Friday, October 16, 2009

Day 11: Oxford Academic Dress and the Priesthood

Of the many things on my to-do list during "Naugth" or "0" week last week, was to purchase my Oxford graduate robes.  Much like Harry Potter, there are two stores in town that can fit Oxfordians with robes.  I went into one of the two stores and was politely shown to the counter where several clerks were measures height and breadth.  

"Graduate or undergraduate?" I was asked (I am consistently tickled when people think I might be an undergraduate, or under 21 years old--I turned 30 last week).  Rather than the shorter, suit-coat undergraduate length or the longer, shin-length fellow length, I was sized up and down and given a thigh-length robe.  This robe resembles those I wore for high school, college, and law school graduation, except that there is no zipper up the front--it is open--and in place of sleeves I have longish, not-quite-tassel-like ribbons of cloth hanging down.  

I was then fitted for my mortar board, which has nothing very remarkable about it, and cut a velvet ribbon to tie around my neck.

Remarkably, unlike other universities, where such robes are used only for graduation, here they are used on a much more regular basis.  I will matriculate in them on Saturday (a special Latin ceremony for those undergraduate and graduate "freshers" who have not yet attended Cambridge or Oxford), wear them for each examination, for meetings with the head of house for my college, for commemoration and other graduate ceremonies, to chapel, and, except at Lady Margaret, to formal hall and especially high table.  

Fellows wear them more often, for they are required to wear them in order to lecture.

I also must wear "sub fusc" (what this means, I don't believe most know, neither have I been told, but according to, which provides a very good article on the topic of academic dress, it is Latin for a dark/dusky color), which includes a white shirt, black ribbon, black skirt or nice black pants, black "stockings" and black shoes.  I may also wear a dark coat with this traditional dress.

All of this blackness, I am sure, relates to the origins of the University as an ecclesiastic school, in which all who attended were in some form of orders.  (It is also the reason there is near non-existent housing for families in-college: all who attended and taught were single because ordained to some office in the Anglican Church.)  

In the many graduations in which I have participated or watched, the memorable quip by Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley, calling such regalia the "robes of the false priesthood," has unavoidably come to mind.  So too here in Oxford, but much more frequently.  As a Latter-day Saint (Mormon), rather than believing in an unbroken succession of the priesthood like the Catholics or a reformation of the priesthood as most Protestant faiths, I believe in a complete restoration of the priesthood.  This means that at some point, probably somewhere between 100-300 A.D., when the Apostles and the bishops, seventies, and pastors who served under their direction began to die off, the Church as organized by Christ ceased to have the priesthood, or authority to act in God's name.  Generallly, within my faith we call this the Great Apostasy.  The priesthood was restored (thus the term "restoration") and conferred by the laying on of hands by those who held it during their lifetimes (John the Baptist the Aaronic Priesthood, and Peter James and John the Melchezideck Priesthood) to Joseph Smith in the early 1800s.  It is, as I explained to our chaplain here at Lady Margaret the other day per her questions, a large, very large difference between my faith and other Christian faiths.

This does not mean, however, that good people did not continue to believe in right and good things.  I know many outside of my faith who live more Christ-like lives than I and many other Latter-day Saints do.  But for me, it does mean that the priesthood as professed by other denominations, while an expression of their love for God, is not authorized by him.  

Rather than ending on an expression of what I don't believe, I will instead end on an expression of what I do.  The Priesthood has made an immense difference in my life.  I have had the great blessing of being the daughter of a worthy priesthood-bearer, and now the wife of a worthy priesthood-bearer.  Holding the priesthood in my faith simply means that the bearer is given more opportunities to serve.  To bless, to administer in the offices of my lay-clergy church, and, most importantly, to perform saving ordinances.  It gives me more reasons to respect both of these wonderful men as I watch them live lives that allow them to function in their priesthood calls and enjoy the fruits of their service towards me and others, as such service softens their hearts and increases their happiness.  There are indeed moments where I have seen God's undeniable power on earth through the instrumentalities of the priesthood, and am very grateful for such blessings.

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