Humbert of Romans
Fifth Master General of the Order of Preachers


To one who has no close association with the Order of Preachers, the appearance of this volume should give rise to at least one question, namely, who is Humbert of Romans? This is quite understandable since Humbert is almost exclusively a “family” celebrity; his fame rests upon the literary and administrative talents he exercised within and in behalf of the Dominican Order.

His life, though rich in sanctity and solid achievement, was devoid of the spectacular. The exact date of his birth (in the small village of Romans) is unknown, but it was at the end of the twelfth century. He passed his boyhood in peaceful obscurity, and at the University of Paris, instead of the carousing common of students, he applied himself to a life of deep piety, praying much and practicing mortification and almsgiving. He obtained a Master’s Degree, and was a member of the faculty of the University when he entered the Order in 1224. His holiness and learning did not go unnoticed; in 1240 he was chosen as Provincial of Tuscany; in 1244 he became Provincial of France and governed wisely until 1254 when he was elected as the fifth Master General of the Order. He held this position until his resignation in 1263. He died in Provence in 1277.

In governing, he demonstrated both indulgence and severity when either was required, and he combined a broad outlook with a genius for detail. Under his rule, the Order flourished in Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and England. Humbert sent missionaries to the Greeks, Hungarians, Saracens, Armenians, Syrians, Ethiopians, and Tartars. He regulated the liturgy of the Divine Office, determined the suffrages of for the dead, commanded the history of the Order be recorded, and even issued minute decrees concerning the election of superiors, the reading of the constitution at meals, the transfer of Friars from on convent to another and other pertinent regulations.

As Master-General, Humbert molded the youthful Dominican Order not only by his prudent government but also by his writings. The latter were prolific. Humbert authored expositions or commentaries on the Rule of St. Augustine, the Constitutions of the Order, the three Vows of Religion, the Virtues, and the Divine Office. He wrote a life of St. Dominic, a dogmatic and historical account of the General Council of Lyons, and works dealing with the administration of the Order.

This brief sketch of his life and accomplishments should be sufficient to place the author’s competence beyond question. Yet, this book is not being published in order to make Humbert better known. It is presented to fill a very definite need. The majority of modern books on preaching fall rather easily into one of several categories, namely, collections of sermons, suggested outlines for sermons, or the method of writing sermons. This volume is more fundamental; it is concerned with the basic principles and, therefore, is in no danger of being outdated or old-fashioned. Humbert treats of the main aspects of preaching, and displays his happy capacity for wedding general principles to minute details. The general tone is lofty with a wealth of quotations from Scripture and the Fathers, and yet the whole is studded with practical suggestions.

The modern preacher faces a world tragically similar tot hat in which the Church was born. Christian morality indeed governs the actions of millions of individuals but it is pagan materialism that predominates in the social, political, and economic lives of nations. The result is painfully apparent in the uncertainty, insecurity, and the spiritual hunger prevalent today. Christ’s Apostles changed the complexion of human society by preaching the Gospel; they modern apostle must go and do likewise. Society must be leavened by faith in Christ, but “. . . how shall they believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14.)

The present work is an excellent guide to fruitful preaching; may it also serve to enkindle the zeal of those who are chosen not only to offer the Verbum Dei on the altar but also to propound the Verbum Dei from the pulpit.

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

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