The rhetoric of simplicity: faith and rhetoric in Peter Damian
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In this paper I explore the problem of the ambiguous attitude maintained towards the art of rhetoric in relation to faith by the eleventh-century prior, hermit and cardinal-bishop Peter Damian. I have taken my cue mainly from the solution proposed by Jean Leclercq: sancta simplicitas. After providing a description of the origin and development of this term in several contexts, I turn to the most studied and widely discussed of Peter Damian’s letters, De divina omnipotentia. While analyzing Peter Damian’s explicit statements on the art of rhetoric and his own use of rhetoric, I provide an outline of a central problem: Peter Damian, while highly critical of the application of rhetoric to matters of faith, is guilty of the same offense. After situating De divina omnipotentia in eleventh-century polemics between traditional monastic and new and upcoming scholastic centers of education, I turn to another major letter in Damian’s oeuvre, Dominus vobiscum. After suggesting an outline of the rhetorical situation that underlies this letter, I continue my efforts of rhetorical analysis. In both letters, I discuss the various solutions Peter Damian himself offers to the practice of rhetoric in relation to faith, and suggest that these, on the basis of my rhetorical analysis, are rhetorical tactics rather than theological or epistemological principles, as suggested by Leclercq. Ultimately, this paper makes a call for a critical attitude towards Peter Damian’s statements that takes account of the rhetorical and historical context involved.