Tertullian — Veiling of Virgins

On The Veiling Of Virgins


The final work in this volume requires a brief introduction. Outside of the conservative Brethren, Amish, and Mennonite groups and the Catholic and Orthodox nuns, the modern Western churches have almost universally ignored the apostolic teaching on the prayer veil found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

However, discarding the prayer veil is actually a fairly recent development in the church. From the first century to well into the nineteenth century, Christian women of virtually every denomination wore the prayer covering. Browse through some illustrated history books and notice the pictures of Christian women through the centuries. You will find that almost invariably they were wearing some sort of head covering. The caps worn by the Pilgrims [i.e. Separatists] and the Puritans were not there for decoration. They were a prayer covering. And so were the scarfs worn by women in Eastern Europe.

In the early church, the issue was not whether or not a woman should wear a head covering, but what did Paul mean by the term “woman?” The Greek word gyne can mean “woman,” “married woman,” or “wife.” So when Paul wrote to the Corinthians that every gyne should pray with her head veiled, it’s not clear in itself whether he was including virgins in his instructions. So some churches required that all mature females be covered, but others required only married women to be covered. It was this difference in practice that led Tertullian to write his tract, in which he argued that all mature females should be veiled.

As so many lawyers are inclined to do, Tertullian ends up over-proving his case. His best argument is his appeal for his reader to look at the practice of the Christians in Corinth. After all, it was to them that Paul addressed his letter. How did they understand his instructions? Another good argument is his plea for his reader to observe the other churches where one or more of the apostles had personally taught, such as Rome, Ephesus, and Antioch. However, Tertullian proceeds to throw out every other argument imaginable, including Montanistic revelations and angelic visits. In the end, he weakens his argument by over-proving his case.

Nevertheless, this tract gives the modem church priceless insight into the apostolic command that a woman should not pray or prophesy with her head uncovered. It reveals how the Christians closest to the apostles understood his commandment. It also destroys so many modern myths about veiling. For example, one of the common assertions made today is that Paul wanted the Corinthian women to be veiled merely so that they wouldn’t be mistaken for prostitutes. I’m not sure who invented that story. But whoever did fabricated it out of thin air. There is nothing in any of the early Christian writings to support such a view. In fact, as Tertullian’s tract demonstrates, the issue wasn’t the wearing of a veil out in the streets, for all Christian women were doing that anyway. The issue was wearing the veil among the brethren.


In addition to giving us insight on the prayer veil, this tract also gives us much insight into Montanism. Tertullian wrote this work after he joined the Montanist, or New Prophecy, movement. Although this sect was orthodox in theology, it differed from the main body of the church in claiming that the Holy Spirit was still giving new special revelation to Christians. In contrast, the main body of the church taught that special revelation ended with the apostles.

The Montanists were a rigorous, ascetic sect with many obligatory fasts and disciplinary rules not followed by the Church. They taught that it was wrong to flee from persecution, and they did not allow second marriages for any reason, even the death of one’s spouse. Although the Church encouraged celibacy, the Montanists went much further, often treating marriage as something impure.

One of the distinguishing features of Montanism was its heavy emphasis on prophecy, visions and angelic visits. It was primarily the women in this movement who experienced these things. You will find several references to such revelations in the tract that follows. Whether or not these supernatural revelations were really from God, I will let the reader decide.

Truth Or Custom?

  1. Having already undergone the trouble distinctive of my opinion, I will demonstrate in Latin1that it is necessary that our virgins be veiled from the time that they reach adolescence. This observation is demonstrated by truthitself. There-fore, nobody can place any restriction on this practice—whether because of lapse of time, influence of persons, or geographical privileges. For such things are, for the most part, the reasons why customs originate.3 And customs eventually become the norm and thereby stand in opposition to truth. For our Lord Christ referred to himself as “the Truth”—not, “the Custom.” Since Christ is everlasting and is prior to all, truth is therefore ancient and everlasting.

So if that which is actually old seems new to you, the problem lies with yourself. It is not something new that points out heresies. Rather, truth does. So whatever stands in opposition to truth is heresy—even though it may be an ancient custom.b

The rule of faith, indeed, is entirely one—immovable and unchangeable. That rule is this: to believe in only one almighty God, the Creator of the universe; and in his Son Jesus Christ, bom of the virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, raised again from the dead on the third day, received in the heavens, sitting now at the right hand of the Father, destined to come to judge the living and the dead through the resurrection of the flesh as well as of the spirit.1

The Montanist View Of Progressive Prophecy

Although the law of faith is constant, the matters of discipline and conversation that follow it are susceptible to new corrections. For the grace of God continues to operate, and it progresses up to the end [of the world]. After all, what kind of logic is it that acknowledges that the devil is always operating and adding new forms of wickedness every day, but that the work of God has ceased—or at least, that it has made no new advancements? In fact, the very reason why the Lord sent the Paraclete [i.e. the Holy Spirit] was that human weakness was unable to take in all things at once. Therefore, discipline had to be directed, ordained, and brought to perfection little by little by the Holy Spirit, the Vicar of the Lord.

He said, “Still, I have many things to say to you, but you are not yet able to bear them. When that Spirit of truth shalhave come, he will conduct you into all truth, and will report to you the things to come.c (John 16:12,13) What, then, is the Paraclete’s administrative office, other than this: to direct discipline to reveal the Scriptures, to form the intellect anew, and to advance toward “the better things.” (Heb. 11:40)

Nothing is without stages of growth. All things await their season. In short, the preacher said, “There is a time for everything.” (Ecc. 3:1) Look how creation itself advances little by little to fruition. First comes the seed. From the seed arises the shoot. Next, the shrub struggles forth from the shoot. Then branches and leaves grow strong. This plant, which we now call a tree, continues to grow larger. Finally, buds appear. From the buds burst forth blossoms. And fruit comes out from the blossom. At first the fruit is unfinished and unshapely. But little by little, following the straight course of its development, it is trained to the ripeness of its flavor.

Now, the God of righteousness and of creation is the same. So, righteousness was likewise originally in an incomplete state, having only a natural fear of God. But from that stage it advanced to infancy through the Law and the Prophets. From there, through the Gospel, it advanced to the vigor of youth. Now, through the Paraclete, it is coming into maturity. After Christ, He is the only one to be called and revered as Master. (Matt. 23:8) For he speaks not of himself, but that which is commanded by Christ. (John 16:13) He is the only Prelate, because he alone succeeds Christ. Those who have received him set truth before custom. Those who have heard him prophesying up to the present time (not of old) command virgins to be wholly covered.2

The General Practice Of The Church On Veiling

  1. Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, I will, for the moment, not attribute this rule [of veiling virgins] to truth. Rather, I will attribute it to custom. In this way, I can oppose one custom with that of another. For throughout Greece, and certain of its barbaric provinces, the majority of churches keep their virgins covered. In fact, this practice is followed in certain places beneath this African sky. So let no one ascribe this custom merely to the Gentile customs of the Greeks and barbarians.

Moreover, I will put forth as models those churches that were founded by either apostles or apostolic men.d These churches, as well as others, have the self-same authority of custom to appeal to. For they have in their arsenal both antiquity and a line of respected teachers—more so than those churches founded later.3 So whom do we follow? Which practice are we to choose?

We can’t hastily dismiss a custom that we are unable to condemn. And we can’t condemn such a custom, for it is not “strange.” By that, I mean it is not found among “strangers,” but rather among those churches with whom we share the law of peace and the name of brotherhood. Both they and we have the same “one faith,” “one God,” the same Christ, the same hope, and the same baptismal mysteries.4 Let me say it once for all, we are one Church. So whatever belongs to our brothers is ours. Only, the body divides us.

This issue should be handled by the same method we handle all other issues where there are a variety of practices. Or where there is doubt and uncertainty. That method is to make examination to see which of the two different customs is the more compatible with the discipline of God. [If we use this method in the present instance], we, of course, will choose the custom that keeps virgins veiled. Such virgins are known to God alone. For their glory must be sought from God, not from men. And such virgins ought to blush even at their own privilege.

For you cause a virgin to blush more by praising her than by blaming her.5 For your custom deceives virgins while it exhibits them [unveiled]. Such a custom would never have been approved by anybody except those men who must have been similar in character to the virgins themselves. Such eyes want a virgin to be seen. Similarly, the eyes of such virgins wish to be seen. So the same kind of eyes mutually crave after each other. For seeing and being seen belong to the self-same lust. To blush if he should see a virgin is the mark of a holy man—-just as much as it is the mark of a holy virgin to blush if seen by a man.

  1. In fact, those most “sanctified” teachers have not even bothered to examine between customs. Still, until very recently, among us either custom was admitted to communion with comparative indifference. The matter had been left up to each virgin to choose either to veil herself or to expose herself. Just as she had equal liberty in choosing to marry, which is neither required nor prohibited.

In effect, Truth was content to compromise with Custom, so that, under the name of Custom, Truth would at least be followed by some. But when the power of discerning began to advance/ immediately the great Adversary of good things—and much more of good practices—went to work. In opposition to the virgins of God, the virgins of men go about with front quite bare, spurred on to a rash audacity.8

Is Veiling A Scandal?

“We are scandalized,” such virgins say, “because others follow a different practice than we do.”6 So they prefer to feel “scandalized” than to practice modesty. But, if I am not mistaken, a scandal is an example of something bad, not good. It is something that leads to sinful edification. Good things scandalize no one but those with an evil mind. And modesty, quietness, contempt of glory, and desire to please only God—these are good things. Let those women who are “scandalized” by such good things learn to admit their own evil.

What if married persons said they were “scandalized” by those who remain celibate? Would we forbid celibacy? Should monogamy be thrown out for fear the polygamists might be “scandalized?” Rather, shouldn’t it be the chaste virgins who deserve to complain that the immodesty and brashness of showy virginity is a “scandal” to them?

For the sake of these marketable creatures [i.e. the unveiled virgins], are the chaste virgins to be dragged into the church—blushing at being recognized in public, quaking at being unveiled—as though they had been invited, so to speak, to be raped? For, they are no more willing to be unveiled than they would to be violated. To an honorable virgin, every public exposure is the equivalent of being raped. In fact, the suffering of carnal violence is less evil because it is not of her own volition. But when the very spirit itself is violated in a virgin by the removal of her covering, she has become accustomed to losing what she used to keep.

Oh sacrilegious hands! Hands that have the audacity to rip off a dress dedicated to God! What worse could any persecutor have done? Particularly if he had known that this garment had been chosen by a virgin? You have stripped bare the head of a virgin. And thereafter she wholly ceases to be a virgin to herself. She has undergone a change!

Arise, therefore, Truth! Arise, and burst forth from your patient waiting. I do not wish you to defend any custom. For, in these times, even that custom under which you enjoyed your own liberty is now being stormed.7 Demonstrate that it is you yourself who are the one who covers virgins. Interpret in person your own Scriptures, which Custom does not understand. For if Custom had, she never would have come into existence.

Is A Virgin A “Woman”?

  1. Nevertheless, it is customary for persons to try to argue from the Scriptures in opposition to truth. So some argue against us, “The apostle made no mention of virginswhen he laid down the rule about the veil, forhe only mentions women.8 If he had meant for virgins to be covered as well, he would have specifically mentioned both virgins and women. For in his passage about marriage he gave specific counsel to virgins.” (1 Cor. 7:1-40) So those who oppose us conclude, “Virgins are not included in the law of veiling the head, since they are not named in this law. In fact, this is the reason that our virgins are not veiled. Since they are not specifically named, they are not commanded.”

But I will use the same argument in reply: He [Paul] knew how to specifically address both kinds of females—virgin and woman (non-virgin)—when he wanted to make a distinction. (1 Cor. 7:1-40) So in those passages where he does not make specific mention of virgins, it means he did not wish to make a distinction. He is indicating that their conditions are identical. Otherwise, in this passage [1 Cor. 11], he could have pointed out the difference between [what was required] of a virgin and a woman. For elsewhere he said, “There is a

difference between a woman and a virgin.” (1 Cor. 7:34) So when he is silent about virgins, he has made no distinction. Rather, he has included virgins in the term “women.”

But the aforementioned “difference between a woman and a virgin” does not apply to the present issue, although some would argue that it does. There are many sayings [in Scripture] that address a particular situation, and they have no application to matters not under discussion. One saying can apply to two situations only when the subject matter is the same. The discussion where woman and virgin are distinguished [1 Cor. 7:1- 40] is not connected to the present question.

He [Paul] says, “The woman and the virgin are divided.” Why? Because “the unmarried,” that is, the virgin, “is anxious about those things which are the Lord’s, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But the married,” that is, the non-virgin, “is anxious how she may please her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:34) That is what is meant by the two being “divided.” So that principle has no application to the subject at hand. For our subject is not about marriage, nor about the mind and thoughts of women and virgins. It is about the veiling of the head.

And concerning this veiling, the Holy Spirit makes no distinction [between a woman and a virgin]. The Spirit in tended that the one designation “woman” would include the virgin as well. By not making any special reference to virgins, He has included the virgin with the “woman.” Is it really something new to use a general term [such as “woman”] and yet to include within the term any special class [such as “virgin”]? Particularly where there is no need to distinguish all of the different members of the class?1*

Let’s proceed, then, to the word in question. The natural word that expresses the distinction [of gender] is “female.” Under this term is the general word “woman.” Again, under the general word are the special terms, “virgin,” “wife,” “widow,” and other such designations (including those that distinguish between age groups). The special term is included in the general term.1

Accordingly, when you say “body,” you do not need to make special mention of the hand, foot, or any other of its parts. Or when you say “the universe,” you are including both heaven and the things in it—such as the sun, moon, stars, and constellations. You will also be including the earth, the seas, and everything that comprises the elements of the earth. By using the general term, you have included all of the parts that make up the whole. So, too, by using the term “woman,” he [Paul] has included whatever is of womankind.

The First “Woman” Was A Virgin

  1. Nevertheless, since those who disagree with us use the term “woman” to referonly to a female who has known a man, we must further demonstrate that this term applies to the female sex, and not to a particular type of female. For virgins as well as other females are included in this term.

First, it should be noted that when God created the second type of human being, female, to assist man, she was immediately named “woman.” She was still joyful, still worthy of paradise, and still virgin. Adam said, “She will be called “woman.” (Gen. 2:23) So the term “woman” not only includes a virgin, but in fact is appropriate to a virgin. In fact, this designation was first applied to a virgin.

However, some try to ingeniously argue that Adam was speaking of the future, for he said, “She will be called woman.” That is, she would be called “woman” once she had given up her virginity. For immediately after those words, he said, “For this reason, a man shall leave father and mother, and be joined to his own woman; and the two shall be one flesh.”9 (Gen. 2:24)

In reply we say, “Let those who make this argument [that the name ‘woman’ was a future designation] tell us what name she had in the meantime.” For without a name expressive of her present quality, she could not have been.1 For

Adam gave names to all the animals. And he chose those names on the basis of the present purpose to which they were suited—not on the basis of some future condition.1‘ So what was she originally called? Why, as often as she is named in the Scripture, she is designated as “woman.” And this was before she was ever married. Even when she was a virgin, she was never called “virgin.”

The name “woman” was the only name she initially had. And at that time nothing had yet been spoken prophetically about her. For the Scripture states that “the two were naked, Adam and his woman.” (Gen. 2:25) And this was not said in prediction of her becoming his “wife.” For his woman was at that time unmarried, being formed from his own substance. For he said, “This bone out of my bones, and flesh out of my flesh, will be called woman.”

Our custom of calling our wives our “women” became the ordinary usage of common speech, without men thinking about it.1 From the tacit consciousness of nature, the actual divinity of the soul brought about this manner of speaking. We follow this custom regardless of how incorrectly we thereby may be speaking. Now, the Greeks use the term “woman” in the sense of “wife” more often than we do. But they too have other names appropriate to “wife.”

But I think this manner of speaking is actually a testimony to Scripture. For two are made into one flesh through the marriage bond. And she who is the ‘flesh of flesh and bone of bones’ is called the “woman” of the husband. For by being made his wife, she begins to be considered ‘one flesh’ with his substance. So, by nature, “woman” is not a substitute name for “wife.” Rather, by condition, “wife” is a name of “woman.” Wifehood cannot exist apart from womanhood, but womanhood can exist apart from wifehood.”1

[Now let me address the words,] “On this account shall a man leave father and mother.” (Gen. 2:24) The name [woman] has no connection to this prophecy, just as the prophecy has no connection to the first woman. Adam surely did not utter the prophecy with reference to Eve. Instead, he was speaking of future females who would be included in the maternal fountain of the feminine race. Since Adam had no

[earthly] father and mother, he certainly did not leave father and mother for the sake of Eve. Since those words did not apply to Adam, they could not apply to Eve either. The words are a prophecy of how it would be with [future] husbands, who were destined to leave their parents for a woman’s sake. This situation applied to neither Adam nor Eve.

Seeing this to be the case, it is readily apparent that Eve was not named “woman” because of some future circumstance. The reason is that the supposed circumstance [i.e. the prophecy of Gen. 2:24] did not apply to her. Actually, it should be noted that Adam himself stated the reason why he chose the name [“woman”]. After saying the words, “She will be called woman,” he then said, “for she has been taken out of man.” You should note that the man himself was still a virgin. (But I will speak, too, about the name of “man” in its own place.) Therefore, let no one interpret the name “woman” as being chosen in reference to that prophecy. For we know that it was chosen for another reason.

This is even more true when we recognize that she was given an additional name [Eve] that was based upon a future circumstance. (But the natural name [woman] had preceded the personal name [Eve]). Since the name “Eve” means “the mother of the living,” she was so named with reference to a future circumstance. Look! It is now foretold that she is to be a wife, and not a virgin. “Eve” will be the name of one who is about to marry. For a mother comes from a bride.” I think I have now answered this question sufficiently.

The Virgin Mary Was A “Woman”

  1. Now let us see whether or not the apostle [Paul] follows this normaluse of the term “woman.” That is, does he use it to refer to the [female] sex, the same way Genesis does?

First, [I should ask], “Does he refer to the virgin Mary as a ‘woman/ just like Genesis refers to Eve?” In answer, notice what he wrote to the Galatians, saying, “God sent his own Son, made of a woman.” (Gal. 4:4) Yet, you recognize that Mary was a virgin, although Hebion10 rejects this teaching. I,

too, recognize that the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin. But when he blessed her, he classified her among “women,” not among “virgins.” He said, “Blessed are you among women.” (Luke 1:26,27) So the angel knew that a virgin is [properly] called a “woman.”

However, someone has apparently cleverly argued, “Both the angel and the apostle refer to Mary as a ‘woman’ only because she was engaged to be married. For in some sense, an engaged girl is a bride.” However, there is a considerable difference between truth and “some sense.” This is particularly true in the matter at hand.0 For they [Gabriel and Paul] refer to Mary as a “woman,” not because they considered her already married, but because she was a female. They would still have called her a woman even if she had not been engaged.15 If Mary is called a “woman,” not because of being female, but because of being assigned to a husband, then Christ was not born of a virgin. For according to this argument, one who is engaged has ceased to be a “virgin.” However, since He was bom of a virgin—who was still untouched even though she was engaged—you must admit that even an untouched virgin is called a “woman.”q


The Reasons For


  1. Now let’s turn to the reasonswhy the apostle taught that a female should be veiled. Then we can see if the same reasons apply to virgins as well [as married women]. If the same reasons for the veil apply equally to both virgins and non-virgins, then this will further demonstrate that the same term [woman] applies to both.

Headship Of The Man

As “the man is head of the woman,” he is of course head of the virgin too.1 For the married woman was once a virgin. (Unless someone wants to argue that a virgin is a third classification of humans. And this would make her some unnatural thing with a head of its own.) As “it is shameful for a woman to be shaven or shorn,” it is of course the same with a virgin. (If the world, God’s rival, wants to assert that close-cut hair is graceful to a virgin and that flowing hair is becoming to a boy, let them demonstrate it.) So to her to whom it is unbecoming to be shaven or shorn, it is equally becoming to be covered. If “woman is the glory of man,” how much more so is the virgin, who is also a glory to herself. For, since “woman is of the man” and is “for the sake of man,” it should be noted that she who was formed from the rib of Adam was first a virgin.

“Because Of The Angels”

If “the woman ought to have power upon her head,” even more so should the virgin. For it is particularly virgins who have need for such ‘power upon the head.’ For “on account of the angels” refers to those angels that fell from God and heaven because of lust for females.2 And surely those angels did not lust after females whose bodies were already defiled. They did not lust after those women who were relics of someone else’s human lust. Instead, isn’t it more likely that they were inflamed for virgins, whose bloom also is used as an excuse for human lust?

The Scripture itself suggests this understanding, for it says, “And it came to pass when men had begun to grow more numerous upon the earth, there were daughters bom to them. But the sons of God, having noticed the daughters of men, that they were beautiful, took for themselves all of the wives whom they chose.” (Gen. 6:1,2) Now, here the Greek term “women”3 does seem to have the sense of “wives,” since mention is made of marriage. So, in contrast, the expression, “daughters of men,” obviously refers to virgins. For virgins would still be considered as belonging to their parents. But married women are called their husbands’. Notice, too, that the passage doesn’t refer to these females as the ‘wives of men/

Furthermore, it doesn’t call the angels adulterers, but husbands. And it says they took unmarried “daughters of men,” who were bom to men. Again, this indicates their virginity. They were first born and then married to angels. We know nothing else about them except they were born and were subsequently married. So perilous a face, then, that has cast stumbling blocks as far as heaven ought to be shaded. In this way, when standing in the presence of God, at whose bench it stands accused of the driving of the angels from their native abode, it may blush before the other angels as well. And it can repress that former evil liberty of its head—a liberty that now is not even to be exhibited before human eyes.

But even if those angels had desired women already contaminated, so much more would it have been the duty of virgins to be veiled “on account of the angels.” For it would have been the more possible for virgins to have been the reason for the angels’ sinning.

The Witness Of Nature

The apostle further adds the prejudgment of “nature,” saying that the abundance of hair is an honor to a woman, because hair serves for a covering. Again, this is particularly a distinction of virgins. For their very adornment properly consists in this: their hair wholly covers the very citadel of their heads with an encirclement of hair because it is massed together upon the crown.

The Relationship Of Man And Woman

  1. The other side of all of these considerations is that a man is notto cover his head. He has not been gifted by nature with an excess of hair. To be shaven or shorn is not shameful to him. For it was not on hisaccount that the angels transgressed. And finally, his head is Christ.

So the apostle was discussing the relationships of man and woman: why the woman should be veiled; why the man should not. That is why he was silent as to virgins. For he included virgins in the term “woman,” the same way he included young males in the term “man.” So he has embraced all members of each sex in the terms “man” and “woman.” Similarly, while still a virgin, Adam was designated in Genesis by the name “man.” For it says, ‘She will be called woman, because she has been taken from her own man.’ So Adam was a “man” before marital relations—the same as Eve was a “woman.”

So, on both sides of the matter, the apostle has written with sufficient clarity to the universal species of both sexes. In fact, he says quite succinctly and plainly, “every woman.” What does “every” mean if it doesn’t mean every class, every order, every condition, every dignity, and every age? “Every” means total and entire, excluding none of its parts. And the virgin is a part of womankind.

In the same manner, when speaking of not veiling the man, he also uses the term “every.” Look! Two diverse names, Man and Woman. In both cases, he includes everyone: two laws, mutually distinctive. On the one hand, a law of veiling. On the other hand, a law of not veiling/ If a virgin is not a woman, neither is a young male a man. If a virgin is not covered on the grounds that she is not a woman, then an adolescent male should be covered on the grounds that he is not a man. Let there be equality of privilege between male and female virgins. If female virgins are not required to be veiled, then young males should not be forbidden to be veiled.

We treat the apostle’s terminology as being absolute with regards to “every man.” We don’t give discourses over the fact that he doesn’t specify young males also. So why do we straddle the truth when it comes to “every woman?”

“If Anyone Is Contentious…”

Finally, he says, “If anyone is contentious, we have no such custom, nor has the church of God.” He thereby shows that there had been some contention about this point. To eliminate any contention, he uses language that is all-inclusive: On the one hand, he does not specifically name the virgin, to show that there is to be no doubt about her veiling. On the other hand, he names “every woman.” If the issue had been limited to virgins, he would have said “every virgin.” The Corinthians themselves understood him to speak in this manner. For to this very day the Corinthians veil their virgins. What the apostles taught, the disciples of the apostles confirmed.

Virgins Are Under The Same Commandments As Married Women

  1. In summation, I have discussed the argument from nature. And I have shown that veiling applies to virgins as well as to other females. Let us now look at the question of whether or not the rules of church discipline concerning women apply equally to virgins.

It is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Cor. 14:34,35; 1 Tim. 2:11,12) And neither is it permitted for her to teach. Nor is she permitted to baptize, to offer [communion], or to claim to herself a lot in any masculine function—let alone, to assume any priestly office. Now, are any of these things lawful to a virgin? They are not. Rather, a virgin is subject to the same rules as a “woman.” The need for humility is assigned to her along with the “woman.” So on what grounds should this one thing [not veiling] be lawful to her when it is not lawful for any other female?

Because someone is a virgin, and has proposed to sanctify her flesh,11 why should that give her special privileges over other women? Is the reason she is allowed to dispense with the veil so that she will stand out and be noticed when she enters the church? Is it so she may display the honor of sanctity through the liberty of her head? If so, it would have certainly been a more worthy distinction to have conferred upon her some prerogative of masculine rank or office.

I know for a fact that in a certain place a virgin who is less than twenty years old has been placed in the order of widows! (1 Tim. 5:9,10) Now, if the overseer needed to give her material aid, he could have done it in some other way than to set aside regulations. A virgin widow? Such a miracle, not to say imaginary creature, should not be pointed at in the church. The situation is even more preposterous in that even as a “widow” she does not veil her head. She denies herself either way. She denies her virginity by being counted as a widow. She denies her widowhood by being called a virgin.

But the authority that permits her to sit in that seat [of widows] uncovered is the same which allows her to sit there in the first place as a virgin.12 For the qualifications to be appointed to sit in that seat are as follows: Being sixty years old. Not only being the wife of one husband (which means she cannot be unmarried), but also being a mother and the educator of children. (1 Tim. 5:9) These [regulations] were given so that the widows would be trained through experience in all types of situations. As a result, they will be capable of readily helping all others with counsel and comfort. In addition, the regulations ensure that they will have been tested in all situations where a female might be tested. But there is no such public honor permitted to a virgin on the grounds of her position.

Male Virgins Are Not Given Special Privileges

  1. Furthermore, such is not permitted for the purpose of any distinction whatsoever. And it would be rather rude [to virgin men] for females (subject as they are in all areas to men) to bear some mark of honor for theirvirginity [i.e. not being veiled]. Such a mark would cause them to be looked up to and gazed upon from all directions by their brethren. Yet, there are so many virgin men—so many voluntary eunuchs—who must carry their glory in secret. They carry no visible sign that would make them, too, illustrious.

Furthermore, celibate men will probably want to claim some distinguishing mark for themselves: Perhaps [to wear] the feathers of the Garamantes. Or else the laces of the barbarians. Maybe the cicadas of the Athenians. Or perhaps the curls of the Germans, or else the tattoos of the Britons. Or perhaps they will take the opposite course of the female virgins and will lurk in the churches with veiled heads. For surely the Holy Spirit would have made some concession to males if he had done so for females.

After all, in addition to the authority of their sex, it would have been more appropriate for males to have been honored for their celibacy. I say this because the male attraction to females is so strong. And because of this strong attraction, male virgins must maintain even more self-control [than female virgins]. Therefore, their celibacy is worthier of outward show, if outward show of virginity can be called “dignity.”

But isn’t sexual abstinence superior to virginity? And this is so whether it is the abstinence of one who is widowed, or of those who by consent have already renounced the common disgrace that matrimony involves.13 For continual virginity is maintained by grace. But continual abstinence is maintained by virtue. For the struggle is great to overcome sexual desire once a person is accustomed to such desire. It is much easier to control such desire when a person has never known the enjoyment of it. For he does not grapple with the enemy of sexual experience.

That being the case, why, then, would God have failed to make any such concession to men, more so than to women. For this would perhaps be expected on the ground of the man’s nearer intimacy [with God], being made in His “own image.” Or perhaps on the grounds of the harder toil required [for a male virgin]. So if no such concessions have been made for the male, how much more so have they not been made for the female.

At What Age Should Veiling Begin ?

11.1 now need to address a matter I intentionally omitted in the preceding discussion so as to not break my continuity. I stated that the apostle’s expression, “every woman,” meant females of every age. Someone may reply by way of counterargument that this would mean that a virgin would have to be veiled from the moment of her birth—as soon as she was enrolled as a member of the human race.

But that is not the case. She [needs to be veiled] only from the time when she begins to be conscious of, and awakens to her feminine nature. That is, when she awakens to the sense of being a female. And when she emerges from the sensation of a young girl, and she experiences that new sensation that belongs to the next stage [of maturity]. For Adam and Eve, the founders of the [human] race, went naked as long as they were without perception. But after they tasted of the tree of knowledge, the first thing they were conscious of was their cause for shame. So they marked their awareness of their sexual differences by a covering.

Since it is ‘on account of the angels’ that she is to be veiled, the rule of veiling will come into effect when a girl1 reaches

the age at which the ‘daughters of men’ were able to invite sexual passion and to enter into marriage. For a girl ceases to be a girl when she reaches the age that it becomes possible for her not to be a virgin. Accordingly, among the people of Israel, it is unlawful to deliver a girl to a husband before the witness by blood of her maturity. (Deut. 22:13-21) So prior to this indication, she is not yet of age. Accordingly, if she is considered a girl as long as she is not of age, she ceases to be a girl when she becomes of age. Now, as no longer a girl, she becomes subject to the law, just as she is subject to marriage.

The Example Of Rebecca

A virgin who is engaged to be married has Rebecca as an example. When Rebecca, who was still unknown, was being taken to her husband-to-be, whom she had never met, she sighted a man in the distance and learned that he was her future husband. She immediately confessed what she had felt—namely that she was already married in spirit. She did not wait to first grasp his hand. Or to meet with a kiss. Or to exchange greetings. So she denied herself the status of virgin by immediately veiling herself. (Gen. 24:64,65) Here was a woman who already belonged to Christ’s discipline! For she demonstrated that marriage can be transacted by the mind and by one’s gaze—the same as fornication can. (Matt. 5:28)

Now, some do still veil a “Rebecca” [i.e. a virgin who is betrothed]. However, with regard to the rest—that is, those who are not engaged—let the procrastination of their parents, arising from rigid means or strict scruples, look to them. Let the vow of virginity look to them.

However, such procrastination can in no way pertain to that age that is already running its own assigned course and paying its own dues to maturity. For now another secret mother, Nature, and another secret father, Time, have married their daughter to their own laws. Look! Your virgin daughter is already married. Her soul is married by expectancy and her flesh by transformation. So, in effect, you are preparing her for a “second” husband. For already her voice has changed. Her limbs are fully formed. She is everywhere clothing herself to cover her shame. And the months are paying their dues. Are you going to deny that she is a woman when you know she is undergoing womanly experiences?

If someone is going to argue that it is the contact of a man that makes a female a woman, then let there be no covering except after the marriage union actually takes place. Yet, even among the pagans, a bride is led veiled to her husband. She is veiled at the betrothal. For then she has mingled in body and spirit with a man. That is, through the kiss and [holding] the right hands. It is through these means that they first unveiled their modesty in spirit.s

But even the pagans observe the rule of Time. In obedience to the law of nature, they render to each of the age groups their own rights. They send out their females to their businesses from the age of twelve years. And they send the males out two years later. They thereby decree puberty to be a function of age, not of engagement or marriage. Although she is still a virgin, a young maiden is called a housemother. And a young man is called a housefather, although he is only a teenager. However, we don’t even observe natural laws. We must think the God of nature is some other God than ours!

  1. A woman—in fact, a married woman—should be recognized by the testimony of both her body and her spirit. She experiences these in both conscience and in flesh. For these are the earlier records of naturalweddings and engagements. And an external veil should be required of her who already has an internal covering. She whose lower body is not bare should cover her upper body as well.

Do you want proof of the “authority” that age carries? If so, bring before yourself two females: [a young girl and a woman advanced in age]. Dress the young girl in the clothing of a mature woman. And dress the woman of advanced age in the clothing of a maiden. You will find that you can convince no one that the girl is in fact a woman or that the mature woman is a young virgin. That then is the honesty of age. You cannot overcome it even with clothing.

Coming Of Age: A.D. 200

Take note of the fact that these girls of ours testify to their change of age even by their clothing. As soon as they have understood themselves to be women, they withdraw themselves from other girls. They lay aside their former selves, beginning with the head itself. They change the style of their hair and fasten it with more extravagant pins. They profess their obvious womanhood by parting their hair from the front.

Next, they peer into the mirror to enhance their beauty, and they make their overly-detailed faces more slender with washing. Or perhaps they make it beguiling with cosmetics. They toss their hair about them with an air and squeeze their feet into shoes of various shapes. And they carry more paraphernalia to the baths. Why should I go into more detail? They plainly demonstrate their complete womanhood by all of these things. However, they wish to still play the young maiden by the sole fact of leaving their heads bare. They think they can deny by one single matter what they are professing by their entire demeanor.

Wearing The Veil Outdoors

  1. If they adopt a false garb on account of men, let them fully carry out that garb even for that purpose. Since they veil their heads in the presence of pagans, let them likewise conceal their virginity in the church. For they do, in fact, veil themselves outsidethe church. Since they fear strangers, let them stand in awe of their brothers too. Or let them be brave enough to appear as virgins in the streets, since they have the boldness to do so in the churches.* Identical liberty means there should be the same practice outdoors as there is at home. There should be the same custom in the presence of men as there is in the presence of the Lord.

So what is the purpose of covering their glory when outdoors, but exposing it in the church? I demand a reason! Is it to please the brothers, or to please God himself? If it is to please God, he is capable of seeing whatever is done in secret.

For he is a just God and will repay what is done solely for his honor. In fact, he commands us not to call attention to any of the things we do that would merit reward in his eyes. Nor are we to receive compensation for them from men. We are prohibited from letting our left hand know when we give a single small coin—or any charitable gift whatsoever. (Matt. 6:2,3) Since this is the case, we should enshroud ourselves with the deepest darkness when we offer to God the gift of our very bodies and spirits. That is, when we dedicate our very nature to him.

If we do something contrary to God’s way, we are not doing it for his sake. And if we do not do something for God’s sake, we do it for the sake of men. And something done for the sake of men is wrong, for it betrays a lust for glory. For glory is a thing wrongful to those whose testing consists of humility in every area. And if the virtue of sexual abstinence is conferred by God, then “what do you have that you have not received?” (1 Cor. 4:7) Yet, the fact you do not offer it to God alone shows that it has not been given you by God. We shall see, then, whether or not that which is [merely] human will prove to be firm and true.

Veiling For God’s Glory

  1. It is reported that when this issue was first debated, someone asked, “How will we be able to persuade the other virgins to follow this same course?” As if it were sheer numbersthat would bring us joy! Rather, isn’t it the grace of God and the merits of each individual? Is it the presence of virgins that adorns and commends the Church in the sight of God? Or is it the Church that adorns and commends virgins?

The person who asked this question revealed that the real root of this issue is glory. And where there is glory, there is enticement. Where there is enticement, there are physical compulsions. Where there are compulsions, certain actions inevitably follow. And where there are such inevitable actions, there is moral weakness. Ironically, for the sake of “glory,” they do not cover their heads, but they are later forced to cover their bellies in shame because of the ruin [i.e. tin-wanted pregnancy] resulting from their moral weakness. For what motivates them is not religion, but emulation [of the world].

Virgin Sisterhoods

Or sometimes they are motivated by that god—their stomachs. For the brotherhood readily supplies the needs of virgins.1 The sad part is that such fallen virgins are not merely personally ruined, but they carry with them “a long rope of sins.” (Isa. 5:18) For [when first joining the order of virgins], they are brought forth into the middle of the church. They are elated by the church’s approval of their decision [to remain virgin]. And the brethren shower them with all sorts of honors and charitable gifts. However, a virgin receives all of these things only so long as she does not fall [from her virginity].

For that reason, when these virgins do commit immoral sins, they begin to contemplate a deed that is as low as their honors had been high. This deed is as follows: Since an uncovered head is a recognized mark of virginity [in some churches], such a fallen virgin permanently goes about with her head uncovered to avoid being discovered. So she walks about in clothing that is designated for another [i.e. a true virgin]. Even though she is surely conscious now of being a woman, she has the audacity to approach God with a bare head.

However, the jealous God and Lord will bring such things into public view. For “there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.” (Matt. 10:26) But such women will never confess their sins, unless they are eventually betrayed by an infant’s cries.u What audacities will such a person do to her womb, for fear of being detected to be [not only a woman but] a mother as well. God only knows how many infants have been long fought against by their mothers. Yet, he has helped such infants through gestation and development up until they were born sound and whole. Such “virgins” seem to conceive quite readily, have the happiest deliveries, and bear children who are indeed most like their fathers.v

Tertullian’s Counsel To Virgins

  1. In conclusion, I have set forth in this tract the defense of my position. I have demonstrated that my position is in harmony with Scripture, Nature, and Discipline. Scripture establishes the rule. Then Nature attests to the rule. Finally, Discipline requires it. However, which of these three things will support a custom [i.e. not veiling virgins] that is founded

merely on human opinion? What validates their view? For God’s rule is validated by Scripture, Nature, and Discipline. Whatever contradicts these three is not from God.

If Scripture is unclear, then Nature is clear. And Scripture is certain about Nature’s testimony. (1 Cor. 11:14) If there is doubt about Nature, then Discipline points out what is more approved by God. For nothing is more dear to him than humility. Nothing is more acceptable to him than modesty. Nothing is more offensive to him than selfglory and learning how to please men. Let Scripture, Nature, and Discipline be the basis of your practice, for you will find such to be approved by God. Just as you are invited to “examine all things, and diligently follow whatever is better.” (1 Thess. 5:21)

Let me now speak directly to the virgins themselves to persuade them to more willingly accept these suggestions. Permit me to address you according to the terms appropriate for your age—whether it be “mother,” “sister,” or “virgin daughter.” I plead with you to veil your head. If you’re a mother, for your sons’ sakes. If you’re a sister, for your brothers’ sakes. If a daughter, for your fathers’ sakes.2 All ages are at risk in your presence. Put on the armor of modesty. Surround yourself with the stockade of quietness. Build a rampart for your femininity that will not allow your eyes access to other people’s, or their’s to yours.

Wear the full garb of woman to preserve your standing as a virgin. Disguise somewhat your inward consciousness, in order to exhibit the truth to God alone. Yet, do not deceive yourself in appearing as a bride. For you are married—to Christ. To him you have surrendered your flesh. You have given your adulthood in marriage to him. Walk in accordance with the will of your Groom. For Christ is he who commands the wives and engaged virgins of humans to veil themselves. And so much more, of course, does he command his own.

Inappropriate Styles Of Head Coverings

17.1 also admonish you second group of women, who have fallen into wedlock, not to outgrow the discipline of the veil. Not even for a moment of an hour. Because you can’t avoid wearing a veil, you should not find some other way to nullify it. That is, by going about neither covered nor bare. For some women do not veil their heads, but rather bind them up with turbans and woollen bands. It’s true that they are protected in front. But where the head properly lies, they are bare.

Others cover only the area of the brain with small linen coifs that do not even quite reach the ears. I suppose they adopt this for fear of pressing the head. I feel sorry for them if their hearing is so weak that they can’t hear through a covering. They should know that the entire head constitutes the woman. Its limits and boundaries reach as far as the place where the robe begins. The region of the veil is co-extensive with the space covered by the hair when it is unbound. In this way, the neck too is encircled.”

The pagan women of Arabia will be your judges. For they cover not only the head, but the face also. They cover it so entirely they have only one eye free. They are content to enjoy only half of the light rather than to prostitute the entire face. Their females would rather see than to be seen. For this reason, a certain Roman queen said that they were most unhappy—in that they could more easily fall in love than be fallen in love with. In truth, they are actually joyful in being immune from the opposite—and indeed more frequent—unhappy situation. For females are more apt to be fallen in love with than to fall in love. And the modesty of pagan discipline is indeed more simple and somewhat more barbaric.

To us, through revelations, the Lord has measured the space for the veil to cover. For a certain sister of ours was thus addressed by an angel, clapping her neck, as if in applause. He said to her [in chastisement], “What an elegant neck! And deservedly it is bare. You might as well unveil yourself from the head right down to the loins, otherwise this freedom of the neck doesn’t profit you at all.” And, of course, what you have said to one, you have said to all.

But how severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve, who remain uncovered even during the recital of the Psalms and at any mention of the name of God? For even when they are about to spend time in prayer itself, they only place a fringe, tuft [of cloth], or any thread whatever on the crown of their heads. And they think that they are covered! They falsely imagine their heads to include such a small area.

Others think the palm of their hand is obviously larger than any fringe or thread. Yet, they thereby misuse their head no less.14 They make me think of a certain winged creature that is more beast than bird. It has a small head and long legs, and it holds itself erect.15 They say that when this bird needs to hide, it thrusts its entire head—but only its head—in a thicket, leaving the rest of itself exposed. Although it is safe as to its head, it is bare as to the rest of its body. And [the predator] takes all of it, head and body. Thus will be the plight of such women as well, for they cover less than what is prudent.

So at all times, and in every place, we should walk with [God’s] law in mind. Thereby, we are prepared and equipped to meet every mention of God. For if he is in the heart of a female, he will be in her head as well.

May peace and grace from our Lord Jesus Christ be with those who read these exhortations with good will and who prefer Truth to Custom. May his peace and grace also be with Septimius Tertullianus, who wrote this tract.

Tertullian had apparently written a previous tract on this subject in Greek. However, there are no extant copies of that work.

Unless indicated otherwise, all of the Scriptural quotations in this chapter are from 1 Corinthians 11:3-16.

Not all of the early Christians shared Tertnllian’s view that the phrase, “because of the angels,” refers to the fallen angels spoken of in Genesis and in the Book of Enoch.

tertullian is quoting from the Septuagint, which uses the Greek word gyne here.

The Latin term virgo can mean “girl,” “virgin,” or “young woman.” For each place that Tertullian uses virgo, I have tried to select the English term that best fits his meaning in that particular sentence.

The virgins in a congregation were often supported by the brethren.

Tertullian is using the terms, “mother,” “sister,” “daughter,” “sons,” “brothers,” and “fathers” in a spiritual sense. (Him. 5:1,2; Matt. 12:48,49)


This is an early form of the well known “Apostles Creed.”


“Those who have heard him prophesying up to the present time” refers to the Montanists.


Among most early Christians, the doctrines and practices of those churches where the apostles had personally taught were considered a general standard for orthodoxy


^The Latin word here is sacramenti, which is the Latin equivalent of the Greek


word mysteria


The virgins who did not veil themselves were apparently complaining that the veiled virgins were “scandalizing” them.


Apparently, the custom of allowing virgins to choose either to veil, or not to veil, was being criticized in some churches, and in those churches all virgins were being instructed not to wear the veiL


The Greek word gyne, and its Latin equivalent mulier, can mean “woman/’ “married woman,” or “wife.” So when Paul wrote to the Corinthians that every gyne should pray with her head veiled, it’s not clear in itself whether he was including virgins in his instructions.


Although many modem translations attribute these words to the narrator of Genesis, Tertullian (and perhaps most other early Christians) understood these words to have been spoken by Adam.


Tertullian supposes Hebion to be the founder of a sect called the Ebionites, who viewed Jesus as simply an earthly Messiah, denying his virgin birth.


Many Christian maidens made a commitment or pledge to remain virgins threst of their lives, and they lived together with other virgins. (1 Tim. 5:11,12)


i.e., there is no authority for either practice.


The Montanists seem to have held a fairly low view of marriage. The two leading prophetesses of the movement, Maximilla and Priscilla, had both left their husbands to help lead this movement.


These women were apparently simply placing the palms of their hands on their heads as a covering during prayer.


i.e., an ostrich.

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