If The World Had No Preachers: The Necessity of Preaching

by Humbert of Romans


II. Its Necessity

To know how much preaching is necessary to the world, we should remember that the souls of the Saints in heaven lift their voices before the Lord in never-ending complaint of

“those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 6:11).

This cry, according to the commentators, is directed against those unrepentant men who put off the fullness of the joy of the elect. The elect will enjoy a marvelous supplementary glory when they at last see the ruins caused by the fall of the wicked angels fully repaired, and all the empty places in heaven filled. But there is nothing that will hasten this hour of perfect reparation quicker than the voice of preachers; for they continue what Jesus their model began when He said:

“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).

It is evident that it depends on the preachers to assure the elect the consummation of their heavenly joy.

And just as preaching gains entry for souls into heaven more quickly and more surely, so too it prevents their fall into hell. For thus says the prophet Isaiah:

“therefore is my people led away captive, because they have not knowledge … therefore hath hell enlarged her mouth without any bounds” (Isaiah 5:13-14).

Hence it is that through ignorance so many throw themselves into the abyss; and it is this which keeps preachers from filling the earth with their knowledge; for it is of them, according to the gloss, that we should understand the words of Proverbs:

“the lips of the wise shall dispense knowledge” (Prov. 12:7).

And so preachers prevent souls from throwing themselves into the abyss, and they deliver

“them that are led to death” (Prov. 24:11),

on which the gloss adds “by preaching.”

Without preaching, which scatters the word of God like seed, the world would be sterile and produce no fruit.

“Except the Lord of hosts,” the prophet Isaiah tells us, “had left us seed,”

and he understands by this the word of God,

“we had been as Sodom” (Isaiah 1:9),

a land absolutely barren producing no fruit.

On the other hand the demons from the beginning of time have devoted an unbelievable tenacity to the subjection of the whole world, and they have unfortunately subjugated too large a part of it. They would have conquered much more but for the power which God communicated to the preachers and of which it is written:

“He gave them power over unclean spirits” (Matt. 10:1),

and again, He commanded them to

“cast out devils” (Matt. 10:8);

this they have done re-enacting according to the interpreters, the exploits of Gideon (Judg. 7) and his soldiers when they put their enemies to flight by means of their trumpets, the beautiful symbols of preachers. Were there no preachers, men would not think of heavenly truths and soon their hearts would become as parched land;

“If you withhold the waters, all things shall be dried up” (Job 12:13).

St. Gregory explains this as follows:

“If someone should suppress the teaching of preachers, the hearts of those in whom eternal hope germinates would quickly dry up.”

Preaching is also indispensable to the infidels; for without it they could not arrive at faith, a necessary condition for salvation. It is for this reason that the Macedonian appeared to St. Paul during the night entreating him to save his people and to come and visit him (Acts 16:9). For he would not have arrived at the faith, if it had not been revealed to him by preaching.

“How,” said St. Paul, “are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear of no one preaches?” (Rom. 10:14.)

Our Lord gave the gift of tongues to His Disciples so that they would be understood by all, and they might lead to the faith many nations who evidently would not have been converted to Christ without their preaching.

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Preaching is the foundation of the Church:

“Where was thou,” said Job, “when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4.)

These foundations are the Apostles. According to Scripture, God sent them to preach, in order to establish His Church, and on them He erected the edifice that will last until the end of time. The Church, founded without preaching, would not have grown. It is written of Solomon

“that he commanded large blocks of choice and precious stones to be placed as the foundation of the temple of Jerusalem” (III Kings 5:17).

The gloss explains that those layers of rock and wood which were placed on the foundations are the doctors who came after the Apostles and whose word has brought about the growth of the Church and enriched it with virtues.

The Church, without preaching, would not continue, and the gloss, interpreting the words of Isaiah:

”I shall glorify the place of my feet” (Isaiah 60:14),

says that preachers are the feet of the Lord. They carry the weight of the whole Church, which remains erect, thanks to their support, just as the body is supported by the feet.

We can conclude that preaching is truly necessary, for without it the glory of heaven would never be realized, hell would be filled up all too soon, and the world would remain sterile; demons would rule, hearts would have neither hope nor joy in their salvation, nations would not know the Christian faith, and God’s Church would have no foundation, growth, or stability.

For this reason St. Paul said:

“For you were once darkness, but now you are the light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8);

in fact, in former times deprived of the light which preaching diffuses, men lived in the darkness of ignorance. And just as at the moment of creation, as it is written,

“the face of the abyss was covered with darkness” (Gen 1:2),

and then everything was illumined, as soon as light was created, so too men have received by preaching the light which illuminates them. Isaiah tells us:

“The light has appeared to the eyes of those who dwell in darkness” (Isaiah 60:2),

and this light, according to the gloss, is the light of preaching. To illuminate the world, then, is the duty of preachers. Our Lord also said of preachers:

“You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14).

“Cursing, lying, homicide, theft and adultery have overflowed the world,” says Hosea (Hosea 4:2),

and this deluge would have completely submerged it like that which covered the earth at the time of Noah had not preaching checked its progress. In support of this let us cite an example. Certain clerics alleged to a famous Archbishop that the preaching of the religious who had recently come into the country seemed quite useless to them, since it was obvious that as much usury, fornication, and all kinds of sin continued. But the prelate answered them:

“Unfortunately, it is true that many of these crimes are committed; however, these honest men prevent a great many more by their preaching; what would have happened if they had not come to preach? Undoubtedly, all these evils would have increased even to the deluge of the world.”

It is justly said that preaching restrains the kingdom of evil. Just as

“God made a wind blow which dried the land and made the waters diminish” (Gen. 8:1)

after the deluge, so also did the Holy Spirit by the breath of the mouth of preachers diminish the floods of sin.

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Along the same lines, ho many plagues were spared the world through the action of preachers! Often famine has desolated the land, but spiritual famine would be a result more inevitable and fatal were preachers to keep silent. About these words:

“There came a grievous famine over the country” (Luke 15:14);

“Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4),

the gloss says: famine rages mercilessly when the word of life fails. In this word the sick find a universal remedy, for

“the multitude of wise men is the health of the world” (Wisdom 6:26),

And the gloss adds that this health is due to the care of preachers. Does it not sometimes happen that cities are abandoned by their inhabitants when a wise government becomes corrupt?

“When a people no longer hears the voice of a prophet, it is soon corrupted” (Prov. 29:18);

thus, when the preacher is silent, wise men disappear and the majority of men become like animals. On the other hand, the wisdom of those who preach virtue repairs these ruins and leads the people back into the city, as the book of Ecclesiasticus says:

”Cities shall be inhabited through the prudence of the rulers” (Ecclus 10:3),

who are, the gloss tells us, the preachers. When the rains of heaven fail, a terrible plague rages, but to be deprived of good doctrine is also a misfortune for humanity;

“the needy and the poor seek for waters and there are none, their tongue hath been dry with thirst” (Isaiah 41:17).

According to the gloss, the devil strives to suppress the sources of doctrine, as

“Holofernes commanded that the aqueduct which conducted water to the city of Bethulie be cut” (Judith 7:6),

while the Lord sends preachers to distribute these salutary waters, as he had promised,

“I will open rivers in the high hills and fountains in the midst of the plains” (Isaiah 41:18);

that is, according to the gloss, preachers will go and preach the truth alike to the proud and the humble. Finally, if there were no preachers, the world would be like a desert without any roads, where no one could find his way; but they are there, and they point out the way to be followed. For this reason it was said of the famous preacher, John the Baptist, who spoke in the midst of the desert,

“Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1:76),

and again:

”To shine on those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to direct our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

In conclusion, let us admire the usefulness and the necessity of such an office, since without it the whole world would have remained plunged in the darkness of error; increasing sin would choke out virtue; the most dangerous famine, the famine of the bread of sound doctrine, would ravage the world; sin would deliver up to death innumerable victims; the privation of the saving waters of wisdom would cause an intolerable drought and a desolating dearth of all good; and, lastly.

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We would not find the way to salvation.

For all these reasons, God, seeing how necessary preaching is, has not ceased since the beginning of the world, and will no cease until the end of time, to send preachers. St. Gregory commenting on the Gospel of St. Matthew tells us: the householder who sends workers into his vineyard at the third, sixth and ninth hours, is a figure of God Who, from the beginning of the world until the end, does not cease to supply preachers for the faithful.

This is an excerpt from the Preachers Institute publication:

On the Formation of Preachers

You can purchase the Ebook HERE, the Kindle version HERE

and the Paperback by clicking the image above.

About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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