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§ 42. St. Paula.
Hieronymus: Epitaphium Paulae matris, ad Eustochium virginem, Ep. cviii. (ed. Vallarsi, Opera, tom. i. p. 684 sqq.; ed. Bened. Ep. lxxxvi). Also the Acta Sanctorum, and Butler’s Lives of Saints, sub Jan. 26.
Of Jerome’s many female disciples, the most distinguished is St. Paula, the model of a Roman Catholic nun. With his accustomed extravagance, he opens his eulogy after her death, in. 404, with these words: “If all the members of my body were turned into tongues, and all my joints were to utter human voices, I should be unable to say anything worthy of the holy and venerable Paula.”
She was born in 347, of the renowned stock of the Scipios and Gracchi and Paulus Aemilius,370370 Her father professed to trace his genealogy to Agamemnon, and her husband to Aeneas. and was already a widow of six and thirty years, and the mother of five children, when, under the influence of Jerome, she renounced all the wealth and honors of the world, and betook herself to the most rigorous ascetic life. Rumor circulated suspicion, which her spiritual guide, however, in a letter to Asella, answered with indignant rhetoric: “Was there, then, no other matron in Rome, who could have conquered my heart, but that one, who was always mourning and fasting, who abounded in dirt,371371 This want of cleanliness, the inseparable companion of ancient ascetic holiness, is bad enough in monks, but still more intolerable and revolting in nuns. who had become almost blind with weeping, who spent whole nights in prayer, whose song was the Psalms, whose conversation was the gospel, whose joy was abstemiousness, whose life was fasting? Could no other have pleased me, but that one, whom I have never seen eat? Nay, verily, after I had begun to revere her as her chastity deserved, should all virtues have at once forsaken me?” He afterward boasts of her, that she knew the Scriptures almost entirely by memory; she even learned Hebrew, that she might sing the psalter with him in the original; and continually addressed exegetical questions to him, which he himself could answer only in part.
Repressing the sacred feelings of a mother, she left her daughter Ruffina and her little son Toxotius, in spite of their prayers and tears, in the city, of Rome,372372 “Nesciebat se matrem,” says Jerome, “ut Christi probaret ancillam.” Revealing the conflict of monastic sanctity with the natural virtues which God has enjoined. Montalembert, also, quotes this objectionable passage with apparent approbation. met Jerome in Antioch, and made a pilgrimage to Palestine and Egypt. With glowing devotion, she knelt before the rediscovered cross, as if the Lord were still hanging upon it; she kissed the stone of the resurrection which the angel rolled away; licked with thirsty tongue the pretended tomb of Jesus, and shed tears of joy as she entered the stable and beheld the manger of Bethlehem. In Egypt she penetrated into the desert of Nitria, prostrated herself at the feet of the hermits, and then returned to the holy land and settled permanently in the birthplace of the Saviour. She founded there a monastery for Jerome, whom she supported, and three nunneries, in which she spent twenty years as abbess, until 404.
She denied herself flesh and wine, performed, with her daughter Eustochium, the meanest services, and even in sickness slept on the bare ground in a hair shirt, or spent the whole night in prayer. “I must,” said she, “disfigure my face, which I have often, against the command of God, adorned with paint; torment the body, which has participated in many idolatries; and atone for long laughing by constant weeping.” Her liberality knew no bounds. She wished to die in beggary, and to be buried in a shroud which did not belong to her. She left to her daughter (she died in 419) a multitude of debts, which she had contracted at a high rate of interest for benevolent purposes.373373 Jeromesays, Eustochium hoped to pay the debts of her mother—probably by the help of others. Fuller justly remarks: “Liberality should have banks, as well as a stream.”
Her obsequies, which lasted a week, were attended by the bishops of Jerusalem and other cities of Palestine, besides clergy, monks, nuns, and laymen innumerable. Jerome apostrophizes her: “Farewell, Paula, and help with prayer the old age of thy adorer!”
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