St. Paulinus of Nola

Ah, the weekend. I’m working on a pretty substantial post that I think will be worthwhile — but I don’t think I’m going to finish tonight.

Today is the Feast of St. Paulinus of Nola (354–431), a pagan convert, bishop, and poet, and a contemporary and friend of St. Augustine. Born of a wealthy Roman family of the senatorial class, educated in the richest literary tradition, he rejected his worldly wealth and devoted himself to Christ following the sorrow of the death of his first child. In the poem I excerpt below, he writes to his friend and mentor Ausonius extolling the virtues of Christ and his total commitment to Him, and defending his rejection of the pagan Muses:

St. Paulinus of Nola

St. Paulinus of Nola.

Why, father, do you bid the deposed Muses return to my charge? Hearts dedicated to Christ reject the Latin Muses and exclude Apollo. Of old you and I shared common cause . . . in summoning deaf Apollo from his cave at Delphi, invoking the Muses as deities, seeking from groves or mountain ridges that gift of utterance bestowed by divine gift. But now another power, a greater God, inspires my mind and demands another way of life. He asks back from man His own gift, so that we may live for the Father of life. He bids us not spend our days on the emptiness of leisure and business, or on the fictions of literature, so that we may obey His laws and behold His light which is clouded by the clever powers of philosophers, the skill of rhetoricians, and the inventions of poets. These men steep our hearts in what is false and empty. They form only men’s tongues, and bring nothing to bestow salvation or to clothe us in the truth. What good, what truth can they possess who do not have the Head of all, God who is the Kindling and the Source of truth and goodness, whom no man sees except in Christ?

He is the Light of truth, the Path of life, the Power and Mind, Hand and Strength of the Father. He is the Sun of justice, Source of blessings, Flower of God, God’s Son, Creator of the world, Life of our mortality, and Death to our death. He is the Master of the virtues. He is God to us and became Man for us by stripping off His nature and assuming ours, forging eternal relations between man and God, while He Himself is both. So when He has flashed His rays over our hearts, He cleans the enfeebling foulness from our sluggish bodies and renews the dispositions of our minds. All that delighted us before He draws away, and in its stead leaves a pleasure that is chaste. By His rights as Lord He demands wholly our hearts, tongues, and heads. He wishes to be the object of our thought and understanding, our belief and reading, our fear and love. . . .

Source: Poem 10, from The Poems of St. Paulinus of Nola, translated by P. G. Walsh, volume 40 in the Ancient Christian Writers series, (New York and Paramus, N.J.: Newman Press, 1975), 58-59. (This book was a 99¢ thrifting conquest!)

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