Some preachers were the equivalent of our own Rock Stars during the Middle Ages, with crowds of fans following the most popular wandering preachers on their circuit for days. Other great religious orators had devoted church followings as well, and could sway royalty as well as their fellow clergymen with their sermons.
I wanted to know what the fuss was all about, and so I put this book online for my, and your, edification: No Uncertain Sound, Sermons that Shaped the Pulpit Tradition, edited, with an introduction, by Ray C. Petry.
The speakers represented begin early on, with Origen, and end at the Reformation, with Michel Menot.
The charm and power of their words back then to those whose only reading material was an early monastic library in some isolated spot, does not compare nowadays to those of us who have so many more choices in entertainment.
There is still some popular appeal in a few of these sermons, along with some timeless harangues against various types of sinners, whom we all can recognize today — proof that basic moral lessons remain unlearned despite the best efforts of “God’s own mouthpieces.”
Vast numbers found comfort, hope and consolation from these words and you may too. I confess that there was little balm for my spirit.
After wading through a lot of arcane, abstruse and aggravating matter, I was quite happy to come across the translations of Berthold of Ratisbon and Bernardine of Siena. These guys were the Mick Jaggers of the traveling friars. They make good reading even now, in comparison at least.
Being a Bedophile, I was also glad to read the two Sermons by Venerable Bede.
With the over-investment that possesses me when typing any text, I strived to find some redeeming words in all the sermons selected, knowing that every author has been considered important by Petry, the scribes who saved their work, and by the people who were moved to save these writings.
As an example, by St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo:
“. . . take heed to yourselves, do not imitate evil Christians. Say not I will do this, for many of the faithful do it. This is not to procure a defence for the soul; but to look out for companions unto hell.”
Also valuable: The eye-witness account of John Chrysostom’s visit to the courtroom in Constantinople for the trial of the men from every class accused of destroying statues.
The belief, by Origen, that the secular leaders of the people, including kings and princes, will be judged by God for the acts of their base, is certainly a thought-provoking one. Later Pope Gregory I, and a few others, hold preachers to be eternally accountable for their failure to attempt to correct the sins of their flocks. This sermon by Pope Gregory happily added some positive qualities to modify my previous negative impression of that man.
Despite such redeeming sentences, this book was not a lively one, to say the least. I wondered and wondered why these men were so famous if these sermons were the best that they could do. Their audiences appeared to have been the least picky and easiest to please of any in history. Then I read the Introduction, which I always read, and type, last. Enlightenment dawned: these sermons were taken down by others, and likely edited in the process, by fellow monks, then and later. Petry admits to excising objectionable material too. This explains the removal of all the good parts!
Despite the fact that the speeches are not verbatim, these are the only sources we have on which to form an idea of the content of these actual sermons by some of the leading lights of the early Church.
The Introduction was the second best section of the book, with a great survey of the history of preaching and pulpit reform over 1000 years. Read this, and Bede, Berthold and Bernardine and you will have read the best parts.
What is completely admirable is that Petry, in the Preface, credits those who did the new translations used in the book, mostly done by college students (all women but one). Some of the extracts are new translations of work that that have not been previously translated into English.
There were a few typos in the body of the text, several more in the extensive Bibliography of primary and secondary authorities, all have been emended. The original spelling is noted in the source code.
The copy of the book I have is an autographed copy. It says:
To “Bob” in friendship and esteem. Ray. October 10, 1998.
The editor, Ray C. Petry, was a professor of theology at Duke University. “Bob” signed the book, as ‘Robert S. [something]’. I can’t make out the last name clearly. Although a penciled note states that he was a dean of some kind at the School of Divinity at Duke University. I will scan both signatures later, when I am near my scanner.
The copyright was not renewed, so this book is in the public domain.
Enough chit-chat! Get started by clicking on the preliminary brief title page from the front-papers of the book, below:[front-papers]