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The Franciscan and Dominican friars are members of mendicant orders who, beginning in the thirteenth century, preached the popular sermon on Sundays, Feast Days, all of Lent, sometimes during the Advent season, at funerals, at church dedications, and at universities.
The Emergence of the Popular Sermon
A sermon differs from a homily in that a sermon focuses on an aspect of a selected theme (thema) taken from the Gospel reading and not the reading in its entirety as is done with a homily. In the late twelfth and early thirteen century, the sermon was written and preached in Latin. Thus, the “lewd” or uneducated audience, who did not understand Latin, did not obtain moral and spiritual guidance as desired by the church. Therefore, in the thirteen century, the emergence of the popular sermon, sermo modernus, came about through necessity.
Parts of the Popular Sermon
The popular sermon consisted of many parts. The popular sermon began with a thema, a lesson based on the gospel of the day. The prothema or antethema, a statement and/or prayer by the preacher, followed the thema. Sometimes the preacher skipped the prothema and delivered a prelocution, proof of the thema, by citing sources of authority instead. The thema was then restated and followed by the process, a break down of multiple parts of the thema—the historical, allegorical (personified), tropological (moralized), and anagogical (the mystical). Finally, the sermon would close with a recitation (a quick review) and a benediction (blessing).
Medeival Audiences and the Popular Sermon
For three hundred years, hundreds of friars preached the popular sermon in the vernacular, the language of the people, in local churches to people of high and low estate. When the churches were too small to contain the audience, the sermon was then moved to the public green.
In church and on the public green, Medieval audiences were unconstrained and could be rude and discourteous to the preacher. It was not uncommon for the people in attendance to move freely about and socialize with one another, address the friar, or walk out on the friar in the middle of his sermon. Thus, to keep the attention of the people, the popular sermon needed to be short, said in the vernacular, and include an element of which the people could relate or find of interest. The friar might tell an antidote, use folklore or verse sermon. To help make a point, it was not uncommon for the friar to embellish concerns of good and evil. The friar would use the occasional large word or a word from a foreign language to impress the lewd audience. The result was a vibrant, creative and well-received sermon.
Training and Licensure
All friars were required to be trained and licensed by the church before they were allowed to preach. The friars studied treatises on sermon making. These treatises dictated that the preacher should speak slowly, clearly and in a serious manner; he was to remain focused; he should dress, speak, and behave in a conservative manner; and, when speaking, he should neither stand still nor be flamboyant with his gestures. Although the treatise dictated the friars follow these directives, the friars bent the rules as they saw fit.
The Published Popular Sermon
The friars wrote their own sermons or they based their sermon upon the written works of other friars and clergy. The four classifications of the popular sermon were the improvised, the prepared, the memorized, and the read (Roberts, 77). Many of the popular sermons from this era were published—meaning that they were either preached in the vernacular or written down in Latin, but not necessarily both (Roberts, 77). Most of the written sermons that were later preached were not verbatim to the written word. As the sermon was written in Latin and the oratory was done in the vernacular, the words changed with the translation. This is the dual nature of the popular sermon. The most accurate resources available to us today are the sermons that were written by a person of the clergy in the audience who took notes (in Latin) and formally recorded with the intent to be used as a resource. A great number of these documents are available today in manuscript form; some are available in published collections. These popular sermons provide an authentic insight to the people and the times.
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Chapman, Coolidge Otis. [Untitled]. Review of The Popular Sermon of the Medieval Friar in England. Modern Language Notes, 53.7 (Nov. 1938). JSTOR. John Carroll University Library. University Hts., OH. 27 Feb. 2008 <http://0-www.jstor.org.library.jcu.edu>.
Fleming, John V. “The Friars and Medieval English Literature.” The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature. Ed. David Wallace. Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1999. 349-75.
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Pfander, Homer G. The Popular Sermon of the Medieval Friar in England. Thesis. New York University, 1937.
Roberts, Phyllis B. “Preaching and Sermon Literature, Western European.” Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Ed. Joseph R. Strayer. Vol. 10. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988.
Rusconi, Roberto. “Preaching.” Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Ed. Andre Vauchez, Trans. Adrian Walford, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. 27 Feb. 2008 <http://library.jcu.edu>.
Scahill, John. “Friars’ Miscellanies.” Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Paul E. Szarmach, et al. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998.
Szarmach, Paul E. and Alan J. Fletcher. “Middle English Period.” Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Paul E. Szarmach, et al. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998.
———. “Sermons and Homilies.” Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Paul E. Szarmach, et al. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998.
evaluation: very informative, clear, useful. covers all the bases. letter grade: A-
Concise, well written, and well researched. The second section might be more effective if placed after "Medeival Audiences and the Popular Sermon." Its obvious you did a lot of work here. letter grade: A