Chapter 3 and Carolingian Homiliaries

Well, I started actual composition on chapter 3 this morning after months of research. I was at the point where I felt things had clarified enough to start getting thoughts down on the screen. Of course, for me that’s when the second wave of epiphanies occur so I’ll write a lot and then read back through it to figure out what I’ve figured out–then rearrange it all again.

The focus this morning was getting a handle on the major kinds of Carolingian homiliaries and how they impacted the OE homiletical process. Naturally I’m using Gatch, Clayton, Smetna, and especially Hill (for those for whom the names mean anything…).

Here’s my first big insight. (I define a big insight as one of those things that you never really seen or heard before (or you’ve seen it or heard it and it hasn’t really clicked) but once you formulate it seems horribly obvious and you kick yourself repeteadly for not seeing it earlier.) There’s a demonstrable shift away from gospel commentaries in the early medieval period; Bede’s are pretty much the last big ones. That is, they still continue to be written but they don’t seem to circulate much or have much impact–like good ol’ Godwin of Sarum and those of Theodore’s school. Instead, the clear shift is to homiliaries. In fact, commentaries are even sliced up to fit in homiliaries at the sappropriate places as happens with Bede in Paul the Deacon.

I think I now have a good theory why . . .

I haven’t seen this theory before and I’m not saying it’s not out there in the mass of secondary material somewhere but I haven’t seen it in the major stuff I’ve read recently…

The shift from the commentary to the homiliary represents a shift in the paradigmatic locus of a gospel pericope. For a commentary, the paradigmatic locus and appropriate context for a pericope is located within the biblical book from which it was taken. For a homiliary, the paradigmatic locus and appropriate context for a pericope is the liturgical round. Thus, I’m going to suggest that your standard early medieval clergy et al. thought of a scripture chunk’s natural home as in the liturgy rather than in the Bible proper.

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About Derek Olsen

I'm a layman within the Episcopal Church with a PhD in New Testament and an interest in most things medieval, monastic, and liturgical. My chief job is keeping up with my priestly wife and our two awesome kids. In addition to that, I earn a living, run the St Bede's Breviary, listen to loud goth/industrial music, and do some stuff for the church. I currently serve as Secretary to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music where I'm also co-chair of the Calendar committee and chair of the Digital Publications committee.
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2 Responses to Chapter 3 and Carolingian Homiliaries

  1. theswain says:

    HMMM. First, I think you are overlooking a number of commentaries and their influence. For example see my list of commentaries at the EMatthew site, and this doesn’t include a lot of the glossing of gospel manuscripts and so on.

    Second, I’m not convinced there is a shift to homily FROM commentary. Most of the great homilists also wrote commentaries, Aelfric apparently an exception there. Paul the Deacon’s homiliary was quite popular, but those whose homilies Paul gathered together are generally also commentary writers; and those commentaries influenced the homilies.

    Third, while your observation is true that the locus is different, in both there is a commonality that is being overlooked: the locus of a particular pericope whether in a homily or a commentary is also within the Bible as a whole and Christian doctrine.

    Fourth, and finally, the difference lies as much in a difference of audience and audience needs. The Carolingian Reforms were aimed at educating the clergy, and so the sermons become a major tool for that end since sermons and readings are delivered several times a day in the monastery. A commentary is a more advanced tool.

  2. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Actually, I use Paul the Deacon as an example that commentaries were transmitted piece-meal by means of homiliaries. He proves the point…

    Most of the great homilists also wrote commentaries
    In the early medieval West Bede both wrote homilies and gospel commentaries…who else? Haymo and Heric certainly weren’t known for Gospel commentaries. Hrabanus Maurus’s commentary and the various Insular ones didn’t have nearly the circulation that the Big Three of Carolingian homiliaries–PD, Haymo, and Smaragdus–did.

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