Pericope (περικοπή) is the title of those sections of Holy Scripture which were appointed to be read inthe services of the Church. The synagogue, with its parashioth (q.v.) and haphtaras (q.v.), no doubt furnished the pattern which in the different sections of the Church took a different shape. Little of this process has been recorded: it belongs to what Basil calls: the ἀγραφατῆς ἐκκλησίας μυστήρια.
The oldest documents which speak of reading the Scriptures in the church belong to the Greek Church, and they are the more important since the Greek Church is the mother of all the Oriental churches, and thus the origin, not only of their liturgies, but also of their lectionaries. The sources at our disposal show the remarkable wealth of the Greek Church in this respect; for not only do the Sundays, the prominent days of Christ's history, and the many saints' days, have their regular gospel and epistolary lessons, but such are also assigned to every day in the week. Thus for the period between Easter and Pentecost, as Chrysostom already states, the Acts and the gospel of John were read continuously. For the rest of the Church year, three separate and independent series of lessons are employed — one series for the Sundays, beginning with the second' after Pentecost; one series for the Sabbaths, beginning in the Pentecost week; and one series for the five weekdays between the Sunday and Sabbath. All three series select both from gospels and epistles, following the order of the books and chapters in the New Test. History explains this strange phenomenon. It is very evident that the Greek Church at first introduced lessons for the Sundays, later for the Sabbaths, and still later for the weekdays.
Next in importance is the Armenian system, which has only become known by professor Petermann's translation from the Armenian Church Almanac, published at Venice in 1782, and in German translation found in Alt's Kirchenjahr, 2:136, 225. Scripture reading is a most important part of the Armenian church-service more so than in the Greek Church, and lessons from both the Old and New Tests. are employed. Among the Syrians we find for the most part the Greek reading-system, while the Nestorian system of Bible-lessons contains for the first time a series of lectiones selectae, which in some respects deserves to be placed at the side of the Romish pericope system.
The documents with reference to the reading-system of the Jacobite Christians are quite ample; a list of the New-Test. pericopes of the Jacobites is found in the edition of the Syriac New Test. published by Widtmanstadt (Vienna, 1855). The Maronites have virtually the same plan of Scripture-reading as the Jacobites. While the lectionary plan adopted by the Alexandrian churches was only a branch of the Greek, that of the Coptic churches was entirely distinct, and is a portion of the Coptic liturgy of St. Basilius. A Latin translation is found in Renaudot's Collection, 1:137 sq., from which it is evident that, in every chief service, the Copts read from four different parts of the New Test. Virtually identical with the Coptic is the Ethiopic system. See Renaudot, 1:499, 507 sq.
A proper transition from the eastern to the western systems would be the North-African lectionaries, if we were in possession of such. With the exception of the Mozarabic, prevalent among the African and Spanish Christians in the 13th century, no list has been preserved.
In the Occidental Church we have, in reference to the public reading of Scriptures, a phenomenon similar to that observed in the Church of the East. As, here, the Byzantine system was most predominant, so, in the West, the Roman system gradually supplanted all the rest. A difference between the two consists in this, that the non-Byzantine systems of the East were mostly followed by bodies that stood opposed to the Byzantine Church, while the non-Roman system found a home in bodies on doctrinal and fraternal footing with the Roman Church.
To the reading-systems no more extant belongs the Capulan. Of its existence we have ample proof in the Cod. Fuldensis; corrected in the year 545 by bishop Victor, himself of Capua. That the Christians of Gaul once pursued a peculiar plan in the public reading of the Scriptures is manifest from a letter of the missionary Augustine to Gregory the Great. Besides, there are other scattered evidences from Hilary (354), Sidonius (472), Salvianus (440). See Mabillon, De Liturag. Gallicana, page 29 sq. Then we have a capitular of Charlemagne, abolishing the Gallic liturgy in favor of the Romish. Under the title, Missa Ambrosiana, the very ancient liturgy and reading-system of the Milan Church is still preserved. Its original form cannot be definitely determined, as the different printed texts do not agree among themselves. Concerning the Mozarabian liturgy, comp. the art. s.v. Of the Old British and Irish systems not a single trace remains, the Roman having entirely supplanted them. The Roman system of Scriptural reading, like the whole Roman liturgy, has passed through three stages — that of its origin and development, down to the time of the Carlovinians, that of supremacy in the Middle Ages, and that of fixed and formal codification by the Council of Trent.
The oldest traces of it are found in the 5th century, about the time of Jerome, to whom Berno and later writers ascribe its origin. It consists of a double listone of the epistle, and the other of gospel selections partly chosen freely, and partly with partiality for certain books.
In the second period, this system made its greatest conquests; in France supplanting the Gallic, in Germany entering with Christianity. It also experienced some internal changes during this time, especially on account of the many saints' days and the introduction of the Corpus Christi festival in 1264.
Finally, the Council of Trent declared the papal system the only legitimate one for the Roman Church, only allowing those churches the use of any other. which could prove that the latter had been in constant use there for the past two hundred years.
With the reformation effected by Luther and his German Bible, the traditional character of church services necessarily had to change also. The Bible was read, studied, and explained. The most complete system of Bible-lessons was introduced in England, to some extent, also, in Germany and Switzerland. This whole subject is treated by Ranke, Fortbestand des herkommlichen Perikopenkreises (Gotha, 1859).
The old pericope system has a peculiar history within the section of the Protestant Church that has retained it. In England, Cranmer, in composing the prayer-book, simply took the epistles and gospels as found in the missal of the English bishoprics, omitting only those intended for days not celebrated by Protestants. This latter was also done in Germany; but some other changes were made here, especially at the close of the Epiphany and Trinity Sundays. In the pre-reformatory system there were no lessons for the sixth Sunday after Epiphany, nor for the twenty-sixth and twenty- seventh Sundays after Trinity. This defect was remedied successfully during the 16th century by an unknown master in liturgics, and the present arrangement is the result.
The subordinate services, such as the matins, vespers, as also services during the week, prayer-meetings, and the like, found great favor in the eyes of the Reformers. Luther, in 1526, the Zurich order of worship for 1535, and the Geneva liturgy, gave directions for the use of lessons in such services. The Church of England pursued its own plan in arranging the daily lessons. Not, content, as the Continental reformers were, with selecting only certain sections of Scripture to be read, Cranmer arranged for morning and evening services such a course of lessons that in every year the entire Old Test., with the exception of the Psalter and the purely ritual sections of the Pentateuch, was read through once, the New Test. three times, and the Psalter twelve times, i.e., was to be chanted through once a month. In Germany, the services during the week in course of time became almost extinct.
The public Scriptural reading, thus reduced to the regular gospel and epistolary lessons for the different Sundays, could not long satisfy the Church. Already Spener advocated an enlarged pericope system; and since 1769, when the movement was started by the elector George of Hanover, the evangelical authorities in the various provinces of Germany have sought to remedy this defect, especially by the adoption of new series of pericopes; See Suckow, Die kirchl. Perikopen (1830); — Matthaus, Die evang. Perikopen des Kirchenjahres (Anspach, 1844-45, 2 volumes); F. Strauss, Das evangelische Kirchenjahr (Berlin, 1850); Piper, Der verbesserte evangel. Kalender (1850); Bobertag, Das evang. Kirchenjahr (2d ed. Berlin, 1857); Grimmert, Tabelldrisckie Uebersicht der gewaohldichen neuen Perikopein reihen (Zerbst, 1874); Nebe, Die evangq. und epist. Perikopen des Kirchenjahrs (Wiesbaden, 1875, 8 volumes); Sommer, Die evang. u. epist. Perikopen (Erlangen, 1875, 2 volumes); Plitt-Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.; Lichtenberger, Encyclop. des Sciences Religieuses, s.v. SEE LESSON. (B.P.)