Preaching, II (Homiletic Theory)

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Author: J. M. CONNORS
Date: 2003
New Catholic Encyclopedia
From: New Catholic Encyclopedia(Vol. 11. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 10
Content Level: (Level 5)

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The theory of preaching in the Church has had a long development and several names In the Middle Ages it was called "the art of preaching." In the 16th and 17th centuries it became "ecclesiastical rhetoric" and "sacred eloquence." Since the end of the 17th century it has most commonly been called "homiletics." This article traces the main outlines of its development in the contributions of Catholic authors in patristic, medieval, and modern times.

Patristic Times (until c. 600). Christian preaching appeared in the 1st century as a force unique in its origin, content, aim, and spirit. It had originated in a divine mandate (Mt 28.19–20), contained a divinely revealed message, aimed at the radical conversion of its hearers, and breathed a spirit of earnestness and power.

Apostolic Contrast. The Apostles and their successors found their models of Christian preaching in the instruction and example of Christ our Lord (e.g., Mt 10.16;13.52), and of the Old Testament prophets. They continued the synagogue custom of explaining the Scriptures at divine services (Lk 4.16–20; Acts 42) in a type of free, familiar, artless discourse that came to be called a HOMILY, from the Greek word for familiar conversation (ὁμιλία); cf, 1 Cor 15.33; Lk 24.14; Acts 24.26). In writing to the Corinthians St. Paul disclaimed any reliance on "sublimity of words or of wisdom," (1 Cor 2.1, 4; 2 Cor 10.10; 11.6), an apparent reference to the art of eloquence that played a dominant role in the Hellenic environment of the time.

Implicit in Paul's disclaimer is the abiding challenge of inculturation, and more specifically of maintaining the supernatural character and divine efficacy of the act of preaching while utilizing effectively principles of general rhetoric. In the four centuries preceding the Christian era the solid foundations of an authentic art of persuasion had been laid in Greek and Roman treatises. The challenge for the Church was how to perfect the natural eloquence of the preacher without succumbing to the superficiality and ostentation that characterized recurring periods of rhetorical decadence.

Classical Rhetoric. A classical rhetoric had been established by close observation of constant elements in the persuasive process. For the soundness of its basic doctrines it has sometimes been called "the perennial rhetoric," by analogy with the philosophia perennis that developed beside it. It was ideally conceived by Plato (Gorgias, Phaedrus), philosophically analyzed by Aristotle (Rhetoric), studied in its practical applications by Cicero in seven separate works on the subject, and construed as a complete system of education by Quintilian. It was in the composite a body of doctrine divided into five tracts: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Its aim was to give persuasive impact to the cause of truth and justice. In the early Christian centuries, however, this functional rhetoric had been overlaid by the contrived art of the so-called Second Sophistic, a decadent period marked by a recrudescence of the spirit of self-display and an obsession with stylistic ornament against which Plato had striven much earlier.

As Christianity won more converts from among the educated classes, the unsuitability of sophistic as a vehicle for the word of God became an acute dilemma as the values of Christianity and Hellenism clashed. To pagan listeners with a developed taste for sophistic discourse and a lofty disdain toward the uncultured masses who had embraced the Gospel, the plain-spoken artlessness of Christian preaching had little appeal. Yet to earnest believers, whatever their tastes before conversion, it now seemed desecration to embroider the simple directness of the Gospel with sophistic conceits. Scattered passages containing reflections on this dilemma are found in the works of Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Arnobius, Lactantius, St. Jerome, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen (see Labriolle, 1–28). The rigoristic view was that the principles of eloquence developed by pagan rhetors could be of no practical use to the preacher sent by God. The moderate view that gradually won out was that the really valid principles constant in the persuasive process should be taken into the service of Christian preaching, while the superficial mannerisms that entrusted and embarrassed them should be discarded.

The 3d Century. ORIGEN (d. 153) made a lasting impression on homiletics. His views, revealed only in passing, stressed a side to effective preaching that had to be developed by the preacher's own efforts (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 14:1215–16). He held that true preaching must combine instruction and persuasion, just as true fire gives both light and warmth (Patrologia Graeca 12:392). His chief influence, however, lay in his farreaching principle of interpreting Scripture in the Alexandrian tradition of a fourfold exegesis. Each passage was explained in a literal, moral, and mystical sense, the mystical being subdivided into allegorical and anagogical. The belief that single verses and even single words of Scripture contained meanings hidden deep beneath the literal sense filled his homilies with allegory. The term homily itself took on the technical meaning of an explanation of a Scriptural passage, and the verse-by-verse explanation that this exegetical method required has become known as the "first form" of homily, or the "lower homily," or the versicular homily.

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The Golden Age of Patristic Eloquence. From the Peace of Constantine (313) to the Council of Chalcedon (451) there was progress toward a theory of Christian preaching and a solution of its basic conflict with sophistic. Large congregations in spacious basilicas, public celebration of Christian feasts, violent controversy on doctrinal issues, and prominent bishops who had spent their youth in the study of public speaking made for vigorous eloquence. Besides the versicular homily there now appeared funeral discourses and panegyrics on the martyrs and theological orations that established the thematic sermon as another form of Christian preaching, differing from the homily chiefly in that it set out to explain a certain doctrine or a certain event rather than a scriptural passage. The great Fathers of this age, influenced on the one hand by their early training and continued friendship with leading sophists, and on the other by their profound reverence for the word of God, gave their attention to the question of the relation of Christian preaching to general rhetoric. St. BASIL (d. 379), who had earlier followed the career of his renowned rhetorician father and sent students to the sophist Libanius (see Basil's Letters 335–360), made an indirect contribution in his treatise To the Youths by endorsing the principle that the genuine values of pagan literary achievement should be preserved. His brother, St. GREGORY OF NYSSA (d. 394), personally exemplified the Christian confronted with sophistic standards he could neither honor nor escape. St. GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS (d. 389) left more numerous obiter dicta on the problem. For him, the greatest "wisdom" (σοφία, cf. 1 Cor 1.22; 2.2–8) was to despise "wisdom" that consisted only in word play and false antitheses (Patrologia Graeca 35:935). He attacked the theatrical preachers who destroyed the simple eloquence of the Christian message (Patrologia Graeca 36:237). Yet he esteemed true eloquence as a most precious possession (Patrologia Graeca 35:635), a pearl of great price (Patrologia Graeca 35:727) that he had acquired by great efforts in his youth (Patrologia Graeca 35:762).

The great influence on preaching among the Greek Fathers was exercised by St. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (d. 407). Following the preference of the Antiochian school for the literal rather than the allegorical sense of Scripture, he did much to develop the second or mixed form of homily, in which a Scriptural passage was first explained verse by verse and then its central thought was treated as a unified theme as in the thematic sermon. Although for this versicular-thematic homily he left no connected theory, he did devote the fourth and fifth books of his treatise On the Priesthood to the ministry of preaching. Because they lacked the apostolic power of miracles, he argued, later Christian preachers needed the power of eloquence, to acquire which they had to expend great effort, since not nature but training made a speaker. This was all the more essential because of "the great passion for eloquence that has taken hold of the minds of Christians" (op. cit. 5.8). But while these books dealt with the attitude of the preacher toward his office and the dangers surrounding it, they did not constitute a homiletic theory properly so called.

St. Augustine. The first technical theory of preaching was provided in 427 by St. AUGUSTINE (d. 430), in the fourth book of his treatise On Christian Instruction (De doctrina christiana). By devoting the first three books, which had been written much earlier (c. 397), to methods of interpreting Scripture, and the fourth to techniques of proximate preparation and delivery, he anticipated a modern distinction between material and formal homiletics. His major contribution, however, was to establish once for all time the principle that the Christian must press into the service of the Gospel all the perennially valid principles of general rhetoric. Clearly rejecting sophistic, he reached back to the works of Cicero for his rhetorical doctrine, adapting to Christian preaching the triple Ciceronian aims of teaching, pleasing, and persuading (docere, delectare, movere), and the corresponding concepts of instructive, affective, and persuasive styles. In a thorough discussion of the whole foundation of the theory of preaching he showed the way for very many subsequent treatises, so much so that what Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian were to the establishment of the perennial rhetoric, this work of St. Augustine was to homiletics. Another of Augustine's works that contained much advice for preachers is his The First Catechetical Instruction (De catechizandis rudibus) in which he provides practical suggestions on how to engage an audience and maintain their attention as well as contents for an introductory sermon for individuals inquiring about the faith.

Bibliography: C. S. BALDWIN, Ancient Rhetoric and Poetic (New York 1924; repr. Gloucester, Massachusetts 1959); Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic (to 1400) (New York 1928). P. C. DE LABRIOLLE, History and Literature of Christianity, tr. H. WILSON (New York 1924). J. QUASTEN, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Maryland 1950–). CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA, Patristic Studies 1, 2, 5, 23, 38, 42, 79.


Medieval Times (c. 600–c. 1500). In the early Middle Ages (600–1100), there was a sharp decline in preaching. In the making of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, clergy were ordained with only the most essential preparation, books were scarce, the ministry of the word was closely reserved as the bishops' prerogative, and the ideal of monastic stability during these Benedictine centuries made traveling preachers exceptions to the rule. Those who did preach depended almost entirelyPage 619  |  Top of Article upon the early Fathers for both doctrine and expression, being content merely to repeat or paraphrase some patristic homily on the scriptural lesson of the day, for which the more fortunate had at hand homiliaries such as the widely used collection edited for Charlemagne by Paul the Deacon. These conservative customs were reflected in the lack of any substantial developments in homiletic theory from the 5th to the 12th century. St. GREGORY THE GREAT (d. 604) did give detailed instructions in his Pastoral Rule on themes for different types of listeners, and in his Homilies and Dialogues set a precedent for the use of illustrations or exempla in preaching. CASSIODORUS (d. c. 575), St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636), St. Bede (d. 735), and ALCUIN (d. 804) did write concise summaries of general rhetoric. RABANUS MAURUS (d. 856) summarized St. Augustine's tract and St. Gregory's Rule in his treatise on the training of the clergy (De clericorum institutione; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 107:297–420). But of any original technical treatise on preaching after St. Augustine's in 427 there is no trace for 700 years.

The late Middle Ages (1100–1500), by contrast, was a highly creative period in the history of homiletic theory. Seeds sown in the 12th century flowered in the 13th, but ran to seed again during the 14th and 15th centuries. Passages in St. BERNARD (d. 1153) give evidence of the 12th-century transition. On the one hand his sermons reveal a low opinion of rhetoric and a reluctance to allow monks to preach outside the cloister; on the other hand, they exhibit a unity of theme and an orderly progression and originality of conception that anticipate the flowering of medieval homiletics. His contemporary, the Benedictine Abbot GUIBERT OF NOGENT (d. 1124), also sowed new seed by his tract on how a sermon should be prepared (Quo ordine sermo fieri debeat; Patrologia Latina 156:21–32). While not a technical treatise, this little work has seminal suggestions about the fourfold interpretation of Scripture, the importance of moral application, the knowledge of the human heart to be gained by observing one's own inner life, the necessity of lively delivery, and the usefulness of examples from history and of allegories from observation of gems, birds, and beasts. More technical than this is the treatise published a little later by the Cistercian scholar ALAN OF LILLE (d. c. 1203). Its 48 chapters (Summa Magistri Alani doctoris universalis de arte praedicatoria; Patrologia Latina 210:111–198) are mostly illustrative sketches of how to develop sermons on certain virtues and vices (ch. 2–37) and different states of life (ch. 40–48). Only the first chapter, after repudiating all puerilities in preaching such as the rhyming sermon then popular, presents the technical theory. The recommended technique is to begin with a text from the Gospels, Psalms, Pauline Epistles, or Books of Solomon, since these afford many moral themes, for which confirmatory texts can be sought in other parts of the Bible. Then the preacher must get the good will of his listeners by his humility and his explanation of the usefulness of what he is about to say, promising to be brief and to the point. Then he must develop his text, bringing in other authorities to confirm the proposition, sometimes even quoting the classics, as St. Paul sometimes did. He must also employ pathos to soften hearts and draw tears. Toward the end he may clinch the lesson by using exempla, since teaching by stories is popular (familiaris). These suggestions foreshadowed the elements of the numerous treatises that in the following century were to establish a characteristic technique for the late medieval sermon.

The 13th Century. In the 13th century the Fourth Lateran Council's decree on preaching (X. De praedicatorbius instituendis) gave authoritative impetus the renewal of preaching already well underway. The rapid growth of the mendicant Orders, notably the Franciscans and Dominicans, the rise of the universities and scholasticism, and the determination to meet on their own ground the heretics who were spreading their doctrines by preaching, all conspired to produce a vast homiletic renewal. In contrast to earlier monastic stability, thousands of mendicant friars became itinerant preachers, while professors took turns in the university pulpits and required trial sermons of candidates for degrees. Many technical treatises appeared, gradually developing a fairly standardized theory. Authors of widely used treatises in the 13th century were WILLIAM OF AUVERGNE (d. 1249), the Franciscans John of La Rochelle (d. 1245) and John of Wales (d. c. 1300), and the obscure Richard of Thetford (13th century), whose tract inculcated the conventional eight modes of developing a theme, resembling the "commonplaces" or topoi (τόποι) of classical rhetoric. The fifth Dominican master general, HUMBERT OF ROMANS (d. 1277), published two books (c. 1240) on the training of preachers in a single volume De eruditione praedicatorum, which was used extensively by both Dominicans and Franciscans (Zawart, 374). The first book contains reflections on the preacher's office and conduct (translated in 1951 as Treatise on Preaching, ed. W. M. Conlon), and the second contains sermon models for all types of listeners and all occasions.

The 14th Century. In the 14th century, prominent authors were Robert of Basevorn (fl. 1322?), the Dominicans Jacques de Fusignano at Paris (early 14th century) and Thomas Waleys at Oxford (d. c. 1349), and the Augustinian Thomas of Todi (fl. 1380). Still later works were the Franciscan manual written by Christian Borgsleben after 1464 for student friars at the University of Erfurt, and the chapters on preaching included by the Dominican St. ANTONINUS of Florence (d. 1459) in part three of his Summa theologiae moralis.

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Compilations of Sermon Material. Besides the the many technical treatises on preaching—the ARSPRAEDICANDI—as the genre was called, the medieval preacher had many promptuaries of sermon material indexed under such headings as the virtues and vices. His lapidaries and bestiaries afforded him abundant illustrations of sermon themes by way of analogy with the properties of gems and characteristics of animals. His collections of exempla or pious stories, which he liked to employ especially toward the end of a popular sermon, enabled him to preach on any theme with only short notice. In imitation of the 2nd century Alexandrian bestiary Physiologus and of the early Lives of the Fathers ascribed to St. Jerome's disciple PALLADIUS, and of the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, which was their counterpart in the West, many medieval authors edited such collections. Outstanding were the compilations of the Cistercian Abbot CAESARIUS OF HEISTERBACH (d. c. 1240), whose Homiliae and Dialogus miraculorum followed the methods of St. Gregory and of the Augustinian Cardinal JACQUES DE VITRY (d. 1240), whose published sermons contained as many as three and four exempla each. Major Dominican compilers were Étienne of Bourbon (d. 1261), William Peraldus (d. c. 1207), the above-mentioned Humbert of Romans (d. 1277), and much later Johannes Herolt (d. early 15th century). In England a Summa praedicantium was compiled by the Oxford-Cambridge Dominican and adversary of Wyclif, John Bromyard (d.1390), running to nearly 1,000 folio pages containing some 1,200 exempla under 189 alphabetical headings, with a prologue and a little treatise on preaching under the heading "Praedicator." The Franciscan John of Kilkenny is credited with a 13th-century collection (Zawart, 366). A number of his confreres compiled a Liber exemplorum Fratrum Minorum somewhat later, and still another anonymous Franciscan edited the Speculum laicorum (c. 1285).

Technique. The technique of the late medieval sermon described in the standard treatises was the product of the scholastic spirit. It emphasized strict unity and sought to evolve the whole sermon systematically from a carefully chosen Scripture text that stated the theme. After the text came the pro-theme, which led to the invocation for divine help for preacher and listeners. The theme was then restated and divided, usually into three parts, which were then subdivided and developed according to conventional modes of amplification. Theme, protheme, invocation, division, declaration of parts, and development proceeded in a logical unfolding that was seen by the systematic scholastic mind as the homiletic equivalent of PORPHYRY's tree. In fact the medieval artes praedicandi often contained diagrams illustrating the sermon process by the organic structure of a tree, with its root (the theme) developing into the trunk (pro-theme), which then divided into the major limbs (three parts), these then subdividing into branches bearing leaves and fruit. In the declining Middle Ages, while the popular sermon to the uneducated laity, especially in the hands of preachers such as the Franciscan Berthold of Regensburg (d. 1272), could for the most part escape it, there lay in the formalism of the scholastic sermon a tendency to an obsession with style and excessive subtlety.

Bibliography: P. ARENDT, Die Predigten des Konstanzer Konzils (Freiburg 1933). C. S. BALDWIN, Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic (to 1400) (New York 1928). T. M. CHARLAND, Artes praedicandi (Ottawa 1936). M. M. DAVY, ed., Les Sermons universitaires parisiens 1230–1231 (Paris 1931). A. LECOY DE LA MARCHE, La Chaire française au moyen âge (2d ed. Paris 1886). G. R. OWST, Preaching in Medieval England (Cambridge, England 1926); Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England (2d ed. New York 1961). J.T. WELTER, L'Exemplum dans la littérature religieuse et didactique du moyen âge (Paris 1927). A. ZAWART, The History of Franciscan Preaching and of Franciscan Preachers 1209–1927 (New York 1927). M. MCC. GATCH, Preaching and Theology in Anglo-Saxon England: Aelfric and Wulfstan (Toronto 1977). D. L. D'AVRAY, The Preaching of the Friars (Oxford 1985).


Modern Times (from c. 1500). From the time that Poggio, on his way to the Council of Constance (1414), recovered the complete Quintilian in a tower of the Abbey of St. Gall and Gherardo Landriani in 1425 came upon Cicero's rhetorical treatises in the Duomo at Lodi, it was predictable that the Renaissance enthusiasm for classical rhetoric would influence the theory of preaching. Actually, the Manuale curatorum by Ulrich Surgant in 1503 was about the last well-known homiletic treatise in the medieval scholastic mold. The next year the renowned humanist Johann REUCHLIN published a brochure of concise notes on preaching as Liber congestorum de arte praedicandi in 1504. In less than 24 pages, he summarized the typical features of the perennial rhetoric: the five basic tracts on invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery; the topoi or commonplaces as tools of invention; the classic arrangement of exordium, narration, division, confirmation, confutation, and peroration; the stylistic modes divided into figures of thought and figures of words; orderly arrangement and frequent meditation as aids to memory; and treatment of delivery in sections on voice and on action. In several places he explicitly mentioned Cicero and Quintilian, revealing himself as the first of dozens of 16th-century authors who took timbers from the Greek and Roman treatises for the framework of their homiletic theory. The trend became more firmly established in 1535 with the publication of Ecclesiastes sive de ratione concionandi by ERASMUS. This very long and loosely organized treatise, begun at the urging of St. John FISHER (d. 1535) and published inPage 621  |  Top of Article the year of his martyrdom, shows the effects of Erasmus's personal hardships during its composition, but firmly advances St. Augustine's principle of adopting the perennial rhetoric as the framework for homiletic theory.

With these precedents, the way lay open for the many authors who saw a demand for homiletic manuals implied in the decrees of the Council of Trent on frequent preaching and on the establishment of seminaries with homiletic training in the curriculum. St. Charles BORROMEO worked these decrees out in fuller detail in his First Provincial Synod of Milan in 1565, and in 1575 published his instructions on preaching as Instructiones praedicationis verbi Dei, which went everywhere as part of the Acta ecclesiae mediolanensis [ed. Achille Ratti (1890) 2:1207–48], the bishops' handbook at many local councils after Trent. These decrees of Trent and Milan and the CATECHISM OF THE COUNCIL OF TRENT came to form the core of a Tridentine tradition in conciliar legislation on preaching for the next four centuries. To fill the great need for manuals thus created, leading ecclesiastics took up their pens. In 1562 the Franciscan Lucas Baglioni published L'Arte del predicare. An Augustinian preacher at the Spanish court, Lorenzo de Villavicente, put out in 1565 a work De formandis sacris concionibus seu de interpretatione scripturarum populari, reproducing the title and substance of a renowned earlier work by the Protestant writer Andreas Hyperius. Technical treatises also appeared by the famous Franciscan preachers Cornelius MUSSO (d. 1574) and Francesco PANIGAROLA (d.1594), who have a controversial place in history as originators of the baroque concetti. In 1570 Alphonsus Garsias Matamoro, professor of rhetoric at the then thriving University of ALCALÁ, published De tribus dicendi generibus sive de recta informandi styli ratione and De methodo concionandi juxta rhetoricae artis praescriptum. Antonius Lanquier, a Carmelite, published in 1578 his Synopsis ad faciendam piam concionem orthodoxis, and in 1595 appeared the Divinus orator vel de rhetorica divina by Ludovico Carbone. To the Capuchin LAWRENCE OF BRINDISI (d. 1619) is attributed a long unpublished treatise for young preachers, Tractatus de modo concionandi, quo instruuntur novi concionatores.

The most successful authors, however, were Augustinus Valerius, Didacus Stella, and Louis of Granada, whose works so complemented each other that they were sometimes published together in subsequent editions. Valerius (d. 1606), Bishop of Verona, writing so closely under the observation of St. Charles Borromeo that he called him the true author of the treatise, based his three books on ecclesiastical rhetoric, De rhetorica ecclesiastica sive modo concionandi libri tres (1574), squarely upon Aristotle's Rhetoric. DIEGO OF ESTELLA, a Franciscan exegete (d. 1578), derived his theory more from the preacher's role as interpreter of the Scriptures in his De ratione concionandi, sive rhetorica ecclesiastica of 1576. Most widely used of all, and recommended even by Bellarmine and Bérulle, was the Ecclesiasticae rhetoricae sive de ratione concionandi libri sex published in 1576 by LOUIS OF GRANADA (d. 1588). This outstanding Dominican, praised by the Jesuit Rapin as the very model of a preacher, stressed in the preface to his work the importance of style and delivery as well as invention, and relied for his principles heavily on Quintilian.

The Jesuits. This movement to employ classical rhetoric as the framework of homiletic theory received strong and enduring support from the Jesuits. A zeal for preaching was evident from the beginning in the writings of the early Jesuit generals. St. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA promulgated the 24 rules for preachers, and other directives. Diego LAÍNEZ wrote a long unedited treatise of advice for preachers, Monita pro iis qui concionandi munus suscipiunt. St. Francis BORGIA published a short but much-reprinted tract De ratione concionandi, and Claudius ACQUAVIVA (1581–1615) included an instruction for preachers in his Instructiones ad provinciales et superiores societatis in 1613. St. Robert BELLARMINE (d. 1621) also gave a half-dozen pages of instructions, De ratione formandae concionis (Opera oratoria postuma, I; S. I. selecti scriptores Rome 1942); and even in the foreign missions St. Francis XAVIER (d. 1552) wrote letters including extensive advice on preaching. More to the point concerning the perennial rhetoric, Gerónimo Nadal (d. 1580) gave detailed instructions on Jesuit homiletic training in his De ministerio verbi Dei (Monumenta historica Societatis Jesu, Epistolae Nadal 4.653–670), in which he explicitly called for a theory of preaching utilizing the best of Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian (p. 657). Execution of this clear policy was aided by the ardent classicism of the RATIO STUDIORUM, which took as its own objective Quintilian's ideal of "the good man skilled in speaking," and for more than two centuries trained Jesuit students on such compendia of classical rhetoric as the De arte rhetorica (1560) of Cyprian Soarez, SJ. The homiletic treatises of dozens of Jesuit authors in the 17th and 18th centuries reflected this background (see C. Sommervogel et al., Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus).

France. In the 17th century the initiative in homiletic theory passed to France, where the reform of preaching was a particular manifestation of the general Catholic revival. Influential beyond all proportion to its brevity was the Letter to André Frémiot on preaching written in 1604 by St. FRANCIS DE SALES (d. 1622). His effect on St. VINCENT DE PAUL (d. 1660) helped to shape "The Little Method," which the latter employed in his efforts to reform French preaching through the Tuesday Conference for the diocesan clergy and his own Congregation of thePage 622  |  Top of Article Mission and his retreats for ordinands. He employed it everywhere also in the work of the internal missions, which he originated in 1617. As a spirit, The Little Method was a rejection of the sophistic taste that had once more revived in the form of the exaggerated classicism of the Renaissance. As a technique, it was a way of constructing a moral sermon on a sequence of motives, nature, and means pertaining to some virtue or vice, employing the most stirring stylistic modes or figures of speech and short texts and examples. Among others, J.J. Oiler, L. TRONSON, and even BOSSUET learned The Little Method from St. Vincent, and Tronson as tutor and Bossuet as colleague undoubtedly communicated at least its spirit to FÉNELON. Its influence is evident also in the tract on The Apostolic Preacher by St. John EUDES (d.1680). Meanwhile, the Orator christianus (1612) by the Jesuit Charles Regius (d. 1612) had been made a standard manual for the Society by Acquaviva's instruction in 1613. A French Jesuit, formerly chaplain to Louis XIII, Nicholas Caussin (d. 1651) published the unwieldy and disorganized Eloquentiae sacrae et humanae parallela in 1619. Much shorter and clearer was the theory by which another Jesuit, Paolo SEGNERI (d. 1694), did much to combat the Sophistic taste of the early baroque period in Italy. In 1670 the Capuchin Amadeus Bajocensis (Amadée of Bayeux) published a huge work on homiletic theory based on St. Paul, Paulus Ecclesiastes seu eloquentia christiana, qua orator evangelicus ad ideam Pauli efformatur. René RAPIN, SJ, wrote Reflections upon Eloquence, (1671) and the Oratorian Bernard LAMY put out his L'Art de parler with a section on preaching in 1675.

Reaction to the Baroque. In the 18th century the plea for a return to apostolic simplicity and earnestness was characteristic of the major treatises. In France, Blaise Gisbert, SJ, produced his Christian Eloquence in Theory and Practice (1702), a volume of 23 chapters and 435 pages in its English translation, making an eloquent statement of the highest homiletic ideals, profusely illustrated from the works of St. John Chrysostom. In 1710 Jean Gaichiès published his less valuable but well-known Maximes sur le ministère de la chaire. A high point in the history of French homiletics was the work of Fénelon (d. 1715). In his Letter to the Academy of 1714 he called for scholars to construct an ideal rhetorical treatise by drawing from the best of the Greek and Roman classics, and for a comparable treatise on preaching based on the principles of St. Augustine. In 1717 his Dialogues on Eloquence were published posthumously. Much admired and quoted, they define eloquence as the art of persuading men to truth and goodness, demand full understanding of listeners' obligations and motives, list the aims of preaching as to prove, to portray, and to strike, prescribe careful preparation but extempore delivery, reject formal divisions and the artificial conceits dear to the baroque taste, insist on full knowledge of both Holy Scripture and human nature, advocate that pastors be chosen for ability to preach, propose a return to the patristic homily and a style of preaching that, because it did not make heroic demands in preparation, enabled the preacher to speak as often as his listeners desired. Fénelon is the zenith of the golden age of French homiletic theory, of which later treatises like Cardinal Jean Siffrein Maury's Principle of Eloquence in 1782 are but the sunset before the nightfall of the French Revolution in 1789.

Spain. In the 18th century, meanwhile, the campaign against baroque sophistic was cleverly waged by the Jesuit Jose Francisco de Isla (d. 1781), whose lampooning History of the Famous Preacher Friar Gerund of Campazas (Spanish 1758) became a classic of Spanish satire rivaling Don Quixote. This novel, which Benedict XIV stayed up all night to read and then highly praised, stirred up such opposition as to land on the Index until 1900, but it succeeded in overcoming the current bad taste by making "Gerundianism" a term of ridicule. Almost at the same time, in Italy St. Alphonsus Liguori (d. 1787), founder of the Redemptorists, circulated among bishops and religious superiors in 1761 his Letter to a Religious on Apostolic Preaching. It was one long appeal for simplicity and practicality, and repeatedly recommended the ideals expressed by Lodovico Antonio MURATORI in his Dei pregi dell' eloquenza popolare of 1750. In addition, St. Alphonsus wrote technically on homiletic theory in part three of his Selva (1760). For the Passionists, founded in Italy at the same time for the same work of internal missions, St. Vincenzo Strambi (d. 1824) dictated notes in 1789 that were later published as A Guide to Sacred Eloquence. This work, strongly classical in orientation, bears such intrinsic resemblance to St. Alphonsus's treatise as to indicate either dependence upon it or the sharing of a common source. Contemporary were the works of the two Capuchins, Gaetano da Bergamo, L'uomo apostolico ixtruito nella sua vocazione al pulpito (1729), and Andrea da Faenza, Lettera didascalica sopra la maniera di ben comporre la predica (n.d.).

Germany. In 18th-century Germany the ENLIGHTENMENT was followed by the appearance of the first Catholic homiletic works in German. Rudolf Graser, OSB, published Vollständige Lehrart zu predigen in 1766 and Praktische Beredsamkeit der chr. Kanzel in 1769. Ignaz Wurz, SJ, produced in 1770 his Anleitung zur geistlichen Beredsamkeit, many times republished. Another Jesuit, Joseph Anton Weissenbach, began in 1775 his nine-volume work on patristic eloquence, De eloquentia patrum libri xiii, which was abridged in Rome as Ratio utendi scriptis sanctorum patrum ad conciones sacrasPage 623  |  Top of Article (1825), only to have the abridgement translated back into German in 1844 by M. A. Nickel and J. Kehrein. It is a statement of homiletic theory filled out with abundant illustrations from the Fathers. The reorganization of theological studies by the Benedictine Abbot Franz Stephan RAUTENSTRAUCH (d. 1785) and the subsequent decree of Empress Maria Theresa that vernacular lectures on pastoral theology be held in all theological faculties of her empire created a demand for more manuals and established the German custom of writing large handbooks of pastoral theology comprising treatises on homiletics, catechetics, and liturgy. The appearance in 1788 of the lectures on pastoral theology, Vorlesungen aus der Pastoral-theologie, by the renowned Johann Michael SAILER set a new standard, in a time when even some theological manuals were tinged with rationalism, for sound theology and exact knowledge of Scripture, to which Sailer added, in treating homiletics, a sure grasp of technique. The homiletic part of the manual gave that constant attention to the connections between doctrinal themes, moral themes, and Scriptural Selections that became typical of German homiletics. Sailer's students followed his lead, especially Aegidius Jais and Ignaz Schüch, OSB, the homiletic part of whose phenomenally successful Handbuch der Pastoraltheologie was translated by Lubberman in 1894 as The Priest in the Pulpit. Less valuable than the untranslated parts of Schüch's manual that account for its many German editions, the translated treatise on homiletics has had little acclaim in English.

The 19th Century. In the 19th century the early decades of upheaval were followed by the restoration of the French seminary system and the supplementing of its traditional supervised refectory practice-preaching by extensive systematic courses in homiletic theory. Manuals appeared, such as those of J. X. Vètu (1840), L. H. M. Bellefroid (n.d., 2d ed. 1847), Mullois (1853–1863), and, at Mechlin in Belgium, Van Hemel (1855), whose work presented a plan for consecutive homiletic training throughout the seminarian's philosophical and theological courses. Most successful among the new French manuals, however, was the Traité de la prédication by the Sulpician André J. M. Hamon in 1844. In 1853 an anonymous abridgement of it was published by the Vincentian Joseph Lament in his De la prédication, and in 1866 Thomas J. Potter of All Hallows, the Dublin seminary for English-speaking countries, paraphrased its first part in his Sacred Eloquence, and in 1869 its second part in his The Pastor and His People. In this way the same basic theory of Hamon became standard for seminaries directed or influenced by the Sulpicians and Vincentians and emigrating Irish clergy, who together in the 19th century established prototype diocesan seminaries in English-speaking countries. Other technical treatises, not intended as textbooks, based mainly on Fénelon's Dialogues, were The Art of Extempore Speaking by L. Bautain (1856) and The Ministry of Preaching by the great DUPANLOUP (1866, tr. 1890). In 1851 the Jesuit Cyprien Nadal assembled an encyclopedia of homiletic theory for a Migne six-volume series, Dictionnaire d'éloquence sacrée: Novyelle encyclopédie théologique. Georges Longhaye, SJ, published his popular La prédication, grands maîtres et grandes lois in 1888.

The restoration of the Jesuits in 1814 and their assignment to the theological faculty at Innsbruck in 1856 were influential events in the development of German homiletic theory in the 19th century. In Rome in 1847 the German Jesuit Joseph Kleutgen published his Ars dicendi, which in the revised Ratio Studiorum achieved the place so long held by Soarez. Kleutgen tried to assimilate the aesthetic and belletristic tendencies of rhetoricians like Hugh Blair (Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, 1783) without submerging the character of the perennial rhetoric as essentially a theory of public speaking in an omnibus treatise on all forms of prose and verse composition. Like Blair, however, and like other prominent Jesuit theorists (C. Coppens, F. P. Donnelly) he organized his treatise in such a way as to imply that homiletics is only a species of general rhetoric, or that the theory of preaching is little more than the theory of public speaking for priests. The same inclination to make general rhetoric the foundation rather than merely the framework of homiletic theory was visible in the Grundzüge der Beredsamkeit published in 1859 by Nikolaus Schleiniger, SJ, (tr. 1909 as The Principles of Eloquence). Schleiniger did, however, produce another specifically homiletic treatise on the ministry of preaching in Das kirchliche Predigtamt in 1861, in 1864 a manual on Die Bildung des jungen Predigers for training of young preachers, and in 1865 his sermon models in Muster und Quellen des Predigers. At Innsbruck, Josef JUNGMANN, SJ (d. 1885), after an earlier study on aesthetics, wrote his monumental Theorie der geistlichen Beredsamkeit (2 v. 1877–78), building his theory around his "two supreme laws" of popularity and practicality. In 1883 the popular spiritual writer Alban Stolz was author of a posthumously published work on how to preach the Gospel to the poor, Homiletik als Anweisung den Armen das Evangelium zu predigen. In 1888 the renowned apologist Franz HETTINGER published his maxims on preaching and preachers, Aphorismen über Predigt und Prediger.

While France and Germany in the 19th century enjoyed this abundance, and Italy had at least Guglielmo Audisio's Lezioni di sacra eloquenza (3 v. Turin 1839–58), the English-speaking countries had only the modest beginnings of a Catholic homiletic literature. After three centuries of Catholic disabilities, duringPage 624  |  Top of Article which a vernacular tradition of Catholic pulpit eloquence had been utterly impossible, the Catholic Emancipation of 1829 and the rapid growth of the seminary system called forth the first efforts. Fénelon, Gisbert, Isla, Bautain, Mullois, and Maury had been translated, as also St. Alphonsus and St. Vincenzo Strambi, but the only original works in English by Catholic authors were Newman's essay on "University Preaching" (c. 1855), published as part of the Idea of a University, and in 1881 a poorly done Sacred Eloquence by Thomas MacNamara, CM. An English adaptation of the fourth part of Kleutgen was made by Charles Coppens, SJ, in his Art of Oratorical Composition in 1885. The standard theory of preaching in English-speaking countries in the 19th century, remained that expounded by Thomas J. Potter in his trilogy on Sacred Eloquence, The Pastor and His People, and The Spoken Word. Sharing its theory with Hamon and Lamant in a uniform Sulpician-Vincentian-Hibernian tradition of seminary training, drawing also from Bautain, Bellefroid, Van Hemel, and Newman.

Having no serious rival among Catholic authors in English, Potter's is the representative work of the late 19th and early 20th century. Briefly, he teaches that the general aim of preaching is to move to action, so that every proper sermon is persuasive, issuing in a practical resolution. A discourse that does not prove a proposition and issue in definite action cannot be called a sermon. Intermediate aims are St. Augustine's "to teach, to please, to move." The set sermon is a formal oration with sublime concepts and elevated style for special occasions; the familiar instruction, with simple ideas and colloquial style, is typically employed at Sunday Mass. The set sermon follows the classic Ciceronian plan; the familiar instruction may take the form of the various types of homily or of The Little Method. Unity in a sermon is essential, and may best be tested by reducing the sermon to a syllogism. Psychological steps in sermon preparation are to meditate the theme, to conceive the central idea that will unify the discourse, to write at a time when mind and heart are enlightened and warmed by the subject, and to revise and polish the hasty first draft. Extempore preaching is the ideal, although beginners must write and memorize. Delivery cannot be taught in a book, but coaching must produce vocal variety and effective action. For the rest, Potter's theory is not in the familiar mold of classically oriented treatises, except for the Ciceronian arrangement of the set sermon and the threefold intermediate aims. The topoi or "commonplaces" are not developed, but only listed and defined. Figures of speech are disposed of in a single paragraph. Types of style correspond vaguely to the set sermon and familiar instruction, with no vestige of St. Augustine's three styles. There is no effort to discuss the role of homiletics as a part of pastoral theology, or to treat in depth the question of sermon content.

The 20th Century. In the 20th century many historical studies and a few manuals appeared in French. At the behest of his superiors, Jacques M. MONSABRÉ, OP, published in 1900 his Avant, pendant, après la prédication as an official Dominican handbook. In 1923 Raoul Plus, SJ, published Prédication 'reelle' et 'irreale': Notes pratiques pour le ministère paroissial. Antonin G. Sertillanges, OP, put out L'Orateur chrétien in 1931. In German, Albert Meyenberg produced his huge Homiletische und katechetische Studien in 1903, which after great success was translated in 1912 as Homiletic and Catechetic Studies. Meyenberg borrowed his formal theory from Jungmann, but in the bewildering organizaton of his book, which must have become popular in German more for its liturgical than its homiletic content, Jungmann's thought is done little justice. Jacob Herr wrote Praktischer Kursus der Homiletik in 1913, the Capuchin Dionys Habersbrunner produced Ein Weg zur Kanzel in 1933, and Peter Adamer published Predigtkunde in 1937. The most vigorous activity in homiletic theory in the early part of the century, however, has been the movement carried on in Germany by Bishop Von Keppler and his associates, Adolf Donders and Franz Stingeder. A major aim in Von Keppler's campaign from the time of his articles in the Tübinger Quartalschrift in 1892, until death overtook him while he was preparing for a homiletic convention in 1926, was to restore the homily to a place of honor side by side with the thematic sermon, which had too long monopolized the pulpit. He also insisted that homiletics is independent of general rhetoric in its origin, content, and aim. It is not derived from rhetoric any more than Catholic theology is derived from scholastic philosophy, but it can make a similar use of the concepts and principles of the perennial rhetoric as tools of investigation and forms of expression for the content it derives from divine revelation. It is the difference between a foundation and a framework. Von Keppler's papers at the Ravensburg convention of 1910 were translated in 1927 as Homiletic Thoughts and Counsels, but they are not as representative of his theory as are his periodical articles and his "Homiletik" and "Predigt" in Wetzer-Welte, Kirchenlexicon. His Predigt und Heilige Schrift was published after his death in 1926. In 1910 Stingeder wrote a critique of contemporary homiletics as Wo steht unsere heutige Predigt? In 1920 he contributed a history of the use of Scripture in preaching, Geschichte der Schriftpredigt, to the nine volumes of homiletic studies edited from 1919 to 1931 by A. Donders and Thaddeus Soiron, OFM. Soiron was the most prominent of the Paderborn Franciscans who showed prolific zeal in homiletic publications; he editedPage 625  |  Top of Article from 1918 to 1935 a scientific homiletic journal called Kirche und Kanzel.

English-speaking Countries. In English-speaking countries, meanwhile, the turn of the century brought forth the first generation of Catholic authors of original homiletic treatises. Some of the theory was published incidentally as parts of books on other subjects. Rapid expansion of the seminary system after the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884) and the growth of an indigenous English-speaking clergy prompted many works on the duties of the priesthood, which often contained chapters on preaching. At a time when the elocutionary movement led by the followers of François Delsarte had brought it into disrepute, it is not surprising that writers on preaching took a negative view of rhetoric.

Cardinal MANNING in 1883 devoted chapter 14 of The Eternal Priesthood to the importance of remote rather than proximate preparation for preaching, and to a plea for simple, earnest, extempore discourse. Cardinal GIBBONS wrote in the same vein in 1896 in The Ambassador of Christ. Bishop Hedley in Lex Levitarum in 1905 argued that "it would be a waste of time to enter too deeply on the study of rhetoric as an art" (p. 110). Arthur Barry O'Neill, CSC, in chapter 11 of his Priestly Practice in 1914, felt the need to refute the idea that "rhetorical" is a synonym for "artificial." The extempore method advocated by Manning was greatly furthered by J. Ward's biography of William Pardow of the Company of Jesus in 1915, and by C. C. MARTINDALE's The Life of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson in 1916.

Of the treatises dealing ex professo with the technical theory of preaching before 1936, Bernard Feeney's Manual of Sacred Rhetoric in 1901, Win. B. O'Dowd's Preaching in 1919, and Charles H. Schultz's Sacred Eloquence in 1926 were general homiletic manuals, dealing, that is, with all aspects of sermon composition and delivery. Works consisting almost entirely of the proposal of a sermon formula and its explanation were George S. Hitchcock's Sermon Composition in 1908, which describes a sermon arrangement akin to the "Ignatian Method" in discursive meditation, and the Passionist Mark Moeslein's Mechanism of Discourses in 1915, which draws from St. Vincenzo Strambi. Presentations of a professedly simplified approach to the theory of preaching were Thomas Flynn's Preaching Made Easy in 1923, and Aloysius Roche's Practical Hints on Preaching in 1933. John A. McClorey, SJ, published The Making of a Pulpit Orator in 1934. In 1936 John K. Sharp published Our Preaching, followed in 1937 by his Next Sunday's Sermon.

The most prolific publishers of periodical articles on homiletic theory in the United States were the American Ecclesiastical Review (AER) since 1889 and the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). The outstanding contributor and most representative author of homiletic theory in English-speaking countries in his era was Monsignor Hugh T. Henry (d. 1946) of the Catholic University of America, who republished the best of his hundreds of articles from the AER and HPR in his Hints to Preachers in 1924, Papers on Preaching in 1925, and Preaching in 1941. Other books and brochures whose chapters first appeared as articles in the AER were the Jesuit Francis P. Donnelly's The Art of Interesting in 1920, Edmond D. Benard's The Appeal to the Emotions in Preaching in 1944, and the Passionist Luke Missett's The Pews Talk Back in 1946.

Earlier, in 1942 a layman, O'Brien Atkinson, skilled in modern advertising and street preaching, published How to Make Us Want Your Sermon, in which he challenged many concepts traditional in standard writers such as Potter, Henry, and Sharp. Also in 1942 appeared the Carmelite Albert Dolan's brochure of Homiletic Hints. In 1943 Thomas A. Carney built A Primer of Homiletics around St. Vincent's Little Method. In 1950 William R. Duffey's Preaching Well appeared as a substantial paraphrase of Bellefroid. Thomas V. Liske published his Effective Preaching in 1951 (rev. 1960). Ferdinand Valentine, OP, put out The Art of Preaching in 1952. Unless They Be Sent by Augustine Rock, OP, in 1953, was a theological study of the nature of preaching, based especially upon St. Thomas and St. Albert the Great. Like The Canon Law on Sermon Preaching by the Paulist James McVann in 1940, and The Canonical Obligation of Preaching in Parish Churches by Joseph L. Allgeier in 1949, it was done as a doctoral dissertation. Sylvester MacNutt, OP, published Gauging Sermon Effectiveness in 1960 as a method and checklist for judging sermon composition.

New Development. In retrospect, the year 1936 can be seen as the beginning of a new period in the development of Catholic homiletic theory. In that year Josef Andreas Jungmann, SJ, (not to be confused with the 19th century Jesuit who also taught in Innsbruck) published Die Frohbotschaft und unsere Glaubensverkündigung, and the fifth pastoral convention at Vienna raised the question of determining more clearly the theological nature of the ministry of preaching. Numerous studies began to appear concerning the content of preaching, and about "the whole Christ" as the core of the Christian message. The pastoral revival, of which the Catholic LITURGICAL MOVEMENT and the KERYGMA concept in catechetics were a part, had spread to homiletics and given to the German homiletic movement the theological dimension so eagerly sought earlier by Von Keppler.

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Jungmann's call for a return to kerygmatic preaching as well as his subsequent Missa Solemnia, a history of the Roman Mass, exercised direct and indirect influence at Second Vatican Council, especially on Lumen gentium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The Constitution did not attempt to formulate a homiletic theory but it contributed greatly to the building up of a theological tract "on preaching" that could stand beside the traditional tracts on the Sacraments and on the Church (see Alszeghy-Flick). It clarified the nature and aim of the preaching ministry and became the basis for the pastoral guidelines incorporated into Book III, "The Teaching Office of the Church," in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Bibliography: Z. ALSZEGHY and M. FLICK, "Il problema teologica della predicazione," Gregorianum 40 (1959) 671–744. H. CAPLAN and H. H. KING, "Latin Tractates on Preaching: A Book List," Harvard Theological Review 42 (July 1949) 185–206; "Italian Treatises on Preaching: A Book-List," Speech Monographs 16 (1949) 243–252; "Spanish Treatises on Preaching: A Book-List," ibid. 17 (1950) 161–170; "Dutch Treatises on Preaching: A List of Books and Articles," ibid. 21 (1954) 235–247; "Pulpit Eloquence: A List of Doctrinal and Historical Studies in English," ibid. 22 (Special Issue 1955) 1–159; "Pulpit Eloquence: A List of Doctrinal and Historical Studies in German," ibid. 23 (Special Issue 1956) 1–106; "French Tractates on Preaching: A Book-List," Quarterly Journal of Speech 36 (1950) 296–325. W. TOOHEY and W. D. THOMPSON, eds., Recent Homiletical Thought: A Bibliography, 1935–65 (Nashville 1967). J. O'MALLEY Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome: Rhetoric, Doctrine, and Reform in the Sacred Orators of the Papal Court, ca. 1450–1521 (Durham, North Carolina 1979). J. O'MALLEY, "Erasmus and the History of Sacred Rhetoric: The Ecclesiastes of 1535," in Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook 5 (1985) 1–29. J. M. MCMANAMON, "Innovation in Early Humanistic Rhetoric: The Oratory of Pier Paolo Vergerio (the Elder)," Rinascimento, NS 22 (1982) 3–32. E. ACHTEMEYER and M. AYCOCK, Bibliography on Preaching, 1975–1985 (Richmond, Virginia 1986).


Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3407709051