PHILIP VON HARTUNG.
JOSEPH DE BARZIA.
The history of preaching begins with the first
the first and the best, that of our blessed Lord on the mount in
The declamations of the ancient prophets differ widely in character
from the sermons of Christian orators, and in briefly tracing the
history of sacred elocution, we shall put them on one side.
For the true principles of preaching are enshrined in that glorious
mountain sermon. From it we learn what a Christian oration ought to
be. We see that it should contain instruction in Gospel truths,
illustrations from natural objects, warnings, and moral
and that considerable variety of matter may be introduced, so long
the essential unity of the piece be not interfered with.
In this consists the difference between Christ’s model sermon,
and the exhortations of those who went before Him.
Jonah preached to the Ninevites, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh,
shall be overthrown,” and that was his only subject.
John Baptist preached in the wilderness, and on one point only,
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
They confined themselves to a single topic, and that purely
subjective, whereas a Christian sermon is to be both objective and
subjective. It should be like Jacob’s ladder, reaching from
God’s throne to man’s earth, with its subject-matter
constantly ascending and descending, leading men up to God, and
showing God by His Incarnation descending to man.
A Spanish bishop of the seventeenth century thus speaks of the
on the Mount, the model for all sermons, and the pattern upon which
many ancient preachers framed their discourses.
He quotes St. John, “I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on
the throne a book written within and without, sealed with seven
seals;” and this book, he says, is the life of our blessed
Lord, written with the characters of all virtues—within, in His
most holy soul; without, in His sacred body. It is sealed with
seals. St. John continues, “I saw a strong angel proclaiming
with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the
seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under
earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.”
Who, then, was worthy to open that book? None save Christ Himself.
opened it in the Sermon on the Mount, wherein He taught all men to
follow and observe the virtues which He practised Himself.
Hearken and consider as He opens each seal:—
“Blessed are the poor in spirit:” and behold Him at the
opening of this first seal, poor and of no reputation.
“Blessed are they that mourn:” and this second seal
displays Him offering up prayers for us, “with strong crying
“Blessed are the meek:” and we see Him meek and lowly of
heart, before the judgment-seat answering not a word.
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness:”
this fourth seal exhibits Him whose meat it was to do the will of
that sent Him, and who on the cross could still cry, “I
thirst,” in the consuming thirst for the salvation of our
“Blessed are the merciful:” and “His mercy is over
all His works.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart:” and who was purer than
the Virgin Son of the Virgin Mother?
And the seventh seal opens with: “Blessed are the peacemakers;”
showing us Christ who made “peace by the blood of His cross”
between Jew and Gentile, between God and man.
Every sermon preached since that mighty discourse, which opened the
life of Christ to man, what has it been, but a turning over of leaf
after leaf in that most mysterious book?
There is something very striking in the accidents of that first
sermon, that fountain whence every rill of sacred eloquence has
flowed to water the whole earth; delivered, not in the gloom of the
temple, in the shadow of the ponderous roof, like the burden of the
law to weigh it down, but in the open air, free and elastic like
Gospel, on a mountain-top, in the soft breeze beneath an unclouded
sun; the Preacher standing among mountain flowers, meet emblems of
the graces which should spring up from His word, sown broadcast
the world. We can picture the scene: the twelve around Him, bowed
wonder, like the sheaves of the brethren bending before the sheaf
Joseph; and beyond, a great multitude with eager uplifted faces, a
multitude hungering and thirsting after righteousness, drawing in
gracious words which proceeded from Christ’s lips; whilst far
below, gently ripples and brightly twinkles the blue Galilean lake,
over the waters of which that Preacher walked, and the waves of
by one word He stilled. We may say with the angel, “The waters
which thou sawest are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and
tongues” (Rev. xvii. 15), and see in them a type of the world
once tossing in the darkness and terror of a night of ignorance
without God, but now to be calmed in the daylight of His presence,
and lulled at the sound of His voice.
The following analysis of the Sermon on the Mount, taken chiefly
Dr. J. Forbes, will give some idea of its arrangement:—
A. The character of the true members of Christ’s kingdom
diametrically opposed to the expectations and character of the
The Beatitudes, or progressive stages of Christian life (verses
The reward of those who keep the beatitudes in this world (11) and
the next (12).
B. The duty of Christ’s servants towards the world (13-16).
“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.”
(Ver. 17.) “Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the
A. (Negative proposition) I am not come to destroy,
B. (Positive proposition) but to fulfil.
Negative proposition explained (18, 19).
Positive proposition explained (20).
Christ then shows how that the law is made of none effect by the
Scribes and Pharisees, and not by Himself.
A. The Teaching of Christ contrasted with that of the Scribes.
Perfect form of the Second Table of the Law.
1. Law of Individual Life (VI Commandment, V Beatitude)
2. Law of Family Life (VII Commandment, VI Beatitude) (27-32).
3. Central Law of Truth (IX Commandment) (33-37).
4. Law of National Life (VIII Commandment):
On its Negative or Passive Side (III Beatitude) (38-42).
On its Positive or Active Side (VII Beatitude) (43-48).
The Practice required by Christ of His Disciples contrasted with
Practice of the Scribes and Pharisees.
First Defect of Pharisaical Righteousness, Ostentation, or
God must be regarded in all our
Acts (chap. vi. 1).
α. In the Duties owed to our Neighbours (2-4).
β. In the Duties owed to God (5-15).
γ. In the Duties owed to Ourselves (16-18).
Second Defect of Pharisaical Righteousness, Worldliness. God must
regarded in all our
Third Defect of Pharisaical Righteousness, Spiritual Pride. God
be regarded in all our
Judgments (chap. vii. 1, 2).
We must acquire Discernment to judge,
a. How to give (3-5).
b. To whom to give (6).
c. What to give (7-12).
The conclusion sums up, in three practical exhortations, the whole
sermon. Such being the spirit of the Law and the Prophets, and the
strictness of the righteousness required,
I. Beware of Supineness (13, 14).
II. Beware of false Teachers (15-20).
III. Beware of empty Professions (21-27).
The other sermons given in Holy Scripture are those of St. Peter,
Stephen, and St. Paul; in all of which arrangement is
But passing from the apostolic age to those succeeding it, we find
that preaching consisted chiefly in scriptural exposition, the only
order observed being that of the sacred text. Such was the nature
the sermons of St. Pantænus (
180), the Sicilian Bee, so named from the way in which he gathered
honey from the flowers of prophetic and apostolic fields. He is
to have travelled preaching the Gospel as far as India, whence he
brought back a Hebrew copy of St. Matthew’s Gospel, left by St.
Bartholomew. St. Clement of Alexandria and Origen succeeded him;
adding polish and refinement to the matter. These great men, so
versed in the history of the Old and New Testaments, were also
probably masters of the art of preaching, though but few of their
genuine homilies are extant by which we might judge.
In Africa, St. Cyprian preached with eloquence and vigour. A few
sermons and homilies of St. Athanasius remain; and fifty sermons
preached by the Macarii to the monks in the Thebaid. St. Ephraem
Syrus, Deacon of Edessa, was a voluminous writer, and an eloquent
preacher. Sozomen observes of him, that, though he had never
yet he had so many beauties in his style, and so many sublime
thoughts, that the traces of his eloquence are discernible through
translation. St. Gregory Nyssen says that he had read and meditated
more than any one else on the Bible; that he had written
upon all Holy Scripture; and that he had, besides, composed many
fervid and touching exhortations. “All his discourses,”
says he, “are filled with weeping and compassionate
expressions, which are calculated to move even the hardest hearts.
For who that is proud would not become the humblest of men, on
reading his sermon on Humility? Who would not be inflamed with
fire, by reading his treatise on Charity? Who would not wish to be
pure in heart, when reading the praises he has lavished on
Who would not be alarmed on hearing his discourse on the Last
Judgment; wherein he has described it so vividly, that not a touch
can be added by way of improvement? God gave him so profound a
wisdom, that, though he had a wonderful facility of speaking, yet
could not always find words to express the crowd of ideas which
flowed into his mind.”
Every one knows what was the success of the homilies of St.
Augustine, of the two Gregories, of St. Chrysostom, St. Basil, St.
Ambrose. “There were giants in those days.” We will not
speak of them now, as their lives and their works are well known.
Suffice it to say, that they spoke so as to suit the capacities of
their hearers. Sometimes they preached without preparation, and in
homely manner; seeking rather to instruct than to please.
St. Cyprian, St. Ambrose, and St. Leo, among the Latins, pass with
justice for the most eloquent orators of their time. St. Augustine
more simple than they; but he preached in the small town of Hippo,
shopkeepers and labourers.
In the age after Augustine, perhaps the most famous preacher was
Salvian (390-484), surnamed the Master of Bishops, not that he ever
was a Bishop himself, but because so many of his pupils at Lerins
became eventually prelates in Gaul. Among the most eminent of these
was St. Cæsarius of Arles (470-542), son of the Count of
Chalons. He passed his youth in the shadow of the cloister of
and left it only to succeed the first fathers of that peaceful
Honoratus and Hilary, upon the archiepiscopal throne of Arles. He
for half a century the most illustrious and most influential of the
Bishops of Southern Gaul. He presided over four Councils, and
directed the great controversies of his time. He was passionately
beloved by his flock, whose hearts he swayed with his fervid
eloquence, of which 130 still extant sermons bear the indelible
stamp. Another of the early preachers of Gaul was St. Eucher (434),
whom Bossuet calls “the Great;” and he, too, issued from
that great nursery of saints, the Isle of Lerins.
Valerian of Cemele (450), has left behind him sermons plain and
sound, but devoid of eloquence. Basil of Seleucia was a preacher of
fame in the East. Photius says, that “his discourse is
figurative and lofty. He observes, as much as any man, an even
He has united clearness with agreeableness, but his tropes and
figures are very troublesome. By these he wearies his hearer
and creates in him a bad opinion of himself, as an ignorant person,
incapable of blending art with nature, and powerless to keep from
excess.” Photius is rather too hard on Basil, whose sermons are
really stirring and good. The discourses of Andrew of Crete (740)
also excellent; those of John Damascene are poor.
Turning to England, we shall find Bede instructing our Anglo-Saxon
forefathers in the faith of Christ and in the mysteries of the
Gospel; and Alfric, in 990, compiling homilies in the vulgar
to the number of eighty, and, among others, that famous one on the
doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, which Matthew Parker could flourish
in the face of his Romish opponents, saying, “What now is
become of your boasted argument of apostolic tradition? see here
the novelties with which you charge us are older than the doctrines
which you oppose to them!”
Wulfstan, Archbishop of York (1003), is known through one
sermon, “Sermo Lupi ad Anglos quando Dani maxime persecuti sunt
We have now arrived at the true middle ages, and I will say but
little of the history of preaching in that period, as it has
been treated of by that distinguished ecclesiastical scholar, Dr.
Neale, in his volume “Mediæval Sermons.” And,
indeed, but for his labours, the bulk of this introduction would
necessarily have been extended beyond its due limits, for the
ages teemed with preachers, and preachers very striking for their
originality and depth. The monasteries were great nurseries of
preachers, sending forth continually multitudes of carefully
and orthodox teachers. These preaching monks and friars exercised
immense influence over the uneducated laity, and for long they
in harmony with the secular clergy. Let me give one instance from a
chronicler of the thirteenth century, Jacques de Vitry, who has
us some interesting details concerning a very celebrated preacher
his time, Foulque de Neuilly. “He excited to such an extent all
people, not only of the lower orders, but kings and princes as
by his few and simple words, that none dare oppose him. People
in crowds from distant countries to hear him, and to see the
wrought by God through him.… Those who were able to tear and
preserve the smallest fragment of his dress, esteemed themselves
happy. Besides, as his clothes were in great request, and as the
multitude were constantly tearing them off him, he was obliged to
have a new cassock nearly every day. And as the mob commonly
upon him in an intolerable manner, he struck the most troublesome
with a stick he held, and drove them back, or he would have been
suffocated by the throng eager to touch him. And, although he
sometimes wounded those whom he struck, yet they were by no means
offended, and did not murmur, but, in the excess of their devotion,
and the strength of their faith, kissed their own blood, as though
had been sanctified by the man of God.
“One day, as a man was engaged in ripping his cassock with
considerable violence, he spoke to the crowd thus, ‘Do not rend
my garments, which have never been blessed: see! I will give my
benediction to the clothes of this man.’ Then he made the sign
of the cross, and at once the people tore to rags the man’s
dress, so that each obtained a shred.”
Pass we now to the wane of sacred eloquence at the close of the
fourteenth century. By this time pulpit oratory had become sadly
debased, though still a few noble orators, as Savonarola at
Louis of Granada in Spain, and Philip of Narni at Rome, shone as
In the place of earnestness came affectation: the natural movement
the body, when the feelings of the preacher are roused, was
by studied gestures; the object of the orator was rather the
exhibition of his own learning than the edification of his hearers,
and the lack of matter in sermons was supplied by profanity and
buffoonery. Preachers became the slaves of rule, their sermons were
stretched on the same Procrustean bed, and were clipped or
to fit the required shape. By this means all natural eloquence was
stifled; every action of the body, every modulation of the voice,
according to canon; and to such an extent did this run, that some
preachers made it a matter of rule to cough at fixed intervals,
believing that they were thereby adding grace to their declamation.
In some old MS. sermons, marginal notes to the following effect may
be found: “Sit down—stand up—mop yourself—ahem!
ahem!—now shriek like a devil.”
Such is a sermon preached by Oliver Maillard, and printed with
marginal notes at Bruges in 1500, black letter, quarto. Balzac
describes a lesson given by an aged doctor to a young bachelor on
art of preaching, and it consisted of this—“Bang the
pulpit; look at the crucifix with rolling eyes; say nothing to the
will be a great preacher.”
Throughout the fourteenth century sermons were for the most part
hammered out on the same miserable block. The same text perhaps
served for an Advent or a Lenten series. Maillard in the next
preached sixty-eight sermons on the text, “Come up …
unto the mount” (Exod. xxxiv. 2); and he took for his text
throughout Advent, Christmas, and the festivals immediately
following—in all forty-four sermons—the words of St.
James i. 21, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and
superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted
word, which is able to save your souls.”
The preacher having given out his text, pronounced a long exordium,
in no way to the purpose, containing some scriptural allegory, some
supposed fact from natural history, or a story extracted from a
classic historian. He then returned to his text and began to
two questions, one in theology, the other in civil or canon law,
remotely connected with it. On the theological question he quoted
sentiments of the schoolmen, on the other he cited legal
He then proceeded to divide his subject under heads, each of which
was again subdivided, and each subdivision was supported by the
authority of a classic philosopher, and illustrated by an anecdote
often pointless, sometimes indecent. Indeed, to such an extent were
classic allusions and quotations in vogue, that the story is told
a peasant who had “sat under” his priest for long, and
had heard much of Apollo in the Sunday discourses, bequeathing his
old cart-horse “to M. Pollo, of whom the curé had said
such fine things.”
This absurd affectation continued long the bane of the pulpit. In
sixteenth century a monk preaching on the feast of St. Peter, saw
impropriety in mingling mythology with Gospel history, and in
the fable of Daphne to illustrate the denial of the Apostle. “The
nymph of the wood,” said he, “being pursued by the
shepherd Apollo, fled over hill and dale, till she reached the foot
of a rock up which she could not climb, and, seeing herself at the
mercy of her pursuer, she began to weep,—in like manner, St.
Peter seeing himself arrested by the rock of his denial, ‘wept
bitterly.’” And Camus, Bishop of Belley, who flourished
in the beginning of the seventeenth century, could use such words
these on Christmas Day:—“We now, skimming over the sea in
our boat, come to behold the Infant born into the world to conquer
it. He is our Bellerophon, who, mounted on the Pegasus of His
humanity, winged by union with the Deity, has overcome the world,
‘confidite, ego vici mundum;’ the world, a true and
strange Chimera! lion as to its front by its pride, dragon behind
its avarice, goat in the midst by its pollution! He is our youthful
Horatius overcoming the three Curiatii of ambition, avarice, and
sensuality! He is our Hercules, who has beaten down the
triple-throated Cerberus, and who has in His cradle strangled
serpents. The one crushed only two, but ours has destroyed three,
vanity of the world by His subjection, the avarice of the world by
His poverty, the delights of the world by His mortification.”
Sometimes preachers, carried away by their feelings, gave vent to
most violent and indecorous expressions. As, for instance, the Père
Guerin preaching on the danger of reading improper literature,
not refrain from using the following language with reference to
Theophilus Viaud, who had written a very immoral poem, “La
Parnasse des Poètes,” 1625, for which he and his book
were condemned to be burned. “Cursed be the spirit which
dictated such thoughts,” howled the preacher. “Cursed be
the hand which wrote them! Woe to the publisher who had them
Woe to those who have read them! Woe to those who have ever made
author’s acquaintance! But blessed be Monsieur le premier
Président, blessed be M. le Procureur Général,
who have purged our Paris of this plague! You are the originator of
the plague in this city; I would say, after the Rev. Father
that you are a scoundrel, a great calf! but no! shall I call you a
calf? Veal is good when boiled, veal is good when roast, calfskin
good for binding books; but yours, miscreant! is only fit to be
grilled, and that it will be, to-morrow. You have raised the laugh
monks, and now the monks will laugh at you.”
Preachers have been quite unable at times to resist the chance of
saying a bon mot. Father André, being required to give out
before his sermon that a collection would be made for the dower of
young lady who wished to take the veil, said—“Gentlemen,
your alms are solicited in behalf of a young lady who is not rich
enough to take the vow of poverty.” I believe it is of the same
man that the story is told, that he halted suddenly in the midst of
sermon to rebuke the congregation for indulging in conversation
whilst he was speaking. One good woman took this in dudgeon, and
standing up, assured the preacher that the buzz of voices came from
the men’s side of the church, and not from that reserved for
the females. “I am delighted to hear it,” replied the
preacher, “the talking will then be sooner over.” This
reminds me of Gabriel Barlette’s dictum, “Pone quatuor
mulieres ab unâ parte, decem viros ab aliâ, plus
Kings even have been publicly rebuked for something of the same
Every one knows that Mademoiselle d’Entragues, Marchioness of
Verneuil, was mistress of Henry IV. One day that the Jesuit father,
Gonthier, was preaching at St. Gervais, the king attended with
Mademoiselle d’Entragues, and a suite of court ladies. During
the sermon the marchioness whispered and made signs to the king,
trying to make him laugh. The preacher, indignant at this conduct,
turned to Henry and said, “Sire, never again permit yourself to
come to hear the word of God surrounded by a seraglio, and thus to
offer so great a scandal in a holy place.” The marchioness was
furious, and endeavoured to obtain the punishment of the preacher,
but Henry, instead of consenting, had the good sense to show that
was not offended, by returning to hear Father Gonthier preach on
following day. He took him aside however, and said, “My father,
fear nothing. I thank you for your reproof; only, for Heaven’s
sake, don’t give it in public again.”
I have said that the preachers of the fifteenth century often
degenerated into the burlesque, in order to attract the attention
they failed to rivet by the excellence of their matter.
this fault was not confined to the fifteenth century, but we find
again and again appearing among inferior preachers of the next two
centuries. It must be remembered that the monasteries had then
from their high estate through the intolerable oppression of the
commendam,” and that learning was far less cultivated than in
an earlier age. The popular friar-preachers, the hedge-priests, who
took with the vulgar, were much of the stamp of modern dissenting
ministers, men of little education but considerable assurance; they
spoke in the dialect of the people, they understood their troubles,
they knew their tastes; and, at the same time, like all people who
have got a smattering of knowledge, they loved to display it, and
displaying it consisted much of their grotesqueness. The following
sketch of one of these discourses is given by Father Labat, in his
“Voyages en Espagne et en Italie, Amst., 1731, 8 vols. in
12mo.” He says that he was present on the 15th September, 1709,
at a sermon preached in the open air under a clump of olives near
The day was the Feast of the Name of Mary. “Those who did the
honours of the feast placed me, politely, right in front of the
preacher. He appeared, after having kept us waiting sufficiently
long, mounted the pulpit, sat down without ceremony, examined his
audience in a grave and perhaps slightly contemptuous manner; and
then, after a few moments’ silence, he rose, took off his cap,
made the sign of the cross on his brow, then on his mouth, and then
on his heart, which after the old system he supposed to be on his
left side; lastly, he made a fourth sign, which covered up all the
others, since it extended from his head to the pit of his stomach.
This operation complete, he sat down, put on his cap, and began his
discourse with these words, ‘I beheld a great book written
within and without,’ which he explained thus: Ecco il verissimo
ritrato di Maria sempre Virgine; that is to say, Behold the
portrait of the ever Virgin Mary. This application was followed by
long digression upon all books ever known in MS. or in print. Those
which compose the Holy Scriptures passed first in review; he named
their authors, he fixed their date, and gave the reasons for their
composition. He passed next to those of the ancient philosophers,
the Egyptians and of the Greeks; those of the Sibyls appeared next
the scene, and the praise of the Tiburtine Sibyl was neatly
interwoven into the discourse. Homer’s Iliad was not forgotten,
any more than the Æneid; not a book escaped him; and then he
declared that none were equal to the great book written within and
without; a book, said he, imprinted with the characters of divine
virtues, bound in Heaven, dedicated to wisdom uncreate
approved by the doctors of the nine angelic hierarchies, published
the twelve Apostles in the four quarters of the globe; a book
occupying the first place in the celestial library, in which angels
and saints study ever, which is the terror of demons, the joy of
heaven, the delights of saints, the recompense of the triumphant
Church, the hope of the suffering, the support, the strength, the
buckler of the militant. He never left this great book, the leaves
which he kept turning, so to speak, for three good quarters of an
hour, and then finding that it was time to rest, he quitted us
suddenly without a ‘good-bye.’ I mean without the
blessing, and without having spoken of the Blessed Virgin in any
other light than that which served him in the explanation of his
“I confess I never heard a sermon which pleased me better, for
I was not a bit wearied during it; and, in his style, I suspect he
was unequalled. The Passion of Father Imbert, Superior of our
at Guadaloupe, his sermon on St. Jean de Dieu, that of Father Ange
Rouen, a Capuchin, on a certain indulgence, had hitherto appeared
me inimitable masterpieces; but I must award the palm to that which
have just reported, and to do the preacher justice, he surpassed
others mentioned as the empyrean sky surpasses the lunar sky in
grandeur and elevation.”
I must speak here of a famous preacher of the fifteenth century, to
whom I cannot afford a separate notice, and who is more offensively
ridiculous than the man spoken of by Labat; I mean Gabriel
I do not give him other notice than this for two reasons; the
because there is reason to believe that the sermons which pass
his name are spurious compositions, as indeed is asserted by a
cotemporary, Leander Alberti, who says that they were the
of a pretender who took the name of the great preacher.
It is therefore not fair to judge of a really famous man from works
which may not be his. Another reason why I have limited to a few
lines my notice of sermons which were undoubtedly popular, if we
judge of the number of impressions they went through, is that there
is positively no good to be got from them; they are full of the
grossest absurdities and the most profane buffoonery. I have given
account of some three or four of this class of sermon, and I can
afford no more room to similar profanities.
Gabriel Barlette was a Dominican, and was born at Barletta in the
kingdom of Naples. He lived beyond 1481, for he speaks of the siege
and capture of Otranto by Mahomet II. as a thing of the past. In
of the sermons attributed to him is the following passage on the
close of the temptations:—“After His victory over Satan,
the Blessed Virgin sends Him the dinner she had prepared for
cabbage, soup, spinach, and perhaps even sardines.”
In a sermon for Whitsun-Tuesday, he rebukes distractions in prayer,
and he illustrates them in this unseemly way. He represents a
engaged at his morning devotions, saying, “Pater noster qui es
in cœlis—I say, lad, saddle the horse, I’m going to
town to-day!—sanctificatur nomen tuum,—Cath’rine,
put the pot on the fire!—fiat voluntas tua—Take care! the
cat’s at the cheese!—panem nostrum quotidianum—Mind
the white horse has his feed of oats.… Is this praying?”
No, Gabriel, nor is this preaching!
Another preacher of the same stamp was Menot. Michael Menot was
in Paris; he was a Franciscan, and died at an advanced age in
Take this specimen of his reasoning—
“The dance is a circular way;
The way of the Devil is circular;
Therefore the dance is the Devil’s way.”
And he proves his minor by the Scriptural passages “circuivi
terram,” “circuit quærens quem devoret,” “in
circuitu impii ambulant.” In his sermon for Friday after
Ash-Wednesday he thus expresses his sense of the value of
magistrates: “Justices are like the cat which is put in charge
of a cheese lest the mice should eat it. But if the cat lay tooth
it, by one bite he does more mischief than the mice could do in
twenty. Just in the same manner,” &c. The following is a
specimen of his style, a sad jumble of Latin and French. He is
a graphic description of the prodigal son wasting his goods.
ad quærendum les drapiers, les grossiers, les marchands de
soye, et se fait accoutrer de pied en cap; il n’y avait rien à
redire. Quando vidit sibi pulchras caligas d’écarlate,
bien tirées, la belle chemise froncée sur le collet, le
pourpoint fringant de velours, la toque de Florence, les cheveux
peignés, et qu’il se sentit le damas voler sur le dos,
hæc secum dixit: Oportetne mihi aliquid? Or me faut-il rien?
Non, tu as toutes tes plumes; il est temps de voler plus loin. Tu
nimis propè domum patris tui, pro benè faciendo casum
tuum. Pueri qui semper dormierunt in atrio vel gremio matris suæ,
nunquam sciverunt aliquid, et nunquam erunt nisi asini et insulsi,
ne seront jamais que nices et béjaunes. Bref qui ne fréquente
pays nihil videt.”
Of course this sermon was not thus preached, but it gives us an
of Menot’s acquaintance with Latin, and of his utter inability
to render the slang which had disfigured his vernacular by classic
But it must not be supposed that all preachers of the fifteenth
century were like these clerical jesters.
Gabriel Biel was grave and dignified, his sermons remarkably simple
in construction, and full of wisdom and fervour. The same may be
of Thomas à Kempis, John Turricremata, and Henry Harphius.
With the sixteenth century a new phase of pulpit oratory was about
dawn. Men wearied of conventional restraints, and spoke from the
heart, knowledge was profounder, less superficial, the conceits of
schoolmen were kept in the background, and scriptural illustrations
brought into greater prominence. Anecdote was still used as a
powerful engine for good, but it was anecdote such as would edify.
Similes were introduced of the most striking and charming
and the preachers sought evidently rather to instruct their
and to render doctrine intelligible, than to surround themselves
a cloud of abstruse doubts and solutions, to the bewilderment of
their hearers, and to their own possible glorification. It is
impossible not to see in this a fruit of the Reformation. To people
famishing for the bread of life, the preachers of the fifteenth
century had given a stone, and now their successors were alive to
fact, and strove earnestly to remedy it. They threw themselves
forward like Phineas, and stood in the gap, so that it is to them,
perhaps, more than to great theologians like Bellarmin, that the
Catholic Church must look with thanks for having stayed the
tide of reform.