“The Great Exaltation of the Mitzvah of Covering the Hair”

by the Rt. Rev. Paul C. Hewett, SSC, Bishop of the Diocese of the Holy Cross,

“Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” (RSV, used throughout)

In the beginning God creates Adam to be the priest of creation, the one who offers creation back to the Father by naming the other creatures. (Gen. 2: 19-20) God then creates a helper fit for Adam by taking one of Adam's ribs and making a woman and bringing her to Adam. Adam calls her Woman, Eve, bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, taken out of Man, the two as one flesh, naked, and not ashamed. (Gen. 2: 21-25) God thus bestows upon the Man and the Woman the hierarchy found in his own three-personed nature, the Father as the Fountainhead, the three Persons co-equal. The first creation account (Gen. 1: 26-28) makes the same point. Male and female are created in God's image, and are blessed, and told to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over it.

Since the Fall, God calls men to shed their blood to protect their wives, families and communities, and to ensure freedom and new life for them. (Deut. 20: 1-9) Women are not to do this. They are not expendable as men are. Life goes on with just a few men. It ends if there are too few women. Traditional societies know this, and we are forgetting it to our peril. God made women to shed blood to engender new life, not to do battle or to compete with men. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , Aslan tells Lucy that she is not to join the men in battle, but to be ready to minister to the wounded.

The Patriarch Abraham, after God calls him, defeats an alliance of four kings with a small force, and meets the mysterious Melchizedek, the King of Salem, King of Righteousness, Priest of God Most High, “without father or mother or geneology, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God...continues a priest for ever.” (Heb. 7: 3) Melchizedek offers bread and wine and blesses Abraham, who gives Melchizedek a tenth of his possessions. (Gen. 14: 17-20)

In the Old Covenant God establishes the Law and the sacrificial system, culminating in the Day of Atonement, (Lev. 16; 23: 26 -32) to prepare his people for His Son's perfect Sacrifice. In the Levitical priesthood, the priests and levites are all men. On the Day of Atonement the blood shed is a from a bull and a ram-goat, sprinkled by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies and on the priests and people, foreshadowing the day when God will fully and once for all atone for the sin of the world.

Perfection is not attainable under the Levitical priesthood, so God sends “another priest...after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 7: 11 -14). Jesus is a priest for ever, appointed with a divine oath (Ps. 110: 4) in “the power of an indestructible life.” (Heb. 7: 16) His Priesthood therefore eclipses the Levitical, because Melchizedek is greater than both Abraham and his descendent, Levi.

With the prophets, God teaches His people that His covenant with them is the nuptial mystery of absolute love between God, the Bridegroom, and Israel , the Bride, consummated in glory. He has already shown them the importance of the bridal, the feminine. To be a mother in Israel is paramount, as when Deborah sings the victory of God's people, (Judges 5:7) and Solomon sings the praises of the faithful wife. (Prov. 31) Jeremiah recalls Israel 's love as a bride, when she followed God in the wilderness. (Jer. 2: 1-3) Ezekiel laments God's unfaithful bride (ch. 16) and elaborates on God's plan to redeem her. Hosea demonstrates God's redeeming love by marrying a prostitute and taking her back, because God will allure faithless Israel , “and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” She will call the Lord “My husband...And I will betroth you to me forever...” (Hos. 2: 14-23)

Then comes the first faint light of a clear, sweet dawn – Mary, and her fiat with God. She becomes the Bridal Chamber of the Word, the Womb of God. In her, the marriage of heaven and earth, of time and eternity, begins. In her, the Daystar dawns, to appear before all men. (2 Pet. 1: 19) The Morning Star, Christ, can now rise in our hearts. She will show us what it is to be a woman in Christ, because she is the first Christian, the first one to say “yes” to Christ, by saying “yes” to the Holy Spirit.

The Father's plan shows the perfect balance between the sexes, from Genesis to Revelation. In the Old Covenant, the first Eve is taken from the side of the first Adam. In the New Covenant, the Second Adam, the Son of God, is taken from the New Eve.

Mary's Son fulfills not only the Old Covenant, but all the pagan myths. His death and resurrection lies behind fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and sagas like Lord of the Rings and novels like Don Quixote . First, God creates men and women. The sexes are differentiated. And after they fall, a Warrior King is promised, who will engage in decisive combat with evil. In the combat stupendous, He will reveal once for all that the essence of masculinity is sacred violence. He will shed all His blood and die, and undo death from within, and rise, victorious, and break fallen man's covenant with death, and open the prison gates that kept man back from God, and from his fellow man, and from himself. This Warrior King will be revealed as the life of man. He will establish His shalom , His peace, and take His Bride to Himself, resplendent, and adorn her with gold, and cover her with glory, so that she can live forevermore.

The pattern is this: God sheds His blood for us. (Heb. 9: 12) This is the radical extreme of graciousness, of doing everything necessary to save the Bride, to completely save her. Do the barbarian gods and goddesses do this? Not on your life. They do the opposite. The barbarian gods and goddesses, with their cohorts of priestesses, demand our blood. They demand human sacrifice, in rituals, in war, murder, suicide, abortion and euthanasia. God, the Father Almighty, gives His only begotten Son, to die and rise again for us, the one perfect Sacrifice for the whole human race. The Mass immerses us in this Passover mystery, this Paschal mystery, of passing from death to life, from slavery to freedom, from sin to righteousness. The priest who pleads the once-for-all Sacrifice, and makes anamnesis of it (re-calling, in the Holy Spirit, so as to make present), is a man, an icon of Christ, to re-present the great High Priest Who eternally pleads His Sacrifice before the Father's throne of grace. The priest is a man because only men can be bridegrooms, to re-present Christ the Bridegroom in the marriage supper of the Lamb, the nuptial mystery of the Eucharist. “For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure...” (Rev. 19: 7-8)

The apostles, the ones sent out by our Lord, must in every respect be like Him. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” (John 20: 21) The word “sent” in Hebrew is shaliach. Not only does the one sent have the full authority of the sender (a concept we still have with ambassadors representing heads of state), but the one sent is the real presence of the sender, in a perichoresis that involves no loss of identity. If the Sender is the Bridegroom, so must be the one sent. The one sent is the ikon of the One Who sends him. Since all ministry derives from the apostles, since the bishops are the ones sent out by the apostles, the fountainhead of all ministry, all the ordained ministers of the Church must be men, to establish the iconography of the nuptial mystery, the essential mystery of creation.

God's plan for men is fully revealed in the new creation. Men are providers, protectors and priests of their families. A man-in-Christ will shed his blood for his wife, family and community. (Eph. 5: 25) He will offer, as their priest, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, for them, for the part of creation with which he is connected. He makes this offering to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is the role of the priest at the Altar to reveal to each man in the congregation his priesthood, as a member of the royal priesthood of all believers. Women know this priesthood hierarchically, through their fathers, husbands or whatever man is in authority over them. Experiencing something hierarchically in the new creation is exalting, just as Jesus is glorified in His hierarchical relationship with the Father, and each one of us is exalted by his hierarchical relationship with the Lord.

The Day of Atonement is fulfilled, from Good Friday onwards. Jesus the great High Priest of all creation gives all who trust in Him boldness of access to the throne of grace. “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith...” (Heb. 10: 19-22)

Charles Williams, a great lay-theologian in the Church of England in the mid twentieth century and a friend of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, commented on the Day of Atonement in his book, The Forgiveness of Sins , in chapter four, “The Offering of Blood.”

This ceremonial (the Day of Atonement), because spiritual, importance of the blood, seems to apply generally. Almost any natural “shedding of blood” is regarded as “unclean.” Even surgical blood- shedding, unless perhaps it were confined to the priests, ought apparently to come under the same formal condemnation; not perhaps improperly, for it is, as the need for it is, a result of the Fall. A bleeding from the nose would be unclean. Yet war was permitted, and executions? They were permitted by the particular will of the Lord; they were permitted by the Law which determined what was permissible. The children of Israel only slew “in the name of the Lord.” There is also, of course, that other great natural bloodshed common to half the human race—menstruation. That was unclean. But it is not impossible that that is an image, naturally, of the great bloodshed on Calvary, and perhaps, supernaturally, in relation to it. Women share the victimisation of the blood; it is why, being the sacrifice so, they cannot be priests. They are mothers and, in that special sense, victims; witnesses, in the body, to the suffering of the body, and the method of Redemption.

First, let us establish that ceremonial uncleanness in the Old Covenant was not degrading. There were various ways in which men and women could be unclean, and uncleanness was part of the system regulating the approach to the infinite holiness of Almighty God. In the Old Covenant, the motto was “touch God and die,” but now, in the New, it is “touch God and live.” God's Laws of ritual purity and impurity were also mercifully ordained to allow for times of repentance, rest and recovery. In the new creation, women's blood shedding to engender new life is redeemed, along with everything in creation that is returned eucharistically to the Father.

Williams offers us in this passage a profound Christian anthropology. “Women share the victimisation of the blood; it is why, being the sacrifice so, they cannot be priests.” Only Jesus can be both Victim and Priest. Only He, being God, can offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice. No sinner could atone for the sin of the world. Only God-in-the-flesh can shed pure, atoning blood, that can be applied in the Holy Spirit in every time and place in every Eucharist to every repentant sinner, for forgiveness, deliverance, cleansing, healing and eternal life.

Women cannot be priests because they cannot offer the sacrifice of which they are already victims. Men, ordained priests, offer the Sacrifice of which they are not already the victims. They offer, objectively, the Sacrifice of Christ. They offer Blood that is His.

Williams picks up on this theme again in “Taliessin in the Rose Garden,” verses 157-168.

I heard, as in a throb of stretched verse, the women everywhere throughout it (The Empire) sob with the curse and the altars of Christ everywhere offer the grails. Well are women warned from serving the altar who, by the nature of their creature, from Caucasia to Carbonek, share with the Sacrifice the victimisation of blood. Flesh knows what spirit knows, but spirit knows it knows—categories of identity; women's flesh lives in the quest of the Grail in the change from Camelot to Carbonek and from Carbonek to Sarras, puberty to Carbonek, and the stanching, and Carbonek to death. Blessed is she who gives herself to the journey.

And so the woman looks to her husband to be the priest, the one who offers her as his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the Father, as the ordained priest offers the bread and wine brought forward by the Church, the Bride. The whole of God's revelation to man is unapologetically and radically patriarchal. God is the Father Almighty, from Whom is eternally begotten the Son, and from Whom eternally proceeds the Holy Spirit. Scripture is the story of the redemption of patriarchy, from fallen, twisted, self-aggrandizing patriarchy, to the restoration of gracious, kenotic patriarchy. Jesus fully reveals the kenotic (self-emptying) patriarchy of the Kingdom by emptying Himself, even to the death of the Cross. (Phil. 2: 7-8)

In redeemed patriarchy women finally experience the full release of their personalities and gifts, the glorious liberty of the sons of God, the joy of the holy myrrh bearers who met the risen Lord at the empty tomb. Women are glad to hear the apostles' greeting to the Church, “brethren.” (cf. Heb. 10: 19 above) Nowhere does the Bible ever say “brothers and sisters.” The ministers of the Gospel greet the Church this way because it is the way of all Holy Scripture: the feminine is always subsumed under the masculine. “Brethren” means the whole Church, but the men are singled out because they are responsible before God for their wives and children, and they need to know that they are responsible, and women know that if God can straighten out “the brethren,” the rest of the community will pretty much fall into line. If the brethren are not in a godly relationship with the rest of the Body, there will be no community, no matter how many sisters are in the Church. If the men are in Church, the women will be there too. The reverse is not true, and the feminized church leads to a culture that becomes an ant hill or a bee hive, with ever larger prisons, and an all encompassing state to replace the pater-familias.

In redeemed patriarchy, women can see the balance God ordains between the sexes. In Holy Scripture, when a reference is corporate, it is usually feminine. God's people, corporately, are His Bride. Men and women, together comprising the Church, are styled as feminine before God. When a reference is personal, it is usually masculine. Men and women, as persons, are sons of God by adoption and grace. A woman experiences her sonship vicariously, through the believing man in her life. In the totality of union, something vicarious is not second-rate, but fully in communion, reflecting the complete unity of the three persons of the Trinity.

Women are edified to hear the truth from St. Paul , that a woman's experience of the great blood shedding is in childbirth as well as in Holy Communion. Single women share in motherhood and family life by supporting those who are mothers. Christian Widows have a vital role in teaching and supporting younger women. Women know in redeemed patriarchy that they have faithful husbands who want children, husbands who will provide for them, protect them and be the priests of their families.

1 Timothy 2: 15 is set in a context of how the Church's life is to be ordered, as a model for the pagan and barbarian world. It is the model of humanity redeemed in Christ, of life in the Holy Spirit, for all time, until Christ comes again. The authority of the Apostle Paul is the authority of Christ. We do not condition what St. Paul (and, therefore, the Lord) say based on our fallen and warped gnostic culture; we are, rather, with the Word-and-Holy Spirit, to baptize the culture, so that it can be transformed into the Kingdom.

Here is the model that restores family life and transforms culture. “I desire than that in every place that men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Tim. 2: 8-15.

Notice that for St. Paul , childbearing is included in a woman's salvation; it is part of her experience of salvation, but not the cause of it. We are saved by grace through faith as the gift of God (Eph. 2: 8) and so continuance “in faith and love...” is what is central to salvation.

What boys and men, girls and women need to relearn today, in the Church first, and then in the culture, is that the pattern God established in creation is not obliterated by the new creation, but is redeemed in Christ , brought back into line with the Father's character and purpose. The masculine is all about separation and differentiation . A boy has to leave his mother and his home, ideally in an epic journey, in a rite of passage that involves trial, suffering and bloodshed, so that he comes home as a man. For many men, boot camp in the Armed Forces is such an experience. Confirmation class for boys and men could be also. Men leave their wives, children, homes and communities for war, for great challenges, which define them and give them their identity. A man learns his identity and vocation exteriorly, from what he learns outside himself. His vocation is not a given; he has to figure out what he wants to do with his life, and as a Christian, that means learning how to size up the call of God upon his life.

And the masculine is about differentiation . Men make hierarchies and build specialized teams to get jobs done, to create externally, outside their bodies, to build communities, produce works of art and to pioneer new places to live or new ways of doing things. Differentiation is biological; the sex of a child is determined by the father. Men understand stock splits and pruning and breaking things apart to clean, repair or improve them. They are hard-wired to analyze, define and invent. Camile Paglia once said that if there were no men, women would still be living in straw huts.

The feminine is all about integration and communion , being a vessel. Women express unconditional love and intuitively keep things together. Creation for them is primarily internal, in the womb, or in making a home. The home and the family are central. Wherever a woman is, whether in the home or an outside workplace, she can quickly size up how everyone around her is feeling, and she will seek to keep them emotionally connected. Women remember particular things about family members: birthdays, anniversaries, shoe sizes, and preferences. A woman is hard-wired to be “a help meet for (man).” (Gen. 2: 20) Without being asked, she seeks to help, and free, her man, or her employer, to do what he must.

In the complementarity that God intends for the sexes, a man says that his wife makes him more of a man, and a woman says that her husband makes her more of a woman. They discover themselves in each other, catching glimpses of the ecstatic life which models the most holy Trinity, a communion of Persons in which each pours Himself infinitely into the life of the other. Communion of persons is ontologically a gracious, kenotic patriarchy.

The Paschal Mystery

Kenosis, self-emptying, for our Lord, began with His incarnation and goes right to the descent into hell, as we say in the Apostles' Creed and celebrate during the Triduum. Jesus' masculinity involves separation and differentiation. He is separated from Mary and Joseph when He lingers in the Temple as a boy. (Luke 2: 41-52) He leaves His mother and home for much of His ministry. He experiences extreme separation from the Father on the Cross. (Mark 15: 34 ) After dying He descends to the lowest place to harrow hell and preach to the departed spirits. (1 Peter 3: 18-22) He then rises to the highest place. His lifting up is His epic journey to the Father, and the return, through Him, of creation to the Father.

In the harrowing of hell Jesus does not get stuck. He rises from the dead, appears to the holy women and the apostles and reconnects with the feminine, with the Church, His Bride, risen and alive forevermore. The Eucharist and the Sacraments manifest the Paschal Mystery and connect us with it. In Christ , men can descend into hellish experiences and not get stuck, but return, ascending in the Son, and reconnecting with the feminine. But many men lose their connection with the Son, or never had it to begin with. For them, the Paschal Mystery is short-circuited. They descend into war, catastrophe, severe illness or terrible setbacks, and find themselves stuck in a pit, unable to process their nightmares, unable to reconnect with the feminine, with their spouses, families and communities. After Viet Nam many men could not face what they experienced, or even talk about it.

Men are fascinated with transcendence, with getting into “the zone,” and discovering the deep meaning of existence in danger, anguish, living on the edge and in sports, which reveal, if only in glimpses, the meaning of life. A man may even be fascinated by ultra-sports and seek transcendence by entering states of extreme stress. Handel did this as an artist by composing the Messiah in two weeks. He was “in the zone.” In Christ, a boy can go out and get back from his initiation into manhood, or a man can go out and get back from his epic journey, or odyssey, pilgrimage, adventure, foray, hunt, battle or pioneering. In these endeavors a man bonds deeply with the men who are with him. He learns how to take responsibility, to sacrifice, to suffer, to live for others, to be a warrior and experience the promise of metamorphosis. He “discovers himself as a soldier and a priest, escaping from the suffocating selfishness of bourgeois society, and transcends the calculation and boredom of materialism, into the world of love and honor.” (Leon J. Podles, The Church Impotent, the Feminization of Christianity , p. 183) A man is meant to die to the old, weak self and experience re-birth as the new, strong self, the saviour-hero. Christ is the absolute, cosmic fulfillment of this. Christ is the only end of our quest, the perfect masculinity that descends into death and hell, there to confront and conquer them and to return to His Bride, the Church, as King and Spouse, for the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Failure to reconnect exposes one to “the danger of nihilism and the masculine abyss, the lust for power, the naked assertion of the self and a void that nothing can fill. A man is taken captive by the powers of darkness which he wanted to conquer, cutting the self off from love, entering the mysticism of sin that has haunted our times. Feminists have fallen under the spell of this. For them, everything is politics.” (Podles, Ibid ., adapted from pp. 193-195) The man must return to the feminine and reconnect, as the bearer, perhaps, of victory, but certainly of new perspectives, new knowledge or new wisdom. The descent into hell initiates a man into suffering and death. The problem is getting back, ascending and reconnecting. Ultimately this can only be done in Christ, as revealed in the Liturgy of Easter Eve, a subject dealt with at some length by Hans Urs von Balthasar. Jesus harrows hell and then rises from the dead. “Only by defeating Satan and death can Jesus receive the Name that is above every name, Kyrios, Lord, and be honored as King of the universe, absolute and sovereign Judge.” (Podles, Ibid ., p. 81)

It is in Christ that a man rises from hell and reconnects with the feminine. In Christ a man can confess his sins and receive absolution and Holy Communion, restoration of sonship in the Son. Women help men to reconnect. Women are all about integration and communion. Women help men find themselves in the Lord and get back into the upward spiral: the more a man cherishes his wife, the more she wants to submit to him, and the more a wife submits to her husband, the more he cherishes her. This is the ec-static life of living in and through the other, the life of co-inherence, as Charles Williams would say. On a more commonplace note, husbands and wives can have simple rituals for reconnecting with each other after the day's work.

So the man comes home, to reconnect with the feminine, as the transcendent one. All men have a craving for the transcendent, and all women have a craving that their men should share the transcendent with them, so they can have some vicarious share in it. But women know it directly through childbirth, which brings us back to our text. St. Paul is right. Women experience the transcendent, and the redemptive, in childbirth: “this is my great way as a woman of building up the Kingdom.” There is the apocryphal, but no doubt true, story of the Russian Orthodox woman who was asked her opinion about the ordination of women. She asked why she would possibly have any interest in such a thing. “I have given five sons to the world, and any or all of them could become priests. Why should I want to be a priest?”

Transcendence can be directly experienced by women elsewhere, and of course, in the Church, but conception, childbearing and birth and uniquely the woman's. Women do not have to find their identity and vocation outside of themselves, as men do. Their identity and vocation is a given. Motherhood is a given. Identity is learned interiorly. A woman with child knows herself to be a mother. Her vocation is to give birth to and nourish new life. Her role in bringing children into the world is prolonged. The man, the transcendent element from beyond, got her pregnant, and now, when her time, her kairotic moment comes, she is faced with an event which is larger than life. Women, Christian women certainly, are more defined by the children they have and the men they marry than any other factor, except our Lord and His Church. And widows and Christian women who do not marry are more defined by their life in Christ, their family relationships and how they support a culture of life, than by their means of earning a living.

Let us pick up the thread of women's direct experience of the transcendent in the Church. Just as her husband got her pregnant, so she (and the whole Body, as feminine and bridal) are made pregnant by the Word and the Sacraments. That is why the role of the Body is Marian. We are all to conceive Christ by the Holy Spirit, and be God-bearers in the world. That is why only men can be priests. Only men can represent Christ as the Bridegroom, whose Bride is made fruitful with the Word, by the Holy Spirit. Once again we see the marvelous balance between the sexes in the Kingdom. There is one thing men can do that women cannot: be priests in the Priesthood of the Lord, Jesus Christ. There is one thing women can do that men cannot: conceive, bear and give birth to children. In our culture of death, gnostics and cynics will say, “what is so special about that?” But Biblical Christians know that the family, the home, and the wife and mother who is the home is the highest and most important thing in the Church and in the world. And every Daughter of Mary is eager to have a man-in-Christ sitting at the head of her table, both at her table in her home and at the Altar of God, in her church, as provider, protector and priest.

If in a gnostic and illusory world, women could be priests, the balance is overthrown. We are telling our people what the boys and men already know, where gnosticism has invaded: there is nothing unique for you in the Church. Women can do everything men can do, even though there are some things women can do that men cannot. There are unique roles for women, but not for men. But the Priesthood of our Lord has just as much to do with being as doing , and that is why we are blessed to have 1 Timothy 2: 15, and all the other hard texts that the Holy Spirit gives us through St. Paul.


[1] Johansson, Torbjörn in Imberg, Rune, ed., Talet om Korset – Guds Kraft, pp.  205 – 236.

[2] Ibid, p. 205

[3] cf. Zizioulas, Being as Communion, pp. 44 & 91 – 92.


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