The Transnaturing and Proclamatory Powers of Vestments in the Elizabethan Vestments Controversy and Beyond
Though often considered little more than an interesting moment in the history of the Church of England, the vestments controversy of the sixteenth century was a decisive historical moment in early modern western history. Vestments, the clothing of clergymen, were not merely garments in the eyes of the three diverging Christian denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, and the early Puritan movement, in the early post-Reformation era. Imbued with the power to literally “transnature” one’s body and soul, the vestments one chose to wear were both a proclamation of one’s beliefs and a condition of their spirituality. Vestments could, and did, serve many purposes, embodying many meanings – including what it meant to be holy, who had a claim to truth, how one conceptualized the relationship between church and state, and how one understood the relationship between man and God. Bound up in the theological, political, and social debates of sixteenth-century England, the vestments controversy functions as intellectual history, revealing how people, institutions, and societies think of themselves and others. The long-term religious, political, and cultural reverberations of the vestments controversy reveal the important and complex role that clothing inhabits in the Christian West.
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