1. General Remarks, Names, etc.
Antiquities of the Christian Church
XII. Of homilies
1. General Remarks, Names, etc.
Every religious discourse, almost without exception, was based on some text, or distinctly related to some passage of Scripture. It aimed at nothing more than to explain and enforce the same. In the Latin church, instances frequently occur of sermons without any text, but they had reference distinctly to the scripture lesson which had just been read, which is sometimes cited, and at others, is passed over in silence. But in either case the discourse is a paraphrase or explanation of the passage in question. A sermon, according to the idea of the ancient church, may be defined to be a rhetorical discourse upon some passage of Scripture, having for its object the spiritual edification of the hearers. It is an exposition and application of Scripture, not merely a religious discourse designed for the instruction of the audience.
This discourse was called by different names, as *, an oration*, a homily. The latter implies a more familiar discourse than the former. When the deacon officiated in the place of the bishop, his discourse was frequently denominated *. It was also styled*, etc. In the Latin church it was styled tractatus, disputatio, allocutio.
The modern divisions and parts of a sermon, such as the introduction, the proposition, the illustration and application, were totally unknown, in form, to the ancient fathers. The strife then was, as Gregory Nazianzen justly observes, not about terms, but doctrines.
Mosheim asserts that the sermon was not at first a necessary part of religious worship. In answer to this absurd hypothesis it must be admitted that the discourses of Christ and his apostles were not indeed homilies like those of Chrysostom and Augustine, but they resemble these much more than they do the catechetical instructions of Cyril and Gregory Nazianzen, to say nothing of our Lord's sermon on the mount, which may truly be regarded as a pattern for a formal discourse. The same may also be said of most of the discourses of Peter and Paul, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
We may also, with propriety, refer to all those passages which relate to the usage of Jewish worship in their synagogues, according to which that portion of Scripture which had been read was made the subject of discourse. Luke 4:16, Matt. 4:23, 13:54, Acts 13:15–27, 15:21, 2 Cor. 3:15, etc. From all which it appears that a discourse based on the Scriptures was an essential part of the worship of the Jews. The first instance of this on record is in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah. The homilies of the christian church were only an imitation of these discourses in the synagogue, from which they were derived. The discourses of the apostles were either based on some specific portions of Scripture, or else they were an abstract of sacred history. Instances of the former class are found in Acts 1:15, 2:14-36. Of the latter, Acts 7:2–53, 17:22–31, 22 and 23.
For further illustration we may refer to 2 Tim. 3:14–17, and to the miraculous gift of prophesying, i.e. of teaching which are mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:28, 29, Eph. 4:11. The churches, to whom the apostles addressed their epistles, were required to have them read in public, accompanied, no doubt, with suitable explanations and applications. Col. 4:16, 1 Thess. 5:27, 2 Pet. 3:15, 16.
Justin Martyr expressly asserts, that "certain selections from the prophets and memoirs of the apostles were not only read, but explained and enforced." By the prophets and memoirs, he evidently means the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. "After the reading is ended the minister of the assembly (the bishop) makes an address in which he admonishes and exhorts the people to imitate the virtues which it enjoins."
So also Tertullian, in the second century. "We come together to acquaint ourselves with the sacred Scriptures, and to hear what, according to the circumstances of the present time, may be applicable to us either now, or at any future time. At least we establish our faith – we encourage our hope, we assure our confidence, and, by the injunctions of the divine word, we make its life-giving power efficacious to our hearts. We admonish and reprove one another, and give ourselves up to the teachings of the divine word. And this word of God has the greater weight because it is believed by all to reflect the image of God." Who can doubt that this extract describes the office of the preacher as an essential part of public worship.
This duty is also specified in the Apostolical Constitutions. "When the gospel is read, let all the elders and deacons and the whole assembly, stand in silence. Afterwards, let the elders, one by one, but not all of them, exhort the people; and lastly, let the bishop as the master, address them." Again, they speak of the bishop as "the preacher of the word of God," and as preaching to the people the things pertaining to their salvation.
Again the notes of Peter's addresses to the people which Clemens Romanus has left, are proof positive to the point in dispute, provided they are genuine but they are confessedly of doubtful authority. Enough, however, has been said to show that a sermon or homiletic address was, in the first and second centuries, a part of public worship. In regard to this point at a later period, there can be no question.
S. Camp. Vitiinga de Synagogue, vet. p. 580 seq. 590 seq: Rherapherdus de decern. Gliosis, p. 226.
Apol. i. c. 67. p. 2-22. ed. Oberth.
Apologet. adr. gent. c. 39.
Lib. ii. c. 57. Comp. S. Coteler. a. a. O. n. 1: J. L. Selvaggii Antiq. chr. institut. lib. ii. p. 1.
Lib. ii. c. 58. lib. . c. 19.
S. Patr. Aopst. ed. Cot. edit. Anistelod. 1724. f. torn. 1. p. 621 seq.
Franc. Combefisii Bibliotheca Patrum concionatoria: h. e. anni tolius evangelia, festa Dominica, sanctissimae Deiparae illustriorumque Sanctorum solemnia, patrum symbolis, tractatibus, panegyricis iisque, qua novum ex vetustis MSS. codd. productis, qua recensitis, emendatirf, auctis, ad fontes cornposiiis, e Graeco castigatis elegantiusque redditis, illustrata ac exornata latine. Paris, 1662. tom. i – viii. f.: L. Pelt et H. Rheinwald Bibl. concoinatoria. Vol. i. ii. Beaol. 1829–30. 8: Bernh. Ferrarii libri thres de vet. Chr. concionibus. Mediol. 1621. Ultraj. 1692. Venet. 1731. 8: Joach. Hildebraiid Exercit. de veterum concionibus. Helms. 1661. 8: Bernh. Eschenburg's Versuch einer Geschichte der offentlichen ReligionsVortrage in der griechischen und lateinischen Kirche von den Zeiten Christi biszur Reformation. Erster Hauptabschnitt von Christo bisChrysostomusund Augustin. Jena. 1785. 8: H. Th. Tzschirner: de Claris ecclesiae veteris oratoribus. Commentat. i – ix. Lips. 1817–1821. 4.
(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)