I am considering a new series to run with this line of posts, but I don’t have one in mind yet. Hopefully I will have one lined up next week. Until then, I offer this lengthy quotation from St. John Chrysostom’s 8th Homily on 1st Timothy:
(1 Tim 2:8-10)
I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becomes women professing godliness) with good works.
Moral. What? Do you approach God to pray, with broidered hair and ornaments of gold? Are you come to a dance? To a marriage? To a gay procession? There such a broidery, such costly garments, had been seasonable, here not one of them is wanted. You have come to pray, to supplicate for pardon of your sins, to plead for your offenses, beseeching the Lord, and hoping to render Him propitious to you. Why do you adorn yourself? This is not the dress of a suppliant. How can you groan? How can you weep? How pray with fervency, when thus attired? Should thou weep, your tears will be the ridicule of the beholders. She that weeps ought not to be wearing gold. It were but acting, and hypocrisy. For is it not acting to pour forth tears from a soul so overgrown with extravagance and ambition? Away with such hypocrisy! God is not mocked! This is the attire of actors and dancers, that live upon the stage. Nothing of this sort becomes a modest woman, who should be adorned
with shamefacedness and sobriety.
Imitate not therefore the courtesans. For by such a dress they allure their many lovers; and hence many have incurred a disgraceful suspicion, and, instead of gaining any advantage from their ornaments, have injured many by bearing this character. For as the adulteress, though she may have a character for modesty, derives no benefit from that character, in the Day, when He who judges the secrets of men shall make all things manifest; so the modest woman, if she contrive by this dress to pass for an adulteress, will lose the advantage of her chastity. For many have suffered harm by this opinion.
What can I do, you say,
if another suspects me? But you give the occasion by your dress, your looks, your gestures. It is for this reason that Paul discourses much of dress and much of modesty. And if he would remove those things which are only the indications of wealth, as gold, and pearls, and costly array; how much more those things which imply studied ornament, as painting, coloring the eyes, a mincing gait, the affected voice, a languishing and wanton look; the exquisite care in putting on the cloak and bodice, the nicely wrought girdle, and the closely-fitted shoes? For he glances at all these things, in speaking of
modest apparel and
shamefacedness. For such things are shameless and indecent.
Bear with me, I beseech you, for it is not my aim by this plain reproof to wound or pain you, but to remove from my flock all that is unbecoming to them. But if these prohibitions are addressed to those who have husbands, who are rich, and live luxuriously; much more to those who have professed virginity. But what virgin, you say, wears gold, or broidered hair? Yet there may be such a studied nicety in a simple dress, as that these are nothing to it. You may study appearance in a common garment more than those who wear gold. For when a very dark colored robe is drawn closely round the breast with the girdle (as dancers on the stage are attired), with such nicety that it may neither spread into breadth nor shrink into scantiness, but be between both; and when the bosom is set off with many folds, is not this more alluring than any silken robes? And when the shoe, shining through its blackness, ends in a sharp point, and imitates the elegance of painting, so that even the breadth of the sole is scarce visible— or when, though you do not indeed paint the face, you spend much time and pains on washing it, and spread a veil across the forehead, whiter than the face itself— and above that put on a hood, of which the blackness may set off the white by contrast— is there not in all this the vanity of dress? What can one say to the perpetual rolling of the eyes? To the putting on of the stomacher; so artfully as sometimes to conceal, sometimes to disclose, the fastening? For this too they sometimes expose, so as to show the exquisiteness of the cincture, winding the hood entirely round the head. Then like the players, they wear gloves so closely fitted, that they seem to grow upon the hands: and we might speak of their walk, and other artifices more alluring than any ornament of gold. Let us fear, beloved, lest we also hear what the Prophet said to the Hebrew women who were so studious of outward ornament;
Instead of a girdle, you shall be girded with a halter, instead of well-set hair, baldness.Isaiah 3:24, Septuagint These things and many others, invented only to be seen and to attract beholders, are more alluring than golden ornaments. These are no trifling faults, but displeasing to God, and enough to mar all the self-denial of virginity.
You have Christ for your Bridegroom, O virgin, why do you seek to attract human lovers? He will judge you as an adulteress. Why do you not wear the ornament that is pleasing to Him; modesty, chastity, orderliness, and sober apparel? This is meretricious, and disgraceful. We can no longer distinguish harlots and virgins, to such indecency have they advanced. A virgin’s dress should not be studied, but plain, and without labor; but now they have many artifices to make their dress conspicuous. O woman, cease from this folly. Transfer this care to your soul, to the inward adorning. For the outward ornament that invests you, suffers not that within to become beautiful. He that is concerned for that which is without, despises that which is within, even as he that is unconcerned about the exterior, bestows all his care upon the interior. Say not,
Alas! I wear a threadbare garment, mean shoes, a worthless veil; what is there of ornament in these? Do not deceive yourself. It is impossible, as I said, to study appearance more by these than by costlier dresses; especially when they are close-fitted to the body, fashioned to an immodest show, and of shining neatness. You excuse yourself to me, but what can you say to God, who knows the heart and the spirit with which you do these things?
It is not done for fornication! Perhaps not, but for admiration; and do you not blush for shame to be admired for such things? But you say,
It is but chance I am so dressed, and for no motive of this kind. God knows what you say to me: is it to me you must give account? Nay, it is to Him who is present at your actions, and will one day inquire into them, to whom all things are naked and open. It is on this account that we now urge these things, that we may not let you be amenable to those severe judgments. Let us fear, therefore, lest He reprove you in the words of the Prophet to the Jewish women.
They come to be seen of me wantoning and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet.Isaiah 3:16
You have taken upon you a great contest, where wrestling, not ornament is required; where the battle awaits you, not sloth and ease. Observe the combatants and wrestlers in the games. Do they concern themselves about their walk or their dress? No, but scorning all these, and throwing about them a garment dripping with oil, they look only to one thing, to wound, and not be wounded. The devil stands grinding his teeth, watching to destroy you every way, and you remain unconcerned, or concerned only about this satanic ornament. I say nothing about the voice, though much affectation is shown in this also, nor about perfumes, and other such luxuries. It is for these things we are ridiculed by the women of the world. The respect for virginity is lost. No one honors a virgin as she ought to be honored. They have given occasion to their own dishonor. Ought not they to be looked up to in the Church of God, as women coming from heaven? But now they are despised, and deservedly, though not those among them who are discreet. But when one who has a husband and children, and presides over a household, sees you, who ought to be crucified to the world, more devoted to the world than herself, will she not ridicule and despise you? See what care! What pains! In your humble dress, you exceed her who wears the costliest ornament, and art more studious of appearance than she who is arrayed in gold. What is becoming to you you seek not; that which misbecomes you you pursue, when you ought to be occupied in good works. On this account virgins are less honored than women of the world. For they do not perform works worthy of their virgin profession. This is not said to all; or rather it is said to all; to those who are in fault, that they may learn modesty; to those who are free from blame, that they may teach modesty to others. But beware lest this rebuke be verified in deed. For we have not said these things that we may grieve, but that we may correct you, that we may glory in you. And may we all do those things which are acceptable to God, and live to His glory, that we may obtain the blessings promised by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom, etc.
Quite a lot there, I know. But at the same time, very salient. The parts in bold are those I thought particularly relevant for the present age. Also, when the Doctor of the Church uses the word virgin, he means a woman consecrate to celibacy. So basically a nun as we would understand them today.
As you will have hopefully read, it is apparent that the present age is not the first one where Christian women have dressed shamefully. Nor is it the first age where Christian women were held in less regard than others. I found this line to be particularly striking:
I can’t speak for anyone else, but that seemed to resonate a lot with me. One cannot any longer look at a woman’s dress, and determine her character (at least with regards to chastity and modesty). Is it any wonder that now, just as back then, there is such a cultural disregard for Christian women?