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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Surplice

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(Lat. superpelliceum, over the pelisse), a long, loose linen garment worn by clergymen of the Church of England during the performance of divine service. Surplices are also worn by the fellows of colleges or halls, and by all the scholars and students in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge upon Sundays, holidays, and even during their attendance at the college chapels or churches. It is also worn for the service of the choir. Its use dates back to an early day. Paulinus sent a lamb's-wool coat to Severus, and Ambrose complains of the use of beaver skins and silk dresses. The white garment of the clergy is mentioned by Gregory Nazianzen, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, Honorius, and Ivo of Chartres. The Council of Basle required the surplice to reach below the middle of the thigh. The Gilbertines wore a hooded surplice. At Burgos, in summer, the canons wear, instead of a cope and mozzetta (their winter habit), a sleeved surplice raised on the shoulders. The name is first mentioned by Odo of Paris and Stephen of Tournay, in the 12th century. The origin of the surplice is thus given by Durand: "It was so called because anciently this garment was put upon leathern coats made of the skins of dead animals (super tunicas pellicas de pellibus mortuorun animalium fictas), symbolically to represent that the sin of our first parents, which brought man under the necessity of wearing garments of skin, was now hid and covered by the robe of Christ's innocence and grace." The name and color (white) signify holiness of life joined to penitence. The use of the surplice was strongly objected to by the Calvinistic and Zwinglian reformers on the Continent, and by the Puritans in England, who regarded it as a relic of popery. The argument against it is to be found in Beza, Tractat. Theolog. 3, 29; and its defense in Hooker, Eccles. Polity, 5, 29. Much controversy has been held of late years as to the propriety of the surplice being worn by the preacher in the pulpit, which is contrary to the more general practice of the Anglican Church. The surplice and alb (q.v.) are slight variations of what was originally one vestment. Foreign surplices are much shorter than those used in England. In Italy the short surplice is called a cotta. (See ORNAMENTS, ECCLESIASTICAL).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Surplice'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/s/surplice.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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