British and Irish Literature Medieval Sermons
Aidan Conti
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0192


Sermons have long served as important vehicles for moral and ethical instruction among the three most widespread Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. As a result, the medieval sermon embraces a range of languages, periods, and social environments. As an essentially oral discourse between a preacher and an audience involving instruction and guidance based on a sacred text, the medieval sermon, preserved for us as a written text, poses several methodological challenges that are increasingly met with inter- and multidisciplinary approaches. In practice, research on the sermon per se tends to focus on the written record even as it acknowledges the oral dimension of the genre, while studies of preaching are often seen to emphasize the oral and social event in which the text plays a central, informative role. In Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, writing and preaching sermons were frequently an elite activity; preaching was normally the prerogative of the bishop. Parish priests increasingly assumed this duty, and from the thirteenth century on Dominicans and Franciscans were active sermon composers and preachers. A number of impetuses stimulated preaching, most famously the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). Often seen as a window into medieval social life, the medieval sermon is fruitfully studied through contemporary critical methodologies and perspectives. With a vast archive of material, a significant amount of sermon studies research has focused on discovery, description, and transmission, for which manuscript studies has been particularly important. In addition, complementary methods and theory such as communication and network studies, gender studies, and critical race theory yield particularly insightful perspectives. Moreover, the broadening perspectives within medieval sermon studies today encompass not only the European Latin West, but also the Orthodox and Byzantine worlds, Judaism, and Islam, all of which have rich preaching traditions. The following bibliography offers a section on General Overviews including relevant periodicals and series and then surveys a range of Western Vernacular Languages as well as Latin. A section on Multilingualism follows and then there is a brief discussion of Related Literatures, namely artes praedicandi (treatises on preaching) and exempla (short narrative elements). Thereafter, areas Beyond the Latin West, which are particularly important for understanding the medieval sermon as a broad discourse, are treated. Finally, the bibliography presents a selective amount of material related to Thematic and Interdisciplinary Studies of sermons focusing on methodologies that promise to elucidate sermon studies in the decades that come.

General Overviews

A major international and collaborative guide to the field of medieval sermon studies is Kienzle 2000, which covers the following: the medieval Jewish sermon; the early medieval sermon; the 12th-century monastic sermon; sermons of 12th-century schoolmasters and canons; Latin sermons after 1200; medieval preaching in Italy, 1200–1500; vernacular sermons in Old English; Middle English sermons; Old Norse–Icelandic sermons; French sermons, 1215–1535; vernacular preaching in Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan; and German sermons in the Middle Ages. An updated survey of the field can be found in Thayer 2014. Important series that regularly publish studies on sermons include A New History of the Sermon and Sermo. Medieval Sermon Studies is perhaps the most well-known journal devoted specifically to the medieval sermon. Before 1999 this periodical was published as a biannual newsletter; under the guidance of Veronica O’Mara and Carolyn Muessig the newsletter transitioned into a journal published annually. In the twenty-first century, a number of collected volumes have presented studies on preaching and sermons. Examples include Donavin, et al. 2004 and Andersson 2007.

  • Andersson, Roger, ed. Constructing the Medieval Sermon. Sermo 6. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2007.

    In these thirteen studies spanning time and geography, “construction” is used for a broad variety of aspects to sermon studies, such as preachers’ compositional tools, language use, sermon structure, and attribution and dating of sermons and collections.

  • Donavin, Georgiana, Cary Nederman, and Richard Utz, eds. Speculum Sermonis: Interdisciplinary Reflections on the Medieval Sermon. Disputatio 1. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2004.

    This collected volume contains fourteen specific studies organized in four sections. Each section ends with a reflection and response to the essays in the section. The bibliography opens with “Studies in Interdisciplinarity,” which includes a range of theoretical works that can well inform sermon studies. This is followed by a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

  • Kienzle, Beverly Mayne, ed. The Sermon. Typologie des Sources du Moyen Âge Occidental 81–83. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2000.

    This volume comprises twelve chapters that cover a range of geographies and temporalities with many chapters presenting a sample sermon. The sections are preceded by an extensive bibliography by George Ferzoco and Carolyn Muessig, which is arranged according to the ensuing sections of the volume, and an introduction by Kienzle.

  • Medieval Sermon Studies. 1999–.

    This journal publishes articles on medieval sermons as well as reviews and transcriptions of sermon material. Its audience is researchers of religious culture, history, literature, and related areas.

  • Muessig, Carolyn. “Sermon, Preacher and Society in the Middle Ages.” Journal of Medieval History 28 (2002): 73–91.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0304-4181(01)00021-5

    This article presents an overview of sermon studies as a discipline using the three headings of the title. The first section, “sermon,” outlines how scholars have used the sermon as an historical tool. The second section considers preachers’ role as educators. The third section presents studies that have examined sermons as sources for the moral, intellectual, and social worlds of the Middle Ages.

  • A New History of the Sermon. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1998–.

    This series looks at the sermon in a broad historical perspective from Antiquity to the present. The first volume (1998) treats early Christian and Byzantine homiletics. The third is entitled Preacher, Sermon and Audience in the Middle Ages (2002). The sixth (2018) and most recent to date volume engages with Preaching in the Patristic Era in the Latin West.

  • Sermo: Studies on Patristic, Medieval and Reformation Sermons and Preaching. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2006–.

    This series focuses on patristic, medieval, and Reformation-era sermons and includes monographs and miscellanies representing a variety of approaches to preaching. There are currently sixteen volumes in the series.

  • Thayer, Anne T. “Medieval Sermon Studies since The Sermon: A Deepening and Broadening Field.” Medieval Sermon Studies 58 (2014): 10–27.

    DOI: 10.1179/1366069114Z.00000000018

    This article offers a survey of the field since the publication of Kienzle 2000. Under three broad headings—resources, depth, and breadth—Thayer provides a range of examples illustrating the direction of the field, including a discussion of the Orthodox and Byzantine, Jewish, and Islamic traditions.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.