|Priests Clothing of Old Testament|
Why do clergymen wear vestments at our altars? Why does the Church clothe her ministers in such peculiar robes? Did Christ and the apostles wear a distinctive dress at the Last Supper? Can Church vestments in material, form and color be traced back to that night of the Last Supper? People often ask these questions, for few writers trace clerical robes and vestments to their origin in Temple and Passover. Let us see the reasons and the origin of the Church vestments.
Clothes show a person's position in the community, a ragged dirty tramp excites disgust, while a well-dressed person inspires respect. An individual's clothes, their form, color and material strike the eye and make the first impression. Hence woman is often honored more than man, not because she is his superior, but because she is better dressed.
In all ages dress showed the wearer's position in society, and from the beginning officials wore distinctive garments and insignia of their office. In the ancient world, the king dressed in stately robes. When in patriarchal days the priest-king offered sacrifice, he vested in priestly garments. Sculptured ruins of Assyria, Persia, Egypt, etc., show kings dressed as the high priest of the nation, vested in sandals, alb, chasuble, girdle, miter and vestments, offering sacrifices, while in Babylonian ruins a mysterious figure shows him the forbidden fruit, and near by stands the tree of life. It is startling to see the figure of pontiff-king of these empires dressed in vestments of the same kind and shape as those now used at our altars, showing that vestments have hardly (changed since the days before Abraham.
THE VESTMENTS OF THE CHURCH UNCHANGED.
Fashions change, the old costumes are abandoned new styles are taken up; it is hard to find two men or women dressed alike. But the Church never changes her vestments coming down from the Temple and the Last Supper. No Pope, Council or power on earth could forbid them because they are of divine origin.
When fanatic ignorant reformers of the sixteenth century swept over the north of Europe, not understanding the nature of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, they dismantled churches of religious signs, symbols and emblems, and their ministers preached in ordinary garments. But a reaction took place; ritualism revived, clerical robes again were seen in non-Catholic pulpits; disputes waxed warm; color, shape and number of ecclesiastical garments divided denominations, and high ritualistic churches introduced vestments. Let us see the origin of vestments.
From the beginning of civilization, the want of a distinctive dress was felt, that a man's calling might be seen in his clothing. The officer, soldier, sailor, conductor, fireman, nurse, judge, ruler, king, wear a distinctive dress to picture to the eye the calling, position and office of the wearer.
When God called Aaron and his sons to the priesthood of the Hebrew religion, and the sons of Levi for his ministers, with a wealth of detail and a striking minuteness, he laid down material, color, shape and ornament of vestments worn in public worship, and forbade them at any other time. Down the ages in the Temple till its destruction by the Romans under Titus, priest and Levite wore these vestments while ministering before the Lord. A hundred and seventy-six times they are mentioned in the Old Testament, and fifty-nine texts of the New Testament refer to them.
They were always used in the Church. It was a great sin to sacrifice without them. Popes forbade them used except in Church functions. Writers of apostolic age mention them. Pictures in catacombs show them. The great Fathers write of them. Pagans mocked them. All Oriental Churches still use them. A thousand proofs from the Fathers might be given to prove them used from the beginning of Christianity.
HOW SILK WAS BROUGHT TO PALESTINE.
"What is there, I ask, offensive to God," writes St. Jerome, "if I wear a tunic more than ordinarily handsome, or, if bishop, priest, deacon and other ministers of the Church come forth in white garments in the administration of the sacrifice?"
"We ought not to go into the sanctuary just as we please, and in our ordinary clothes defiled by the usages of common life, but with a clear conscience, and in clean garments handle the sacraments of the Lord."
Church vestments, altar cloths, etc., are of linen and not of byssus, the word given in translations of the Bible. Temple vestments, tablecloths, napkins, etc. used at Passover in the time of Christ were of linen. From that time in the Latin Rite linen has always been used for altar cloths, purificators, albs, etc., in Church services. Why was linen and no other material used?
St. Augustine, explaining the work of the wise woman of Proverbs, 1 says flax, from which linen is made is emblematic of our bodies in which lives the soul. The flax is prepared by beating, and then woven into linen, as our flesh is purified by suffering. He says the people's clothing and the vestments were then of linen. 2
During the Babylonian Captivity the Hebrews saw kings and nobles clothed in silk, and this material, which came from China, the Israelites brought back with them to Palestine. When Alexander conquered these countries he found the same silken clothing, his soldiers brought silk to Greece and silk garments spread over the Grecian world long before Christ. When the apostles spread the Church in the Greek empire they made the altar cloths of linen and vestments of this silken material, and that is the reason that silk is exclusively used in the Oriental Rites, and why our more costly vestments are of silk while altar cloths, albs, purificators, etc., are of linen.
God revealed to Moses the most minute details of material, form and color of the priestly vestments. They were to be made only of linen, formed of beaten flax, to signify that the perfection of the priest only comes with bearing patiently the trials of this life. The colors were white, red, violet and green, signifying innocence, suffering, penance and youth. Later, black, typifying sorrow, was added. Josephus writes that these colors of the vestments of his day were emblematic of the colors of the sanctuary of the Lord of hosts, and that they were embellished with beautiful embroideries. They are now the five colors of Church vestments.
THE FAMOUS TYRIAN DYE.
Gold wire was woven into the cloth. "And he cut thin plates of gold, and drew them into small threads that they might be twisted with the woof of the aforesaid colors." 3 Here for the first time in Holy Writ, we find the famous "cloth of gold," still found in vestments, regalia, etc. Gold cloth is rare in this country, gilt silver wire called "half fine" and brass, gilt or varnished, takes its place.
Linen, mentioned thirty times under the name of byssus, dyed in these different colors, was used for vestments, veils, etc., in the Temple. 4 Linen is made of flax, while byssus is formed of the long delicate silky fibers, with which the pina, a shell-fish of eastern Mediterranean waters, attaches itself to the rocks. A careful microscopical and chemical examination of ancient Biblical byssus, shows it to be linen, proving the Church right in making her altar cloths, albs, etc., of linen and not of byssus.
Around the rocky isle on which Canaan's sons built Tyre, "The Rock," which Alexander's army captured after uniting it with the mainland, in the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea still grows the murex, a shell-fish of the gasteropod mollusk, which bruised gives forth the beautiful crimson and purple colors, in which they dyed the garments of high priests, emperors, kings and rulers of antiquity. To-day wild waters dash with loud roar against that rock bound shore, where Tyre rose in power of commerce and art. For her sins she has fallen as the prophet foretold. 5 No more Tyrian purple clothes kings, for the color is obtained from products of coal tar. 6
It is surprising how certain colors distinguished families. In the middle ages heraldry showed forth in the colors of the champions. In the Orient green is the sacred color of the false Prophet; members of Muhammad's family; are always clothed in green from head to foot, and you will find Muslims kissing their hands to show respect. Arab chiefs still wear colored turbans, each head of a tribe having his proper color.
The Levites in the Temple dressed in simple white linen, 7 till Herod Agrippa II gave them permission to vest in priestly garments, which Josephus says "was contrary to the laws of our country." 8 Temple priest and high priest wore four vestments of shape and color common to both. Today priest and bishop saying Mass wear identical amice, alb, girdle, stole, manuple and chasuble. But the Hebrew Pontiff wore four other vestments proper to his office, and the bishop in addition to the priest's vestments vests in tunic, dalmatic, cross, gloves, miter and ring. Let us. see the story of the Temple vestments and of the Last Supper, whence came Church vestments.
Born of Aaron's family, bluest blood of glorious high priests flowing in his veins, learned in the Torah, the Books of Moses, versed in the prophets and in Israel's history, bright of mind, spotless of body,—such were the requirements of the candidate for the high priesthood of the days of Christ. Maimonides mentions a hundred and forty defects which would forever debar him, and twenty two, which he might in time overcome. St. Paul quotes qualities required in a bishop taken from the Temple rules relating to the high priest's office.9
If he passed the strict examination, his ordination lasted seven days, each day being devoted to a part of the ceremonial. The first day they poured the holy chrism in his head in the form of the Greek ☩ not knowing it foretold the cross, the oil flowing down on his beard. 10 In former times this was the holy oil with which Moses had consecrated his brother Aaron and his sons, and which had been preserved in the sanctuary.
With this oil they consecrated Saul, David, and the kings of David's line, when there was no dispute about the succession, as well as the ordinary priests. The cup containing this holy oil, preserved since Moses' day Jeremias hid with the ark in a cave on Nebo. From that time the Rabbis claimed the oil was not necessary, as the consecration of their fathers sufficed for the priests of the time of Christ. The oil was put on the pontiff's head and on the priest's hands. This is where bishop and priest are anointed with oil in our day.
THE TEMPLE PRIEST'S VESTMENTS.
Priest and pontiff, before sacrificing victims to the Lord of hosts, put on the linen drawers. Over this they wore a seamless white linen garment, having sleeves and falling down to the feet. In material, shape and color it was exactly like the alb of our day. Only descendants of Aaron's family could wear it. Christ's grandfather, Joachim, had married into Aaron's family 11 and his Mother made this seamless robe for her Son, because he was a Priest as well as Prince of David's line. Christ wore this white alb all his life and at the last Supper. It was the robe on which the soldiers cast lots, for they could not cut and divide it among them without destroying it. This was the origin of the alb used at our altars.
Priest and pontiff bound up this seamless robe with a girdle when sacrificing in the Temple and celebrating the Passover, "Thus shall you eat it," said the Lord regarding the Passover, "you shall gird your reins," 12 and the Hebrew word given in this text is chagar: "to bind up." When man first bound a sash round his waist we do not find, for the sash or girdle comes down from earliest history and was found among all ancient peoples.
The people of Christ's day were long flat sashes wound round the body many times, the folds often serving as pockets. The bishop's girdle of our time is flat similar to that of the Temple priests, while the priests wear over the alb a round linen cord.
The miter of the Temple priest was called the myg-hoath, "hilt-shaped," that is opened, similar to the bishop's miter in the Latin rite, and was formed like the inverted calyx of a flower. The high priest's miter was higher and more ornate, like our bishop's miter. The people always wore their turbans in Temple, synagogue and at Passover, for to uncover the head would show disrespect during divine worship. These customs of the Jewish Church are continued during the first part of the Mass, during which bishops and priests wear the miter and beretta. The drawers, alb, girdle and miter were the four vestments common to priests and pontiff in the Temple.
THE EPHOD, THE RATIONAL, AND MITER.
Now let us see the four vestments of the high priest, called by Jewish writers "the golden vestments," because gold, symbol of purity and authority, was woven through them. 13
The ephod, "garment," called also the meil, entirely made of "woven work," of a dark purple color without sleeves covered him to his knees. At the hem it was adorned with alternate violet, purple and red pomegranate blossoms, having seventy-two gold bells between them, tinkling when he walked, in memory of the seventy-two families descending from Noe's grandsons, which had become the great nations of antiquity. This vestment in material and shape was like the bishop's rochet to which it gave rise. 14
He wore on his breast the "rational," bearing twelve precious stones, each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. They were embedded in massive gold work, arranged in four rows, three in a row, each gem having engraved on it 15 one of the Hebrew letters. Before they fell into idolatry in the days of Solomon, Jewish writers say the stones glowed with a supernatural light one after the other enabling them to read Jehovah's decrees. 16 After the destruction of the first Temple the rational was lost, and the God of their fathers spoke no more through gems of the rational. Nine times the Old Testament mentions the rational.
On his shoulders he wore two great onyx stones, each engraved with six names of the twelve Hebrew tribes. They were called the Urim and Thummim: "Light and Perfection," "Knowledge and Virtue," dogmatic and moral theology, to foretell the faith and morals of the future priesthood of the Church.
Aaron's miter, called miznepheth, Moses made of finest white linen with lace and embroidered work, covering his head like a crown. 17
God himself told the Hebrews to vest in sacred garments when celebrating the Passover. "And thus shall you eat it, you shall gird your reins, and you shall have shoes on your feet, holding staves in your hands, and you shall eat it in haste, for it is the phase, that is the Passage of the Lord." 18 In this account of the first Passover the Hebrews celebrated as a nation, we find prescribed by God himself the bishop's shoes, girdle and crosier.
THE VESTMENTS CHRIST WORE.
But as ages passed, the Hebrews copied the vestments of the Temple priests and vested in them for the Passover, so that at the time of Christ, they celebrated the feast vested in the elaborate robes Christ wore at the Last Supper.
But did Christ wear all the vestments of the bishop in our day? We must take into consideration the peculiar climate of Judea. Sion is 2,700 feet over the sea, while the deep Jordan valley and the Dead Sea are 1,800 feet below sea level. In April Jerusalem is quite cold, while the Jordan plains are excessively hot. The people of Judea must be prepared for these changes of climate when traveling from the stilling Jordan up to Jerusalem. For these reasons Christ and his apostles wore many garments while in Jerusalem, and when celebrating the Last Supper. This is the reason that the bishop robes in so many different vestments when pontificating. 19 Ten garments are mentioned as having been worn by Jews of that time. The first-born among the Hebrews always dressed in costly garments, and if he belonged to a royal family they were purple.20
In the days of Christ every Hebrew wore the phylacteries on brow and left arm. 21 They were capsules of rawhide calf-skins, enclosing four little square parchments, on which was written a part of the law of Moses they recited at night and morning prayers.
The first parchment had in Hebrew: "Sanctify unto me the first-born, etc." 22 The next had: "And when the Lord shall have brought you into the land of the Canaanite, etc." 23 The third had: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, etc." 24 The fourth had: "If then you obey my commandments," 25 etc.
ORIGIN OF PHYLACTERIES.
At the present time these four parchments are inclosed in little square boxes of rawhide making two square capsules 7/8 of an inch square, the one for the head being called the tflin-schel-rosh, "tflin-of-the-head," and they wear it on the top of the head while praying. Leather straps running through it bind it to the head, hang down behind, and the ends are brought forward to hang down on the breast. Each side of the capsule has the Hebrew letter S. The knot behind the head is tied in the form of four squares, making a cross, which they say represents the letter D.
The capsule of the other tflin is worn-on the left arm, above the elbow next the heart, and a long strap is wound seven times round the arm, brought down, and wound three times round the two middle fingers of the left hand, the knot tying it to his arm also representing the letter D, but it is not in the form of a cross.
Taking the two Hebrew letters, Sh and D, and putting in vowels,we have the word Shadai, "Almighty God," or "The Greatest God," the word implying greatness, majesty, power, etc., to whom prayers are always offered in the synagogue in which Elohim represents God in strict justice and Adonai, God as Lord or Supreme Ruler.
When pontificating the high priest wore a gold band as a phylactery or tflin across his brow on which was engraved "Holiness unto Jehovah," and the straps with which it was tied hanging down, gave rise to the two bands hanging down behind from the bishop's miter. The Day of Atonement he did not wear a gold band across the brow when pontificating. The Pharisees very wore large phylacteries. Because of the ostentatious way they wore them Christ reproved their spirit of pride. 26
There is a dispute regarding the origin of the phylacteries. Jewish writers say that in the days of Closes all kinds of ornaments, armlets, rings, etc., were worn as charms and spells, often having immodest pictures, engravings, sayings, etc., and that God ordered Moses to make the phylacteries for the Hebrews to wean them from the Egyptian superstitions, as the Law says: "And it shall be as a sign in thy hand, and as a thing hung between thy eyes for a remembrance." 27 The Hebrew writers before the Babylonian Captivity do not mention the phylacteries.
The Cairo museum, containing the richest collection in the world of ancient Egyptian relics and curios, shows that they followed all kinds of such superstitious practices.
ANTIQUITY OF SANDALS.
Gods and goddesses are on all sides, and statues show kings and nobles holding forms of gods. Little scarabs, various gods, emblems, jewelry of gold and silver formed into charms, tokens and religious emblems filling many cases, prove they were very prone to superstitious practices. Jews of liberal tendencies of our time condemn the phylacteries and call the strict Jews who wear them "bridled asses."
But orthodox Jews hold that the phylacteries came from Moses. Eleazar, whom Ptolemy Philadelphus sent as ambassador to the king of Egypt, stated they came from Moses. St. Jerome and the Fathers of his day write that they were very common in their times. All Jews of Christ's day wore them in the Temple, synagogues and during their prayers especially at the Passover. Some think that Christ and the apostles wore them at the Last Supper. But we are not sure of this. Following these Jewish high priests, St. John and some of the other apostles wore gold plates on their brows when saying Mass, similar to the gold phylactery worn by the high priest when pontificating in the Temple. The early Christians wore these phylacteries. But by lapse of time the custom degenerated into an abuse, for they were worn as charms, seals, pagan devices, arid gave rise to superstitious practices. Popes Gelasius and Gregory I. condemned the abuse and the Council of Laodicea forbade them. Then Christians began to use crosses, medals, etc.; and religious emblems, and pictures, crucifixes, etc., multiplied.
Of the time when men first put on sandals to protect the feet history is silent. Egyptian monuments show nobles and priests shod in sandals of leather, palm leaves or papyrus, while soldiers' sandals were of iron or brass. Thongs passing between the great toe and the next and around the heel kept on the sole. These later developed into the upper part of the shoe of our day. In Mexico and in the Orient poor people still wear the sandals.
1 Prov. xxxi. 13.
2 St Augustine, Sermo xxxvii in Prov, n, v., vi., Contra, Faust. L. vi., u. 1.
3 Exod. xxxix. 1-3.
4 Exod. xxxvi., xxxix., ix., etc.,
5 Isaias xxili.
6 See Edersheim, Life of Christ, ii. 278.
7 II. Par. v. 12.
8 Josephus Antiq. xx. 9, 6.
9 I. Tim. iii; Titus i.
10 Edersheim, Temple, 71. Geikie, Life of Christ, i. 84 to 87, 523, 524.
11 Luke ii.
12 Exod. xii. 11.
13 Exod. xxxix. 1-3; Migne, Cursus Comp. S. Scripturæ ii, 97, 98, vi. 374, 9, 137, etc.
14 St. Augustine, Ques, in Jud. L. vii. Ques, Ixi.
15 St. Augustine, Ques. in Exod., cxvi. and cxxix.
16 Edersheim, Temple, 112.
17 See Migne, iii. 924, 925. See Babyl. Talmud, Yomah, 105; 72 bells? Migne iii. 931.
18 Exod. xii. 11.
19 See Babyl. Talmud Tract Ebel. 38. 40, 41.
20 Migne, Cursus, S. Script., 5. 942.
21 Migne, Cursus Comp. S. Scripturæ, ii. 1347; iii. 1005, 1155.
22 Exod. xii. 2 to 10 inclusive.
23 Exod. xiii. 11 to 16 inclusive.
24 Deut vi. 4 to 9 inclusive.
25 Deut. ii. 13 to 21 inclusive. See Edersheim, Life of Christ, i, 76, 228; ii. 408.
26 Matt, xxiii. 5.
27 Exod. xiii, 9-16; Deut. vi. 8, 9.
27 Exod. xiii, 9-16; Deut. vi. 8, 9.