Anthony Trollope on Sermons

This is Trollope's musings on the sermon preached by the odious Mr. Slope in Barchester Cathedral:

There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on
mankind in civilized and free countries than the necessity of
listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these
realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be
tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes,
truisms, and untruisms, and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege,
the same respectful demeanour as though words of impassioned
eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips. Let a professor
of law or physics find his place in a lecture-room, and there pour
forth jejune words and useless empty phrases, and he will pour them
forth to empty benches. Let a barrister attempt to talk without
talking well, and he will talk but seldom. A judge's charge need
be listened to perforce by none but the jury, prisoner, and
gaoler. A member of Parliament can be coughed down or counted out.
Town-councillors can be tabooed. But no one can rid himself of the
preaching clergyman. He is the bore of the age, the old man whom we
Sindbads cannot shake off, the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday's
rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God's service
distasteful. We are not forced into church! No: but we desire more
than that. We desire not to be forced to stay away. We desire, nay,
we are resolute, to enjoy the comfort of public worship, but we
desire also that we may do so without an amount of tedium which
ordinary human nature cannot endure with patience; that we may be
able to leave the house of God without that anxious longing for
escape which is the common consequence of common sermons.

With what complacency will a young parson deduce false conclusions
from misunderstood texts, and then threaten us with all the penalties
of Hades if we neglect to comply with the injunctions he has given
us! Yes, my too self-confident juvenile friend, I do believe in
those mysteries which are so common in your mouth; I do believe in
the unadulterated word which you hold there in your hand; but you
must pardon me if, in some things, I doubt your interpretation. The
Bible is good, the prayer-book is good, nay, you yourself would be
acceptable, if you would read to me some portion of those time-honoured
discourses which our great divines have elaborated in the full maturity
of their powers. But you must excuse me, my insufficient young
lecturer, if I yawn over your imperfect sentences, your repeated
phrases, your false pathos, your drawlings and denouncings, your
humming and hawing, your oh-ing and ah-ing, your black gloves and your
white handkerchief. To me, it all means nothing; and hours are too
precious to be so wasted--if one could only avoid it.

And here I must make a protest against the pretence, so often put
forward by the working clergy, that they are overburdened by the
multitude of sermons to be preached. We are all too fond of our own
voices, and a preacher is encouraged in the vanity of making his
heard by the privilege of a compelled audience. His sermon is the
pleasant morsel of his life, his delicious moment of self-exaltation.
"I have preached nine sermons this week," said a young friend to me
the other day, with hand languidly raised to his brow, the picture of
an overburdened martyr. "Nine this week, seven last week, four the
week before. I have preached twenty-three sermons this month. It is
really too much."

"Too much, indeed," said I, shuddering; "too much for the strength of
any one."

"Yes," he answered meekly, "indeed it is; I am beginning to feel it

"Would," said I, "you could feel it--would that you could be made to
feel it." But he never guessed that my heart was wrung for the poor


The Fleming Foundation

4 Responses

  1. Robert Reavis says:

    Yes, and our intellectuals today laugh at my beloved Belloc for having suspected any clergyman who took more than twenty or thirty minutes to offer a Low Mass at dawn as suspicious of heresy. Would that we still had more priests willing to turn their back on their flocks and ignore them.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Dr. Johnson in the late 1700’s said he went to early services so that people would not think he only went to Church for the sermons. I have been chuckling over that for 30 years. Currently, in our Latin Mass congregation we have an earnest uneducated arrogant young man who every week gives a lecture–and this to die-hard Latin Mass right wingers who listen to Alex Jones–on why we shouldn’t vote for Hillary. Gee whizz, he could be preaching some useful comments on the Gospels but prefers to pretend he is a poli sci prof at a community college. His dim-witted lectures are driving us to the Novus Ordo. I have thought about contacting his superior, but, it’s not my job and the higher ups in the Institute of Christ the King show a commendable lack of interest in the opinion of the laity. The past few Sundays I quietly go down to the undercroft and recite my ever growing list of the Popes. Wh is it, though, I have to dread going to Mass because some twerp wants to hector me about obeying the American bishops. My best guess is that I deserve this punishment.

  3. Ben says:

    Much as we deserve the presidents we elect, we deserve this Francis Revolution, no?

    The fault lines in the Catholic church are more palatable with each passing week, it seems. It is hard for me to say for sure. Admittedly, being an addled youngster, naive and ignorant of most of history, I simply don’t know. Perhaps DrTJF can speak a bit on this apparent growing schism that I correctly or incorrectly perceive, and what it leads to.

    With regard to this topic I’ve been receiving most of the info and commentary from, a site not exactly pro-Francis. The more I learn, the more I hate to agree with Navrozov ie that it’s not the end of the world, it’s just the end of us. Perhaps speeding up eugenics progress isn’t such a damnable idea afterall, brave new world or bust.

  4. Robert Reavis says:

    No reason to become worried. Pope Francis is relative conservative among Jesuits who abandoned their founder years and years ago.It would probably help all of them to just shut up for thirty days as St Ignatius encouraged then to do every one or two years in his exercises. The Popes constant references to the demonic, however, must be an awful embarrassment or crashing bore to those who wish he were simply a socialist and pathological liar. Tomorrow, Monday, November, 21 I hear he is throwing another bone to traditionalists Catholics allowing them to continue their work without a lot of harassment while he continues to appoint Bishops and cardinals who know absolutely nothing about them and would not like them if they did. Fifty years ago when the talking heads and professional Catholics were saying Bishop Marcel Lefebrve was a schismatic and the Mass of ages had been abrogated by Paul VI, cooler heads and wiser men within the Church and without, were saying hold your fire, stay away from the polemics, defend yourself and family practices in attending their Masses because in the endthere will be saints on both sides. Saving ones soul with the help of God’s grace is a lifetime work for most of us even Popes and Bishops. Stay calm and walk, don’t run, to the nearest exit is always my advice in these troubled times.