October 2nd, The Feast of the Guardian Angels
Of all the scriptural passages which speak of the angels, perhaps the most confusing and difficult for our own age is the place in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which he advises that women must wear a veil while in Church. He reasons that the man need not wear a veil, since his head is Christ; but the head of the woman is the man, therefore she must veil her head as a sign of submission. St. Paul concludes his argument with the rather surprising statement that it is “because of the angels” that the women must wear the mantilla.
In this discussion, I will care little for “political correctness”, since this could obscure the truth. Obviously, when speaking in various circumstances, I would adapt the language to fit the people; but, when discussing doctrine in a theological forum, it is necessary to write unambiguously. St. Paul has always been a great defender of the true vocation of the woman, while the feminism of our day is her great enemy!
I will first offer St. Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on the passage; then I will consider what this reference to the angels really entails…
1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (Douay-Rheims version)
 Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ.  Now I praise you, brethren, that in all things you are mindful of me: and keep my ordinances as I have delivered them to you.  But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man [RSV: her husband]; and the head of Christ is God.  But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven.
 For if a woman be not covered, let her be shorn. But if it be a shame to a woman to be shorn or made bald, let her cover her head.  The man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man.  For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man.  For the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man.  Therefore ought the woman to have a power [RSV: veil] over her head, because of the angels.
 But yet neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord.  For as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman: but all things of God.
Christ is the head of all human beings
Verse 3a: The head of every man is Christ. Christ is the head of all men, that is of all human beings. St. Thomas affirms that this comparison (between Christ and the head of the body) is made in four respects:
1) Perfection: While the other members of the body have but one sense (of touch), all the senses flourish in the head (the head hears and feels and sees and smells and tastes). So too, in human beings only some graces are found, but in Christ the fullness of all grace is present.
2) Sublimity: The head is superior to all the members of the body, and so too Christ is superior to all human beings and also to the angels.
3) Power: As the head imparts sensation and movement to all the other members of the body, so too Christ gives all spiritual movement and sense to the Church.
4) Conformity of nature: As the head is of one nature with the other members of the body, so too Christ is of one nature with all human beings (for he truly became a man).
The equality of man and woman – the headship of man over woman
Verse 3b: and the head of the woman is her husband. As Christ is the head over all human beings, the man is the head over his wife. This is in four respects:
1) Perfection: St. Thomas considers that the man is more perfect than the woman in both body and soul. Man’s body is stronger and more hearty; his soul is calmer and less affected by passions.
2) Sublimity: Man is naturally superior to woman, as is testified by St. Paul in Ephesians 5:22, “Wives be subject to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of his wife.”
3) Power: Man governs over his wife – Genesis 3:16, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
4) Conformity of nature: Man and woman are alike in nature. They are equally human beings.
The image of God and the glory of God
Verse 7b: The man is the image and the glory of God. Here St. Paul affirms that the human being was made in the image of God.
Christ alone is the perfect image of God, but the human race is an imperfect and partial image of God. Thus, humanity is not only made according to the image (that is according to the Word), but is also the image (though imperfectly so). And human beings are the image of God principally in their rational soul, according to which they have intellect and will. Humanity is the image of God precisely because we are persons, capable of thought and free choice. In this respect man and woman are both the image of God, for both man and woman are rational. And though St. Thomas thinks that “reason is less vigorous in woman,” this need not distract us; for he clearly affirms that men and women are equally the image of God according to rationality.
Now man is called the glory of God; and this refers not only to male human beings, but to the entire human race. For humanity is not the glory of God according to that glory by which God is glorious in himself – in this respect God is man’s glory. Rather, humanity is the glory of God, inasmuch as God’s splendor shines upon humanity. In this respect, both men and woman are the glory of God equally, since both men and women receive the graces and the mercies of God.
Now male human beings are rightly said to be especially the image of God, in a secondary sense – for, as the whole human race (including Eve) came from Adam, and as the race is propagated through the active generative power of the man; so, by analogy, the whole of humanity has come from God. Thus, although man and woman are both equally the image of God, when considered absolutely; man is especially the image of God, when considered in relation to his generative faculties.
Not the image of man, but the glory of man
Verse 7c: but the woman is the glory of the man. Both men and women are the image of God; but men are the glory God immediately, while women are the glory of men.
In the 13th century, some had mistakenly thought that man alone was the image of God and that woman was the image of man. St. Thomas corrected this error – woman is not the image of man, but rather she is his glory. She, as much as the man, is the image of God; likewise, she is the glory of God. However, considered in their mutual relation, the woman is the glory of her man – on account of the natural subjection of women to men.
Recall that man is the glory of God as the recipient of his glory – God’s splendor shines upon humanity. In a similar way, it seems, woman is the glory of man – she receives his beneficent care and protection. Woman is the glory of man because, by the law of nature, she is meant to be nourished by him, loved by him, and uplifted by him. It is contrary to nature that a man should look to a woman to make him a man, yet the woman comes into her full glory only when her man is truly a man for her.
And what of those women who are not married? Have they no head? The unmarried woman who still looks for a husband is indeed without a head; for she is still in pursuit of her husband. However, the unmarried woman who has renounced married life and has consecrated herself to Christ (especially if she has consecrated herself through public vows), she now has Christ as her head. Indeed, she is raised to a new dignity in Christ, for he becomes her spouse! As St. Thomas himself says in relation to nuns: “From the very fact that they take a vow of virginity or widowhood with Christ as their spouse, they are promoted to the dignity of men, being freed from subject to men and joined to Christ himself.”
The angels and the mantilla
Verse 10: Therefore ought a woman to have a veil over her head, for the sake of the angels. After offering arguments based on the natural relation between a man and a woman, St. Paul invokes the angels as a final reason why a woman ought to cover her head when in the Church.
This passage can be understood in two ways. If the angels are considered to be heavenly angels, then St. Paul recalls how the angels visit us during the Mass and are most pleased by the reverence and honor which accompanies our worship. In this respect, both men and women ought to behave honorable; unto this end, it had been required that women wear a veil or mantilla – and this practice seems to be coming back.
On the other hand, the angels could be the priests of the Church. Out of reverence for the priest, the women ought to wear a veil; showing that the priest is their head and guide. Or another reason follows: Out of care for the priests’ safety, women wear a veil to hide their beauty lest the priest be distracted or excited by concupiscence.
Though not identical, man and woman are equal
Man and woman must be equal and of one shared nature, else man could never be the head of woman. The head must be of the same nature as the body, else it will be a monstrous abomination. Moreover, as the head depends upon the body (though the body more fundamentally depends upon the head; so too, the head depends upon his wife (though she more fundamentally depends upon him). There can be no living head without the body, nor body without the head; likewise a man without his wife is nothing, nor is the wife without her husband anything.
Considered individually and absolutely, both men and women are the image of God in equal proportions. However, when considered together in the mutual relation of husband and wife; it is the man who is the image of Christ, while the wife is the image of the Church. Both man and woman are the glory of God; but in their mutual relation, the wife is the glory of her husband.
An unmarried man who seeks a wife, is like a head without a body – incomplete. An unmarried woman who seeks a husband, is like a body without a head – incomplete. The head of the husband is Christ, while the head of the wife is her husband; though, considered individually and absolutely, both man and woman are made in the image of God and have Christ as their head.
The wife must be subject to her husband, and the husband must love his wife; and the two must be mutually subject one to the other. How great a gift is the Sacrament of Matrimony, by which Christ reveals to us how we must relate to his Sacred Heart!