Arbor Praedicandi. Some Remarks on Dispositio in Mediaeval Sermons (on the Example of Sermo 39 “Semen Est Verbum Dei” by Mikołaj of Błonie)

Lidia Grzybowska


The main goal of the paper is to present the motif of a compositional tree-shaped scheme called arbor picta (arbor praedicandi) and to show it against the backdrop of rhetorical elements such as dispositio and memoria as found in mediaeval sermons. The basic sources for the analysis of this question are two fourteenth-century theoretical treatises on the art of preaching (manuals: Libellus artis preadicatorie of Jacobus de Fusignano and Tractatulus solennis de arte et vero modo praedicandi of Pseudo-Thomas Aquinas), and one of the sermons from the collection de tempore of a fifteenth-century Polish preacher, Mikołaj of Błonie (Dominica sexagesime: sermo 39 “Semen est verbum Dei”). The problems of arbor praedicandi, which are part of a broader field of study on the structure of sermons, editorial methods of texts, and mnemonics, were the subject of interest of many researchers such as H. Caplan, O. A. Dieter, S. Khan, S. Wenzel. In Poland, this issue has not yet become a subject of proper study. 

In order to analyse this scheme in the treatises of Jacobus de Fusignano and Pseudo-Thomas Aquinas, as well as in the example sermon, the paper briefly outlines the existence of topics and images of the tree in the writings of the Middle Ages (e.g. lignum vitae, arbor sapientiae, arbor amoris). Then fragments from the manuals of Jacobus de Fusignano and Pseudo-Thomas Aquinas are presented in which the authors discussed the scheme in question and explained its importance for the practice of preaching. An analysis of a practical example—here: sermo 39 from Mikołaj of Błonie’s collection de tempore—shows the creative use of the tree scheme in the sermon by the Polish preacher (with the speculative assumption that Mikołaj of Błonie knew Giacomo Fusignano’s theory of preaching). Particular attention is also paid to the circumstances of the development of the art of preaching in the late Middle Ages in Poland. Finally, the importance of the concept of the sermon as a tree for the elements of rhetoric such as dispositio /divisio /partito and memoria is emphasised. 

Grzybowska proves that the use of the tree scheme in presenting abstract concepts and structuring texts allowed preachers and their audiences to visualise vague and often difficult ideas, as well as to describe their relationship within the subjects of the sermons. Therefore, the use of the scheme in the Middle Ages had great significance for ars memorativa and the didactic dimensions. 

The study is the result of research project No UM2013/11/N/ HS2/03506 funded by the National Science Centre. Polish text: L. Grzybowska, “Arbor praedicandi. Kilka uwag o dispositio w kazaniach średniowiecznych (na przykładzie sermo 39 «Semen est verbum Dei» Mikołaja z Błonia),” Terminus 3/ 16 (2014), pp. 259–283.


Publication of this paper was financed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education uder the grant 643/P-DUN/2018.

Słowa kluczowe: arbor picta, arbor praedicandi, ars praedicandi, late-Mediaeval preaching

Pierwotną wersją czasopisma jest wersja elektroniczna publikowana w internecie.
Czasopismo ukazuje się w sposób ciągły on-line.