Teaching Christian Rhetoric with St. Augustine

Given that Rhetoric itself is a disputed term–variously defined by different practitioners, theorists, and philosophers in different time periods–adding the adjective Christian to the word Rhetoric only serves to further muddy the waters. Nevertheless, as Christians, it is incumbent upon us to make sense of the world using reason illumined by faith.

St. Augustine, in De Doctrina Christiana, says “In a word, the function of eloquence in [Christian] teaching is not to make people like what was once offensive, or to make them do what they were loth to do, but to make clear what was hidden from them. If this is done in a disagreeable way, the benefits reach only a few enthusiasts, who are eager to know the things they need to learn no matter how dull and unattractive the teaching may be. Once they have attained it, they feed on the truth itself with great delight; it is the nature of good minds to love truth in the form of words, not the words themselves. . . . [but l]earning has a lot in common with eating: to cater for the dislikes of the majority even the nutrients essential to life must be made appetizing.”

A master of Ciceronian rhetoric and a devout and learned Christian bishop, St. Augustine takes what is best in classical Greece and Rome and commends it to his readers as an aide in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus. Let’s join him on the journey.

Greg Jeffers

Greg Jeffers holds a B.A. in English and Biblical Theology and an M.A. in English: Composition and Rhetoric, all from Abilene Christian University. He is in his eighth year of teaching, the first two being in the university and the last six being at The Covenant School of Dallas. He currently teaches eighth grade Logic and Bible as well as tenth grade Rhetoric.