saint possidius of calama

Saints Alypius and Possidius were two of Saint Augustine’s dearest and closest friends, sharing in his life, ideals, and goals. Possidius was one of the first members of Augustine’s original monastic community.

Saint Possidius of Calama by Mario Ferrari, Rome, Italy.Possidius, like Alypius, was a native of Roman Africa. Little is known of his early life, however, until he joined Augustine’s monastic community at Hippo in 391. Of the members of that 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 into 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 were reconciled to frequent traveling, the one means—aside from correspondence—of keeping their friendship and ideals united. The two were often travel companions on trips to bishops’ conferences. In 411, Possidius, together with Augustine and Alypius, was 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 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 Vandals, imposed Arianism on the conquered 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 work and influence of his brother and friend.

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