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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
(Fr. precher, from Lat. praedicare, to proclaim), the proclamation of a Divine message both to those who have not heard it, and to those who, having heard it, have not accepted it, and the regular instruction of the converted in the doctrines and duties of the faith, is a distinctive though not a peculiar feature of the Christian religion. The Mahommedans exercise it freely, and it is not unknown among the Buddhists. The history of Christian preaching with which alone this article is concerned has its roots (I) in the activity of the Hebrew prophets and scribes, the former representing the broader appeal, the latter the edification of the faithful, (2) in the ministry of Jesus Christ and His apostles, where again we have both the evangelical invitation and the teaching of truth and duty. Whichever element is emphasized in preaching, the preacher is one who believes himself to be the ambassador of God, charged with a message which it is his duty to deliver.
1. The Patristic Age, to the Death of St Augustine, A.D. 430.- Of the first two centuries we have very little information. From the Acts of the Apostles we gather something as to the methods adopted by St Peter and St Paul, and these we may believe were more or less general. The Apostles who had known the Lord would naturally recall the facts of His life, and the story of His words and works would form a great deal of their preaching. After they had passed away and before the Christian Scriptures were canonically sifted and collected there was a gap which for us is only slenderly filled by such productions as the so-called 2nd Epistle of Clement, really a rambling homily on repentance and confession (see Clementine Literature), and by what we can imagine was the practice of men like Ignatius and, on the other hand, the Apologists. Most of these were primarily writers, but Justin Martyr has left a reputation for speaking, especially in debate, as well. Some of the writings of Tertullian (c. 200), e.g. those on Patience and Penitence, read as though they had been spoken, and it is hard to believe that this brilliant rhetorician did not consecrate his powers of address to his new faith. Cyprian (d. 258), too, was a finished speaker; his Epistle to Donatus emphasizes the need of a simple and undecorated style in the proclamation of the gospel. None of his sermons, however, unless we regard his book on the Lord's Prayer as a homily, has come down to us.
By this time the canon of New Testament Scripture was fairly settled, and with Origen (d. 254) we find the beginning of preaching as an explanation and application of definite texts. Origen was pre-eminently a teacher, and the didactic side of preaching is thus more conspicuous in his work. When we allow for his excessive use of the allegorical method, there is still left a great deal of power and suggestiveness. In his hands, as may be seen from the 19 homilies on Jeremiah that have been preserved in the Greek (and others in the Latin of Rufinus), the crude homily of his predecessors began to take a more dignified, orderly and impressive form. Alongside Origen we may rank Hippolytus of Rome on the strength of the one sermon of his which is extant, a panegyric on baptism based on the theophany which marked the baptism of Jesus.
The 4th century marks the culmination of early Christian preaching. The imperial patronage had made education and social distinctions a greater possibility for the preacher, and the decline of political eloquence furnished an opening for pulpit oratory. The didactic element was no longer in sole possession of the field, for the inrush of multitudes to the Christian faith and the building of large churches necessitated a return to the evangelical or proclamatory type of sermon. It was he age of doctrinal controversy, and the intellectual presentation of the Christian position was thus sharpened and developed. The Antiochene school had set a worthy example of careful exegesis of scripture. It was in the East especially that preaching flourished: Eusebius of Caesarea, Eusebius of Emesa, Athanasius, Macarius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ephraem Syrus among the orthodox; and of the Arians, Arius himself and Ulfilas the great Gothic missionary, are all of high quality; but above even these stand out the three Cappadocians,Basil (q.v.) of Caesarea,cultured, devout and practical; his brother Gregory of Nyssa, more inclined to the speculative and metaphysical, and Gregory (q.v.) of Nazianzus, richly endowed with poetic and oratorial gifts, the finest preacher of the three. At the apex of the pyramid stands John of Antioch, Chrysostom, who in 387, at the age of 40, began his 12 years' ministry in his native city and in 399, the six memorable years in Constantinople, where he loved the poor, withstood tyranny and preached with amazing power. His sermons, says Dr E. C. Dargan, "show the native oratorical instinct highly trained by study and practice, a careful and sensible (not greatly allegorical) interpretation of Scripture, a deep concern for the spiritual welfare of his charge, and a thorough consecration to his work. His style is impetuous, rich, torrential at times; his thought is practical and imaginative rather than deeply philosophical. His knowledge of human nature is keen and ample, and his sermons are a remarkable reflection of the manners and customs of his age. His ethical appeal is constant and stimulating." In the West the allegorical method of Alexander had more influence than the historical exegesis of Antioch. This is seen in Ambrose of Milan, with whom may be named Hilary of Poitiers and Gaudentius of Brescia, the friend of Chrysostom, and a link between him and Ambrose. But the only name of first rank in preaching is that of Augustine, and even he is curiously unequal. His fondness for the allegorical and his manifest carelessness of preparation disappoint as often as his profundity, his devout mysticisms, his practical application attract and satisfy. Augustine's De doctrina Christiana, bk. iv., is the first attempt to formulate the principles of homiletics.
2. The Early Middle Ages, 430-1100. - After the days of Chrysostom and Augustine there was a great decline of preaching. With the poor exceptions of one or two names like those of Theodore of Mopsuestia and John of Damascus, the Eastern Church produced no preachers of distinction. The causes of the ebb were both internal and external. Within the Church there was a departure from the great experimental truths of the Gospel, their place being taken by the preaching of nature and morality on a theistic basis. To this we may add a fantastic and absurd allegorization, the indiscriminate laudation of saints and martyrs, polemical strife, the hardening of the doctrine into dogma, the development of a narrow ecclesiasticism, and the failure of the missionary spirit in the orthodox section of the Eastern Church (as contrasted with the marvellous evangelistic activity of the Nestorians. Outside the Church the breakup of old civilizations, the confused beginnings of medieval kingdoms, with the attendant war and rapine, the inroads of the Saracens and the rise of Islam, were all effective silencers of the pulpit. Yet the night was not without its stars; at Rome Leo the Great and Gregory the Great could preach, and the missionaries Patrick, Columba, Columbanus, Augustine, Wilfrid, Willibrord, Gall and Boniface are known by their fruits. The homilies of Beda are marked by a tender devoutness, and here and there rise to glowing eloquence. In the 8th century Charlemagne, through the Capitularies, tried in vain to galvanize preaching; such specimens as we have show the sermons of the times to be marked by superstition, ignorance, formality and plagiarism. It was the age when the papacy was growing out of the ruins of the old Roman Empire, and the best talents were devoted to the organization of ecclesiasticism rather than to the preaching of the Word. Liturgies were taking shape, penance was deemed of more importance than repentance, and there was more insistence on discipline than on Christian morality. Towards the end of the period we note the beginnings of the triple division of medieval preaching into cloistral, parochial and missionary or popular preaching, a division based at first on audiences rather than on subject-matter, the general character of which - legends and popular stories rather than exposition of Scripture - was much the same everywhere. About this time, no doubt, some preachers began to use the vernacular, though no examples of such a practice have been preserved. There are few great names in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries: Anselm was a great Churchman, but no great preacher; perhaps the most worthy of mention is Anskar, the missionary to the Scandinavians. Rabanus Maurus published an adaptation of Augustine's De doctrina Christiana, bk. iv. But certain forces were at work which were destined to bring about a great revival, viz. the rise of the scholastic theology, the reforms of Pope Hildebrand, and the preaching of the First Crusade by Pope Urban II.
(d. 1099) and Peter the Hermit.
3. The Later Medieval Age, 1100-1500.
In the 12th century the significant feature is the growing use of the various national languages in competition with the hitherto universal Latin. The, most eminent preacher of the century was Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), esteemed alike by gentle and simple, and summing up the popular scholastic and mystical types of preaching. His homilies, though tediously minute, still breathe a charm and power (see Bernard, St).
Alongside Bernard may be placed the two mystics of St Victor, Hugo and Richard, and a little later Peter Waldo of Lyons, who, like Henry of Lausanne, preached a plain message to the poor and lowly. The 13th century saw the culmination of medieval preaching, especially in the rise of the two great mendicant orders of Francis and Dominic. Representative Franciscan names are Antony of Padua (d. 1231), who travelled and preached through southern Europe; Berthold of Regensburg (d. 1272), who, with his wit and pathos, imagination and insight, drew huge crowds all over Germany, as in homeliest vernacular he denounced sin with all the severity of a John the Baptist; and Francis Bonaventura, the schoolman and mystic, who wrote a little book on The Art of Preaching. Of the Dominicans Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), the theologian, was perhaps also the greatest preacher. With the 14th century a new note, that of reformation, is struck; but on the whole there was a drop from the high level of the 13th. In Italy Bernardino of Siena on the scholastic side, Robert of Lecce and Gabriel Barletta on the popular, are the chief names; in Germany these phases are represented by John Gritsch and John Geiler of Kaiserburg respectively. Among the popular preachers vigour was often blended with coarseness and vulgarity. Mysticism is represented by Suso, Meister Eckhart, above all Johann Tauler of Strassburg (d. 1461), a true prophet in an age of degeneration. Towards the close of the century comes John Wycliffe and his English travelling preachers, who passed the torch to Hus and the Bohemians, and in the next age Savonarola, who was to Florence what Jeremiah had been to Jerusalem.
4. The Reformation Period, 1500-1700
It is here that the story of modern preaching may be said to begin. The Reformers gave the sermon a higher place in the ordinary service than it had previously held, and they laid special stress upon the interpretation and application of Scripture. The controversy with Rome, and the appeal to the reason and conscience of the individual, together with the spread of the New Learning, gave preaching a new force and influence which reacted upon the old faith, as John Wild (d. 1554), one of the best Roman Catholic preachers of the day, a man noted for his "emphasis on Scripture, his grasp of evangelical truth, his earnest piety, amiable character and sustained power in the pulpit," fully admitted. Other famous preachers on the same side were the Spaniards Luiz of Granada and Thomas of Villanova, the Italians Cornelio Musso, Egidio of Viterbo and Carlo Borromeo, and the German Peter Canisius. Among the Reformers were, of course, Martin Luther and most of his German collaborators; the Swiss Zwingli, Bullinger, Farel and Calvin; the English Latimer, John Bradford, John Jewel; the Scot John Knox. Nor can even so cursory a sketch omit to mention Bernardino Ochino and the Anabaptist Hiibmaier. In all these cases fuller details will be found in the articles bearing their names. Most of the Reformation preachers read their sermons, in contrast to the practice of earlier ages. The English Book of Homilies was compiled because competent preachers were comparatively rare.
The 17th-century preaching was, generally speaking, a continuation of that of the 16th century, the pattern having been set by the Council of Trent and by the principles and practice of the Reformers. In Spain and Germany, however, there was a decline of power, in marked contrast to the vigour manifested in France and England. In France, indeed, the Catholic pulpit now came to its perfection, stimulated, no doubt, by the toleration accorded to the Huguenots up to 1685 and by the patronage of Louis XIV. The names of Bossuet, Flechier, Bourdaloue, Fenelon and Massillon, all supreme preachers, despite a certain artificial pompousness, belong here, and on the reformed side are Jean Claude (d. 1687), author of the Essay on the Sermon, and Jacques Saurin (d. 1730). In England the rivalry was not between Catholic and Reformer, but between Anglican and Nonconformist, or, if we may use the wide but less correct term, Puritan. On the one hand are Andrewes, Hall, Chillingworth, Jeremy Taylor, Barrow and South; on the other Baxter, Calamy, the Goodwins, Howe, Owen, Bunyan, in each case but a few names out of many. The sermons of these men were largely scriptural, the cardinal evangelical truths being emphasized with reality and vigour, but with a tendency to abstract theology rather than concrete religion. The danger was felt by the university of Cambridge, which in 1674 passed a statute forbidding its preachers to read their sermons.
Germany, harassed by the Thirty Years' War and deadened by a rigid Lutheranism, can show little besides Andrea and Johann Arndt until the coming of the Pietists (see Pietism), A. H. Francke and Philipp Spencer, with Paul Gerhardt and his cousin Johann. The early years of the 18th century were a time of deadness as regards preaching. The Illumination in Germany and Deism in England were largely responsible for this, though. the names of J. A. Bengel (better known as a commentator), Zinzendorf, Butler and the Erskines helped to redeem the time from the reproach of being the dark age of Protestantism. In the Roman Catholic Church the greatest force was Bridaine in France, a popular preacher of high worth. But, generally speaking, there was no heart in preaching, sermons were unimpassioned, stilted and formal presentations of ethics and apologetics, seldom delivered extempore.
5. The Modern Period may be said to begin in 1738, the year in which John Wesley began his memorable work. Preaching once more was based on the Bible, which was expounded with force and earnestness, and though throughout the century there remained a good' many pulpiteers who produced nothing but solemn fudge, the example and stimulus given by Wesley and Whitefield were almost immeasurably productive. Whitefield was the greater orator, Wesley the better thinker; but, diverse in temperament as they were, they alike laid emphasis on openair preaching. In their train came the great field preachers of Wales, like John Elias and Christmas Evans, and later the Primitive Methodists, who by their camp meetings and itinerancies kept religious enthusiasm alive when Wesleyan Methodism was in peril of hardening. Meanwhile, in America the Puritan tradition, adapted to the new conditions, is represented by Cotton Mather, and later by Jonathan Edwards, the greatest preacher of his time and country. Whitefield's visits raised a band of pioneer preachers, cultured and uncultured, men who knew their Bibles but often interpreted them awry.
In the early 19th century the pulpit had a great power, especially in Wales, where it was the vehicle of almost every kind of knowledge. And it may be doubted whether, all in all, preaching has ever reached so uniformly high a level or been so powerful a force as during the 10th century, and this in spite of other forces similarly making for enlightenment and morality. It shared to the full in all the quickening that transformed so many departments of civilization during that epoch, and has been specially influenced by the missionary enterprise, the discoveries of science, the fuller knowledge of the Bible, the awakened zeal for social service. Modern preaching, like ancient preaching, has been so varied, depending, as it so largely does, on the personality of the preacher, that it is not possible to speak of its characteristics. Nor can one do more than enumerate a few outstanding modern names, exclusive of living preachers. In the Roman Catholic Church are the Italians Ventura and Curci, the Germans Diepenbrock and Foerster, the French Lacordaire, Dupanloup, Loyson (Pere Hyacinthe) and Henri Didon. Of Protestants, Germany produced Schleiermacher, Claus Harms, Tholuck and F. W. Krummacher; France, Vinet and the Monods. In England representative Anglican preachers were Newman (whose best preaching preceded his obedience to Rome), T. Arnold, F. W. Robertson, Liddon, Farrar, Magee; of Free Churchmen, T. Binney, Thomas Jones, R. W. Dale and Joseph Parker (Congregationalist); Robert Hall, C. H. Spurgeon and Alexander Maclaren (Baptists); W. M. Punshon, Hugh Price Hughes and Peter Mackenzie (Wesleyan); James Martineau (Unitarian). The Scottish Churches gave Edward Irving, Thos. Chalmers, R. S. Candlish, R. M. McCheyne and John Caird. In America, honoured names are those of W. E. Channing, Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Bushnell, Phillips Brooks, to mention only a few.
See M. Neale, Medieval Preachers and Preaching (1857); R. Rothe, Geschichte der Predigt vom Anfang bis auf Schleiermacher (1881); J. P. Mahaffy, Decay of Modern Preaching (1882); E. C. Durgan, A History of Preaching (1906), and preface to The Pulpit Encyclopaedia, vol. i. (1909); and the various volumes of the Yale Lectures on Preaching. Also SERMON. (A. J. G.)
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Preaching'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/p/preaching.html. 1910.