Saints Alypius and Possidius

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.

saintalypiusAlypius 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 the Confessions 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.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Saint Alypius of Thagaste 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 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.

Blessed Anselm Polanco

The evocation of the life and martyrdom of Blessed Anselm Polanco, as the supreme act of love, still speaks to people today, reminding them that the Christian must be ready to confess Christ before all, and to follow Christ on the way of the cross.

Anselm Polanco was born in Buenavista de Valdavia, Palencia Spain, on 16 April 1881. After his entry into the Order of Saint Augustine in the Province of the Philipppines (Spain), he professed vows in the monastery of Valladolid in 1897. Here he pursued his philosophical studies and then studied theology at Santa Maria de la Vid Monastery where he was ordained a priest in December 1904. Afterward he studied in Germany, and then returned to Spain to teach in Valladolid and La Vid. He was engaged in formation for some time and, from 1923 to 1929 was prior of the community at Valladolid. In 1929 he went to the Philippines as provincial councilor. Three years later, in 1932, he was named Prior Provincial of the Province of the Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines (Spain).

As prior provincial he was assiduous in carrying out the visitation of his brothers, giving careful attention to the different countriesblessedanselmpolanco where his province was represented. This meant traveling to China, the Philippines, the United States, Columbia, and Peru, bringing to every one a word of encouragement in their work of evangelization, and a fraternal exhortation to live a genuine Augustinian religious life.

In 1935 Father Anselm Polanco was appointed bishop of Teruel, Spain, at a extraordinarily difficult time. Civil war broke out in Spain and the city of Teruel, where he resided, immediately became one of the points of cruel and bloody conflict. The city was on the very battle line and was besieged. In this dramatic situation the bishop, followed by his vicar, resolved to remain at his post and to share the fate of the rest of the population, despite the fact that they could have gone to safety as many advised them to do.

Inspired by the logic of the faith and a profound pastoral sense, Bishop Polanco put into practice the advice of Augustine to Bishop Honoratus: “When all are threatened by the same danger, that is, bishops, clergy, and laity, those who need the others must not be abandoned by those of whom they have need” (Possidius, Life of Augustine 30,11).

When the city fell into the hands of the besieging troops, the bishop was arrested, and in this state he suffered great pressure, especially that he should withdraw his signature from a joint pastoral letter of the Spanish bishops, in which the religious persecution suffered by the Church was denounced before the world public opinion. Bishop Polanco refused to withdraw his signature, in spite of threats, as well a promises, from the politicians. According to some witnesses, they even offered to support him for the office of archbishop of Barcelona. He knew very well that resistance put his life at risk. However, he endured the danger out of fidelity to ecclesial communion with his brother bishops and out of obedience to the pope, the only one from whom he could accept another appointment in the Church.

He quietly endured the prison, where he was confined for over a year, accepting it as God’s will. In this time of trial he was able to organize with the other detainees an intense life of prayer, based on the practices of piety and meditation. Only rarely was he permitted to celebrate the Eucharist.

Bishop Polanco and father Felipe Ripoll, the vicar general of the diocese of Teruel, were assassinated on 7 February 1939, shortly before the war ended, and so they are counted among the last victims of this Spanish civil strife.

Bishop Polanco was man of deep faith, sincere piety, and constant prayer, to the point of being considered a saint even before his martyrdom. His dedication to God and to his sisters and brothers was exactly the best spiritual preparation for his martyrdom.

Accordingly, he is regarded as a model, through the different stages of his life, for his wholehearted commitment, his availability, his uncompromising dedication, and his service first of all to his religious brothers, and then to the faithful of his diocese.

Pope John Paul II beatified Bishop Polanco at St. Peter’s in Rome on 1 October 1995.

The Augustinian family celebrates his feast on 7 February.

Rotelle, John, Book of Augustinian Saints, Augustinian Press 2000
Blessed Anselm Polanco by Dante Ricci