The Confessions Rhetorical Analysis

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In Book Nine of The Confessions, Augustine confessed rhetoric itself. Augustine had been a well-respected professor of rhetoric until, upon his conversion, he decided that his vocation as a “ salesmen of words in the markets of rhetoric”(9.2.2), was incompatible with his new-found religious beliefs. In no uncertain terms, Augustine confessed that his conversion to Christianity compelled him to abandon his “seat of mendacity” (9.2.4) in favor of a holier calling. Does Augustine’s dismissal of rhetoric imply to his audience that its evil is greater than its good? By tracing the role of rhetoric in this autobiography, the reader can better comprehend that rhetoric itself is not immoral, but the intention with which it is used defines its morality.…show more content…
Because of his parents’ desire for him to have a noble occupation, Augustine went to rhetorical school and soon excelled “in the arts of using [his] tongue to gain access to human honors and to acquire deceitful riches” (1.4.14). This corrupt motivation for rhetorical success was compounded by what Augustine considered to be the immoral content of the material he was compelled to learn. The “whirlpool of shame”(1.19.30) was the pagan religious culture that grounded his studies. These “fruitless pastimes”(1.18.28) that he pursued were the “infernal river”(1.16.26) of immorality into which he and his classmates were pitched. “The words are certainly not learnt any the more easily by reason of the filthy moral,” he writes, “but filth is committed with greater confidence as a result of learning the words”(1.16.26). He confesses that he took “sinful pleasure” in this “wine of error”(1.16.26). While Augustine uses provocative diction and negative connotations in his descriptions of rhetoric, he does not condemn the discipline of rhetoric itself, but rather a corrupted and truncated residue of it. It is not classical rhetoric but this sophistic “cult of mere expression” and “absurd showmanship” (1.18.28) that Augustine condemns, and which he mainly associates with infamy and with “man’s insatiable desire” (1.12.19) for wealth. Augustine didn’t believe that rhetoric was evil but that the intentions…show more content…
At first, Augustine sets out to “judge for myself whether the reports of his powers as a speaker were accurate, or whether eloquence flowed from him more, or less, readily than I had been told”(5.13.23). Ambrose had a “charming delivery” but in Augustine’s opinion “had not the same soothing and gratifying manner” as Faustus (5.13.23). As Augustine recalls his experience, he tried to ignore the substance of Ambrose’s message, and aimed to focus merely on “the manner in which he said it”(5.13.23). However, the truth was irresistible. “I could not keep the two apart,” Augustine writes, “and while I was all ears to seize upon his eloquence, I also began to sense the truth of what he said”(5.14.24) In this way, Augustine the narrator conveys by synecdoche how rhetoric can be used in a beneficial and moral fashion. By spreading the message of God in a potent manner, rhetoric is not an instrument of immorality but a means to strong

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