2. Of Readers
Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER IV. Inferior officers of the church
2. Of Readers
These occupied the first rank in the lower order of church officers in the Greek church; in the Roman they were next in rank to the subdeacons. They have been frequently regarded as an order instituted by the apostles, and by them derived from the Jewish synagogue. Compare Luke 4:16, Acts 13:15, 27, 2 Cor. 3:14. And it must be admitted, that reading formed a very important part of public worship. There were also, among the Jews, persons who performed the same duties as the readers in the christian church. But the fact that the Scriptures were read by certain individuals, is not proof that these constituted a distinct order. Justin, indeed, distinguishes between the reader and the presiding officer of the church, and yet the former may have been a presbyter or deacon. The deacons were expressly required to read at the communion service, but this is no certain evidence that they may not have been at the same time the ordinary readers in the religious service. For these reasons it is advisable to refer the institution of this order to the third century. They are first mentioned by Tertullian, who complains of the heretics that they confound all rule and order, allowing the same person to perform alternately the offices of bishop, presbyter, deacon, and reader. Cyprian also mentions the ordination of a reader, and remarks that the readers are a subordinate class who are candidates for promotion to the clerical office. Ep. 24. (al. 29).3.
The office was at first held in peculiar honor. Cyprian styles the reader the instructor of the audience, intimating thereby both the dignity of the office, and the importance of the reading of the Scriptures as a part of divine worship. The church observed the rules of the synagogue in admitting persons to this office without prescribing to them any specific age. As with the Jews, so with the primitive Christians, lads at an early age, if duly qualified, might serve as their readers. There are instances on record of youth who, even at seven years of age, have been employed in this service; and others at eight, ten, and twelve years of age. Young men of noble birth especially, aspired to this office.
In the Western church the subdeacons soon sought means to bring the readers under subordination to them, and accordingly this order finally ceased from the church. In the cloisters and chapters, on the contrary, they acquired still increasing consideration, and at a period still later, as they were withdrawn from the service of the church, they were transferred to the professorships of Philosophy and Theology in the universities and other schools of learning,
Just. Mar. Apol. 1. c 67.
De praescript. haer. c. 41.
Comp. Const. Apost. lib. viii. c. 22.
Sozomen, h. c. lib. v. c. 2; Socrat. h. c. lib. iii. c. 1; Greg. Naz. orat. invec. 1. Opp. torn. i. p. 58.