« Prev Popular Preachers Next »

§ 26. Popular Preachers.

During the century and a half closing with 1450, there were local groups of preachers as well as isolated pulpit orators who exercised a deep influence upon congregations. The German mystics with Eckart and John Tauler at their head preached in Strassburg, Cologne and along the Rhine. D’Ailly and Gerson stood before select audiences, and give lustre to the French pulpit. Wyclif, at Oxford, and John Huss in Bohemia, attracted great attention by their sermons and brought down upon themselves ecclesiastical condemnation. Huss was one of a number of Bohemian preachers of eminence. Wyclif sought to promote preaching by sending out a special class of men, his "pore preachers."

The popular preachers constitute another group, though the period does not furnish one who can be brought into comparison with the field-preacher, Berthold of Regensburg, the Whitefield of his century, d. 1272. Among the popular preachers of the time the most famous were Bernardino and John of Capistrano, both Italians, and members of the Observant wing of the Franciscan order, and the Spanish Dominican, Vincent Ferrer. To a later age belong those bright pulpit luminaries, Savonarola of Florence and Geiler of Strassburg.

Bernardino of Siena, 1380–1444, was praised by Pius II. as a second Paul. He made a marked impression upon Italian audiences and was a favorite with pope Martin V. His voice, weak and indistinct at first, was said to have been made strong and clear through the grace of Mary, to whom he turned for help. He was the first vicar-general of the Observants, who numbered only a few congregations in Italy when he joined them, but increased greatly under his administration. In 1424 he was in Rome and, as Infessura the Roman diarist reports,420420    Diario, p. 25. For Bernardino, see Thureau-Dangin, St. Bernardin de Sienne. Un prédicateur populaire Paris, 1896. Several edd. of his sermons have appeared, including the ed. of Paris, 1650, 5 vols., by De la Haye. so influenced the people that they brought their games and articles of adornment to the Capitol and made a bonfire of them. Wherever he went to preach, a banner was carried before him containing the monogram of Christ, IHS, with twelve rays centring in the letters. He urged priests to put the monogram on the walls of churches and public buildings, and such a monogram may still be seen on the city building of Siena.421421    See Pastor, I. 231-233. The Augustinians and Dominicans and also Poggio attacked him for this practice. In 1427, he appeared in Rome to answer the charges. He was acquitted by Martin V., who gave him permission to preach everywhere, and instructed him to hold an eighty-days’ mission in the papal city itself. In 1419, he appeared in the Lombard cities, where the people were carried away by his exhortations to repentance, and often burned their trinkets and games in the public squares. His body lies in Aquila, and he was canonized by Nicolas V., 1450.

John of Capistrano, 1386–1456, a lawyer, and at an early age intrusted with the administration of Perugia, joined the Observants in 1416 and became a pupil of Bernardino. He made a reputation as an inquisitor in Northern Italy, converting and burning heretics and Jews. No one could have excelled him in the ferocity of his zeal against heresy. His first appointment as inquisitor was made in 1426, and his fourth appointment 23 years later in 1449.422422    Jacob, I. 30 sq. For John’s life, see E. Jacob, John of Capistrano. His Life and Writings, 2 vols., Breslau, 1906, 1907. Pastor, I. 463-468, 691-698; Lempp’s art. in Herzog, III. 713 sqq.; Lea, Inquisition, II 552 sqq.

As a leader of his order, he defended Bernardino in 1427, and was made vicar-general in 1443. He extended his preaching to Vienna and far up into Germany, from Nürnberg to Dresden, Leipzig, Magdeburg and Breslau, making everywhere a tremendous sensation. He used the Latin or Italian, which had to be interpreted to his audiences. These are reported to have numbered as many as thirty thousand.423423    Yea, 60,000 at Erfurt. Jacob, I. 74. He carried relics of Bernardino with him, and through them and his own instrumentality many miracles were said to have been performed. His attendants made a note of the wonderful works on the spot.424424    See Jacob, I. 50 sqq., etc. Aeneas Sylvius said he had not seen any of John’s miracles, but would not deny them. In Jena alone John healed thirty lame persons. Jacob, I. 69. The spell of his preaching was shown by the burning of pointed shoes, games of cards, dice and other articles of pleasure or vanity. Thousands of heretics are also reported to have yielded to his persuasions. He was called by Pius II. to preach against the Hussites, and later against the Turks. He was present at the siege of Belgrade, and contributed to the successful defence of the city and the defeat of Mohammed II. He was canonized in 1690.

The life of Vincent Ferrer, d. 1419, the greatest of Spanish preachers, fell during the period of the papal schism, and he was intimately identified with the controversies it called forth. His name is also associated with the gift of tongues and with the sect of the Flagellants. This devoted missionary, born in Valencia, joined the Dominican order, and pursued his studies in the universities of Barcelona and Lerida. He won the doctorate of theology by his tract on the Modern Schism in the Church—De moderno ecclesiae schismate. Returning to Valencia, he gained fame as a preacher, and was appointed confessor to the queen of Aragon, Iolanthe, and counsellor to her husband, John I. In 1395, Benedict XIII. called him to be chief penitentiary in Avignon and master of the papal palace. Two years later he returned to Valencia with the title of papal legate. He at first defended the Avignon obedience with great warmth, but later, persuaded that Benedict was not sincere in his professions looking to the healing of the schism, withdrew from him his support and supported the Council of Constance.

Ferrer’s apostolic labors began in 1399. He itinerated through Spain, Northern Italy and France, preaching two and three times a day on the great themes of repentance and the nearness of the judgment. He has the reputation of being the most successful of missionaries among the Jews and Mohammedans. Twenty-five thousand Jews and eight thousand Mohammedans are said to have yielded to his persuasions. Able to speak only Spanish, his sermons, though they were not interpreted, are reported to have been understood in France and Italy. The gift of tongues was ascribed to him by his contemporaries as well as the gift of miracles. Priests and singers accompanied him on his tours, and some of the hymns sung were Vincent’s own compositions. His audiences are given as high as 70,000, an incredible number, and he is said to have preached twenty thousand times. He also preached to the Waldenses in their valleys and to the remnant of the Cathari, and is said to have made numerous converts. He himself was not above the suspicion of heresy, and Eymerich made the charge against him of declaring that Judas Iscariot hanged himself because the people would not permit him to live, and that he found pardon with God.425425    Lea: Inquisition. II. 156, 176, 258, 264. He was canonized by Calixtus III., 1455. The tale is that Ferrer noticed this member of the Borgia family as a young priest in Valencia, and made the prediction that one day he would reach the highest office open to mortal man.426426    Razanno, a fellow-Dominican, wrote the first biography of Ferrer, 1466. The Standard Life is by P. Fages, Hist. de s. Vinc. Ferrer apôtre de l’Europe, 2 vols., 2d ed., Louvain, 1901. The best life written by a Protestant is by L. Heller, Berlin, 1830. It is commended in Wetzer-Welte, XII. 978-983.

On his itineraries Ferrer was also accompanied by bands of Flagellants. He himself joined in the flagellations, and the scourge with which he scourged himself daily, consisting of six thongs, is said still to be preserved in the Carthusian convent of Catalonia, scala coeli. Both Gerson and D’Ailly attacked Ferrer for his adoption of the Flagellant delusion. In a letter addressed to the Spanish preacher, written during the sessions of the Council of Constance, Gerson took the ground that both the Old Testament and the New Testament forbid violence done to the body, quoting in proof Deut. 14:1, "Ye shall not cut yourselves." He invited him to come to Constance, but the invitation was not accepted.427427    For German preaching in the fourteenth century, other than that of the mystics, see Linsenmeyer, Gesch. der Predigt in Deutschland his zum Ausgange d. 14ten Jahrh., Munich, 1886, pp. 301-470; Cruel:Gesch. d. deutschen Predigt im M A., p. 414 sqq.; A. Franz: Drei deutsche Minoritenprediger des XIIten und XIVten Jahrh., Freiburg, 1907, pp. 160. The best-known German preachers were the Augustinians Henry of Frimar, d. 1340, and Jordan of Quedlinburg, d. about 1375. See for the fifteenth century, ch. IX.

« Prev Popular Preachers Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |