Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Preacher of the Fourth Lateran Council

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Preacher of the Fourth Lateran Council

Article excerpt

The Fourth Lateran Council held at Rome in November 1215 was the culmination of the pontificate of Innocent III (1198-1216) and focused on crusade, heresy, and the reform of the Church--the preoccupations of this pope's reign. (1) While it may not be possible to treat the Council's canons as the personal writings of the pope, it seems that Innocent himself set the agenda. (2) One area of reform that figured prominently was preaching. The Council treated the subject to an extent unprecedented in the medieval Church. (3) It reiterated portions of Lucius III's famous bull Ad abolendam (1184) that connected preaching outside of the jurisdictional structure of the Church with heresy. (4) It acknowledged the importance of providing spiritual food to the laity through preaching and mandated that the bishops, if unable to preach themselves, appoint suitable men to the office. (5) It condemned the practices of hiring preachers and hawking relics. (6) Furthermore, it connected closely the morality and financial support of the clergy with their preaching duty. (7)

While historians have noted this emphasis on preaching as one component of the Council's focus on pastoral care, the office of preaching itself as visible in the canons has not previously been examined in depth. (8) Who then was the ideal preacher as envisaged by Lateran IV? Of what did the preacher's function consist? On what did he base his legitimacy and authority? And when the Council asserted the importance of preaching, to what exactly was it referring? Indeed, what did "to preach" mean? A reasonable starting place to attempt to answer these questions is the examination of the thought of Innocent III, and what we find is that preaching for Innocent was not simply instruction or exhortation; rather, it was liturgical and sacramental. And the preacher of the Fourth Lateran Council was not simply orthodox, well-educated, or eloquent; he was first and foremost clerical and Christological. Preaching was an intrinsic component of the Church's sacramental nature. Situated within the earthly liturgy, preaching was a structural component in the bridge between heaven and the world that was the sacramental reality of the Church. Indeed, a central proposition of this article is that it is Innocent's understanding of the Mass as the ultimate sacramental event, where the incarnate Christ and his Mystical Body, the Church, are united, that provides the hermeneutic for understanding the pope's and Lateran IV's "preaching." Innocent's emphasis on preaching in Lateran IV and throughout his reign ought to be understood as a part of the pontiff's attempt to extend the theophany and harmony of the liturgy into the world.

As with Innocent's actions throughout his pontificate, in the canons of Lateran IV the practical and prudential were subsumed into an overarching, incarnational, and sacramental theological vision. In Vineam Domini, the letter of April 19, 1213, by which Innocent summoned the Council, he stated that its agenda was "to uproot vices and implant virtues, to correct abuses and reform morals, to eliminate heresies and strengthen faith, to allay differences and establish peace, to check persecutions and cherish liberty, to persuade Christian princes and peoples to grant succor and support for the Holy Land from both clergy and laymen." (9) This is an echo of Jeremiah 1:10, and the same imagery was commonly used by Innocent and others to describe the papal office, together with that of the episcopate, and the mission of the Church in its entirety. (10) To Innocent, the business of the Council was that of the Church itself. The clearest window into Innocent's understanding of this business is provided by his sermon Desiderio desideravi, which he addressed to the assembled fathers at the opening Mass of the first conciliar session. (11) The sermon is an exegesis of Luke 22:15: "With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer"--a meditation on the paschal mystery. …

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