The dress of the clergy

How early the members of the clergy were distinguished from the laity by special garb is not clear. At the outset there seems to have been no difference in dress. Indeed, so long as persecutions lasted, such a distinction would have made the clergy conspicuous and would have singled them out for arrest. Even after persecutions ceased, in the fifth century one of the Popes expressly forbade any special ecclesiastical dress, but the fact that he found it necessary to issue this prohibition may be evidence that such costumes were beginning to be worn elsewhere and that Rome was holding to an earlier custom. At that time the outdoor dress of Roman civil officials was an undergarment, a tunic, with or without sleeves, and an immense sleeveless cloak which was without an opening in the front and was passed over the head. The undergarment might be bound around the waist by a girdle. Presumably this was the fourth and fifth century dress of the Roman clergy. In later centuries these garments, perpetuated and conventionalized, became pare of the specialized clerical dress. By the end of the fifth century a second tunic, with large sleeves, called the dalmatic, worn over the undergarment and under the cloak, became a distinguishing mark of the Pope and his clergy and might have been in use elsewhere.

From at least the first half of the fifth century, and perhaps earlier, what was known as the pallium was regarded as a badge of the bishop's office. The pallium was of white wool and was a kind of scarf worn over the shoulders. It seems also to have been a mark of civil service in the Roman Empire of the time, perhaps derived from a short mantle introduced by the Greeks. The privilege of wearing the pallium may have been granted the bishops by the Emperors in connexion with the special recognition accorded the clergy after the Emperors had become Christians. Certainly the Emperors are known specifically to have granted to individual bishops the privilege of wearing the pallium. Some time after the fifth century, in the West the pallium came to be regarded as part of the garb of the Popes and the Pope granted it to bishops as a symbol of his approval of their election and therefore of his authority over them. It was esteemed as a kind of duplicate of the mantle of Peter and so as a token of the power of his successors, the Bishops of Rome. In the East, as early as the fourth century, bishops, priests, and deacons had the orarium, a conventionalized form of a handkerchief or neckcloth. It was of linen and was worn as a stole, draped over the shoulder. In the fourth century a council in Phrygia deemed it necessary to forbid its use by sub-deacons and other minor clergy, presumably because they were adopting it.

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