The English Sermon Revised: Religion, Literature and History 1600-1750

By Atkinson, David W. | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2002 | Go to article overview

The English Sermon Revised: Religion, Literature and History 1600-1750


Atkinson, David W., Anglican and Episcopal History


LORI ANNE FERRELL AND PETER MCCULLOUGH, EDS. The English Sermon Revised: Religion, Literature and History 1600-1750. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press. 2000. Pp. x + 270, introduction, essays, indices. $74.95.

Bemoaning how the English sermon has suffered "indulgent, even condescending neglect", (p. 3), editors Lori Anne Ferrell and Peter McCullough call for a "franker assessment of the sermon...as a literary artifact" (p. 3). To this end, their collection of essays "offers...new ways to approach the sermon as a more viable-indeed, vibrant-part of both literary and historical study" (p. 2). In The English Sermon Revised, they offer an engaging series often essays which leaves little doubt that the sermon constitutes an important element in both English literary and English historical development.

Although the three essays constituting the first section each deal with "The Rhetoric of Preaching," they are quite different in both subject and approach. Andrew Fitzmaurice, in "Every Man, that Prints, Adventures," argues how the Virginia Company sermons were a major instrument of propaganda. These sermons draw on classical political theory in stressing the godly mission of responsible cilizenship as the reason for establishing and maintaining the Virginia colonies. In "Elect Nations and Prophetic Preaching," Mary Morrissey considers how in Paul's Cross sermons the words "church" and "nation" are variously interpreted in relation to the commonplace comparison of Israel and England as God's favored nation. In particular, she stresses that Israel is not intended as a traditional "type," but as an example allowing for more variable interpretation and application. Bryan Crockett in his essay on Playfere's "Poetic of Preaching" provides an insightful and engaging reading of Playfere's sermons, his intention, in part, being to demonstrate how more than "breadth of learning" (p. 52) is necessary to ensure popularity. Despite Crockett's efforts, however, it is still difficult to view Playfere as anything other than an idiosyncratic exception, given to "verbal pyrotechnics" and "sacred trickery" (p. 59). and one who hardly qualifies as a major force in the development of the English sermon.

Arnold Hunt's observation that "preaching, in early modern England, was a profoundly political activity" (p. 80) hardly needs repeating. What is interesting is how the connection between politics and religion is expressed. The four essays in the second grouping, "Sermons on Emergent Political Occasions," do just this, although one might have wished for only one essay on Donne, who has already taken up so much of the critical literature devoted to the sermon. Hunt's essay, "Tuning the Pulpits: The Religious Context of the Essex Revolt," uses the sermon literature surrounding the Essex revolt to indicate, how, on the one hand, Essex used the sermon to gain political support, and how, on the other, the authorities went about "policing" preaching in Elizabethan England. The two essays on Donne focus on different dimensions of his religious beliefs as revealed in his sermons, with Debora Shuger discussing Donne's "Absolutist Theology" and Jeanne Shami considering Donne 's antiCatholicism. Shuger contends that Donne represents one extreme in the comparison of God as king, stressing the immediate power of God as both "terrifying and destructive" (p. …

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