Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Alipius, Bishop and Confessor
HE was of a good family, and born at Tagaste in Africa, of which town the great St. Austin was also a native. He studied grammar at Tagaste, and rhetoric at Carthage, both under St. Austin, till a disagreement happened between St. Austin and his father. Alipius still retained an extraordinary affection and respect for him, and was reciprocally much beloved by him on account of his great inclination to virtue. At Carthage Alipius was unhappily bewitched with the vain shows of the circus, to which the inhabitants of that great city were extravagantly addicted. St. Austin was much afflicted that so hopeful a young gentleman would be, or rather was already, lost in that dangerous school of the passions; but he had no opportunity of admonishing him of that evil custom; Alipius at that time not being suffered by his father to be any longer one of his scholars. He happened however one day to step into his school, and hear some part of his lecture, and then depart, as he did sometimes by stealth. Austin, in expounding the subject which he had in hand, borrowed a similitude from the shows of the circus, with a smart derision of those who were captivated with that folly. This he did without any thought of Alipius. But Alipius, imagining it had been spoken purely for him, and being a well-disposed youth, was angry with himself for this weak passion, not with Austin, whom he loved the more for this undesigned rebuke. Condemning himself, he rose out of the pit into which he was sunk, and went no more to the circus. Thus God, who sitteth at the helm and steereth the course of all things which he hath created, rescued from this danger one whom he had decreed to adopt one day among his children, and raise to the dignity of a bishop, and a dispenser of his sacraments. After this, Alipius prevailed with his father that he might be again Austins scholar. He was afterwards involved with his mother in the superstition of the Manichees, being much taken with their boasted continency, which he supposed to be true and sincere, whereas, says St. Austin, it was only counterfeit to inveigle souls; for such are the charms, and such the dignity of virtue, that they who know not how to reach the height of that which is true, are easily deceived by superficial appearance, and what has only the shadow of it.
Alipius, whilst he was a student at Carthage, found a hatchet in the street, which a thief, who had attempted to cut off and steal some lead from certain rails in the city, had dropped to save himself, being closely pursued. Alipius innocently took up the hatchet, and, being found with it, was carried before the judge, where he was treated as the true thief. As the officers were leading him to prison or to punishment, he was met by an architect who had care of the public buildings, and knew Alipius, whom he had often seen at the house of a certain senator. This man, surprised to see him in such hands, inquired of him how so great a misfortune had befallen him; and having heard his case, he desired the people, who were in a great tumult and rage, to go along with him; for he would prove to them the innocence of their prisoner. He went to the house of a young man who was guilty of the fact, and met at the door an infant who innocently told the whole matter without suspecting any harm to his master; for being shown the hatchet, and asked whose it was, the child presently answered, it is ours; and being further examined, discovered the theft. Whereupon the mob was confounded, and Alipius discharged. This accident, according to the remark of St. Austin, was an effect of divine providence, that he might learn from it to be tender of the reputation of others, and to guard against rash judgment; for, generally, common fame is no grounds for condemning a man.
Alipius pursuing his views in the world, according to the inclinations of his parents, went to Rome to study the law. In that city he was drawn into an incredible passion for the barbarous shows of the amphitheatre, or fights of gladiators; for he being at first very averse from such diversions, some of his friends and school-fellows meeting him one day after dinner, with a familiar violence, led him, much against his will, to those tragical sports which were then exhibiting. He resisted them all the way, and said to them: If you haul my body thither, can you force me to turn my mind or my eyes upon those shows? I shall be absent therefore, though present in body. Yet they did not desist, but carried him with them. When they had taken their seats, and the cruel sports began, Alipius shut his eyes, that his soul might not take any delight in such wicked objects; and would to God, says St. Austin, he had shut his ears too; for hearing a great shout of the people, he was overcome by curiosity, and opened his eyes, designing only to see what the matter was, and to despise it; and then shut them again. But to show us how much our safety depends upon our shunning the occasions of evil, and shutting out all dangerous objects from our soul, he fell by this curiosity. One of the combatants was wounded; and Alipius by the sight received a more grievous wound in his soul, whilst he was more bold than strong; though indeed he was so much the weaker, inasmuch as he presumed of himself, instead of confiding only in God. He no sooner beheld the blood of the wounded gladiator, but instead of turning away his eyes, he fixed them on the savage spectacle, sucked in all the fury, and was made drunk by the cruel pleasure of those criminal and barbarous combats. He was not now the man he came, but one of the multitude with which he mingled. He looked on, he shouted, he took fire, he carried away with him a madness by which he was incited to return again, even among the foremost of his companions, and to draw others with him. He also again relapsed into his former passion for the diversion of the circus, which consisted chiefly in various kinds of races; more innocent indeed than the barbarous fights of gladiators, but vain, and often incentives of various passions. From these misfortunes he learned to fear his own weakness, and trust in God alone, after he had by the most strong and merciful hand of his Creator, been raised from the pit. But this was long afterwards.
In the mean time Alipius followed his studies, lived chaste, behaved with great integrity and honour, and was made assessor of justice in the court of the treasurer of Italy. In this charge he gave memorable proofs of justice and disinterestedness, and opposed an unjust usurpation of a powerful senator whose favour was courted by many, and whose displeasure was dreaded by all. When a reward was promised, Alipius scorned it; and when he was assaulted with threats, he despised them. The judge himself, whose assessor he was, was restrained by his integrity; for, if he had passed an unjust decree, Alipius would have gone off the bench. When St. Austin came to Rome he stuck close to him, went with him to Milan, and was converted and baptized with him by St. Ambrose on Easter-Eve in 387. Sometime after they returned to Rome, and having spent there a year in retirement, went back to Africa. They lived together at Tagaste, in a small community of devout persons, in the fervent practice of penance, fasting, and prayer, labouring perfectly to put off the old man with his works. Worldly habits just healed stood in need of such a retreat, nor was the penitent to be exposed again to danger. Habits of all virtues were to be formed and strengthened. Such a solitude was also a necessary preparation for the apostolic life, which these holy men afterwards embraced. They lived thus three years at Tagaste, when St. Austin being made priest of Hippo, they all removed thither, and continued the same manner of life in a monastery which St. Austin built there. Alipius performed a journey of devotion to Palestine, where he saw, and contracted a friendship with St. Jerom. Upon his return into Africa he was consecrated bishop of Tagaste about the year 393. He was St. Austins chief assistant in all he did, and wrote against the Donatists and Pelagians. He assisted at many councils, undertook several journeys, and preached and laboured with indefatigable zeal in the cause of God and his church. St. Austin, in a letter which he wrote to him in 429, calls him old. He seems not to have long survived that year. His name occurs on this day in the Roman Martyrology. See St. Augustine Confess. l. 6, c. 7, 8, 9, 10, 12. l. 9, c. 6, and ep. 22, 28, 188, 201, ed. Ben. Tillem. t. 12.