Homily (Gr. ὁμιλία, communion, a meeting; hence A discourse adapted to the people), the name of a certain class of sermons. It is now applied to a simple exposition of a text, in contradistinction from the discussion of a topic. In the early Church the term λόγος, oration, was applied to less familiar discourses; ὁμιλία to the plainer, much as the term lecture is now used.
1. The distinction between the homily and the sermon is thus set forth by Vinet. "The special character of the homily is, not that it has to do most frequently with recitals, or that it is more familiar than other discourses, but that its chief business is to set in relief the successive parts of an extended text, subordinating them to its contour, its accidents, its chances, if we may so speak, more than can be done in the sermon, properly so called. Nothing distinguishes, essentially, the homily from the sermon except the comparative predominance of analysis; in other terms, the prevalence of explanation over system. The difficulty as to unity presented by this kind of discourse never amounts to impossibility. We do not at random cut from the general text of the sacred book the particular text of a homily. The selection is not arbitrary. The limit of the text is predetermined by reference to unity, which, therefore, we shall be at no loss to discover in it. The only danger is that unity of subject will be relinquished, as the thread of a path may be buried and lost beneath an intertwined and tufted vegetation. As the preacher appears to be more sustained by his text in the homily than in the synthetic sermon, the former is thought to be easier of execution. It certainly is easier to make a homily than a sermon, but a good sermon is made with more facility than a good homily. The great masters in the art of preaching — Bourdaloue, for example — have not succeeded in homily. The most excellent judges in the matter of preaching have recommended the homily" (Homiletics, p. 148 sq.).
2. In the primitive Church we find the style of the homily already in the discourses of Christ and his apostles. They frequented the synagogues of the Jews wherever they went, and in these it was customary, after the reading of the Scriptures, to give an invitation to any one to comment upon what had been read. In this way the disciples frequently took occasion to speak of Christ and his doctrines. Thus we find in the Acts (Acts 1:15; 2:14; 4:7; 5:29; 6:34; 13:40,41: 17:22; 20:18; 22, 23, 24) brief notices of several addresses made by Peter and Paul, and one by Stephen, which give us quite a distinct impression of their style of address. Tertullian and Justin Martyr inform us that a like practice was common in the churches of Africa and Asia. "We meet together to read the Holy Scriptures, and, when circumstances permit, to admonish one another. In such sacred discourse we establish our faith, we encourage our hope, we confirm our trust, and quicken our obedience to the word by a renewed application of its truths" (Tertullian, Apol. p. 39).
(a) A similar mode of discourse we find again in the early Greek Church, beginning with Origen (A.D. 320). This was in some respects, however, a new style of address, as it inclined to an allegorical mode of interpreting the Scriptures. But, aside from this characteristic, the sermons, or rather, homilies of this period, were soon followed by all the preachers, as Origen was considered by all a standard who was to be imitated, while there were others less commendable. In general they were faulty in style, corrupt with "philosophical terms and rhetorical flourishes, forms of expression extravagant and farfetched, Biblical expressions unintelligible to the people, unmeaning comparisons, absurd antitheses, spiritless interrogations, senseless exclamations, and bombast." The causes which contributed to form this style are due to the prevalence of pagan philosophy among the Christian preachers of this time, many of whom were converts from paganism, and had received an imperfect preparation before entering on the discharge of their sacred office.
(b) In the early Latin Church, the homilies of this period are, if anything, even greatly inferior to those in the Greek. The cause of this was, as in the Greek Church, the imperfect education of those in the ministry, more especially their ignorance of the original languages of the Bible. See Eschenburg, Versuche. Gesch. der öffenil. Religionsvorträge, p. 300 sq.
3. In the Church of Rome, at an early period, when few of the priests were capable of preaching, discourses were framed out of the fathers, chiefly expository, to be read from the pulpits. These were also called homilies. SEE HOMILILRIUM.
4. In England, homilies were early in use in the Anglo-Saxon Church. AElfric, archbishop of Canterbury, who, after Alfred, ranks first among the Anglo-Saxon vernacular writers, finding that but few persons of his day (latter part of the 10th century) could read the Gospel doctrines, as they were written in the Latin, the language of the Church, was led to compile a collection of eighty homilies, some of which were perhaps written by himself, but most of which he translated from the Latin. In these Anglo- Saxon homilies "almost every vital doctrine which distinguished the Romish from the Protestant Church meets with a direct contradiction," and they proved of no little value in the religious controversy at the period of the English Reformation. They condemn especially, among other things, without reserve, the doctrine of transubstantiation (q.v.) as a growing error, and go to prove that the novelties, which are generally charged to the Protestants, are really of older date than the boasted argument of apostolical tradition. Some of the MSS. of these homilies, however, which had been stored away in monastic libraries, are found to be mutilated by the removal of all such obnoxious passages (comp. Soames, Inquiry into the Doctrines of the Anglo-Saxon Church, Bampton Lecture, Oxford, 1830, 8vo). A second collection of AElfric's, undertaken at the request of Ethelward, commemorates the different saints revered by the Anglo-Saxon Church, and, like the former collection, was divided into two books. Of these homilies were published, An English-Saxon Homily on the Birthday of St. Gregory, used anciently in the English-Saxon Church, giving an Account of the Conversion of the English from Paganism to Christianity, translated into modern English, with notes, etc., by Elizabeth Elstob (London 1709, 8vo; new ed. London 1839, 8vo); Elfrici Homilie, ed. Eliz. Elstob (of which only 36 pages were ever published; Oxford 1710, fol.). Another attempt was The English-Saxon Homilies of Elfrici, translated by Eliz. Elstob (Oxford 1715, folio, of which only two leaves were printed, now preserved in the British Museum). Besides these, there are some Anglo-Saxon homilies extant, to which the name of Lupus Episcopus is generally affixed. They are by Wanley (Catalog. of A. — S. MSS. p. 140 sq.), and apparently with good reason attributed to Wulfstan (q.v.), one of the Anglo-Saxon prelates of the 11th century. "The most remarkable of these is the one entitled in the MS. Sermo lupi ad Anglos quando Dani maxinmepersecuti sunt eos, in which the author sets before the eyes of his countrymen the crimes which had disgraced the age preceding that in which he wrote, and the increasing wickedness of their own time." See Wright, Biog. British Lit. p. 487 sq., 506 sq. SEE ELFRIC.
5. In the Church of England, the term homily has acquired a special meaning from the fact that in the time of the Reformation, a number of easy and simple discourses were composed to be read in the churches. "The Thirty-fifth Article of religion says, The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this article, doth contain a godly and wholesome doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward VI; and, therefore, we judge them to be read in churches by the ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.' The following are the titles of the homilies:
1. Of the right use of the church. 2. Against peril of idolatry. 3. Of repairing and keeping clean of churches. 4. Of good work,; first of fasting. 5. Against gluttony and drunkenness. 6. Against excess of apparel. 7. Of prayer. 8. Of the time and place of prayer. 9. That common prayers and sacraments ought to be ministered in a known tongue. 10. Of the reverend estimation of God's Word. 11. Of alms doing. 12. Of the nativity of Christ. 13. Of the passion of Christ. 14. Of the resurrection of Christ. 15. Of the worthy receiving of the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ. 16. Of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. 17. For the Rogation days. 18. Of the state' of matrimony. 19. Of repentance. 20. Against idleness. 21. Against rebellion." "The first volume of these homilies is supposed to have been composed by archbishop Cranmer and bishop Ridley and Latimer at the beginning of the Reformation, when a competent number of ministers of sufficient abilities to preach in a public congregation was not to be found." It was published, as already stated, in the article above cited, in the beginning of the reign of Edward VI. The second volume was perhaps prepared under Edward VI, but it was not published until 1563, during the reign of Elizabeth (comp. Hardwick, Church History during the Reformation, p. 206, 211. 249). "In neither of these books can the several homilies be assigned to their several authors with any certainty. In the second book no single homily of them all has been appropriated. In the first, that on 'Salvation' was probably written by Cranmer, as also those on 'Faith' and 'Good Works.' Internal evidence, arising out of certain homely expressions and peculiar forms of ejaculation, the like of which appear in Latimer's sermons, pretty clearly betray the hand of the bishop of Worcester as having been engaged in the homily against 'Brawling and Contention;' the one against 'Adultery' may be safely given to Thomas Becon, one of Cranmer's chaplains, in whose works, published in 1564, it is still to be found; of the rest nothing is known but by the merest conjecture. All members of the Church of England agree that the homilies 'contain a godly and wholesome doctrine,' but they are not agreed as to the precise degree of authority to be attached to them. In them, the authority of the fathers of the first six general councils, and of the judgments of the Church generally, the holiness of the primitive Church, the secondary inspiration of the Apocrypha, the sacramental character of marriage and other ordinances, and regeneration in holy baptism, and the real presence in the Eucharist, are asserted" (Bp. Burnet). One of the best editions of the Homilies is that by Corrie at the University press (Cambridge, 1850, 8vo), and the latest, and perhaps most complete edition, is that published at Oxford (1859, 8vo). See also Darling, Cyclop. Bibliog. 1, 1524; Wheatly, Common Prayer, p. 272; Baxter, Ch. History, p. 379 sq., 486 sq.; Browne, Exposit. 39 Articles, p. 782 sq.; Wesley, Works — (see Index, vol. 7); Forbes, On the 39 Articles, 2, 685 aq.; Buchanan, Justific. p. 193, 198; Hook, Ch. Dict. p. 303.
6. For the Clementine Homilies, SEE CLEMENTINES; and on the points above given, see Schmidt, Die Homilie (Halle, 1827, 8vo); Augusti, Denkwürdigk. a. d. Christi. Archaeol. 6, 266 sq.; Schone, Geschichtsforsch. fiber die Kirsch. Gebr. 1, 74 sq.; 2, 226-53; De concionibus veterum, in Hoornbeck's Discellanae sacrae (Ultraj. 1689);
— Schröckh, Kirchengesch. 4, 20, 21, 81 sq.; Neander, Ch. Hist. 3, 126; Fuhrmann, Handwörterb. d. Kirchengesch. 2, 335; Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes book 14 ch. 4; Coleman, Ancient Christianity, ch. 18; Primit. Ch. p. 387; Apostol. and Primit. Ch. 13; Bickersteth, Christ. Stud. Ass. p. 325, 470; Taylor, Anc. Christ.; Siegel, Handb. christl. — kirchl. Alterth. 2, 328 sq.; London Review, June 1854, Jan. 1857; Bib. Sacr. May and Aug. 1849; Presb. Quart. Rev. April, 1862, art. 2; Methodist Quart. Rev. 1, 283; 7, 63 sq. SEE HOMILETICS; SEE HOMILISTS; SEE POSTILLE.