Carolingian Preaching, by Zachary Guiliano
The consideration of Carolingian sermons is inescapably joined to the discussion of ecclesiastical reforms introduced by Charlemagne and his heirs in their attempt to create a pious, orthodox empire. The beginning of these reforms must be traced, at least, to the Admonitio Generalis of Charlemagne in 789. Yet Charlemagne and his heirs pushed the reform through continual legislation sent to bishops, parish priests, and lay magnates on preaching and clerical education, commanding clergy to adhere to royal and ecclesiastical standards. Priests were to preach sermons regularly, in the vernacular of their region, on Sundays and all feast days. The content of such sermons could vary slightly: allowance was given by legislators for the interpretive and oratorical ability of the preacher. At a bare minimum, preachers were to instruct parishioners in the basics: the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, virtues and vices, and simple orthodoxy, as well as the readings for each day. Relatively unskilled priests were commanded to translate or preach from texts provided by royal officials: Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule and Homilies on the Gospels or the homiliary of Paul the Deacon. Though the latter homiliary was originally compiled to provide patristic readings for the monastic Night Office, so that monasteries could comply with the requirements of Admonitio Generalis, it was soon utilized in parish settings as well. The production of preaching homiliaries and instruction continued throughout the period, with an emphasis on absorbing and implementing patristic standards of teaching.
The reform of Charlemagne and his heirs extended beyond general legislation. Charlemagne paired episcopal appointments with personal directives on reform, which new bishops were eager to carry out in their cathedral liturgies, as well as throughout their dioceses. In monastic settings, similar patterns are evident regarding texts and instruction, as monasteries were subject to legislation and received specific instructions and study materials through royal sponsorship. Finally, Charlemagne and his heirs created a lasting court culture dedicated to the production, correction, and interpretation of biblical texts, particularly through private study of patristic homilies, interpersonal admonition and discussion of such texts, and public reading and preaching based on them. This court culture set the standard for religious practice throughout the realm.
Carolingian sermons were shaped through a series of actions by Carolingian rulers, providing for the reform of an empire through an overwhelming emphasis upon moral and doctrinal formation through preaching, teaching basic creedal formulae and Christian prayer, and hearing and re-preaching patristic sermons and texts.