Saint Paulinus of Nola Analysis

Life

Saint Paulinus of Nola (paw-LI-nuhs of NOH-lah) was born into a noble family in Aquitania, educated at Bordeaux, and by 380 c.e. was serving as consular governor of Campania. After marrying a Spanish woman named Therasia, Paulinus underwent a spiritual conversion. Following the death of their only son, he was ordained to the priesthood and the next year left Spain for Italy to pursue a monastic life at Nola at the tomb of Saint Felix. There Paulinus renounced sex, wealth, and other worldly concerns, including secular poetry, much to the dismay of his former teacher, Decimus Magnus Ausonius. He wrote a number of Christian poems, many of them in honor of Saint Felix, as well as fifty letters that have survived.

Influence

The conversion of such a conspicuous political figure as Paulinus to the monastic ideal scandalized some of his upper-class friends such as Ausonius, but Paulinus’s spectacular repudiation of the world was celebrated by contemporaries, such as Saint Ambrose, who were interested in promoting asceticism in the West. Paulinus was a voluminous correspondent whose letters were compared by Saint Jerome to Cicero’s. Among the Christian Latin poets of Late Antiquity, he is surpassed in his command of poetic form and diction only by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius.

Additional Resources

Lienhard, J. Paulinus of Nola and Early Western Monasticism. Cologne, Germany: Peter Hanstein Verlag, 1977.

Trout, D. Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters, and Poems. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.