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2. Of their Dress and Furniture

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XVIII. Domestic and Social Character of the Primitive Christians

2. Of their Dress and Furniture

Nothing may appear more purely a matter of indifference, than the choice of the fashion and color of dress; and yet, in the circumstances of the primitive Christians, articles of that nature did acquire such an importance in their eyes, that they gradually fell into a style of clothing peculiar to themselves. Not that they affected any singularities in their personal appearance – for their habiliments were made and worn in the ordinary fashion of the time and place, – and Christians, whether they were found in the high, the middle, or the lower ranks, were accustomed to equip themselves in a manner suitable to the decencies of the state or profession to which they belonged. But, looking to the moral influence of dress, desirous of avoiding everything that might minister to vanity, or lead the wearer to forget, in attending to the outward man, the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, they studiously rejected all finery as unbecoming the humility of their character, and confined themselves to a suit of apparel, remarkable not so much for the plainness of tht material, as for the absence of all superfluous ornament. Everything gaudy or sumptuous, that partook of the costly stuffs, or the crimsoned dyes that suited the luxurious taste of the times, was discountenanced by the spiritually minded followers of Christ; and, though many of them were entitled by birth or otherwise to appear in the flowing folds of the graceful toga, yet, even that favorite garb, while it was retained for the valuable privileges it conferred, was looked upon as too gay and splendid for ordinary use, and was by most, if not by all Christians, laid aside for the common pallium or cloak, to which the preference was given on account of the air of greater modesty and gravity that was supposed to belong to it. Moreover, among the Christians of the East, the custom early prevailed of wearing garments of no other color than while, – in order that they might carry about with them a perpetual memorial of the purity of character that became their profession; and there were others in various parts of the world, who thought it their duty to carry the imitation of Christ to the extent of wearing the meanest and most common attire of one in the form of a servant. But neither of these extravagances met with very general countenance; and the greater part contented themselves with a dress, free from all approach to gaudiness and pomp, betraying no symptoms of an anxious and elaborate decoration of the person, and conspicuous only for its neat and cleanly appearance.

The same simplicity and plainness reigned throughout the domestic establishment of the Christians. Most of the primitive disciples, indeed, were in circumstances that offered no temptations to indulge in the splendor or variety of ornamental furniture. Their inventory of goods embraced only u few simple articles of use, which their personal and family wants required, and it may be supposed, therefore, that there was nothing remarkable in the absence from their houses, of all traces of pomp and elegance, which they neither possessed the means, nor entertained the hope of acquiring. But even those of their number, who were persons of rank and opulence, amply provided with resources to gratify a taste for ornament, chose to content themselves with such things as were recommended by their utility rather than their elegance, and calculated to answer the purposes of necessity and comfort, rather than to gratify the lust of the eye and the pride of life. Seats and cabinets, finished with the costly veneering of tortoise-shell, and couches ornamented with the rich embroideries of Babylon; – vessels of gold and silver, the numberless statues and other graceful accompaniments, of all sizes and forms, which adorned the chambers, the porticoes, and gardens of the rich, and indicated the epicurean taste that distinguished the age, disappeared from the houses of the Christians as inconsistent with a humble and mortified life; and however refined and exquisite the taste which, through education and the habits of society, any of them had acquired, they learned to subject it to the higher principle of denying themselves to everything that tended too much to captivate the senses, and increase their love to a world, the fashion whereof they thought was soon to pass away. This indiscriminate rejection of the elegancies of life, has frequently exposed the memory of the primitive Christians to the sneer of the infidel, and the unmeasured indignation of the enthusiastic admirer of the arts; and, perhaps, in some instances, there may be a foundation for the charge, that they manifested an uncalled-for severity in their too great and unqualified contempt of pleasures, which become sinful only when indulged to a criminal excess. But to a people on whose minds the doctrines of Christianity had burst with all the force and vividness of a new and important discovery, and among whom the impression almost universally prevailed, that the years of the world were about to close, it was natural to regard with jealousy and treat with neglect all the forms of earthly pomp and beauty, that tended to supplant their desires for the objects and glories of that better world on which their hearts were fixed. Although the indifference and superiority to the world which Christianity requires, lies solely in the state and affections of the mind, and this spiritual habit may be cultivated in the most opposite circumstances of affluence or poverty, it was natural that the Christians, in the first ardor of their faith and hope, should overlook this distinction, and consider that their safety consisted in the complete abandonment of luxuries and pleasures, the thought of which was so ready to come in competition with concern for their souls.


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