thus pulling down the partition-wall, i.e, the resentment caused by that sin of hers. But in God and in that undefiled Essence, one must not suppose any such thing.

Do not therefore apply the examples to all, since elsewhere also from this source many grievous errors will occur. For so in the beginning of this very Epistle, he said, (1 Cor. 3:22, 23.) "All are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s." What then? Are all in like manner ours, as "we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s?" In no wise, but even to the very simple the difference is evident, although the same expression is used of God, and Christ, and us. And elsewhere also having called the husband "head of the wife," he added, (Eph. 5:23.) "Even as Christ is Head and Saviour and Defender of the Church, so also ought the man to be of his own wife." Are we then to understand in like manner the saying in the text, both this, and all that after this is written to the Ephesians concerning this subject? Far from it. It is impossible. For although the same words are spoken of God and of men, they do not have the same force in respect to God and to men, but in one way those must be understood, and in another these. Not however on the other hand all things diversely: since contrariwise they will seem to have been introduced at random and in vain, we reaping no benefit from them. But as we must not receive all things alike, so neither must we absolutely reject all.

Now that what I say may become clearer, I will endeavor to make it manifest in an example. Christ is called "the Head of the Church." If I am to take nothing from what is human in the idea, why, I would know, is the expression used at all? On the other hand, if I understand all in that way, extreme absurdity will result. For the head is of like passions with the body and liable to the same things. What then ought we to let go, and what to accept? We should let go these particulars which I have mentioned, but accept the notion of a perfect union, and the first principle; and not even these ideas absolutely, but here also we must form a notion, as we may by ourselves, of that which is too high for us and suitable to the Godhead: for both the union is surer and the beginning more honorable.

Again, thou hearest the word "Son;" do not thou in this case admit all particulars; yet neither oughtest thou to reject all: but admitting whatever is meet for God, e.g. that He is of the same essence, that He is of God; the things which are incongruous and belong to human weakness, leave thou upon the earth.

Again, God is called "Light." Shall we then admit all circumstances which belong to natural light? In no wise. For this light yields to darkness, and is circumscribed by space, and is moved by another power, and is overshadowed; none of which it is lawful even to imagine of That Essence. We will not however reject all things on this account, but will reap something useful from the example. The illumination which cometh to us from God, the deliverance from darkness, this will be what we gather from it.

[4.] Thus much in answer to the heretics: but we must also orderly go over the whole passage. For perhaps some one might here have doubt also, questioning with himself, what sort of a crime it was for the woman to be uncovered, or the man covered? What sort of crime it is, learn now from hence.

Symbols many and diverse have been given both to man and woman; to him of rule, to her of subjection: and among them this also, that she should be covered, while he hath his head bare. If now these be symbols. you see that both err when they disturb the proper order, and transgress the disposition of God, and their own proper limits, both the man falling into the woman’s inferioriy, and the woman rising up against the man by her outward habiliments.

For if exchange of garments be not lawful, so that neither she should be clad with a cloak, nor he with a mantle or a veil: ("for the woman," saith He, "shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garments:") much more is it unseemly for these (Deut. xxii. 5.) things to be interchanged. For the former indeed were ordained by men, even although God afterwards ratified them: but this by nature, I mean the being covered or uncovered. But when I say Nature, I mean God. For He it is Who created Nature. When therefore thou overturnest these boundaries, see how great injuries ensue.

And tell me not this, that the error is but small. For first, it is great even of itself: being as it is disobedience. Next, though it were small, it became great because of the greatness of the things whereof it is a sign. However, that it is a great matter, is evident from its ministering so effectually to good order among mankind, the governor and the governed being regularly kept in their several places by it.

So that he who transgresseth disturbs all things, and betrays the gifts of God, and casts to the ground the honor bestowed on him from above; not however the man only, but also the woman. For to her also it is the greatest of honors to preserve her own rank; as indeed of disgraces, the behavior of a rebel. Wherefore he laid it down concerning both, thus saying,

Ver. 4. "Every man praying or prophesying having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled. dishonoreth her head."

For there were, as I said, both men who prophesied and women who had this girl at that time, as the daughters of Philip, (Acts. 21:9.) as others before them and after them: concerning whom also the prophet spake of old: "your sons shall prophesy, and your daughters shall see visions." (Joel 2:28. Acts 2:17.)

Well then: the man he compelleth not to be always uncovered, but only when he prays. "For every man," saith he, "praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head." But the woman he commands to be at all times covered. Wherefore also having said, "Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head unveiled, dishonoreth her head," he stayed not at this point only, but also proceeded to say, "for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven." But if to be shaven is always dishonorable, it is plain too that being uncovered is always a reproach. And not even with this only was he content, but added again, saying, "The woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels." He signifies that not at the time of prayer only but also continually, she ought to be covered. But with regard to the man, it is no longer about covering but about wearing long hair, that he so forms his discourse. To be covered he then only forbids, when a man is praying; but the wearing long hair he discourages at all times. Wherefore, as touching the woman, he said, "But if she be not veiled, let her also be shorn;" so likewise touching the man, "If he have long hair, it is a dishonor unto him." He said not, "if he be covered" but, "if he have long hair," Wherefore also he said at the beginning, "Every man praying or prophesying, having any thing on his head, dishonoreth his head." He said not, "covered," but "having any thing on his head;" signifying that even though he pray with the head bare, yet if he have long hair, he is like to one covered. "For the hair," saith he, "is given for a covering."

Ver. 6. "But if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled."

Thus, in the beginning he simply requires that the head be not bare: but as he proceeds he intimates both the continuance of the rule, saying, "for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven," and the keeping of it with all care and diligence. For he said not merely covered, but "covered over," meaning that she be carefully wrapped up on every side. And by reducing it to an absurdity, he appeals to their shame, saying by way of severe reprimand, "but if she be not covered, let her also be shorn." As if he had said, "If thou cast away the covering appointed by the law of God, cast away likewise that appointed by nature."

But if any say, "Nay, how can this be a shame to the woman, if she mount up to the glory of the man?" we might make this answer; "She doth not mount up, but rather falls from her own proper honor." Since not to abide within our own limits and the laws ordained of God, but to go beyond, is not an addition but a diminuation. For as he that desireth other men’s goods and seizeth what is not his own, hath not gained any thing more, but is diminished, having lost even that which he had, (which kind of thing also happened in paradise:) so likewise the woman acquireth not the man’s dignity, but loseth even the woman’s decency which she had. And not from hence only is her shame and reproach, but also on account of her covetousness.

Having taken then what was confessedly shameful, and having said, "but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven," he states in what follows his own conclusion, saying, "let her be covered." And he said not, "let her have long hair," but, "let her be covered," ordaining both these to be one, and establishing them both ways, from what was customary and from their contraries: in that he both affirms the covering and the hair to be one, and also that she again who is shaven is the same with her whose head is bare. "For it is one and the same thing," saith he, "as if she were shaven." But if any say, "And how is it one, if this woman have the covering of nature, but the other who is shaven have not even this?" we answer, that as far as her will goes, she threw that off likewise by having the head bare. And if it be not bare of tresses, that is nature’s doing, not her own. So that as she who is shaven hath her head bare, so this woman in like manner. For this cause He left it to nature to provide her with a covering, that even of it she might learn this lesson and veil herself.

Then he states also a cause, as one discoursing with those who are free: a thing which in many places I have remarked. What then is the cause?

Ver. 7. "For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God."

This is again another cause. "Not only," so he speaks, "because he hath Christ to be His Head ought he not to cover the head, but because also he rules over the woman." For the ruler when he comes before the king ought to have the symbol of his rule. As therefore no ruler without military girdle and cloak, would venture to appear before him that hath the diadem: so neither do thou without the symbols of thy rule, (one of which is the not being covered,) pray before God, lest thou insult both thyself and Him that hath honored thee.

And the same thing likewise one may say regarding the woman. For to her also is it a reproach, the not having the symbols of her subjection. "But the woman is the glory of the man." Therefore the rule of the man is natural.

[5.] Then, having affirmed his point, he states again other reasons and causes also, leading thee to the first creation, and saying thus:

Ver. 8. "For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man."

But if to be of any one, is a glory to him of whom one is, much more the being an image of him.

Ver. 9. "For neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man."

This is again a second superiority, nay, rather also a third, and a fourth, the first being, that Christ is the head of us, and we of the woman; a second, that we are the glory of God, but the woman of us; a third, that we are not of the woman, but she of us; a fourth, that we are not for her, but she for us.

Ver. 10. "For this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head"

"For this cause:" what cause, tell me? "For all these which have been mentioned," saith he; or rather not for these only, but also "because of the angels." "For although thou despise thine husband," saith he, "yet reverence the angels."

It follows that being covered is a mark of subjection and authority. For it induces her to look down and be ashamed and preserve entire her proper virtue. For the virtue and honor of the governed is to abide in his obedience.

Again: the man is not compelled to do this; for he is the image of his Lord: but the woman is; and that reasonably. Consider then the excess of the transgression when being honored with so high a prerogative, thou puttest thyself to shame, seizing the woman’s dress. And thou doest the same as if having received a diadem, thou shouldest cast the diadem from thy head, and instead of it take a slave’s garment.

Ver. 11. "Nevertheless, neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord."

Thus, because he had given great superiority to the man, having said that the woman is of him and for him and under him; that he might neither lift up the men more than was due nor depress the women, see how he brings in the correction, saying, "Howbeit neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord." "Examine not, I pray," saith he, "the first things only, and that creation. Since if thou enquire into what comes after, each one of the two is the cause of the other; or rather not even thus each of the other, but God of all." Wherefore he saith, "neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord."

Ver. 12. "For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman."

He said not, "of the woman," but he repeats the expression, (from v. 7.) "of the man." For still this particular prerogative remains entire with the man. Yet are not these excellencies the property of the man, but of God. Wherefore also he adds, "but all things of God." If therefore all things belong to God, and he commands these things, do thou obey and gainsay not.

Ver. 13. "Judge ye in yourselves: is it seemly that a woman pray unto God veiled?" Again he places them as judges of the things said, which also he did respecting the idol-sacrifices. For as there he saith, "judge ye what I say:" (chap. 10:15.) so here, "judge in yourselves:" and he hints something more awful here. For he says that the affront here passes on unto God: although thus indeed he doth not express himself, but in something of a milder and more enigmatical form of speech: "is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled?"

Ver. 14. "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that if a man have long hair, it is a dishonor unto him?"

Ver. 15. "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given her for a covering." His constant practice of stating commonly received reasons he adopts also in this place, betaking himself to the common custom, and greatly abashing those who waited to be taught these things from him, which even from men s ordinary practice they might have learned. For such things are not unknown even to Barbarians: and see how he every where deals in piercing expressions: "every man praying having his head covered dishonoreth his head;" and again, "but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled:" and here again, "if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him; but if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her, for her hair is given her for a covering."

"And if it be given her for a covering," say you, "wherefore need she add another covering?" That not nature only, but also her own will may have part in her acknowledgment of subjection. For that thou oughtest to be covered nature herself by anticipation enacted a law. Add now, I pray, thine own part also, that thou mayest not seem to subvert the very laws of nature; a proof of most insolent rashness, to buffet not only with us, but with nature also. This is why God accusing the Jews said, (Ezek. 16:21, 22.) "Thou hast slain thy sons and thy daughters: this is beyond all thy abominations."

And again, Paul rebuking the unclean among the Romans thus aggravates the accusation, saying, that their usage was not only against the law of God, but even against nature. "For they changed the natural use into that which is against nature." (Rom. 1:26.) For this cause then here also he employs this argument signifying this very thing, both that he is not enacting any strange law and that among Gentiles their inventions would all be reckoned as a kind of novelty against nature. So also Christ, implying the same, said, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye also so them;" showing that He is not introducing any thing new.

Ver. 16. "But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the Churches of God."

It is then contentiousness to oppose these things, and not any exercise of reason. Notwithstanding, even thus it is a measured sort of rebuke which he adopts, to fill them the more with self-reproach; which in truth rendered his saying the more severe. "For we," saith he, "have no such custom," so as to contend and to strive and to oppose ourselves. And he stopped not even here, but also added, "neither the Churches of God;" signifying that they resist and oppose themselves to the whole world by not yielding. However, even if the Corinthians were then contentious, yet now the whole world hath both received and kept this law. So great is the power of the Crucified.