Eloquence and Truth

From Lactantius, a man who lived through the period of Diocletian, the emperor who gave his name to the most famous persecution of the Roman Empire, and the freedom of religion edict in 313, an African and an advisor to Constantine the Great:

“…Nor does he deserve so well respecting the affairs of men, who imparts the knowledge of speaking well, as he who teaches men to live in piety and innocence; on which account the philosophers were in greater glory among the Greeks than the orators. For they, the philosophers, were considered teachers of right living, which is far more excellent, since to speak well belongs only to a few, but to live well belongs to all. Yet that practice in fictitious suits has been of great advantage to us, so that we are now able to plead the cause of truth with greater copiousness and ability of speaking; for although the truth may be defended without eloquence, as it often has been defended by many, yet it needs to be explained, and in a measure discussed, with distinctness and elegance of speech, in order that it may flow with greater power into the minds of men, being both provided with its own force, and adorned with the brilliancy of speech.”

Divine Institutes, 1.Praef.

I detest apologetics. That is at least, I consider apologetics utterly useless for its designed purpose in my time and place.

The eloquence of which Lactantius speaks, which will assist the witness to truth in identifying accepting and embracing the same, must in an irrational time and place be found in irrational artifice. If not utterly irrational—and woe betide the man to whom rational argument is utterly vain—then at least effective in that moment when the soul reacts to the encounter with truth, before the opportunity may be given to the stupid brain to interfere and analyze the beauty which the soul senses.

Our souls, presented with truth, cannot help feeling its presence when we stand in front of it. That is because our souls are made out of truth. It is not something that can be grasped with the intellect; the intellect is only useful for the secondary task of deriving the consequences of the truth in a time and a place. This is why attempts, such as those of Immanuel Kant, to prove the truth by means of the intellect, will ultimately lead, as Kant’s did, to the nihilism of a Nietzsche or the existentialism of a Sartre.

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About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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