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THE PROPHECY OR EPISTLE.
During the early ages of the church, the lesson which is now ordinarily designated as the epistle, was more generally known by the appellation of “ the apostle.” We find it generally called by this name in the ancient liturgies and the writings of the Fathers. Thus Augustine often speaks of its; and in the sacramentary of Gregory the Great it is said, “ the apostle followsť,” meaning the epistle or apostolical writing is then read. In the patriarchate of Constantinople, where ancient customs have been preserved more perfectly than any where else, the epistle is called “ the apostle” to this day u. In the west this lesson has however long been known by the name of “the epistle,” being most commonly taken from the epistles of St. Paul.
In the church of England this lesson of scripture is taken not only from the epistles of the holy apostles, but sometimes from their acts, and occasionally from the prophets. Thus we retain the custom of the church of God, which “mingled the law and the prophets with the writings of the evangelists and apostles.”
During the early ages of the church, the apostle or prophet was generally read by a special reader from the ambon, or pulpit, which stood in the middle
S“ Apostolum audivimus, See also Sermo 176. (alias 10.) psalmum audivimus, evange
p. 839. lium audivimus, consonant om- t“ Sequitur apostolus.” Menes divinæ lectiones ut spem nard. Sacram. Gregorii, p. 2. non in nobis sed in Domino u Liturgia Chrysost. Goar, collocemus.” Sermo 165. de Verbis Apost. (alias 7.) p. 796. v Tertullian. de Præscript. tom. v. Oper. ed. Benedict. Hæretic. c. 36.
of the church amongst the faithfulw. The church of Constantinople and the other eastern churches still retain the ancient custom of employing a reader for this offices. The church of Rome abandoned it about the eighth or ninth century, when it became the office of the sub-deacon to read the epistley. We are blamed by Schultingius for permitting it to be read by the priest ?, but it is only read by the officiating minister when no assistant is present; and we might with as much reason blame the church of Rome for permitting the sub-deacon to read the epistle, of which there is no trace in primitive times: but it is in truth a matter of little importance.
It was the ancient custom of the church of England to read this lesson from the pulpit a. When no other clergyman was present who could read the epistle, the priest himself read it at the right or south corner of the holy table, which thence obtained the appellation of cornu epistola. The injunctions of king Edward the Sixth, in 1547, appoint the epistle to
w See Apost. Const. lib. ii. c. 57. quoted above, page 27. note f. Περί του, μη δείν πλέον των κανονικών ψαλτών, των επί τον άμβωνα αναβαινόντων, και από διφθέρας ψαλλόντων ετέρους τινάς ψάλλειν εν εκκλησία. Canon. 15. Concil. Laodicen. Quid aliud quam super pulpitum id est super tribunal ecclesiæ oportebat imponi ut .... legat præcepta et evangelium Domini, &c.” Cypr. Ep. 39. (alias 34.) p. 77. Epist. ed. Fell. See also Bingham, Antiquities, &c. book viii. c. 5. 9. 4. p. 293.
93. in Chrysost. Liturg. p. 129.
y Bona, Rer. Liturg. lib. ii. c. 6. p. 365
2 Schultingius, Bibliotheca Ecclesiastica, tom. iv. pars 2. p. 135.
x Goar, Rituale Græc. not.
a Miss. Sarisb. fol. x. cepta vero ultima oratione ante epistolam : subdiaconus per medium chori ad legendum epistolam in pulpitum accedat. Et legatur epistola in pulpito omni die Dominica, &c.” On Sundays and principal feast days it was read in the pulpit, on other days it was read at the step of the choir.
be read in the pulpit or in some convenient place b; and in the injunctions of queen Elizabeth, we find that a special reader, entitled an “ Epistoler,” was to read the epistle in cathedral and collegiate churches, vested in a cope C.
Before noticing the particular passages of scripture which have been selected for this lesson, it is worthy of remark, that, in the only liturgy of the ancient Irish church now in existence, there is only one portion of scripture appointed for the epistle, which was to be read every day d. In the first ages of the church (as has already been observed) there were no selections from the scriptures for special occasions. The books of scripture were read in number and quantity according to the direction of the bishop. In after-times particular books or lessons were read at particular seasons e; and it is said that Jerome made a selection of lessons for every holyday in the year, which he collected in a book entitled, “ Comes,” and this book, it is said, was brought into use in the Roman church f: but the tradition is very doubtful 8.
b Sparrow's Collection of ecclesia recitari, quæ ita sunt Articles, &c. p. 7.
annuæ, ut aliæ esse non possint; c Sparrow, p. 124. In the ordo ille quem susceperamus, cathedral of Durham, and in necessitate paululum intermissome other churches, the epi- sus est, non amissus.” Augusstle is still read by a particular tin. Prolog Tractat. in Epist. reader or epistoler.
Johan. tom. iii. pars 2. p. 825. d O'Conor, Appendix to vol. ed. Benedict. Concil. Toletan. i. of Catalogue of MSS. at iv. c. 17. A. D. 633. appoints Stowe, p. 45
the Apocalypse to be read bee “ Meminit sanctitas vestra tween Easter and Pentecost. Evangelium secundum Johan- See Bingham, Antiq. book xiv. nem ex ordine lectionum nos c. 3. §. 3. p. 678, &c. solere tractare : sed quia nunc f Bona, Rer. Liturg. lib. ii. interposita est sollemnitas sanc- c. 6. p. 363. torum dierum, quibus certas ex & It only appears in the evangelio lectiones oportet in pages of Micrologus, Berno,
The proclamation of the title of the books before
lesson began, was very common in early times. was generally made by the person who was about read. The deacon first directed the people to be ent and attentive h.
Almost all the lessons now read as epistles in the English liturgy have been appointed to their present place and used by the church of England for many ages. They are found in all the liturgies of the English church used before the revision of our offices in the reign of Edward the Sixth, and they also appear in the monuments of the English liturgy before the invasion of William the Conqueror. It is in fact probable that they are generally as old as the time of Augustine, A. D. 595; since we find that the most ancient lectionaries of the early church of Rome contain nearly the same selections, and therefore Augustine probably brought these selections into use in England. In this view, the lessons entitled epistles in our liturgy have been used for above twelve hundred years by the church of Englandi. We must consider this more as a subject of interest and pleasure than of any great importance, since “ all scripture is given us by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteous
Yet we may remark, that the extracts read from the epistles are generally devotional and practical, and therefore best adapted for ordinary comprehension and general edification.
and Hugo à S. Victore, writers of the 12th and 13th centuries.
h This is mentioned by Chrysostom, Hom. xix. in Act. Apost. cited by Bingham, book xiv. c. 3. §. 8. It is also alluded to by Ambrose, see the quotation in note k, p. 127.
vol. i. and by Cyril of Alexandria, de Adorat. in Spiritu et Verit. p. 454. tom. i. lib. xiii.
i I have endeavoured to trace the antiquity of the epistles in chapter iii. to which I beg to refer the reader for further information.
In the Roman liturgy anciently, a psalm was sung after the epistle, which was called Gradualei, and is still used. This was followed by Alleluia except from Septuagesima to Easter k. In the churches of Gaul and Spain the gradual was not used', and the church of England at the revision of her liturgy omitted it likewise. The origin of the
. gradual, though its present place in the Roman missal is not, in my opinion, the place which it originally occupied, is to be traced to a greater antiquity than liturgical writers have generally thought ". In the apostolic and following ages, many lessons were read in the liturgy, and amongst these was frequently one from the book of Psalms. Thus we find from the Apostolical Constitutions that the eastern church in the third or fourth century, read lessons from scripture at their assemblies in this order. The law, prophets, psalms, epistles, and gospels ". The psalm was therefore one of the lessons.
j The psalm, or verses of a paniarum ecclesiis laudes post psalm, sung after the epistle, Apostolum decantantur, priuswas always entitled gradual, quam evangelium prædicetur ; from being chanted on the dum canones præcipiunt post steps (gradus) of the pulpit. Apostolum non laudes, sed When sung by one person
evangelium annuntiari, &c.” without interruption, it was forbidding the custom. called tractus, when chanted m The gradual has been alternately by several singers, ascribed to Cælestinus and it was termed responsory. See Gregory the Great, bishops of Le Brun, Explication de la Rome. Bona, Rer. Liturg. lib. Messe, tom. i. p. 205.
ii. c. 6. p. 367. See also Le k See Bona, Rer. Liturg. Brun, Explication de la Messe, lib. ii. cap. 6. p. 369.
&c. tom. i. p. 204. &c. 1 Concil. Toletan. 4. can. 12. n Apost. Const. lib. ii. cap. “In quibusdam quoque His- 57. cited above, p. 27.