Topic - Preaching 6. University Preaching


{405} WHEN I obtained from various distinguished persons the acceptable promise that they would give me the advantage of their countenance and assistance by appearing from time to time in the pulpit of our new University, some of them accompanied that promise with the natural request that I, who had asked for it, should offer them my own views of the mode and form in which the duty would be most satisfactorily accomplished. On the other hand, it was quite as natural that I on my part should be disinclined to take on myself an office which belongs to a higher station and authority in the Church than my own; and the more so, because, on the definite subject about which the inquiry is made, I should have far less direct aid from the writings of holy men and great divines than I could desire. Were it indeed my sole business to put into shape the scattered precepts which saints and doctors have delivered upon it, I might have ventured on such a task with comparatively little misgiving. Under the shadow of the great teachers of the pastoral office I might have been content to speak, without looking out for any living authority to prompt me. But this unfortunately is not the case; such venerable guidance does not extend beyond the general principles {406} and rules of preaching, and these require both expansion and adaptation when they are to be made to bear on compositions addressed in the name of a University to University men. They define the essence of Christian preaching, which is one and the same in all cases; but not the subject-matter or the method, which vary according to circumstances. Still, after all, the points to which they do reach are more, and more important, than those which they fall short of. I therefore, though with a good deal of anxiety, have attempted to perform a task which seemed naturally to fall to me; and I am thankful to say that, though I must in some measure go beyond the range of the simple direction to which I have referred, the greater part of my remarks will lie within it.


1. So far is clear at once, that the preacher's object is the spiritual good of his hearers. "Finis prĉdicanti sit," says St. Francis de Sales; "ut vitam (justitiĉ) habeant homines, et abundantius habeant." And St. Charles: "Considerandum, ad Dei omnipotentis gloriam, ad animarumque salutem, referri omnem concionandi vim ac rationem." Moreover, "Prĉdicatorem esse ministrum Dei, per quem verbum Dei à spiritûs fonte ducitur ad fidelium animas irrigandas." As a marksman aims at the target and its bull's-eye, and at nothing else, so the preacher must have a definite point before him, which he has to hit. So much is contained for his direction in this simple maxim, that duly to enter into it and use it is half the battle; and if he mastered nothing else, still if he really mastered as much as this, he would know all that was imperative for the due discharge of his office.

For what is the conduct of men who have one object definitely before them, and one only? Why, that, whatever {407} be their skill, whatever their resources, greater or less, to its attainment all their efforts are simply, spontaneously, visibly, directed. This cuts off a number of questions sometimes asked about preaching, and extinguishes a number of anxieties. "Sollicita es, et turbaris," says our Lord to St. Martha; "erga plurima; porro unum est necessarium." We ask questions perhaps about diction, elocution, rhetorical power; but does the commander of a besieging force dream of holiday displays, reviews, mock engagements, feats of strength, or trials of skill, such as would be graceful and suitable on a parade ground when a foreigner of rank was to be received and fêted; or does he aim at one and one thing only, viz., to take the strong place? Display dissipates the energy, which for the object in view needs to be concentrated and condensed. We have no reason to suppose that the Divine blessing follows the lead of human accomplishments. Indeed, St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, who made much of such advantages of nature, contrasts the persuasive words of human wisdom "with the showing of the Spirit," and tells us that "the kingdom of God is not in speech, but in power."

But, not to go to the consideration of divine influences, which is beyond my subject, the very presence of simple earnestness is even in itself a powerful natural instrument to effect that toward which it is directed. Earnestness creates earnestness in others by sympathy; and the more a preacher loses and is lost to himself, the more does he gain his brethren. Nor is it without some logical force also; for what is powerful enough to absorb and possess a preacher has at least a primâ facie claim of attention on the part of his hearers. On the other hand, any thing which interferes with this earnestness, or which argues its absence, is still more certain to blunt the force of the {408} most cogent argument conveyed in the most eloquent language. Hence it is that the great philosopher of antiquity, in speaking, in his Treatise on Rhetoric, of the various kinds of persuasives, which are available in the Art, considers the most authoritative of these to be that which is drawn from personal traits of an ethical nature evident in the orator; for such matters are cognizable by all men, and the common sense of the world decides that it is safer, where it is possible, to commit oneself to the judgment of men of character than to any considerations addressed merely to the feelings or to the reason.

On these grounds I would go on to lay down a precept, which I trust is not extravagant, when allowance is made for the preciseness and the point which are unavoidable in all categorical statements upon matters of conduct. It is, that preachers should neglect everything whatever besides devotion to their one object, and earnestness in pursuing it, till they in some good measure attain to these requisites. Talent, logic, learning, words, manner, voice, action, all are required for the perfection of a preacher; but "one thing is necessary,"—an intense perception and appreciation of the end for which he preaches, and that is, to be the minister of some definite spiritual good to those who hear him. Who could wish to be more eloquent, more powerful, more successful than the Teacher of the Nations? yet who more earnest, who more natural, who more unstudied, who more self-forgetting than he?


(1.) And here, in order to prevent misconception, two remarks must be made, which will lead us further into the subject we are engaged upon. The first is, that, in what I have been saying, I do not mean that a preacher {409} must aim at earnestness, but that he must aim at his object, which is to do some spiritual good to his hearers, and which will at once make him earnest. It is said that, when a man has to cross an abyss by a narrow plank thrown over it, it is his wisdom, not to look at the plank, along which lies his path, but to fix his eyes steadily on the point in the opposite precipice at which the plank ends. It is by gazing at the object which he must reach, and ruling himself by it, that he secures to himself the power of walking to it straight and steadily. The case is the same in moral matters; no one will become really earnest by aiming directly at earnestness; any one may become earnest by meditating on the motives, and by drinking at the sources, of earnestness. We may of course work ourselves up into a pretence, nay, into a paroxysm, of earnestness; as we may chafe our cold hands till they are warm. But when we cease chafing, we lose the warmth again; on the contrary, let the sun come out and strike us with his beams, and we need no artificial chafing to be warm. The hot words, then, and energetic gestures of a preacher, taken by themselves, are just as much signs of earnestness as rubbing the hands or flapping the arms together are signs of warmth; though they are natural where earnestness already exists, and pleasing as being its spontaneous concomitants. To sit down to compose for the pulpit with a resolution to be eloquent is one impediment to persuasion; but to be determined to be earnest is absolutely fatal to it.

He who has before his mental eye the Four Last Things will have the true earnestness, the horror or the rapture, of one who witnesses a conflagration, or discerns some rich and sublime prospect of natural scenery. His countenance, his manner, his voice, speak for him, in proportion {410} as his view has been vivid and minute. The great English poet has described this sort of eloquence when a calamity had befallen:—

Yea, this man's brow, like to a title page,
Foretells the nature of a tragic volume.
Thou tremblest, and the whiteness in thy cheek
Is apter than thy tongue to tell thy errand.

It is this earnestness, in the supernatural order, which is the eloquence of saints; and not of saints only, but of all Christian preachers, according to the measure of their faith and love. As the case would be with one who has actually seen what he relates, the herald of tidings of the invisible world also will be, from the nature of the case, whether vehement or calm, sad or exulting, always simple, grave, emphatic, and peremptory; and all this, not because he has proposed to himself to be so, but because certain intellectual convictions involve certain external manifestations. St. Francis de Sales is full and clear upon this point. It is necessary, he says, "ut ipsemet penitus hauseris, ut persuasissimam tibi habeas, doctrinam quam aliis persuasam cupis. Artificium summum erit, nullum habere artificium. Inflammata sint verba, non clamoribus gesticulationibusve immodicis, sed interiore affectione. De corde plus quàm de ore proficiscantur. Quantumvis ore dixerimus, sanè cor cordi loquitur, lingua non nisi aures pulsat." St. Augustine had said to the same purpose long before: "Sonus verborum nostrorum aures percutit; magister intus est."

(2.) My second remark is, that it is the preacher's duty to aim at imparting to others, not any fortuitous, unpremeditated benefit, but some definite spiritual good. It is here that design and study find their place; the more {411} exact and precise is the subject which he treats, the more impressive and practical will he be; whereas no one will carry off much from a discourse which is on the general subject of virtue, or vaguely and feebly entertains the question of the desirableness of attaining Heaven, or the rashness of incurring eternal ruin. As a distinct image before the mind makes the preacher earnest, so it will give him something which it is worth while to communicate to others. Mere sympathy, it is true, is able, as I have said, to transfer an emotion or sentiment from mind to mind, but it is not able to fix it there. He must aim at imprinting on the heart what will never leave it, and this he cannot do unless he employ himself on some definite subject, which he has to handle and weigh, and then, as it were, to hand over from himself to others.

Hence it is that the Saints insist so expressly on the necessity of his addressing himself to the intellect of men, and of convincing as well as persuading. "Necesse est ut doceat et moveat," says St. Francis; and St. Antoninus still more distinctly: "Debet prĉdicator clare loqui, ut instruat intellectum auditoris, et doceat." Hence, moreover, in St. Ignatius's Exercises, the act of the intellect precedes that of the affections. Father Lohner seems to me to be giving an instance in point when he tells us of a court-preacher, who delivered what would be commonly considered eloquent sermons, and attracted no one; and next took to simple explanations of the Mass and similar subjects, and then found the church thronged. So necessary is it to have something to say, if we desire any one to listen.

Nay, I would go the length of recommending a preacher to place a distinct categorical proposition before him, such as he can write down in a form of words, and to guide and limit his preparation by it, and to aim {412} in all he says to bring it out, and nothing else. This seems to be implied or suggested in St. Charles's direction: "Id omnino studebit, ut quod in concione dicturus est antea bene cognitum habeat." Nay, is it not expressly conveyed in the Scripture phrase of "preaching the word"? for what is meant by "the word" but a proposition addressed to the intellect? nor will a preacher's earnestness show itself in anything more unequivocally than in his rejecting, whatever be the temptation to admit it, every remark, however original, every period, however eloquent, which does not in some way or other tend to bring out this one distinct proposition which he has chosen. Nothing is so fatal to the effect of a sermon as the habit of preaching on three or four subjects at once. I acknowledge I am advancing a step beyond the practice of great Catholic preachers when I add that, even though we preach on only one at a time, finishing and dismissing the first before we go to the second, and the second before we go to the third, still, after all, a practice like this, though not open to the inconvenience which the confusing of one subject with another involves, is in matter of fact nothing short of the delivery of three sermons in succession without break between them.

Summing up, then, what I have been saying, I observe that, if I have understood the doctrine of St. Charles, St. Francis, and other saints aright, definiteness of object is in various ways the one virtue of the preacher;—and this means that he should set out with the intention of conveying to others some spiritual benefit; that, with a view to this, and as the only ordinary way to it, he should select some distinct fact or scene, some passage in history, some truth, simple or profound, some doctrine, some principle, or some sentiment, and should study it well and thoroughly, and first make it his own, or else {413} have already dwelt on it and mastered it, so as to be able to use it for the occasion from an habitual understanding of it; and that then he should employ himself, as the one business of his discourse, to bring home to others, and to leave deep within them, what he has, before he began to speak to them, brought home to himself. What he feels himself, and feels deeply, he has to make others feel deeply; and in proportion as he comprehends this, he will rise above the temptation of introducing collateral matters, and will have no taste, no heart for going aside after flowers of oratory, fine figures, tuneful periods, which are worth nothing, unless they come to him spontaneously, and are spoken "out of the abundance of the heart." Our Lord said on one occasion: "I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?" He had one work, and He accomplished it. "The words," He says, "which Thou gavest Me, I have given to them, and they have received them, ... and now I come to Thee." And the Apostles, again, as they had received, so were they to give. "That which we have seen and have heard," says one of them, "we declare unto you, that you may have fellowship with us." If, then, a preacher's subject only be some portion of the Divine message, however elementary it may be, however trite, it will have a dignity such as to possess him, and a virtue to kindle him, and an influence to subdue and convert those to whom it goes forth from him, according to the words of the promise, "My word, which shall go forth from My mouth, shall not return to Me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it."


2. And now having got as far as this, we shall see {414} without difficulty what a University Sermon ought to be just so far as it is distinct from other sermons; for, if all preaching is directed towards a hearer, such as is the hearer will be the preaching, and, as a University auditory differs from other auditories, so will a sermon addressed to it differ from other sermons. This, indeed, is a broad maxim which holy men lay down on the subject of preaching. Thus, St. Gregory Theologus, as quoted by the Pope his namesake, says: "The self-same exhortation is not suitable for all hearers; for all have not the same disposition of mind, and what profits these is hurtful to those." The holy Pope himself throws the maxim into another form, still more precise: "Debet prĉdicator," he says, "perspicere, ne plus prĉdicet, quàm ab audiente capi possit." And St. Charles expounds it, referring to Pope St. Gregory: "Pro audientium genere locos doctrinarum, ex quibus concionem conficiat, non modo distinctos, sed optimè explicatos habebit. Atque in hoc quidem multiplici genere concionator videbit, ne quĉcumque, ut S. Gregorius scitè monet, legerit, aut scientiâ comprehenderit, oninia enunciet atque effundat; sed delectum habebit, ita ut documenta alia exponat, alia tacitè relinquat, prout locus, ordo, conditioque auditorum deposcat." And, by way of obviating the chance of such a rule being considered a human artifice inconsistent with the simplicity of the Gospel, he had said shortly before: "Ad Dei gloriam, ad cœlestis regni propagationem, et ad animarum salutem, plurimum interest, non solum quales sint prĉdicatores, sed quâ viâ, quâ ratione prĉdicent."

It is true, this is also one of the elementary principles of the Art of Rhetoric; but it is no scandal that a saintly Bishop should in this matter borrow a maxim from secular, nay, from pagan schools. For divine grace {415} does not overpower nor supersede the action of the human mind according to its proper nature; and if heathen writers have analyzed that nature well, so far let them be used to the greater glory of the Author and Source of all Truth. Aristotle, then, in his celebrated treatise on Rhetoric, makes the very essence of the Art lie in the precise recognition of a hearer. It is a relative art, and in that respect differs from Logic, which simply teaches the right use of reason, whereas Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, which implies a person who is to be persuaded. As, then, the Christian Preacher aims at the Divine Glory, not in any vague and general way, but definitely by the enunciation of some article or passage of the Revealed Word, so further, he enunciates it, not for the instruction of the whole world, but directly for the sake of those very persons who are before him. He is, when in the pulpit, instructing, enlightening, informing, advancing, sanctifying, not all nations, nor all classes, nor all callings, but those particular ranks, professions, states, ages, characters, which have gathered around him. Proof indeed is the same all over the earth; but he has not only to prove, but to persuade;—Whom? A hearer, then, is included in the very idea of preaching; and we cannot determine how in detail we ought to preach, till we know whom we are to address.

In all the most important respects, indeed, all hearers are the same, and what is suitable for one audience is suitable for another. All hearers are children of Adam, all, too, are children of the Christian adoption and of the Catholic Church. The great topics which suit the multitude, which attract the poor, which sway the unlearned, which warn, arrest, recall, the wayward and wandering, are in place within the precincts of a University as elsewhere. A Studium Generale is not a {416} cloister, or noviciate, or seminary, or boarding-school; it is an assemblage of the young, the inexperienced, the lay and the secular; and not even the simplest of religious truths, or the most elementary article of the Christian faith, can be unseasonable from its pulpit. A sermon on the Divine Omnipresence, on the future judgment, on the satisfaction of Christ, on the intercession of saints, will be not less, perhaps more, suitable there than if it were addressed to a parish congregation. Let no one suppose that any thing recondite is essential to the idea of a University sermon. The most obvious truths are often the most profitable. Seldom does an opportunity occur for a subject there which might not under circumstances be treated before any other auditory whatever. Nay, further; an academical auditory might be well content if it never heard any subject treated at all but what would be suitable to any general congregation.

However, after all, a University has a character of its own; it has some traits of human nature more prominently developed than others, and its members are brought together under circumstances which impart to the auditory a peculiar colour and expression, even where it does not substantially differ from another. It is composed of men, not women; of the young rather than the old; and of persons either highly educated or under education. These are the points which the preacher will bear in mind, and which will direct him both in his choice of subject, and in his mode of treating it.


(1.) And first as to his matter or subject. Here I would remark upon the circumstance, that courses of sermons upon theological points, polemical discussions, treatises in extenso, and the like, are often included in {417} the idea of a University Sermon, and are considered to be legitimately entitled to occupy the attention of a University audience; the object of such compositions being, not directly and mainly the edification of the hearers, but the defence or advantage of Catholicism at large, and the gradual formation of a volume suitable for publication. Without absolutely discountenancing such important works, it is not necessary to say more of them than that they rather belong to the divinity school, and fall under the idea of Lectures, than have a claim to be viewed as University Sermons. Anyhow, I do not feel called upon to speak of such discourses here. And I say the same of panegyrical orations, discourses on special occasions, funeral sermons, and the like. Putting such exceptional compositions aside, I will confine myself to the consideration of what may be called Sermons proper. And here, I repeat, any general subject will be seasonable in the University pulpit which would be seasonable elsewhere; but, if we look for subjects especially suitable, they will be of two kinds. The temptations which ordinarily assail the young and the intellectual are two: those which are directed against their virtue, and those which are directed against their faith. All divine gifts are exposed to misuse and perversion; youth and intellect are both of them goods, and involve in them certain duties respectively, and can be used to the glory of the Giver; but, as youth becomes the occasion of excess and sensuality, so does intellect give accidental opportunity to religious error, rash speculation, doubt, and infidelity. That these are in fact the peculiar evils to which large Academical Bodies are liable is shown from the history of Universities; and if a preacher would have a subject which has especial significancy in such a place, he must select one which bears {418} upon one or other of these two classes of sin. I mean, he would be treating on some such subject with the same sort of appositeness as he would discourse upon almsgiving when addressing the rich, or on patience, resignation, and industry, when he was addressing the poor, or on forgiveness of injuries when he was addressing the oppressed or persecuted.

To this suggestion I append two cautions. First, I need hardly say, that a preacher should be quite sure that he understands the persons he is addressing before he ventures to aim at what he considers to be their ethical condition; for, if he mistakes, he will probably be doing harm rather than good. I have known consequences to occur very far from edifying, when strangers have fancied they knew an auditory when they did not, and have by implication imputed to them habits or motives which were not theirs. Better far would it be for a preacher to select one of those more general subjects which are safe than risk what is evidently ambitious, if it is not successful.

My other caution is this:—that, even when he addresses himself to some special danger or probable deficiency or need of his hearers, he should do so covertly, not showing on the surface of his discourse what he is aiming at. I see no advantage in a preacher professing to treat of infidelity, orthodoxy, or virtue, or the pride of reason, or riot, or sensual indulgence. To say nothing else, common-places are but blunt weapons; whereas it is particular topics that penetrate and reach their mark. Such subjects rather are, for instance, the improvement of time, avoiding the occasions of sin, frequenting the Sacraments, divine warnings, the inspirations of grace, the mysteries of the Rosary, natural virtue, beauty of the rites of the Church, consistency of {419} the Catholic faith, relation of Scripture to the Church, the philosophy of tradition, and any others, which may touch the heart and conscience, or may suggest trains of thought to the intellect, without proclaiming the main reason why they have been chosen.

(2.) Next, as to the mode of treating its subject, which a University discourse requires. It is this respect, after all, I think, in which it especially differs from other kinds of preaching. As translations differ from each other, as expressing the same ideas in different languages, so in the case of sermons, each may undertake the same subject, yet treat it in its own way, as contemplating its own hearers. This is well exemplified in the speeches of St. Paul, as recorded in the book of Acts. To the Jews he quotes the Old Testament; on the Areopagus, addressing the philosophers of Athens, he insists,—not indeed upon any recondite doctrine, contrariwise, upon the most elementary, the being and unity of God;—but he treats it with a learning and depth of thought, which the presence of that celebrated city naturally suggested. And in like manner, while the most simple subjects are apposite in a University pulpit, they certainly would there require a treatment more exact than is necessary in merely popular exhortations. It is not asking much to demand for academical discourses a more careful study beforehand, a more accurate conception of the idea which they are to enforce, a more cautious use of words, a more anxious consultation of writers of authority, and somewhat more of philosophical and theological knowledge.

But here again, as before, I would insist on the necessity of such compositions being unpretending. It is not necessary for a preacher to quote the Holy Fathers, or to show erudition, or to construct an original argument, or to be ambitious in style and profuse of ornament, on {420} the ground that the audience is a University: it is only necessary so to keep the character and necessities of his hearers before him as to avoid what may offend them, or mislead, or disappoint, or fail to profit.


(3.) But here a distinct question opens upon us, on which I must say a few words in conclusion, viz., whether or not the preacher should preach without book.

This is a delicate question to enter upon, considering that the Irish practice of preaching without book, which is in accordance with that of foreign countries, and, as it would appear, with the tradition of the Church from the first, is not universally adopted in England, nor, as I believe, in Scotland; and it might seem unreasonable or presumptuous to abridge a liberty at present granted to the preacher. I will simply set down what occurs to me to say on each side of the question.

First of all, looking at the matter on the side of usage, I have always understood that it was the rule in Catholic countries, as I have just said, both in this and in former times, to preach without book; and, if the rule be really so, it carries extreme weight with it. I do not speak as if I had consulted a library, and made my ground sure; but at first sight it would appear impossible, even from the number of homilies and commentaries which are assigned to certain Fathers, as to St. Augustine or to St. Chrysostom, that they could have delivered them from formally-written compositions. On the other hand, St. Leo's sermons certainly are, in the strict sense of the word, compositions; nay, passages of them are carefully dogmatic; nay, further still, they have sometimes the character of a symbol, and, in consequence, are found repeated in other parts of his works; and again, though I do not {421} profess to be well read in the works of St. Chrysostom, there is generally in such portions of them as are known to those of us who are in Holy Orders, a peculiarity, an identity of style, which enables one to recognize the author at a glance, even in the Latin version of the Breviary, and which would seem to be quite beyond the mere fidelity of reporters. It would seem, then, he must after all have written them; and if he did write at all, it is more likely that he wrote with the stimulus of preaching before him, than that he had time and inducement to correct and enlarge them afterwards from notes, for what is now called "publication," which at that time could hardly be said to exist at all. To this consideration we must add the remarkable fact (which, though in classical history, throws light upon our inquiry) that, not to produce other instances, the greater part of Cicero's powerful and brilliant orations against Verres were never delivered at all. Nor must it be forgotten that Cicero specifies memory in his enumeration of the distinct talents necessary for a great orator. And then we have in corroboration the French practice of writing sermons and learning them by heart.

These remarks, as far as they go, lead us to lay great stress on the preparation of a sermon, as amounting in fact to composition, even in writing, and in extenso. Now consider St. Carlo's direction, as quoted above: "Id omnino studebit, ut quod in concione dicturus est, antea bene cognitum habeat." Now a parish priest has neither time nor occasion for any but elementary and ordinary topics; and any such subject he has habitually made his own, "cognitum habet," already; but when the matter is of a more select and occasional character, as in the case of a University Sermon, then the preacher has to study it well and thoroughly, and master it beforehand. {422} Study and meditation being imperative, can it be denied that one of the most effectual means by which we are able to ascertain our understanding of a subject, to bring out our thoughts upon it, to clear our meaning, to enlarge our views of its relations to other subjects, and to develop it generally, is to write down carefully all we have to say about it? People indeed differ in matters of this kind, but I think that writing is a stimulus to the mental faculties, to the logical talent, to originality, to the power of illustration, to the arrangement of topics, second to none. Till a man begins to put down his thoughts about a subject on paper he will not ascertain what he knows and what he does not know; and still less will he be able to express what he does know. Such a formal preparation of course cannot be required of a parish priest, burdened, as he may be, with other duties, and preaching on elementary subjects, and supported by the systematic order and the suggestions of the Catechism; but in occasional sermons the case is otherwise. In these it is both possible and generally necessary; and the fuller the sketch, and the more clear and continuous the thread of the discourse, the more the preacher will find himself at home when the time of delivery arrives. I have said "generally necessary," for of course there will be exceptional cases, in which such a mode of preparation does not answer, whether from some mistake in carrying it out, or from some special gift superseding it.

To many preachers there will be another advantage besides;—such a practice will secure them against venturing upon really extempore matter. The more ardent a man is, and the greater power he has of affecting his hearers, so much the more will he need self-control and sustained recollection, and feel the advantage of committing {423} himself, as it were, to the custody of his previous intentions, instead of yielding to any chance current of thought which rushes upon him in the midst of his preaching. His very gifts may need the counterpoise of more ordinary and homely accessories, such as the drudgery of composition.

It must be borne in mind too, that, since a University Sermon will commonly have more pains than ordinary bestowed on it, it will be considered in the number of those which the author would especially wish to preserve. Some record of it then will be natural, or even is involved in its composition; and, while the least elaborate will be as much as a sketch or abstract, even the most minute, exact, and copious assemblage of notes will not be found too long hereafter, supposing, as time goes on, any reason occurs for wishing to commit it to the press.

Here are various reasons, which are likely to lead, or to oblige, a preacher to have recourse to his pen in preparation for his special office. A further reason might be suggested, which would be more intimate than any we have given, going indeed so far as to justify the introduction of a manuscript into the pulpit itself, if the case supposed fell for certain under the idea of a University Sermon. It may be urged with great cogency that a process of argument, or a logical analysis and investigation, cannot at all be conducted with suitable accuracy of wording, completeness of statement, or succession of ideas, if the composition is to be prompted at the moment, and breathed out, as it were, from the intellect together with the very words which are its vehicle. There are indeed a few persons in a generation, such as Pitt, who are able to converse like a book, and to speak a pamphlet; but others must be content to write and to read their writing. This is true; but I have {424} already found reason to question whether such delicate and complicated organizations of thought have a right to the name of Sermons at all. In truth, a discourse, which, from its fineness and precision of ideas, is too difficult for a preacher to deliver without such extraneous assistance, is too difficult for a hearer to follow; and, if a book be imperative for teaching, it is imperative for learning. Both parties ought to read, if they are to be on equal terms;—and this remark furnishes me with a principle which has an application wider than the particular case which has suggested it.

While, then, a preacher will find it becoming and advisable to put into writing any important discourse beforehand, he will find it equally a point of propriety and expedience not to read it in the pulpit. I am not of course denying his right to use a manuscript, if he wishes; but he will do well to conceal it, as far as he can, unless, which is the most effectual concealment, whatever be its counterbalancing disadvantages, he prefers, mainly not verbally, to get it by heart. To conceal it, indeed, in one way or other, will be his natural impulse; and this very circumstance seems to show us that to read a sermon needs an apology. For, why should he commit it to memory, or conceal his use of it, unless he felt that it was more natural, more decorous, to do without it? And so again, if he employs a manuscript, the more he appears to dispense with it, the more he looks off from it, and directly addresses his audience, the more will he be considered to preach; and, on the other hand, the more will he be judged to come short of preaching the more sedulous he is in following his manuscript line after line, and by the tone of his voice makes it clear that he has got it safely before him. What is this but a popular testimony to the fact that preaching is not reading, and reading is not preaching? {425}

There is, as I have said, a principle involved in this decision. It is a common answer made by the Protestant poor to their clergy or other superiors, when asked why they do not go to church, that "they can read their book at home quite as well." It is quite true, they can read their book at home, and it is difficult what to rejoin, and it is a problem, which has employed before now the more thoughtful of their communion, to make out what is got by going to public service. The prayers are from a printed book, the sermon is from a manuscript. The printed prayers they have already; and, as to the manuscript sermon, why should it be in any respects better than the volume of sermons which they have at home? Why should not an approved author be as good as one who has not yet submitted himself to criticism? And again, if it is to be read in the church, why may not one person read it quite as well as another? Good advice is good advice, all the world over. There is something more, then, than composition in a sermon; there is something personal in preaching; people are drawn and moved, not simply by what is said, but by how it is said, and who says it. The same things said by one man are not the same as when said by another. The same things when read are not the same as when they are preached.


In this respect the preacher differs from the minister of the sacraments, that he comes to his hearers, in some sense or other, with antecedents. Clad in his sacerdotal vestments, he sinks what is individual in himself altogether, and is but the representative of Him from whom he derives his commission. His words, his tones, his actions, his presence, lose their personality; one bishop, one priest, is like another; they all chant the same notes, {426} and observe the same genuflexions, as they give one peace and one blessing, as they offer one and the same sacrifice. The Mass must not be said without a Missal under the priest's eye; nor in any language but that in which it has come down to us from the early hierarchs of the Western Church. But, when it is over, and the celebrant has resigned the vestments proper to it, then he resumes himself, and comes to us in the gifts and associations which attach to his person. He knows his sheep, and they know him; and it is this direct bearing of the teacher on the taught, of his mind upon their minds, and the mutual sympathy which exists between them, which is his strength and influence when he addresses them. They hang upon his lips as they cannot hang upon the pages of his book. Definiteness is the life of preaching. A definite hearer, not the whole world; a definite topic, not the whole evangelical tradition; and, in like manner, a definite speaker. Nothing that is anonymous will preach; nothing that is dead and gone; nothing even which is of yesterday, however religious in itself and useful. Thought and word are one in the Eternal Logos, and must not be separate in those who are His shadows on earth. They must issue fresh and fresh, as from the preacher's mouth, so from his breast, if they are to be "spirit and life" to the hearts of his hearers. And what is true of a parish priest applies, mutatis mutandis, to a University preacher; who, even more, perhaps, than the ordinary parochus, comes to his audience with a name and a history, and excites a personal interest, and persuades by what he is, as well as by what he delivers.

I am far from forgetting that every one has his own talent, and that one has not what another has. Eloquence is a divine gift, which to a certain point supersedes {427} rules, and is to be used, like other gifts, to the glory of the Giver, and then only to be discountenanced when it forgets its place, when it throws into the shade and embarrasses the essential functions of the Christian preacher, and claims to be cultivated for its own sake instead of being made subordinate and subservient to a higher work and to sacred objects. And how to make eloquence subservient to the evangelical office is not more difficult than how to use learning or intellect for a supernatural end; but it does not come into consideration here.

In the case of particular preachers, circumstances may constantly arise which render the use of a manuscript the more advisable course; but I have been considering how the case stands in itself, and attempting to set down what is to be aimed at as best. If religious men once ascertain what is abstractedly desirable, and acquiesce in it with their hearts, they will be in the way to get over many difficulties which otherwise will be insurmountable. For myself, I think it no extravagance to say that a very inferior sermon, delivered without book, answers the purposes for which all sermons are delivered more perfectly than one of great merit, if it be written and read. Of course, all men will not speak without book equally well, just as their voices are not equally clear and loud, or their manner equally impressive. Eloquence, I repeat, is a gift; but most men, unless they have passed the age for learning, may with practice attain such fluency in expressing their thoughts as will enable them to convey and manifest to their audience that earnestness and devotion to their object, which is the life of preaching,—which both covers, in the preacher's own consciousness, the sense of his own deficiencies, and makes up for them over and over again in the judgment of his hearers.


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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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