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In a society which is increasingly feminized, a beard makes a statement about masculinity. It is a sign of masculinity to the world, and a sign of proper masculinity to the man himself…

beardsThis month there is a campaign called “No Shave November” in which men are encouraged to grow facial hair. This is to raise awareness of prostate cancer. No doubt this is a worthy cause, but my friends at Barbatus Catholic Beard Balm are amplifying the worthy cause with a parallel campaign called “The Nazarite Challenge.”

The Nazarite vow was a temporary religious commitment adopted by Jewish men. John the Baptist took the Nazarite vow, and many scholars think Jesus Christ also took the vow. Those who took the vow committed themselves to baptism, purity, prayer… and not shaving. For some reason they believed that holiness is next to hairiness. It’s an intriguing idea and one that ought to prompt more prayer and self-discipline. It also prompts some thought on the benefits of beards.

I first grew a beard when I was an Anglican priest. The Church of England was going through its interminable round of debates concerning the ordination of women, and when a female parishioner asked why I was growing a  beard I retorted, “To show that there are certain things a woman cannot do.” It was meant as a jocular jest, but the woman was inclined toward the feminist ideology, and she stomped off in a harrumph.

Since then I have had facial hair of one sort or another. Recently, I have adopted a full beard trimmed in the style of the tragic Tsar Nicholas. Such a beard takes some grooming and I have found two products that affirm both my ancestry and new-found faith. Honest Amish beard balm reminds me of my Mennonite and Amish heritage, while Barbatus Catholic Beard Balm sustains my Catholic identity.

What are the benefits of a beard? Firstly, it is common knowledge that to be “successful” in the establishment a man should be clean-shaven. Men of power do not grow beards. Therefore, to grow a beard is to display a sign of contradiction. A beard says, “I am not so ambitious and eager to succeed that I will shave my face every morning.” A beard is a sign of defiance which says silently, “You quislings may shave your face to conform to society’s expectations. But I march to a different drum.”

In a society that is increasingly feminized, a beard also makes a statement about masculinity. Without being aggressive or overly assertive, a beard still makes a positive statement about sex. I was semi-serious when I joked that my beard reminds people that there are some things a woman cannot do. This is not to be misogynistic. To state that there are some things a woman cannot do is to also affirm all the things that women do that men cannot do. Women can have babies. How amazing is that?

Women cannot grow beards, and neither can boys. It is arguable that to grow a beard is to grow up. Speaking of women and boys, all the surveys show that women prefer unshaven men. They not only want a man, they want a bearded man.

If a beard is a sign of masculinity to the world, it is also a sign of proper masculinity to the man himself. What I mean is that when you look in the mirror you see a man, and this man makes you think again of the ideal man. That ideal man is one who is strong but tender. He is pure but not puritanical. He is prayerful without being pious, chaste without being scrupulous, and virtuous without being self-righteous.

They say manners make the man, but I contend that the beard makes the manners which make the man. This applies most urgently at mealtime. Any man with a full beard begins to realize that maneuvering food into the mouth past the beard and mustache requires good table manners. A decent napkin must be handy to attend to detritus.

Most of all, food that is eaten with the hands is usually juicy and drippy and messy. Try eating a sloppy cheeseburger, a hot sub sandwich, fried chicken, a burrito or an ice-cream cone with a full beard and mustache. You will soon opt for the more civilized manners of choosing food you can eat with a knife, fork, and spoon. This benefit will make you slow down your mealtime, aid digestion, nurture conversation and make your consumption of comestibles more courteous.

The saints declared the glory of a beard. St Augustine wrote, ““The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man.” Clement of Alexandria expounded at some length on the virtue of a fine beard: “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.”

So why not join in the spirit of No Shave November. If someone asks why you are not shaving, be cryptic and reply, “Because I have accepted the Nazarite Challenge.”

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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9 replies to this post
  1. What is meant by shaving part of the beard, but not to the skin? I’ve always had a beard, but kept it shortish because I’m a squirt and a long beard makes me look shorter. I sport a Van Dyke (INCORRECTLY called a goatee ) because a full beard makes me look like Henry VIII. (Not desirable.) Surely this is sufficient?

  2. The Western half was destroyed by migrating tribes, and the Eastern by the Ottomans, both of which probably had beards.

  3. “The Western half was destroyed by migrating tribes, and the Eastern by the Ottomans, both of which probably had beards.”
    Yes, they did have beards, hence them being called ‘barbarians’ (for ‘barba’ – beard; ‘barbaricus’ – uncivilsed, bearded, cf OED).

  4. Hi, I love the look of beards, but it does interfere with kissing. (just saying, as a wife) But when my husband grows a beard, he says people give him more respect at work. He is deferred to more often. That’s not why he grows a beard sometimes, but just something he notices. It could be because it ages him 10 years!

  5. I hope future Popes start to have beards again. 300 years since, the last Pope had one. Should help the Catholic Church with the future unity with the Orthodox Churches.

    It cost me extra to have my beard trim when I get a haircut. It’s almost all white now. Disabled.

  6. Finally, an thoughtful article about a man’s beard.I love the forward but polite response about what a woman can not do, but succumbing to the ultimate gift of childbirth. It reminds me of Blessed Mary. God gave woman the ultimate gift of Human life. If only that woman didn’t walk away before he could end his explanation.
    I believe God gave man the gift of a beard. Past generations showed it as a badge of courage. In today’s world it take the ultimate courage for a man to grow a full beard. There are many road blocks society give a man to try to defeat him on his journey. I am 55 and on my 6 month without shaving. I have been told by other people I am blessed with great facial hair. The younger generation seem to give me the most compliments. I am self employed. So I have no employment pressures. I am starting to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I am not sure how long I will let it grow.
    My advice to every man is to try to grow a beard once in life and become part of the manly fraternity.
    Always keep prayer as close as your beard is to your face.

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