Feast Day : June 22
Pontius Meropius (or Meropius Pontius) Anicius Paulinus was born in Bordeaux, Aquitaine (now southwestern France), about 354. His father was a Roman patrician who was the Praetorian prefect in Gaul at the time of his birth. He was taught by the poet Ausonius until he was 15, then went to study 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 a 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. In any event, he resigned his post as governor, and he and Teresa moved to his home to Gaul. He was baptized there, together with his brother, by Delphinus, bishop of Bordeaux. 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 child, but it died shortly after baptism, when it was but eight days old. The couple then decided to give up living as man and wife, 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. Paulinus agreed to this, on the condition that he not be assigned to a parish or diocese. 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 (r. 384–399). Eight years previously, Siricius had taken a strong stand against married priests, and although Paulinus and Teresa no long 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 built a fine avenue leading to the church holding Felix’s tomb, and along the avenue raised a building whose first floor was a hospital or hospice and whose second floor was a monastery. Teresa resided on the first floor and directed the activities there, while Paulinus and his monks lived on the second floor. The monastery, devoted to an ascetic lifestyle a century before that of St. Benedict, was one of the first in Europe. Paulinus also built an aqueduct at Nola and constructed basilicas in that city and others. In 409 or 410, 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. These included an annual poem for Felix’s feast. He also composed one of the earliest Christian wedding songs. Paulinus died on June 22, 431. He was looked upon as a saint even in his lifetime. His relics were interred in the cathedral of Nola, where they rest today, though they were translated several times in the interim. They were conveyed from Nola to Benevento, then to the Church of St. Barolomeo all’Isola, in Rome. Pope St. Pius X (r. 1903–14) ordered them returned to Nola in September 1908. In art, Paulinus’s emblem is the shovel. He is sometimes depicted with one, as he gives alms. He is also sometimes shown writing or preaching to the poor.