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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sermon Mills

We all know about the online paper mills that our students use for plagiarism research purposes, but here's something I didn't know about: sermon mills. Or as this particular sermon mill calls it, "sermon coaches." What's the point of a sermon coach? Well, funny you should ask ...
Need a jump start to get ahead of the relentless sermon/service planning schedule? This is the place. This website is designed to break the cycle of habitual last minute work and also to give even the most organized pastor a chance to consider various options regarding future sermons.
I love this. I never really thought about what a hassle it must be for preachers to come up with something every Gosh-darned week. Plus the weddings, funeral, baptisms ... it's one fudging sermon after another. The congregation just takes, takes, takes. And then they take some more, because it's Christ-tide and you know that means extra sermons. What's more, once again you've left it until the last minute, you sinful, slothful slugabed, even though you promised yourself that this week you'd get it done by Friday at the latest. Talk about "what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I"! Fortunately the Sermon Coach is here to rescue you.

The Sermon Coach has sermons for every occasion, with a sermon keyed to every Sunday of the year. "Sermons will be posted at least three months ahead of time. They will remain available until that date is past." Basic sermon access is free, but for $9.95/month you get access to the entire sermon archive, plus Powerpoint graphics(!); for $14.95/month, you also get "Drama Scripts, Sermon Illustrations and Videos." That's better than Netflix!

So here's my question to you Renaissance scholars: how widespread was sermon "plagiarizing" in the Renaissance (scare quotes added to acknowledge the semi-anachronism of the concept of plagiarism)? I'm not talking about the practice of taking down sermons by shorthand in order to study them later or even to have them printed. I'm talking about preachers lifting sermons from other preachers, or from printed texts, because they couldn't be bothered to write their own. It must have occurred, right? And surely someone has written about it. But I haven't read about it.

One final point. The slogan for Sermon Coach? "Helping you conquer the sermon sucking black hole." Huh?

  • At 12/08/2006 05:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    I seem to remember to have a volume of sermons in my private library (dating from a later period: end of 18th century or early 19th century probably), in which (as far as I can remember) the author states that this collection of sermons of his is written exactly for that purpose: to permit colleagues of his to use his sermons for having to spend less time on writing their own sermons and thus be able to have more time available for other work to be done in the interest of their flock. (No indication that this might be considered unethical - quite on the contrary!)


  • At 12/08/2006 09:43:00 AM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    Book of Homilies. Like a website for sermons, but in convenient book form.

    Good info on the potential overlap and distinctions between homilies and sermons here, but no time to summarize now.


  • At 12/08/2006 10:13:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Good point about the Homilies. Of course, they aroused controversy not based on plagiarism but based on the whole debate over preaching vs. reading homilies. And reading a homily wasn't quite the same as getting a sermon from somewhere and preaching it as though it were yours. Everyone knew you were reading a homily rather than preaching.


  • At 12/09/2006 12:20:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    I've been thinking about this for the past day and trying to figure out where I've read about such sermon plagiarizing. I'm pretty sure that Milton discusses it in his antiprelatical tracts (my best guess would be at the end of Reason of Church Government), but I have my Complete Prose at the office, not here.

    However, I did find this in Areopagitica:

    "Nor much better [if licensing is permitted] will be the consequence ev'n among the Clergy themselvs; it is no new thing never heard of before, for a parochiall Minister, who has his reward, and is at his Hercules pillars in a warm benefice, to be easily inclinable, if he have nothing else that may rouse up his studies, to finish his circuit in an English concordance and a topic folio, the gatherings and savings of a sober graduatship, a Harmony and a Catena, treading the constant round of certain common doctrinal heads, attended with their uses, motives, marks and means, out of which as out of an alphabet or sol fa by forming and transforming, joyning and dis-joyning variously a little book-craft, and two hours meditation might furnish him unspeakably to the performance of more then a weekly charge of sermoning: not to reck'n up the infinit helps of interlinearies, brevaries, synopses, and other loitering gear. But as for the multitude of Sermons ready printed and pil'd up, on every text that is not difficult, our London trading St. Thomas in his vestry, and adde to boot St. Martin, and St. Hugh, have not within their hallow'd limits more vendible ware of all sorts ready made: so that penury he never need fear of Pulpit provision, having where so plenteously to refresh his magazin." (CPW 2:546-47)

    Of course, Milton doesn't provide any specific examples of ministers doing any of these things--but I think it's safe to say that they were probably common practices.


  • At 12/09/2006 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Flavia--that's a great citation. Milton (if I read him right) goes so far as to suggest that one of the primary reasons that sermons were printed in the period was because preachers were buying them as crib sheets. Cool.


  • At 12/23/2006 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Unknown wrote…

    After your period, but the most notorious example in English literary history is Lawrence Sterne, since his borrowed sermons were published under his own name. (Well, under his own pseudonym.)


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