University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E00073: The Life of *Augustine (bishop of Hippo, ob. 430, S00077) is written by his former pupil Possidius, bishop of Calama: it presents him as an efficient polemicist, writer, and administrator of his diocese. Written in Latin in Calama (North Africa) in the 430s.

online resource
posted on 2014-10-13, 00:00 authored by robert
Possidius of Calama, Life of Augustine

The Life of Augustine consists of three parts. The first part (chapters 1-7) presents summarily and in chronological order his life prior to his election to the bishopric of Hippo. It is based on Augustine's Confessions, but shows his religious history in a very simplified way. Possidius claims for instance that Augustine was born to Christian parents, though the Confessions state clearly that his father was then, and long after, pagan. The second part (chapters 8-28) describes Augustine's way of life as a bishop, with a special attention to his polemics against Manicheans and Donatists and his administrative activity. The third part (chapters 29-31) tells of his last days and death. In this part Possidius quotes Augustine's long letter to a bishop Honoratus, discussing how clerics should behave during the Vandal invasion. Attached to, and strictly connected with the Vita, is the Indiculus (or Indiculum), an extensive index of Augustine's writings.

The Life of Augustine is almost entirely devoid of miracles. They are only briefly mentioned in the description of Augustine's last illness:

Chapter 29
Nec suum sane Dominus famulum fructu suae precis fraudavit: nam et sibi ipsi et eidem civitati, quod lacrimosis depoposcit precibus, in tempore inpetravit. Novi quoque eumdem et presbyterum et episcopum pro quibusdam energuminis patientibus ut oraret rogatum, eum que in oratione lacrimas fundentem Deum rogasse, et daemones ab hominibus recessisse. Item que ad aegrotantem et lecto vacantem quemdam cum suo aegroto venisse et rogavisse, ut eidem manum inponeret, quo sanus esse posset; respondisse, si aliquid in his posset, sibi hoc utique primitus praestitisset; et illum dixisse visitatum se fuisse sibi que per somnium dictum esse: "Vade ad Augustinum episcopum, ut eidem manum inponat, et salvus erit". Quod dum comperisset, facere non distulit, et illum infirmum continuo Dominus sanum ab eodem discedere fecit.

'In truth the Lord did not deprive His servant of the reward of his prayer. For what he asked with tears and prayers for himself and the city he obtained in due time. I know also that both while he was presbyter and bishop, when asked to pray for certain demoniacs, he entreated God in prayer with many tears and the demons departed from the men. In like manner when he was sick and confined to his bed there came a certain man with a sick relative and asked him to lay his hand upon him that he might be healed. But Augustine answered that if he had any power in such things he would surely have applied it to himself first of all; to which the stranger replied that he had had a vision and that in his dream these words had been addressed to him: "Go to the bishop Augustine that he may lay his hand upon him, and he shall be whole." Now when Augustine heard this he did not delay to do it and immediately God caused the sick man to depart from him healed.'

Text: Bastiaensen 1975. Translation: Weiskotten 1919. Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Augustine, bishop of Hippo (ob. 430) : S00077

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Calama Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Major author/Major anonymous work

Augustine of Hippo

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Healing diseases and disabilities Exorcism Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


The Life of Augustine was written by his former disciple Possidius, then bishop of Calama, not long after the Life of Ambrose, composed by Paulinus of Milan c. 422, which was written in Africa at Augustine's request. Possidius probably knew the latter Life, but he presented his hero in a very different way to Paulinus' account of *Ambrose ($E###). Both Augustine and Ambrose combat doctrinal adversaries, but whereas Ambrose's position is proven by miracles, Augustine seems to be successful because he is a well-trained polemicist. The lack of miracles in the Life of Augustine is not easy to explain. It can be considered a result of Possidius' choice to comply with the literary model of the life of a Roman magistrate rather than that of a charismatic saint, but this only raises the question of what motivated this choice. It is possible that Possidius' reluctance to write about miracles reflected up to a point Augustine's own opinion. For the latter maintained for a long time that the era of miracles had ended and that people should not expect them to occur in their lifetime. However, Augustine changed his views on contemporary miracles before his death. Possibly Possidius, who no longer had daily contact with his old teacher, was not fully aware of this evolution in Augustine's thinking. More importantly, the Life of Augustine is written more to show the model of a good bishop than to promote Augustine's cult. It seems that its intended audience was the clergy, and that is why so much emphasis is put on the way in which Augustine organised the life of the clerics in Hippo, performed his juridical duties, and administered the diocese.


Edition: Possidio, Vita di Agostino, ed. A.A.R. Bastiaensen, Italian trans. C. Carena, in: C. Mohrmann (ed.), Vite dei santi. Vol. 3 (Milan: Mondadori, 1975). English translation: Weiskotten, H.T., Sancti Augustini Vita Scripta a Possidio Episcopo. Edited with revised text, introduction, notes, and an English version (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1919) Further reading: Elm, E., "Die Vita Augustini des Possidius: the work of a plain man and an untrained writer? Wandlungen in der Beurteilung eines hagiographischen Textes," Augustinianum 37 (1997), 229-240. Stoll, R., "Die Vita Augustini des Possidius als hagiographischer Text," Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 102 (1991), 1-31. Zocca, E., "La figura del santo vescovo in Africa da Ponzio a Possidio," in: Vescovi e pastori in epoca teodosiana. In occasione del XVI centenario della consacrazione episcopale di S. Agostino, 396-1996. XXV Incontro di studiosi dell'antichità cristiana, Roma, 8-11 maggio 1996. Vol. 2 (Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 1997), 469-492.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager