Communication and Rhetorical Studies
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
orality, Homiletics, Walter Ong, Quintilian, preaching
Historically, the preaching of the word of God has been a synthesis of both oral and written orientations with text providing both the source and the preservation of the sermon, and orality fueling its expression. Expression preceded documentation. Scripture displays this dual nature in its revelation, expression and transmission. But with the technologizing of the word in typographic literacy, sermons became increasingly conditioned by the literate sensorium and lost many of their oral psychodynamics. Character, wisdom, dialogue, memory, responsiveness, and flexibility were exchanged for private preparation, literate structuring, and literary delivery. Sermons became disembodied, existing more reliably in externalized text.
Walter Ong provides the framework for the reappraisal of communicative history by strategically forgetting the pervasive influence of technology. Recovering the older resources of orality, Ong restores a sense of balance to the oral/literate continuum by returning to the primarily oral orientations of the Greco-Roman world of classic rhetoric, and rehabilitates rhetoric with theological and homiletic implications.
Quintilian's infinitely flexible oratory represents the richness of the communicative environment during the infancy of the church. His emphasis on depth of understanding as a prerequisite for public speaking grounds the speaker in resources beyond the pragmatics of the specific situation or topic, and can be profitably applied to contemporary homiletic praxis. Quintilian's understanding of oral composition, memory, roadmapping, and kairos is applicable to the kind of preparation and delivery required by an intentional move toward an orally-conditioned homiletic.
McClellan, D. (2008). Recovering a Classically Oral Homiletic (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/900