Saturday, January 07, 2017

5th century bishop, Possidius of Calama, describes the last days of St. Augustine and the Vandal Conquest of Roman Africa



Saint Augustine, one of the greatest intellects in human history and a Catholic apologist par excellence, lived and proselytized during the twilight of the Roman Empire. As his life drew to a close, however, his homeland of Roman Numidia was overrun by an army of marauding Vandals--a barbaric host which had carved a swath through the enervated provinces of Gaul, Spain and Mauritania. By the time the Vandal armies reached Augustine's province of Numidia in about AD 430, the great bishop lay on his deathbed. His city of Hippo Regius was besieged and the remaining Roman forces under Count Boniface were defeated, leaving all of Africa open to the invaders.

With Augustine at the time of his death was his friend, Possidius, bishop of Calama. Possidius's town had already been captured by the Vandals and he had sought refuge behind the walls of Hippo. Later, Possidus would write his Vita Augustini, which provides one of the few contemporary accounts of the Vandal invasion of Roman Africa. The excerpt in the video above and pasted below is taken from the Vita Augustini of Possidius, Chapter 28.
"...It came about, in accordance with the divine will and command, that a great host of savage foes, Vandals and Alans, with some of the Gothic tribe interspersed, and various other peoples, armed with all kinds of weapons and well trained in warfare, came by ship from the regions of Spain across the sea and poured into Africa and overran it. And everywhere through the regions of Mauretania, even crossing over to other of our provinces and territories, raging with cruelty and barbarity, they completely devastated everything they could by their pillage, murder and varied tortures, conflagrations and other innumerable and unspeakable crimes, sparing neither sex nor age, nor even the priests or ministers of God, nor yet the ornaments or vessels of the churches nor even the buildings. 
Now the man of God did not believe and think as other men did regarding the causes from which this most fierce assault and devastation of the foe had arisen and come to pass. But considering these matters more deeply and profoundly and perceiving in them above all the dangers and the death of souls (since, as it is written, "He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow," and "An understanding heart is a worm in the bones"), more than ever tears were his meat day and night, as he passed through and endured those days of his life, now almost ended, which beyond all others were the most bitter and mournful of his old age. For he saw cities overthrown in destruction, and the resident citizens, together with the buildings on their lands, partly annihilated by the enemy's slaughter and others driven into flight and dispersed.
He saw churches stripped of priests and ministers, and holy virgins and all the monastics scattered in every direction. Here he saw some succumb to torture and others slain by the sword, while still others in captivity, losing their innocency and faith both in soul and body, received from their foes the harsh and evil treatment of slaves. He saw the hymns and praises of God perish from the churches; the church buildings in many places consumed by fire; the regular services which were due to God cease from their appointed places; the holy sacraments no longer desired, or if some one did desire them, no one could easily be found to administer them. When they gathered in flight amid the mountain forests, in the caves and caverns of the rocks or in any other kind of retreat, some were captured and put to death while others were robbed and deprived of the necessary means of sustenance so that they gradually perished of hunger. 
Even the bishops of the churches and the clergy who, by the help of God, did not chance to meet the foe or, if they did meet them, escaped their hands, he saw despoiled and stripped of all their goods and begging in abject poverty, nor could they all be furnished with that by which they might be relieved. Of the innumerable churches he saw only three survive, namely those of Carthage, Hippo and Cirta, which by God's favor were not demolished. These cities too still stand, protected by human and divine aid, although after Augustine's death the city of Hippo, abandoned by its inhabitants, was burned by the enemy. Amid these calamities he was consoled by the thought of a certain wise man who said: "He is not to be thought great who thinks it strange that wood and stones should fall and mortals die."
"But Augustine, being exceeding wise, daily bewailed all these events. And it increased his grief and sorrow that this same enemy also came to besiege the city of the Hippo-Regians which had so far maintained its position. With its defence at this time the late Count Boniface had been entrusted with an army of allied Goths. For almost fourteen months they shut up and besieged the city; and they even cut off its sea-coast by blockade. 
We ourselves with other of our fellow-bishops from the neighboring regions took refuge in this city and remained in it during the whole time of the siege. Consequently we very frequently conversed together and meditated on the awful judgments of God laid bare before our eyes, saying: "Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments." And in our common grief, with groanings and tears, we besought the Father of mercies and the Lord of all consolation that He vouchsafe to sustain us in this tribulation."
The English translation of the whole Vita Augustini of Possidius is available in an inexpensive English translation as part of the Christian Roman Empire series.

It may also be found on Amazon.com in print and Kindle editions.

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