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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
On Christian Doctrine: Chapter 26

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 26.—In Every Style the Orator Should Aim at Perspicuity, Beauty, and Persuasiveness.

55.  Now in regard to the three conditions I laid down a little while ago 2007 as necessary to be fulfilled by any one who wishes to speak with wisdom and eloquence, viz., perspicuity, beauty of style, and persuasive power, we are not to understand that these three qualities attach themselves respectively to the three several styles of speech, one to each, so that perspicuity is a merit peculiar to the subdued style, beauty to the temperate, and persuasive power to the majestic.  On the contrary, all speech, whatever its style, ought constantly to aim at, and as far as possible to display, all these three merits.  For we do not like even what we say in the subdued style to pall upon the hearer; and therefore we would be listened to, not with intelligence merely, but with pleasure as well.  Again, why do we enforce what we teach by divine testimony, except that we wish to carry the hearer with us, that is, to com p. 595 pel his assent by calling in the assistance of Him of whom it is said, “Thy testimonies are very sure”? 2008   And when any one narrates a story, even in the subdued style, what does he wish but to be believed?  But who will listen to him if he do not arrest attention by some beauty of style?  And if he be not intelligible, is it not plain that he can neither give pleasure nor enforce conviction?  The subdued style, again, in its own naked simplicity, when it unravels questions of very great difficulty, and throws an unexpected light upon them; when it worms out and brings to light some very acute observations from a quarter whence nothing was expected; when it seizes upon and exposes the falsity of an opposing opinion, which seemed at its first statement to be unassailable; especially when all this is accompanied by a natural, unsought grace of expression, and by a rhythm and balance of style which is not ostentatiously obtruded, but seems rather to be called forth by the nature of the subject: this style, so used, frequently calls forth applause so great that one can hardly believe it to be the subdued style.  For the fact that it comes forth without either ornament or defense, and offers battle in its own naked simplicity, does not hinder it from crushing its adversary by weight of nerve and muscle, and overwhelming and destroying the falsehood that opposes it by the mere strength of its own right arm.  How explain the frequent and vehement applause that waits upon men who speak thus, except by the pleasure that truth so irresistibly established, and so victoriously defended, naturally affords?  Wherefore the Christian teacher and speaker ought, when he uses the subdued style, to endeavor not only to be clear and intelligible, but to give pleasure and to bring home conviction to the hearer.

57.  Eloquence of the temperate style, also, must, in the case of the Christian orator, be neither altogether without ornament, nor unsuitably adorned, nor is it to make the giving of pleasure its sole aim, which is all it professes to accomplish in the hands of others; but in its encomiums and censures it should aim at inducing the hearer to strive after or avoid or renounce what it condemns.  On the other hand, without perspicuity this style cannot give pleasure.  And so the three qualities, perspicuity, beauty, and persuasiveness, are to be sought in this style also; beauty, of course, being its primary object.

58.  Again, when it becomes necessary to stir and sway the hearer’s mind by the majestic style (and this is always necessary when he admits that what you say is both true and agreeable, and yet is unwilling to act accordingly), you must, of course, speak in the majestic style.  But who can be moved if he does not understand what is said? and who will stay to listen if he receives no pleasure?  Wherefore, in this style, too, when an obdurate heart is to be persuaded to obedience, you must speak so as to be both intelligible and pleasing, if you would be heard with a submissive mind.



Chaps. xv. and xvii.


Ps. 93.5.

Next: Chapter 27

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