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From No Uncertain Sound, Sermons that Shaped the Pulpit Tradition, Edited, with an Introduction, by Ray C. Petry, Professor of Church History, Duke University, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1948; pp. xi-xiv.


DURING an extended period of teaching, my attention has been drawn, repeatedly, to a significant lacuna in the field of historical-theological interpretation. Not since 1856 has there been issued in English translation, for any considerable period, the sermonic literature of the pre-Reformation Church. Yet the most advanced researches in historical and theological areas, alike, prove how inadequate any appreciation of Christian civilization must be which overlooks the impact of preaching upon Western culture.

Supporting these observations have been other teachers in such apparently diverse but actually juxtaposed fields as homiletics, patristics, medieval life and institutions, ancient and medieval languages and literatures, historical and systematic theology, and Christian thought. Many of these have deplored the cultural impoverishment and distortion of Christian perspective which the lack of readily available primary materials has involved for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. An enlarging number of clergy have also expressed their regret that no representative, yet compact, body of homiletic sources has been available for the study of this crucial period. They, together with the academic world, recognize increasingly the significance of early and medieval conceptions in the molding of present-day reactions.

About three years ago I was invited by Dr. Francis P. Jones to serve as American editor in preparing An Anthology of Patristic and Medieval Sermons for translation into Chinese, together with other volumes of Christian classics — this under the auspices of Nanking Theological Seminary and the Foreign Mission Boards of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. In the course of that work my own interest in a homiletic source book, already great, was further heightened. The encouragement offered me by President Henry P. Van Dusen and Professor John T. McNeill, both of Union Theological Seminary, together with Chancellor B. Harvie Branscomb, of xii Vanderbilt University, President Umphrey Lee, of Southern Methodist University, and numerous other scholars made me hopeful of providing such a volume for the predominantly English-reading public. This hope became a reality with the proffer of publication by The Westminster Press.

In compiling this work I have placed major emphasis on a readable, trustworthy text rather than upon research minutiae or primarily reference qualities. Documentation has been kept to an absolute minimum with an annotated bibliography of carefully selected, scholarly works supplying some of the deficiencies necessarily involved in such a procedure. The immediate serviceability of such a work for theological and other students on the various academic levels, and for the informed ministry will, I believe, not seriously impair its usefulness for the professional scholar.

It has been found wholly impracticable to render all Scripture quotations in the translation of a uniform version. This decision has been necessitated by the practices, often erratic in themselves, of so cosmopolitan a group of homilists, and the cardinal right of translators, both early and modern, to bring Scriptural passages into fitting accord with the procedures and technical resources of given preachers across the centuries. Translations, both ancient and modern, have therefore been allowed to stand with the form of Biblical quotation best suited to the prevailing circumstances. As a result, few if any passages remain in the exact language of an established version and no body of Scriptural materials is incorporated in other than a copyright-free translation. Any violation of such rights is here, as anywhere else in the volume, not the product of intention, but an oversight to be gladly remedied. Biblical references which differ in the numbering of the Authorized and Revised Versions, on the one hand, from that of the Rheims-Douay, on the other, are cited first according to the former and again as in the latter.

Among the numerous scholars who have rendered invaluable aid and counsel are the following to whom special thanks are due: Dr. Paul L. Lehmann, of The Westminster Press and Princeton Theological Seminary, for many editorial services and the revision of the introduction; Dean Willard L. Sperry and Professor Henry J. Cadbury, of Harvard Divinity School, for suggestions on Biblical and theological problems; and Professor Roy Battenhouse, of Episcopal xiiiTheological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, for numerous suggestions on selection, arrangement, and editorial resources. From Wellesley college I wish to thank Professor E. Faye Wilson for manifold courtesies as well as for painstaking scrutiny of translations and helpful counsel on varied matters of historical scholarship; Professors Charlotte E. Goodfellow and Gabriella Bosano for constructive criticism of materials translated from the Latin and Italian; Dr. Louise P. Smith, for translations and revisions from the Latin as well as for invaluable advice on Biblical and theological data; Professor Marie L. Edel, for a translation from the Middle English. From Harvard University I am deeply indebted to Professor Robert J. Clements for repeated courtesies, scholarly assistance, and constructive criticism of materials translated from fifteenth-century French.

I wish to recognize Miss Dorothy Ann Freeman and Miss Caroline Warner, students of Wellesley College, for translations from the Latin; Miss Gertrude Marie Puccia, also a student of Wellesley, for a translation from the Italian; and Mr. Anthony A. Giarraputo, of Harvard College, for a translation from the late medieval French. All of these have supplied translations of independent worth recognized at appropriate junctures throughout this volume.

My thanks are due, furthermore, to the Duke University Research Council for its administration of funds supplied conjointly with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; to the librarians and library staffs of Duke University, Duke University Divinity School, Widener Library of Harvard University, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Episcopal Theological School, Union Theological Seminary, Wellesley College, the Library of Congress, and Columbia University.

For stenographic services I am greatly indebted to Mrs. Hollis Huston, I express deepest appreciation to my wife, Ruth Mertz Petry, for criticizing the manuscript and reading the proofs, and to my niece, Miss Joanne Mertz, for assisting in the final preparation of the manuscript for the printer.

R. C. P.

Widener Library,
Harvard University,
June 1, 1947.



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