Distinctiones and Medieval Preaching – Prague, 24-25 April 2020

Organised by Marjorie Burghart (CNRS – CIHAM UMR 5648, France) and Lucie Doležalová (Charles University, Prague)

Location : Academic Conference Centre (AKC) – Jilská street 1, Prague

Attendance is free, but due to a limited number of places we ask that you register by email at medieval.distinctiones@gmail.com

Friday 24 April

10:15 : opening remarks by Marjorie Burghart and Lucie Doležalová

10:30 – 12:00: Session “Defining the genre”
Distinctions in the Late Middle Ages: Exempla and the Habit of Distinguishing
Kimberley Rivers (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh)
Le Liber distinctionum super Psalterium d’Eudes de Châteauroux. Un recueil de distinctiones ?
Franco Morenzoni (U. of Geneva)
The genre of Master Mathias of Sweden’s (d. c. 1350) Alphabetum distinccionum: a combination of a concordance and distinctions
Sanna M. Suponen (U. of Helsinki)

12:00 – 12:30: project presentation
Distinguo, a knowledge base for the study of distinctiones
Marjorie Burghart (CNRS)

lunch break

14:00-17:00 : Library & Manuscripts visit

17:00 – 18:00 : Session “Conforming (or not) to prescriptions of the artes
“Predicare est arborizare”. The mnemotechnic tradition of preaching thanks to tree structured distinctiones
Naïs Virenque (U. of Tours and CEFRES USR 3138, Prague)
• Tales autem fac distincciones. The role of distinctions (and the lack of it) in the treatise Aurissa of Iacobus de Saraponte
Jan Odstrcilik (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)

Saturday 25 April

10:30 – 12:00 : Session “Distinctiones and other genres” (90 min)
Dicta Chrysostomi and Distinctiones
Ilya Dines (Library of Congress, Washington)
Distinctiones in the Castilian Crown through the miracles of Santo Domingo de Silos and the Virgin of Guadalupe during the 13th and 15th centuries
Juan Manuel Carmona Peres (U. of Sevilla)
Les distinctions, un intermédiaire entre les encyclopédies et les sermons ?
Sophie Delmas (CIHAM – Lyon)

lunch break

14:00 – 15:00 : Session “Visualisations”
Visualizing distinctiones: a comparative view
Ayelet Even-Ezra (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
« Multiplex est rota ». Distinctiones et images figurées chez Hugues de Saint-Cher
Véronique Rouchon (Univrsité Lyon 2)

coffee break

15:30 – 17:00 : Session “Distinctiones and preaching”
• Hispanic Distinctiones: three examples
Oriol Catalán Casanova (University of Barcelona)
• Distinctiones in the Moral Function. The Latin Sermon De carnisprivio from the 15th century Czech-Polish Collection
Mejor Mieczysław (Polish Academy of Science, Warsaw)
Preaching with Peter – Textual aids for preachers in Petrus Capuanus’s Alphabetum in artem sermocinandi
Tuija Ainonen (Merton College, Oxford)

De nouveaux instruments de travail au service des prédicateurs : les recueils de Distinctions et leurs prologues

At the invitation of the DISTINGUO ANR programme, Sophie Delmas will give a lecture entitled “De nouveaux instruments de travail au service des prédicateurs : les recueils de Distinctions et leurs prologues”.

Abstract (French): Comme les étudiants actuels, ceux des universités médiévales avaient besoin d’outils pour travailler. Les apprentis prédicateurs, qui se destinaient à prêcher la foi chrétienne, pouvaient ainsi utiliser de vastes recueils appelés les Distinctions. Comme leur nom l’indique, ces volumes proposaient des mots classés par ordre alphabétique : pour chacun d’entre eux étaient “distingués”, précisés ses différents sens, ses caractéristiques, à l’aide de citations ou de petits récits. C’est ainsi que la colombe représente aussi bien l’Esprit saint qu’un oiseau malin sachant choisir les meilleurs grains. Comment ces recueils sont-ils devenus indispensables, au point de constituer de véritables best-sellers du Moyen Âge ? La réponse à cette question se trouve dans leurs prologues où les auteurs donnent les clés pour comprendre et utiliser les Distinctions.

The lecture will take place on Wednesday February 5th 2020, from 6pm to 8pm, at the MSH, salle E. Rivet, in Lyon (14 av. Berthelot, 69007 Lyon).

Call for Papers – Conference on Distinctiones

Marjorie Burghart (CNRS) and Lucie Doležalová (Charles University Prague) invite submission of papers for an upcoming conference on distinctiones in the context of preaching, to be held in Prague between 23-25 April 2020

Prague skyline – Photo: Ondřej Tichý


The study of medieval preaching – and its main source, the sermon – offers a privileged insight into intellectual work and its techniques. Through this source, we can approach the persuasion strategies, and also the tools used by the preachers in their intellectual work. Among those tools was the distinctio. This technique, extremely widespread in the Middle Ages from the late 12th c. onwards, consisted of considering a word according to its various senses, properties or characteristics,  and supporting them with biblical citations. Distinctiones were  a key  ingredient  of sermons from the early 13th c. onwards, just like exempla (short narratives used for persuasion), but contrary to the latter, distinctiones have never been studied in depth or even surveyed properly. They did not benefit from an authoritative study tracing the origins and developments of the technique, its relationship with rhetoric or dialectics, the actual use of distinctions in preaching and beyond, etc. It is probably the sheer immensity of the task ahead and the paucity of reference works and finding aids that discouraged new research so far.

The aim of this conference is to stimulate the study of distinctiones, bringing new light on the strategies of communication at work in medieval preaching and the intellectual tools and techniques supporting it.

Suggested topics

We invite submission of papers on the following topics:

  • the origins and development of the technique: the links between distinctio and exegesis; which words, notions or lexical fields were privileged when creating distinctiones? Can we see topoi emerging in their treatment, or on the contrary was there a great versatility? What was the place of the distinctio as a dialectical device in scholastic argumentation? Could it shed new light on the intrusion of the disputatio into predicatio? etc.
  • The actual use of distinctiones outside of the collections: to what extent did preachers and theologians use them for their sermons, treatises or summae? When they did, how did they transform the material to merge them into their own creations? What was their relationship to other ‘ingredients’ of a sermon (exempla, authorities, similitudines, interpretation of biblical names, etc.) What was the function of distinctiones in those sermons: a mere backbone, a didactical device, or a tool to captivate the audience and drive a point home? Finally, did the actual use of distinctiones conform to the recommendations of the artes praedicandi, those ‘arts of preaching’ which provided preachers with a means to taught preachers how to make sermons? etc.;
  • The link between distinctiones and mnemotechnics. Their riming structure or logical patterns were certainly an important element when committing a sermon to memory – a point that did not escape many users of medieval sermon manuscripts.

We also welcome submission of papers on any relevant topic not listed above, as well as studies of individual collections of dictinctiones.

Practical information

Please send abstracts of max 300 words to medieval.distinctiones@gmail.com by January 1st 2020 23:59 GMT.

Selected contributors will be notified after January 15th 2020.


Stay tuned to this research diary to get updates about the activities and events of DISTINGUO, a research programme dedicated to the study of “distinctiones” in medieval Latin preaching (funded by ANR 2019, under the supervision of Marjorie Burghart, CNRS – CIHAM UMR 5648). As key ingredients of Latin sermons from the 12th c. onwards, “distinctiones” have been part of this mass communication phenomenon, and deserve to be properly studied.