On the Origins of Lent

This is part one of a series. Part two can be read here. Part three, here.

As I sit down to write this post, it is Tuesday, February 19, 2013, otherwise known as the seventh day of Lent. Every year around this time several blog posts are trotted out for or against observing Lent and arguing for or against various Lenten practices. I believe these kinds of discussions are good and helpful, especially within the neighborhood of Christendom where I reside: the broader Reformed and post-Evangelical world. The reason is that we, if I may lump us together, have been recently rediscovering many of the older practices of the church. Along with that we are also trying to keep our Protestant and Reformed bona fides by discussing which ancient practices of the Church ought to be retained and the way in which we ought to retain them.

This post is a part of that ongoing discussion. In it I want to put forth a certain argument for the practice of Lent by way of exploring its history. As I am a credentialed historical theologian, this is both my specialty and my passion. Therefore in this post I would like to explore the content of one meta-question: What are the historical origins of Lent – how far back does the observance of Lent go, and what, if anything, can we say about ancient Lenten practices?

This question is important, because the common perception is that Lent is some kind of medieval catholic practice. Now, as a medievalist myself, if it were a medieval development that would not necessarily disqualify it in my book. Yet as we look at the primary sources what we find is that the season of Lent has very ancient origins in the Christian church, almost as ancient as the origins of the church itself and her New Testament scriptures.

While this may seem like a fantastic claim, I am confident it can be substantiated. Let me begin with one prominent example. St. Athanasius (c. 297-373 AD) is an early church father who is held in high regard by all Christians, including Protestants. There are two main reasons for this respect. First of all, Athanasius is considered to be the champion of Nicene orthodoxy against the early heresy of Arianism, which taught that Jesus was not God but the highest of all created beings. Athanasius was present at the Council of Nicaea (from which we have been bequeathed the ancient and venerable Nicene Creed), and he continued to fight for the orthodox view of the Trinity and the deity of Christ throughout his life, suffering much on account of the faith including two separate exiles from his pastoral see.

The second reason Protestants revere Athanasius is because of his famous 39th Festal Letter written to his parishioners in Alexandria in the year 367. Now, this letter is precious to Protestants, and especially ones of Reformed persuasion, because in this letter is the first articulation of the entire New Testament canon that we now possess. For this reason, Athanasius is known to some as the Father of the Biblical Canon.

Now, what may interest you, dear reader, is that in his 2nd Festal Letter some 37 years before, in the year 330 AD, Athanasius wrote this to his flock:

We begin the fast of forty days on the 13th of the month Phamenoth (Mar. 9). After we have given ourselves to fasting in continued succession, let us begin the holy Paschal week on the 18th of the month Pharmuthi (April 13). Then resting on the 23rd of the same month Pharmuthi (April 18), and keeping the feast afterwards on the first of the week, on the 24th (April 19), let us add to these the seven weeks of the great Pentecost, wholly rejoicing and exulting in Christ Jesus our Lord, through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever.

Given this evidence, if one was so inclined one might make the argument that the observance of Lent was older than the biblical canon. While I personally would not go so far as to make this particular argument, I would point out that those who lay claim to Athanasius and his Festal letter as proof for the biblical canon might also take a look at an earlier letter of his that shows his support for keeping the 40 day fast of Lent.

I would also make a similar observation to those who hold Athanasius in such high regard due to his championing of Nicene Orthodoxy. We may note that the Council of Nicaea met in the year 325 and that this letter followed only five years later. Again, one could make the argument that the observance of Lent is just as old as Nicene Orthodoxy, but, well, I think you get my point.

While this quotation is a significant piece of historical evidence, we have to be careful not to overstate its reach. Though this quote reveals to us Athanasius’ desire for a 40 day fast preceding Easter we also find from later letters that this was a change of practice in Alexandria that he was attempting to introduce there. Yet from other sources, including his letter to Bishop Serapion, we find that at least by 340 AD the practice was more widespread and that Athanasius likely received it from Rome. So it seems that it is safe to say that the by the early to mid 4th century, the practice of observing a 40 day fast in preparation for Easter was becoming the norm.

Furthermore, I would like to point out that while the Council of Nicaea did not declare a 40 day fast for Lent, it did acknowledge the existence of a 40 day preparatory liturgical season preceding Easter when it declared that local synods should meet twice a year, “One before Lent (Greek: tessarakosta; Latin: quadragesima; literally: 40 days), so that all pettiness being set aside, the gift offered to God may be unblemished,” (Canon 5). This piece of evidence seems significant, because it confirms that Athanasius’ practice was not isolated in 330AD. If the Nicene Fathers referred to Lent in their deliberations, it must have been a pretty widely accepted practice.

While we can trace the observance of a 40 day lent to the mid 4th century, the setting aside of some time of preparation in advance of Easter is still at least one century more ancient. In several sources, including the Didascalia Apostolorum, The Apostolic Tradition, and a Festal Letter by Dionysius of Alexandria, we find that there was a one, two, or six day preparatory fast leading up to Easter, depending on the time and location. This, according to scholar Thomas J. Talley, places the practice of preparatory fasting as early as the first half of the third century (200-250 AD). It seems that this six day preparatory fast has become our modern Holy Week, and that by the 4th century this period was extended to 40 days to symbolize the fasts of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

In conclusion, what are we to take away from this historical evidence? I argue that we should take from it that Lent is a very ancient and universal practice of the Christian Church. Evidence for it is as ancient as evidence for the biblical canon and our most important statement of Trinitarian orthodoxy. Nevertheless, I am not arguing that keeping Lent is as important as the canon of the New Testament or the belief in the Trinity, and neither am I arguing that Lent is as old as these things. This is because Athanasius’ 39th Festal letter is not the origin of the biblical canon. This concept existed far before the year 367 and was held, evidently, by the first Christian disciples of the 1st century. Likewise, neither was the Trinity invented at the council of Nicaea. Trinitarian belief was a part of the Christian faith from it’s earliest days after the resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, while the observance of Lent is not as ancient and venerable as two of the pillars of our faith, the biblical canon and the Nicene Creed, it is regardless a very ancient and very respectable practice, as old as one of the earliest major proponents of these two pillars, Athanasius of Alexandria. 

If you hold St. Athanasius in high regard due to his articulation of the canon and his fight for orthodoxy, consider also hearing his adjuration to keep a Holy Lent:

But I have further deemed it highly necessary and very urgent to make known to you that you should proclaim the fast of forty days to the brethren, and persuade them to fast; to the end that, while all the world is fasting, we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock, as the only people who do not fast, but take our pleasure in those days… But, O, our beloved, whether in this way or any other, exhort and teach them to fast forty days. For it is even a disgrace that when all the world does this, those alone who are in Egypt, instead of fasting, should find their pleasure.

This is part one of a series. Part two can be read here. Part three, here.


Sources: The Origins of the Liturgical Year, by Thomas J. Talley; The Second Festal Letter of Athanasius, accessed here; The 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius, accessed here; Athanasius’ April 340 letter to Serapion found in Les lettres festales de saint Athanase, edited by L. Lefort, pp 654-656; The Canons of the Council of Nicaea, in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils by Norman P. Tanner.

A Collect for Reformation Sunday

Here is a collect I wrote for Reformation Sunday, which is this Sunday, October 28.

Each year the Reformed Churches solemnize the Sunday closest to October 31 in commemoration of the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. I have composed this prayer in a manner that celebrates all reformations throughout all times in every branch of the Church, and prays for the Lord to continue that reform.

Heavenly Father,
You have set Your Son Jesus Christ as Head of the Church and Your Holy Spirit to guide her into all truth.
We give You thanks for our fathers in the faith who reformed Your Church in ages past,
and we pray that You would so guide her so that she is being continually reformed according to Your Word;
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord;
Amen.

Feel free to reproduce this prayer and use it in your worship and prayers this week.

What is the Catholic Church?

There has been much discussion on the interblags lately concerning Protestant conversions to the Roman Catholic church. This discussion has shown up on my Facebook feed and has raised some questions, so I thought I would write a post in order to address some of those questions. I also thought that I might offer my own perspective on the issue.

There have been several blog posts which have done a good job getting at some of the relevant issues. These can be seen here, here, and here. While these posts are good enough to stand on their own, I want to add a bit to the discussion from my perspective as one holding a PhD in Historical Theology and one who was specifically trained and wrote my dissertation in early medieval ecclesiology.

To my Roman Catholic Friends
First of all I must pay heed to the great elephantoid presence among us and say something to address my friends who are Roman Catholic, many of whom converted to the Roman Church from Protestantism. I realize that seeing a series of articles linked to my Facebook wall and seeing a post like this on my blog may be unsettling or even offensive to some of you. To this I would like to say two things. First of all, this post is not directed to Roman Catholics. My purpose in writing this is not to try to convert anyone, even if I could. This post, as well as the others I have posted are written to Protestants. I realize that some of the arguments we are using may strike a nerve with some of you because they may be addressing some of the issues you faced when you converted, yet this is not my intention. I hope that you will grant an indulgence to us as we have an “in house” discussion. Secondly, I am a Presbyterian for a reason. I have not converted to Roman Catholicism, though I have heard all the arguments for it (over many pints with some of you at mid-town St. Louis pubs). I would hope that you would grant me that latitude to express my Presbyterian distinctives, as I would you if you would express yours.

To the Protestants in the Room
It seems to me that the essence of this discussion boils down to a matter of ecclesiology. What is the nature of the church? Until we have understood and come to terms with a common definition of what the church is, we will not be able to address the issue of conversion to the Roman church. So what is the church? Our Roman Catholic brethren will claim that the church is defined by apostolic succession. What do we Protestants have against the apostles? Well, nothing at all. We all profess that the church is apostolic. The rubber meets the road, however, with how we define apostolic succession. They define it as an uninterrupted succession of bishops who are a part of a physical succession of laying on of hands that goes all the way back to the apostles. Sounds neat doesn’t it? Sounds pretty persuasive.

The only problem is that the bible doesn’t define the true church this way, and neither did the catholic church before the late middle ages. I don’t have a copy of Denzinger on me, but I would guess that, as with most things, the doctrine of apostolic succession as we know it today was not articulated until the Council of Trent. Nevertheless, even the article from the New Catholic Encyclopedia on “apostolic succession” admits that all the churches did not even have bishops until the 2nd or 3rd century, and that in many churches before that time rule was by a college of presbyters, what we today call a presbytery.

Now, this article is not a defense of Presbyterianism, so let’s not get off track. What I’m trying to do is talk about what is apostolic. It seems that before the time of Tertullian and Irenaeus (by the turn of the 3rd century) apostolic succession was held by all ordained pastors, not just the bishops. Clement of Rome in his letter to the church at Corinth espouses such an idea. Later on, it seemed expedient that the bishop become the sole authority and the-buck-stops-here’er with regard to defense of orthodoxy. Now, that is known, as I have argued to my Roman Catholic friends, as changing the rules in the middle of the game. Because if apostolic succession is defined by an unbroken chain of ministers laying hands on ministers going all the way back to the apostles, then we certainly have claim to it.

Yet I’m not even trying to make the claim that Protestants have apostolic succession. At least not yet. My purpose in writing this article is to argue that apostolic succession is not, nor never was intended to be, the marker of unity with the true church. In its inception, apostolic succession was a concept used to defend the true faith against heresy. Yet if you were to ask Tertullian or Irenaeus what the marks of the true church were, they would likely tell you that it was adherence to the orthodox faith and that unity was centered around the sacraments. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it becomes important at the Reformation. The claim of the Reformation is that the Church of Rome had departed from the apostolic faith. So what matters more, adherence to the apostolic faith, or adherence to an artifice that was once helpful in preserving the apostolic faith? No, the definition of the church cannot be changed in the middle of the game. The definition of the church and the symbol of its unity has always been centered around faith in Jesus Christ and the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, and not on its form of government.

This was how the early medievals viewed the matter. In Western Europe from the 5th-10th centuries, or so, there was an influx of new peoples into the church who were formerly pagan, or Arian, Germanic tribes. Rome was in decline, so Rome could not be depended on for help. The local bishops were largely laymen of aristocratic class who were educated in the palace courts. Who then would lead the charge for evangelism, revival, and church building in this strange new world?

The answer is that it came largely down to monks. Monks who were trained to be local parish pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and apostolic bishops. Yet how did these churchmen, who were seeking to unite the large swath of newly converted Europe into the church of Christ, how did they define the church? Was it the bishops?

No. The early medievals did what they did with almost any theological issue (or any issue at all, for that matter), they went to the bible. And what they found was that the bible defines the church as those who believe in Christ and who are unified by means of the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. What then was to be the continual driving force of unity in this nascent European civilization? The Eucharist. The Lord’s Table was the place where all men and women came to be united into one body of Christ and one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. This, if you are interested, was also the view of St. Augustine.

[Addendum: It is interesting to note that before the separation from the East and the West and before the separation of the Reformation, the church was defined around the Lord’s Table. It was only after these splits that other definitions were sought]

So what does this mean for me if I am considering the Roman Church? It means that if you are looking for the Catholic Church you may find it right where you are. The Catholic Church exists wherever the apostolic faith is professed, and the table of the Lord is held open to all baptized disciples of Jesus. If you are looking for something ancient, you will find it there: the table of the Lord was instituted by Christ himself. If you are looking for tradition, you will find it there:St. Paul says that he handed down the tradition of the Eucharist as he received directly from Jesus. If you are looking for unity with the Catholic Church, you will find it there: Sts. Paul and Augustine say that anyone who partakes of the body of Christ becomes and is in union with the body of Christ. If you are looking for salvation, you will find it there: Jesus says in the gospel of John that those who eat his flesh and blood will have eternal life. I love how Peter Leithart recently put it in this blog post: the Eucharist makes the church. That hits the nail on the head. It’s no coincidence that Peter found this insight by reading a book by Cardinal Henri de Lubac where he wrote about the early medievals and their concept of the body of Christ.

So what are you looking for? Are you looking for something ancient, some old traditions, something catholic, something salvific? You can find it at the Eucharist at your own local church.

Are you looking for certainty? Are you looking for an authority that will never be shaken? Well, you will not find it there, but sadly, you may find that you won’t find it in Rome either. The only source of truth we have is the Holy Spirit speaking through the scriptures to his people.  The only certain authority we have is the Lord Jesus Christ who rules over his church. Everything else can and will fail and err.

So put your faith in Christ. And be Catholic just where you are.

The Athanasian Creed

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This Sunday at Christ Our King we will be confessing the Athanasian Creed. It is a very long creed, and because of its length the modern church does not confess it much any more. Yet it seems like a good practice to confess this creed at least once a year, on Trinity Sunday. The reason is that the Athanasian Creed is a more detailed, robust, and instructive statement of both the deity and humanity of Christ and the mystery of the Trinity than the Nicene Creed is. It will be good to stretch our theological muscles in this way.

The Athanasian Creed is named for St. Athanasius, a 4th century theologian and churchman who dillgently defended the orthodox faith concerning the Trinity and the deity of Christ against the rising tide of Arianism. At times it seemed to Athanasius as if he was completely alone in defending the truth. Because of this the slogan, Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world) became to be associated with him.

Athanasius is also important because his Easter Letter of 367 is the first written witness to the entire New Testament Canon.

But Athanasius did not write the Athanasian Creed.

It was attributed to him and was thought to have been written by him up unto the time of the Reformation. Yet we still refer to the creed as Athanasian because it expresses the ideas that the bishop fought for during his life. The author of this creed is still unknown. It is a Western Creed that has been confessed in the churches going back until at least the sixth century.

We will confess it this Sunday, on the Day of the Holy Trinity, because it contains a robust confession of the doctrine of the Trinity as we profess it in catholic churches. The creed is also very instructive, as it lays out many of the nuances of Trinitarian doctrine. Though it is a very long creed, it will be helpful to at least once a year stretch ourselves to profess the doctrine of the Trinity in this way.

The Athanasian Creed

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith unless any person keeps whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither combining the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Spirit unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by Christian truth; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood by God. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sits on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.

The Venerable Bede’s Day

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Today the Church celebrates the life and sanctity of the Venerable Bede.

Bede (673 – 735) was the last of the early church fathers and the first to compile the history of the English church. Born in Northumbria, Bede was given by his parents to a monastery in Northern England at the age of seven. The most learned man of his time, he was a prolific writer of history, whose careful use of sources provided a model for historians in the Middle Ages. Known best for his book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he was also a profound interpreter of Scripture; his commentaries are still fresh today. His most famous disciple, Cuthbert, reported that Bede was working on a translation of John’s Gospel into English when death came, and that he died with the words of the Gloria Patri on his lips. He received the title “Venerable” within two generations of his death and is buried in Durham Cathedral as one of England’s greatest saints. (Source: http://www.LCMS.org Commemorations Biographies)

Bede also contributed to our hymnody. The text of the hymn A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing was written by him. http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=3

A Prayer for the Venerable Bede
We thank you, O God, for our brother Bede the Venerable, and for his work among the English people and for his great influence upon the Western church. We thank you for his exposition and translation of scripture, for his support of missionary endeavor, and for his building up of the church in the British Isles and his influence on the same on the continent of Europe. We realize that we owe our culture and civilization to your work through men and women like Bede. We pray that you would raise up many more Bedes in our time and in the ages to come. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.

A Short History of the Wearing of Clerical Collars in the Presbyterian Tradition

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Introduction
There does not seem to have been any distinctive everyday dress for Christian pastors up until the 6th century or so. Clergy simply wore what was common, yet muted, modest, and tasteful, in keeping with their office. In time, however, the dress of pastors remained rather conservative, as it is wont to do, while the dress of lay people changed more rapidly. The result was that the dress of Christian pastors became distinct from the laity and thus that clothing began to be invested (no pun intended) with meaning.

Skipping ahead, due to the increasing acceptance of lay scholars in the new universities, the Fourth Lateran council (1215) mandated a distinctive dress for clergy so that they could be distinguished when about town. This attire became known as the vestis talaris or the cassock. Lay academics would wear an open front robe with a lirripium or hood. It is interesting to note that both modern day academic and clerical garb stems from the same Medieval origin.

Councils of the Roman Catholic church after the time of the Reformation stipulated that the common everyday attire for priests should be the cassock. Up until the middle of the 20th century, this was the common street clothes attire for Roman Catholic priests. The origin of the clerical collar does not stem from the attire of Roman priests. Its genesis is of Protestant origin.

The Origin of Reformed Clerical Dress
In the time of the Reformation, many of the Reformed wanted to distance themselves from what was perceived as Roman clerical attire. Thus many of the clergy took up the attire of academics in their daily dress or wore no distinctive clothing whatsoever. Yet over time the desire for the clergy to wear a distinctive uniform returned to the Reformed churches. What they began to do, beginning in the 17th century as far as I can tell, is to begin to wear a neck scarf, called a cravat, tied around the neck to resemble a yoke. Thus common dignified attire was worn by the pastor, supplementing it with this clerical cravat. This style can be seen in many of our famous Reformed divines, one of the more famous of whom being Charles Hodge.

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Charles Hodge pictured with clerical cravat

When Reformed pastors would enter the pulpit, they would add what is known as a “preaching tab” or “neck band” to their clerical dress. This type of dress is nearly ubiquitous among 17th and 18th century Reformed pastors. Here are a few examples:

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Jonathan Edwards featuring clerical cravat and preaching tabs
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George Whitfield
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John Owen – 17th century Reformed pastor

In the following picture we see more clearly the use of both the clerical cravat and the inserted preaching tabs by one Thomas Chalmers.

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Thomas Chalmers, 19th century. Notice both the cravat and tabs clearly visible.

The reader will note that the men depicted here were of great eminence as Reformed pastors and theologians. They are all well known for their commitment to Reformed theology and biblical teaching and practice. These are not obscure men who sported clerical attire.

One might ask whether this sort of attire was universal among the Reformed. The answer is, no. Upon perusing several portraits included in the Presbyterian Encyclopedia of 1880, published by Presbyterian Publishing Co. of Philadelphia, I found that there was diversity of clerical attire chosen by Presbyterian pastors of the 19th century. Some wore clerical cravats. Some wore what looks like a modern rabat with a collarette (a black vest which closes at the top with a bit of white collar revealed all around). Others wore bow ties or neck ties. The conclusion to be drawn is that in the Presbyterian tradition, there has been diversity of clerical dress without any type enforced over the other.

Another objection that might be raised is whether or not this neck band or cravat, such as we see Charles Hodge wearing, was in any way distinctive clerical garb. Several 19th century sources reveal that these cravats were, in fact, considered distinctive clerical garb. The following quote is from a 19th century source called The Domestic Annals of Scotland, Volume 3:

In the austerity of feeling which reigned through the Presbyterian Church on its reestablishment there had been but little disposition to assume a clerical uniform or any peculiar pulpit vestments. It is reported that when the noble commissioner of one of the first General Assemblies was found fault with by the brethren for wearing a scarlet cloak he told them he thought it as indecent for them to appear in gray cloaks and cravats. When Mr. Calamy visited Scotland in 1709 he was surprised to find the clergy generally preaching in neckcloths and coloured cloaks. We find at the date here marginally noted that the synod of Dumfries was anxious to see a reform in these respects. The synod – so runs their record – “considering that it’s a thing very decent and suitable so it hath been the practice of ministers in this kirk formerly to wear black gowns in the pulpit and for ordinary to make use of bands do therefore by their act recommend it to all their brethren within their bounds to keep up that custome and to study gravitie in their apparel and every manner of way.”

Here we see several members of the 18th c. Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) having their hackles raised over some ostentatious clergymen wearing scarlet cloaks and cravats. Later they hold a Synod where they decide that they ought to wear black gowns and to make use of neck bands. This paragraph shows us two things: the wearing of cravats was considered to be distinctive clerical garb, and the synod of the kirk decided ultimately that modest use of neckbands was permitted. (There are many more such examples in 19th century sources which can easily be researched on Google Books. I invite the reader to see for himself.) Thus when we see all manner of 17th-19th century Reformed pastors sporting preaching tabs, neck bands, and cravats, we should interpret them to be intentionally sporting distinctive clerical garb. We should also gather that the author of these annals, one Robert Chambers, included this anecdote in his work in order to promote the modest use of bands and clerical garb in his day.

The last bit of history to cover regards the origin of the modern clerical collar. According to several sources, including one cited by the Banner of Truth website (no Romanizing group), the modern clerical collar was invented by a Presbyterian. In the mid 19th century heavily starched detachable collars were in great fashion. This can been seen up through the early part of the 20th century if one has watched any period television shows or movies. If we observe the collar worn by Charles Hodge we can see that at first these collars were not folded down as they are today, but left straight up.

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Charles Hodge revisited. Notice the upturned collar protruding from the top of the cravat.

 Yet in the mid to late 19th century it became the fashion of the day to turn these collars down. You and I still wear a turned down collar. The origin of the modern clerical collar is simply then to turn or fold the collar down over the clerical cravat, leaving the white cloth exposed in the middle. According to the Glasgow Herald of December 6,1894, the folded down detachable clerical collar was invented by the Rev Dr Donald McLeod, a Presbyterian minister in the Church of Scotland. According to the book Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church, “the collar was nothing else than the shirt collar turned down over the cleric’s everyday common dress in compliance with a fashion that began toward the end of the sixteenth century. For when the laity began to turn down their collars, the clergy also took up the mode.”

Yet two questions arise: how did the clerical collar then fall out of use among Presbyterians and how did it come to be so associated with Roman Catholic priests? The answer is that up until the mid 20th century the prescribed dress for all Roman Catholic priests was the cassock, a full length clerical gown. Yet during the 20th century it became custom for Roman Catholic priests to wear a black suit with a black shirt and clerical collar, which collar they appropriated from Protestant use. Owing to the large number of Roman Catholic priests in some areas, and due to the fact that some sort of everyday clerical dress was mandated for all priests at all times when outside their living quarters, the clerical collar became to be associated more with the Roman Catholic Church than with the Protestant churches. It stands to reason that once again a desire to create distance between the Reformed and Roman Catholics and the increasing desire throughout the 20th century for ministers to dress in more informal ways has led to the fact that barely any Reformed pastor wears any distinctive clerical dress these days, though plenty of examples show that our eminent forbearers desired to do so.

Sources
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition, 2003
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, 1996
The Presbyterian Encyclopedia, Alfred Nevin, 1880
Wikipedia: Clerical Collar
Wikipedia: Bands (neck wear)
Wikipedia: Clerical Clothing
Clerical dress and insignia of the Roman Catholic Church, Henry McCloud, 1948
Domestic Annals of Scotland, From the Revolution to the Rebellion of 1745, Robert Chambers, 1861, pp. 147-148.
Google Images
Google Books
Wikimedia Commons
Ken Collins’ Website – Vestments Glossary
Banner of Truth Website
Pastor Garrett Craw’s Blog

Visit our church’s website: www.christourkingcolumbia.org