Thursday, May 19, 2022

Saints for Today: Paulinus of Nola, Bishop & Father of the Church (354-431)

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Pontius Meropius Anicius Paulinus was born in Bordeaux, Aquitaine (now south-western France). His father was a Roman patrician who was the Praetorian prefect in Gaul at the time of his birth. Paulinus was an aristocrat trained as a poet by Ausonius until he was 15. He studied Roman law, poetry, eloquence, science and Platonic philosophy at the University of Bordeaux. He became a prominent and successful lawyer, and when he was 25, Emperor Gratian nominated him to fill an unexpired term as senator in Rome.

At age 26, he was made governor of Campania and took up residence in Nola in the mountains east of Naples. It was there that he converted to Christianity, after seeing several sick people healed at the tomb of the patron saint of Campania, St. Felix, and being cured of an eye disease by the future St. Martin of Tours. He may also have been influenced by his Spanish wife, a Christian named Teresa, and the sermons of St. Ambrose. St. Augustine’s conversion two years prior may have been a factor as well.

Paulinus sold his family estate in Gaul and gave much of the proceeds to his slaves and the poor. Teresa likewise sold her lands in Spain, using the money to ransom captives and free debtors from their obligations. They had a male child who when only eight days old, died shortly after baptism. The couple’s faith increased from this trauma and they decided to give up living as man and wife. They took vows of chastity and spent the remainder of their lives together as brother and sister. Their decision won praise from both Ambrose and Augustine.

Three years after his baptism- about 394 – at Christmas, the people of Bordeaux appealed to their bishop to ordain Paulinus a priest. He received instruction in his priestly duties from Ambrose the following year, and then he and Teresa visited Rome, where they received a cold reception from Pope St. Siricius. Eight years previously, Siricius had taken a strong stand against married priests, and although Paulinus and Teresa no longer had conjugal relations, they were still married.

From Rome, they retired to Nola, where Paulinus spent the remainder of his family fortune on public works and charities. He set about commemorating the little-known Roman martyr, Felix, executed in the 3rd century, building a substantial complex, including a basilica, in his honor. He constructed a building that served as a hospice and monastery. In his small monastic community, Teresa resided on the first floor and directed the activities there, while Paulinus and his monks lived on the second floor.

In 409, he was elected bishop of Nola. Teresa died about this time, but Paulinus continued to live in his monastery and discharge his duties as bishop for another 20 years. He proved to be one of the best prelates of his time. In addition to his public works, he wrote a number of Christian poems. He also composed one of the earliest Christian wedding songs. When he died he was looked upon as a saint even in his lifetime.


Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “The Encyclopedia of Saints.” New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2001.

Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.

Paul, Tessa, and Consultant, Reverend Ronald Creighton-Jobe. “An Illustrated Dictionary of Saints.” Wigston, Leicestershire: Anness Publishing, 2011.


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