Preaching the Memory of Virtue and Vice: Memory, Images, and Preaching in the Late Middle Ages
Wenzel, Siegfried, The Catholic Historical Review
Preaching the Memory of Virtue and Vice: Memory, Images, and Preaching in the Late Middle Ages. By KimberryA. Rivers. [Sermo: Studies on Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation Sermons and Preaching, Vol. 4.] (Turnhout: Brepols. 2010. Pp.xviii, 377. euro70,00. ISBN 978-2-503-51525-0.)
In this well-informed and clearly written book (despite its somewhat awkward title), Kimberry Rivers has consolidated the explorations of her 1995 University of Toronto dissertation and a handful of articles published since then. She is basically concerned with the function of memory in later medieval preaching, especially among the mendicant orders. The book proceeds along historical lines and investigates various aspects of the study and use of memory from the twelfth to the early-fifteenth century.
The early Middle Ages had inherited a precise technique for a speaker to remember his subject matter by assigning the latter to imaginary places he would, during delivery, visit in his mind sequentially such as the furniture of a room or the stations on a journey. This was part of the pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium. Although preachers throughout the Middle Ages studied and quoted this work, its memory technique evidently fell into disuse, with one exception: the ars praedicandi by Francese Eiximenes, O.F.M. (d. 1409), which included a detailed account of Ad Herennium's method. None of the other two-dozen works on preaching available in modern editions refers to or advises the use of this ars memorativa, and in fact one of the earliest formal treatises on composing the sermon (by Thomas of Chobham, d. c. 1233-36), distances itself from it and instead recommends the preacher to rely on "practice and diligence" (p. 41), stressing especially the need for compositional order and coherence. Rivers leaves open the possibility that the ars memorativa was in fact taught, but clearly the advance of Scholasticism demanded and brought with it other means by which students, and by implication preachers, would fix and order material in their memory such as notetaking, dividing a text into smaller sections, assigning them to topics, and so forth. …