The Priority of Preaching in the Early Medieval Church
Now while we can say a number of negative things about Gregory and think we must we also have to remember some positive things about Gregory and one of the intriguing positive things is to look at his very influential book called “The Book of pastoral rule.” And here, he’s talking principally to the bishops who are the pastors of their diocese but he’s looking at the church as a whole time and what the function of the clergy is as a whole and what’s interesting when we read this book is that the focus is primarily upon preaching. So when Gregory thinks of the pastor’s role in the life of the church in the year 600, it’s still primarily a role of preaching. And if we go back a little more than a century to John Chrysostom, the great preacher but also a patriarch of the church in Constantinople when he wrote his book on the priesthood that was a book almost entirely on preaching.
And so when we look at the conviction of the ancient church the early medieval church as to what the principal role of the clerical leadership of the life of the church ought to be it was still a conviction that ought to be preaching, preaching might not of quite lived up to our standards theologically but there were still the sense that was the work that will be progressively lost as the Middle Ages wears on. Partly will be lost because of an ever declining level of education in the common Parish clergy, there will still be very educated people in the church but the clergy as a whole, the priest as a whole will see a real decline in their education as the Middle Ages wears on. And if you’re not very well educated, you still may be able to memorize the Latin Canon of the mass so you can recite it at the altar but you won’t be much of a preacher if you’re not well educated and that’s what happens as time goes on. But for Gregory, preaching was still critical, was still central.