Wednesday, March 22, 2023

What about veils. . .

Danish painting of Luther preaching, 1561.
While at the Sem (you know which one I mean), it was not uncommon to see veiled women in the Divine Service.  It was not common but neither was it rare.  I could say the same about my own parish.  It is not uncommon for women to wear a veil -- not common but not rare either.  Strangely enough, I heard whispers about the practice from some pastors who saw it in the Seminary Chapel.  To be sure, I have had comments and questions from others within my own parish.

On January 15, 1525, Martin Luther preached a message on marriage. In his sermon he said this:

Women, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife” [Eph 5:22-23]. Again to the Colossians in the third chapter [3:18]. Because of this, the wife has not been created out of the head, so that she shall not rule over her husband, but be subject and obedient to him.

For that reason the wife wears a headdress, that is, the veil on her head, as St. Paul writes in 1. Corinthians in the second chapter, that she is not free but under obedience to her husband. 

 And in the Table Talks of Luther: 

Otherwise and aside from that, the wife should put on a veil, just as a pious wife is duty-bound to help bear her husband’s accident, illness, and misfortune on account of the evil flesh.

If you look at the above painting of Luther preaching at a time contemporaneous with the Reformation, you see all the women with head coverings. It does not appear that it was either uncommon or rare then but normative.  Today they seem odd to us.  But in the larger context of Christian history and even early Lutheranism, they were not unusual at all.  Even in the context of global Christianity they are not uncommon and are more normal than most Americans and American Lutherans might recognize.  My guess is you will be seeing more and not less of them.

Though Luther certainly tied the veil to the submission of women, I doubt that this is the universal context today.  In fact, I think the impetus for the restoration of this older practice may have something to do with the times and the culture.  It is, perhaps, more a witness to the faith in a world which has corrupted and distorted that faith to the point where it is hard to recognize it.  It is not a desire to stand out in the sense that so many in our culture flaunt things but to make sure that the external mirrors the internal. The veil seen in our churches might be a simple sign of identity -- the mark of those who take seriously vocations, roles, living holy and pure lives.  Given how many Lutherans reacted and still react, it is clear that this has hit a nerve.   Oddly, we Lutherans seem to be more threatened by those who want to go beyond the norm than we are the erotic, sensual, and gender bending things we see in our media and on our streets.  What is wrong with us?  Get over it.  If you are curious, ask those who wear them.  If you don't like it, keep it to yourself.  If you are interested both in the reason and the practice, there are plenty to help you decide what you want to do.  In the meantime, let us turn our attention to the bigger fish to fry in the world of faith and piety.

Lutherans are loathe to put rules in place and no one has -- to my knowledge anyway.  So if a woman wishes to wear a veil as an expression of her devotion to the Lord, God bless her.  Why are the rest of us threatened by this?  No one has ever said everyone must walk in lock step.  Indeed, why are we Lutherans threatened by any who go beyond the norm, the minimal, (dare I say it, the hymnal!) -- if people want to cross themselves, kneel, genuflect, go to private confession, fast, etc... God bless them.  It is there in our own history (lest we forget) and it may be uncommon but it is not rare.   Likewise, why is it such a big deal when pastors chant, elevate, genuflect, ring bells, wear clerical collars and vestments, etc...?  God bless them.  No one is making a rule.  Sure, we have our own preferences but it would seem to me that the Lutheran preference is not to put that into stone as command or dictate upon the conscience.  Adiaphora must at least mean a willingness to accept those who go further if it means we must also accept those who do not go very far into this realm of ceremony and usage. 


jdwalker said...

It reveals the idols. When we look at how practice in the church has changed to match practice in the culture, whether it has to do with attire, voting, genuflecting, etc., it reveals that we want the church to conform to the idols of the world around us. And like the world around us, we cannot allow for dissenters to those idols of equality, democracy, feminism, and individualism. I mean, seriously, if our women start covering their heads, our men take up the duty of headship, and our worship reflect that we take God seriously, forget being accused of being too Roman, we'll be accused of being too Mohammedan. We can't have that. I suspect we'll see more excommunications in the future.

Janis Williams said...

I began wearing a veil, oh, years back. I actually can make them for women in our congregation who are interested (brave?) enough to desire to wear one. I keep several in our bookstore for sale. I have given them away. I would rather see devotion to our Lord, and the willingness to submit to husbands be displayed by all our women, veiled or no.

jd, I hope you are right, and men will take up headship as more of us wear the veil! Perhaps if we refuse to step into what should be male vocations in our congregations, the void will be filled by them, and women can focus on our proper places. That ought to get the feminists riled. I hope you are wrong about excommunications, and it will be repentance all.