Westminster Divines on Head-Coverings



Gillespie & Rutherford



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Divines  7




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Westminster Confession of Faith  1646

ch.1, Of the Holy Scripture, section 6

“VI.  …there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.[o]

[o] 1 Cor. 11:13,141 Cor. 14:26,40



Order of Westminster Divines


Cawdrey & Palmer



Westminster Divines

Daniel Featley

The English Annotations  (1645) on 1 Cor. 11  Featley wrote the comments on Paul’s epistles, and was an episcopalian, Westminster divine.  This work was often known as The Westminster Annotations as 6 of the 11 contributors were Westminster divines.

“V. 2. …and keep the ordinances]  By the word [Greek] in the original, which signifies traditions, he means…  particular ordinances of comeliness, and good order, which belong to ecclesiastical policy, which afterward were called canons.

V. 10. power on her head]  That is, a vail or covering, in token of her husband’s power and authority over her; or a kind of warrant or pass to go abroad with credit and honesty: for there was no necessity of vailing or covering their head within doors, but if they went abroad without their vail, they were counted light and wanderers, like unto run-away servants, or soldiers that have no passe to show from their masters or captains…

because of the Angels]  Some by the angels understand the pastors of the congregations, who are termed angels, Mal. 2:7 and Rev. 1:20, and that the apostle draws his reason to enforce women’s modest carriage from the reverend respect the women ought to show, especially in the Church, to these angels of the Churches.  Others take angels here in the proper sense for the coelestial spirits, which always attend upon Christ their Head, and are present in the congregation of the faithful, and are offended at all disorders and uncomeliness which may be used there…

V. 16. if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom]  Either the meaning is, We have no such custom for women to pray uncovered; or, we have no such custom or the Churches of God to contend about matters of this nature, but willingly and cheerful to obey those that have the oversight of us in the Lord.”


Daniel Cawdrey

Vindiciæ clavium: or, A Vindication of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, into the Hands of the Right Owners...  (London, 1645), ch. 6, pp. 57-58

“I answer: that for men to pray or prophesy with their heads covered, or with long hair, and women uncovered, were things in their own nature indifferent (unless you make it necessary, as a moral duty for men to pray or prophesy uncovered, and women contra; which no interpreters upon that text do) and yet the apostle enjoins the Corinthians so to do…

…in the use of things indifferent; whereas there are at least five [rules] to that purpose: And by the same reason, that the apostle enjoins men to keep decency, he enjoins to keep order; and so other rules, concerning things indifferent.  Does not the apostle complain of disorder in the Corinthians preaching covered? yet the contrary order was not necessary, but in itself indifferent.”


Daniel Cawdrey & Herbert Palmer

Sabbatum Redivivum: or, The Christian Sabbath Vindicated  (London, 1645), fourth part, ch. 1, ‘The Lord’s Day is of Divine Institution’, p. 463  Irregular page numbering  Westminster divines

“Divine Apostolical Institutions (that we may draw to our purpose) were again of two sorts:

First, variable, or temporary, which were such injunctions as were prescribed, either for some special ends, as that law for abstaining from blood, and things strangled, Acts 15:1, for avoiding offence to the Jews, or to some special nations, or persons, as agreeable to the customs of those places and times, as that of women being vailed in the congregations, and some other the like.

Secondly, invariable and perpetual: such as concerned the whole Church:

This distinction we received from that learned and Professor [John Prideaux, d. 1650];”


William Greenhill

An Exposition of the Five First Chapters of the Prophet Ezekiel…  (London, 1645), on Eze. 1:23, p. 171  Greenhill was an Independent; Independents tended to be Biblicists.

“5.  …Women are to be vailed in the assemblies, because of the angels, 1 Cor. 11:10, to show their reverence and subjection to them being present; and angels are covered, to show their reverence and subjection unto Christ; it’s an honor to the angels, that in reverence to them the women are to be vailed; and it’s a great honor to Christ, that angels reverence and adore Him.”



An Exposition continued upon the 14th-19th Chapters of the Prophet Ezekiel...  (London, 1651), on Eze. 16:10-13, ‘Covered thee with silk’, pp. 158-9


Jeremiah Burroughs

The Saints Happiness…  (d. 1646; London: M.S., 1660)  pp. 15-16

“Now some would make a significancy in it [Christ sitting to preach, Lk. 4:20]; but I take it, it was only a civil gesture, that Christ observing what the way was at that time, He would conform himself to the order and way of sitting, not that it had any spiritual signification: As now, the French Ministers, they preach with their hats on, It’s the custom there, and no question, if any one were to go among them it were fit they should observe the customs that they have: and so here, to sit down, and in other Churches to stand…

Therefore observe here, whatsoever ceremony is but natural and helpful in a natural way, there should be no contention, we have no such custom, nor the Churches of God to contend about these, but if they come to have a religious use put upon them…  now they come to be sinful, and therefore Christ He observed the ceremony of the Jews [of sitting to preach] as a natural help.”


William Gouge

A Learned & Very Useful Commentary on the Whole Epistle to the Hebrews…  (London, 1655), ch. 12, §135, ‘Of serving God reverendly’, p. 388  Gouge (1575–1653) was a Cambridge scholar, lecturer and Westminster divine.

“3. Such [persons] as openly proclaim their want [lack] of reverence, by their outward irreverend, unbeseeming gestures, which are stately coming into the assembly of God’s people, even when they are serving of God, with their hats on their heads, sitting at prayer, casting their eyes this way and that way…”


Of Domestical Duties…  (London: 1622)

3rd Treatise, “Of Wives’ Particular Duties,”

section 3, p. 270

“The very attire which nature and custom of all times and places have taught women to put on, confirms the same: as long hair, vails, and other coverings over the head: this and the former argument does the Apostle himself use to this very purpose, 1 Cor. 11:7, etc.”


section 9, p. 278

“A wive’s outward reverence consists in her reverend gesture, speech.

For the first, that a reverend gesture and carriage of herself to her husband, and in her husband’s presence, beseems a wife, was of old implied by the vail which the woman used to put on, when she was brought unto her husband, as is noted in the example of Rebekah (Gen. 24:65): whereunto the apostle alludes in these words, ‘the woman ought to have power on her head.’ (1 Cor. 11:10)  That cover on the woman’s head, as in general it implied subjection, so in particular this kind of subjection, viz. a reverend carriage and gesture.  But most expressly is this duty set down by Saint Peter who exhorts wives to order their conversation [conduct] before their husbands, so as it be pure, with reverence.

This reverend conversation [conduct] consists in a wive-like sobriety, mildness, courtesy and modesty. [Gouge does not go on to mention veils]”


5th Treatise, “Duties of Children”

section 8, p. 437

“Let such child-like obeisance be performed as becomes the age and sex, either in going to, remaining before, or going from a parent: as uncovering the head [as a sign of deference], bending the knee, bowing the body, standing up, with the like.”


section 10, pp. 439-40

“§10. Of the vices contrary to children’s reverend gesture towards their parents.

2. Disdainful stateliness, when they think [it too] much to stand bare-headed any while in their parents’ presence.  It falls out many times, that when parents and children are together before their betters, they will show more reverence than these: for the father will stand, and be uncovered, when the son sits down and puts on his hat, upon conceit that his father does more reverence than is meet: but if it were so, yet the son for the father’s sake should stoop somewhat the lower.”


7th Treatise, “Duties of Servants”

section 8, pp. 601-2

“II. Answerable to a servant’s obeisance must be his whole behavior before his master, seasoned and ordered with such modesty and humility, as may manifest an honorable respect to his master: as

2. By uncovering their heads in their master’s presence: this in our days, and in the parts of the world where we dwell, is in the male kind a sign and token of subjection.”


section 9, p. 602

Ҥ. 9. Of the faults of servants contrary to reverence in carriage.

2. Others, if at first coming to their master they give some salutation, yet, through too much familiarity with them, all the day after they will carry themselves fellow-like, scarce uncovering their heads in their master’s presence, not enduring to stand long before him, but either setting themselves down, or slinking away when they should be in presence…  This unmannerly familiarity is commonly in such servants, as have poor and mean [low] masters: for rich and great men’s servants can be so full of curtesy, as not a word shall be spoken by their masters to them, or by them to their masters, but the knee shall be bowed withal: they can stand hour after hour before their masters, and not once put on their hat: if they be walking after their masters, their master shall not turn sooner than their hat will be off, and that so oft as he turns or speaks to them.”


John Lightfoot

Hebrew & Talmudical Exercitations upon 1 Corinthians, ch. 11

v. 4

“Having his head covered; which, it seems, was the custom of some of them so to do in attendance on public worship: this they either did in imitation of the heathens,¹ who worshipped their deities with their heads covered, excepting Saturn and Hercules, whose solemnities were celebrated with heads unveiled, contrary to the prevailing customs and usages in the worship of others;

¹ Macrob Saturnal. l. 3. c. 6. Alex. ab. Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 2. c. 14. & 19. & 22. s Maimon. Hilch. Tephilla, c. 5. sect. 5. t T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 20. 1.

Or rather in imitation of the Jews, who used to veil themselves in public worship, through a spirit of bondage unto fear, under which they were, and do to this day; and with whom it is a rule that

“a man might not stand and pray, neither with his girdle on, ולא בראש מגולה, nor with his head uncovered; nor with his feet uncovered.”

Accordingly it is said t of Nicodemus ben Gorion,

“that he went into the school grieved, and נתעטף, “veiled himself”, and stood in prayer;”

and a little after that

“that he went into the sanctuary and “veiled” himself, and stood and prayed;”

though the Targum on Judges 5:2 suggests,

“that the wise men sit in the synagogues, בריש גלי, “with the head uncovered”, to teach the people the words of the law;”

and on Judges 5:9 has these words,

“Deborah in prophecy said, I am sent to praise the Scribes of Israel, who when they were in tribulation did not cease from expounding the law; and so it was beautiful for them to sit in the synagogues, “with the head uncovered”, and teach the people the words of the law, and bless and confess before the Lord;”

but it seems that a different custom had now prevailed; now from this Gentile or judaizing practice, the apostle would dissuade them by observing, that such an one that uses it, “dishonoureth his head”;…”


v. 6

“For if the woman be not covered]  That is, if her head is not covered with some sort of covering, as is the custom of the place where she lives.”


v. 10

“For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head]…  The Greek word εξουσια more properly signifies the power she had of putting on and off her covering as she pleased, according as times, places, and persons; made it necessary:”


v. 14

“Doth not even nature itself teach you]  By nature is either meant, the law and light of nature, reason in man, common sense, or rather custom, which is second nature; and which, in this case, must be restrained to the Greeks and Jews; for though among the Grecians the men cut their hair, and did not suffer it to grow long, as also did the Jews, yet there were many nations¹ who did not, even at that time, observe such a rule or custom; but as the Jews and Greeks were the persons chiefly, if not solely, known to the Corinthians, the apostle signifies, that the usages of these people might direct and inform them in this matter:

¹ Alex. ab. Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 5. c. 18. Servius in Virgil. Aeneid. l. 10. prope finem.”




Related Pages

Head Coverings in the Post-Reformation Era

The Post-Reformation Scottish Church on Head-Coverings in Public Worship

On Head Coverings in Public Worship

History of Head Coverings

Natural Gestures, Signs & Customs about Worship, & of Reverence &
.      Veneration vs. Adoration

On Customs, the Holy Kiss, Foot Washing, Anointing with Oil, Love Feasts, etc.

On Eating & Drinking Blood, & Marital Relations During Menstruation

Vestments, Black Genevan Gowns, Collars & Dress for Public Worship

Wedding Rings