Learning How to Preach From Augustine: 3 Styles of Preaching
In a previous post, I shared Augustine’s 3 aims of preaching. Here’s we’ll look at the 3 styles of preaching.
In De doctrina Christiana 4, Augustine lists the three styles appropriate for a sermon’s delivery: restrained, mixed, and grand. Each style has a particular function, but all three are subordinate to the three aims of instructing, delighting, and moving.
The first style is the restrained style. This style is appropriate when teaching and explaining complex or intricate topics; it is especially effective when a preacher “solves very difficult problems and explains things by means of startling proofs, or uncovers and reveals some very penetrating ideas from an unexpected source, or refutes the error of our adversary and teaches that something apparently irrefutable said by him is false.”
The second style is the mixed style. This is used “when there is something to be praised or censured but where a person’s condemnation or acquittal, or an audience’s assent and action, are not at issue.” In other words, not for moving people to action, but “delight[ing] people’s minds” regarding content they already affirm. This style of delivery is more heightened than the restrained style, but is not at the level of the grand style; it is an intermediate style.
The third style is the grand style. Augustine understands this to be the “style suitable for moving minds to action.” This style finds its power not in its embellishment of verbal ornamentation—as the mixed style does—but in its “heartfelt emotion.” It is passionate and causes inspiration and excitement in the hearts of its listeners; its power and beauty are found in “its subject-matter, and not the pursuit of its subject matter.” In this style, “appropriate words follow not from a search for elaborate vocabulary but from the promptings of a passionate heart.” Augustine believes the grand style “silences people’s voices with its weight, but elicits tears.”
Augustine understood the three styles to be interconnected, useful, and employed by other respected preachers of the past. He believed that an effective preacher should use all three of the styles together—at different times and for different purposes—to form one a powerful instrument of persuasion.
Augustine’s ‘three styles’ challenge ministers to use stylistic diversity when preaching. While the task of preaching a sermon is extremely laborious and difficult, but so is the task of listening to a preacher who only utilizes one of the three styles. In this way, his words are relevant to us today.
 Augustine, De doctrina christiana, 4.96-160.  Primmer, “Function,” in Arnold and Bright, De doctrina christiana , 75. Augustine, De doctrina christiana, 4.104, 138, 127.  Ibid., 4.147.  Ibid., 4.137.  Ibid., 4.138.  Ibid., 4.104.  Ibid., 4.118.  Ibid.  Ibid. Ibid., 4.139.  Ibid., 4.143-4.