English Sermons

English Sermons

English Sermons

English Sermons

Excerpt

I have taken Latimer at such length as the first example of modern preaching, but it would be wrong to imagine that he has no links with the past. Much of his work has affinities with medieval practice. In one place indeed (Second Sermon to Convocation) picturing the devil and his concubines, he gives us a whole dramatis personae of medieval moralities Lady Price, Dame Gluttony, Mistress Avarice, Lady Lechery, etc.), and his manner, imbued as it is with satire and complaint, has much in common with the sermons of his predecessors.

III

John Donne (1573-1631) also had his affinities with the past, but they were those of scholarly disquisition rather than popular preaching. He drew freely on Augustine, Jerome, Bernard, Tertullian, Chrysostom and many other of the Fathers; and he, like others, would have rejected much in Latimer's sermons as being 'barbarous, or triviall, or market or homely language' ( LXXX Sermons, LV ). Instead he sought, as he believed the Holy Ghost did in Scripture, 'a propriety . . . a delicacy, and harmony, and melody of language; with height of Metaphors, and other figures, which may work great impressions upon the Readers' (ibid.). His aim was to magnify his office, to give it a due majesty, believing himself the instrument of the Holy Ghost 'in 'delivering God's messages, with consideration, with meditation, with preparation' ( XXVI Sermons , II--Preached at Whitehall 12. February 1618-19). In so doing, Donne thought not only of his matter but also of his manner. There is ample testimony to Donne's power in the pulpit, but this we can never fully appreciate. As with the voice, so with the delivery and the gesture--these are gone with the man. We can but try most vividly to imagine the scenes as depicted by Walton in the Life or by Daniel Donnelly in his Latin elegy (in Pearsall Smith's translation):

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