Controversies Relating to Ecclesiastical Dress

During periods of religious reform and political change, ecclesiastical dress has often served as a symbol of the old regime, which must be replaced or denigrated by reformers, while those opposing the abandonment of older forms of ecclesiastical dress (and the church doctrine associated with them) have sought to maintain them. One famous example of a controversy was the debate over the white linen surplice, which became a symbol of Roman Catholicism during the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth-century England. With the separation from the Roman Catholic Church made final by an act of Parliament in 1534 and the subsequent establishment of the Church of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), the surplice became the universal vestment of all Anglican clergy in 1563. Yet surplices, along with copes, albs, and chasubles, were seen as remnants of "popish dress" by Protestant religious reformers such as the Puritans, Methodists, and Baptists. Tracts with titles such as "A briefe discourse against the outvvarde appar-ell and ministring garmentes of the popishe church" written by Robert Crowley in 1578 were published and some Protestant leaders were imprisoned for refusing to wear a surplice during church services. These leaders preferred to wear simple, everyday dress, which did not distinguish them from the laity or from everyday affairs. Nonetheless, Anglican Church leaders preserved distinctive ecclesiastical garments, particularly those that continued to be used for royal services. During the seventeenth century, English Protestant ecclesiastical dress was modeled on contemporary dress fashions—specifically, a simple black suit, including a coast, waistcoat, and knee breeches, and a white neckcloth, while Anglican clergy wore cassocks and gowns. However, during the 1840s, those associated with the Gothic Revival in England sought to reinstate the practices of the Church of England during the reign of King Edward VI. In 1840, the Bishop of Exeter directed Anglican clergy to wear surplices, which led to the Surplice Riots when mobs in Exeter pelted those wearing surplices with rotten eggs and vegetables. The Bishop's order was rescinded, but by the second half of the nineteenth century, ecclesiastical dress—including surplices, copes, and albs—was incorporated into Anglican services, modeled after gothic vestments design, as interpreted by Victorian artists. This revival of the use of vestments coincided with the fluorescence of the Arts and Crafts movement during the nineteenth century in England. One prominent member of this movement, William Morris, who as an Anglo-Catholic, had supplied specially designed vestments to the Roman Catholic Church following the Catholic Emancipation of 1829. In 1854, the Ladies' Ecclesiastical Embroidery Society was organized to produce embroidered replicas of medieval designs (Johnstone 2002, p. 123). Along with these specialized workshops, ecclesiastical dress, which was mass-produced and mass-marketed through catalogs, also became available, in part, due to the increasing demand for such vestments from missionaries working in the British colonies during this period.

Another example in which ecclesiastical dress became the focus of controversy took place in Mexico. Prior to the Mexican Revolution, the wealth and political power of the Roman Catholic Church was evident in ornate cathedrals and ecclesiastical dress. During the second half of the eighteenth century, dalmatics, copes, chasubles, and stoles made with silver and gold threads and elaborately embroidered with the emblem of the Convent of Santa Rosa de Lima, were probably made in the Mexican city of Puebla. While the Church had considerable popular support, its extensive landholding and its association with the political elite contributed to the view that it was an impediment to economic progress and social justice. During the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910, a series of anticlerical measures were taken, culminating with the writing of the Constitution of 1917, which provided for the confiscation of church lands, the replacement of religious holidays with patriotic ones, and the banning of public worship outside of church buildings, including processionals (Purnell 1999, p. 60). While these laws were enacted, they were not always strictly enforced until 1926, when Government leaders sought to further restrict the power of the Church through the Calles Law. This law outlawed Catholic education, closed monasteries and convents, and in Article 130, restricted the wearing of ecclesiastical dress in public. When the Mexican Episcopate ordered the closing of churches in response to the Calles Law, a popular uprising known as the Cristero Rebellion resulted, primarily in central West Mexico, during the period from 1926 to 1929. With the state's agreement to stop its insistence on registering priests and with the restoration of religious services—including the wearing of ecclesiastical dress—the rebellion ceased.

Ecclesiastic dress has also served as a vehicle for expressing anticolonial sentiments in Africa, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, many early African Christian converts did not reject European styles of vestments, but rather incorporated indigenous elements into ecclesiastical dress as an expression of their discontent. In colonial Nigeria during the first half of the twentieth century, converts who occupied leadership positions in Roman Catholic and orthodox Protestant churches—primarily, Anglican, Methodist, and Baptist— generally wore the tailored garments (cassocks, chasubles, surplices, copes, and mitres) used by home church leaders. These garments distinguished Christian converts from those practicing various forms of indigenous religion, which had their own, often untailored, dress traditions. Yet some early Nigerian Christian leaders sought to assert independence from Orthodox churches over doctrinal disputes, often concerning polygynous marriage. Establishing their own churches, referred to generally as African Independent Churches, they did not entirely abandon tailored, Western-style vestments. Rather, these leaders developed distinctive ecclesiastical dress forms that identified these new churches and emphasized particular aspects of their doctrine. For example, Bishop J. K. Coker, the founder of the African Church, incorporated indigenous textiles, for example handwoven narrow strip cloths, into ecclesiastical dress. Leaders of the Independent African Churches such as Bishop Coker were the predecessors of nationalist independence leaders who supported secular independent states based on Euro-American models combined with African social and cultural elements.

The controversies surrounding freedom of religious expression have, at times, been moderated through gradual change in ecclesiastical dress, which reflected church leaders' responses to changing political and social contexts. For example, early members of the Marist Brothers apostolic movement, which was founded in France by Father Marcellin Champagnat (1789-1840), wore "a sort of blue coat, . . . black trousers, a cloak, and round hat" garments, which he believed were imbued with spiritual power that protected its wearers from anticlerical attacks. While these vestments helped to attract and visually to distinguish new members during the post-revolutionary period in France, they also gave followers a sense of special protection. However, with the incorporation of the Marist Brothers' Institute as a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church in 1863, Marist ecclesiastical dress came to lose its mystical aspects and shifted to a uniform prescribed by the Church authorities, including a black soutane, white rabat, and a black cloak. With the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Marist Brothers' ecclesiastical dress again changed as a loss in church membership suggested a simpler, less-clerical style—such as a suit—would be more appropriate to modern worship. However, by 1987, some Marist priests returned to wearing the soutane, while others continued to wear secular suits, depending on their preferences and those of their parishioners. This shift from distinctive ecclesiastical dress that identified Catholic orders according to particular configurations and types of garments to current secular dress styles, indistinguishable from contemporary clothing is also evident in Western nuns' garb. Western nuns or Women Religious, whose name as well as dress changed with Vatican II, as of the turn of the twenty-first century wore everyday garments as a way of emphasizing their role in modern society, rather than their separation from it.

0 0

Post a comment