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This is the electronic edition of Per Hasle, "Telling Truth or Time: Cicero, St. Paul and St. Jerome",  Workpaper 76-99, Center for Kulturforskning, Aarhus Universitet, Aarhus 1999.

The pagination of the printed edition is indicated by red numbers marking the beginning of the page.

Electronic ISBN: 87-7725-248-9

Electronically published June 25, 1999 

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Per F. V. Hasle

Telling Truth or Time

Cicero, St. Paul and St. Jerome.

An Essay in the Relation between a Rhetorical and an Early Christian Conception of Truth and Communication

For Peter Øhrstrøm


But even from the point of view of a secular historian of ideas, the Christian and Catholic system, if not a revelation from God, is one of the most fascinating inventions of the human spirit; a construction erected by the best minds of many generations.

0. Preamble

This essay was written for an invited talk at the Seminar 'Time, Reality and Transcendence' at the University of Aalborg, March 19-21, 1999. From the seminar invitation I quote:[1]

The focus at this seminar will be the relation between modern science and basic Christian beliefs. Questions like the following will be discussed during the seminar:

• What is the relation between 'reality as conceived within a Christian framework' and the world-view(s) which modern science calls for, or seems to call for?

• ...

• Is Christian ethics relevant in a secular society?


Thus it was an obvious task to address various issues in relation to religion and Christianity. Most speakers did so from a determined apologetic point of view. This paper, however, is by no means apologetic, even though Christian apologists may find herein an observation on what I believe to be a decisive    


hermeneutical condition for their endeavours. In my essay I investigate the following questions:

1) what a rhetorical conception of comprehension could be said to consist in,

2) how a "rhetorical relativism" stands to ideas of fixity of meaning, absolute truth, and the idea of a privileged Mythos,

3) what a "rhetorical answer" to the charge of so-called performative inconsistency might be,

4) how Roman Rhetoric met with early Christianity, exemplified especially by the case of St. Jerome,

5) what points of difference, respectively contact, between Christianity and Rhetoric, this may leave us with in an increasingly rhetorical culture.

1. Introduction

'Time, Reality, and Transcendence' - one may well ask whether such a theme is not outdated, especially when an underlying theological and even Christian interest is evident, as I think can fairly be said about this seminar. At any rate, whether one accepts or rejects what has been called the postmodern condition, it is clear that some such phenomenon forms an actual cultural circumstance that should not be neglected in any such discussion.

Now postmodernity is a slippery notion, but as far as I can see there are two aspects of it:

1. A recognition that we now (in the Western world) definitively live in a pluralistic and relativistic culture,

2. The rejection of 'foundationalism' and/or the existence of absolute truths.

To (1), it must be added that this kind of relativism has only recently had its decisive breakthrough, and moreover, that the relativism and pluralism are now seen as irreversible. To    


(2) one could add a language theoretical observation, namely that the rejection of 'foundationalism' is deeply interwoven with a denial of the fixity of linguistic meaning.

Clearly, one could entertain one of these two tenets without holding the other; for the first aspect is rather a description of a cultural state, which may be accepted as correct without subscribing to the second tenet; and conversely, for that matter - one may accept (2) and yet believe that (1) is not - at least not yet - an adequate description.

Recently, the notion of 'postmodernity' has fallen into some disrepute - it has, as it were, succumbed to one of the phenomena that it itself has diagnosed and lived on, namely the ever-increasing speed of changing fashions and convictions. But in a way, that is a pity - for I do think that at the end of this century and millenium, something decisive has indeed happened, and that this prolonged event was rather nicely rendered or conceptualized by the idea of postmodernity - however much we may disagree with so-called postmodernism on some other points, to which I shall come back.

The happening to which I am referring is what should in my opinion above all be seen as a culmination and conclusion of secularization, or more specifically, the transition from the Christian era into a post-Christian era. It is certainly true that secularization has been going on for a long time, and that various forms of relativism have also been entertained for a long time. But the thinkers within modernity all took over a number of Christian tenets and sustained them in a secularized form; especially the idea of absolute truth. Moreover, such truth was seen as being far from evident, rather it had to be revealed - although not by divine revelation, but rather by diligent empirical work as well as theory-building. It is only very recently that relativism has truly become the order of the day.    


Now there is a remarkable analogy - almost a symmetry - between postmodernity and the pre-Christian Roman world. Certainly a number of postmodernists have themselves observed a similarity between their way of thinking and that classical Rhetoric, which in many ways formed the mind of the educated Roman citizen. Later, the basic ingredients of Rhetoric will be discussed, but there is one point that must be anticipated here: on a Roman rhetorical conception, different convictions - or narratives - are seen as a variety of different myths, none of which aspires to be the one true conception. Historians may warn us about going to far in comparing Roman mentality and convictions with present day discussions, but it is safe to say that the kind of rivalry later seen among different religious persuasions was by and large alien to the Romans. As we all know there was no demand that one religion - or any other kind of conviction - should be accepted as the truth (except for the political requirement that the Emperor must be worshipped). And the co-existence of many peoples, philosophies and religions apparently seemed to be a quite natural matter which did not call for deliberations on which way of living and what kind of conviction was the true one.

The breakthrough of Christianity within this cultural setting ushered in a new idea of there being one and absolute truth - a particular and priviliged myth, as a rhetorician might have put it. The story of St. Jerome is very telling in this connection. A famous church father and a rhetorically educated Roman, he himself experienced this intense conflict. We shall come back to his story in detail later.

So, to put it in a crude form, we may depict the symmetry between the advent of Christianity and the "postmodern" transition into a post-Christian era as follows:    




--- Roman Empire till ca. 300 A.D. (pluralism) .



--- Christianity 300 - 1999 .



--- "postmodern"/Post-Christian Era

2000 -- (relativism)



There is one more introductory remark to be made, but in this context it must be brief. The idea of absolute truth is interwoven with another idea, that of the "fixity of meaning". The latter idea was almost always implicit in various forms of foundationalist thought, and often not recognized at all, but it seems to be an integral part of both theory and practice within foundationalist theorizing. In our century, Wittgenstein in his Tractatus, Chomsky with his Transformational Grammar, and Montague with his Logic Grammar all tried to make systematical sense of the idea of "fixity of meaning". I do think that all these attempts have decisively failed, but I hasten to add that in my opinion they were all of outstanding intellectual merit. For it was exactly because they realized and systematized common-place assumptions about language that the impossibility of the foundationalist programme for the semantics of natural language could become clear. In spite of this intellectual merit, the outcome was from their own points of view disenchanting: these theories build upon the sands of notions such as 'atomic proposition', or 'deep structure'. Of course, something at least resembling such units does exist within formal logic, but in natural language, they have proved to be utterly elusive.[2]    


The failure of these "semantic foundationalism" programmes has largely been recognized by their progenitors themselves. But it must be added that the failure is only obvious in so far as these programmes are seen as attempts at a faithful empirical description of language. The experience is, in short, that from an empirical study of language no fixed foundation, no deep structure, no atomic propositions are seen to exist. However, there is a deeply entrenched imagination in Western thought that understanding and communication would be impossible without reference to a common foundation. So there could be another way out, a "Platonistic" way. For it might be assumed that atomic propositions, deep structures or whatever are objective ideal entities, which sometimes occur or manifest themselves in language use, making it rational and intersubjective in these cases. On this account, logic is not something that can be "extracted" empirically out of language, it is the other way round: logic exists, a priori and objectively, and language may sometimes be used accordingly, and sometimes not. Indeed the continued insistence on a semantic foundation, in view of the failure to establish it empirically, reintroduces metaphysics to the point of looking almost as a "proof of God". This has not gone unobserved - one of the greatest semanticists within Transformational Grammar, Jerrold J. Katz, could in 1971 make the following observation (at at time where the empirical claims of Transformational Grammar were becoming problematic, but where work and hopes within the paradigm were still intense):

There is a rather ironic turn of events in store for philosophy... We may see the philosophies of language of Logical Empiricism and Ordinary Language Philosophy replaced by a philosophy of language... concerned with uncovering properties of knowledge and mind on the basis of philosophically relevant aspects of the underlying relity of natural languages. If this happens, the linguistic turn taken by philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century will have turned back on itself, reintroducing the very metaphysical issues whose banishment from philosophy was initially proclaimed    


as the rationale for the turn to linguistic philosophy. (Katz 1971, p. 189)

For further discussion on this subject I must, however, refer to other works;[3] I mention it because that rhetorical conception of comprehension that will now be discussed is exactly an anti-thesis to the idea of the "fixity of meaning".

2. Rhetoric

In trying to make clear what kind of insight into language meaning and language comprehension Rhetoric brings about, I shall be highly selective. First, in the context of this paper it is of course impossible to give a thorough introduction to Rhetoric in general. I shall focus only on those aspects that seem to me to be immediately relevant for my general purpose. Which is to show how the rhetorical conception has crucial - and admittedly controversial - implications for the notion of language understanding and text interpretation, and how this may relate to Christian thought as seen through St. Jerome and St. Paul. Secondly, I shall focus on what may be called Ciceronian Rhetoric, and in so doing I shall be heavily indebted to one particular work, namely the 1995-volume An Ideal Critic by Karsten Hvidtfelt Nielsen, a book, which is to a great extent an interpretation of Cicero's main rhetorical work, his Orator.

For rather obvious reasons Classical Rhetoric was concerned especially with the speech, and preoccupied in particular with political speeches and speeches in courts of law. But clearly the deliberations on these subjects carry over to quite general questions of how to investigate an issue, how to present it and, perhaps most importantly in our context, what a process of comprehension may be said to consist in. I shall stick to the conventional terms and examples, but bear in mind that the deliberations have far wider implications than simply the speech etc. In general, speech should be understood as any kind of exposition.    


Quaestio, Oratio, Mythos

In Roman Rhetoric, the speech was seen not as the stream of words emitted by some speaker, and not even primarily the meaning which could be attributed to those words, but rather as an inseparable unity of three elements: some issue, the speaker, and an audience. The process of making a speech involves a process of investigating the issue at hand, which in fact also involves the idea of comprehending the issue - indeed it implies a whole theory of comprehension.

The process is described as a quest - Quaestio, centered upon available documentation about the issue in question, i.e. the domain at hand. The domain was thus seen as constituted not by indisputable facts, but rather what was called endoxa,[4] that is, generally accepted propositions on the relevant issues. A quaestio by its very nature deals with some controversial issue, i.e. some case on which there is no universal agreement beforehand. Nevertheless, when building an argued position, one should in general base one's case on what is already well documented, and accepted in general as facts. This means not least that the person who examines the case should be well informed about the endoxa - documents, law, testimonies, theories related to the issue, and so forth. On the other hand, it has to be realized that the process of examination is highly selective. Having a purpose, for instance that of defending an accused person in court, one would have to select some recognized facts at the expense of others. Moreover, as soon as one has selected some statements on which to focus, a pattern will begin to form. That pattern will influence the further process of investigation, itself in the next steps of the investigation giving more relevance to some facts than to others.

This idea is nicely rendered in Cicero's De Oratore, where one of the characters, the lawyer Antonius, describes his rhetorical quest when asked to take a case, as follows:    


...when [my client] has departed, in my own person and with perfect impartiality I play three characters, myself, my opponent and the arbitrator [De O. 2,120] Succinctly, the quote points out three thing: first the plain observation that a case has several sides to it, and allows for different interpretations, or narrations. Secondly, there is a call for a disciplined and instructed search: one should not rush to conclusions, but should try one's own arguments in a critical process. This refines and partly leads the quaestio, and perhaps serves to illustrate how the search is not an arbitrary thing, but contributes to constructing a pattern, determined by one's own purpose as well as by possible objections to it. Thirdly, and more implicitly, there is an ethical demand associated with this picture: for if one ends up finding the possible narrations by one's opponent and the resulting images in the eyes of the arbitrator, or audience, more persuasive, than one should not take the case. That is, the lawyer or any other rhetorician should never adopt a case in which he does not believe. If the lawyer believes that the better argument is in fact that the client's claim is invalid, he should not take the case. Or in other words, on a Ciceronian conception of Rhetoric it is not a discipline concerned with how to best achieve persuasio, persuasion - or simply to manipulate others, as the detractors of Rhetoric might describe it. Its insights may be abused for such purposes, but so may an insight into, say, formal logic, or traditional grammar.

So far it should be clear that in investigating a certain case with a certain purpose, one is not simply finding the truth. Indeed, one is not even in principle trying to find the truth. Rather, one is constructing a narration - in Greek, a Mythos - which is only one among many possible ones. And even on its own terms - that is, when that narration has been chosen and hence is tentatively regarded as the most plausible one at hand - the narration is not a picturing of incontrovertible facts, but a rendering of established documentation. (In some    


cases, though, it may of course be necessary to attack already formed opinions and assumed truths, but that only calls for an even higher degree of involving still more documentation.) It is quite clear that this conception implies a kind of relativism, but it is a relativism which is in some senses very moderate. Let us recapitulate the major concepts so far:

1. The speech (oratio), as a unity of speaker, issue, and audience

2. The quaestio, as the constructive process of investigation

3. The domain (theme, issue), as an open-ended set of endoxa

4. The Mythos (narratio, fabula), as the selective but well-informed and arguable point of view of the issue at hand (which is the same thing as a comprehension of the issue).

The relativism consists mainly in these two points: 1) the notion that the investigative process is constructive, in its pattern-forming selection and its purpose-oriented character,[5] - the term Mythos spells this out very well - and 2) the idea that even the 'facts' selected are not absolute events and relationships in the world, but rather accepted opinions (even when these are seen to be accepted for very good reasons). Thus there is no absolute grounding of any narrative.

On the other hand, the relativism is tempered by at least two demands: firstly, by the demand that one must be disciplined and well-informed, and secondly, by an ethical demand that one does not deliberately manipulate in order to conform to the purpose of the investigation. Moreover, the crucial role attributed to text and documentation should not be identified with a well-known radical postmodern claim, that "everything is text" - or, speaking with Baudrillard, that reality can not be pictured, because reality itself is nothing more than these pictures [1996]. The idea that a domain consists of endoxa does not necessarily imply - indeed I am convinced that for instance Cicero would have thought no such thing - that no extralinguistic reality exists. But it does say that texts and our readings of text are not picturings of reality, but a    


constructive and selective and interpretative process, for which no absolute decidability procedure exists or even could exist.

Logos, ethos, pathos

In relation to the audience the speaker has three tasks or duties, his so-called offices (officia), known as logos, ethos, and pathos. These three duties or functions throw further light on the rhetorical conception. The logos-function of the speech basically consists in instructing the audience about the relevant facts and their logical relations - i.e., in giving information on the case, structured in a coherent manner. The logos-function also demands consistency and coherence within the speech. In Latin, this obligation of the logos-function is also called 'docere', to instruct when giving a speech.

The pathos-function is a demand that to some degree the speech should also relate to the emotions of the audience, and induce appropriate feelings into it - as when a lawyer calls for sympathy with a defendant, or a politician tries to stir our conscience in some matter. The obligation of the speaker is here to move his audience, in Latin permovere. It is the function that most easily lends itself to abuse and manipulation, and whose role within the overall rhetorical conception has contributed to its sometimes bad reputation. It is true that Rhetoric is concerned also with how to make speech persuasive, and therefore inevitably has a place for the role of emotional influence. (Although as mentioned before with ethical constraints on this objective.) However, the pathos-function is also cultivated out of a wider acceptance of human emotion as a valid part of human recognition. With the ideal of pure, disinterested and objective recognition - a hallmark of early modernity - such an idea of course becomes suspect.

Thirdly, there is the ethos-function. This is arguably the crucial function in Rhetoric, or at any rate in Ciceronian    


Rhetoric, but it is also the one which is hardest to explain. The obligation can be initially described as an obligation to delight one's audience - in Latin delectare. Thus a certain immediate rapport between the speaker and his audience should be established. But in fact that rapport also comprises the matter at hand. For another way of describing this function is to say that the speaker must be, or become, plausible. And this involves his own good faith in his own narration, or point of view. Plausibility in it full sense is not something that one can achieve by skilful deception. We have seen that the rhetorician must be fully aware

(1) that one undertakes an investigation and constructs a speech with a purpose - in truth with a partial purpose,

(2) that one goes about this in a highly selective manner, and

(3) that it results in a narration, which is just one out of many possible ones.

Such relativistic awareness notwithstanding, one's case can only be put ethically if one can oneself truly stand up for it and believe in it. We have already seen this with the lawyer Antonius. Another way of putting it is this:

... the consummate - and efficient - speaker never tries to prevail upon his audience unless stirred himself "by the very feelings to which" he is "seeking to prompt them". He will adopt the case of another person, shape his speech and self accordingly, and perform in a way which has no use for or any similarity to "make-believe and trickery" [Nielsen 95, p. 31]

So the ethos-function requires three things: firstly, honesty, that is, good faith in your own speaking. Secondly, the rhetorical awareness of all those relativizing aspects just mentioned, that is, the recognition of the relativity of one's own narration. Such awareness gives rise to openness, to possible dialogue, and to tolerance. And thirdly, there is one more thing: a devotion to one's audience, that is, respect and commitment. Therefore, persuasio is not the ultimate goal of the rhetorician's speaking. Rather, the goal is in general to put    


one's case as well as possible and so to establish a dialogue, hopefully leading to the enrichment of everybody's understanding - and, by the corrections received through a dialogue, to the future improvement of the speaker's own performance.[6]

Actually, the role of the ethos-function establishes yet another striking analogue between Rhetoric and postmodernity, or if you prefer it, the modern media society. Personal plausibility has become a crucial parameter on a par with one's informedness and actual argumentation. Quite a few deplore this as a decline in rationality, a "closing of the Western mind". But whatever one thinks of it, it seems to be an inevitable consequence of developments within recent years, and rhetorical thought provides a systematical role for it. Observe also, however, how remote the rhetorical ethics is from a postmodern relativism, wherein "anything goes". Neither ethos nor logos would allow any such thing. But one might ask, of course: after all, why not? If knowledge is insecure and any narration relative, why must one accept some kind of ethics? To reflect on this crucial question we shall in due course bring in some observations on St. Jerome and St. Paul. But first, let us recapitulate what further concepts have been discussed:

logos, the task of instructing (docere)

pathos, the task of appealing to emotions (permovere)

ethos, the task of delighting (delectare), and the obligation to be plausible.

Together with the notions of Quaestio, Mythos and Speech as a unity of speaker, audience and theme, this makes up a certain idea of 'comprehension'.[7] For not only the making of a speech, but also the process of investigation and the process of comprehending the speech by and large follow the same principles: all of them are selective, constructive, and involve rationality, emotionality and ethics.[8] As for the audience, it should be noted that it need not be a present audience of listeners - it can be intended, actual, or indirect as when you    


write a book or design a multi-mediasystem. It can even be oneself, when one is having a conversation with oneself - the conversio ad se - for instance, when one is forming an image or ideal of oneself, which we intend others and in particular ourselves to adopt. The bottom-line in our context is this: comprehension is not the uncovering, or the grasping of some absolute truth. (Not even in the more cautious sense of fallibilism, where truth is assumed to exist, but where some uncertainty must always be allowed for due to human fallibility.) Rather,

comprehension is a constructive and creative act to the point of dissolving all inherent demarcations between meanings past and present, alien and proper... [Nielsen 95, p. 91]    

3. Perspectives: temporality and internalism

There are two aspects of the rhetorical conception of comprehension or meaning that should be noted.

Firstly, it is what one may call an "internalist" conception.[9] It is true that the rhetorician would in many cases not hesitate to consider one speech superior to another one. But the truth value, the ethical value, and the beauty of a speech are intrinsic values to that speech, not something that can be decided by referring to any kind of external entities or objective procedures. That does not mean that the way in which a speech - or a theory, or a story, or an argument - is evaluated is radically subjective. But it does mean that the evaluation would itself have to be argued and put forth subject to exactly the same rhetorical uncertainties as that which is being evaluated.

This leads on directly to the second point, the essentially temporal character of the rhetorical conception. "Meaning", in so far as we stick to this conventional term, is not a fixed entity. It is something that happens in time, as it were -    


subject to an ongoing negotiation, interpretation and reinterpretation.[10] The constructive character of comprehension implies

...the idea that understanding does not iterate or depurate a former meaning but "adds it own" to the extent of effacing any effective demarcation between meaning and actio [Nielsen 95, p. 69]

There is an interesting and striking similarity between these two points about Ciceronian rhetoric and Arthur N. Prior's tense logic. Prior considered the modalities, especially the tenses, to be primitive and irreducible. Thus a "statement" like for instance Fp is according to Prior not to be understood as:

$ t. now < t & p(t).[11]

The latter expression involves the idea of time as objective entities, " t's that can be quantified over". However, according to Prior such objective time entities do not exist. The latter formula should be understood in terms of the former, Fp, and temporal entities should be seen as conceptual constructions out of temporal modalities.[12]

This is a conception of time which can be described as understanding time "from within", rather than with any reference to external entities ("from without"). Moreover, in tense logic all propositions are considered to be "tensed"; that is, all "meaning" is temporal, albeit perhaps in a sense which is more restricted than the rhetorical idea I have here tried to espouse. On the other hand, Prior's view that all propositions are tensed (including the propositions of logic and mathematics, such as 2 + 2 = 4) is truly a radical one. The question about which kind of formula is more basic:    

Fp or $t. now < t & p(t).

may at first glance seem rather hair-splitting, but it is not: Prior's view is a breach with a very long atemporal tradition within logic, and a radically new conception of both time and logic.    


It is true that Prior might not have been happy to be involved as a witness for Rhetoric, at least not in its full implications, but that is not the point.[13] The point in the current context - and given that our theme is 'Time, Reality, and Transcendence' - is twofold:

1) There is not necessarily an opposition between logic and rhetoric, even if there exists an ancient quarrel between them. This may allay some of the worst fears among logicians that Rhetoric invites imprecision and intellectual irresponsibility. And conversely, it may open the eyes of rhetoricians to some surprising potentials of logic.

2) What an "internalist" conception of meaning really says is hard to grasp under the weight of a massive foundationalist tradition. But tense logic provides a lovely example of an "internalist" conception, at least with respect to time. It is inscribed into the logical tradition but without being foundationalist; that is, the logic of time should not be understood by reference to any external (and un-tensed) reality.[14]

The attempt at approximating tense logic and Rhetoric would, in my opion, further the internalist project of Prior and enhance the understanding of Rhetoric. But the radically temporal character of Rhetoric could also be taken in an opposite direction: it was indeed used in a "postmodernist argument" by Paul de Man in his famed paper 'The Rhetoric of Temporality' [de Man 1971]. Herein he argued that the temporality of understanding actually meant that rationality - and communication, for that matter - were mere illusions. Along with these theses he put forth a postmodern reading of Rhetoric, which may in my view form an obstacle to understanding what the rhetorical conception of comprehension means.

The difference between "postmodernism" and Rhetoric is this, in a nutshell: according to postmodernism, all narratives are equally good, equal in value (or equally worthless). According    


to Rhetoric, this is certainly not the case: some narratives are better than other, aesthetically, ethically and alethically (i.e. with respect to truth). On the other hand, Rhetoric agrees with postmodernity 1) that there is no single privileged narrative (or equally, there is no one absolutely adequate narrative); and moreover, 2) there is no absolute grounding of, or foundation for, any narrative.  

4. The performative consistency problem

It has just been accepted that for Rhetoric, some narratives are better than other ones, aesthetically, ethically and alethically. But how can one assess the relative values among narratives? How can it be maintained that one narrative is superior to another one, in one or more respects - given that there is no absolute grounding, or other objective methods of comparison? In short, if one speech is deemed superior to another one, is that not like saying or presupposing that some fixed standards must, after all, be available? And hence, is the rhetorician when making such judgments not being inconsistent in a manner much like the Daddy in a cartoon aggressively shouting "I am not the least excited"? The point is, of course, that there seems to be an inconsistency between what you say and your actual performance - what you do by saying it. Much like somebody trying to communicate that all communication is in reality impossible. For these reasons this kind of tension is often called performative inconsistency.

The performative consistency argument is in fact the basis of a standard argument against all kinds of relativistic conceptions, and you see it in many varied forms. Its bottom-line is in any case that any assertion of relativism is necessarily "performatively inconsistent."

I think that the argument is in fact a serious objection to postmodernist thinkers. Some of these, when charged with "performative inconsistency", openly answer along lines like these:    


"yes, we are inconsistent in this manner, but that is simply the result of the weight of a massive foundationalist tradition. We are so tied up with this tradition that we can only speak and even think within it, when trying to promote our relativist ideas aimed at bringing us out of it. So yes, we are contradicting ourselves. That can not be helped, there is no other way to express our point."

Such an answer would, however, be contrary to the ideals of Rhetoric. It violates the requirement of speaking in compliance with the demands of logos, and worse still, it is unethical to the extent that it is intellectually implausible - at any rate, unsatisfactory. From a rhetorical position, there are some more qualified answers to the charge of being performatively inconsistent.

A standard riposte against the charge of performative inconsistency is this: the objection raised is (a priori) based on that assumption of fixity of meaning, which it is designed to defend (a posteriori) (defend indirectly, by dismantling its adversary). That seems to me to be an obvious point of departure also for a good rhetorical answer, but it is not fully satisfactory by itself; it must be supplemented.

Let us look more carefully at the argument: when the rhetorician considers one speech to be more plausible than another one - or let us just go all the way and say truer than another one, is he not after all reintroducing some foundation, although unwillingly? Indeed, when he considers for instance a report on some event to be actually true - and without doubt he sometimes does so - is he not reintroducing a belief in correspondence, and hence also, some fixity of meaning?

Here it should be noted that if one reinstates 'fixity' and foundationalism on these grounds, then that whole process that lead to their abandonment is bound to start all over again. That is, all the objections which foundationalism is bound to raise, and which lead from semantic foundationalism to    


rhetorical relativism could be repeated, landing us again in the latter. Whereafter the charge about performative inconsistency could be raised again, and so on infinitely. That situation, however, is far more destructive for the foundationalist than for the rhetorician. An ongoing process as sketched here is almost rhetorical in nature, whereas it is completely irreconcilable with the aspirations of any kind of foundationalism. For its' very purpose is to find that which is absolute and in so far ends discussion, at least in principle.[15] What becomes evident here is a basic asymmetry between Rhetoric and semantic foundationalism. They are not just two different conceptions on a par, one of which may be right, and the other one wrong. They are, in a sense, incomparable (if you will forgive this slight performative inconsistency from my side, since I have been comparing them for quite some time by now).

Perhaps an example would be helpful. Wittgenstein realized a number of grave objections to the kind of foundationalism represented in his Tractatus. He conceived instead the notion of language games, and rejected the Tractatus-ideas. Language games were seen as utterly relativistic and undecidable. Therefore, the things that Wittgenstein said about language games could, by an argument similar to the 'performative inconsistency' argument, not itself be a "language game" in the same sense - after all, here was something that Wittgenstein considered to be right. But if that observation leads back to Tractatus-like ideas, then evidently these ideas are now subject to that criticism, which lead to their rather conclusive downfall, and to language games. As already argued, such a pattern undermines the principal goals of foundationalism.

What underlies the charge of performative inconsistency against Rhetoric is, as I see it, an incapability to imagine or to grasp that anything can be right at all without being so in virtue of some other thing; an almost obsessive compulsive idea within the history of Western thought that truth can only exist in virtue of something else. (And similarly, that    


communication presupposes some underlying semantical system, beyond Speaker and Hearer themselves.)

On this point the example set by Priorean tense logic is a useful demonstration to the effect that this intuition is dispensable. Of course, Prior in this case deals specifically with time, and nothing else, but his approach can illustrate a general internalist conception. Within his rigorous and formal strand of thought, time is understood from within and is not defined in terms of anything else. In an analogous way one may try to think of truth, and even ethics and aesthetics, as internal to the speech.

Another version of the performative inconsistency argument, directed against relativism in general, is this: the relativist rejects absolutism. But by his own hypothesis, his arguments are relative. Hence, in the very least he must concede that the absolutist can be right. (And hence, there is probably something wrong with his arguments, since they for these reasons must be said to fail to invalidate absolutism.) When directed against an aggressive and over-confident relativism, I do think that the argument carries some weight. But against the more benign scepticism of Rhetoric, I hope that the above discussion has already given some idea about what is wrong with this otherwise persuasive thought: the argument foregoes a basic asymmetry between the two kinds of thought involved, and it completely depends on a presupposition of fixed foundation.

In an interview some time ago, Richard Rorty defended the idea that concepts such as truth, nature, and rationality would eventually lose their fundamental role within Western thought [Rorty 1997]. Rorty makes a provocative comparison: till less than one hundred years ago, practically any philosopher felt obliged to relate to the concept of God, even if his own philosophy was very remote from, or contrary to, Christian theism. The point was not that this was expected in those days, but rather that the concept of God was seen to be of crucial philosophical importance. Well, those times are over,    


and most present-day philosophers happily go about their business without any notion of having to relate to God, whether positively or negatively. Only thinkers "of particular interests" still devote significant work to the concept of God. In a sense, then, according to Rorty the question about God has disappeared rather than been settled. The present-day rhetorician may expect something similar to happen for the twin ideas of the fixity of meaning and absolute truth.[16]

Indeed the problem of absolute foundation versus Rhetoric and related conceptions does not have to do only with 'truth'. Rorty's observations may be followed up by pointing out a phenomenon from the realm of ethics. Until not very long ago, it was thought that the eclipse of religion would mean the erosion of ethics and morals. In fact, also devout atheists were truly worried about this. This thought is obviously related to the other kind of foundationalism: that for something to have validity and viability, there must be some fixed foundation. In the case of ethics, this has arguably proved wrong. Similarly, and in line with Rorty's observation, it will probably show that there can well be truth and talk of truth without there being any foundation in the traditional sense for it.

My goal so far has been to show that the charge of performative inconsistency does not etablish any conclusive evidence against the rhetorical type of relativism. It is not irrelevant, though - on the contrary, it helps bring out some essential features of the rhetorical conception. Nevertheless, that is not the same thing as saying that this defence of Rhetoric and its particular kind of relativism settles all questions. Indeed the internalist view may leave us with a rather difficult question, which I shall try to elucidate below, with reference to St. Jerome and St. Paul.    


5. Cicero, St. Paul and St. Jerome: Christianity and Rhetoric revisited

With the rejection of foundationalism and the moderately relativistic outlook of Rhetoric depicted so far, we can now turn our attention to its role when faced with Christianity.

St. Jerome's story tells us about a formidable obstacle which early Christianity faced. An obstacle, with which Christianity or any other belief in absolute truth again finds itself confronted: the rejection of the claim of the privileged myth. It may be added that such rejection is not necessarily a consequence of a conscious relativistic stance: the idea of any privileged myth seems to be again acquiring a quality of being highly implausible (perhaps almost unintelligible) to modern, or postmodern, men and women.

St. Jerome (ca. 347-420) was the principal translator of the first complete Latin version of the Bible which was based directly on the available original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, known as Vulgata, or the Vulgate.

Jerome was actually born into a Christian family, but the chief influence on him as a young man - in fact even while he was still a boy - was the spirit and learning of Roman Rhetoric, and in particular, of Cicero's writings. When he was about twelve years old, he went to Rome from his native city of Stridon in Illyria. In Rome he was educated by the famous - and non-Christian - Grammarian Donatus. He read the Greek and Roman classics, and the spirit of Roman Rhetoric - and again, not least that of Cicero - permeated his entire education, as he himself was to make very clear later on. He was in fact baptized during this period of his life, but it was only some years later, while he was staying in Trier, that he experienced a personal conversion to Christianity. He became a monk and was also later ordained as a priest, but I shall leave aside all further details of his turbulent life. What concerns us here is the struggle he had in both combining his Ciceronian background    


with his Christian faith and at the same time separating them from one another. For, as we have already noted, the idea of a privileged myth is alien to Rhetoric, or in the very least highly mystical from a rhetorical point of view.[17] Christianity came into the Roman world with exactly such a claim of being the truth, the one and only valid Mythos. And moreover, the Bible could have only one true interpretation, regardless of how much it was debated exactly what this interpretation should be (a discussion still going on, as everybody knows).

Roughly one could say that as a translator Jerome stuck with Cicero, while spiritually he eventually rejected him. In his letter (57) to Pammachius on the best method of translating, De optimo genere interpretandi, Jerome states his adherence to Cicero:

I not only confess but freely profess that in the rendering of Greek texts... I write not word for word but sense for sense. My authority in this matter is Cicero, who translated Plato's Protagoras, Xenophon's Oeconomicus and the two very beautiful speeches of Aeshines and Demosthenes against each other. This is not the moment to say how much in these works Cicero passed over, how much he added or how much he changed in order to explain the characteristics of the Greek in the idiom of the Latin. [Letter 57.5]

Obviously, St. Jerome is conscious of questions such as "how much in these works he passed over, how much he added or how much he changed". But that is not meant as an implicit criticism of Cicero's approach. On the contrary, these were liberties on which St. Jerome insisted, the liberty of addition or deletion, and for which he argued in the course of this letter. Even the name of the letter, De optimo genere interpretandi, is a clear allusion to Cicero's work De optimo genere oratorum.

Cicero had characterized his own work as a translator by stating that he himself translated not like an interpreter, but as an orator, a speaker - nec ut interpres, sed ut orator. [De Opt.]. What that means should be fairly clear by now: the    


translation process is constructive and imitative rather than a - more or less succesful - transfer of some absolute literal meaning. Similarly, Jerome argued not only that he was free to translate according to sense rather than 'literally' - ad sensum rather than ad verbum - but in fact, that it was necessary to do so. That is, that an attempt at literal meaning transfer would yield a distorted text.

Jerome also worked as a commentator on Biblical texts. In an apology for himself against charges raised in the books of Rufinus he describes the task of writing a commentary as a process of presenting and weighing opinions against each other, in a manner highly reminiscent of the rhetorical process of investigating an issue and making a speech:

We have to do now with Commentaries... what is the function of a Commentary? It is to interpret another man's words, to put into plain language what he has expressed obscurely. Consequently, it enumerates the opinions of many persons, and says, some interpret the passage in this sense, some in that; the one try to support their opinion and understanding of it by such and such evidence or reasons: so that the wise reader, after reading these different explanations, and having many brought before his mind for acceptance or rejection, may judge which is the truest, and, like a good banker, may reject the money of spurious mintage.

Is the commentator to be held responsible for all these different interpretations, and all these mutually contradicting opinions because he puts down the expositions given by many in the single work on which he is commenting?... Will you find fault with those who have commented on these writers because they have not held to a single explanation, but enumerate their own views and those of others on the same passage? ["Rufinus", BOOK I, 16]

In fact, at the very opening of St. Jerome's letter on the best method of translating, he calls on the authority of St. Paul, referring to Paul's own rhetorical practices as follows:    


The apostle Paul when he appeared before King Agrippa to answer the charges, which were brought against him, wishing to use language intelligible to his hearers and confident of the success of his cause, began by congratulating himself in these words: "I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused by the Jews: especially because thou art expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews." He had read the saying of Jesus: "Well is him that speaketh in the ears of them that will hear"; and he knew that a pleader only succeeds in proportion as he impresses his judge. [Letter 57.1]

On another famous occasion, when St. Paul gave his speech on Areopagus in Athens, he also used rhetorical insight and practice, when he began his speech as follows (Acts 17, verses 22f.):

22. ... Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

23. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, 'To the Unknown God'. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

Nevertheless, it could be argued that Paul sometimes characterized his own speech as almost the opposite thing of that rhetorical approach, which we have just seen attributed to him by St. Jerome, and which indeed seems sufficiently evident in the above examples. In 1. Corinthians, Chapter 2, verses 1-2, Paul says:

1. And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

2. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.    


But this apparent contradiction can be understood when taking seriously that what Paul preaches is not a doctrine, but a person - "Jesus Christ, and him crucified". On this point, a remarkable and unexpected kinship between Christian thought and the rhetorical conception of comprehension could actually be suggested; I shall soon elaborate this thought.

On the whole, the rhetorical influence on St. Jerome's work as a translator as well as a commentator does seem great. Nevertheless, since ideally the biblical texts have only one true interpretation, clearly a conflict is looming here. As already mentioned, this was evident even in his letter (57), where he acknowledged his debt to Cicero. The conflict was indeed clear to Jerome himself and caused a severe crisis, and he had a dream that dramatized the conflict. In his letter (22) to Eustochium, St. Jerome reports it like this:

And so, miserable man that I was, I would fast only that I might afterwards read Cicero. After many nights spent in vigil, after floods of tears called from my inmost heart, after the recollection of my past sins, I would once more take up Plautus. And when at times I returned to my right mind, and began to read the prophets, their style seemed rude and repellent. I failed to see the light with my blinded eyes; but I attributed the fault not to them, but to the sun.


Suddenly I was caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment seat of the Judge; and here the light was so bright, and those who stood around were so radiant, that I cast myself upon the ground and did not dare to look up. Asked who and what I was I replied: "I am a Christian." But He who presided said: "Thou liest, thou art a follower of Cicero and not of Christ. For 'where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.'" [Letter 22.30]

This dream had a profound impact upon St. Jerome, and caused him - apart from severe penitence - to become much more wary of influence from the rhetorical tradition upon his own    


thought. He nevertheless stuck to Ciceronian principles for translation.

Apart from the rude and repellent style of the prophets, Jerome experienced another and more daunting obstacle to fully accepting the Christian faith. The ultimate difficulty consisted in having to accept the idea of absolute truth, and of the one privileged Mythos. This obstacle is mirrored today in that resurging common scepticism, which seems to me epitomized in the postmodern critique of "grand narratives". Such scepticism comes in many shades and varying degrees, but I do think that a major shift towards a renewed rhetorical awareness is evident - and moreover, that it is probably irreversible. We may accept as a "diagnosis", then, that we live in a pluralistic and rhetorical society. But what about that other important claim that there is no fixity of meaning and no absolute truth?

If it is accepted that the charge of "performative inconsistency" is not a conclusive argument against the rhetorical conception, it can still be said that Rhetoric leaves us with a kind of question. For after all, the demand for consistency is not fully explained by saying that we must speak in compliance with the demands of logos. Which logos? Is it an arbitrary thing, or constructed in quite the same sense as the Mythos is constructed, as comprehension is constructed? Similarly, why or how can there be said to be an ethical demand involved with Rhetoric? If that demand is constructed, why should it be heeded, or why should it be privileged when compared with, say, Hitler's use of speech?

These observations are in my opinion entirely relevant, but they can not lead to the re-introduction of classical metaphysics or for that matter modernized versions of substance metaphysics. Then the whole story would repeat itself, at any rate a malign paradox for those who seek fixity - and that, of course, is what these kinds of metaphysics were thought to bring. It may be recalled, however, that in the rhetorical conception there is a kind of coherence, but it is a    


coherence from within. The coherence and sincerity of the speech can not be measured towards any objective external touchstone, but are intrinsic to the speech.[18] And it does seem, to me at any rate, that on this point we are brought to the brink of intelligibility of the rhetorical conception of comprehension - and of truth and of good.

Now there are some famous words by St. Paul which pertain to speech and communication, and which as I see it address this question about their curious intrinsic qualities. In 1. Corinthians, chapter 13, verses 1 ff., he writes:

1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling tymbal.

2. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

St. Paul here states a startling thought: even if informed by all earthly knowledge, and heavenly wisdom, speech without love is shallow. Or, if you allow for an even more far-reaching interpretation, the essence of communication is neither factuality nor for that matter beauty, but an ethical element - the utmost ethical element: love.[19]

Rhetoric, as will be recalled, calls for openness, tolerance, and devotion to the audience. But this could easily seem to be a mere postulate, conveniently aligning Rhetoric with cherished values. However, he or she who studies Rhetoric may experience a strange cogency about this rhetorical ethics. Similarly, she may experience a cogency about an argumentation, which appears to be over and above the consent of an audience - its coherence and its truthfulness.[20] This experience cannot be grounded by any procedure, but it does seem to call for a "content". For those willing to relate Christianity and Rhetoric to each other, this content may be    


identified with that essence of love, of which Paul speaks so beautifully in 1. Corinthians.

There remains, of course, a genuine difference between on one hand the rhetorical conception (as narrated here), and on the other hand the insistence upon absolute truth within the Christian tradition. But it may be that this claim derives from a misconception, namely that Christianity is a doctrinal system. Surely that conception is well entrenched within the Cristian tradition itself, but the Biblical texts also contain another line of thought, which is strangely kindred to a rhetorical conception.[21] In John, chapter 14, verse 6, Jesus says:    

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

On an immediate interpretation, this could be understood as a typical metaphor, a positive predication on Christ, to be taken in a "pictural sense". Thus, if we focus just on the part restatable as: Jesus is the truth, this could be taken to mean plainly that Jesus is truthful, or that what he says is true. But I, for one, think that more is at stake here. In my opinion, this is not a metaphor in this relatively trivial sense. It is much more revolutionary: its main effect is not so much to say that 'Jesus is truthful', but rather to revolutionize the very idea of truth. The idea here is that truth is ultimately a person - not correspondence, not factuality, but a person. Now a person is exactly that kind of entity, which we shall never fully grasp, but which we can only understand through an ongoing dialogue.[22] Without glossing over the important differences between Rhetoric and Christianity, respectively the Christian tradition, I do think that on this reading there is also an interesting point of contact.[23]

6. Conclusion

If Rhetoric and the Christian faith are opposed with respect to the idea of absolute truth, they seem nevertheless to meet in a crucial emphasis upon the role of the person, or the Self, in the    


creation of truth. This works both ways - in telling as well as in comprehending truth.

One may accept (and I do) not only as a diagnosis that we now live in an increasingly Rhetorical culture, but also that this development is interwoven with a valid and irreversible insight, namely the recognition of the social and constructive character of human comprehension, and the transient temporal character of human knowledge. That insight does as far as I can see leave no room for the postulation of any single absolutely true Mythos. In particular, this means that a belief in Christianity as a doctrinal system cannot be sustained. But that does not imply a wholesale rejection of metaphysics. It is surely a rejection of a classical metaphysics with absolute postulates about "external" truths, but since Antiquity 'metaphysics' has another sense, too. In that sense it refers to the experience that within thought and thinking, one can encounter that of which one cannot make oneself the master. That is, something which one is not at liberty to accept or reject at one's own discretion or inclination, but which must be "honoured" in one's thought and speech - for instance, by making it a premiss of further thought and investigation.

In a similar spirit the ethical example put forth by the sayings and doings of Jesus might be seen as an epitome of that intrinsic quality of plausibility, which is acknowledged within Rhetoric. When for instance the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10, verses 30-37) is related, it ends up in the direct statement: "Go, and do thou likewise." (Luke 10, verse 37). This parable and its directive can be rejected like any other narration, but alternatively, it can be accepted as a culmination of internal plausibility and ethical cogency. The room for such an experience is surely an integral part of a Rhetorical conception.

It is also clear that the reply to the exhortation of the parable is a deeply existential matter, which decisively involves the 'Self'. The Rhetorical decision to accept ethical and intellectual standards for speech, and for the concomitant development of    


the Self, can, I think, be informed crucially from Christian thought on this point. It does not explain, let alone provide a foundation for, the experience of validity, but it potentially gives an understanding from within of that indispensable value.

When we communicate, what we communicate is in a decisive sense ourselves.[24] Hence the primacy of the ethos-function. This communicated self is inseparably interwoven with the plausibility of our narration about the theme, and even the validity of the emotions, which we may stir. However, it must be realized that the self communicated is no more absolute than "meaning". Like "meaning", it is an interpretation and imitation of a tradition as well as of our own ideals, of that which we strive to become.

References 1. Baudrillard, Jean: 1996, The Perfect Crime. Verso, London.

2. Cicero:

- De optimo genere oratorum (De Opt.),

ed. Loeb, London 1949

- De Oratore, ed. Loeb, London 1948

- Orator, ed. Loeb, London 1939

3. Cocchiarella, Nino B.: 1971, Review of 'A. N. Prior: Papers on Time and Tense', The Journal of Symbolic Logic, Vol. 36 (1971), pp. 515-518.

4. Eco, Umberto: 1995, The Search for the Perfect Language. Blackwell, Oxford.

5. Habermas, Jürgen: 1971, 'Vorbereitende Bemerkungen zu einer Theorie der kommunikativen Kompetenz', in: Habermas, J./Luhmann N., Theorie der Gesellschaft oder Sozialtechnologie, Frankfurt.

6. St. Jerome:

- Letter 22, to Eustochium (written A.D. 384)

- Letter 57, to Pammachius (written A.D. 395)

- "Rufinus": Jerome's apology for himself against the books of Rufinus. (written A.D. 402. BOOK I)    

- All Jerome quotes taken from: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Electronic version. New Advent, Inc. 1996. (

7. Katz, Jerrold J.: 1971, The Underlying Reality of Language. Harper and Row, New York.

8. Kenny, Anthony: 1985, A Path from Rome, Sidgwick and Jackson, London.

9. de Man, Paul: 1971, 'The Rhetoric of Temporality'. In de Man, Paul (ed.): Blindness and Insight. Methuen & Co., London, pp. 187-228.

10. Nielsen, Karsten Hvidtfelt: 1995, An Ideal Critic. Bern, Peter Lang Verlag.

11. Prior, A. N.: 1968, Papers on Time and Tense. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

12. Rorty, Richard. 1997. An Interview with Richard Rorty in die Zeit andWeekend-avisen, brought in Weekend-avisen, 12.09.1997, p. 6.

13. Schaff, Philip (Ed.): 1978-1979. A select library of the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian church. 1st-2nd series. Grand Rapids. Vol. 6, Letters and select works / St. Jerome.


[1]  Excerpted from on May 20, 1999.

[2]  This of course does not rule out the use of such theoretical constructions in the science of linguistics, as long as their nature of being exactly this ? theoretical constructions ? is not forgotten.

[3]  For a starting point, see (Eco 1995).

[4]  Or in Latin, exempla. The latter term is, however, especially used about anecdotes or stories featuring illustrious men, an unfortunate connotation or restriction in this context. For that reason I shall use the greek endoxa.

[5]  Two traditionally acknowledged senses of 'partial' here nicely recombine: the Mythos is partial in the sense "incomplete", because it is partial in the sense "selective with a certain purpose" (quite apart from the practical impossibility of giving a complete account).

[6]  Another way to illuminate the place of the ethos-function is to refer to this three-way distinction; namely the distinction between 1) ascertaining, 2) vindicating, 3) persuading. In (1), the objective is to prove conclusively (and thus to end discussion), in (3) the objective is to achieve persuasion, with a slight note of coercesion or manipulation. "In between" one finds the objective of 'vindicating'. One might see 'ascertaining' as the result of an undue emphasis upon logos, and 'persuading' as the result of an undue emphasis upon pathos. Whereas the objective of 'vindication' ideally corresponds to giving primacy to the ethos-function.

[7]  "...there is no separating the speaker from his speech: they both perform simultaneously, or the performance of the former is also the execution of the latter... on any stage of speech, private or public, inner or outer, which man may choose to erect for himself and his performance." [Nielsen 95, p. 26]

[8]  Or perhaps it would be better to say that human rationality itself involves emotionality and ethics, as well as logos-oriented thinking ? thus avoiding to tie up the notion of rationality merely with logos.

[9]  Or immanent conception. I say 'internal' rather than 'immanent', because a certain kind of transcendent thought is possibly compatible with the rhetorical conception of comprehension or meaning (see section 5).

[10]  Another term for it is "enchainment" (Lyotard), the idea that "a meaning" is not a fixed thing, but rather that a speech act produces a chain of interpretation or new speech acts, a chain which has no necessary end to it.

[11]  Fp may be read as "it will be the case that p". Thus if p stands for "John smiles", Fp stands for "it will be the case that John smiles", or equivalently and more naturally, "John will smile". $ t. now < t & p(t) can be read as "there exist some time t, such that 'now' is earlier than t, and "John smiles" is true at time t".

[12]  Prior's own term was 'logical constructions' (See [Prior 1968], p. 64 and p. 86). He had in this connection also a quite specific formal notion in mind; see [Prior 1968], chapter XI.

[13] Along with 'tense logic', Prior also argued for a substance metaphysics; but on this point there is arguably a tension within his thought, as already observed by Cocchiarella (1971). The relation between tense logic and Rhetoric is worthy of a much more thorough investigation.

[14]Hence this line of thought may provide a bridge between a modified logical tradition and the present-day cultural condition of a widespread and revitalized scepticism. But admittedly, here I speculate.

[15]  Further discussion being seen as necessary revisions caused by human fallibility, not by the idea of an absolute foundation being inadequate.

[16]  Of course, this does not imply that the rhetorician thereby endorses Rorty's thought in its particular form. Rorty's picture is useful for understanding how concepts may fade away. The classical insistence upon fixity and truth may be expected to go exactly that way in what appears to be an increasingly rhetorical culture, quite regardless of one's own sentiments about this development.

[17]  This "mystical element" is not an antagonistic observation on Christianity, as seen from the side of Rhetoric. For there was indeed ? at that time, at any rate ? a strong idea also within Christianity that the truth of Christianity would only reveal itself to a person, not through an argument or a discussion, but through a mystical experience, which was to be achieved above all through an ascetic life, an "imitation of Christ".

[18]  It must be recalled that 'speech' comprises not only the speaker, but also the theme and the audience. In so far as one would speak of a "touchstone", it should rather be sought in the reactions of the audience: "Ars rhetorica, therefore, is dedicated to the transient character of human knowledge... it urges anyone... to conceive of himself and his verbal acitivities as the conscious result of an ongoing process of mental stylizations of which no other touchstone can or should be supplied than the manifold reactions of a surrounding community of speakers." [Nielsen 95, p. 36]

[19]  I take it that this may be inferred, without going into the discussion of the concept of charity, caritas ? or for that matter the classical theological discussion of eros and agape.

[20]  A similar perception is at play (in an otherwise rather different sort of communication theory), when Habermas speaks of "der zwanglose Zwang des besseren Arguments" (Habermas 1971:137) (with loss of style, the meaning can be rendered in English as "the uncoercive cogency of the better argument").

[21]  I do not deny that a tension within Christian thought itself seems to follow from these observations. Clearly much theological discussion in our century has centered upon the rift between a "conservative" interpretation of Christianity and an existentially orientered, so-called 'immanent interpretation', as championed not least by Rudolf Bultmann.

[22]  This thought was first pointed out to me by Peter °hrstr°m in a discussion of the passage just quoted, John 14, 6.

[23]  This point of contact is further illuminated by the rhetorical emphasis on the importance of actio, wherein the meaning as well as the comprehension of speech are 'created'; see also note 7. In the Biblical texts there is an analogous thought to the effect that truth is something which is not an objective value "out there", but rather something which is being done (created): "For he that doeth truth cometh to the lighte...", John 3, 21).

[24]  But for the Christian believer, of course, there is this addition: to preach the gospel is to communicate along with oneself an imitation of Christ, however imperfect.

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