English Sermons: Mirrors of Society

Article excerpt

English Sermons: Mirrors of Society. Edited with introduction by Christiane d' Haussy. (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail. 1995. Pp. 224.150 FF.)

If one were asked to propose the subject least likely to appeal to modern readers in any western country at the present time, it is likely that without much reflection one could come to rest on church sermons. Nevertheless, Dr. d'Haussy's book is a useful reminder that this was not always so; and if contemporary historians wish to understand the spirit of past times, and more particularly the reaction of the people and populace to contemporary events, they must attend to what the clergy were declaiming in the pulpits in church and chapel across the country.There was not only an element of social and even legal compulsion driving people to church but also the magnet of genuine curiosity since in the days before broadcasting the only opportunity for most people to hear and in a sense witness eloquence and elocution was in religious assemblies on Sundays. The spiritual and the secular mingled in a way which was perhaps more realistic than efforts in our own day to cut them off. Religion was not always just for Sunday, and its contents were by no means exclusively concerned with the words of Holy Writ. Many were the volumes of sermons published in time past. D'Haussy has performed a most valuable service for historians in offering us not merely notes and summaries of what was said but very large excerpts from the original so that we can savor the full flavor and, as it were be present, sometimes after centuries, at the outpourings not only of emotions but also of genuine convictions with a good mixture of facts. …