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Status preaching

Status preaching May 9, 2013

Julianus Pomerius, who directed a school in sixth-century Gaul, emphasized straightforward, unadorned preaching. “A teacher of the Church should not parade an elaborate style,” he writes in his The Contemplative Life , “lest he seem not to want to edify the Church of God but to reveal what great learning he possesses.” It is not “the glitter of his words” that distinguishes a preacher but “the virtue of his deeds.”

Caesarius was one of his devoted students, and learned the lesson about the rhetoric of preaching well. According to William Klingshirn ( Caesarius of Arles: The Making of a Christian Community in Late Antique Gaul ), the issue was status: “It was the social meaning of rhetoric in late Roman Gaul that gave the [simple] standard its novelty and importance. The spoken word not only communicated information, but also defined social rank. The ability to compose and deliver complex an elegant speeches required many years of education and great expense to perfect. Because this skill was generally available only to members of the aristocracy, it served as a mark of aristocratic birth and carried with it a series of powerful associations. The refined speech of an aristocrat was calculated to reinforce feelings of solidarity with his peers, evoke a sense of deference in his inferiors, and demonstrate to everyone his knowledge and capacity for leadership. Thus, bishops who addressed their congregations in the highly ornate style . . . did so not to confuse their congregations but to establish their credentials as aristocrats, to reinforce their authority as leaders, and to demonstrate their status as spiritual experts.”

Preaching can reinforce or subvert the Pauline declaration that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free.”


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