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4. Of the manner in which the Scriptures were read, and of other exercises in connection

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

4. Of the manner in which the Scriptures were read, and of other exercises in connection

Certain portions of the Scriptures, as has been already remarked, were sung, others were recited, or read. The Psalms were uniformly sung, and from the time of Gregory the Great, the same was true of the gospels, and the epistles. All other parts of the Scriptures were read; but the mode of reading was very unlike that in common use; it was indeed a recitative or chant; each syllable was uttered with a measured cadence and modulation, in a style and manner midway between that of singing and ordinary reading. In the East especially was this art of chanting greatly cultivated; and the Koran to this day is thus read.

It was a prevailing sentiment of the Oriental church, that the words of the Most High ought to be pronounced in a higher and more joyful strain than that of common conversation and reading. On this interesting point it is to be regretted that so little is known. The ancient art of chanting the Scriptures was perpetuated by tradition, and only some slight traces of it can now be observed in the Greek, Roman, and Protestant churches.

Augustine, the great rhetorician and musician of the ancient church, contends earnestly for an easy, simple, and unstudied style of psalmody, and commends highly the singing of Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, which more resembled the performance of a reader than of a singer. In accordance with this author, the approved style of conducting the services of the church seems to have been to conform the exercise of singing as nearly as possible to that of reading; and the reading, to that of singing. The style was much the same, both in the Jewish synagogue and the Greek church. In both, the rehearsals were so rapid, that it would be difficult to determine whether it most resembled that of singing, or of reading.

The reading was begun and closed with a set form. The reader, according to Cyprian, saluted the audience by saying, 'Peace be with you.' This prerogative was afterwards denied to the reader, as belonging exclusively to the presbyter or bishop. Then again, it became the usual salutation at the opening of public worship, and before the sermon.

Before the meeting began, the deacon enjoined silence, and often called aloud again, *, atiendamits, attention! Then the reader proceeded saying, 'Thus saith the Lord in the lesson from the Old Testament, or from the gospels,' etc., or again, 'Beloved brethren, in the epistles it is written.' This was said to awaken attention and veneration for the word read. 

At the close of the lesson, the people responded frequently if not uniformly, by saying, 'Amen.' The purport of which was, according to Alexander Halesius, 'God grant us to continue steadfast in the faith.' Or they said, 'We thank thee, Lord;' 'We thank thee, O Christ,' – for the previous word. Such abuses finally arose from this custom, that the people were forbidden to join in the response, and the minister closed the reading of the epistles by saying, 'Blessed be God;' and that of the evangelists by saying, 'Glory be to thee, O Lord.' 

Whenever the deacon, presbyter, or bishop performed the office of reader, he introduced the service by a form which was, substantially, the same as that which is still observed in the Episcopal service.

At first the reading was performed from the ambo, a pulpit or desk, prepared for the purpose; afterwards the reading was from the pulpit, with the exception of that of the gospels and the epistles which, out of reverence for these parts of Scripture, were rehearsed near the altar; the former on the right hand, and the latter on the left, of the altar. It was the duty of the subdeacon to read or chant the epistles; and of the deacon to rehearse the gospels.

The reader was at all times required to stand, in the discharge of his office; the people preserved the same attitude in the rehearsal of the Psalms, and the reading of the lessons from the gospels and the epistles at the celebration of their festivals. Cyprian represents this to have been, on all occasions, the custom in Africa. The Apostolical Constitutions recommend both the clergy and the people to stand in the reading of the gospels. Augustine urges all who are lame, or afflicted with any infirmity, so that they cannot conveniently stand, to sit and reverently listen to the word of God. But it was a general rule of the ancient church, which has at all times been observed, and still is to some extent, that the hearers sat during the ordinary reading of the Scriptures, and arose when the gospels were recited. If in the delivery of a sermon the preacher introduced a passage from the gospels, the assembly immediately arose; which was the frequent occasion of much noise and confusion. The reason for this usage in relation to the gospels is given by Chrysostom as follows: "If the letters of a king are read in the \ 9 theatre with great silence, much more ought we to compose ourselves, and reverently to arise and listen when the letters, not of an earthly king, but of the Lord of angels are read to us." 

Jerome is the first who mentions the custom of burning lighted candles in the Eastern church, though not in the Western, when the gospels were read. But all antiquity offers no other authority for this senseless superstition.

Confession, lib. x. c. 33.

Concil. Carthag. iii. c. 4: Aiigustin. ep. 155: De civit. Dei. 22. c. 8: Chrysost. Horn, in Coloss. iii. p. 173.

Chrysost. Horn. iii. in 2 Thess. p. 381.

S. Gavanti Thesaur. torn. i. p. 90–94.

Lib. ii. c. 57.

Serm. xxvi. ex. L. torn. viii. p. 174: Selvaggii. Antiq. chn. instit. lib. ii. p. I.

Chrysost. Horn. i. in Matt. p. 13.

Contra Vigil, c. 3: Vgl. c. 4.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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