< Previous
Next >

6. Attitude of the Speaker, Mode of Delivery, Deportment of the Audience, etc.

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XII. Of homilies

6. Attitude of the Speaker, Mode of Delivery, Deportment of the Audience, etc.

In the primitive church it was customary for the speaker to sit, and for the audience to stand. As in attending to the reading of the Scriptures they stood, in token of reverence for the word of God, so in listening to the sermon, in which it was explained and enforced, for the same reason they preserved a similar attitude. To this, however, there were exceptions, and the usage was different in different places. In Africa the custom above mentioned was observed with great care. Augustine insists often upon it, and rebukes every departure from it except in cases of infirmity, which rendered it inconvenient for the hearer to preserve this altitude. At one time he apologizes for the inconvenient length of his sermon, especially in as much as he is permitted to ut, while they are required to stand.

The hearers of Gregory Nazianzen and Chrysostom preserved the same posture. It is related even of Constantine the Great, that he did not resume his seat during a long sermon by Eusebius, and that all the assembly followed his example. From all which it is fairly inferred that this was the prevailing custom. Compare Luke 2:46, 4:20, 5:3, John 8:2, Matt. 5:1, etc.

The hearers, it would seem, were accustomed to take great liberties in regard to their attendance upon public worship, and often demeaned themselves very unworthily. At one time, they would absent themselves from the service except during the sermon – an irregularity against which Chrysostom inveighs with great spirit. At other times, they treated even the preaching with great indifference and neglect, complaining bitterly of long sermons, and even left the house while the preacher was yet speaking. To prevent this, the doors were ordered to be fastened after the reading and before the sermon, as is still the custom in Sweden. The fourth council of Carthage, c. 24, forbade this contempt of the preacher under pain of excommunication.

Another impropriety of which Chrysostom complains with his accustomed spirit, is that of disturbing the preacher by needless noise and frivolous conversation: – the loquacity of the women, and the wantonness of the young people, are among his subjects of complaint. Similar complaints are made by others, particularly by preachers in the large cities, Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage, etc.

The indecent custom was also introduced into the ancient church of applauding the speaker by acclamations, by clapping, waving of handkerchiefs, and other similar customs, which disgraced the ancient theatres, as they still do the modern. A multitude of examples may be found in the references;  but the custom was severely censured. 

The ancient Christians had also the custom of taking notes and writing out at length the sermons which they heard. To this laudable custom we owe many of the sermons of the fathers, which have come down to us. It was not, however, a universal practice. Sermons in which the hearer took little interest, he was not careful to retain in this manner. Some preachers refused to have their sermons preserved in this imperfect manner. Origen allowed no notes to be taken of his sermons until he was sixty years of age. 

Agnst. S. Hom. l. Serm. 26: Serra. de Diversis: Serm. 49: De Catechiz. rudibus. c. 13: Euseb. de Vita. Constit. lib. iv. c. 3.3.

Hom. incomprehens. tom. viii. p. 407: Hom. iii. in 1 Thess. p. .381.

Gregr. Naz. Orat. 2: Opp. tom. i. ed. Colon, p. 46: Caesarius Arelatensis. Hom. xii.

Cyprian de Vit. Caesarii, c. 12.

Ferrarins de concion. Rit. p. 287 seq.: Bingham, Vol. vi. pp. 525, 526.

Euseb. h. e. lib. vii. c. 30: Chrysost. Horn. xxx. in Acts Apost.: Gregor. Naz. Orat. 32. p. 510: Augustin. Hom. L: Serm. 25. Serm. de Temp. 45: Doctr. chr. vi. 24–26.

Social, h. e. lib. c. 4: Sozomen. h. e. lib. viii. c. 27: Gregor. Naz. Orat. 32. p. 528.

Euseb. h. e. lib. vii. c. 36.


search 🔍



privacy policy