The Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften: Events

Thursday, 21 June 2018 - Saturday, 23 June 2018
Venue: Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, Am Wingertsberg 4, 61348 Bad Homburg
Conference room

History Programme at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften

Hartmut Leppin (Goethe University), Philip Forness (Goethe University)
»The Transmission of Early Christian Homilies from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages«

About the conference
Homilies represent one of the largest and yet least explored corpora of late antique literature. Preachers across the Mediterranean World and beyond interpreted the biblical text, exposited the lives of saints, interpreted the liturgy, taught social ethics, and commented on historical events before a diverse range of audiences. Advances in research over the last fifty years have demonstrated the importance of sermons for both intellectual and social histories of late antiquity.

This conference seeks to address a key problem in interpreting early Christian homilies. The survival of any sermon from late antiquity represents the deliberate efforts and decisions of communities and individuals across time. In late antiquity, this entailed the recording and distribution of homilies in manuscripts for wider audiences. In the Middle Ages and even to the present, communities have recopied and reorganized homilies into new collections designed to meet their own interests. Across this entire time, homilies underwent translation into almost every literary culture of early and medieval Christianity. These diverse processes account for the survival of such texts and point to a common problem of the transmission of early Christian homilies.

Four extensive single-author corpora of late antique homilies provide a starting point for addressing broader questions about the transmission of sermons. Over eight hundred sermons of John Chrysostom (340/350–407) survive and were translated from Greek into a great number of languages. Augustine of Hippo’s (c. 354–430) corpus entails well over five hundred homilies in Latin and saw organization into collections within his lifetime and shortly thereafter. Shenoute of Atripe’s (c. 348–465) Disources contains as many as forty-five homilies preached in a monastic setting in Upper Egypt. Jacob of Serugh (451–521) has left around four hundred homilies in Syriac, which survive in manuscripts dating from just two years after his death. Investigations into the corpora of these individual authors offer one means of taking stock of the transmission of early Christian homilies.

Each of the contributions to this conference will address a specific aspect of the transmission of the homilies of one of these four late antique preachers. The conference will be organized to encourage fruitful engagement across the study of individual authors, to identify points of connection, as well as to highlight differences. As a means of encouraging discussion, the following four general questions should be kept in mind and addressed, when possible and relevant, in the conference contributions:

1. Why did individuals or communities choose to transmit the homilies under investigation?

2. How did these individuals or communities leave their own mark on the homilies?

3. What insight does the transmission of these homilies provide into the individuals and communities that transmitted them?

4. What light does the transmission of these texts shed on the survival of homilies to the present?

Advance registraion is required.
Contact: Dr. Ellinor Schweighöfer (

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