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What is homiletics?

Homiletics is the study of the art of preaching; in other words, the rhetoric of the sermon. It is defined as the discipline that deals with the homily. In turn, the homily is the way to expose and preach religious issues. Homiletics is based on an epidictic variant of classical rhetoric, and having begun its practice at the end of the Middle Ages, it has extended to the present day.

the homiletics

The word homily, from which homiletic derives, comes from the Greek and means conversation. Another word related to the same idea is sermon, which comes from the Latin word sermo , and has the same meaning: conversation, talk, exchange ideas.

The homily is mainly associated with the various forms of Christian worship. The first reference to a sermon that Christianity recognizes is the Sermon on the Mount delivered by Jesus Christ. The origin of the Christian sermon lies in the homily that was pronounced in the synagogues (Jewish temples) in the time of Jesus Christ.

It is interesting to note that the early Christians did not call the way in which they spread their teachings oratory, a term used by Demosthenes and Cicero, but rather they called it conversation and family conversation. With the influence of the teachings of rhetoric and the popularization of Christian worship, the conversation of Christian sermons soon became more formal discourse. In this sense, homiletics is the study of a particular type of discourse; however, being religiously motivated, preaching is itself different from secular discourse.

The Catholic cult establishes exhaustively that the homily must be carried out by a religious authority, be it a bishop, a priest or a deacon; never a layman. This is due to the fact that the homily is based on the interpretation of the message of the Bible, so it must be carried out by an expert theologian. On the other hand, in the Protestant cult the homily is based on the reading of the Bible; For this reason, religious discourse can take many different forms depending on the evangelical cult.

The homily in the African-American Christian cult has particular characteristics. Unlike the structured sermons of homiletics of European origin, it is a form of oral and gestural preaching. In the African-American preaching tradition, the language of the black church and the movement of the limbs contribute to the meaning of the preaching, thus creating a dialogue between the delivery of the sermon and the listener. This is a fundamental element that differentiates African-American preaching and helps make the most relevant theological and hermeneutical aspects more attractive to its believers.

The homily from the Middle Ages to the present day

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, manuals were produced to structure sermons; however, none of them was relevant enough to become a reference on the subject.

In these manuals it was assumed that preaching on religious issues was not intended to convert the audience. Since the majority of the population of medieval Europe was Christian, it was assumed that the congregation was already a believer. For the same reason, the preacher’s job was to instruct on the meaning of the Bible, emphasizing the moral precepts.

Medieval preaching was a judgment that combined elements of rhetoric, social status, and the precepts that were perceived to be entrenched in the written letter. Therefore, the preaching manuals were based on a variety of disciplines that outlined a new technique, such as:

  • Biblical exegesis, that is, the explanation or interpretation of the Bible.
  • Scholastic logic: preaching religious topics with a succession of definitions, classifications and syllogisms that can be understood as a more popular form of scholastic discussion.
  • The rhetoric of Cicero and Boethius, who contemplated the rules of form and style.
  • Grammar and other liberal arts also had some influence on medieval homiletics.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, homiletics came closer and closer to rhetoric; preaching became pulpit oratory and sermons became moral speeches. Twentieth-century fundamentalists and homiletics were less tied to classical rhetorical models and adapted various inductive strategies into their sermons. These were based on narrative derived from biblical models, the jeremiads, parables, Pauline exhortations and revelations, as well as mass communication theories.


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