Quintilian v Stephen

Portrait of Quintilian

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This is an assignment, etc…. Again, this is just the first stage, with lots of dialogue to follow.

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The summary of VI.2 is simply that the orator must know the proper uses of emotion in appealing to a judge. The Roman Rhetorician begins the book by starting at the end of the Argument, the peroration, and advises the reader that this part in particular is “chiefly concerned with the feelings.[1]” Like Aristotle before him, and against Plato before them both, the nature of human emotions is allowed to play a part in the decision making process of the audience; perhaps to the extent that it is one of the greatest assets to the speaker. To this end, Quintilian cautions against treating these emotions “cursorily” and urges the position that nothing greater is to be studied in the “whole art of oratory.”

He goes on to cite the “number of pleaders” who could establish proofs, but is more warm to those who can “seize the attention of the judges.” He writes, “Proofs in our favor, it is true, may make the judge think our cause the better, but impressions on his feelings make him wish it to be better, and that he wishes he also believes.” In this, we find that Quintilian is speaking more regarding, as Lopez pointed out, of the forensic style of rhetoric, and as such, is concerned with using emotional appeals to declare someone innocent. The emotional appeal is to be powerful enough to incite the judge, regardless of proofs, to connect to the person on trial, perhaps to see himself on trial. Of course, there is danger in this, I would state, in that as Quintilian notes, “passion overpowers the sense of sight, so a judge, when led away by his feelings, loses the faculty of discerning truth; he is hurried along as it were by a flood and yields to the force of the torrent.” To this end, the Roman Orator notes that pathos in the conclusion will excite judges, but the use of ethos[2] will soothe them. If may be advisable then, not to incite the judges to anger at yourself in the concluding statement, if one hopes to survive the trial.

Like Aristotle before him, Quintilian relies upon the character of the speaker (2.18) to be a force in making the argument. In the court room, the speaker must possess the “virtues which he ought to praise” in his client. To contrast this, a “bad man” must speak ineffectively or else his sincerity will be challenged. Thus is the connection made in the minds of the jurists between the speaker and the client, and perhaps reliant upon ethos. If the speaker is thought to defend only for fame or wealth, it may be argued that the defense of the client could be seen as mocking the needed ethos of the jurist, in that if the speaker cared nothing for the client, then why should the judge. I note here Quintilian’s further limitations on the speaker, in that the speaker should be “calm and mild”, lacking “vehemence” and “elevation.” A good speaker by these standards would be one not just emotionally connected to his client, but a bridge between the client and the judges. As an arbiter, the speech must not raise the client above the judge nor seek to anger the judge in such a way as that is the last emotion felt before making a decision.

The argument using pathos is one which seems to be the most difficult, because it is the one most in danger of going wrong. Pathos is focused on the negative, in that Quintilian states that it is to be used in “exciting anger, hatred, fear, envy or pity.” Any of these emotions can easily turn on the client and cause a hard view from the jurist. Quintilian gives the example of fear, in that fear can lead to several outcomes. In this, he goes into the use of words to give a more effective blow to the person. (2.23). This idea of “language adding force to things unbecoming, cruel, or detestable” could not have been profitable for a novice in the courtroom, especially if there was not an established connection of ethos. The ancient writer cautions that our language be so tempered as to use the same emotions “we would wish to excite from the judge.”

Finally, 2.29-36 deals with the phantasiai, or visions, which Quintilian defines as “images by which the representations of absent objects are so distinctly represent to the mind that we seem to see them with our eyes and to have them before us.” He goes on to give credit to the orator who can represent things so vividly that one can actually ‘see’ them. This is important for the judge, then, in order to establish both pathos and ethos so that the jurist can feel the evils “of which we complain.”

In examining Stephen’s speech (Acts 7), I must extend it to Acts 6.8-16 so that the events which sets up the drama are in view. In 6.8-15, Stephen is arrested due the “wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” The charged leveled against Stephen was that he was blaspheming Moses and God (6.11) and was made complete with false witnesses (6.13). The author alludes to the almost favorable position of the Council when he writes that to them, Stephen’s face was like an angel[3] (6.15). Unfortunately, however, Luke records that Stephen was ultimately, in a fit of rage, put to death. If compared to Quintilian’s rules, Stephen failed in his defense, but if Stephen is seen as speaking for Christ, with Christ as the client, then Stephen was successful. In the narrative of Acts, speeches are regularly given in defense of Christ[4], so that here, Stephen, especially with the phantasiai in the peroration, can be seen to defend Christ and to establish a co-vindication[5].

In defense of himself, Stephen is successful in inciting anger and in having that anger influence the judges (7.51-43), but in doing so, he failed to properly place this in the argument, as the use of pathos caused Stephen’s immediate order of execution. Of course, no ethos could readily be established because Stephen was a Hellenized Jew, whereas the Council members were Palestinian Jews listening to other Palestinian Jews. Further, he failed in not using vehemence (Quint, VI.2.19; Acts 7.51-53) or elevation (Acts 7.60). He failed as well in using the “middling sort of eloquence” and in using the “temper of mind” which he sought to excite from the judges.

However, if the defense was of Christ, then Stephen is better seen as the Orator and Christ the client who needs vindicated. While the arrest charge was originally about Stephen’s supposed blasphemy (6.11), the final charge is laid against Stephen’s preaching of Jesus’ words (6.14) which leads to the High Priest asking for the validity of the words of Christ (7.1). In this context, Stephen’s speech is then seen as the usual defense of Christ given with the usual Jewish recapitulation of Hebrew history. Jesus is set against the history of Israel and against the promise of a Prophet Like Moses. The idea of human resistance against God’s Divine Messenger is prevalent, but Stephen does not claim this role for himself but is securing the verdict for Christ. To that end, Stephen elevates himself above the need for the Council, in declaring that Christ is vindicated because he, Stephen, can see him, Jesus, standing at the right hand of the God using a technique similar to Quintilian’s phantasiai. Further, Stephen establishes the ethos between him and Christ with his final words (cf Acts 7.59/ Luke 23.46; Acts 7.60/ Luke 23.34). Finally, Stephen doesn’t vindicate himself with the Council, but Luke is able to show the reader what is going above the human will. Stephen, in speaking for his client, shows that the client is indeed γενόμενον (Luke 23.47) and is thus vindicated by the audience.

The vindication of Christ (i.e., that he is resurrected[6]) is the emotional appeal, in that the Council, and through them, many in Israel, had failed to heed the Scriptures and crucified the Son of God who had been prophesied by Moses and was the culmination of Israelite History.



[1] The translation which I will be using is John Selby Watson’s, Quintilian. Institutes of Oratory, 2010 (Kindle Edition), ed. Lee Honeycutt

[2] Quintilian notes later, 2.14, that the “ethos ought especially to prevail between persons closely connected.” Perhaps if there is no ethos, or if the ethos is muted by the prosecution being closer in connection to the judges, then pathos is the only appeal left.

[3] Regardless of interpretation, the fact that to the Council, Stephen’s face was supernatural, should give the sense to the reader that the Council was in a good predisposition to hear Stephen’s case.

[4] 2.14-40 defended Christ as the Son of David/Messiah and cast blame upon those who had killed him. 3.11-26 can be seen to defend Christ as the Prophet Like Moses. 4.8-1, 19-20; 5.29-32 defends the superiority of Christ’s command to that of the Council as well as the outpouring of the Spirit.

[5] There is not enough space to connect Luke’s use of Wisdom (of Solomon) (See Peter Doble’s monograph, The Paradox of Salvation, 2005, SNTS), but I would contend that vindication is in Luke’s mind here. (Compare Wis 3.1-3, 7; 5.1-5)

[6] Cf 2nd Macc 7.10-14

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Post By Joel Watts (9,936 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, working on the use of Deuteronomy in the Fourth Gospel. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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