Rorate Caeli

Paulinus: one of the last Romans

The life story of Saint Paulinus of Nola would be breathtaking even had he never been considered a saint. He was everything a man could be at that age: husband and father (of an only son, who died in infancy), civil servant and governor, a classicist and a fiery convert, a monk, a priest, and a bishop - a Roman (born in Gaul, governing and serving in Italy, having lived many great years in Spain) and a Catholic above all, as the empire in the West was about to collapse. We, who live in an era at once similar (as epochal changes seem to indicate that, for the first time in 600 years, Europe or nations of European heritage are losing the grasp of world leadership) and quite different (the liberated, confident, and supremely influential post-Constantine Church and our own explicitly anti-"triumphalist", visibly decadent, and seemingly irrelevant Vatican II Church) from Paulinus's own days can certainly learn from his example: faith, patience, love, perseverance, and humility - as this extract of one of his famous letters to Saint Augustine shows:

For I am even now a sinner labouring under great honour, a veteran in the number of sinners; but to the Eternal King a novice of warfare in the flesh. Hitherto, miserable man that I am, I have admired the wisdom of the world, and its reprobate prudence as made known by its useless literature. But to God I have been foolish and dumb. After I have grown old amongst His enemies, and have faded away in my thoughts, I have raised my eyes to the mountains, to the precepts of the law, and receiving the gift of grace from whence help came unto me from the Lord; who not rewarding me according to my iniquities, illuminated me, blind as I was; released me, bound as I was; and humbled me who was sinfully upright, in order that He might raise me when piously humble.  


I follow therefore with steps not as yet equal the great footsteps of the just, if I can learn by your discourse in what I have been taken up by the mercies of God. Direct therefore the little one creeping upon the earth, and teach him to walk in thy footsteps. For I do not wish that thou shouldst consider in me the age of my corporeal birth, rather than that of my spiritual rising; for my age according to the flesh is the same as was his who was cured by the apostles through the power of the Word at the beautiful gate, but in the birth of the soul, my age is that of the infancy of the innocents, which, immolated by the wounds aimed at Christ, preceded the sacrifice of the Lamb with a worthy blood, and inaugurated the passion of the Lord. And therefore do thou rear me up, as yet an infant to the word of God, and a suckling in the spiritual age, straining after thy words, which are the breasts of faith, wisdom, and charity. If thou consider our common [episcopal] office, thou art my brother, but if the maturity of thy genius and of thy perceptions, my father, although perhaps thou art my junior in years, because holy prudence has advanced thee, though a youth, to the maturity of merit and the honour of the old.

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