I’ve been reading in snatches of a page or two at a time a book that fell out of heaven into my lap at the conference this summer. If you are interested in a theological and philosophical understanding of the place of rhetoric in the Christian classical tradition, I don’t think you’ll find a book more stimulating than The Craft of Thought by Mary Carruthers, published by Cambridge University Press. It is subtitled Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200.
I have set it at the top of my priority list for study over the next few months, in part because it has a wealth of insight into classical rhetoric as applied in the middle ages. One of my convictions has long been that we live in a universe harmonized by the Divine Logos, the man Christ Jesus who reconciles all things in himself. Among the things he reconciles are the arts of the classical world.
Consequently, I have become increasingly persuaded that anything offered to God for His use will be received and purified, even education. It can, in fact, be used by Him to sanctify His people.
In Mary Carruthers book, she shows that the medieval monks believed in something very similar, if not identical. They used the arts of invention (the first canon of classical rhetoric, taught in The Lost Tools of Writing) to help them pray. This is a central element of this book, because, as Ms. Carruthers points out, her earlier book (which I intend to order soon), “The Book of Memory centers on Memoria [the fourth canon of classical rhetoric]; this one centers on inventio.”
Perhaps you can imagine how excited I was to pick up a book that realizes that thought is a craft, with tools that must be mastered, and that recognizes the place of invention in that craft.
Rest assured you will be hearing more about this book. Once again, I have randomly opened the book and found something wonderful. Let me leave you with her words:
The morally examined life is the work of a careful artist, an artist first of all not in stone or paint or even in words, but in linea, the richly textured lineaments of an educated and well-stocked memory. Linea is used here as a synonym of ratio, the mental schemes and schedules that Augustine found, along with images and notations of emotions, among the things in his memory.
The virtuous life as a work of art – here is the motif our age has no time to notice. Yet, perhaps here above all, we see the very heart and soul of beauty.