January 24, 2011

Beards and Perseverance

I have a theory about Capuchin beard-growing that I think all young friars should at least hear. My theory is largely dismissed, but to me the anecdotal evidence is convincing. In short, this is my theory: you can grow the traditional Capuchin beard if you wish, but if you do you can't cut it off. If you do, you will lose your vocation and you will leave the Order.

Allow me to elaborate.

The beard is, of course, traditional to the Capuchins. And not just any beard; by 'beard' in this sense is meant the natural, untrimmed beard that grows unchecked from your face and neck. Our first Constitutions prescribed the wearing of the beard because it was "manly, austere, natural, an imitation of Christ and the saints of our Order, and despised." The "despised" is usually left off in quotations of this precept. It's an odd omission; grow a traditional Capuchin beard and you will find that it is still despised, as the brothers themselves fulfill (somewhat ironically) the words of their fathers.

Nowadays the beard is optional, though many friars sport some form of facial hair as a nod to the tradition. Our current Constitutions say that the wearing of the beard is subject to the "norm of pluriformity." (pluriformitatis norma) When it's morning in Paris you can try to call a semiotician to make sense of that one. Good luck. Nevertheless, the beard still has a lot going for it, not the least because it serves to further distinguish us from the secular clergy of the Latin rite, who, good Romans that they are, tend to go about clean-shaven.

There are various tales about how it was that the traditional beard became optional. Some friars say that it was necessitated by the cultural shifts of the 1960s, when beards came to associated with hippies, homosexuals, and (gasp) social radicals. Another version (my favorite) says that when the brothers first came to New York City they found that when they went out in clerical attire (with Roman collars obscured by their beards) they were promptly mistaken for Rabbis.

In any case, it is now nobody's business but your own whether you have a beard of any sort or for whatever reason, religious or otherwise. Therefore, it sometimes gets into the head of a zealous young Capuchin, a novice or recently professed perhaps, that he would like to grow the big, traditional, Capuchin beard. Congratulations, I say, and good for you, but be warned.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that once you grow this traditional beard, if you then cut it off, you will lose your vocation and leave the Order. I have observed this several times, and have developed a theory to explain it: When a Capuchin, in his fervor for his particular vocation, decides to grow the traditional beard and succeeds, somehow the Capuchin-ness of his soul grows into and lodges in the beard. If the beard is then removed, the connection of the soul to the vocation is severed, the grace of perseverance is lost, and the brother goes back to the world.

UPDATE: For those who are trying to grow a beard, and don't have scruples about assimilating to the new syncretism of our age, I learn from City of God IV:11 that they should pray to the god Fortuna Barbata to bless them with success.

FURTHER UPDATE: As of late summer 2013, we are observing carefully a possible instance of counter-evidence to the theory.


Unknown said...

"norm of pluriformity"

I like that as a name, as in St Francis of Assisi. Norm of Pluriformity.

Julia said...

"Nevertheless, the beard still has a lot going for it, not the least because it serves to further distinguish us from the secular clergy of the Latin rite, who, good Romans that they are, tend to go about clean-shaven."

Yes!! :) I love the beard. It's so distinguishing (even if not "distinguished")!

Cole Matson said...

I saw a Capuchin sporting the traditional beard walking down the street in Oxford this afternoon. He was also rocking the sandals; a beat-up coat over the habit appeared to be his only concession to the winter weather. He looked like a hobo for Jesus; it was great.

(One of our local Dominican friars, a former Master of the Order, is also often mistaken for a hobo, including by his fellow friars when he showed up to a provincial chapter meeting in London in street clothes. He was initially given a sandwich and shown the door.)

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

So, basically, a beard to a Capuchin is like hair to Samson?

Brother Charles said...

@Chuck: Our gift to you, old friend. Use it in good health.

@Julia: I love th distinction. Qui bene distinguit bene docet.

@Cole: I want to be a hobo for Jesus! From somewhere I learned the distinctions between hobos, tramps, and bums (At least in American English.) If you travel and are willing to work, you're a hobo. (Or mendicant!) If you just travel, you're a tramp. If you do neither, a bum.

@Barb: Indeed! I shall have to explore this parallel further.

Anonymous said...

brother goes back to the world...."like a dog to his vomit"

Anonymous said...

Father Charles, how many of the Capuchin saints and blesseds wore beards? Padre Pio had one and so did father Solanus Casey. Is "beardliness" next to "Godliness" in the Capuchin order?

Thanks for en enlightening and thought-provoking post!

Rachel said...

That's a really interesting quote about wearing the beard because it's "despised"!

I joked to a priest that I was picking an order based on how lovely the habit looked, and he told me that St. Padre Pio joined the Capuchins because he wanted to grow a beard. :)

Adoro said...

I'm with Barb...when I read your definition I thought of Samson.

And that just doesn't ring true in some way, but I'd have to look to scripture and figure out why I'm tilting my head like my dog in curiosity.

BTW...as a woman I'm beardless and happy to be so!

I have noticed a decided trend towards the untended beard in guys that decide they have a Franciscan Vocation, though.

Don't instill superstition into them, Father! As one recovering from New Age and other things I know how strong is the temptation to follow superstition!

Dan Lower said...

I have some theories about mathematically modeling the obesity of the average Dominican over the course of his ministry. We need to talk.

Brother Charles said...

@Dan...I have some theories about obesity too, but it is a theory about correlation to other factors and perseverance, and it's hard to formulate in a way that isn't scandalizing.

@Anonymous...Yes, the beard is pretty standard for our saints (thus far.)

Anonymous said...

I think you are on to something brother! I always wondered why my classmate left. He had a big-old-beard and walked around like he was the real Capuchin and the rest of us were want-a-be's. I never had a beard, but I am the only one left in my class. I don't mind the beard, but in my experience it can be another way of trusting in the flesh - and St. Paul warns against trusting in our own abilities...and I would imagin that goes for growing beards as well.

Brother Charles said...

I love the connection to Paul on trusting in the flesh. Thanks!

A Secular Franciscan said...

As Chesterton observed: “You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion.”

It seems to me that a true beard, like a true vocation, take time to mature. Of course, I speak as a bearded fellow myself! (Though not of Capuchin proportions.)

Anonymous said...

Francis Thompson referred to the Capuchins as, "the bearded counsellors of God".

Ambrose Little said...

Personally, I'm going for the beard of a Capuchin and the rotundity of a Dominican. How's that for syncretism?

Pilgrim Padre said...

I don't think the theory holds for the reasons you state, unless of course I'm taking you too seriously :-) . But there may be something to be said for going to extremes. When one determines to make the beard his Capuchin identity (or Franciscan or whatever kind of identity) and then shaves it completely off, it is more a sign of a crisis of identity than the cause of it.

As for why Capuchins have beards in the first place, I was told it was because of the Camaldolese influence in the beginning of the Capuchin reform.

Brother Charles said...

Chris! So good to hear from you, and of course you are right on both points.

Chris said...

Sometimes long beards also mean stronger attachment to the traditional liturgy. And that ultimately is the most important factor in pursueing ones faith.
Both beards and traditional liturgy are rather unpopular amongst current hiearchy..but they are powerful symbols that are irresistable over time...

Anonymous said...

Its not my comment but:I remembered your post and then read this:
somehow its relevant.