What Did Linus & the Apostle Peter Believe About Head Covering?
[Series introduction: This post is part of a series that will examine what certain leaders in church history believed about head covering. Their arguments, choice of language and conclusions should not be misconstrued as an endorsement from us. The purpose of this series is to faithfully show what they believe about covering rather than only selectively quoting the parts we agree with.]
Linus became bishop of Rome during the latter end of the lives of the Apostle Paul and Peter. He held the office for 12 years and was martyred for his faith. He was an Italian, from the province of Tuscany, the son of Claudia and Herculanus. He was a friend of the Apostle Paul who mentioned him by name in his letter to Timothy:
Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. (2 Tim 4:21)
Eusebuius and Irenaeus both identify the Linus mentioned here in Scripture as the same one who became bishop. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia likewise argues that “considering the great rarity of this Greek mythological name as a proper name for persons, we can hardly doubt that here…[in Paul’s letter is] the first bishop of Rome.” 1) Rutherfurd, J. (1915). Linus. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Vol. 1–5, p. 1895). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.
Now even though we have no surviving writings of Linus2) This is not uncommon. For example, we don’t possess the original writings of Papias, but we do learn what he believed and said from the writings of Eusebius. While we’d always prefer to have the originals, learning second hand from people who had access to their writings or documentation on them should not lead to excessive doubt about its authenticity. , it’s clear that the early church had access to works that we no longer possess. There are very specific details given about his life such as the date and place of his burial, the name of his father, and the exact number of months and days he held the office of bishop. That’s not information you make up. That’s preserved documentation. So while we don’t possess the originals, we do have facts about his life and theology as preserved by the early church.
The Liber Pontificalis is an important document that was written around the year 530 A.D. It traces the history of Roman popes from Peter to their modern day. There’s only one theological belief of Linus listed in his short biography and that’s his view on head covering. It reads:
“He, by direction of the blessed Peter, decreed that a woman must veil her head to come into the church.” 3) Loomis, L. (1916). The book of the popes (Liber pontificalis) I-. New York: Columbia University Press.
Here Linus is described as getting specific direction from the Apostle Peter on head covering. While only Paul writes about this matter in Scripture, Linus was a disciple of Peter, one of only three men who was specifically ordained as bishop by the Apostle. So he had the benefit of learning theology directly from him. So here we learn not only about Linus’ belief and practice, but that it was the apostle Peter’s too. This poses a problem for those that want to view Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11 as being only for that one specific church. If that’s so, why did the Apostle Peter instruct the bishops he trained and ordained to enforce head covering too? From this brief statement we learn a few other things regarding this practice. We see that head covering was not a suggestion, but a command. Linus is said to decree that a woman “must” veil. “Must” is the language of obligation. Second, we see that this is primarily a church issue. Linus’ decree was not concerning what a woman does at home, or in public, but how she comes “into the church.” This corresponds to Paul’s instruction that head covering is for when one is “praying and prophesying” (1 Cor 11:4-5) which shows that this symbol is specifically for how we are to worship.
So within the pages of a book that chronicles the history of Roman bishops, we learn about the earliest reference to head covering outside of Scripture. This is in line with what we already know about early church history, that there was no dissension on this topic. After all, it was the Apostle Paul who said that there was no church anywhere that had the practice of women praying uncovered (1 Cor 11:16), and we now know this also included the church of Rome under Peter and Linus’ administration.