“Learning through and from preachers in church history develops a deeper self-awareness about the practice and possibilities of preaching. Getting beyond a superficial imitation of past preachers to the timeless convictions and debates bequeaths tools and confidence for the task today.”
From its inception, preaching has held a prominent place within the life and advance of the church. A current revival of expository ministry is being cultivated throughout the evangelical world. However, such renewed awareness and commitment to an expositional pulpit ministry has been nurtured with a notable lack of historical awareness. To help us restore such awareness, specifically from the patristic era of church history, is one purpose of Peter Sanlon’s book, Augustine’s Theology of Preaching [Fortress Press, July 2014; 200 pp.]. Sanlon comments on the advantage of having a historical familiarity with preaching as follows:
Learning through and from preachers in church history develops a deeper self-awareness about the practice and possibilities of preaching. Getting beyond a superficial imitation of past preachers to the timeless convictions and debates bequeaths tools and confidence for the task today.
According to Sanlon, scholarship has emphasized Augustine as the philosophical theologian, the refuter of heresy, and the contributor to doctrinal clarity, but the recognition of Augustine as a biblical preacher has been abandoned. In addressing this scarcity, Salon’s timely contribution to Augustinian scholarship has been welcomed by all who are interested in developing a historical theology of preaching based on the works of this patristic theologian.
Augustine’s friend, Possidius of Calama, once remarked that “those who read what Augustine has written in his works on divine subjects profit greatly, but I believe that the ones who really profited were those who actually heard him and saw him speak in church.” Augustine was a virtuoso orator. The surviving corpus of Augustine’s sermons is staggering, yet it likely represents only a small portion of what he actually delivered. It includes the 124 sermons of his In Johannis evangelium tractatus (Tractates on the Gospel of John) and the 10 sermons of his In epistulam Johannis ad Parthos tractatus (Tractates on the First Letter of John). It also includes his massive Enarrationes in Psalmos (Expositions of the Psalms), which preserve at least one sermon on each of the 150 Psalms. His largest collection is his Sermones ad populum (Sermons to the People). Over 500 of Augustine’s sermons have been discovered and authenticated, some complete, others fragments. The painstaking work of recovering lost sermons still continues.