Ministerial Dress & Black Genevan Gowns


Order of Contents

Genevan Gowns




Distinctive dress for calling?  God regulated that in the Old Testament.

Nonesuch in NT

‘set apart’ by office or function of that office (McMahon) yet God did not prescribe any of that, and did in the old testament.  Set apart clothes for a religious purpose, when God has not, is idolatry

Definition of idolatry

Nothing here reflects on the practice from the Reformation, common use but on the ahistorical, modern immitation.

Ainsllie, p. 37 top that reformers wore civilian dress

If allow a robe, no difference between this and a surplice, cassock, alb, etc.  which might be used without superstition, for distinction.  To prefer the Genevan robe can only be because Geneva did it, the tradition of the elders, but others did other things, etc.

elders and deacons did not wear gowns (Sprott, p. lviii) (not being teachers) contra 2nd Pres. downtown in Greenville, SC.

de facto practice of always, conscientiously, precisely doing something, gives away that a religious principle is involved (it always being connected with worship, for worship), despite the denials that a de jure principle is involved.  The exact practice and obedience to it is just as strong of a statement was the de jure principle itself.




English Puritans – Ch. 29, ‘Rites and Ceremonies Debated in the Synod’  1562  in John Strype, Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion… in the Church of England, during Queen Elizabeth’s Happy Reign (Oxford: 1824), vol. 1, pt. 1, pp. 499-506

Coverdale, Myles – Letter 107, ‘M. Coverdale to William Farel, Peter Viret, Theodore Beza, etc.’  in The Zurich Letters… During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1846), pp. 228-230

Collette, Charles H. – ‘As to Vestments’  in A Layman’s Reply to Dr. Littledale’s Lecture on Ritualistic Innovations (1869), p. 30-36

Macalister, R.A.S. – ‘The Vestments of the Reformed Churches’  being ch. 6 of Ecclesiastical Vestments: Their Development and History, pp. 192-210  1896  

Bingham, Joseph – Ch. 7, ‘Of Making the Surplice and Other Habits Necessary to Ministration’  in The French Church’s Apology for the Church of England  in Works, vol. 10, pp. 122-129

Bingham (1668-1723) was an Anglican who wrote this book seeking to defend numerous Anglican practices from the old French Reformed Church.

ed. Wright, Charles & Charles Neil – ‘Black Gown, The’  in A Protestant Dictionary, containing Articles on the History, Doctrines and Practices of the Christian Church  1904

Staunton, William – ‘Gown’  in An Ecclesiastical Dictionary  1861

Baird, Charles W. – pp. 25 & 204  of Eutaxia; or, The Presbyterian liturgies: Historical Sketches  1855

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge – ‘Vestments: IV: In Protestant Churches’  1908-1914

Ainslie, J.L. – pp. 36-37 of Ch. 2, ‘The Ordinary Duties of the Reformed Ministerial Order’  in The Doctrines of Ministerial Order in the Reformed Churches of the 16th and 17th Centuries  (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1940)

“That keen and bitter controversy which was carried on in England during the reign of Elizabeth regarding the wearing of vestments had to do with the renunciation of the doctrines of a priestly office in the Church.  The strict Reformers were persuaded that not even the vestments suggesting priestliness should be worn by officiating ministers.  It was not such an indifferent matter as some have thought.

Very probably in England, but for Elizabeth, the priestly vestments would have been discarded.  She insisted on the wearing of them.  In the Marprelate Tracts they are spoken of as ‘Queen Elizabeth’s livery.’  In other churches of the Reformation the priestly vestments for the ministry were not continued.  The dress of officiating ministers became distinctive, but it was not priestly.  A biographer of Zwingli, with reference to Zurich, says: ‘ministers wore their ordinary dress in the pulpit, but this dress characterized by a black cloak and white ruff, was worn by others only on gala occasions, and when it passed out of (general) fashion it became the distinctive ministerial dress.’ ([Samuel Macauley] Jackson, [Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland, 1584-1531 (NY & London: Knickbocker Press, 1903)] pp. 290, 291)

In a short biography of Bullinger, among other matters, his custom in dress is referred to:… ([G.R.] Zimmermann, [Die Zurcher Kirche (Zurich, 1878),] p. 43) “How far from all vain adornment and official glory he was can clearly be seen from the fact that he went up into the pulpit in his civilian style of dress.”

For the rest, it is well known that the black gown became the dress of the Reformed minister when conducting public worship.  Thus, even in outward appearance, with change in style of dress, the ministry of the new order was different from the mediaeval priesthood.”

Maxwell, William – Appendix G, ‘The Dress of the Ministers’  in John Knox’s Genevan Service Book, 1556; The Liturgical Portions of the Genevan Service Book Used by John Knox While a Minister of the English Congregation of Marian Exiles at Geneva, 1556-1559 (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1931)

“The dress of the Ministers in the English Church at Geneva [under John Knox] is a matter which is perplexing, for there is no evidence available indicating precisely what was the custom.

[John] Paullain [1517–1565, an English reformer], in his ‘Ad lectorem candidum‘ (Lit. sac., P, Q) [‘To the Bright Reader’,  in Liturgia Sacra, seu Ritus Ministerii in Ecclesia Peregrinorum…  1551/4], on the other hand, states quite definitely that vestments are not worn in his congregation.  He urges that the New Testament does not prescribe a Minister’s apparel, and that a shepherd is not known to his sheep by his garb but by his call to them, and he thinks it sufficient that a Minister should be dressed modestly and soberly, with an absence of all pomp and arrogance.  Further, he regards vestments as an incitement to superstition because of the Roman custom of blessing the garments.  Thus he thought that in this as in other matters the Reformed Church should be content with the utmost simplicity.

In England the Puritan party objected strenuously to all vestments.  As early as 1562 request was made to Convocation ‘that the use of copes and surplices… be taken away; so that all ministers in their ministry use a grave, comely, and side-garment, as commonly they do in preaching’ and ‘that the ministers of the word and sacraments be not compelled to wear such gowns and caps, as the enemies of Christ’s gospel have chosen to be the special array of their priesthood’ ([John] Strype, Annals, Oxford ed., 1824, vol. i., pt. ii. 501).  And in the same period we find the bishops enforcing the cassock and gown and forbidding the Puritan custom of preaching in what Bishop Duppa called ‘a riding or ambulatory Cloake’ (Rit. Com. Rep. ii. 577).  The objections in these passages are against all gowns…  Certainly [Myles] Coverdale [1488–1569] objected to all gowns, as we see by his letter to Farel in 1556: ‘Our affairs are not altered for the better, but alas! are sadly deteriorated.  For it is now settled and determines…  that out of doors must be worn the square cap, bands, a long gown and tippet; while the white surplice and cope are to be retained in divine service’ (Parker Soc. Zurich Letters, p. 121, Let. 50).

This brief review of the early evidence in Strasburg, Frankfort [Germany], Geneva, England and Scotland, shows that there appears to have been no practice that was agreed upon by all who followed the Calvinistic Reformation, and as regards the English Church of Geneva no accurate conjecture can be made.  It is probable that the Ministers there adopted Calvin’s practice and wore the black gown, with cassock, bands, and scarf; but there can be no certainty.” – pp. 210-213

Davies, Horton – pp. 46-8 in Ch. 4 of The Worship of the English Puritans (Soli Deo Gloria, 1997)

“In Scotland it appears to have been the regular custom for ministers to wear a gown when conducting divine service.  The cassock also was in frequent use, but this is not surprising since it was not a liturgical vestment, but the usual out-of-doors dress of the ministry.  In England, however, the Puritans appear to have discarded the cassock, whilst there is little evidence to show that the early Puritans wore gowns.” – p. 47

Davies, Horton – ‘5.  Vestments’ in vol. 2, Part 2: Cultic Controversies, ch. 5, ‘Style in Worship: Prestigious or Plain?’, pp. 211-214  in Worship and Theology in England: from Cranmer to Baxter and Fox, 1534-1690, combined edition (Eerdmans, 1996)

“The puritans rested the case against distinctive vestments on the following grounds. 

First and foremost, the insistence upon a particular vesture was an infringement of Christian liberty; the church which had been freed by Christ form the bondage of the law was now attempting to infringe the crown rights of Christ the Redeemer by introducing new sartorial [relating to dress] burdens on the conscience.¹  This was especially foolish when the Anglicans themselves admitted that such matters were adiaphora, or in the real of indifferent things.

¹ Cf. A Parte of a Register, p. 41: “if it be abolished and Christ be come in stead, then a great injury is done to Christ for many causes.  The one is, that those ceremonies which Christ by his passion did abolish, should in contempt of Him and his passion be taken again.”

Secondly, the vestments were disliked because of their association with Roman Catholicism, and so were thought of as ‘badges of Anti-Christ,’ upholding the priesthood of the clergy and denying the priesthood of all believers…

Thirdly, these vestments were symbols of pomp and grandeur, ill-befitting the humility with which all men should approach God, and contrary to the simplicity of the first disciples and apostles of Christ, they should be done away with, even if indifferent, for the sake of the weaker brethren.²

² Ibid., pp. 43f.: “for four causes ought the surplice, the coape, the Tippet, and other popish ceremonies to be taken away and removed out of God his Church: 1. First, that Christ may more clearly shine and appear in his Gospel, without the darkness of man’s devices. 2. Secondly, that papistry may appear more to be hated and detested. 3. Thirdly, that the offence of the weak may be taken away. 4. Fourthly, that contention amongst brethren might cease.”‘





Book of the Universal Kirk, 1575, Session 3, p. 149

William Maxwell:  “In Scotland the evidence is scant, the whole seemingly to be found in the well-known passage from the General Assembly Minutes of 1575 (B.U.K., Session 3, 1575).  There we see that plaids are forbidden to be worn in the pulpit, and all gay and ostentatious apparel at any time… 

The passage is really difficult of interpretation.  The ‘gowns’ forbidden, however, seem not to be pulpit gowns, but rather cloaks… certainly the old vestments [before the Reformation] were not retained, but whether in these first years the priest’s normal outdoor habit was still used as in Geneva is not to be determined from the evidence; the black gown may have been used by some in the pulpit.  By 1574 it clearly was used as we see by [James] Melville’s Autobiography (On p. 32, Wodrow Soc. edn., he describes John Durie, Minister of Leith, as being renowned for his zeal, ‘for the gown was no sooner off, and the Bible out of hand, than on went the corslet’.).

On June 24, 1609, the matter was settled by King James, when the [civil] Estates gave him authority to prescribe the apparel of judges, magistrates and ministers; and this he did in the following year, when he ordained that ‘ministers should war black cloths, and in the pulpit black gowns’ (Calderwood, Hist. vii. 54). (For later Scottish practice vide [see] [George] Sprott, BCO, pp. liv-lv, and Worship and Offices, pp. 244 sq. [ff.])” – John Knox’s Genevan Service Book, p. 212

The passage in the Book of the Universal Kirk appears to only disallow fancy gowns made of velvet, satin, ‘taffetie’ and such-like, and not all gowns altogether. 

The passage does not positively prescribe any one type of clothing (gowns or otherwise), and especially not a costume which would not otherwise be worn in everyday life (as such Genevan gowns today).  The prescriptions are for everyday life, and what applied to the ministers also applied to their wives.  The text allows for different types of common, everyday clothing in different colors, which were to be short and not ‘long’ (note Lk. 20:46).  The prescriptions are stated to be based on natural principles and nothing distinctive to Scripture (contra most modern defenses of wearing robes). 

The prescriptions of the passage would be similar to a Church today outlawing ostentatious and immodest, fancy clothing for ministers and their wives in everyday life (Isa. 3:17-26; 1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:3-4), and in place of this, the minister ought to wear modest, dark colors while in public as an expression of the due gravity that should characterize Church office-bearers and their wives (1 Tim. 3:4,8,11; Titus 2:2,7).  The prescriptions may be equivalent to contemporary ministers wearing a dark, modest suit while discharging public worship.

Nor does the case of John Durie mentioned by Maxwell above help the ritualist’s case: it is similar to a contemporary minister immediately taking off his suit jacket after public worship in order to be more comfortable.

Sprott, George W.

‘Clerical Robes’  in Lecture 6 of The Worship and Offices of the Church of Scotland, pp. 243-8  1882

Both Sprott and Leishman were part of the Liturgical Renewal in Scotland in the late-1800’s, and were strongly against the Biblical doctrine of the purity of worship of better days.  This slant comes out not only in historical commentary they offer, but also in their selection of the historical evidence and its interpretation.

‘Dress of the Clergy’  in ‘Introduction to the Book of Common Order’, pp. lvi-lviii  in Book of Common Order and Directory of the Church of Scotland  1868

Leishman, Thomas – pp. 402-4 of ‘The Ritual of the Scottish Church’  18??



William Maxwell, A History of Worship in the Church of Scotland, p. 81

“At that time [in Scotland before the 2nd reformation of 1638] ministers wore black gowns, cassock [a ministerial robe], etc, at all services and at the General Assembly, and continued to do so until 1638, when for the first time many appeared in Glasgow in ordinary clothes and armed.”





Ames, William – A Reply to Dr. [Thoms] Morton’s General Defence of three [in]nocent Ceremonies, viz. The Surplice, Cross in Baptism and Kneeling at the Receiving of the Sacramental Elements of Bread and Wine  1622

On p. 30 Ames distinguishes the numerous ways in which the ritualists’ gowns were very different from common, indifferent lawyers’ gowns.  Ames is replying to this work of Morton (bap.1564-1659)  A Defence of the Innocencie of the Three Ceremonies of the Church of England  1618



Ames, William – A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship  GB  1633

This was considered to be the most significant reformed defense against unBiblical ceremonies in God’s worship in the early 1600’s.  Ames masterly parses out when indifferent things, due to an improper, unnatural and spiritual use no longer remain indifferent.  Read here of classically reformed principles of ‘circumstances’ in worship, and what they are not.   

Ames takes especial aim against the main vestment in the English Church: the surplice, a white gown.


Early Church

Brightman, Thomas – ‘Mr. Brightman’s Answer to Bishop Jewell’s Allegations for the Antiquity of Distinct Ceremonious apparel used by Minsters in their Ministration’  in William Ames, A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship, pp. 503-510  1633

Brightman  (1562-1607) was an English, reformed, puritan.




On the Reformation Generally

Earngey, Mark – ‘Soli Deo Gloria: The Reformation of Worship’ being ch. 2 of Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present (New Growth, 2017), p. 42-3

“The Genevan practice of wearing black academic gowns, white preaching bands, and black caps deliberately indicated that ministers were teachers of the Word rather than sacerdotal mediators.  There clothes were not considered clerical vestments but were standard attire for clergy to be worn during and outside public worship (Maetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, 19; William D. Maxwell, John Knox’s Genevan Service Book, 1556 (Westminster: Faith Press, 1965), 210-213).

Lavater’s Short Work on Rites and Regulations described a similar approach to clerical attire in Zurich; however, the clerical dress was more informal than Calvin’s: clergy were to ‘wear ordinary, yet respectable clothing (as other respectable citizens do), not theatrical clothing.’

John Knox held a similarly minimalist approach among the English exiles in Frankfurt, signaling his displeasure at Cranmer’s retention of the surplice.  In a sermon on Noah’s drunkenness and the subject of what should or should not be covered up, he touched upon the sensitive matter of English cleric John Hooper’s refusal to wear clerical vestments (Jane Dawson, John Knox (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 101).

Earlier in 1550, Hooper refused to be consecrated as bishop, partly on the grounds of what he perceived to be unreformed vestments (‘those Aaronic habits’). (John Hooper to Heinrich Bullinger, June 29, 1550.  See Hastings Robinson, Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1846-1847), 1:87)  In reply, both Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Vermigli refuted his position on the basis that vestments were adiaphorus [indifferent].  Vermigli made the slightly backhanded remark that ‘indifferent things cannot corrupt those that are of a pure mind and sincere conscience in their doings.’ (Correspondence between Bucer, Martyr and Hooper in George Cornelius Gorham, Gleanings of a Few Scattered Ears During the Period of the Reformation in England (London: Bell and Daldy, 1857).  Bucer and Martyr’s replies to Hooper were also used by Archbishop Parker [who sought to universally enforce such clerical dress] in response to the Vestarian Controversy under Queen Elizabeth I.  Quotes test in Matthew Parker, A Brief Examination for the Tyme…, (London: Richard Jugge, 1566), RSTC 10387, sig. C.2r.)

Hooper–helped by a spell in prison–begrudingly took the advice on board and was consecrated Bishop of Gloucester later that year.  Thus, when Knox and his colleagues left the English congregation at Frankfurt for Calvin’s Geneva, they found the clerical attire more congenial to their approach.  However, when the Genevan exiles returned home after the death of Queen Mary, they had mixed success in implementing their desired clerical attire.  Knox returned to Scotland where the Genevan gown became the norm, whereas Christopher Goodman and others returned to England were vestments were retained (indeed, to the 1549 standards).  The controversy over vestments was reignited and contributed to the production of the Middelburg Liturgy (1586) by the English Puritans.”


Peter Martyr Vermigli

As quoted in Joseph Bingham, Works, 10.126-8

Letter 33, P. Martyr to T. Sampson, p. 66  in The Zurich Letters  2nd edition chronologically arranged in one series (Oxford, 1846)

Letter 42, P. Martyr to T. Sampson


Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575)

Letter 98, H. Bullinger to Bishop Horn  1565  in The Zurich Letters  2nd edition chronologically arranged in one series (Oxford, 1846), pp. 202-204

Letter 104, H. Bullinger to L. Humphrey and T. Sampson  1566  in The Zurich Letters  2nd edition, pp. 214-224

For the unhappy events then happening to many of the puritans in England due to the imposition of vestments, see Letter 106, J. Abel to H. Bullinger

Give due consideration to Humphrey and Sampson’s reply to Bullinger’s reasons in Letter 109, p. 233 ff.

Letter 115, H. Bullinger and R. Gualter to L. Humphrey and T. Sampson  This letter responds to Letter 109 immediately above.


Myles Coverdale

Letter 107, M. Coverdale, etc. to W. Farell, P. Viret, etc.  in The Zurich Letters  2nd edition chronologically arranged in one series (Oxford, 1846), pp. 228 ff.


Rudolph Gwalter

Letter 118, R. Gualter to T. Beza  in The Zurich Letters  2nd edition chronologically arranged in one series (Oxford, 1846), pp. 262 ff.


John Calvin

Epistle 173, to Farel, p. 71  in ed. Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, vol. 2 (Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858)

Quoted in Joseph Bingham, Works, 10.125 Bingham was defending Anglicanism.


On John Hooper on vestments

Zurich Letters, Second Series  See especially pp. 571585-6 & 675.  A Lasco was Hooper’s chief supporter in this matter.

John Hooper himself:

Early Writings

Later Writings


Theodore Beza

pp. 483-4  as narrated and quoted by John Strype (d. 1737, an Anglican) in The Life of Matthew Parker, vol. 1

Letter 112, T. Beza to H. Bullinger, p. 247 ff.  in The Zurich Letters  2nd edition chronologically arranged in one series (Oxford, 1846)


Jerome Zanchi

Letter 158, H. Zanchius to Queen Elizabeth  1571  in The Zurich Letters  2nd edition chronologically arranged in one series (Oxford, 1846), p. 367 ff.


Gillespie, George

English-Popish Ceremonies (Naphtali Press, 1993), Part 2

Ch. 2, p. 73

“As for those who allege some conveniency in the ceremonies, they say more than can abide the proof of reason, which the induction [enumeration] of some particulars shall demonstrate.  Dr. [Thomas] Morton (Particular Defense, ch. 1, sect. 1 [1618]) alleges for the surplice that the difference of outward garments cannot but be held convenient for the distinguishing of ministers from laics [laity] in the discharge of their function.

Answer:  This conveniency is as well seen to without the surplice.  If a man having a black gown upon him be seen exercising the function of a minister, it is very strange if any man think it not sufficiently distinguished from laics.”

[Note that Gillespie does not say that a minister could be distinguished simply as he wore a black gown, but that he wore such a gown and was seen exercising the function of a minister.  This qualification seems to assume that the black gown was not distinctive to ministers but might have been worn by others, and hence, it had not purely an ecclesiastical use, but also a civil use, and hence the gown itself was indifferent and was not so connected to the ordained office that it, of itself, was for the purpose of distinguishing the ordained office from others.]


Ch. 9, p. 122-3

“Other of the ceremonies that are not evil in their own nature, yet were devised for evil; for example, the surplice.  The replier (David Calderwood [sometimes attributed to William Ames], A Reply to Dr. Morton’s Particular Defense, ch. 1, sect. 3) to Dr. Morton’s Particular Defense observes, that this superstition about apparel in divine worship began first among the French bishops, whom Caelestinus [Pope Celestine I, d. 432] writes thus: —

“…We are to be distinguished from the common people and others by doctrine, not by garment–by conversation, not by habit [in clothing, etc.]–by the purity of mind, not by attire; for if we study to innovation, we tread under foot the order which has been delivered unto us by our fathers, to make place to idle superstitions; wherefore we ought not to lead the minds of the faithful into such things, for they are rather to be instructed than played withal; neither are we to blind and beguile their eyes, but to infuse instructions into their minds.”

In which words Caelestinus reprehends this apparel, as a novelty which tended to superstition, and made way to the mocking and deceiving of the faithful.”


Peter Du Moulin

As quoted in Joseph Bingham, Works, 10.129


Rutherford, Samuel

pp. 1-6 of The Introduction, Section 1 of The Divine Right of Church Government  1646

p. 649 of ‘Whether or Not Things Indifferent can be Commanded Because Indifferent?’ in An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal, appended to The Divine Right of Church Government  1646


Baxter, Richard

Baxter held (per Joseph Bingham, Works, 10.124) that ministerial ‘ornaments’ are not unlawful in themselves, but rather that they should not be imposed by authority on ministers, with such dissenting ministers being deposed for this.  Here are some excerpts from Baxter:

The Defence of the Nonconformists’ Plea for Peace (1680), Ch. 18, pp. 41-42

“A. 3:  And God’s prohibition, Deut. 12, of adding or diminishing, is not washed away so easily as your words would make men believe.  You say, It reaches to the whole duty of man, and government of the Church, etc.  

Answer:  There be some things in the duty of man and church-matters that God has left to man: To do those is no addition to God’s laws:  But to do the like work that God by his Law has done, which He never left to man, seems to me the addition there forbidden:  e.g. If men had made another Tabernacle, another ark of the Covenant, another holy vestment for Aaron, another sacrament like circumcision or the Passover, He that so reproved their worshiping in the high places would have reproved these.”

pp. 87 & 219 of An Apology for the Nonconformists’ Ministry  1682



Calvin, Institutes, Book 4, ch. 19.31  Beveridge

“What word can they show in their oil ? Is it because
Moses was commanded to anoint the sons of Aaron? (Exod.
XXX. 30.) But he there receives command concerning the
tunic, the ephod, the breastplate, the mitre, the crown of
holiness with which Aaron was to be adorned ; and concern-
ing the tunics, belts, and mitres which his sons were to wear.
He receives command about sacrificing the calf, burning its
fat, about cutting and burning rams, about sanctifying ear-
rings and vestments with the blood of one of the rams, and in-
numerable other observances. Having passed over all these, I
AYonder why the unction of oil alone pleases them. If they
delight in being sprinkled, why are they sprinkled with oil
rather than with blood ? They are attempting, forsooth, an
ingenious device ; they are trying, by a kind of patchwork,
to make one religion out of Christianity, Judaism, and


James 2


Luke 20:46

“Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts;”