"Amongst the Latins the chasuble has degenerated in another direction. Weary of its weight upon the arms, and solicitous for convenience rather than for dignity, the sacred ministers began by degrees to cut it away at both sides, and to shorten it. It still, however, fell below the elbow, and both behind and in front ended in a point, so as in some sort to resemble the appearance which it formerly had when gathered up on the priests’ arms during the sacrifice. At the present day, however, we see chasubles, contrary to due dignity, so cut away that they hardly fall beyond the shoulders on either side and so shortened as to reach scarcely below the knees” (Part 1, cap. ix).
"The chasuble, which, from its ample width, is also called planeta, should be a little more than three cubits wide; so that, when thrown over the shoulders, it may have a fold of at least one palm beyond the shoulder. In length it should be an equal number of cubits; and sometimes it is made somewhat longer, so as to reach almost to the ankle."
"The Roman chasuble [for the Acts of the Church of Milan describe the Ambrosian] is about two cubits wide, and about three cubits long." The bishop held himself justified in following either of these rules; that of Gavantus, because it describes the Roman usage, introduced and maintained under the eye of ecclesiastical authority; that of St. Charles, because the Acts of the Church of Milan were approved by the Holy See. Hence this form of chasuble, he contends, rests on the approbation of the Roman Church--an approbation which holds good for Germany and other western countries, because, when the approbation was given, this chasuble was used in those countries. Such is briefly the case for Gothic vestments, as stated by their ardent and able advocate, the Bishop of Münster.
Turning to the Report of the Master of Apostolic Ceremonies to the Sacred Congregation, we may remark at once that throughout it is uncompromisingly hostile to the bishop's contention. Mgr. Corazza opens his reply with an effective argumentum ad hominem. If the cutting down of the chasuble from its primitive fulness deserves such stern reprobation, surely the censure ought not to be restricted to the least guilty of the offenders. The bishop's strokes should fall heaviest on the backs of those who began this evil course, and who pursued it most extensively. But these were precisely the mediævalists. They it was who, "weary of its weight upon their arms, began to cut away [the primitive campana] at both sides, and to shorten it." They introduced a veritable innovation. Modern imitators have done no more than push a little further along the road on which they were the first to set out. Their achievements are trivial compared with what was accomplished by their predecessors, who, in their cutting away, boldly accomplished the whole distance from the ground to the elbow. How inconsiderable, in comparison, is the further curtailment from the elbow to the shoulder!
The bishop, Mgr. Corazza contends, is too sweeping in his charges. All modern vestments are credited with the vices of certain admittedly corrupt examples--examples which are condemned as unsparingly by the advocates of the true Roman tradition as they could be by the most ardent "lover of Christian antiquity." The mediæval chasuble is not the only alternative for the vestment which "scarcely covers the shoulders, hangs like two narrow inflexible boards, and presents the appearance of a mere scapular, or rather of a fiddle." The genuine Roman chasuble is free from all these blemishes; and hence the rejection of them does not necessarily imply a return to the mediæval form.
Another account of the bishop's indictment--that the change from the mediæval to the modern form of vestment was effected without the sanction of the Church--is thus met: Was the change, which is said to have taken place in the sixteenth century, without legitimate ecclesiastical authority? If it was, it may be remarked, in passing, it has inherited a defect of its parent, the Gothic vestment. It has neither more nor less ecclesiastical authority for abandoning the mediæval, than the mediæval had for abandoning the primitive form. Mgr. Corazza freely admits that he has not come across any law expressly sanctioning the transition; but it does not follow that it came about without ecclesiastical authority. Even though no positive law exists, there may have been an oral permission, or at least a tacit consent, which amounted to approbation. Certainly, the Roman Pontiffs could not have been ignorant of this curtailment, when it is mentioned as a matter of course by all modern authors on liturgical matters. They do not censure it as unwarranted; but mention the reasonable grounds on which it was introduced. Cardinal Bona, for instance, after describing the primitive campana, adds:--
"The Latins, however, to avoid the inconvenience arising from the width and fulness [of this vestment], covering, as it did, the whole body and arms, began, by degrees, to cut away the sides, until it was reduced to the form which we use at the present day. But because formerly the chasuble enveloped the priest entirely, the ministers used to lift it when he elevated the Host and chalice; a practice which, formerly necessary, has been retained, though the reason for it has ceased to exist."
Is it conceivable that the Roman Pontiffs could have been ignorant of what was going on, or that they could not, if they had been so minded, have put a stop to the alleged abuse? At every ecclesiastical function at which they were presented, they witnessed the use of these vestments--nay, more, whenever they celebrated, either privately or publicly, they used them themselves; yet no Pontiff is alleged to have decreed that the use of the more ancient and ample chasuble was to be restored in the Latin Church. Does not all this amount to tacit approbation?
But, even if it be granted that there was no law--no consent either explicitly or tacit-- and that the authors of the change were wholly inexcusable; yet, in course of time, custom and prescription began to have the force of law. "Prescription," jurists declare, "by continued possession for the time, and in the manner defined by law, implies not only a true acquisition of the ownership of another's property, but also the extinction of another's right." The same is true of custom, provided it be not condemned by law, and repugnant to reason and to morals. Benedict XIV (de Syn. dioc., lib. 9, cap. 9, § 7) affirms that a long-standing custom, tolerated by the Church, acquires the force of law. Referring (lib. ii., cap. 3, § 1) to the introduction of novelties, he says:--
"The bishop acts imprudently who attempts to introduce into his diocese practices never received, or which, for some reasonable cause, have afterwards become obsolete; especially in such matters as may undergo change without injury to the Church, or prejudice to good morals."
The Roman chasuble, then, by a prescription of at least four centuries, by a custom uninterrupted, uncondemned, not unreasonable nor repugnant to good morals, has acquired the force of law, and, by continued possession, has dispossessed its predecessor.
The Bishop of Münster appeals also to the words of the Ceremonial of Bishops: "The chasuble should be diligently fitted and folded on the bishop's arms, that it may not impede him," as implying the use of the ancient ample form; and hence he claims for that form the sanction of Benedict XIV, by whose orders the last edition of the Ceremonial was published. But it is quite certain that the chasuble used in the time of this illustrious pope, was not the ancient ample one. From Gavantus, who wrote at the end of the sixteenth century, we learn that the Roman chasuble was then only two cubits wide. It cannot then, during the pontificate of Benedict XIV, a century and a-half later (1740-58), have been the ancient ample one. Elsewhere the pope himself writes: 'While the chasuble retained its ancient form, the priest used to put on the maniple after the Confiteor (it was then gathered up on the arms), a practice which bishops retain even now that the form of the chasuble has been changed." And the Ceremonial itself (lib. i, cap. 8, num. 3), while directing the assistant deacons to raise the borders of the cope when the bishop uses one or both hands for any ceremony, adds: "When he is celebrating Mass, because he is using the chasuble and not the cope, it is necessary to raise the borders." It is clear, then, both from the parallel passage of the Ceremonial, and from the writings of Benedict XIV., that the chasuble recognised by these authorities was not the primitive form. Why, then, were these words retained? Probably as an allusion to ancient practices, and as a sort of connecting link between an obsolete and the existing usage. In any case they give no sanction to the Gothic vestment, which being open and cut away at the sides, hardly admits of being "diligently fitted and folded on the arms."
As regards the argument from the Acts of the Church of Milan, it is enough to say that St. Charles was legislating and his laws were approved, simply and solely for that Church, and for those using the Ambrosian rite. Other Churches of the Latin rite are no more entitled to follow the usage of Milan, than to use the vestments and rites of the United Greeks, which have equally been approved by the Holy See for them.
To make his meaning more intelligible to the Sacred Congregation, the Bishop of Münster appended to his dissertation four coloured sketches of the various vestments referred to during the course of it. Two of these he describes as the extremes, viz., the primitive campana, and the modern fiddle-pattern. Between these extremes he has, he states, selected two means, the chasuble as prescribed by St. Charles and Gavantus, and for some ten years (since 1859) has sanctioned the use of them indifferently in his diocese. From this statement it would naturally be supposed that the chasubles which the bishop had permitted to be used were really those of St. Charles and Gavantus. It is clear from the sketches that they are not. They are Gothic vestments pure and simple. From St. Charles he has borrowed the width of three cubits, because it happens to correspond with the mediæval type; from Gavantus he takes absolutely nothing. His sketch has nothing in common with the prescriptions of Gavantus, neither width, nor shape, nor ornament. Passing over other discrepancies, the sketch supposed to be in harmony with the directions of Gavantus, shows a large cross on the back of the chasuble it represents; whereas that author, immediately after the words cited by the bishop, says: "the lace which is sowed on the chasuble, so as to represent a pillar at the back and a cross on the breast, should be at least eight inches apart." And elsewhere he writes: "Whereas formerly there was a cross on the back, there is now a pillar, the recent usage referring to the Lord's Passion, as though the priest were between the pillar and the cross." (Part ii., tit. i., num. 4).
It is worthy of notice that the coloured sketches, to which reference has been made, show two entirely distinct types of Gothic chasubles. One has a large cross on the back and a pillar in front; while the other, which is a much more ample one, has lines of lace embroidery extending downwards from the collar to the hem, both in front and on the back. These lines are intersected by similar diagonal lines from the shoulders, presenting somewhat the appearance of a pallium. From the fact that a figure, holding a crozier and wearing a mitre (totally unlike, our author remarks in passing, that which is recognized by the Roman Church), is clad in this vestment, Mgr. Corazza suspected that it was intended for the use of bishops in Pontifical functions: and such proved to be the case. During his tour in France and Germany he found that two distinct types of Gothic chasubles were used; one for Low Masses, the other for Pontifical or even High Masses, sung by simple priests. This usage, he contends, is entirely without warrant from any of the liturgical authorities of the Roman rite.
Of the argument in favour of the Gothic chasuble, sought to be drawn from the writings of the Master of the Apostolic Ceremonies, Giovanni Fornici, Mgr. Corazza disposes thus. Treating of the various sacred vestments this author comes to the chasuble, and after describing the primitive campana “closed on every side, entirely round, and having no opening,” he mentions that vestments of this form are still used by the Greeks. “But,” he continues, “among the Latins the chasuble has degenerated in an opposite direction. Weary of its weight upon their arms, and concerned more for convenience than for dignity, the sacred ministers began little by little to cut it away at the sides, and to shorten it.” Fornici here censures two vices: the chasuble had degenerated from the primitive campana, and this was the work of the ministers of the altar for their own convenience. But, surely, if these things are worthy of censure, the blame should fall primarily and specially upon those who first grew weary, and began to rob the chasuble of its fulness. Benedict XIV and Cardinal Bona affirm that this process dates as far back as the tenth century, and the Bishop of Münster himself, who seeks to attribute these defects exclusively to the modern chasuble, denies it a greater dignity than the sixteenth century. If Fornici’s further strictures on the modern chasuble are to be understood as applying to certain corrupt examples, especially of the French type, then we agree with him in visiting an abuse with well-merited condemnation. If, on the other hand, his words are intended to refer to the genuine and recognised Roman chasuble, then he is expressing a private opinion, which may be taken for what it is worth. As Master of Apostolic Ceremonies he cannot have been unaware that this vestment is used universally in the Roman Church, not only by the cardinals, but by the Sovereign Pontiff himself; and when he asserts that “it is deficient in due dignity,” we venture to reply that he is wanting in due reverence for the Sovereign Pontiff, and for the Roman Church which has admitted this form of vestment, and used it uninterruptedly for four centuries.
The arguments on which the advocates of the mediæval form of the vestment rely are mainly these:-- Its antiquity, its symbolism, its æsthetic excellence, its “irenic” tendency. If zeal for antiquity means an anxiety for the better observance of the existing laws of the Church; for the return to customs which are falling into disuse; for the religious carrying out of sacred rites; in a word, for a restoration such as St. Charles Borromeo laboured so sedulously to effect in the Church of Milan, it is a zeal worthy of all praise. As Benedict XIV. says, “a bishop acts prudently in labouring for the restoration in his diocese of primitive discipline, which abuses have impaired.” But if it means an attempt to restore usages which for many centuries have been everywhere discontinued, and in the place of which new and legitimate customs have sprung up, the Roman Church, not merely tacitly, but by its practice actually approving—and this without any necessity, or utility, other than the gratification of the taste of certain individuals—this cannot be commended. As the same Pontiff declares:-- “He acts imprudently who attempts to introduce into his diocese practices, either never received, or which for some reasonable cause have become obsolete, especially in matters in which a change may occur without loss to the Church, or prejudice to good morals.”
The appeal to antiquity against the prevailing usage of the Church, it cannot be too constantly borne in mind, is the heretic’s favourite device, and is fraught with danger. As Father Faber has admirably said:--
“The very essence of heresy and schism is constantly found in the disobedient and antiquarian worship of some pet past age of the Church, in contradistinction to the present age, in which a man’s duties lies, and where in the spirit and vigour of the living Church are in active and majestic energy. The Church of a heretic is in books or on paper; it may be the Apostolic age, or the Nicene age, or the eighth century, or the thirteenth, or the fifteenth, or among the Paulicians on the banks of the Danube, or the Albigenses of fair Toulouse. A Catholic, on the contrary, belongs to the divine, living acting, speaking, controlling, Church, and recognises nothing in past ages beyond an edifying and instructive record of a dispensation very beautiful and fit for its day, but under which God has not cast His lot, and, which, therefore, he has no business to meddle with, or endeavour to recall… To enthrone a past age in our affections above the one which God has given us in His Church, is, implicitly at least, to adopt the formula of heresy and schism. To do so explicitly is incompatible with orthodox belief, as well as with true Catholic obedience… A cheerful, reverent, submissive, admiring loyalty to the present epoch of the Church, and to the Rome of to-day—this is the health, and sinew, and heart of the real Catholic”—Spirit and Genius of St. Philip, pp. 40-42.
From the words of the Pontifical it is clear that the chasuble is a symbol of charity. In the rite of ordination the bishop says to the candidate: “Receive the priestly garment, by which is signified charity, for God is able to increase thy charity and [to make it] a perfect work.” Pope Innocent III, in his treatise on the Mass, says: “The fullness of the chasuble signifies the fullness of charity, which is extended even to our enemies;" and Durandus, explaining that the chasuble symbolizes charity, chiefly on account of the fullness and width of its ancient form, which, “cuncta planat et alia omnia indumenta intra se claudit et continet, sicut charitas operit multitudinem peccatorum, et omnia legis et prophetarum mandata continet.” Hence, it is argued, the chasuble is more in accordance with the mind and spirit of the Church, and more accurately expresses her meaning, the nearer it approaches to the primitive form in fullness and breadth.
That the chasuble signifies charity we do not attempt to question. But this is not its only meaning. Towards the end of the ordination, after conferring on the newly-ordained priest the power of forgiving sins, the bishop lets down the chasuble, which till them has been folded upon the priest’s shoulders, saying: “May our Lord clothe thee with the robe of innocence.” And if it should ever happen that a priest has to be degraded from his sacred office, taking the chasuble off him, the bishop says: “Justly do we strip thee of thy priestly garment, signifying charity, for thou hast put off both it and all innocence.” Similarly, when putting on the chasuble for Mass, the priest says: “O Lord who hast said my yoke is sweet and my burthen light, make me this so to bear that I may obtain Thy grace.” These meanings of innocence, and the yoke of our Lord, do not seem to depend on the ancient form or amplitude of the chasuble. Durandus, moreover, attributes the symbolism of charity not only to the fullness of the chasuble, but also to the fact that it is just over all the other vestments, and covers them, and, when the arms are extended, is divided into two parts, typifying the two arms of charity, love of God and of our neighbour. That the signification of charity is not restricted to the length and breadth of the chasuble is further indicated by the right of ordination. When the bishop is investing the priest with the chasuble, and declaring it to be a symbol of charity, the vestment is, in accordance with the direction of the rubric, “gathered up upon the shoulders.” But, when on the other hand, towards the end of the ceremonies, he unfolds it and lets it down, he designates it “the robe of innocence.”
But, even granting that the signification of charity was originally connected with the fullness of the primitive sacred vestment, what is there to prevent its having been transmitted through the less ample form of the Middle Ages to the vestment of the present day? The various rites of the Church have each their own mystical meaning. In the course of ages they undergo some variation which does not necessarily involve the loss of that meaning. Originally the biretta was not used. The priest covered his head with the amice, which he put down on his shoulders when beginning Mass, as the Mendicant orders still do. In ordaining him, the bishop puts the amice on the head of the sub-deacon, and afterwards lowers it on to his shoulders. The only vestige of the ancient practice which survives at the present day is contained in the fact that the priest “taking the amice, kisses it, and puts it on his head, and straightway lowers it on to his neck, saying, ‘Put, O Lord, upon my head the helmet of salvation, &c.” Thus, the rite has been so changed that scarcely a trace of its primitive form remains, and yet it retains its ancient signification, and the same form of words is used. Referring to some strictures of Langlet, Archbishop of Sens, upon an objection raised by a writer named de Vert, to the effect that the chasuble, which was formerly round and fell to the feet, signified charity, which, as St. Peter says, covers a multitude of sins, but now that its form has changed, can no longer be a symbol of that virtue. Benedict XIV. says:--
“This reasoning, certainly deserving of the note of irreverence, the good Archbishop rightly protests against and disposes of, showing that the symbolism does not depend upon the shape of the vestment, and that one who knowing the Church to attribute this meaning to it, however much it may be changed, ventures to deny to it this signification, merits the censure of rashness.”
A third consideration upon which the mediævalists insist is the superiority of the Gothic over the modern chasuble from an esthetic point of view. “All artists and sculptors,” writes the Bishop of Münster, “without exception, are unanimous in the opinion that the chasuble, as used in the cis-alpine countries for some centuries, especially since the end of the last century, has lost all artistic beauty, and that a saint represented in this modern chasuble would be an impossible subject for a painter or sculptor.” This may possible be true. But, granting that it is so, is the artist’s point of view the matter of primary importance in a question of sacred rites? The Church determines the vestments to be worn by her ministers from the point of view of their suitableness to the functions for which they are used, rather than with an eye to appearance and effect. She has allowed them to undergo modifications, but she may be safely trusted to take care that they shall not become unsuitable to the purposes for which they are intended.
If the artistic censure is directed against “modern vestments” of the most recent French type, we have not a word of defence to offer; but if it includes the genuine Roman pattern, we must beg leave to enter into a protest. In proof, the artistic treatment of which the Roman chasuble is capable, one may safely appeal to the many masterpieces to be seen in the Eternal City alone; for example, the statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola at the Jesu, the painting of St. Philip Neri, by Guido Reni, or of St. Andrew Avellino, by Lanfranco. But this is a matter of taste, about which it is useless to dispute.
To what is called the “irenic argument,” in favour of Gothic vestments, unquestionably great weight should be given, if it could be sustained. “The reunion of the schismatical churches,” writes the Bishop of Münster, “with the centre of religious unity, and the return of heretical sects to a knowledge of Catholic truth, is keenly interesting the minds of all enlightened men, and in all Christian countries pious societies are being formed to hasten by prayer the day of this return.”
The use of Gothic vestments, it is contended, would go far to bring about this reunion in England, in Germany, in Sweden, and in Norway, and with the schismatics of Greece and Russia, whose chief grievance is the Church’s alleged departure from ancient usages and introduction of novelties.
“Anglicans, for instance,” the bishop continues, “see in their once Catholic cathedrals pictures and statues representing bishops and priests vested in the ancient ample chasuble. If they saw our bishops and priests at the present day celebrating in vestments of the same kind, they would readily conclude that they are the true successors of the bishops and priests of past ages, and belong to the same Church. But, on the contrary, if they see them celebrating the holy sacrifice in the modern chasuble, so different from the ancient one, they will be more disposed to believe that they belong to that modern Catholic Church of which heretics so often speak in order to mislead the unwary.” But surely, Mgr. Corazza argues, the cause is altogether inadequate to the effect attributed to it. Is it to be disposed that what learned writers, saintly preachers, sovereign pontiffs, and œcumenical councils have laboured in vain to effect, is to be at once brought about by the magic of the Gothic vestment! Learned Protestants have done their best to persuade the unlearned that a new Catholicism was introduced by the Council of Trent, but we have never heard them allege the altered form of our vestments as a proof of this. Many heretics have at various times made their submission to the Church, and some few Catholics have fallen away. Has it ever occurred to anyone to suppose that these changes of faith and of allegiance have been brought about by the shape of our vestments?
But assuming that heretics and schismatics regard this matter of vestments as one of great importance, and that they demand the resumption of the mediæval chasuble as a sine qua non condition of their submission to the Church; it does not follow that the Church would act wisely in yielding the point. Experience goes to show that such demands commonly cloak some much more deep-seated cause of disaffection, and that the yielding of them is productive of greater mischief. In the first ages the faithful receive Communion under both kinds. In course of time, for grave and just reasons, the practice of administering it under one kind came into use, and was everywhere adopted. At the beginning of the fifteenth century John Huss and Jerome of Prague branded this practice as contrary to the institution of Christ, and demanded the chalice as a right for the laity and non-celebrating clergy. The Council of Constance enacted that Communion under the form of bread alone, hitherto a custom, was henceforth to be the law; and it condemned all who attacked this practice. Yet even after this formal decision the Church was ready to yield the point for the sake of peace.
“The Church has ever intended [says Benedict XIV] (by her prohibition of Communion under both kinds) to safeguard the most precious blood of Jesus Christ from all danger of irreverence. Concessions and dispensations, which have been granted with the hope of recalling estranged nations to Catholic unity, have either remained inoperative, or have not produced the desired effect. For unhappily it has always become apparent that these nations have alleged the denial of the chalice to cover the true cause of their schism, or have demanded it because they did not believe that Christ was truly and entirely present under either kind, or that Communion under the form of bread alone was sufficient for salvation… Many at the time of the Council of Trent were persuaded that those who were separated from the Roman Church would return to unity if the use of the chalice were granted to them.”
Accordingly, after the Council, with a hope of this reunion, Pius IV made this concession, at the instance of several influential ecclesiastics. What was the result? Benedict XIV tells us:--
“It was constantly rumoured that, in consequence of this concession, two-thirds of the Lutherans had returned to the Church from which they had gone astray; but as in course of time this was seen to be false, and the Roman Pontiffs were made aware of daily occurring scandals, the indult of Pius IV was revoked, first by St. Pius V and then by Gregory XIV.”
The demand of the liturgy in the vernacular is another case in point. The Church’s law, forbidding the services to be read in the vernacular tongue, was declared to be “destructive of the unity of the Church and of the piety of the faithful;” and its abrogation was demanded in the interest of peace and union. The Council of Trent was not deceived by this pretext. It declared “that it has not seemed expedient to the Fathers that the Mass should be everywhere celebrated in the vulgar tongue.” Mgr. Corazza ends his dissertation with the following recommendation:--
That the Sacred Congregation of Rites, by an encyclical letter, addressed to all Apostolic Nuncios, and other representatives of the Holy See, should admonish Bishops to entirely abolish, in whatever way seems to them expedient, the new and recently introduced chasubles referred to in the letters of the Most Reverent Bishop of Münster, of June 10th, 1859; and to seriously endeavour to conform to the Roman Church, the mother and mistress of all Churches; and that each of them shall take steps that neither these [Gothic vestments] nor any other shape shall be introduced under any pretext or colour whatever, into the diocese committed to his care. And that the aforesaid Apostolic Nuncios and representatives shall sedulously attend to the carrying out of this Decree, and shall report upon it.”
The learned prelate’s arguments will be variously appreciated by different readers; but that the Sacred Congregation of Rites considered them to be of weight, may be inferred from the fact that it issued a circular substantially embodying his recommendations.