Back Issues


Volume 9, Issue 3: Ex Libris

Hermogenes On Issues: Strategies of Argument in Later Greek Rhetoric

Malcom Heath; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995
Reviewed by Chris Schlect

Issue theory--whose importance is sadly overlooked--has been resurrected by Malcom Heath and Oxford University Press. Teachers and students of classical rhetoric, lecturers, and trial lawyers must take note.

A few years ago I took my students to a local courtroom gallery to hear closing arguments in a murder trial. I was shocked at the prosecutor's arguments. He attempted to refute every single point that the defense raised. He argued long and hard over points that he would have done better to concede, and he passed too quickly through matters that should have been treated as the real crux. The evidence favored conviction, but his silly mistreatment of the issues diverted the jury's attention from what should have been made clear to them. Those of you who bravely watched the national candidates debate last fall know the sort of thing I refer to. My county's prosecutor needs to study Hermogenes; had Kemp and Gore done so, their debate might have revealed a helpful point of material disagreement.
George Kennedy rightly acclaims Hermogenes (late second century A.D.) as "the most important Greek rhetorician of the Roman empire." Hermogenes definitively advanced two great areas in rhetoric: the rhetoric curriculum, and issue theory (stasis). Both advances became canonical and endured through the Renaissance. The present work includes a full translation of Hermogenes' work on issues, together with an introduction, commentary, and supplementary examples.
An issue is a rhetorical theme that is classified according to the dispute it involves. There are thirteen types of issue in Hermogenes' classification scheme. Hermogenes shows that almost all disputes can be classified as one of these types of issue, and for each type he presents an effective outline for argument. To illustrate: suppose this review is submitted to my editor after its deadline. In defending myself, I would not contest when the deadline was (the law is clear and legitimate), nor would I contest that my review was submitted late (a fact obvious to everyone involved). My only defense, therefore, is to classify the issue as mitigation. My defense would follow Hermogenes' outline for mitigation: intent, mitigation, relative importance, and forcible definition. Accordingly, I would argue, "My lateness was not due to negligence; to the contrary, I was well-prepared to submit this review on time. Moreover, the actual reason for the lateness of this review was my own strong sense of duty to my obligations (intent). Since the book arrived later than expected, I couldn't read it when I had set aside the time to do so--before setting out on my long-planned vacation (mitigation). I had promised this vacation to my family, and I couldn't break their trust. My review is a routine matter to our publication, even buried in the back pages. But this particular family obligation was a one-time-only opportunity; and it couldn't be rescheduled (relative importance). So you see, it is because I keep my obligations--especially to where my commitment is most sacred: to my family--that this review was submitted late (forcible definition)." My defense would surely lead to acquittal, unless perhaps my editor had also studied Hermogenes. If he did, he would follow the prosecution's outline for mitigation: alternative intent, objection, forcible definition, and second objection. He would challenge my defense as follows: "Perhaps Schlect's review was late because of his disdain for writing reviews (alternative intent). He could have reviewed a different book--one of those we have sitting around waiting to be reviewed--instead of dawdling as he did (objection). Schlect's sob-story of the late-arriving book was just another of his ruses to get out of a deadline (forcible definition). Besides, if he had really intended to meet the deadline, he would have told me that the book was late when he still had a chance to review another title instead (second objection)."
Hermogenes' system is remarkably practical, but his own presentation is very cumbersome, especially to the modern reader. Thankfully, in this edition Heath has removed the difficulty for us. Hermogenes' whole treatise occupies only thirty pages, but Heath follows it with ninety pages of very helpful commentary. Most helpful in the commentary are overall section reviews and visual charts. In addition, Heath has added sample speeches--with commentary--to illustrate each of the thirteen issues. This edition also includes a helpful glossary. Even with all these helps, this volume places great demands upon the reader. It requires careful study. A mere read-through will not do. To work through it I needed a pencil and note paper, and I always kept three bookmarks active. Still, I've just begun. I will return to this book repeatedly and for years to come.
Some readers will be disappointed to find that the Greek text is omitted. Heath doesn't touch the original Greek in the commentary, either. Such omissions fit with Heath's purpose, which is to teach sound and practical principles of rhetoric rather than to reflect upon a second-century anachronism. Currently weighing in at only 274 pages, this book would not be unwieldy if the Greek text were included, and it could be done in a way that wouldn't trip up the novice.
The real question for many will be, Is this thin book worth $70.00? Teachers and mature students of rhetoric must have it, and good schools will hold a copy in their libraries. Remember that, for one thousand years, schools of rhetoric held this work to be essential. We need it today in order to catch up to our forebears, but we mustn't jump ahead of ourselves: if you don't yet know Aristotle's Rhetoric, Cicero, and Quintilian, go to them first. But don't stop with them; you must move on to Malcom Heath's Hermogenes On Issues.


 

The Conservative Mind

Russell Kirk; Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, [1953] 1995
Reviewed by Gregory C. Dickison

"Conservative" is a word that most evangelical Christians use to describe themselves and a word that most other people, Christian or not, use in their definition of an evangelical Christian. But what do we mean by it? Can a word used to describe everyone from Ralph Reed to Bob Dole have any discernible meaning?

In The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk endeavors to describe, via historical analysis, the particular "mode of regarding the civil social order" which is conservatism. The book was first published in 1953, and a seventh edition was printed in 1995, the year following Kirk's death. Kirk described it as "a prolonged essay in the history of ideas," rather than "a manual for partisan action." Beginning with Edmund Burke and moving through George Santayana, Kirk describes conservatism in England and America as it was embodied in the various persons who found themselves in positions of influence on, or resistance to, the tides of the times.
Kirk begins by setting out what he discerns as the six "cannons" of conservative thought: "belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. . . ; affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems. . . ; conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes as against the notion of a `classless society'. . . ; persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked . . . ; faith in prescription and distrust of `sophisters, calculators, and economists' who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs . . . ; recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather that a torch of progress." Against these doctrines, Kirk sets four general tenets of historical radicalism: meliorism, ("the perfectibility of man and the illimitable progress of society); contempt for tradition; political and economic leveling. Having briefly described the opposing armies, Kirk devotes the rest of the book to describing the war.
And a losing war it has been for the conservative forces. Kirk describes it as a rout (indeed, "The Conservative Rout" was the working title of the original manuscript), but not yet a total defeat. Although Kirk describes a philosophy which seems to have been born a doddering and dying old man, he never seems to give up hope that it will ultimately triumph. This hope shines in spite of the fact that many of Kirk's subjects gave up hope themselves, contenting themselves with doing no more than slowing the progressive trend which they believed was in the long run unstoppable.
But the Christian reader finds it difficult to share Kirk's hope. It is not that the triumph of radicalism is inevitable but that the conservatism which opposes it is bankrupt. While the political philosophy Kirk describes seeks to establish man as a soul, rather than simply a cog in a machine, conservatism never fully embraces ultimate orthodox Christian truth--the only solid foundation upon which to build such a philosophy. It comes close in many ways; but it is tiring and frustrating to read of great mind after great mind which, like the gullible women loaded down with sins, are "led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
It is hard to tell if the blindness is in Kirk, his subjects, or both. Kirk describes Burke, for example, in a manner which makes Burke appear to be at least a classical theist, if not a believing Christian. To Kirk, Burke was an unflagging adherent to the ideas of original sin, divine providence, the inability of man to perfect himself by his own lights, and the necessity of Christian faith for the preservation of liberty. Yet the idea of Christian redemption, so central to orthodox Christianity, never appears in Kirk's description of Burke or, for that matter, of anyone else.
This spiritual blindness in the apologists for and developers of conservative political theory undermines the theory itself. Most of them began their careers as radicals of one form or another, and their realization of radicalism's destructive tendencies converted them to conservatism. Yet most of the conversions appear intellectual only and rarely spiritual. With few exceptions, Kirk's conservatives retain something of their radical beliefs, or include in their philosophy a healthy dose of belief in humanism.
The unredeemed nature of conservatism has been its downfall. The radicals have always understood the centrality of Christian redemption in Western political theory and the necessity of destroying religious orthodoxy in order to advance their agenda. The conservatives, on the other hand, see religious faith as only one of many aspects necessary to liberty. Such faith does not even have to be in Jehovah, so long as it gives man something to look to beyond himself. It is no wonder that such an unbelieving conservatism, which asks man to deny himself for some intangible and ephemeral "good," is unable to stop the march of materialism and self-gratification.
Nevertheless, there is much to learn from The Conservative Mind. Knowing the history of political ideas helps us understand our own times and gives us wisdom to challenge the errors of our own day. As a secondary work, Kirk's book necessarily loses something in the filtering of one man's complex thoughts through the mind of another. But it is an excellent survey, giving us a broad overview while inspiring us to read further in the primary works discussed. Kirk is full of brilliant insight into the problems of democracy, liberalism, socialism and materialism, and he describes them in a manner that is often startlingly clear.
The most refreshing aspect of The Conservative Mind is its criticism of sacred cows, the existence of which we take for granted or treat as if they were too well established in the modern mind to challenge, as much as we might be troubled by them. All of Kirk's subjects distrust the mass of mankind and deride the folly of such notions as universal suffrage, one man-one vote, popular education, abstract "human rights," and the natural equality of man. He reminds us that democracy itself is but one form of political system, a means to good government and not an end in itself. Kirk also reminds us of the value of such concepts as aristocracy, the humble realization that we are not all just as good as everyone else, and the contentment that comes with the acceptance of our limitations and the inevitable differences and classes among men that result. He reminds us that men are living beings, whose complexities must be taken into account by those who seek to alter how they live, and not simply blobs of clay which may be remolded at will.
But for all of the understanding of the problems of radicalism, conservatism fails to offer a satisfactory solution. The castle the conservatives want to build is, in many ways, an architectural wonder. But the foundation is of sand.


 

Beric the Briton: A Story of the Roman Invasion
and For the Temple: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem

G.A. Henty; Mill Hall, PA: Preston/Speed Publications
Reviewed by Nathan Wilson

G. A. Henty was a Victorian author and historian. Or to put it a little more precisely, he was an historian who could write. His stories are all historical fiction, and their primary purpose is to impart an understanding of history to the reader. This they accomplish. Do not, however, labor under the impression that his books are mere dry history and would not interest you. The books are all fiction set in an extremely accurate historical setting. The overall effect is that the reader will enjoy reading these books and will at the same time gain some knowledge about what it was like way back when. His books are geared towards the lads, but their enjoyment is by no means restricted to younger boys.

Two of his books are set in and around the Roman empire. The first of these is Beric the Briton. Oddly enough the story is about a Briton named Beric. Beric is the son of a chief who was killed fighting the Romans in the original invasions. Beric was then taken into custody and was raised as a Roman in the hope that they could return him to his tribe as a chief who was fully Romanized. This was not to be. The Romans found that a few of the British were still a little squimish under their rule, so they promptly collected and executed every one of the British druids they could get their hands on. They then went to the Britons' sacred island where all their religion was based and burned all the altars and the groves. The barbaric Brits were not comfortable with this situation. They felt that the Romans had violated their personal space and acted accordingly. War ensued.
Beric had been released before the whole mess and had assumed his chieftainship. He knew that in the field the Romans would win quite easily no matter what numbers faced them. Beric had studied Roman strategy and knew it would be hopeless to attack the Romans in the drunken way that typified Briton military tactics. So Beric trained the men of his tribe to fight in the same marching square that the Romans used. The rest of the Britons, however, thought organized fighting was for putzes and were promptly crushed by the Romans. Beric's small group fought to the end but were eventually captured and shipped off to Rome.
Because the Brits were so much bigger than the Romans, they were given to various gladiatorial schools and sent into the arena. Beric distinguished himself in his first appearance by defeating a lion with his bare hands. As a result of his incredible performance, he and the other Britons was summoned to Nero's court as a personal bodyguard. Eventually the imperial orgies went too far, and Beric killed a couple of Nero's friends. He then fled Rome with his gladiators and waged war on the Romans from the mountains. The Romans were eventually forced to send an entire army to root Beric out of the mountains, and they were on the verge of success when Nero died and the struggle for the throne began. Beric waited until the new emperor had come out on top then appealed for pardon, seeing how he had fought against Nero and not the Empire. This pardon was granted, and Beric was offered a generalship in the Roman Army because of his proven military genius. This he refused so he could return to Britain. But before he left, the Roman emperor made him consul over Britain out of gratitude for Beric's struggle against Nero.
Henty's next tale of Rome and those who didn't like her very much was For the Temple. This is the story of a Jewish boy named John and the sack of Jerusalem. This book is very similar to Beric the Briton in that both tell of young boys who grow up to be military geniuses and fight the Romans. Both also lose the struggle but end up on top anyway. In For the Temple, our hero John falls in with Josephus, the noted Jewish military leader, at an early age and thus learns how to fight the Romans. However, the military knowledge was not gained so much through Josephus' instruction as his mistakes. After the complete annihilation of Josephus' army and the capture of Josephus himself, John becomes convinced that the only way to fight the Romans is through guerilla warfare--a run `n' gun sort of deal. He was right and became both famous and feared throughout the Roman empire. But his most important victory came in single combat with Titus, Vespasian's son. Titus was the general who was laying siege to Jerusalem, and thus was very key to the Roman cause. John happened on Titus alone in a mountain pass. Titus had ridden out ahead of his escort and John was scouting. Science has shown that when a Jewish rebel and a Roman general happen upon each other in a mountain pass, fighting is usually the result. Such was the case with John and Titus. The bout went in John's favor, but instead of killing Titus he made him swear that he would do anything in his power to spare Jerusalem. Titus did so, but at that point Titus' escort caught up with him, and John was captured. John's wounds were tended in the Roman camp, and he was released. But before he left, Titus gave him his own signet ring and told him that if he was ever in trouble to show it and he would receive an immediate audience with him.
We now jump a bit into the future. John is in Jerusalem, and the city is as good as sacked. Titus' army has the Jews backed into the Temple and Herod's palace. He gave the Jews every opportunity to surrender, but they weren't having any. At this point John decides that escape is a good idea, and he makes the attempt. After a series of interesting events he manages to get out of Jerusalem. But Murphy's Law, being just as much a part of life then as it is now, saw to it that he would run into a band of slavers, be captured and sold into slavery. At this point Titus' ring comes in handy. Titus frees John and sets him up as a magistrate in his old province. Things brighten up a bit for poor John, and the story ends.
Both of these books were interesting reads. Henty imparts a good background understanding of the times through his stories, and anyone who reads them will understand, possibly for the first time, exactly how the Romans sacked Jerusalem, or how they finally conquered the British. These are good books to get your kids reading.


 

Spurgeon V. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching

Iain Murray; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust
Reviewed by Douglas Wilson

This small book is well worth reading, but it is almost impossible to provide a traditional review of it, or even to identify the issues in this small space. Consequently, I will simply recommend this book, along with another one (David Engelsma's Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel), and then offer just a few general comments for the reader to take with him as he sorts this controversy out.

Almost no one understands what genuine hyper-Calvinism is, and as a result the possibilities for serious confusion are great. The popular understanding of hyper-Calvinism is the condition of someone who is a die-hard five pointer, thought to be hyper simply because he is staunch. But a more sophisticated misunderstanding of hyper-Calvinism is what Murray may show in this book. A hyper here is one who denies what has come to be called the "well-meant offer" of salvation to the reprobate. Murray calls Spurgeon's handling of 1 Tim. 2:3-4 "one of the principal issues relating to the Hyper-Calvinistic controversy." Unfortunately, if we follow Murray's inference here and say that to differ with Spurgeon on this text makes one hyper, then Calvin himself was a hyper-Calvinist, which was no doubt hard for him to do.
The one who would investigate the backwaters of this controversy would do well to take a map with him. Probably the best way to identify true hyper-Calvinism is through its teaching that the nonelect do not have a duty to repent and believe, and that the preacher of the gospel should only address his call to repentance and belief to those who already have exhibited some sign of regeneration already. So Engelsma and others in the Protestant Reformed Churches who deny the "well-meant offer" are not hyper, and, at least as far as their soteriology goes, they have the best of the biblical argument. But Murrary has a better understanding of the broader biblical tone, which he wants to see preserved in the preaching of the gospel. He is not trying to deny the truths of particular grace; he is trying to do justice to all the Scripture, which includes God's clear redemptive love for the world. But his solution, which says that God extends a sincere offer of salvation to the reprobate, is not really a solution. The Protestant Reformed Churches have added to the confusion by closing off the only real way to reconcile these two positions--and that, oddly enough, is through their committed amillennial stance. In a nutshell, amillennial Calvinism, so long as it remains consistently both, cannot do justice to the many passages which promise universal salvation for the world. With the Bible speaking the way it does, amillennialism presents a constant temptation to slip into Arminian reconciliations. So along with these two books, better read Ken Gentry's The Greatness of the Great Commission.

Back to top
Back to Table of Contents


 
Copyright © 2012 Credenda/Agenda. All rights reserved.