While recognising the great variety of persons within a group of Christian listeners in the time of Augustine (See a previous Augnet page),
Augustine held that how to deliver a homily to that variety of people was a another issue.
How Augustine identified with and united a the diversity of his hearers is illuminating, and is helpful to preachers of any era.
Although Augustine was familiar with Classical rhetoric which sought to produce carefully constructed and polished speech, he placed all of this aside and saw effective and necessary communication as being a relationship between himself and the people in his church.
The relationship with his listeners was founded on the concern that Augustine had for them.
Because his main purpose was to communicate as clearly as possible to the understanding of his hearers, he would make every attempt to meet the audience at their level of understanding.
For example, Augustine proposes that the "sensitivity of the speaker must come to the aid of the silent listener." (De Doctrina Christiana 4.10.25).
The listeners in the church of his day would let the speaker know if he were being understood, not by the asking of questions, but by the making of movements.
The body language of the listeners, therefore, was what gave the preacher this information. (And Augustine at times faced a group in church who were quite vocal - even alienated and disruptive.)
And important information it was. As Augustine noted, "A speaker who clarifies something that needs to be learned is a the donor of a great gift, but a speaker who labours things already known is a bore." (De Doctrina Christiana 4.10.25).
All of the sermons of Augustine were preached extempore (i.e., not from prepared notes) for this precise reason.
The preacher who has memorised his sermon cannot adjust when "the topic must be rolled around in a variety of different ways." (De Doctrina Christiana 4.10.25).
(Continued on the next page.)