(Answered) – ENC 3021 – Augustine’s Conversion from rhetoric to Christianity


(Answered) – ENC 3021 – Augustine’s Conversion from rhetoric to Christianity

Aurelius Augustinus or Augustine, now saint of the Roman Catholic Church, was born in Thagaste, North Africa to a devout Christian and a Pagan. In his teenage years Augustine was sent to the North African Intellectual Center of Carthage to study rhetoric and by the time he was 27 years old he was studying law on his own and supporting himself by teaching rhetoric to others. Augustine was stimulated by Cicero’s Hortensius, that “draws on Greek thought to discuss the relationship of rhetoric and philosophy” which prompted a search for an “intellectually satisfying religion” because he wanted something be a part of his life that spoke to his philosophical interests. Augustine ended up converting to Christianity and resigning from being the professor of rhetoric. In his criticism for the Manichaean practices, Augustine discusses his regrets for believing in astrology (Augustine and Pussey, 1909).

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In the article titled “Augustine and the ‘Chair of Lies’: Rhetoric in The Confessions”, Tell (2010), argues that Augustine’s resignation from professor of rhetoric and conversation to Christianity signaled a critical affirmation of rhetoric because Augustine’s commitment to rhetoric as an art made it possible for his work to shine forth. There are those scholars who have argued that if Augustine is to be recognized as important part of rhetoric histories, his dismissal and recanting of rhetoric has to be limited and contained through demonstrating that the dismissal is marginal and does not relate to his contribution to theory of rhetoric (Tell, 2010).

To the contrary, Tell (2010) argues that Augustine’s resignation is not an exceptional moment as a rhetoric theorist but rather an indication of his critique of the practices of Manichaean which cut across the entirety of “The Confessions.” To this end, Dave Tell advances his arguments in three parts; first he explains the standard moves in regards to how Augustine’s resignation is interpreted. Secondly, he advances his own explanation of the resignation by alluding that the resignation ought to be understood in terms of Augustine’s critique of the Manichaean profession. Lastly, he argues that the profession can be best understood as a form of expression which is only relevant to specific subjectivity.

These two theorists are comparable and can be used together or separately as they both seem to agree to certain extent. On one hand, Augustine resigns from being professor of Rhetoric and view his life as professor of rhetoric as being evil……” In your sight, I resolved not to make a boisterous break, but to withdraw the service of my tongue (ministerium linguae) from the language marts (nundinis loquacitatis).” Though Augustine resigned from rhetoric and regret having practiced it, Tell (2010) view the resignation as a rejection of the aspect of professing and not the rejection of rhetoric itself…..”I argue just the opposite. I believe that Augustine’s resignation of the professoriate is not an exceptional moment in his rhetorical theory;

rather, it marks the culmination of a critique of Manichaean practices of speech that spans the entirety of The Confessions.” In other words, he believes that Augustine’s resignation should not be viewed in isolation or embarrassment but an achievement because his commitment to the art is still relevance to date.

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Moreover, Tell (2010) advances that Augustine’s resignation should not be viewed as historical backdrop in regards to rhetoric but rather in terms of his critique of the Manichaean profession. In other words, there two sides to Augustine, the side before resignation and the post-resignation one. This implies that either side is relevant to either rhetoric theorists or Christians for that matter. In comparison, Dave Tell does to oppose or contradict Augustine’s work as a rhetoric theorist but rather put into context which is relevant to both sides. In other words, the article by Dave Tell concludes that there are rhetorical lessons to be learnt from Augustine’s work but at the same time, it can be used by those who want to convert.

Works cited

Augustine, S. and Pusey, E.B. (1909) The Confessions of St. Augustine (Vol. 7). PF Collier.

Tell, D. (2010). ‘Augustine and the “Chair of Lies”: Rhetoric in The Confessions’, Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, 28(4), pp.384-407.

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