The Medieval Review 15.03.12


Driver, Martha W., and Veronica O'Mara. Preaching the Word in Manuscript and Print in Late Medieval England: Essays in Honour of Susan Powell. Sermo: Studies on Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation Sermons and Preaching, 11. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. 393. €100.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9782503541853 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Marjorie Burghart
EHESS--UMR 5648 (Lyon, France)
marjorie.burghart@ehess.fr

This collection of twelve essays and three edited texts has been compiled in honour of Pr. Susan Powell, freshly retired from the University of Salford (UK). Her career and scholarship (especially in the field of Middle English sermon studies) are briefly recalled in Ron Waldron's preface (XIII-XV), while her substantial bibliography is usefully listed at the end of the volume (391-393). The avowed aim of this volume is to explore "how homilists and teachers in the Middle ages preached the word of God in the widest possible sense" (1). The essays offered in the Studies section of the book reflect this holistic approach, touching upon the various manifestations of medieval sermons and preaching and reaching beyond traditional sermon material.

The first essay, by Derek Pearsall, "G. R. Owst and the Politics of Sermon Studies" (11-30), is a fascinating examination and re-assessment of the scholarship as well as the personal background of the "first founder of English sermon studies" (11). In her essay, "A Cycle Recycled: Sermons from Carolingian Italy in a Miscellany for Pastoral Care from Fifteenth-Century England" (31-48), R. N. Swanson examines the long and complex history of a Latin sermon collection. It raises interesting questions on the circulation of texts and their re-use in preaching, but also the "decontextualized" and "atemporal" character of those sermons (42).

Anne Hudson's "So Far and Yet So Near: Distance or Proximity of Author and Witness in Manuscripts of John Wyclif's Sermons" (49-62), demonstrating the high value of two Bohemian manuscripts now kept in Wolfenbüttel in the Herzog August Bibliothek (MSS Helmstedt 306 and 565), is a reminder to text editors that witnesses must not be judged only by their apparent geographic and temporal proximity with the author.

William Marx's "The Devil as Narrator of the Life of Christ and the Sermo literarius" (63-81) examines the 15th century Middle English poem The Devils' Parliament. He considers this text as a sermo literarius (using the phrase coined by Beverly Kienzle), a form of sermon "designed to be read" (64), without the prospect of an oral performance.

Margaret Connolly's "Preaching by Numbers: The Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost in Late Middle English Sermons and Works of Religious Instruction" (83-100) studies teaching and preaching on the subject of the Holy Ghost from devotional manuals to sermons.

John J. Thompson offers an essay on "Preaching with a Pen: Audience and Self-Regulation in the Writing and Reception of John Mirk and Nicholas Love" (101-116), examining the changes brought to the reception of Mirk's Festial and Love's Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ by the emergence, in the 15th century, of a "vernacular reading public with [...] a voracious appetite for written material" (101).

In "Scribal Performance in a Late Middle English Sermon Cycle" (117-131), Stephen Morrison, in the wake of B. Cerquiglini's works, endeavours to rehabilitate the medieval scribe's "literary intelligence and feel" (118), through his analysis of scribal performance on four fifteenth century copies of a sermon cycle.

Vincent Gillespie's "Sacerdotis predicacio operibus confirmanda est: The Lections in the Latin Martyloge of the Syon Brethren" (133-160) is a study of the martyrology (Martiloge) of the brethren attached to the Brigittine Syon monastery. Gillespie devotes particular attention to the Lections, short entries added in the second half of the fifteenth century and meant "to be read aloud to the brethren each day alongside the Martiloge entries" (141). Many of those lections relate to preaching (145-147).

Jeremy J. Smith's "Punctuating Mirk's Festial: A Scottish Text and its Implications" (161-192) offers an analysis of a sixteenth-century manuscript copy of a French printed edition (Rouen, 1499) of John Mirk's famous collection. Smith studies the punctuation of this copy, as a means of exploring "the negotiation from script to print" (163), linking the sophisticated punctuation practice of this manuscript to "a transition from intensive to extensive reading" and "continuing demands for speech-like performances" (188).

Joseph J. Gwara's richly illustrated essay, "Dating Wynkyn de Worde's Devotional, Homiletic, and Other Texts, 1501-11" (193-234), is a reassessment of "the evidence for dating De Worde's undated output from 1501 to 1511" (195). To this end, Gwara proceeds to a careful study of the fonts used by the famous printer and publisher.

In "Preachers in Picture from Manuscript to Print" (235-258), Martha W. Driver studies an interesting compilation of images from late medieval manuscripts and early printed books, representing not only anonymous preachers--with or without a pulpit--but also various characters in the act of preaching (from Jesus Christ to Mohammed).

Julia Boffey's "Some Middle English Sermon Verse and its Transmission in Manuscript and Print" (259-275) is a study of the textual transmission of Middle English and Latin verse included in sermons (a cycle of fifty-six temporale sermons transmitted by manuscript Warminster, Longleat House, MS 4, and a sermon on Lc. 16, 2, Redde racionem villicacionis tue, preached at Paul's Cross in London by Thomas Wimbledon between 1397 and 1389) or sermon-like literature (Dives et Pauper). Boffey shows that verses "seem to have remained malleable elements of the larger rhetorical constructs of which they were a part" (272).

The second part of the book, its "Texts" section, opens with Oliver Pickering's "Preaching in the South English Legendary: A Study and Edition of the Text for All Souls' Day" (277-316). Although not a sermon per se, Pickering argues that this text, which is "clearly indebted to the Legenda aurea" (279), has "strong preaching characteristics" (283). In his thorough introduction, which includes a detailed synopsis of the poem (279-283), he also argues that the text might have more than one writer, based on stylistic evidence (288).

Kari Anne Rand's "The Syon Pardon Sermon: Contexts and Texts" (317-349) offers the edition of samples of the unpublished Syon Pardon sermon for the feast of St Peter ad Vincula. Besides manuscript MS Harley 2321 (London, British Library), long thought to be the sermon's only witness, she also uses an incomplete copy she found in manuscript Corpus Christi College (Cambridge) MS Corpus 56. Rand further studies and edits several "advertisements" for the Syon Pardon, "publicity leaflets" (331) designed to attract people--and their donations--to the pardon.

The final piece in the book, Veronica O'Mara's "A Victorian Response to a Fifteenth-Century Incunabulum: The 'Boy Bishop' Sermon and How It Was First Edited" (351-392), is a fascinating examination of the practice of editors of different times, from Wynkyn de Worde who published the text twice in the late fifteenth century to John Gough Nichols, the Victorian editor of the sermon. O'Mara also reassesses the date of the "Boy Bishop" sermon, and gives a new full edition.

Each study or text presents a thorough list of the works cited, clearly separating manuscripts, early printed texts, primary sources and secondary studies. Nevertheless, given the wealth of material in this book, a general index would be a welcome addition.



Copyright (c) 2015 Marjorie Burghart



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