< Previous
Next >

3. Costume of the Clergy

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER VI. Of the Rank, Rights and Privileges and Costume of the Clergy

3. Costume of the Clergy

The Roman Catholics attach great importance to the attire of the priesthood. They prescribe a peculiar uniform to the several orders of their priesthood, according to the nature of their duties. The origin of this usage their writers, together with most protestants, concur in referring to the fourth century. "No one can be ignorant," says Pellicia, "that the garb of the clergy in the first three centuries was nowise different from that of the laity." Whether any distinction was known in the fourth century is a disputed question; but ecclesiastical history clearly informs us, that the dress of the clergy and laity was generally the same, even in the sixth century. Writers on this subject, however, seem not to have been sufficiently attentive to the distinction between the ordinary and official garb of the priests; for, although there were no existing rules of the church on this subject, all analogy requires us to believe that there was, even in the first three centuries, some clerical dress which was worn during the celebration of divine service. And in this belief we are the more confirmed from the fact, that Christianity was originally derived from the Jewish religion. After the third and fourth centuries, this official garb became more distinct and splendid, and to this result both the writings of the Old Testament, and the customs of the pagan priests in Greece and Rome undeniably contributed.

In illustration of the general subject before us, the following remarks are worthy of notice.

  1. There is a tradition extant relating to certain insignia of the apostles. Hegesippus, as related by Eusebius, ascribes to John, James, and Mark, a golden head-band, and to Bartholomew, a splendid mantle. The Koran also speaks of the apostles under the name of candidates, albati, in allusion, as it would seem, to their white roles.
  2. It is but reasonable to suppose, that in the times of persecution, the priesthood wore no sacerdotal habit in civil and social life; just as all such is of necessity excluded wherever religion is not protected by the civil authorities. But because a missionary lays these aside in China, or in Turkey, is it therefore to be presumed that he would appear without them in a religious assembly in the discharge of his official duties?
  3. After the persecutions ceased, the secret discipline of the primitive church must have offered urgent reasons for the use of the sacerdotal robe. When all was done with the air of solemnity and mystery, is it to be supposed that the principal actor would enter upon these solemnities only in his daily attire? Read the directions given in the Apostolical Constitutions, and in the mystical catechism of Cyril of Jerusalem, respecting the ceremonies of baptism, and the Lord's supper; and then say, is it becoming for the administrator of these ordinances to appear in his daily habit? The subjects of baptism, "grex nlveus," were arrayed in the purest white.* 

    At the baptism of the younger Theodosius, all the grandees of the court were dressed in white raiment: ut existimareiur multitudo esse nive repleta under these circumstances would the minister at the altar appear only in his usual garb? According to Clemens Alexandrinus, the whole assembly were required to engage in public worship in a becoming dress,* And would not the rule apply with peculiar force to him who ministered to the assembly?

  4. It is manifestly absurd to suppose that the hierarchy of the church was established in the second or third centuries, with the different orders inferior and superior, and yet that they had no badge of office. Besides, the badges of the different clerical orders became in the fourth century, the subject of consideration in ecclesiastical councils. The council of Laodicea ordered that the surplice or robe* of an officiating minister, should not be worn by the subordinate attendants, readers, or singers. The fourth council of Carthage, c. 41, forbade deacons the use of the white surplice, nisi in sacro ministerio, except in the discharge of the ministerial office. In this, and similar decrees, a distinction between the official garb and ordinary attire is clearly indicated. It has been erroneously supposed that these instructions to the clergy to appear in suitable dress, is evidence that no official uniform was known; whereas these instructions relate only to their daily dress, and merely show that when not engaged in official duties, they wore no professional habit.

    The monks were the first to assume such a garb; a practice which was strongly reprobated by the church.

    "One habit," says Jerome, "is proper when engaged in religious duties; another, in common life. Hence we learn, that it ill becomes us to enter into the most holy place in our customary attire, but that we ought with a pure conscience, and unsullied raiment, to administer the ordinances of the Lord." Stephhaus III, bishop of Rome, A. D. 260, directs ministers and the clergy generally, to wear the sacred vestments, not in their daily occupations, but only in the church. 

  5. In view of the foregoing considerations, and others that could be mentioned, we must dissent from the received opinion that no clerical costume was in use before the fourth or fifth century; but we need not suppose that the fashion of it has from the beginning been the same. All analogy, as well as authentic history, justifies the belief, that in form, and color, and materials, the costume may have been entirely changed. Some such essential change was probably made about the sixth century, by adopting the ancient Greek and Roman costume. In support of this hypothesis we offer the following considerations.
    1. This costume had been so superseded by the barbarian invaders, that it had already become obsolete and antiquated, and was now recommended not only by its natural fitness, and by its antiquity, but by the hallowed associations with which it was connected.
    2. It was the best means of preventing the general adoption of the odious garb of the monks, which in the fifth century was most zealously, opposed. 
    3. The adoption of this costume was greatly facilitated by being combined with the insignia and ornaments of the Jewish priests. The pallium of Tertullian, the * of Greek writers, which was afterwards known by the name of cappa, was the cowl of the monks, and was greatly abhorred. But the pallium*, corresponded to the ephod of the Jews, and was one of the distinguishing insignia of bishops, patriarchs, etc.
  6. Bellarmin, who traced the history of the clerical costume through eight or nine hundred years, has very justly remarked that, notwithstanding some circumstantial changes, the characteristic badges of the several orders remained substantially the same. 
  7. The costume in question was originally white, and that has ever been the prevailing color of the christian uniform,*, veste candente, in albis, is the phraseology in which it is constantly described by ancient writers. The bishops of Constantinople, and the higher order of clergy in the fourth century, assumed the black robe, and the Novatians retained the white. But since the tenth century, the modern Greek church have changed again the color of their costume. On festivals in honor of saints, they are accustomed to wear a purple robe.

    In the seventh and eighth centuries, red, blue, and green, was worn in clerical vestments, as well as black, and white. Innocent III. prescribed white, the emblem of purity, for confessors and young people, – red, as a suitable memorial of the apostles and martyrs, – green, for Sunday and feast-days; and black, for fasts, funerals, lent, etc.; violet was worn at first but twice a year, but afterwards became common in some churches. 

  8. Peculiar attention was paid to the head-dress both of bishops and priests. The clerical tonsure was introduced between the sixth and eighth centuries, and continued an essential requisite of the clergy, while the other ornaments of the head were endlessly varied, both in the Eastern and Western churches. The use of the wig is of a date still later, and was totally unknown in the primitive church. It was universally adopted by the clergy against all precedent, and, although often prohibited, was for a long time retained, and then again passed into disuse. In the protestant church it was again introduced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and became alternately the badge of orthodoxy, heresy, and neology. 
  9. Sandals and the caligae, a kind of half boot, or bootees, were at first the only ornaments of the foot; the use of common shoes was censured as unbecoming. In the year 789, the priests were required to wear shoes made after the fashion at Rome. In the middle ages, they wore, in the summer, a kind of boot called aestivalia. The accampia were probably some military boot.
  10. The various kinds of ornaments which were worn by the priests are passed in silence. A mere enumeration of them would be of no value, and a treatise respecting them would of necessity be too extensive for this work. For information respecting their sacred vestments the curious reader is referred to the works of Ferrarius, Ritter, Bonanni, Du Tour, Saussaeus, Boileau, and others.

Beat. Rhenanus, Aroftim. ad Tertull. de Pallio: Ferrarius, De re vestiar. lih. iv. c. 18: Bona. Rer. Liturg. lib. i. c. 5: Baluzius, Not. ad Cone. Gall. Naibon. p. 26: Thornassini, Disci pi. eccles. P. 1. lib. ii. c. 45: Aug. Krazen, De aniiq. Liturg. Vindob.

Pelliccia, De Chr. eccl. polii. P. I. p. 120.

Hist. eccl. lib. ii. c; 23: v. c. 24: Epiphan. haeres. 29. n. 4: 78. 11 14: Hieron. De Scriptor. eccl. c. 45: J. F. Cotta. De lamina pontific.

Abdias, Babyl. lib. viii. c. 2: Comp. Deyling, Observat. sacr. P. 2. p. 613.

Gregor. Naz. Op p. torn. ii. p. 78.

Baronii Annal. ad A. D. 401.

Paedag. lib. iii. c. 11: 620 ed. Oberth.

Cone. Laodic. c. 22,23: J. Lipsii Elect, lib. ii. c. 10: Cone. Cartag, iv. c. 41: Narbon. c. 12: Bracar. i. c. 27: Tolet. iv. c. 28:

Ezech. e. 44: Contra Pelag. lib. 1: Ep. iii. ad Heliod. Ep. 127 ad Rabiol.

Baronii Annal. A. D. 260. n. 6.

Opp. Leonis ed Quesnel. torn. ii. p. 133.

De Missa, lib. ii. c. 14: Opp. toni. iii. p. 918.

Gregor. Naz. Somn. Athan. Opp. torn. ii. p. 78: Chrysost. Homil, >82 al. 83 in Math.: Homil. 37: De fil. prod. p. 313: Sozom. h. e. lib. viii. o. 21: Hieron. ep. ad Praesid. Ep. 3. ad Heliod. contr. Pelag. lib. i: Gregor. Turon. De glor. confess, c. 20.

Jus. Orient, lorn. i. constit. 29: Socrat. Inst. eccl. lib. vi.e. 20,

S. A. Krazer. De Liturg. Aug. Vind. p. 278: Innocent, iii. de Sacrif. Miss. lib. i. c. 65: Guil. Durandus, Ration div. Offic. lib. iii. c. 18: Jo. Dallaeus, De cuhibus Latinorum relig. lib. viii. c. 14. p. 1074.

J. B. Thiers, Histoire des Perruqies Fr. Nicolai üeber der Gibrauch der falshen Haare und Perriuken in alten und neuern Tuiter.

Coneil. Matiscon, c. 5.

Capitul. iii. Carol. M.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


search 🔍



privacy policy