15.03.18, Wenzel, ed., and trans., The Art of Preaching

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Niamh Pattwell

The Medieval Review 15.03.18

Wenzel, Siegfried, ed. and trans.. The Art of Preaching: Five Medieval Texts and Translations. Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2013. Pp. xvii, 267. ISBN: 9780813221373 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Niamh Pattwell
University College Dublin

The Art of Preaching: Five Medieval Texts and Translations is another example of outstanding scholarship by the well-known author of Latin Sermon Collections from Later Medieval England: Orthodox Preaching in the Age of Wyclif (2005) and Preaching in the Age of Chaucer: Selected Sermons in Translation (2008). In this volume, Wenzel provides editions and translations of five Latin artes praedicandi, four of which have not been edited before. He also includes four concise but helpful appendices, including a list of modern editions and translations of artes praedicandi (Appendix D).

The medieval sermon was one of the most popular forms of mass communication of its time and has, as such, long been studied by sociologists, cultural anthropologist as well as religious and intellectual historians. The artes praedicandi of this volume are concerned with the "modern, or university, or thematic, or scholastic sermon" which was the "the dominant form" of that genre in the later part of the Middle Ages (xii). Here, in The Art of Preaching, Wenzel provides insight that will appeal particularly, though not exclusively, to the literary historian or critical theorist. He has chosen five texts that, for the most part, focus on "how to build a good sermon" rather than those that address the "moral qualification of the preacher" (xi). Wenzel points out clearly that a sermon is not an exposition on a particular topic, but is "a rhetorical exegesis" of a particular passage of scripture "with the purpose of leading his audience to practice virtue and avoid sin" (xiii). In other words, the sermon emerges from a selected scriptural quotation and is based on an interpretation of scripture, to eventually offer moral guidance to its hearers. In this collection of five artes praedicandi, then, we get a glimpse of how the preacher might or ought to develop the thema. In the process we encounter classical rhetoric, instructions on how to apply the four senses of scripture, advice on the use of the exemplum or the fable, the importance of beauty and elegance in the composition of a sermon, technical detail on the parts of a sermon, the difference between a collation and a sermon, and so on. It is a volume that will appeal, as Wenzel states in his preface, to "students of medieval preaching, rhetoric, and culture in general" (vii).

Jacobus de Fusignano's Libellus Artis Predicatorie is the first and longest of the five texts edited and translated by Wenzel. Found in twenty manuscripts, dated to 1300 or a little later, it is divided into nineteen chapters beginning with the classical four causes as they relate to preaching. In chapters 1 to 6, he outlines the parts and features of a scholastic sermon: the initial prayer, the thema, its qualities and choice, the protheme, the division of the thema, the subdivision of the parts. In chapters 7 through 19 he outlines the twelve ways of developing a sermon: further biblical quotations, discussing individual words, interpreting a name, the fourfold sense of scripture, degrees of comparison, synonyms, properties of things, exempla, antonyms, division of a whole into parts, cause and effects of a vice or virtue and employing various processes of reasoning. The manual is a clear and careful construction, replete with examples that reveal experience and pragmatism. In chapter 9, for example, Fusignano encourages the reader to ground his preaching in the experience of his audience: "...and then he can expand the sermon through a comparison to them. For example, since love is usually directed to children, servants, and friends, the sermon can be expanded in this way: 'God has loved us as his children, as his servants, and as his friends'"(53). Drawing on everyday examples such as that given here, Fusignano's treatise would have been a good text for an early-career preacher.

Scholars of medieval manuscripts will be interested to note that three of the artes praedicandi appear in "sequence in two manuscripts from England": Lincoln, Cathedral Library, MS 234, and London, British Library, MS Additional 24631 (97). Quamvis, Hic docet, Vade in domum are three anonymous works which, in the case of Lincoln MS 234, have up to now been confused as a single entry. Wenzel asserts that they are "in fact different and separate works [as] is clear from their preservation as individual treatises elsewhere, as well as from differences in overall conception, style and even vocabulary" (97). The second text edited in the volume, Quamvis, is preserved in four later medieval manuscripts. It is a short treatise of three parts: the introduction of the thema, the division of the thema, and the development of the parts. The final section is the most complicated and longest and Wenzel provides a helpful outline "to guide readers through its complexity" (98).

The third text, Hic docet, is distinguishable from the other texts edited in this volume by the absence of exempla. In addition, the author focuses primarily on the "collation" because "we must first understand that a collation must be the subject matter of a sermon, and thus we must begin with the way and technique of making collations, because what is necessary for a collation is also required for a sermon, but not the reverse, for in a sermon more things come together than in a collation" (149). He presents four sections on the making of a collation: the introduction of a thema, the division, the subdivision and the application of the authorities before, finally, in chapter 5 explaining how a sermon is made. He suggests that "this procedure is lavish and difficult" (159).

Vade domum, the fourth text, builds (pun noted!) its premise on a verse from chapter 9 of Matthew "Go into your house." Using the house, a familiar mnemonic device of the Middle Ages, the author applies the six key features of a house--foundation, walls, entrance door (with constituent parts), windows, window panes and roof--to the six parts of a sermon. Not only does this manual demonstrate more artifice, perhaps, than the others in its use of the house imagery, but it also "employs a refined technical vocabulary with such terms as clavis, sufficientia, and pedis positio" (163). "Pedis Positio," for example, is 'the placing of the foot' (Wenzel's translation) and is defined by the author of Vade in domum as "a base that has been drawn from the thema, it is fit for the preacher's purpose, and it underlies the division" (177). Vade in domum is a delight to read, even if it is somewhat contrived.

The fifth and final treatise edited by Wenzel in this collection is by Jean de la Rochelle, a French Franciscan and Paris Master (d. 1245). It does not include the more basic information on the actual structure of a sermon delivered in the other four treatises, but "presupposes its readers' knowledge of the parts of a sermon" and provides, instead, seven ways in developing a thema, though with discussion and analysis (189). The seven ways include developing a "root" and "branches" from the thema, but it is primarily interested in demonstrating a variety of ways of handling material--words, notions, quotations--through use of division, antithesis, opposition, multiple images or words, and so on. It is somewhat more technical to read, though it does proffer exempla and is careful to define its terms.

In this volume of five artes praedicandi, Wenzel not only provides material suitable for graduate or advanced undergraduate studies, but also provides a model for other would-be editors of these difficult and complicated Latin texts. In his edition of Fusignano, he sidesteps the stemma codicum or creation of a "complete recension" by relying instead on the "very deliberate" style of Fusignano to identify "irregularities" that can be ascribed to the scribe and then corrects any such irregularities by comparison with other witnesses (8). Wenzel acknowledges the limitations of this process, but his notes make transparent any "quibbles" and provides "the readings of all four witnesses" where he has "rejected the readings of M" (8). Wenzel's purpose is to "present a text that is readable as well as semi-critical" (7); it is aimed at the growing body of students interested in medieval sermon material, but also provides signals to those interested in further, more detailed study. The appendices are particularly helpful in this regard: Appendix A outlines briefly key features of a medieval preaching as presented in the edited texts; Appendix B provides a short discussion on the compilatory nature of artes praedicandi; and Appendix C provides a table of comparison of Quamvis and Ranulph Higden's Ars componendi which "reveals a hitherto unacknowledged source of the latter and establishes that Quamvis itself must have been composed before 1340"; Appendix D lists already published or edited medieval sermons. It should be said that Wenzel's vast scholarship is also evident throughout the volume as in, for example, his introduction to Hic docet, where he notes that that treatise "contains several features that are reminiscent of the first part of the very popular Ars concionandi" (146) but that Hic docet soon "goes its own way" (146).

Thus, Wenzel throws down the gauntlet. Of the two hundred and forty works extant in manuscripts and early printed books, listed by Harry Caplan, Wenzel points out that "only two dozen are available in modern editions" (xiii). [1] In his approach to the five editions here, Wenzel demonstrates that the semi-critical edition with its emphasis on readability as well as scholarly insight might be the way forward for those interested in editing Latin artes praedicandi, thereby bringing to light those texts still unedited and making way for "a genre that holds some importance for the study, not only of medieval preaching, but also of medieval rhetoric and literary criticism in general" (xiv). For the codicologist, the sermon scholar, the literary theorist, Wenzel's editions of five artes praedicandi will delight even as they instruct. In addition, the layout of the volume is commendable. From the jacket cover (Fra Angelico's painting of The Sermon of St Stephen), to the chapter divisions, attention to detail, as well as the readability of the translation, one imagines that the author of Quamvis would agree that it is an "elegant" and "beautiful" volume.



1. Harry Caplan, Mediaeval "Artes Praedicandi": A Hand List (Cornell Studies in Classical Philology 24; Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1934) and Harry Caplan, Mediaeval "Artes Praedicandi": A Supplementary Handlist (Cornell Studies in Classical Philology 25; Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1936).

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Author Biography

Niamh Pattwell

University College Dublin