Bernard Feeney.

Manual of sacred rhetoric; or, How to prepare a sermon online

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Sacteb IRbetoric;


Mow to prepare a Sermon*


1RCV. JSernar^ JFeenei^t

5/f. Joseph's College,
Mt, Angely Ore.

ST. LOUIS, MO., 1901.

Published by B. HARDER,

17 South Broadway.


St. Ivouis, Mo., November 6th, 1900.

H. MuHHi^si^P^N, V. G.




Copyright, 1901, by Joseph Gummersbach.


Some hold that Preaching is not an art.

*^A11 your rules of rhetoric, sacred and
profane/' they say, ^^are comprised in the
good old American maxim: Fill yourself
full of your subject, as though you were a
barrel; take out the bung; and let nature

It is hardly credible that such advice
could be given or taken seriously. Yet
men, unlikely to make a jest of sacred
things, have been known to give it; and
sermons heard occasionally in our pulpits
prove that it is sometimes followed in prac-
tice. Nay, often the practice improves on
the advice, and dispenses altogether with
the * 'filling up" process.

There must be art in the doing of any
work in which complex means have to be
employed to do it well ; for art is the skill-
ful use of such means, whether the work be
a kitchen table or an epic poem. Now,



ii Introduction.

Preaching relying on divine help, under-
takes a very difficult and complicated work,
namely, to move the will of another from a
state of apathy or opposition to activity in
a definite direction. To do this, several
means have to be employed : obstacles and
prepossessions have to be removed ; interest
has to be awakened j the intellect has to be
enlightened by exposition and illustration ;
the feelings have to be aroused and enlisted f
the will itself has to be brought under the
direct influence of motives calculated to
determine it to action. Each of these
means has to be wisely regulated by laws
taken from the highest achievements of ora-
tory and based on the principles of human
thought and conduct. Hence, the necessity
of an ai-t of Sacred Rhetoric, to acquire
knowledge of those laws and skill in their

^^ApostoUc Preaching'' is often spoken of
as the ideal form of announcing the divine
Word; and because the Apostles are not
credited with a knowledge of rhetoric, their
preaching is supposed to have been crude
and unartistic. From this it is inferred that
unstudied, unarranged discourse, when

Introduction. iii

prompted by zeal, is immensely superior to
discourse that is well ordered and elaborated.
To such reasoning it is enough to reply, that
we are not the Apostles : we have not seen
our Saviour in the flesh j we have not lived
in daily intercourse with Him for years ; we
have not witnessed His miracles. His Re-
surrection; we have not the whole-souled
earnestness of the Apostles, — their ardent
zeal, their heroic sanctity. We cannot,
therefore, presume to preach as they
preached, unless, having seen what they
saw, we live and labor as they lived and
labored, and be ready to die as they died.
The same may be said of the preaching of
saints and saintly men. One must be a
Cure of Ars to preach as the Cure of Ars.
The truth is, that the Church, from the
beginning, under divine guidance, took the
arts into her service; and, from being
ministers of sin, she made them agents of
grace for its destruction. Music, painting,
sculpture, poetry have been so employed by
her ; and the glorious records of the Catholic
pulpit, from Cyprian to Lacordaire, show
conclusively that the art of oratory was en-
listed with the others.

iv Introduction,

Preaching, then, being an art, must be
studied as all art is studied, by learning its
rules or methods, and by applying them.
The knowledge of rhetorical rules is of no
practical account without assiduous exercise
in their application. Hence, to turn out
efficient preachers, long and uninterrupted
training in the composition and delivery of
sermons is absolutely necessary. This
training should begin in the preparatory
seminary and be continued up to the time
of ordination. In most seminaries, I be-
lieve, there is no provision made for the
practice of English composition during the
philosophy course; and, even in theology,
the only exercises in it are the writing of a
few sermons. The consequence is stiffness
and gradual loss of skill in the literary ex-
pression of all thought, intellectual, emo-
tional, or imaginative. And this con-
sequence follows all the more surely, when
Latin is the only language used in the prin-
cipal classes ; for it is well known that the
daily use of a foreign tongue makes it diffi-
cult to speak or write one^s own fluently
and idiomatically. The official language of
the Church must, indeed, be familiar to

Introduction, V

every priest ; but its influence on the use of
the vernacular must be neutralized; and
this can be done only by systematic exercise
in it as frequently as possible.

I know that those charged with the train-
ing of our clergy give much anxious thought
to the selection of such exercises and studies
as are best adapted to the formation of an
efficient priesthood. It is, then, with no
purpose of censuring the present seminary
curriculum, that I would suggest some such
provisions as the following for the con-
tinuous training of our clerical students in
composition and delivery.

First, in the preparatory seminary, I
would recommend that subjects for essays
be taken exclusively from Bible history, in-
cluding the Life and Parables of our divine
Lord, as well as the topography of the Holy
Land and the manners, dress, domestic life
and religious worship of the Jewish people.
Themes taken from such subjects will surely
be more conducive to the end of seminary
training than those usually given in the
rhetoric class. I would also confine elo-
cutionary exercises to the practice of expres-
sive reading and graceful gesture.

vi Introduction.

Secondly, one or two classes should be
given every week to composition during the
philosophy course. The aim in these classes
should be ease and skill in the emotional
and imaginative types of prose. In all
literature, no better models of these types
can be found than the Psalms and Prophe-
cies of the Bible. These, then, ought to be
read carefully and repeatedly, and after-
wards reproduced or paraphrased. If the
seminary cannot afford a teacher for this
work, the young philosophers should be
urged to do it by themselves; and some
gentle pressure might be brought to bear on
them to provide against their forgetting it.

The rules of Sacred Ehetoric ought to be
mastered in the first year's theology and
applied in the succeeding years. The best
means of applying them, I should say, is
not class or chapel sermons — although
these, too, are necessary — but carefully
written and memorized instructions de-
livered in parish churches, at first in the
Sunday school and afterwards at the Masses.
I know there may be serious obstacles to
such parish work ; but I am convinced there
is none that cannot be overcome by tact
and patience.

Inlroduction. vii

It will be thought by some that these
suggestions, however useful in theory, re-
quire in practice an undue share of the time
available for seminary study and class work.
In reply, I would ask, is the main purpose of
an American seminary the formation of pro-
found theologians, without any trained
ability of expression ? Of what practical
use would such men be in our missions ?
Does an apprentice become a finished car-
penter by the study of mechanics ? Could
a man be trusted to run a locomotive be-
cause he knows all about the theory of
steam ? Does not common sense insist on
practical training for all other professions I
— why, then, make exception of the priest-
hood ? If anything has to be crushed out
of the curriculum, why must it be the art of
Preaching — practised skiU in discharging
a primary duty of our ministry? Our
divine Lord did not say to the Apostles:
*^Go and learn the Protean changes of
Katal, the force of Grreek particles, the
interpretation of Koptic papyri and Tel-
el- Amarna tablets ;'' but ^^Gro teach ye
all nations/' This commission imposes
two duties on seminaries: to impart knowl-

viii Introduction.

edge of what to teach, and skill in how to
teach it. The one duty is as important and
essential as the other. A priest who knows
only his catechism and his Bible, but is well
trained in the art of appropriate expression,
is better equipped for saving souls, than
one who has the Summa and its commen-
taries on his fingers' ends, but cannot turn
out a decent English sentence. With all
respect, therefore, for other seminary clas-
ses, I claim a place, and an important place,
for the class of Sacred Ehetoric.

It is not the time, however, given for such
a class that tells with seminarians, as much
as the rank the class holds in the seminary
and the importance attached to it by the
diocesan authorities. The examination for
Orders should test quite as carefully the
candidate's fitness for the pulpit as his fit-
ness for the confessional. Furthermore,
diocesan promotions should be made to de-
pend largely on efficiency in preaching.
Insistance on such efficiency as a conditio
sine qua non would contribute greatly to
emphasize the importance of preaching for
seminarians and priests alike.

This Manual has been written from a

Introduction, ix

strong conviction that something has to be
done to make the average Sunday sermon
more instructive, more interesting, more
effective of spiritual good than it is at
present. Preaching is, no doubt, of as high
an order now as it has ever been; but it
should be higher. The intelligence of those
we address is keener, more developed, more
inclined to scepticism, perhaps, than in past
generations; and it will not be influenced
by cant or shallowness or tricks of style or
attitude. In these days, we must show our-
selves * ^masters of the situation,'' we must
^^teach like one having authority,'' if we are
to keep our hold on our people. Say what
we may about our ^ ^gigantic strides" during
the last century, there has been much
weakening of faith among us from our
close contact with non-Catholic society and
literature. It is evident, then, that a much
more strenuous effort is needed now than
was needed fifty or a hundred years ago, to
safeguard Catholics against the dangers,
intellectual and moral, pressing in on them
from this contact.

From what I have here written, the two-
fold object of this Work may be inferred.

X Introduction,

It is intended, first of all, to inculcate the
necessity of earnest preparation for preach-
ing, in view of the present requirements of
American life, non-Catholic as well as
Catholic. Its other object, equally im-
portant as the first and demanding more
detailed treatment, is to show ^^How to
prepare a Sermon.'' The idea throughout
is to say a first word, not the last, on proper
equipment for the American Catholic pulpit.
The Chapters on the Character of the
Preacher, on his Intellectual Equipment,
ann on the Systematic Teaching of Religion,
are republished, with permission, from the
American Ecclesiastical Review,


Chapter. Page.

I. What is Preaching 5

II. Personal Character of the Preacher 20

III. Mental Equipment 33

IV. Faculty of Expression 51

V. Systematic Teaching of Religion 69

VI. Definite Object of Sermon 80

VII. Form of a Sermon 92

VIII. Introduction 1 107

IX, Proposition and Division 129

X. Narration and Description 147

XI. Exposition in General 167

XII. Definition 176

XIII. Illustration 208

XIV. Historical Development. 229

XV. Application 246

XVI. Persuasion 262

XVII. Conclusion 281

XVIII. Meditation of Theme 301

XIX. Reading for Matter 311

XX. Arrangement and Composition 323

What is Preaching?

Eloquence is the faculty of persuading
another to some definite object. Spoken
language is its chief and ordinary form.
Refined to an art and embodied in continued
oral discourse, it is styled oratory. This is
divided into sacred and profane, according
as the object to be attained belongs to the
supernatural or the natural order.

Sacred oratory is popularly called Preach-
ing, and may be defined as the address of a
duly appointed minister of Christ on the re-
vealed word of Grod, by which an audience,
/assisted by divine grace, is persuaded to
some definite object in the supernatural
order. Preaching of itself cannot be the
efficient cause of conversion, as it was not
instituted by our divine Lord to give sanc-
tifying grace ; but it is appointed by Him to
dispose the will to receive and use those
actual graces by which man is raised to the
supernatural life or confirmed in it.


6 Manual of Sacred Bhetoric,

r The object of Preaching is persuasion,
that is, the movement of the will to some
practical issue conducive to salvation. The
enlightenment of the intellect by the exposi-
tion of revealed truth is a necessary means
to the attainment of that object, — but only
a means. A minister of the Glospel who
would make it the end of his discourse
might speak learnedly and usefully, but he
would not preach. To do this, he should,
by exposition and appeal to the feelings and
passions, disgust men^s souls with sin and
en amor them of the sweet yoke of Christ;
he should stir them to their lowest depths
and inmost recesses; he should pull the
bandage from their eyes and show them,
with blanched cheek and awe-stricken look,
the gulf yawning at their feet, the love of
Him who came to save them from it, the
death by which He saved them, and the
bright and endless future which that death
has secured for them.

That the movement of the will — not
merely the instruction of the understand-
ing — was to be the object of all apostolic
preaching, is evident from the words our
divine Lord addressed to His apostles im-

Manual of Sacred Rhetoric, 7

mediately before He ascended into Heaven :
^^Groing therefore teach ye all nations.'^
Here the word teach is an inadequate trans-
lation of the Grreek word used which
means not solely to teach, but to make dis-
ciples by teaching ; that is, to use words of
fire that will at the same time enlighten and
in-fiame, — that will instruct the understand-
ing and reform the will

This, too, is the meaning of St. PauPs
words in his Epistle to the Hebrews: ^'The
word of Grod is living and effectual, and
more piercing than any two-edged sword:
and reaching to the division of the soul and
the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow,
and is a discerner of the thoughts and in-
tents of the heart.''

The subject-matter of Preaching is the
Gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, the whole
body of revelation, clustered round and
centering in the Atonement of Calvary. In
other words, it is the Logos, foreshadowed
in the Old Law and fully revealed in the
New; the Logos teaching, saving, govern-
ing, as Prophet, Priest, and King; the
Logos as the Way, the Truth and the Life, —
the Way guiding human conduct by His

8 Manual of Sacred Bhetoric.

commandments and counsels, the Truth en-
lightening the human intellect by the dog-
mas of revelation, the Life raising men to
the supernatural state by the Sacraments,
the Sacrifice of the Mass, and other salutary
helps. This sublime subject must be taught
in popular, persuasive language, as its direct
and primary end is to unite the souls of men
with Grod through the grace of Jesus Christ.

There is no true Christian Preaching with-
out a legitimate mission. '^You have not
chosen me,'' says our divine Lord, ^^hut I
have chosen you, that you may go and hear
fruit, and your fruit may remain.^ ^ Hence,
the preaching of those not chosen will bear
no permanent fruit, though they speak with
the vigor of the Baptist, with the eloquence
of Chrysostom. Their words may produce
a temporary commotion and excitement,
such as electricity produces in a dead body ;
but the body remains dead all the same.
In fact, preaching without a mission is as
irregular in the religious order, as the ad-
ministration of Lynch law is in the civil.

Preaching is an organic function of the
Church. It is like the Sacraments in this,
that Christ is the primary and efficient cause

Manual of Sacred Bhetoric, 9

or agent of the effect produced, the preach-
er^ s office being only secondary and minis-
terial. St. Paul teaches this truth with
notable persistence. ^^Let a man so ac-
count of us as ministers of Christ and
the dispensers of the mysteries of Grod.^^
*^ We are therefore ambassadors for Christ,
God, as it were, exhorting by us.'' ^'Do
you seek a proof of Christ that speak-
eth in me? ' ' Indeed, this idea of our teach-
ing as Christ's ambassadors or representa-
tives is significanly contained in the Grreek
word used by St. Mark to express our
divine Lord's commission to the apostles,
so that the full meaning of the text is: Go
ye into the whole world, and, as my ambas-
sadors , teach the Gospel to every creature.
Still more explicitly Christ Himself conveys
this important truth in the words : You are
not they who speak: hut the Spirit of the
Father speaJceth in you. And elsewhere : He
that heareth you heareth Me: and he that
despiseth you despiseth Me, The ambassador
acts ministerially and is identified with the
power that sends him: to hear the one is to
hear the other.
In preaching, then, the priest stands be-

10 Manual of Sacred Bhetoric,

fore his people as the representative, the ex-
ponent, the voice of Jesus Christ: Grod ex-
horts by him ; Christ speaks in him. What
a sublime dignity, and what an incentive to
painstaking, adequate preparation ! ^ ^ What
would Christ say if He stood here in the
flesh before this congregation ? How would
He say it? How am I to say the same thing
so as not to discredit my ministry or Him
whom I represent r' To every zealous
priest, these questions will be full of inspira-
tion. Knowing that ^^every best gift and
every perfect gift is from above, ^^ he will
begin his preparation with prayer ; he will
study his subject thoroughly ; his vivid con-
ception of it will suggest ample illustra-
tions; he will keep a definite object before
him, and use every effort to attain it; he
will be simple, direct, earnest, fearless, as
Christ Himself would be ; in his delivery, he
will put aside all thought of self, all timidity,
all human respect, no matter in whose
presence he stands; for as ambassador of
his divine Master, he will teach as one hav-
ing power J as a workman that needeth not to
he ashamed, rightly handling the word of

Manual of Sacred Bhetoric. 11

Some pulpit deliverances that we hear and
read are not worthy of the name of Christ-
tian preaching. Here, for example, is a
sermon on Honest Dealing. The preacher
is wholly taken up with giving a material
view of his theme, and makes but a pass-
ing allusion to its connexion with the super-
natural life. ^ ^Honesty safeguards against
the penitentiary ; Honesty begets confidence,
respect and esteem; Honesty is the best
policy — it brings compound interest.^'
These are the points developed ; and to en-
force them, only the grossest self-interest is
appealed to. It is safe to say that there is
scarcely a passage in the whole discourse
that might not have been delivered by a
pagan philosopher, if, indeed, he would be
capable of uttering such commonplace plat-
itudes. The preacher evidently forgot that
a minister of the Grospel should preach the
Gospel and the Gospel only. ^Treach the
Gospel to every creature,'^ is the commis-
sion given to the apostles and through them
to every duly appointed pastor of souls.
We have no divine command to teach
human philosophy. Ethical discourses are
useful in their place ; but their place is not

12 Manual of Sacred Bhetoric,

the Christian pulpit. I admit that self-
interest and other natural motives not only-
may, but should, be urged by a preacher as
secondary incentives to supernatural action.
But to confine one's self wholly to them and
thereby imply their sufficiency for the be-
ginning and development of Christian life
is a grave mistake involving doctrinal error
and leading to pernicious practical results.
Christian doctrine is sometimes explained
in such a dry, didactic manner, that it ex-
ercises no influence on the will or spiritual
nature of the hearer. His acceptance of
divine truth seems nothing more than a
purely intellectual act, or, at best, it is only
that dead faith of which St. James speaks.
Such discourse is not preaching. Our mis-
sion is not to enlighten the intellect, while
we leave the heart festering in sin. By
virtue of our priesthood we can give back
life to the dead soul ; and by the obligation
of our mission we are commanded to do
so. — Do we fulfill this duty by those vapid,
pointless generalities which we sometimes
pass off on our people for sermons? Think
of the prophet who was told to prophesy to
the dry bones, and to call the spirit from

Manual oj Sacred Bhetoric. 13

the four winds to '^blow on these slain and
let them live again/' — think of him, instead
of fulfilling the divine injunction, discours-
ing to them on osteology or Babylonian
history. Yet such violation of duty would
not be more criminal than is that of a priest
in charge of souls who leaves them to rot in
sin while he explains to them the circumin-
cessio Trinitatis or the communicatio idioma-

Of course, doctrinal instruction has to be
given to the people. Justus mens ex fide vivit.
A Christian life is essentially a supernatural
Hfe, and therefore a life directed by divine
truth. Now divine truth must be first ap-
prehended by the intellect before it in-
fluences the will. All this is undeniable;
but it proves nothing more than that the
knowledge of such truth is a necessary con-
dition of effective preaching. Our divine
Lord, as I have already intimated, did not
send His apostles to establish a school of
philosophy, but a living body of earnest
men, '^ doers of the word, and not hearers
only,*' — men all whose actions should be
supernaturalized by divine knowledge per-
meating their spiritual nature, regulating

14 Manual of Sacred Ehetoric,

the operations of all their faculties, and di-
recting them to the ultimate end of Christian
life, namely, union through Christ with

Wo is unto me, says St. Paul, if I preach
not the Gospel. But what kind of preach-
ing fulfills this grave obligation? Is it ful-
filled by merely talking at random to the
people on Sundays and holidays! Some
priests think so; and they talk usque ad
nauseam, but they do not preach. Being
glib of tongue and in no danger of breaking
down, they never think of making any
serious preparation for their weekly sermon.
Before going into the pulpit, they put to-
gether a few commonplace ideas on the
Grospel of the day, or they read over cur-
sorily some other one's sermon. They then
begin . They lash themselves into a passion
for no apparent reason; they beat the air
with unmeaning gestures; they bellow,
stamp, overwhelm their hearers with a de-
luge of high-sounding but senseless words ;
and when, after much floundering, they
come to an end, they leave the pulpit with
the self-satisfied air of men who have de-
served well of Grod and humanity. But

Manual of Sacred Rhetoric, 15

they are not, as they shall one day find out,
of the seed of those men hy whom salvation
was brought to Israel. They incur the ^^wo''
of St. Paul by not preaching the Gospel,
and they incur that other curse uttered by
Jeremias against those that do the work of
the Lord ^'fraudulenter.''

The people themselves contribute much
toward the continuance of this kind of
preaching. They seem to be satisfied with
it, and sometimes they even applaud it.
Yet how are they bettered by it? Does it
check vice among them? Does it make
them more honest, truthful, pure, charit-
able! Does it bring them to the Sacra-
ments? Does it make the home happier,
more united, more Christian? These quest-
ions the people never put to themselves;
and hence no pressure is brought to bear on
the pastor to make him supply more healthy
food. Human nature does not take kindly
to the earnest preparation necessary for
preaching. It must feel the pressure of
some external, palpable, material motives
before it can be kept easily on a high
level of action. Fear of consequences helps

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