The earliest sermons were delivered from the bishop's chair, or cathedra, which was positioned behind the altar."1 Later the ambo, a raised desk on the side of the chancel from which Bible lessons were read, became the place where sermons were delivered.' The ambo was taken from the Jewish synagogue.'" However, it has earlier roots in the reading desks and platforms of Greco-Roman antiquity. John Chrysostom (347-407) was noted for making the ambo a place for preaching.
As early as AD 250, the ambo was replaced by the pulpit. Cyprian of Carthage (200-2 58) speaks of placing the leader of the church into public office upon the pulpitum.' Our word pulpit is derived from the Latin wordpupitum which means "a stage."' The pulpi-tum, or pulpit, was propped up in the highest elevated place in the congregation. 167
In time, the phrase "to ascend the platform" (ad pulpitum venire) became part of the religious vocabulary of the clergy. By AD 252, Cyprian alludes to the raised platform that segregated the jclergy from the laity as "the sacred and venerated congestum of the
Arthur Pierce Middleton, New Wine in Old Wineskins (Wilton, Connecticut Morehouse-Barlow Publishing, 1988), 76. Ambo is the Latin term for pulpit. It is derived from ambon which means "crest of a hill." Most ambos were elevated and reached by steps (Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christ/anity, 29; Peter F. Anson, Churches: Their Plan and Furnish/ng, 154; Middleton, New Wine in Old Wineskins, 76).
163 Gough, Early Christians, 172; Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 29. The predecessor of the ambo is the migdal of the synagogue. Migdal means "tower" in Hebrew. Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 29. Latin for "pulpit." White, Building God's House, 124. >t Christian Smith, Going to the Root (Scottda le, PA: Herald Press, 1992), 83. 151 White,. Building God's House, 124. Ibid.
By the end of the Middle Ages the pulpit became common in parish churches.'" With the Reformation, it became the central piece of furniture in the church building.'" The pulpit symbolized the replacement of the centrality of ritualistic action (the Mass) with clerical verbal instruction (the sermon)."
In Lutheran churches, the pulpit was moved to the front of the altar.'" In Reformed churches the pulpit dominated until the altar finally disappeared and was replaced by the "Communion table."'""
The pulpit has always been the centerpiece of the Protestant church. So much so that a well-known pastor who spoke during a conference sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association claimed: "If the church is alive, it's because the pulpit is alive—if the church is dead, it's because the pulpit is dead."'"
The pulpit elevates the clergy to a position of prominence. True to its meaning, it puts the preacher at center "stage"—separating and placing him high above God's people.
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