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2. Of the Order in which the Scriptures were read

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER XI. Use of the Holy Scriptures in religious worship

2. Of the Order in which the Scriptures were read

At first there was no established order for the reading of them. Before the canon of the New Testament was completed, the Law and the Prophets of the Jewish Scriptures were read according to their divisions. Afterwards the bishop appointed the lessons. Even as late as the fourth and fifth centuries, instances occur of such appointments by the bishop. In all matters pertaining to the church, usage had a great influence. The traditions of the apostles, and especially usages established by them, were very carefully observed. Every innovation was regarded with jealousy proportionate to the antiquity of the usage which it would supersede.

The earliest division of the New Testament was into the Gospels and the Apostles, corresponding to the Law and the Prophets of the Jewish Scriptures. This division appears in the writings of Tertullian and Irenaeus, and must, accordingly, have been anterior to their time. The reading was directed according to this division, one lesson from each being read alternately. Between the reading of these, Psalms were sung, or selections from the Old Testament were read. When there was nothing peculiar to direct the reading, the Scriptures were read consecutively according to their established order; but this order was interrupted on their festivals, and other occasions. At Easter, the account of the resurrection was read from each of the evangelists successively. The season of Pentecost, from Easier to Whitsuntide, was set apart for the reading of the Acts of the Apostles. 

The Western church connected with this the reading of the Epistles and of the Apocalypse. During Lent, Genesis was read; and, as early as the third century, the book of Job was read in Passion Week. In a word, though we have no complete order of the lessons read, through the year, it is to be presumed that the reading was directed by an established rule and plan, especially on all the principal festivals and solemnities of the church.

At the close of the lesson, the assembly kneeled and prayed for pardon of the sins of which they might have been guilty in the reading; saying, 'Lord have mercy upon us.' Instead of this prayer, however, other forms were frequently used; such as, 'Thus saith the Lord,' etc. The reading at the burial service, was ended with the exclamation, 'Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.'

Athanas. Apolog. ii. contra Arain. p. 717: Agust. in Ps. 138: p. 650: August. Serm. 143, 144.

Tertuliian adv. Marc. lib. vi. c. 2. lib. v. c. 3: De Praescript. haeret. c. 36: Irenaeus haeres. lib. iii. c. 29.

Augustin. Expos, in 1 John. torn. ix. 235.

Augustin. Serm. 139, 140, 194, 148.

Augustin. Tractat. vii. in Joan. torn. ix. p. 24: Chrysostom Hom. 63. (66.)

Concil. Tolet. iv. c. 16.

Chrysost. Hom. 7. ad popul. Antioch: Augustin. temp.
(No tag #7 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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