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Volume 9, Issue 5: Ex Libris

The Art of Rhetoric

Peter E. Medine, ed.; Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994
Reviewed by Chris Schlect

Thomas Wilson's The Arte of Rhetorique was the greatest treatment of the subject to issue from Tudor England. The first edition appeared in 1553, written as the companion volume to the author's logic text, The Rule of Reason, which had appeared in 1551. Wilson wrote these works to fill a long-felt need to introduce such subjects into the vernacular. Both works were frequently reprinted throughout Wilson's lifetime.

Thomas Wilson was a learned English gentleman. He was trained in humanities at Cambridge, achieved mastery of English Common Law, was seated in Parliament, and eventually became principal secretariat of the privy council under Elizabeth I. In 1554 the protestant Wilson fled England and the Marian persecutions. While away, he acquired sufficient legal knowledge to plead in the papal court. This infuriated Queen Mary and her privy council. The Roman Inquisition arrested, imprisoned, and tortured him in 1558, having deemed his works on logic and rhetoric to be heretical. He owes his escape to a rioting Italian mob, and he returned to a safer England under Elizabeth I.
Until the present edition, Wilson's Arte has been available to us only in facsimile. I once tried to work through it but grew tired of straining at the crude font in--worse still--a borrowed copy. Peter Medine has provided a great service in making Wilson's important work accessible once again. Medine offers thirty pages of helpful introduction, and in back he attaches sixty pages of notes and commentary, followed by a glossary. The commentary is helpful to the specialist, for it provides references for Wilson's allusions, and points out parallels to the great texts of classical rhetoric.
Wilson's approach to his subject is plainly Ciceronian. He freely cites Cicero, the Rhetorica ad Herennium, and Quintilian, and follows their basic scheme for rhetoric. Readers who know the great Roman rhetoricians will find much familiar material here. But Wilson abundantly provides what modern teachers of Classical Rhetoric sparingly receive from the classical writers: illustration and application for our modern world. For example, Wilson moves deliberative oratory beyond the legislative assembly, where the ancients had relegated it, out to where it belongs: to deliberation in all matters. He writes, "The whole compass of this [deliberative] cause is either to advise our neighbor to that thing which we think most needful for him, or else to call him back from that folly which hindereth much his estimation" (p. 70). Thus, deliberative oratory is useful not only in statecraft; it is used to persuade a young man to study abroad, or even to take a wife.
Some Rhetoric instructors may want to replace Wilson's treatise for the Ad Herennium as a student text (just as many Protestant Rhetoric teachers did in sixteenth-century England). I can't make so bold a move, but my own study of The Art of Rhetoric prepares me to teach the Ad Herennium more effectively. This title is a classic. Without it, teachers and intermediate students aren't ideally prepared.


The Arrogance of the Modern: Historical Theology Held in Contempt

David W. Hall; Oak Ridge, TN: The Calvin Institute, 1997
Reviewed by Douglas Jones

Some sage once observed that Christianity is a religion about remembering. David Hall's The Arrogance of the Modern is a wonderful exposition of the power of history--the power of remembering--for living in the present. He concludes the book with, "There is a definite tendency, once one abandons the lessons of the past, to be quite prolific in mistakes in other areas as well. Forsaking the past may generate more blindness than truth."

But Hall isn't interested in encouraging just more historical studies for the purpose of general education. He's interested in history for ethics; he's interested in allowing history, especially the Christian fathers, to stand as authoritative overseers of current thought. And his chief enemy is modernity--"these essays call thinking Christians back, back to ancientism or paleo-orthodoxy. If we find that essentially we are fighting the same battles, then ought we not link arms with these great paleo-soldiers who have battled so heroically?" Hall's book focuses on fighting modern idols in theology and politics, though it's easy to guess extensions to other areas of life.
Over recent years, Hall's exposition of paleo-orthodoxy has coincided nicely with what Credenda calls Medieval Protestantism, though the two notions arose quite independently. That's interesting and encouraging in itself. And other Protestants are walking in similar paths. Pastors especially should read this book.
You can find out more about the Center for the Advancement of Paleorthodoxy and its e-journal Premise via the web at:


Special Notice!
More than a reader or two have perhaps noticed that we generally take a critical stand toward modern evangelicalism and its publishing ways. Lest anyone think that we delight only in being negative, we wanted to make a point to commend and praise that which deserves it. Philip Johnson's latest book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds is simply first rate, and we recommend it highly. Related to this, we also wanted to go on the record in praising InterVarsity Press for their willingness to publish a Christian book.

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