The CofE is presided over, it need hardly be said, by the nation’s most celebrated ‘bearded lefty’. The Archbishop of Canterbury is unmistakeably and handsomely hirsute. But is his beard appropriate? By which I mean, theologically appropriate. Let me explain.

The facial hair of Patriarchs is the reverse of a personal choice. It is required by Orthodox canon law, and for a specific reason. The bishop is, says St Ignatius of Antioch, ‘tupos tou Patros’, an image of the Father. Tupos comes from tupto, and it suggests a direct physical resemblance as by ‘impressing’, as of a seal, a minter’s die or a sculptor’s mold. The bishop is tupos of the Father because, amongst other things, he looks like him.

(Lest the clever among you point out that God is without a body and so can have no physical appearance, we must remember what Jesus told Philip [John 14: 9] and the Seventh Ecumenical Council reiterated: that the face of the Son is that of the Father. That face is bearded – not merely from immemorial tradition but because the Church possesses miraculous images achieropoietoi (not made with hands), which establish the fact beyond doubt.)

But Rowan has his own doubts about both the bishop as a type of the Father and of fatherhood as privileged language about God. ‘When Christians speak of God as father they are not speaking of God as a supreme instance of something we are all familiar with,’ he told General Synod. ‘They are speaking of a fatherhood whose definition is given in and through the telling of the story of the incarnate Son’s relation with the one to whom he prays as "Abba Father". And that I think at the very least should unsettle slightly our assumption that deep issues about trinitarian doctrine, about the priority and irreversibility of the language of Father, Son and Spirit in our theology are involved in this particular question in relation to a bishop’s fatherly role.’

Such views surely, in the case of an archbishop, dictate an early visit to the barber – if his very appearance is not to encourage theological error in others. Let it be a comfort to Dr Williams that he is, after all, only a razor’s breadth away from Dr Bultmann.


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