St. Augustine: Rhetorical Devices 3 and 4

From twos and threes, we proceed to two devices that require four elements, two pairs to be exact: chiasmus and synchysis.
Chiasmus is an ABBA arrangement of words or phrases; Synchysis (aka Interlocked Word Order) is an ABAB arrangement of words or phrases.


ABBA in Chiasmus Arrangement (abba)

When Augustine uses chiasmus, there is a good chance he is showing a separation between the two A elements or a coming together of the two B elements (or both).

Bonum autem illi est haerere tibi semper, ne, quod adeptus est A) conversione (B), aversione (B) lumen amittat (A)   (Confessions XIII)

It is always good for a man to cling to you (God) lest the light which he gained (A) by conversion (B), by aversion (B) he lose (A)  

In the above passage, the gaining and the losing are driven apart as two opposing acts– the one beneficial, the other destructive.

opera (A) mutas (B) nec mutas (B) consilium (A) (Confessions 1)

your works (A) you change (B), and you do not change (B) your plan (A)

In describing the many attributes of God, Augustine says that He changes His works but He doesn’t change His plan, i.e. He causes change but is himself unchanged.  The two B elements are brought together as the two attributes of God– causing change and not changing.


ABBA in Synchysis Arrangement (abab)

When Augustine uses synthesis, there is a good chance he is revealing an interconnectedness between the A and B elements.

delevisti omnia mala merita mea (A), ne retribueres manibus meis, in quibus a te defeci (B), et praevenisti omnia bona merita mea (A), ut retribueres manibus tuis, quibus me fecisti (B) (Confessions XIII)

you removed all my evil deeds (A) so that you might not return them to my hands in which I withdrew from you (B);
and you anticipated all my good deeds (A) so that I might return them to your hands by which you made me (A).

In the above passage, God’s removal of Augustine’s bad deeds is connected with God’s anticipation of Augustine’s good deeds.  When God removes the evil he simultaneously instills the good; the passive act of sin-removal is inextricably bound to the activity of doing and being good.


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