The Language of Sermons: Latin and Vernacular
A medieval preacher addressing lay people would speak in the vernacular, sometimes loosely translating from notes or from a written sermon. His sermon might then be recorded in Latin and revised into a more literary form, to be transmitted as such. Hence, the written sermon and the spoken sermon were not the same, which creates obvious problems for our understanding of sermons as they were preached. Luckily, some lively vernacular reports on public preaching have survived from the late Middle Ages. As useful as they are, even these records fail to convey the performative aspects of preaching, the gestures and oratorical flourishes that gave color to the spoken word.
Macaronic (mixed Latin and vernacular) sermon collections also remain, notably from late medieval England. Houghton Library holds no identified example of such collections, but its manuscripts do reveal the frequent mixture of languages in one manuscript. Houghton MS Eng 515 preserves The Pricke of Conscience, an anonymous fourteenth-century work once attributed to Richard Rolle (1290–1349). This narrative and homiletic discourse has its main text in Middle English while the headings are in Latin. Houghton MS Ger 69 contains works by Henry Suso (c.1295–1366) and John Gerson (1363–1429), as well as a Passion fragment in German and homiletic fragments in Latin and German.
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