by Fr. John A. Peck
Many of my subscribers know that I consider excellence in preaching to be the most basic skill of any clergyman. Lately I’ve been inundated with statements by well-meaning folk who claim that preaching is not important. They don’t say it directly, but that is what they mean. Usually, they back up their statements with something like the falsely attributed ‘saying of St. Francis of Assissi’ – “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel, and if absolutely necessary, use words.” I am blue in the face pointing out that such an exemplary life is excellent, but in no way is it considered preaching. Truth to be told, preaching well is hard work. Several degrees harder than just about everything else in the Christian life, including reading your Bible and thinking lofty thoughts of the Divine Energies while remaining completely idle.
In order to crush this heresy out (and it is a heresy) at the root, I’m republishing one of PI’s most popular books, chapter by chapter, section by section. Links to buy the book in Ebook format, Kindle format or as a paperback are below. This is the first section of the book, written by Humbert of Romans. The remaining sections and chapters can be found at Preachers Institute (I’m not going to double post them here).
by Humbert of Romans
First of all it should be noted that the office of preaching is excellent, necessary, and agreeable to God; and it that it is profitable to the preacher himself, and useful to souls; and lastly, that it is very difficult to reach perfection in preaching.
I. Its Excellence
To understand its excellence we should consider those who have the mission to preach. First their office is apostolic, for in order to fulfill this ministry, Our Lord chose the twelve Apostles and attached them to Himself so that He might send them, at His will, to preach everywhere. It is also an angelic office as the Apocalypse teaches us, where St. John saw
“a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice” (Rev. 5:2)
before the throne of the Lamb. Was it not also an angel who preached to the shepherds of Bethlehem and said to them:
“Behold I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10)?
It is little wonder, then, that the angels are similar to preachers, seeing that God
“Sent (them) for service, for the sake of those who shall inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14)
just as He sends preachers to labor for the salvation of men. Finally this ministry is divine; for the Son of God became man precisely to hold it:
“Let us go,” said He, “into the neighboring villages and town, that there also I may preach, for this is why I have come” (Mark 1:38).
If among the Saints there are none more excellent than the Apostles; if among creatures there is nothing more excellent than the Angels; and if in the universe there is nothing comparable to God, how excellent, then, must that office be which is at the same time apostolic, angelic, and divine? Further, let us note that Holy Writ which is the foundation of preaching excels other sciences in a threefold way: because of its author, its matter, and the end which it has in view. 1. Its author:human genius, not however without the help of God, discovered for us the other sciences; but this science is directly revealed to us by God himself, for
“holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21).
2. Its object:
the other sciences treat only of those things which relate to reason, or nature, or to free will; this science, on the other hand, elevates itself to the things of God which infinitely surpass everything else. Also the Divine Wisdom tells us:
“Hear, for I speak of great things” (Prov. 8:6).
Great things indeed, are the mysteries of the Trinity of God, His Unity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, and other subjects which nothing can surpass in dignity.
3. Its end:
the other sciences have only in view either the government of temporal things, as the science of law, or the service of the body, as the science of medicine; or the instruction of the intellect imperfect and enveloped in ignorance, as the speculative sciences’ while this science ought to gain for us eternal life. Jesus Christ assured it when he said to the Samaritan woman:
“He who drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto life everlasting” (John 4:13-14).
This signifies that the water of Divine Wisdom flows in order to lead us to eternal life, which is no other than God. And this is why we can say that God Himself is the end of this science. Holy Scripture is called Theology (from the two Greek words theos, God, and logos, word), for this reason, that all its words come from God, speak of God and lead to God. Now it is precisely from these words and not from those taken from other sciences that all good preaching ought principally to come. And since we appreciate a thing by the excellence of its composition, valuing a gold vase more than a lead one, think how much we should value preaching with contains such rare and sublime matter! Also, man is, according to the philosophers, the highest creature, and composed of body and soul. The soul being by far the more noble, everything which relates to its salvation must be esteemed above that which is of little or no use to man. And it is precisely to the rational man that the preacher addresses himself, for it is thus, says St. Gregory, that we should interpret the words of Jesus Christ to His Apostles:
“Preach the Gospel to ever creature” (Mark 16:15).
By “every creature” is understood man, and man considered according to the soul and not according to the body. Also when St. Peter preached for the first time he gained close to three thousand souls (Acts 2:41), directing his preaching to the souls of his hearers and thinking only of their eternal salvation. For this reason also, it is written about the great preacher St. John the Baptist:
“Thou shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give to His people knowledge of salvation” (Luke 1:76).
And so we see that the excellence of the one for whom we work; thus the service of a king is more excellent than the service of his horses, and the care of his palace is more excellent than the care of his stables. We cannot value preaching too much, for preaching is for man’s benefit, the king of creation; for the salvation of the soul, the more perfect part of man, which is of supreme interest. It can be seen, then, that it surpasses in dignity all the other occupations. And so, as we have said, whether we consider the excellence of preachers, or the elements which make up their preaching, or the great concerns for which they labor, we shall find everywhere the greatness of their ministry. This is an excerpt from the Preachers Institute publication:
On the Formation of Preachers
and the Paperback by clicking the image above.