How Cicero & Paul Can Help Parents & Apologists

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a famous Roman statesman from the 1st century B.C.. He is well-remembered for his writing on oratory, or, public speaking. His De Oratore may not be read or discussed in public schools, but parents, Christian educators, and apologists would do well to study the work.

De Oratore details Cicero’s observations on public speaking, disputes between dry rhetoricians and philosophers, his advice on how to give stellar speeches, and more. After all, the idea of public speaking is to persuade your audience of what you are saying. That, too, is the goal of a parent talking about Christianity with her child or the apologist seeking to win over converts to the Christian faith.

Here is an example of what not do if you want to win someone to your position.

Cicero, and Aristotle before him, describes important traits of a persuasive speech: ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos referred to a person’s credibility with his audience. St. Paul demonstrated this when he wrote, “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” Who could possibly argue against those credentials?

Pathos refers to the emotion and the passion that a person has. In Romans 8 Paul wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” More than conquerors? How is it possible to be more than a conqueror, someone who overcomes and survives great obstacles? Is Paul being illogical here? No, he’s being rhetorical and he is connecting with his audience through the demonstration of pathos.

Finally, logos refers to the logic of an argument. Paul provides many arguments throughout his writings, many of which are called enthymemes. An enthymeme is an argument which has an unwritten premise(s). For example, Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Naturally, we (the readers) think, ‘I have sinned.’ Therefore, ‘I have fallen short of the glory of God.’ This is called a categorical syllogism. Quite logical, on Paul’s part!

It’s likely the case that Paul had studied Cicero (or Aristotle) and implemented many of the rhetorical tools available to a public speaker. In that same way, parents can rightly employ these tools. But you must know your audience and connect with them if you want to win them to your side. That may require time to think about, but the reflection and patience in such an exercise is a discipline all of us could benefit from.