Saint Alypius of Thagaste and Saint Possidius of Calama

Saints Alypius and Possidius were two of Saint Augustine’s dearest and closest friends, sharing his life, ideals, and goals. Alypius was a student of Saint Augustine’s, who later witnessed and joined in Augustine’s conversion to Christianity.

Alypius was born in the middle of the fourth century in Thagaste, a small town in the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis. He was a member of the aristocracy, and his parents were leading citizens in Thagaste. In conformity with his parents’ desire he studied law, which he later practiced as an assessor in Milan.

Alypius first met Augustine while at school in Carthage. In theConfessions Augustine mentions that there was mutual admiration between the: “He studied under me again at Carthage and held me in high esteem, because I seemed to him good and learned, while I for my part was fond of him on account of his great nobility of character, which was unmistakable even before he reached mature years.” Elsewhere in the Confessions Augustine refers to him as “the brother of my soul.”

While at school in Cathage, Alypius heard of Augustine’s rhetorical skills, but decided not to attend his classes because of a disagreement between his own father and Augustine. Eventually, however, Alypius did become Augustine’s pupil, and was deeply influenced by his sincerity and honesty.

In 384, Alypius followed Augustine to Milan. Here Augustine had opened a school of rhetoric and the two soon fell prey to the skeptical Academicians. It was in this city also that the two friends listened to the powerful preaching of Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and found guidance in their spiritual search. In one of the most famous scenes of the Confessions, Augustine tells of his soul’s torment before his conversion; all the while his friend Alypius was by his side. They were both converted to Christianity and later that year of 386 returned to the hills of Milan at Cassiciacum where they prepared for baptism by Ambrose at the Easter Vigil, 25 April 387.

Following their reception into the Church, the two friends returned to Africa where Alypius helped Augustine establish the first monastery in North Africa, at their hometown of Thagaste. When Augustine was later made priest at Hippo, Alypius moved there with him, and became a member of the first monastic community Augustine founded there. In 394/395 Alypius became bishop of Thagaste. His death took place around the year 430.

Possidius, like Alypius, was a native of Roman Africa. Little is known of his early life, however, until he joined Augustine’s monastic community in Hippo in 391. Of the members of the first community at Hippo, ten were appointed bishops in distant cities of North Africa. Around the year 397 Possidius was named bishop of Calama, which had been plagued with Donatist and pagan factions for years. He entered a highly volatile situation which was only to become worse as time went on. In 404 Donatist extremists sacked a house which Possidius was visiting and set it afire. Possidius narrowly escaped the attack, but continued to be consumed in the Donatist struggle throughout the next decade.

Despite his departure from the monastic community at Hippo, Possidius kept in close contact with Augustine. The two monk-bishops 
saintpossidiuswere reconciles to frequent traveling, the one means — aside from correspondence — of keeping their friendship and ideals united. The two were often traveling companions on trips to bishops’ conferences. In 411, Possidius, together with Augustine and Alypius, were selected to represent the 266 Catholic bishops at the great conference between Catholics and Donatists held at Carthage.

The conference was a great success for the Church, as many Donatist followers were converted. Possidius, in his biography of Augustine, credited his eloquent friend for the victory.

Despite the unity achieved for the North African Church, problems once again beset the bishops of in 428 in the form of barbarian invasions. After the sacking of Rome in 410 several barbarian tribes moved southward in the Empire. Their arrival on African shores in 428 was to mark the end of Roman Africa. When Calama fell to the Vandals in 429, Possidius took refuge with Augustine within the walls of Hippo. When Augustine fell sick with fever and died in 430, Possidius was at his side.

Hippo was burned in 431. Possidius eventually returned to Calama, but in 437 he and the other Catholic bishops were exiled as King Generic, ruler of the Candals, imposed Arianism on the conqueored cities of North Africa. Possidius died in exile, but not before he completed his invaluable biography, The Life of Augustine, in which he described the word and influence of his brother and friend.

The Augustinian Family celebrates the memory of Saints Alypius and Possidius on 16 May.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Saint Possidius of Calama by Mario Ferrari, Rome, Italy.

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