There is no one who doubts that the canticle which it is given to virgins alone to sing in the kingdom of God, is sung also by her who is Queen of virgins, sung with the others and before the others.  Yet I believe that as well as singing that canticle which, although it is sung only by the virgins, is nonetheless, as I have said, common to all of them, she makes glad the city of God also with some other song that is still more sweet and gracious.  And that beautiful melody, none even of the other virgins is found worthy to utter and chant, for it is rightly sung by her alone who alone may glory also in a child-bearing, and in a child-bearing that is divine (St Bernard, 2nd Homily ‘In praise of the Virgin Mother’).

[A]ccepting of persons in any transaction is, properly speaking, to take as a deciding factor in that transaction some aspect of the person that has nothing to do with the matter; for example, when I give a benefice to a person just because he is a noble or is handsome. For nobility or beauty have nothing to do with the question of getting a benefice. But if some aspect of the person does have something to do with the matter, then if I consider that aspect in settling the matter, I do not accept the person; for example, if I give a benefice to a person because he is good and will serve the Church well, or because he is well-educated and honourable, I am not an acceptor of persons. Therefore to accept the person is nothing other than to consider some aspect of the person that has no relation to the business. Hence, since God in His works and benefits regards nothing that pre-exists on the side of the creature-for that which pertains to the creature is an effect of His election—but takes as His measure merely what pleases His will, according to which He effects all things, and not the condition of their person, as is said in Ephesians (1:11), it is evident that He does not regard the person of man.

–  St Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians


I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonours her head — it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.)  Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognise no other practice, nor do the churches of God.

St Paul, First Letter to the Corinthians

My understanding of the reason for this law is that it is twofold. Head covering signifies social function given from above. The default social function of woman indicated by her physiology is to bear, nurture and educate children. This is why all women should be educated but not all men need be. If women marry in their late teens and are fertile and do not avoid bearing children they will usually have their last children in their early forties and so the last child will reach majority when his parents are around sixty. The default social function of women is natural and uniform. The default social function of men, on the other hand,  seems to be artificial. They function outside the home and have specialised tasks in the organic social hierarchy. Thus, men wear artificial and distinct head covering while women wear long hair, a natural and uniform covering. It should be born in mind that (as in a synagogue) historically and according to canon law until 1983 men and women sit separately in Church rather than together. “It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church” (Canon 1262 CIC 1917). The basic unit of temporal society is the family but the basic unit of ecclesiastical society is the individual.

The first reason, therefore, for the requirement that men remove their head covering in Church and women adopt an artificial head covering is that man symbolises Christ who is the head of the Church and woman symbolises the Church His body and bride. Christ does not receive his headship from a higher human authority and so man removes his artificial head covering to show Christ’s headship as of right. The Church does indeed receive its dignity from Christ and not on account of nature and is body and bride not head. Accordingly women adopt an artificial head covering in church.

The second reason for the requirement that men remove their head covering in Church and women adopt an artificial head covering is that human beings must efface their own glory in the presence of the Divine Glory. Man’s glory comes from his delegated function in the organic social hierarchy – symbolised by his head covering. Accordingly, he removes his glory upon entering the church by taking off his hat. Woman’s glory comes from her natural and uniform task of bearing, nurturing and educating children – symbolised by her long hair. As it would be shameful (and impractical) to shave off her hair every time she goes to church she veils it instead (which conveniently also accomplishes the first symbolism just mentioned).

Because traditionally men and women sit separately in church the first symbolism, while accentuating the sacramental significance of the sexual difference does not accentuate the particular authority of this husband over this wife. This is helpful as the second symbolism is designed precisely to emphasise that “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) by removing the things which differentiate the sexes in temporal society.

The law concerning the wearing and removal of head covering therefore both accentuates the reason for the authority of husbands as head of the family in temporal matters and it’s symbolism while emphasising the this-world and provisional nature of that authority.

We must consider why man should not veil his head, but the woman. This can be taken in two ways: first, because a veil put on the head designates the power of another over the head of a person existing in the order of nature. Therefore, the man existing under God should not have a covering over his head to show that he is immediately subject to God; but the woman should wear a covering to show that besides God she is naturally subject to another … Secondly, to show that the glory of God should not be concealed but revealed; but man’s glory is to be concealed. Hence it says in Ps 115 (v. 1): “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give the glory.”

– St Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians


Nicaea I

Constantinople I



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Constantinople IV

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Dialogue page

I’ve often wondered why there isn’t more commerce between the living and the dead. Not that I’m advocating necromancy, you understand; just wondering why it is that our Lord in His wisdom does not command or allow the souls living in what St Augustine calls the hidden receptacles to manifest themselves more often to mortal men.  The bishop of Hippo himself used to ponder the same question.  There is a touching passage in one of his earlier works in which he argues that departed souls must be ignorant of what passes on earth, for otherwise why did not his mother come to comfort him when he was feeling downcast, as she had always done while she lived?  But later he changed his mind.

It might seem that such transactions would be highly beneficial for us on earth.  Would we not be comforted and inspired if a blessed soul were to appear? Would we not be fitly chastened to see a soul come up from some purgatorial chamber, dim or twilight? And what more effective way to terrify unto salvation those still in deadly sin than the apparition of a soul from hell?

Yet we know that all these things are rare.  Not unheard of, true: we have only to read the Dialogues of St Gregory to find examples, or, if you prefer something more modern, you could turn to Aardweg’s Hungry Souls. Yet, they are rare. Why is this?

Miracles, of course, must be infrequent, since otherwise they would not be recognisable as miracles.  But such apparitions are perhaps not miraculous.  For a spirit to move to some new location and clothe itself briefly with a small portion of visible matter as with a garment does not obviously exceed its natural powers.  And even if it be a miracle, its usefulness to mortals would not depend on this, but would come from its being a reminder or revelation of great truths.  So why does not God will such apparitions to be frequent, as He wills that sermons about these same truths should be often preached by His ministers, who have not experienced that of which they speak?

I think that visions of this kind would not be as useful as we suppose.  Quidquid recipitur, after all, ad modum recipientis recipitur.  Suppose someone were scared out of mortal sin by seeing a lost soul.  That would do him no good, but just the opposite, unless he persevered in his new way of life.  Then is he to be helped to do this by a constant series of such grim visitations?  In that case, he would live in a constant state of horror, hardly propitious for growing in spiritual liberty and love.  But perhaps he could be given just one such fright to start him off?  But it is better for his conversion to be effected by human preaching, since that is meritorious for the preacher.  And if the man is so hard-hearted that he can be converted only by such a visitation – or, to speak more exactly, if among all created means, only such a visitation would tend to produce in him those serious thoughts and desires which God normally wills to be a precondition for conversion – how likely is he to persevere when once the initial shock has worn off?  Would he not be more likely (again, without prejudice to the freedom of divine grace – I do not want Aelianus to tax me with Molinism) to write the whole thing off as an hallucination, or as a strange experience best forgotten? Our Lord implies that this would be the case for the rich man’s five brothers. 

But it would console us, at least, if someone whom we loved, and about whose salvation we were fearful, were to come to us from purgatory, to reassure us, and it would be good for both of us if that soul should move us to prayer.  Yet, if that were the rule, and not the exception, what if the soul did not appear to us?  Would we not have to conclude that that soul was lost?  How could we bear such knowledge?  If it is hard for us wayfarers to think of the eternal loss of souls in general, and to unite in our minds this part of revelation and the divine love, how would it be if we learned of the loss of some soul whom we had known and loved?  Would not such knowledge be an obstacle for the spiritual progress of all but those already perfect?

But if a blessed soul were to appear – surely that would be only encouragement for the beholder, and no obstacle?  But again, what are his dispositions?  If he is an incorrigible scoffer, he has now one more thing to scoff about.  If he lacks faith rather from thoughtlessness than from scorn, such a visitation would perhaps make an impression, but need it lead him to conversion?  It might lead him to pride as easily as to humility; or, if he is the sort that would tend to be humbled by it, then he could be humbled also by a good sermon.  But at least if he were already in the right path, would not the apparition be helpful?  Yet we have St John of the Cross, doctor of the Church, to contradict this.  Any such extraordinary manifestation, he insists, is liable to lead the beholder away from the purely spiritual path of faith, hope and charity, and to alloy his motives thenceforth with curiosity and the prospect of sensuous delight.

Yet we know that such manifestations do occur, and so they must be sometimes useful.  There are some souls whom God wishes to help who are, so to speak, not likely to be helped in other ways; and for the human race as a whole, or at least for the elect as a whole, it is useful that such things happen sometimes and be recorded.  But it is also good that they be rare.

Yet perhaps many people have some lesser experiences: not apparitions, but, as it were, something imperfect and rudimentary within the same genus.  Often those who have been bereaved speak of an awareness of the presence of the departed soul, and we need not suppose that these things are usually just imagination.

I once knew an old man, very simple, cheerful, and pious.  He had never learned to read and write, having hardly been schooled.  His father, I think, must have been mad: at any rate, when the old man was a boy, his father had once branded him with a red-hot poker.  He served in the War as a conscript, and the example of some Catholic led him to convert. He had never married, and lived alone.  His conversation was often hard to follow, and yet he was the sort of person whom it raised your spirits to hear speak.  Then I went to live in a foreign land and forgot him.  One morning in that foreign land, between sleep and waking, I had a sort of sense of that old man’s soul ascending and that he greeted me as he went, disburdened of all the troubles of his long life. 

That very day a message came from my own country to say that he had died.







Rome, 7th September 1793

Noble sir, We consider that our especial commendation and the testimony of our heart may be justly claimed by those who, in this time of apostasy and impiety, have exerted the force of their genius that they might write in defence of the cause of right, and that they might labour with all their strength in helping and in favouring not only those distinguished ecclesiastics who are now exiles from the kingdom of France, but also all the Catholics residing in the most happy dominions of Great Britain. Amongst them you have stood out as one of the foremost, in that you have composed a famous work to overthrow and utterly destroy the fictions of the new philosophers of France, and have exhorted your fellow country-men not only to show indulgence to the above mentioned ecclesiastics in which they are pre-eminent, but also to show indulgences to Catholics born in the realm of Great Britain–those Catholics who, buoyed up by the renown of their loyalty, have made themselves worthy of the whole nation lavishing its love and benevolence upon them, and have also shown that they are no hindrance to the tranquility and security of the kingdom. This has taken place through your agency, often and at many times, but especially in the year 1780 and also on many subsequent occasions. And therefore it is our wish that you should accept with joyful and cheerful heart our congratulations and praises, which have this especial object—that you should more and more exert yourself to protect the cause of civilization, and that you should moreover feel assured that an encouragement has been given to our high opinion of the illustrious King of Great Britain and the renowned British people, because of such noble arguments for liberty. All this shall be declared personally to you by him who is to hand you this letter, and who has particularly recommended himself to us and to the Apostolic See since he can boast, to some extent a common nationality with yourself. Meanwhile we invoke upon you from the Almighty and beneficent Father all such good things as the heart can desire.

Given at Rome, the seventh day of September, 1793, in the nineteenth year of our pontificate.


Romæ, 7 septembris 1793.

Nobilis vir, salutem. Nostram profecto commemdationem, nostrique grati animi testimonium jure quodam suo vindicare sibi videntur ii, qui apostasiæ et impietatis tempore suas ingenii vires eo intenderunt, ut bonam causam defendendam susciperent, utque plurimum adlaborarent in juvandis fovendisque non iis modo egregiis ecclesiasticis viris, qui sunt e regno Galliarum extorres, sed omnibus etiam catholicis, qui in florentissimis istis Magnæ Britanniæ regnis commorantur. Hos inter tu in primis emituisti, qui celebre elucubrasti opus ad evertenda et profliganda novorum Galliæ philosophorum commenta, quique tuos hortatus esses cives nedum ut opem ferrent, ea qua præstant humanitate memoratis Galliarum ecclesiasticis viris, sed etiam ut plurimum faverent catholicis in Magnæ Britamniæ. Regno natis, qui fidelitatis laude pollentes se dignos reddiderunt, in quos natio universa suum amorem et benevolentiam conjiceret, et in quibus publici regiminis tranquillitas, et securitas conquiesceret. Quod quidem per te, et sæpe alias factum est, et ammo præsertim 1780, et aliis quoque temporibus, quæ postea sunt consecuta. Hinc læto hilarique velimus accipias animo nostras commendationes et laudes, quæ eo maxime spectant, ut tu magis magisque exciteris ad tuendam causam humanitatis, tibique præterea persuasum habeas, nostræ in Magnæ Britanniæ regem illustrem, et in inclytam mationem existimationi ob tam eximia liberalitatis argumenta magnam factam accessionem fuisse, veluti melius coram declarabitis, qui tibi has nostras litteras reddet, quique Nobis, et apostolicæ Sedi addictus est, et communem tecum nationem habere quodammodo gloriatur. Interim tibi a Deo optimo maximo bona omnia ex animo adprecamur.

Datum Romae , die 7 septembris 1793, pontificatus nostri anno decimo mono.