Glossary of Early Modern Popular Print Genres



A Sermon preached at Fort St. George on the coast of Chormandel in East India February 21 1668 (London: William Thomson for Robert Boulter, 1671). Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Other languages

  • Dutch: preek, sermoen 
  • French: sermon 
  • German: Predigt 
  • Italian: sermone, predica 
  • Polish: kazanie
  • Spanish: sermón, sermonario (collection of sermons) 

Material form



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Sermons were printed and published either in the form of pamphlets (containing a single sermon) or as collections containing the most popular sermons of one or more preachers. Such sermon books would usually not be smaller than octavo format. The sermons contained inside were based on passages from the Bible, and their aim was to interpret and explain these passages. In doing so, the text provided the audience with a clear meaning of the biblical text, and oftentimes also with a direct practical application of the text.  

As a result of the latter element, the genre of sermons often ‘roused up’ their listeners to undertake a certain action, or more generally to live a virtuous life. What this meant in practice was often tied up to the political and social circumstances under which the sermon was preached, and as such the sermons could sometimes be seen as borderline political treatises. Moreover, they oftentimes had a certain news value, either because the political call of the sermon became newsworthy of itself, or because they were based on information that had up till then not reached the audience of the sermon. By the time that many of these sermons appeared in print, however, their news value must have already declined considerably. 

Since the Reformation, the German regions witnessed a lively tradition of postils or annual cycles of sermon collections, both among Lutherans, Reformed, and Catholics. Postils were ‘collections of sermons or sermon outlines that saw massive distribution and were intended to be read aloud weekly from pulpits or, at the very least, to serve as the models on which preachers based their sermons’ (Frymire 2010, 1). They appeared in Latin as well as the vernacular. 

Related terms

devotional literature, pamphlet 


J. Bosma, Woorden van gezond verstand. De invloed van de Verlichting op de in het Nederlands uitgegeven preken van 1750 tot 1800 (Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1997).

I. Brian, Prêcher à Paris sous l’Ancien Régime (XVIIe-XVIIIe s.) (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2014).

L.A. Ferrell, ‘Sermons’, in: E. Smith and A. Kesson (eds.), The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England (London/New York: Routledge, 2013), 193-201.

K.A. Francis, W. Gibson et al., The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon 1689-1901 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

J.M. Frymire, The Primacy of the Postils: Catholics, Protestants, and the Dissemination of Ideas in Early Modern Germany (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010).

S. González-Sarasa Hernáez, Tipología editorial del impreso antiguo español, thesis Universidad Complutense de Madrid (2013), 362-365 (‘Sermón’), 366-367 (‘Sermonario’).

D. Haks, Vaderland & Vrede 1672-1713. Publiciteit over de Nederlandse Republiek in Oorlog (Hilversum: Verloren, 2013).

M. Morrissey, ‘Sermons, Primers, and Prayerbooks’, in: J. Raymond (ed.), The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 491-509.

M. Morrissey, ‘Interdisciplinarity and the Study of Early Modern Sermons’, The Historical Journal 42:4 (1999), 1111-1123.

Modified on: 07/02/2024