Preachers and People in the Reformations and Early Modern Period

By McGinnes, Frederick J. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Preachers and People in the Reformations and Early Modern Period


McGinnes, Frederick J., The Catholic Historical Review


Early Modern European Preachers and People in the Reformations and Early Modern Period. Edited by Larissa Taylor. [A New History of the Sermon, 2.1 (Leiden: Brill. 2001. Pp. xviii. 397. $127.00.)

Following her two excellent studies on preaching in France in the Reformation, Larissa Taylor now brings together a valuable collection of essays by scholars of homiletics, each canvassing his or her familiar territory in the era of Europe's reformations, ca. 1450-1700.This work offers insight into the industry and mechanics of preaching and a useful review of current scholarship on the subject. Most important, Taylor's cohort conveys a vivid sense of preaching's social contexts and how crucial preaching was in stimulating religious, political, and social change. Collectively these essays demonstrate the impact preaching had in an era when, in Anne T. Thayer' s words, "Preaching matters" (p. 384).

Entering the Reformation through the printed words of preachers is fraught with dangers. Nonetheless, these authors make an impressive entry and produce a credible composite study. To begin, they remind us that we have few printed or manuscript sermons we can rely on for the preachers' ipsissima verba; and even if they were what was actually spoken, we then confront the knottier problems of how audiences received these words and how to measure a sermon's impact on individuals or large assemblies. Nonetheless, these essays bring much light to this most important activity and provide useful approaches for exploiting the riches of sermon literature.

Part I consists of three essays on the "Sermon as Genre." Of importance is the evolution of preaching from the medieval thematic sermon to new forms inspired by classical, patristic, and humanist theory and practice. New sixteenthcentury handbooks on preaching from Erasmus, Melanchthon, Hyperius (Andreas Gerhard), Italian and Spanish humanist-trained clergy, recast the sermon, directing that it be scriptural, persuasive, instructive, and aim for the reform of the Christian life. Authors of preaching manuals were also keen on exploiting ideas from contemporaries, even across confessional lines. If persuasion mattered, tools for effective speech might also be found in the works of one's opponents.

Thomas Worcester looks at some types of Catholic preaching before the Council of Trent, and finds great variety and hybridization in the genres and diversified sermon content of post-Tridentine Catholic preaching. He focuses on Jean-Pierre Camus, bishop of Belley, as one of many bishops who embraced Trent's declaration that "the chief duty" of bishops was preaching. Beth Kreitzer sees the sermon as "perhaps the most significant genre of literature stemming from the Lutheran Reformation." Treatises on preaching, postils, and other preaching materials all emphasized that preaching should be scriptural and teach "the true faith and the Christian way of life" (p. …

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