Bk 1. xxviii 1-2 De analogia

(detail) Brit.Lib.Harley MS 3099 ff 9v-10r

(detail) window in a fifteenth-century church in Long Melford, Suffolk. The hares are thought to represent the persons of the Trinity.


For Isidore, here, analogy is a practical way to resolve uncertainty about correct grammatical forms but, in the wider sense, analogy was considered an aspect of rhetoric. The earliest modern studies of religious rhetoric  treat it in that way.  See e.g.

  • Harry Kaplan, ‘The Four Senses of Scriptural Interpretation and the Mediaeval Theory of Preaching’, Speculum, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jul., 1929), pp. 282-290 (JSTOR).  He repeats the list of techniques from a late medieval text, saying:

“The compiler of the ‘Aquinas’-tract offers nine methods of expanding a sermon: (1) through concordance of authorities, (2) through discussion of words, (3) through explanation of the properties of things, (4) through a multiplication of senses, (5) through analogies and natural truths, (6) through marking of an opposite,
(7) through comparisons, (8) through interpretation of a name, (9) through multiplication of synonyms”.

Some  ‘analogies’ used by preachers of the later medieval period are extraordinary.

One enormously popular sermon, copied as a text through much of Europe, and translated into other vernacular languages  describes the ways of the world by analogy with chess. The sermon was composed by Jacob of Cessoli (c. 1250 – c. 1322) and was still being copied and translated centuries later.


  •  Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium sivae super ludum scaccorum, [Book of the customs of men and the duties of nobles or the Book of Chess].

(As a Dominican, Jacob’s career was in preaching, not in parish duties nor  monastic observance).

One fifteenth-century copy of his  Liber de moribus… is described in a pdf  from Enluminures  [HERE].  It was made in Italy c. c.1425-1450.  Another, in Dutch, is Brit.Lib. MS Additional 10290 (ff.162-227). ( c.1475).

The text has been translated into English:

  •  H.L. Williams, The Book of Chess by Jacob de Cessolis (2008).

On Friar Cessoli see:

  • Jean-Michel Mehl, “L‘exemplum chez Jacques de Cessoles,” Le Moyen Âge 84 (1978), pp. 227-246;
  • Oliver Plessow, Mittelalterliche Schachzabelbücher zwischen Spielsymbolik und Wertevermittlung. Der Schachtraktat des Jacobus de Cessolis im Kontext seiner spätmittelalterlichen Rezeption, Münster, 2007.


“In an act of simplification as well as classification, scholars distinguish two basic forms of medieval sermon: the homilia and the sermo. The homilia moves sequentially through a biblical passage, commenting on it sentence by sentence, or word by word. Medieval monastic preachers followed the model of Gregory the Great’s homiletic and exegetical works, notably the Moralia in Job and the Homiliae in euangelia.”

J.B. Schneyer’s Repertorium der lateinischen Sermones des Mittelalters is a catalogue, in eleven volumes, of 100,000 sermons delivered or recorded in Latin. The work was engaged from 1969-1990, and still continues, but the publication has enabled sermon-studies to gain greater momentum and breadth. It is a genuine scholarly discipline today.   “Until Schneyer, scholars were hobbled by how few sermons had been edited, translated, and prepared for study”.

  • Many studies focus on political and social aspects of sermons and preaching. Fewer consider the genre in terms of technical structures and literary traditions. Some exceptions:
    • H. Leith Spencer,  English Preaching in the Late Middle Ages, (1993) does include a chapter entitled ‘Ancient Customs and New Manners: Medieval Views of Preaching’, which  considers the medieval audience, its expectations and reactions.
    • Jonathan Adams, Jussi Hanska (eds.), The Jewish-Christian Encounter in Medieval Preaching (2014) includes an interesting section on the uses to which medieval bestaries’ half-mythical content might be employed in the analogies made by a medieval preacher.
    • Sabine Volk-Birke, Chaucer and Medieval Preaching: Rhetoric for Listeners in Sermons and Poetry (1991). Also considers sermons in terms of literary and rhetorical techniques.

PREACHING MANUALS and ‘Ars Praedicandi

The degree of relationship between construction of sermons and the ‘ars praedicandi’ manuals is often assumed so close as to be near-synonymous, but informed opinion is far less categorical  For the debate see e.g. the crucial paper

  • Bert Roest, ‘The Art and Craft of Preaching’ in Franciscans and PreachingEvery Miracle from the Beginning of the World Came about through Words (Brill, 2012) pp. 412

The Ars praedicandi as a sub-category of rhetoric, did lead to the creation of manuals whose distinctive form was reached in the twelfth century. Alan of Lille is usually referred to in this context, the genre’s high point then dated to about the mid-thirteenth century.  Few modern writers examine the genre’s origin and development, their interest rather in Protestant reformist  preachers and the sermons’ influence on, and expression of,  contemporary social and political attitudes.  Some exceptions:

  • Carolyn Muessig, Medieval Monastic Preaching (1998) considers the previously debated matter of whether or not monks were permitted to engage in public preaching, and if so from when.
  • Marianne Grier Briscoe, The Relation of Medieval Preaching Manuals to the Medieval English Morality Plays (1975) offers an early and stimulating study.
  • Siegfried Wenzel’s The Art of Preaching (2013) is much cited and may be downloaded as pdfs by subscribers to Project Muse [HERE].  See also the same author’s Latin Sermon Collections from Later Medieval EnglandOrthodox Preaching in the Age of Wyclif (2005) though this too is concerned with the later and reformist context.

Wenzel describes a sermon whose exposition develops an existing analogy made between the sun and God or Christ.  As Wenzel describes (p.169) – the preacher then cites the phrase  ‘Ecce nunc dies salutis’ before going on to develop the word ‘dies’ by dividing it into good (i.e. life in heaven), evil (the Last Judgement) and mixed (this present life), saying that the  third sort of ‘day’ is given humankind in order to gain spiritual health, through a progression of six steps [or stages] (gradus), each being equated with the procession of the zodiac constellations [as markers of the sun’s progress].  Each constellation is now taken as analogy for one of the steps towards the desired spiritual health:  ‘hatred of sin’ ;  ‘weeping for one’s past sins’ ;  ‘doing penance for them’ … etc. [ I rely for the above on Wenzel’s text].


  1.  Header inset – the constellation Lepus, from a copy of Aratus’ poem. Brit.Lib. MS Harley 2506  f.41v.   10thC France, perhaps Fleury.
  2. Composite: the hare – detail from Brit.Lib MS Harley 1810 f. 229v; the wolf – detail from Brit.Lib. MS Royal 2 B VII f. 120v.
  3. chess players: detail from BNF manuscrit Fr. 301 folio 111 v – edited by adding borders.
  4. Inhabited initial – portrait of Isidore of Seville. source unspecified.
  5. Reynard the Fox preaches to fowl. Detail from manuscript made in France at the height of the ‘modern sermon’ and ars praedicandi. Brit.Lib. Royal MS 10 E IV f. 49v
  6. Three hares – from a church in Long Melford Suffolk. See Peter Sebbage, ‘Hare Window in Long Melford‘, BBC (1st November, 2007); a more recent and more detailed treatment of hare mythology in England in ‘Hare mythology…’, The Field (April 15th., 2017).
  7. band.  from glass in Chartres Cathedral (12thC);
  8. vertical border – unattributed, but possibly from the Cathedral of Aachen.


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