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‘Long Sermons Are Intolerable’

Some of our readers have asked TIA the ideal length of a sermon according to the tradition of the Church. These questions led us to research this issue. Today we start to post a series of texts of Councils, Saints and reputable authors dealing with this subject matter.

The text below is taken from a book by Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley, who was a close friend and disciple of St. Francis de Sales. Bishop Camus was himself a famous orator and author in the 17th century.

In his work titled The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales he reported many of the words of his mentor in a compilation of conversations he had with the Saint.


St. Francis de Sales


Francis greatly approved short sermons, saying that lengthiness is the great fault of preachers of our day.

“Do you call that a fault,” I once asked him,“ or liken over-abundance to starvation?”

“The vine that makes the most wood bears the least fruit,” he replied. “A multitude of words has but little result. Look at the homilies of the Fathers, how short they mostly are and how far more useful than our sermons.”

One of St. Francis' rules for his preaching Order is brevity, giving as a reason that “God's word is brief.” He said: “Believe me, I speak from long experience; the more you say, the less people will remember, and the less you say, the more they will profit.”

“Those who load their hearers' memory destroy it, just as you extinguish a lamp by filling it too full or kill plants by unmeasured watering. When a discourse is too long, the end makes one forget the middle and the middle puts out the beginning. Indifferent preachers are bearable if they are brief, but even good preachers become intolerable when they are lengthy. Depend upon it, there is no more detestable quality a preacher can possess than tediousness.”

Jean Pierre Camus,
The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, 1880, p. 295
Posted August 6, 2016