St. Dominic

TREATISE ON PREACHING
Humbert of Romans
Fifth Master General of the Order of Preachers

CHAPTER FIVE

OMITTING TO PREACH OR REFUSING TO LISTEN

There are three things to be considered regarding this subject: Firstly, for what reasons preaching is sometimes forbidden or impossible: secondly, what is to be said of those who deprive themselves of this grace: thirdly, what losses follow upon it.

XXI. Exterior Causes of Omission or Refusal

It may happen that the cause of this omission is known to God alone. For when, in St. Luke, the Lord says, “Woe to thee Corozain” (Luke 10:13), the gloss asks why preaching was addressed to those who were not to believe and refused to those who would have embraced the faith? And the answer is: “He knows that, Who knows all things.”

Likewise, it may be that the omission occurs through an intervention of the devil. “I saw,” says St. John in the Apocalypse, “four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding fast the four winds of the earth, that no wind should blow over the earth, or over the sea, or upon any tree” (Apoc. 7:2). Concerning this the gloss adds that the demon strives with his accomplices to hinder preaching everywhere. Where not these accomplices among the Jews, the Scribes and Pharisees? Were not these accomplices among the pagans, the idolatrous priests? And among the Saracens, Mohammed? Sometimes God wills such omissions through mercy for the hearers; for example when Paul and Barnabas “were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). The Lord Who knew the hearts of these men, says the gloss, very wisely prevented them from preaching to the people of Asia, so that holy things would not be given to dogs, and that these sinners would not be judged for having rejected such a gift.

In some instances the fault will be in the hearers. “And I will make thy tongue stick to the roof of thy mouth” (Ezech. 3:26), the Lord said to Ezechiel, “because they are a provoking house.” This is the case, says the gloss, when preaching is withheld from the hearers as punishment for their iniquity.

As other times it will be the fault of the prelates. “The little ones have asked for bread,” says the prophet Jeremias, “and there was none to break it unto them” (Lam. 4:4); no one, neither priest, archdeacon, nor bishop. And this is either because they are incapable, or because their time is completely taken up with the pursuit of worldly things, or because they lack zeal for souls and have no solicitude for them.

Sometimes it will be the prelates themselves who place an obstacle to preaching; for there are some who not only do not preach, but even hinder those who could fruitfully do so in their place. “They kept thy children shut up, by whom the pure light of the law was to be given to the world” (Wisd. 18:4); in effect, to prevent preachers from freely preaching is to imprison them.

At other times the privation of preaching will be a punishment for human curiosity, when, for example, people come to a sermon, not to profit from it, but solely for the pleasure of listening. Thus we read in the life of the Fathers that certain Brothers came to the abbé Felix bringing some lay folk who wished to hear something edifying, and after making them wait for a while he said to them: “My brothers, today I do not have a single word to address to you; for when men come to their elders and have no intention of doing what they hear, God takes away from the elders the grace to speak so that they find nothing to say.”

XXII. Personal Causes of Omission or Refusal

There are some people who spurn preaching in obedience to the devil, for the evil spirit does not wish his followers to hear Jesus Christ preached for fear that they should be attracted to Him. It is for this reason that Mohammed in his law ordered the Saracens not to listen to Christian preaching. “The reason why you do not hear,” said Our Lord, “is that you are not of God” (John 8:47); “but,” as He said earlier, “the father from whom you are is the devil” (John 8:44).

Some fail to profit from preaching through laziness, and will no suffer the slightest inconvenience in order to hear a sermon. Against them “the queen of the South will rise up in the judgment,” according to St. Luke, “for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon” (Luke 11:31).

Others through pride disdain to humble themselves by mixing with common and simple folk at the feet of a preacher; but this scorn of the messengers of God reverts upon God Himself; the Saviour has said: “He who rejects you, rejects me” (Luke 10:16).

Others, foreseeing the reproach which their listening would incur, avoid listening to preaching. Conscious of their sins of usury, fornication or similar faults which preachers speak against, they are afraid to acknowledge their guilt and to avoid confusion they do not come to the sermon. St. John says, “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, that his deeds may not be exposed” (John 3:20).

A great many permit themselves to be absorbed with their secular occupations as is written of Martha in the Gospel, whereas Mary Magdalene “seated herself at the Lord’s feet, and listened to his word” (Luke 10:39), which action brought upon her the praises of the Master.

Others are deluded by an insane reasoning and tell themselves it is better to ignore what they ought to do, than to omit it after they have heard. Poor fools! They forget that their affected ignorance does not excuse them of sin; as St. Paul warns us: “if anyone ignores this, he shall be ignored” (I Cor. 14:38; that is to say, he shall be excluded from participation in the graces of the Church.

Others, again, fear that they will be obliged to do good if they go to a sermon, for the will to do good may be infused in them while they listen. “Their madness is according to the likeness of a serpent: like the deaf asp that stoppeth her ears: which will not hear the voice of the charmers; nor of the wizard that charmeth wisely” (Ps. 57:5,6). They fear to see the poison of their venom neutralized by the word of the preacher.

Yet others have no taste for frequent preaching, and that which would be the proper food for their souls arouses their disgust, and yet they do not fail daily to partake of nourishment for the body. They are condemned by the prophecy of Amos: “Behold the days come saith the Lord, and I will send forth a famine into the land: not a famine of bread nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord” (Amos 8:11), and of receiving consolation from it. These of whom we are speaking have the word in abundance but do not profit from it.

Some are obstinate in their malice, like the doctors of the Law and the Pharisees who hardened themselves against Jesus Christ, unwilling to be His disciples and even unwilling to be His hearers. “They made their heart as the adamant stone,” says the prophet Zacharias, “lest they should hear the law of God” (Zach. 7:12).

Others despair of ever profiting by the holy word because they feel that they have gained nothing, and so they refrain from coming to hear. They should remember that the word of the Lord is never heard without producing some fruit, sensible or not, present or future: “The word which has gone out from my mouth,” He says in Isaias, “shall not return to me empty” (Isai. 55:11).

Woe to those who act thus, for they have only to listen to the curse of the prophet Jeremias: “Cursed is the man that shall not hearken to the words of this covenant” (Jer. 11:3).

XXIII. The Harmful Results of Omitting to Preach or of Refusing to Listen

Among the harmful results must be placed first of all the infidelity to religion which inevitably results; this is the reason why so many nations persist in their ancient errors. “How,” says St. Paul, “are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one preachers?” (Rom. 10:14).

The next harmful consequence is a wrong way of life, and it is because of this that such a great number deceive themselves on what they must do, what they may do, and what is forbidden them; consequently they advance in the way of evil, having had no instruction by preaching. This is why one day they will repeat with the damned: “Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us” (Wisd. 5:6); or in other words, we have erred because the light of justice has not illuminated us. And what is this light if not preaching which shows us clearly what is just and what is unjust?

Next, among the resultant evils, must be noted the lack of self-knowledge; for the word of the preacher is like to a mirror, in which, according to St. James the Apostle (Jas. 1:23), a man sees himself for what he is. And if there are such a great number of men who do not know the condition of their soul, the danger they run, and the sins into which they fall, it is because they have heard no preaching.

The foolish mistakes committed through a false evaluation of things must also be pointed out; for it is preaching that teaches the superiority of the spiritual over the corporal, the eternal over the temporal, and so on. This it is that those who have not been instructed usually do not have a proper sense of values. This is why the Book of Proverbs makes this recommendation: “Cease not, O my son, to hear instruction: and be not ignorant of the words of knowledge” (Prov. 19:27). These words of knowledge teach us to discern the value of each thing.

Also, we must mention a sterility for doing good as a sad result of an absence of preaching. Just as the absence of rain renders the land dry and unproductive of good fruit, so also when men are deprived of preaching, they stop producing the fruit of good works. “Where there is no knowledge of the soul, there is no good” (Prov. 19:2). This science of the soul is taught by the preacher, for this is his sole end, whereas other sciences have different and special ends.

And worst of all is that fertile condition for evil which results, for a land uncultivated and deprived of rain will not only produce no good fruits but will produce brambles, thorns, and weeds; thus sin increases when preaching ceases. “There is no knowledge of God,” (which preaching propagates) “in the land,” says Osee, and he immediately adds, “cursing, and lying, and killing, and theft and adultery have overflowed: and blood hath touched blood” (Osee 4:1-2).

We must also note as a sad consequence of the absence of preaching, the ravages committed by the enemies of the Church; for they prefer to attack lands where no voice is heard preaching. The prophet recommended the opposite of this when he said: “Let there be a trumpet in thy throat” (Osee 8:1); this trumpet, according to the gloss, is public preaching. Soon afterwards the prophet, wishing to give the reason for his advice, adds: “Like an eagle upon the house of the Lord” (Osee 8:1); that is, the eagle, the symbol of the devil, threatens to invade the house of God, if he is not put to flight by the outcries of the preacher.

Finally, slumbering in the midst of danger must be mentioned as a consequence of the absence of preaching. As Jonas slept in the bottom of the boat when his life was in danger, so also would the majority of men do if the preacher did not awake them from their torpor, as the pilot awoke Jonas saying to him: “Why art thou fast asleep? Rise up, call upon thy God” (Jonas 1:6). On this, St. Gregory has made the observation that, by a hidden and impenetrable judgment of heaven, the preaching of holy subjects is sometimes held from some perverted people, who are unworthy to be awakened by its grace.



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Text from the 1951 Newman Press edition, Walter Conlon O.P. editor

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