St. Augustine: Rhetorical Devices 2

Another one of St. Augustine’s favorite rhetorical devices is the tricolon, the use of three items, three phrases, three clauses.  While antithesis works with two elements, the tricolon uses three.  The use of three items has been around so long that it almost seems an inherent human preference:

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For whatever reason, it sticks in the mind.  It is pleasing to the ear.  And unlike pairs, it has the ability to expand.  When it does, it is called tricolon crescens.

Nos Christi mors vivificavit (1),
nos resurrectio erexit (2),
nos Christi ascensio consecravit( 3)

Christ’s death gave us life (1);
his resurrection raised us up (2);
his ascension made us holy (3).

Prima libertas voluntatis erat posse peccare; novissima erit multo magis non posse peccare (1).
Prima immortalitas erat posse non mori; novissima
erit multo maior non posse mori (2)
Prima erat per severentiae potestas bonum posse non deserere; novissima erit perseverantiae felicitas bonum non
posse deserere (3)

At first free will was to have the power to sin; in the end it will be greater, not to have the power to sin (1).  At first immortality was to have the power not to die; in the end it will be greater, not to have the power to die (2).  At first perseverance was the power not to desert what’s good; in the end it will be greater, not to have the power to desert the good (3).

nolo in aliud horae diffluant quas invenio liberas a necessitatibus
reficiendi corporis (1)
et intentionis animi (2)
et servitutis quam debemus hominibus et quam non debemus et tamen reddimus (3)

I do not wish the hours to flow off in another direction, the hours which I have free from the need
of restoring my body (1),
of the intention of the mind (2)
and of the service which we owe to men and which we do not owe but yet we give anyway (3)

In this last example, the third element “service” is expanded, giving a crescendo to the entire phrase.


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