Academic journal article Medium Aevum

English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages

Article excerpt

H. Leith Spencer, English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993). xvi + 542 pp. ISBN 0-19-81x203-3. £48.00.

Since the appearance of G. R. Owst's two magisterial works on preaching, in 1926 and 1933 respectively, the study of the sermons of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries has been transformed. True, Owst subtided his first and fundamental volume 'an introduction to sermon manuscripts of the period c. 1350-1450', but he devoted litde attention to the problems of compilation, revision and textual analysis that sermons, as commonly presented in manuscript texts, palpably demand. H. Leith Spencer has now provided a guide to one type of sermon material of great historical significance, the sermons (and sermon cycles) preserved in English. Compared with the vast mass of sermon literature in Latin, the English sermons are a small, late-evolving subspecies, distinguished from the rest not by their delivery in the vernacular - most sermons preserved in Latin were probably preached in English - but by their witness to the new status of English as a language of record. Owst explored the Latin sermons somewhat episodically, and they still need textual and critical analysis in their own right before they can be properly understood. However, the problems raised by the English sermons are quite enough for one study: the unending process of compilation and adaptation of earlier material, which comparative study of the manuscripts brings to light, has here been unravelled with a wealth of painstaking textual study.

This is the core of the book, though it is treated last. …

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