Augustine’s Sermonic Method -- By: G. Wright Doyle

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 39:2 (Spring 1977)
Article: Augustine’s Sermonic Method
Author: G. Wright Doyle


Augustine’s Sermonic Method

G. Wright Doyle

I. Augustine’s sermonic corpus

Augustine preached different kinds of sermons. The Migne compilation (which often follows the Maurist text) divides the body of sermons into a group of 83 on the Old Testament, 88 on the great feasts of the year, 69 on festivals for the saints, 23 on miscellaneous subjects, and 31 of doubtful authenticity.1 The homilies on the Psalms,2 on the Gospel3 and on the First Epistle of John4 plus the large group designated as spurious,5 complete this collection. Since the Migne collection, over 600 other sermons have been attributed to Augustine with varying degrees of certainty.6 The spurious sermons “are so numerous because Augustine’s fame as a preacher motivated others to copy his style in their own sermons, and because forty years of preaching twice weekly would entail more than 4000 sermons—a huge number to keep track of and analyze with certainty. Possidius (Aurelii Augustini Vita 5) writes that Augustine readily preached outside Hippo, especially in Carthage, but often in towns throughout Africa.”7

Our remarks will concentrate upon selected sermons from the

collection known as Tractatus in Iohannem or In Iohannis Euangelium Tractatus CXXIV, the title used by Willems in his revision of the Maurist text.8 As Augustine himself notes in the preface to Enarratio in Psalmum CXVIII, “tractatus” signifies what the Greek word ὁμίλια does: “sermones … qui proferantur in populis, quas Graeci ὁμίλια uocant …”9

We may ask, Do sermo and tractatus mean the same thing? Augustine himself seems to answer this question with various phrases in De doctrina christiana: Book Four deals with “tractatio scripturarum”(1). The Christian preacher is a “tractator et doctor diuinarum scripturarum” (6). His speaking differs from conversation (collocutio); it is a “sermo in populis,” when no questions can be asked from the floor (25). Augustine quotes Paul as he exhorts Timothy to study hard to become “uerbum ueritatis recte tractentem” (2 Tim. 2:15) ; De doctrina christiana 4.33). The young man is ...

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