Aristotle, Rhetoric, and Freedom

I’ve been arguing for some time through this blog that we cannot be free people if we don’t master the arts of freedom, which were known historically as the liberal arts (not the modern evasion often called “general studies”). To Aristotle, freedom depended on people’s ability to communicate freely and effectively. So he wrote a handbook on rhetoric, which begins like this:

Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic. Both alike are concerned with such things as come, more or less, within the general ken of all men and belong to no definite science. Accordingly all men make use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others.

The other day I quoted Adler to the effect that everybody is a citizen and a philosopher. I would add that to the extent we deny these roles, we are slaves.

If we do not participate in the governance of ourselves, our families, and our communities, we cannot be free people.

If we do not learn to think with our own minds, making decisions based on sound principles and seeking truth because it is good, we belong to the people who do this thinking for us.

Aristotle underscores this truth by emphasizing that rhetoric (our civic faculty) and dialectic (our philosophical faculty) are universal arts. We are all responsible for our use of them. If we neglect them, we are not free people and frankly don’t deserve to be free people.

It follows that a great way to eliminate freedom is to involve people so deeply in their work, school, or voluntary associations (that just triggered a really disturbing page I read in a book about Bolshevism – I’ll try to find and post it tomorrow) that they have no time to participate in government or philosophy.

If you love freedom, please devote yourself to the study of Greek so you can remind us about what we’ve lost. Odysseus poked out my eye and I’m afraid I’ve gone from no perspective all the way to blind.

Nature Fulfilled

Today is the feast day of the Transfiguration, during which we celebrate the day on Mt. Tabor when our Lord was revealed to Peter, James, and John as the Lord of Glory.

Here was a man who had walked with these disciples for nearly three years and who was soon to die on a cross.

Here was a man who had sat with his disciples at the table and eaten bread and fish and drunk wine and water. He had to relieve Himself, to sleep, to rest when He was tired. Just like them.

He had taken on human nature in its pure plenitude.

This was enough to astonish most of those who met Him. After all, who had ever been so fully human? Who had ever realized so much of the power and virtue and grace of the Divine Image.

It was enough to threaten many as well. After all, what is more irritating than somebody whose purity interferes with your prosperity, than someone who can see through your surface appearances to the motives beneath, who can unhesitatingly and flawlessly identify your hypocrisies?

But it was not enough. Having become the Son of Man, it was imperative that He revealed to His followers that He was much more than that.

For one thing, he was going to be crucified in a matter of weeks. The shock of this crucifixion would scatter his sheep. Only the resurrection would reunite them. He prepared them, in turn, to receive the resurrection by revealing to these three that He was the one who could be resurrected.

More than that, when Peter, James, and John presented the gospel of Christ to the world, they delivered more than a moral teaching; they offered salvation in a Person, and that Person was one who was able to save.

He was able to save because He was the Lord of Glory, he was the Word of Life who was manifested, and they saw, and they bore witness, and they declared to us that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to them.

He was also able to save because He was the servant of fishermen. He took on human nature. All that He assumed, body, mind, will, He was able to redeem.

The Son of God had become the Son of Man.

Try to imagine the astonishment – the series of astonishments – that His followers experienced:

first from His words, in which He made it obvious that He was no “normal” man; then through His love and His miracles, through which He declared His power and its use; then through this transfiguration, by which He revealed the Kingdom of Heaven and its dread sovereign; then through His resurrection, then His ascension, and perhaps capping it all off, His sending of the Much Promised Lord and Giver of Life, His Holy Spirit.

Peter drew on that astonishment in his last letter, written when he knew he would shortly die. He said:

We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”

Moses was there to authenticate the experience for Peter, James, and John and it would be difficult to imagine anything more meaningful. Remember this passage from Exodus 24:

Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount. And the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day He called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.

And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.

And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.

From Moses to Christ nobody else had entered that cloud of glory except Elijah when he ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire and maybe when He heard the Lord in the still small voice (correct me if I’ve missed someone).

This was no mere man. This was the second Adam, the Recreator of Human Nature, the Restorer of all things, the Transfiguration.

Revealing Himself to His companions, He revealed the Trinity to mankind. Revealing the Incarnation, He revealed our salvation.

He had combined in one person, two natures. So doing, He glorfied both. Glorifying human nature, He restored nature itself to its right place.

Prior to the Transfiguration of our Lord, He had promised that some of His disciples would see the kingdom of heaven. Peter, James, and John saw it. Therefore, the Transfiguration of our Lord is both a realization and a promise. 

We shall all be changed.  

O Christ our God, who wast transfigured in glory on Mount Tabor, showing to Thy disciples the splendour of Thy Godhead, do Thou enlighten us also with the light of Thy knowledge and guide us in the path of Thy commandments, for Thou alone art good and lovest man.