Publication – Siegfried Wenzel, « Beyond the ‘Sermo modernus’. Sermon Form in Early Fifteenth-Century England »

In England, as well as on the continent, the early fifteenth century saw a slackening of rigorous academic work in theology and at the same time a stronger interest in biblical and devotional approaches and practices. This book addresses the question of whether, and if so in what way, such a change may also have occurred in preaching by investigating the form in which sermons were constructed, to determine whether a new development or innovation replaced the scholastic sermon, or sermo modernus, in use from the later thirteenth century on. The volume concludes with editions of sermons drawn from major works created in England between the final years of the fourteenth and the middle of the fifteenth century.

This study addresses the question of whether the renewed interest in biblical and devotional approaches that some scholars have found in fifteenth-century theology also affected preaching. In answer it points to significant changes in the structure of sermons, both Latin and English, that have survived from England. In them the form of the sermo modernus or scholastic sermon, in which the entire discourse is based on a short string of words called “thema” – a form that was almost universally employed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries – gives way to retelling the entire lection (usually the Gospel) and to pointing out its moral meaning verse by verse in a process called postillation. Moreover, these sermons occasionally raise questions (quaestiones) or problems (dubia) caused by the biblical text and answer them. Major criticism of the sermo modernus as well as suggestions for different approaches to preaching are found in the work of Thomas Gascoigne. Dealing with the entire Gospel in a sermon characterizes three commentaries of the period: Philip Repingdon’s Sermones super evangelia dominicalia written perhaps at the end of the fourteenth century, the mid-fifteenth-century Congesta, and an early fifteenth-century lecture course by an anonymous Franciscan on sermons for the saints and for major feasts. These works have received little or no attention from modern scholars. They are here discussed and illustrated with hitherto unedited excerpts. Preaching the entire Gospel can further be found in sermons by individual preachers who lived near the end of the fourteenth and the early fifteenth centuries: John Felton, Nicholas Philip, John Dygon, Robert Rypon, John Wyclif and his followers, and others. As a result, while not entirely innovative in this respect, these preachers indeed turned away from the structure and devices typical of the traditional sermo modernus and instead dealt with the entire lection they preached on.

Siegfried Wenzel, professor emeritus of English at the University of Pennsylvania, has written widely on medieval preaching and its historical contexts, on the vices and virtues in the middle ages, and on Chaucer, Langland, and Middle English literature.

Informations pratiques :

Siegfried Wenzel, Beyond the ‘Sermo modernus’. Sermon Form in Early Fifteenth-Century England, Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2021 (Studies and Texts, 222). XII–282 pp. ISBN 978-0-88844-222-2 Prix : USD 95.

Source : Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies

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