The Power of Word: Preachers in Medieval Dubrovnik
Zdenka Janković Römer
Dubrovnik Annals: 17 (2013): pp. 7-23
In the pastoral of the Franciscan and Dominican orders preaching became the principal task of their mission. Preaching manuals represented the basis of the new art. The preachers also used sermon collections, Bible concordances and exempla collections. Franciscan and Dominican preachers spread out among the faithful, paying special attention to the communicative dimension of sermon. Thus they opened new ways of piety to the laity and gave them a new place in the Church. The library of the Dominican Friary and partly that of the Franciscans in Dubrovnik house a number of medieval preaching manuals, whose message may also be traced in the Ragusan wills of the day.
The act of sermon in the Middle Ages implied a contact between two cultures: the learned and written clerical culture on the one, and the lay and oral popular tradition on the other side. A sermon translated the word of God and its theological interpretation into the language and cognitive categories of the laity. Hence one of the famous medieval preachers, Jacques de Vitry, referred to the clerics as “the book of the laity”. In the pastoral of the Franciscans and Dominicans sermon was the principal purpose of their spiritual mission—sermon and a life of mendicity were in the focus of their wide-reaching religious venture. As the first postulate of their mission, St. Dominic commended continuous learning and in-depth understanding of the Holy Scripture, along with the knowledge of theology not for the sake of one’s own accomplishment but for the purpose of the religious teaching of the people. He, too, “with zeal and thirst” devoted himself fervently to preaching and encouraged his bretheren to spread the word of God in churches and houses, on roads and in the fields, and to always speak of God. Dominican teachers, such as Humbert de Romans, believed that sermon stemmed from the word of God itself, and extolled their own communication of the Holy Scripture to the thoughts and feelings of the laity. That is why preaching was considered a special grace that was not bestowed upon everyone, and not every person could be called upon to spread the word of God. Authorised to preach could be only those chosen by the order’s assembly, after a careful deliberation of their competence, monastic life and preaching capacity.