Siegfried Wenzel. The Art of Preaching: Five Medieval Texts and Translations. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2013. Illustrations. xvii + 267 pp. $64.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8132-2137-3.
Reviewed by Eugene Crook (Professor, Florida State University)
Published on H-Catholic (July, 2014)
Commissioned by Carolina Armenteros
The artes praedicandi (arts of preaching) were better known in the Middle Ages than they are in our own day. This is not for the lack of scholars working in this field. Siegfried Wenzel has been working on the subject of preaching most of his scholarly life. Sometimes he attacked the subject indirectly through a tangential field, such as virtues and vices: The Sin of Sloth: Acedia in Medieval Thought and Literature (1960) and Summa Virtutum De Remediis Anime (1984). Other times he approached it obliquely through medieval verse: Verses in Sermons: Fasciculus Morum and Its Middle English Poems (1978); Preachers, Poets, and the Early English Lyric (1986); and Elucidations: Medieval Poetry and Its Religious Backgrounds (2010), so preaching has been at the core of his studies. Therefore for understanding the Middle Ages comprehensively, he has addressed preaching directly as the key to medieval culture and communication: Fasciculus Morum: A Fourteenth-Century Preacher’s Handbook (1989); Macaronic Sermons: Bilingualism and Preaching in Late-Medieval England (1994); Latin Sermon Collections from Later Medieval England: Orthodox Preaching in the Age of Wyclif (2005); and Preaching in the Age of Chaucer: Selected Sermons in Translation (2008). It is precisely in this field of the artes praedicandi that Wenzel has worked to great effect for his latest production: The Art of Preaching: Five Medieval Texts and Translations.
This attractive volume includes a preface: “It has been my aim to understand and elucidate the finer and sometimes recondite points of medieval teachers who instructed their readers and perhaps listeners in how to structure a scholastic sermon” (p. vii). In the genre of homiletics, scholastic philosophy supplied an almost inexhaustible store of information. It trained the mind in analysis and precision, and at the same time, it supplied a lucidity of order and cogency of arrangement unparalleled in even the great orations of Chrysostom. The result of the application of scholastic philosophy to homiletics was the scholastic sermon.
The introduction further presents the scholastic sermon: “This new form has been labeled the modern, or university, or thematic, or scholastic sermon, and throughout the later Middle Ages, from the thirteenth to at least the end of the fifteenth century, it remained the dominant sermon form, attested by the artes as well as countless extant sermons” (p. xii). They were called university sermons because most of their practitioners were educated in their craft in the universities of Paris, Oxford, and others. One of those artes theoreticians was Robert of Basevorn who “frequently distinguishes sermon usages at Oxford from those at Paris” (p. xii n2). They were also called thematic sermons because they took the thema from a short string of words from scripture, which they then divided into parts for further development. So the thema, division, and development are the dominant forms of the “modern” sermon after the advent of scholastic philosophy.
Wenzel’s work presents five medieval artes praedicandi in both the Latin texts and English translations. He leads off in chapter 1, “Jacobus de Fusignano,” with the Fusignano’s Libellus artis predicatorie. Fusignano was an Italian Dominican writing in about 1300. The treatise is complete and detailed in its directions on how to construct a sermon. Fusignano illustrated his steps with examples, which must have been as great a help to his medieval readers as to his readers in the twenty-first century. The work survives in more than twenty manuscripts, including the Oxford, University College 36 MS (O) written in England. The treatise had a further distribution when it was included in the pastoral manual Manipulus curatorum, by Guido de Monte Rocherii composed in 1333. Fusignano is important in the genre of the artes praedicandi because he comprehensively covered all the necessary parts of sermonizing. Wenzel conveniently analyzes the nineteen chapters of Fusignano in his headnote to the treatise. Many of these chapters will be recognizable to students of classical rhetoric as represented in Ad Herennium. The work that Wenzel applies to the Latin text aims to make it both readable (by dividing it into sentences and paragraphs, as well as correcting scribal errors) and semi-critical (through collating and inspecting the relevant manuscript and incunabula editions). Of the witnesses used, the Oxford, Merton College, MS 102 (M), produced in Italy with Italian scribal hands and orthography, becomes the logical candidate for the base text because the others fail the test of completeness. However, even (M) has a peculiar peccadillo. For example, in the first introduction of a word (conducta for inducta or uirtutum for in truncum), the scribe is likely to get it wrong the first time but subsequently gets it correct. Wenzel humorously calls this “the dropping penny phenomenon” (p. 8). He has not attempted to construct a stemma codicum (a family tree of manuscripts) which would have required a complete recension of all extant witnesses.
Fusignano’s treatise, which Wenzel publishes in its entirety, betrays its scholastic roots from the beginning of its first chapter, “The Four Causes of Divine Exhortation”: “Every deed and every action must not only have something efficient that carries it out, but also an end which its agent intends, a subject matter that its agent works with, and a form which he imposes on his work” (p. 11). Fusignano followed this principle with several applied examples throughout the chapter. Fusignano’s second chapter discusses the preacher as the instrumental efficient cause. The three characteristics of this cause are: “it must have some other action that derives from its own nature”; “the instrumental agent as a mover is himself moved”; and “the instrumental agent sometimes attains the ultimate effect of the principal agent, and sometimes not” (p. 15). It is in this third characteristic of the preacher as the instrumental efficient cause that Fusignano acknowledged by principle that he would not always have his desired effect through his sermon on the listeners.
Fusignano’s third chapter, “The Quality of the Chosen Thema,” again has three parts for shaping the ideal thema: “the quotation he chooses must make perfect sense”; “in the thema he chooses he must omit conjunctions and adverbs by which the thema continues or which link it to what has preceded”; and “not to choose his thema in a sense that is contrary to the meaning it has in Scripture” (pp. 21-23). Here it is the second point that the present reviewer finds particularly significant for shaping the style of the English Benedictine Ranulph Higden (writing about 1340) in most of his works, but particularly in his Speculum curatorum and his Distinctiones. Higden seemed to quote (and shape) scriptural passages to corroborate his points as if he were constantly creating thema according to the prescription of Fusignano. In Higden’s own narrative expositions, however, he employed conjunctions and adverbs liberally.
Chapter 4 of Fusignano’s treatise discusses the elaboration of the thema with either a prayer or a protheme. The latter “must agree with the thema” by either echoing “the word with which the preachers intend to have a verbal agreement”; or, “it would be fitting and beautiful if his protheme begins with the same word that ends his thema” (p. 27). Here we see the basis for the elaboration of texts by many medieval authors with the careful repetitions of words that are carried throughout the paragraph or even the chapter. That the stylistic characteristics learned in the artes praedicandi are transmitted well beyond sermonizing is a witness to the breadth and depth of its influence through the Middle Ages. Chapter 5 begins with the three types of sermon: “One way is when the preacher … selects the beginning of the gospel lection and then goes on to explain the entire gospel. This mode was very common in former times, as the homilies of Blessed Gregory…. This is very helpful for simple people. Otherwise, for educated and intelligent people such popular exposition is not necessary” (p. 29). Fusignano betrayed his own intellectual condescension here and one might say that in practice he may have preached only to the university educated and never came into contact with the illiterate.
The remaining chapters of the treatise, 6 through 19, are devoted to the expansion of the sermon. Chapter 6 covers the subdivision of the thema; chapter 7 provides twelve further ways to amplify; chapter 8 looks into the help of concordant authorities; chapter 9 discusses words; chapter 10 focuses on interpreting and defining or describing; chapter 11 gives multiple explanations and meanings; chaper 12 offers comparison and various compound words; chapter 13 examines adorning through synonyms; chapter 14 provides the properties of things; chapter 15 addresses exemplification; chapter 16 covers stating the opposite; chapter 17 looks at dividing a whole into its parts; chapter 18 examines indicating or considering causes and effects; and chapter 19 focuses on reasoning.
The following three treaties that Wenzel examines in his chapters 2 through 4 present the same subject matter in different approaches. All three appear together in sequence in two manuscripts from England: Lincoln Cathedral Library, MS 234 (L) and London, British Library, MS Additional 24361 (A). The status of the treatises as different and separate works is demonstrated from their preservation as individual treatises elsewhere. Although the first, addressed in Wenzel’s second chapter, “Quamvis,” has been ascribed separately to an English Augustinian and an English Dominican, its author must still remain anonymous according to Wenzel. The Quamvis was used by Higden for his own Ars componendi sermones. In “Appendix C: Quamvis and Ranulph Higden,” Wenzel compares the many parallel parts of the two treatises and thereby establishes that Quamvis must have been composed before 1340. Both use the passage from Isaiah 62:5 Habitabit iuuenis cum virgine (The youth shall dwell with the virgin). He calls this passage a rara avis among the artes: “It may therefore be considered a give-away, a family trait, a piece of rhetorical DNA” (p. 250). While all five ways of introducing the thema in Quamvis were reused by Higden, they are found in a different order in the latter (reordering is a characteristic of Higden’s style in the reviewer’s experience). Here Wenzel disputes the claim of Margaret Jenning’s version of the relationship between the two, where she puts Higden’s treatise as the chronologically prior text.
The Quamvis author rejected artificial sermon structures, such as the sermo pyramidalis, linearis, or circularis. His emphasis was on his lengthy third part, which is the development of the sermon’s members. Wenzel provides a convenient outline of this third part. The edited version represents Lincoln, Cathedral Library, MS 234 (L) as the base text with emendations that seem required by logic or grammar.
One passage that the Quamvis author and Higden share is the charming effect of a virgin: “The elephant becomes pleasant and mild when a virgin sings and shows him her breast that he will lick. The unicorn also is a most fierce animal, and its ferocity cannot be tamed by any way or skill, yet when you bring a virgin to him, he grows mild in her lap. In the same way, when the very strong Son of God was shown the breasts of that Virgin … he sucked those breasts after he had been drawn by the Virgin’s song … he became mild” (Latin, pp. 110-112, 253; English pp. 111-113). This passage exemplifies Quamvis’s turn for fancy as well as mild titillation, a sure way to get the attention of a congregation. Furthermore, it leads to this treatise’s favorite exemplary passage: “And although this mystically refers to Christ and the Church … yet it applies literally to Christ and the glorious Virgin, with whom he began to live today as with his mother, bride, and sister, just as Isaiah had foreseen it when he said, The youth shall dwell with the virgin” (p. 113). Both passages are somewhat abbreviated, shortened, and compacted in Higden as is characteristic of his style.
Quamvis is comfortable in quoting Aristotle and Seneca, as well as Augustine and Isidore to corroborate its own analogies: “According to the Philosopher in book 2 of the Ethics, according to the mean, namely sleep, a studious man is not any different from a wretched man, that is, when he is asleep” (p. 141). The appeal to reason, holding the readers to the highest standards of the intellectual life, is common here just as in Fusignano’s treatise.
In chapter 3, “Hic docet,” Wenzel prefers to attend to the needs of the spiritual director in addressing his spiritual novices in the collatio or collation (an exposition addressed to spiritual novices). The base text is Lincoln Cathedral Library, MS 234 (L). This manuscript has an enlarged “H” for the Hic docet Augustinus, the beginning of the treatise. Wenzel finds the very usage of Hic problematic, thinking that it should be Sic or Sicut, because Hic should refer back to an antecedent, but as this is the opening of the treatise, there is no previous referent.
Hic docet immediately distinguishes what a collation is: “First understand that a collation must be the subject matter of a sermon, and thus we must begin with the way and technique of making collations, because what is necessary for a collation is also required for a sermon, but not the reverse, for in a sermon more things come together than in a collation” (p. 149). Hic docet seems to be addressing an audience of students who will go out to compose enlarged sermons based on what they have learned in constructing a collation. Having addressed the collation in the first four parts, Hic docet in part 5 addresses what the students must go out to accomplish: “In making sermons something special is required. For in any member of the subdivision several authorities from Scripture or the saints may be quoted…. This procedure, however, is lavish and difficult, even if it is subtle.… Also, in order to dilate the sermon further, one can bring in exempla and stories from the lives of the saints” (p. 159). The author encourages his students to go beyond the criptures to corroborate their points, and of course here he would have in mind Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea.
For “Vade in Domum,” chapter 4, Wenzel has again chosen Lincoln Cathedral Library, MS 234 (L) as his base text. The editor informs us that the author “introduces the image of a house, whose parts—foundation, walls, entrance door (with threshold, opening, key, and lock), windows, windows panes, and roof—are then systematically applied to the standard six parts of a sermon” (p. 163). This allusion to the house of memory, a common topos in the Middle Ages, familiar to students of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (5.528-623), goes back to classical rhetoric and is discussed in Ad Herennium. If one connected the items to be remembered to the visual map of one’s house, connecting the unfamiliar to the familiar, it was both an ordering and recalling device. The author of Vade cites Peter Comestor, Historia Scholastica (Migne, Patrologia Latina 198:1053) as the source for his image of the house. The text follows this metaphor of the sermon as a house so thoroughly that historians of architecture could take notes on how houses were constructed during the time of the Vade in Domum. The treatise even cited Gregory the Great and John Chrysostom as if they were landscape artists, along with the carpenters “Basil, Eusebius, John of Damascus, Cassiodorus, Isidore, Bernard, Anselm, and many others without number, to adorn and support it” (p. 187).
The fifth chapter, “Jean de La Rochelle,” presents Rochelle’s Processus negociandi themata sermonum. It presupposes the reader’s knowledge of the parts of a scholastic sermon. Rochelle was a French Franciscan and Paris master who died in 1245. He focused on seven aspects of “negotiating” the sermon as alluded to in the title—“handling, or dealing with, or developing, a thema” (p. 189). Rochelle used the image of the tree and its parts for his analogy with the sermon. The work was edited in 1951 by Gustavo Cantini with a number of errors, therefore Wenzel has reedited his own text with the base manuscript of Lisbon, Biblioteca Nacional, Fundo Alcobaça, MS 130 (P).
Rochelle began his text by speaking of modes of handling the thema. What becomes particularly noteworthy is his dealing with the second mode, “where an utterance is either directed to a second person or is about a second person” (p. 203). His developing discussion shifts the burden of action onto the listener, building a dynamic between the preacher and his audience, so that they must be doers, not just listeners. Of the seven modes, the second is justly the longest and most pertinent for developing an active, effective sermon: “For example, if the thema is the verse in Genesis [35:10] You will not be called Jacob any longer but your name will be Israel, and you say, ‘This is the voice of one calling to something better,’ and next: Here are two things described: the state of active people … and the state of contemplatives to which he calls … then you can proceed in this fashion: Jacob indicates the state of active people for three reasons. For just as active people naturally fight against three enemies—that is, the world, the flesh, and the devil—so Jacob fought against three enemies,” Esau, Laban, and the angel (p. 215). Rochelle understood that the end result of every sermon is action in the world of realities. The preacher must move the very personal “you” of his listeners to do, to become, and to be. Rochelle differentiated between this life and our true home, those living here and those who enjoy blessedness, the wayfarer and him who has arrived, the inhabitant and the pilgrim, those who just run and those who aim for the prize, the fighting and the triumphant, those who weep and those who rejoice, the weak and the strong, hope and possession, faith and understanding, labor and rest, merit and reward, Martha and Mary, those who sow and who reap, seed and fruit, and similar pairs.
Rochelle was not just a theoretician; he demonstrated that he knew what it is to stand in the pulpit and reach out to the people, each and every “you” in the congregation. There is nothing condescending in Rochelle as there was in some other authors. His traits are of one who has walked among and with his people, even though he became a master at the University of Paris.
After Rochelle’s treatise, Wenzel adds four appendices, an index of biblical quotations, and a general index. “Appendix A: Reflections on Artes Praedicandi” makes the important distinction between the scholastic religious sermon based on a biblical text and the scholastic academic sermon, or rather a sermon-like discourse, speech act, introitus or introductory address to university courses, principia, or graduation speeches choosing as their thema a text from Aristotle or Gratian. The scholastic method is the urge to develop the entire discourse grounded on a “foundation” or “root” as used in the two most common metaphors of the house and the tree. “Appendix B: The Life and Transmission of Late-Medieval Artes Praedicandi” traces the subsequent history of the treatise Quamvis and the phenomenon of companionship. Manuscripts containing one artes praedicandi treatise would usually contain one to several additional treatises at the same time, as well as distinctiones and abbreviated biblical concordances to aid the preacher in his preparations for his sermons. Appendix C has been described above and Appendix D is described in endnote 5.
Wenzel has had a great deal of experience in turning out finely constructed studies of medieval culture centering on the sermon. This latest production only adds to and enhances that list. It is not the sort of book one sits down to read from cover to cover, it is a book of reference in which one can be assured that the texts are well constructed, accurate, and elegantly laid out. The translations are graceful, correct, and stay close to the Latin text. The introductory and supplemental materials are to the point and knowledgeable. The Art of Preaching will stimulate interest and new research into medieval homiletics, the predominant mode of communication throughout the Middle Ages until the advent of printing and lay reading in the Renaissance. The appearance of several of these artes in incunabula editions gives further witness to their longevity into early modern times.
. Morton W. Bloomfield, Seven Deadly Sins: An Introduction to the History of a Religious Concept, with Special Reference to Medieval English Literature (1952; repr., East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967) is the great seminal work in this field.
. Carleton Brown, Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century, 2nd. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952); and Carleton Brown, Religious Lyrics of the XVth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962) are the early standard texts in this regard.
. G. R. Owst, Preaching in Medieval England: An Introduction to Sermon Manuscripts of the Period c. 1350-1450 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926); and G. R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England: A Neglected Chapter in the History of English Letters and of the English People (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933; 2nd with additions, 1961) were the two early comprehensive studies of the culture of preaching.
. The location of the artes praedicandi within the medieval rhetorical traditions has been studied by James J. Murphy. See James J. Murphy, Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971); James J. Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages: A History of the Rhetorical Theory from Saint Augustine to the Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974; repr., Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2001); and James J. Murphy, Medieval Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Medieval Rhetoric (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).
. The comprehensive lists of treatises on the artes praedicandi were drawn up long ago in Harry Caplan, Medieval “Artes Praedicandi”: A Hand List, Cornell Studies in Classical Philology 24 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1934); and Harry Caplan, Medieval “Artes Praedicandi” A Supplementary Hand List, Cornell Studies in Classical Philology 25 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1936). Of the approximately 240 works extant, only about two dozen are available in modern editions and Wenzel’s “Appendix D: Modern Editions and Translations of Artes Praedicandi” in the book under review conveniently lists these.
. [Cicero], Ad C. Herennium: De ratione dicendi (Rhetorica ad Herennium), trans. Harry Caplan, Loeb Classical Library 403 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954). This classical manual had a great, but usually an unacknowledged, influence on medieval rhetoricians of various callings.
. Ranulph Higden, The Ars componendi Sermones of Ranulph Higden, O.S.B., ed. Margaret Jennings, Davis Medieval Texts and Studies 6 (Leiden: Brill, 1991); Ranulph Higden: Ars componendi sermones, trans. by Margaret Jennings and Sally A. Wilson, Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations 2 (Paris: Peeters, 2003); and Margaret Jennings, “The Preacher’s Rhetoric: The Ars componendi sermones of Ranulph Higden,” in Medieval Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Medieval Rhetoric, ed. James J. Murphy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 112-126, where Higden’s treatise is contrasted to Basevorn and compared to a “typical” example of the ars praedicandi. Jennings’s studies postulate the precedence of Higden’s work to that of the Quamvis which she attributes to a later Thomas Penketh, see her 2003 translation, 77n90.
. Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. William Granger Ryan, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).
. [Cicero], Ad C. Herennium, 209-225.
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Eugene Crook. Review of Wenzel, Siegfried, The Art of Preaching: Five Medieval Texts and Translations.
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