Audience Reactions to Sermons
Medieval theoreticians and practitioners adapted the Classical arts of rhetoric – the artes dictaminis (letter-writing), artes poetriae (poetry), and artes praedicandi (speaking) – to their specific needs. The focus of the artes or ars praedicandi became the province of preachers, lawyers, and rulers, who learned the art of composing and delivering their sermons, arguments, and speeches. Very little, however, is known about the reception of any of these oral performances, including sermons, the principal source of religious knowledge for the laity, but information can be gleaned from the various manuals and other writings. John Mirk, whose birth and death dates are unknown, became prior of the Augustinian abbey of Lilleshall in Shropshire and is the author of three works: Festial (ca. 1382–90), a collection of sermons on feasts indebted to Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea, Manuale sacerdotis (ca. 1414), also a work belonging to the artes praedicandi, and the Instructions for Parish Priests of about 1400, which draws on William of Pagula’s Oculus sacerdotis. The Instructions survive in seven manuscripts. Its 1,934 lines of generally octosyllabic couplets suggest a practical aim for priests: to remember the religious instruction their lay audiences need throughout their Christian lives. The following excerpt is from a discussion of the role of communion.
Primary documents and further reading Hudson, A. and P. Gradon (eds.) (1983–96) English Wycliffite Sermons, 5 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Krul, L. (trans.) (2001) Robert of Basevorn, “The Form of Preaching.” In J. J. Murphy (ed.) Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 114–215. Murphy, J. J. (2001) Rhetoric in the Middle Ages: A History of Rhetorical Theory from Saint Augustine to the Renaissance. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Owst, G. R. (1961) Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England: A Neglected Chapter in the History of English Letters and of the English People, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell. ——(1965) Preaching in Medieval England: An Introduction to Sermon Manuscripts of the Period c. 1350–1450. New York: Russell and Russell. Powell, S. (ed.) (1981) The Advent and Nativity Sermons from a Fifteenth-century Revision of John Mirk’s Festial. Heidelberg: C. Winter. Ross, W. O. (ed.) (1998) Middle English Sermons. EETS, o.s. 209. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer. Spencer, H. L. (1993) English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Yet thow moste teche hem mare, more
That whenne they doth to chyrche fare,
Thenne bydde hem leve here mony wordes,
Here ydel speche, and nyce bordes,
And put a-way alle vanyte,
And say here Pater Noster and here Ave.
No mon in chyrche stonde schal,
Ny lene to pyler ny to wal,
But fayre on kneus they schule hem sette,
Knelynge doun up-on the flette, paved floor
And pray to God wyth herte meke
To geve hem grace and mercy eke.
Soffere hem to make no bere, commotion
But ay to be in here prayere;
And whenne the gospelle i-red be schalle,
Teche hem thenne to stonde up alle,
And blesse [hem] feyre as they conne
Whenne gloria tibi ys by-gonne,
And whenne the gospel ys i-done,
Teche hem eft to knele downe sone;
And whenne they here the belle rynge
To that holy sakerynge,1
Teche hem knele downe, bothe yonge and olde,
And bothe here hondes up to holde
And say thenne in thys manere,
Feyre and softely, wyth-owte bere,
“Jhesu, lord, welcome thow be
In forme of bred as I the se.
Jhesu! for thy holy name,
Schelde me to-day fro synne and schame.
Schryfte and howsele, lord, thou graunte me bo
Er that I schale hennes go,
And verre contrycyone of my synne,
That I, Lord, never dye there-inne;
And as thow were of a may I-bore, maid born
Sofere me never to be for-lore,
But whenne that I schale hennes wende,
Grawnte me the blysse wyth-owten ende. Amen.”
Teche hem thus other sum othere thynge
To say at the holy sakerynge.
Teche hem also, I the pray,
That whenne they walken in the way
And sene the preste a-gayn hem comynge,
Goddes body wyth hym berynge,
Thenne, wyth grete devocyone,
Teche hem there to knele a-downe.
Fayre ne fowle, spare they noghte
To worschype hym that alle hath wroghte,
For glad may that mon be
That ones in the day may hym se,
For so mykyle gode doth that syght –
As Seynt Austyn techeth a-ryght –
That day that thow syst Goddes body,
These benefyces schalt thou have sycurly:
Mete and drynke at thy nede,
Non schal the that day be gnede; needy
Idele othes and wordes also
God for-geveth the also.
Soden deth that ylke day
The dar not drede wythoute nay.
Also, that day, I the plyghte, pledge
Thow schalt not lese thyn ye-syghte,
And every fote that thou gost thenne,
That holy syght for to sene,
They schule be tolde to stonde in stede
Whenne thow hast [moste] nede.
Also, wyth-ynne chyrche and seyntwary,
Do ryght thus as I the say:
Songe and cry and suche fare,
For to stynte thow schalt not spare;
Castynge of axtre and eke of ston, axle
Sofere hem there to use non.
Bal and bares,2 and suche play,
Out of chyrcheyorde put a-way;
Courte-holdynge and suche maner chost, of quarrelling
Out of seyntwary put thow most.
For Cryst hym-self techeth us
That holy chyrche ys hys hows.
That ys made for no thynge elles
But for to praye in, as the boke telles.
There the pepulle schale geder with-inne
To prayen and to wepen for here synne.