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152 Introduction Christian preaching is rooted in the Bible itself. Medieval preachers emulated the Prophets in their moral admonitions and followed Christ’s commandment to the Apostles: ‘Go ye into all the whole world,and preach the Gospel to every creature’(Mk 16:15,an injunction celebrated expressly by members of the mendicant orders). Luke’s description of Christ’s own preaching (4:16–30) reverberated throughout the Middle Ages: it narrates Christ’sentryintoasynagogueinNazarethontheSabbath,andhisreading from the Book of Isaiah; Christ then linked Isaiah’s ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,because the Lord hath anointed me: he hath sent me to preach to the meek’ (Is 61:1–2) to his own preaching. Alluding to the stories of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings chapter 17; 2 Kings chapter 5), Christ claimed that prophets had never been accepted by their own communities.And nor was he; he incurred the wrath of his audience who drove him out of the synagogue and sought to take his life. This episode was seen by medieval preachersasablueprintfortheirownworks.PaulRicoeur’sunderstanding of written and spoken elements within the Bible, discussed in Chapter 1, sheds additional light on this episode and its medieval re-enactment.1 As evidentinChrist’srelianceonIsaiah,itwastheauthorityofthewrittenword that substantiated the spoken act. Christ employed sacred narrative and object to endow his understanding of the present with meaning. Christ’s sermon later became sacred on its own account; canonised as dogma to become part of the New Testament. Much like Christ, preachers preferred tocombineauthoritativeuseofScripturewithacertaindegreeofingenuity: the former substantiating their message, the latter a prerequisite in order to make the Bible relevant to their audiences. This was done in tandem with other forms of biblical mediation: preachers acted within sacred time Preaching the Bible: three Advent Sunday sermons 4 MUP_Poleg_BibleMedievalEngland.indd 152 10/07/2013 16:25 153 preaching the bible and space, with sermons traditionally being part of the celebration of the liturgy; preaching and exegesis were often practised by the same people for similar aims. The interplay between authority and contextualisation, between Bible, audience, and preacher, stands at the core of this chapter. Preaching was a vital form of biblical mediation all through the Middle Ages. In the words of Nicole Bériou, ‘Pour la plupart des fidèles, les sermons ont dû constituer le lieu principal, sinon exclusif, de leur initiation à ce qui était écrit dans la Bible.’2 At a time when Bibles were written and read primarily in Latin, sermons presented the word of God to lay men and women in the vernacular; when improvisation and audienceawareness were the exception in the liturgy, the clergy were instructed to make their sermons palatable to their audience. Preachers incorporated contemporary imagery, humour, and tales of the natural world into their sermons, seeking new ways to ensure that their message came across. The Bible supplied preachers with authority, narrative, and structure. Biblical verses and images, at times in their dozens, were woven into the fabric of the sermon. Centrality, however, does not denote simplicity, and the link between Bible and sermon cannot be taken at face value. Was the Bible a means or an end, the ultimate goal of preachers or an authoritative tool to enable instruction in doctrine and dogma? How were biblical components woven together,and how did preaching engage in dialogue with other form of biblical mediation, with biblical manuscripts and the liturgy? Preaching as a form of biblical mediation evolved in the Middle Ages, to alter both popular and elite perceptions of the Bible. The form of preaching most common in Late Antiquity and the early and high Middle Ages was the homily. It provides a line-by-line reading of the pericope, interspersed with commentaries, exempla, and biblical citations, and was used by preachers and biblical exegetes alike.3 The biblical lesson thus structures the entire sermon and is elucidated in its course. The homilies of central Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Gregory, and the Venerable Bede were copied and read all through the Middle Ages, especially among monastic communities.At the end of the twelfth century,however,a new form of preaching emerged.4 Rather than commenting upon the entire pericope, it employs only a segment of it, a line or even a single word, as the sermon’s core. This biblical nucleus, known as a thema, is then developed in major and minor divisions, each verified by a biblical or extrabiblical quotation or allusion – the proof. This ‘modern sermon’ (also known as ‘university sermon’) adheres in...


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