Happy 2sdays! 2/2/22
St. Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine, Books 1-4
St. Augustine (not to be confused with St. Augustine, FL),* although considered to be somewhat ancient, is noted as a transition between ancient rhetoric and the Middle Ages (hey, history has to be divided somehow…). He was well-versed in the pagan rhetoric of Greece and Rome (which he mentions in On Christian Doctrine), but he converted to Christianity and “was interested in rhetoric as a means of persuading Christians to lead a holy life” (Corbett, p. 549, 3rd ed.). Obviously, St. Augustine believes truth comes from the divine and believes scripture to be divinely inspired, set down by magnificent men through whom the divine speaks.
*A note on pronunciation: Although words can have multiple meanings and pronunciations, there’s an interesting distinction between the British pronunciation (aw-GUS-tin) and the American one (aw-GUS-teen) according to the OED.com. Then again, using that pronunciation makes you sound pompous.
St. Augustine is an important figure in the development of scholasticism–the foundation of schooling in Western civilization. St. Augustine is one figure trying to reconcile Christian beliefs with (even more) ancient beliefs.
The gist of Book 1 (and the Prologue) is to describe “faith at the present time” (p. 33). Here are some highlights:
- Ability to understand comes from God (Pro. sec. 8, p. 6)
- Signs and signifying (1.2.2, p. 8; then, got to 2.1.1, p. 34)
- Using vs. enjoying (1.4.4, p. 9-10)
- “…if the amenities of the journey and the motion of the vehicles itself delighted us, and we were led to enjoy those things which we should use, we should not wish to end our journey quickly, and, entangled in a perverse sweetness, we should be alienated from our country, whose sweetness would make us blessed.”
- hmm…what other “motions” are we not supposed to like more than the goal?
- Medicinal metaphor (1.14.13, p. 15)
- “Our malady arose through the corrupted spirit of a woman…”
- What is to be loved…(1.23. 22, p.19)
- Purity and health come from the divine (1.23.23, p. 20)
- All good comes from the divine (1.31.34, p. 27)
The gist of Book 2 is to describe signs and their value. Here are some highlights:
- “..no one doubts that things are perceived more readily through similitudes and that what is sought with difficulty is discovered with more pleasure” (2.6.8, p. 38)
- “…two reasons why things written are not understood: they are obscured either by unknown or by ambiguous signs. For signs are either literal or figurative” (2.10.15, p. 43)
- Comments on Astrology/Astrologers (2.21.32, p. 56)
- Astrology condemned and consider fruitless (2.29.45-46, pp. 65-66)
- What does Aristotle say about oracles? (On Rhetoric, 3.5.4)
- We’ll compare this to Wollstonecraft’s view of astrology in a few weeks
- Social Institutions (2.25.38+, pp. 61-63)
- “For all practices which have value among men because men agree among themselves that they are valuable are human institutions” (2.25.38, p. 61)
- “…signs are not valid among men but by consent” (2.25.38, p. 61)
- Useful institutions and gender (2.25.39, p. 62)
- “…there are thousands of imagined fables and falsehood by whose lies men are delighted, which are human institutions. And nothing is more typical of men among those things which they have from themselves than what is deceitful and lying. But the useful and necessary institutions established by men with men include whatever they have agreed upon concerning differences of dress and adornment of the person useful for distinguishing sex or rank.”
- “Finally, the thousands of fables and fictions, in whose lies men take delight, are human devices, and nothing is to be considered more peculiarly man’s own and derived from himself than anything that is false and lying. Among the convenient and necessary arrangements of men with men are to be reckoned whatever differences they choose to make in bodily dress and ornament for the purpose of distinguishing sex or rank” (online version)
- “Human institutions are imperfect reflections of natural institutions or are similar to them” (2.26.40, p. 62)
- Institutions pertaining to reason (2.31.48, p. 67)
- Science of disputation
- Science of numbers
- The truth of valid inference comes from the divine (2.32.50, p. 68)
- “The principle that if the consequent [conclusion] is false the antecedent [premise] must also be false was not instituted by men but discovered” (2.32.50, p. 69; emphasis mine)
- Mechanical arts (2.39.58, pp. 73-74)
The gist of Book 3 is to discuss ambiguous signs in scripture. He discusses translations and, for the most part, believes them to be accurate, but some might be mistranslated. Here are some highlights:
- Literal words rarely cause ambiguity (3.4.8, p. 83)
- Figurative words, however, are more likely to be ambiguous (3.4.9, p. 83)
- “He is a slave to a sign who uses or worships a significant thing without knowing what it signifies” (3.9.13, p. 86)
- “it is an evil of wandering error to interpret signs in a useless way” (3.9.13, p. 87)
- Polygamy vs. Bygamy (3.12.18, p. 91)
- The ancients are given passes for some practices that are condemned contemporarily (3.22.32, p. 98)
- “…the Scriptures: some things are taught for everyone in general; others are directed toward particular classes of people” (3.17.25, p. 94)
In Book 4, St. Augustine finally starts discussing rhetoric. This book is concerned with teaching what one has learned about scripture and the divine. He covers deductive arguments (i.e., syllogisms), avoiding lies, and eloquence. What are some highlights?
- While the great faculty of eloquence, which is of great value in urging either evil or justice, is it in itself indifferent, why should it not be obtained for the uses of the good in the service of truth…? (4.2.3, pp. 118-119)
- Acute and eager minds learn through hearing rather than following rules (4.3.4, p. 119)
- Dialect, diction, community (4.3.5, p. 120)
- Think like me and you’ll get it…(4.6.9, p. 123)
- On teaching and student understanding (4.12.27, p. 136)
- The grand style to move the audience (4.21.48, p. 156)
- Moderate/temperate for delight (4.23.52, p. 160)
- Persuasion in subdued, moderate/temperate, and grand styles (4.25.55, pp. 161-162)
Anatomy of Oratory and Arguments (time permitting)
What can we say about the rhetoric of these religious perspectives?
One of the, if not the, most disgusting film in American cinema, Birth of a Nation (1915).
- What is the rhetoric of this ending, one that St. Augustine would privilege?
The Southern Baptist Convention’s History of Promoting White Supremacy
- In accordance with St. Augustine’s “teachings,” some groups wanted to make sure postbellum churches maintained paternalistic control over Blacks:
- Just as the slaves had prayed from the balconies of white churches in the Old South, so it would be in the New South. Actually, Baptists of this persuasion believed that dislocations in the secular sphere necessitated a continuation of traditional religious arrangements. The freedmen, these Baptists pointed out, were neither financially nor intellectually prepared for separation from white churches. Black ministers were illiterate, and soon would lead a “childlike” population into scriptural error and superstition. In 1866, for instance, the Colorado Association of Texas, after a warm debate, adopted a majority report opposing separation on the grounds that blacks possessed insufficient “intelligence and education . . . to keep the doctrines and ordinances in God’s work pure and unmixed with human error when unaided by the superior intelligence of the whites.”3 Underlying this position was the belief of many Southerners that any progress among blacks was dependent upon contact with the “superior” race. (Storey 212)
- As a Baptist from Houston, Texas, explained in 1868, separation would be tantamount to leaving the freedmen “a prey to the combined evil of ignorance, superstition, fanaticism, and a political propagandism more dangerous and destructive to the best interests of both whites and blacks than Jesuitism itself.” Duty and self interest, therefore, demanded “that our churches should retain the negroes in their membership, and control their [Negroes’] action so far as they [white churches] have a moral right to do so.” (Texas Baptist Herald, November 11,1868 cited in Storey 213)
- By “Jesuitism,” he means Catholicism, so St. Augustine would probably not be supportive.
- Eventually, the SBC affirmed their divine commitment to antiracist beliefs…
Others Used Biblical References to Justify Their Case For or Against Segregation and/or Civil Rights
- Billy Graham was committed to integration as early as 1957 (if not earlier)
- Bob Jones, Sr., ironically, was more accepting of diversity than a large swath of Southern whites
- However, his school didn’t allow Blacks until 1971 “but only on the condition that they were already married, and married to someone of the same race” (Taylor).
- Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech (3 April 1968)
- While King called his followers to exercise their natural rights as American citizens, he also portrayed their struggle for equality as a modern-day Exodus, using the biblical tale to give the civil rights movement a structure or narrative to follow. In his speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” King discusses time periods in history that he would have liked to personally see. He says, ‘I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land.’ Here, as King declares that he would have liked to see the Israelites’ arduous escape from Egypt, he reminds his followers that the Israelites suffered before gaining their freedom from the pharaoh, just like how his own listeners were suffering. (Tuason para. 4)
The X-Files “Signs & Wonders” (Season 7, Episode 9: 2000)
- Here’s the full episode, but you’ll have to sit through several ads. I’d like us to cue it up to timestamp 17:00.
- This video isn’t as good a quality, but it starts exactly when we want to observe.
- What do you make of The Waterboy (1998) and critical thinking?
I created a web page to help us think about arguments and oratory. Let’s focus on Nikki Giovanni’s “We Are Virginia Tech” and a discussion about the “Misery Index.”
Next Week’s Reading
Before we jump a 1000+ years and discuss Rene Descartes’ Discourse on Method in three weeks (3/15–after spring break), we’re going to read the first two chapters of Cy Knoblauch’s Discursive Ideologies (pp. 1-48), which should help fill in the historical gaps…somewhat.
Don’t forget that your Mini-Rhetorical Analyses are due next week by 6:00 pm on 3/1.
Storey, John W. Southern Baptists and the Racial Controversy in the Churches and Schools During Reconstruction. The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Spring 1978), 211-228.
Tuason, Ramon. “The Biblical Exodus in the Rhetoric of Martin Luther King.” The Stanford Freedom Project. Fall 2015.