« Fabianus, bp. of Rome Fabiola, a noble Roman lady Faustus (11), sometimes called the Breton »

Fabiola, a noble Roman lady

Fabiola (1), a noble Roman lady, a friend of St. Jerome, who wrote for her two dissertations (Ep. lxiv. and lxxviii. ed. Vall.) on the dress of the high priest, and on the stations of the Israelites in the desert; and also a memoir of her in his touching letter to Oceanus (Ep. lxxvii. ed. Vall.) in the year of her death, 399. Thierry (St. Jerome, ii. 11) has worked up the intimations about her into an interesting and dramatic story. She was descended from Julius Maximus and extremely wealthy; a woman of a lively and passionate nature, married to a man whose vices compelled her to divorce him. She then accepted a second husband, the first being still alive. It is probable that this step separated her from Paula and the other friends of Jerome, and from church communion, and may account for the fact that we hear nothing of her during Jerome's stay at Rome. After the death of her second husband she voluntarily went through a public penance. Having publicly renewed her communion with the church, she sold all her possessions, and determined to administer the vast sums thus acquired for the good of the poor. She supported monasteries 362in various parts of Italy and the adjacent islands, and joined Pammachius in the institution of a hospital (νοσοκομεῖον), where she gathered in the sick and outcasts, and tended them with her own hands. In 395 she suddenly appeared at Bethlehem, making the journey with her kinsman Oceanus. Several causes prevented Bethlehem from becoming her home. The Origenistic strife divided Jerome and his friends from Rufinus and Melania, and the new-comers did not escape the discord. Oceanus warmly espoused the side of Jerome; Fabiola seems to have stood aloof. But efforts were made, if we may believe Jerome (cont. Ruf. iii. 14), to draw them into the camp of the adversary. Letters in which Rufinus was praised, fraudulently taken from the cell of Jerome's friend Eusebius, were found in the rooms of Fabiola and Oceanus. But this proceeding failed to cause a breach between Fabiola and Jerome. Jerome bears witness to the earnestness with which she attached herself to his teaching. The two treatises above mentioned are the results of her importunity (Ep. xiv. ed. Vall.).

Jerome was seeking a suitable dwelling-place for her, and engaged in writing his treatise on the mystical meaning of the high priest's garments, when the inroad of the Huns caused a panic in Palestine. Jerome and his friends hurried to the sea-coast at Joppa, and had hired vessels for flight, when the Huns abandoned their purpose and turned back. Jerome, with Paula and Eustochium, returned to Bethlehem; but Fabiola went on to Rome.

The last three years of her life were occupied with incessant activity in good works. In conjunction with Pammachius she instituted at Portus a hospice (xenodochium), perhaps taking her model from that established by Jerome at Bethlehem; and it was so successful that, as Jerome says, in one year it become known from Parthia to Britain. But to the last her disposition was restless. She found Rome and Italy too small for her charities, and was purposing some long journey or change of habitation when death overtook her a.d. 399. Her funeral was celebrated as a Christian triumph. The streets were crowded, the hallelujahs reached the golden roof of the temples. Jerome's book on the 42 stations (mansiones) of the Israelites in the desert was dedicated to her memory.

[W.H.F.]

« Fabianus, bp. of Rome Fabiola, a noble Roman lady Faustus (11), sometimes called the Breton »
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