Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Philip Forness: Liturgical Manuscripts as Archives: The Earliest Syriac Homiliaries

Sermons form one of the best-preserved genres of early Christian literature. Homilies circulated widely in late antiquity within biblical commentaries, catenae, and conciliar acts. But in the Middle Ages, homiliaries—sermon collections ordered according to the liturgical year—became the dominant medium for their transmission. The earliest examples come from North Africa and Gaul in the fifth or sixth century. Fully fledged homiliaries are not attested in the Greek- or Syriac-speaking East until the eighth century.This paper examines three sixth- or seventh-century Syriac manuscripts which form the earliest known efforts to organize Syriac sermons around the liturgical year. One manuscript (British Library, Add. 17181)contains short addresses for the abbot of a monastery to speak at various occasions and two anonymous sets of homilies designated for feast days. The other two manuscripts (British Library, Add. 14587; Vatican Library, Sir. 109) feature homilies by the Syriac preacher Jacob of Serugh assigned for six major feast days.These manuscripts reveal competing tendencies. The anonymity of the homilies in British Library, Add. 17181 emphasizes the practical reasons for the organization of homilies. The other two manuscripts, by way of contrast, take care to name the author and reveal the importance assigned to preserving the works of prominent figures. This paper argues that these two trends demonstrate how homiliaries emerged from the archival impulses of late antiquity. These manuscripts helped institute a liturgical setting in which prominent figures from the past would speak to the present.

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