Epistle (from Gk. epistolē and Lat. epistola: ‘letter’)
- Michel Huglo
- and James W. McKinnon
(from Gk. epistolē and Lat. epistola: ‘letter’)
Generic term for the reading or readings that precede the Gospel in the pre-eucharistic synaxis of the Eastern and Western liturgies. The term derives from the fact that the Epistle is frequently taken from one of the epistles of Paul, but it is nonetheless applied to other scriptural readings, too, including those taken from the Old Testament. Similarly, the term ‘Apostolus’, a reference to the ‘Apostle’ Paul, was frequently used in patristic literature to refer to the Epistle.
It remains a safe assumption that the early Christian practice of liturgical reading from the Bible was a continuation of what took place in the Jewish synagogues. The earliest description of a pre-eucharistic synaxis, that of Justin Martyr (dc165), mentions both New and Old Testament readings: ‘the memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the Prophets are read as long as time permits’ (First Apology, 67). Two other common assumptions about the Epistle, however, have come to be seriously questioned: that Epistles were at first read according to the system of ...