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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 132. The Sermon.


Literature: A. Nebe: Charakterbilder d. bedeutendsten Kanzelredner, Vol. I. Origen to Tauler, 1879. —J. M. Neale: Med. Preachers, Lond., 1853, new ed., 1873. —J. A. Broadus: The Hist. of Preaching, N. Y., 1876. A bare sketch.—H. Hering: Gesch. d. Predigt. (pp. 55–68), Berlin, 1905. —E. C. Dargan: Hist. of Preaching, from 70 to 1570, N. Y., 1906.

For the French Pulpit: *Lecoy de la Marche: La chaire franc. au moyen âge speciallement au XIIIe siècle, Paris, 1868, new ed., 1886.—L. Bourgain: La chaire franc. au XIIme siècle d’après les Mss., Paris, 1879. —J. von Walter: D. ersten Wanderprediger Frankreichs, 2 parts, Leip., 1903, 1906.

For the German Pulpit: W. Wackernagel: Altdeutsche Predigten und Gebete, Basel, 1876.—*R Cruel: Gesch. d. Deutschen Predigt im MtA., Detmold, 1879.—*A. Linsenmayer (Rom. Cath.): Gesch. der Predigt in Deutschland von Karl dem Grossen bis zum Ausgange d. 14ten Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1886.—Hauck: Kirchengesch.—Collections of med. Ger. sermons.—H. Leyser: Deutsche Predigten d. 13ten und 14ten Jahrhunderts, 1838.—K. Roth: Deutsche Predigten des XlI. und XIII. Jahrhunderts, 1839.—F. E. Grieshaber: Deutsche Predigt. d. XIII. Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. Stuttg., 1844.—*A. E. Schönbach: Altdeutsche Predigten, 3 vols. Graz, 1886–1891; Studien zur Gesch. d. Altdeutschen Predigt. (on Berthold of Regensburg), 3 parts, Vienna, 1904–1906. —A. Franz: Drei Minoritenprediger aus d. XIII. u. XIV. Jahrh., Freib., 1907.

For the English Pulpit: R. Morris: Old Engl. Homilies of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, 2 vols. Lond., 1868–1873.—See T. F. Crane: Introd. to the Exempla of Jacob de Vitry, Folklore Soc., Lond., 1890.—Richardson: Voragine as a Preacher, Presb. Rev., July, 1904.


Although the office of the preacher in the Middle Ages was overshadowed by the function of the priest, the art of preaching was not altogether neglected. The twelfth and the thirteenth centuries have each contributed at least one pulpit orator of the first magnitude: St. Bernard, whom we think of as the preacher in the convent and the preacher of the Crusades, and Berthold of Regensburg, the Whitefield of his age, who moved vast popular assemblies with practical discourses.

Two movements aroused the dormant energies of the pulpit: the Crusades, in the twelfth century, and the rise of the Mendicant orders in the thirteenth century. The example of the heretical sects preaching on the street and the roadside also acted as a powerful spur upon the established Church.

Ambrose had pronounced the bishop’s chief function to be preaching. The nearest approach made to that definition by a formal pronouncement of these centuries is found in the tenth canon of the Fourth Lateran. After emphasizing the paramount necessity of knowing the Word of God, the council commended the practice whereby bishops, in case of their incapacity, appointed apt men to take their place in preaching. Pope Innocent III. himself preached, and fifty-eight of his sermons are preserved.20592059    See Hurter’s judgment of Innocent as a preacher, II. 729 sqq. from a writer on homiletics or a preacher in favor of frequent preaching. So Honorius of Autun, in an address to priests, declared that, if they lived a good life and did not publicly teach or preach, they were like the "watchmen without knowledge" and as dumb dogs (Isa. 56:9), and, if they preached and lived ill, they were as blind leaders of the blind.20602060    Spec. eccles., Migne, 172. 862.to another order, replied: "I do not read that Jesus Christ was either a black or a white monk, but that he was a poor preacher. I will follow in his steps."

It is impossible to determine with precision the frequency with which sermons were preached in parishes. Probably one-half of the priests in Germany in the twelfth century did not preach.20612061    Cruel, pp. 210, 262.efice fifty years without ever having preached a sermon. There were few pulpits in those days in English churches.20622062    Jessopp, Coming of the Friars, p. 86.

In the thirteenth century a notable change took place, through the example of the friars. They were preachers and went among the people. Vast audiences gathered in the fields and streets to listen to an occasional popular orator, like Anthony of Padua and Berthold of Regensburg. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Franciscans received formal permission from Clement V., "to preach on the streets the Word of God."

Nor was the preaching confined to men in orders. Laymen among the heretics and also among the orthodox groups and the Flagellants exercised their gifts.20632063    Linsenmayer, p. 125 sqq.egory IX., 1235, condemned the unauthorized preaching of laymen. There were also boy preachers in those days.20642064    Salimbene, Coulton’s ed., p. 305.

The vernacular was used at the side of the Latin.20652065    Hurter, IV. 507; Cruel, p. 217.rs of his life followed his example. Bishop Hermann of Prague, d. 1122, preached in Bohemian.20662066    His homiliarium was ed. by Hecht, 1863,

Congregations were affected much as congregations are to-day. Caesar of Heisterbach, who himself was a preacher, tells of a congregation that went to sleep and snored during a sermon. The preacher, suddenly turning from the line of his discourse, exclaimed: "Hear, my brethren, I will tell you something new and strange. There was once a king called Artus." The sleepers awoke and the preacher continued, "See, brethren, when I spoke about God, you slept, but when I began to tell a trivial story, you pricked up your ears to hear."20672067    Dial., IV. 36.casion.

The accounts of contemporaries leave no room to doubt that extraordinary impressions were made upon great audiences.20682068    Dargan, p. 229, says that "probably the largest audiences ever gathered to hear preaching" were gathered in the thirteenth century.l instruction, doctrinal inference, and moral application. It was well understood that the personality of the preacher has much to do with the effectiveness of a discourse. Although the people along the Rhine did not understand the language of St. Bernard, they were moved to the very depths by his sermons. When his language was interpreted, they lost their power.

Four treatises have come down to us from this period on homiletics and the pulpit, by Guibert of Nogent, Alanus ab Insulis, Humbert de Romanis, and Hugo de St. Cher.20692069    Speculum ecclesiae, Lyons, 1554.20702070    Quo ordine sermo fieri debeat, Migne, 157. 20-34.nd cultivating the habit of turning everything he sees into a symbol of religious truth. He sets forth the different motives by which preachers were actuated, from a desire of display by ventriloquism to an honest purpose to instruct and make plain the Scriptures.

In his Art of Preaching,20712071    Summa de arte praedicatoria, Migne, 210. 111-198. what is being talked about. He advises the use of quotations from Gentile authors, following Paul’s example. After giving other counsels, Alanus in forty-seven chapters presents illustrations of the treatment of different themes, such as the contempt of the world, luxury, gluttony, godly sorrow, joy, patience, faith. He then furnishes specimens of exhortations to different classes of hearers: princes, lawyers, monks, the married, widows, virgins, the somnolent.

Humbert de Romanis, general of the order of the Dominicans, d. 1277, in a much more elaborate work,20722072   De eruditione praedicatorum. for Christ celebrated the mass only once, but was constantly engaged in preaching. He urged the necessity of study, and counselled high thought rather than graceful and well-turned sentences, comparing the former to food and the latter to the dishes on which it is served.

To these homiletical rules and hints must be added the notices scattered through the sermons of preachers like Honorius of Autun and Caesar of Heisterbach. Caesar said,20732073    Quoted by Cruel, p. 249. like an arrow, sharp to pierce the hearts of the hearers; straight, that is, without any false doctrine; and feathered, that is, easy to be understood. The bow is the Word of God.

Among the prominent preachers from 1050 to 1200, whose sermons have been preserved, were Peter Damiani, d. 1072, Ivo of Chartres, d. 1116, Hildebert of Tours, d. 1133, Abaelard d. 1142, St. Bernard, d. 1153, and Maurice, archbishop of Paris, d. 1196. Of the eloquence of Arnold of Brescia, Norbert, the founder of the Premonstrant order, and Fulke of Neuilly, the fiery preacher of the Fourth Crusade, no specimens are preserved. Another class of preachers were the itinerant preachers, some of whom were commissioned by popes, as were Robert of Abrissel and Bernard of Thiron who went about clad in coarse garments and with flowing beards, preaching to large concourses of people. They preached repentance and sharply rebuked the clergy for their worldliness, themselves wept and brought their hearers to tears.

Bernard enjoys the reputation of being, up to his time, the most brilliant luminary of the pulpit after the days of Gregory the Great. Luther held his sermons in high regard and called him "the golden preacher"—der gueldene Prediger. Among the preachers of France he is placed at the side of Bourdaloue and Bossuet. He has left more than two hundred and fifty discourses on special texts and themes in addition to the eighty-six homilies on the Song of Solomon.20742074    See Vacandard, S. Bernard, I. 474 sqq., and Storrs, St. Bernard, pp. 355-427, Migne, 183. 73-747, 784-1105.

The subjects of the former range from the five pebbles which David picked up from the brook to the most solemn mysteries of Christ’s life and work. The sermons were not written out, but delivered from notes or improvised after meditation in the convent garden. For moral earnestness, flights of imagination, pious soliloquy, and passionate devotion to religious themes, they have a place in the first rank of pulpit productions. "The constant shadow of things eternal is over them all," said Dr. Storrs, himself one of the loftiest figures in the American pulpit of the last century. One of the leading authorities on his life, Deutsch, has said that Bernard combined in himself all the qualities of a great preacher, a vivid apprehension of the grace of God, a profound desire to help his hearers, a thorough knowledge of the human heart, familiarity with the Scriptures, opulence of thought, and a faculty of magnetic description.20752075    Art. Bernard, in Herzog, II. 634.

Fulke of Neuilly, pastor in Neuilly near Paris, was a man of different mould from Bernard, but, like him, his eloquence is associated with the Crusades.20762076    A. Charasson, Un curé plébéien au XIIe siècle Foulques, curé de Veuilly, Paris, 1905. a born orator. His sermons on repentance in Notre Dame and on the streets of Paris were accompanied with remarkable demonstrations, the people throwing themselves on the ground, weeping and scourging themselves. Usurers "whom the devil alone was able to make, "fallen women, and other offenders turned from their evil ways. Called forth by Innocent III. to proclaim the Fourth Crusade, Fulke influenced, as he himself estimated, no less than two million to take the cross. He did not live to hear of the capture of Constantinople, to which event unintentionally he made so large a contribution.

The great preachers of the thirteenth century were the product of the mendicant orders or, like Grosseteste, sympathized with their aims and methods. The Schoolmen who belonged to these orders seem all to have been preachers, and their sermons, or collations, delivered in the convents, many of which are preserved, received the highest praise from contemporaries, but partook of the scholastic method. Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventura were preachers, Bonaventura20772077    Peltier’s ed., XIII. 1-636, etc. For Thomas’ sermons, see Bourin, La prédication en France et les sermons de Thomas, Paris, 1882. Vaughan is fulsome in praise of Thomas as a preacher. Life, etc., I. 459 sq., II. 104 sqq., 112-117.

To the mendicant orders belonged also the eminent popular preachers, Anthony of Padua, John of Vicenza, and Berthold of Regensburg. Anthony of Padua, 1195–1231, born at Lisbon, entered the Franciscan order and made Northern Italy the scene of his labors. He differed from Francis in being a well-schooled man. He joined himself to the conventual party, at whose head stood Elias of Cortona. Like Francis he was a lover of nature and preached to the fishes. He preached in the fields and the open squares. As many as thirty thousand are reported to have flocked to hear him. He denied having the power of working miracles, but legend has associated miracles with his touch and his tomb. The fragments of his sermons, which are preserved, are mere sketches and, like Whitefield’s printed discourses, give no clew to the power of the preacher. Anthony was canonized the year after his death by Gregory IX. His remains were deposited, in 1263, in the church in Padua reared to his memory. Bonaventura was present. The body was found to have wholly dissolved except the tongue.20782078    The writer in Wetzer-Welte, I. 995, declarcs that the tongue remains whole to this day. See Lempp, Leben d. hl. Antonius v. Padua.

Berthold of Regensburg, d. 1272, had for his teacher David of Augsburg, d. 127l, also a preacher of renown. A member of the Franciscan order, Berthold itinerated from Thuringia to Bohemia, and from Spires to the upper Rhine regions as far as the Swiss canton of the Grisons. He was familiarly known as rusticanus, "the field preacher." According to contemporaries, he was listened to by sixty thousand at a time. His sermons were taken down by others and, to correct mistakes, he was obliged to edit an edition with his own hand.20792079    The works and collections of Berthold’s sermons are numerous. Cruel, pp. 307-322; Linsenmayer, pp. 333-354; E. Bernhardt, Bruder Berthold von Regensb., etc., Erf., 1905. Ed. of his sermons by Kling, Berlin, 1824; Pfeiffer, Vienna, 1862; J. Strobel, 2 vols. Vienna, 1880; Gobel, 2 vols. Schaffh., 1850; 4th ed., Regensb., 1905; alsoPredigten a. d. Sonn und Festtagen, 2 vols. 1884; G. Jacob, D. Iatein. Reden d. Berthold, etc., Regensb., 1880.

This celebrated preacher’s style is exceedingly pictorial. He drew illustrations from the stars and the fields, the forests and the waters. The most secret motives of the heart seemed to he open before him. Cruel, the historian of the mediaeval German pulpit, gives as the three elements of his power: his popular speech easily understood by the laity, his personality which he never hid behind a quoted authority, and his burning love for God and man. He preached unsparingly against the vices of his age: usury, avarice, unchastity, drunkenness, the dance, and the tournament, and everything adapted to destroy the sanctity of the home.

He urged as motives the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. But especially did he appeal to the fear of perdition and its torments. If your whole body, he said, was glowing iron and the whole world on fire, yet are the pains of the lost many times greater, and when the soul is reunited with the body in hell, then it will be as passing from dew to a burning mountain. The sermons are enlivened by vivacious dialogues in which the devil is a leading figure. Berthold demanded penitence as well as works of penance. But he was a child of his time, was hard on heretics, and did not oppose any of the accepted dogmas.

A considerable number of sermons, many of them anonymous, are preserved from the mediaeval pulpit of Germany, where preaching seemed to be most in vogue.20802080    See Cruel, 146-208; Linsenmayer, 191-320.achers were Gottfried, abbot of Admont, d. 1165, Honorius of Autun, d. 1152, and Werner of St. Blasius in the Black Forest, d. 1126. Gottfried’s sermons, of which about two hundred are preserved, occupy more than a thousand columns in Migne (174. 21–1133), and are as full of exegetical and edifying material as any other discourses of the Middle Ages.

Honorius and Werner both prepared homiliaria, or collections of sermons which were meant to be a homiletical arsenal for preachers. Honorius’ collection, the Mirror of the Church—Speculurn ecclesiae20812081    Migne, vol. 172. See Rocholl, in Herzog, VIII. 327-331; Endres, Honor. August., Leip., 1903. Honorius called himself Augustoduniensis, but it is doubtful whether Autun or Strassburg is meant. one of them he addresses himself to one class after another, calling them by name. One of the interesting things about these model discourses is the homiletical hints that are thrown in here and there. The following two show that it was necessary, even in those good old times, to adapt the length of the sermon to the patience of the hearers. "You may finish here if you choose, or if time permits, you may add the following things." "For the sake of brevity you must sometimes shorten this sermon and at other times you may prolong it."

Werner’s collection, the Deflorationes sanctorum patrum, or Flowers from the Fathers, fills more than five hundred columns in Migne (151. 734–1294), and joins, with discourses from patristic times, other sermons, some of them probably by Werner himself. Thirteen are taken from Honorius of Autun. It would be interesting, if there were space, to give specimens of the sermonic literature contained in these collections.

Of the pulpit in England there is not much to be said. It had no preachers equal in fame to the preachers of Germany and Italy. The chief source of our information are the two volumes of Old English Homilies by Morris, which contain an English translation at the side of the Saxon original. The names of the preachers are lost. The sermons are brief expositions of texts of Scripture, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and on Mary and the Apostles, and are adapted to the wants and temptations of everyday life. In a sermon on the Creed20822082    Old Engl. Hom., II. 14.on is such as might be made by a wise preacher to-day: "Three things there are that each man must have who will lead a Christian life, a right belief, baptism, and a fair life, for he is not fully a Christian who is wanting in any of these." One of the sermons quaintly treats of the traps set by the devil in four pits: play, and the trap idleness; drink, and the trap wrongdoing; the market, and the trap cheating; and the Church, and the trap pride. In the last trap the clergy are ensnared as when the priest neglects to perform the service or to speak what he ought to, or sings so as to catch the ears of women.20832083    II, 209 sqq.

A general conclusion to be drawn from the sermons of this period of the Middle Ages is that human passions and the tendency to shirk religious duties or to substitute the appearance for the reality were about the same as they are to-day. Another conclusion is that the modes of appeal employed were about the same as the earnest preacher employs in this age, except that in those days much more emphasis was laid upon the pains of future punishment.



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