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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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A sermon or discourse upon some point of religion delivered in a plain manner, so as to be easily understood by the common people. The Greek homily, says M. Fleury, signifies a familiar discourse like the Latin sermo, and discourses delivered in the church took these denominations, to intimate that they were not harangues, or matters of ostentation and flourish, like those of profane orators, but familiar and useful discourses, as of a master to his disciples, or a father to his children. All the homilies of the Greek and Latin fathers are composed by bishops. We have none of Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and many other learned persons, because in the first ages none but bishops were admitted to preach. The privilege was not ordinarily allowed to priests till toward the fifth century. St. Chrysostom was the first presbyter that preached statedly, Origen and St. Augustine also preached, but it was by a peculiar license or privilege.

Photius distinguishes homily from sermon, in that the homily was performed in a more familiar manner; the prelate interrogating and talking to the people, and they in their turn answering and interrogating him, so that it was properly a conversation; whereas the sermon was delivered with more form, and in the pulpit, after the manner of the orators. The practice of compiling homilies which were to be committed to memory, and recited by ignorant or indolent priests, commenced towards the close of the eighth century; when Charlemange ordered Paul, Deacon, and Alcuin, to form homilies or discourses upon the Gospels and Epistles from the ancient doctors of the church. This gave rise to that famous collection entitled the Homiliarium of Charlemagne; and which being followed as a model by many productions of the same kind, composed by private persons, from a principle of pious zeal, contributed much (says Mosheim) to nourish the indolence and to perpetuate the ignorance of a worthless clergy. There are still extant several fine homilies composed by the ancient fathers, particularly St. Chrysostom and St. Gregory.

The Clementine homilies are nineteen homilies in Greek, published by Cotelerius, with two letters prefixed, one of them written in the name of Peter, the other in the name of Clement, to James, bishop of Jerusalem; in which last letter they are entitled Clement's Epitome of the Preaching and Travels of Peter. According to Le Clerc, these homilies were composed by an Ebionite, in the second century; but Montfaucon supposes that they were forged long after the age of St. Athanasius. Dr. Lardner apprehends that the Clementine homilies were the original or first edition of the Recognitions; and that they are the same with the work censured by Eusebius under the title of Dialogues of Peter and Appion.

Homilies of the Church of England are those which were composed at the reformation to be read in churches, in order to supply the defect of sermons.

See the quarto edition of the Homilies, with notes, by a divine of the church of England.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Homily'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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