Preaching, I (History of)

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Author: T. D. ROVER
Date: 2003
New Catholic Encyclopedia
From: New Catholic Encyclopedia(Vol. 11. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 11
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PREACHING, I (HISTORY OF)

The sermon by its nature is intended to be spoken and heard, and few sermons have been preserved exactly as they were preached. Those preserved in written form have generally been edited for publication. For the early Church no verbatim report of a sermon has survived. Even the accounts of the sermons of Christ recorded in the Gospels give us no more than extracts of the substance of His preaching.

Preaching of the Apostles. It may be assumed that the Apostles followed Christ's practice of speaking in the synagogues after the reading of the Sabbath pericope (Lk4.14–22). Specific mention of such procedure is not infrequent (Acts 7.4–5; 9.20; 10.42; 1:3.16–41). While there is information about the Christians gathering for the "breaking of the bread" in apostolic times (Acts 2.42) and meeting for prayer, there is no surviving record of a sermon preached on such occasions. There are indeed records of seven discourses delivered by Peter (Acts1.16–23; 2.14–37; 3.12.–26; 5.29–32; 10.34–44; 11.4–18; 15.7–11), and six by Paul (Acts 13.16–41;14.15–18; 17.22–32; 20.17–36; 22.1–22; 26.2–23). With the exception of Peter's remarks in connection with the election of Matthias and the record of his unwillingness to impose the obligations of the Mosaic Law on Gentile converts, these addresses would be designated in later terminology as "missionary sermons" for prospective converts and may faithfully reproduce the preaching of these Apostles or may be an account of it as reported by a Christian writer near the end of the 1st century A.D. In either case this record yields little direct evidence for the history of the sermon preached in the Christian community. As sermons of traveling missionaries Peter's discourse delivered to the crowd after the healing of the

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lame man (Acts 3.12–26) and Paul's address on the Areopagus (Acts 17.22–33) show some interesting parallels in their structure. Both begin with a formal greeting of the audience followed by a brief summary of the blessings God has conferred on mankind, a reference to guilt for offenses, a call to repentance, a reminder of the judgment to come, and finally a reference to Christ's Resurrection [cf. E. Norden, Agnostos Theos, 3–12 (Stuttgart 1912, repr. 1956)].

The preachers of the apostolic age were the Apostles and those appointed by them to be in charge of the Christian communities. It is difficult to judge how widespread was the charismatic speaking mentioned by Paul (1 Cor 12.1–11, 27–31; ch. 14; Eph 4.7–16). In any case, the phenomenon seems to have disappeared as the catechumenate developed.

Subapostolic and Early Patristic Age. IRENAEUS mentions the discourses that POLYCARP gave to the people in Smyrna (Eusebius, Ecclesiatical History 5.20.6), Irenaeus also spoke to the people, and his discourses were collected in a book still extant in Eusebius's day (ibid. 5.26). From this same era comes the earliest extant evidence showing the sermon as part of the liturgical service, JUSTIN MARTYR (Apologia 1.67) says that the Christians gathered on Sundays and that the memoirs of the Apostles, and writings of the Prophets were read. When the reader had finished, "he who presides gives the admonition and invites us to imitate these noble men." Slightly later, TERTULLIAN makes two references to preaching in similar circumstances. In the Apologeticum (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum—CSEL—69: 91–92) he relates, that the faithful met for prayer and the reading of the Scriptures; thereupon by admonitions they were strengthened in the practice of their teachings. In his De anima (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 20:310) he specifically states that there were addresses (allocutiones) during divine services

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(inter dominica sollemnia). This practice is clearly attested for the Church in northern Africa. Similar evidence for Asia Minor seems to be found in the homily on the Passion preached by MELITO, Bishop of Sardis in Lydia (J. Quasten, Patrology, 1.243). As an interesting item from the subapostolic age, the so-called Second Epistle fo Clement to the Corinthians (c. 150) deserves mention as the oldest extant Christian sermon. It is written in Greek and was read to the assembled Christian community. "Therefore, brothers and sisters, following the God of truth, I am reading you an exhortation to pay attention to that which is written, and that you may both save yourselves and him who is the reader among you" (2 Clement 19.1).

In sharp contrast to the unliterary style of 2 Clement there is the sole surviving homily of CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA Quis dives salvetur, (Who is the rich man that is saved), on the text of Mk 10.17–31. This rather lengthy homily, if really preached, is possible early evidence of preaching by a priest, although scholars are not agreed on the priesthood of Clement. In any case, instances of preaching by priests and laymen occur in the early part of the 3d century.

During the pontificate of Zephyrinus (199–217), ORIGEN, Clement's successor at the catechetical school in ALEXANDRIA, came to Rome (Jerome, De viris illustribus 54) and was present in a church when HIPPOLYTUS preached a sermon in Greek, On the Praise of the Lord Our Savior (ibid. 61). This sermon has been lost; it is significant, however, that a priest (Hippolytus had not yet become bishop and antipope) preached in Rome some time before 215. After a brief stay in Rome, Origen returned to Alexandria and remained there until 215, when he left for Palestine, where he was eventually ordained a priest, to the displeasure of Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria (ibid. 54). EUSEBIUS makes the following report on Origen's activity in Palestine:

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And although he had not yet received the presbyterate, the bishops there requested him to discourse and expound the divine Scriptures publicly in the church. That this is so is clear from what Alexander, the bishop of Jerusalem, and Theoctistus, the bishop of Caesarea, write with reference to Demetrius. They make their defense somewhat as follows: And he added to his letter that such a thing had never been heard of, nor taken place hither, that laymen should preach in the presence of bishops; though I do not know how he comes to say what is evidently not true. For instance, where there are found persons suited to help the brethren, they are also invited to preach to the people by the holy bishops, as, for example, in Laranda Euelpis by Neon, and in Iconium Paulinus by Celsus, and in Synnada Theodore by Atticus, our blessed brother bishops. And it is likely that this thing happens in other places also without our knowing it. [Bede, Ecclesiatical History 6.19]

All the places mentioned were important cities in Asia Minor: Iconium and Laranda in Lycaonia, Synnada in Phrygia. The statement of the bishops then indicates that laymen preached in this region (at least by Eusebius's time) even though such practice may have been unheard of in Egypt, if Demetrius's judgment was not clouded by his prejudice. Origen's preaching followed this structure; exordium, practical application of a chosen scriptural text in the allegorical interpretation, exhortation, and finally a doxology. There was no striving for rhetorical adornment. As a result of long preparation he had an extraordinary facility in speaking and, in his later years, permitted shorthand-writers to take down the discourses he delivered in public (ibid. 6.36).

Shortly after Origen's death a new manner of preaching appeared at least briefly in Antioch. Apart from his doctrinal errors, Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch (c. 260–268), aroused disgust with his pulpit antics. Only a few fragments of his discourses are extant, so one can judge only from reports. Eusebius takes Paul to task for "the quackery in church assemblies that he devises, courting popularity and posing for appearance sake … with the tribunal and lofty throne that he prepared for himself not befitting a disciple of Christ…. He smiteshis hand on his thigh and stamps the tribunal with his feet; and those who do not applaud or wave their handkerchiefs, as in a theater, or shout out and jump up in the same way as do the men and wretched women who are his partisans—these he rebukes and insults…. Hebrags about himself as though he were not a bishop but a sophist and a charlatan" (ibid. 7.30).

The meager evidence extant for preaching in Latin down to the 4th century centers around the Church of north Africa. Tertullian's references to preaching have already been mentioned. That he himself may have preached can be inferred only indirectly from Lactantius when the latter states that Tertullian was not a persuasive speaker (Divinae institutiones 5.1, CSEL 19: 402). Cyprian's sermons, admired and praised by Lactantius (ibid.) as being diligently prepared for the faithful, are lost. One sermon in Latin, perhaps from Africa and preached c. 300, is preserved. It is the discourse Adversus aleatores, or De aleatoribas (CSEL 3.3.92–104), which inveighs against dice players as persons who have denied the faith.

With the end of the great persecutions and the peace that came to the Church with the accession of Constantine, a new era for preaching began. The preachers themselves, educated in the best schools of the day at Athens, Antioch, and Alexandria and trained by such outstanding masters of rhetoric as Himerius and Libanius, brought to the office of preaching a wealth of learning and an amazing familiarity with Sacred Scripture. As the Church penetrated the more educated strata of society, an audience was at hand that could relish the accomplishments of the preachers.

Greek Preaching. The great Cappadocians GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS, BASIL the Great, and JOHN CHRYSOSTOM dominate Greek preaching during the 4th century. Of these preachers, Gregory of Nazianzus is distinguished as both poet and orator. His fame in preaching rests on his proficiency in the panegyric (a form already Christianized by Gregory Thaumaturgus in his eulogy of Origen delivered in 238), the liturgical sermon, and the funeral oration. In this genre Gregory Christianized the pagan epitaphios logos. Of his four extant funeral orations, the one delivered at the death of St. Basil is the masterpiece of Christian Greek funeral speeches. The discourses of Gregory were greatly admired and were soon studied as models; marginal annotations (scholia), the earliest dating from the early 6th century, clearly show this. Rufinus translated nine of Gregory's discourses into Latin, c. 399.

Basil the Great made significant contributions to the exegetical homily by enhancing it with the embellishments of Greek rhetoric. This artistic effect is seen at its best in the homilies on the six days of creation preached during Lent while he was still a priest. AMBROSE, well versed in Greek, used these homilies freely for his Hexaemeron. A Latin translation of the homilies made by Eustathius the African appeared as early as 440. GREGORY OF NYSSA, the younger brother of Basil and a teacher of rhetoric before he became a bishop, merits at least passing mention for his funeral orations, even though they fall short of the excellence of those preached by Gregory of Nazianzus.

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John Chrysostom, who was renowned as a preacher both in Antioch and Constantinople, has left a larger legacy of discourses than any other orator of the golden age of Greek preaching. His oratorical skill is evident in the homily (exegetical, dogmatic, and polemical), the catecheses for those about to receive Baptism, the moral discourse, the liturgical sermon, the panegyric, and the occasional discourse. The best known of his sermons are probably the 21 homilies On the Statues, preached in Antioch in 387 and generally considered the finest examples of his eloquence, and the two homilies on the fall of Eutropius, delivered in Constantinople in January 399. The pleasing effect of the rhetorical adornment of his sermons frequently elicited spontaneous applause from his audience (Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 60:226).

Amphilochius of Iconium, who delighted in presenting scriptural personages engaged in dialogue in his sermons, and Asterius of Amasea, whose sermon on St. Euphemia bears early witness to the veneration of sacred images, are overshadowed by their contemporaries, Basil and Chrysostom.

The golden age of Greek preaching had its last moments of splendor in the early years of the 5th century. As the catechumenate fell into desuetude, the catecheses gradually disappeared. On the basis of extant evidence, however, the homily and sermon on special topics remained in use as can be seen in the works of Flavian of Antioch, SEVERIAN OF GABALA, Antiochus of Ptolemais, NILUS OF ANCYRA, THEODORET OF CYR, Basil of Seleucia, DIADOCHUS OF PHOTICE, GENNADIUS of Constantinople, John the Faster, JOHN DAMASCENE, and THEODORE THE STUDITE.

The sermon for special feast days, the panegyric of martyrs and other saints, and the funeral oration received special attention. In particular, sermons on the Blessed Virgin (Theotokos) became very frequent as CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, Hesychius and Chrysippus of Jerusalem, Theodore of Ancyra, Proclus of Constantinople, Abraham of Ephesus, John of Thessalonica, SOPHRONIUS of Jerusalem, GERMANUS of Constantinople, ANDREW OF CRETE, and TARASIUS of Constantinople clearly show. Significant for the history of Greek preaching is Canon 19 of the Trullan Synod (692), which directed bishops to instruct both clergy and laity daily, and especially on Sundays (Mansi 11:951). The synod bade the bishops in their treating of scriptural topics not to depart from, but to follow, the fathers, "the luminaries and teachers," rather than to compose their own sermons. This synodal enactment explains at least in part the proliferation of collections of homilies especially for use on Sundays during the following centuries. Of all the forms of preaching, the panegyric was the most cultivated after the golden age of preaching had passed. In the long list of panegyrists the emperors themselves find a place. Leo VI the Wise and Constantine Porphyrogennetus are notable examples.

Latin Preaching. The surviving evidence that Latin sermons were preached in Gaul, Spain, and Italy becomes increasingly specific as investigation focuses on the 4th century. Hilary of Poitiers is, in Jerome's opinion, "the Rhone of Latin eloquence" (Migne, Patrologia Latina, 26:355A) even though the same critic does not admire Hilary's involved periodic sentences "adorned with the flowers of Greece" (Epistola 58.10). Victricius of Rouen is remembered for his sermon De Laude Sanctorum (Migne, Patrologia Latina, 20: 443–458). Gregory of Elvira is known especially for his homilies on the Canticle of Canticles; he is the earliest known preacher in the West to apply the bridal imagery of this book to Christ and the Church. The first preacher in Latin whose sermons survive in an appreciable number is ZENO OF VERONA. His 16 longer sermons show their author's skill in the use of anaphora, alliteration, and cursus. But Ambrose of Milan was the first real Latin rival of the great preachers in Greek. His sermons were a delight to the trained rhetorician (Augustine, Confessor 5.13). Ambrose as preacher has a twofold claim to distinction. He has great proficiency in the exegetical homily and is a pioneer and master in the Christian Latin funeral oration. In the first category he is indebted to Philo of Alexandria, Origen, and, as already noted, Basil. In the second, he is vastly more independent of pagan models than his Greek contemporaries and gives to the funeral oration a much more Christian tone.

Latin preaching in the 5th century was dominated by AUGUSTINE, whose preaching career began with his ordination to the priesthood in 391. Valerius, Bishop of Hippo, entrusted him with the office of preaching, although in many places it was not the practice for priests to preach in the presence of bishops (Jerome, Epistola 52.7). For more than 30 years, both as priest and as bishop, Augustine preached frequently and at times twice a day. He addressed his audience in the exegetical homily, in special sermons emphasizing the chief mysteries of salvation or commemorating saints' feast days, or in discourses on various moral topics. The style of these sermons ranges from the highly rhetorical to the almost colloquial, adapted to the capacity of those who lacked formal training. More important for the history of preaching is the fourth book of Augustine's De doctrina christiana, in which he gives guidelines for preaching based on his own personal experience.

JEROME preached exegetical homilies to his monastic community in Bethlehem. As in the case of Augustine, the text of the sermons we possess is the stenographic reportPage 611  |  Top of Article taken down by secretaries (notarii) in the audience, Peter Chrysologus, Archbishop of Ravenna, and Maximus, Bishop of Turin, both popular and effective preachers, are overshadowed by Pope St. LEO I. His carefully prepared sermons, with their neatly balanced clauses and close attention to cursus, rival Augustine's in artistry. The topics of Leo's sermons are chosen chiefly from the liturgical cycle. From the doctrinal point of view, however, three sermons preached on the anniversary of his election to the papacy merit special attention. In these sermons Leo is the first pope to state specifically that the Roman pontiff is the heir to the petrine powers (Migne, Patrologia Latina, 54:144A, 147A, 155A). To the list of renowned preachers of this century must be added the names of Hilary of Arles and Gaudentius of Brescia.

6th to 9th Centuries. The year 529 has special significance for the history of preaching in the Latin Church. In that year the second council of Vaison met. The second canon approved at this council granted priests the right to preach: "for the edification of all the churches and the benefit of all the people not only in the cities but also in the rural areas. If, because of illness, the priest is unable to preach let the homilies of the holy fathers be read by the deacons" (Monumenta Germaniae Concilia 1:56; G. Morin, S. Caesarii opera omnia 2.86). Juridically this canon marked the end of the bishops' monopoly on the right to preach in the Latin Church (Hefele-Leclercq, Histoire des Conciles 2.2:1112). As already mentioned priests did de facto preach in the Latin Church, but it was not customary (cf. Jerome, loco citato).

It is worthy of note that CAESARIUS OF ARLES presided at this council. He was a very important bishop in 6th-century Gaul and a most zealous preacher. His Vita (G. Morin, opere citato 296–345) states that he preached every Sunday and on all feast days as long as his health permitted; if illness prevented him from preaching he had the deacons read the homilies of Ambrose. Augustine, and those of his own composition, which he also readily gave to those who asked for them. Frequently too, when people gathered in the church at the time of Lauds or Vespers, he had homilies read to them so that no one could plead ignorance of his religious duties. Even more, Caesarius sent sermons to churches in Italy, in Spain, and in distant places so that through preaching, the faithful would be incited to the pursuit of good works.

St. GREGORY I was the author of 40 homilies composed c. 590 and 591, of which 20 were read to the people by a secretary in the Pope's presence, and the rest preached by Gregory himself. These homilies, considered models of eloquence, were widely read in the Middle Ages. Extant also are 22 longer sermons explaining portions of Ezechiel. Even more important for the history of preaching is Gregory's Liber regulae pastoralis, the third section of which gives practical directives for preaching. This work enjoyed wide popularity and was translated into Greek during the Pope's lifetime. Other noteworthy preachers of this century were Avitus, Bishop of Vienne; Fulgence, Bishop of Ruspe; and the opponent of Faustus of Riez, Martin of Braga, author of the famous sermon De correctione rusticorum (used later especially by Eligius of Noyon and Pirmin of Reichenau).

The meager extant evidence on preaching in the 7th century makes it practically impossible to determine to what extent the legislation authorizing priests to preach was implemented. Apart from some general remarks about the eloquence of certain well-known bishops of this century, and sermons either incorrectly or doubtfully attributed to them, we know with certainty of a sermon of Ildefonsus of Toledo and a collection of homilies known as Homiliae Toletanae, which owes its origin either to Ildefonsus or Julian of Toledo.

Early in the 8th century Bede was ordained to the priesthood. His homilies, based on the Gospel pericopes for feast days and preached to the monks of his abbey, are indebted in great measure to the sermons of Jerome and Gregory the Great. The collection of patristic homilies made by Paul the Deacon and intended primarily for use in the monastic office in choir indirectly served the needs of the clergy in their office of preaching. A deplorable state of preaching, at least in the Frankish kingdom, is indicated in the Admonitio generalis (Monumenta Germaniae Capitularia 1:52–62) of March 789. The bishops were admonished to find out whether the priests themselves understood the Our Father and preached it to the people. They were also to see that priests preached according to the Scriptures and that they did not fabricate teachings of their own. To implement these directives, the Admonitio gave a summary of essential sermon material. Theodulf of Orleans in 797 presented an equally gloomy picture of preaching. He exhorted his priests to instruct the people. He who was versed in the Scriptures should preach scriptural sermons; he who was not should at least preach to the people that "they turn away from evil and do good: seek after peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are upon the just: and his ears unto their prayers" (Migne, Patrologia Latina, 105:200A; Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, 13:1001).

Preaching in the 9th century received invaluable aid from the collections of homilies and sermons made by Alcuin, Rabanus Maurus, and Haymo of Auxerre. Great as these contributions were, the progress of preaching was far more vitally affected by the third Council of Tours and the second Council of Reims, both of whichPage 612  |  Top of Article met in 813. Canon 17 of the Council of Tours decreed that each bishop should have homilies containing the necessary admonitions for the instruction of his people. He was directed moreover to translate these homilies into the early Romance language or German so that "all could more easily understand what is being said" (Mansi 14:85). Canon 15 of the Council of Reims similarly instructed the bishops to preach the sermons and homilies of the holy Fathers in the vernacular "so that all may understand" (Mansi 14:78). Some 30 years later the first Council of Mainz (847) repeated the legislation of canon 17 of the Council of Tours (Mansi 14:903).

Medieval Preaching. After the legislation regarding the use of the vernacular in sermons, the Crusades, the flowering of scholasticism, and the founding of the mendicant orders were the most significant factors that influenced preaching in the Latin Church. From the 10th to the early 13th century important preachers were active. A selective list of the most outstanding must mention the following at least in passing: AELFRIC GRAMMATICUS, FULBERT OF CHARTRES, PETER DAMIAN, BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX, ANSELM OF CANTERBURY, HONORIUS OFAUTUN, IVO OF CHARTRES, ROBERT OF ARBRISSEL, GUI-BERT OF NOGENT, RUPERT OF DEUTZ, HUGH OF SAINT VICTOR, AELRED OF RIEVAULX, PETER COMESTOR, MAURICE OF SULLY, FULK OF NEUILLY, ALAN OF LILLE, and Adam Scotus. The sermon texts of medieval preachers have come down to us in Latin. This is not conclusive evidence, however, that the sermons were delivered in Latin. It is known that Bernard of Clairvaux preached to the lay brothers in the vernacular. Jacques de Vitry clearly states that sermons for clerics were in Latin while those for the laity were in the vernacular. The Latin text, moreover, was intended primarily for the preacher's own use in preparation, as can be concluded from the complaint of Adam of Perseigne that sermons, when translated into the vernacular, were like wine poured from one container into another; some of the color, taste, and bouquet of the original was always lost in the process (C. Langlois, Revue des deux Mondes 115:173–175).

The Scholastic Preacher. Toward the end of the 12th century the scholastic method of teaching had an effect on preaching. The logic and dialectic of the schools was applied to the sermon topic. The preacher announced his theme according to the method of propounding questions and defending conclusions in the schools of theology. He then proceeded to definition, division, subdivision, and distinction, citing numerous passages from Scripture and the Fathers and adding arguments from reason to prove his point. The tactful preacher generally left, as his parting impression, an outline of future bliss and glory "to which may He lead us who lives and reigns forever. Amen." These scholastic sermons were delivered before faculty and students at such university cities as Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge by William of Auvergne, Odo of Chateauroux, Stephen Langton, and Robert Grosseteste. With the founding of the mendicant orders, the Dominicans and Franciscans became famous for such sermons delivered by Hugh of Saint-Cher, Thomas Aquinas, Peter of Tarantasia, John of Rupella, Bonaventure, Guibert of Tournai, and Matthew of Aquasparta.

The Popular Sermon. Popular preaching at the end of the 12th century was generally at low ebb. Conditions were such that few among the parish clergy, according to the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, had the least proficiency in letters (Concilliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, 226). To meet this deficiency, unauthorized preachers and laymen came forward, among whom were the HUMILIATI and WALDENSES. But their lack of training for preaching eventually involved them in doctrinal errors. As a consequence Alexander III forbade the Humiliati and Waldenses to preach, and Lucius III finally excommunicated them for failing to obey the prohibition.

The founding of the Dominicans and Franciscans provided a more effective remedy for the situation. Some of the friars distinguished themselves in the more academic type of preaching mentioned above, but great numbers of them gave themselves to apostolic preaching among the people. They preached in the vernacular upon concrete themes, and applied their message in a practical way to daily life. Homely expressions and examples as well as the Scriptures and the lives of the saints were freely used. The timeliness of this type of preaching can be judged from the Council of Vienne (Hefele-Leclercq, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originauxopere citato 6.2:674–678), which empowered the Dominicans and Franciscans with the apostolic authority to preach freely and ordered prelates and parish clergy to receive the friars kindly and cooperate with them. Distinguished preachers among them were David of Augsburg, Berthold of Regensburg, Raymund LULL, Bartholomew of Vicenza, Guido of Évreux, James of Lausanne, and Peregrine of Breslau.

A special form of the popular sermon was the sermon in verse, or rhymed sermon (sermo rimatus), which enjoyed special popularity in England. The Franciscan John of Grimston achieved fame in this type of preaching, which Peter of Limoges criticized as a deadly snare to seduce the ear rather than to convert the soul.

The beginnings of the mystical sermon can already be discerned in some of the preaching of Bernard of Clairvaux and Bonaventure, but the genre was developed later by Meister ECKHART, Johannes TAULER, HENRYSUSO, NICHOLAS OF STRASSBURG, JOHN OF STERNGASSE, Henry of Nordlingen, and Jean GERSON.Page 613  |  Top of Article Literature. As the various types of sermons were developing, a wealth of sermon literature was produced. Technical treatises, the artes praedicandi, offered direction for the preparation and delivery of the sermon. Frequently, however, some of these artes were really "sermon encyclopedias" as, e.g., the work of Humbert of Romans. Among the best known medieval sources for sermon material were the Exempla of JACQUES DE VITRY and the Legenda aurea of JAMES OF VORAGINE. Sturdy competitors were the Liber exemplorum and the Speculum laicorum, written by two anonymous Franciscans, and the impressive Summa predicantium of the Dominican John of BROMYARD.

Preaching in the Open. Another development in the history of preaching in the Middle Ages must yet be noted. The sermon did not have to be delivered in the church during the celebration of Mass. In 1312 the Council of Vienne granted the Dominicans and Franciscans permission for street preaching (in plateis communibus) and ordered prelates, of whatever preeminence, and parish priests not to look askance at this procedure (Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, 342, 344). This decree did not introduce a novelty (Berthold of Regensburg had already preached in this manner), but gave formal legality to something already in existence.

14th and 15th Centuries. Preaching, which in the 13th and 14th centuries had attained an uncommon splendor, had, in the subsequent centuries, varying fortunes in different regions. Generalizations about its effectiveness are particularly hazardous. When the enthusiasm for the sermon was over and the preacher gone, fickle audiences, which "like snails in fright had drawn in their horns … shot them out again as soon as the danger was over. Cards, dice, false hair, rouge-pots, and other tribulations even to chess boards" might well be burned in Florence when Bernardine of Siena had finished his sermon, but the more calculating Englishman was not likely to be moved in similar fashion (G. Owst, Preaching in Medieval England, 190). At all events, the 14th century produced works noteworthy in the history of preaching. The most outstanding is the Postilla litteralis of Nicholas of Lyra. This treatise, of which 700 copies were made within one century, differentiated clearly between the literal and mystical meaning of Scripture and profoundly influenced subsequent preaching. Its impact on Luther, while perhaps oversimplified, was neatly expressed in the dictum: "Si Lyra non lyrasset Lutherus non saltasset" (Had Lyra not played the tunes, Luther would not have danced). Collections of sermons for Sundays and the feast days of saints were written by John of S. Geminiano, Francis of Meyronnes, and HENRY OF FRIEMAR; homilies on the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Apostles' Creed, and sermons on the Blessed Virgin, by HENRY HEINBUCHE OF LANGENSTEIN. ROBERT HOLCOT produced the popular compendium of sermon material: Lectiones super sapientiam Salomonis, and Conrad of Waldhausen inveighed against the vices of his times and indulged in hackneyed invectives against the mendicants charging them with laxity and avarice.

In the 15th century there was a notable increase in the publication of collections of sermons. The most popular was that of Johannes of Werden (d. 1437) published under the forthright title Dormi secure (Sleep without Anxiety). The numerous editions of this work (almost 90 within 100 years) are an indication of its popularity and may also be a significant commentary on the condition of preaching at this time. Slightly less popular was the work of an unknown author, Parati sermones, which furnished several sermons for every Sunday and the feast days of certain saints. There were 17 editions of this sermon aid. The largest and most unusual collection of sermons was the Hortulus reginae, composed by Meffreth, a priest (c. 1447). This work supplied at least three sermons for every Sunday and for the feast days of certain saints. The sermons were long and, in addition to scriptural references, contained quotations—some quite lengthy—from Aristotle, Pliny, Horace, Ovid, Terence, Martial, Juvenal, Lucretius, the distichs of Cato, Sedulius, and Boethius. By 1500 there had already been ten editions of the Hortulus, and many more followed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Other well-known sermon collections of the period were those of Johann NIDER, Johann Herolt, and Anthony Rampegalus. Another noteworthy development of the century was the Lenten sermon, frequently mentioned in records of this period.

The mission sermon also attained eminence through such renowned preachers as VINCENT FERRER, BERNARD-INE OF SIENA, JOHN CAPISTRAN, and JAMES OF THE MARCHES.

A selective list of important preachers of the period must include such names as: John of Retz, NICHOLAS OF DINKELSBÜHL, NICHOLAS OF CUSA, Leonard of Udine, Gabriel Barletta, Anthony of Vercelli, Pelbart of Temesvar, BERNARDINE OF FELTRE, Roberto CARACCIOLO, and Gabriel BIEL. The most widely known preacher of this century was undoubtedly Girolamo SAVONAROLA.

As the evidence shows, there was no dearth of preaching in the years immediately preceding the Reformation. There were, in fact, ecclesiastical benefices that obliged the incumbent to preach. The proliferation of "sermon encyclopedias" also made it possible for the laymen to read sermons, if they were neglected in church. On the other hand, that the quality of the sermons must have left much to be desired is deducible from the Circa modum praedicandi of the 11th session of the Fifth LateranPage 614  |  Top of Article Council, dated December 19, 1516. This document deplores the fact that preachers were often more concerned with a display of their own talents than with the needs of the audience. The meaning of the Scriptures was distorted in sermons; preaching was often long-winded; the Gospel was not being preached, but fictitious miracles, false prophecies, and idle tales found their way into the sermon. Some even went so far as to proclaim the arrival of anti-Christ and the imminence of the Last Judgment. Bishops and prelates in positions of authority were being openly denounced (see Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, 610–614). It is difficult to determine how widespread these abuses were. The list of shortcomings does, however, contain many charges that the reformers themselves were soon to make.

The Reformation. With the Reformation, a new emphasis was placed on preaching. The sermon became the focal point of the revised divine worship. The duly called minister based his sermon on the literal meaning of Scripture. In the new theology, the sermon was the living voice of the gospel, and Christ spoke in the preacher's words. The new doctrines on justification and the role of Scripture as the sole rule of faith were proclaimed in the sermon.

This renewed emphasis on preaching was reflected also in the Council of Trent. The Decretum super lectione et praedicatione, (ibid. 645) declared that it was the duty of bishops, archbishops, primates, and other prelates to preach the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pastors were to preach, either themselves or through suitable priests, at least on all Sundays and solemn feast days. Similar emphasis was placed on preaching at the 24th session in De Reformatione, where special sermons during Advent and Lent were recommended (ibid. 739). Among the early opponents of the new teachings were Thomas MURNER, Johann ECK, Wendelin Fabri, Johann Hoffmeister, and especially Peter CANISIUS.

In addition to determining responsibility for preaching, the Council of Trent took further steps to secure trained men for preaching by decreeing that seminaries be established to train priests (ibid. 726–729). This legislation was enacted to eliminate the recurrence of the plight deplored in the Fifth Lateran Council.

Charles BORROMEO was untiring in efforts to implement the decrees of Trent. He was personally a zealous preacher, as were JOHN OF AVILA and LOUIS OF GRANADA. Of the impressive number of preachers whose sermons were delivered entirely, or at least in great part, during the 17th century only the following can be mentioned: JOSEPH OF LEONESSA, LAWRENCE OF BRINDISI, Robert BELLARMINE, Procopius of Templin, and Paolo SEGNERI.

17th to 19th Centuries. The last half of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century witnessed a brilliance of pulpit oratory rare in the annals of preaching. The era was dominated by Jacques BOSSUET, Louis BOURDALOUE, Valenten-Esprit Fléchier, François FÉNELON, and Jean Baptiste MASSILON. Two other preachers of the same era cannot go unmentioned: the inimitable ABRAHAM OF SANCTA CLARA and the great mission preacher, LEONARD OF PORT MAURICE. The conferences of Henri LACORDAIRE drew crowds to the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Gustave RAVIGNAN and Joseph Felix also achieved fame for conferences in the same venerable cathedral. Sacred eloquence continued at a high standard in the preaching of Louis PIE, Bishop of Poitiers, often called the Hilary of the 19th century, and Étienne de Boulogne. Among English-speaking preachers, the three well-known English cardinals, WISEMAN, MANNING, and NEWMAN, hold places of distinction.

In large part because of the writings and example of the English cardinals there was new interest in the forms and frequency of preaching. In the United States the number of books and periodicals that addressed the technical aspects of preaching and the composition of sermons, as well as collections of sermons multiplied. In the United States the sermon was a regular feature of the Sunday Mass. Religious congregations, and some dioceses, organized bands of traveling preachers who conducted parish missions in which the sermon was a main feature. Lenten sermons and sermons during weekly holy hours and novenas were a regular part of parish life. Street preaching, often apologetic in purpose, and radio sermons were popular up to the advent of television. After World War II preached retreats for the laity became popular in midcentury, but it was the Second Vatican Council that brought new vitality to the preaching ministry by the emphasis that it gave in the various documents to theology of the word.


John Eliot preaching to Native Americans in Massachusetts, drawing by J.A. Oertel, 1856. John Eliot preaching to Native Americans in Massachusetts, drawing by J.A. Oertel, 1856.
Saint Giovanni Melchoir Bosco Preaching From His Balcony. (Archivo Iconografico, S.A.CORBIS) "Saint Giovanni Melchoir Bosco Preaching From His Balcony." (©Archivo Iconografico, S.A./CORBIS)
Christ Preaching by Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1635. (Burstein CollectionCORBIS.) "Christ Preaching" by Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1635. (©Burstein Collection/CORBIS.)

Bibliography: R. CRUEL, Geschichte der deutschen Predigt im Mittelalter (Detmold 1879). C. SCHIAN, J. J. HERZOG and A. HAUCK, eds., Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie, 24v. (3rd ed. Leipzig 1896–1913) 15:623–747; 24:333–346. H. JORDAN, Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur (Leipzig 1911) 184–211. G. R. OWST, Preaching in Medieval England (Cambridge, England 1926); Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England (2d ed. New York 1961). A. ZAWART, The History of Franciscan Preaching and of Franciscan Preachers 1209–1927 (Franciscan Studies 7; New York 1928). H. CAPLAN, Mediaeval Artes praedicandi: A Hand-List (Ithaca, N.Y. 1934); Mediaeval Artes praedicandi: Supplementary Handlist (Ithaca, N.Y. 1936). H. CAPLAN and H. H. KING, "Pulpit Eloquence: A List of Doctrinal and Historical Studies in English," Speech Monographs 22 (Special issue 1955) 1–159; "Pulpit Eloquence: A List of Doctrinal and Historical Studies in German," ibid. 23 (Special issue 1956) 1–106. P. MANDONNET, St. Dominic and His Work, tr. M. B. LARKIN (St. Louis 1944) 120–155. Y. T. BRILIOTH, Landmarks in the History of Preaching (London 1950). B. REICKE, "Synopsis of Early Christian Preaching," ThePage 615  |  Top of Article Root of the Vine, ed. A. J. FRIDRICHSEN (New York 1953) 128–160. E. C. DARGAN, A History of Preaching, 2 v. in 1 (Grand Rapids 1954). M. H. VICAIRE, Saint Dominique de Caleruega (Paris 1955) 113–189. H. THYEN, Der Stil der jüdischhellenistischen Homilie (Göttingen 1955). A. NIEBERGALL, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 5:516–530. J. B. SCHNEYER, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. J. HOFER and K. RAHNER, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 8:705–713.

[H. DRESSLER/EDS.]

The Documents of Vatican II. The first document of the Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, that deals with preaching relates it to three fundamental aspects of the mystery of Christ and the Church: (1) it reaffirms the primacy of the work of preaching in the mission of Jesus and his followers (Sacrosanctum Concilium 6); (2) it reaffirms also the necessity of preaching as the unique instrument of faith and conversion (ibid. 9), thus providing the basis for that intense "evangelical" preaching which is a notable feature of the ministry of the Word in the postconciliar world; (3) it designates the privileged place for preaching within the liturgical celebration itself, that is, in the HOMILY, by means of which "the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded" (ibid. 52). Specific guidelines for liturgical preaching include the regrounding of the Homily in the scriptural Readings and its restored status as the natural climax of the Liturgy of the Word.

The various instructions and decrees implementing liturgical reform after the Council made it clear that the Homily is an integral part not only of the Eucharist but of the other Sacraments as well; and the new rituals for each of the Sacraments reflect this conception and this concern. Baptism, even when celebrated outside of Mass, has its own Liturgy of the Word and its own Homily; the same procedure is indicated for the rite of Penance when it is celebrated for more than one penitent and for the rite of Matrimony when celebrated outside of Mass; even the rite of Anointing of the Sick calls for a brief explanation of the scriptural texts when circumstances permit. The Homily following sacred Readings is now an integral part of the entire sacramental ritual, so that liturgical reform may be said to be governed everywhere by the necessary union of Word and Sacrament—contactus fidei, contactus sacramenti (cf. Summa Theologiae 3a. 48.6 ad 2)—in order to bring about a true interiorization of the sacramental encounter with Christ.

The documents of Vatican II are very rich also in their sensitivity to the ecclesial character of the preaching act and to the widespread sharing of the prophetic ministry throughout the Church. As in the Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (Ad gentes 3) so in the Constitution on the Church the task of the Church is seen as always centered on the act of proclaiming the Gospel (Lumen gentium 17). This same Constitution, as well as other conciliar documents, clearly identifies those who are called upon to exercise this central ministry of preaching. First, bishops are said to "receive from the Lord … the mission to teach all nations and to preach the Gospel to every creature" (ibid. 24). More particularly they are to "preach to the people commited to them the faith to be believed and put into practice" (ibid. 25). According to the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, their prophetic mission is shared by pastors who are "cooperators of the bishop" in preaching and catechetical instruction (Christus Dominus 30), as well as by priests and lay people. "By the power of the sacrament of Orders … they (priests) are consecrated to preach the Gospel … and to announce the divine Word to all" (ibid. 28). According to an emphasis characteristic of the documents of Vatican II the laity also are designated as "witnesses" of the faith and "powerful proclaimers of a faith in things to be hoped for" (ibid. 35). The role of the laity as preachers is also affirmed in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam actuositatem) wherein lay people are said to share in "the prophetic office of the Church," not only "by their efforts to permeate and perfect the secular order of things with the spirit of the Gospel" but also by their more direct efforts "to bring the news of the Gospel and the ways of holiness to mankind" (Apostolicam actuositatem 2). The final document of Vatican II, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World underlines the same prophetic mission of the laity, a mission not only "to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit" but also "to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society" (Gaudium et spes 43).

Along with the rehabilitation of the Homily, the phenomenon of lay preaching is one of the most distinctive developments in the prophetic mission of the Church after Vatican II. In practice this phenomenon covers a whole range of paraliturgical preaching, much of it very informal and spontaneous. Such "preaching" is usually based upon Scripture and can take the form of "teaching" or "sharing" or "witnessing," the last-named having to do with the confession of personal experiences that have challenged or restored or deepened a person's faith. It is evident that the term "preaching" as it includes communications such as these takes on a very broad signification. It ceases to be restricted to public proclamation of the mysteries deriving from episcopal mandate and associated with clerical ministry. Preaching becomes, rather, any public communication of faith by any believer under a right and an impulse deriving from the baptismal character itself and, even more urgently, from Confirmation. Moreover, the rightful and fruitful exercise of such a ministry should be looked upon as normal in the Church, granted a right understanding of the dynamismPage 616  |  Top of Article of Baptism and Confirmation and a right understanding of the act of preaching as a charism or grace-of-words given by the Spirit in the Church for the building up of the Church in faith and love.

The Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization. A second major source for renewed emphasis on the theology of preaching is the apostolic exhortation On Evangelization in the Modern World, issued by Pope Paul VI and inspired by the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1974). In this document the term "evangelization" has both a specific and a general meaning: specifically, it refers to the initial proclamation of the Word of God or the Good News aimed at CONVERSION (Paul VI EvangNunt 10); in other contexts it refers to any exercise of the ministry of the Word. The specific meaning of evangelization, however, and the stress upon that meaning in the document reflect a growing awareness that Christian ministry is exercised today in an increasingly non-Christian and non-religious environment, so that preaching must be first defined as the call to conversion. Under this aspect preaching in the Catholic sector tends to link with the evangelical character of those forms of Protestant preaching which focus almost entirely upon the call to conversion and spiritual rebirth.

While the apostolic exhortation reflects this specific need and this specific mode of preaching, the entire document provides, in addition, a vital and eloquent restatement of the chief elements in a theology of preaching.

(1) The character of the preaching act is Christological after the example of the preaching of Jesus, the first evangelizer, and as the historical extension of his preaching (ibid. 7).

(2) An ecclesial character marks the act of preaching. The exhortation insists that evangelization or the proclamation of the Good News "constitutes the essential mission of the Church… which exists in order to evangelize" (ibid. 14). Preaching is never "an individual or isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial" (ibid.60).

(3) The preaching act is charismatic in so far as the Holy Spirit is its principal agent and the new humanity generated by the Spirit its very goal and purpose (ibid.75). In an authentic theology of preaching it is the Spirit who moves both the preacher to preach efficaciously and the hearer to respond with a living faith.

(4) The content is revealed or God-given, a content which, however diversely expressed (the Love of the Father, the Good News, Salvation, Jesus himself) touches principally on "a transcendent and eschatological salvation" (ibid. 27), though secondarily and consequently on human liberation here and now from temporal evils (ibid. 31–38).

(5) Preaching is ministry, a ministry pertaining to the whole Church and to each of its parts. It pertains, first, to the ordained ministry of pope (ibid. 67), bishops and priests (ibid. 68); and to religious according to the silent witness of example or the overt witness of proclamation (ibid. 69). The document stresses also the ministry of the laity (ibid. 70), in virtue both of their presence in the midst of temporal affairs and of their direct service to the ecclesial community (ibid. 73). In this sense the apostolic exhortation supports the distinctive stress in the documents of Vatican II on the role of the laity in proclaiming the Good News and extending the Kingdom of Christ.

(6) Preaching as a ministry calls for such special virtues and qualities as the witness of a holy life (ibid. 76), the spirit of unity and amity among believers (ibid. 77), great reverence for truth (ibid. 78), authentic love for those to whom the Gospel is proclaimed (ibid. 79), and that spiritual fervor which makes the preaching of the Good News a matter of urgent personal necessity (ibid.80).

(7) Finally, preaching is an act of discernment and accommodation, an act in which the specific character, needs, and life-situation of the hearers affect the mode of proclamation (ibid. 51–57; 62–63), though without prejudice to the universality of the preaching mandate (ibid.49), or the claims of the universal Church (ibid. 64), or the unimpaired content of revealed truth expressed by the magisterium (ibid. 65).

In conclusion, it may be said that while the documents of Vatican II and the apostolic exhortation on evangelization clearly and persuasively restate a traditional theology of preaching—its source, its purpose, its content, its agency, both divine and human—these same documents give special emphasis and provide special insight into three distinct areas or concerns in the contemporary regime of preaching: (1) the importance of conversional preaching, or the initial moment in the proclamation of the Gospel; (2) the restoration or renewal of liturgical (homiletic) preaching, not only during the celebration of the Eucharist but as an integral part of the entire sacramental system; (3) the phenomenon of lay preaching grounded in the baptismal character of the believer and as the expression of the distinctive role of the laity in communicating the Gospel in the modern world.

Bibliography: E. ECHLIN, Priest as Preacher (Cork 1973). W. SKUDLAREK, The Word in Worship: Preaching in a Liturgical Context. (Nashville, 1981). G. S. SLOYAN, Worshipful Preaching. (Philadelphia, 1984). J. HOFINGER, Evangelization and Catechesis (New York 1976).

[T. D. ROVER]

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3407709050