top of page
  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Preaching Like Augustine


St. Augustine of Hippo’s treatise on preaching, On Christian Doctrine, has a number of parallels to St. John Chrystostom’s On the Priesthood. Chrystostom said regarding preaching that “a preacher must train himself above all else to despise praise. For without this addition, knowledge of the technique of speaking is not enough to ensure powerful speech” [1]. Augustine said, “The man who cannot speak both eloquently and wisely should speak wisely without eloquence, rather than eloquently without wisdom.” [2] He also said, “What advantage is there in purity of speech which does not lead to understanding in the hearer, seeing that there is no use at all in speaking, if they do not understand us for whose sake we speak?” [3] For both these men, what was being said was to take precedence over how it is being said.

It is St. Augustine who provides wisdom on how to prepare to preach. He does not suggest starting with a stack of commentaries, a series of hermeneutics to apply to the text, or a method of research, as might be expected in a modern method. He instead begins with prayer: "For if Queen Esther prayed, when she was about to speak to the king touching the temporal welfare of her race, that God would put fit words into her mouth, how much more ought he to pray for the same blessing who labors in word and doctrine for the eternal welfare of men?" [4]

It makes sense that Augustine would begin preparing to preach with prayer. Previously, he identified a failure to know the love of God as a sign of failing to understand the Scriptures. "Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought." [5]

In order to understand the love of God as revealed in the Scriptures, a preacher must first commune with the love of God in prayer.

A concern for eloquence in preaching is subservient to the wisdom of what is being preached. The purpose of eloquence in preaching is to ensure the message is as clear as possible. “And what advantage is there in purity of speech which does not lead to understanding in the hearer, seeing that there is no use at all in speaking, if they do not understand us for whose sake we speak?” [6]

Augustine lists three kinds of speech which can be most useful in particular instances. The first is a subdued style for when the preacher is teaching, giving praise, or giving blame [7]. The second is a grand majestic style which is to be used when the preacher comes to matters of eternal significance [8]. The moderate style is to be used for those subjects that lie in between these two poles [9].

The use of these styles is always to be used in order to most effectively communicate the wisdom of the message. The task of the preacher is to carefully discern what is being taught in the Scriptures and then consider what methods of speech most effectively communicate that message to the congregation. The goal can never be to merely entertain, demonstrate the eloquence of the preacher, or tell the people what they want to hear, but must be to speak the very Word of God in a way that can be understood by all.

[1] St. John Chrystostom, On the Priesthood, V.6

[2] St. Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine, 4.61

[3] Ibid. 4.24

[4] Ibid. 4.63

[5] Ibid. 1.40

[6] Ibid. 4.24

[7] Ibid. 4.38

[8] Ibid. 4.35

[9] Ibid.


2 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page