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Postil or Postilla: a medieval Latin term for a marginal note or a Biblical commentary affixed to a text, being an abbreviation of the phrase post illa verba textus. The word first occurs in the chronicle (with reference to examples of 1228 and 1238) of Nicolas Trivetus, but later it came to mean only homiletic exposition, and thus became synonymous with homily in distinction from the thematic sermon. Finally, after the middle of the fourteenth century, it was applied to an annual cycle of homilies.
Early Lutheran postils
From the time of Martin Luther, who published the first part of his postil under the title Enarrationes epistolarum et evangeliorum quas postillas vocant (Wittenberg, 1521), every annual cycle of sermons on the lessons, whether consisting of homilies or formal sermons, is termed a postil. A few of the most famous Lutheran postils are those of M. Luther (Kirchenpostille, Wittenberg, 1527; Hauspostille, 1542, 1549), P. Melanchthon (Evangelien-Postille, Germ., Nuremberg, 1549; Lat., Hanover, 1594), M. Chemnitz (Evangelien-Postille, Magdeburg, 1594), L. Osiander (Bauern-Postille, Tübingen, 1597), and J. Arndt (Evangelien-Postille, Leipzig, 1616).
The term postil fell into disuse during the period of Pietism and the Enlightenment, but was revived by Claus Harms (Winter-Postille, Kiel, 1812; Sommer-Postille, 1815). It has again become common through W. Löhe (Evangelien-Postille, Frommel 1848; Epistel-Postille, 1858), and M. Stuttgart (Herzpostille, Bremen, 1882, 1890; Hauspostille, 1887–88; Pilgerpostille, 1890).
Reformed Churches, which disregard a regular series of lessons, have no postils; in the Roman Catholic Church the term has been kept, especially through Leonard Goffiné (Hand-Postill oder christ-catholische Unterrichtungen von allen Sonn- and Feyr-Tagen des gantzen Jahrs (Mainz, 1690; popular, illustrated ed., reissued twenty-one times by H. Herder, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1875–1908; Eng. transl., T. Noethen, New York, n.d.).