Christian Plain Style

Christian Plain Style: The Evolution of a Spiritual Ideal

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 384
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    Christian Plain Style
    Book Description:

    Locating the roots of the plain style in secular and philosophic classicism, Auksi examines theories on classical rhetoric from Demetrius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus to Cicero and Quintilian. He shows how biblicists deliberately transformed a heathen mode, and demonstrates that rhetoric served a pragmatic function among the church fathers. He also discusses the different responses of Renaissance translators, rhetors, polemicists, and humanists to the stylized medieval inheritance, paying particular attention to the issue of sacred plainness in preaching. The epilogue provides a convincing argument for the decline of the plain style in the late seventeenth century and describes how the almost vanished ideal of plainness was transformed by Methodists, Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6489-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    Any study of plainness and simplicity in art must do battle with the truism that all artistic effects or efforts, no matter how unstudied or artless in appearance, are actually the result of considered artifice and complexity. A second and related objection to such an undertaking points out that abstractions such as simplicity are always at the mercy of the variable meanings which one assigns to them or perceives in them. In hisStudies in Words, for example, C.S. Lewis noted that the word “simple” has “rather an atmosphere than anything that can be called a meaning.”¹ As denotative epithet,...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Christian Literary Culture and the Study of Simplicity
    (pp. 9-32)

    To art historians, the visible grandeur of the artistic achievements by the Christian church in the history of Europe understandably represents the central aesthetic tradition. The expense, effort, and artistry expended on the celebration of God as the ample giver of all gifts in a world of sensuous plenitude have meant sublime artifice and the grandest, richest styles humanly possible.¹ Not only the humanism of church leaders, who highly value human achievement, including a properly cleansed pagan inheritance complete with its arts, stylistic categories and models, sciences, and languages, but also the cultural patronage of the Church through all of...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Plain Style in Classical Rhetoric
    (pp. 33-66)

    Although the plain style derives principally from the models, instructions, texts, and aesthetic theorizing which the Christian artist found in Scripture, the most obvious, if limited, source remained the classical tradition of rhetoric. Through its reading of Cicero and Plato, for example, Christian literary culture derived a theory, epistemology, and psychology of style; and through the schoolroom use of Quintilian, the Christian pupil shaped on the most fundamental level his sense of literary composition and rhetorical expressiveness. In Aristotle and especially in Cicero, he would also confront theorists wrestling with definitions of the lowest level of style, which to the...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Scripture and the Creative Motive
    (pp. 67-109)

    With its models, history of use, and theoretical justifications, the low style of the classical world is the raw material, the central resource, from which the Christiansermo humilisextracted the rudiments of its practice. Yet such an assertion leaves unsaid and unexplored the larger truth that its practitioners and advocates take their essential inspiration not from pagan theorists but from Scripture, where the motives for creativity are subject to qualifications unimagined by Dionysius and Seneca. To the classical artist, technical complexity, appeals to the senses, and skill in the material arts were often positive goals. The Christian artist, on...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Channels of Transmission: Augustine and Paul
    (pp. 110-143)

    Among the advocates and practitioners of a Christian plain style, two authorities are cited most often, Augustine and Paul. The bishop of Hippo is regarded as the chief interpreter of classical rhetoric, while the foremost apostle is held up as the finest expositor of scriptural directives on human achievement. If Augustine explains how a Christian may adaptsermo humilisfor spiritualized use, Paul more significantly provides a personal model of artless prose, as well as a powerful and highly influential set of attitudes towards human creativity in the service of God. Together they teach the plain stylist of any age...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Church Fathers and Christian Style
    (pp. 144-173)

    In their unsystematic commentaries on the vices and virtues of varying rhetorical practice in Christian and pagan writers, the earliest church fathers carry forward not only the symbolic positions best expressed by Paul and Augustine but also their metaphors and motifs, and hence epistemology. Jerome, for example, uses Pauline texts to reject worldly styles and to renew his growing appreciation of the norms and authority of Scripture’s artistry. Because he had so dramatically and skilfully proscribed the contact between holy and unholy culture, Paul in effect forces patristic rhetorical thought to confront the possibility of contamination from alien, even evil...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Medieval Rhetoric and the Art of Simplicity
    (pp. 174-202)

    From the rarefied, specialized, and scholarly probing of the Fathers, the rhetors of the Middle Ages could gain an extensive, if disorganized, sense of the importance to the spiritual life of both verbal and artistic simplicity. Yet it is not through this complex of patristic culture that popular, secular, and literary theorists found their principal sources of speculative thought. The broad stream of clerical or secular schooling took the inspiration for its interest in rhetorical plainness from handbooks or commentaries on style; these dictated to poets, historians, letter-writers, and preachers the appropriateness of the variousgenera dicendito the task...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Regenerate Art: The Major Reformers
    (pp. 203-231)

    The equanimity with which the schools and scholarship of the medieval church either used or adapted the “spoils” of classical rhetoric without significant questioning is a striking fact. Certainly, some reformminded clerics questioned the cultivation of a worldly or Ciceronian eloquence whose magniloquence could eclipse the humility and artlessness of scriptural rhetoric, and without doubt there existed a long, if muted, suspicion and debate about the status and utility of the verbal arts inherited from unholy possessors, but the rhetorical culture of most ecclesiastical authors reflects an impressive humanism. That debate and questioning become even more isolated and muffled after...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Renaissance Plainness: Sources, Contexts, and Uses
    (pp. 232-265)

    Although the ideal of simplicity in life and religion mattered greatly to the Reformers, as well as to their modern-age followers among the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, for example, Catholic defenders proclaimed it with equal zeal, as they had for over a thousand years, and even secular Renaissance humanists found it useful to invoke manifold simplicities in an age of excess and complex ornamentation. It is not a sectarian ideal exclusively, nor one generated by the Reformation. While the designation of discrete periods as “the Reformation” or “the early Middle Ages” can assist the historian of ideas or art,...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Spiritual Rhetoric and the English Reformation
    (pp. 266-303)

    A major part of the distinctiveness of Judaism and Christianity among world religions lies in the prominence which they assign to the spoken word in the preparation of souls and minds for sacred thought, worship, and action. The two religions, indeed, share a text in which inspired teachers and prophets utter words of such force and authority that reproduction of them by subsequent speakers confers an associative power, but die rhetoric of Scripture resists description, much less explicit transmission or imitation. Homilies or sermons explicating Scripture in scriptural terms are often, as the Greekhomiliaimplies, a familiar, artless kind...

  15. Epilogue: Decline and Transformation
    (pp. 304-310)

    As a distinct mode of rhetorical discourse, the plain style loses its applicability and appeal by the last quarter of the seventeenth century. School texts teach thegenera dicendiand the classical world's sense of the levels of style into the early nineteenth century, and the literary ideals of Restoration and eighteenth-century authors such as Defoe and Addison implicitly involve the clarity and intelligibility of both expressive and conceptual plainness, but after 1660 the theory and justification of plainness in Christianized or spiritual speaking appear to decline markedly. The preaching manuals of the early seventeenth century constitute a high-water mark...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 311-336)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 337-364)
  18. Index
    (pp. 365-371)