Latin Sermon Collections from Later Medieval England: Orthodox Preaching in the Age of Wyclif

By Horner, Patrick J. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Latin Sermon Collections from Later Medieval England: Orthodox Preaching in the Age of Wyclif


Horner, Patrick J., The Catholic Historical Review


Latin Sermon Collections from Later Medieval England: Orthodox Preaching in the Age of Wyclif. By Siegfried Wenzel. [Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2005. Pp. xxiv, 713. $170.00.)

This impressive study is the culmination of more than forty years of Siegfried Wenzel's scholarly investigation of sermon manuscripts and, more generally, preaching in late medieval England. In it he sets out to build on, but also to modify the seminal works of G. R. Owst (Preaching in Medieval England and Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England) by "identify[ing], describ[ing], and analyz[ing] surviving collections of Latin sermons that were produced in England between c. 1350 and c. 1450," the period that Owst himself had identified as the golden age of preaching in post-Conquest England. The need for such a study of Latin and orthodox sermons had long been recognized but had become more compelling as, ironically, the study of sermons in English from the same period, especially Wycliffite or Lollard sermons, had advanced significantly in recent years.

Wenzel's study can be divided into several parts:

First, he defines a variety of terms (model sermon collections, de tempore/de sanctis sermon cycles, etc.) and discusses issues (sermon structure, audience, occasion, etc.) that will be pertinent throughout the remainder of the volume. Those unfamiliar with sermon studies will find here a clear summary of basic information, while those knowledgeable in the field will appreciate Wenzel's careful discrimination in matters that can be all too easily generalized.

Second, he surveys more than thirty manuscripts that contain collections of Latin sermons, providing technical information about each of the manuscripts (codicology, palaeography, provenance) and brief analyses of the principal features of the structure and content of the sermons. Included are discussions of the work of prominent figures such as bishops Richard FitzRalph, Thomas Brinton, and Philip Repingdon, less familiar individuals such as Robert Rypon, John Felton, and John Dygon, as well as anonymous sermons from monastic, mendicant, and parochial milieux. Wenzel offers detailed information, especially about the interrelationships of texts and manuscripts. In the course of this analysis, Wenzel calls attention to many issues that will be of interest to scholars of sermons. For example, the continued popularity of preachers from earlier periods (such as Jacobus de Voragine and Nicholas of Aquavilla) and the emergence of sermons that combine the exegetical strategy of the ancient homily with the structural principles of the scholastic (thematic) sermon. As an appendix to this survey, Wenzel has compiled an inventory of the basic information-theme, occasion, incipit/explicit, etc.-for all the sermons in these collections (more than 2000 total). The survey and appendix have been prepared with the thorough and meticulous scholarship for which Wenzel has long been admired-and to which a brief review can scarcely do justice. They will be invaluable for those studying the sermons and the network of manuscripts in which they are found, and will, no doubt, spark further scholarly inquiry. …

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