Rhabanus on Rhetoric and Preaching

“According to the statements of teachers, rhetoric is the art of using secular discourse effectively in the circumstances of daily life.  From this definition rhetoric seems indeed to have reference merely to secular wisdom.  Yet is is not foreign to ecclesiastical instruction.  Whatever the preacher and herald of divine law, in his instruction, brings forward in an eloquent and becoming manner; whatever in his written exposition he knows how to clothe in adequate and impressive language, he owes to his acquaintance with this art. Whoever at the proper time makes himself familiar with this art, and faithfully follows its rules in speaking and writing, needs not count it as something blameworthy.  On the contrary, whoever thoroughly learns it so that he acquires the ability to proclaim God’s word, performs a good work.”  Rhabanus Maurus, “Education of the Clergy,” in The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be An Educated Human Being, ed. Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington 2007, p. 252. [Emphasis added] 

Rhabanus Maurus played a significant role in the Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth century.  He became abbot of the monastery at Fulda in 820s and was Archbishop of Mainz for about eleven years before his death in 856.  He wrote biblical commentaries, a famous poem on Christ’s cross, and works on pedagogy.  In this present work he explained how the seven liberal arts provided the foundation for the education of Christian clergy.  In this quote we read his description of the use of rhetoric by preachers.

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