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Pulpit Orators of Mediæval Europe T is a long journey through time from the period 11 of the decadence of classic oratory to the revolu
tionary era at the close of the eighteenth century, in which the Demosthenes and Cicero of the far past first found their rivals upon the stage of modern eloquence. In this lapse of nearly eighteen centuries, though the art of oratory survived, its field of exercise was greatly narrowed. In Europe, the home of such civilization as existed, free speech in political affairs was almost a thing unknown. The hand of the autocrat lay heavily upon the neck of the nations, and secular thought was “cabined, cribbed, confined.” Only in England, in those periods when the people rose in revolt against the tyranny of their kings, was there any freedom of speech in parliamentary halls. During the extended era in question oratory, as a rule, was restricted to the clergy, to whom the broad domain of morals and religion lay freely open, and to whose care was left such education and philosophy as existed. It is, therefore, in the Church that we must seek the leading orators of mediæval times. During most of the age in question, learning and thought drifted very largely into the cloister and monastery, while the ignorance and immorality of the people called for strenuous efforts on the part of the keepers of the public conscience, and the leaders in thought and education. All this gave rise to an abundance of ecclesiastical oratory, of which a considerable sum is still in evidence, while secular oratory during the period in question is almost unknown.
ST. AUGUSTINE (354-430)
F all the Fathers of the Latin Church," says Villemain,
“ Saint Augustine manifested the most imagination in theo
logy; the most eloquence, and even sensibility, in scholasticism.” Born at Tagasta, in Numidia, he studied Greek, rhetoric and philosophy, at Carthage and Madaura, while his mother, Monica, a devout Christian, instructed him in religion. He taught grammar and rhetoric, and in 384 became professor of rhetoric and philosophy at Milan. His career up to this time had been one of immorality, but, affected by the sermons of Saint Ambrose, he became devoutly religious, joined the Church, and was thenceforth a preacher and writer of the highest ability among the early theologians. His reputation as an eloquent preacher was very great. His life, as preacher and author, was passed in Africa, where he died at Hippo in 430, during the siege of that city by the Vandals.
THE LORD'S PRAYER [The following is the opening portion of a sermon by Saint Augustine, on the subject of “The Lord's Prayer,” which he analyzes throughout in the manner here presented. It is an excellent example of his oratorical method.]
The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, hath taught us a prayer; and though He be the Lord himself, as ye have heard and repeated in the Creed, the only Son of God, yet He would not be alone. He is the Only Son, and yet would not be alone; He hath vouchsafed to have brethren. For to whom doth He say, Say, our Father, which art in Heaven?” Whom did He wish us to call our Father, save His own Father! Did He grudge us this ? Parents sometimes, when they have gotten one, two, or three children, fear to give birth to any more, lest they reduce the rest to beggary. But because the inheritance which He
promised us is such as many may possess, and no one can be straitened, therefore hath He called into His brotherhood the peoples of the nations ; and the Only Son hath numberless brethren, who say, “Our Father, which art in Heaven." So said those who have been before us; and so shall say those who will come after us. See how many brethren the Only Son hath in His grace, sharing His inheritance with those for whom He suffered death. We had a father and mother on earth, that we might be born to labors and to death ; but we have found other parents, God our father and the Church our mother, by whom we are born into life eternal. Let us then consider, beloved, whose children we have begun to be ; and let us live so as becomes those who have such a father. See how our Creator hath condescended to be our Father !
We have heard whom we ought to call upon, and with what hope of an eternal inheritance we have begun to have a Father in Heaven ; let us now hear what we must ask of him, Of such a father what shall we ask ? Do we not ask rain of Him, to-day, and yesterday, and the day before? This is no great thing to have asked of such a Father, and yet ye see with what sighings, and with what great desire, we ask for rain, when death is feared—when that is feared which none can escape. For sooner or later every man must die, and we groan, and pray, and travail in pain, and cry to God, that we may die a little later. How much more ought we to cry to Him, that we may come to that place where we shall never die !
Therefore it is said, “Hallowed be Thy name.” This, we also ask of Him that His name may be hallowed in us; for holy is it always. And how is His name hallowed in us, except while it makes us holy ? For once we were not holy, and we are made holy in His name; but He is always holy, and His name always holy. It is for ourselves, not for God, that we pray. For we do not wish well to God, to whom no ill can ever happen. But we wish what is good for ourselves, that His holy name may be hallowed in us.
“Thy kingdom come.” Come it surely will, whether we ask or no. Indeed, God hath an eternal kingdom. For when did He not reign? When did He begin to reign ? For His kingdom hath no beginning, nor shall it have any end. But that ye may know that in this prayer also we pray for ourselves, and not for God, we shall be ourselves His kingdom, if believing in Him we make progress in this faith. All the faithful, redeemed by the blood of His only Son, will be His kingdom, and this His kingdom will come when the resurrection of the dead shall have taken place; for then He will come Himself.
ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (347-407)
JOHN OF THE GOLDEN MOUTH
HE title “ golden-mouthed ” was given to Chrysostom as
tribute to the splendor of his eloquence. Born at Antioch,
Syria, he studied oratory to enter the legal profession; but instead became a monk, and a preacher of such eloquence, earnestness and practical sense that he was accounted the greatest orator of the ancient church. Appointed Archbishop of Constantinople in 398, he became an earnest reformer, denouncing the vices of the court and employing the revenues of the Church so largely in charity that he was called “John the Almoner.” This course did not please the parties in power, and he was deposed and banished to a desert region. Here he continued to preach with his old zeal. Again he was banished to a more remote region, being made to travel on foot, with his bare head exposed to a burning sun. This cruelty proved fatal, and he died on the journey, blessing God with his dying lips.
DEATH A BLESSED DISPENSATION [Chrysostom was an active writer, and many of his works exist, the most valuable being his “Homilies,” the best of their kind in ancient Christian literature. He, in the words of the historian Sozomen, was “ mighty to speak and to convince, surpassing all the orators of his time.”]
Believe me, I am ashamed and blush to see unbecoming groups of women pass along the mart, tearing their hair, cutting their arms and cheeks—and all this under the eyes of the Greeks. For what will they not say? What will they not utter concerning us? Are these the men who philosophize about a resurrection ? Indeed! How poorly their actions agree with their opinions! In words, they philosophize about a resurrection : but they act just like those who do not acknowledge a resurrection. If they fully believed in a resurrection, they would not act