or Stole, Does it Matter?
it really matter what the clergy wear? - especially in these days
of ecumenical experiment and debate?
Since 1965 Canon Law has permitted varying kinds of vesture in
the Church of England, so surely we do not need to make a fuss
over these issues any more? At first glance that seems a reasonable
argument, until you recall how much the things we do in worship
affect the way we think about it. If such things were not important,
why all the reordering of our churches, moving the communion table
from the east end to the nave, and removing pews to form 'worship
areas'? Similarly, what the clergyman wears affects people's understanding
of the services and are 'teaching aids' of a sort. To wear one
form of ministerial dress when the Word of God is read and preached,
and a more elaborate form of dress for sacramental services, will
say more to the onlooker than many clergy will wish to imply.
Church of England has, ever since the Reformation, rightly stressed
the unity of the ministry of Word and Sacrament. In the Ordinal
annexed to the Book of Common Prayer the bishop's words
to the candidate he ordains to the priesthood (or presbyterate)
are 'Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest
in the Church of God. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the
Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments...' He then delivers the
Bible into the ordinand's hands saying, 'Take thou authority to
preach the Word of God, and to minister the holy Sacraments.'
twofold emphasis remains the thrust of the modern language ordinal
of the Alternative Service Book.
Reformers were well aware of the need to back up their words by
the use of visual aids. So they emphasized the primacy of the
ministry of the Word of God by requiring the bishops to give their
ordinands a Bible only, and not the chalice and paten as well,
which had been required in Cranmer's first ordinal of 1550. The
second (1552) English Prayer book also reinforced this emphasis
on the unity of the ministry by requiring that 'the minister at
the time of the Communion and all other times in his ministration
shall use neither albe, vestment, nor cope; but being archbishop
or bishop, he shall have and wear a rochet; and being a preest
or deacon, he shall have and wear a surplice onely'.
the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559, which reintroduced the Second
Prayer Book with only small amendments, the Elizabethan Advertisements
of 1566 (sometimes dated to 1565) appear to reinstate this practice
which would stress the unity of the ministry. This is certainly
how it was understood generally in England for virtually 300 years.
was only in the last century that the growth of the Tractarian
Movement led to the reintroduction of the stole in the Church
of England. In the life of Archbishop Tait it is recorded how,
when he was Bishop of London, at the consecration of St Michael's
Church in Shoreditch, he requested a clergyman who was wearing
a stole to take it off and added, 'I must ask the clergy of my
diocese who are here
today to wear the simple dress of the clergymen of the Church
spite of such attempts to retain the Reformers' position, Anglocatholics
continued to press for the wearing of the stole along with other
'Mass' vestments in an attempt (especially after the Papal Bull
of 1896 refused to recognize Anglican orders) to show that at
the Communion they had the same 'intention' as Roman Priests.
persistency gradually led to the increased wearing of the stole
by other clergy. Things came to a head in the 1950s when two leading
Anglo-catholic bishops, Wand of London and Kirk of Oxford, refused
to ordain candidates who would not wear a stole at ordination.
Previously bishops had allowed a variety of vesture; many ordinands
were ordained in the traditional scarf and hood, while a number
of bishops at that time allowed those who so wished to wear the
stole. Wand ordained his candidates at St Paul's Cathedral; those
who refused the stole were given a private ordination by one of
his suffragans in Fulham Palace Chapel. Kirk insisted that stole-less
ordinands should be ordained by Letters Dimissory by another bishop,
and Chavasse of Rochester usually obliged.
was at this time that some of the principals of the evangelical
colleges protested on behalf of ordinands who were being subjected
to this unwarranted pressure, and in response Archbishop Geoffrey
Fisher wrote to all bishops and principals to instruct them that
'no candidate should be refused ordination on the
grounds on his being unwilling to wear a stole'.
Fisher was conscious of the fact that the ritual prosecutions
of the late nineteenth century had shown that such matters as
the vesture of ministers were at least debatable, and so he pushed
ahead with the revision of Canon Law. The intention of this was
to authorise the variety of uses in the Church of England, without
suggesting that any was preferable or more authentically Anglican,
especially as the fifth paragraph of Canon 88, 'Of the Vesture
of Ministers', states specifically that 'The Church of England
does not attach any particular doctrinal significance to the diversities
of vesture permitted by this Canon, and the vesture worn by the
minister in accordance with the provisions of this Canon is not
to be understood as implying any doctrines other than those now
contained in the formularies of the Church of England'.
At the time that the revised Canons were being debated in the
old Church Assembly, evangelicals, who were uneasy about the changes
which would undermine their understanding of the legal position
since the Elizabethan Settlement and the Canons of 1604, were
reassured that the purpose of this revision was to recognize the
variety of vesture in the Church of England not not to impose
of the Alternate Service Book in 1980 included the revised
ordinal, where it is stated that 'Where it is agreed that those
to be ordained are to be clothed in their customary vesture, it
is appropriate that this should take place at any time after the
Declaration'. When this was first produced the agreement referred
to was assumed by some to be between the candidate and his ordaining
bishop; current practice suggests that it is more likely to be
between the bishop and the dean or provost of his cathedral. As
those appointed to such offices in the church today appear to
be selected solely from among the clergy who are prepared to use
stoles, little consideration is given to the candidate who is
not happy in conscience to be made part of this ceremony. Jasper
and Bradshaw in their latest Companion to the ASB say
(page 446) that 'A relic of the traditional vesting has returned
in recent years, however. It is now customary for deacons to be
vested after ordination with a stole over the left shoulder and
tied under the right arm, and priests after ordination to be vested
with a stole over both shoulders.'
is consequently a tradition growing in our church that at
(in particular, but also at other 'diocesan' services in our cathedrals)
clergy should conform to the norm and wear stoles, and ordinands
agree to being vested in them.
Some bishops have even argued that if they allow evangelicals
to wear scarf and hood, then Anglo-catholics should be permitted
to wear the chasuble. This is strange reasoning, as the chasuble
has never (until the revised Canons) been an accepted part of
Anglican vesture, while the scarf and hood have been for three
centuries and more the Anglican norm.
are making these facts known at this time in a plea that bishops
should be prepared to give more consideration to the sensitivities
of their clergy, and especially of ordinands at a very important
time in their lives, and allow flexibility in usage. The practice
of the Church of England for 300 years prior to the advent of
the Oxford Movement must not be laid aside as being of no consequence.
the Reformed Church of England clergy should be allowed to wear
text is based on a leaflet by David Wheaton which is available
Articles relevant to this issue
What we do matters. David Phillips discusses the influence of Anglo Catholic practices on the CofE and Gafcon. Cross†Way article, Autumn 2008.
Give me oil on my hands, make me Roman... Cross†Way article by David Wheaton (Autumn 2007) explaining how Roman Catholic practices have gradually permeated Church of England ordination services.
issue of clergy vestments became a cause of controversy in the
19th Century when Anglo-Catholics and others inisited on different
forms of vestment which were more akin to Roman Catholicism. During
this time the Church Association (one of the forebares of the
Church Society) grappled and fought these changes. This is evident
in the number of Church Association Tracts which dealt with this
Rev Canon J C Ryle.
- Twelve Reasons Against The Distinctive Vestments. J C Ryle.
- The Ornaments Rubric.
Privy Council Judgment on Vestments.
Leonard Rowe Valpy.
Sacrificial Vestments, - Reasons Against. Rev Canon R P
- The Gown in the
Pulpit. Rev William Fleming.
- Gown v Surplice.
– Condemnation of.
- The Minister's Scarf, or the
'Sacrificer's' Stole – which?
Legalisation of Mass Vestments.
Mass Vestments ever worn under the Reformation Settlement
as embodied in the Act of Uniformity of 1559? J T
Mass Vestments. W Prescott Upton.
Mass Vestments and the Ornaments Rubric. B Whitehead.
York Convocation's Report on Vestments.
Facts omitted from the Five Bishops' Report on
Vestments. A letter to the Bishop of Salisbury.
Mass Vestments. The Very Rev W Lefroy.
(For complete list of Church Association Tracts click