TREATISE ON PREACHING
THE QUALITIES OF PREACHING
First of all it should be noted that the office of preaching is excellent, necessary, and agreeable to God; and it that it is profitable to the preacher himself, and useful to souls; and lastly, that it is very difficult to reach perfection in preaching.
I. Its Excellence
To understand its excellence we should consider those who have the mission to preach. First their office is apostolic, for in order to fulfill this ministry, Our Lord chose the twelve Apostles and attached them to Himself so that He might send them, at His will, to preach everywhere.
It is also an angelic office as the Apocalypse teaches us, where St. John saw “a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice” (Apoc. 5:2) before the throne of the Lamb. Was it not also an angel who preached to the shepherds of Bethlehem and said to them: “Behold I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10)? It is little wonder, then, that the angels are similar to preachers, seeing that God “Sent (them) for service, for the sake of those who shall inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14) just as He sends preachers to labor for the salvation of men.
Finally this ministry is divine; for the Son of God became man precisely to hold it: “Let us go,” said He, “into the neighboring villages and town, that there also I may preach, for this is why I have come” (Mark 1:38).
If among the Saints there are none more excellent than the Apostles; if among creatures there is nothing more excellent than the Angels; and if in the universe there is nothing comparable to God, how excellent, then, must that office be which is at the same time apostolic, angelic, and divine?
Further, let us note that Holy Writ which is the foundation of preaching excels other sciences in a threefold way: because of its author, its matter, and the end which it has in view.
1. Its author: human genius, not however without the help of God, discovered for us the other sciences; but this science is directly revealed to us by God himself, for “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21).
2. Its object: the other sciences treat only of those things which relate to reason, or nature, or to free will; this science, on the other hand, elevates itself to the things of God which infinitely surpass everything else. Also the Divine Wisdom tells us: “Hear, for I speak of great things” (Prov. 8:6). Great things indeed, are the mysteries of the Trinity of God, His Unity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, and other subjects which nothing can surpass in dignity.
3. Its end: the other sciences have only in view either the government of temporal things, as the science of law, or the service of the body, as the science of medicine; or the instruction of the intellect imperfect and enveloped in ignorance, as the speculative sciences’ while this science ought to gain for us eternal life. Jesus Christ assured it when he said to the Samaritan woman: “He who drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto life everlasting” (John 4:13-14). This signifies that the water of Divine Wisdom flows in order to lead us to eternal life, which is no other than God. And this is why we can say that God Himself is the end of this science. Holy Scripture is called Theology (from the two Greek words theos, God, and logos, word), for this reason, that all its words come from God, speak of God and lead to God. Now it is precisely from these words and not from those taken from other sciences that all good preaching ought principally to come. And since we appreciate a thing by the excellence of its composition, valuing a gold vase more than a lead one, think how much we should value preaching with contains such rare and sublime matter! Also, man is, according to the philosophers, the highest creature, and composed of body and soul. The soul being by far the more noble, everything which relates to its salvation must be esteemed above that which is of little or no use to man. And it is precisely to the rational man that the preacher addresses himself, for it is thus, says St. Gregory, that we should interpret the words of Jesus Christ to His Apostles: “Preach the gospel to ever creature” (Mark 16:15). By “every creature” is understood man, and man considered according to the soul and not according to the body.
Also when St. Peter preached for the first time he gained close to three thousand souls (Acts 2:41), directing his preaching to the souls of his hearers and thinking only of their eternal salvation. For this reason also, it is written about the great preacher St. John the Baptist: “Thou shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give to His people knowledge of salvation” (Luke 1:76). And so we see that the excellence of the one for whom we work; thus the service of a king is more excellent than the service of his horses, and the care of his palace is more excellent than the care of his stables. We cannot value preaching too much, for preaching is for man’s benefit, the king of creation; for the salvation of the soul, the more perfect part of man, which is of supreme interest. It can be seen, then, that it surpasses in dignity all the other occupations.
And so, as we have said, whether we consider the excellence of preachers, or the elements which make up their preaching, or the great concerns for which they labor, we shall find everywhere the greatness of their ministry.
II. Its Necessity
To know how much preaching is necessary to the world, we should remember that the souls of the Saints in heaven lift their voices before the Lord in never-ending complaint of “those who dwell on the earth” (Apoc. 6:11). This cry, according to the commentators, is directed against those unrepentant men who put off the fullness of the joy of the elect. The elect will enjoy a marvelous supplementary glory when they at last see the ruins caused by the fall of the wicked angels fully repaired, and all the empty places in heaven filled. But there is nothing that will hasten this hour of perfect reparation quicker than the voice of preachers; for they continue what Jesus their model began when He said: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). It is evident that it depends on the preachers to assure the elect the consummation of their heavenly joy.
And just as preaching gains entry for souls into heaven more quickly and more surely, so too it prevents their fall into hell. For thus says the prophet Isaias: “therefore is my people led away captive, because they have not knowledge … therefore hath hell enlarged her mouth without any bounds” (Isai. 5:13-14).
Hence it is that through ignorance so many throw themselves into the abyss; and it is this which keeps preachers from filling the earth with their knowledge; for it is of them, according to the gloss, that we should understand the words of Proverbs: “the lips of the wise shall dispense knowledge” (Prov. 12:7). And so preachers prevent souls from throwing themselves into the abyss, and they deliver “them that are led to death” (Prov. 24:11), on which the gloss adds “by preaching.”
Without preaching, which scatters the word of God like seed, the world would be sterile and produce no fruit. “Except the Lord of hosts,” the prophet Isaias tells us, “had left us seed,” and he understands by this the word of God, “we had been as Sodom” (Isai. 1:9), a land absolutely barren producing no fruit.
On the other hand the demons from the beginning of time have devoted an unbelievable tenacity to the subjection of the whole world, and they have unfortunately subjugated too large a part of it. They would have conquered much more but for the power which God communicated to the preachers and of which it is written: “He gave them power over unclean spirits” (Matt. 10:1), and again, He commanded them to “cast out devils” (Matt. 10:8); this they have done re-enacting according to the interpreters, the exploits of Gideon (Judg. 7) and his soldiers when they put their enemies to flight by means of their trumpets, the beautiful symbols of preachers. Were there no preachers, men would not think of heavenly truths and soon their hearts would become as parched land; “If you withhold the waters, all things shall be dried up” (Job 12:13). St. Gregory explains this as follows: “If someone should suppress the teaching of preachers, the hearts of those in whom eternal hope germinates would quickly dry up.”
Preaching is also indispensable to the infidels; for without it they could not arrive at faith, a necessary condition for salvation. It is for this reason that the Macedonian appeared to St. Paul during the night entreating him to save his people and to come and visit him (Acts 16:9). For he would not have arrived at the faith, if it had not been revealed to him by preaching. “How,” said St. Paul, “are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear of no one preaches?” (Rom. 10:14.) Our Lord gave the gift of tongues to His Disciples so that they would be understood by all, and they might lead to the faith many nations who evidently would not have been converted to Christ without their preaching.
Preaching is the foundation of the Church: “Where was thou,” said Job, “when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4.) These foundations are the Apostles. According to Scripture, God sent them to preach, in order to establish His Church, and on them He erected the edifice that will last until the end of time. The Church, founded without preaching, would not have grown. It is written of Solomon “that he commanded large blocks of choice and precious stones to be placed as the foundation of the temple of Jerusalem” (III Kings 5:17). The gloss explains that those layers of rock and wood which were placed on the foundations are the doctors who came after the Apostles and whose word has brought about the growth of the Church and enriched it with virtues.
The Church, without preaching, would not continue, and the gloss, interpreting the words of Isaias: ”I shall glorify the place of my feet” (Isai. 60:14), says that preachers are the feet of the Lord. They carry the weight of the whole Church, which remains erect, thanks to their support, just as the body is supported by the feet.
We can conclude that preaching is truly necessary, for without it the glory of heaven would never be realized, hell would be filled up all too soon, and the world would remain sterile; demons would rule, hearts would have neither hope nor joy in their salvation, nations would not know the Christian faith, and God’s Church would have no foundation, growth, or stability.
For this reason St. Paul said: “For you were once darkness, but now you are the light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8); in fact, in former times deprived of the light which preaching diffuses, men lived in the darkness of ignorance. And just as at the moment of creation, as it is written, “the face of the abyss was covered with darkness” (Gen 1:2), and then everything was illumined, as soon as light was created, so too men have received by preaching the light which illuminates them. Isaias tells us: ”The light has appeared to the eyes of those who dwell in darkness” (Isai. 60:2), and this light, according to the gloss, is the light of preaching. To illuminate the world, then, is the duty of preachers. Our Lord also said of preachers: “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). “Cursing, lying, homicide, theft and adultery have overflowed the world,” says Osee (Osee 4:2), and this deluge would have completely submerged it like that which covered the earth at the time of Noah had not preaching checked its progress. In support of this let us cite an example. Certain clerics alleged to a famous Archbishop that the preaching of the religious who had recently come into the country seemed quite useless to them, since it was obvious that as much usury, fornication, and all kinds of sin continued. But the prelate answered them: “Unfortunately, it is true that many of these crimes are committed; however, these honest men prevent a great many more by their preaching; what would have happened if they had not come to preach? Undoubtedly, all these evils would have increased even to the deluge of the world.” It is justly said that preaching restrains the kingdom of evil. Just as “God made a wind blow which dried the land and made the waters diminish” (Gen. 8:1) after the deluge, so also did the Holy Spirit by the breath of the mouth of preachers diminish the floods of sin.
Along the same lines, ho many plagues were spared the world through the action of preachers! Often famine has desolated the land, but spiritual famine would be a result more inevitable and fatal were preachers to keep silent. About these words: “There cam a grievous famine over the country (Luke 15:14); “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4), the gloss says: famine rages mercilessly when the word of life fails. In this word the sick find a universal remedy, for “the multitude of wise men is the health of the world” (Wisd. 6:26), And the gloss adds that this health is due to the care of preachers. Does it not sometimes happen that cities are abandoned by their inhabitants when a wise government becomes corrupt? “When a people no longer hears the voice of a prophet, it is soon corrupted” (Prov. 29:18); thus, when the preacher is silent, wise men disappear and the majority of men become like animals. On the other hand, the wisdom of those who preach virtue repairs these ruins and leads the people back into the city, as the book of Ecclesiasticus says: ”Cities shall be inhabited through the prudence of the rulers” (Ecclus 10:3), who are, the gloss tells us, the preachers. When the rains of heaven fail, a terrible plague rages, but to be deprived of good doctrine is also a misfortune for humanity; “the needy and the poor seek for waters and there are none, their tongue hath been dry with thirst” (Isai. 41:17). According to the gloss, the devil strives to suppress the sources of doctrine, as “Holofernes commanded that the aqueduct which conducted water to the city of Bethulie be cut” (Judith 7:6), while the Lord sends preachers to distribute these salutary waters, as he had promised, “I will open rivers in the high hills and fountains in the midst of the plains” (Isai. 41:18); that is, according to the gloss, preachers will go and preach the truth alike to the proud and the humble. Finally, if there were no preachers, the world would be like a desert without any roads, where no one could find his way; but they are there, and they point out the way to be followed. For this reason it was said of the famous preacher, John the Baptist, who spoke in the midst of the desert, “Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1:76), and again: ”To shine on those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to direct our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). In conclusion, let us admire the usefulness and the necessity of such an office, since without it the whole world would have remained plunged in the darkness of error; increasing sin would choke out virtue; the most dangerous famine, the famine of the bread of sound doctrine, would ravage the world; sin would deliver up to death innumerable victims; the privation of the saving waters of wisdom would cause an intolerable drought and a desolating dearth of all good; and, lastly. We would not find the way to salvation.
For all these reasons, God, seeing how necessary preaching is, has not ceased since the beginning of the world, and will no cease until the end of time, to send preachers. St. Gregory commenting on the Gospel of St. Matthew tells us: the householder who sends workers into his vineyard at the third, sixth and ninth hours, is a figure of God Who, from the beginning of the world until the end, does not cease to supply preachers for the faithful.
III. Its Agreeableness in the Eyes of God
To understand ho much the office of preachers is pleasing to God, it is necessary to note that their discourses are like hymns. Nehemias reports that “the singers entered upon the possession of their cities” (II Esd. 7:73) on their return from the Babylonian captivity, and the gloss explains that these singers where those who preached with harmonious and persuasive voices the sweetness of the celestial home. This singing is as pleasing to God as is the playing of musicians to the ears of princes who summon them to their palaces to entertain. And it is to His subject and spouse, the Church, that the Sacred Spouse addresses this invitation: “Let thy voice sound in my ears, for thy voice is sweet” (Cant. 11:14), or in other words as the gloss says: ”I wish to hear you preach, for that is very pleasing to me.”
Again, it can be said of preachers that they are the hunters whom Jeremias had in mind when he said: “I shall send them many hunters and they shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and out of the holes of rocks” (Jer. 16:16). And rightly do the commentators interpret the words of the sacred text; for preachers, like keen huntsmen, seek sinners of all kinds, souls yet untamed which they wish to offer as a banquet to the Lord. He is as pleased to see this prize on His table as the noblemen of the earth are with a tasty venison. Do we not read in Genesis that Isaac ate with pleasure the kill of Esau? (Gen 25:28.)
The pleasure that God takes in this hunt for souls is such that He prompts preachers to devote themselves to it, speaking to them as Isaac spoke to his son: “Take thy weapons, thy quiver and bow, and go abroad; and when thou has taken something by hunting, make me savory meat thereof, that I man eat: and my soul may bless they before God” (Gen 27:3-4).
Notice again that it is precisely from zeal for souls that preaching comes; that is why St. Paul, that great preacher, declared to the Corinthians that for the welfare of their souls he felt himself “urged with a divine emulation” (II Cor. 11:3-4), that is, with a vehement zeal. St. Augustine teaches that no sacrifice is accepted by God as much as zeal for the salvation of souls. If, then, the sacrifice of animals was so pleasing to Him in ancient times, as is written of Noah’s sacrifice: “He breathed its odor as that of the sweetest of perfumes” (Gen. 8:21), how much more pleasing should be the offering of souls presented to Him by preachers!
Preachers are also called soldiers of Christ, as St. Paul wrote to Timothy: “Conduct thyself in work as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 2:3), and the gloss adds “by preaching.” For them, to preach is to fight, for they make war on the errors against faith and morals, which are opposed to the rule of their Sovereign. In this “they are prefigured,” says the gloss, by Dositheus and Sosipater who with Machabaeus were leaders of the army of God’s people (II Mach. 7:19). In fact, their zeal, like that of the Machabees, transformed them into valiant soldiers, capable of doing battle with the agents of error, and worth of having applied to them the words of the Psalms: “The Lord is strong and powerful in battle” (Ps. 23:8). By them is extended the domain of the divine King to whom they subject the people, even those who rebel against His yoke. “The Arabs being overcome besought Judas for peace” (II Mach. 12:11), which means, according to the gloss, that the infidel nations which were vanquished by the truth and the steadfastness of the holy preachers, consented to forswear their errors and embrace the Catholic faith, joining those who confess Christ. It is at the command of Christ that preachers, like faithful warriors, come and go according as they are commanded; and these words of Zachary can justly be applied to them: “I will encompass my house with them that serve me in war, going and returning” (Zach. 9:8), that is, as the gloss says, with those who according to my precept, traverse the world in every direction. It is this, indeed, that preachers do, men truly worth of being loved and who surely will be loved by their King. Faithful soldiers, they fight His enemies, subject the nations to Him and obey Him generously in all things! If an earthly monarch highly valued such a soldier as David, of whom it is written, that he made a good impression on Achis because he fought successfully in his army (I Kings 29), how much more will the King of heaven esteem the preachers who struggle so valiantly and so fruitfully for His glory?
Those who would please the might offer them, on certain anniversary days, whatever they know they like, such as first fruits of their orchard, delicate fish, and such. But the Lord of all things loves souls above all: “O Lord who lovest souls” (Wisd. 11:27). This is the unique present which preachers offer to Him, and He receives with delight. That is why it is said in the psalms: “After her shall virgins be brought to the king”; these young girls represent the souls made innocent by repentance. After this the Psalmist adds: “Her neighbors shall be brought to thee.” This is, says the gloss, what preachers do, who, preaching in season and out of season, bring back souls to God “with gladness and rejoicing” (Ps. 44:15-16); for it is with the greatest joy in the Church and in heaven that this offering of souls is received.
Furthermore, according to St. Paul, the preacher is a legate sent by God to attend to sacred matters. “For Him I am an ambassador” (Eph. 6:20), says St. Paul. And as an ambassador who has faithfully acquitted himself of his commission earns the favor of his prince, so also the preacher who fills honorably his mission gives pleasure to God. And like a cold rain which comes at harvest time relieving the oppressive heat and refreshing the tired workers, so the faithful legate assures repose to the Prince who sent him.
Preachers are also compared to carpenters, stonecutters, masons and other workers of this kind, for they are chared with constructing in the hearts of men a house exceedingly pleasing to God Who said Himself: “My delights were to be with the children of men” (Prov. 8:31). Workers capable of erecting beautiful palaces are so much desired by princes that they are sought in the most distant countries. Thus in the legend about St. Thomas the Apostle it is recounted that for a similar reason the king of the Indies had him summoned from a very distant place to be his prim minister. Who can doubt that God Himself, seeing preachers eagerly preparing a pleasing abode for Him, takes great pleasure in viewing their activity?
Listen to the text of Job which the gloss applies to preachers. “The children of merchants,” says he, “have not trodden this unexplored land” (Job 28:8). Preachers are happier and more fearless than these merchants; they carryon their spiritual trade throughout the land, exchanging their wisdom for precious acts of faith and numerous good works. In this manner they win souls for God according to the example of St. Paul who, as he says himself, worked unceasingly “to win a greater number of them” (I Cor. 9:21) “by preaching,” adds the gloss. The Lord in His turn exhorts preachers when He says: “Trade till I come” (Luke 19:15). If material gain, of which the parable speaks, was worth of this high praise of the master to his servant: “Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many; enter into the joy of thy master” (Matt. 25:21), how much dearer to God ought to be that business in which He wins spiritual treasures which are souls?
Finally, preachers are the best ministers of God. This is why the Apostles wanted to reserve preaching to themselves. They said, “We will devote ourselves to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). For, of all the offices whose object is the service of God, none requires so elevated a spirit as that of preaching; preachers ought “to announce His works” (Ps. 63:10) and consequently must have a knowledge of them. To do any job well there is nothing more necessary than intelligence. “A wise servant,” says Proverbs, “Is acceptable to the king”(Prov. 14:35), and from this we can conclude how pleasing the office of preaching is to God.
By summing up the preceding we shall understand the pleasure that God takes from holy preaching, which is a most beautiful song, a fruitful hunt, a very agreeable sacrifice, a courageous militia in the service of the prince, an offering which pleases the taste of the great, the faithful execution of a command confided to an ambassador, the construction of a royal palace, a business which increases a householder’s goods, and the wise service of a minister in behalf of his master. And this pleasure is enjoyed no only but the Divine Master, but also by all inhabitants of the heavenly court who, in union with Him, address to the preachers the invitation of the Canticle: “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the friends hearken; make me hear thy voice” (Cant 8:13). These friends are, according to the gloss, the angels and the just who reign in heaven with God.
IV. The Benefits Which It Brings to the Preacher; the Office of Preaching
Let us now see what the office pf preaching does for the preacher himself.
Note, first of all, that he ought to be supplied with the necessities of this life, as St. Paul has stated, giving many reasons and ending by saying: “So also the Lord directed that those who preach the gospel should have their living from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14). Also they should be held in reverence by the people. In other professions man is solicitous for those things necessary for his life; but of preachers it is said: “Therefore do not be anxious saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we put on?’; for your Father knows that you need all these things” (Matt. 6:31-32). And while a universal law is imposed on all men “that they eat their bread by the sweat of their brow” (Gen. 3:19), the Lord says that preachers more so than to the rest of men, “Look at the birds of the air: they do not sow ore reap, or gather into barns. . . . See how the lilies of the field grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet, I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these” (Matt. 6:26, 28-29). As if to say, “Since God gives the birds their food, and the lilies their white array and yet they do not work, do not doubt that He will do as much and more for you, who, in His eyes are worth much more.”
It often happens to men overwhelmed with cares and burdened with labor that for the sake of worldly necessities they suffer many vicissitudes. From these words of St. Luke, “Carry neither purse, nor wallet” (Luke 10:4), St. Gregory explains that preachers are justified in putting such a trust in God alone, that, without thinking about providing for themselves, they are assured that nothing will be wanting to them; otherwise, their minds, too preoccupied with temporal things, would be less free to attend to the things of eternal life. Since this truth, that God is charged with providing preachers with temporal necessities (without working for them or being preoccupied about getting them), will not perhaps be readily admitted, our Lord wishing to establish it on the testimony of deeds, before leaving earth, asked His Apostles this question publicly: “Without purse, or wallet, or sandals, did you lack anything?” And they answered, “Nothing” (Luke 22:35-36). This confirms most conclusively the truth under question.
The merit of preachers assures them of innumerable spiritual graces: “He that inebriateth shall be inebriated also himself” (Prov. 11:25), the Book of Proverbs tells us, and the gloss explains it: “Whoever intoxicates his hearers with the wine of divine words, will drink fully of the wine of divine grace.” We read, in the same chapter of Proverbs: “The soul which blesseth shall be made fat” (Prov. 11:25), that is, he who spreads divine grace without, receives within himself an increase of strength. If during the course of his earthly life, he should become stained, he will be cleansed. “Sometimes I purify my feet in milk” (Job 39:6), said holy Job; which signifies, says the gloss, that the feet of preachers are not always free from stains, but are purified in milk; or, in other words, that the dust which they have gathered in the midst of the world will be taken away by the good works which fill them with merit.
God also gives these preachers understanding, for, according to the gloss, they resemble the bird of whom it is written in the book of Job: “Who gave the cock understanding?” (Job 38:36). Who, if not God, has given it a kind of understanding? For if a cock by reason of its instinct is able to announce the hour of dawn, it is still more fitting that a preacher receive the understanding necessary to announce the hour of salvation.
It is the same with regard to the gift of eloquence. When Moses refused the mission which God wanted to entrust to him, because he was very slow of speech, the Lord answered him: “Who made man’s mouth? Did not I? Go, therefore, and I will open thy mouth” (Exod. 4:11-12); whence if clearly follows that it is God’s duty to open the mouth of the preacher. Not only does He open his mouth, but He makes the words flow freely: “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it” (Ps. 80:11). And the significance of this is: I will put there such an abundance of words that you will only have to let them flow out. We have an example of this in St. Sebastian who was in the service of Nicostrate, the husband of Zoe. Sebastian saw a young man descend from heaven and present him with a book from which he had only to read his discourse.
In addition, God gives these words and efficacious power; David said, “The Lord will give to his voice the voice of power” (Ps 67:34), and since the preacher is the mouth of God, He will not fail to give power to those words which are preached in His name.
The Holy Spirit, the author of all good, distributes to each preacher many other graces, generously to some, less generously to others. That is the reason why it is written: “The Lord will give the word to them that preach good tidings with great power” (Ps. 68:12).
Preachers are likened to “the heavens” because, just as the heavens are adorned with many stars, so are they enriched with many virtues. Job, using the same comparison, says, “His spirit hath adorned the heavens” (Job 26:13); for these ornaments, according to St. Gregory, are the gifts which He gives to the ministers of the gospel and which St. Paul enumerates in these terms: “To one through the Spirit is given the utterance of wisdom, to another, the utterance of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another faith, in the same Spirit; to another, the gift of healing in the one Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another the distinguishing of spirits; to another various kinds of tongues; to another, interpretation of tongues” (I Cor. 12:8-10). But it is fitting that these graces be dispensed more abundantly to those preachers who labor especially for the welfare of the Church; for God distributes His graces to each one, not only for his own personal needs, but also for the advantage of others. Thus it is that the Apostle says: “Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit” (I Cor. 7:7). Upon which the gloss justly remarks that if the gifts of grace are granted to increase the personal merit of certain individuals, then they are also given with a view of the common good of the Church. This being the case, with how much greater abundance will not these spiritual gifts be bestowed by God upon holy preaching? Sometimes, as a matter of fact, the pious exposition of the truths of God rouses the fervor of the people and actually causes them to burst forth into words of praise and blessing, much in the manner spoken of in Proverbs: “He that hideth up corn (i.e., according to the gloss apostolic preaching), shall be cursed among the people; but a blessing upon the head of them that sell” (Prov 11:26). We find a vivid example of what we mean in the woman in the Gospel account who, hearing the words of Christ cried out: “Blessed is the woman that bore Thee, and the breasts that nursed Thee” (Luke 11:27).
In other instances this inspired exclamation of which we speak may take the form of a prayer. For example, the story is told about a certain nobleman who, for many yeas, was preoccupied with the distracting and empty pursuits of the world but, by listening to a preacher, was eventually brought to consider the things of God, to probe into the workings of his soul, and to occupy himself now with his eternal salvation. And when it came his time to die, this thankful man, thinking of how much he owed his director for his conversion, raised his heart to God and prayed: “I beseech You, oh my Saviour, be kind to him who has taught me to know You.” There is no doubt that many other listeners devoutly pray in a like manner for those who preach to them, especially when the harbingers of God’s Kingdom are in the habit of beseeching this prayerful remembrance either at the beginning or at the end of their sermons; a custom which St. Paul rarely failed to observe. They can reasonably expect tremendous graces from such prayers, especially when many are united in the same intention, for Christ Himself said that no prayer uttered by several of the Faithful joined in a common plea would go unanswered (Matt. 18:19).
Often, moreover, the devotion which a preacher inspires causes the people to follow him in order to hear him propound the teachings of Christ, a fact which we ourselves have sometimes witnessed. Again on can turn to the Gospels for confirmation of this; for when Jesus preached, the people, assembling from various sectors, followed Him closely, even into the desert. And not only did the anxious hearers accompany Him, they also ministered to Him, as St. Mark notes. This respect and this keen interest extended, after His departure, to His Apostles and disciples: “You did not reject or despise me; but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus” (Gal. 4:14), wrote the zealous St. Paul to the Galatians. There is nothing astonishing about this love for God’s preachers: “Let the presbyters who rule be held worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching” (I Tim. 5:17). Their renown steadily increases and, like Judas Machabee, whose fame spread even to the ends of the world (I Mach. 3:9), their names, too, gradually become universally known. In short, “their sound hath gone forth into all the earth” (Ps. 18:5); their preaching gains for them the admiration of mankind.
All those who put into practice the instructions they receive from the ministers of the Gospel cannot fail to recognize that they thereby become the children in Jesus Christ of these same preachers. “For in Christ Jesus, through the gospel, did I beget you” (I Cor. 4:15) was the way the Apostle expressed it to the Corinthians. This feeling of filial piety ought to be most precious in the eyes of the preacher; for it is meet that he be frequently blessed, served, honored, and esteemed by so many worthy sons in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is assured to the sincere preacher, then, a threefold benefit. He is provided with whatever is necessary for his earthy existence; he acquires numerous spiritual benefits; and he gains the devotion of the people.
But over and above these blessings which provide only for the present life there are many other more valuable benefits which concern the future happiness of the preacher: Firstly, he has the firmest certitude about his salvation, for the Saviour shows mercy to men according as they themselves have shown compassion to others, as is explained by St. Luke’s words: “Forgive and you shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given to you” (Luke 6:37-38). It is no vain hope to expect that one who has saved others by his words will himself likewise be received into heaven, for we have the evidence of Jeremias in this matter. Secondly, he shall receive a very great reward. In fact, it is more than likely that the charity which he practices, not only to advance in virtue himself but also to lead others, increases more and more in him by its very exercise; and everyone knows that upon this progress depends the degree of eternal reward that awaits every soul. With this thought the Bridegroom of he canticle concerns Himself when He promises: “Two hundred pieces of gold for them that keep the fruit of the vine” (Cant. 8:12), which is interpreted by the gloss as referring to the teachers of the people. Hence, a double recompense belongs to these leaders, for they have worked doubly in saving themselves and in leading others to Christ. Thirdly, besides rejoicing in that which is common to every eternal reward, the preacher shall have an accidental increase in glory from the joy found in those he has saved. “So that you may know,” wrote St. Paul to the Ephesians, “what is the exceeding greatness of His power towards us” (Eph. 1:19) – words which show, observes the gloss, that the most renowned teachers shall receive a special glory added to that which is promised to all. And this glory, according to the interpretation of leading scholars, is an accidental glory added to the substantial glory. But if such be the case for the great doctors because they are teachers, then one is forced to admit a like reward for others who also have been, in every sense of the word, teachers, and who shall receive an increase in glory which will be measured by their individual merit. Consequently, every preacher shall be entitled, in a certain degree, to this increase. There are several reasons for saying this, among which are the following: the gloss says of the text cited above, that the Apostles shall be clothed with a particular brilliance and that this supernatural glory shall clearly correspond to the splendor which surrounded them when they were the lights of the world. Now, since every worthy preacher is a light, for it is of such that we read: “Thy lightnings enlightened the world” (Ps. 66:19), there is no doubt that they will shine with the same brilliance in their eternal home: “They who instruct many to justice, shall shine as stars for all eternity” (Dan. 12:3). Add to these persuasions the assurance of the Gospel that it is better to do and to teach than merely to do, and it becomes increasingly clear that, if each one is to be rewarded according to his merits, justice demands that there be a double compensation on judgment day for those who have performed the double task of doing and teaching. Our Lord indicated this in the words which St. Matthew has recorded: “Whoever carries them [commandments] out and teaches them, he shall called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:9). Just as one notes different ranks of honor at the court of an earthly prince, some being in nobler places than others, so we shall see preachers assigned, not to the lowest, but to the highest places in the heavenly kingdom.
St. John, speaking of this matter of reward, notes: “When He appears we shall be like to Him” (I John 3:2). The glory of the elect, therefore, shall depend on the glory of God and, the more perfect is their resemblance to the Creator, the more brilliant shall their glory be. Applying this norm to preachers we see that they resemble Christ by the perfect use of their rational faculties; and in addition, in the opinion of many writers, the ministers of God are worth of the glory which Exodus (Exod. 25:25) and the gloss attribute to martyrs and to virgins; for they resemble virgins by the perfect use of their concupiscible faculty and martyrs in the exercise of their irascible faculty. These three point of resemblance are for preachers so many pledges of their future elevation to singular honor in the company of the Blessed.
Another dignity for preachers is the fact that they engage in battle the serpent of old: “Michael and his angels battled with the dragon” (Apoc. 12:7). Preachers form part of the militia of angels, who, under command of St. Michael, wage war against Satan and the legions of Hell. And if David, for fighting against Goliath, rose so high in glory that the people sang his praises upon his return from the remarkable conquest of the giant, what glory must await the preacher when he enters paradise, having battled with such courage against enemies so much more formidable.
In the eyes of men, another source of additional glory is to be elevated above all others in a large assembly, either by precedence or in any other way. “Thou shalt have authority over ten towns,” Christ said to the good and faithful servant (Luke 19:17). By “towns,” according to the gloss, is meant the souls that have been converted with the aid of preaching of the Divine Word as contained in the Gospels; and God shall justly raise in glory him who has worthily implanted in the hearts of others the treasures of His Divine Word.
Glory and honor are equally assured to anyone who presents himself at the court of a king with a large and dignified retinue, and the good preacher assuredly has this advantage because he does not present himself alone and unescorted to the King of Heaven; rather, he is accompanied by all whom he has saved. With this very thought in mind the learned St. Gregory declared: “Then Peter shall appear with converted Judea, which he leads; then Paul leading, so to speak, the whole world which he converted; then Andrew with Achaia, John with Asia, Thomas with India; in short, there shall be all the shepherds of the flock of Christ like rams who bring behind them the docile flock.”
Finally, to be presented and crowned with a diadem before princes and people is, undeniably, a rare honor; yet, this is what awaits the preacher who has worthily performed his duties: “Come,” it is written, “you shall be crowned from the top of Amana, from the top of Sanir and Hermon. . . .” (Cant. 4:8). The meaning of these words, according to the gloss, is: Whenever preachers make outstanding conversions, their future crown is further embellished because of the many struggles they have endured in carrying on their work. This explains what St. Paul meant when he wrote to the Thessalonians: “What is our crown of glory, if not you before our Lord Jesus Christ . . .?” (I Thess. 2:19.)
From all that has been said, it is clear that a particular glory belongs to the preacher. And this results from the fullness of his charity, from the sublimity of his office, from his likeness to Christ Himself, from his resistance to the devil, and from the brilliance of the diadem with which he shall be crowned.
This includes the reward for his labors in the present as well as that which awaits him in the future. In order to confirm this conclusion, recall the significance of these words from the Book of Ecclesiasticus: “The lips of many shall bless him that is liberal in his bread” (Ecclus. 31:28). That is to say, according to the gloss: the faithful dispenser of the bread, which is the word of God, shall be blessed in the present life and in the life to come: hence, the spreading of spiritual benefits is a precious assurance of Divine blessings.
V. Benefits of Preaching for Mankind
We shall now consider the benefits that preaching brings to all men. Having already shown how necessary preaching is in general for the whole world, we now fell that it is worth while to explain its advantages to the individual – a task that embraces as many diverse forms as the varied instructions offered to us by God’s preachers.
For some, the soul only resides in the body as the dead in the tombs and, just as God shall cause the resurrection of the body on the last day by the power of His word, so at the present time the soul is restored to life by the power of preaching. St. John himself wrote: “The hour is coming, and now is here, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live” (John 5:25).
Moreover, there are many who, of themselves, are not able to preserve their spiritual life and must rely on the efficacy of the word of God to sustain them: “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Like the poverty-stricken, deprived of the means of life and managing to live only by begging, these spiritually poor must seek out preachers in order to hear the tidings of Christ which, if humbly received, will vivify them.
Some avidly desire choice foods; but there is nothing sweeter, provided one has not a depraved taste, than the words of the Master. Listen to the Psalmist: “How sweet are thy words to my palate, more than honey to my mouth” (Ps. 68:103).
Again, there are many who complain about their ignorance of numerous things. Preaching enlightens them and reveals all that God has taught by His Word. To refer to the Psalms once more, “The declaration of they words giveth light; and giveth understanding to little ones” (Ps. 118:130).
Preaching can likewise be said to exert a powerful influence upon those who, because of their simplicity, do not understand anything of the spiritual order and who lead a purely animal existence. Our Lord intended His words so to act upon men when He said: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and live” (John 6:64).
To yet another group, which remains groping in the dark and is incapable of following the road that leads to salvation, the penetrating character of preaching serves as a light, whose brilliance shines forth in the middle of the night and points out the way for the searchers of truth. The saintly King David recognized such enlightenment when he exclaimed: “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths” (Ps. 118:105).
There are some who are physically sick and who need certain remedies. But it is an evident fact that human remedies, though undoubtedly effective in certain diseases, have no power whatsoever when used for other diseases. The same cannot be said about the word of God, since it healing power extends to all maladies as the Book of Wisdom observes: “Your Word, oh Lord, is all powerful, which heals all thins” (Wisd. 16:12).
Neither is the Divine Word repelled by, nor helpless against, those whose hearts have become hard and rock-like. Inspired preaching can shatter them with the sureness of a hammer: “Are not my words as the force of a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29.)
Then there are others who feel depressed because they have neither piety, nor compunction, nor devotion, such as the Psalmist portrayed when he lamented: “My soul is as earth without water unto thee” (Ps. 142:6). They need not despair, for through the diffusion of the heavenly word they are softened and refreshed, and can truthfully say with the psalmist: “He shall send forth his word and shall melt them” (Ps 147:18).
Among a large number of the Faithful, charity has become weak and ineffective, but, when brought into closer contact with the doctrine of Christ, strong love flames up anew. “Are not my words as fire, saith the Lord?” (Jer 23:29.)
To the weak-hearted who, like a sterile woman, can never conceive a good resolution, preaching serves as an inspiration and succeeds in making them spiritually fruitful: “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Moreover, such a seed performs a double task; it conceives and it actually produces fruit. This is what Isaias meant when he said: “And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, so shall be my word which shall go forth from my mouth” (Isai. 55:10-11).
In much the same way, this word can be compared to a rich wine, and very different from a light wine which is incapable of causing intoxication. One need only recall the example of the saints. They drank deeply of God’s word and were overcome by it to the extent that they forgot the things of this world and became insensible to the blows showered upon them. To quote the Prophet Jeremias: “I am become as a drunken man, and as a man full of wine, at the presence of the Lord, and at the presence of His holy words” (Jer. 23:9).
Consider, further, the many unfortunates whose spirit is so dominated by the flesh that they are really slaves of their passions. Detachment is the precious boon that God’s minister of the word brings to these enslaved souls – a detachment about which St. Paul writes: “For the word of God is living and efficient, and keener than any two-edged sword, and extending even to the division of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12), which is to say that the flesh and spirit in man are separated by the power of preaching.
For souls afflicted by temptations and in need of a strong defense, the word of God offers a sure means of protection. The saviour Himself proved this when He put His tempter to flight by recalling phrases taken from the Holy Book. It is also attested by St. Paul: “And the sword of the spirit is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).
Or, one can regard the word of God as a potent cleansing agent whose function is to remove all stains and at the same time to purify. Jesus told His Apostles: “You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). An example taken from the lives of the Fathers of the Desert deals with this point. They had a soiled basked which was plunged several times into water, becoming cleaner and cleaner, and yet did not retain one drop of the water.
How far from sanctity have been so many men! And now they are sanctified by the inspiration of preaching, just as the Saviour wished when He prayed: “Sanctify them in Truth. Thy word is Truth” (John 17:17).
As in the time of the early Church, the Divine Word today communicates grace, for without grace man could not survive the trials of the present life. And that preaching does diffuse grace is shown from the Book of Proverbs: “Good doctrine shall give grace” (Prov. 13:15).
Finally, recall how many souls, weakened by serious sin, have been in danger of death and have been saved by the power of God! “He sent his word and healed them; and delivered them from their destruction” (Ps. 106:20) is the acknowledgement of the Psalmist. As the word of a doctor saves the body, the word of God saves the soul. St. James advises: “With meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21).
The above mentioned benefits are by no means a complete list of the useful effects of preaching on the individual. And, since we cannot enumerate all the advantages in this work, we shall sum up with the phrase: “The word of God abounds in power” (Eccles 8:4). Indeed, that word, with its countless good effects, should be cherished as a precious gem of unsurpassed value.
VI. Difficulties of the Office of Preacher
We shall now consider the peculiar difficulties of preaching, and we shall show, by three proofs, that it is not an easy task to proclaim the word of God successfully.
The first proof is found in the rarity of good preachers. In the early days of the Church a small number of Apostles, trained for their particular mission, was enough to convert the entire world; but present day preachers, in spite of their number, make only mediocre gains. Why? Because the first preachers were equal to their mission, whereas those following in their footsteps are not. For, to judge the difficulty of an art, one need only count the number of workers engaged in it then note how few there are who really attain perfection in it.
Secondly, the inefficiency of many in carrying out the ministry. All have seen, and, indeed, still frequently see, very learned priests who, in spite of serious application to the task, have never been able to attain success in preaching. But this, too, bears out our conviction that preaching is not easy, since another proof of the difficulty of an art is the inability of those to master it who are evidently skilled in other fields.
The last proof is the necessity of external help which is required for worth-while preaching. It is a fact that, by possessing one habit, which results from the repetition of an act, we, at the same time, acquire a certain ease in other arts, according to the popular maxim: “It is by forging that one becomes a blacksmith,” or, to use another, it is by repeated playing on his instrument that a harpist becomes master of it. But the gift of a preacher is quite different. His virtue is a special gift which only God can grant: “The power of the earth is in the hand of God” (Ecclus. 10:4), by which is meant, according to the gloss, the power of the preacher. This is a sound observation because the power of God alone can communicate to man the ability to preach the Divine Mysteries fruitfully. And this is a further confirmation of our original statement, for that which cannot be acquired by one’s own work, but must be received from another, is definitely the rarest and most difficult of possessions.
What, then, are some of the reasons why this phase of the ministry is so hard to master?
In the first place, one can easily find teachers for any other subject, but for preaching there is only one, the Holy Spirit, Whose grace very few receive abundantly. That is the reason why Christ did not want the Apostles, who were to become excellent preachers, to begin the conversion of the world before the Holy Ghost descended upon them and taught them all things. Having received this gift, however, they “. . . began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Ghost prompted them to speak” (Acts 2:4).
Another reason has to do with the instrument of the ministry, i.e., language, which can easily lead one astray (even in the simple Christian life), when God does not direct it. The Book of Proverbs wisely informs us: “It is the part of the Lord to govern the tongue” (Prov. 16:1). Just as it is more awkward to help ourselves with the left hand, which easily entangles us, than with the more competent right hand, so the language used in the arduous task of preaching is more liable to failure than when the same speech is employed for our ordinary duties.
The third reason takes up the conditions needed for good preaching. They are numerous and will be seen more clearly in the following chapter. It is evident that any work is more arduous according as it demands the concurrence of many conditions. For example, a painter has more trouble in producing a sketch than in painting one that needs just a few shades. Thus, by this principle, we find many difficulties in preaching because of the great number of qualifications it demands.
Notice, also, that we praise a person who does something only on the condition that he do it well: “learn to do well” (Isai. 1:17), urges Isaias. This is not easy when it is a question of preaching.
Hence, the preacher must strive with all his might to do justice to such a difficult and perfect ministry. Three things will contribute to his success: application to his work; a knowledge of the method used by other preachers; prayer addressed to God.
About the first point, observe that, granted the grace of preaching well is a special gift of God, nevertheless it demands from the preacher full application to the study of whatever is needed for the proper execution of his office. That is why the gloss insists that every preacher, in imitation of the Apostles, should realize what was meant in Heaven when “. . . the seven angels, who had the seven trumpets, prepared themselves to sound the trumpet” (Apoc. 8:6). And in another place the gloss declares that the words of Christ to His Apostles: “ . . . be not anxious how our what you are to speak” (Matt. 10:19) refer only to those chosen ones, in virtue of the privilege of their special vocation so that those who are not so privileged must prepare themselves. Moreover, St. Jerome, while explaining the text of the Prophet, Ezechiel, “Eat this book” (Ezech. 3:1), points out that the preacher must nourish his heart with the words of God and must meditate attentively on them before delivering them to the people.
Some preachers use to many subtleties in their discourse for the sake of elegance. At one time they seek those novelties which the Athenians delighted in; at another time they produce arguments drawn from philosophy which, they imagine, improve their speech. On the contrary, good preachers study principally what is useful and, building their sermons on this, they exclude what is less profitable. St. Paul did that, and so he could say, “You know from the first day that I came into Asia how I have kept back nothing that was profitable to you” (Acts 20:18,20).
Many preachers have a predilection for words, repeating beyond measure, now the parts of the sermon, again the distinctions or the authorities; giving reasons or examples, or words that express one and the same thing, repeating continually; at all times being far too prolix. These are some of the defects which vitiate a discourse, and they must be avoided. For if a moderate rain makes crops grow well, an extremely heavy rain will flood the field; and, as in the Divine Office, brevity fosters devotion, while a long office engenders sleepiness, so too, preaching, when it is succinct, is useful; when prolonged to excess it becomes useless and tiresome. Also, a good preacher, if he is prudent, will see to it that he does not say many things, and will say them in few words; and if he observes that he has prepared too much matter, he will lay aside whatever is irrelevant, and give to his starved audience bread, a necessary and substantial food, which will be beneficial to them. He also imitates the wise steward whom St. Luke (Luke 12:42) represents to us, and who prudently sees to it that he does not use up at one time all the wheat that he can dispose of.
Other preachers, to support their teaching, use exclusively examples or arguments, or authority; but to combine three is far better, for, where one fails, another will succeed. The combination will form “a threefold cord,” with a fishhook attached, and which “is not easily broken by the fish” (Eccles. 4:12).
In conclusion we shall say that every good preacher, in the composition of a sermon, should first be practical, like a host who prepares food of good quality for his guests. Secondly, he should use moderation, even in practical things; for everything found in a grocery store cannot be used by a host. And thirdly, he should use words which are convincing, just as at a banquet guests are served not only food of good quality, but also food that is well prepared and pleasing to the palate.
There are other kinds of preachers who diligently look for arguments irrelevant to their subject, like the one who preaches on the Apostles Peter and Paul, and borrows from the Book of Numbers the test, “The sons of Merari; Moholi and Musi” (Num. 3:20). One can scarcely adapt this to this subject such incongruous references, for in trying to reconcile them, the preacher runs the risk of exciting derision rather than producing edification.
Some give too much attention to the feast of the day, so that, in order to adapt their discourse to it, they become unpractical and quickly lose the interest of their audience. They deserve the name of choristers of the church rather than priests of Jesus Christ. The choristers often seek only what is proper to the occasion or feast being celebrated, without considering whether the words they are singing are profitable to those present or not.
Others choose a subject which contains only one idea; they are like those hosts who serve only one dish at table.
It is true, however, that there are preachers who have abundant matter, but they are afraid to omit the least detail, useful or not, dragging out their sermons indefinitely. They are like the host who serves his guests generously with beef, excluding all other dishes; serving for the first course the horns; for the second, the hide; for the third, the hoofs, and so on. That certainly is not the technique of a good cook or host; on the contrary, he removes the less suitable parts, carefully preparing and serving the best.
There are other preachers who start with a subject that is really suitable but they become so attached to the first or second point that they do not develop the others. They are like rustic hosts who serve so much in the fist course that the appetite is lost for the following courses, even though the latter are better. Such is not the practice of the cultured, who prepare a sufficient number of dishes and serve a little of each. This is more pleasing to the guests.
Let preachers avoid, then, these abuses in the choice of a subject, and let them be very careful to treat it in such a way that it will be most profitable to those who hear it; they should not limit themselves to one idea, nor choose too extensive a topic, nor dwell too long on the less important points, which should be passed over lightly.
Let them watch lest they fall into the mistake of those preachers who, although they are incapable of composing good sermons themselves, are yet unwilling to study those composed by others, and preach only those that they have laboriously written out themselves. They are like those who serve their guests only bread made by themselves even though they cannot bake. Our Lord told the Apostles to serve the crowd which followed Him into the desert, not the bread that they had made, but that which others had made (Matt. 15). On this subject they tell of a remarkable characteristic of Pope Innocent III, a man of great merit, under whom the Lateran Council was held. While preaching on the feast of St. Madeleine, he had someone read the homily of St. Gregory on the feast while he explained it in the vulgar tongue; and when his memory failed he followed the text of the one reading the book. After the sermon they asked him why he acted thus, when he was so capable of saying original things; he answered that he wanted to confound and instruct those who despise using the works of other people.
There are some who depend on their own knowledge, relying only on themselves and neglecting to consult the interpretations of the Sacred Scriptures made by the Saints. St. Jerome speaks of these when writing to St. Paulin: “They have no desire to find out what the Prophets and Apostles meant, but adapt inapplicable texts to their ideas, applying the words of Scripture to statements that are opposed. Their own words to them have the authority of God.”
Others there are who are more interested in the form of their discourses than in the matter. They are like a host who is more concerned with the beauty of a dish in which food is served than the food itself. They ought to meditate on what St. Augustine said in his Confessions, “I know that wisdom and folly resemble food, some of which is wholesome and some harmful. And just as they can be served in worthless or precious plates, so also good can be presented as evil in flowery discourse or in discourses lacking all elegance.”
A preacher who wishes to avoid the three errors that we have just pointed out, will take great care to study what others have taught about the Scriptures, in order to find his inspiration in the holy Doctors rather than in himself, and in his discourse he will prefer practical thoughts to beautiful words.
In regard to the second point, note that the arts are taught much more efficiently by example than by oral teaching. For one does not learn to play the hand-organ so well by verbal instruction as by seeing and hearing another play. Likewise it is very important in learning to preach well, to study not only the different methods used by great preachers, but also those adopted by others; in order to avoid the errors of the latter and to imitate as far as possible the excellences of the former. That is why Gideon, who was the prefigurement of a good preacher, said to his soldiers, “What you shall see me do, do you the same” (Judg. 7:17).
As to the third point we must observe that every effort of man is worthless without the assistance of God: a preacher, therefore, who wishes to benefit his listeners, ought to have recourse above all to prayer. This is what St. Augustine says, “If Queen Esther, before setting out to Assurius to implore salvation for the Hebrew people, begged God to inspire her with words capable of obtaining this favor, how much more ought that one to pray, who wishes to procure eternal salvation for men by his doctrine and his discourses!”
To sum up, the preceding considerations point out three difficulties which are met in preaching; three reasons that explain why we meet with these difficulties; and three ways of overcoming them and of acquiring the qualities indispensable to preaching.
Furthermore, the office of preaching is very different from a considerable number of other offices and greatly excels them. Some of these worldly offices are contemptible, while preaching is an excellent and noble work; their usefulness is slight, while preaching is necessary for the whole world; they displease God and in His eyes have little worth, while preaching is eminently pleasing to Him; they return but little profit to the business-man, while preaching brings to the minister of God considerable benefits; they benefit the rest of men but little, while preaching has the greatest utility for all men; finally, some of these secular offices can be undertaken without great difficulty, while preaching is such a noble art that one cannot fulfill it in an honorable and fruitful manner, without overcoming the most serious difficulties. But how success is to be envied and praised!
We know that blessed Humbert made great use of them. The same spirit of faith animated him, the same supernatural taste filled his heart. He excelled in nourishing, in enlightening, and in ornamenting his discourses with scriptural sentences, even to the point of repeating these several times in the same argument, applying them in various ways to the subject. The riches of the Scriptures and his piety excuse him, or rather, they justify him. Thus before him, and in another style, the learned and pious St. Bernard wrote.
 S.t Greg., Hom. 19 in S. Matt., Cap 20.
 Undoubtedly allusion is made to these architectural aptitudes when St. Thomas is represented holding in his hand either a ruler or a square or both. He is honored as the patron of stonecutters.
 Greg. Hom. Sup. Luc.
 Eph. 7; col. 4; Thess. 3.
 “Sequebantur eum et ministrabant ei” (Mark 15:41).
 “Si converteris convertam te” (Jer. 15:19).
 I kings 18:7.
 S. Greg. In Homilia “Designavit.”
 S. Aug., De Doctrina Christi, lib. iv.
Text from the 1951 Newman Press edition, Walter Conlon O.P. editor
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