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The Art of Rhetoric in the Christian Life

The following text was transcribed, digitally, from the above talk. If you would like to volunteer to help with editing, please contact us.

Today is Sunday, August 27. And this is William Michael, of the classical liberal arts academy. As I said, today is Sunday, August 27. And this morning at mass we read in the Gospel Peters confession of Christ. And as I’m sure the homily at your parish focused on the papacy and the authority of the successors of St. Peter. As I was reflecting on the Gospel reading, I was intrigued by a different part of the reading that I don’t think many or any priests spent any time talking about. I was most interested not not most interested. But I was interested in the last part of this morning’s reading, where Jesus tells His disciples that they should not tell people that he is the Christ. I thought that was interesting. Jesus tells the disciples after they confess that He is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus tells His disciples not to teach or tell other people, that he is the Christ. It’s very interesting. And I think that there are some reasons for that. And I think these reasons are important for us because in modern Christian society, we’ve separated learning from faith, we’ve separated education from religion. And in the classical liberal arts academy, we’re working to reunite education. With Catholic faith, we’re looking to restore classical Catholic education because in past generations, this division didn’t exist. The highest and most excellent learning was integrated with the Catholic faith. And this produced the great achievements of scholastic theology. There was never a time in church history. Before the Protestant Reformation. There was never a time in church history where philosophical learning the study of the seven liberal arts and the Catholic faith were separated. They were always united. The clergy the teachers of the church, were always men who were educated in the classical liberal arts, and philosophy. In fact, if you study the lives of the saints, you’ll also you often learn that saints had to struggle through the academic requirements, preparing for the priesthood because they were so rigorous. And it was because the clergy in the church was required to study the classical liberal arts. Scholastic philosophy after the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, classical languages and so on. Learning of the highest kind, and Catholic faith were always united. And then after the Protestant Reformation, after the scientific revolution, they were separated. Because in secular society and in Protestant society, there was a rejection of scholastic philosophy and the development of a secular, anti Catholic system of education. And then later on the Catholic Church or Catholic schools, I should say, and the Catholic laity tried to create a Catholic version of this modern secular education and abandoned its own intellectual heritage, which has produced the modern Catholic schools and colleges we see today. Today, in most places, The highest level of philosophical learning and the Catholic faith have been separated. And this was never true in church history. And the Catholics in the modern age, the modern era, I would say, like I said, from the time of the 1500s and 1600s, on have had the intellectual, the philosophical foundation of Catholic thought, take taken away. And they’ve tried to just come up with some sort of Catholic version of a modern math and science, education that’s based on ideas, from the scientific revolution, even from the Protestant Reformation. And I think the reading today, the Gospel reading highlights this problem. Because when we think about divine revelation, we like to think about it as being completely separate from education from formal education. We like to think of the apostles as a bunch of Dum Dums, who sort of were picked up by Jesus, you know, just some kind of maybe rural kind of dudes working class guys. And Jesus just randomly pulls these guys off the street. They’re all sort of clumsy and ignorant. Sort of like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Jesus and the disciples. And they’re just Dum Dums. And they spend some time with Jesus. And then Jesus chooses to hand the church over to these fishermen and, you know, working class guys. And in post Protestant Reformation society that’s popular because it supports this idea that everyone can just grab a Bible and read it for themselves and make their own interpretation, judge for themselves, and so on. It’s dumdum religion, it’s for common people. Anyone can read the Bible. It’s every man’s book. That’s all Protestant, teaching. But Catholics either practice that today, or they just neglect it altogether. Which leads to different problems. But this idea of Jesus and His dopey disciples, is very common today. And there’s, you know, there are preachers and commentators who try to make fun of events in the Gospels. Show it to be sort of silly. You know, Peter says something that’s silly. Other disciples say something that’s really dopey, and they laugh about it. And they sort of they put this comical spin on these dopey Disciples, with Jesus. And they liked that because they say, You see, Jesus welcomes just common people. He doesn’t seek out educated people, he doesn’t want smart followers. Christian faith is not dependent on rigorous education, vain philosophy, and so on. All that God needs is men with a good heart. And this is the common message in modern society, why? It doesn’t matter what your education consists of. You can have a public school education and imagine that that’s all you need for the Christian life. Good enough, you know, subjects like history and science. And while they’re all just what do they say they’re all neutral. Those studies are just neutral. You really can’t have good or bad math, you really can’t have good or bad science. History is just history. They’re just neutral. These subjects in the curriculum are just neutral. So you can have people teaching that aren’t even Catholics because these subjects are a moral. Neutral. No one in history, no Catholic doctor. No one who lived before the Reformation in church history would ever agree that these subjects are neutral, that the principles and the lessons are just commonly known to everybody. commonly agreed upon by everybody, there’s nothing to discern or debate in these subjects. No one would ever say that until modern society. And it’s very common today to hear this. So we like to think of divine revelation as God just revealing the truth to us in very simple terms. Simple enough for anyone to read and understand for themselves. And then we like to pretend that all our job is as Christians is just to take the words of divine revelation and shout them at our neighbors. Just beat people over the head with the Bible. It’s okay, if we’re a noxious. It’s okay, if we’re not tactful. It’s okay. If we’re impatient and disrespectful. It’s okay, if we’re not educated, we can just assume that we understand. And if anyone disagrees with our interpretation, we can just, we can just call them names and Mark and scoff at them. Because they’re the opponents of the truth. And all that matters is that we preach the truth. Doesn’t matter that we’re nice to people doesn’t matter that we’re respectful. All that matters is that we preach the truth and you know what the truth hurts. And this kind of talk is common in modern circles, and it’s worth noting that these are ignorant people saying this stuff, because all of this is false. The sacred scriptures are not a collection of books intended for the common people to read for themselves. They’re certainly welcome to read the scriptures. But they’re not invited to interpret the scriptures for themselves. The scriptures are certainly not easy to understand. But Christ established the church and gave the Holy Spirit to the church. That there would be authoritative interpretation, preservation of traditional interpretation, that there would be unity and authority. And the reason why these things were necessary is because the Bible is not simple. It’s not easy for everyone to understand. It was not intended to be handed to common men and have them interpreted as they wish. And as we see, in today’s Gospel, reading, the gospel was not just handed over to men. To present, however they please. The greatest of all truths, was made known to the disciples. That truth, which Jesus said to Peter was not revealed to him by flesh and blood, but was divinely revealed to him. That truth was that Jesus was the Christ. He was the Son of God. That was revealed to Peter and the disciples. It appears, first of all, to Peter. But they were not immediately authorized to go and shout the truth at other people. After this revelation was confirmed and blessed by Jesus Himself. Jesus told his disciples, don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell people this truth. Don’t go out and share this. Do not tell people that I am the Christ. And you see how this throws a monkey wrench into this whole modern Protestant ish common man Christianity because we see that there’s complexity to it. There’s more to this religion than just me and the Bible. There’s more to this and what we See, one of the most fascinating things we see is that our Lord does not simply come down from heaven and let the truth fly out of his mouth. Our Lord is rhetorical. His strategic, he uses figures of speech, he speaks according to the principles of the art of rhetoric. And this confirms for us that the liberal arts are not just human inventions. They’re not prescriptive, they don’t create an artificial system of how to think or how to speak, that we then follow, so that we can follow the rules. They’re not prescriptive, they don’t tell us what to do. The classical liberal arts are descriptive. And what that means is they they explain to us what actually is true about human thought and communication, about human persuasion, about human reasoning. The classical liberal arts teach us what actually exists. They don’t tell us what to do. They tell us how things actually work. So that we can then act in agreement with what is true. And that’s what it means to be wise it means to, to act according to the principles of these of these arts, these arts of thinking and reasoning. When we study natural philosophy, Aristotle teaches us and this is explained by St. Thomas. So this isn’t just some random pagan idea. This is Catholic teaching. Aristotle teaches us that natural philosophy is not something that we establish. It’s something that we observe, we discover the truth about the natural world. And then we study natural philosophy as a science not as a some kind of prescriptive indoctrination as to what we all need to say. But it’s descriptive. It explains to us what actually is true. And therefore it’s subject to objections. We’re allowed to raise objections we’re allowed to say, you know, my observation doesn’t seem to agree with what Aristotle says that’s very important, because Aristotle is claiming that his natural philosophy is descriptive. He’s observing what exists. He’s explaining what God Himself has revealed in the natural world. And therefore, the teaching of Aristotle is subject to objections with reason or evidence from the natural world. So when we look at this true philosophy, which we find among the ancient philosophers who developed through their investigations and then systematized the arts, the seven liberal arts, we see things that are absolutely true. This is how humans speak. This is how humans reason. This is how humans are persuaded and so on. It’s not an artificial system telling people what to do. For the sake of style, or for the sake of human praise. The seven liberal arts teach us how things actually work in human nature. And therefore to act contrary to them is imprudence and to act in agreement with them is wisdom. And what I always found fascinating when I was younger when I was in college, when I was studying these things because I was the only Christian that I knew, who was studying the classical liberal arts and I was doing it largely by means of independent study. As an undergraduate classic student working with a professor as a supervisor. I was amazed because I was studying the Bible, and learning the Christian faith. While I was studying the classical liberal arts, and what would always amazed me was how, when I studied the classical liberal arts, I could think of examples for everything from the Gospels. I could think of examples of where Jesus did this, or where one of the prophets did that or where one of the apostles did this. I was amazed that as I learned, the liberal arts, the classical liberal arts, the teachings of the ancient philosophers, as I learned them, I could think of endless examples. In Sacred Scripture, where the men inspired by God and moved by the Holy Spirit, were always moved in agreement with the principles of the classical liberal arts. And that’s one of the reasons why I think I was able to make progress. Even though I was studying independently, I was able to make progress because I had the scriptures as sort of a a commentary on the classical liberal arts, a source of examples that I could always reflect on, and use to understand the teaching of the ancient philosophers. And I was always amazed to find how often Jesus himself either articulates Concepts Taught In The classical liberal arts or simply practices, what the arts teach. And it confirms for us not that the not that Jesus subjected himself to the arts of men, but that the arts discovered by the ancient philosophers are, in fact, true. And that’s why Jesus acted according to their principles, because they’re true. So when we see an example like this, we see Jesus with the truth in one hand, but telling the disciples not to talk about it. What we see is Jesus appealing to the principles of rhetoric, Jesus was telling the disciples to not begin preaching for a number of reasons. Even though he was teaching the truth to them, even though the truth was being revealed to them by God. He told them, that they should not go and start talking about it. The time was not right. And time is one of the elements of the art of rhetoric. When we study rhetoric, we learn of three persuasive appeals. three general categories of persuasive appeals or sources of persuasion. One of them is is reasoning, the actual strength of our arguments. That’s, that’s not the sum of the art of rhetoric. That’s just one part one kind of persuasive appeal, having, having the truth as it were, but there are two others. One of the others is ethos or character, the influence or credibility of the character of the speaker. This is another source of persuasion. And the third of the rhetorical appeals is pathos or the emotional appeal of the message, the emotional state of the audience and how it receives the message. Now, in modern circles, we would think, well, the the apostles had the truth revealed to them there. for what they should do is turn right around, march out into the street and start barking the truth to everyone. Because, look, we’re not responsible for results, we’re not responsible to be nice. We’re just responsible to speak the truth, and let the cards fall where they fall. That is a direct contradiction of the teaching of Christ. It’s directly contradictory to the art of rhetoric. It’s contrary to how human persuasion works. How human judgment works, it’s foolish. It’s the stuff that ignorant, disrespectful and influential, common people would say and do. It’s not the stuff that wise men do. When Jesus taught His disciples, He didn’t merely teach them the content of a creed. And say that the means by which is preached justifies, or I’m saying the end of their preaching justifies the means by which they preach, he never taught anything like that, though that’s common to hear today. He never taught anything like that he never taught that, hey, this is the truth, this is the gospel. Therefore, whatever you do is good. He never suggested anything like that. He not only taught his disciples, what was to be preached, He taught his disciples how it was to be preached, because freedom of the will. And human reason and judgment are real. They’re real. They’re real faculties, built into human nature, and they work in certain ways. And wise men don’t merely throw truth stones at their neighbors. Wise Men present the truth in a way that’s in agreement with human nature. And so we see in in the Gospel reading today, Jesus, simultaneously revealing and confirming the truth to the disciples, and then immediately pumping the brakes. And telling them to be quiet, because the other aspects of their ministry are not yet ready. The time and circumstances are not yet right. And this contradicts what is common today all of the arrogant, scoffing mockery that we see among Christians on social media, all of the scoffing at their political rivals all of the arrogant, obnoxious social media posts. That’s not Christian preaching. In fact, that’s the kind of stuff that Jesus commanded the disciples not to do. And we can see examples of this in the book of Acts where there were people who are who are inspired by evil spirits. There’s one passage where there’s a girl in the book of Acts, and I’m just sharing this off the top of my head as I think about it. You can look it up and find the exact passage, but there’s a passage in the book of Acts where St. Paul is traveling to different cities, evangelizing the cities and everything St. Paul does is tactful, and wise and patient. And they get to a city and there’s a girl who’s possessed by a demon. And this girl is actually yelling in the streets. These men are messengers of the true and living God. She’s announcing what on the surface seems like good news. She seems to be praising Paul and which of the apostles or disciples was with him could have been Barnabas? I don’t remember. But as we read the story, it sounds like there’s this woman and she’s telling everyone that [This note may be incomplete because it was exported before processing was finished.] This transcript was generated by https://otter.ai

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