De virginibus velandis
(On the veiling of virgins)

[CPL 27]

Latin: Bulhart, 1957 --- English: Thelwall, 1870 --- French: Genoude, 1852 --- German: Kellner, 1882

Summary Content Other points of interest Manuscripts Title variations Bibliography


Unmarried women must wear the same headdress as other adult women in church.


In 17 chapters.

In contemporary society in Carthage, women older than puberty (defined as 12 years old) had to wear a head-covering in the street, unless they were prostitutes (ch. 13). In church the married women always covered their heads, and girl-children did not, but the position of unmarried women was less clear, owing to mixed precedents.

Tertullian suggests that unmarried women other than children should be veiled in church, just as adult women are. Some are arguing against this;- Tertullian therefore discusses the whole issue of whether women should cover their heads in church, making various points.

Note: Was the veil over the face or just the hair?

The female veil did not cover the face.  The custom of veiling the complete head was current in contemporary (pre-islamic) Arabia, as Tertullian remarks in 17:4 and as can be seen from contemporary depictions.  However in Carthage the issue was the veil as depicted on portraits in contemporary society.  No full discussion of the custom in antiquity exists.  From SC424, p. 89, after discussing the Arabian custom:

Cette dissimulation totale — y compris le visage — n'est pas le sujet du litige carthaginois : Tertullien la qualifie de barbarior et estime qu'il lui manque la mesure convenable 5. En revanche, le voile qu'il revendique correspond à celui que nous révèlent les portraits de matrones romaines : un fichu ou une partie du vêtement recouvre la tête et retombe des deux côtés sur les oreilles et sur la nuque jusqu'aux épaules 6

[This total covering — including the face — is not the subject of the Carthaginian argument: Tertullien labels it as barbarior and considers it excessive. On the other hand, the veil which he advocates corresponds to that which the portraits of Roman matrons reveal us: a fragment or a portion of clothing covers the head and falls down on the two sides on the ears and the nape of the neck down to the shoulders.]

5. Cf. 17, 6 et comm.
6. Cf. H. BLÜMNER, Die Römischen Privataltertiïmer, HbAW 3, t. 4. Munich (1911) p. 272 s. ; J.J. BERNOULLI, Römische Ikonographie, Stuttgart (1894) t. 2-2, planche LIII ; t. 2-3, planches XVI a ; XVII ; XVIII a.


Refers to a Greek version of the work (1:1).

Gives a version of the Rule of Faith (1:4), the regula fidei:

"The rule of faith, indeed, is altogether one, alone immoveable and irreformable; the rule, to wit, of believing in one only God omnipotent, the Creator of the universe, and His Son Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, raised again the third day from the dead, received in the heavens, sitting now at the right (hand) of the Father, destined to come to judge quick and dead through the resurrection of the flesh as well (as of the spirit)." (Ch. 1)

Mentions Ebion (thinking of the Ebionites) denying that Christ was born of a virgin, while discussing how scripture talks about the categories of 'woman' and 'virgin':

'For, writing to the Galatians, "God," he says, "sent His own Son, made of a woman," who, of course, is admitted to have been a virgin, albeit Ebion resist (that doctrine). I recognise, too, the angel Gabriel as having been sent to "a virgin."' (Ch. 6)

Uses the word 'capitulum', later meaning 'chapter' to refer to a passage of scripture (6:5).

Ancient Britons wore tattoos (10:2), and other hair styles are discussed.

The age of consent for both sexes in contemporary society:

"Time even the heathens observe, that, in obedience to the law of nature, they may render their own fights to the (different) ages. For their females they despatch to their businesses from (the age of) twelve years, but the male from two years later; decreeing puberty (to consist) in years, not in espousals or nuptials." (11:10)

In 14:3, Tertullian says that the church willingly supports virgins financially.

In 17:6 he records that an angel has recently appeared to a woman, and rebuked her for being unveiled.

This also is the only mention of Tertullian's gentilicum - Septimius, in the last sentence:

"To such as read these (exhortations) with good will, to such as prefer Utility to Custom, may peace and grace from our Lord Jesus Christ redound: as likewise to Septimius Tertullianus, whose this tractate is." (Ch. 17:9)

Tertullian also discusses the action of the Holy Spirit/Paraclete, in terms that suggest Montanism:

For what kind of (supposition) is it, that, while the devil is always operating and adding daily to the ingenuities of iniquity, the work of God should either have ceased, or else have desisted from advancing? whereas the reason why the Lord sent the Paraclete was, that, since human mediocrity was unable to take in all things at once, discipline should, little by little, be directed, and ordained, and carried on to perfection, by that Vicar of the Lord, the Holy Spirit. "Still," He said, "I have many things to say to you, but ye are not yet able to bear them: when that Spirit of truth shall have come, He will conduct you into all truth, and will report to you the supervening (things)." But above, withal, He made a declaration concerning this His work. What, then, is the Paraclete's administrative office but this: the direction of discipline, the revelation of the Scriptures, the reformation of the intellect, the advancement toward the "better things? " (Ch. 1)

Tertullian also remarks on the evils of abortion. The context is pointing out how parading in church as a virgin carries all sorts of problems, for those who sin:

"I will say (albeit I would rather not) it is a difficult thing for one to turn woman once for all who fears to do so, and who, when already so turned (in secret), has the power of (still) falsely pretending to be a virgin under the eye of God. What audacities, again, will (such an one) venture on with regard to her womb, for fear of being detected in being a mother as well! God knows how many infants He has helped to perfection and through gestation till they were born sound and whole, after being long fought against by their mothers! Such virgins ever conceive with the readiest facility, and have the happiest deliveries, and children indeed most like to their fathers! These crimes does a forced and unwilling virginity incur." (Ch. 14)


This text is found only in the members of the Cluny collection. (q.v.).  The primary witnesses, therefore, are:

Possibly also to be considered are:

which may or may not have some independent witness.  Many consider them simply copies of F, however.


No variants.(!)


Unless otherwise indicated, details are from Quasten's Patrology, 2 (1955). See also Editions page and Critical Editions page for more information.

[Note: I need to add some biblio, from l'Annee Phil. for the years 1954-1974 and from CTC after that].


F. OEHLER, Q..S.F. Tertulliani opera omnia, ed. maior 1. Leipzig, 1853, 883-910.
E. DEKKERS, CCSL 2 (1954) 1207-1226. Checked.
G.F. DIERCKS, Tertulliani De Oratione et De Virginibus Velandis Libelli, Stromata Patristica et Mediaevalia IV (1956), Antwerp. Checked. (Personal copy)
V. BULHART, CSEL 76 (1957) 79-103. CheckedOnline complete.
Eva SCHULZ-FLÜGEL & Paul MATTEI, Le voile des vierges. Sources Chrétiennes 424 (1997). 288pp.  Introduction, critical text, translation and commentary.


English: S. THELWALL, ANCL 18 (1870) pp.154-180; reprinted ANF 4 (1885), pp. 27-37.  Online.  Checked.
-- Geoffrey DUNN, Tertullian, The Early Church Fathers, London/New York:Routledge (2004). pp.135-161.  Checked.
French: D. HEBERT, Tertullien. Des Prescriptions contre les hérétiques, de l'Habillement des femmes, de leur Ajustement et du Voile des Vierges. De la traduction de M.H, Publisher : Paris : Simon Trouvin ( 1683) Description : 3 parties en 1 vol. : bandeau aux armoiries du dédicataire, F. de Harlay ; 12°. Notes : Traduit par Hébert, d'après son épître dédicatoire et le privilège.(Details from the Montpellier library catalogue)
-- A DE GENOUDE, Les Pères de l'Église, t. 7, Paris (1842) p. 565-591. (Details from SC 424).
A. DE GENOUDE, Du Voile des vierges. Oeuvres de Tertullien2, Paris (1852). t. 2, pp.277-303. Checked. Online.  Personal copy.
-- M. HEBERT, Tertullien. Des prescriptions contre les hérétiques. De l'habillement des femmes, de leur ajustement, et du voile des vierges. De la traduction de M. H(ebert). (Eclaircissemens du livre de Tertullien des prescriptions, etc.).  Publisher: Paris : Simon Trouvin, 1683. Physical Desc.: 3 pt. ; 12o. (Details from COPAC. Listed at British Library).
-- Paul MATTEI (SC 424), loc. cit., 1997.
German: K.A.H. KELLNER, Über die Verschleierung der Jungfrauen, Tertullians sämtliche Schriften, aus dem Latein übersetzt von H. Kellner, 1 Band: Die apologetischen und praktischen Schriften, Cologne (1882) 2nd edition. p. 354-376. (Details from SC 424, and photocopy).
Eva SCHULZ-FLÜGEL , De uirginibus uelandis, introd., trad., comm. (PhD thesis). Göttingen (1977).  Reviewed CTC 77. (Details from SC 424).
C. STÜCKLIN, Tertullian, De uirginibus uelandis, Ein Betrag zur altkirchlichen Frauenfrage (Europäische Hochschulschriften, XXIII, 26; PhD dissertation at the university of Basle).  Introd. Trad. Comm. Berne-Francfort (1974).  Reviewed CTC 75. (Details from SC 424).
Dutch: H. U. MEYBOOM, Over de vraag, of de maagden zich moeten sluieren (Oudchristel. geschriften, dl. 46). Leiden, 1931.
Italian: Selvaggia BORGHINI, Opere di Tertulliano tradotte in Toscano. Rome (1756). p.407-438.  Personal copy. Checked.
-- Pier Angelo GRAMAGLIA, Tertulliano, De virginibus velandis : la condizione femminile nelle prime comunità cristiane ; a cura di Pier Angelo Gramaglia .Roma : Borla (1984) 301 p. ; 19 cm.. ( Cultura cristiana antica) ISBN 88-263-0435-1. (Details from BN Florence OPAC)
Hungarian: László VANYÓ &c, Tertullianus muvei (The works of Tertullian), Budapest: Szent István Társulat (1986) 1100pp. (Ókeresztény frók 12). (Details CTC 2002.75).  The older translations of István Városi (Pat, Apol, Orat, Ux, Cult) and Marcell Mosolygó (Mart) have been recycled; the rest are new.


[None listed in Quasten.  SC 424 has a substantial amount of commentary, however, and many pages of bibliography, very general.  Chapter 6 discusses the custom of veiling, with references.  Oehler has a fair bit of marginal material]

P. MONCEAUX, Sur le voile des femmes en Afrique, Bull. de la Soc. nat. des antiqu. de France (1901), pp.339-341.  (Details from SC 424).
R. DE VAUX, Sur le voile des femmes dans l'Orient ancien, RBib 44 (1935), p.395ff. (Details from SC 424).

This page has been online since 11th December 1999.

Return to the Tertullian Project / About these pages