Sketches Drawn from the Life of Saint Paula, by the Abbe Lagrange, Vicar-general of Orleans

Saint Paula of Rome

Chapter I

“If all the members of my body should be changed into as many tongues, and should assume as many voices, I should still be unable to say enough of the virtues of the saintly and venerable Paula.”

It is in these words of pious enthusiasm that Saint Jerome, himself so holy a man, and accustomed to the guidance of so many noble souls, begins his biography of Paula, when, at the instance of her daughter, Eustochium, and to dry her tears, he undertook to record her mother’s virtues.

Placing himself with awe in the presence of God and his angels, Saint Jerome says: “I call to witness our Lord Jesus Christ and his saints, and the guardian angel of this incomparable woman, that what I say is simple truth, and that my words are unworthy of those virtues celebrated throughout the world, which have been the admiration of the church, and which the poor yet weep for. Noble by birth, more noble still by her holiness; powerful in her opulence, but more illustrious afterward in the poverty of Christ; of the race of the Scipios and of the Gracchi; heiress of Paulus Emilius, from whom she takes her name of Paula; direct descendant of that famous Martia Papyria, who was wife to the conqueror of Perseus, and mother of the second Scipio Africanus; she preferred Bethlehem to Rome, and the humble roof of a poor dwelling to the gilded palaces of her ancestors.”

Paula was born in Rome, about the middle of the fourth century, the 5th of May, of the year 347, in the reign of Constantius, and of Constans, the sons of Constantine, seven years after the death of the latter prince. Julius was then Pope at Rome. Paula belonged, through her mother, Blesilla, to one of the most ancient and illustrious families of Rome; and it seemed as if Providence wished to unite all earthly distinctions in this child, for the purest blood of Greece mingled in her veins with the noblest blood of Rome. At this time nothing was more common than alliances between the Roman and Greek families, as is proved by the Greek names which we find in the Roman genealogies. The father of Paula, Rogatus, was a Greek, and claimed royal descent from the kings of Mycaenas; and Agamemnon himself is said to have been his direct ancestor.

Saint Jerome gives no further detail of the family of Paula, excepting that he mentions casually that their possessions were vast, including very important estates in Greece near Actium, besides their domain in Italy. “If,” says Saint Jerome, “I take note of her opulence and wealth, it is not that I attach importance to these temporal advantages, but in order to show that the glory of Paula in my eyes was not in having possessed them, but in having laid them at the feet of Jesus Christ.”

A more real advantage of her birth was, that her noble family were Christians, although a portion of them still remained pagans. This intermingling of creeds must not surprise us; for the resistance to conversion was great, and throughout the fourth century it was a common thing to see worshippers of the true God and of Jupiter under the same roof.

Rome, in truth, presented then a great contrast. Christian Rome and pagan Rome stood face to face, and pagan Rome, as yet untouched by barbarians, still wore an imposing aspect. The Capitol still stood in pride, crowned with the statues and temples of the heathen gods. Opposite, on the Palatine, stood the ancient dwelling of the Caesars, with its marble porticoes; and at the foot of the two hills the old Forum surrounded with pagan temples. Further still, and separated from the Forum by the Sacred Way and the Amphitheatre of Flavius, rose the immense Colosseum; and at the other extremity the great circus and the aqueducts of Nero. On the borders of the Tiber was the mole of Adrian, the mausoleum of Augustus, with temples, theatres, baths, porticoes, etc., on every side; indeed, every monument of luxury and superstition, showing how deeply rooted paganism still was in the capital of the empire.

Nevertheless, by more than one sign it was easy to recognize that all this pagan grandeur was fast fading away before another power; and if polytheism still found strong support in old traditions and customs, institutions and monuments, it was the influence of the past, which was lessening every day. The future belonged to the church, and Christianity was daily gaining the upper hand. The pagan temples which were still standing were empty, the crowd now disdaining sacrifices. Silence and solitude reigned around the gods, while the new faith, spreading out its magnificence in broad daylight, covered Rome with superb basilicas. At the same time, Rome, deserted by the emperors for political reasons, which served the divine purpose, seemed given up to the majesty of pontifical rule; and the popes, brought out from the Catacombs and placed by Constantine in the imperial palace, already gave a foreshadowing to the world of the glory which should henceforth invest the Holy See.

At this time there sprang from the bosom of the church a soul who was destined to exercise a vast influence upon the religious orders throughout the universe.

The blood of the martyrs and early Christians had not been shed in vain. It was just at this epoch in the history of Christianity that Providence gave being to a child destined by her holiness to be one of the marvels of the age.

We have sufficient data to know what her education was and under what influences she grew up to womanhood. The old Roman spirit and the Christian spirit were both fitted to form a character of the highest order. Austere honor, severe self-respect, noble traditions of ancient customs, were early inculcated in the mind of Paula. She came of a race of whom Saint Jerome said: “Remember that in your family a woman very rarely, if ever, contracts a second marriage.” Besides the holy books which were her first studies, her reading was vast and extended, embracing both the literature of Greece and Rome. We shall see how in after-life this early culture developed in her the rich gifts of nature, establishing equilibrium between her intellect and her character.

Paula was brought up by her mother with that ardent love for the practice of her religion, which in all its perfection belonged especially to the days when persecution made these observances most precious to the early Christians. She followed Blesilla to the basilicas and to all feasts of the church, and also to visit the tombs of the martyrs and to the Catacombs. This last devotion was peculiarly dear to the Christians of the fourth century. They sought to glorify those victorious soldiers. “See,” cried Saint Chrysostom, “the tomb of the martyrs! The emperor himself lays down his crown there, and bends the knee.”

There was not, perhaps, a family of Christians in Rome, which did not have some loved member among the glorious dead lying in the long galleries of the Catacombs. Saint Jerome speaks of the pious attraction of these sanctified asylums in the great city of the martyrs.

In this atmosphere of love for the church, and of faith in Christ and in the divine origin of Christianity, young Paula grew up. It was in those days the custom for the daughters of noble houses in Rome to marry young; and when Paula was fifteen years of age, her parents gave her in marriage to a young Greek whose name was Toxotius.

He belonged, on his mother’s side, to the ancient family of the Julians, which boasted, as we know, of going back to the time of AEneas:

“Julius, à magno dimissum nomen Iülo.” – Virgil’s AEneid.

Toxotius did not have the faith of his bride. These mixed marriages were not rare in those days; witness Monica and Patricius, the parents of Saint Augustine.

Christianity had tolerated such marriages from the beginning, in the hope that the infidel husband might be won by the wife to her belief. When, robed in a white tunic of the finest wool, according to custom, her brow covered with the flammcum, Paula laid her trembling hand in that of Toxotius, who can tell with what holy emotion, what elevation of thought, what purity of feeling and of hope, her soul was filled! On the other hand, Toxotius does not seem to have been unworthy of his Christian bride, and the uncommon affection Paula bore him ever afterward, her inconsolable grief for his loss, all proves that their marriage was among those which the world calls happy. God blessed this union. Four daughters were successively born to them.

The eldest, called Blesilla after her grandmother, seemed gifted with a vivacious and most interesting character; her health was delicate, but her full, rich nature gave early promise of that rare beauty of mind and soul, which developed perfectly in after-years to the joy of Paula.

Paulina, the second, had also a fine nature, but the very opposite of Blesilla’s. Her light was not like her sister’s, a shining flame; but with less brilliancy of wit, and less vivacity of character, she possessed great good sense and solid judgment, giving promise of being as strong in character as her sister was brilliant.

As for the third of these young girls, called by the graceful name of Eustochium, borrowed from the Greek, and meaning rectitude or rule, she was a gentle child, modest, reserved, timid. One would say she was like a flower hiding within herself her own perfume; but this perfume was sweet, and on a nearer view one could not avoid seeing in this young soul all the treasures which would one day flower and bloom. It is difficult to picture to ourselves Rufina. She appears but once in the history of her mother, at the moment of the departure of Paula for the east, sad, bathed in tears, and yet silent and resigned; stamped, even in childhood, with that painful charm which belongs particularly to those beings not destined by providence to mature, but to fall away and die young.

Paula’s married life was passed in the midst of all the magnificence which marked the decline and fall of the empire. She passed through the streets of Rome, as did the other patrician ladies, in a gilded litter, carried by slaves. She would have feared to put her dainty feet on the earth, or to touch the mud of the streets. The weight of a silk dress was almost too much for one so sensitive to carry; and had a ray of sunshine intruded into her litter, it would have seemed to her a fire.

Et solis calor incendium,” etc., etc. – Epist. ad Pammachium.

In those days she used rouge and cereum, like other women of her rank; she passed much of her time at the bath, which consumed so great a part of life in Rome; she spent the winter, according to usual custom, at Rome, and the summer in some villa in the country, passing her time most agreeably between her books and a chosen circle of friends.

In the midst of all this luxury, leading a life far removed from the virtues which she practised later, Paula was yet known and respected as a woman of great dignity of character and irreproachable conduct. And if, during these happy years, the young wife of Toxotius did not always sufficiently bear in mind the maxim of the apostle, which teaches us to use the things of this world, without giving them our affections inordinately; if she tasted too freely of its pleasures and dangerous vanities, in the trials which she was soon to encounter, there was compensation to be made for this self-indulgence, and, in her austere penance, a super-abundant expiation. Saint Jerome tells us that Paula had none of the barbaric arrogance common to the Roman women – that which made them purse-proud, cruel to their slaves, passionate, and impatient, which Juvenal describes so admirably in his imperishable satires. In Paula all these bad passions gave place to gentleness, softness, goodness. “This wealthy daughter of the Scipios,” says Saint Jerome, “was the gentlest and the most benevolent of women – to little children, to plebeians, and with her own slaves. She possessed that excelling goodness, without which noble birth and beauty are worthless, and which is especially characteristic of a lofty nature. This sweetness of mind, combined with her austere sense of honor, were the two features of her soul which, by their contrast, made her countenance most charming.

It is easy to conceive how such a woman performed the delicate social duties that devolved upon her. Her associations were of two kinds. She was intimate with all the celebrated women in the church, such as Manilla and Titiana; at the same time the pagan relations of Toxotius all loved her, and she received them frequently at her house, bearing in mind the duty of the Christian woman to let them see her religion in such a light as would lead them to respect and honor it. And so it was that, by her fireside, Paula was the happiest of wives and of mothers. Her young family grew up joyously around her, filling her with bright hopes for the future.

She had long wished to give her husband a son and heir. Her prayer was answered; and she gave birth to a son, her last child, who received the name of Toxotius, after his father. This is all that history tells us of the first phase in the life of Paula. We see her thus with every happiness at once, “the pride,” says Saint Jerome, “of her husband, of her family, and of all Rome.”

We know no more of her life up to the age of thirty. The Paula of history, the saint whom God was to give as an example to souls, is not the woman of the world, nor the happy woman; she is the woman struck as if by lightning, blasted in her happiness; and from this trial rising up generously, and by a great flight soaring far above common virtues and the ordinary condition of pious souls, up to those heroic acts which only emanate from great sorrows. It would seem as if God had been pleased to accumulate upon her, for thirty years, all the felicity of earth – to adorn, as it were, this victim of his love, and to make us comprehend the better by the subsequent destruction of this, how vain is earthly happiness.

It is here that the historian takes hold of Paula, and that the veil is lifted from her. Now begins her true history, the history of her soul.

Paula was only thirty-one years of age when Toxotius died and she became a widow. The blow to her was terrible. In the first moments of her grief she was completely stunned and powerless. It was feared by her friends that she would not long survive the shock. Nothing could stop her tears. She could not be comforted. From day to day the void was growing deeper and deeper into her heart.

There is a decisive turning-point in the life of every one, on which the future depends. This moment had now come for Paula. Two ways lay open before her – the world on one side, God on the other. She determined, in her sorrow, to give up the world, to lead for ever afterward the life of a Christian widow, and to seek for consolation in this resolution.

After the first outburst of grief, when she came to herself, her decision was irrevocably made. Human things were never more to regain the hold they had had over her up till now. She understood what God wanted of her; namely, “to accept the sacrifice and change her whole life.” So, as Saint Francis de Sales tells us, “the heart of a widow who could not give herself all to God during the lifetime of her husband, flies in search of celestial perfumes, when he has been taken from her.”

Paula was surrounded with many noble examples. Marcella lived in her palace on Mount Aventine, where she had gathered together a band of widows and virgins from amongst the noblest families of Rome, who gave great edification by their virtue and charity. How and for what purpose had Providence permitted this community to be formed, which gave such an impetus to the religious life? It is necessary that we should answer in some detail, for this is the key to the whole life of Paula.

The church, resting from the earlier persecutions, which inflamed zeal and devotion, was now in great peril from the growing influence of security and wealth, in spreading a pagan and Roman love of indolence and indifference. The empire was declining, and its moral fall was hastened by political troubles. The degenerate Romans consoled themselves for their abasement, by the melancholy enjoyments of luxury and vice. Luxury and debauchery were already creeping into the Christian lines, thus attacking the most vital parts of the church. False widows and virgins no longer scrupled to show light conduct beneath the veil. There must be a remedy found equal to the evil. God failed not to bring succor to his church, and the spirit of holiness became all the more manifest in her faithful children, in proportion as the peril was great.

The reaction commenced in the east, with the great monastic foundations, which rose up in opposition to the world, performing prodigies in the way of austerities and moral improvement. At Rome, strange to say, the reform began where it was least to have been expected, namely, in the midst of the patricians. The signal was given by women. They threw themselves with ardor into the heroic path, and soon their husbands followed them. This regeneration was one of the most memorable in history, as well as in the annals of the church. It was started by Saint Athanasius, who brought it with him from the east. Thrice exiled by Arian persecution, the great patriarch three times sought refuge in Rome. He had brought with him the revelation of the wonders realized by the fathers in the deserts of Egypt and on the banks of the Nile. His biography of the great Anthony took hold of every imagination, and gave new zeal to monastic life. Athanasius had passed seven years in the Theban deserts; he had known Anthony, Ricomius, and Hilarius, and told of the astounding graces of their supernatural life.

In one of these journeys of Athanasius to Rome, a noble Christian widow, named Albina, had the honor of receiving him as her guest. Albina had a daughter, Marcella, on whose noble soul the conversation of the great bishop made an extraordinary impression. Seated at his feet, the young girl drank in every word that fell from his lips. Some months after, out of deference to her mother’s wishes, Marcella consented to marry; but when, at the end of seven months, she became a widow and was free, she made up her mind never to contract a second marriage, but to devote herself in Rome to the humble imitation of those virtues which Athanasius had taught her to venerate and admire. Nevertheless, her youth, her wit and great beauty drew around her many admirers. Amongst others was Cerealio, of high birth and large fortune. “I will be more her father than her husband,” said he to Albina, who greatly desired the marriage, “I will leave her all my wealth, being already advanced in years.” But Marcella was inflexible. “If I wished to marry again,” said she to her mother, “I would marry a husband, and not an inheritance.”

Cerealio was refused, and this discouraged all other suitors.

Marcella now gave up the world and made a desert of her magnificent palace. There she lived austerely, doing good works. She bid farewell to jewels, and even laid aside the seal ring always worn by the patrician women; and rising above their prejudice against the religious state, and particularly the coarse garb of the monks, she was the first who dared to assume the abased dress, and publicly imitated what Saint Athanasius had taught her to believe good in the sight of God. The example soon became contagious, giving her many followers, who astonished Rome by their austerities and penances.

There was also at Rome, at this time, a young patrician lady whose name was Melanie. Suddenly, when only twenty-two, she lost her husband and two children, and laid them in one tomb on the same day. Accepting this dispensation of the divine will, Melanie resolved to devote her whole life to the shining virtues of which Marcella was so bright an example. To increase her faith further, she started on a pious pilgrimage to the east, where Athanasius still lived. She saw him at Alexandria shortly before his death. After having visited the monasteries of Egypt and the Holy Land, Melanie was unwilling to return to Rome and its corruptions. She therefore founded for herself a monastery on the Mount of Olives, where she lived an austere and good life.

This example still further inflamed the souls of the Roman women, and numberless were those now in search of perfection; some remaining at home in their own houses, like the virgins and widows of the first centuries; others preferring to congregate together, and, without any fixed rule, make the trial of community life. The centre of all this movement was Marcella, who possessed in an extraordinary degree the power of attracting others to her. She was truly the standard-bearer of this noble band, of whose hearts grace had taken possession. The venerable Albina was like the revered ancestress of the little community formed on Mount Aventine. The most prominent of those who joined Marcella were Sophronia, Felicitas, and Marcellina. The latter was daughter of an ancient governor of the Gauls. Outside of Marcella’s house, the names best known among those who had devoted themselves to a life of austerity and virtue, were Lea, a holy widow whom the church has canonized; the admirable Asella, and Fabiola, who was of the ancient family of Fabius. All this movement toward religious life was greatly encouraged by the pious pontiff who then filled Saint Peter’s chair. At the time Paula became a widow. Pope Damasus was nearly seventy-five years of age. He was one of the noblest of the early popes, and one of those who did most for Christianity and for the development of Christian piety. He had a sister named Irene, who, consecrating herself to God, died at the age of twenty, in honor of whom he composed a most touching epitaph.

Such was the group of souls and the array of virtue which Paula had around her, and which attracted her, when she became a widow, to seek a more perfect life.

In the words of Saint Jerome, Marcella, like an incendiary, blew upon these lighted cinders and set them in a blaze. She found words to bid those eyes, so dimmed by tears, to turn to heaven; and she urged that bruised spirit to rise up and seek God. All this Marcella did with a sister’s tenderness. Her solicitude extended to the children of her friend, and she begged that Eustochium, who already showed a predilection for the religious life, might be confided to her care. Paula acceded to this wish with joy, keeping with her Blesilla, Paulina, Rufina, and Toxotius. Then she began with ardor and faith the new life she had marked out for herself, and she soon outshone all others in virtue. There was a sudden and admirable expansion of greatness in her soul. With her this rupture with the world was but a higher flight toward God.

Her first step in advance was a new and great love of prayer; for so it is, that the more the heart is closed to earth, the more it opens to heaven. Her love of God and of celestial things grew stronger each day. She lived most austerely, practising every Christian mortification. All the habits of luxury of other days were thrown aside, and the very comforts of life diminished. She slept on the bare floor, and rivalled in abstinence and fast the ascetics of the desert. She often wept over the thought of the self-indulgence of her former worldly life. These tears, together with those which she shed for her husband, Toxotius, flowed so constantly and so abundantly, that her eyes were injured, and her sight endangered. Paula was the pale one, pale with fasting and almost blinded by tears.

Paula’s heart was inflamed with charity. She found in the poor another outlet of love for an ardent nature; and as she surpassed Marcella and all others in austerities, so she also surpassed them in charities. All her income was given in alms, and “never,” says Saint Jerome, “did a beggar come away from her empty-handed.”

It was now two years since Paula had lived in this holy way, when great news reached the little community of Aventine. In 382, Pope Damasus called to Rome the Catholic bishops in council, and many venerable bishops were expected there from the east. The object of the council was to decide several questions of faith, as well as to put an end to the long pending schism of Antioch. A few bishops only answered the call of the Roman pontiff, the greater part excusing themselves in a letter which is celebrated in ecclesiastical history. Among those who came were Paulinus, one of the bishops of Antioch, and Saint Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamina in the island of Cyprus.

It is easy to imagine the emotion produced among these recluses by the arrival in Rome of such personages as these holy bishops, who came from the mysterious east where the Catholic faith had been cradled. They had seen Jerusalem and the Holy Land; they knew the fathers of the desert, whose fame filled the world. What lessons of wisdom would they not be able to gather from such visitors!

Paula obtained from Pope Damasus the honor of having Saint Epiphanius as her guest, and it was in her daily interviews with him, as well as with Paulinus, that the desire to see the east, which she was one day to realize, first sprung up in her mind.

History has preserved few details of this council of the year 382. The great work to be brought about by these eastern bishops at Rome was the new impetus which their presence was to give to religion among the Christians of Rome already in the way of life and truth. There came from the east, in company with the holy bishops, a man destined to exercise great influence over the future life of Paula and her friends. This man was Saint Jerome. We must pause a moment and not pass by one who is perhaps the most striking, the most original, and the grandest figure of the fourth century. He stands alone in his strength – different from Saint Hilarius of Poitiers, the profound theologian; from Ambrose, the sweet orator; from Augustine, the great philosopher, or Paulinus, the Christian poet. His features are marked and stern, his character is austere and ardent; the burning reflection from an eastern sky rests upon him; he is laden with the learning of the Christian and the pagan world; the indefatigable athlete of the church, he whose powerful voice moved the old world when they listened to his pathetic lament over the fall of Rome, and which moves us still when we read it now after the lapse of centuries!

Such was Jerome; yet is this picture incomplete, for we have not mentioned his special gift for the direction of souls. He was their guide, their father. He it was who began this divine guidance, entrusted afterward to Saint Bernard, and by him to Saint Francis de Sales, from Saint Francis de Sales to Bossuet and Fénélon, and so on down to our own times. It is this special gift which gives him so prominent a part in the history of Paula.

Pope Damasus wished to detain him in Rome after the departure of the bishops for the east, in order that Jerome should expound the holy Scriptures and give answers to those who came to Rome from all parts of the globe for explanations of the dogmas and discipline of the church. A great friendship had sprung up between the sovereign pontiff and Saint Jerome. The study of the holy Scriptures bound their affections together. “I know of nothing better,” wrote the holy father to him in one of his letters, “than our conversations about Scripture; that is to say, when I ask questions, and you answer; and I say like the prophet, that your voice is sweeter to my heart than honey to my lips.”

After the departure of Epiphanius and Paulinus, Marcella and Paula sought for Jerome and entreated him to explain the Scriptures to them at Mount Aventine. The austere monk resisted them long, but at last yielded, and crowds came to hear him. He would read the text, and then make his comments. The listeners were captivated by his eloquence, and his language was peculiarly strong, clear, and forcible. His monk’s attire, his cheeks, sunken by penance and browned by the eastern sun, and his deep voice, all combined to throw a strange spell over his hearers.

He, too, soon discovered that he spoke to noble souls, and thus was his abiding interest awakened by his own delight in opening such treasures to those so capable of appreciating them.

Such was the ardor of Paula and her friends in studying the Scriptures, that Jerome was in admiration at their labor and perseverance; and it excited him to further efforts, and made him feel the necessity of undertaking a complete translation of the entire Bible, which, indeed, was the work of his life from that time afterward, without remission; being begun on Mount Aventine, among his favorite disciples, and only ending many years later, with his life. Jerome now undertook the spiritual direction of Paula, Marcella, Asella, and their friends. Many of his letters to them have been preserved, a monument of this wonderful direction. He wrote to them unceasingly, and what remains to us of this vast correspondence suffices to show the noble light in which he viewed Christian duty. Their moral elevation is marvellous, and when from theory he came to practice, he seemed to trample under foot all human weakness and to expect from these high-born and gently nurtured patricians the abstinence and fasting of the Anchorites of the Theban deserts.

This direction of Saint Jerome wrought wonders in the soul of Paula. She daily grew in grace, and became a still more noble example of austerity, of prayer, of abundant charities, and good works, and of the fruitful study of the Scriptures.

“What shall I say of the worldly goods of this noble lady, almost entirely spent on the poor?” exclaims Saint Jerome. “What shall I say of her universal charity, which made her love and succor beings she had never even seen? What sick person was not nursed by her? She sought the afflicted throughout the great city, and ever thought she had met with a loss if the sick or the hungry had already found assistance before hers.”

This is what the love of Christ brought about in imperial and corrupt Rome when, for the first time, such Christian heroism burst forth from the midst of the patricians, their admirable and pious daughter shedding new lustre upon those glorious old pagan families.

Saint Paula of Rome

Chapter II

God had given great compensation to Paula in the rare natures of her children. The eldest, and perhaps the most gifted, Blesilla, combined with delicate health an ardent soul, quick wit, and a charming mind. Her penetration astonished even Saint Jerome. She was full of those characteristics that make one hope everything and fear everything. She was but fifteen when she lost her father, and seventeen when Saint Jerome first knew her, in the first bloom of her youth and beauty. She spoke Greek and Latin with perfect purity, and the elegance of her language was remarkable, as well as the quickness of her intellect.

Paula, full of anxiety for such a nature, sought to give her the counterpoise of solid piety. But Blesilla, though capable of exalted virtues, was intoxicated by the splendors of the sphere in which she was born and educated. Like all young girls of her rank, she loved dress, luxury, and entertainments, and neither the death of her father nor her mother’s example had detached her heart from the world, neither did her early widowhood; for Paula had given her in marriage to a young and rich patrician of the race of Camillus, who died in a short time after, leaving Blesilla a widow and without children. But even this blow did not suffice, and, after the usual time given to mourning, the worldly and frivolous tastes of the young widow again rose to the surface. She passed many hours before her glass, busy in adorning herself, surrounded by her slaves occupied in dressing her hair and waiting on her, and entertainments of all sorts were her delight.

Paulina, the second daughter of Paula, was, as we have already said, a great contrast to her sister. Less brilliant, but not less agreeable, great good sense was her chief attribute, with sweetness of disposition. Less captivated by the world than Blesilla, she was more inclined to be pious. The equilibrium in her nature was excellent. But there was nothing in any way uncommon about her. She seemed born for the ordinary destiny of woman. She was now sixteen, and Paula, with an instinct truly maternal, felt that what she had to do for her child was to give her a protector worthy of her, in a husband of sound character and amiable disposition.

But the pearl of Paula’s children was her third daughter, Eustochium, who was sweetness and candor itself, and all innocence and piety. Her distinguishing feature was her love for her mother, whom she never for a moment quitted. Marcella kept her with her for some time, and when the child returned to Paula, she clung more than ever to her mother, like a young vine. Her only wish was to follow in the footsteps of Paula and to be like her, and to consecrate herself also to the service of God with her young virginal heart. Soft and silent, but hiding under this veil of timidity a remarkable mind, Eustochium was formed for high purposes. She was not fourteen when Saint Jerome came to Rome.

Rufina was then only eleven or twelve years of age, and the time had not yet come for anxiety about her. It was, however, different with Toxotius, who was younger still, but had not received baptism, his father’s family having assumed his guardianship; and they were pagans, which grieved Paula, who hoped to make her son a fervent Christian.

Such was the family of Paula. Her many duties to them had excited the interest of the austere monk, who, together with Marcella, wished to do everything possible to aid Paula in her cares. Blesilla at once filled the mind of Saint Jerome with the ardent wish to save her from the career of worldliness on which she seemed bent; but in vain did he try to bring her to grave thoughts. Paulina was easier to guide, for Providence aided the pious efforts of her friends in the husband chosen for her by her mother, who was Pammachius, of whom Saint Jerome has said that he was “the most Christian of the noble Romans, and the most noble of the Christians.” He was also the old and tried friend of Saint Jerome, to whom this marriage gave great happiness, as well as to Paula and Marcella.

As for Eustochium, she continued to expand and bloom under the influence of her mother. In vain were the rich dresses of her sisters and their shining jewels spread out before her. Her taste for religious life was becoming more and more decided every day. Notwithstanding her great youth, none of the maidens of the Aventine surpassed her in prayer, or in following Saint Jerome in his laborious studies of the Scriptures. She had learnt Hebrew, and, like her mother, had inspired Saint Jerome with singular devotion and interest. The increasing vocation of Eustochium aroused opposition in her father’s family; for it was not possible that the progress of monastic tendencies among the patrician women should be allowed to take root without resistance in Rome, where opposition was made by law to anything like celibacy for men, with open advocacy of matrimony and the honors of maternity for women.

Saint Jerome undertook to modify these ideas with his powerful pen, and, in his answer to the attack of one named Helvidius, came off the field completely victorious.

It was about this time, 384 A.D., that Blesilla fell ill of a pernicious fever, which for a month threatened her life. This illness brought her wisdom. The following is the story of her conversion, from Saint Jerome: “During thirty days,” he says, “we saw our Blesilla burning with a devouring fever. She lay almost bereft of life, panting under the struggle with death, and trembling at the thought of the judgments of God. Where then was the help of those who gave her worldly counsels? of those who prevented her from living for Christ? Could they save her from death? No. But our Lord himself, seeing that she was only carried away by the intoxication of youth and the errors of her century, came to her, touched her hand, and cried out to her, as to Lazarus, ‘Arise, come forth and walk!’ She understood this call, and she arose and knew that she owed the boon of life to him who had given it back to her.” She was then but twenty years of age, when she shone in her new-born beauty of holiness. She, who formerly passed long hours at her toilet, now sought only to find God; and, instead of the ornaments in which she had liked to appear, she now covered her fair head with the veil most becoming for a Christian woman. All the money that had been spent for adorning herself now went to the poor. And this ardent soul, once consecrated to God, gave itself up entirely, and, passing with a great flight beyond ordinary natures, at once reached the summit of human virtue and perfection.

Eustochium and Paula had not more ardor. Jerome was admirable in his manner of seconding this generous enthusiasm. He now instructed her in the Scriptures, and she studied first Ecclesiastes, then the gospels, and Isaiah. She learned Hebrew to read the Psalms. Her energy was wonderful, for her steps still tottered from illness, and her delicate neck drooped under the weight of her young head. But the divine book was never out of her hands.

How shall we paint the joy of Paula at this change in her beloved child! Her dearest wishes had been granted. This, too, was a fruitful conversion; others imitated such an example; and Paula’s house soon became a sort of monastery, which Jerome would call the fireside church. He gives a most beautiful description of Paula and her children at this period, when the blessing of God was so visibly on her household. Her fervor increased. She determined on a complete sacrifice of her worldly goods, and, in the words of Saint Jerome, “being already dead to the world, though still living, she distributed all her fortune among her children,” thereby entirely initiating herself into the holy poverty of Christ. Notwithstanding all the consolations God had sent her, she was still uneasy and dissatisfied; her life was not yet all that she sighed for. A great disgust toward Rome filled her mind, and the descriptions Epiphanius had given her of the East rose up for ever in her, making her soul long for the monastic life of the desert. The example of Melanie was then to increase this longing, for Melanie had now been for some years realizing her dreams in her convent on the Mount of Olives.

There was now nothing to prevent Paula from going. Blesilla, as well as Eustochium, wished to follow their mother in her pilgrimage, and many of their friends desired to join them. Saint Jerome, the veteran pilgrim, was to be their pilot to holy places. He had strengthened them all in the love of God and nourished them with the Holy Scriptures. His letters to Eustochium at this time were exquisite. What could be more touching than the friendship uniting the austere old monk and this sweet young maiden? “O my Eustochium! O my daughter! O my sister!” he wrote to her, “since my age and charity alike permit me to give you these names, if you are by birth the noblest of Roman virgins, I beseech you guard zealously your own heart and keep it from evil. Imitate our Lord Jesus Christ, be obedient to your parents, go out rarely, and honor the martyrs in the solitude of your chamber. Read often and you will learn much. Let sleep surprise you with the holy book in your hands, and, if your head drop down with fatigue, let it be on the sacred pages.”

Eustochium was grateful to him for his wise counsels, and, wishing to express her appreciation of his letters to her, she gathered courage to send him a little offering of a basket of cherries, with several of those bracelets called armillae and some doves. The whole was accompanied by a sweet, girlish letter, full of affection. The cherries, she said, were a symbol of purity, to remind him of his letters; the bracelets were such as were given to reward brilliant deeds, and were to put him in mind of his own victories in controversy; and, lastly, the doves were emblematic of his tenderness to her from her childhood.

Saint Jerome received with great kindness the little offerings of his spiritual daughter, and thanked her for them in a letter full of affection, mingled with the grave counsels which ever flowed from his pen.

The time was approaching for the departure of Paula for the East. It was in the autumn of 384 A.D., when Blesilla suddenly fell ill of the same fever which had once before laid her so low. The news of her illness filled her friends with consternation, for Blesilla was tenderly loved by them. She sank so rapidly that there was soon no hope left of her recovery. This was but four months after her conversion, and God already judged her ready for a better life, and called her to himself.

She was but twenty, and was going to die. Her mother, her sisters, her relations, her friends, Marcella and Saint Jerome, all gathered around her death-bed in tears. Blesilla alone did not weep. Though the fever was consuming her, a ray of celestial light illuminated her countenance with a beauty not of earth, and transfigured her. Her only regret was, that her repentance had been so short. She turned to those who were around her: “Oh! pray for me,” she cried, “to our Lord Jesus Christ, to have mercy on my soul, since I die before I have been able to accomplish what I had in my heart to do for him.” These were her last words; every one present was moved to tears by them. Jerome eagerly offered consolation. “Trust in the Lord, dear Blesilla,” said he; “your soul is as pure as the white robes you have worn since your consecration to God, which though but recent was so generous and complete that it came not too late.” These words filled her soul with peace. And shortly afterward, to use the words of Saint Jerome, “freeing herself from the pains of the body, this white dove flew off to heaven!”

Her obsequies were magnificent, followed by all the Roman nobles. Such was the custom of the patricians. A peculiar interest and sympathy were felt in the fate of this brilliant young woman, as well as universal compassion for the sorrow of her venerable mother. The long procession walked through the streets, followed by the coffin covered with a veil of gold. Saint Jerome, though not approving of this display, dared not interfere to prevent it, as it seemed a sad consolation to Paula to see the honors paid to the child so tenderly loved. She undertook to accompany Blesilla to her last resting-place; but her strength failed, and, having taken but a few steps, she fainted away and was brought back to her house insensible.

The days that followed the funeral only increased her grief. She was crushed by it. In vain did she try to submit to the divine will, her heart failed her, and Jerome felt that he must make an effort to give her strength, or else she would succumb to the pressure. The effort was great on his part, for Blesilla was his beloved pupil, and this death annihilated all his own cherished hopes of her. He never found the courage to conclude a commentary, begun expressly for her, on Ecclesiastes. But feeling it a duty to help Paula, he wrote to her a letter filled with true delicacy of feeling and Christian faith. He commenced by weeping with her over the lost Blesilla, for he said: “While wishing to dry her mother’s tears, am I not weeping myself?” He continued this noble letter in these words, alike reproachful and sympathizing: “When I reflect that you are a mother, I do not blame you for weeping; but when I reflect also that you are a Christian, then, O Paula! I wish that the Christian would console the mother a little.”

He reminded her of the children she had left, and with all the authority of his holy office bid her take care lest, “in loving her children so much, she did not love God enough.” “Listen,” he says, “to Jesus, and trust in him: ‘Your daughter is not dead, but sleepeth.'”

Then Jerome would picture to Paula her daughter in all her celestial glory. He would suppose Blesilla calling upon her mother in these words: “If you have ever loved me, O my mother! if you have ever nourished me from your bosom, and trained my soul with your words of wisdom and virtue, oh! I conjure you, do not lament that I have such glory and happiness as is mine here! What prayers does Blesilla not now offer up for you to God!” And Saint Jerome adds, “She is praying for me also, for you know, O Paula! how devoted I was to her soul, and what I did not fear to brave, that she might be saved.”

Saint Jerome’s letter awoke new Christian strength and resignation in the broken spirit of Paula. The tears ceased to flow, but the wound bled inwardly and never healed. The void left by Blesilla in her mother’s heart must ever make it desolate. Rome became insupportable to her, and the pilgrimage to the East, so long thought of, seemed now the only thing that could interest her. About this time Pope Damasus died. He was a great loss to Saint Jerome, for his successor had not the same moral courage, and dared not sustain the old monk in advocating monastic life, which so enraged the patricians.

Finally, worn out by persecution, and perhaps longing to return to that solitude he had never ceased to regret, Jerome determined to leave Rome. This was in the year 385 A.D. His friends were only waiting for his signal to accompany him in numbers, and many were the tears shed by his gentle pupils in Rome at his departure. His farewell letter to them all was addressed to the venerable Asella, through whom he sent his last greetings to Paula, Eustochium, Albina, Marcella, Marcellina, and Felicity, “his sisters in Jesus Christ.” Many of these he was destined to see no more. But the decision of Paula was irrevocable. She had no longer any earthly tie to detain her. Her son, moved by the example of his mother and sisters, had received Christian baptism, and was soon to marry a young Christian maiden, the cousin of Marcella. Rufina was to remain during her mother’s absence with her sister Paulina and Pammachius, and also with Marcella, her second mother.

Eustochium was to accompany her mother, as well as a large number of the pious community of the Aventine. They left Rome in the autumn of 385 A.D. Paula courageously bid farewell to her children, and the friends who had followed in troops to see her embark. Leaning on the arm of Eustochium, she was seen on the deck of the vessel, her eyes averted, that her strength might not fail her as she witnessed the sorrow of her loved ones whom she was leaving. For Saint Jerome tells us, “Paula loved her children more than any other woman.”

The voyage was favorable, the vessel touching at many places of classic interest. When they finally reached Salamines in the Island of Cyprus, what was her joy on finding her venerable friend, Saint Epiphanius, waiting on the shore to receive her, happy in being able to return the hospitality he had enjoyed under her roof in Rome three years before.

The Island of Cyprus was filled with monasteries and convents founded and protected by Epiphanius, which were a great attraction to Paula. Holy hymns were sung where Venus but lately had reigned supreme; and the grave of the holy patriarch Hilarion stood near the ruins of the ancient temple of the heathen goddess.

After leaving Cyprus, Paula went to Antioch. There Jerome and the priests and monks who had accompanied him from Rome were awaiting her with Paulinus, the bishop. They wished to detain her; but since her feet had touched land her ardor to reach Jerusalem had so increased that nothing could stop her. To follow the footsteps of Christ, to see where his precious blood was shed, then to visit the anachorites of the desert, such was Paula’s thought. Eustochium and her companions shared this desire. No time was lost. A caravan was organized, Jerome and his friends on dromedaries, Paula and her suite on asses, and they began their journey together. The road from Antioch to Jerusalem was long and fatiguing for women so delicately bred. A journey in those days was full of perils of which we now have no idea. But Paula was indefatigable, deterred by no dangers and complaining of no inconveniences, as she crossed the icy plains at this most trying season of the year. Saint Jerome tells of the cities that she saw, and of the emotions that she felt as her knowledge of Scripture and of holy books brought up recollections and associations either of Jewish or of Christian history wherever she went. Besides, Jerome was there, with his prodigious memory and knowledge, to throw light on every step.

As Paula approached Jerusalem, her soul was more deeply moved, than it had yet been. The view of the landscape around the city was desolate, even as early as the fourth century. She entered by the Gate of Jaffa, also called the Gate of David and the Gate of the Pilgrims. The proconsul of Palestine had sent an escort to meet her, to receive her with honor; but with that sentiment which later made Godefroi de Bouillon refuse to wear a golden crown where God had worn one of thorns, Paula refused to lodge in the palace offered for her convenience, and she and her whole suite staid at a modest dwelling not far from Calvary; then she started at once to visit the Holy Places. Who can describe her feelings as she entered the church of the Holy Sepulchre? In the fourth century, the stone which closed the entrance to the tomb of our Lord was still to be seen by the faithful pilgrims. To-day it is covered by a monument of marble. As soon as Paula saw it, with great emotion she embraced it; but when she entered into the sepulchre itself, and went up to the rock on which had laid the body of our Lord, she could no longer restrain her tears, and, falling on her knees, sobbed and wept abundantly. All Jerusalem saw these tears, and were edified at the great piety of this noble Roman lady, the daughter of the Scipios.

Saint Jerome tells us that, while she was in Jerusalem, “she would see everything,” and that “she was only dragged away from one holy place that she might be taken to another.”

After having visited Jerusalem, the pilgrims travelled all over the Holy Land, commencing with Bethlehem and Judea, then visiting Jericho and the Jordan, Samaria and Galilee as far as Nazareth, and finally, reorganizing the caravan, they set out for Egypt; not, however, before paying a visit to Melanie, in her convent on the Mount of Olives, whence they returned to Jerusalem.

Paula would now have fixed herself at Bethlehem but for this longing to visit the fathers of the desert. They started on this, the longest and most fatiguing part of their journey, and were sixteen days in going from Jerusalem to Alexandria. This city was the Athens of the East. In such an atmosphere of learning, there had been great intellectual development among the Christians, and the school of Christian philosophers of Alexandria was renowned throughout the world. This was what detained Paula and Eustochium, and particularly Jerome, some time at Alexandria, where they were received with great hospitality by the bishop, Theophilus. But even the most interesting studies could not make Paula forget the principal object of her voyage to Egypt, and her desire to see and to know the ascetics, that wonderful class of men, who voluntarily exiled themselves from the world and from all human ties, and astonished mankind by incredible austerities, and by consecrating their lives entirely to spiritual things and to a future existence. At this time the number of these anachorites had so multiplied, that it was said that in Egypt the deserts had as many inhabitants as the cities. Monastic life was then in all its glory. The great anachorites, Paul, Antony, Hilarion, and Pacomius, were dead; but their disciples lived, as celebrated as themselves. A great work of organization had been accomplished among them. The first men who came to the desert lived alone in caves or cells, each following his individual inspiration. Paul had lived forty years in a grotto, at the entrance of which was a spring and a palm-tree, drinking the water of the spring and eating the fruit of the tree, being his only nourishment. Antony’s life had been more extraordinary still. But when the number of the hermits increased, they felt the necessity of community life being established, and the cenobites began to take the place of the anachorites, though there remained many of the latter, dividing, as it were, the hermits into two kinds, the Anachorites and the Cenobites. Large convents spread out along the banks of the Nile to the furthest extremity of Egypt.

It was not easy to visit these establishments. In going there, many years before, Melanie and her companions had been lost for five days, and their provisions being exhausted they had nearly died of hunger and thirst in the desert. Crocodiles, basking in the sun, had awaited with open jaws to devour them, and numberless other dangers had beset them.

But this did not discourage Paula, and her route being happily chosen, she accomplished her journey safely to the mountain of Nitria, where five thousand cenobites lived in fifty different convents, under the rule of one abbot. The news of her coming had preceded her, and the Bishop of Heliopolis had come to welcome the noble lady. He was surrounded by a great crowd of cenobites and anachorites. As soon as they perceived the caravan, they came forward singing hymns. Paula was soon surrounded. She declared herself most unworthy of the honors accorded her, and at the same time glorified God, who worked such marvels in the desert. The bishop first conducted the pious band to the church situated on the summit of the mountain, and there, with that hospitality for which the monks of the East were ever remarkable, the travellers were given the best rooms attached to the convent and intended for the use and convenience of strangers. Fresh water was brought to them to wash their feet, and linen to dry them, and the fruits of the desert to refresh their palates; after which they were allowed to visit the convents and the hermits, whose life was very simple and very free, at the same time holy and austere. Ambitious of reducing the body to servitude, and to penetrate the secrets of things divine, they united action with contemplation. Their days were passed between work and prayer. Some were to be seen digging the earth, cutting trees, fishing in the Nile, or perhaps plaiting the mats on which they were to die. Others were absorbed by the reading of, or meditation on, the Holy Scriptures. The monasteries swarmed like bee-hives.

After having witnessed the cenobitical life, Paula went to the desert of cells to see the anachorite life, which there was carried out in all its austerity and all its poetry. These monks had no walls built by man, but had retired to the mountains as to the most inaccessible asylums. Caverns and rocks were their dwellings, the earth their table, their food roots and wild plants, and water from the springs their refreshment. Their prayers were continual, and all the mountain hollows rang with God’s praises. These grottoes did not communicate with each other, and the isolation of the anachorites was complete. Once a week, on Sunday only, they left their cells, and, dressed in robes made of palm-leaves or of sheepskin, they went to the church of Nitria, where they saw one another, and also met the cenobites. Paula wished to know and listen to these pious men. She therefore visited all the grottoes, one by one, talking always of the things of God to their inmates.

Paula’s next visit was through a still more savage country to see those called by Saint Jerome “the columns of the desert.” She cared not for dangers nor fatigue, so that she could contemplate such men as Macarius – the disciple of Antony and Pacomius – a man so austere that he had astonished Pacomius himself, who had watched him during the whole of one Lent plaiting mats in his cell, without speaking to any one, all absorbed in God, and only eating once a week, on Sunday, a few raw vegetables. None could surpass this great ascetic. He permitted the pilgrims to penetrate into his grotto, and delighted Paula with his holy conversation and instruction.

Jerome admired likewise the prodigies of this pure and austere life; but more occupied than Paula with the doctrines he heard discussed, he had perceived that some of the monks were less enlightened than others. It seems, as it afterward was proved, that the theories of Origen were already beginning to trouble the inhabitants of the desert.

There remained now, to complete Paula’s insight into the life of the hermits, but to visit the convents founded by Pacomius, which she hesitated not to do. There were six thousand monks living in them, governed by the venerable Serapion. Their rule divided each monastery into a certain number of families. Their frugal lives enabled them to extend their charities far and wide. Their fasting and abstinence lasted all the year round, becoming only more strict in Lent. Paula enjoyed their hospitality greatly, learning much from Serapion that delighted her about this well-organized monastic life which realized her ideal.

She thought for a moment of establishing herself in the desert, and of requesting Serapion to admit her colony under the rule of Pacomius; but the love of the Holy Places prevented her from carrying out this plan. She said “her resting-place was not in these deserts, it was in Bethlehem.” Already had she lingered too long! She had now learned all that she wished to learn, enough for her own guidance. She therefore embarked with her entire caravan for Maioma, a sea-port of Gaza; and from there, without stopping on her way, she returned to Jerusalem, and thence to Bethlehem, with as much rapidity, says Saint Jerome, as if she had had wings.

Here the news awaited her of the death of her daughter Rufina. The blow was terrible to Paula, but her mind was strengthened by all she had seen, and the voice of God reached her heart and comforted her, and gave her stronger hope than she had ever had in reunion hereafter with her beloved children. She sought to make herself worthy of immortality, and her faith and her good works brought her consolation and peace. She resolved to found two monasteries: one for herself, Eustochium, and her friends from the Aventine; the other for Jerome and his followers. This was done without delay, and they at once began the life which they longed for – a life of labor, of study, and of prayer.

Saint Paula of Rome

Chapter III

The government of Paula in her newly founded monastery was admirable, and she herself was the example of all virtues, as was also Eustochium. The fame of her rule spread throughout the East, and went back to Rome, where Marcella still lived and gloried in her friend.

The chief happiness of the recluses was to study the Scriptures, which they now read from beginning to end. Jerome read with them, explaining everything. His grotto was not far off, and he passed his nights there, by the light of a lamp, surrounded with manuscripts and assisted by others copying for him; for he was now growing old, and his failing eyesight no longer allowed of his enduring the fatigue of writing. He resumed the study of the eastern dialects in order the better to comprehend the original of the holy works, and, encouraged by Paula and Eustochium, resumed his work of translation, which was continued for nearly twenty years under their saintly influence.

At the end of three years Paula’s monasteries, church, and hospital were all finished, with their surrounding walls, which in those times were so necessary a protection from the raids of the neighboring Arabs.

The number of the recluses had increased, and Paula now divided them into three communities, each one having an abbess or mother at its head, after the plan of Saint Pacomius.

During the week their vows of enclosure prevented all intercourse with the outer world. They all went on Sunday to the church at Bethlehem; for the holy sacrifice of the Mass was not offered up at their own chapel, Saint Jerome never having deemed himself worthy to mount the steps of the altar, such was his profound humility; and Vincentius, the only priest they had beside, did not attempt to officiate where Jerome dared not.

Paula was the soul of her communities. Her austerities were as great as her charities, and these were without number. Saint Jerome represents her like a devoted mother to each and all of her spiritual daughters, loving them all and studying their characters equally, in order to guide each one according to her individual nature and for the best. Intellectual activity was greatly encouraged among them by her, and she took care to furnish them with books and food for the mind. In this Jerome was of great assistance to her. His convent was the dwelling of science and letters as well as of asceticism. He had around him many men of vast erudition, who in taking care of their souls did not forswear the paths of learning, and in solitude pursued their studies. They also wrote books which were read with great avidity by Paula and her religious family. Jerome himself, in addition to his great works, composed many pious biographies, and among others the life of Saint Epiphanius, at the particular request of Paula. The latter had now taught her daughters to copy the Psalms, which Jerome had translated at Rome by the order of Pope Damasus. This was a work of importance, as exactness was necessary in order to repair the harm done to the work by neglect of the original manuscripts. Copying thus became universal in all monasteries, owing to the impetus given to it by Paula, and to it we are indebted for the preservation of much that is of inestimable value to Christianity.

Paula now urged Jerome to revise all his various translations of the Holy Scriptures, and this prodigious work was concluded by him as early as the year 390. The book was dedicated to Paula and Eustochium. To Paula particularly, palmam ferat qui meruit, great praise is due for the holy influence she exercised for so many years over Saint Jerome, to such a noble purpose, and which produced such fruits in the translation of the Bible called the Vulgate, still used in the church after the lapse of so many centuries.

All these pious labors gave great renown to Paula’s monasteries, and she who had thought to hide herself from the world, saw the curious world appear at her gates, attracted by the beacon light of Bethlehem. Her buildings could scarcely contain the visitors who flocked to see her. Saint Augustine himself had sent his beloved friend, Alypius, across the seas to witness these wonders and to see Jerome and Paula. Augustine afterward wrote to Jerome, thus beginning a friendship between these two great men, one of whom was just risen above the horizon of the church, while the other great luminary was on the decline, though spreading out his rays in all the splendor of the setting sun.

But that which most astonished the pilgrims to Bethlehem was not Jerome nor any other inhabitant of this holy place, but Paula in the midst of her virgins. “What country,” says Saint Jerome, “does not send hither its pilgrims to see Paula, who eclipses us all in humility? She has attained that earthly glory from which she fled; for in flying from it she found it, because glory follows virtue as shadows follow the light.”

Among all the visits paid to the recluses, none filled them with so much joy as that of the venerable Epiphanius, whose early lessons had had so much to do with the religious training of Paula. He, too, was delighted; he had seen nothing more perfect in the desert. The order, the prayerful and fervent nuns, the austere and laborious monks, the wonderful intellectual activity, amazed him. He remained some time with his friends at Bethlehem, praising God for what he saw.

About this time the discussions on Origenism began to trouble the church of Alexandria, and finally penetrated to Jerusalem and to Bethlehem. Jerome was estranged from Rufinus and Melanie, and others of his early friends, by differing with them on the subject of this celebrated heresy. Paula was afflicted at this, and foresaw clouds in the future which did not fail to burst on her own monasteries. The great doctrinal combats of the fourth century, in which the church was destined to come off victorious, Paula would gladly have avoided entirely, but in spite of herself she became involved in them. Her sorrow was great when she saw her monasteries as well as Saint Jerome and herself excluded from the Holy Sepulchre because of their clinging to their old friend Saint Epiphanius, who was the champion of orthodoxy and the great antagonist of Origenism, The ordination of a priest for the monasteries was the ostensible cause of their being put under the ban. This priest was Paulinianus, the brother of Jerome, and the validity of his ordination by Epiphanius was questioned by John, the Bishop of Jerusalem, on the ground of the youth of Paulinianus, but in reality because John, instigated by Rufinus, was profoundly irritated against Jerome and Epiphanius on account of his own leanings toward the doctrine of Origen. He forbade the entrance of the church of the Nativity or of the Holy Sepulchre to all who considered the ordination of Paulinianus canonical. This, of course, included the recluses of Bethlehem. Their dismay was great.

Epiphanius did not consider it derogatory to his dignity for him to bend his white head before the younger bishop and sue for clemency for others. He explained the great want of a priest at the monasteries, and the motives for the ordination of Paulinianus, and he begged John, for the sake of charity, to cease such persecution; and then the illustrious patriarch, on his knees, conjured him to abjure the false doctrines that had divided them.

But John would not yield, and talked only of the offence of the uncanonical ordination. Whereupon, Epiphanius thought it his duty to expose him, and demanded of the recluses that they should suspend all communion with the bishop of Jerusalem until the latter should renounce his errors.

Notwithstanding this moderation, the rancor of John burst upon them. All ecclesiastical functions were forbidden Jerome and Vincentius. Paula’s catechumens were refused baptism, and his wrath went so far as to deny religious burial to the hermits as if they were excommunicated. Paula suffered inwardly from this warfare, so different from the quiet and repose she longed for. Herself untouched by the arguments of the heretics, she became an object of envy. But the voice of calumny could not disturb the serenity of her mind, and by no word or sign did she ever show impatience or anger. She endeavored also to console Saint Jerome for the wounds he had received. She loved to quote Scripture to him, to soothe his mind. It was in the Bible that she always found strength to endure every evil.

Finally, Bishop John, carrying his hatred to Jerome to its climax, passed a decree of banishment against him. Jerome, worn out by contention, wished to depart at once, but Paula said to him these touching words: “They hate us and would crush us, but let us return patience for hatred, humility for arrogance. Does not Saint Paul bid us return good for evil? And when our conscience tells us that our sufferings do not proceed from sin, we are very certain that the afflictions of this world are only the assurance of eternal reward. Bear, then, with the trials that assail you and do not quit our beloved Bethlehem.”

In this way Paula sustained and soothed the old monk by the delicacy and serenity of her own noble soul, which lived so high up in the love of God that the storms of this world passed by leaving her unharmed.

After a while Jerome was freed from this phase of persecution by the Metropolitan of Palestine, Cesarius, who was a prudent and wise man. These perils ended, Paula encouraged him to recommence his great labors on the Bible, and also to renew his correspondence with his friends, and to think no more of this painful episode, but to suffer the tempest without to rage and no longer disturb him.

We will turn away from these discussions, at which we have glanced but cursorily, though unavoidably, to rest our minds in the contemplation of virtue.

Jerome now wrote more of his most admirable letters, and Paula continued the even tenor and pious practices of her life. She received a visit from Fabiola, who came from Rome in search of that peace and solitude which she believed could be best found in Bethlehem. This visit gave great joy to the recluses; for Fabiola could tell them of all their friends in Rome, of Paulina and Pammachius, of Toxotius and his wife Laeta, and of the young Paula, called after her venerable grandmother. She brought them messages from Marcella and the Aventine. While Fabiola was with them, they resumed the habits of former years, and read the Holy Scriptures together, Jerome explaining it to them. The ardor of Fabiola was wonderful. After she had ended her visit and left Bethlehem, much was done by Rufinus and Melanie to estrange her from her old friends. But she could not be moved and had determined to settle near them.

At this time, however, dark rumors of invasion threw consternation among the quiet inhabitants of the monasteries. It was rumored that the Huns threatened Jerusalem. Other cities had already been besieged, and they were now before Antioch. Arabia, Phoenicia, Palestine, and Egypt were filled with terror. On all sides preparations for defence were being made, and the walls of Jerusalem, too long neglected, were now under repair.

To save her monasteries from insult, Paula meditated flight, and conducted her whole community to the sea-shore, ready to embark if the barbarians made their appearance. But the Huns having suddenly diverged in another direction, Paula brought back her followers to their beloved monasteries, and with a joyful heart once more took possession of them.

These events decided Fabiola to return to Rome. When all the troubles had ceased, Jerome wrote to her: “You would not remain with us; you feared new alarms. So be it. You are now tranquil; but, notwithstanding your tranquillity, I venture to say that Babylon will often make you sigh for the fields of Bethlehem. We are now at peace, and from this manger, which has been restored to us, we once more hear the wail of the infant Christ, the echoes of which I send you across the seas.”

Unfortunately, however, the peace and quiet did not last long. After three years the dispute with the Bishop of Jerusalem was renewed with great violence. But the bishop, Theophilus, having only declared himself against Origenism, John was finally brought to reason by him, and Jerome and Rufinus were reconciled in his presence, before the altar in the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Peace now reigned in the monasteries on what appeared to be a surer foundation.

But other sorrows came pouring in. News arrived from Rome of the death of Paulina, when she was but thirty, and Pammachius was left a widower and without posterity.

His loss in the daughter of Paula was great, for theirs was an admirable and holy union; for Paulina loved her husband and would have endeavored not only to make him happy, but virtuous. The grief of Pammachius was overwhelming. He had now but one wish on earth, which was to do something for the good of Paulina’s soul.

It was an ancient custom in Rome at the obsequies of persons of distinction to give alms in honor of the dead, and to perpetuate their memory. This was called the funeraticium. On the day fixed for that of Paulina the streets of Rome were thronged. Troops of the poor, the lame, and the maimed wended their way to the church in answer to the invitation of Pammachius. The gilded door of the great basilica was open before them, and Pammachius himself was there distributing on all sides abundant alms in the name of Paulina.

Who can describe the grief of Paula when the news reached Bethlehem of the death of Paulina? She was ill for days afterward, and Eustochium feared for her life. Jerome wrote to Pammachius on the sorrowful event. “Who can see,” cried he, “without grief, this beauteous rose gathered before her time and faded away? Our precious pearl, our emerald, is broken.”

Paula’s only consolation was in the admirable conduct of Pammachius. “This death was prolific,” said Saint Jerome, “for it gave a new life to Pammachius.” He had always been a good Christian, he now became a heroic one. He thought of heaven, where his faith made him see his beloved Paulina; the example of Paula and Eustochium, and of his holy friend Jerome, all combined to detach him from the things of earth. He felt inspired with the noble resolution to consecrate to God the remaining years of his life. He assumed the dress of a monk and passed his time in charities and prayer. The jewels of Paulina were converted into money and given to the poor, and also her dower and the house of the noble senator was thrown open to all who were in want. Fabiola generously seconded him in founding hospitals, and their combined resources enabled them to accomplish great charities in Rome.

“Ordinary husbands,” said Saint Jerome, “show their affection and love by scattering roses and lilies and violets over a grave. Our Pammachius has covered the tomb of his departed wife with holy ashes, and with the perfume of charity. These are the aromatics with which he has embalmed Paulina.” Such fruits were a great solace to Paula. When she heard that he had given away Paulina’s dower to the poor, she exclaimed, “These are indeed the heirs that I would see my daughter have! Pammachius has not given me time even to express my wish; he has been beforehand with me!”

In the midst of her grief a ray of joy came from Rome, in the proposition from Toxotius and Laeta to send young Paula to her grandmother. They had determined that, in order to secure such holy training for their child, she should leave Rome and go to the East, where Paula and Eustochium would bring her up in the way of truth. Eustochium begged her of Laeta, and young Paula did eventually come to Bethlehem to join her aunt; but her venerable grandmother was no longer there to receive her.

The burden of years was now beginning to be felt by Paula. Sorrow and sadness pressed upon her, yet the ineffable beauty of her soul was greater than ever. Saint Francis de Sales says of her that “she was like a beautiful and sweet violet, so sweet to see in the garden of the church.” It is this exquisite and rare perfume which we must enjoy more in speaking of her in the years just before her death, when God seemed to touch her soul with a singularly soft and mellow light, like the evening of a fair day. She had been much disturbed by the renewal of the dissensions between Saint Jerome and the Origenists. We have already said how she had grieved over the first encounter, seeing bishops against bishops, friends against friends, hermits against hermits. But the new struggles were still more painful to her: they had become personal, and, notwithstanding the reconciliation with Rufinus, he had attacked Saint Jerome’s character and writings, and the latter was obliged to defend himself. Paula had also witnessed another painful sight. After the council condemning Origen, the monks accused of sharing his erroneous opinions were driven away from the desert, and among them were many whom Paula had formerly known and venerated, and who were now homeless wanderers. The severity of the Patriarch of Alexandria against them grieved her deeply; and, the most bitter of all, her tears were those she shed for the throes of the church and for the evil passions of men. New sorrows came upon her also. She heard of the death of Fabiola, her old and dear friend. Then came the death of Saint Epiphanius, who had been to Paula like a beloved father.

Toxotius, her only son, was now taken away. All her children but Eustochium were dead. What was left for Paula but suffering? Physical infirmities accumulated upon her the result of her austerities. Of these she would merely say, “When I am weak, then it is that I am strong;” and again, “We must resign ourselves to carrying our treasure in brittle vases, until the day comes when this miserable body shall be robed in immortality.” She also loved to repeat these words: “If the sufferings of Christ abound in us, his consolations abound also. Sharers of his bodily agony, we will also be partakers of his glory.”

The things of earth could no longer touch her, for she had seen how passing they are and knew that they could not last. The longing for the heavenly country grew in proportion. She would say with the patriarchs of the desert, “We are but travellers on the earth.” And when her sufferings increased, she murmured gently, “Oh! who will give me the wings of a dove, that I may fly to everlasting rest?”

She no longer belonged to the earth, she was almost in heaven. Her soul had reached such extraordinary perfection that she seemed already to see the glory and to hear the harmonies of heaven. Peace and joy were suffused throughout her being, rising above her sufferings. Her love of God grew greater, and death seemed to her not a separation from those she loved on earth, but an indissoluble union with God, in whom all joys are found again. “Who,” says Saint Jerome, “can tell without tears how Paula died?” He himself wrote immortal pages on the subject, which have consoled many a dying soul since.

When Sainte Chantal was on her death-bed, she asked to have read to her once more Saint Jerome’s account of the death of Paula, to which she listened with wonderful attention, repeating several times these words: “What are we? Nothing but atoms alongside of these grand nuns.”

It was in the year A.D. 403 that Paula fell ill. When it became known that her life was in imminent danger, the whole monastery was in consternation.

Eustochium could not be comforted; she who had never quit her mother from childhood could not bear the thought of separation. Her love for her mother, which had always been so touching, shone now in all the ardor and strength of her nature. She would yield her place by the bedside to no one by day or by night. Every remedy was administered by her hands, and she would throw herself on her knees by the bed, and implore God to suffer them to die together and be laid in one tomb. But these tears and these prayers could not postpone the hour marked by God for the end. Her time had expired; Paula had suffered enough and wept enough. She should now see joy, and put on the robes of glory. It became evident that her strength was failing, and that she had but a few days left to live. She bore her sufferings with admirable patience and heavenly serenity. She was grateful for the care bestowed on her by Eustochium and the devoted daughters of the house, but her whole mind was given up to the thought of opening Paradise. Her lips were heard to murmur her favorite verses from Scripture.

The Bishop of Jerusalem and all the bishops of Palestine, together with a great number of religious, flocked to her bedside to witness this saintly death. The monastery was filled with them. But Paula, absorbed in God, saw them not, heard them not. Several asked her questions, but she did not answer. Jerome then approached and wished to know if she were troubled and why she did not speak. She answered in Greek, “Oh! no; I have neither trouble nor regret; I feel, on the contrary, great inward peace.”

After these words she spoke no more, but her fingers ceased not to make the sign of the cross. At last, however, she opened her eyes with joy, as if she saw a celestial vision, and as if hearing the divine voice of the canticle, “Rise up, come to me, O my dove, my beloved, for winter is past and the rain has disappeared.” She spoke as if in answer, for she continued, in low but joyful tones, the words of the sacred song: “Flowers have appeared on the earth, the time for gathering them has arrived.” Then she added, “I think I see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” With these words on her lips Paula expired. She had lived to the age of fifty-six years eight months and twenty-one days; of which time, twenty-five years had been passed since her widowhood in religious life.

Her obsequies were a marvel. Before consigning her body to the tomb, it was carried to the church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, which she loved and where she lay for three days with uncovered face, for the visitation and veneration of the faithful. Crowds flocked from all parts to do her honor, and bishops sought to take part in the funeral ceremonies and to show respect to the lamented deceased. Among the hermits of the desert, it was almost esteemed a sacrilege to stay away. John of Jerusalem himself officiated. But the most touching part of the spectacle was the long array of the poor, following in the procession, and weeping for their mother. Death had not altered the noble countenance of Paula; she was only pale, and looked as if sleeping. The people could not tear themselves away from this last view of her beloved features. She was finally interred under this same church, in a grotto, where her tomb may still be seen up to the present time. During the week following her burial, the crowd continued to linger about her tomb, singing psalms in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin or in Syriac.

All this time, the sorrow of Eustochium had been terrible to behold. Her very being was rent in twain. She could not be torn away from her mother’s body up to the last, but would remain by her, tenderly kissing her eyes, throwing her arms around her, and beseeching to be buried in the tomb with her. This continued until the grave shut out the form of Paula from her for ever.

Jerome tried to console her, though himself bowed down by grief. Of all the souls he had directed, none were so lofty nor so intimately connected with his own as that of Paula. So crushed was he by this loss, that it was long before the world again heard his mighty voice.

He found some solace in composing two epitaphs in her honor, to be engraved, one at the entrance of the grotto where the grave lay, the other on the grave itself. The following is the translation of the inscription on the sepulchre of Paula:

“The daughter of the Scipios, of the Gracchi, the illustrious blood of Agamemnon, rests in this place. She bore the name of Paula. She was the mother of Eustochium. First in the senate of Roman matrons, she preferred the poverty of Christ and the humble fields of Bethlehem, to all the splendor of Rome.”

In this epitaph, Paula’s whole history is told. The other epitaph of Saint Jerome, engraved on the entrance of the grotto, reproduces, in other terms, the same record of virtue, and, what is more, shows its sublime origin. It is in the following words:

“Seest thou that grotto cut in the rock? It is the tomb of Paula, now an inhabitant of the heavenly kingdom. She gave up her brother, her relations, Rome, her country, her wealth, her children, for the grotto of Bethlehem, where she is buried. It was there, O Christ! that your cradle was. It was there that the Magi came to make you their mystical offerings, O man God!”

Eustochium desired Saint Jerome, besides these two epitaphs, to write a funeral eulogium on her mother. With a hand trembling with age and emotion, he performed this pious duty. We should here mention that most of the details we have endeavored to give in this short narrative, are taken from what is, perhaps, considered the most eloquent and touching of all his writings. At the conclusion, he thus apostrophizes her:

“Farewell, O Paula! Sustain, by your prayers, the declining years of him who so revered you. United now by faith and good works with Christ, you will be more powerful above than you were here below. I have engraved your praise, O Paula! on the rock of your sepulchre, and to it I add these pages; for I wish to raise to you a monument more lasting than adamant, that all may learn that your memory was honored in Bethlehem, where your ashes repose.”

Paula’s good works died not with her. Her monasteries were continued piously and courageously by Eustochium, the worthy daughter of such a mother. With time, heresies arose to disturb the atmosphere anew; and the controversy of Pelagius aroused the latent powers of Jerome, and for some time absorbed him, to the detriment of his studies. But at the prayer of Eustochium, and in memory of Paula, he finally resumed his labors, and in the year 403 concluded his great work in the translation of the Bible, which is called the Vulgate, and was adopted by the church in the last universal council.

The Pelagians having set fire to the monasteries of Bethlehem, all the buildings erected by the pious care of Paula were burned to the ground. This act was odious to the whole world. It was admirable to see the serenity of Eustochium under this trial. She went to work, and, using for that purpose the noble dower brought to her by her niece Paula, who had come to her at Bethlehem, the monasteries were soon built up again, and filled with their former inhabitants. About this time, Alaric, King of the Huns, overran Rome with his barbarian hordes, and numberless Christian refugees from them came to the East in search of an asylum. Pammachius and Marcella were dead, but many of their friends were numbered among the exiles. Eustochium and Jerome received all who came with wide-open doors, and the hospitality of Paula still lived in her successors.

Eustochium survived her mother only sixteen years. She expired without a struggle, like one falling asleep. No further details are given of her last moments. This was on the 28th day of September, A.D. 418. Her remains were laid by those of her mother, according to her wish. Saint Jerome did not long survive her. Her death was his last great sorrow; and he died in the following year. He was too old now to resist the final dispersion of what he had called his domestic church. Marcella, Asella, Paula, Fabiola, Pammachius, Eustochium, had all ceased to live. Rome itself was gone, for, to a Roman heart like that of Jerome’s, her captivity was her death.

He fell into a state of settled melancholy, his voice having become so weak and feeble that it was with difficulty he could be heard at all. It was soon impossible for him to be raised from his miserable couch, but by means of a cord suspended from the roof of his grotto; and in this position he would recite his prayers, or give his instructions to the monks for the management of the monastery. He died at the age of seventy-two years, after living thirty-four years at Bethlehem. His eyes rested, when he was dying, on young Paula, who was beside him. She who had been his spiritual child from her cradle, now performed the last sad offices for him. We have no details of his obsequies. According to his request, she placed his remains in the grotto not far from the venerable Paula, her grandmother, and Eustochium. United in life, they were so also in death. Jerome’s principal disciple, Eusebius of Cremona, now assumed the head of his convents, while young Paula continued to rule those of her grandmother’s. We know nothing more. With the correspondence of Jerome died all traces of these communities, and night fell upon the East.

About This Article

This article, Sketches Drawn from the Life of Saint Paula, by the Abbe Lagrange, Vicar-general of Orleans, was taken from The Catholic World magazine, volume 7, published from April to September 1868. The original file is part of produced by Don Kostuch from scans available at