Between God and Man: Six Sermons on the Priestly Office

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Pope Innocent III, Between God and Man: Six Sermons on the Priestly Office. Translated with an Introduction by Corinne J. Vause and [dagger] Frank C. Gardiner. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 2004. Pp. xxxi, 131. $19.95 paperback.)

About seventy-five sermons of Pope Innocent III have survived. This translation of six of them (from the De diversis sermons in Patrologia Latina, 217), together with Innocent's introductory prologue, will give modern readers of English a good sampling.

The subtitle of the book accurately reflects the content of the sermons, because like many other of Innocent's efforts, they were aimed at enlightening the clergy and improving their morals. "For," he said, "all corruption in the people comes first from the clergy" (p. 62). The foreword by James Powell and the introduction and endnotes by the translators give the reader abundant assistance in understanding both the general context and the internal detail of the sermons. The translations are based on the Patrologia edition, but the translators have also consulted one manuscript source, using it as the basis for changing the titles of sermons one and seven (p. 86, n. 61) as found in the Patrologia. Consequently, sermon seven is described, probably correctly, as being given before a synod of priests rather than at Lateran Council IV.

The translators present a highly laudatory picture of Innocent and his sermons. As for the pope himself, many scholars would question statements found here.The translators quote with approval an opinion presented by Colin Morris that Innocent's plenitudo potestatis was strictly spiritual, but they do so without making clear that Morris in fact distances himself from that opinion (p. xxv). Similarly, many would doubt that Innocent's use of Jer. 1:10 (" I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms . . .") was strictly pastoral and spiritual (pp. xxv-xxvi).

As for the sermons, the quality is at least in part a matter of taste. Generally, they were geared to clerical listeners well trained in the schools. …