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)
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.
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.
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:
In the following picture we see more clearly the use of both the clerical cravat and the inserted preaching tabs by one Thomas Chalmers.
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.
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.
This post is brought to you by a happy accident. Some might even call it providence. The gospel lesson for today is Matthew 5:17-20. By accident I turned to Mark 5:17-20 and here is what I read:
And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:17-20 ESV)
I’ve been dwelling on the topic of evangelism a lot lately. Many of us have been a part of one evangelistic movement or another in the past. Many of us have been severely burned by those evangelistic movements. Yet we cannot escape the call of scripture, and of Jesus himself, to spread the good news.
The problem most of us have these days is exactly how we are to spread it. Jesus uses such care free metaphors in the gospels. The most care free is that of the farmer simply flinging seed through the air. If only evangelism were that easy.
Yet is it not just that easy? Have we made evangelism into something more than it is? Have we made it so large, so unattainable, that only the giants of the faith (and those with social disorders that relieve them of any awareness that what they are doing is supposed to make them and others feel uncomfortable) can do it?
In this text, Jesus tells a man simply to, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.”
So simple. So profound. How do we put this into practice?
This statement presumes that one has friends that need to hear the good news. The first task is to make sure that we are developing friendships among the unchurched, underchurched, and unbelievers. But we don’t develop these relationships simply for the goal of evangelizing them. Jesus calls them friends. This is where some past evangelistic movements have gotten it wrong. We don’t develop relationships soley for the purpose of sharing the faith. This is cheap, and everyone feels dirty afterwords. It’s all rather unseemly isn’t it?
Rather, we want to develop true friendships with folks outside our church and outside our faith, not for the purpose of evangelizing, but for the purposes of having a friend.
But this is where a lot of us who have been struggling with evangelism have left it. I have made many friends who needed to hear the good news. Have I at least done this simple thing that Jesus tells the young man to do?
We need to be bold enough simply to tell our friends what the Lord has done for us, and how he has shown mercy on us. It’s that simple. Yet we are called to do it. And no matter how they respond, we don’t simply move on to the next person or evangelistic opportunity. They are our friends after all, and not evangelistic targets. Friends are in it for the long haul.
This method certainly isn’t the most “effective” nor does it bring in results the way we would like. But isn’t it the most dignifying and respectful to the human person? Isn’t it the way Jesus implies in the gospels? And in the long run, doesn’t it bear the most fruit, fruit that lasts and bears other fruit?
So go out. Make friends. And tell them what the Lord has done for you.
I haven’t posted for a while because I have been busy preparing for my dissertation defense. Many folks have been asking me about the details of the defense, so I decided to compose a blog post to fill everybody in.
The defense was a wonderful experience. My director, Dr. James Ginther and my two readers were very complimentary of my work. First, I gave a short presentation on my dissertation to introduce it for the sake of the audience. Then were many questions and answers from my committee and the audience. After this, my committee went outside the room to deliberate and came back with their decision. My director pronounced a welcome in to the community of university masters (in Latin!) and presented me with my doctoral hood.
Here is the abstract of my dissertation that I composed for the defense program:
Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus of Corbie were two ninth century monks who each wrote treatises on the topic of the Eucharist—both with the same title, De corpore et sanguine Domini. During the sixteenth century Reformation an historical narrative and interpretation was established which posited Paschasius and Ratramnus as bitter rivals in a eucharistic controversy. Ratramnus was claimed by the Reformers as one who shared their view of the Eucharist, and Paschasius was claimed by the Roman Catholics as one who shared theirs. This common interpretation has persisted to this day. However, in the last 25-30 years there has been some call, led by the French scholar Jean-Paul Bouhot, to theorize that there was no controversy between Paschasius and Ratramnus. These more recent scholarly questions led me to discover that there were two lacunae in modern scholarship surrounding Paschasius: no one had ever attempted to read Paschasius’s text in its own particular context and in its own terms, and no one had explored the role of the theology of corpus in his text and how that might lead to developments in its overall interpretation. The purpose of this dissertation is therefore to carefully explore the historical and theological context surrounding the writing of Paschasius’s treatise. In doing this I was very careful to isolate Paschasius’s text from his supposed interlocutors, with whom I argue he had no interlocution, in order to discover its inherent meaning. When applying this method I was able to articulate Paschasius’s doctrine of eucharistic presence, which I label “Eucharistic Motion,” and to articulate a cohesive theology of the concept corpus, which serves as the hermeneutical key to his treatise. Finally, I argue in this dissertation that the entirety of Paschasius’s writing and theologizing was for the purposes of promoting unity in the church through the means of worthy eucharistic reception.
Here is a link to the audio from my defense that Jeff Meyers recorded:
Here are the last two paragraphs of my dissertation that I used to close my presentation at the defense:
Which leads me to the final aspect of my conclusion: my estimation, or hopes rather, for the ultimate impact of this study. I am a Presbyterian minister. I did my doctoral work at a Jesuit university. I have rubbed shoulders with many followers of Christ from different, often warring, ecclesiastical traditions: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox. I have seen that a great deal that holds us apart is our view of the Eucharist. This is utterly absurd when we stop to think about it! A table that was meant to unite has become a table of division. Devils rejoice at the thought.
My hope is that this study will help to show that we can all agree on the Eucharist. I believe that Paschasius’s doctrine of the Eucharist presents us all a way forward, a way of conceiving of the Lord’s Supper that we can all agree with. A Eucharist that is powerful. A Eucharist that distinguishes between the bodies of Christ. A Eucharist that insists upon its mystical nature. A Eucharist that eschews Berengar’s oath. Paschasius’s theology pre-dates our disagreements. His theology represents an era before our Church was rent asunder. If I a Presbyterian pastor can work to rehabilitate a Roman Catholic saint, attempting to show that his theology presents us all with a way forward, cannot we all give a little ground? What beauty would it be – What glory! – if this text, a text that has been used as a blunt axe to split the Table of the Lord in to pieces, could finally be used as it was originally intended: a text to bring us all to the Eucharist together and to make us all one.
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.