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Vestments of the Priests of the Anglican Church





















This Tract is dedicated,



FROM a very early period it would seem that those persons who were appointed to any sacred office in the Church were to wear a peculiar dress at all times. The Jewish Priests did so by GOD's own appointment; but when publicly serving in the synagogue they were, besides those ordinary garments, to wear a white linen ephod. [Exodus xxviii. 4.] Again, the Ancient of Days is represented as having garments white as snow; [Daniel vii. 9] and when our SAVIOUR was transfigured (the law and the prophets ceasing, and the Gospel only remaining) His raiment was white as the light; and moreover, whenever angels have appeared to man, they have always been clothed in white apparel. White is an emblem of purity; and as CHRIST's ministers are His representatives, and therefore should be pure from sin, the white surplice which the Clergy of the Church of England arc appointed to wear in their ministrations is exceedingly suitable and proper. S. Jerome also, in his days, both maintains the ancient use of the white surplice, and reproves the needless scruples of such as oppose it; "what offence," [5/6] says he, "can it be to GOD for a Bishop or a Priest to proceed to the communion in a white garment?" The antiquity of it in the Eastern Church appears from Gregory Nazianzen, as well as in the Western Church from the works of S Cyprian. Again; in the first Common Prayer Book of Edward VI. 1547-8, we find this order: "the Minister in parish churches or chapels, during Matins or Evensong, shall use a surplice; and in all cathedrals and colleges, the Dean, &c. besides their surplices, shall use such hoods as appertain to their several degrees."

Thus has the white surplice been brought down to our own times, being always, more or less, used in the Services of the Church of England, especially in the more solemn and sacred parts of Divine Worship.

Canons or rules for the Church were promulgated at various periods, especially from the reign of Henry VIII., when the Reformation commenced. But we have only to do with the Canons set forth in the year 1603. These, with the Rubrics in the Prayer Book, are now the law and the guide of the Ministers and lay members of the Church of England. If a Clergyman is guilty either of immoral conduct, or of neglect in his ecclesiastical duties, he is tried by the Canons in a variety of instances. If a churchwarden has neglected his duty, or has a charge against a lay member of the Church, both are sued through the Spiritual Courts as transgressors of the Canons.

I shall now refer to some of the Canons and Rubrics of the Prayer Book, and endeavour to show that the surplice should be worn by the parish Minister at all sermons as well as during the reading and administrating the Sacraments.

Canon 17. "Students in colleges to wear surplices [6/7] in time of Divine Service." That is, all the lay members of the college as well as the clerical.

Canon 25. "All Deans, Canons, Prebendaries, &c. in time of Divine Service, when there is no Communion, shall daily, at the times both of prayer and preaching, wear with their surplices such hoods as are agreeable to their degrees;" that is, no cope shall be worn at this time; the cope must only be put on at the Holy Communion.

Canon 46. "Every beneficed man, not allowed to be a preacher, shall procure Sermons to be preached by preachers lawfully licensed; and when there is no Sermon, he shall read a homily." In what dress? surely the same as he read the prayers in; his surplice.

Canon 59. "Every Parson, Vicar, &c., upon every Sunday, before Evening prayer, shall, for half an hour, instruct the youth in the Catechism." This he would do in his every-day dress, his gown and cassock. He is now ordered by the Rubric to catechize after the second lesson, at evening prayer, and therefore necessarily in his surplice. [Prayer Book, 1662]

Canon 50. "Neither minister nor churchwarden shall suffer any man to preach within their churches, unless it appears to them he is sufficiently authorized by showing his licence."

Thus it appears there were licensed preachers going from church to church only to preach, not to read prayers, for this was done by the Incumbent. In what dress then did they preach? not in the surplice; the parish was and is bound to find, only for the Incumbent, a surplice; [See Canon 58.] they would preach in the dress they usually wore, their gown and cassock. [See Canon 74.] "All Deans, [7/8] Prebendaries, &c., and other Ministers, "shall usually wear gowns with standing collars, and sleeves strait at the hands, or wide sleeves, as is used in the Universities, with hoods, and square caps." And in their journeys the same ecclesiastical persons shall wear cloaks with sleeves, commonly called "Priest's cloaks."

In Bishop Juxon's articles of inquiry, 1640, it is asked, Do your Lecturers preach in their gowns, and not in their cloaks, according to his Majesty's instructions of 1629? [Travelling cloaks, it would appear, and not in a Clergyman's dress--gown or cassock.]

In Bishop Wren's articles, S.D. 1635, this inquiry is made: "Does your Minister (the parish priest) preach in his gown and cassock with his surplice and hood also?" The surplice was to be worn over the cassock, this being the Clergyman's usual dress.

Bishop Montague inquires in 1638, "Doth your Minister officiate Divine Service in the habit and apparel of his order with a surplice, a hood, a gown, and a tippet, and not in a cloak, a sleeveless jacket, or horseman's coat? for such I have known." [Travelling cloak.]

It would appear at the end of Elizabeth's reign, as well as when the Canons were first constituted, that too much importance was given to preaching, and the prayers of the Church were to be slurred over by any poor Curate or beneficed man. Hence Sermons were an hour or sometimes two hours long. It seems also from the LVth Canon, that no prayer was usually offered up before the Sermon by the licensed preacher. To correct this abuse, the LVth Canon was made, and the "form of prayer to be used by all preachers before their Sermons" was set forth. This bidding prayer, [8/9] as it is usually called, is an epitome of those prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, which speak of the King, the Clergy, and the people of every rank; and the preacher is commanded always to conclude with the LORD's Prayer.

As this prayer was to be used by all preachers, whether at Paul's Cross, in the cathedral, or in the parish Church, the licensed preacher would appear in his usual dress, the gown and cassock, in the pulpit; the dean, and prebendary in their proper dress, the surplice; the parish priest also in his proper dress, the surplice, found him by the parish. And as some prebendaries, non-resident in cathedrals, would through incompetency, not be able or not be allowed to preach when their appointed days of preaching arrived, they would be; compelled to get licensed preachers to officiate for them in the cathedral pulpit; and this is the reason why any strange preacher (as the sheriff's chaplain at the assizes) at the present day in the cathedral always appears in his gown and cassock: he is in the place of the old licensed preacher.

The bidding prayer is still used before sermons in all cathedrals, and generally in parish churches at bishops' visitations; which custom shows that the bidding prayer' was formerly used in every pulpit in [9/10] the kingdom, and no other: and the fanciful and unauthorized prayers of preachers before their sermons were first introduced by the Puritans, who did not like to acknowledge the sovereign as the temporal head of the Church, and the extemporary or self-manufactured prayer, has been unhappily continued in too many churches to this day. [Some have supposed that the bidding prayer and black gown went together; it might be so when the sermon was separated from the Church prayers, as are the university sermons even at the present day. The licensed preacher would probably attend two or three churches the same day. In this case it might be necessary for him to fix one of his sermons an hour or two after the prayers of the church to which he was going, were finished. The bidding prayer would therefore be the proper introduction to his sermon or lecture, and he would then appear in his black gown and cassock, his every day dress, as probably the parish minister did before the last review of the Book of Common Prayer when he catechised before Evening Prayer. See Canon LIX. The minister, as I before observed, must now catechise after the second Lesson at Evening Prayer, and therefore necessarily in his surplice. See Rubric, Catechism.] In short, no unauthorized prayer should at any time be used by a clergyman in the Church.

Thus I think there is no question whatever that the licensed preachers did preach in black gowns, that is, in their common every-day dress. But did the incumbents of livings do so in their own churches? Or was it right to do so? Or are any incumbents of the present day justified in preaching in any other vestment than the surplice? These are questions difficult in the minds of some to answer, and the true intent can only be discovered by looking at the rubrics and orders of the Prayer Book, as now set forth by Convocation and established by Parliament.

The only real question is, in what vestment should the present incumbent preacher be seen in the pulpit?

The first rubric in the Prayer Book is this, "Here is to be noted, that such ornaments of the Church, and of the Ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of King Edward VI." What these ornaments were it is not easy to say. But on the [10/11] publication of the second Prayer Book of Edward VI., 1552, this rule was given, "The Minister at the time of the communion, and at all other times of his ministration, shall use neither alb, vestment, nor cope, but being a priest or deacon he shall have and wear a surplice only." One reason, no doubt, why the alb, &c., were forbidden, was the reminding the people of popery; for the Romish priests are always changing their vestments: but will any one prove that the order for the use of the surplice was not in Edward VI.'s first Prayer Book, as well as the alb? [Bucer and the other continental Reformers, used their influence against the ornaments of the Priests at this time.] The rule was, the minister shall use a surplice only, and not the alb, &c.

But in Elizabeth's time there was not that fear of popery again getting power, and as many of the clergy, more than 9,000 out of 10,000, had come over to the reformed Church, the compilers of the Liturgy suffered the clergy again to use the alb, &c., not to the exclusion of the surplice, but in conjunction with it; and that the clergy may and ought to use one or more of Edward VI.'s ornaments, is proved by the XXI Vth Canon, which orders "every principal minister in a cathedral to use a decent cope." Dr. Guest, one of the divines employed in the review of the Prayer Book, writes to Sir Wm. Cecil, Queen Elizabeth's secretary, when inquiring for Edward VI.'s second Prayer Book, these words, "because it is thought sufficient to use a surplice in baptizing, reading, preaching, and praying, as well as in the Communion."

Let us, however, now go to the rubric immediately preceding the sermon, as given in the present authorised Prayer Book. After the Nicene Creed, and the notice by [11/12] the curate of what holy-days and fasting days are to be observed during the ensuing week, this order occurs, "Then shall follow the sermon, or one of the homilies." No mention is here made that the curate (the incumbent) shall put on a black gown, but the sermon follows as part of Divine service; it (the sermon) is one of the rites of the Church, and can only be administered as the LVIIth Canon appoints, in a "comely surplice with sleeves;" and that this vestment is the only one in which a priest in his own church can preach and should appear, may be inferred from what is ordered to be done as soon as the sermon is ended. "Then shall the priest return to the LORD'S table (which he had left before the sermon began) and begin the offertory." [To be correct, no preacher in the Church is justified in adding after his sermon any prayer, collect, benediction, or "Grace of our LORD," &c.] See Rubric. All this time the priest can only appear in one dress,--the surplice; for it is the only recognized church vestment in which he can appear. So I think would rule any foreign unprejudiced canonist, notwithstanding he was told that it had long been the custom to preach in a black gown, he would say, "you have no authority for any vestment in the Church of England but the surplice and cope and hood of your degree."

But suppose the clergyman were to deliver his sermon from the altar, (and there is no rubric that he shall not do so) would the black gown be used within the communion rails, or on the steps of the altar? [A Dean or Canon in a Cathedral sometimes preaches from his stall.] It could not: all must say, under such circumstances, the priest must keep on his surplice. I turn then to "the form of the Solemnization of Matrimony," and I find after [12/13] the final blessing which the priest has pronounced on the new married couple, this rubric: "After which, if there be no sermon declaring the duties of man and wife, the minister shall read as followeth." Now I think it is clear that this sermon must be delivered by the minister only in his surplice, and within the altar-rails, or on the steps, and then he is ready (as on every Sunday after the sermon,) to begin the order of the Holy Communion, which the rubric at the end of the sermon or homily on matrimony says "it is convenient, (suitable) that the new married persons should receive the Holy Communion at the time of their marriage."

But allowing that the minister before the sermon is justified in pulling off his surplice to preach in his black gown, and to put his surplice on again before the offertory; where, or in what place, can it be supposed right he should make this change: in the vestry? [No singing is appointed by any Rubric before the sermon. Is then the clergyman justified in leaving the congregation to themselves, while he goes into the vestry to pull off his surplice? Surely not.] But even at the last review (1662) of the Prayer Book nine-tenths of the parish churches had no vestry. Even now many hundreds of country churches are without vestries. As the old parsonage houses are generally close to the church, it was probably the custom in former times (as I myself have seen practised) for the clergyman to put on his surplice in the parsonage house, and thus habited walk to his church. [The same custom is observed by all the members on the foundation of any College in Oxford or Cambridge: on festivals they wear surplices, which they put on in their rooms, not in the vestry of the Chapel.] The clergyman thus seen dressed, in [13/14] a vestment different to what be appears in when not engaged in clerical duties, (that is in his every-day dress, his gown and cassock) would remind the parishioners that he was going to church to perform some sacred duties, and thus tell them the hour when service was to begin.

The cathedral and collegiate churches have always been looked upon as the model churches of the diocese. And whatever practices, customs or rites are observed in them would naturally be followed by the clergy in the country parishes. That practice has been so followed in the rural districts. For in the northern parts, as Lancashire, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Durham, even to this day, the clergy preach in their surplices indeed many of them do not possess a black gown. [There is no Rubric in the Book of Common Prayer, nor any Canon that says one word about a clergyman wearing a black gown when engaged in the services of the Church.] I repeat, therefore, that the black gown was only the. ordinary day dress of the clergyman; that the Geneva gown was the same, and that the licensed preachers, now the afternoon lecturers of the London and other town churches, when delivering their sermons, preached in their every-day dress: these lectures being almost always in the afternoon, and not necessarily immediately after prayers, but frequently after an interval of some time had elapsed. And I further think that any clergyman of the present day can with as much right and propriety preach in his usual coat and waistcoat as in a black gown; and that the judge of the Court of Arches could as justly censure him who preached in his coat and waistcoat, as the clergyman who preached in a black gown.

But further it may be observed, the bishop, like the [14/15] priest, must wear an appointed dress, the rochet, &c., whenever engaged in the public services of the church; whether reading the prayers, administering the Sacraments, preaching, marrying a party, or burying the dead. On all these occasions the bishop wears his episcopal dress. Again in the ordinary services of the church, the bishop, like the priest, prays with the people and for the people. He does so, when repeating the LORD'S Prayer before his sermon. I ask, could a bishop preach in his every-day dress, his gown and cassock? He could not. And why? Because nothing is said about such permission in any Canon or Rubric: indeed a bishop, when engaged in the public services of the church, acts as a priest alone: it is when he administers Confirmation and Ordination that he is more immediately seen executing the episcopal office. The bishops have of late years delivered an exhortation or sermon to the young persons confirmed: they also generally preach at the consecration of a church. Now on both these occasions they wear their episcopal vestments, whether at the parish church or in the cathedral.

Taking, therefore, all the beforementioned circumstances and arguments into consideration, I come to the following conclusion: that every beneficed clergyman, whether officiating in the country or the market-town, should, like a member of the cathedral, only officiate in the desk or in the pulpit, at prayers, or at preaching, in a white surplice; for that is the vestment found him by the parish--that is the vestment appointed by the Canon.

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