Article XXXV: Of Homilies
This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.
Article XXXV: Of Homilies
The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome doctrine and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth: and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the ministers diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.
Of the Names of the Homilies.
- Of the right Use of the Church.
- Against peril of Idolatry.
- Of the repairing and keeping clean of Churches.
- Of good Works: first of Fasting.
- Against Gluttony and Drunkenness.
- Against Excess of Apparel.
- Of Prayer.
- Of the Place and Time of Prayer.
- That Common Prayers and Sacraments ought to be ministered in a known tongue.
- Of the reverend estimation of God’s Word.
- Of Alms-doing.
- Of the Nativity of Christ.
- Of the Passion of Christ.
- Of the Resurrection of Christ.
- Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
- Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.
- For the Rogation-days.
- Of the state of Matrimony.
- Of Repentance.
- Against Idleness.
- Against Rebellion
In my post on Article VI, I omitted the list of books of the Bible. Who wants to look at a big list of anything? However, I have left the full list of all the homilies here, because I think the range of topics is illustrative of the concerns of the middle years of the 16th century. Apparently, there were a lot of gluttons (hence the bits about fasting) who went to poorly maintained churches wearing fancy clothes. Or something like that.
These sermons are quite dense, even by 16th century standards. But that’s not surprising, because they were promulgated to teach Reformed doctrine to a populace just settling in to a post-Roman church. Clergy were not always well educated, so many preachers were not licensed to compose their own sermons; rather, they read from these homilies. The authorities wanted to ensure that people got a solid dose of Reformed teaching — and did they ever.
Setting aside the anti-Jewish remark here, have a read through the conclusion of “Of the repairing and keeping clean of Churches” for a good flavor of the agenda and tone of thee sermons:
And forasmuch as your Churches are scoured and swept from the sinfull and superstitious filthinesse wherewith they were defiled and disfigured: Doe yee your partes, good people to keepe your Churchs comely and cleane, suffer them not to bee defiled with raine and weather, with doung of doues, and owles, stares, and choughs, and other filthinesse, as it is foule and lamentable to behold in many places of this countrey. It is the house of prayer, not the house of talking, of walking, of brawling, of minstrelsie, of hawkes, of dogs. Prouoke not the displeasure and plagues of GOD, for despising & abusing his holy house, as the wicked Iewes did. But haue GOD in your heart, be obedient to his blessed will, bind your selues euery man and woman, to your power, toward the reparations and cleane keeping of the Church, to the intent that yee may be partakers of GODS manifold blessings, and that yee may be the better encouraged to resort to your parish Church, there to learne your duetie towards GOD and your neighbour, there to be present and partakers of Christs holy Sacraments, there to render thankes to your heauenly Father for the manifold benefits which hee daily powreth vpon you, there to pray together, and to call vpon GODS holy Name, which be blessed world without end. Amen.
Actually, there’s something appealing about much of what’s said. Our care of our church buildings does indeed have much to do with the practice of our faith, and hence of our relationship of God. Do our church buildings show forth of the glory of God? Or do they tell the world that we just couldn’t be bothered? Each of the homilies has some great points, along with plenty that will leave you furrowing your brow or even muttering under your breath. Still, if you are so inclined, I commend the homilies to you. As with much else, they are a bit uneven, but there is plenty of gold to mine from these works.
Generally speaking, I find the state of preaching today to be underwhelming. Preachers rarely make (or have) the time to craft sermons of great eloquence or depth. Instead, sermon preparation must be wedged into a number of other activities. In one church I attended, the rector used to give astoundingly good sermons. Later, I learned he devoted 20 hours to preparing each sermon. No wonder his sermons were great!
The subject of preaching — and how to make it better — could be the subject of another blog series. Suffice it to say that the preacher must be well educated in theology, a care-filled pastor, a person of deep and contagious faith, and someone with a vision to share with a community of hearers. And good preaching takes good preparation.
Here are some questions for pondering or meditation:
- Do you find that preaching in today’s church is adequate?
- How might preaching in the church today be improved?
- Is there a place for preachers to present the sermons of others (with credit, of course!) if the preacher is not a gifted homilist?
Thus far, I have made use of collects from the American prayer book. For this Article, I have excerpted George Herbert’s “Prayer before sermon“.
Lord Jesu! teach thou me, that I may teach them: sanctify, enable all my powers, that in their full strength they may deliver thy message reverently, readily, faithfully and fruitfully. O make thy word a swift word, passing from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the life and conversation: that has the rain returns not empty, so neither may thy word, but accomplish that for which it is given. O Lord hear, O Lord forgive! O Lord, harken, and do so for thy blessed Son’s sake. Amen.
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Next: Article XXXVI: Of consecration of bishops and ministers
Not to absolve the laity in our part of God’s mission here on earth, but if sermons today were generally adequate throughout the Episcopal Church, our churches would be full.
It is, in part, the laity’s fault by not giving our preachers the time to adequately prepare.
It is, in part, the laity’s fault by not expecting our preachers to take adequate time to prepare.
It is, in part, the laity’s fault by accepting that an MDiv is adequate preparation, and not providing the support (time, money) for extended theological education.
I wanted to say this so that it is a matter of record that I am not (only) blaming our priests for the current state of affairs. The laity needs to demand changes.
That said, are the clergy informing their congregations of what it takes to change the current state of affairs?
Augustine in De Doctrina actually recommends that pastors who aren’t confident in their own speaking ability read sermons written by others. I don’t think that that should be normal practice, but there’s certainly a place for it.