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Christian headcovering is the veiling of the head by women in a variety of Christian traditions. Some cover only in public worship, while others believe they should cover their heads all the time. The Biblical basis for headcoverings is found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Though head covering was practiced by most Christian women up until the 20th century, it is now a minority practice among contemporary Christians in the West.
Genesis 24:65, Numbers 5:18 and Isaiah 47:2 are references in the Old Testament referring to a headcovering for women. Although there is no positive command for women to cover their heads in the Old Testament, there are non-canonical rabbinical writings on tzniut, meaning "modesty" (Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's Stone of Help 115, 4; Orach Chayim 75,2; Even Ha'ezer 21, 2 4).
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 contains the only reference in the New Testament referring to a headcovering for women, and the uncovering of the heads of men. Various early Church Fathers, such as Hermas, Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, Augustine of Hippo and Tertullian also mentioned women's headcoverings.[non-primary source needed] Early Christian art shows women wearing headcoverings.
During the ensuing centuries, women have worn head coverings during the meetings of the church, that is, when "praying or prophesying" take place (1Corinthians 11:5). However, during the twentieth century, the practice of headcovering gradually disappeared from many churches, which dropped their requirement that women cover their heads during worship services. At different points in history, the style of the covering varied.
The requirement that women cover their heads in church was introduced as a universal law for the Latin Rite of the Church for the first time in 1917 with canon 1262 of its first Code of Canon Law. It was not addressed in the 1983 revision of the Code, which declared the 1917 Code abrogated. According to the new Code, former law only has interpretive weight in norms that are repeated in the 1983 Code; all other norms are simply abrogated. There is no provision made for norms that are not repeated in the 1983 Code. Some have argued that it is still obligatory, advancing several grounds for their opinion, including the claim that headcovering for women is a centennial and immemorial custom (cf. canon 5 of the Code of Canon Law) It was never universally obligatory for members of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
In some countries where women no longer as a matter of course wear hats when going outdoors, Catholic women do wear headcoverings in church. Traditionalist Catholic women do. The forms range from a mantilla to a hat or a simple headscarf. If mantillas are worn, they are usually black (or any color but white) for married and white for unmarried women.
For men, the 1917 Code of Canon Law prescribed that they should uncover their heads unless approved customs of peoples were against it. In the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church it is obligatory for bishops to wear the zucchetto headcovering during certain parts of the liturgy, while use of the biretta, once obligatory for all diocesan clergy (as opposed to members of religious institutes), remains permitted for them. In all rites of the Catholic Church, bishops wear a mitre or a corresponding headcovering in church. Nevertheless, the mitre is removed in certain parts of the liturgy, and the zucchetto is also removed during the Eucharistic Prayer, which is always done uncovered, even for bishops, cardinals or the Pope.
Among the Protestant reformers, Martin Luther encouraged wives to wear a veil in public worship and John Knox and John Calvin both called for women to wear headcoverings in public worship. Other commentators who have advocated headcovering during public worship include John Gill, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, A. R. Fausset, A. T. Robertson, Harry A. Ironside and Charles Caldwell Ryrie. In fact, until the 20th century no Reformed theologian taught against head coverings for women in public worship. While Anabaptists, Amish, and Mennonites advocate the wearing of headcoverings at all times, as a woman might pray or prophesy at any time, the Reformed teaching is that "praying and prophesying" refers to the activities taking place in public worship, as the Apostle Paul is dealing with public worship issues in 1st Corinthians, chapter 11. Their proof text is that women are in the same epistle commanded not to speak in the meetings of the church, so the apostle is obviously not addressing a practice women are to observe while they are publicly praying or preaching themselves. Anabaptists disagree and many women in their communities are so concerned with violating what they believe to be a command outside of public worship that they wear headcoverings to bed and in the shower, as they might offer a prayer then as well, and thus be in sin. Reason, however, would dictate that if Christian women were to wear head coverings at all times, then men, who in the same passage are commanded to uncover the head, would always be forbidden to wear hats or cover their heads. The Reformers understood the head covering mandate for women in public worship to be a sign of her submission to her husband, as the Scriptures declare "Christ is the head of man, man is the head of the woman". Anabaptists have argued, however, that a woman is obligated to rebel against her husband if he forbids her to wear the covering at all times, for it is better to obey God than to obey man. (1st Corinthians 11:3)
In Sweden the use of veil was common in older times, but faded away in the early 20th century and when women started going to church without a veil in the mid 1920s it caused little concern and within a decade most agreed that Swedish Christian women were not veiled, nor ever had been, nor should be.
Headcovering, at least during worship services, is still promoted or required in a few denominations and among the more traditional Catholics. Among these are Catholics who live a plain life and are known as Plain Catholics. Some Anabaptist denominations, including the Amish, Old Order Mennonite and Conservative Mennonites, the Old German Baptist Brethren, the Hutterites, and the Apostolic Christian Church; Christ's Forgiveness Ministries; some Pentecostal churches, such as the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, The Pentecostal Mission, the Deeper Christian Life Ministry, and the Christian Congregation in the United States, like Congregação Cristã no Brasil; the Laestadian Lutheran Church, the Plymouth Brethren; and the more conservative Scottish and Irish Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches. In those Protestant denominations which have no official expectation that women cover, some individuals choose to practice headcovering according to their understanding of 1 Corinthians 11.
Some Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches require women to cover their heads while in church; an example of this practice occurs in the Russian Orthodox Church. In Albania, Christian women often wear white veils, although their eyes are visible; moreover, in that nation, in Orthodox Christian church buildings, women are separated from men by latticework partitions during the church service.
In other cases, the choice may be individual, or vary within a country or jurisdiction. Among Orthodox women in Greece, the practice of wearing a head covering in church gradually declined over the course of the 20th century, and today is only practiced by very elderly women of a particular generation that is now over 80 years old. In the United States, the custom can vary depending on the denomination and congregation, and the origins of that congregation.
The male clergy of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches often have long hair and untrimmed beards if they are monastics, but married clergy often have standard haircuts. Eastern Orthodox clergy of all levels have head coverings, sometimes with veils in the case of monastics or celibates, that are donned and removed at certain points in the services. In US churches they are less commonly worn.
In Continental Europe and North America at the start of the 20th century, women in most mainstream Christian denominations wore head coverings during church services. These included many Anglican Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic Churches. At worship, in parts of the Western World, many women started to wear bonnets in lieu of headcoverings, and later, hats became predominant. However, eventually, in the North America, this practiced started to decline, with some exceptions, such as among conservative Mennonites and Amish, for example. However, in nations in regions such as the Indian subcontinent, nearly all women wear head coverings during church services.
Within the congregation, a female Jehovah's Witness may only lead prayer and teaching when no baptized male is available to, and must do so wearing a head covering. Female head covering is not required when evangelizing or when participating in congregation meetings or Bible study courses being led by another, or any aspect of Christian or family life.
Jehovah's Witnesses males are instructed to remove headcoverings when they represent even a small group in public prayer. A male Witness may or may not choose to remove his headcovering while praying privately or listening to another's public prayer, according to "the dictates of his personal conscience".
1. Creation Order: The first reason for head covering is the order of authority found in a pre-fall creation. The roles of headship are listed in 1 Corinthians 11:3 which states “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ”. So a head covering, being a Christian symbol of submission to authority is forbidden to be worn by the man, who is the head. In contrast, the woman is commanded to wear it to symbolize her submission to male authority. Paul expands upon this creation order in 1 Corinthians 11:7-10a where he says “For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head…”. Paul pointing back to Genesis as a reason for head covering is used as an argument against the view that head covering was merely a cultural custom.
2. Angels: The second reason for head covering is "because of the Angels". This comes from 1 Corinthians 11:10 where Paul says “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” We cannot know for certain what Paul meant by this verse since it is only given as a reason and not explained. Some popular interpretations of this passage are 1) An appeal to not offend the angels by our disobedience 2) a command to accurately show them a picture of the created order (Ephesians 3:10, 1 Peter 1:12) 3) a warning for us to obey as a means of accountability, since the angels are watching (1 Timothy 5:21) 4) to be like the angels who cover themselves in the presence of God (Isaiah 6:2) 5) to not be like the fallen angels who did not stay in the role that God created for them (Jude 1:6).
3. Nature: The third reason for head covering is what nature teaches us about gender distinctions (1 Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul gave the example of how nature teaches us about our hair lengths. He said, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:14-15). What he is saying is there are distinct differences between men and women seen in the natural order (like our hair lengths). When a gender distinction is disregarded and crossed (like men having long hair and women having short hair) that dishonors a person. Since a head covering in this context is a feminine symbol of being under male authority, what nature teaches us is that it’s for women only and for a man to wear a covering would be dishonorable. This is exactly what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5.
4. Church Practice: The final reason for head covering is an appeal to the standard practice of all churches. Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 11:16, “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.” The churches of God were spread out geographically over thousands of miles over such places as modern day Israel, Turkey & Greece. All these churches had a mixture of Jews and Gentiles fellowshipping in them and are from different cultures. Despite this, they all practiced head coverings showing that this was a Christian symbol rather than one of culture.
Some Christians[who?] interpret the passage as a cultural mandate that was only for the first-century Corinthian church. However it cannot be said there is any evidence that Paul was seeking to distinguish Christian women from temple prostitutes with short hair. There appears to be a lack of historical evidence showing that short hair was the distinguishing mark of a prostitute in Corinth during Roman times or that Roman Corinth was a center of temple prostitution, bearing in mind depictions of prostitutes in Roman wall paintings (29) and Strabo's comments in Geography 8.6.20c referring to temple prostitutes which applied only to Greek Corinth in existence several centuries before the time of Paul, not the Roman Corinth of Paul's day; Other Christians believe that long hair is intended to be the headcovering (see 1 Corinthians 11:14-15). Still others believe that a woman’s husband is her covering. Yet another view, propagated by feminist theologian Katharine Bushnell, holds that 1 Corinthians 11 itself even teaches that women should not cover their heads at all.