Volume 2 considers some of the broader social, cultural and intellectual contexts for Dante’s theological engagement. The contributors discuss the relationship between theology and poetry as Dante sees and presents it; Dante’s thought on the nature of the Church; the ways in which liturgical practice helped shape the poet’s work; the links between Dante’s political and theological ideas; the importance of preaching in Dante’s context; the ways in which the notion of virtue connects theological and ethical thought in Dante’s works; and the extent to which Dante’s often surprising, groundbreaking work tests medieval notions of orthodoxy. Each essay offers an overview of its topic and opens up new avenues.
George Ferzoco Dante and the Context of Medieval Preaching
The medieval sermon is a genre of singular and outstanding importance. This declaration is made, on the one hand, by simply noting the increas- ing attention scholars have given to sermon literature and preaching in recent decades. A major on-going project, started in the early 1970s and spearheaded by scholars from the Université Catholique de Louvain, aims eventually to publish a volume on each of the many areas of study that reveal the religious history and culture of the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Most of the volumes in the ‘Typologie des sources du moyen âge chrétien’ to date are compact, perhaps on average not more than one hundred pages or so in length.1 The volume dedicated to the medieval sermon, on the other hand, is 998 pages long, and in itself serves as a springboard to further scholarly study of the genre, its understanding and its use.2 What made sermon literature so prominent in the Middle Ages has much to do with its primary function of transmitting information within the context of the Mass. The liturgy would follow a relatively fixed set of readings, but in the middle of each service there would be a time for the priest to speak directly to those in attendance, in words of his own choosing and in a language understood by the audience. It was commonly the case that the preacher would use the sermon to repeat and to explain the day’s readings, especially the one from the Gospel. In this...
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