BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


The Characters of Theophrastus

Theophrastus


Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller


Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


Homiletics

by Johann Michael Reu

Excerpt:

These objections have no weight. As to the first, it is true that rhetoric and oratory may be and have been put to base uses in the service of falsehood and evil, and that there have been schools of rhetoric, not only in ancient Greece, that were nurseries of sophistry and instilled the art of making an evil cause appear good. But the fault in this case lies not with rhetoric, but in the character of its teachers and practitioners. Plato already set himself sternly against such an abuse of oratory and the art of rhetoric, and was ably supported by Quintilian. The latter laid down the principle, abusus non tollit usum, and demanded that the orator be a vir bonus. He held it an injustice to call anything evil which could be put to a good use, and maintained that, since language marked the essential distinction between man and the brute creation, nothing was better worth one's labor and cultivation than the gift of speech. When oratory was later termed by Kant the art of deceiving by a fair outward show,1 it must be borne in mind that this antipathy is to be traced ultimately to the great philosopher's erroneous opinion that there is no ethically permissible means of influencing man other than logical demonstration. This objection carries no weight even in the sphere of rhetoric, much less in that of Homiletics, which is indebted to rhetoric on its formal side alone.

So far as the second objection is concerned, namely, that Homiletics is unnecessary, since the Spirit of God alone makes a successful preacher, it is true that without the aid of the Holy Spirit there cannot be a successful preacher; but it does not follow that the Holy Spirit will put the words in the preacher's mouth without the latter's own diligent labor. The reference to Matt. 10: 19 f. betrays a careless or capricious reading of this text. Jesus is speaking here not at all of the regular activity of the preacher, but of the plight of the disciple compelled to defend himself before a heathen tribunal. The reference to 1 Cor. 2:4 and 13 is no happier. Paul's declaration that his speech and preaching in Corinth was not iv TrtiOoU oo&as X6yoi<s, and that his apostolic preaching in general was not couched bj Siscuctois avOpwrrlvrj? oo&as Adyois, aW ev 8i8a«rois Trvevfiaros, cannot be understood as militating against careful training for the preparation of regular sermons. In the former passage the apostle sets his own

1Kritik der Urteilskraft, § 53.

method over against the sophistic arts of a decadent Greek rhetoric and over against the unfortunate fondness of the Corinthians for oratorical display; in the latter he emphasizes the ultimate source of the apostolic message. Nor is it possible to make capital of the fact that the apostles were unlettered fishermen and publicans,2 who none the less achieved a blessed ministry. This would be to overlook the principle, that what is true of the period of the Church's founding, when Christianity entered the world as something absolutely new, cannot be applied without modification to all succeeding periods. It must not be forgotten that, although the apostles were plain, uncultured men, they were unquestionably men of rich native endowment, chosen by Christ Himself, and trained for three years in His school. Moreover, the apostle whose labors accomplished most in the cultured ancient world was the very one who had enjoyed the most thorough academic training.

The direct opposite of the preceding are the objectors who, instead of leaving all to the Holy Spirit, ascribe all to Nature and hold that Nature is an abler teacher than Homiletics. The former place the emphasis upon the Holy Spirit, these upon the spirit of man; yet both are at one in the futility of their argument. These nature-lovers operate with a mistaken view of both nature and art. Nature does not signify a purely aboriginal condition, but includes growth and development. Where nature meets us at its loveliest and best, it is generally as the result of a preceding development. True art, including a proper Homiletics, is never in conflict with nature. Art indeed exerts an influence upon nature, but in such a manner as to accommodate and adjust itself to its inner being, in order to lead nature to its completion and make it tributary to the ideal of the human spirit. Art presupposes nature with all its inherent possibilities, but it sets these pos

sibilities in their proper combination, strips them of impediments, assists them to attain to free expression, and thus brings what was originally latent in nature as a sort of raw material to complete and harmonious realization. Thus the native gift of speech is brought by Homiletics to fuller development and fitted to serve the definite purpose of the kingdom of God. Even if it were true that nature is the sole teacher, especially in the case of the genius, it would also be true that whoever mastered the laws according to which nature produces the gift of oratory in a genius would be in possession of her secret and in a position to duplicate her success. But history teaches us that geniuses are by no means mere children of nature, but consciously pursue their art and strive with infinite pains to master its underlying laws. And when their finished products appear before us in such perfection of form as to move us to confess that here art has again become nature, it is only because by dint of laborious studies and continual practice they made the rules and canons of art so completely a part of themselves that their native ability could not but express itself in complete conformity with these canons. To be sure, an art-theory of preaching cannot compensate for a lack of natural ability, but it can develop and improve such ability where it exists. It can even take one who is without native ability to preach and enable him to prepare and deliver a passable sermon, the more since a sermon cannot be judged solely from the viewpoint of rhetoric.

Alexander Vinet,3 justly calls attention to two errors that commonly arise in connection with the discussion of the value of Homiletics. The one, he says, consists in expecting too little from Homiletics, the other in expecting too much. The former sets nature and grace over against art, the latter mistrusts grace and nature. The best result will un


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