Transformation

Eighteenth-century preachers discovered the importance of empathizingwith, and adapting their discourse to articulate and educated audiences. Here, England and France were the cradles of renewal. In seventeenth-century England the neo-Classical 'plain style' had been advocated in the circles of the Royal Society; in France the Académie Française awarded a prix d'éloquence to the best sermon delivered before its members. England is connected with the name of John Tillotson, who pleaded for sensible reforms at the right time. Tillotson's attractiveness lay partly in his appeal to reason and partly in his mastery of the neo-Classical style. As a sermonizer he lived up to the expectations of a polite and informed urban public that favoured his down-to-earth discourse, destitute as it was of disconcerting emotionalism and unnecessary embellishment, and adducing a moral message in plain but elegant prose. Tillotson's avoidance of polemic and enthusiasm, his clear structure, attractive style and measured language as well as his appeal to 'reasonable religion' made him uncommonly influential in Protestant Europe. Tillotson, claimed reformers from Edinburgh to Konigsberg, had all but ended the era of 'false rhetoric', affectation of learning, superfluous digression, far-fetched metaphor, appalling wit and vulgar language by heralding an age of simplicity, brevity, clarity, reasonableness, moderation, and 'natural' arrangement. As Gilbert Burnet put it, what a preacher must strive for is 'Plainness of a clear but noble Stile'.20

In France, a number of excellent preachers inspired by classical manuals of rhetoric set the standards of the noble style. In consequence, the French court sermon has long had the rare prerogative of ranking as an artefact of literary culture; even one as critical as Voltaire had Massillon's sermons read to him over dinner. Selecting choice pulpiteers to glorify the reigns of his own kingdom and the next, Louis XIV patronized and enjoyed the sophisticated arrangement, creative abundance, esprit, consummate style, elegant phrasing and brilliant diction of a sermon that, according to some critics, all too frequently served the orator's vanity more than it did the glory of God. The

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