Incense, Christian

Incense, Christian The use of incense in worship was not carried over from the Jewish to the Christian Church; yet it is still employed, with other superstitious usages, in the Romish Church, and in some of the Oriental churches. The incense used is either the resinous gum olibanum, brought from Arabia or the East Indies. or an imitation of it manufactured by the chemists. The latter is most common now.

1. It is certain that incense was not used in the-first three ages of the Christian Church. Indeed the use of it was a mark of paganism, as is fully evinced by the enactments of the Christian emperors against its use. "The very places or houses where it could be proved to have been done were, by a law of Theodosius, confiscated by the government" (comp. Gothof, De Statu Pagan. sub. Christ. Imper. leg. 12). A few grains of incense thrown by a devotee upon a pagan altar constituted an act of worship. The apologists for Christianity, Arnobius (Contra Gent. 2), Tertullian (Apol. 30), and Lactantius (1, 20), make distinct and separate statements that "Christians do not burn incense" like pagans. It appears likely that the use of incense was first begun in order to purify the air of the unwholesome chambers, caverns, etc., in which Christians were compelled to worship, just as candles were employed necessarily, even by day, in subterranean places. Even Romanist writers (e.g. Claude de Vert) assert this. Cardinal Bona, indeed (Res Liturgic. 1, 25), seeks to derive the use of incense in worship from apostolical times, but his argument is worthless. The principal argument of the Romanists rests upon Re 5; Re 8: "Golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints;" as if anything could be argued, for practical worship, from the highly symbolical language of that beautiful passage. Censers are not mentioned among the sacred vessels of the first four centuries. The first clear proof of the use of incense at the communion occurs in the time of Gregory the Great, in the latter part of the 6th century. After that period it became common, in the Latin Church. Its mystical representation is, according to Roman Catholic authorities,

(1) contrition (Ecclesiastes 14);

(2) the preaching of the Gospel (2Co 2:14);

(3) the prayers of the faithful (Ps 141:2; Re 5:8-14);

(4) the virtue of saints (Song 3:6).

See above. Incense is chiefly used in the solemn (or high) mass, the consecration of churches, solemn consecrations of objects intended for use in public worship, and in the burial of the dead. There are, however, also, minor incensations, and some of the monastic associations even differed in its use. Thus the Cistercians used incense only on festivals, while the Benedictines and Clugniacs introduced its use on most public occasions.

2. The censer (thuribulum) is a brazen pot holding coals on which the incense burns. The censer is held by three chains, varying in length, but generally about three feet long. When longer, the use of them by the boys who act as censer-bearers becomes quite a feat of gymnastics. During the mass. the incense is thrown over the altar and over the 'sacrificing priests" by the deacon who serves, kneeling. The Roman writers justify this incensing of the priest on the theory that he represents Christ, and that therefore the homage, typified by the incense, is rendered to Christ through his representative at the altar. A curious rule with regard to "incensing" the pope is, that "when the pope is standing, the servitor who incenses him must stand; when the pope is sitting, the incenser must kneel." No symbolical or mystical meaning has been found for this odd rule: the real one doubtless is, that when the pope is standing, a kneeling boy could not so manipulate the censer as to make the incense reach the pontiff's nostrils. After the altar and officiating priest are incensed the censer is thrown in the direction of the other priests present, and last of all towards the congregation. As incense is a mark of honor, and as "human vanity creeps in everywhere" (Bergier, s.v. Encens), kings, great men, and public officials are incensed separately, and before 'he mass of the people. See Bergier, Dict. de Theologie. 2, 423; Migne, Dict. de Liturgie, p. 535 sq.; Bingham, Orig. Eccles. book 8:ch. 6:§ 21; Coleman, Ancient Christianity, 21:12; Walcott. Sacred Archaeology, p. 325 sq.; Adolphus, Compendium Theologicum, p.74; Broughton, Bibliotheca Hist. Sacra, 1, 527; Middleton, Letter from Rome, p. 15; Riddle, Christian Antiq. p. 599 sq.; Siegel, Handb. der Christl. — Kirchl. Alterthümer, 2, 441 sq. SEE CENSER.

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