Would Jesus wear a mitre? - A plea for simplicity, humility and relevance.
- Written by: Peter Corney
By Peter Corney
When I was ordained in 1963/4 at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral Melbourne there wasn’t a mitre in sight. Archbishop Frank Woods was the presiding Bishop. In fact mitre’s and copes did not appear regularly in St Paul’s until Bob Dann became Archbishop (1977 – 83) although Frank Woods, in spite of opposition from within the Cathedral Chapter, did wear them on occasions. This was a novelty for Melbourne because of its evangelical origins with Bishop Perry.
Melbourne followed the traditions of the reformation settlement in the Church of England as it had come to be expressed in England for over 400 years, the tradition of simplicity of vesture for the clergy and bishops.
The courtly trappings of the medieval church were left behind. The episcopal mitres (crowns), the richly embroidered robes of satin, the regal purple, the bejewelled accoutrements of the mediaeval royal court were seen to be inconsistent with the Gospel. They did not sit well with Jesus of Nazareth, suffering servant and friend of the poor. They seemed incongruous with his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Nor did they fit with the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone and not by works. There was no place here for human pride, pomp and ceremony.
Even the architecture of the Gothic church, modelled as it was on the medieval court with its ascending steps to the elevated throne - from knave to chancel to sanctuary and altar, and the separation of clergy from the laity which it reinforced - was modified, reflecting the reformed theology. Altars were removed and Holy Tables introduced and moved down to the chancel area where the people gathered around them to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. New churches were built with a more rectangular shape as auditory buildings for the hearing of the Word: Christopher Wren was the great designer of these (1632-1723). Central aisles, long chancels and raised sanctuaries’ were eliminated and rood screens that secluded the sanctuary abandoned. Many of the London churches built after the reformation like St Martin-in-the-Fields, St James’ Piccadilly and All Souls’ Langham Place clearly reflect this change. It was only after the Gothic revival and the influence of the Oxford/Tractarian movement in the second half of the nineteenth century that many churches built from then on moved back to the pre-Reformed semi-Gothic pattern. Centre aisles returned to give focus to the sanctuary and priestly activity. (1)
Sadly the mitres and richly embroidered robes have drifted back in to many Australian Anglican dioceses. Because they often appear in Cathedrals at significant events they usually get the photo shot in the press! This is unfortunate, the symbolism is confusing and bemusing for those both outside and inside the church. Confusing for it sits so badly with Jesus and the Gospel and bemusing because it is so arcane and irrelevant and not understood. They are seen as the trappings, the pomp and ceremony of “religion”, things that have frequently been the enemy of real and vital Christian faith.
One of my favorite stories from church history concerns John Huss the Czech reformer (1372 - 1415). Huss was a gifted preacher and drew large crowds including many students to Bethlehem Chapel near the University of Prague. Huss, influenced by the writings of Wycliffe, called for reform in the church and set forth the Scriptures as the primary authority. He was also very critical of the corruption and extravagance of the Papal court at Rome at the time. He drove home his point in dramatic fashion with a wonderful visual aid. He had two contrasting pictures painted on the walls of the chapel; one of Jesus dressed as a simple peasant, the humble servant washing his disciples feet; the other of a haughty Pope with his triple-tiered crown, dressed in all his regal splendor riding on a horse. This became the backdrop to Huss’s challenging preaching. The message was clear to the crowds and the irony was made all the more pointed by being in a chapel named after the humble birth place of the Saviour. This was not popular in Rome! Eventually Huss was arrested and burnt at the stake. But he lit a fire that continued to burn in Bohemia, influencing Luther and other reformers and also the development of the German Moravian Church and missionary movement.
The origins of the mitre
The origins of the mitre are not entirely clear but it seems that in the Western church it may have developed from a cap worn in imperial times by Roman secular officials on certain occasions. The papal tiara or triple crowned hat seems to have developed from this. In the East the mitre derives from a cap used in the imperial Byzantine court. In the later empire it developed into a closed type of crown used by the emperors. It was taken over by Eastern Orthodox bishops after the fall of Constantinople. In Armenian Orthodoxy it is said to symbolize the sovereignty of Christ. In the Western church the first mention of a bishop wearing a mitre is not found till the eleventh century, although reference to the papal tiara is found as early as the eighth century.
Up to the eighth century in the West there was no distinctive clerical dress worn in or outside the church by the clergy. They wore the ordinary street dress of the day. (2) It was very important to distinguish themselves from the pagan priests and rituals of the times. Dom Gregory Dix in his authoritative work The Shape of the Liturgy quotes Celestine 1, bishop of Rome in 425 rebuking the churches in Gaul for introducing for clergy the scarf or pallium at the Lord’s Supper. This was commonly worn in Roman society by consuls, magistrates and others as a sign of office. He chides them for their hubris in these words: “We bishops must be distinguished from the people and others by our learning not by our dress, by our life not by our robes, by purity of heart not by elegance.”(3)
The present shield shaped cap with the two fringed lappets became widely used in the medieval church. It was reintroduced after the Reformation into Anglicanism by the Oxford/Tractarian movement in the nineteenth century along with the recovery of other pre-Reformation practices. The movement fitted artistically with the romantic Gothic revival in England at the time. The Cambden Society was formed to furnish and dress the medieval revival. In their attempt to recover a greater sense of holy worship the Tractarians also attempted to make connections between the OT temple cultus and Christian worship. Great attention was paid to the sacred garments described in Exodus 39. It was noted in verses 30-31 that the High Priest wore a kind of turban with a gold plate attached and engraved with the words, “Holiness to YHWH”. Was this not a forerunner of the mitre?! Later enthusiasts developed the notion that the mitre was a symbol of the flame of the Holy Spirit descending on the heads of the disciples’ at Pentecost, although there seems to be no evidence that this idea was an early one in the history of the mitre. Like many religious accoutrements the alleged meaning of the symbolism is often flexible and frequently a subsequent justification. It’s like all the different meanings given to candles in church other than the need for light before the introduction of electricity!
Interestingly in 1963 the reforming Pope Paul VI, who was elected during the now famous Vatican II after the death of John XXII, abandoned the use of the papal tiara (crown) in a dramatic ceremony during the second session of Vatican II as a sign of Christian humility. Previous popes had been crowned with the tiara in a ceremony of regal coronation.
The arguments for the use of the mitre.
Those who have reintroduced the mitre into Anglican services usually appeal on the following grounds:
First, they appeal to continuity with the church tradition. The problem with this argument is - which tradition? That of the medieval church or the reformed church; the post or pre-Constantinian church; the apostolic church and the church of the first eight centuries or the Gothic revival of the late nineteenth century??
Second, they argue from symbolism: ‘the mitre is a helpful visual symbol in public worship’. Various meanings have been attributed over the years, the current one that is popular is that it symbolizes the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, the bishop being a kind of representative figure for the church. Another argument is that it represents the sovereignty of Christ and the authority of the bishop as Christ’s representative. Of course this one emphasizes its origins as a crown, a connection not always readily or comfortably acknowledged by its wearers. The other is that it is simply a distinguishing symbol of the episcopal office.
A third argument is that these things provide theater, color and movement all things that communicate at an alternative or additional level to words. This is a valid point but it does not alter my main concern that the symbols should be appropriate to the subject and my contention is that in present practice they are generally not. Perhaps a simple wooden shepherds crook would be, although most young people today would never have seen one and in fact they were never used on Australian farms. What about an Akubra, a Driza-Bone and a stock whip?
The problem with symbolism is that it is powerful but complicated and culturally affected. Often a symbol will convey different things to different people. To many on the outside the mitre, the embroidered robes, the bejewelled silver crooks and gold crosses will convey power, prestige, wealth, royalty and assumed authority, even arrogance. While these accoutrements may be viewed as works of art the ironic and incongruous symbolism of a shepherd’s crook and a cross made from these materials seems lost on the insider aesthetes! They are certainly powerful symbols but they give the wrong message. They convey a sense of irrelevant pomp and ceremony. Whose side are we seen to be on when we wear and carry these things? To a younger generation today they are associated with a mythical past with bishops looking like Wizards from Lord of the Rings or a Harry Potter story. To others they are just faintly ridiculous and silly. They clearly create a distance between the ordinary every day person and the Christian faith that should represent Jesus the servant saviour. It should also be said that the Armani suits, silk ties and Rolex watches worn by the pastors of some prosperity gospel churches are just as inappropriate and incongruous.
While greatly influenced by its Jewish background the early church clearly separated itself from the cultus of both the Jewish and the Pagan temple and, as we have seen, for at least 700 years there was little or no distinction in dress with those conducting public worship between lay and clergy, they wore the ordinary street dress of the day. (4)
What we wear in church should reflect the one we claim to follow; it should also reflect our missiology and ecclesiology.
Would Jesus wear a Mitre today? I don’t think so. He might wear a hoody or a Collingwood beanie or even a baseball cap but a piece of medieval headgear that made him look like a lost cast member from a Harry Potter movie is most unlikely. As a carpenter Jesus may have cut a few mitres but he would never have worn one! Let’s get back to simplicity, humility and relevance.
Peter Corney is a regular contributor to Essentials, and has discovered the internet in his retirement! More musings from Peter @
RSS feed: http://petercorney.com/?feed=rss2
(1) K. White “Shrines for Saints – how parish churches evolved” 1975 Grove Liturgical No 3 (Grove Books) pages 16 – 17, 23 – 28.
(2) Dom Gregory Dix “The Shape of the Liturgy” 1960 (A&C Black) pages 399-404
(3) Dix page 401
(4) Dix page 404
Further information on the development of the mitre can be found in Dix on pages 405 -407 and “The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church” Ed. by L F Cross 1961. (Oxford Press)
The Back Page
- Written by: Hannah Craven
The Back Page – brought to you by Hannah Craven
“The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.... It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.”
Former United States President Jimmy Carter writing on the reasons for his recent decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Losing my Religion for Equality” was published in The Age, on July 15th and can be accessed here: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/losing-my-religion-for-equality-20090714-dk0v.html
“Commentary from the borderlands between faith and culture.”
Mark Sayers is one of Australia’s leading young Christian thinkers on faith and culture, particularly in the area of youth and young adults ministry. Unassuming, and decidedly ‘real,’ Mark challenges us to see behind the gloss of modern celebrity culture. His blog provides links to interesting and relevant articles, and his own thoughts and reflections. Recent posts include: “Innovative Leadership and dancing alone like an idiot,” “Welcome to your quarter life crisis,” “A theology of Michael Jackson,” and “Bacon + Church = Men.”
Mark co-directs über, a culture specialist organisation that interprets social trends and articulates a fresh way of living the gospel in the 21st century.
Check out: www.uberlife.com.au
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO:
“The Challenge of Climate Change”
Professor David Griggs, Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, gives three keynote addresses at a conference on Climate Change, held at St. Hilary’s Kew in May.
Visit the Audio Page and type “Climate Change” in the Search box in the audio Player.
FEATURE FILM: Harry Potter - the Chosen One?
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
"'People believe you are 'the Chosen one,' you see," said Scrimgeour.
'They think you quite the hero—which, of course, you are, Harry, chosen or not! How many times have you faced He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named now?
Well, anyway,' he pressed on, without waiting for a reply, 'the point is, you are a symbol of hope for many, Harry. The idea that there is somebody out there who might be able, who might even be destined, to destroy He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—well, naturally, it gives people a lift.'"
J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, pp. 344-345
The power of belonging is a recurring theme in the Harry Potter storyline. It builds some people up and destroys other people… The real magic of the Harry Potter series comes not from spells and potions, but from the sustaining friendships of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel | posted 7/14/2009
“What would Jonathan Edwards say about Harry Potter?”
“Edwards would have seen that the essential question of spirituality – What happens when I die? – is a great vacuum that culture is looking to fill. The series also tells us – and this no less important – that if Rowling’s world is expertly reflecting the light our world can shed on these matters, true understanding is at a pretty low level.”
Josh Moody, Christianity Today, July 2009
STUFF CHRISTIANS LIKE:
A cheeky commentary on Christian culture. May occasionally offend, usually a pretty good reality-check!
Stuff Christians Like
#579. Forgiving people who didn't apologize.
We're supposed to forgive people.
That's in the Bible somewhere. I know it is. I mean Jesus says at one point that you should forgive people 7 times 70. As a writer I'm not the greatest at math but even I know that calculates out to about 4,900 times. And forgiving people is great, but sometimes it's funny too. Particularly when we let people know that we've forgiven them even though they haven't apologized or asked us to.
"Hey, can we talk for a minute? I know things have been kind of awkward between us lately and our friendship is strained a little, but I want to be honest with you today. I want you to know that I forgive you."
"Forgive me? For what?"
"I'd rather not go into the details and reopen the wound, but that thing you did to me a few weeks ago. I forgive you for that. It's important to me that you know I have erased that debt in my heart."
"I have no idea what you're talking about. Did I do something?"
"I'm a Christian and I'm called to forgive people and love my enemies. So even though it still stings a little, I want you to know we're cool now."
"Wait a second, we're enemies? Whoa. When did that happen?"
"Stop, just stop. Just know that I forgive you. Someday maybe you'll understand. Come here, let's hug it out."
"Don't touch me."
"I forgive that too. You can keep pushing me away, but I'm just going to keep loving on you."
"You know that's not really a verb."
"Just let me pour out my forgiveness and put a hedge of protection around our friendship.
"You are so weird."
"And you are so forgiven."
That's probably never happened to you, but I've been on the receiving end of that before. And it's a baffling, confusing, eventually humorous experience. But make no mistake, it's not forgiveness, it's soft revenge. And rarely do you feel "loved on" in that moment.
Has someone ever forgiven you for something you didn't apologize for?
Have you ever done that to someone? (It's OK if you have. I forgive you.)
After the bushfires
- Written by: Wei-Han Kuan
At Healesville and Yarra Glen we are continuing to see God's blessing through the generosity of others.
- We have donations totaling $53,000 to support youth ministry in the parish from the Sydney Diocese and from St Matthew's West Pennant Hills;
- we have had a number of guest preachers from St Paul's Castle Hill and encouragement and support as we think about embarking on youth ministry;
- we have had teams from Barabool Hills Baptist church, Glen Waverly Anglican Church, and St Matthew's Prahran send up working parties;
- St Matthew's has bought and stocked a freezer for us with casseroles to give away, Glen Waverly has supported our play group, many individuals, churches and the Melbourne Anglican Foundation have given us money so we can directly support bushfire survivors.
- Christians in the Media have given us free copies of the "Introducing God" book to give away.
- God has raised up from within the parish an able administrative assistant who is receiving some funding from the Melbourne Anglican Foundation. This has been an important step in allowing me to have good energy for ministry of the word.
Alan Thomas Davidson Kerr AM, 7 June 1918 – 24 June 2009
- Written by: Wei-Han Kuan
With the passing of Alan Kerr the church has lost the last of a remarkable group of Melbourne evangelical lay leaders known as “Nash’s men”, after perhaps the city’s pre-eminent evangelical leader of the last century, C. H. Nash. Under his influence through the City Men’s Bible Class, Nash’s men exercised an incredibly energetic ministry combining their business skills and evangelical convictions to lead and grow ministries ranging from Campaigners for Christ and CMS, to Scripture Union and EFAC.
Alan himself was a key leader in each of the above, as well as in the United Mission to Nepal, the Asia Pacific Christian Mission (today, Pioneers), the Zadok Institute and Ridley College. He was a part of the leadership for both Billy Graham’s Melbourne crusades (1959 and 1969) and both National Anglican Evangelical Congresses (1971 and 1981). He helped create CMS’ federal structure and SU’s regional structure ANZEA. He was also a member of the EFAC International Executive with John Stott.In 1970 alone he was on the Federal Council of CMS, Chairman of Bookhouse Australia (a wholesale agency ministry), Chairman of EFAC Australia, on the vestry of St James, Ivanhoe, a trustee of Anglican Evangelical Trust of Victoria; and a member of the General Synod, Melbourne Synod, Melbourne Diocesan Council and Finance Committee, on the Ridley College executive, St Andrew’s Hall (CMS) committee, the Christian Businessman’s Luncheon Group, Open House council and various SU committees.
Wei-Han Kuan interviews Chris Mulherin.
- Written by: Wei-Han Kuan
Hi Chris, what have you been up to over the last couple of years or decades?
Hi Wei-Han. It's nice to see you. I've been travelling the world at CMS's expense for most of the last 15 years actually. Almost 3 years ago we got back from our time in Argentina working with students and the Anglican Church. Since then I spent a year working at St Jude's, I’ve done some study, and our oldest son Ben died of cancer.
...what are you up to now?
Right now I'm taking a sabbatical actually. With the ups and downs of the last while it's a good time to slow down. I'm doing a doctorate in theology relating theological knowledge and scientific knowledge: Hans-Georg Gadamer, Michael Polanyi and Richard Rorty to be precise.
Polanyi - isn't that the name of an inlet to the Russian submarine base in the Arctic?
Could be... though I somehow think you made that up.
So why so interested in these dudes with thoughts?
In a nutshell: I think that one of the key challenges which we face is defending orthodox Christian faith in the face of what we could loosely call postmodernism. It's an apologetic challenge which ranges from the very philosophical to the content of our Sunday preaching.
So where is the problem?
In the light of the success and so called certain knowledge of science, one problem is that some Christians have thought that a way forward lies in making our faith appear more scientific. But it is dangerous for Christians to buy the enlightenment view of scientific knowledge and certainty. It was Descartes' attractive project to ground belief on foundations that could not be doubted, but it turned out to be a foundation of shifting sand.
Can you give us an example?
I think the creation science movement is an extreme example of Christians accepting the norms of science. In their zeal to defend the truth of the Gospel they try to squeeze the faith into a scientific straitjacket. But ironically, at the same time that some Christians took a turn towards the security of scientific certainty, that very view of science was being called into question. And of course when the edifice which makes up that particular view of science starts to crumble, then so does the view of faith that is wedded to it. In the last 40 or 50 years, critiques of science and of the possibility of absolute and certain knowledge have led to much of what goes by the name of postmodernism.
And that's a bad thing, yes?
Well, yes and no. In one sense postmodernism is an affirmation of human humility. And theologically we ought to affirm that as a welcome challenge to human pride. But on the other hand, if such 'postmodern humility' leads to a sort of pathetic inability to affirm anything as true then it has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. So the challenge is to both affirm the possibility of holding fast to truth and at the same time to recognize what is called in the trade 'human finitude'.
It sounds dangerously like relativism to me. Does that mean that one belief is as good as another?
No. Relativism is normally the view that there is no ultimate truth, but only interpretations. Sure we are all interpreters, but some interpretations are right and some are wrong. There are many interpretations of 'the Christ event' but in the end either the resurrection occurred or it didn't. As evangelicals we are convinced that there is good reason to believe in the resurrection. But as I said: sure and certain proof along the lines of the (mistaken) model of science is not to be had.
So how is any of this relevant to say... the mission-shaped church? Or general pastoral care for a congregation?
Well I think it is relevant in a number of ways. One way is simply the trickle down effect: as we think about these things at a theological and philosophical level the conversations eventually shape the thinking of the church as a whole. More immediately, my own preaching and apologetic conversations are informed by thinking about the relationships between philosophical hermeneutics and scientific and theological knowledge. And in all of this, I don’t think there is any doubt that the huge challenge is to defend the uniqueness of Christ. We live in a context where tolerance is a creed that paints uniqueness as both an offensive and a naive concept.
Yes but hold on… What would you say to non-philosophical types who think, ‘Just explain the Gospel and convert people will you?!’
I say, great! I believe Romans 1:16. So preach it brothers and sisters! But at the same time there are many people, both non-Christians and others who have been Christians for years, who want solid answers to some of the questions that are part and parcel of recent Western thinking. We have a responsibility to them and to God to defend the Gospel in a pluralist society. And don't forget these things do hit the level of conversations in the street.
You mean today’s experimental university philosophy is tomorrow’s experiential school-gate conversation?
Yes, that’s well put. And as you said earlier, few people understood Foucault or Derrida when they lectured, but today children grow up with postmodern blood in their veins.
You mean: "What's true for you is not necessarily true for me"?
Exactly. That sort of thinking is simply normal nowadays and anyone who thinks differently is politically incorrect and considered downright rude. Of course the internal contradictions of relativism are numerous but that doesn’t stop such fuzzy thinking taking hold. It also serves as a very effective way of avoiding facing up to the rub of sin. But enough from me: I’m moving into preaching mode!
So should members of EFAC be bothered to think about these issues?
Absolutely! As evangelicals we want to boldly affirm and proclaim Jesus Christ as the truth. And we don't want to do that in a way that is intellectually ignorant. I think one of our greatest apologetic opportunities is to discern the truths and falsities of all that goes under the postmodern banner and to help people understand, that rather than being a dire threat to faith, there is much that affirms our Christian convictions. Not least that the truth is found in a person and reveals itself in relationship.
OK, can you recommend a place to start reading or looking?
Mmm… well I think the place I started years ago is a great place. The first few chapters of Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society are excellent. Highly recommended. Then there are Polanyi's works: Personal Knowledge is the big one. It's heavy going but fascinating for those interested. But I'm afraid I'm not up with the latest books in the bookshops. And after Sam McGeown's recent article in Essentials I might stick to books that have that old musty smell to them! I’m also happy for people to contact me personally for more suggestions.
What next after the studies?
A good question. I'm ordained and Anglican. I also enjoy teaching and I enjoy wrestling with the issues we've been talking about. My expectation was to return to parish life, but the upheavals of late need some time to settle down before embarking on the next step. God will lead in his good time I guess.
Chris Mulherin grew up in Melbourne, worked for Scripture Union and lectured in engineering and philosophy before moving to Argentina with CMS. In Argentina he worked with university students and was minister of the Anglican church in Tucumán. Married to Lindy, they had 5 boys until Ben died last December. He can be contacted at
The Curate s Egg: To be sure, to be sure
- Written by: Rob Imberger
Indeed the whole ‘selection for ordination’ process is designed to confirm the confident and alarm the antsy; designed to make you sure that ordination isn’t some self-deluded masterplan of your own mini-kingdom’s making. And, to be sure, I was left humbled, awed, charged with responsibility, and more or less certain that I was clear of such delusions.
Praise the Lord! He put it in my heart when I was just 15 to be a minister of his Word & Spirit. Praise the Lord for godly men and women who affirmed my gifts & call, from then till now. Praise the Lord for Ridley Melbourne where I was trained for ministry and mission (even when ministry and mission weren’t in the title!). Praise the Lord for employing me in His harvest field of Diamond Creek. To be sure, I was sure this was the Lord’s place for me.