Men grow beards. Boys don’t, and neither do women - and the Church Fathers thought this was significant.
Despite protests to the contrary from corporations that make money selling razors, a new study released earlier this year found women were generally more attracted to men when they had “heavy stubble” or even “full beards” than when they were clean shaven. The study’s abstract summarized its findings, “Masculinity ratings increased linearly as facial hair increased, and this effect was more pronounced in women in the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle. […] Our findings confirm that beardedness affects judgments of male socio-sexual attributes and suggest that an intermediate level of beardedness is most attractive while full-bearded men may be perceived as better fathers who could protect and invest in offspring.”
But beards don’t really do anything. They’re just… there. So why do they matter? Because they are a sign of masculinity. Men grow beards. Boys don’t, and neither do women.
And I write that as a man who doesn’t grow great beards. The beards my brothers and I grow are actually more like neck beards unfortunately. But I can still acknowledge that beards are a masculine trait, as is being muscular (I’m not), having a deep voice (I have a relatively high voice for man), and being tall (I’m 6’ 3’’, so I’m doing well with at least one of these traits). Yes, these sorts of traits come in a range, and different men will have them to different degrees, and that’s fine. I’m still a man (married with children no less), and being male obviously cannot be reduced to a list of secondary physical characteristics. But that doesn’t mean these traits don’t matter at all. Secondary sex characteristics are important because they help to signal the nature and complementarity of the sexes.
Backing me up on this are none other than the venerable early Church Fathers. The Church Fathers are subject to the contingencies of their culture just like we are, but their views on beards and the like are still worth reading, if even just to counterbalance our culture’s absurd denial of the objective reality of the two sexes.
Of course, the Church’s Magisterium today has no teachings on whether or not men have to grow beards. In fact, if you scan the portraits on Wikipedia’s list of Popes, you have to go all the way back to to the 17th century to find one with any facial hair. That’s more than three solid centuries of beardless Popes. So if, contra the Church Fathers, you like to be clean shaven, don’t worry, you’re in good company.
1) "The Beard Signifies the Courageous" – St Augustine, 4th – 5th century
2) "Manliness and Strength" – Lactantius, 3rd – 4th century
3) "What a Disgrace" – St. John Chrysostom, 4th century
4) "Unnaturally Change the Form of a Man" – Apostolic Constitutions, 4th century
5) "Impious to Desecrate the Symbol of Manhood" – Clement of Alexandria, 2nd – 3rd century
“This, then, the mark of the man, the beard, by which he is seen to be a man, is older than Eve… In this God deemed it right that he should excel, and dispersed hair over man's whole body. Whatever smoothness and softness was in him He abstracted from his side when He formed the woman Eve, physically receptive, his partner in parentage, his help in household management, while he (for he had parted with all smoothness) remained a man, and shows himself man. […]
“Wherefore males have both more hair and more heat than females… It is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness. But the embellishment of smoothing (for I am warned by the Word), if it is to attract men, is the act of an effeminate person,— if to attract women, is the act of an adulterer; and both must be driven as far as possible from our society. […]
“Let the head of men be shaven, unless it has curly hair. But let the chin have the hair. But let not twisted locks hang far down from the head, gliding into womanish ringlets. For an ample beard suffices for men. And if one, too, shave a part of his beard, it must not be made entirely bare, for this is a disgraceful sight. The shaving of the chin to the skin is reprehensible, approaching to plucking out the hair and smoothing. For instance, thus the Psalmist, delighted with the hair of the beard, says, ‘As the ointment that descends on the beard, the beard of Aaron.’ Having celebrated the beauty of the beard by a repetition, he made the face to shine with the ointment of the Lord.” (The Instructor, Book 3, Chapters 3, 11)
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