Monday, August 1, 2011


VESTMENTS. The ministerial dress of the clergy. At the beginning no peculiar dress was worn by the clergy of the Christian Church at the time that they officiated. But a special dress grew up spontaneously and almost necessarily. It was the practice of officials and of persons of condition in the time of the Empire to wear a more gala dress than usual at public ceremonies, and this example was followed by the Christian clergy. The special feature of the ordinarydress was the tunic; of the ceremonial dress, the toga or some other garment worn as a supervestment over the tunic. It was etiquette, for example, to wear the toga when dining with the Emperor, when it was beginning to be commonly given up. Fashions changed, but the old forms, having been once employed for religious ceremonies, continued to be retained in use for them. Thus, as time proceeded, what was in fact only an older fashion of lay dress, became peculiar to those engaged in religious rites or solemnities.

The old forms of dress were clung to with the greater determination by the clergy when the Barbarians had burst into the Empire and spread through the provinces, because they served as a claim and proof that the wearers belonged to the civilised, not to the barbarian division of the world. The old Roman secular dress continued in this way to be the distinctive apparel of the Christian clergy for some 800 years. Pope Celestine, in the fifth century, condemns “superstitious observances in dress” by priests with more than Puritanic rigour.

At the commencement of the Middle Ages, in the ninth century, a change had come over the face of the world. The clergy no longer desired to distinguish themselves by outward marks from those who had formerly been despised as barbarians, but were now rulers of the Western world and represented by a Charlemagne. consequently the old Roman dress, now slightingly called Byzantine, was no longer a subject of pride to them. At the same time a wave of asstheticism and ceremonialism, emanating from the court of Charlemagne, passed over the Church, which led it to desire something more gorgeous and more symbolical than had hitherto been in use in the ministerial dress. Unaware that the existing dress of the clergy was no more than a slight modification of the old Roman toga, the Statesmen and Churchmen of Charlemagne s court (the two names represent the same persons) looked back to the Aaronic vestments as the origin of Christian clericalrobes, and they resolved to establish a likeness between them, which they could hardly discover in the existing forms. Speaking generally, the present Roman Catholic vestments were introduced at this time. Those who seek to restore them in the English Church are often unaware that they merely date from the ninth century, the beginning of the Middle Ages, and that the surplice, which they wish to supersede, is more like the robes worn by the Apostles and the first Christians than any other vestment. This may easily be seen by looking at early representations in the Catacombs and elsewhere.

The Ritualist vestments belong to the Church of Charlemagne, not of Constantine. The first modification of the mediaeval garments in the English Church was made in 1549. The priest ministering the Holy Communion was then confined to the use of the alb, surmounted by a chasuble or cope ; the deacon or assistant priest to the alb with tunicle; the bishop to the rochet or surplice or alb with a chasuble or cope. In 1552 the alb, chasuble, and cope were forbidden, the priest and deacon being confined to the surplice and the bishop to the rochet.

Almost immediately after this rule had been issued, the mediaeval vestments were all restored on the accession of Mary. In 1559 Elizabeth, and her cautious Statesmen and Churchmen, resolved to restore the surplice, but, unwilling to shock prejudice by too violent and sudden a change, induced the Parliament to let the rule of 1549 stand for the moment, while at the same time it gave the Queen authority to “take other order” on the subject with the assent of the Metropolitan. Determined to wait till she could carry public opinion with her, the Queen allowed seven years to elapse before she exercised this right. Then she issued Archbishop Parker’s “Advertisements,” which ordered that at the Holy Communion the officiating clergy should in Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches use the cope (which had never been regarded as a “sacrificial” garment), and that at all other times and in all other Churches a surplice only should be used. That became the law of the land from 1566 onwards. In 1604 it was formally adopted as the law of the Church by the canons of that year, with the only modification that the cope was confined to the principal festivals. The Prayer Books of 1604 and 1662 retained what we know as the Ornaments rubric (which is part of a clause of an Act of Parliament) without alteration of any significance, the object of their doing so being to justify the rule introduced by the Advertisements, which were authorised to be issued by the clause of which the Ornaments rubric is a part, and to retain the practice which at the time existed, and in which it was not desired to make any change. The surplice was universally wished for, and the words at ALL times of their administration virtually abolished all distinctive dresses. We thus see that bythe law of the land since 1566, and by the law of the Church of England since 1604, the surplice, with the academical hood, has been the appointed dress of the clergy in all their ministrations, except in the celebration of Holy Communion in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, when the cope (never having been made, like the chasuble, a symbol of superstitious belief) was ordered. This law of the Church and State was never broken, so far as the surplice is concerned, till the year 1860, when the Rev. T. Chamberlain introduced the alb and the chasuble into St. Thomas Church, Oxford. Since that time the law has more and more frequently been broken, often from a misunderstanding of the Ornaments rubric, so called. On the subject of vestments in general, see Marriott’s Vestiarium Christianum, and on the force of the Ornaments rubric, see Lord Selborne’s Memorials, pt. ii. vol. i. p. 377. For a different view of the “other order” see Tomlinson on the Ornaments rubric. [Frederick Meyrick]

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