Tuesday, August 2, 2011


CHASUBLE. A cloak at first commonly worn by peasants ; afterwards adopted as an ecclesiastical vestment. The first writer that speaks of the casual, or chasuble, is St. Augustine, A.D. 354-430. He tells a story of a poor tailor at Hippo, a little before his own time, who lost his chasuble, and not having money to buy another, went to the Chapel of the Twenty Martyrs at Hippo and prayed that it might be restored to him on which the boys laughed at him for seeming to ask the Martyrs for 500 “folles,” which shows us what was about the price of a chasuble, as a large-sized fish could be bought for 300 “folles” (De Civ. Dei, xxii.). In his own time, he speaks of the chasuble as a common article of dress. “Will you go on,”he says, “with a bad chasuble or a bad boot? Then why with a bad soul?” (Serm. 107). It was at this time a cloak enveloping the whole person, like the manta still worn in Spain, with the addition of a hood that might be drawn over the head. Being the ordinary dress of the poor, it was worn by monks, and Bishop Fulgentius, about A.D. 500, strictly ordered that his monks chasubles should not be of a high price, or of a bright colour. Procopius, A.D. 530, speaks of the chasuble as being a cloak of a slave or of a common person, which a general, or a private soldier, would be ashamed of (De Bello Vindal. ii. 26). Archbishop Caesarius, A.D. 540, left to his successor, in his will, a long-napped chasuble, which he distinguishes from his church robes. Pope Gregory I., A.D. 600, presented three pieces of money and a chasuble, that is, a cloak, to a Persian abbot who saluted him in the streets of Rome. Boniface III., A.D. 606, sent to King Pepin a chasuble made partly of silk partly of goat s hair with a long nap, on which he says that he might wipe his feet dry a very singular use of a chasuble. Isidore of Seville, A.D. 620, in his De Originibus, describes the chasuble as a garment with a hood, and states that its name is a diminutive of casa, a house, because it covers the whole man like a little house (Lib. xix.). St. Boniface and a Council held at Ratisbon in 742, order presbyters and deacons not to wear the short military cloak, but the chasuble, as befitting the servants of God (Labbe, vi.).

Hitherto we have had no indication of the chasuble being a ministerial vestment, or a garment in any way peculiar to the clergy,but, with the ninth century it becomes more specially clerical by ceasing to be the common dress of the people; and symbolical meanings become now attached to it. Rabanus Maurus, A.D. 800, repeating Isidore’s derivation of the name from casa, a house, says that it covers all the other vestments, and therefore symbolises charity. Amalarius, A.D. 824, says that, as the chasuble is worn by all the clerical body of whatever degree, it symbolises “the works which belong to all, namely, hungering, thirsting, watching, nakedness, reading, psalm singing, prayer, toil, teaching, silence, and everything else of that kind; when a man is clothed with them he has on his chasuble.” The double fold of the chasuble between the shoulders indicated that good works should be performed both towards men and towards God; the double fold on the breast implied the need both of learning and of truth (De Eccl. Off. ii.). In a treatise of the eleventh century, wrongly attributed to Alcuin, the writer repeats that the symbolical meaning of the chasuble is charity (De Div. Off.). Ivo Carnotensis, A.D. 1100, knows no signification of the chasuble except charity (De eccl. sacram. et officiis), nor Hugo a Sancto Victore, A.D. 1120, nor Honorius Augustodunensis, A.D. 1125. To Innocent III. it also means charity, but he likewise sees in it the symbol of the Pre-Christian and Post-Christian Church, because it hangs in front and behind, which, he says, is right because on Palm Sunday both those who went before and those who followed after cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (De sacro altaris mysterio). Durandus, A.D. 1250, repeats the signification of charity, but adds that it also represents the wedding garment of Matt. xxii. 12, and the Catholic Church, and the vestment of Aaron, and the purple robe of Christ. By hanging both in front and behind, he says that it symbolises love to God and man, whilst its width shows that charity must reach to enemies. Its three folds on the right arm teach the duty of “succouring monks, clergy, and laity,” and the three folds on the left arm the duty of “ministering to bad Christians, Jews, and Paynims.”

Thus it appears that the chasuble, beginning as the ordinary outer garment of the poor, was retained by the clergy when other people changed the fashion of their clothes, and thus became their ministerial dress. But down to the end of the thirteenth century the idea of its being a sacrificial garment had not arisen. Its accepted meaning was charity. But in the thirteenth century Innocent III. and the Fourth Lateran Council introduced such wide reaching modifications of the Christian faith as almost to change its character. In 1215 Transubstantiation became the authorised belief, and auricular confession the authorised practice of the Latin Church. Transubstantiation, which is the basis of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and compulsory confession profoundly altered the conception entertained of the priesthood. The presbyter now became a sacrificing priest, and the victim that he sacrificed was no other than Christ Himself, while in the confessional he sat as the representative of God. His vesture must indicate the stupendous office which he held. The most noticeable, because the outside, garment that he wore was the chasuble; the chasuble therefore must symbolise sacrifice. By degrees it attracted to itself this character, and in the course of the subsequent centuries it became recognised as the priestly sacrificial vestment, while it underwent considerable changes in form.

But if the chasuble did not symbolise sacrifice for at least 1300 years, why should it be supposed to symbolise it now? The whole theory of the symbolical meaning of vestments, which first grew up in the ninth century, is partly a pretty and quaint, partly a fantastic and foolish imagination. Ritualist fancy has again declared the chasnble to be necessary for the priest who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, or celebrates the Holy Eucharist. Mr. Passmore pronounces it to be “an ecclesiastical vestment indispensable to, and characteristic of, the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar” (Sacred Vestments, vii.). The Ritual Reason Why tells us that the priest removes his chasuble when preaching “because the sermon is not directly a part of the sacrifice,” and that “he lays it on the altar because it is a sacrificial vestment” (No. 430). The Congregation in Church is daring enough to state, without any regard to historical fact, that the alb, girdle, amice, maniple, stole, and chasuble “have been worn at Holy Communion from the days of the Holy Apostles”; the cloak which St. Paul left at Troas having been, no doubt, his chasuble. And it states that it is “the sacerdotal or priestly vestment worn by the celebrant at the Holy Eucharist” (pp. 54, 176). This theory is a reason why so strong a desire is entertained for restoring the use of the pre-Reformation vestments in the Church of England. It is not merely a matter of aestheticism, but of doctrine, although the sketch above given of the history of the chasuble proves that the connection between it and the doctrine which it is now supposed to symbolize is an arbitrary dictum of the later Middle Ages unknown for more than a thousand years. [Frederick Meyrick]

In England the chasuble was blessed “that all clad with this chasuble may have power to perform a sacrifice acceptable to Thee for quick and dead” (Mon. Rit. i. 144). It was placed by the bishop on the shoulders of the priest with the words “receive the Sacerdotal vesture” and was followed by the blessing of the priest’s hands to “consecrate Hosts which are offered for the sins and negligences of the people.” When Sawtre was degraded from the priesthood in 1401 the form ran “we pull from thy back the chasuble and take from thee the priestly Vestment and deprive thee of all priestly honour.” Archbishop Parker and the High Commissioners in 1566 published a letter from Bullinger who denounced the “Massing apparel, that is in an alb and in a Vestment,” and opposite the word “Vestment,” they inserted in the margin “Casula,” thus showing beyond all doubt what was then understood by the word “Vestment.” In the English Pontificals the bishop was directed to come in procession to church in a cope, but to lay it aside for the “Vestment” when he was about to say Mass. The cope being unblessed, and not given to the ordinees, but worn by laymen, by children, and even by women, often out of doors, was not held to be a “sacrificial dress,” and was therefore tolerated when the “Vestment” of the Mass-priests was finally laid aside. (See Scudamore, Notitia Eucharistica. pp. 67, 70; Tomlinson on the Prayer Book, pp. 56, 96, 117, 119, 274; Mr. Edmund Bishop in the Dublin Review for January 1897, p. 17.) [J. T. Tomlinson]

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