The "Little Method"
St. Vincent de Paul was much concerned lest the pulpit become a showplace for the presentation of scholastic definitions and lest preaching become lost among long Latin quotations and the obfuscation of classical erudition. For Vincent de Paul the key to all preaching was ‘theological persuasion’. From this basis Vincent de Paul suggests that preaching be marked by a rule of simplicity. His approach is made up of three key elements: ‘Why does the preacher preach?’, ‘What is to be preached?’ and ‘How should the preacher preach?’
The Motivation of the Preacher
The preacher develops an eagerness to preach the Gospel. Vincent de Paul asks the question ‘why does the preacher preach?’ In other words what is the motivation of the preacher. Vincent de Paul is very much aware that the preacher’s motivation will completely colour his preaching. He answers the question himself. The motivation of the preacher must be the knowledge of God’s goodness and tenderness. This is a knowledge through faith that God desires all creation to be saved and made holy. God defends, consoles, provides and guides. It is the faith of the preacher which motivates the proclamation of the Word.
The Eschatological orientation of Preaching
The Little Method (Spiritual Conference August 20th 1655) suggests that the preacher consider the specific content of the preaching. In other words – ‘what is to be preached?’ It is in this element of his method that Vincent de Paul is particularly interested. Here is the key to preaching, the ‘theological persuasion.’ The specific content of all preaching must be Hope. The preaching must ring with sheer confidence and give a sign of unhesitant faith in the Lord’s proclamation of the Kingdom. All preaching in this sense must have an eschatological orientation, relating to heaven, the Resurrection, grace, God’s promises and covenants, divine providence.
Imitate Christ in life and in telling life stories
The third element of Vincent de Paul’s method is the means used by the preacher in preaching. ‘How should the preacher preach?’ Vincent de Paul leaves, for a moment, the simple structure of the preaching and penetrates the question much more deeply, The preacher must desire to imitate Jesus Christ in preaching. This is above all an abandonment to the will of the Father. This is always the beginning of the means to preach. With this in mind the preacher will have a sensitivity to the lives and circumstances of those who listen to the preaching.
Therefore, the preaching will inevitably be related directly to their lives with practical details, challenges and suggestions. The preacher must descend into the particulars and condition of the listeners. The means used by the preacher must be the developed practice of particularising the Word. In straightforward terms this means the preacher must tell stories about everyday life and relate these to the Gospel message.
Excerpted from History of the Parish Mission
For a scholarly examination of the "little method" see
Herbst, Charles. "The ‘Little Method’ of St. Vincent de Paul. A Reform in the Method of Preaching." M.A. Thesis, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 1951. Pp. 67.