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Clerical Collars

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Roman Catholic Clerical Collar is alleged to have its origins in the Church of Scotland.

A clerical collar (often called a ‘dog collar’) is detachable, white, and fixes to a collarless shirt, usually black or grey. The narrow strip we now see is usually made of plastic… and enterprising priests with little money resort to cutting up used washing-up liquid bottles to make their own white collars! But, what is the clerical collar supposed to be? What is its use, if any?


It seems the first dog collar was invented by Rev Dr Donald Mcleod, a Church of Scotland minister in Glasgow, in the 1800s (reported by the Glasgow Herald, 6th December, 1894), but can be attributed to a date in 1827. No-one is really certain, though it might even go back to the 17th century. The Oxford Movement (High-Church Anglicans who eventually moved to Anglo-Catholicism) made the detachable collar popular in the 19th century.

So, as can be expected, the collar became mainly associated with Roman Catholic priests. All ranks of priests wear the collar. The idea spread to many denominational ministers, such as Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and so on. Now, even Unitarian ‘ministers’ wear collars, even though their ‘denomination’ is not a church at all, but an humanist organisation!

The dog collar supposedly mimics the top of a cassock. I would refuse to wear one. Why do so many wear them?

‘Ordained’ ministers who wear collars were recently advised not to wear them when ‘off duty’, to prevent abuse in the street! (National Churchwatch, BBC Radio 4, 7th October, 2007). What began as a symbol to be respected is now used as a symbol identifying a target for abuse and violence! Attacks on persons coincides with a rising incidence of attacks on places of worship… something police do not log specifically.

Some wearers of collars claim the symbol can be used to start conversations with unbelievers. This, to me, is a lame reason… we can witness at any time, with or without a collar. Others wear another symbol – crosses, as lapel badges, or on chains. This, too, is unnecessary.

Others say they wear these ‘tab’ collars to remind them who they are, and that they should always be like Jesus. This, however, is more like the Roman idea of images. If it takes a dog collar to remind a man he belongs to God and should be holy, there is something wrong with that man’s beliefs and behaviour! Even Jesus wore a simple robe, just like everyone else’s robes at that time. His disciples did not wear collars or any other identifying symbol.

It seems that the various reasons given for wearing collars are listed under the idea of ‘Christian clergy clothing’. Where does this need for an outward show come from, if not Rome? What are ‘Christian clergy’? The title is an invention, for ‘pastor’ is only one office out of several in the Church, and no office is above every other member. So, why the distinction? There is no need for it.

Most ministers appear to dress the part – a part invented to give them some kind of separation from the rest of Christians. It is a way of elevating the minister above the flock, something not warranted by the words of Christ, Who said the least would be highest and the highest the lowest!

Many see the collar as a status symbol, of a once-respected ‘profession’ that has since become sour. People no longer respect dog-collars and those who wear them.

Even if dog-collars are not worn, most ministers seem to slavishly follow the expectations of the congregation and other ministers, by wearing dark suits, white shirts, dark ties and black shoes… I am not sure if funeral directors mimic ministers, or vice versa!

There is no reason to wear a special collar. None at all. It is not required by Christ, and has no value. It is like those unfortunates who insist on putting bumper stickers on their cars about Jesus, or sticking smiling faces on their Bibles. Often, these symbols are used as something to hide behind. They are certainly not biblical.

© March 2011

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom