1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Incense
INCENSE, the perfume (fumigation) arising from certain resins and gum-resins, barks, woods, dried flowers, fruits and seeds, when burnt, and also the substances so burnt. In its literal meaning the word “incense” is one with the word “perfume,” the aroma given off with the smoke (per fumum) of any odoriferous substance when burnt. But, in use, while the meaning of the word “perfume” has been extended so as to include everything sweet in smell, from smoking incense to the invisible fresh fragrance of fruits and exquisite scent of flowers, that of the word “incense,” in all the languages of modern Europe in which it occurs, has, by an opposite process of limitation, been gradually restricted almost exclusively to frankincense (see Frankincense). Frankincense has always been obtainable in Europe in greater quantity than any other of the aromatics imported from the East; it has therefore gradually come to be the only incense used in the religious rites and domestic fumigations of many countries of the West, and at last to be properly regarded as the only “true” or “genuine” (i.e. “franc”) incense (see Littré’s Fr. Dict. and Skeat’s Etym. Dict. of Engl. Lang.).
The following is probably an exhaustive list of the substances available for incense or perfume mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures:—Algum or almug wood (almug in 1 Kings x. 11, 12; algum in 2 Chron. ii. 8, and ix. 10, 11), generally identified with sandalwood (Santalum album), a native of Malabar and Malaya; aloes, or lign aloes (Heb. ahālim, ahālōth), produced by the Aloexylon Agallochum (Loureiro), a native of Cochin-China, and Aquilaria Agallocha (Roxburgh), a native of India beyond the Ganges; balm (Heb. tsorī), the oleo-resin of Balsamodendron opobalsamum and B. gileadense; bdellium (Heb. bdōlah), the resin produced by Balsamodendron roxburghii, B. Mukul and B. pubescens, all natives of Upper India (Lassen, however, identifies bdōlah with musk); calamus (Heb. kaneh; sweet calamus, keneh bosem, Ex. xxx. 23; Ezek. xxvii. 19; sweet cane, kaneh hattob, Jer. vi. 20; Isa. xliii. 24), identified by Royle with the Andropogon Calamus aromaticus or roosa grass of India; cassia (Heb. kiddah) the Cinnamomum Cassia of China; cinnamon (Heb. kinnamon), the Cinnamomum zeylanicum of the Somali country, but cultivated largely in Ceylon, where also it runs wild, and in Java; costus (Heb. ketzioth), the root of the Aucklandia Costus (Falconer), native of Kashmir; frankincense (Heb. lebōnah), the gum-resin of Bosiwellia Frereana and B. Bhau-Dajiana of the Somali country, and of B. Carterii of the Somali country and the opposite coast of Arabia (see “The Genus Boswellia” by Sir George Birdwood, Transactions of the Linnean Society, xxi. 1871); galbanum (Heb. helbenah), yielded by Opoidia galbanifera (Royle) of Khorassan, and Galbanum officinale (Don) of Syria and other Ferulas; ladanum (Heb. lō;t, translated “myrrh” in Gen. xxxvii. 25, xliii. 11), the resinous exudation of Cistus creticus, C. ladaniferus and other species of “rock rose” or “rose of Sharon”; myrrh (Heb. mōr), the gum-resin of the Balsamodendron Myrrha of the Somali country and opposite shore of Arabia; onycha (Heb. sheḥeleth), the celebrated odoriferous shell of the ancients, the operculum or “nail” of a species of Strombus or “wing shell,” formerly well known in Europe under the name of Blatta byzantina; it is still imported into Bombay to burn with frankincense and other incense to bring out their odours more strongly; saffron (Heb. karkōm), the stigmata of Crocus sativus, a native originally of Kashmir; spikenard (Heb. nerd), the root of the Nardostachys Jatamansi of Nepal and Bhutan; stacte (Heb. nataf), generally referred to the Styrax officinalis of the Levant, but Hanbury has shown that no stacte or storax is now derived from S. officinalis, and that all that is found in modern commerce is the product of the Liquidambar orientalis of Cyprus and Anatolia.
Besides these aromatic substances named in the Bible, the following must also be enumerated on account of their common use as incense in the East; benzoin or gum benjamin, first mentioned among Western writers by Ibn Batuta (1325–1349) under the name of lubân d’ Javi (i.e. olibanum of Java), corrupted in the parlance of Europe into benjamin and benzoin; camphor, produced by Cinnamomum Camphora, the “camphor laurel” of China and Japan, and by Dryobalanops aromatica, a native of the Indian Archipelago, and widely used as incense throughout the East, particularly in China; elemi, the resin of an unknown tree of the Philippine Islands, the elemi of old writers being the resin of Boswellia Frereana; gum-dragon or dragon’s blood, obtained from Calamus Draco, one of the ratan palms of the Indian Archipelago, Dracaena Draco, a liliaceous plant of the Canary Island, and Pterocarpus Draco, a leguminous tree of the island of Socotra; rose-malloes, a corruption of the Javanese rasamala, or liquid storax, the resinous exudation of Liquidambar Altingia, a native of the Indian Archipelago (an American Liquidambar also produces a rose-malloes-like exudation); star anise, the starlike fruit of the Illicum anisatum of Yunan and south-western China, burnt as incense in the temples of Japan; sweet flag, the root of Acorus Calamus, the bach of the Hindus, much used for incense in India. An aromatic earth, found on the coast of Cutch, is used as incense in the temples of western India. The animal excreta, musk and civet, also enter into the composition of modern European pastils and clous fumants. Balsam of Tolu, produced by Myroxylon toluiferum, a native of Venezuela and New Granada; balsam of Peru, derived from Myroxylon Pereirae, a native of San Salvador in Central America; Mexican and Brazilian elemi, produced by various species of Icica or “incense trees,” and the liquid exudation of an American species of Liquidambar, are all used as incense in America. Hanbury quotes a faculty granted by Pope Pius V. (August 2, 1571) to the bishops of the West Indies permitting the substitution of balsam of Peru for the balsam of the East in the preparation of the chrism to be used by the Catholic Church in America. The Sangre del drago of the Mexicans is a resin resembling dragon’s blood obtained from a euphorbiaceous tree, Croton Draco.
Probably nowhere can the actual historical progress from the primitive use of animal sacrifices to the later refinement of burning incense be more clearly traced than in the pages of the Old Testament, where no mention of the latter rite occurs before the period of the Mosaic legislation; but in the monuments of ancient Egypt the authentic traces of the use of incense that still exist carry us back to a much earlier date. From Meroe to Memphis the commonest subject carved or painted in the interiors of the temples is that of some contemporary Phrah or Pharaoh worshipping the presiding deity with oblations of gold and silver vessels, rich vestments, gems, the firstlings of the flock and herd, cakes, fruits, flowers, wine, anointing oil and incense. Generally he holds in one hand the censer, and with the other casts the pastils or osselets of incense into it: sometimes he offers incense in one hand and makes the libation of wine with the other. One of the best known of these representations is that carved on the memorial stone placed by Tethmosis (Thothmes) IV. (1533 b.c.) on the breast of the Sphinx at Gizeh. The tablet represents Tethmosis before his guardian deity, the sun-god Rê, pouring a libation of wine on one side and offering incense on the other. The ancient Egyptians used various substances as incense. They worshipped Rê at sunrise with resin, at mid-day with myrrh and at sunset with an elaborate confection called kuphi, compounded of no fewer than sixteen ingredients, among which were honey, wine, raisins, resin, myrrh and sweet calamus. While it was being mixed, holy writings were read to those engaged in the operation. According to Plutarch, apart from its mystic virtues arising from the magical combination of 4 × 4, its sweet odour had a benign physiological effect on those who offered it. The censer used was a hemispherical cup or bowl of bronze, supported by a long handle, fashioned at one end like an open hand, in which the bowl was, as it were, held, while the other end within which the pastils of incense were kept was shaped into the hawk’s head crowned with a disk, as the symbol of Rê. In embalming their dead the Egyptians filled the cavity of the belly with every sort of spicery except frankincense (Herod, ii. 86), for it was regarded as specially consecrated to the worship of the gods. In the burnt-offerings of male kine to Isis, the carcase of the steer, after evisceration, was filled with fine bread, honey, raisins, figs, frankincense, myrrh and other aromatics, and thus stuffed was roasted, being basted all the while by pouring over it large quantities of sweet oil, and then eaten with great festivity.
How important the consumption of frankincense in the worship of the gods became in Egypt is shown by two of its monuments, both of the greatest interest and value for the light they throw on the early history of the commerce of the Indian Ocean. One is an inscription in the rocky valley of Hammamat, through which the desert road from the Red Sea to the valley of Egypt opens on the green fields and palm groves of the river Nile near Coptos. It was cut on the rocks by an Egyptian nobleman named Hannu, who states that he was sent by Pharaoh Sankhkere, Menthotp IV., with a force gathered out of the Thebaid, from Coptos to the Red Sea, there to take command of a naval expedition to the Holy Land of Punt (Puoni), “to bring back odoriferous gums.” Punt is identified with the Somali country, now known to be the native country of the trees that yield the bulk of the frankincense of commerce. The other bears the record of a second expedition to the same land of Punt, undertaken by command of Queen Hatshepsut, 1600 b.c. It is preserved in the vividly chiselled and richly coloured decorations portraying the history of the reign of this famous Pharaoh on the walls of the “Stage Temple” at Thebes. The temple is now in ruins, but the entire series of gorgeous pictures recording the expedition to “the balsam land of Punt,” from its leaving to its returning to Thebes, still remains intact and undefaced. These are the only authenticated instances of the export of incense trees from the Somali country until Colonel Playfair, then political agent at Aden, in 1862–1864, collected and sent to Bombay the specimens from which Sir George Birdwood prepared his descriptions of them for the Linnean Society in 1868. King Antigonus is said to have had a branch of the true frankincense tree sent to him.
Homer tells us that the Egyptians of his time were emphatically a nation of druggists (Od. iv. 229, 230). This characteristic, in which, as in many others, they so remarkably resemble the Hindus, the Egyptians have maintained to the present day; and, although they have changed their religion, the use of incense among them continues to be as familiar and formal as ever. The kohl or black powder with which the modern, like the ancient, Egyptian ladies paint their languishing eyelids, is nothing but the smeeth of charred frankincense, or other odoriferous resin brought with frankincense, and phials of water, from the well of Zem-zem, by the pilgrims returning from Mecca. They also melt frankincense as a depilatory, and smear their hands with a paste into the composition of which frankincense enters, for the purpose of communicating to them an attractive perfume. Herodotus (iv. 75) describes a similar artifice as practised by the women of Scythia (compare also Judith x. 3, 4). In cold weather the Egyptians warm their rooms by placing in them a brazier, “chafing-dish,” or “standing-dish,” filled with charcoal, whereon incense is burnt; and in hot weather they refresh them by occasionally swinging a hand censer by a chain through them—frankincense, benzoin and aloe wood being chiefly used for the purpose.
In the authorized version of the Bible, the word “incense” translates two wholly distinct Hebrew words. In various passages in the latter portion of Isaiah (xl.-lxvi.), in Jeremiah and in Chronicles, it represents the Hebrew lebōnah, more usually rendered “frankincense”; elsewhere the original word is ketoreth (Ex. xxx. 8, 9; Lev. x. 1; Num. vii. 14, &c.), a derivative of the verb kitter (Pi.) or hiktir (Hiph.), which verb is used, not only in Ex. xxx. 7, but also in Lev. i. 9, iii. 11, ix. 13, and many other passages, to denote the process by which the “savour of satisfaction” in any burnt-offering, whether of flesh or of incense, is produced. Sometimes in the authorized version (as in 1 Kings iii. 3; 1 Sam. ii. 28) it is made to mean explicitly the burning of incense with only doubtful propriety. The expression “incense (ketoreth) of rains” in Ps. lxvi. 15 and the allusion in Ps. cxli. 2 ought both to be understood, most probably, of ordinary burnt-offerings. The “incense” (ketoreth), or “incense of sweet scents” (ketoreth sammim), called, in Ex. xxx. 35, “a confection after the art of the apothecary,” or rather “a perfume after the art of the perfumer,” which was to be regarded as most holy, and the imitation of which was prohibited under the severest penalties, was compounded of four “sweet scents” (sammim), namely stacte (nataph), onycha (sheheleth), galbanum (helbenah) and “pure” or “fine” frankincense (lebōnah zaccah), pounded together in equal proportions, with (perhaps) an admixture of salt (memullah). It was then to be “put before the testimony” in the “tent of meeting.” It was burnt on the altar of incense by the priest every morning when the lamps were trimmed in the Holy Place, and every evening when they were lighted or “set up” (Ex. xxx. 7, 8). A handful of it was also burnt once a year in the Holy of Holies by the high priest on a pan of burning coals taken from the altar of burnt-offering (Lev. xvi. 12, 13). Pure frankincense (lebōnah) formed part of the meat-offering (Lev. ii. 16, vi. 15), and was also presented along with the shew bread (Lev. xxiv. 7) every Sabbath day (probably on two golden saucers; see Jos. Ant. iii. 10, 7). The religious significance of the use of incense, or at least of its use in the Holy of Holies, is distinctly set forth in Lev. xvi. 12, 13.
The Jews were also in the habit of using odoriferous substances in connexion with the funeral obsequies of distinguished persons (see 2 Chron. xvi. 14, xxi. 19; Jer. xxxiv. 5). In Amos vi. 10 “he that burneth him” probably means “he that burns perfumes in his honour.” References to the domestic use of incense occur in Cant. iii. 6; Prov. xxvii. 9; cf. vii. 17.
The “marbles” of Nineveh furnish frequent examples of the offering of incense to the sun-god and his consort (2 Kings xxiii. 5). The kings of Assyria united in themselves the royal and priestly offices, and on the monuments they erected they are generally represented as offering incense and pouring out wine to the Tree of Life. They probably carried the incense in the sacred bag so frequently seen in their hands and in those also of the common priests. According to Herodotus (i. 183), frankincense to the amount of 1000 talents’ weight was offered every year, during the feast of Bel, on the great altar of his temple in Babylon.
The monuments of Persepolis and the coins of the Sassanians show that the religious use of incense was as common in ancient Persia as in Babylonia and Assyria. Five times a day the priests of the Persians (Zoroastrians) burnt incense on their sacred fire altars. In the Avesta (Vendidad, Fargard xix. 24, 40), the incense they used is named vohu gaono. It has been identified with benzoin, but was probably frankincense. Herodotus (iii. 97) states that the Arabs brought every year to Darius as tribute 1000 talents of frankincense. The Parsees still preserve in western India the pure tradition of the ritual of incense as followed by their race from probably the most ancient times.
The Ramayana and Mahabharata afford evidence of the employment of incense by the Hindus, in the worship of the gods and the burning of the dead, from the remotest antiquity. Its use was obviously continued by the Buddhists during the prevalence of their religion in India, for it is still used by them in Nepal, Tibet, Ceylon, Burma, China and Japan. These countries all received Buddhism from India, and a large proportion of the porcelain and earthenware articles imported from China and Japan into Europe consists of innumerable forms of censers. The Jains all over India burn sticks of incense before their Jina. The commonest incense in ancient India was probably frankincense. The Indian frankincense tree, Boswellia thurifera, Colebrooke (which certainly includes B. glabra, Roxburgh), is a doubtful native of India. It is found chiefly where the Buddhist religion prevailed in ancient times, in Bihar and along the foot of the Himalayas and in western India, where it particularly flourishes in the neighbourhood of the Buddhist caves at Ajanta. It is quite possible therefore that, in the course of their widely extended commerce during the one thousand years of their ascendancy, the Buddhists imported the true frankincense trees from Africa and Arabia into India, and that the accepted Indian species are merely varieties of them. Now, however, the incense in commonest use in India is benzoin. But the consumption of all manner of odoriferous resins, gum resins, roots, woods, dried leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds in India, in social as well as religious observances, is enormous. The grateful perfumed powder abir or randa is composed either of rice, flour, mango bark or deodar wood, camphor and aniseed, or of sandalwood or wood aloes, and zerumbet, zedoary, rose flowers, camphor and civet. The incense sticks and pastils known all over India under the names of ud-buti (“benzoin-light”) or aggar-ki-buti (“wood aloes light”) are composed of benzoin, wood aloes, sandalwood, rock lichen, patchouli, rose-malloes, talispat (the leaf of Flacourtia Cataphracta of Roxburgh), mastic and sugar-candy or gum. The abir and aggir butis made at the Mahommedan city of Bijapur in the Mahratta country are celebrated all over western India. The Indian Mussulmans indeed were rapidly degenerating into a mere sect of Hindus before the Wahabi revival, and the more recent political propaganda in support of the false caliphate of the sultans of Turkey; and we therefore find the religious use of incense among them more general than among the Mahommedans of any other country. They use it at the ceremonies of circumcision, bismillah (teaching the child “the name of God”), virginity and marriage. At marriage they burn benzoin with nim seeds (Melia Azadirachta, Roxburgh) to keep off evil spirits, and prepare the bride-cakes by putting a quantity of benzoin between layers of wheaten dough, closed all round, and frying them in clarified butter. For days the bride is fed on little else. In their funeral ceremonies, the moment the spirit has fled incense is burnt before the corpse until it is carried out to be buried. The begging fakirs also go about with a lighted stick of incense in one hand, and holding out with the other an incense-holder (literally, “incense chariot”), into which the coins of the pious are thrown. Large “incense trees” resembling our Christmas trees, formed of incense-sticks and pastils and osselets, and alight all over, are borne by the Shiah Mussulmans in the solennial procession of the Mohurrum, in commemoration of the martyrdom of the sons of Ali. The worship of the tulsi plant, or holy basil (Ocymum sanctum, Don), by the Hindus is popularly explained by its consecration to Vishnu and Krishna. It grows on the four-horned altar before the house, or in a pot placed in one of the front windows, and is worshipped every morning by all the female members of every Hindu household. It is possible that its adoration has survived from the times when the Hindus buried their dead in their houses, beneath the family hearth. When they came into a hot climate the fire of the sacrifices and domestic cookery was removed out of the house; but the dead were probably still for a while buried in or near it, and the tulsi was planted over their graves, at once for the salubrious fragrance it diffuses and to represent the burning of incense on the altar of the family Lar. The rich land round about the holy city of Pandharpur, sacred to Vithoba the national Mahratta form of (Krishna)-Vishnu, is wholly restricted to the cultivation of the tulsi plant.
As to the θύεα mentioned in Homer (Il. ix. 499, and elsewhere) and in Hesiod (Works and Days, 338), there is some uncertainty whether they were incense offerings at all, and if so, whether they were ever offered alone, and not always in conjunction with animal sacrifices. That the domestic use, however, of the fragrant wood θύον (the Arbor vitae or Cailitris quadrivalvis of botanists, the source of the resin sandarach) was known in the Homeric age, is shown by the case of Calypso (Od. v. 60), and the very similarity of the word θύον to θύος may be taken as almost conclusively proving that by that time the same wood was also employed for religious purposes. It is not probable that the sweet-smelling gums and resins of the countries of the Indian Ocean began to be introduced into Greece before the 8th or 7th century b.c., and doubtless λίβανος or λιβανωτός first became an article of extensive commerce only after the Mediterranean trade with the East had been opened up by the Egyptian king Psammetichus (c. 664–610 b.c.). The new Oriental word is frequently employed by Herodotus; and there are abundant references to the use of the thing among the writers of the golden age of Attic literature (see, for example, Aristophanes, Plut. 1114; Frogs, 871, 888; Clouds, 426; Wasps, 96, 861). Frankincense, however, though the most common, never became the only kind of incense offered to the gods among the Greeks. Thus the Orphic hymns are careful to specify, in connexion with the several deities celebrated, a great variety of substances appropriate to the service of each; in the case of many of these the selection seems to have been determined not at all by their fragrance but by some occult considerations which it is now difficult to divine.
Among the Romans the use of religious fumigations long preceded the introduction of foreign substances for the purpose (see, for example, Ovid, Fast. i. 337 seq., “Et non exiguo laurus adusta sono”). Latterly the use of frankincense (“mascula thura,” Virg. Ecl. viii. 65) became very prevalent, not only in religious ceremonials, but also on various state occasions, such as in triumphs (Ovid, Trist, iv. 2, 4), and also in connexion with certain occurrences of domestic life. In private it was daily offered by the devout to the Lar familiaris (Plaut. Aulul. prol. 23); and in public sacrifices it was not only sprinkled on the head of the victim by the pontifex before its slaughter, and afterwards mingled with its blood, but was also thrown upon the flames over which it was roasted.
No perfectly satisfactory traces can be found of the use of incense in the ritual of the Christian Church during the first four centuries. It obviously was not contemplated by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews; its use was foreign to the synagogue services on which, and not on those of the temple, the worship of the primitive Christians is well known to have been originally modelled; and its associations with heathen solemnities, and with the evil repute of those who were known as “thurificati,” would still further militate against its employment. Various authors of the ante-Nicene period have expressed themselves as distinctly unfavourable to its religious, though not of course to its domestic, use. Thus Tertullian, while (De Cor. Mil. 10) ready to acknowledge its utility in counteracting unpleasant smells (“si me odor alicujus loci offenderit, Arabiae aliquid incendo”), is careful to say that he scorns to offer it as an accompaniment to his heartfelt prayers (Apol. 30; cf. 42). Athenagoras also (Legat. 13) gives distinct expression to his sense of the needlessness of any such ritual (“the Creator and Father of the universe does not require blood, nor smoke, nor even the sweet smell of flowers and incense”); and Arnobius (Adv. Gent. vii. 26) seeks to justify the Christian neglect of it by the fact, for which he vouches, that among the Romans themselves incense was unknown in the time of Numa, while the Etruscans had always continued to be strangers to it. Cyril of Jerusalem, Augustine and the Apostolic Constitutions make no reference to any such feature either in the public or private worship of the Christians of that time. The earliest mention, it would seem, occurs in the Apostolic Canons (can. 3), where the θυμίαμα is spoken of as one of the requisites of the eucharistic service. It is easy to perceive how it should inevitably have come in along with the whole circle of ideas involved in such words as “temple,” “altar,” “priest,” which about this time came to be so generally applied in ecclesiastical connexions. Evagrius (vi. 21) mentions the gift of a θυμιατήριον by the contemporary Chosroes of Persia to the church of Jerusalem; and all the Oriental liturgies of this period provide special prayers for the thurification of the eucharistic elements. The oldest Ordo Romanus, which perhaps takes us back to within a century of Gregory the Great, enjoins that in pontifical masses a sub-deacon, with a golden censer, shall go before the bishop as he leaves the secretarium for the choir, and two, with censers, before the deacon gospeller as he proceeds with the gospel to the ambo. And less than two centuries afterwards we read an order in one of the capitularies of Hincmar of Reims, to the effect that every priest ought to be provided with a censer and incense. That in this portion of their ritual, however, the Christians of that period were not universally conscious of its direct descent from Mosaic institutions may be inferred perhaps from the “benediction of the incense” used in the days of Charlemagne, which runs as follows: “May the Lord bless this incense to the extinction of every noxious smell, and kindle it to the odour of its sweetness.” Even Thomas Aquinas (p. iii. qu. 83, art. 5) gives prominence to this idea.
The character and order of these historical notices of incense would certainly, were there nothing else to be considered, justify the conclusion hitherto generally adopted, that its use was wholly unknown in the worship of the Christian Church before the 5th century. On the other hand, we know that in the first Christian services held in the catacombs under the city of Rome, incense was burnt as a sanitary fumigation at least. Tertullian also distinctly alludes to the use of aromatics in Christian burial: “the Sabaeans will testify that more of their merchandise, and that more costly, is lavished on the burial of Christians, than in burning incense to the gods.” And the whole argument from analogy is in favour of the presumption of the ceremonial use of incense by the Christians from the first. It is natural that little should be said of so obvious a practice until the fuller development of ritual in a later age. The slighting references to it by the Christian fathers are no more an argument against its existence in the primitive church than the similar denunciations by the Jewish prophets of burnt-offerings and sacrifices are any proof that there were no such rites as the offering of incense, and of the blood of bulls and fat of rams, in the worship of the temple at Jerusalem. There could be no real offence to Christians in the burning of incense. Malachi (i. 11) had already foretold the time when among the Gentiles, in every place, incense should be offered to God. Gold, with myrrh and frankincense were offered by the Persian Magi to the infant Jesus at his birth; and in Revelation viii. 3, 4, the image of the offering of incense with the prayers of the saints, before the throne of God, is not without its significance. If also the passage in Ambrose of Milan (on Luke i. 11), where he speaks of “us” as “adolentes altaria” is to be translated “incensing the altars,” and taken literally, it is a testimony to the use of incense by the Christian Church in, at least, the 4th century. But the earliest express mention of the censing of the altar by Christian priests is in “the works,” first quoted in the 6th century, attributed to “Dionysius the Areopagite,” the contemporary of St Paul (Acts xvii. 34).
The Missal of the Roman Church now enjoins incensation before the introit, at the gospel and again at the offertory, and at the elevation, in every high mass; the use of incense also occurs at the exposition of the sacrament, at consecrations of churches and the like, in processions, in the office for the burial of the dead and at the exhibition of relics. On high festivals the altar is censed at vespers and lauds.
In the Church of England the use of incense was gradually abandoned after the reign of Edward VI., until the ritualistic revival of the present day. Its use, however, has never been abolished by law. A “Form for the Consecration of a Censer” occurs in Sancroft’s Form of Dedication and Consecration of a Church or Chapel (1685). In various works of reference (as, for example, in Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vol. viii. p. 11) numerous sporadic cases are mentioned in which incense appears to have been burnt in churches; the evidence, however, does not go so far as to show that it was used during divine service, least of all that it was used during the communion office. At the coronation of George III., one of the king’s grooms appeared “in a scarlet dress, holding a perfuming pan, burning perfumes, as at previous coronations.”
In 1899, on the appeal of the Rev. H. Westall, St Cuthbert’s, London, and the Rev. E. Ram, St John’s, Norwich, against the use of incense in the Church of England, the archbishops of Canterbury (Dr Temple) and York (Dr Maclagan) supported the appeal. Their decision was reviewed by Chancellor L. T. Dibdin in the 10th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the exposition given by Sir Lewis Dibdin of the whole question of the use of incense in the Church of England may here be interpolated. (G. B.)
Incense in the Church of England.—Mr Scudamore (Notitia Eucharistica, 2nd ed. pp. 141–142) thus describes the method and extent of the employment of incense at the mass prior to the Reformation:—
“According to the use of Sarum (and Bangor) the priest, after being himself censed by the deacon, censed the altar before the Introit began. The York rubric directed him to do it immediately alter the first saying of the Introit, which in England was thrice said. The Hereford missal gives no direction for censing the altar at that time. The middle of the altar was censed, according to Sarum, Bangor and Hereford, before the reading of the Gospel. According to Sarum and Bangor, the thurible, as well as the lights, attended the Gospel to the lectern. Perhaps the York rubric implies that this was done when it orders (which the others do not) the thurible to be carried round the choir with the Gospel while the Creed was being sung. In the Sarum and Bangor, the priest censed the oblations after offering them; then the space between himself and the altar. He was then, at Sarum, censed by the deacon, and an acolyte censed the choir; at Bangor the Sinistrum Cornu of the altar and the relics were censed instead. York and Hereford ordered no censing at the offertory. There is reason to think that, notwithstanding the order for the use of incense at every celebration, it was in practice burnt only on high festivals, and then only in rich churches, down to the period of the Reformation. In most parishes its costliness alone would preclude its daily use, while the want of an assistant minister would be a very common reason for omitting the rite almost everywhere. Incense was not burnt in private masses, so that the clergy were accustomed to celebrations without it, and would naturally forego it on any plausible ground.”
The ritual of the mass remained unchanged until the death of Henry VIII. (Jan. 28, 1547). In March 1548 the Order of the Communion was published and commanded to be used by royal proclamation in the name of Edward VI. It was the precursor of the Prayer Book, and supplemented the accustomed Latin service by additions in English to provide for the communion of the people in both kinds. But it was expressly stated in a rubric that the old service of the mass was to proceed without variation of any rite or ceremony until after the priest had received the sacrament, that is, until long after the last of the three occasions for the use of incense explained above. But on Whitsunday 1549 the first Prayer Book of Edward VI. came into use under an Act of Parliament (2 and 3 Ed. VI. ch. 1, the first Act of Uniformity) which required its exclusive use in public worship so as to supersede all other forms of service. Another Act, 3 and 4 Ed. VI. ch. 10, required the old service books to be delivered up to be destroyed. The first Prayer Book does not contain any direction to use or any mention of incense. It has been and still is a keenly controverted question whether incense did or did not continue to be in ceremonial use under the first Prayer Book or during the rest of Edward VI.’s reign. No evidence has hitherto been discovered which justifies us in answering this question in the affirmative. The second Prayer Book of Edward VI. (1552), published under the authority of the second Act of Uniformity (5 and 6 Ed. VI. ch. 1), contains no reference to incense. Edward VI. died on the 6th July 1553. Queen Mary by statute (1 Mary, sess. 2, ch. 2) abolished the Prayer Book, repealed the Acts of Uniformity and restored “divine service and administration of sacraments as were most commonly used in England in the last year of Henry VIII.” The ceremonial use of incense thus became again an undoubted part of the communion service in the Church of England. A proclamation issued (December 6, 1553) directed the churchwardens to obtain the proper ornaments for the churches; and the bishops (at any rate Bishop Bonner, see Visitation Articles 1554, Cardwell’s Doc. Ann. i. 149–153) in their visitations inquired whether censers had been furnished for use. Mary died on the 17th of November 1558. On the 24th of June 1559 the second Prayer Book of Edward VI. (with a few alterations having no reference to incense) was again established, under the authority of the third Act of Uniformity (1 Eliz. ch. 2), as the exclusive service book for public service. There is no evidence of the ceremonial use of incense under Elizabeth’s Prayer Book, or under the present Prayer Book of 1662 (established by the fourth Act of Uniformity, 13 and 14 Charles II. ch. 4) until the middle of the 19th century; and there is no doubt that as a ceremony of divine worship, whether at the Holy Communion or at other services, it was entirely disused. There are, however, a good many instances recorded of what has been called a fumigatory use of frankincense in churches, by which it was sought to purify the air, in times of public sickness, or to dispel the foulness caused by large congregations, or poisonous gases arising from ill-constructed vaults under the church floor. It seems also to have been used for the purpose of creating an agreeable perfume on great occasions, e.g. the great ecclesiastical feasts. But this use of incense must be carefully distinguished from its ceremonial use. It was utilitarian and not symbolical, and from the nature of the purpose in view must have taken place before, rather than during, service. Of the same character is the use of incense carried in a perfuming pan before the sovereign at his coronation in the procession from Westminster Hall to the Abbey. This observance was maintained from James II.’s coronation to that of George III. In the general revival of church ceremonial which accompanied and followed the Oxford Movement incense was not forgotten, and its ceremonial use in the pre-Reformation method has been adopted in a few extreme churches since 1850. Its use has been condemned as an illegal ceremony by the ecclesiastical courts. In 1868 Sir Robert Phillimore (Dean of the Arches) pronounced the ceremonial use of incense to be illegal in the suit of Martin v. Mackonochie (2 A. and E.L.R. 116). The case was carried to the Privy Council on appeal, but there was no appeal on the question of incense. Again, in 1870, the ceremonial use of incense was condemned by Sir Robert Phillimore in the suit of Sumner v. Wix (3 A. and E. L.R. 58).
Notwithstanding these decisions, it was insisted by those who defended the revival of the ceremonial use of incense that it was a legal custom of the Church of England. The question was once more elaborately argued in May 1899 before an informal tribunal consisting of the archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Temple) and the archbishop of York (Dr. Maclagan), at Lambeth Palace. On the 31st of July 1899 the archbishops decided that the liturgical use of incense was illegal. The Lambeth “opinion,” as it was called, failed to convince the clergy against whom it was directed any better than the judgments of the ecclesiastical courts, but at first a considerable degree of obedience to the archbishops’ view was shown. Various expedients were adopted, as, e.g., the use of incense just before the beginning of service, by which it was sought to retain incense without infringing the law as laid down by the archbishops. There remained, nevertheless, a tendency on the part of the clergy who used incense, or desired to do so, to revert to the position they occupied before the Lambeth hearing—that is, to insist on the ceremonial use of incense as a part of the Catholic practice of the Church of England which it is the duty of the clergy to maintain, notwithstanding the decisions of ecclesiastical judges or the opinions or archbishops to the contrary. (L. T. D.)
Manufacture.—For the manufacture of the incense now used in the Christian churches of Europe there is no fixed rule. The books of ritual are agreed that Ex. xxx. 34 should be taken as a guide as much as possible. It is recommended that frankincense should enter as largely as possible into its composition, and that if inferior materials be employed at all they should not be allowed to preponderate. In Rome olibanum alone is employed; in other places benzoin, storax, lign, aloes, cascarilla bark, cinnamon, cloves and musk are all said to be occasionally used. In the Russian Church, benzoin is chiefly employed. The Armenian liturgy, in its benediction of the incense, speaks of “this perfume prepared from myrrh and cinnamon.”
The preparation of pastils of incense has probably come down in a continuous tradition from ancient Egypt, Babylonia and Phoenicia. Cyprus was for centuries famous for their manufacture, and they were still known in the middle ages by the names of pastils or osselets of Cyprus.
Maimonides, in his More Nevochim, states that the use of incense in the worship of the Jews originated as a corrective of the disagreeable odours arising from the slaughter and burning of the animals offered in sacrifice. There can be no doubt that its use throughout the East is based on sanitary considerations; and in Europe even, in the time when the dead were buried in the churches, it was recognized that the burning of incense served essentially to preserve their salubrity. But evidently the idea that the odour of a burnt-offering (cf. the κνίσης ἡδὺς ἀυτμή of Odyss. xii. 369) is grateful to the deity, being indeed the most essential part of the sacrifice, or at least the vehicle by which alone it can successfully be conveyed to its destination, is also a very early one, if not absolutely primitive; and survivals of it are possibly to be met with even among the most highly cultured peoples where the purely symbolical nature of all religious ritual is most clearly understood and maintained. Some such idea plainly underlies the familiar phrase “a sweet savour,” more literally “a savour of satisfaction,” whereby an acceptable offering by fire is so often denoted in the Bible (Gen. viii. 21; Lev. i. 9, et passim; cf. Eph. v. 2). It is easy to imagine how, as men grew in sensuous appreciation of pleasant perfumes, and in empirical knowledge of the sources from which these could be derived, this advance would naturally express itself, not only in their domestic habits, but also in the details of their religious ceremonial, so that the custom of adding some kind of incense to their animal sacrifices, and at length that of offering it pure and simple, would inevitably arise. Ultimately, with the development of the spiritual discernment of men, the “offering of incense” became a mere symbolical phrase for prayer (see Rev. v. 8, viii. 3, 4). Clement of Alexandria expresses this in his well-known words: “The true altar of incense is the just soul, and the perfume from it is holy prayer.” (So also Origen, Cont. Cels. viii. 17, 20.) The ancients were familiar with the sanitary efficacy of fumigations. The energy with which Ulysses, after the slaughter of the suitors, calls to Euryclea for “fire and sulphur” to purge (literally “fumigate”) the dining-hall from the pollution of their blood (Od. xxii. 481, 482) would startle those who imagine that sanitation is a peculiarly modern science. There is not the slightest doubt that the censing of things and persons was first practised as an act of purification, and thus became symbolical of consecration, and finally of the sanctification of the soul. The Egyptians understood the use of incense as symbolical of the purification of the soul by prayer. Catholic writers generally treat it as typifying contrition, the preaching of the Gospel, the prayers of the faithful and the virtues of the saints. (G. B.)
- Incensum (or incensum thuris) from incendere; Ital. and Port. incenso; Span. incienso; Fr. encens. The substantive occurs in an inscription of the Arvalian brotherhood (Marini, Gli Atti e Monumenti de’ fratelli Arvali, p. 639), but is frequent only in ecclesiastical Latin. Compare the classical suffimentum and suffitus from suffio. For “incense” Ulfila (Luke i. 10, 11) has retained the Greek θυμίαμα (thymiama); all the Teutonic names (Ger. Weihrauch; Old Saxon Wîrôc; Icel. Reykelsi; Dan. Rögelse) seem to belong to the Christian period (Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, i. 50).
- The etymological affinities of θύω, θύος, thus, fuffio, funus, and the Sans. dhuma are well known. See Max Müller, Chips, i. 99.
- Classical Latin has but one word (thus or tus) for all sorts of incense. Libanus, for frankincense, occurs only in the Vulgate. Even the “ground frankincense” or “ground pine” (Ajuga chamaepitys) was known to the Romans as Tus terrae (Pliny), although they called some plant, from its smelling like frankincense, Libanotis, and a kind of Thasian wine, also from its fragrance, Libanios. The Latino-barbaric word Olibanum (quasi Oleum Libani), the common name for frankincense in modern commerce, is used in a bull of Pope Benedict IX. (1033). It may here be remarked that the name “European frankincense” is applied to Pinus Taeda, and to the resinous exudation (“Burgundy pitch”) of the Norwegian spruce firs (Abies excelsa). The “incense tree” of America is the Icica guianensis, and the “incense wood” of the same continent I. heptaphylla.
- Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs, i. 77-81, 414–419.
- Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride, c. 52. In Parthey’s edition (Berlin, 1850) other recipes for the manufacture of kuphi, by Galen and Dioscorides, are given; also some results of the editor’s own experiments.
- Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, i. 493; ii. 49, 398–400, 414–416.
- Brugsch, Egypt under the Pharaohs, i. 303–312.
- See Lane, Mod. Egyptians, pp. 34, 41, 139, 187, 438 (ed. 1860).
- See Wellhausen, Gesch. Israels, i. 70 sqq., who from philological and other data infers the late date of the introduction of incense into the Jewish ritual.
- According to Philo (Opera, i. 504, ed. Mangey), they symbolized respectively water, earth, air and fire.
- Other accounts of its composition, drawn from Rabbinical sources, will be found in various works on Jewish antiquities; see, for example, Reland, Antiq. Sacr. vet. Hebr. pp. 39-41 (1712).
- This guarded statement still holds good. Compare Duchesne, Christian Worship (Eng. trans., 1904), ch. ii., “The Mass in the East,” v. “The Books of the Latin Rite,” and xii. “The Dedication of Churches.”