Article

Sermons

Thomas N. Nall

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0132
Sermons

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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Sermons go back to the very beginning of the Christian tradition, or even further if one recalls their use in ancient Jewish worship. For centuries, sermons have been a primary form of Christian rhetorical expression and the main vehicle for instructing the laity on matters of faith, morality, and proper conduct. Although most sermons are presumed either to originate in the form of an oral preaching event or to result in one, the exact relationship between the surviving written texts and a public oral performance is often impossible to determine, so that the study of medieval sermons is consequently concerned primarily with the texts that have come down to us, and many thousands have done so. Today a distinction is sometimes made between a pericope homily, which begins with a passage of scripture and offers commentary on that passage, and a sermon, which is organized around a theme or topic, but such a distinction was not always observed in the Middle Ages. Medieval sermons come in many forms and types, some intended to offer basic catechetical instruction to Christian converts, others written for particular liturgical occasions, and still others distinguishable according to purpose or audience as synodal sermons, court sermons, funeral sermons, university sermons, or ad status sermons addressed to certain groups such as widows or married couples. Medieval sermons often respond to current events or to shifts in social and economic conditions and are thus valuable for the light they shed on medieval daily life. In Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages the writing and preaching of sermons was normally the prerogative of bishops, but these duties were eventually assumed by parish priests as well, and by the 13th century they were carried out routinely by friars in minor orders such as Franciscans and Dominicans. The frequency of preaching and sermon writing was stimulated by a number of reform programs, including most famously the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which mandated annual confession and stimulated more frequent preaching in the vernacular, mainly to prepare the laity for their confessions. Because the language of medieval sermons is often a major issue in scholarship, and because medieval sermons are perhaps easiest to categorize according to language and geographical origin, the following bibliography gives particular attention to medieval sermons in Latin, English, German and Dutch, Scandinavian, French, Italian, Spanish, and Irish, supplemented by notices of scholarship on homiliaries, treatises on the arts of preaching (artes praedicandi), and exempla.

Article.  10106 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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