Let's now shift gears and look at the development of the clergy attire. Christian clergy did not dress differently from the common people until the coming of Constantine."
Contrary to popular opinion, clergy apparel (including the "ecclesiastical vestments" of the high church tradition) did not originate with the priestly dress of the Old Testament. It rather has its origin in the secular dress of the Greco-Roman world."
Here is the story: Clement of Alexandria argued that the clergy should wear better garments than the laity. (By this time the church liturgy was regarded as a formal event.) Clement said that the minister's clothes should be "simple" and "white.""
The early Christians saw themselves as a new creation, a new humanity, and a new species that transcends all natural distinctions and barriers (1 Corinthians 10:32; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 3:11). James 2:1-5. This passage also suggests that a person wearing fashionable clothing to the church meeting was the exception, not the standard.
Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia 1913 On-Line Edition, S.V. "Vestments," http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15388a.htm; Encyclopedia Britannica Online, S.V. "Sacred Rights Ceremonies: The Concept and Forms of Ritual: Christianity" (1994-1998). Shortly before Constantine, clergymen wore a cloak of fine material when administering the Eucharist.
Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Vestments." Under "Origin" the entry reads: "The Christian vestments did not originate in the priestly dress of the Old Testament, they have, rather, developed from the secular dress of the Graeco-Roman world." See also Janet Mayo, A History of Ecclesiastical Dress (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1984), 11-12. Mayo writes, "A consideration of ecclesiastical vestments will reveal that they had their origins in secular Raman dress. The view that vestments were of Levitical origin and came from Jewish priestly garments is a later idea." For a rare history of the religious costume, see Amelia Mott Gummere, Tie Quaker: A Study in Costume (Philadelphia: Ferris and Leach, 1901). Note that the vestments of the priesthood in the Old Testament were types and shadows of the spiritual garments that Christians are clothed with in Christ Jesus (Hebrews 10:1; Colossians 2:16-17, 3:10-14; Ephesians 4:24; 1 Peter 5:5; Revelation 19:8). "On Clothes," The Instructor, bk. 3, ch. 11.
White was the color of the clergy for centuries. This custom appears to have been borrowed from the pagan philosopher Plato who wrote that "white was the color of the gods." In this regard, both Clement and Tertullian felt that dyed colors were displeasing to the Lord."
With the coming of Constantine, distinctions between bishop, priest, and deacon began to take root." When Constantine moved his court to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople in AD 330, the official Roman dress was gradually adopted by the priests and deacons." The clergy were now identified by their garb, which matched that of secular officials."
After the Germanic conquests of the Roman Empire from the fourth century onward, fashions in secular dress changed. The flowing garments of the Romans gave way to the short tunics of the Goths. But the clergy, wishing to remain distinct from the laity, continued to wear the archaic Roman costumes!"
The clergy wore these outdated garments during the church service following the model of the secular court ritual." When laymen adopted the new style of dress, the clergy believed that such dress was "worldly" and "barbarian." They retained what they considered to be "civilized" dress. And this is what became the clerical attire." This practice was supported by the theologians of the day. For example, Jerome (ca. 342-420) remarked that the clergy should never enter into the sanctuary wearing everyday garments.'
From the fifth century onward, bishops wore purple." In the sixth
(bid., bk 2, ch. 11; Mayo, A History of Ecclesiastical Dress, 15. a Mayo, History of Ecclesiastical Dress, 14-15.
Ibid., Latourette, A History of Christianity, 211; Brauer, The Westminster Dictionary of Church History (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971), 284.
"The bishop's dress was the ancient robe of a Roman magistrate." Hatch, Organization of the Early Christian Churches, 164. The bishop's dress indicated a specific caste structure. It included a white fringed saddlecloth or mappula, flat black slippers or campagi, and udones or white stockings. This was the dress of the Roman magistrates. Johnson, History of Christianity, 133. Senn, Christian Worship and Its Cultural Setting, 41; "Sacred Rights Ceremonies," Encyclopedia Britannica Onl/ne. Eugene TeSelle, professor of church history and theology, Vanderbilt University, in e-mail message to Frank Viola, January 18, 2000. Mayo, History of Ecclesiastical Dress, 15; Jones, Historical Approach to Evangelical Worship, 117.
Jerome said that God is honored if the bishop wears a white tunic more handsome than usual. Frank Senn, liturgical scholar, in e-mail message to Frank Viola, July 18, 2000. See also Jerome, "Against Jovinianus" bk. 2.34 (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 6) and "Lives of (llustrious Men," ch. 2 (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 3). Collins and Price, The Story of Christianity, 25, 65.
and seventh centuries, clergy garb became more elaborate and costly." By the Middle Ages, their clothing acquired mystical and symbolic meanings.' Special vestments were spawned around the sixth and seventh centuries. And there grew up the custom of keeping a special set of garments in the vestry to put over one's street clothes."
During the seventh and eighth centuries, the vestments were accepted as sacred objects inherited from the robes of Levitical priests in the Old Testament." (This was a rationalization to justify the practice.) By the twelfth century, the clergy also began wearing street clothes that distinguished them from everyone else."
Was this article helpful?