On Method, Disciplinary Longevity, and Rhetorical Curriculum, Part Two: A Behavioral Rhetorical Analysis of C.S. Lewis’s Sermon “Learning in Wartime”
by Isaac Richards
This essay is the second in a two-piece series on method, disciplinary longevity, and rhetorical curriculum. My previous essay set up the critical conversation surrounding these three topics, namely that: (1) there has been a shift in contemporary rhetorical criticism from method-based to concept-based rhetorical analysis, (2) disciplinary longevity can be both useful and problematic for the progress of rhetorical studies, and (3) the connection between method and disciplinary longevity has pedagogical implications because classical method-based rhetorical criticism remains relevant and useful for budding student critics even if conceptually-oriented criticism offers experienced scholars more latitude based on enlarged academic facility.
Entering this nexus of concerns, I argued in the first essay that the classical humanist rhetorical philosophy from Isocrates to Erasmus offers a sophisticated understanding of rhetoric as behavior that makes arguments and shows character. This rhetorical curriculum also offers standards, evaluation criteria, and a step-by-step method that can be both natural and beneficial to students learning rhetorical analysis. In this second essay, I complete the argument I initiated in the previous volume of Queen City Writers by offering a sample behavioral rhetorical analysis of C.S. Lewis’s sermon “Learning in Wartime. This modeled case study demonstrates how behavioral rhetorical analysis provides students with a clear methodology and evaluation criteria for rhetorical criticism even as it avoids the Aristotelian prescriptivism critiqued by McGee.
Behavioral rhetorical analysis is a step-by-step methodology. A critic first examines the content of a text, questioning what this content reveals about the character of the rhetor. Second, the critic examines the stylistic devices and tropes that the rhetor uses, and what those tropes reveal about the rhetor’s logic and thinking. Third, the content and style of the speech are compared: are they consistent? dissonant? contradictory? harmonious? This comparison further reveals the integrity of the rhetor. Lastly, the critic compares the rhetor’s content, style, and the content-style relationship to the fundamentals of rhetoric outlined in part one (propriety, moderation, judgment) to detect either pretense or authenticity. This type of behavioral rhetorical analysis demonstrates how the humanist philosophy illuminates both rhetorical choices and a rhetor’s character. Furthermore, the sample analysis below reveals the utility of behavioral analysis as a method of rhetorical criticism that moves beyond pragmatic constraints and simultaneously limits directionless conceptual criticism.
Behavioral Rhetorical Analysis of C.S. Lewis’s “Learning in Wartime”
As previously established in the first essay of this two-piece series, rhetoric is behavior that makes arguments and shows character. By analyzing C.S. Lewis’s rhetoric, one can easily recognize his behavior and character as a man who was highly educated, prized knowledge, and asserted the importance of learning. His rhetoric also makes clear that was also a man of integrity, sincerity, and honesty. Above all, his many writings display a man of faith and goodwill. All these attributes of Lewis—his trustworthiness, his education, and his altruism—are together apparent in one of his sermons, titled “Learning in Wartime.” This sermon was preached to Oxford students in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in fall 1939 at the start of World War II. Lewis argues in “Learning in Wartime” that students should continue their studies despite the uncertainty of war, and demonstrates his trustworthiness, knowledge, and altruism in the process.
Lewis organizes his argument into three sections of evidence: lived experience, formal education, and religious doctrine. When the sermon is analyzed, Lewis’s rhetorical choices in each of these three sections, respectively, demonstrate his character as a trustworthy, educated, and altruistic man. His speech exemplifies the fundamentals of propriety and appropriateness, moderation, due proportion, decorum, harmony, beauty, logic, and good judgment. He employs many rhetorical and stylistic devices such as narratives, parallelism, ethos, allusions, pathos, rhetorical questions, and syllogisms to blend his lived experience, formal education, and doctrinal knowledge. His rhetoric reveals his trustworthiness, education, and altruistic desire to inspire his audience to continue learning in wartime. This analysis is organized according to Lewis’s speech: first exploring the section on his lived experience to illuminate his trustworthiness, secondly dissecting his account of his formal education to demonstrate his learnedness, and thirdly probing the religious doctrine in his conclusion to reveal his altruism.
Trustworthiness Demonstrated Through Lived Experience
One can first discern Lewis’s trustworthiness in his willingness to share his personal life experiences. This sets up his ethos as a mentor of the traumatized Oxford students. Lewis’s argument is arranged in classical style, and he begins the narratio portion of his sermon with multiple examples of narratio that relate his WWI experiences. Telling stories of WWI to students in the midst of WWII shows Lewis’s willingness to be vulnerable with his audience. He desires to find a personal connection with them, which shows trustworthiness and sincerity, for deceivers only feign vulnerability. This is the beginning of the connection between Lewis’s rhetoric and his behavior and character. The fact that he served in the army reveals his character traits: loyalty, patriotism, and duty. The fact that he is willing to share these experiences demonstrates his sincerity and trustworthiness.
Lewis establishes this ethos of trustworthiness through narrative anecdotes and the synecdoche, “when I was in the trenches” in which the word “trenches” is associated with “the war.” This narratio and synecdoche show Lewis’s desire to explain the transitory nature of war, despite how consuming it can seem. The synecdoche reveals familiarity with warfare, even familiarity with the front lines, indicating that he is not lying about being in battle. Being familiar with war is a giveaway of Lewis’s trustworthiness. As Erasmus says, “Two things are conducive to good speaking: that you know your subject thoroughly, and that the heart and feelings furnish words” (Ciceronianus 66). By using details such as the word “trenches,” Lewis displays knowledge of his subject and harmony between his feelings and his words. This survivor’s wisdom intends to soothe the young students caught in WWII with no prior experience for comparison. This further demonstrates Lewis’s trustworthiness, for his words are sensitive, soothing, and sympathetic. Lewis then argues that, “the war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation” which is a paroemia or a short pithy saying that is also parallelism and epanalepsis. This statement exhibits the resulting knowledge of Lewis’s lived experience that he altruistically imparts. It also demonstrates due proportion, as Lewis fills his narratio with stories and life experiences, and then shortly summarizes with a paroemia. Lewis’s point is that students have always had manifold reasons to postpone learning.
Using loose isocolon combined with asyndeton Lewis gives examples of such reasons: “falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, [and] following public affairs.” Asyndeton and iscolon are appropriate stylistic devices here because they match form and content: each item in the list is equally categorized as distraction, implied by the equal lengths in the series; and asyndeton gives the feeling of a rapid-fire list, similar to how the distractions of life compound daily. Thus, Lewis’s stylistic choices exemplify harmony, one of the fundamentals of rhetoric and excellence. His personal experiences can be trusted because they are his own, and because he offers these vulnerable life experiences openly. His choices also exemplify due proportion, harmony between content and style, and good judgment. Through Lewis’s stylistic devices, listeners learn of his character as a man dedicated to mentoring, soothing, and teaching. All in all, because he recounts vulnerable life experiences and generously imparts life lessons, Lewis’s rhetoric displays his genuine trustworthiness.
Learnedness Demonstrated Through Formal Education
In the second section of the speech, listeners learn of Lewis’s character as an educated man. Lewis’s education is evident in his speech as he marshals years of academic training to convince the students of the power and possibilities of education. Exhibiting the breadth and depth of his study, he unleashes over a dozen allusions to history, literature, art, and music—mentioning Tolstoy, Thomas Aquinas, the Parthenon, Warsaw, the Iliad, Periclean Athens, Beethoven, the walls of Quebec, and Thermopylae. These allusions not only prove that Lewis must be well-read and educated, but also clearly intend to impress his audience by illuminating education’s possibilities and emphasizing the power of literacy. Thus, by his very performance, Lewis is attempting to project to the students a vision of what a well-educated person knows and how they can utilize that knowledge. Lewis preaches the benefits of learnedness by example.
This decision reveals a multitude of insights about Lewis. First, it demonstrates internal harmony between message and content, as Lewis uses information from his education to persuade an audience about the importance of education. It would be ridiculous and inharmonious to persuade someone to pursue education by giving examples from farming. Rather, as Erasmus declares that “a heart loving those things for which it pleads, hating those things which it condemns” is part of the “fount” of “Ciceronian eloquence,” so too Lewis demonstrates his love and use of education, the very thing for which he is pleading (Ciceronianus 80). By matching his content with his message, Lewis exemplifies good judgment and integrity.
Lewis also further utilizes good judgment and due proportion by incorporating a variety of allusions—some obscure and some well-known—to establish the breadth of his learning. Speaking to students, about education, using educational examples also demonstrates decorum, propriety, and appropriateness. Thus, Lewis is unveiling himself as an artful master, making his defense of education seem easy and effortless even as he draws on his decades of education to make his case. Through these allusions, Lewis literally epitomizes his own argument about the importance of education, attempting through harmony, masterful delivery, and even beauty, to persuade the students to continue learning despite wartime. In all this, Lewis is also exemplifying Cicero’s ideal orator, who argued that “highly educated men” (7) with “knowledge of very many matters” were those who could be truly eloquent (13). Lewis is indeed a highly educated man.
Many of his allusions are also anamnesis or epicrisis as he cites passages from or stories from history and literature and comments upon them. Examples of anamnesis and epicrisis include when Lewis mentions “fiddling while Rome burns” or “advancing to the walls of Quebec” and compares them to pursuing education “in the shadow of a European war” which is also a prosopopoeia or personification because it gives an inanimate abstract object like a “war” the human-like quality of casting a shadow. Through these many devices related to allusions, Lewis demonstrates his educated character as a man of not only history, but also literature, composition, and logic. He shows himself as a learned man, willing to share his education.
Yet allusions do more than all of that for Lewis. Since his audience is primarily students, some may have understood his allusions. Those that grasped his references would be simultaneously recognizing the value of education, realizing during his speech how something previously learned was now helping them appreciate and better understand his message. Further, for students who comprehended only a few allusions, their curiosity for things yet unlearned would be mounting. Thus, Lewis’s use of allusions goes beyond just trying to sound smart. The allusions also accomplish subtle appeals of pathos—exciting pride or piquing curiosity—that emotionally capture for students the very benefits of education that Lewis is trying to convey. This also is evidence that Lewis is trustworthy, as his stylistic choices align both ethos and pathos in a natural harmony that reveals simultaneously his sincerity and learnedness. These choices also begin to reveal his altruism, as he generously imparts his education for the noble purpose of motivating young students to pursue knowledge despite imminent danger.
Altruism Demonstrated Through Religion
Finally, Lewis makes one of the ultimate rhetorical moves of trustworthiness and learnedness by appealing to his shared religion with the audience and demonstrating his altruistic character. The third section of his speech attempts to inspire his audience with the Christian doctrine that education can bring one closer to God. Concluding his sermon with a rhetorical question (erotema) about if one can “retain [their] interest in learning under the shadow of… eternal issues,” he answers that God does not expect cessation of all education or daily activities and cites Christ’s wedding attendance as proof. Thus, Lewis gives education divine permissibility, but takes the doctrine further with the syllogism, “if our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is… evidence that the life which we… can best lead to the glory of God… is the learned life.” This argument appeals to the desire of loyal Christians to live a life that is pleasing to God. Here, he redefines through correctio and parenthesis, giving a new definition of education as being also “one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality.” Thus, Lewis gives the students perhaps the most compelling reason yet to continue learning in wartime. By incorporating religious content through stylistic devices, Lewis displays his character as a Christian, and this may be his most powerful move in demonstrating both trustworthiness and selflessness—two hallmarks of Christian living.
Lewis’s choice to include a religious section in his speech also reveals much about his character. First, it demonstrates his altruism by showing concern for the eternal welfare of his students. Second, it corresponds to the fundamentals of decorum, good judgment, and appropriateness to include religious content in his speech because it was a sermon being given in a chapel. There is harmony between the genre of a sermon and the content about the role of a scholar in a religious context. Third, Lewis’s beliefs reveal his eternal perspective. Referring back to WWII, Lewis says “there is no question of death or life for any of us; only a question of this death or that.” While this may seem at first glance to be a false dichotomy fallacy, one quickly realizes that there really are only two options in this case; all will die, either premature or at a riper age. Thus, Lewis is using an antithesis in one of the few contexts where it is perfectly appropriate to do so. Logic is one of the fundamentals, and Lewis’s lack of fallacies even amidst the difficult terrain of religious beliefs is a feat of logic, harmony, and beauty that reveals his character as trustworthy, educated, and selflessly and altruistically invested in his audience.
To summarize, C. S. Lewis includes life experiences, evidence of formal education, and religious content in his speech. Knowing that rhetoric is behavior that makes arguments and shows character, the discerning analyst can see Lewis’s character as a trustworthy, learned, and altruistic man because he chooses to include these three sections in his sermon. Lewis’s thoughts, words, and actions are harmonized, demonstrating integrity, sincerity, trustworthiness, knowledge, wisdom, selflessness, and altruism. Through the use of narratives, parallelism, ethos, allusions, pathos, rhetorical questions, syllogisms, and many other stylistic devices, Lewis blends his lived experience, formal education, and doctrinal knowledge in an attempt to inspire his audience to continue learning in wartime. His choices demonstrate ample evidence of many fundamentals of rhetoric: appropriateness, harmony, logic, beauty, and good judgment.
After all this, what is known of the character of Lewis as a speaker? The image Lewis’s speech projects is perfectly consistent with his authentic and real self. He is wise, educated, and religious, and comes across to his audience as experienced, schooled, and faith-filled. His motivations are purely altruistic: he wants to calm the fears and increase the motivations of young students disoriented by war. His appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos all harmonize in persuasive clarity. His reasoning and argumentation display no glaring fallacies. His traits and virtues of lived experience, formal schooling, and religious education are the exact aspects of himself he is trying to portray to his audience. There is no hint of deception, deceit, or ulterior motives. Rather, because he selects real aspects of his life as the main parts of his sermon—his experiences, education, and his faith—one can tell that he is being authentic, genuine, trustworthy, educated, smart, and even altruistic and selfless in his use of rhetoric to encourage his youthful audience. He is both “a good orator” and “a good man” (Ciceronianus 45). His rhetoric demonstrates his behavior and his character.
The analysis of C. S. Lewis’s sermon “Learning in Wartime” presented in this second essay models a behavioral analysis, exemplifying the implications of the humanist philosophy of rhetoric outlined in the first essay of this two-piece series. I argued in the above sample analysis that Lewis’s character as trustworthy, educated, and altruistic is apparent from his choices to include in his speech lived experience, formal education, and religious doctrine. Lewis’s discourse is “true and lawful,” displaying “the outward image of a good and faithful soul” (Isocrates 50). Notice the important fact that whether the Oxford students were persuaded by Lewis or not is irrelevant in this method. No attempt at conjecturing about the “success” of the speech or ascertaining the impact on the audience was made. Thus, behavioral analysis avoids one of the major pitfalls apparent in composition class rhetorical analysis assignments: “the rhetor implemented this strategy and therefore was successful in persuading their audience.” While modern communication studies can perform reception studies, behavioral analysis separates audience response from rhetor choices. The above demonstration argued that Lewis spoke for a cause evaluated as good and, in his speaking, demonstrated behavior evaluated as virtuous, but did not claim that his speech was successful for his audience.
The implications of the humanist rhetorical philosophy invite all to heed Cicero in On Duties, who says that decorum or “seemliness can be seen in every deed and word” (49) and that both virtuous character and “well considered action will be the consequence of learning” about rhetoric (62, emphasis added). The same can be said of continuing discussions about disciplinary longevity and shifts away from methodological criticism: decorum in rhetorical analysis—meaning, considering methods for both developing students and advanced critics—will best demonstrate “well considered” metacriticism (62).
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Isaac Richards is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University. He is majoring in Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations, a minor in English, and a minor in
Professional Writing and Rhetoric. His work has appeared in three other undergraduate
publications: The Dangling Modifier, Americana, and Progressions. He is also the first-place winner of the 2020 #CFACExperience Essay Contest and was awarded the 2022 Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Student Award for the BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications. His current research interests are focused on rhetorical history, theory, and criticism.
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