In the Eastern Church the wearing of beards has remained the practice since apostolic times as a sign of virility. From the fifth century on, the West gradually had its clerics clean-shaven. By the twelfth century there were many decrees by Western Church councils against clerics wearing beards. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the contrary practice prevailed, and beards were worn by popes. Then there was a return to the earlier practice, and most recently some priests in the West conform to the prevalent custom of long hair and a beard.