Saturday, 15 December 2018

Still spilling ink over the Ornaments Rubric: the true history of its origin and interpretation.

Few paragraphs have elicited as much controversy and spilled ink as those of the "ornaments rubric."  They have even caused legal action and court cases up to the highest courts of the land.  People were jailed over their interpretation.   Even today the ornaments rubric is used to argue that it is proper and Anglican to wear sacerdotal vestments, namely the alb, stole, and chasuble.

With so much written on the matter trying to sum up the history and various facets of the matter is near impossible—especially for a person as verbose as I usually am!  That is, however, what I want to try and do here.


               It begins in the second year of King Edward and the first Prayer Book of 1549.  This book addresses what ministers should wear in a few places.  It addresses it in detail at the end of the book under a section called "certain notes for the more plain explication and decent ministration of things contained in this book" as well as in the fourth rubric at the start of the Communion service and the first rubric at the end of it.  The dress of the minister according to these rubrics was to be, for priests, a surplice and hood except for during Holy Communion when an alb and either cope or chasuble.  Bishops were to always wear alb or surplice and chasuble or cope for all their services.  Tunicles are also mentioned.   In these rubrics the chasuble is called "vestment" which is why traditionally there has been a differentiation, particularly in England, between "vestments" which are sacerdotal and "robes" which are not and are essentially choir dress and the preaching gown.

               In 1552 this all  changed and the minister was to wear surplice, scarf, and hood at every service whilst the bishop was to wear rochet and chimere. The use of albs and chasubles, as well as copes, was explicitly outlawed by the rubric at the start of Morning Prayer.


               When Elizabeth came to the throne the question of what was to be done was raised once more.  Was it to be the 1549 Prayer Book or the 1552?  The answer was simple. Elizabeth brought back the 1552  with the Act of Uniformity.  Strictly speaking there was no "Elizabethan Prayer Book" only the 1552 book with three additional provisions: namely the addition of two sentences during the administration of Communion, the addition of certain readings, and changes to the Litany. 

               It is important to bear in mind that the Act of Uniformity was actually part of the Prayer Book, it came before it but they were one document.  In the second chapter of the Act of Uniformity it is decreed that the "order and form as is mentioned in the said Book, so Authorised by Parliament in the said fifth and sixth years of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth" was to be used in every ministration. At this point it seems simple that the 1552 rubric outlawing albs and chasubles is the end of the matter.

               Things are rarely so simple.  The Act of Uniformity also had two sections which bear on this matter.

"25.  Provided always, and be it enacted, that such Ornaments of the Church and of the Ministers thereof, shall be retained, and be in use, as was in this Church of England, by Authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of Edward the Sixth, until other Order shall be therein taken by the Authority of the Queens' majesty, with the Advice of her Commissioners appointed and authorised under the great seal of England for causes ecclesiastical, or of the Metropolitan of this Realm.
26. And also that if there shall happen any contempt or irreverence to be used in the ceremonies of rites of the church, by the misusing of the orders appointed in this book, the Queen's majesty may, by the like advice of the said commissioners or Metropolitan, ordain and publish such further ceremonies or rites as may be most for the advancement of God's glory, the edifying of his church, and the due reverence of Christ's holy Mysteries and Sacraments."

What are we to make of this seeming contradiction?  Are the alb and chasuble to be "retained, and be in use" or does the ornaments rubric of 1552 and the second chapter of the Act of Uniformity which outlaws  these actually stand as authoritative?

The obvious question when trying to understand this is simply to ask "what did the writer of the Act say it meant."  Archbishop Sandys made clear that in fact the words "retained, and be in use" do not mean what they seem to us today to mean. Rather they mean simply that the albs and chasubles of the churches are not to be destroyed until further command and direction was forth coming. 

"Our gloss upon this text is  that we shall not be forced to use them, but that others in the meantime shall not convey them away; but that they may remain for the Queen"  Archbishop Sandys to Parker (remain for the Queen being a reference to their future confiscation and sale to help support the much indebted crown -- much as Henry and Edward had done with church finery before her!)

This is in keeping with the iconoclasm of the Anglican Reformers which likewise forbade private individuals from destroying idols in their churches and instead demanded that they wait for the magistrate to carry this out.  Things being done in an orderly way was important to the Anglican Reformers.

In addition, both sections make clear that further instruction is going to be given, at the least on what to do with vestments.  When this instruction came it would overrule and fulfil the provisions of the Act of Uniformity and be binding.  In due course such "other order" did indeed come forth.

But hold on! Things get even more complicated! 

The Act of Uniformity restored the 1552 Prayer Book with only three changes (the additional sentences on reception and addition of certain readings as well as changes to the Litany).  The 1559 Book of Common Prayer with the attached Act of Uniformity was a legal and unchangeable document. It was an Act of Parliament. And yet, illegally, it was changed at the printers! 

In the printed book of 1559, not the official and authoritative book, the 1552 Ornaments rubric outlawing the alb and stole and cope was changed to read:

"And here is to be noted, that the Minister at the time of Communion, and at all other times in his ministration, shall use such ornaments in the Church, as were in use by authority of parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth according to the Act of Parliament set in the beginning of this book."

This rubric had absolutely no authority in law and was omitted in the Latin Prayer Book of 1560.  It was simply a quick pointer the Act of Uniformity which was at the start of the book— and yet one which is in error as the Act of Uniformity does not actually say "shall use such ornaments" but "shall retain, and be in use", nor does it say "as were in use" but "as was in this church", and it omits the promise of additional instruction.

Was this sneaky rubric an indication of how people understood the Act? Did people actually think that the 1549 vesture was to be used not the 1552? 

Most certainly not.  

In the same year as this illegal printed rubric is found the Injunctions of Queen Elizabeth were published and commissioners sent all over the nation to enforce obedience to them and compel subscription.  Items 30 and 47 of these injunctions demanded respectively that:

"30.... [all ministers] both in the church and without.... shall use and wear such seemly habits, garments, and such square caps as were most commonly and orderly received in the latter year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth..."
"47.  That he churchwardens of every parish shall deliver unto our visitors and inventories of vestments, copes, and other ornaments, plate, books, and specially of grayles, vouchers, legends, processionals, hymnals, manuals, poruasses, and such like appertaining to the church"

The injunctions clearly enforced the clerical wear of the 1552 and by law required all parishes to hand over for destruction or sale their vestments and other Roman ornamentation. 


The unwillingness of the Puritans renewal movement to wear the surplice enjoined by the Injunctions and Act of Uniformity led to additional measures being taken in 1566.  To resolve this the 1566 Advertisements were introduced.  These are the official "other order" promised in the Act of Uniformity.  These Advertisements demanded the surplice be worn at every service by the minister except at Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches during Holy Communion where the cope was to be worn by not only the celebrant but also the gospeller and epistoller.

From this point onwards the regular Visitations of the bishops in their diocese referred back to the Injunctions to ensure vestments were destroyed and to the Advertisements that a surplice and it alone (except the cope at Cathedrals etc. though this part never seems to have been enforced) be worn for every service. 


Finally, in 1604 the Church of England got new Canon Law.  The Canons reinforced the required dress of the Advertisements with some minor changes—the cope was now only for principal feast days not every sabbath, non-graduates could wear a tippet/preaching scarf.

Even under Laud this status quo is clearly seen in his Visitation Articles of 1628:

"Whether doth your minster wear the surplice while he is saying your public prayers, and administering the Sacrament, and a hood according to his degree of the University: Whether there be in your parish, who are known or suspected, to conceal or keep hid in their homes any Mass books, Breviaries, or other books of Popery or superstition, or any chalice, copes, vestments, alb, or other ornaments of superstition, uncancelled, or undefaced, which is to be conjectured they keep for a day as they call it."


               In 1662 the illegal rubric of 1559 was modified to read :

"And 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 the reign of King Edward the Sixth."

This change is important. Rather than a poor paraphrase of the Act of Uniformity this rubric is an exact quotation from the Act except the updated grammar of "were" for "was".  The 1662 Prayer Book continued to have the Act of Uniformity as the first item in the list of contents—in other words the Act was still part of the Prayer Book and thus it was seen as obvious that this short quotation was intended to simply point back to and mean exactly the same as the Act at the start of the book.  That Act, if you recall, did not enjoin the use of the 1549 vestments but merely that they be retained till the commissioners came along to dispose of them under the Injunctions and that the "other order" was given in the Advertisements which demanded a surplice only.  The plain reason for not including the words "until other order is taken" in the short rubric is that such order had already been taken and was already enshrined in not only statute law but canon law and was being enforced by every bishop of the land.

The visitations of every single bishop in 1662 except Sterne of Carlisle, Roberts of Bangor, Fearne of Chester, and Warner of Rochester (as well as the See of Sodor and Man which was vacant from early 1662 till 1665) explicitly demand the wearing of the surplice at all times of ministry.  The only reason we don't have information on them is  that there are no remaining copies of their articles of visitation but it would be absurd to suppose they differed from all the other bishops and were openly defying canon and state law, indeed we do have such clear instruction from the bishops who followed them. The canons of 1604 were likewise reprinted in 1660 and again in 1662 with bishops such as Cosin, Henchmen, and Ironside requiring a copy to be in every parish.  Quotations and excerpts from all of these can be found in J.T. Tomlinson's "Collected Tracts of Ritual" in the Tract "Additional Evidence respecting the Ornaments Rubrics of 1662."

19th Century

It was not till the 1900's that anyone even thought to try and bring back the obsolete vestments on the basis of the rubric.  In doing so they immediately found themselves in court and the truth of the rubric subject to scrutiny.

The most significant court ruling, and the definitive one, was that of the Folkestone Ritual Case 1878. This court case ruled that:
-        The rubric is subordinate to the full Act of Uniformity from which it is a quotation. The 1559 Act of Uniformity, as part of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, was still law.
-        What matters is whether "other order" was taken as promised in the Act of Uniformity.
-        "Other order" was taken in 1566 with the Advertisements.
-        "The authority of Parliament in the second year of King Edward the Sixth" excludes anything prior to 1549 and anything not explicitly prescribed in 1549 (which is besides the point given the above but interesting nonetheless and clearly rules out vast swathes of Roman ritualistic dress, utensils, and ornamentation which are commonly seen in Anglo-Catholic Churches today.)

Where does this fascinating history leave us? 

-        The 1559 Prayer Book was simply the restoration of the 1552 and the ornaments rubric in it was illegal. The Act of Uniformity, to which the rubric was a poor paraphrase, said that such vestments were not to be destroyed and "other order" would be shortly given.

-        The 1559 Injunctions demanded the defacing and destruction of all vestments (or their confiscation to sell and help alleviate public debt)  so clearly they were not intended to be used (see also Sandys gloss) and official further instruction was given in 1566 which enforced the use of the surplice at all services.

-        The official 1662 Prayer Book has the Act of Uniformity as the first item on the list of contents. The illegal rubric was replaced by an exact quotation from the act but did not include the note of "other order" because it was already taken and enforced by state law and the restored 1604 canons.  Given this context the ornaments rubric of 1662 does not allow the vestments and ornaments of 1549.

-        All persons involved in the 1662 revision and every bishop we know at the time demanded surplice only and recognised not only canon law and the 1566 Advertisements (the "other order promised) but also the injunctions and of Elizabeth.

-        At no point from 1552 onwards was it ever seriously considered or even imagined that the 1549 Vestments were to be used or even that their use was legal and possible.  That is until the 1800's at which point the courts ruled that such vestments were not legal and had never been since at least 1566 - but were clearly not used or countenanced from 1559 onwards given the Injunctions.

-    The dress of the Anglican minister from 1552 onwards was distinctive and Reformed. It taught that the minister was to be learned and his primary role was to proclaim the gospel, teach the Scriptures, and rebuke error. To this end the tippet and hood alongside academic square cap were required of ministers at all times of their ministry whilst the surplice, a non-sacerdotal and not even uniquely clerical garment, was worn to distinguish the minister at times of service. During sermons the academic gown was to be worn instead of the surplice though to emphasise the nature of teaching. For more on the distinctive dress of Anglican ministers and its importance see:

A little faithfulness: Anglican robes and heritage

A Plea for Anglican Distinctives

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