Preaching, III (Theology of)

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In its broadest usage, the English term "preaching" comprises the multiple ministries of the wordevangelization, the liturgical homily, catechetical instruction, exhortation, mystagogy, et al.,through which the Christian community announces and expounds the Gospel. The theology of preaching begins with the premise that the proclamation of the good news of salvationthe announcement that "the reign of God is at hand"constituted the focus of the life and ministry of Jesus and remains central to the life and mission of the Church.

Apostolic Proclamation. As preacher of the reign of God, Jesus stood within the prophetic tradition of announcing the saving power of God active in human history by calling to memory God's fidelity in the past, evoking trust in God's presence here and now, and rousing hope in God's promise to create a new future. Anointed by the power of the Spirit, Jesus proclaimed and embodied the presence and power of God at work in human life and throughout creation. The "signs of the kingdom" evident in Jesus's ministry confirmed the message of the saving rule of God which the prophets promised and which Jesus declared was "at hand"a "year of favor" when the poor would hear glad tidings, the brokenhearted be healed, captives set free, and prisoners released (Is 61, Lk 4). In his words, especially his characteristic mode of speaking in parables, as well as in his liberating deeds and relationships, Jesus reinterpreted the living tradition of Jewish faith he inherited, announcing the unlimited compassion and forgiveness of God. The Gospels of Matthew and John further portray Jesus as Wisdom (Hokmah/Sophia ) the prophetic street preacher from the book of Proverbs who proclaims God's ways at the city gate, reaches out her hand to the needy, clings to truth, decides for justice, orders all things rightly, and invites her children to an abundant feast. Just as Sophia fashioned others into "friends of God and prophets," Jesus gathered a band of disciples whom he sent to continue his preaching mission in the power of the Spirit "even to the ends of the world" (Lk 9:16; 10:112; Mt 28:12). Mounting resistance to Jesus's announcement of the reign of God culminated in his execution as a political rebel and false prophet. Historical-critical biblical scholars argue that the bold preaching of the disciples in the face of their devastation at the time of the death of Jesus gives testimony to the truth of the claim which formed the core of the apostolic kerygma (proclamation): Jesus who was crucified has been raised from the dead, and all who repent and believe in him will be saved (cf. 1 Cor 15:38; Acts 2:22b24, 3:12b26, 10:3443).

The resurrection narratives testify to the necessity of the conversion of the preacher for effective proclamation of the good news of salvation. The New Testament records specifically the post-Easter commissioning of Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:17), the Twelve and their companions (Mt 28: 1620, Mk 16:1420, Jn 20: 1923), and Paul (Gal 1:1117). The Pentecost narrative in the acts of the apostles further highlights the role of the Spirit in both the proclamation and the hearing of the word of God in diverse voices and cultures.

In the tradition of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets, the apostolic preachers announced the dabar YHWH the word of Godas creative, dynamic, and saving event that brings about what it promises. Thus the Acts of the Apostles describes the success of the Church's ministry in a specific area with the summary statement: "The word of God continued to spread" (Acts 6:7). As the Hebrew roots of the word "dabar " indicate, to proclaim God's word is to announce God's activity in history in such a way that renders salvation history present and operative in the present moment. Although distinctions based on purpose and style can be drawn between various modes of preaching such as kerygma (direct proclamation of Jesus as Lord and the good news of the reign of God), didache/didaskalia (teaching, catechesis, or doctrinal instruction), and the homily (liturgical preaching), all preaching from the standpoint of theology draws its power and effectiveness from the saving power of God. As a salvific event, the word of God effects what it signifies as promised throughout the scriptures: "So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it" (Is 55:11); "Indeed God's word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates and divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the reflections and thought of the heart" (Heb 4:12).

Preaching and Teaching. The apostolic proclamation of God's fidelity throughout history focuses on the Word made fleshthe good news of what God had done in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The proclamation of the Gospel identified by Paul as "the power of God for salvation" was a call to conversion (metanoia)radical turning towards God and away from sin. Claiming a vocation he identified with a "compulsion to preach," (1 Cor 9:16), Paul stressed that the power of preaching is "the power of God" (Rom 1:16, 1 Cor 1:18), active in spite of human weakness (1 Cor 1:25), its persuasive source found not in wise argumentation, but only in "the convincing power of the Spirit" (1 Cor 2:4). Paul likewise insisted on the centrality of the cross in the Christian proclamation of God's wisdom: "The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation, it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18; cf. 1 Cor 2: 15).

Endowed with the Spirit's charisms of "wisdom in discourse" (logos sophias ) and prophecy (1 Cor 12:810), prophets, teachers, and apostles embraced their mission to proclaim the good news of God's salvation in Jesus Christ through diverse ministries of the word in the early Christian communities and house churches. The First Apology of justin martyr in the mid-2nd century gives evidence of liturgical preaching (the homily) as an integral part of the Christian eucharist. The closely related ministries of preaching and teaching shared the common intent of drawing both initial and more experienced hearers of the word into embracing the Christian life of discipleship. Concern for the authenticity of the tradition led to a growing emphasis on the ministry of bishops as the official preachers and teachers of the Gospel and overseers of the ministries of the word, although gifted and educated lay preachers such as origen, head of the catechetical school at alexandria, were invited by bishops to preach even in the liturgical assembly.

By the 4th century, preaching had become predominantly doctrinal, catechetical, and mystagogical formation in faith. Convinced that God's word was revealed pre-eminently in Jesus Christ, preachers searched for the "spiritual sense" of the scriptures (seeking a Christological interpretation, for example, of the Hebrew scriptures) and pointed to the sacraments as continuations of God's saving work. augustine articulated an early sacramental theology of preaching by identifying a sacrament as a "visible word" (verbum visibile ) and preaching as an audible sacrament (sacramentum audibile ). Although he outlined principles of rhetoric for Christian preaching in Book IV of On Christian Doctrine, Augustine viewed preaching as a share in Christian wisdom that goes beyond rhetorical skill. The preacher's interpretation of a biblical text was to highlight how the signs of the Trinity are to be found throughout creation and history. The ultimate hermeneutical key for the interpretation of any scripture passage, as delineated in On Christian Doctrine, is to be found in love of God and love of neighbor. Augustine maintained that when the preacher announces the word of God, it is in fact "Christ who teaches; his pulpit is in heaven and his school is his [mystical] body" (Sermo de disciplina christiana, ML 40, col. 678).

Medieval understandings of preaching were grounded in the sacramental and incarnational conviction that in the divine economy all of creation, and every word of scripture, speaks of Christ (bonaventure). The goal of preaching was to draw out the spiritual senses of scripture so as to "offer instruction in matters of faith and behavior" (alan of lille, The Art of Preaching, ch. 1). thomas aquinas emphasized that the "grace of speech" was needed for one to speak in a way that not only instructs the intellect, but also moves the affections of the hearers so that they might love what is signified and want to fulfill what the word urges (Summa Theologiae IIII, q. 177, a. 1, reply). To emphasize that preaching communicates the word of God and not merely human words, Aquinas used scholastic terminology to identify God as the "principal cause" of preaching and the preacher as "instrumental cause." conversion requires not only the outer word of the preacher, but also the inner word of grace that is the effect of the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Summa Theologiae IIII, q. 1, a. 4, ad 4; q. 6, a. 1; q. 2, a. 9, ad 3).

Ministry of the Word. In the sixteenth century, Protestant Reformers Martin luther and John calvin developed rich theologies of the word, but these were not developed in the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic tradition that continued to emphasize the Church's ministry of teaching and instruction. Post-Reformation disputes about the efficacy of preaching (preaching brings about faith, but cannot effect sanctifying grace), and the relationship between sacraments and preaching (preaching is not an eighth sacrament) dominated Catholic theologies of preaching well into the 20th century. In 1936 Joseph jungmann charged that preaching had become "the vulgarization of theological tracts" rather than the announcement of good news. The kerygmatic renewal in catechetics which Jungmann promoted and the liturgical movement provided resources and impetus for a similar renewal in preaching.

Along with the developments in critical biblical scholarship and the "return to the sources" (resourcement) in theology, the impact of the liturgical and catechetical movements on the Church's understanding of preaching are evident throughout the documents of Vatican II. One of the central purposes of the Council as expressed by John XXIII in his opening address, was for the Church to make itself "better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the twentieth century" (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 54 [1969] 792). Of particular note in the conciliar documents are the claims that "The Church has always venerated the divine scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord" (DV 21); that preaching is crucial to the mission of the Church (LG 17; AG 3); that preaching is the Church's chief means of evangelization (AG 6) and that preaching is necessary as a call to faith and conversion (SC 9). At various points the documents identify preaching as central to the ministries of bishop (LG 25; CD 12) and priest (PO 4; LG 28). At the same time the documents speak of all baptized members as sharing in the prophetic office of the Church (LG 12; AA 2,3; GS 43).

In a major liturgical reform, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy restored the ancient liturgical homily, by means of which "the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded," as "part of the liturgy itself" (SC 52, 35) and climax of the Liturgy of the Word. Likewise, the Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests reestablishes the centrality of the preached word to the sacramental celebration since "faith is born of the word and nourished by it." The homily, according to that document and numerous liturgical sources, is to be drawn from scriptural and liturgical texts of the day, and to "apply the perennial truth of the Gospel to the concrete circumstances of life" (PO 4; see also SC 10, 35, 5152; General Instruction on the Roman Missal, n. 41; and second edition of the General Instruction on the Lectionary for Mass, n. 24).

Ten years after the close of the Council, Paul VI's apostolic exhortation "On Evangelization in the Modern World" (1975), used the term "evangelization" to refer both to the initial proclamation of the word of God as a call to conversion and to any exercise of the ministry of the word. The exhortation reaffirmed that preaching is an ecclesial act and that proclamation of the good news of the reign of God "constitutes the essential mission of the Church" (EvangNunt, 14). The document also accents the pneumatological dimension of a theology of preaching with the reminder that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent in preaching and that the new humanity generated by the Spirit is the goal of all preaching (ibid., 75). The Spirit is the authentic source of both the proclamation and the hearing of the word that moves the hearers to initial and ongoing conversion. The Spirit forms ministers of the wordboth ordained and layso that the preacher's words can be supported by the witness of a holy life, the spirit of unity and friendship among believers, a reverence for truth, an authentic love of those to whom the Gospel is proclaimed, and the spiritual fervor that gives preaching its character of urgency (ibid., 7680). The apostolic exhortation recalls the universality of the preaching mandate of the Church, but also recognizes that preaching requires careful pastoral discernment which takes account of the specific character, needs, and lifesituation of the hearers of the word.

Ministry of the Word. Following on the kerygmatic renewal earlier in the century, Catholic theologians discovered rich resources for a theology of preaching in biblical theologies of the word as well as in ecumenical dialogue with Reformation traditions that have emphasized the saving power of the proclaimed word. Theologians such as Otto Semmelroth, Yves congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, Michael Schmaus, Domenico Grasso, and Charles Davis all contributed to a renewed theology of preaching grounded in a sacramental theology of revelation. Semmelroth, for example, stressed that the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist constitute an integral representation of the saving event of Jesus's total life of self-surrender from the time of the incarnation through his saving death on the cross. Word and Sacrament together make present the fullness of the paschal mystery embodied in Jesus Christ who is both God's saving Word of grace as offer (Wort ) and the Spirit-empowered answer (Antwort ) of self-offering obedient love. The incarnation constitutes "God's own sermon" to humankind; the goal of all preaching is to invite the gathered community into deeper participation in the paschal mystery (The Preaching Word, 1962).

Karl rahner's lament that Catholic theology lacked an adequate theology of the word was attenuated by his own groundbreaking insights into the word as sacrament and sacraments as the "highest words" of the Church's self-expression. Rahner's development of Augustine's insight that the proclaimed word is an "audible sacrament" provided an important theological foundation for contemporary Catholic theologies of preaching. While he did not develop an explicit theology of preaching, Rahner identified the proclaimed word as a sacrament in which grace (God's self-communication) is embodied in the explicitness of word. Thus the role of the preacher is to name the depth dimension of the mystery of human existence as God's self-offer and thus draw the hearers of the word into a deeper relationship with God. The Church is called to be the abiding sacramental presence in the world of the primal sacramental word of definitive graceJesus Christ. Preaching and the sacraments function as the self-expression of the Church, naming, proclaiming, and celebrating the deepest truth at the heart of realityGod's self-offer in love. According to Rahner, all the words of the Church, preeminently the words of liturgical preaching, are oriented toward the celebration of the sacraments. The eucharist functions as the "highest word of the Church" in which the Church locates its deepest identity in the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

William J. hill also recognized the centrality of the apostolic kerygma, but Hill stressed that effective preaching involves the "kerygmatic reinterpretation" of texts and events from the tradition. That retrieval is possible, however, only from the perspective of the contemporary milieu. According to Hill, the task of the preacher is to render salvation history present and operative in the contemporary world in a way that moves the community to surrender to the unconditional claims of God. New questions and experiencesboth those of the preacher and those of the communityelicit previously unrecognized dimensions of the biblical text and produce a genuinely new word. Remarking that effective preaching requires both the conversion of the preacher and serious theological reflection, Hill drew on the resources of Bernard lonergan to describe preaching as a moment in the theological process. The preacher's task is to discern the meaning God intends and the human response required today based on the normative expression of God's word located in the New Testament as proclaimed in the community of faith. The word of Godor as Hill states, "God's meaning" becomes incarnate in the words and deeds of the preacher. The word inaugurates the process of conversion in both preacher and community. In the process of mediating God's meaning to today's world both the preacher and the community are newly constituted. Through the process of discerning and announcing God's meaning, the preacher is constituted as a herald of the message of Christ and the community is constituted as "the place where the word takes root."

Edward Schillebeeckx's early writings on revelation and theology reflect a sacramental theology of revelation and the word very similar to that of Karl Rahner. In his later writings on revelation in his Christological trilogy (notably Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord, 1980), Schillebeeckx moved beyond the distinction between revelation-in-reality and revelation-in-word with the claims that all experience has a narrative structure and that revelation occurs within, but cannot be identified with, human experience. Christianity began with the first disciples' experience of salvation in and through Jesus and continues as a living story of discipleship. To announce salvation, Schillebeeckx emphasizes, is not only to proclaim a memory of God's fidelity in the past as recorded in the scriptures and handed on in the living Christian tradition, but also to preach the good news of how God's Spirit continues to work in the world today and promises a future even in the most desperate of situations. The goal of preaching and of every ministry of the word is to interpret the human story and the story of creation in light of the story of Jesus in such a way that people can find hope to believe that God is at work in the world in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. That kind of proclamation remains credible only if Christian communities give evidence of that hope by "writing a fifth gospel" with their lives.

Recent theologies of liturgical preaching stress the Spirit's activity in the community of the baptized and the claim of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that the presence of Christ is located in the gathered assembly and the word proclaimed as well as in the sacramental elements and the minister. That approach characterizes the implicit theology of preaching in Fulfilled in Your Hearing: The Homily in the Sunday Assembly, issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry in 1982. The document begins with the liturgical assembly and stresses that the purpose of the homily is "to enable the gathered congregation to celebrate the liturgy with faith" (20). Shifting the focus of preaching from the application of biblical texts to life, Fulfilled in Your Hearing suggests that "the goal of the liturgical preacher is not to interpret a text of the bible as much as to draw on the texts of the Bible as they are presented in the lectionary to interpret people's lives" (20).

As the word of God is proclaimed around the globe in multiple and diverse communities of faith, and the Church responds to John Paul II's call for a "new evangelization" that includes the "evangelization of cultures," the Gospel's call to conversion takes on new meaning. The call to preach requires that preachers first listen to the word of God not only in the scriptures and liturgy, but also in the unique cultural contexts and life situations of the communities in which they preach. The word of God has been entrusted to the entire community of faith. Thus one of the roles of pastors and preachers is to encourage members of the community to share their own insights into the word of God as revealed in their daily lives. Likewise, the call to embody the word of God extends beyond sacramental praxis. As the 1971 Synod of Bishops' statement proclaimed, "action on behalf of justice is a constitutive part of the preaching of the Gospel" (Justice in the World, Washington: USCC, 1972, p.34). The call to repent and believe the good news is a call that needs to be heard and embraced by the Church and its preachersespecially those from dominant groups and culturesif it is to be proclaimed authentically beyond the boundaries of the Church.

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[m. c. hilkert]