- Over the centuries, A complex set of vestments, or clothing, was developed for Christian priests when officiating at the Mass and in their daily movements. Different garments were prescribed for deacons, priests, and bishops. All Reformation churches criticized Roman Catholic practice on the proper garb for ministers, but the Reformed Church was particularly severe.As early as 1523, Ulrich Zwingli called for the abolition of priestly vestments in his Reformed Church in Zurich. Expensive materials such as silk and gold were rejected for ministerial garb among swiss reformers, who considered the demands of modesty and order. In Geneva, a form of dress adapted from what had been priests' outdoor garb, a black gown worn over a cassock, became the accepted clothing for officiating at worship and has evolved today into what is know as the Geneva gown.Martin Luther saw vestments as a matter of lesser importance. They were permitted but did not convey any special virtues.England saw intense controversy over vestments as Catholics, Anglicans, and Presbyterians vied for control of the church. During the reign of Edward VI, Bishop John Hooper was arrested for adopting a Zwinglian position against vestments. During Elizabeth's reign, the 1559 Act of Uniformity demanded the continuance of traditional priestly garb. When Matthew Parker (1504-75), the archbishop of Canterbury, demanded strict conformity to the act, 37 London ministers refused, the majority of those holding pulpits.The opposition party in what was later called the vestiarian controversy was defeated, but they added a new term to British religious life, nonconformists. Eventually, English Protestants across the spectrum (with the exception of high-church Anglicans) adopted a more simple dress.As a whole, Free Church ministers (i.e. those not in the Church of England) wore the same clothes as laypeople, even for leading worship services. The adoption of a distinctive clerical dress was often more a matter of money than of liturgical considerations. However, Protestants did occasionally allow their anti-Catholic polemics to draw analogies between feminine dress and Catholic priestly garb.In the late 20th century, in the context of the Ecumenical movement, more traditional clerical garb has been revived by Protestants as part of the spirit of cordiality at gatherings of ministers of different faiths. Traditional priestly garb has also been revived by those involved in the liturgical revivals that have periodically arisen within Protestantism. Among recent efforts was that begun in 1946 by the Order of St. Luke, an organization operating within the United Methodist Church and dedicated to exploring and reviving liturgical worship within that church.Smaller denominations and ordered communities have often developed distinctive dress both for worship and daily wear. These vary from the simple dress of the Quakers to the monastic dress of communal groups such as the Ephrata Cloister of 17th-century Baptists in Pennsylvania. The purpose of such dress, however, is primarily to identify believers within the larger social context, rather than to fulfill a sacred or liturgical purpose.Further reading:■ Mary Ann James, Liturgical Dress, An Analysis of Purpose and Function (Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University, M.A. thesis, 1986)■ Janet Mayo, A History of Ecclesiastical Dress (London: Batsford, 1984)■ Arthur Carl Piepkorn, Survival of the Historic Vestments in the Lutheran Church after 1555 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1958)■ John H. Primus, The Vestments Controversy: An Historical Study of the Earliest Tensions within the Church of England in the Reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth (Kampen: Theological University of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, diss., 1960).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.