[…] in the Catholic Gentleman,the Catholic Exchange, […]
A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
The following is a guest post from Tyler Blanski—a writer who possesses a beard of medieval proportions. Tyler is the author of When Donkeys Talk and Mud and Poetry.
From bearded indie rockers to hipster barkeeps, facial hair is in. And with it come rumors of a holy renaissance. Men and women everywhere are rediscovering the hairy lore of church history, the long curly whiskers of the saints, the bearded patriarchs of the Bible, and how our own spiritual lives can be gnarly and unclipped.
What is more spiritual than facial hair? Socrates and Plato sported the philosophers beard, King David was the first of the bearded poets, and who can forget the gross and swarthy beard of Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus immortalized the beard. To this day, no matter how many centuries have passed since his ascension, growing a thick beard is a pastime for holy men (and maybe even a few women).
There are no harder working beards in church history than St. Augustine and St. Maximus the Confessor. Their beards were magnanimous. St. Clement said the beard is a saint’s “natural and noble adornment.” Google St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and you’ll get the idea: the longer the beard, the holier the saint — and good Gregory’s entire face was a fluffy, white, Santa beard. “The glory of a monk,” it has been scrawled, “is a beard fully grown.
In days of yore, saints with facial hair were considered wise, holy, chaste, even virile. Men shaved only as a sign of mourning. But in modern times, beards became increasingly associated with a lack of cleanliness or a loss of refinement. It all started in the 17th century when philosophers like Descartes, Locke, Newton and Bacon shook their fairy godmother wands and said, in so many words, “The world is now a machine.” Slowly, bald rationalism replaced wooly mysticism. The spiritual life was sent to the barber to be shorn. In 1698, Peter the Great even ordered all Russian men to shave. He levied a beard tax with the hopes that Russian society would be as disbelieving as Western Europe
It worked. By the 19th century, there were more skeptics than saints. “The beard is dead,” said Neitzche, and he promptly grew a moustache.
“It performs no useful function; it is a nuisance and a discomfort; all nations hate it,” wrote Mark Twain, perhaps bewailing the lack of saints in the modern era where “all nations persecute [the beard] with the razor.” Indeed, the disenchantment of Modernity calls to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off my beard” (Isaiah 50:6).
But the beard lives on. True, the so-called Enlightenment announced that the universe is like a complicated clock and the human brain like a machine. But even Charles Darwin grew such a gorilla beard one wonders if it preserved within his breast the magic and wonder of the “Olde World.” From Moses and Abraham to John the Baptist and St. Peter, Godly men have spared the razor and groomed the beard.
Don’t let doubt pluck out your beard. Too often we don’t grow more than a five o’clock shadow because we romanticize our doubt. We quote clean-shaven poets who make our fingers pointed to the heavens, bent in the shape of question marks, seem a lovely thing. But to doubt is to pretend that we are kind of a big deal. Reality is not waiting for our yea or nay. God is not Sigmund Freud. He is not taking notes while we lie here, like we are, swooning on our couches.
Those of us who love to doubt are indeed in love — with our doubt, “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:7). Romanticized doubt is an overblown view of one’s self. It is idolatry. You say you want to see some evidence? The bearded saints of yore say to you: Thou hast a wimpy picture of divinity. God is not a clown at a circus. He is not bacteria in a Petri dish. Jehovah is not the summation of an equation. He is not the ergo of an argument.
Men of old sought to justify man before God. Today we do just the opposite. We try to justify God before man. We attempt to assert his existence by proofs; yet we forget that we can only prove his existence by worship. Argument can make God at best probable. God is not an x, itself explained, explaining nothing.
Let’s take our cue from the indie rockers and grow our beards long again. We do not need proofs; we need what the old-timers called ghostly strength. We need faith, and faith must be lived.
Imitate the faith of Abraham. Consider his beard. Just look at that thing. Awe inspiring. He’s the proof and the paradigm of faith. With a beard like that, who could expect anything less?
The beard is not dead, no matter what the Neitzche says. When we become life-long students of Jesus, we can be part of a holy renaissance — a God renaissance. A renaissance is when new vision and vitality rush into old truths and traditions. People see themselves as part of something bigger and more beautiful. They start to care, really care, about the triune God and what it means to be human. People wake up. Minds and hearts come alive. The Gospel is lovingly proclaimed. History is changed.
From one Catholic to another, here’s something to text about. God’s salvation plot continues, and we can be a part of it. Find inspiration in those apostles and saints who have gone before us, and may your faith grow as long as their beards. Let it grow long and white. Leave it wild and untamed. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
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[…] in the Catholic Gentleman,the Catholic Exchange, […]
[…] Originally posted on The Catholic Gentleman […]
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The Catholic Gentleman says
A word to the overly literal (you know who you are): In this post, the beard is a metaphor for a virile, experiential, and practical faith. It is not claiming that all men must grow beards to be masculine.
Soul Device says
My first full beard (about 2 months old) eagerly awaits the Easter vigil. 🙂
M. Jordan Lichens says
“The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man.”
-St. Augustine, Exposition of the Psalms
Ellis Spear says
Great Job Sam,
Beards are a sign of wisdom. Sport them, wear them and “don’t abuse the power” 🙂
C. C. says
Great article, with one problem–the idea that “argument can make God at best probable” is, simply speaking, blatantly heretical. As Vatican I clearly states: “If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.” But still, a very good article–thanks!
Nestor Camacho says
From which order are the monks in the photograph?
The Catholic Gentleman says
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
Great post! I’ve been considering trimming my beard as warmer weather approaches, but maybe I should instead consider my manly Christian duty and bring a healthy dose of “wooly mysticism” to the beach.
Daniel Piscoya says
Being only 19 years old, growing a beard is not an option so much as it is an experiment in manhood. I have tried to grow a beard only to be disappointing in my lack of ability thus far. So for me, I shave to remind myself of my humility, of my immaturity and my need to recognize myself as a son, a youth, not yet fully a man.
Daniela Chamorro says
I am hispanic speaker, came here out of curiosity, great place but, why did he called God Jehova? Isn’t that an error, that’s how protestants call our Lord and they call out that we don’t praise the One and Only Lord.
I’ve been tought that the best translation is Yahveh. In catholic bibles Yahveh is the name given to Our Lord.
I had to click on this post to see if those were CFRs. We’re good friends with some of them as we’re often at their Friary in Newark.
You history is shaky. Clean suaveness did not come about during the enlightenment, but has always been a hallmark of Western Christianity going back to the ancient Romans. Men of Rome have clean faces. But the article is very good nevertheless.
I thought that that statement was a little odd. After all, in the 1400s, there was even a Cardinal from the one of the Eastern Catholic Churches who apparently lost the papacy when the other Roman Catholic, clean-shaven Cardinals wouldn’t elect him.
Additionally, Roman Catholic priests for a long time were forbidden to have facial hair (unless, I believe, they were monastics).
I am bearded, and some of my close friends have told me it’s silliness and they can’t support it (not that I asked for support.) I can’t think of anything sillier than isolating the space between your eyebrows and chest to pass a razor over for 5-10 minutes a day. On the other hand, I think the zeal of our reaction can be too much. We can take a quote from Augustine out of context and make it seem like he was attributing spiritual power to the beard itself, rather than indicating its symbolism of real virtue. Meanwhile, we forget the ancient adage “barba philosophum non facit”. Today we might do well to remember “the beard doesn’t make the man, the man makes the beard.”
Can you site your sources?
Joshua Keatley says
Given the trendiness of all things bearded (except Saint Wildefortis), here’s another idea for a future post: a more radical spiritual hairdo.
Maybe someone (besides the Canons of the New Jerusalem) will bring the tonsure back into style. Who knows: a ring around the rosy could be a way to attract a future wife. Tonsuring used to be part of the medieval wedding Mass. Should we bring it back?