The fifth century bishop and poet St. Paulinus of Nola (354?-431) was the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul (modern-day France). His family’s wealth insured his rapid rise in Roman society; Paulinus became a distinguished lawyer and held several public offices, before retiring at an early age.
Paulinus and his wife Therasia, a wealthy Spanish woman, were baptized in 390, and then moved to her estate in Spain. After many childless years, their prayers for a son were briefly answered, but the child died a week later. Profoundly moved by this tragedy, they dedicated their lives to God and gave away most of their property, while devoting themselves to the care of the poor. Paulinus was ordained a priest by popular demand (celibacy was not yet a requirement), and in 395 he and Therasia established a small community near the Italian town of Nola.
In 409, he was chosen as bishop of Nola. During this time, the Roman Empire was under increasing pressure from barbarian tribes such as the Vandals. After one of their raids, Paulinus voluntarily exchanged himself for one of his parishioners who had been enslaved. When the Vandals discovered his identity, they were amazed by such charity, and released him and all the other townspeople of Nola who had been captured.
Paulinus corresponded with many of the leading Christians of the day (including Saints Augustine, Jerome, Martin, and Ambrose), and spent much time composing religious poems and hymns. He showed special concern for the poor, even arranging to give alms while on his deathbed. Soon afterwards, while lamps were being lighted for evening prayers, Paulinus said, “I have prepared a lamp for Christ,” and died.
1. Jesus spoke of the need to “let your light shine before all” (Mt 5:16), and St. Paulinus did this through his generosity, humility, and concern for the poor.
2. Tragedies can bring us closer to God. Paulinus and Therasia grieved over the death of their son, but also used this event as an opportunity to deepen their commitment as Christians.
Other Saints We Remember Today
- St. John Fisher (1535), Bishop, Martyr
- St. Thomas More (1535), Martyr, Patron of Lawyers