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The Classics in the Pulpit

Ancient Literature and Preaching in the Middle Ages


29–30 January

Convener: Bernhard Hollick (GHIL)
Venue: Online via Zoom


When Thomas Bradwardine held his victory sermon after the battles of Crécy and Neville's Cross in 1346, he did not only refer to the Bible and the church fathers as authorities for his theological ideas. He also quoted Aristotle, Plato, and Ovid. Bradwardine's preference for classical allusions in preaching was by no means exceptional. Medieval preachers regularly introduced their (clerical or lay) audiences to the world of ancient literature, which provided them, amongst other things, with mythological and historical examples, philosophical arguments, and rhetorical models. Of course, such stylistic devices did not necessarily imply any direct acquaintance with classical sources: preachers could rely on a variety of manuals, example collections, and similar texts, in which the respective material was already prepared for homiletic purposes (e.g. by allegorical interpretations of poetic narratives). The combination of pagan and Christian elements in preaching is in itself an interesting phenomenon, but it had, too, an immense cultural impact far beyond the narrower field of pastoral care. Reactions were not always positive, though, but sometimes mocking (Chaucer) or even openly hostile (Wyclif).

At the conference, international experts from different disciplines will shed new light on this striking practice. They will deal with topics such as the reasons and occasions for the use of the classics in preaching, the hermeneutic and literary strategies applied in order to adapt pagan mythology to homiletic needs, the social and educational background of preachers and their audiences, the connections of classicizing sermons with vernacular literature, and the discourse they provoked within the clerical milieu.

To register for this event, please follow this link to Eventbrite.

Conference programme  (PDF file)