Sermon (Lat. sermo, "a discourse"), a discourse delivered in public religious services. In the early Church sermons were called tractates (expository), disputations (argumentative and controversial), allocutions, and by the Greeks διδασκαλίαι (doctrinal), or homilies (familiar addresses). The place of the sermon in the service was immediately after the reading of the psalms and lessons out of the Scriptures, before the catechumens were dismissed. The person whose duty it was to deliver the sermon was the bishop, when he was present, or one of his presbyters in any church from which he was absent: then it was considered as the bishop preaching by proxy. In some cases a special commission was given to a layman to deliver a sermon, and then he might do it by the authority of the bishop's commission for that time. This applied to the public services in the churches, and was not necessary when laymen did it in a private way as catechists in their catechetic schools, as at Alexandria and elsewhere. Sometimes it happened that two or three sermons would be preached in the same assembly, first by the presbyters and then by the bishop. Or, if more than one bishop were present, several of them would preach one after another, reserving the last place for the most honorable person. In some places sermons were preached every day, especially in Lent and the festival days of Easter. In larger towns and cities, it seems probable that two sermons were delivered on Sunday; but this custom did not prevail in the country parishes. The sermon was either, 1, an exposition of Scripture; 2, a panegyrical discourse upon some saint or martyr; 3, a sermon upon some particular time, occasion, festival; or, 4, a sermon upon a particular doctrine, against heresy, or to recommend the practice of virtue. Al of these have examples in the sermons of Chrysostom and Augustine. Origen appears to have been the first to deliver his sermons extempore, it having been the general practice to carefully compose and write them beforehand. It was customary to introduce the sermon with a short prayer for divine assistance for the preacher and his hearers; and sometimes, if occasion required, this prayer was said in the middle of the discourse. It was usual in many places, before beginning the sermon, for the preacher to use the common salutation Pax vobis, "Peace be unto you," or "The Lord be with you." There was no general rule as to the length of the sermon, that being doubtless determined by the circumstances of the occasion, e.g. whether one or more sermons were to be delivered. Scarcely any of them would take an hour in delivery, and many of them not more than half that time. It was not considered, by many in the ancient Church, to be improper for the preacher to deliver a sermon prepared by another person, they holding that it is "lawful for a man to preach the compositions of more eloquent men, provided he compose his own life answerable to God's Word." The sermon was always concluded with a doxology to the Holy Trinity. The posture of preacher and hearers was generally the reverse of that prevalent now, for then the preacher sat and his hearers stood. It was a peculiar custom in the African Church, when the preacher chanced to cite some remarkable text of Scripture in the middle of his sermon, for the people to join with him in repeating the remainder of it. This was, no doubt, done to encourage the people to hear, read, and remember the Scriptures. It was a very general custom for the people to show their appreciation of the sermon by public applause, manifested by words (as "orthodox"), or signs, or clapping of hands. We notice also the custom, prevailing among many ancient hearers, of writing down the sermons, word for word, as they were delivered, and by this means some extempore discourses were handed down to posterity. See Bingham, Christ. Antiq. p. 705 sq.; Walcott, Sacred Archoeol. s.v.

Bible concordance for SERMON.

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

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