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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Paula, a Roman Lady
Paula (2) , a noble and wealthy Roman lady, who accompanied Jerome to Palestine in 385, and lived the rest of her life at Bethlehem, dying in 404. The chief facts of her life were given in Jerome's Epitaphium of her addressed to Eustochium (Hieron. Ep. 108, ed. Vall.). She was born in 347, and while quite young was married to the senator Toxotius, of the Julian family, which traced its descent from Aeneas. Through her mother Blaesilla she was connected with the Scipios and the Gracchi, through her father Rogatus with a Greek family, which traced its descent from Agamemnon. Her family was connected with the Aemilian gens, and her name taken from that of the illustrious Paulus. Jerome records these ancestral glories in her epitaph,
Scipio quam genuit, Pauli fudere parentes,
Gracchorum soboles, Agamemnonis inclyta proles.
She was possessed of great wealth, owning, amongst other properties, the town of Nicopolis or Actium. During her early married life, though always without reproach in her character, she lived in the usual luxury of Roman patricians. She gave birth to four daughters, BLAESILLA, who married, but lost her husband and died early in 384; Paulina, wife of Pammachius; Julia, called EUSTOCHIUM, and Ruffina, who died early, probably in 386; and one son, called after his father Toxotius. After the birth of a son she appears to have adopted the practice of continency (Hieron. Ep. cviii. 4), but to have still lived with her husband, whose death (probably in 380) she deeply lamented. In 382, during the synod held at Rome (following on the council of Constantinople), she entertained the bps. Epiphanius of Salamis and Paulinus of Antioch, and by them her ascetic tendencies, already considerable, were heightened. Through them Jerome, who had come to Rome with them, became her friend. She imbibed through him her love for the study of Scripture, and, with her daughter Eustochium, attended his readings at the palace of Marcella. She gave vast sums to the poor, spending her own fortune and that of her children in charity. She assumed a coarse dress and a sordid appearance, and undertook all sorts of menial duties in the relief of distress. But her mind was set upon the monastic life and upon the country of the Eastern hermits. After the death of Blaesilla she determined to quit Rome, and, early in 385, disregarding the tears of her son Toxotius, then a child, who was left to the wardship of the praetor, and the entreaties of Ruffina, then a girl of marriageable age, who begged her mother to wait till she was married, she sailed for the East. After visiting Epiphanius in Cyprus, she rejoined Jerome and his friends at Antioch. With him she braved the winter's journey through Lebanon to Palestine [See HIERONYMUS] and Egypt, from whence returning the whole party settled in Bethlehem in the autumn of 386.
Their life there is related under HIERONYMUS, and only personal details need here be given. Her letter to Marcella inviting her to come to Palestine (Hieron. Ep. 46) shows her enthusiastic delight in every sacred place and association in the Holy Land. Paula and Eustochium lived at first in a cottage till their convent and hospice ( diversorium ) were built. They then founded a monastery for men, and a convent of three degrees for women, who lived separately, though having the same dress, and met for the services. Paula's capacity of management, her patience and tact, are warmly praised by Jerome (Ep. cviii. c. 19). She is said by Palladius ( Hist. Laus. 79) to have had the care of Jerome and to have found it a difficult task. Her scriptural studies, begun in Rome, were carried on earnestly at Bethlehem. She had (through her father's family) a good knowledge of Greek, and she learnt Hebrew to be able to repeat and sing the Psalms in the original (c. 26). She read constantly with Jerome, and they went through the whole Bible together ( ib. ). In his account of his writings in the catalogue (de Vir. Ill. 135) written in 392, Jerome says, "Epistolarum ad Paulam et Eustochium, quia quotidie scribuntur, in certus est numerus." She was remarkably teachable, and when doubts were suggested to her by Origenistic teachers, she was able at once, with Jerome's help, to put them aside. Her charities were so incessant that Jerome states that she left Eustochium with a great debt, which she could only trust the mercy of Christ would enable her to pay (c. 15). It is believed that Jerome, who had in vain counselled prudence and moderation ( ib. ), gave her pecuniary help in her later years. Her health was weak; her body slight; her mortifications, against many of which Jerome remonstrated and which gave occasion to some scandals, and her frequent illnesses had worn her away; and in her 57th year (404) she sank under a severe attack of illness. Jerome describes with deep feeling the scene at her death, the personal attention of her daughter to all her wants, the concern of the whole Christian community. The bishops of the surrounding cities were present. John of Jerusalem, who only four years before had been at strife with the convents of Bethlehem, was there. Her funeral was a kind of triumph, the whole church being gathered together to carry her to her resting-place in the centre of the cave of the Nativity. She is reckoned as a saint by the Roman church, her day, that of her death, being Jan. 26.
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Paula, a Roman Lady'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hwd/p/paula-a-roman-lady.html. 1911.
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