Can the Pope Have a Beard? (And Who Was the Last Bearded One)

Hair has always been an interesting topic of conversation in religious circles. From Nazarite vows to Buddhist monks, hair or lack thereof can be an outward show of faith. Where does the Pope fall on the hair continuum? Can he have a beard? 

Technically, the Pope can have a beard as there are no specific laws forbidding one. However, the last pope to wear one was Innocent XII over 300 years ago. Different interpretations of canon letters, trends among the people, and practicality issues have influenced the Pope’s shaving habits.

If you want to learn more about cardinal whisker rules, read on!

Is the pope allowed to have a beard?

Hair trends among clergy and congregations have been changed over the years. Travel back in time and you can find strict guidelines for keeping lauded facial hair disease-free and meticulously trimmed. Move forward a few hundred years and the longer the beard, the greater the sin. What’s a Pope to do?

The Pope is allowed to have a beard. There are no canonical laws prohibiting a beard or mustache. In fact, beards were common for over 180 years, although no Pope has worn a beard in the last three centuries.

One of the earliest laws addressing facial hair was way back in 503. According to the decree, clerics shouldn’t allow their beards or hair to “grow freely.” While not a strict ban, it did tend to eliminate a Duck Dynasty-style beard.

Throughout the Middle Ages, there were several facial hair bullies like St. Charles Borromeo who tried to erase beards among clergy altogether. They were always met with resistance and, by the 16th century, the popes grew facial hair with a vengeance.

Can a pope have a mustache?

A look through Vatican City’s Hall of Fame shows varied colors and styles of mustaches. However, they all had one important characteristic in common – they were all neatly trimmed.

A pope can have a mustache but, from a practical standpoint, it could get in the way when drinking from a chalice. Having the blood sacrament stain the facial hair is frowned upon.

Drinking on the job is taken seriously among the pontiff crowd. Having lip hair fall into the communal cup or sacrament dripping from the ‘mo might be grounds for ex-communication (or embarrassment at the least).

Why are popes clean-shaven?

Since there’s not a rule forbidding some facial fuzz, why have popes chosen the babyface path for so long?

Popes have chosen to remain clean-shaven due to practicality and neutrality. Facial hair can interfere with some of the important rites performed. Being clean-shaven is generally accepted by all, however, facial hair may cause offense. The Pope’s role is to be a representative of those he leads.

The Pope is on display often performing his liturgical duties. Drinking from a chalice in front of a few hundred thousand people would be stressful enough. Add to that the chance to soak your beard or mustache and it’s no wonder many choose to eliminate that obstacle.

History shows that ambiguous laws and letters can incite arguments over interpretation. Facial hair is no exception. Some good Catholics see no issue with some scruff, whereas others feel it draws unnecessary attention to the wearer. It’s no wonder the majority of the supreme pontiffs have decided to break out the razor for unity’s sake.

Keeping a beard in pristine order also takes time. Opponents think the Pope should be doing more constructive and holy chores with his time.

Who was the first pope with a beard?

It only took 15 centuries to get the bearded ball rolling in Popedom.

The first pope to wear a beard was Julius II in 1512. It was short-lived as he grew it to mourn over losing the city of Bologna. The first pope to wear a beard full-time was Pope Clement VI in 1527. He also grew one while in mourning but decided to keep it until he died.

Once the proverbial hair was out of the bag, the beard tradition continued for more than 180 years.

Who was the last pope with a beard?

All good things must come to an end, so popes with beards finally bit the dust in 1700.

The last pope to wear a beard was Innocent XII, who held the position from 1691 to 1700. Pictures portray him with a neatly-trimmed salt-and-pepper mustache paired with a gray beard resulting in a stylish Van Dyke.

Pressure from more traditional Latin clerics finally brought an end to the beard wave. They held to old Latin beliefs that hair length represented transgressions and the act of shaving wiped those away. They didn’t want the leader’s piety to come into question.

How many popes had a beard?

Pope beard culture lasted almost two centuries. The Van Dyke was the prevailing style with a few fuller beards thrown in for good measure.

A total of 25 of the more than 260 popes had beards at some time during their service. The beard era among popes started with a brief appearance in 1512 and then spanned 1523-1700.

If you’re ever on a trivia show and the question of bearded popes comes up, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of the bearded Catholic elite:

  • Julius II (during mourning)
  • Clement VII
  • Paul III
  • Julius III
  • Marcellus II
  • Paul IV
  • Pius IV
  • St. Pius V
  • Gregory XIII
  • Sixtus V
  • Urban VII
  • Gregory XIV
  • Innocent IX
  • Clement VIII
  • Leo XI
  • Paul V
  • Gregory XV
  • Urban VII
  • Innocent X
  • Alexander VII
  • Clement IX
  • Clement X
  • Blessed Innocent XI
  • Alexander VIII
  • Innocent XII

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