James of Vitry, by Tiffany Vann Sprecher
James of Vitry (c.1160–1240), a student of Peter the Chanter, was an Augustinian canon whose written legacy includes a Vita of the famous beguine Mary of Oignies, a history in two parts – the Historia orientalis and the Historia occidentalis – and nearly 450 model sermons for preachers to deliver as written or to use as inspiration in writing their own sermons. A prolific voice of orthodoxy, James preached the crusades to free the Holy Land and root out heresy in Southern France. In 1216, he became bishop of Acre, and in 1227, James was appointed cardinal-bishop of Tusculum, remaining in that office until his death in 1240.
Houghton Library fMS Riant 35, the Sermones vulgares, constitutes an early collection of James’ sermons. The codex reveals James’ vision of church reform in the era before and after the Fourth Lateran Council through the arrangement of the sermons according to the intended audience and the place of that particular audience within the larger social hierarchy. Sermons early in the codex are addressed to prelates and priests whereas sermons for “the poor and afflicted” appear near the end. It is evident from the structure and content of the sermons that James believed each individual had a specific religio-social role in the creation of a reformed church. This sermon collection, more widely circulated than any of James’ other collections, demonstrates the appeal and influence of James’ sermons and provides proof for the swift and extensive implementation of the Fourth Lateran Council’s regulations.