The Beard-Battle that Almost Split Christendom

A fond look back at the time when growing facial hair was an excommunication-worthy offense.
The Beard-Battle that Almost Split Christendom

In this biweekly feature, we seek to encourage the local church by remembering the times when things were much, much worse.

At first glance, a beard may seem like an unremarkable thing—just a bit of protein, really, sort of like a fluffy toenail for your face. Many grown men, myself included, can’t even grow them.

And yet, for many men throughout religious history, they’ve been a big deal. The law of Moses commanded men not to trim the corners of their beards—a custom that Orthodox Jews still practice to this day. Many of the Reformers grew long beards, possibly to signify their break with the traditionally clean-shaven Catholic clergy. Even Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon, in an apparent attempt to win a “most overstated case for anything ever” competition, famously advised his students that growing a beard was “a habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial.”

So yeah, beards can be unreasonably important sometimes. One time, they even contributed to one of the deepest, oldest, and ugliest rifts in all of Christendom: the Great Schism.

Of course, anyone with a cursory knowledge of church history knows that until approximately A.D. 1054 , there was basically one united church for the geographic area that used to be the Roman Empire. The western, Latin-speaking half of the empire fell in 476, but its church hung around well past that. Meanwhile, the Eastern, Greek-speaking half, which became known as the Byzantine Empire, was still a thing into the 15th century. Ostensibly, one of the forces that united these two very different halves of the church was the Nicene Creed: a couple hundred words that articulated their shared beliefs.

But then the Western Church had to go ...

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