Above: This image is taken from the Ara Pacis or Throne of Augustus in Rome depicting the Emperor Augustus on route to the temple. In the image he has his head covered which has significance for our understanding of Paul’s restriction on men covering their heads when gathering as the church.
The featured image is The Ara Pacis – housed in its own museum in Rome, the Ara Pacis was the throne of the Emperor Augustus.
In Latin, the phrase capite velato means literally “with covered head.” The term is used in Roman religious contexts to refer to the act of covering the head when performing sacrifices.
In Roman art, the covered head is a symbol of pietas and the individual’s status as a pontifex, augur or other priest.
The term Pontifex Maximus or pontifex maximus (Latin, “greatest priest”) was the chief high priest of the College of Pontiffs (Collegium Pontificum) in ancient Rome.
Therefore when a man entered into the temple ritual “capite velato” he, by covering his head, declared himself “Pontifex” or the priestly head of those he led in worship or ritual observance.
The Apostle Paul warned against this practice in the church at Corinth. The church at Corinth had some significant members who held high positions in the area. One of these was Erastus who had sponsored a paved area in Corinth. It is likely that the familiar practice of “capite velato” had been practised on occasions in the gathering of the church as some of these wealthy church members would have previously entered into the former pagan rituals with heads covered. Some old habits are hard to shake off.
The problem of this practice is that the worshipper who covered his head in this manner was declaring himself to be the priest who acted as a mediator between the congregation and God which was effectively taking on the position and role of the Great High Priest Jesus Christ.
Paul was warning against this practice in which he that covered his head declared himself to be the mediator thus dishonouring Christ his actual head.
Here is a perfect example of how an understanding of the world in which the letters of Paul were written enables us to understand the meaning of the message sent nearly 2000 years ago.
The next post on this subject will consider the significance of the veil in ancient society.