EARLY AMERICAN CHURCH OF ENGLAND AND EPISCOPALIAN RELIGIOUS WRITINGS: THEIR RHETORICAL BASES EXAMINED IN SELECTED TEXTS (1766-1823)

PATRICIA MARY MCDONALD, Fordham University

Abstract

The religious works (chiefly sermons) of the early American Anglican and then Episcopalian clergy are by custom and design based on and informed by classical rhetoric as interpreted by the Renaissance and inherited by the Enlightenment. In the formal structure of the characteristic sermons, discourses and funeral orations which comprise the bulk of this literature, and also in the reliance on many of the topics or "commonplaces," and even in the frequent use of the "schemes" these rhetorical bases can be seen. This study discusses selected religious works, particularly sermons, produced in the middle colonies in the late colonial, and early federal periods, by Anglican and then Episcopalian, clergy, examining the rhetorical elements of that essentially pulpit literature. It also attempts to evaluate the balance of inherited and distinctly American usages in these special types of exposition.^ The training of the American Episcopalian clergy of this period was primarily an individual undertaking. There were, before 1813, no seminaries in America; ministerial training consisted of independent study under the guidance of a respected minister. Most of the clergymen whose works are examined in this study were educated in colleges or universities where rhetoric formed an important part of the curriculum. Books on rhetoric were held in American school, college and local libraries of the middle colonies. Such books appeared frequently in the sale lists of the eighteenth-century booksellers of the area; not only were rhetorics imported, but many were published at several American cities during this period.^ The dissertation analyzes the religious works written by Benjamin Moore, John Bowden, William Smith, Uzal Ogden, William White, John Croes, and Nathaniel Evans. The texts are analyzed by noting and explicit references to rhetoric which appear in them, and then, following the three "parts" of traditional rhetoric, by examining the kinds of proof used (inventio), the types of appeal, the structure of the work (dispositio), and the stylistic devices used (elocutio).^ Bishop Moore's sermons were grounded in traditional rhetoric (as opposed to the "new" rhetoric of the eighteenth-century), but he did not adhere absolutely to it, used inartistic proof more frequently than artificial, did not follow the customary six part form, and used the schemes and tropes to vary his sermons. In two books of theological controversy, Dr. Bowden disputed with presbyterian advocate Dr. Samuel Miller about the apostolic origin of episcopacy. The matter, form and style of these books show dependence on rhetoric in the appeal to common sense, use of argumentation and of the rhetorical schemes to make the sentence structure interesting.^ The funeral and other sermons on death written by Rev. William Smith followed usual methods and focused on age-old themes. They appealed to a popular audience, and used standard methods of structure, presentation of proof, and stylistic devices. Occasional sermons by Rev. Uzal Ogden, Bishop William White, Bishop John Croes, and Rev. Nathaniel Evans are examined, and the influence of rhetoric is traced in the techniques of development, the principles of organization and stylistic devices employed; clarity was emphasized, pedantry and ostentation of learning were avoided; markedly conventional imagery was used and simple development was commonly followed.^ The dissertation concludes by pointing out that the writings examined are characteristically Anglican in their distrust of overly emotional "enthusiasm," their emphasis on reason and commonsense, and their disinclination to discuss doctrine from the pulpit. The sermons are somewhat American in several of their basic assumptions, especially in references to the War for Independence, the energy and future of the new country, and its similarity to biblical Israel. Language usage remains conservative, with some but few Americanisms visible. ^

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

MCDONALD, PATRICIA MARY, "EARLY AMERICAN CHURCH OF ENGLAND AND EPISCOPALIAN RELIGIOUS WRITINGS: THEIR RHETORICAL BASES EXAMINED IN SELECTED TEXTS (1766-1823)" (1980). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8020072.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8020072

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