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A homiliarium is a collection of homilies, or familiar explanations of the Gospels.
From a very early time the homilies of the Fathers were in high esteem, and were read in connection with the recitation of the Divine Office (see also Breviary). That the custom was as old as the sixth century we know since St. Gregory the Great refers to it, and St. Benedict mentions it in his rule (Pierre Batiffol, History of the Roman Breviary, 107). This was particularly true of the homilies of pope St. Leo I, very terse and peculiarly suited to liturgical purposes.
As new feasts were added to the Office, the demand for homilies became greater and by the eighth century, the century of liturgical codification, collections of homilies began to appear (Batiffol, op. cit., 108). Such a collection was called a homiliarium, or homiliarius (i.e. liber) doctorum. In the early Middle Ages numerous collections of homilies were made for purposes of preaching.
Many homiliaria have come down to us, and there are medieval references to many others. Mabillon (De Liturgia Gallicana) mentions a very old Gallican homiliarium. In a manuscript of the eighth century we find reference to a homiliarium by Agimundus, a Roman priest. The Venerable Bede compiled one in England. In the episcopal library at Würzburg there is preserved a homiliarium by Bishop Burchard, a companion of St. Boniface. Alanus, Abbot of Farfa (770), compiled a large homiliarium, which must have been often copied, for it has reached us in several manuscripts. In the first half of the ninth century Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel compiled from the Fathers a book of homilies on the Gospels and Epistles for the whole year. Haymo, a monk of Fulda and disciple of Alcuin, afterwards Bishop of Halberstadt (841), made a collection for Sundays and feasts of the saints (Trithemius in Lingard, II, 313, note). Rabanus Maurus, another pupil of Alcuin, and Eric of Auxerre compiled each a collection of homilies. All these wrote in Latin.
Perhaps the most famous homiliarium is that of Paul Warnefrid, better known as Paul the Deacon, a monk of Monte Cassino. It was made by order of Charlemagne, and has been greatly misrepresented in recent times. Mosheim (Eccl. Hist., II, p. 471, London, 1845) and Neander (V, 174), followed by various encyclopedias and many Protestant writers, assert that the Emperor had it compiled in order that the ignorant and slothful clergy might at least recite to the people the Gospels and Epistles on Sundays and holidays. As a matter of fact, this particular collection was not made for pulpit use but for the recitation of the Breviary, as even a cursory reading of the royal decree would at once show. Its liturgical character is corroborated by the fact that copies were made only for such churches as were wont to recite the Office in choir. Manuscript copies of this homiliarium are found at Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Fulda, Gießen and Kassel. The manuscript mentioned by Mabillon, and rediscovered by Ranke, in Karlsruhe, is older than the tenth century Monte Cassino copy. The earliest printed edition is that of Speyer in 1482. In the Cologne edition (sixteenth century) the authorship is ascribed to Alcuin, but the royal decree alluded to leaves no doubt as to the purpose or author; Alcuin may have revised it. Though not intended expressly for preachers, the homiliarium of Charlemagne no doubt exercised an indirect influence on the pulpit, and as late as the fifteenth or sixteenth century served for homiletic purposes.
During the English Reformation, Thomas Cranmer and others saw the need for local congregations to be taught Anglican theology and practice. Since many priests and deacons were still uneducated, semi-literate and tending toward Roman Catholicism in their teachings and activities, it was decided to create a series of homilies to be read out during the church service by the local Priest.
The Second book of Homilies contained twenty-one sermons and was written mainly by Bishop John Jewel, and were fully published by 1571. These were more practical in their application and focused more on living the Christian life.
Translations and collections
Translations of homilies were frequently ordered by the Church, and became common. Alfred the Great translated into Anglo-Saxon the homilies of Venerable Bede, and for the clergy the "Regula Pastoralis" of St. Gregory the Great. Ælfric selected and translated into the same language passages from St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, Bede, St. Gregory, Smaragdus and occasionally from Haymo. His aim was to work the extracts into a whole, and thus present them in an easy and intelligible style (Lingard, II, 313). These translations held a prominent place in early English literature. The first German translation of this kind was due to Ottfried of Weißenburg.
Collections of the homilies of the Greek and Latin Church Fathers will be found in Migne's "Patrology". An account of the editions of their works, homilies included, is in Otto Bardenhewer's Patrology (tr. Thomas J. Shahan, St. Louis, 1908). The Irish homilies that have come down to us are found principally in "The Speckled Book" (Leabhar Breac), which is written partly in Latin and partly in Irish (see extract "Passions and Homilies", ed. Atkinson, Dublin, 1887). It is largely taken up with homilies and passions, lives of the saints etc. The "Book of Ballymote" contains, amongst miscellaneous subjects, Biblical and hagiological matter; and the "Book of Lismore" contains lives of the saints under the form of homilies (see Hull, "Text Book of Irish Literature", appendix).
The binding and illumination of gospels and homiliaria were both elaborate and artistic. They were frequently deposited in a highly wrought casket (Arca Testamenti), which in Ireland was called cumdach (shrine). Emperor Constantine the Great presented a text of the Gospels with costly binding to the church of St. John Lateran; and Queen Theodolinda made a similar presentation to the church at Monza (Kraus, "Geschichte der Christlichen Kunst", I, 528).
- "Homiliarium". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07447a.htm.