By the summer of AD429 Vandal armies had begun inflicting various degrees of destruction and havoc on the urban population of the northern African littoral; if the sources are to be taken at face value, they reserved particular ire for representatives of the Catholic church, either through the suspicion ecclesiastical treasures were being withheld, or due to generic Arian vindictiveness. Augustine was an old man by this time, and in what we read from his own hand as well as in Possidius’ Vita of his friend, it seems accounts of violence and devastation flowed towards Hippo: churches alight; bishops minded to flee; escalating acts of torture, rape, and looting ravaging the landscape. By winter, the Vandal army was at the gates of Hippo and Augustine preached to those refugees, maimed and destitute, who had managed their escape to his city. The scale of such terror and suffering was shattering. Amidst this, Possidius reports, the aged bishop used to console himself with the maxim of a certain wise man:

‘It is no great man
Who thinks it such a great thing
That sticks and stones should fall
Or that men, who must die, should die’

Remarkably, as Peter Brown points out, this is Plotinus, from Ennead I.iv.7, writing of the Proficient and true happiness.


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