« Paulinus, biographer of Ambrose Paulinus, bishop of Nola Paulinus of Pella »

Paulinus, bishop of Nola

Paulinus (8), St., bp. of Nola, one of a patrician family of whom some had been Christians (Ausonius, Ep. xxiv. 103; Paulin. Ep. xl. Prudentius, Symm. i. 558, 560; Baronius, 394, 78, 99). They had property in Aquitania, and probably resided there habitually (Ambros. Ep. lviii. 1). His father was praefectus praetorio of Gaul, had large possessions in the province in which he lived, and was the founder of the town of Burgus (Bourg) on the Dordogne, and, as well as his wife, appears to have been a Christian.

I. First Period (353–394).—Besides Paulinus, his parents had an elder son and a daughter. He was probably born at Bordeaux, a.d. 353 or 354, and his tutor was Ausonius, who thought very highly of him as a pupil, regarded him with warm affection, and addressed to him many of his poetical epistles. The affection of Ausonius was fully returned by his pupil, who declares that he owed to him all the distinction he had attained.

Whatever merit his Latin compositions possess, he was by his own admission not strong in Greek, and in a letter to Rufinus, a.d. 408, regrets his inability to translate accurately an epistle of St. Clement (Ep. xlvi. 2). He entered early into public life, became a member of the senate, and filled the office of consul for part of the official year in the place of some one who had vacated it; in what year is not known, his name not appearing in the Fasti, but before 379 when Ausonius held the office and says that his pupil attained the dignity earlier than himself (Aus. Ep. xx. 4, xxv. 60). Paulinus has been supposed also to have been prefect of New Epirus, a supposition consistent with his own mention of frequent and laborious journeys by land and sea, but of which there is no direct evidence, though an edict of the joint emperors Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian undoubtedly exists, addressed to a prefect of that province of his name, a.d. 372. He certainly held a judicial office, for in one of his poems he expresses satisfaction at having condemned no one to death during his tenure of it. Lebrun conjectures that after his consulship he became consularis of Campania and resided at Nola (Carm. xxi. 396; Tillem. vol. xiv. p. 8). Possessed of easy fortune and enjoying the best society, he lived a life free from outward reproach, but one for which he afterwards found great fault with himself. His health was never good, and he suffered much from fatigue in his journeys (Carm. x. 134; xiii. 2, 10; Ep. v. 4). In the course of them he fell in with Victricius bp. of Rouen and Martin bp. of Tours at Vienne in Gaul, and ascribed to the latter the restoration of his sight, the loss of which was threatened, apparently by cataract (Ep. xviii. 9; Sulpic. Sev. Vit. S. Mart. xix. 3, ed. Halm.). He also regarded St. Ambrose with great veneration, calling him "father" (Ep. iii. 6). But his chief object of veneration was Felix of Nola, to whom he devoted himself specially when he visited Nola at about 26 or 27 years of age, a.d. 379 (Carm. xiii. 7, 9; xxi. 350, 381). About this time, but not later than 389, he and his brother received baptism at Bordeaux, from Delphinus, the bishop there (Epp. iii. 4; xx. 6; xxxv.; xxxvi.). Not long after he began to think of retiring from the world, and in 389 or ago went to Spain, residing chiefly at Barcelona. During this time he married a Spanish lady of good fortune and irreproachable character, named Therasia, and a son was born to them, who died after a few days (Prudentius, Peristeph. v. 41, 44; Dexter, Chron. a.d. 296; Carm. v. 66; xxi. 400; xxxv. 599, 610). There seems good reason for placing the violent death of his brother about this time, when not only his brother's property was in danger of confiscation, but that of Paulinus himself and even his life (Carm. xxi. 414–427; Buse, vol. i. p. 157). It was perhaps partly due to these events that during his stay in Spain he was led to give up the senate and worldly business and refused to take any further interest in "profane" literature (Ep. iv. 2; xxii. 3; Carm. x. 304, 316). But he continued to write verses on sacred subjects to the end of his life. Determined to renounce the world, he parted with a large portion of his property and his wife's, spending some of the money in redeeming captives, releasing debtors, and the like. In compliance with a sudden popular demand, he was ordained priest, but without any especial cure of souls, by Lampius, bp. of Barcelona, on Christmas Day, 393 (Epp. i. 10; ii. 2; iii. 4). He appears to have been already well acquainted with some of the most eminent African clergy, Alypius, Augustine, Aurelius, and others. In a letter to St. Augustine he mentions his work against the Manicheans, i.e. probably his de Doctrina Christiana, together with the single volume de Vera Religione in which Manichean doctrine is discussed (Aug. Ep. xxvii. 4). In the same letter Paulinus speaks of his own abandonment of the world, and requests Augustine to instruct and direct him.


II. Second Period (394–409).—In 394 he determined to retire to Nola, where he had property, including a house. On his way he saw St. Ambrose, probably at Florence, and in a letter to Sulpicius, whom he begs to visit him at Nola, he speaks of much jealousy being shewn him at Rome by pope Siricius and others of the clergy, probably on account of the unusual circumstances of his ordination; whereas at Nola, where not long after his arrival he had a serious illness, he was visited by nearly all the bishops of Campania, either in person or by deputy, by clergymen and some laymen, and received friendly letters from many African bishops who sent messengers to him. At Nola he entered with his wife at once upon the course of life he had marked out, and which he pursued as far as possible until his death, a.d. 431. SS. Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome regarded the self-sacrifice of him and his wife with high respect and admiration (Ambros. Ep. lviii. 1–3; Hieron. Epp. lviii. 6; cxviii. 5). Augustine writes to him in terms of warm admiration and affection (Aug. Ep. xxvii.), and in a second letter announces his appointment as coadjutor to Valerius, bp. of Hippo, and urges Paulinus to visit him in Africa (Aug. Ep. xxxi.). St. Jerome exhorts him and Therasia to persevere in their self-denial, and praises highly his panegyric on the emperor Theodosius, a work which he himself mentions but which has perished (Hieron. Ep. lviii.; Paul. Ep. xxviii. 6; Gennadius, c. 48). In reply to Augustine and to letters of the African bishops, Paulinus writes to Augustine's friend Romanianus, congratulating the African church on the appointment of Augustine and hoping that his "trumpet" may sound forcibly in the ears of Romanianus's son Licentius, to whom also he addressed a letter ending

Vive precor, sed vive Deo, nam vivere mundo

Mortis opus, vera est vivere vita Deo.

When Paulinus settled at Nola, the burial-place of Felix, called in the Martyrology of Bede in Pincis or in Pineis, about a mile from the town, had become the site of four churches (basilicae), one built by pope Damasus, and also a chapel. Probably none of these were of any great size. Paulinus added a fifth. The church whose dedication he mentions in Ep. 32 is described by him as having a triple apse (trichorum, i.e. τρίχωρον). (Ep. xxxii. 17; Isid. Orig. xv. 8, 7.) It was perhaps on the site of the one built by Damasus, and contained not only the tomb of Felix, but beneath the altar (altaria) remains of various saints and martyrs, including SS. John Bapt., Andrew, Luke, Thomas, and others of less note, including St. Nazarius, of whom some relics were sent to him by Ambrose (Ep. xxxii. 17; Carm. xxvii. 436, 439), but above all the precious fragment of the true cross, brought from Jerusalem by Melania and presented by her to Paulinus a.d. 398, and of which he sent a chip (astula) enclosed in a tube of gold to Sulpicius, as a special offering from Therasia and himself to Bassula, his friend's mother-in-law, to honour the churches built by him at Primuliacum (Ep. xxxi.). The pavement, walls, and columns of this apse were marble, and the vaulted roof, from which lamps were suspended by chains, was ceiled with mosaic representing the Trinity symbolically, and also the twelve apostles, with an inscription in verse describing the subjects represented. Of this mosaic some remains were visible in 1512. All the buildings, both churches and cloisters, were adorned with pictures representing Scripture subjects, in the older church from the N.T. and in the newer one from O.T., for the introduction of which Paulinus apologizes on the score of their utility in occupying the attention of the illiterate people who flocked to the grave of Felix in large numbers at all times, and sometimes spent whole nights there in the winter, watching and fasting, having brought torches with them. With these pictures Paulinus hoped to employ their minds and prevent them from excess in eating or drinking (Carm. xxvii. 552–598).

Paulinus also devoted much pains and cost to the erection of a new church at Fundi, a place endeared to him by early recollections and at which he possessed property. He enriched it with relics of martyrs and apostles, including St. Andrew, St. Luke, SS. Nazarius, Gervasius, and Protasius (Ep. xxxii. 17).

His own residence was a house he had formerly built or enlarged as an asylum for the poor. He added a second story for the use of himself, his associates, and his visitors, reserving the ground-floor for the poor, so that by their ascending prayers the buildings above might be strengthened (Ep. xxix. 13; Carm. xxi. 390). His mode of life was monastic in the fullest sense, and he calls his house a monastery (Ep. v. 15). The inmates dressed themselves in hair cloth with a rope girdle, cut their hair in a manner studiously unbecoming, were perhaps not careful as to personal cleanliness, observed strict rules of silence and fasting, even during Easter-tide did not eat until about 3 p.m., and used mostly a vegetable diet, lying down to sleep on the ground, wrapped only in a coarse cloak or patch-work blanket, and abridging the time usually devoted to sleep (Epp. xv. 4; xxii. 1, 2, 3, 6; xxix. i. 13; Carm. xxxv. 445–497).

He seldom, if ever, left Nola, except to visit Rome once a year to join in the festival of SS. Peter and Paul, on June 29, the day of their martyrdom ("beatorum apostolorum natalem") (Epp. xvii. 2; xviii. 1; xx. 2; xliii. 1; xlv. 1; Carm. xxi. 132–166; Aug. Ep. xcv. 6).

The event of all the year which was the chief interest for him and his little community at Nola was the festival of St. Felix, on Jan. 14. For many years he always composed a poem in honour of the day. In one of the earlier poems Paulinus tells how multitudes came from all parts of S. Italy, to be cured of their ailments or relieved of troubles, or to thank God for cures or relief already granted; how even Rome sent forth thousands on the Appian road, which became encumbered by the crowds of pilgrims, and how Nola, for a short time, became almost as populous as Rome (Ep. xiv.).

III. Third Period (a.d. c. 409–431).—Paulinus became bp. of Nola before the autumn of 410, when Alaric laid waste Campania, for St. Augustine speaks of him as being then bp. of Nola. Therasia's death perhaps took place in the latter part of 408, though Tillemont 812and Buse seem to place it a year or two later. The diocese of Paulinus was a small one, and appears, at any rate formerly, to have been notorious for drunkenness and immorality (Ep. xlix. 14; Carm. xix. 164–218). Without adopting all the glowing panegyric applied by Uranius to his behaviour as bishop, we may well believe that he shewed himself in this, as in other matters, a faithful, devout, humble, and munificent follower of his Master; and when Campania was laid waste by Alaric, a.d. 410, Paulinus devoted all he had to the relief of the sufferers and captives. The barbarian occupation did not last long, and from this time until his death, in 431, there are few events to record in the life of Paulinus. A letter from St. Augustine, probably in 417, seems to hint at a tendency on the part of Paulinus to adopt some, at least, of the erroneous doctrines of Pelagius, with whom he had been on friendly terms (Aug. Ep. 186 i. 1, and xii. 41). After the death of Zosimus, in Dec. 418, the appointment of his successor in the see of Rome becoming a matter of dispute, the emperor Honorius summoned a council of bishops at Ravenna, and afterwards at Spoletum, and invited Paulinus to attend, but he excused himself on the first occasion on the ground of ill-health and was probably prevented by the same cause from appearing on the second (Baronius, 419, 19, 20). After residing 36 years in retirement at Nola, a period devoted both by himself, and during her lifetime by his wife, to unsparing self-denial, religious observances, and works of piety and charity without stint, he died June 22, a.d. 431, aged 77 or 78. An account of his last illness and death has been left by Uranius in a letter addressed to Pacatus. "Three days before his death he was visited by two bishops, Symmachus (of Capua) and Acyndinus, by whose conversation he was much refreshed. He desired the sacred mysteries to be exhibited before his bed, so that the sacrifice having been offered in their company, he might commend his own soul to the Lord, and at the same time recall to their former peace those on whom, in the exercise of church discipline, he had pronounced sentence of exclusion from communion. When this was over, he called for his brothers, by whom the bystanders thought that he meant the bishops who were present; but he said that he called for Januarius bp. of Naples and Martin of Tours (both of them deceased), who, he said, had promised to be with him. He then raised his hands to heaven, and repeated Psalm cxx. [cxxi.], 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,' etc. . . . Later in the day, as if the hour for vespers were come, he recited slowly, with outstretched hands, the words, 'I have prepared a lamp for my anointed,' Ps. cxxxi. 17 [cxxxii. 17]. At about the fourth hour of the night, while all were watching, the cell was shaken by an earthquake, which was felt nowhere else, and during this he expired." He was buried in the church of St. Felix, in Pincis, and his funeral was attended even by Jews and pagans (Uran. de ob. S. Paul ap. Migne, Patr. Lat. vol. liii.).

Writings.—He has left behind 51 letters and 36 poems. (a) Prose.—Of his letters, 13, some very long, are addressed to Sulpicius Severus, the first in 394, and the last in 403; 5 to Delphinus, by of Bordeaux, 6 to Amandus his successor, 4 to Augustine, 3 to Aper and Amanda, 2 to another Amandus and Sanctus, 2 to Rufinus, 2 to Victricius, 3 to persons unknown, and single letters to Alethius, Alypius, Desiderius, Eucherius and Gallus, Florentius, Jovius, Licentius, Macarius, Pammachius, Romanianus, Sebastianus, besides the account of the martyrdom of Genesius which is a sort of postscript to the letter to Eucherius and Gallus (Ep. 51). It does not appear that he ever saw Sulpicius after his visit to Spain, but the love of the two for each other never failed. His letters to Delphinus and Amandus exhibit his deep humility and cheerful humour, but are chiefly remarkable for the earnest request made to both, that they will offer their prayers on behalf of his deceased brother, of whom he speaks with great affection but with deep regret for his neglect in spiritual matters, hoping that by their prayers he may obtain some refreshment in the other world (Epp. xxxv.; xxxvi.). Of those to St. Augustine the third is chiefly occupied with remarks on the grief of Melania for the loss of her only son Publicola, and a reply to Augustine on the condition of the soul in celestial glory, which he thinks will be one of highly exalted powers and beauty resembling the condition of our Lord after His resurrection. He asks Augustine's opinion on the subject (Ep. xiv.). In the 4th letter Paulinus asks for Augustine's opinion as a doctor of Israel on various Scripture passages according to the Latin version. (1) Ps. xv. 3 [xvi. 4], "sanctis . . . multiplicatae sunt infirmitates eorum, postea acceleraverunt": who are meant by the "saints," and how are their infirmities multiplied? (2) Ps. xvi. 15, 16 [xvii. 14]: what is meant by "de absconditis tuis adimpletus est venter eorum ," and "saturati sunt porcina," or, as he hears is read by some, "filiis." (3) Ps. lviii. 11 [lix. 11], "ne unquam obliviscantur legis tuae" (Vulg. "populitui"): he cannot understand how knowledge of the law can be sufficient without faith in Christ. (4) Ps. lxvii. 23, 25 [lxviii. 21, 23], "Deus conquassabit capita inimicorum suorum, verticem capilli," etc.: the last expression he thinks void of sense; though he could understand "verticem capitis," who are the "dogs," v. 25, and what is the meaning of "ab ipso"? Some questions follow on passages in St. Paul's Epistles. (1) Eph. iv. 11: what are the special functions of each order named by St. Paul? what difference is there between "pastors" and "teachers"? (2) I. Tim. ii. 1, 2: what difference between "prayers" and "supplications," etc.? (3) Rom. xi. 28: how can the people of Israel be at the same time friends and enemies—why enemies for the sake of Christians, friends for that of the fathers? (4) Col. ii. 18, "nemo vos seducat in humilitate et religione angelorum." What angels does St. Paul mean?—if bad angels, how can there be any "humilitas" or "religio" connected with them? Paulinus thinks that heretics must be intended. (5) Col. ii. 18, 21. He asks Augustine to explain these two passages, which seem to contradict each other: what "shew of wisdom" ("ratio sapientiae") can there be in "will worship" ("superstitio"), and how can "neglect 813of the body" ("non parcendum corpori") agree with "satisfying of the flesh" ("saturitas carnis"), which seems contrary to St. Paul's own practice as mentioned I. Cor. ix. 27? He also asks Augustine to explain why our Lord was and was not recognized by the women and disciples on the Day of Resurrection, how He came to be known by the latter in the "breaking of bread"; what did He mean by bidding Mary not touch Him until after His ascension (John xx. 17)? He supposes He meant that He was to be touched by faith hereafter, though not then by the hand. Again what did Simeon mean by his words to the Virgin Mother (Luke ii. 34, 35)? What "sword" was to pierce her soul? Was it the word of God? and how could this cause the "thoughts of many hearts" to be "revealed"? These questions he doubts not that Augustine will be able to explain to him (Ep. 1.). The letter of Paulinus to Pammachius is a very long one of condolence and exhortation on the loss of his wife Paulina, daughter of Paula, and sister of Eustochium. Feeling deeply for him in his loss, he nevertheless doubts whether he ought not to write more in thankfulness for the faith Pammachius has shewn in honouring her funeral, not with ostentatious pomp or gladiatorial shows, but with alms and good works, first presenting the sacred oblation to God and the pure libation ("sacras hostias et casta libamina") with commemoration of her whom he had lost, and then providing a meal for the poor of Rome in great numbers in the church of St. Peter, following in this the example of Scripture saints, Christ Himself, and the first Christians. Faith is a greater comfort than any words of his; by its means we can walk in Paradise with the souls of the departed. Relying on the truth of Scripture we cannot doubt the resurrection, his only doubt is as to his own claim to admission into the heavenly kingdom. Yet the door, he knows, is open to all, and the departed wife of his friend is a pledge to himself of the future in Christ (Ep. xiii.; see Hieron. Ep. lxvi.). The letters of Paulinus are generally clear and intelligible, pleasing as regards style, remarkable for humility of mind, an affectionate disposition, and a cheerful, playful humour, free from all moroseness or ascetic bitterness. Many of his remarks on Scripture and other subjects show good sense and sound judgment, and, though free from any pretension to learning, prove him an industrious student and careful inquirer into the sacred writings in the Latin version.

(b) Verse.—Paulinus wrote much in verse throughout his life, and sent many of his poems to his friends. Seventeen are more or less directly in praise of Felix, all of them dated Jan. 14, the day of his death, and consequently called Natalitia, though not by Paulinus himself. The 1st (Carm. xii.) was written in Spain, but when fully intending to retire to Nola, a.d. 394, the 2nd shortly after his arrival there (ib. xiii.). The 3rd describes the concourse from all parts to the tomb of Felix, and the power he manifested of casting out devils and curing diseases (ib. xiv. 21–43). The 15th and 16th relate the legend of FELIX. The 17th is a Sapphic ode to Nicetas, who was about to return to his see after his visit to Nola, a.d. 398 (ib. xvii.). He came a second time, a.d. 402, and his visit is mentioned with much satisfaction in the 27th poem. The 18th poem, 6th in honour of Felix, describes in hexameters the discovery of his tomb, mentions the five churches built around it, and how the country people came themselves and brought their animals to be cured of maladies by the saint's influence.

A poem of 730 lines describes how the relics of martyrs had been transferred to other places than those where they died, especially the more notable among them; how Nola was honoured and benefited by the grave of Felix; and how a thief who had stolen an ornament in the church containing a figure of the cross was discovered, partly by the agency of Felix, and partly by the miraculous operation of the sacred emblem (ib. xix.). The poem last in order is dedicated to a friend whom he calls Antonius, by which name he has been thought to denote Ausonius, and consists of a discourse of the insufficiency of the old mythological systems and of the advantages of the true faith he has adopted, whose doctrines on the Trinity, final judgment, and redemption through Christ he has described, and he invites his friend to consider the blessing of eternal life open to all who accept the offer (ib. xxxvi.).

As Bose remarks, the laws of versification and prosody were undergoing a great change in his day, and either of this or of intentional neglect of those laws, the verses of Paulinus afford abundant evidence. Nor can it be said truly that they shew much poetic power, though many are graceful and pleasing, especially his letters to Ausonius and his address to Nicetas. He wrote with facility and great pleasure to himself, and frequently wrote well, but his poems cannot justly claim a high rank as poetry. Ozanam, however, expresses a very favourable opinion of them (Civilisation au cinquième siècle, vol. ii. pp. 238–247). Of his amiable and affectionate disposition, love for his friends, profound humility, entire abnegation of self, earnest piety, and devotion to the service of God, sufficient evidence has been given. He was studiously orthodox on the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which he states clearly on many occasions, but seems in one letter to favour the views of the semi-Pelagians (Ep. xxix. 7). He believed devoutly in the power and influence of departed saints, including their relics; his whole life from the time of his retirement to Nola may be said to turn upon this belief, which he carried, as the stories in his poems shew plainly, to the utmost bound of human credulity (Ampère, Revue des deux mondes, 1837, vol. xii. p. 66, and Littérature chrétienne au cinquième siècle, vol. i. p. 288).

The ed. of his works pub. by the abbé Migne, Patr. Lat. vol. lxi., contains the matter of most of the former edd. It is, however, in all matters of reference edited carelessly, and its index is exceedingly inaccurate. An account of Paulinus is given by Cave, Hist. Litt. i. p. 288; Dupin, Hist. Eccl. vol. iii.; Tillemont, vol. xiv.; and Ceillier, vol. viii. Dr. Gilly (Vigilantius and his Times, Lond. 1844) describes his mode of life, blaming greatly both it and his theology, though giving him full credit for 814his piety. In the Revue des deux mondes for 1878, vol. xxviii., is an art. by M. Gaston Boissier on a Life of Paulinus by the abbé Lagrange, pub. in 1877. Dr. Adolf Buse, professor at the Seminary of Cologne, has written a book in two vols., Paulin and seine Zeit (Regensburg, 1856), which answers fully to its title, containing all or nearly all known about him, and written with great care, moderation, and critical judgment. He avoids most of the legends, and shews that the use of bells in churches, an invention credited to him by tradition, is not due to him, nor even to the town of Nola. The latest ed. of his works is by Hartel (Vienna, 1894, 2 vols.) in the Corpus Scr. Eccl. Lat. xxix.–xxx.; see also Hartel, Patristische Studien (Vienna, 1895), v. vi.


« Paulinus, biographer of Ambrose Paulinus, bishop of Nola Paulinus of Pella »
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