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The new Homiletics

Llull’s first theoretical work on preaching was the Liber de praedicatione, written in Latin at Montpellier in 1304. This work had an appendix containing one hundred and eight Sunday sermons on the subjects of  Christ, the Mother of God, the Saints and the Beatitudes. Llull had occasion twice more to deal more or less incidentally with the genre in question (the Liber de praedicatione contra Iudaeos, written in 1305 and the Sermones contra Averrois, written in 1311), until the point between October 1312 and February 1313 when he produced a new body of sermons, the Liber de virtutibus et peccatis, published by Fernando Domínguez in Volume 15 of the ROL edition. The Catalan version, published by the same person in the NEORL edition is the Llibre de virtuts i de pecats. One should consider this body of 182 sermons as being linked to the last of Llull’s theoretical works on sermons, the short work known as the Art abreujada de predicació / Ars brevis praedicationis, dated 1313, published in synoptic form in Volume 17 of the ROL series.

Source: Anthony Bonner and Lola Badia, Vida, pensamiento y obra literaria (Barcelona: Quaderns Crema-Sirmio, 1993), p. 197.

Llull was perfectly aware that, according to the rules for medieval preaching, ‘cuicumque semoni applicatur thema sacrae Scripturae’ (‘One must ascribe a theme from Holy Scripture to each sermon’). The sermons from the Liber de virtutibus et peccatis / Llibre de vertuts e de pecats, on the other hand, were produced at the margins of the classic medieval structure for sermons. Llull knew full well the point to which he was breaking well-established rules and, for this reason, he devoted a section of the Prologue to the Liber de virtutibus to the ‘theme’ of the sermons, in which he asserted that all the sermons contained in this book had a single general ‘theme’, namely: the Commandment that God gave to Moses: ‘Love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul’.

In offering a new type of sermon, Llull was not attempting to disqualify the entire homiletic programme in general use, but rather, to put forward a new system, a new manner for organising homiletic material. Sermons ‘per auctoritates’ depended upon biblical texts while sermons ‘per moralem philosophiam’, as proposed by Llull, were offered to the preacher as a well-ordered system of moral instruction for Christians as well as non-Christians, who, as Llull knew very well, ‘non sta[ba]nt ad auctoritates’ (‘were not governed by authorities’). The morality he advocated in his sermons was based upon the conviction that Christians who believed and understood their faith were capable of being more virtuous than those who only believed without understanding.

Source: Fernando Domínguez, Introduction to Raimundi Lulli Opera Latina, XV, p. xxxv.

The Art’s application to preaching may not, perhaps, have added substantial innovations to Llull’s thought, but it had the advantage of depending upon an easily recognisable context. It offers, therefore, the possibility of identifying an aspect of the his work which stood in contrast to the culture of his time, far from any source in Lullian legend. In my opinion, this profile of Llull in his time corresponds neither to that of an iconoclast who went against the flow, nor to that of a layman who, lacking high-level clerical training, and rejecting all academic culture, simply propagated the particular spiritual concerns of his social group. By smoothing the edges thanks to the context, we can depict Ramon Llull as being well-informed and pragmatic, at the same time as being intellectually ambitious.

Source: Lluís Cabré, “Homilètica lul·liana: context i públic a l’ombra de l’Art”, Studia Lulliana, 40, 2000, p. 18.