Chapter VII (continued) Life of St Fabiola, Book 1d
(Also St Paula further down this page)
Herodotus [A Greek historian, sometimes known as the Father of History, c 484 - 425 BC] tells us that this people ruled the East for twenty years at the time of Darius, king of the Medes, and exacted a yearly tribute from Egypt and Ethiopia. May Jesus keep the city of Rome safe from these beasts!
They came upon everyone unawares, their speed ensured that they arrived before anyone had news of their approach, they had no respect for religion, for rank or for age, and had no pity even for the screams of infants who were put to death before they had had a chance to begin living. Some children, not realising their own danger, were smiling as the enemy picked them up, and were still smiling as the weapons struck. There seemed to be general agreement that they were aiming at Jerusalem, hurrying to that city because of their great greed for gold. The walls, which had been neglected during the time of peace, were put in order. Antioch was being besieged. The people of Tyre all went to their ancient island in order to get away from the land. We ourselves were driven to take ship and lie off shore, fearful of the arrival of the enemy. No matter how hard the winds might blow we were more afraid of the barbarians than the possibility of shipwreck, not so much for the sake of our own safety but for the preservation of the virgins' chastity.[At this time Jerome was the head of a large religious establishment, consisting of a church, a pilgrim's hospice, and monasteries of both men and women]
At that time there were great controversies among Christians, [The writings of Origen were much under discussion at this time] and our internal disagreements took on an even greater importance than the invasions of the barbarians. For myself I had a deep-seated love of the holy places and had no desire to move. But Fabiola possessed nothing except what she could carry with her, she was always a stranger and pilgrim in whatever city she lived. She returned therefore to her native land, where she who had once been rich lived in poverty, lodging in another's house instead of being hostess to many guests. Without overemphasising the point let me just say that she now distributed to the poor what was left of the properties which all Rome knew she had sold. I could not but grieve that the holy places had lost the presence of a most precious ornament, but our loss was Rome's gain, and the insolent and evil tongues of the heathen were silenced by the testimony of their own eyes. Let others praise her compassion, her humility or her faith; I rejoice rather in the keenness of her mind.
She knew by heart the letter which in my youth I had written to Heliodorus [Letter 14 in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, op.cit.] urging him to the life of the desert, and as she looked about her at the walls of Rome, she lamented at being shut in by them. And yet, forgetful of her sex, unmindful of her weakness, she was already there in the solitude which her soul so much longed for. The advice of her friends was not able to dissuade her; she was eager to burst out of the city as if to shed her chains. She came to feel that it was a sign of infidelity that she was still in a position to be able to distribute money and make provision for the future. And she did not entrust to others the task of almsgiving; she shared it out equably among the poor herself, hoping that for Christ's sake she would soon be in a position to need support from others. She set about this so briskly, so impatient of delay, that you would have thought she was about to set out immediately on her last journey.
Death would never have been able to find her unprepared for she was always ready. As I sing her praises the image of my dear Pammachius rises up before me. When Paulina fell asleep he was left to keep vigil. She went before her husband so that he might remain as a servant of Christ. He was his wife's heir, and others now possess that inheritance. [i.e. the poor] The man and the woman vied with each other, [i.e. Pammachius and Fabiola] as was prefigured when the tent of Abraham became a place of refreshment (Genesis 18), for there was a competition between them as to who should show the more generosity. Each of them won and each of them was beaten. They both spoke of themselves as both victor and vanquished; what one of them wanted the other brought to perfection. They joined forces, their intentions were united, and far from rivalry leading to dispute, their mutual agreement could only flourish.
With them it was a case of no sooner said than done. They bought a hospice, which was soon filled with people. 'There was no labour in Jacob, nor grief in Israel' (Numbers 23.21), for the seas brought those seeking refuge on land, and from Rome issued a stream of people seeking a welcome resting place before setting sail. What Publius did for one apostle (and also, lest anyone should find fault with my accuracy, for one ship's crew,) in the island of Malta (Acts 28.7) these two did frequently for many people. Not only have they supplied the wants of the destitute, but have been generous to all, providing help even for those who had no lack. The whole world knows that a guest house has been established at Rome's sea-port, and Britain learned by that summer what Egypt and Parthia had known in the spring.
As it is written. 'All things work together for good to those who fear God' (Romans 8.28), and the death of this great woman has proved no exception to the rule. Having a premonition of the future, she had written to a number of monks asking them to come and relieve her of the great burden under which she was labouring. She was making friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, in order that they might receive her into everlasting mansions (Luke 16.9). They did come, and became her friends, and so she fell asleep in the way she wanted, laying down at last her burden that she might rise the more easily to heaven.
The miracle of Fabiola's life was displayed even more in her death. Hardly had she paid the debt of her soul to Christ, than
the news spread rapidly, stirring up deep mourning for such a great person. [Virgil's Aeneid, Book 11]
The whole population came to her funeral. Psalms were sung; the chanting of heartfelt alleluias raised the roofs of the golden temples.
The choirs of young and old in sacred song sang the praises of this woman. [Virgil's Aeneid, Book 8]
There had been no triumph like it since Furius conquered the Gauls, Papirius the Samnites, Scipio the Numantians, or Pompey the people of Pontus. I can hear even now the crowds in the front of the procession, and the multitude of people teeming on behind like a mighty flood. the streets were full, as were the balconies; there were not enough vantage points along the rooftops to accommodate all the people who wanted to catch a glimpse. Rome saw all her people gathered together into one; each person there felt the better for the life of this glorious penitent. No wonder that people were rejoicing in the conversion of this one person when the Angels also were rejoicing in heaven.
So I offer you this gift from my aging powers, Fabiola, as a sort of sacrifice offered for the departed. We offer praises to all virgins, widows and matrons, dressed in white vestments, who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes (Revelations 14.4). Happy the reward of those whose whole life is stained by no spot of sin. Let malice depart, let envy be banished. If the father of the household is good, why is our eye evil (Matthew 20.15)? She who fell among thieves is carried on Christ's shoulder (Luke 10.34). In my father's house there are many mansions (John 14.2). Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more (Romans 5.20). She who was forgiven much has loved much (Luke 7.47).
Life No 25
The Life of St Paula of Rome, widow,
[347 - 404. Celebrated in the Roman Martyrology on January 26]
by Jerome, presbyter and divine
(a letter written to Eustochium, Paula's daughter)
["Letter 27" according to Rosweyde, but listed as Letter 108 in the Nicene and post Nicene Fathers, op.cit.]
If every member of my body were turned into a tongue, resonating with every art the human voice is capable of, I still would not be able to praise sufficiently the virtues of the holy and venerable Paula. She came of a noble family, but was even more noble in her holiness, powerful once because of her wealth, but now famous because of her poverty for Christ's sake. She was of the family of the Gracchi; the Scipios also were her ancestors [Prominent military and political families in Rome from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.] ; she was the heir of Paullus whose name she bore [Not the Apostle Paul but the Roman general Paullus who fell in battle in the year 216 BC.] She was a true blood-related descendant of Marcia Papiria, [Paullus' wife.] the mother of Scipio Africanus, but she preferred Bethlehem to Rome, she exchanged the glittering gilded ceilings for a lowly mud hut. Let us not grieve that we have lost such a person, let us rather give thanks that she has lived among us, and indeed is among us still. For all things are alive in God, and whatever or whoever goes back to God is still reckoned to be part of his family.
For as long as she was in the flesh she was absent from the Lord (2 Corinthians 5.6), ever complaining in tearful voice, 'Alas that my pilgrimage is prolonged. I dwell among the inhabitants of Khedar, and my soul is much estranged' (Psalms 120.5). Nor is it to be wondered at that she should complain about living in darkness (for so is the word 'Khedar' to be interpreted), for she in her purity lived in the midst of evil (1 John 5.19). As dark as is the world, so is the brightness of her light; her light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not extinguish it (John 1.5). She was led to cry out all the more eagerly, 'I am a stranger and pilgrim as were all my fathers' (Psalms 39.12), and again, 'I had rather depart and be with Christ' (Philippians 1.23). Whenever she was troubled by the weakness of her body (which was caused by her incredible abstinence and redoubled fasts), her only response was, 'I subdue my body and bring it into subjection, lest having preached to others I be myself a castaway' (1 Corinthians 9.27), and, 'It is a good thing not to drink wine or eat meat' (Romans 14.21), and, 'I have humbled my soul with fasting' (Psalms 35.13), 'and taken to my bed in weakness' (Psalms 41.3), 'and have been greatly distressed when smitten with grievous wounds' (Psalms 32.4).Whenever she was suffering from pain (which she bore with wonderful patience) she would cast up her eyes to heaven and say 'Who will give me the wings of a dove that I may fly away and be at rest?' (Psalms 55.6)
I call Jesus and his saints and her own guardian angel to witness that nothing of what I am saying is mere ingratiating flattery. Whatever I shall say about her can never do justice to what she deserves. The whole world sings her praises, the priests stand amazed, the choirs of virgins regret her departure, the crowds of monks and poor people weep. Would you like a brief list of her virtues, dear reader? She was poorer than all the poor that she cared for and left behind. She numbers among her friends and family men and women who used to be slaves, but whom she has changed into her brothers and sisters. And she has left us her devoted virgin daughter Eustochium, for whose consolation these words are being written, in a land far distant from her noble family, rich only in faith and grace.
So then let us begin our story. Others may begin at an earlier stage by going back to her cradle and childhood playthings, citing her mother, Blesilla, and her father, Rogatus. Whereas the former owns the Scipios and the Gracchi as forebears, the latter is descended from a family noted among the Greeks for its eminence and wealth right up to the present day. For it is Agamemnon himself whose blood he is said to have shared, he who destroyed Troy after the ten year siege.
But for our part, we shall praise only what is uniquely hers, that which springs from the purity of her own holiness. In the Gospels, when the apostles asked the Lord and Saviour what should they receive who had given up everything for his sake, he said that they would be given a hundredfold in this life and eternal life in the world to come (Matthew 19.27 & Mark 10.30). From which we are to understand that there is nothing praiseworthy in possessing riches, but rather in despising them for Christ's sake, not in piling up worldly honours, but in counting them as nothing compared to faith in God. And what the Saviour promised to his servants and handmaids has been brought to pass at this present time.
For she who despised the glory of one city has been raised up high in the opinion of the whole world. She hid herself in Bethlehem, but has become the wonder of the whole Roman world and the barbarous lands beyond. Is there any nationality not represented among those who have visited the holy places? Is there anyone in those holy places more admired by people than Paula? Among many bright jewels there is always one more precious that shines more brilliantly than the others. just as the radiance of the sun puts to flight the little brightnesses of the stars and hides them. And so it is that in her humility she outshone the virtues and qualities of everyone else. She became the least of all, that she might become greater than all, for the more she cast herself down, the more she was raised up by Christ. She was hidden and was not hidden. By flying from glory she was given glory. For glory follows virtue as its shadow, and ignoring those who seek it, is given to those who despise it.
But what am I thinking of, neglecting to get on with my story! By over-emphasising one particular point I am not doing justice to the rules of narrative.
Being then of such high parentage, she married Toxotius who was of the Julian family which traces its ancestry to Aeneas. Hence his daughter Eustochium, a virgin for Christ, also bears the name of Julia, just as Toxotius has the name of Julius, a name handed down from the Iulus the great. [Iulus was the son of the legendary Aeneas, a Trojan who escaped from the ruins of Troy and founded a city on the banks of the Tiber, which later became the city of Rome]. I mention this not because the bearing of such a name is of great importance, but rather to show how wonderfully such a name has been proved to be of no importance. Worldly people look up to those occupying positions of privilege, but we praise those who despise them for the sake of the Saviour. It may seem rather strange that we should belittle those who bear such illustrious names and praise those who would rather not have them. Paula has won approval first from her husband, then from her relations, and finally from the whole world, not because of her noble ancestry but because of her chastity and fruitfulness. She bore five children:
Blesilla, at whose death I offered her some comfort when I was at Rome;
Paulina, who left behind her holy and venerable husband Pammachius as the heir not only of her property but also of her way of life, about whose death I have also written a little piece;
Eustochium, who now wears the precious necklace of virginity in the holy places of the Church;
Ruffina, whose early death gave such grief to the caring soul of her mother;
Toxotius, after whom she had no more children, from which you may gather that having satisfied her husband's desire for male offspring, she no longer had any wish to fulfil her conjugal duties.
After her husband's death her grief was so great that she nearly died herself, but then she gave herself so completely to the service of Christ that it might almost have looked as if she had been glad of his death. For how can I adequately describe how almost all of the riches of that noble and distinguished family were distributed to the poor and needy? How tell of her kind and compassionate generosity to all, and even to those whom she had never seen? What needy person on his deathbed was not wrapped in blankets which she had supplied? What bedridden person was not supported by her gifts? She searched keenly throughout all the city and thought it a loss to herself if there was anyone weak and poor who was supported by anyone other than her. She did all this at the expense of her own children, and when her relations objected replied that she was leaving them a much greater legacy, the mercy of Christ.
It was not long before she found that she could not bear much more of the social round of associating with the noble families of the highest class in this world. She was embarrassed by her own reputation, and sought how to escape from the flattery heaped upon her. At that time an Imperial summons had drawn bishops to Rome from both East and West in order to discuss certain controversies in the church, [There was a synod in Rome in 382 to discuss the views of the heretic Apollinaris, Damasus being pope and Theodosius and Valentinian being Emperors of East and West respectively.] which enabled her to meet certain distinguished bishops of Christ, Paulinus of Antioch, and Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus, or as it is now called, Constantia. Epiphanius indeed was her guest, and although Paulinus was staying with someone else she became as friendly with him as if he were staying with her. It was partly through her admiration of their virtues that she began to think more and more about leaving her native land. She forgot about her home, her children, her possessions, her position in society; she could think of nothing but going to visit the desert of Antony and Paul, unaccompanied, if possible.
When at last the winter was over and the sea was favourable and the bishops were returning to their churches, she longed to go with them. She did not put off going for much longer. She too went down to the harbour, accompanied by her brother and other friends and relations, and, what is more, by her children, all eager to dissuade their loving mother by demonstrating their affection for her. But the sails were set, and the oars drove the ship out into the high seas. The infant Toxotius held out beseeching hands to his mother. Ruffina already of marriageable age tried to suppress her sobbing as she begged her mother to wait at least until she was married. But Paula looked up to heaven dry-eyed, overcoming the love of her children by her love of God. She no longer allowed herself to be a mother but only a handmaid of Christ. Although her emotions were in a turmoil, and it felt as if her whole body was being torn apart, she fought down her grief. Her love of family had been very great; all the more admirable then was her victory, which was apparent to all.
There is nothing more cruel than to see children by dire necessity separated from their parents and taken by the hands of the enemy into slavery. But against the laws of nature she endured this kind of separation in the fulness of her faith, indeed it was something that her joyful heart sought after, her love for God putting her love for children into second place. But she did have Eustochium still, who was of one mind with her and accompanied her on her journey. The ship ploughed on, with all those on board looking back to the shore except her. She turned her eyes away from what she could not bear to look at without being tormented. I am quite sure that no one could have loved her children more. Before she set out she had put them in charge of all she possessed, renouncing her inheritance on earth that she might gain an inheritance in heaven.
They put in at the island of Pontia, celebrated as the place where that most famous of women, Flavia Domitilla, had suffered exile under the emperor Domitian, for having confessed to being a Christian. As Paula viewed the small cells in which that lady had spent her long martyrdom, her faith took wings, and she longed more than ever to see Jerusalem and the other holy places. But the winds were fitful, and progress was slow. She passed between Scylla and Charybdis and entrusted herself at last to the Adriatic Sea and had a calm passage to Methone, where she refreshed her weary body
by stretching out her tired limbs along the shore, before sailing past Malea and Cythera, the scattered Cyclades and the straits with numerous lands on every side. [Virgil's Aeneid, Book 3]
They went past Rhodes and Lycia and came at last to Cyprus, where she fell at the feet of the holy and venerable Epiphanius and stayed with him for ten days. She did not use this time as recreation, as he thought she ought to, but as it turned out, used it for the work of God. For she visited all the famous monasteries on that island, and as far as her means would allow gave alms to the brothers whom the love of that holy man had attracted there from all quarters of the world.
From there it was but a short journey to Seleucia, from where she went up to Antioch where she was entertained for a time by the holy confessor Paulinus. Here, this noble woman, who had once been carried about in a litter by eunuchs, travelled about sitting on an ass, warmed by the ardour of her faith even in the middle of winter. I will say nothing about her travels in Coelo-Syria and Phoenicia (for it has never been my purpose to itemise her complete itinerary), but will mention only such places as are named in the sacred books.
Leaving behind the Roman colony of Berytus and the ancient city of Sidon, she came to Sareptha, where she worshipped the Lord in Elijah's upper room (1 Kings 17.19). She went on by way of the sands of Tyre, where Paul had once knelt (Acts 21.5), and arrived at Coth, which is now called Ptolemais. From there she went through the plains of Megiddo where Josiah had been slain (2 Kings 23.29) and entered the lands of the Philistines. Here she admired the ruins of Dor, at one time a most powerful city, and by way of contrast, the tower of Strabo, rebuilt by king Herod of Judea and renamed Caesarea in honour of Augustus Caesar. Here she saw the house of Cornelius (Acts 10.1), now turned into a Christian church, and the humble dwelling of Philip and the rooms of his four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21.8-9). She next arrived at Antipatris, a small half-ruined town named by Herod after his father, and Lydda, now known as Diospolis, famous for the healing of Aeneas and the resurrection of Dorcas (Acts 9.32-41).
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