Saint Paulinus of Nola, Bishop, Confessor

June 22

Today is the feast day of Saint Paulinus.  Ora pro nobis.

By Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

St. Paulinus, who, on account of his great learning and eloquence, but still more on account of his virtues, is highly praised by St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Gregory, was a native of Bordeaux, in the province of Gascony. His parents, who were Romans, and very rich and of ancient nobility, desired that their son should be as eminent for intelligence and knowledge, as he was on account of his birth and fortune. Their desire was fulfilled; for, when Paulinus had reached the age of manhood, he was not only honored and admired by everyone, but was chosen Prefect and Governor of Rome, and gained great fame for the wisdom of his administration. The pious Paulinus, however, soon became tired of all worldly honors and pleasures, and having resigned his office, he went to Barcelona in Spain, to serve God without disturbance. Having remained there for some time, he returned to Italy. At that time, St. Ambrose was bishop of Milan, and to him Paulinus applied for advice with regard to the change he intended to make in his life. Having received the Saint’s directions, he went to Nola, in Campania, as he entertained special reverence towards St. Felix, priest and martyr, of that city. There he humbled himself so deeply, that for some time he occupied the office of sacristan. Afterwards he sold his estates, and having used a part of the money in building a Church at Fundi, he gave the remainder to the poor. He then proceeded to a little village in the neighborhood of Nola, changed his rich garments for humble clothing, and commenced to lead the life of a hermit in a poor little hut, deriving all his sustenance from alms.

But though Paulinus kept himself secluded, it yet became known who he was, and whence he came, and not only Nola, but all Italy was astonished, that so great and eminent a man had chosen for his walk through life such an humble, and, in the eyes of the world, such a despised path. The esteem in which he was then held by both clergy and laity was so great, that, on the death of the bishop of Nola, they determined to raise him to the Episcopal chair. It was long before the humble servant of God could be persuaded to accept the dignity, but having at last consented, his love, his solicitude for his flock, the zeal he displayed for the honor of God, made him beloved by men and favored by the Almighty. Soon after his election to the See, Campania suffered the fate of many other countries, and was laid waste by the Goths, and many of its inhabitants were taken prisoners. The holy Bishop used all his income to feed the poor and ransom the captives. When all his resources were exhausted, Nola was plundered and the great servant of the Almighty, with several others, was taken prisoner. God, however, so ordained that he was speedily released. Some years afterwards, the Vandals crossed the ocean, and, again plundering the Kingdom of Naples, took away many of the inhabitants as prisoners. Among these were several persons from Nola, and although St. Paulinus exerted himself to the utmost to redeem them from prison, he was unable to help all.

This extremity gave the holy Bishop an opportunity for an act of charity which had never before been witnessed in the world. St. Gregory himself relates the event as follows: A poor widow coming to the Saint complained with bitter tears that her only son, who was all the support she had, was taken prisoner, and begged him not to refuse her the money she needed for his ransom. The Saint, deeply affected, answered: “My dear daughter, I have not anything left; but to ransom your son I will sell myself. I will go with you and you must say that you give me instead of your son, in order that he may return to you.” The widow, unspeakably surprised at the Saint’s offer, hesitated to accept it; but Paulinus knew how to overcome her remonstrances, and at last persuaded her to consent to his plan. He travelled with her to Africa, where her son had already arrived, and the Saint, clad in the garment of a slave, was exchanged for the widow’s son, the latter being set at liberty. Paulinus was charged with the care of a garden, as he said that he was able to perform that work, and God blessed his endeavors in such a manner, that everything grew most wonderfully under his hands. A near relative of the king, who was a great lover of horticulture came frequently into the garden, and speaking with the new gardener, soon observed that he was more than an ordinary laborer. Paulinus one day whispered to him in a prophetic spirit: “Have a care for the future. Thy king will soon be a corpse. Act in time, and take all proper measures in the affairs of the Crown.” The gentleman, greatly terrified at this speech, informed the king of it, who desired to see Paulinus.

Fear bedewred the kings face with great drops of sweat when the Saint appeared before him; for, he had had a dream in the night in which it appeared to him that he stood before the divine judgment-seat, and heard the sentence: “The scourge given to him shall again be taken from his hands.” Among the judges, the king said he had seen the man now standing before him. After this he gave orders to inquire into the history of this gardener. At first, Paulinus would not confess who he was, but as they insisted on knowing, and he thought it might promote the honor of God, he revealed his name and also how he had become a slave. The king, admiring his virtue, immediately gave him his liberty, and told him he would grant him any favor he might ask. The Saint requested the liberation of all the captives from Nola, which the king granted without any hesitation. Hence all the prisoners from Nola were assembled at court, and being liberated, they returned with the holy bishop, whom they justly regarded and honored as their deliverer. How the whole city rejoiced when the Saint arrived there accompanied by so many long lost friends! All the inhabitants went out to meet him, and having given him due thanks for his love and goodness, they led him with great honors and rejoicings to his Episcopal chair, whence he exhorted them to give thanks to the Almighty for the grace bestowed on them, and to serve Him fervently and with unwearied zeal in future.

After this he continued his pastoral functions until sickness confined him to his bed. Two bishops from the neighborhood visited him at this time, and having an altar erected in his room, he for the last time said Holy Mass. When this was accomplished, he lay down again and asked where his brothers were? A servant, supposing that St. Paulinus was speaking of the two above-mentioned bishops, replied: “They are here, dear father.” The Saint, however, said: “Not so: those, whom I mean, are the two bishops, Januarius and Martin, who were with me, and who promised to come soon again.” Januarius had formerly been bishop at Naples, Martin at Tours : both were famous on account of their holiness. They appeared to the Saint and cheered him in his suffering, and thus he expired happily in the Lord, in the year 431. The holy Fathers Jerome, Gregory, and Ambrose in their works, bestow high praise on the great learning as well as the virtues of this Saint. St.Augustine, in his record of him, relates among other events, that when St. Paulinus had been taken prisoner, he said to the Almighty: “Lord, release my heart from all anxiety for gold and silver, as Thou knowest best where I have placed my treasures.” St. Augustine remarks that the holy man had already sent all that had been his, according to the admonition of our Lord, to heaven, through the hands of the poor. (5)

Everything Paulinus performed in the Spirit of the Bible and expressed in Biblical language. Gennadius mentions the writings of Paulinus in his continuation of St. Jerome’s “De Viris Illustribus ” (xlix). The panegyric on the Emperor Theodosius is unfortunately lost, as are also the Opus sacramentorum et hymnorum”, the “Epistolae ad Sororem”, the “Liber de Paenitentia”, the “Liber de Laude Generali Omnium Martyrum”, and a poetical treatment of the “De Regibus” of Suetonius which Ausonius mentions. Forty-nine letters to friends have been preserved, as those to Sulpicius Severus, St. Augustine, Delphinus, Bishop Victricius of Rouen, Desiderius, Amandus, Pammachius. Thirty-three poems are also extant. After 395 he composed annually a hymn for the feast of St. Felix, in which he principally glorified the life, works, and miracles of his holy patron. Then going further back he brought in various religious and poetic motives. The epic parts are very vivid, the lyrics full of real, unaffected enthusiasm and an ardent appreciation of nature. Thirteen of these poems and fragments of the fourteenth have preserved.

Conspicuous among his other works are the poetic epistles to Ausonius, the nuptial hymn to Julianus, which extols the dignity and sanctity of Christian marriage, and the poem of comfort to the parents of Celsus on the death of their child. Although Paulinus has great versatility and nicety, still he is not entirely free from the mannerisms and ornate culture of his period. All his writings breathe a charming, ideal personality, freed from all terrestrial attachments, ever striving upward. According to Augustine, he also had an exaggerated idea concerning the veneration of saints and relics. His letter xxxii, written to Sulpicius Severus, has received special attention because in it he describes the basilica of Nola, which he built, and gives copious accounts of the existence, construction, and purpose of Christian monuments. From Paulinus too we have information concerning St. Peter’s in Rome. During his lifetime Paulinus was looked upon as saint. His body was first interred in the cathedral of Nola; later, in Benevento; then it was conveyed by Otto III to S. Bartolomeo all’Isola, in Rome, and finally in compliance with the regulation of Pius X of 18 Sept., 1908 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, I, 245 sq.) was restored to the cathedral of Nola. His feast, 22 June, was raised to the rank of a double. (1)

Saint Paulinus, having returned to Nola, died in 431. His holy remains were transferred several times but restored to the cathedral of Nola in 1908. Although some of his wonderful writings have been lost, thirty-two poems and fifty-one letters remain. His writings contain one of the earliest examples of a Christian wedding song. (4)

 Image: Crop of Saint Paulinus of Nola line engraving (7)



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