We fear that many others besides this young man do not look at this question in the light of Luther and our Confessions. Hence a statement of the position of our Church on this question of the official dress for our clergy may be both profitable and interesting. The Apology (Art. 24, Mueller p. 248) speaks of "the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments and other like things." (Jacobs). In his "Formula Missae" of 1523, Luther states his position thus: "We have said nothing of vestments; but concerning them we hold as we do concerning other similar outward usages. We permit the free use of the same, yet pomp and excess should be avoided. For you are not more pleasing to God, if in priestly garments, or less pleasing, without such garments, you administer the sacrament; for garments do not advance us in God's favor. I also very much wish that for the future they be neither consecrated or blessed as if they were henceforth to be more holy than other clothes; unless one desired to use a common blessing whereby every good creature of God is to be hallowed by the Word of God and by prayer, as the Scriptures teach 1 Tim 4:4-5; otherwise it is pure superstition and an ungodly work, introduced by the Baal-bishops of the greatest and last abomination in the Church." Luther Vol X, 2246.Imagine that. The first 80% of Steffens' piece chronicles the place and Lutheran-ness of the richer vestments (alb, chasuble, stole, etc.) and then just when you would expect him to hit home for the restoration of what was clearly Lutheran, he backs away. We do not favor restoration of the historic vestments. Ugh. But it gets worse. Why not? Because Gorgeous ceremonial is entirely foreign to the spirit and worship of our Church. This applies to vestments as to everything else. This from the Church of Bach? This from the Church with Cranach altar pieces? This from the Church that insisted we are catholic not only doctrine but also in practice? But we still struggle with this today. More than a hundred years have passed and still we have people who think the Amish principle applies best to Lutheran worship -- plain liturgy, plain vestments (if at all), plain churches, plain music, and plain teaching.
Again, in his Commentary on Genesis, speaking of Gen 35:2, he says: "This third portion concerning the changing of garments is simply an external thing and pertains to ceremonies; put off your unclean garments and also adorn yourselves with outward ornaments. For such ceremonies, although they make no man righteous, are nevertheless necessary. For in outward ceremonies, manners and customs reverence must also be observed, so that we decently and reverently come together at the place where the Word is taught, when we pray and call upon God and where divine service is held... They that despise and neglect these things thereby show, that they have no faith and that they despise God and His Church. For in church where we assemble for divine service we should not behave as in a tavern; there earnestness and real propriety is needful." Vol. II. p. 914
Luther tells us how he applied these principles in practice, eg., in the Wittenberg Church when he says: "In the convent we had mass without the chasuble, and without elevation in the most simple manner, which Carlstadt commends as being after the example of Christ. On the other hand, in the parish we still have the chasuble, the alb, the altar, the elevation of the host, as long as it shall please us." (Wider die himmlischen Propheten, 1525, Erl. Ed. Vol. 29 p. 191). We know that Luther in 1524 laid aside the black robe of the Augustinian order and preached in the ordinary black cassock usually worn in his time by university men. His monk's gown, he says, was worn out and his friend Schurf had promised him a new one. The Elector Frederick, however, presented him with a piece of fine black broadcloth which he was to have made either into a gown or a coat. The cloth, so he tells us, happened to become a coat or cassock instead of a monk's gown. This black frock coat (for it was nothing else) which in those days reached to the ankles thus became the official dress of the Lutheran clergy and was worn not only in church, but on the street as well. Since the people were accustomed to see the Dominican and Augustinian monks preach in the black robes of these orders, the adoption of a black gown or cassock as their dress by the preachers of the Reformation provoked little or no remark.
Besides the gown or cassock they also wore in church and at the altar the alb, a white linen garment with wide sleeves and reaching to the knees. The Germans called it a Chorhemd even as they call the gown a Chorrock. This use of the alb or surplice which the Lutheran Church thus adopted from the ancient Church, where it was considered a symbol of peace and purity, was retained until the vandalism of the rationalists abolished it in the eighteenth century from the German Lutheran Church. The Norwegians, the Danes and the Finns still quite commonly use it. Lochner says that it is still used here and there in Thuringia and Wuerttemberg, and by a few German Churches in Texas. We have never seen it used in a German Church but we have seen it in Norwegian and Danish Churches. We saw also a red chasuble worn in a Danish Church. It is a sleeveless cape-like garment, ornamented with an embroidered cross in the back and is worn hanging loosely over the shoulders. It formerly was quite commonly used in Saxony, Braunschweig, and the Brandenburg-Nurnberg territory, as well as in Scandinavia. Lochner states that it was used in Nurnberg as late as I790.
From the above it is plain that the only garments which can in any wise be counted as belonging to the official dress of the Lutheran clergy are the cassock or gown, the alb, and the chasuble or "Casel," as Luther calls it. To these we might add the ruff or fluted linen collar worn by the Norwegians and Danes, and the linen bands worn by the Germans and Swedes. Both ruff and bands were originally secular garments, like the gowns or cassock, and were very generally worn in the 16th and 17th centuries. Capes, stoles, and other vestments used in the Romish Church were never adopted by the Lutheran.
It is thus quite apparent that the two articles of official dress commonly used in the Lutheran Church today, the black gown and the white linen bands or ruff, are strictly secular in origin. But, for that matter, so were the alb and chasuble. The former is the ancient tunica or dalmatica; the other the mantle or cloak commonly worn over the tunica in the second and third centuries.
Nevertheless the gown and bands have by the changing fashions of men's ordinary apparel become as much a distinctive ecclesiastical garb today as the tunica and mantle, once commonly worn by all men, had become, in the form of alb and chasuble, a distinctive ecclesiastical garb before the time of Constantine. Indeed, Constantine himself is said to have given a rich vestment embroidered with gold to Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, to be worn by him when he celebrated the service of Baptism. St. Jerome often mentions a distinction of habits as generally observed in his day.
We, however, would not favor any attempt to restore the use of the alb and chasuble in our Church. Much as we deplore the success of rationalism in abolishing them, they have so completely passed out of use in the Lutheran Church, that their mere mention as having once been generally used by our clergy comes to us as a matter of surprise; and we fail to see how anything might be gained by their reintroduction. Most of our people, we fear, would consider such an attempt a weak effort to imitate the ritualistic wing of the Anglican Church, and resent it accordingly. Gorgeous ceremonial is entirely foreign to the spirit and worship of our Church. This applies to vestments as to everything else. And we feel that every legitimate purpose of an ecclesiastical vestment is fully served by the simple black gown and bands. We do not mean the open front barrister's gown, but the gown sanctioned by general usage in our Church. Nor do we look with favor upon the laying aside of the bands. In the minds of our people, gown and bands belong together. Why offend them with these innovations? The black gown and bands are more distinctive of the Lutheran clergy today than alb and chasuble would be. So let us therewith be content.
D.H. Steffens, July 3, 1902.
What was remarkable in 1902 is that we knew these things WERE Lutheran (beauty, ceremony, ritual, etc.) but we feared we had been without them for so long that they were now foreign to our identity and alien to our churches. It is no wonder that we Lutherans have so quickly adopted evangelical and Protestant practices that are at odds with our confessional identity. When we cannot recover the ceremonial, we have already surrendered the faith it signed and demonstrated. We cannot recover the faith without also recovering the ceremony, beauty, and ritual that give visual image and shape to what we confess with out lips. When will we get this? It is not about beauty for beauty's sake but beauty which reflects the beauty of Christ and His Gospel, the means of grace that deliver Him and His gifts to us, and the life that is transformed in the blessed encounter with the grace that forgives sins, bestows new identity to what was broken and lost, and gives life to what was dead. We won't get anywhere by surrendering beauty in pursuit of purity. They go together and one cannot be found without the other. Right faith is always accompanied by right worship and right worship always strengthens right faith. Lutherans, be who you are (and if that is foreign to you, strive to be who you claim you are in your Confessions). Such a faith will never die.