What Other Sermons Were Books?

If I had the chance to go back in time, and engage
in some rather scholarly examination of the texts
that were found throughout the course of Christian
history in various congregations throughout the
Mediterranean world, I wonder what forgotten
treasures that I would find.  What codices could be
found that would have provided the textual record
of sermons given by the local church leaders or
some kind of visiting missionary.  What messages
by the Apostles and their associates could we find
perusing those ancient bookshelves that were not
preserved for posterity?  How fragile a thread that
memory is, for in order for something to remain
for future reading, one must find something worth
copying, worth passing along to others, and worth
preserving, and quite often worthwhile pieces of
writing are simply not read often enough to find
the people who would appreciate them as they
deserve, and that is a shame.  How often have you
sat in front of a great sermon, one whose skill and
inspiration you recognized immediately, only to
forget about the message before too long and fail
to keep an adequate record of it for others to
read it and appreciate it after you?  And if that is
true of us, with all of our recording equipment
and all of our means for inscribing something into
a form that can easily be recalled and enjoyed
again and again, think of how much more true it
was when it was a rare message whose text was
written out in detail, and even rarer when such a
text was copied often enough to survive the cruel
ravages of time so that we could enjoy it today.


When I think about the book of 2 Clement, and I suppose I am a rare person for thinking about the book at all, the thought that boggles my mind is that this message was even preserved in the first place.  I have listened to quite a few sermons in my time, some of which I have heard in person, some of which I have read and/or listened because others have heard them and told me about them or passed them along with me, and a few that I have heard on tapes or cds and listened to in the course of travels with others.  Of the many messages I have heard, a few of them have had rather drastic effects.  During the course of 2010, to pick a year not entirely at random, I listened to several messages that were historical in the sense that they changed the destiny of lives because the moment was pregnant with meaning and all kinds of opportunities for one’s words to be taken offensively [1].  And yet few of the sermon messages that I have ever heard have been recorded down in book form.  Yet that is what happened with 2 Clement, that its text was recorded and the book has survived history.

I wonder if it is easy for people to forget just how remarkable that is.  2 Clement is a sermon that is supposed to have been given in the years 130-150, more than century after the founding of Christianity.  Ponder how many sermons had been given in how many congregations throughout the world during the course of that century.  Even assuming that there was only one sermon given every Sabbath and holy day during the course of that century, there must have been hundreds of thousands of sermons given during that time, of which we have one or perhaps two that survives, if we count Hebrews as a homiletic work that was written as a treatise, as well as 2 Clement.  One has to ask how many of the messages were converted to writing in the first place.  It is not the habit of everyone, after all, to write down detailed texts, either in our time or in the time of the ancient Greco-Roman-Jewish world, nor is it the habit of everyone who does write down such detailed texts to preserve them in such a fashion that others may read of them later.  Even today there is a large amount of messages whose survival depends on personal copies of messages or perhaps a recording in a congregational tape library, and quite a few messages which have been lost because not enough copies of the text or the message survived to the present day.

To be sure, not all of the lost sermons of antiquity would have been amazing sermons.  Not all of the sermons in our own day and age that have been lost to time were masterworks of inspiration.  That said, some of them were notable and striking and worthwhile, and well worth remembering.  The survival of works in both the ancient world and the contemporary one is a matter of divine providence.  Who is to know what will survive, for example, of the writings of countless bloggers or self-published writers whose works are largely (where not only) preserved on the worldwide web or on the hard drives of computers.  If we look forward hundreds or thousands of years in time, how much of that writing will be able to be accessed by later generations of people?  Who will care about the messages given in forgotten cities in forgotten congregations about the matters of the day and age that matter so much but may be completely alien to those who might come across the text of a message we gave later on?  What interpretation will be given to the writings and messages we labored over that would be entirely foreign to us, but where we will no longer be able to explain the context of the messages or how they should be interpreted?  2 Clement is by no means a work of particular excellence when compared with the best writings of the contemporary world or antiquity, but it is like many hundreds of thousands of homilies that have been given in many congregations throughout the entire course of Christian history, urging people to behave in a godly manner and take the reality of God’s eternal judgment to heart and repent while there is still time.  And yet this work was preserved while many others were not, simply because it was thought to have been written by a certain Clement in the eyes of a mistaken scribe, and attached to a more famous work and preserved for a Greek-speaking audience and forgotten by Latin Christianity for many centuries if it was indeed known outside of its narrow congregation until it was recorded and passed along afterwards.

[1] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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