For this reason it has been customary in every age and country to invest those holding any position of dignity or practicing certain avocations with some uniform or badge, by which their rank and duties are designated. The soldier wears his uniform, by which he is distinguished from the ordinary citizen. The policeman, the fireman... wear special garb, marking him as set apart for some definite work.
This is done for a twofold purpose -- that others may respect and obey him as far as is necessary, and that he may respect himself and be more conscious of his duties and more attentive to them, on account of the uniform he wears. This is even more true of the religious garb. The priest wears it that he may be thereby distinguished from other men, and that he himself may be always reminded by it that he is "taken from among men to offer sacrifices and holocausts for them "-- to be a mediator between the Almighty and His creatures."
--- Rev. John F. Sullivan. The Externals of the Catholic Church. P.J. Kenedy & Sons: 1918.
Really? Priests need to be distinguished from other men? He needs to be reminded that he acts as a mediator between God and his creatures?
As an heir of the Protestant Reformation, the question of the use, value and function of liturgical vestments has been a question that I have posed for a long time. In just about any Episcopal or Anglican church in the US, on any given Sunday, the pastor who leads the congregation in worship is found vested in various styles. Some wear the alb with a combination of a liturgically colored stole. Some wear a cassock and surplice with a stole or tippet. Some vest in the chasuble prior to celebrating Holy Communion. For most of the 20th c. this practice has been seen to be quite ordinary and something "traditional" about the way that the Episcopal/Anglican Church worships. Moreover, Methodists do it, Presbyterians do it, Lutherans do it, and so on - so it's certainly not out of the ordinary. As we embark upon the 21st c., as a "global realignment" takes place in world Anglicanism and as new AMIA and independent Anglican churches are established in the USA, I think it is proper to ask the question, "What's in a Vestment?"
Perhaps one of the most striking differences between the worship styles of our brothers and sisters in Baptist churches, Bible churches, Pentecostal churches, non-denominational churches and other "free" churches lies in the style of the worship service. Among other things, the pastors of such churches do not wear vestments. Moreover, as we cast our gaze upon the larger Christian world across the globe, it's not uncommon for one to find that in Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and other "liturgical churches" meeting in, say, Kijabe, Kenya or Arequipa, Peru, that the use of vestments is uncommon. Is there something different in their thinking?
When we look to the historical home of Anglicanism, the UK, a bit of a different picture emerges. Unlike her US counterpart, it is actually quite common for one to find that in an evangelically minded Anglican church, the use of vestments is actually quite limited or simply non existent. Among those who are committed to a more catholic expression of Christianity, it's actually quite common to find the use of vestments - and the more elaborate the better. Is there something different in the thinking of the Anglo-Catholics?
I haven't been alone in my search for answers to these questions. As I have been thinking about this question over the past few years, I've posed some of my thoughts to my colleagues. One colleague of mine attends an AMIA church here in Wheaton. This church chooses to identify itself as a blending of three elements: evangelical - catholic - charismatic. Without digressing into other matters, my personal opinion, based upon the few times that I have visited, based upon my discussions with the Rector and based upon the reading material they make available, the catholic and charismatic elements tend to be their primary focus. The priests vest in the alb, stole and chasuble (to the left).
Another colleague of mine attends a different AMIA church in Glen Ellyn. Their focus, from what I've experienced, is on the evangelical and charismatic. The priest there vests in the cassock, surplice and stole, foregoing the use of the chasuble. In this church, the rector looks a lot like the fellow to the right.
Another colleague of mine attends an evangelical Anglican church in Oxford, UK. They describe themselves as evangelical. The priest there chooses not to wear vestments. "He just wears normal clothes."
So what's in a vestment? The answer to this questions lies, I believe, partly in understanding the history of the use of vestments in the Anglican church and partly in understanding the theological value, or lack thereof, placed upon the use and function of vestments in worship.
A History of Vesture in The Patristic Church
The use of vestments began in the patristic church. What most historians agree upon is that they are derived from a primarily secular origin, drawn from the kind of clothing that was common among the people of the classical world. The Church before the age of Constantine knew no distinction between secular and religious dress, although drawings in the catacombs show that the latter was dignified and rich. But the growth of the authority of the clergy both within and without the Church, the increasing esteem for the liturgy and its progressive development, and, not least, the continuous specialization of official dress, all combined to favor the use of richer and more varied materials and the marking of differences of rank among the clergy as was done among secular officials; still, there was no question of a class distinction. Thus, cultural factors, as much as theological factors, influenced the choice of religious clothing. Central to the theological factors is the Roman doctrine that the deaconate, priesthood and episcopacy are separate classes of ministering individuals. The Church, through the priesthood, acts as mediator between God and men. Hence, to distinguish the priesthood from the laity, special vestiture was established and worn.
Victor Schultze, "Vestments." New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1950.
The Anglican Reformation and the Vestments Controversy
During the Anglican reformation, a controversy arose concerning the question of vestments (along with questions concerning liturgy, images in worship, the use of the Prayer Book, kneeling to take Holy Communion, and other things). The chief concerns of the reformers were to establish the English Protestant identity, a normative doctrine and common church practice. The vestarian crisis or edification crisis concerned whether or not vesture was adiaphora (something to be indifferent about) or edifying.
In the Miles Coverdale translation:
1 Cor 14:26
And not only was this a theological question among the reformers, but it was a question for the monarch too. In section 13 of the Act of Uniformity, the monarch had the authority "to ordeyne and publishe suche further Ceremonies or rites as maye bee most meet for the advancement of Goddess Glorye, the edifieing of his church and the due Reverance of Christes holye mistries and Sacramentes".
The mindset among the reformers was diverse. One reformer, Bp. Hooper, spoke against the 1549 ordinal whose oath mentioned "all saints" and required newly elected bishops and those attending the ordination ceremony to wear a cope and surplice. In Hooper's view, these requirements were vestiges of Judaism and Roman Catholicism, which had no biblical warrant for Christians since they were not used in the early Christian church. Through a series of circumstances involving Bp. Ridley, Archbishop Cranmer, the King and the Privy Council, a debate ensued. It has been suggested that Henrician exiles like Hooper, who had experienced some of the more radically reformed churches on the continent, were at odds with English clergy who had accepted and never left the established church.
The Hooper-Ridley Debates
In 1550 Hooper and Ridley held a debate concerning the question of vestments. Hooper cites Romans 14:23 (whatever is not faith is sin), Romans 10:17 (faith comes from hearing the word of God), and Matthew 15:13 (everything not "planted" by God will be "rooted up") to argue that indifferent things must be done in faith, and since what cannot be proved from scripture is not of faith, indifferent things must be proved from scripture, which is both necessary and sufficient authority, as opposed to tradition. Hooper maintains that priestly garb distinguishing clergy from laity is not indicated by scripture; there is no mention of it in the New Testament as being in use in the early church, and the use of priestly clothing in the Old Testament is a Hebrew practice, a type or foreshadowing that finds its antitype in Christ, who abolishes the old order and recognises the spiritual equality, or priesthood, of all Christians. The historicity of these claims is further supported by Hooper with a reference to Polydore Vergil's De Inventoribus Rerum.
In response, Ridley rejected Hooper's insistence on biblical origins and countered Hooper's interpretations of his chosen biblical texts. He points out that many non-controversial practices are not mentioned or implied in scripture. Ridley denies that early church practices are normative for the present situation, and he links such primitivist arguments with the Anabaptists. Joking that Hooper's reference to Christ's nakedness on the cross is as insignificant as the clothing King Herod put Christ in, and "a jolly argument" for the Adamites, Ridley does not dispute Hooper's main typological argument, but neither does he accept that vestments are necessarily or exclusively identified with Israel and the Roman church. On Hooper's point about the priesthood of all believers, Ridley says it does not follow from this doctrine that all Christians must wear the same clothes.
Hooper went on to argue...
- An indifferent thing must be left to individual discretion; if required, it is no longer indifferent.
- An indifferent thing's usefulness must be demonstrated and not introduced arbitrarily.
- Indifferent things must be introduced into the church with apostolic and evangelical lenity, not violent tyranny.
For Ridley, on matters of indifference, one must defer conscience to the authorities of the church, or else "thou showest thyself a disordered person, disobedient, as [a] contemner of lawful authority, and a wounder of thy weak brother his conscience". For him, the debate was finally about legitimate authority, not the merits and demerits of vestments themselves. He contended that it is only accidental that the compulsory ceases to be indifferent; the degeneration of a practice into non-indifference can be corrected without throwing out the practice. Things are not, "because they have been abused, to be taken away, but to be reformed and amended, and so kept still".
In the end, Hooper was ordained wearing vestments. He had few supporters for his position, but it is significant that the 1552 revised Prayer Book omitted the vestments rubrics that had been the occasion for the controversy.
Vestments among the Marian Exiles: A Movement Away from Vestments
In the controversy among the Marian exiles, principally those in Frankfurt, church order and liturgy were the main issues of contention, though vestments were related and debated in their own right. There was no direct correlation between one's views on church order and one's views on clerical dress. Nevertheless, there is a general pattern wherein the members of the "prayer book party"(those who favored retaining Cranmer's book without more radical reforms) were favored for high appointments in the church under Elizabeth I that required conformity on vestments, as opposed to the exiles who departed from the order of the English national church in favor of the more international, continental, reformed order. Occupying many lower positions in the Elizabethan church, this latter group grew during the exile period and produced many of the leaders of the Elizabethan anti-vestments faction. As deans, prebends, and parish priests they were freer to openly disobey, en masse, the requirements for clerical dress. By 1558, even the supporters of the prayer book had abandoned the Edwardian regulations on clerical dress. All the Marian exiles – even the leading promoters of the English prayer book like Richard Cox – had given up the use of vestments by the time of their return to England under Elizabeth I, according to John Strype's Annals of the Reformation (1.1.263-54).
Vestments under Elizabeth 1
With the ascension of the new queen, many Marian exiles hoped for further reform upon their return to England and for the final removal of vestments from mandatory church use. The new queen, however, sought unity with her first Parliament in 1559 and did not want to encourage nonconformity. Under her Act of Uniformity, backed by the Act of Supremacy, the 1552 Prayer Book was to be the model for ecclesiastical use but with an even more conservative stance on vestments that went back to the second year of Edward VI's reign. The alb, cope, and chasuble were all to be brought back into use, while the exiles had abandoned even the surplice. The queen assumed direct control over these rules and all ceremonies or rites. There was a great deal of diversity of opinion. Some agreed with the queen in practice but encouraged preaching against vestments. Others were in favor of vestments altogether. And even others, like Miles Coverdale, were anti-vestment altogether.
The debate continued among the more conformist clergy and the nonconformist clergy. In 1563 an appeal was made to ecclesiastical commissioners to exempt the petitioners from wearing vestments. It was approved by all the commissioners except for Archbishop Matthew Parker. Parker then went on, in 1566, to draw a line in the sand against the nonconformity. This brought about a general protest and established one of the thorns in the sides of the soon to be non-conformists and Puritans.
One of those, Robert Crowley, vicar of St Giles-without-Cripplegate, instigated the first open protest. Though he was suspended on March 28 for his nonconformity, he was among many who ignored their suspension. On April 23 Crowley confronted six lay men (some sources say choristers) of St Giles, who had come to the church in surplices for a funeral. According to John Stow's Memoranda, Crowley stopped the funeral party at the door. Stow says Crowley declared "the church was his, and the queen had given it him during his life and made him vicar thereof, wherefore he would rule that place and would not suffer any such superstitious rags of Rome there to enter." Crowley was later arrested by Archbishop Parker (to the left) and imprisoned. While under arrest, Crowley published three editions (including one in Emden) of A Briefe Discourse Against the Outwarde Apparel of the Popishe Church (1566). Patrick Collinson has called this "the earliest puritan manifesto". The title page quotes from Psalm 31; intriguingly it is closest to the English of the Bishops' Bible (1568): "I have hated all those that holde of superstitious vanities".
In the summer and fall of 1566, conformists and nonconformists exchanged letters with continental reformers. The nonconformists looked to Geneva for support, but no real opportunity for change was coming, and the anti-vestments faction of the emerging Puritan element split into separatist and anti-separate wings.
In the end, those who remained in the conformist camp retained the use of vestments out of conformity to the authority of the Church. This included two "parties": those who disliked vestments but wore the surplice, feeling that the arguments made against the use of vestments had been firmly established; and those who liked vestments.
Those who did not conform (Puritans/Presbyterians), did so on the following grounds:
- The corrupt nature of traditions and the primacy of scripture.
- The equality of clergy (with laity)
- The non-exclusive power of the bishops to ordain ministers
- The limited scope of the authority of civil magistrates
- The sole headship of Christ in the church - a re-emphasis of the second point.
Edwardian Prayer Book (1552): Stole, chasuble, cope banned. Only surplice permitted.
Elizabethan Prayer Book (1559): the surplice for parish clergy is permitted. And, 'such ornaments...as were in use...in the second year of K.Edward VI'. This was to be the basis of claims in the 19th. century that vestments such as chasubles, albs and stoles were legal.
1662 Prayer Book: No revision
The 19th c.: Tractarianism, Ritualism and Anglo-Catholicism
Once we get into the 19th c. things change. Some Low-Churchmen and High-Churchmen prefer to wear classic Anglican vesture while others prefer to omit it. The evangelical Charles Simeon, for instance, often simply wore the clothes of an English gentlemen. Note in the silhouettes of Charles Simeon below, preaching in the church, he's wearing ordinary clothing.But a number of Anglicans wanted to move in another direction. The nineteenth century Oxford Movement within the Church of England strove against the erosion of the Church of England's traditionally-privileged and legally-entrenched role in English society (vis-à-vis the strength of nonconformist Protestants, Methodists, and the growth of Enlightenment secularism). The leading light of the Oxford Movement was John Henry Cardinal Newman. Another influential leader was the Rev. Edward Bouverie Pusey, who remained the spiritual father of the Oxford Movement. Perhaps one of the best known Anglo-catholics on the parish level was the Rev. Charles Lowder. Fr. Lowder, as he was affectionately known, was instrumental in reviving a high degree of ritualism in worship, inspiring a renewed depth of spirituality among high-church clergy, and was the primary founder of the Society of the Holy Cross.
Under the Anglo-Catholics, many elements that had been removed from the Church during the Reformation were returned. With respect to vesture, the Anglo-Catholics argued for the widest possible lenience under the Elizabethan rubric. They brought back the wearing of the alb, stole, chasuble, and cope. This was not simply for show. Rather, the use of these vestments coincided with their theology of the priesthood and Holy Communion. They moved in a much more Roman direction, elevating themselves to a sacerdotal priesthood and elevating their altar practices to sacrifice. Hence, a theology of the priesthood that separates the priest from the laity, as he engages in sacerdotal worship, which mediates for the laity, means that he must vest himself in a unique and distinguished way - as one who stands as mediator between God and man.
From the 19th c. to the present day, Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals differ strongly over the use of vestments. Anglo-Catholics are happy with the introduction of "catholic" vestments while the evangelicals are either happy with traditional Anglican vesture or none at all.
So What's in a Vestment?
What appears clear is that the wearing of vestments is a practice that began in the Constantinian church parallel to the development of liturgical practices. In the Anglican Reformation, the use of vestments was a considerable issue for debate and an issue that is partly responsible for the emergence of Puritanism and Presbyterianism. As Anglican Evangelicals, if we are to hold to the primacy and authority of Scripture, shouldn't what best reflects the Gospel be normative practice?
On the basic grounds of the priesthood of all of God's people (1 Pet 2:5-9) and the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews), there must not be an official separation between a priest and the laity on the basis of a Catholic doctrine of the Mass. Jesus is the Priest of the Church, his bodily temple, that in turn is made up of priests (servants). Such a congregation of holy people fulfills God's design, one begun at Sinai in the Old Testament, of a universal Israelite priestly kingdom that serves the LORD exclusively and makes his ways known to the world. Such a people find their role renewed by Jesus in the Gospel, and find it continuing into the world to come (Exod 19:6; Isa 66:21; Rev 21:1-7). I think this biblical-theological reasoning is exactly what Hooper was striving for. On the basis of the Gospel, there is a fundamental change in the idea of temple and priesthood. Jesus alone is our mediatorial priest in the heavenly temple.
What appears clear from the history of the use of vestments is that primarily clergy have debated this issue among themselves. And clergy know that symbols have meanings. I'm afraid that often an uncritical eye is cast at the Catholic vestments without considering the sacerdotal symbolism that they intend to reflect - and the obscurity to the Gospel that entails. The Gospel is obscured because (as the reformers insisted) a sinner can respond to Christ's summons, wherein he mediates and forgives the sinner on the grounds of his death and resurrection, without the need for any alternative or secondary priestly class. Hence, it obscures the doctrine of justification by faith and the the glory of the Father. Catholic vestments do not speak an evangelical Gospel.
"But what's the big deal," some ask. The question of vesture is an important one because it relates directly to the clarity of the Gospel. I'm concerned with what the symbolism symbolizes. There are a number of free-church Christians who begin attending Anglican churches every year - especially the AMIA. They tend to like the Catholic vesture worn by the priest. The reasons, however, are not because they adhere to Catholic theology, but because it suits their style and taste. They prefer looking at a minister who is wearing vestments more than looking at a minister who is wearing a suit. Or they might say that it makes them feel like they are part of something rooted in tradition, which they never felt like they were a part of in their non-denominational American evangelical church. My thinking is that if the priest were wearing a surplice instead of alb and stole, and they were told it was traditional, they would accept it just the same! Therefore, for the uniformed, it does not speak to them theologically at all - which is the whole purpose of the introduction of Catholic vesture by the Tractarians in the first place.
Moreover, in these post-modern times, it appears that more and more churches are simply picking and choosing what they might use for symbols as part of "Ancient - Future" Christianity. If anything needs to happen, it has to be a robust discussion on a theology of symbolism and a theology of art in the Church. The Gospel must inform what we choose to do, speak and wear. And only insofar as any symbol serves to clarify and speak the Gospel will it have proper evangelical usage. And to this point, a number of Anglican Evangelicals reply that we do have symbols given to the Church: The Lord's Supper and Baptism.
So in the end, what I'm arguing for is Gospel clarity and consistency. If you are an Anglo-Catholic, then wear your Catholic vestments because it conforms to your theology of transubstantiation, a sacerdotal priesthood and the Mass. If you don't hold to such doctrines, then why wear the Catholic vestments? And for Evangelicals who choose to wear classic vesture or not to wear any vestments at all, your consistency is commendable.
So, "What's in a Vestment?" What you want to communicate.
- John Hooper "Ex libro D. Hoperi, Reg. Consiliarijs ab ipso. exhibiti. 3. octobr. 1550. contra vsum vestium quibis in sacro Ministerio vitur Ecclesia Anglicana. quem librum sic orditur". Text printed in C. Hopf, "Bishop Hooper's 'Notes' to the King's Council",Journal of Theological Studies 44 (January–April, 1943): 194–99.
- Nicholas Ridley "Reply of Bishop Ridley to Bishop Hooper on the Vestment Controversy, 1550", in John Bradford Writings, ed. A. Townsend for the Parker Society (Cambridge, 1848, 1853): 2.373–95.
- Horton Davies, Worship of the English Puritans (Westminster and London: Dacre Press, 1948; Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 1997)
- Horton Davies, Worship and Theology in England, vol. 1, From Cranmer to Hooker, 1534-1603 (Princeton University Press, 1970; Eerdmans, 1996)
- M. M. Knappen, Tudor Puritanism (University of Chicago Press, 1939)
- J. H. Primus The Vestments Controversy (J.H. Kok N. V. Kampen, 1960)
- Bernard Verkamp, The Indiffferent Mean: Adiaphorism in the English Reformation to 1554 (Ohio University Press, 1977)
- Ronald J. Vander Molen, "Anglican Against Puritan: Ideological Origins during the Marian Exile," Church History 42.1 (1973): 45-57.
- Brett Usher, "The Deanery of Bocking and the Demise of the Vestiarian Controversy," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 52.3 (2001): 434-55.
- Norman L. Jones, "Elizabeth, Edification, and the Latin Prayer Book of 1560," Church History 53 (1984): 174-86.