THE FIRST BLOW IS STRUCK AGAINST CLERGY VESTMENTS
It was not Martin Luther who first attacked the practice of clergy wearing ornate vestments. Andreas Karlstadt was a compatriot of Luther's--a professor at the University of Wittenberg, who had awarded the Doctorate to Martin Luther and spoke at Luther's side during the great debates at the Universities which followed Luther's challenge to the Church.
While Luther hid from the Pope's representatives in the Wartburg Castle, Karlstadt proceeded with radical changes in the worship service at the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Christmas Day 1521, Andreas Karlstadt performed a "Mass" like nothing ever seen before in Germany. He had rewritten the Mass in a simplified version which he proceeded to utter in German. For the congregation this would have been their first experience hearing the Mass in their own language. For the first time he gave the bread and wine into the very hands of the people.
Karlstadt rejected the traditional clergy vestments and adopted instead his 'regular clothes'. Because he was a Professor he wore his black academic gown. Roland Bainton described this remarkable event as "officiating without vestments in a plain black robe".
When Luther heard what Karlstadt had done he was furious. Luther believed in reform but not in revolution. He felt that changes should be proceeded with in an orderly fashion and with full approval of the representatives of the people. Karlstadt had no approval at all for his action.
The black gown, which Karlstadt had initiated, appeared with various local modifications all over Europe. Luther himself wore the black gown three years later.
It is the height of irony that Andreas Karlstadt, who first wore the academic gown in place of clergy vestments, was later to become dissatisfied with this change. He came to believe that academics were as far removed from the people as the clergy. He then rejected the concept of university degrees and titles. He rejected the academic gown in favour of peasants' garb and took up a farming vocation. He wanted to be called simply "Brother Andreas".
But by this time even Luther had adopted the black academic gown.