- Between God and Man: Six Sermons on the Priestly Office
About seventy-five sermons of Pope Innocent III have survived. This translation of six of them (from the De diversis sermons in Patrologia Latina, 217), together with Innocent's introductory prologue, will give modern readers of English a good sampling. [End Page 530]
The subtitle of the book accurately reflects the content of the sermons, because like many other of Innocent's efforts, they were aimed at enlightening the clergy and improving their morals. "For," he said, "all corruption in the people comes first from the clergy" (p. 62). The foreword by James Powell and the introduction and endnotes by the translators give the reader abundant assistance in understanding both the general context and the internal detail of the sermons. The translations are based on the Patrologia edition, but the translators have also consulted one manuscript source, using it as the basis for changing the titles of sermons one and seven (p. 86, n. 61) as found in the Patrologia. Consequently, sermon seven is described, probably correctly, as being given before a synod of priests rather than at Lateran Council IV.
The translators present a highly laudatory picture of Innocent and his sermons. As for the pope himself, many scholars would question statements found here. The translators quote with approval an opinion presented by Colin Morris that Innocent's plenitudo potestatis was strictly spiritual, but they do so without making clear that Morris in fact distances himself from that opinion (p. xxv). Similarly, many would doubt that Innocent's use of Jer. 1:10 (" I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms...") was strictly pastoral and spiritual (pp. xxv-xxvi).
As for the sermons, the quality is at least in part a matter of taste. Generally, they were geared to clerical listeners well trained in the schools. They were usually carefully constructed, they incorporate a remarkably wide range of knowledge—scriptural, theological, and secular—but perhaps a third or more of the text is made up of scriptural quotations. Whether they touch on the concerns of lay people enough to justify the judgment that Innocent was "a priest fully engaged in the realities of active ministry" (p. xiii) is another matter. They lack the common touch exhibited by some contemporary preachers and used successfully by friars in the following decades, but they may very well have been perfectly suited for their clerical audience.
There are a few questionable passages in the translation. By translating "per oris confessionem" as "by confessing his sins," the translators mute Innocent's emphasis on oral confession (p. 11, and n. 39). Pages 35-36 show some uncertainty as to whether legere should be translated as "read" or "teach." The translators follow the Patrologia text in having Innocent tell the fathers at Lateran IV that they should not imitate the victim treated by the good Samaritan (p. 73), but surely some lines are missing from the text, for Innocent was telling them not to imitate the priest and Levite who passed by the victim without treating him. Generally, however, the translation provides a reliable and readable text.
In recent years, valuable new materials in English have become available for academic courses on the age of Innocent III, for example, James Powell's Deeds of Pope Innocent III, Alfred Andrea's sources on the Fourth Crusade, W. A. and M. D. Sibly's translation of Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay on the Albigensian Crusade, and many items in Paul Halsall's Internet Medieval Sourcebook. With their clear and accurate translations of these sermons as well as the useful and [End Page 531] informative apparatus, the translators have made a modest but valuable contribution to that material and have thereby provided a good introduction to the mind and rhetorical style of Innocent III.