THE APPAREL OF WOMEN
If there existed upon earth a faith in proportion to the reward that faith
will receive in heaven, no one of you, my beloved sisters, from the time
when you came to know the living God and recognized your own state, that
is, the condition of being a woman, would have desired a too attractive
garb, and much less anything that seemed too ostentatious. I think, rather,
that you would have dressed in mourning garments and even neglected your
exterior, acting the part of mourning and repentant Eve in order to expiate
more fully by all sorts of penitential garb that which woman derives from
Eve--the ignominy, I mean, of original sin and the odium of being the cause
of the fall of the human race. 'In sorrow and anxiety, you will bring
forth, O woman, and you are subject to your husband, and he is your
master.' Do you not believe that you are (each) an Eve?
(2) The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in our times and
so it is necessary that the guilt should live on, also. You are the one who
opened the door to the Devil, you are the one who first plucked the fruit
of the forbidden tree, you are the first who deserted the divine law; you
are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to
attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your
desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die. And you still think
of putting adornments over the skins of animals that cover you?
(3) Well, now--if, in the very beginning of the world, the Milesians had
invented wool by shearing sheep, and if the Chinese had woven the strands
of silk, and the Tyrians had invented dye and the Phrygians embroidery and
the Babylonians weaving, if pearls had gleamed and rubies flashed with
light, if gold itself had already been brought forth from the bowels of
earth by man's greed, and finally, if a mirror had already been capable of
giving forth its lying image, do you think that Eve, after she had been
expelled from Paradise and was already dead, would have longed for all of
these fineries? She would not. Therefore, she ought not to crave them or
even to know them now, if she desires to be restored to life again. Those
thing which she did not have or know when she lived in God, all those
things are the trappings appropriate to a woman who was condemned and is
dead, arrayed as if to lend splendor to her funeral.
(1) For those, too, who invented these things are condemned to the penalty
of death, namely, those angels who rushed from heaven upon the daughters of
men so that this ignominy is also attached to woman. For when these fallen
angels had revealed certain well-hidden material substances, and numerous
other arts that were only faintly revealed, to an age much more ignorant
than ours--for surely they are the ones who disclosed the secrets of
metallurgy, discovered the natural properties of herbs, made known the
power of charms, and aroused the desire to pry into everything, including
the interpretation of the stars--they granted to women as their special
and, as it were, personal property these means of feminine vanity: the
radiance of precious stones with which necklaces are decorated in different
colors, the bracelets of gold which they wrap around their arms, the
colored preparations which are used to dye wool, and that black powder
which they use to enhance the beauty of their eyes.
(2) If you want to know what kind of things these are, you can easily learn
from the character of those who taught these arts. Have sinners ever been
able to show and provide anything conducive to holiness, unlawful lovers
anything contributing to chastity, rebel angels anything promoting the fear
of God? If, indeed, we must call what they have passed on 'teachings,' then
evil teachers must of necessity have taught evil lessons; if these are the
wages of sin, then there can be nothing beautiful about the reward for
something evil. But why should they have taught and granted such things?
(3) Are we to think that women without the material of adornment or without
the tricks of beautifying themselves would not have been able to please men
when these same women, unadorned and uncouth and, as I might say, crude and
rude, were able to impress angels? Or would the latter have appeared
beggarly lovers who insolently demanded favors for nothing, unless they had
brought some gift to the women they had attracted into marriage? But this
is hardly conceivable. The women who possessed angels as husbands could not
desire anything further, for, surely they had already made a fine match.
(4) The angels, on the other hand, who certainly thought sometimes of the
place whence they had fallen and longed for heaven after the heated
impulses of lust had quickly passed, rewarded in this way the very gift of
woman's natural beauty as the cause of evil, that is, that woman should not
profit from her happiness, but, rather, drawn away from the ways of
innocence and sincerity, should be united with them in sin against God.
They must have been certain that all ostentation, ambition, and love
achieved by carnal pleasure would be displeasing God. You see, these are
the angels whom we are destined to judge, these are the angels whom we
renounce in baptism, these are the very things on account of which they
deserved to be judged by men.
(5) What connection, therefore, can there be between their affairs and
their judges? What business can there be between the condemned and their
judges? I suppose, the same as between Christ and Belial. How can we with
good conscience mount that judgment-seat to pronounce sentence against
those whose gifts we are now trying to get? You realize, of course, that
the same angelic nature is promised to you, women, the selfsame sex is
promised to you as to men, and the selfsame dignity of being a judge.
Therefore, unless here in this life we begin to practice being judges by
condemning their works which we are destined to condemn in them some day,
then they will rather judge us and condemn us.
(1) I am aware that the Book of Henoch which assigns this role to the
angels is not accepted because it is not admitted into the Jewish canon. I
suppose it is not accepted because they did not think that a book written
before the flood could have survived that catastrophe which destroyed the
whole world. If that be their reason, let them remember that Noe was a
great-grandson of Henoch and a surviver of the deluge. He would have grown
up in the family tradition and the name of Henoch would have been a
household word and he would surely have remembered the grace that his
ancestor enjoyed before God and the reputation of all his preaching,
especially since Henoch gave the command to his son Mathusala that the
knowledge of his deeds should be passed on to his posterity. Therefore, Noe
could surely have succeeded in the trusteeship of his ancestor's preaching
because he would not have kept silent about the wonderful providence of God
who saved him from destruction as well as in order to enhance the glory of
his own house.
(2) Now, supposing that Noe could not have had this knowledge thus
directly, there could still be another reason to warrant our assertion of
the genuineness of this book: he could have easily rewritten it under the
inspiration of the Spirit after it had been destroyed by the violence of
the flood, just as, when Jerusalem was destroyed at the hands of the
Babylonians, every document of Jewish literature is known to have been
restored by Esdras.
(3) But, since Henoch in this same book tells us of our Lord, we must not
reject anything at all which really pertains to us. Do we not read that
every word of Scripture useful for edification is divinely inspired? As you
very well know, it was afterwards rejected by the Jews for the same reason
that prompted them to reject almost all the other portions which prophesied
about Christ. Now, it is not at all surprising that they refused to accept
certain Scriptures which spoke of Him when they were destined not to
receive Him when He spoke to them Himself. To all that we may add the fact
that we have; a testimony to Henoch in the Epistle of Jude the Apostle.
(1) Let us assume for the moment that we do not condemn all womanly
ornament ahead of time merely because of the fate of those who invented it.
Let those angels be blamed only for the repudiation of heaven and their
carnal marriage. Let us rather examine the character of these things
themselves so that we may learn the reasons why they are so desirable.
Female toilet has two possible purposes--dress and make-up.
(2) We use the word dress when we refer to what they call womanly grace,
whereas make-up is more fittingly called womanly disgrace. Articles of
dress are considered gold and silver and jewels and clothes, whereas make-
up consists in the care of hair and of the skin and of those parts of the
body which attract the eye. On one we level the accusation of ambition; on
the other, that of prostitution. I say that now, O handmaid of God, that
you may well know what, out of all these, is proper for your behavior,
since you are judged by different principles, namely, those of humility and
(1) Now, gold and silver, the principal materials of worldly dress, are
necessarily the same as that from which they come, namely, earth. To be
sure, they are earth of a nobler sort. For, wet with tears of those
condemned to penal labor in the deadly foundries of the accursed mines,
those 'precious' metals leave the name of earth in the fire behind them
and, as fugitives from the mines, they change from objects of torment into
articles of ornament, from instruments of punishment into tools of
allurement, from symbols of ignominy into signs of honor.
(2) But the basic nature of iron and brass and of other metals, including
the cheapest, is the same (as that of gold and silver), both as to their
earthy origin and manufacture in the mines, and hence, according to nature
itself, the substance of gold and silver is no more noble than theirs.
Should, however, gold and silver derive their estimation from the quality
of being useful, then certainly the value of iron and brass is higher,
since their usefulness has been determined in such a way (by the creator)
that they discharge functions of their own more numerous and more necessary
for human life, and at the same time lend themselves to the more becoming
uses of gold and silver. We know that rings are made of iron, and the
history of antiquity still preserves (the fame of) certain vessels for
eating and drinking made of brass. It is no concern of ours if the mad
plentifulness of gold and silver serves to make utensils even for foul
(3) Certainly you will never plow a field with a golden plow nor will any
ship be held together with silver bolts; you would never drive; golden
mattock into the earth nor would you drive a silver nail into a plank. I
leave unnoticed the fact that the necessities of our whole life depend upon
iron and brass merely mentioning that those precious materials themselves
requiring both to be dug out of the mines and forged into their specific
form to be of any use whatsoever, cannot even be mined without the use of
iron and brass.
(4) From this, then, you must already judge why it is that gold and silver
enjoy such high estimation as to be preferred to other materials that are
related to them by nature and are much more valuable if we consider their
(1) But how shall I explain those precious little stones which share their
glory with gold, other than to say that the are only little stones and
pebbles and tiny little bits of the selfsame earth? They certainly are not
required for laying foundations or for building up walls or supporting
pedimen or giving compactness to roofs; the only building they seek to
erect is this silly admiration of women. They are cautiously cut that they
may shine, they are cunningly set that they ma glitter, they are carefully
pierced so as to hang properly an render to gold a meretricious service in
(2) Moreover, whatever love of display fishes up from the seas around
Britain or India is merely a kind of shellfish, and its taste is no better
than that of the giant mussel. Now, there is no reason why I should not
approve of shellfish as the fruit of the sea. If, however, this shellfish
produces some sort of growth inside of it, this should be considered a
fault rather than a cause for glory. And even though we call this thing a
pearl, it certainly must be seen to be nothing else but a hard and round
lump inside a shellfish.
There is a tradition that gems also come from the foreheads of dragons,
just as we sometimes find a certain stony substance in the brains of fish.
(3) This would indeed crown it all: the Christian woman in need of
something from the serpent to add to her grace. It is probably in this way
that she is going to tread upon the serpent's head while around her neck or
even on top of her own head she carries ornaments that come from the head
of the Devil!
(1) The only thing that gives glamour to all these articles is that they
are rare and that they have to be imported from a foreign country. In the
country they come from they are not highly priced. When a thing is abundant
it is always cheap. Among certain barbarians where gold is common and
plentiful the people in the workhouses are bound with golden chains and the
wicked are weighed down by riches and the richness of their bonds is in
proportion to their wickedness. At last a way seems to have been found to
prevent gold from being loved.
(2) We ourselves have seen the nobility of jewels blushing before the
matrons in Rome at the contemptuous way the Parthians and Medes and the
rest of their countrymen used them. It would seem they use jewels for any
reason except adornment; emeralds lurk in their belts, and only the sword
knows the round jewels lie hidden in its scabbard, and the large pearls on
their rough boots wish to be lifted out of the mud. In short, they wear
nothing so richly jeweled as that which ought not to be jeweled at all; in
this way it is not conspicuous, or else is conspicuous only to show that
the wearer does not care for it.
(1) In the same manner, even their servants cause the glory to fade from
the colors of our garments. They use as pictures on their walls whole
purple and violet and royal hangings which you with great labor undo and
change into different forms. Purple among them is cheaper than red.
(2) For, what legitimate honor can garments derive from adulteration with
illegitimate colors? God is not pleased by what He Himself did not produce.
We cannot suppose that God was unable to produce sheep with purple or sky-
blue fleeces. If He was able, then He chose not to do it, and what God
refused to do certainly cannot be lawful for man to make. Therefore, those
things cannot be the best by nature which do not come from God, who is the
Author of nature. Hence, they must be understood to be from the Devil, who
is the corrupter of nature.
(3) Obviously, they cannot come from anyone else if they are not from God,
because those things which are not of God must be of His rival. And there
is no other rival of God except the Devil and his angels. Now, even if the
material out of which something is made is from God it does not therefore
follow that every way of enjoying these things is also of God. We always
have to raise the question of not only whence shellfish come, but what task
is assigned to them and where they will exhibit their beauty.
(4) For it is clear that all those profane pleasures of worldly spectacles
about which we have already written a special treatise, and even idolatry
itself, derive their material from the creatures of God.
(5) But that is no reason why a Christian should devote himself to the
madness of the circus or the cruelties of the arena or the foulness of the
theater, just because God created horses, panthers, and the human voice;
any more than he can commit idolatry with impunity because the incense and
the wine and fire which feeds on them, and the animals which are the
victims, are God's workmanship, since even the material thing which is
adored is God's creature.
(6) Thus, then, with regard to the use of the material substances, too;
that use is falsely justified on the basis of their origin from God, since
it is alien to God and is tainted with worldly glory.
(1) For, just as certain things which are distributed by God in individual
countries or in individual regions of the sea are mutually foreign to one
another, so in turn they are considered rare by foreigners but rightfully
neglected or not desired at all in their land of origin, because no anxious
longing exists there for a glory which is hardly appreciated by the
natives. So, it is merely because of this distribution of possessions which
God has arranged as He wished that the rarity and singularity of an object
which always finds favor with foreigners stirs up a great desire to possess
it for the simple reason of not having what God has given to others.
(2) And out of this another vice grows that of immoderate greed--although a
possession may be necessary, moderation must be exercised. This vice will
be ambition and the very word 'ambition' must be interpreted in this way
that from concupiscence encompassing (ambiente) the soul a desire of glory
is born--a great desire no doubt, which, as we have said is not approved
either by nature or by truth, but only by a vicious passion of the soul.
There exist still other vices that are connected with ambition and glory.
Thus it is this vice of ambition that has enhanced the prices of things
that by doing so it might add fuel to itself also.
(3) For, concupiscence has a way of growing greater in proportion as it
sets a higher value upon that which it desires. A large fortune can be
lifted out of a little box; a million sesterces can hang from a single
thread; one slender neck can be surrounded by jewels worth many forests and
islands; two slender lobes of the ears can cost a fortune; and each finger
on the left hand puts to shame any money-bag. Such is the power of ambition
that one damsel carries the whole income from a large fortune on her small
Handmaidens of the lord, my fellow servants and sisters, on the strength of
the right of fellow servantship and brother--the right by which I, the very
last of you, am counted as one of you--I am emboldened to address to you
some words, not, of course, of affection, but paving the way for affection
in the cause of your salvation. Salvation, however, and not of women only,
but also of men is especially to be procured in the observance of modesty.
For, since we are all temples of God because the Holy Spirit has entered
into us and sanctified us, modesty is the sacristan and priestess of that
temple; modesty will prevent anything unclean or profane from entering,
lest God who dwells therein should be offended and leave the defiled abode.
(2) But it is not our object now to speak of modesty which the omnipresent
divine precepts sufficiently promulgate and prescribe, but I do intend to
talk about something that pertains to modesty, that is, the way in which
you ought to conduct yourselves. For, too many women--I trust God will
permit me to reprove this very thing by censuring it in all concerned--
either in ignorant simplicity or downright dishonesty so conduct themselves
as if modesty consisted solely in the integrity of the flesh and the
avoidance of actual sin and as if there were no need to care for the
externals, I mean about the arrangement of dress and ornament. They go
right ahead in their former pursuit of beauty and glamour, showing in their
walk the very same appearance as do women of the pagans who are devoid of
all understanding of true modesty because there is nothing true in those
who do not know God, the Master and Teacher of all truth.
(3) For, if any modesty can be assumed to exist among the Gentiles, it is
certainly so imperfect and defective that even though it asserts itself to
some extent in the way of thinking, it destroys itself by a licentious
extravagance in the matter of dress after the manner of the usual
perversity of the Gentiles of actually desiring that of which it shuns the
effect. How many pagan women are there who do not desire to be pleasing
even to strangers? Who is there among them who does not try to have herself
painted up in order that when desired she may refuse? In fact, this is a
characteristic of Gentile modesty, not actually to fall, but to be willing
to do so, or even not to be willing, yet not quite to refuse. Is there any
wonder? All things are perverse which are not from God.
(4) Let those women, therefore, look to it, who, by not holding on to the
whole good, easily mix with evil even what they do hold fast. It is your
obligation to be different from them, as in all other things, so also in
your gait, since you ought to be perfect as your heavenly Father is
(1) You must know that perfect modesty, that is, Christian modesty,
requires not only that you never desire to be an object of desire on the
part of others, but that you even hate to be one. First of all, because the
effort to please by external beauty does not come from a sound conscience,
since beauty we know to be naturally the exciter of lust. Why, then, excite
that evil against yourself? Why invite something to which you profess to be
a stranger? Secondly, because we ought not to open the way to temptations.
For, although by their vehemence--from which God guard His own--they
sometimes lead to greater perfection, they certainly disturb the soul by
presenting a stumbling block to it.
(2) We ought, indeed, to walk so in holiness and in the total fullness of
our faith that we can be confident and sure in our own conscience, desiring
that modesty may abide in us to the end, yet not presumptuously relying on
it. For, the one who is presumptuous is less likely to feel apprehension,
and he who feels less apprehension takes less precaution, and the one who
takes less precaution is in the greater danger. Fear is the true foundation
of our salvation, whereas presumption is a hindrance to fear.
(3) Therefore, it will be more useful for us if we foresee the possibility
that we may fall than if we presume that we cannot fall. For in
anticipating a fall we will be fearful, and if fearful we will take care,
and if we take care we shall be safe. On the other hand, if we are
presumptuous and have neither fear nor take any precautions, it will be
difficult for us to achieve salvation. He who acts securely and not at the
same time warily does not possess a safe and firm security, whereas he who
is wary can truly say that he will be safe. May the Lord in His mercy
always take care of His servants that they may happily be permitted even to
presume on His goodness.
(4) But why are we a source of danger to others? Why do we excite
concupiscence in others? If the Lord in amplifying the Law does not make a
distinction in penalty between the actual commission of fornication and its
desire, I do not know whether He will grant impunity to one who is the
cause of perdition to another. For he perishes as soon as he looks upon
your beauty with desire, and has already committed in his soul what he
desires, and you have become a sword (of perdition) to him so that, even
though you are free from the actual crime of unchastity, you are not
altogether free from the odium (attached to it). As for instance, when a
robbery has been committed on some man's land, the actual crime is not
imputed to the master, but, as long as the estate is in bad repute, he also
is tinged with a certain amount of infamy
(5) Are we, then, going to paint our faces in order that others may perish?
What about the Scripture which tells us: 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as
thyself. Do not seek only your interests, but those of your neighbor'? Now,
no utterance of the Holy Spirit should be restricted only to its present
matter, but must be directed and referred to every occasion to which its
application is useful. Since, therefore, our own welfare as well as that of
others is involved in the pursuit of beauty which is so dangerous, it is
time for you to realize that you must not only shun the display of false
and studied beauty but also remove all traces of natural grace by
concealment and negligence, as equally dangerous to the glances of
(6) For, although comeliness is not to be censured as being a bodily
happiness, as an additional gift of the divine Sculptor, and as a kind of
fair vestment of the soul, it must be feared because of the affront and
violence on the part of those who pursue it. This danger even Abraham, the
father of the faith, greatly feared because of his wife's shapely form and,
untruthfully introducing Sara as his sister, he purchased his life by her
(1) Now, let it be granted that excellence of form is not to be feared as
if it were either harmful to those who possess it or ruinous to those who
desire it or dangerous for those who come in contact with it; let us
further assume that it is neither an occasion of temptation nor surrounded
by danger of scandal--it is enough to say that it is not necessary for the
handmaidens of God. For, where modesty exists there is no need of beauty,
since, strictly speaking, the normal use and effect of beauty is
wantonness, unless, of course, someone can think of some other good that
flows from bodily beauty. Let those women enhance the beauty they possess
or seek for beauty they do not possess who think that they bestow upon
themselves what is demanded from beauty when they exhibit it to others.
(2) But someone will say: Suppose we exclude wantonness and give to
chastity its rightful place. Why should we not be permitted to enjoy the
simple praise that comes to beauty and to glory in a bodily good? Let
whoever takes pleasure glorying in the flesh see to that. For us, in the
first place there can be no studious pursuit of glory, since glory is of
its very nature a kind of exaltation and, in turn, exaltation is
incongruous for those who, according to God's precept profess humility.
Secondly, if all glory is vain and foolish how much more so that which is a
glorying in the flesh particularly in us? For, if we must glory in
something, let be in the spirit rather than in the flesh that we wish to
please, since we are pursuers of things spiritual.
(3) Let us find our joy in that which is really our business. Let us seek
for glory in those things in which we hope for salvation. To be sure, a
Christian will also glory in his flesh, but only after it has endured
torture for Christ's sake in order that the spirit may be crowned in the
flesh rather than that the flesh may attract the eyes and sighs of a young
man. Thus, a thing that from every point of view is useless to you, you can
safely scorn if you do not possess it and neglect if you do possess it.
(1) Holy women, let none of you, if she is naturally beautiful, be an
occasion of sin; certainly, if even she be so, she must not increase
beauty, but try to subdue it. If I were speaking to Gentiles, I would give
you a Gentile precept and one that is common to all: you are bound to
please no one except your own husbands. And, you will please your husbands
in the proportion that you take no pains to please anyone else. Be
unconcerned, blessed sisters: no wife is really ugly to her own husband.
She was certainly pleasing to him when he chose to marry her, whether it
was for her beauty or for her character. Let none of you think that she
will necessarily incur the hatred and aversion of her husband if she spends
less time in the adornment of her person.
(2) Every husband demands that his wife be chaste; but beauty a Christian
husband certainly does not demand, because we Christians are not fascinated
by the same things that the Gentiles think to be good. If, on the other
hand, the husband be an infidel, he will be suspicious of beauty precisely
because of the unfavorable opinion the Gentiles have of us. For whose sake,
then, are you cultivating your beauty? If for a Christian, he does not
demand it, and if for an infidel, he does not believe it unless it is
artless. Why, then, are you so eager to please either one who is suspicious
or one who does not desire it?
(1) To be sure, what I am suggesting is not intended to recommend to you an
utterly uncultivated and unkempt appearance; I see no virtue in squalor and
filth, but I am talking about the proper way and norm and just measure in
the care of the body. We must not go beyond what is desired by those who
strive for natural and demure neatness. We must not go beyond what is
pleasing to God.
(2) For, surely, those women sin against God who anoint their faces with
creams, stain their cheeks with rouge, or lengthen their eyebrows with
antimony. Obviously, they are not satisfied with the creative skill of God;
in their own person, without doubt, they censure and criticize the Maker of
all things! Surely they are finding fault when they try to perfect and add
to His work, taking these their additions, of course, from a rival artist.
(3) This rival artist is the Devil. For, who else would teach how to change
the body but he who by wickedness transformed the spirit of man? It is he,
no doubt, who prepared ingenious devices of this sort that in your own
persons it may be proved that to a certain degree you do violence to God.
(4) Whatever is born, that is the work of God. Obviously, then, anything
else that is added must be the work of the Devil. What a wicked thing it is
to attempt to add to a divine handiwork the inventions of the Devil! We do
not find our servants borrowing something from our foes, nor do soldiers
desire anything from the enemy of their general. For, it is certainly a sin
for you to solicit a favor from the enemy of Him in whose hands you lie.
Can a true Christian really be helped by that evil one in anything? If he
is, I do not think he will be a Christian for long, for he will belong to
him from whom he strives to learn.
(5) How alien are these things to your principles and to your promises--how
unworthy of the name of Christian that you bear! To have a painted face,
you on whom simplicity in every form is enjoined! To lie in your
appearance, you to whom lying with the tongue is not allowed! To seek for
that which is not your own, you who are taught to keep hands off the goods
of another! To commit adultery in your appearance, you who should eagerly
strive after modesty! Believe me, blessed sisters! How can you keep the
commandments of God if you do not keep in your own persons the features
which He has bestowed on you?
(1) I see some women dye their hair blonde by using saffron. They are even
ashamed of their country, sorry that they were not born in Germany or in
Gaul! Thus, as far as their hair is concerned, they give up their country.
It is hardly a good omen for them that they wish their hair to be flame-
colored and mistake for beauty something which merely stains them.
(2) As a matter of fact, the strength of these bleaches really does harm to
the hair, and the constant application of even any natural moist substance
will bring ruin to the head itself, just as the warmth of the sun, while
desirable for giving life and dryness to the hair, if overdone is hurtful.
How can they achieve beauty when they are doing themselves harm; how can
they make something attractive by means of filth? Shall a Christian woman
heap saffron on her hair as upon an altar? For, surely, anything that is
normally burned in honor of an unclean spirit, may be considered as a
sacrifice to idols, unless it is applied for honest and necessary and
wholesome uses for which all of God's creatures were provided.
(3) But the Lord has said: 'Which of you can make a white hair black or out
of a black a white?' Thus do they refute the word of the Lord. 'Behold,'
they say, 'out of white or black we make it blonde, which is surely more
attractive.' Why, you will even find people who are ashamed of having lived
to old age and try to make their hair black when it is white. Are you not
ashamed of such folly? Trying to keep it a secret that you have reached
that age for which you longed and prayed, sighing for youth which was a
time of sin, missing the chance to show some true maturity! I hope that the
daughters of Wisdom will avoid such foolishness. The harder we work to
conceal our age the more we reveal it.
(4) Or does your eternal life depend on the youthful appearance of your
hair? Is that the incorruptibility which we have to put on for the reign
that is to come--the incorruptibility promised by the kingdom that will be
free from sin? Well, indeed, you speed toward the Lord, well you make haste
to be free from this most wicked world, you who find it unpleasant to
approach your own end!
(1) What profit, again, do you derive for your salvation from all the labor
spent in arranging your hair? Why can you not leave your hair alone,
instead of at one time tying it up, at another letting it hang loose, now
cultivating it, now thinning it out? Some women prefer to tie it up in
little curls, while others let it fall down wild and disheveled--a hardly
commendable kind of simplicity. Besides, some of you affix to your heads I
know not what monstrosities of sewn and woven wigs, now in the form of a
cap as if it were a casing for the head and a covering for the crown, now
in the form of a chignon at the back of the neck.
(2) I am surprised that there is no open defiance of the Lord's precepts
one of which declares that no one can add anything to his stature. You,
however, do add something to your weight anyway by wearing some kind of
head-dresses or piling shield-bosses upon your necks! If you are not
ashamed of your outrageous behavior, then be at least ashamed of covering
yourselves with filth, in the fear that you may be putting on a holy and
Christian head the cast-offs of hair of some stranger who was perhaps
unclean, perhaps guilty and destined for hell. In fact, why do you not
banish all this slavery to beauty from your own free head? It will do you
no good to seem beautiful; you are wasting your time looking for the
cleverest manufacturers of wigs. God commands women to be veiled. I imagine
He does so lest the heads of some of them should be seen!
(3) I certainly hope that I, in the day of Christian joy, miserable man
that I am, may be able to raise my head at least as high as your heels.
Perhaps I will then see whether or not you will arise with your ceruse,
your rouge, your saffron, and all that parade of head-gear; whether it will
be women painted up that way whom the angels will carry up to meet Christ
in the clouds. If these things are now good and are of God, then they will
join your rising bodies and find there again their proper place. But
nothing can rise but flesh and spirit sole and pure. Whatever, therefore,
does not rise in spirit and flesh is damned, because it is not of God. Have
nothing to do now with things that are damned; let God see you today such
as He will see you on the day of your final resurrection.
(1) Of course, I am now merely talking as a man and, jealous of women, I
try to deprive them of what is their own! But are there not certain things
that are forbidden to us, too, out of regard for the sobriety we should
maintain out of fear we owe to God?
(2) Now, since, by a defect of nature, there is inborn in men because of
women (just as in women because of men) the desire to please, the male sex
also has its own peculiar trickeries for enhancing their appearance: for
instance, cutting the beard a bit too sharply, trimming it too neatly,
shaving around the mouth, arranging and dyeing our hair, darkening the
first signs of gray hair, disguising the down on the whole body with some
female ointments, smoothing off the rest of the body by means of some
gritty powder, then always taking occasion to look in a mirror, gazing
anxiously into it. Are not all of these things quite idle and hostile to
modesty once we have known God, have put aside the desire to please others
and forsworn all lasciviousness?
(3) For, where God is there is modesty, where modesty is there is dignity,
its assistant and companion. How shall we ever practice modesty if we do
not make use of its normal means, that is, dignity? How shall we ever be
able to make use of dignity in practicing modesty unless we bear a certain
seriousness in our countenance, in our dress, and in the appearance of the
(1) In the same manner, therefore, you must be intent on curtailing and
rejecting all superfluous elegance in your clothing and the remaining
lumber of your finery. For, what good does it do to wear on your face an
appearance of propriety and temperance and a simplicity that is in
accordance with the divine teaching if the rest of the body is covered with
a lot of frilly and foolish pomps and luxuries?
(2) To be sure, there is no difficulty in recognizing how close the
connection is between these pomps and the business of lasciviousness and
how they must interfere with the principles of modesty: such frills
adjoined to fancy dress prostitute the grace of true beauty, so much so
that, if they are not worn, natural beauty makes no impression and is
hardly noticed as if disarmed and altogether ruined; on the other hand, if
natural beauty is not present, the supporting aid of fancy dress supplies
grace, as it were, of its own power.
(3) Lastly, finery and elegant dress have a tendency to deprive of peace
those periods of life which are already blessed with quiet and withdrawn
into the harbor of modesty, and to disturb their seriousness by stimulating
desires which evidently try to compensate for the coldness of age by the
provocative charms of dress.
(4) First, then, blessed sisters, have nothing to do with the lewd and
seductive tricks of dress and appearance. Secondly, if some of you, because
of wealth or birth or former dignities, are forced to appear in public in
overly elaborate dress, as if they had not yet acquired the good sense that
is fitting to their age, take heed to temper the evil that is in this
thing, lest under pretext of necessity you give rein to unbounded license.
(5) For, how can you fulfill the precept of humility which we profess as
Christians if you do not keep in check the use of wealth and finery which
so encourage the pursuit of glory? For, glory tends to exalt and not to
(6) 'But,' you will say, 'may we not use what is ours?' Who is forbidding
you to use what is yours? No one less than the Apostle who advises us to
use this world as if we did not use it. He tells us: 'The fashion of this
world is passing away. And those who buy, let them act as though they
possessed not.' And why? Because he had previously said: 'The time is
growing short.' If, then, he plainly shows that even wives themselves are
so to be had as if they be not had, because the times are straitened, what
would he think about all these vain appliances of theirs?
(7) In fact, are there not many who do just that, dedicating themselves to
be eunuchs and for the kingdom of God voluntarily foregoing a desire which
is so strong and, as we know, permitted to us? Are there not some who deny
themselves what God has created, abstaining from wine and from dishes of
meat, the enjoyment of which provides no particular danger or fear? But
they sacrifice to God the humility of their soul in restricting their use
of food. Therefore, you have used your wealth and finery quite enough, and
you have plucked the fruit of your dowries sufficiently before you came to
know the teaching of salvation.
(8) For, we are the ones for whom the times were to run their course to the
end; we were predestined by God before the world was created for the
extreme end of time; and so we are trained by God to castigate and, so to
speak, emasculate the world. We are the circumcision of all things both
spiritual and carnal, for in both spirit and in the flesh we circumcise the
things of this world.
(1) Of course, it was God who taught men how to dye wool with the juice of
herbs and the slime of shells; it had escaped Him, when He bade all things
to come into existence, to issue a command for the production of purple and
scarlet sheep! It was God, too, who devised the manufacture of those very
garments which, light and thin in themselves, are heavy only in their
price; God it was who produced such a great amount of gold for the careful
setting and fitting of jewels; and it was God, too, to be sure, who caused
the puncturing of ears and was so interested in tormenting his own
creatures as to order suffering to infants with their first breath; and
this, in order that from these scars on the body-- it seems as if the
latter was born to be cut--there might hang some sort of precious stones
which, as is well known, the Parthians insert in their shoes in place of
(2) As a matter of fact, this gold whose glitter you find so attractive is
used by some nations for chains, as pagan literature tells us. And so, it
is not because of intrinsic value that these things are good, but merely
because they happen to be rare. After artistic skills, however, had been
introduced by the fallen angels, who had also discovered the materials
themselves, elaborate workmanship, combined with the rareness of these
things, brought about the idea of their being precious and stimulated the
desire on the part of the women to possess them because of their precious
(3) Now, if these very angels who discovered the material substances of
this kind as well as their charms--I mean gold and precious stones--and
passed on the techniques of working them and taught, among other things,
the use of eyelid-powder and the dyeing of cloth, if these angels, I say,
are condemned by God, as Henoch tells us, how are we ever going to please
God by taking pleasure in things developed by those who because of those
acts provoked the wrath and punishment of God?
(4) I will grant you that God foresaw all these things and that He has
permitted them, and that Isaias does not object to any purple garments,
permits the wearing of an ornament shaped like a bunch of grapes in the
hair, and finds no fault with crescent-shaped necklaces. Still, let us not
flatter ourselves, as the pagans are accustomed to do, that God is merely
the Creator of the world and thereafter pays no attention to the works He
(5) Could we not be acting much more usefully and cautiously if we were to
presume that all these things have been provided by God at the beginning
and placed in the world in order that they should now be means of testing
the moral strength of His servants, so that, in being permitted to use
things, we might have the opportunity of showing our self-restraint? Do not
wise masters purposely offer and permit some things to their servants in
order to try them and to see whether and how they make use of things thus
permitted, whether they will do so with moderation and honesty?
(6) However, is not that servant deserving more praise who abstains
totally, thus manifesting a reverential fear of the kindness of his master?
Therefore the Apostle concludes: 'All things are lawful, but not all things
are expedient.' It will be much easier for one to dread what is forbidden
who has a reverential fear of what is permitted.
(1) Moreover, what reasons have you for appearing in public in fancy dress,
since you are automatically removed from the occasions which demand that
sort of thing? You do not visit pagan temples nor do you long for the
spectacles nor do you keep the holy days of the Gentiles. People only wear
fancy dress in public because of those gatherings and the desire to see and
to be seen, either for the purpose of transacting the trade of wantonness
or else of inflating their vanity. You, however, have no cause of appearing
in public, except such as is serious.
(2) You either visit some sick brethren or attend the sacrifice of the Mass
or listen to the word of God. Any one of these functions is an occasion of
seriousness and holiness for which there is no need of any extraordinary
studiously arranged and luxurious attire. And if you are required to go out
because of friendship or duty to some Gentile, why not go dressed in your
own armor--all the more, in fact, because you are going to those who are
strangers to the faith? It is desirable that there be some way of
distinguishing between the handmaids of God and of the Devil so that you
may be an example to them and they be edified in you; as St. Paul says:
'Let God be glorified in your body.' God, however, is glorified in your
body through modesty; hence, also, through dress that is suitable to
(3) But some of you may object that the (Christian) name should not be
blasphemed in us by making some derogatory change of our former style of
dress. Well, let us then continue to practice our former vices! If we must
keep the same appearance, let us also maintain the same conduct! Then
certainly the pagans will not blaspheme the (Christian) name! It is,
indeed, a great blasphemy if it is said of one of you: 'Since she became a
Christian she walks in poorer garb'! Are you going to be afraid to appear
to be poorer from the time that you have been made richer and to be more
shabbily clothed from the time when you have been made more clean? In a
word, should a Christian walk according to what is pleasing to the pagan or
according to what is pleasing to God?
(1) We should certainly see to it that we never give adequate cause to
another to blaspheme. Yet, how much more conducive to blasphemy is it if
you who are called the priestesses of modesty go around dressed and painted
like those who are immodest! In fact, to what extent could one consider
those poor, unhappy victims of organized lust to be beneath you? Even
though in the past some laws used to forbid them to adorn themselves as
married women or as matrons, now, surely, the corruption of our times which
is daily growing worse makes it very difficult to distinguish them from the
most honorable women.
(2) Yet even the Scripture suggest to us that the alluring display of
beauty is invariably joined with and appropriate to bodily prostitution.
That powerful city which rules over the seven mountains and over many
waters merited from the Lord the appellation of a prostitute and received
that name because of the likeness of dress. Surely she sits in purple and
scarlet and gold and precious stones; surely those things are cursed
without which an accursed prostitute could not have been described.
(3) The only reason why Juda thought that Thamar was sitting (on the cross-
road) for hire was because she had painted her face and adorned herself,
and thus (because she was hidden beneath her 'veil' and, by the kind of
dress she wore, pretended that she was a harlot) he considered her as such,
addressed her as such and bargained with her in the same fashion. Thus, we
learn that it is our obligation to provide in every way against all
immodest associations or even the suspicion of them. For, why is the purity
of the chaste mind stained by the suspicion of another? Why is something
looked for in me which I abhor? Why does not my garb announce beforehand my
character lest my spirit should be wounded through hearing what is said by
those who are shameless? Well, it is certainly permitted to you to appear
chaste to an unchaste person.
(1) Some women may say: 'I do not need the approval of men. For I do not
ask for the testimony of men: it is God who sees my heart.' We all know
that, to be sure, but let us recall what the Lord said through the Apostle:
'Let your modesty appear before men.' Why would he have said that unless we
should be an example and a witness to those who are evil? Or, what did
Christ mean by 'let your works shine before men'? Why did the Lord call us
'the light of the world'? Why did He compare us to a city set on a mountain
if we were not to shine in (the midst of) darkness and stand out among
those who are sunk down?
(2) 'If you hide your light under the measure,' you will necessarily be
lost in darkness and run down by many people. It is our good works that
make us to be the lights of the world. Moreover, what is good, provided it
be true and full, does not love the darkness; it rejoices to be seen and
exults in being pointed out by others.
(3) It is not enough for Christian modesty merely to be so, but to seem so,
too. So great and abundant ought to be your modesty that it may flow out
from the mind to the garb, and burst forth from the conscience to the outer
appearance, so that even from the outside it may examine, as it were, its
own furniture --a furniture that is suited to retain the faith forever. We
must, therefore, get rid of such delicacies as tend by their softness and
effeminacy to weaken the strength of our faith.
(4) Otherwise, I am not so sure that the wrist which is always surrounded
by a bracelet will be able to bear the hardness of chains with resignation;
I have some doubts that the leg which now rejoices to wear an anklet will
be able to bear the tight squeeze of an ankle chain; and I sometimes fear
that the neck which is now laden with strings of pearls and emeralds will
give no room to the executioner's sword.
(5) Therefore, my blessed sisters, let us think of the hardships to come,
and we will not feel them. Let us abandon luxuries and we will never miss
them. Let us stand ready to endure every violence, having nothing which we
would be afraid to leave behind. For, these things are really the bonds
that hold down the wings of our hope. Let us cast away the ornaments of
this world if we truly desire those of heaven.
(6) Do not love gold--that substance which caused the very first sins of
the people of Israel to be branded with infamy. You should hate that which
ruined your fathers, that gold which they adored when they abandoned God,
for even then gold was food for the fire.
But the lives of Christians are never spent in gold, and now less than
ever, but in iron. The stoles of martyrdom are being prepared, and the
angels who are to carry us (to heaven) are being awaited.
(7) Go forth to meet those angels, adorned with the cosmetics and ornaments
of the Prophets and Apostles. Let your whiteness flow from simplicity, let
modesty be the cause of your rosy complexion; paint your eyes with
demureness, your mouth with silence; hang on your ears the words of God,
bind on your neck the yoke of Christ; bow your heads to your husbands--and
that will be ornament enough for you. Keep your hands busy with spinning
and stay at home--and you will be more pleasing than if you were adorned in
gold. Dress yourselves in the silk of probity, the fine linen of holiness,
and the purple of chastity. Decked out in this manner, you will have God
Himself for your lover.