Diptychs, Liturgical use of
DIPTYCHS, LITURGICAL USE OF
Small folding tablets used for writing notes, letters, appointments, or lists of names. The Latin word diptychum was borrowed from the Greek δíπτνχον (δις, twice, and πτύσσειν, to fold) and originally meant anything folded in two. The Greek word designated an ornamented or simple, usually square, set of folding tablets made of wood, ivory, metal, silver, or gold and bound together on one side with rings; each tablet had a plain or ornamented outer surface, and usually a waxed inner surface. In Latin they were known also as tabellae duplices. The blank surface of wooden or ivory diptychs was written on with ink; metal diptychs were covered with resin or wax, and a stylus was used for writing on them. They were employed as gifts by emperors and consuls for recording titles, offices, and other official texts.
Christians adapted these diptych tablets to liturgical use, inscribing on them the names of martyrs or of bishops or faithful to be remembered by name in liturgical functions. After 313 they were also used for recording the names of catechumens, baptismal candidates, and the clergy. In the third century cyprian of carthage supplies evidence that, even in his day, calling out the names of the living and the dead at Mass was an ancient and established custom (Epist. 1 ). The first known use of the diptychs for this purpose was late in the fourth century. The custom played a special role in the Eastern and Byzantine Church.
In the West there developed fairly early the convention of reading the names of all those who had offered the holy gifts (elements) for the Eucharistic liturgy; in the East there is no trace of such a list, and even the custom of the laity offering the elements was abolished very early. After the names were read, an oration called the Post nomina or super dipticia was said, and this apparently developed into the memento vivorum in the Roman Canon. Gradually the names of the bishop of the diocese, the metropolitan, the pope, and the emperor were added.
The diptych tablets were used to record three different sorts of lists of names: those of the newly baptized (Cyril of Jer., Procatech. 1.4.13, Gregory of Nyssa, De bapt. ), those of a certain number of the living who were to be remembered at the altar, and those of the faithful departed.
The correspondence of Cyril of Alexandria with Patriarch Atticus of Constantinople (406–425) proves that the diptychs were in use in Antioch and Constantinople in the early fifth century and that already there were separate tablets for the lists of the living and the dead. In the Byzantine Church the diptychs contained the list of the succession of bishops; in the main Churches, the names of the metropolitans and patriarchs were added gradually to signify religious community and union between the Churches. In the fifth century, a heretic's name was "struck from the diptychs"; and this became a particular weapon in the controversies between Rome and the Eastern Churches. It played a critical part in the settlement of the acacian schism (482–519) and before the Council of nicaea ii. justinian i ordered an inquiry at Cyr to see whether the name of Theodoret had been retained in the diptychs. During the Council of Nicaea he announced that the name of the Council of chalcedon had been added to the diptychs at Constantinople and had the name of Pope vigilius i struck from the diptychs when the Pope refused to attend the council (Nicaea II, seventh session).
In the diptychs of the dead, customary commemorations were made for the martyrs, deceased local ordinaries, founders, and benefactors of the local Church. In the East the recitation of the names of the dead came to be the important thing, and St. Cyril mentions such a list, divided into patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and martyrs, who are begged to pray for the congregation, and the holy fathers, bishops, and deceased faithful in general, for whom the congregation prays. An interesting Fulda diptych has the names of deceased kings on the left and those of deceased bishops at the right [A. Gori, Thesaurus diptychorum veterum 2 (Florence 1759) 198].
The diptychs were read aloud by the deacon in the Greek Church, sometimes near the altar, sometimes on the ambo; in the Latin West the subdeacon read them in a low voice, sometimes near the priest, sometimes behind the altar. The rapid multiplication of names soon precluded the diaconal recitation, which by the time of isidore of seville (c. 560–633) was a thing of the past (Patrologia Latina. ed. J. P. Migne [Paris 1878–90.] 83:895). Then began the practice of a simple global commemoration of all whose names were on the diptych exposed on the altar.
The diptychs came to be touchstones of orthodoxy: the inscription of Chrysostom's name occasioned protracted controversy (Patrologia Graeca. ed j. p. migne [Paris 1857–66] 145:1137–49); the long pre-Photian, and more especially, the post-Photian period abounded in instances of temporary deletions of the name of the pope from the diptychs of Eastern Churches, preeminently those of the Constantinopolitan patriarchate, and retaliatory deletions ordered in the West by Rome. Diptychs fell into disuse in the West about the 12th century and in the East around the 14th century.
Bibliography: e. melia, "Les diptyques liturgiques et leur signification ecclésiologique," in L'église dans la liturgie (Rome 1980) 209–229. w. j. grisbrooke, "Intercession at the Eucharist," Studia Liturgica 4 (1965) 129–155 [Pt. 1], 5 (1966) 20–44 [Pt. 2], 5 (1966) 87–103 [Pt. 3]. r. f. taft, A History of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Vol. 4: The Diptychs (Rome 1991).
[a. j. gibson/eds.]