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13.09.40, Johnson, The Grammar of Good Friday

13.09.40, Johnson, The Grammar of Good Friday

In this volume of nearly 500 pages, Dr Holly Johnson of the Department of English at Mississippi State University addresses several important subjects in medieval studies, with special attention to late medieval English preaching ca. 1350-1450.  Johnson here focuses on "Good Friday preaching in general and macaronic Good Friday sermons in particular" (xvi). The book is divided into two major parts: the first, a rich and close analysis of the context of Good Friday preaching and in Part Two, five examples of macaronic Good Friday preaching with fresh and accessible translations. In her explanation of her title The Grammar of Good Friday, Johnson writes: "These sermons therefore illustrate in a striking way a larger tradition of medieval Good Friday preaching, both in England and on the Continent, and both in Latin and in the vernacular. They exemplify what can be called the 'grammar' of Good Friday, a grammar comprising the principles of the art of Good Friday preaching. This grammar has both a syntax, the arrangement of expected parts to form a cohesive structure, and a semantics, the meanings of the topoi and rhetorical gestures employed to illustrate the Passion and evoke a response" (xvi).

Johnson gives microscopic attention to her chosen examples, examining them against the background of devotion to the Passion in the late Middle Ages, which was evident in many ways: in plays, treatises, Vita Christi texts, religious lyrics, prayers, and iconography. Good Friday preaching, therefore, played a very special role in the development of the sermon genre. In her comments on the liturgical and homiletic contexts of Good Friday preaching, Johnson includes in her description particular English elements of the Good Friday liturgy e.g  the importance of the Veneration of the Cross and the "Creeping to the Cross."

Johnson's debt to the works of earlier scholars is immediately apparent, and none more striking than to the scholarship of Professor Siegfried Wenzel whose writings on medieval English preaching and macaronic sermons have established guidelines for all serious students of the genre. In his magisterial works on macaronic sermons, Professor Wenzel established the categories of this preaching and demonstrated its complexity and its relationship to the largely mixed audiences of late medieval England. This mixture of Latin and English "were not the result of the preacher's carelessness or inadequate mastery of the Latin language" (xxiv). While the macaronic sermon may have its ambiguities, we cannot ignore Wenzel's views that macaronic preaching may have had a "rhetorical purpose" and that these sermons demonstrated "the erudition and sophistication of their authors" who were thoroughly bilingual (xxiv).

One of Johnson's contributions (and there are many) in this book is to show how the scholastic form of the sermon with its statement of theme and division into parts, and which was so closely identified with the schools and universities of the high middle ages had, by the late fourteenth century, come into use for mixed clerical and general audiences. Johnson goes on to apply the description of the scholastic sermon to the macaronic texts that appear in Part Two, and gives us a good review of the parts of the sermon. In all this discussion, she does not lose sight of the sermon's audience or of the appearance of English in the texts.

Johnson's familiarity with the variety of sermon scholarship and with many of the medieval sources is also apparent in this first part of the volume that concentrates on background and analysis. Her thorough documentation in footnotes and bibliography attest to the vitality of research being done in sermon studies today. Of various medieval sources, we learn, for example, that Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda aurea was an important source for Good Friday sermons; that Bonaventure played a vital role in the development of the scholastic sermon and that his Good Friday sermons were delivered to live audiences as compared with the model sermons or "voicelessness" of Jacobus de Voragine; (24) and that preachers might turn to the sermons of John Mirk, John Wyclif and Thomas Brinton who composed and preached macaronic Good Friday sermons.

Johnson emphasizes that these sermons "present the theology of the redemption with a popular emphasis". The sermons may have had doctrinal and theological sources, but preaching to lay or mixed audiences on Good Friday was not the venue "to enter into theological debates or present erudite theological arguments" (45).

In the section which Johnson calls "The Movable Parts", she returns to the theme of the grammar of Good Friday preaching which informs the book as a whole. This grammar also consisted of the commonplaces, the images, exempla, and narratives which were not original, but it was how the preacher handled these materials that gave "his sermon its distinctiveness" (50). Here we also see the importance of the scholastic structure of the sermon which was more than just a means of organization but a way of demonstrating "Christ's suffering and death" (73).

In Part I, where Johnson discusses all this material in great detail, she cites the sermons later edited and translated in the book. This organization, although clearly necessary, becomes somewhat difficult to handle easily, since we are separated from the immediate evidence and links between her explanatory exposition and the texts themselves. The reader must go back and forth to appreciate the development of her material and the changes and modifications in the Good Friday sermons she has selected to include in her study. But the effort is well repaid since the evidence is presented with clarity and skill. The reader can also appreciate the "literal clarity" of the use of bold type, highlighting the macaronic passages in the original and in translation.

Part II of the volume contains the five sermons for Good Friday which constitute the body of evidence for the preceding analysis. After setting forth the general editorial principles which inform the presentation of the texts, Johnson proceeds to give an outline of the sermon, the critical text and modern translation--Latin and English--on opposite pages. There are several additional guidelines that are very helpful to the reader:  the aforementioned use of bold type highlighting macaronic passages; the accessible and straightforward translations of the sermons which reflect the style of this preaching; critical apparatus and references to sources which follow the Latin or English translation, as needed. A further observation which underscores what we learned earlier in Part I: Reading these texts, addressed undoubtedly to mixed audiences, reinforces how pervasive and influential was the scholastic form of the sermon which originated in the schools but came to dominate the popular preaching of late medieval England.

Following are the five sermons that Johnson has edited in Part II: Dilexit nos et lauit nos a peccatis nostris in sanguine suo based on London, Lambeth Pal. MS 352, fols. 216r-24v, late 14th - 15th century.  Christus passus est pro nobis vobis relinquens exemplum ut sequamini in Oxford, Balliol MS 149, fols. 1r-15v, 14th century, attributed to Henry Chambron.  Noteworthy here are numerous macaronic versions of "verse" passages from Chrysostom and the Lament of the Blessed Virgin. Johnson calls attention to the relationship of these texts to Middle English lyrics. Quare rubrum est indumentum tuum text edited from Oxford, Balliol MS 149, fols. 84r-86v, also attributed to Henry Chambron. Ve michi mater mea extant in one MS, Oxford, Bodleian Lat. th.d.1, fols. 123v-26v, a miscellaneous collection of 62 sermons preached between 1430-36. The MS is associated with the Franciscan friar Nicholas Philip. The sermon that is here edited and translated was preached at Newcastle in 1433 and is an example of a fully macaronic sermon, shifting between Latin and Middle English as compared with other sermons where the macaronic text is often limited to words and/or phrases. Agnus qui in medio troni est reget eos extant in one MS, Oxford, Bodleian Lat. th.d.1, fols. 166v-70v, has the place name King's Lynn and date 1431, but Nicholas Philip's name (see above) does not appear. There is a "remarkably simple" principle around which the sermon is organized, the one quality of innocence which Christ showed when he was slain. The preacher "sets out to prove this innocence by means of Scripture, picture, and figure" (405).  The book concludes with a lengthy and comprehensive bibliography that includes MSS and archival documents, primary sources, secondary sources (that reflect the rich output of scholarship in sermon studies in the last 25 years), index of biblical quotations, and a general index. Dr Johnson has made a noteworthy contribution to Brepols SERMO series which include Studies in Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation Sermons and Preaching. Students and teachers of medieval literature and history, theology and religion, and most importantly rhetoric and preaching will benefit from her book and her scholarship.