Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Masters of Preaching: The Most Poignant and Powerful Homilists in Church History

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Masters of Preaching: The Most Poignant and Powerful Homilists in Church History

Article excerpt

General and Miscellaneous Masters of Preaching: The Most Poignant and Powerful Homilists in Church History. By Ray E.Atwood. (Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books. 2012. Pp. xvi, 305. $60.00. ISBN 978-0-761-85780-8.)

A priest of Dubuque has written a most useful guide for anyone who wishes to consider more seriously the fact that preaching is, in the clear teaching of the Council of Trent, the Primum Officium of the priesthood. Ray E. Atwood provides the historical schema for the development of various schools and styles of preaching, from the Hebrew prophets to the twentieth century, with typical sermons and homilies in accessible translation.

The patristic tradition expounded sacred texts not only literally, spiritually, and morally but also allegorically and anagogically. Although the typology in the latter idioms when overwrought can wear thin, it obviously had an impact on their original hearers. This only shows that great preaching must not only have a timeless quality but also a certain datedness, if it speaks directly to the vernacular culture.

The author draws heavily on the Reformed theologian Hughes Oliphant Old, who proves to be a good source. For instance, in contrast to the sometimes extravagant rhetorical devices of the Cappodocians, he sees in St. Augustine a sacramental sense of preaching that did not aim at "great oratory" but rather understood preaching as an act of worship. The Second Vatican Council's teaching on the preaching ministry only renewed what had always been in the bosom of the Church and which in earlier times also had to be reinvigorated, as it was through such great lights of the Counter-Reformation as the Jesuit saint and cardinal Robert Bellarmine. He did not disparage oratory as an art and even encouraged its refinement, but not for its own sake. In his "De ratione formandae concionis" Bellarmine expects in a preacher "zeal, wisdom, and eloquence" and finds these symbolized by the tongues of fire at Pentecost whose "heat points to zeal, the splendor to wisdom, and the form of tongues, eloquence" (p. …

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