Paulinus of Nola and the Living Martyr

St. Felix of Nola earned his martyrdom without bloodshed, according to his biographer and primary promoter, Paulinus of Nola. Instead, the pious third-century priest, who was willing to suffer any manner of torment, endured persecution and imprisonment only to be spared further suffering by divine intervention several times over. As Paulinus emphasized in his retelling of the saint’s life, it was the express and repeatedly demonstrated will of God that enabled Felix to survive persecution. An angel released him from prison, loosing his iron fetters and muffling his progress past the guards so that he could come to the aid of his bishop, who was dying of starvation and exposure in the barren wilderness outside Nola.1 God later clouded the minds of pursuing soldiers so they did not recognize him, while Felix abetted God’s trickery by asserting, in the style of a Jedi master, that he was not the man they were looking for.2 When the soldiers were finally corrected (by a Judas-like informer), Felix escaped their pursuit by hiding in a rubble-filled alleyway whose entry was promptly, and miraculously, covered by a spider-web whose presence the soldiers read as evidence that no one could have entered.3 And finally, Felix hid out for the duration of the persecution in an old cistern, where he certainly would have starved, dehydrated, or gone mad for lack of companionship had God not provided food (by possessing a woman who would daily deliver her own bread to the saint and promptly forget that she had done so), water (by sending a cloud to hover over the cistern no matter the weather and squeeze out drops of water to Felix), and company (by spending time with him personally).4

Felix’s miraculous survival was, for Paulinus, a sign of his sanctity, his relationship with God, his utility as an instrument of God’s action, and his power to channel miracles on earth. In fact, in Paulinus’s view, this divine intervention showed that Felix was perhaps more blessed than those mediocre or perhaps wavering martyrs whom God allowed to die in torment: God, Paulinus claimed, “remits punishment of the flesh on account of proper piety.”5 In the absence of “punishment of the flesh” (and with the benefit of divine insight into the hearts of men), interior orientations take center stage.

It would be easy to read Paulinus’s categorization of Felix as a martyr as politically and economically expedient, an opportunistic move by Paulinus to garner support for his patron saint and to satisfy his own ambition as Felix’s amicus and “impresario.”6 Indeed, Lucy Grig notes that Italy, at the time, was crowded with martyr shrines and bishops promoting local or transplanted martyrs and posits that part of Paulinus’s calculation in elevating Felix to the status of martyr was simply the need to meet the local standards: “Only a martyr saint, it seemed, would really make the grade in Italy at this time.”7 Configuring Felix as a martyr, as foremost among the martyrs, and as, in some senses, better than those who had died for their faith certainly served Paulinus well in his campaign to increase the prestige and power of his adopted home (and his own status as well).8

But this would not be the whole story. To begin with, Paulinus was less susceptible to “marketing” concerns than his Italian peers: he was himself a celebrity, as I discuss below, and would likely have commanded a crowd even had he not redefined martyrdom to include Felix’s bloodless version of it. Second, Paulinus did not limit his reconfiguration to Felix alone: he depicted Felix’s bishop, Maximus, as a martyr (despite his flight and miraculous rescue) and called Victricius of Rouen a martyr, though he was still very much alive at the time. Paulinus did not, then, reserve the category of living martyr solely for Felix’s aggrandizement. While this may have simply meant that Paulinus was reconfiguring the whole category of martyrdom for Felix’s benefit, adding living martyrs to the upper echelons of Christian sainthood would have opened up more competition for the veneration he sought to inspire for Felix.

Further problematizing any attempt to ascertain Paulinus’s motivations for redefining martyrdom is the fact that Paulinus appears to have had (or to have represented himself as having) a deeply felt sense that Felix was, truly, the height of saintly power: Paulinus could have chosen any shrine at which to spend his days and wield his influence, and yet he chose Nola. Certainly he had personal connections to Nola, having spent time there both in his youth and as governor of Campania, and he had also already displayed his Christian euergetism in the region by constructing a road to the shrine, but his beloved infant son was buried ad sanctos at Complutum in central Spain, it was in Barcelona that he, as a local hero, had been pressed into the priesthood, and it was in Aquitaine that he had been baptized by Delphinus and healed of blindness (either spiritual or physical) by Martin of Tours. In Aquitaine, too, lived Paulinus’s closest male friend, Sulpicius Severus, who established his own life as a monachus there.9 Paulinus could have chosen to retire anywhere and to serve any saint, but he chose to go to Nola and to serve Felix.10 We cannot assume this decision was devoid of political consideration, but we also cannot discount the idea that this decision was purely motivated by Paulinus’s personal piety. Surely the truth must fall somewhere in between.

But most importantly, we gain nothing by dismissing the notion that Paulinus really saw Felix as a martyr. Especially if we are considering what the limits of the late ancient martyrial épistémè may have been, treating Paulinus’s advocacy for Felix’s martyr status as wholly mercenary obscures the fact that living martyrdom was an imaginative reality for Paulinus and his audiences. Indeed, regardless of what motivated Paulinus to separate martyr status from death, the argument informed his and his countrymen’s idea of a good, martyrial, Christian life. Paulinus certainly modeled himself after his representation of Felix by entering the priesthood, shunning his wealth, living a life of obedience and humility, and exerting influence by under-the-radar advice and charismatic authority.11 And we know that Paulinus’s Felix-inspired exemplum resonated enough in subsequent generations that such influential figures as Gregory of Tours and Gregory the Great looked to both Paulinus and Felix as role models.12 In short, no matter its origins or intended utility, the spirituality that Paulinus derived from his understanding of Felix provided inspiration for future Christian life.

This is not to say that the characterization was not politically useful for Paulinus. Felix’s status as a martyr certainly helped to promote his cult and to ensure his legacy, and also served to cement Paulinus’s prestige and underpin his “civic” programs and policies. Indeed, Felix’s ability to act as an otherworldly diplomat in a water-rights conflict between the monks of Cimitile and the residents of nearby Abella was facilitated by Felix’s extraordinary popularity and power—neither of which would likely have existed if Felix were not a member of the most honored category of saints.13

But it also served Paulinus’s pastoral aims, which, though still political, centered more on the needs of his flock: whatever benefit Paulinus personally accrued from his pastoral activity would be earned by the approval and enthusiasm of those under his spiritual care. Advocating for Felix’s status as a martyr enabled Paulinus to re-characterize martyrdom more generally in a way that was more accessible to and more imitable by fifth-century Christians than execution. This would have made the piety performed by visitors to Felix’s shrine more intense, more dedicated, and more focused on their own personal improvement—something that Paulinus openly claimed he sought to accomplish with the art and architecture at Cimitile.14 It would have, like his reconfiguration of animal sacrifice as Christian, helped him to make “Campanian Christianity more responsive to the needs of rural life that it was not naturally equipped to address.”15

In short, Paulinus’s reconfiguration of Felix as a martyr seems to have resulted from a synthesis of political utility, pastoral efficacy, and (at least seemingly) personal piety that makes it difficult to tease apart how, precisely, he arrived at that conclusion.

We also cannot ignore the ways that Paulinus’s theology of martyrdom is wholly in keeping with his line of thinking on other important topics, including asceticism and friendship. Just as attitude and orientation are more essential to each of these objects than physical performance, so too does the category of martyrdom include all those who “scorn savage punishments” for the sake of Christ, no matter the degree (or absence) of their suffering.16 Just as Paulinus’s understanding of perfect Christian ascesis and friendship were predicated on a shift in focus “from action to attitude,”17 so too did martyrdom become, for Paulinus, an embodied reorientation toward God rather than a product of suffering or death.

The resulting, more inclusive, martyrdom coincided with and colored Paulinus’s understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. In this chapter, I investigate Paulinus’s definition of martyrdom and his inclusion of Felix and other living martyrs in the canon of martyrs. In the following chapter, I demonstrate how Paulinus sought to encourage more Christians to aspire to martyrdom, to help them identify with the martyrs, and to model their expressions of Christianity on the martyrial life as exemplified by living martyrs.


Meropius Pontius Paulinus (ca. 352–431) was one of the most celebrated men of his day, even before his conversion to ascetic Christianity and his renunciation of the secular world. Scion of a wealthy Christian patrician family in Aquitaine with further property in Italy, senator and benefactor, suffect consul of Rome in (or around) 378, and governor of Campania in 380–301, Paulinus shocked his friends by retreating from political life in the mid-380s to pursue a Christian retirement with his wife, Therasia, in Spain, and shortly thereafter stunned the Roman establishment by turning to asceticism, priesthood, and a monastic life at Nola. His conversion to ascetic Christianity—recounted by such prominent contemporaries as Sulpicius Severus, Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome—served as a beacon for those promoting Christian asceticism, while his own efforts as a thinker, writer, and patron helped shape contemporary Christianity.18

Paulinus’s decision to renounce the secular life placed him squarely in the midst of ongoing debates about the propriety of asceticism to a Christian life. Ausonius, for instance, the Christian poet and educator who was Paulinus’s friend and teacher, saw Paulinus’s initial retreat from public life as a betrayal of his upbringing and their friendship. At that point, Paulinus had divested himself of neither his wealth nor carnal relations with his wife; he had simply moved to Spain. But this relocation was enough to alarm Ausonius, whose personal understanding of Christianity did not include grand gestures or decreased political involvement. Ausonius’s position was starkly different from that of Jerome, whom Paulinus consulted by letter in 394. Jerome advocated that Paulinus immediately abandon all of his property (with no eye toward a lucrative or orderly sale) and pursue a life of immersion in Scripture.19 Jerome advocated physical deprivation to quell bodily passions and ascetic seclusion to prevent distractions and possible contamination by the ephemera of secular society, including both clerical office and marriage.20 The mirror opposite of Ausonius, Jerome praised separation and societal disruption in the name of Christian devotion.

Paulinus chose the ascetic life but did not find Jerome’s version of that life persuasive. He instead pursued his own path: ordination in Barcelona followed by travel to Italy, where he and his now-companionate wife carved out a cenobitic life of fasting, prayer, and service ad sanctos in the hills outside the walls of Nola.21 There was at the time no consensus on what monastic life should look like, and Paulinus was largely able to determine for himself how to practice.22 Paulinus permitted wine but restricted the food intake of his community to sparse vegetarian meals once a day. He chose to emphasize prayer (both individual and communal) over manual labor and made ample time, as Jerome had enjoined, for biblical study.23 We know that Paulinus stressed as well the external manifestations of monastic life; pallor, stench, and simple clothing were, for Paulinus, the true hallmarks of a monk.24 Paulinus’s choices on this front proved influential and, along with the exhortations of his letters, contributed to “the refinement of western monastic practice in the century before Benedict of Nursia.”25

Moreover, Paulinus actively worked to secure his reputation and influence by developing epistolary friendships with Augustine, Jerome, Victricius, Severus, Alypius, Delphinus of Bordeaux, and a whole host of Christian elites. During the course of these relationships, he not only participated in and helped to develop a community of paideia but also engaged with contemporary theological debates and developments.26 Most simply, Paulinus’s involvement in the Christian epistolary culture of his day helped to propagate Christian literature and inspire others to write. Not only did his sanctioning of this literary activity help provide a model for other Christians, but his demands for letters and other gifts of the written word impelled his correspondents to copy and to compose literary works. Paulinus’s query about relics and burial ad sanctos prompted Augustine to write De Cura Gerenda Pro Mortuis, for example, and it may have been Paulinus’s request to Alypius for a history of African monasticism that helped provoke Augustine to write his Confessiones.27

It is in the realm of poetry, however, that Paulinus’s innovation as an author truly stood out. His poetic corpus tracks his attempts and ultimate success at developing a Christian poetic discourse, an accomplishment that stood at odds with the prevailing wisdom of the day, which suggested that Christianity and literary culture were diametrically opposed (a philosophy to which Ausonius certainly subscribed). Paulinus’s earliest known poems demonstrate his poetic prowess: he composed letters in verse to accompany gifts to his friend Gestidius, and he versified Suetonius’s De Regibus, which he sent to Ausonius.28 He was by all accounts a “well-groomed classical poet.”29 In the late 380s, Paulinus began experimenting with Christian poetry, composing verse renderings of Psalms 1, 2, and 136 before expanding to more independent ventures, including epistolary poems to Ausonius and others.30 Many of these poems adopted traditional Greco-Roman poetic forms while addressing Christian topics and relying on biblical as well as classical intertexts. In addition to his poetic responses to Ausonius’s challenge of infidelity, Paulinus wrote a propemptikon (farewell poem) for Nicetas of Remesiana after his visit to Nola in 403, a protreptikon (poem of encouragement) to his younger relative Jovius, an epikedeion (consolation poem) for Pneumatius and Fidelis (also Paulinus’s relatives) on the death of their eight-year-old son, and an epithalamion (marriage poem) for Julian (soon to be “of Eclanum”). In each of these poems, Paulinus made full use of his mastery of classical form to convey Christian content.31

Paulinus’s most notable poetic innovation was his series of Natalicia, or birthday poems, which drew from the genres of genethliaka (birthday odes) and panegyric (praise poems) to form a new and variable style of celebratory poetry through which he could both honor Felix on his feast day and make use of the occasion to educate and influence his audiences.32 Paulinus composed a new Natalicium every year for at least the first fourteen years of his life at Nola, and he would both perform the poems himself, reading them aloud at Felix’s shrine to the crowds gathered at Nola on January 14, and circulate them afterwards in written form to his network of friends and peers. All but one segment of one of the Natalicia are in dactylic hexameter, and they are full of classical and biblical allusions and intertexts. They also evoke strongly the experience of being present at the saint’s shrine on his feast day: Paulinus emphasizes the day, the weather, the experience of sharing space with crowds, the sights to which he wants to draw his listeners’ attention, and the interpretations he wants them to draw from those sights. As we will see glancingly in this chapter but more substantially in the next, these features help Paulinus make martyrdom accessible to his contemporaries.


“Oh Illustrious Confessor, by deserts and by name felix!”33 Thus begins the first Natalicium, written in Spain in 395 as Paulinus prepared to make the journey to Nola. With this introduction, Paulinus announces and inaugurates his new Nolan life by referring to and publicizing the Felix that his contemporaries already know. He is a confessor both celebrated by others and outstanding in himself (inclite), who is happy or fortunate (felix) because his name is Felix but also because he has earned his happiness and good fortune. Paulinus goes on to establish the saint’s status and operation in the world through descriptive honorifics in apposition to confessor: “Oh mind powerful in piety, Oh mind inhabitant of the highest heaven, / Oh power no less experienced34 throughout earth, / [You] who declared Christ the Lord in an unchained voice.”35 Felix’s mind resides in heaven, while his power is yet manifest on earth. Paulinus attributes Felix’s doubled presence first to the power of his mind’s piety and then to the fact that Felix spoke out, or confessed, to the truth of Christ in a voice that was, in contrast to his body, unfettered. Three times, then, in three lines, we see how Paulinus emphasizes the split between mind and body, between physical and psychological, and between intent and action; each time we see merit attributed to the mental. These first four lines help prepare the reader for what comes next—Paulinus’s assertion that Felix’s survival itself was a mark of his merit and that, in addition to being a confessor, Felix is, in fact, a martyr as well:

You deserved to escape savage punishments by scorning [them].

and having been ordered to willingly hand over with weakened limbs

the soul devoted to Christ through all torments,

you abandoned empty limbs to the frenzied lictors:

a martyr carried into heavenly honor without blood.36

Moving from the familiar to the foreign in order to be persuasive, Paulinus takes his readers, already introduced to the idea of the mind’s primacy, to the notion that by separating in this life his bodily salvation and his spiritual salvation, Felix deserved to escape that very same bodily punishment. From there, Paulinus proceeds to his conclusion: because Felix was willing, when ordered, to do everything required of a martyr, he became a martyr without having to suffer death or shed his blood. Paulinus counts Felix a martyr and offers explanations as to why: he was willing to suffer and die for the faith, and acted accordingly; he correctly ordered his mind and body so that they were in proper relation to one another, with the mind reigning supreme and the body weakened and emptied of value and attachment; finally, he scorned the looming “savage punishments” just as a martyr does.

It is these qualities, rather than death, that define a martyr, in Paulinus’s view. Paulinus insisted throughout his literary career that death was not necessary to earning martyrdom. Sometimes he did so explicitly, as when he defended Felix’s martyr status in light of his peaceful death or asserted that Maximus’s mental anguish was equivalent to any other martyrdom;37 at other times Paulinus defended the living martyr’s status with subtle, implicit arguments that strengthen the case for a different understanding of martyrdom, as when he attributed to Victricius a Christ-like presence and miraculous powers of conversion. This is all in addition to the multitude of instances where he names Felix, Maximus, or Victricius as martyrs, addressing them or referring to them as such as if it were a simple, unproblematic designation. These casual appellations remind the reader of the status Paulinus has claimed for these martyrs and further entrench their links to that title. For example, Paulinus refers to Felix as “martyr” explicitly and without further comment forty times across eleven of the fourteen Natalicia; this unproblematic repetition served to normalize and reinforce Felix’s status as martyr.

We should not take this heavy lobbying as evidence that Paulinus was grasping at straws, that his claims were unfailingly futile, that they were not taken seriously, or that he did not believe what he was saying. Every martyr needs to be argued for, and all martyrologists need to defend their claims; there is nothing unusual in Paulinus reiterating Felix’s (or Maximus’s or Victricius’s) worthiness of the title. We should, on the contrary, take advantage of these defenses and assertions, gleaning from them the evidence they offer about what constituted a martyr in Paulinus’s thinking. Because he knew that he was going against the grain of contemporary thinking in calling these men martyrs, Paulinus was remarkably clear in defending the idea that these men had really suffered martyrdom. In what follows, I will first sketch the ways (beyond simply calling them martyrs) that Paulinus constructed these three as martyrs and then delve into the explanations he offers for identifying them as such.


In addition to labeling these men martyrs, Paulinus constructed their identities as martyrs by several means. First, he pointed to their post-mortem power as intercessors, protectors, and healers as evidence of their highest possible status in heaven. Then, pointing to these demonstrations of their power, he argued that God recognizes them as martyrs and honors them with the martyr’s crown. Finally, but most pervasively, he used biblical imagery to depict these men either as Christ-like or as typologically linked to Christ through any number of apostolic and scriptural figures. All three modes of martyr-construction combine to leave little doubt that Paulinus intended the reader to class all three martyrs alongside their executed brethren.

Paulinus understood martyrdom to be marked by divine supernatural power, posthumous or otherwise. This power manifests itself in exorcisms, miracle-working, unlikely conversions, and intercession, as well as in divinely inspired action. Martyrs were, for Paulinus, the primary focal points of God’s power on earth, and Paulinus made clear that this exercise of power would not be possible were these saints merely “confessors.” After praising the day that signifies Felix’s “heavenly honor” in the Natalicium of 397,38 Paulinus explains:

There is, ultimately, nothing [in Felix] unequal to these witnesses

who poured forth blood, with both title and virtue received at once.

He demonstrated the merit of a martyr, when with a powerful oath

he exorcised demons, and released chained bodies (emphasis mine).39

And later, in the Natalicium of 402, Paulinus concludes a discussion of Felix’s power by noting that these proofs of God’s activity in the world are also a sign of “what sort of crown” Felix will be wearing when he stands before them resurrected at the Judgment.40 That is to say, we know that he will be wearing the red crown of martyrdom because he has demonstrated such great power. The utmost power belongs to the martyrs, and Paulinus ensured that his martyrs (and especially Felix) exercise that level of power.

Exorcisms abounded at the shrine of Felix. So many, in fact, that Paulinus in his Natalicium of 401 expressed concern that they had become too run-of-the-mill to inspire awe. In this poem, Paulinus recounts the many exorcisms that routinely occur at the shrine, describing at some length the actual physical mechanics of possession and then delving into one particularly memorable exorcism (in which the demon inspires his host to dangle by his feet upside down on the balustrade, but his garments miraculously defy gravity and remain in place to cover his pudenda). But then Paulinus laments: “Marvelous and great are these deeds (who would deny it?); however / The more known they are through repetition, the less they seem awe-inspiring to hear, / Regardless of their awesomeness in appearance and their greater magnificence in fact.”41 But belying this conceit, Paulinus frequently made a point of gesturing toward these “commonplace” exorcisms, even if he rarely goes into much detail about individual cases—the “problem” of too much power in evidence at the shrine is one that Paulinus was glad to have. He reveled in it. In the Natalicium of 400, for example, Paulinus describes at length the contrast between the sacred bones of the martyr lying still and silent under a mass of white marble and the frenzied, frothing demoniacs who cower in terror at the threshold to the tomb.42 Exorcisms were proof, for Paulinus, of the martyr’s continued power and influence from beyond the grave, and the contrast between Felix’s peaceful bodily repose and the demons’ tumultuous torment only serves to highlight the miraculous and excessive nature of the healings that occur at the shrine.

Related to exorcism, and similarly within Felix’s purview, were instances of healing. Some of the ailments that Paulinus recounted Felix remedying are demonically caused (as with the demoniac who once devoured live chickens but stood, cured, as a witness on Felix’s feast day), but some seem like more mundane complaints. Felix, for example, cured sick children and cattle, healed those who gathered for his feast from varied (unspecified) illnesses, and manifested Christ’s power to heal.43 Felix also healed those whom he himself had afflicted in order to instruct them in proper Christian action. The greedy man from Abella, who promised a pig to Felix but took all the best parts for himself after slaughtering it at the shrine, was both afflicted by and (once he had repented of his misdeeds) cured by Felix.44 I should also note that in this story, Felix’s infliction of illness is also portrayed as a type of healing, as it heals the soul through the remedy of pain and chastisement. Like a good doctor, Felix must sometimes do harm in order to heal.

Felix also excelled at metaphorical healing—that is to say, at healing souls by bringing them to Christ. Indeed, Paulinus often conflated spiritual and physical healing, as he does throughout the Natalicium of 405, which explains that the local power of saintly relics is tailored to the depravity of the city: Nola, as a center of Roman religious ritual life, required the ministrations of the most powerful of martyrs, Felix.45 When Paulinus calls Felix a sanator, always ready to bring medicina for the health of the sick,46 he sees this as a continuation of Felix’s earthly ministry:

But because one lifetime for mortals could not

suffice to wash away contagions so long drawn out,

in the few years that Felix—the confessor and priest,

teacher by mouth, martyr by acclaim,

priest by desert and duty—lived in the flesh,

the all-powerful Lord made the temporal bounds of Felix’s body

persist in a more powerful way,

continuing the hardworking martyr’s curing actions,

his powers, so that he, buried, might perform the same things

which he used to accomplish by the power of Christ while remaining in the flesh.47

Medical language, from contagia to medicos, combined with the clearly instructive and exemplary nature of Felix’s earthly healing powers, connects physical to spiritual healing. Healing seems to operate on a continuum—one that Felix engaged in both before and after his death—between the physical and the spiritual. Felix thus demonstrates his power by healing sick souls, as well as sick bodies.

Felix’s skill at this sort of healing can be seen in the multinational throngs that crowd his shrine on his feast day, as Paulinus describes in the Natalicium of 397: Felix draws this variegated mass of peoples to him, acting as a beacon of Christian life and faith.48 He served as a beacon for Paulinus as well. According to Paulinus, it was Felix who “planted in [him] the seeds of heavenly things” and guided him (and his property) to spiritual and physical safety at Nola.49

Victricius, too, demonstrated this type of power, bringing even the barbarian realms into Christian harmony, in Paulinus’s telling.50 He was a beacon and a light to all, transforming Rouen into Jerusalem, the city on a hill that draws all eyes and leads them to salvation.51 He served as the catalyst for the conversions of his executioner, his guards, and even the general himself.52 Paulinus concludes his letter to Victricius by (as he had done with Felix) analogizing him to a farmer sowing seeds in a fertile field:

Truly you are the blessed parent of many blessed ones, the sower of a great harvest, bringing forth for God fruit—one hundred, and sixty, and thirty at a time—from the fertility of your soil, and you will receive an equal measure from the manifold fruits of your offspring. The highest one has named you among the greatest in his kingdom—he has allowed your speech to match your deed, so that you possess both the teaching of your life and the life of your teaching. So it is, in order that no student dare excuse himself as if from a command of difficulty, because he is bound beforehand by the example of your virtue.53

Victricius’s ability to bring people to Christ and to bring out the spiritual gifts in his disciples was, for Paulinus, a sure sign of his power and his favor with God.

Intercession was another power that Paulinus’s living martyrs possessed. Felix habitually rescues shipwrecked travelers, intervenes in disputes over water rights, cushions the falls of those whose mules balk on the way to his shrine, plays a part alongside Peter and Paul in the protection of the Roman state, and burns down the houses of rustics whose hovels diminish the visual splendor of Paulinus’s building projects.54 Felix was very involved in the lives of his faithful. And we see similar intimations of intercession in Paulinus’s treatments of Victricius and Maximus. Paulinus asked Victricius to remember him on the day of his crowning in heaven, essentially asking him to intercede for his salvation.55 Maximus, meanwhile, interceded for Felix by blessing him after his rescue, as Felix was preparing to leave him in the healing hands of an old servant woman. Maximus acts as the conduit of God’s blessing:

“You, too,” he said, “my son,

must receive a gift in repayment, which he who ordered you to come to me

when I was lost ordered me to give to you once I was saved.”

Then he placed his sacred right hand

on beloved Felix’s head, while seeking from Christ

all gifts, just as that venerable Isaac of [our] fathers

blessed his son with the dew of heaven and the riches of earth;

thus Maximus, blessing and enriching Felix before Christ

with speech both fatherly and apostolic,

garlanded him with the honor of an unfading crown

and elevated him with the everlasting powers which we see even now.56

Maximus’s effective blessing, demonstrably still in evidence at Felix’s shrine, shows that he has the status to act for God and to intercede in Felix’s life even while he himself is still bound in the flesh. Although this is not a typical intercession in that Maximus is doing God’s will rather than asking God for help, Maximus is nonetheless the conduit for God’s grace: God could simply have blessed Felix himself; there is no reason for Maximus to be involved in Felix’s acquisition of heavenly power other than to demonstrate Maximus’s own sanctity and efficacy as an intermediary.

Finally, the martyrs demonstrated their power by being the instruments of divinely inspired action on earth. They are the loci of miracles, the focal points of grace in the world. Felix, as we have seen, was the beneficiary of miracle after miracle; Victricius was at the center of a series of conversion miracles; and Maximus was discovered, fed, revived, and brought to safety by miraculous interventions.

As far as Paulinus was concerned, all of these powers combined—exorcism, healing, conversion, intercession, and acting as the focal points of divine power on earth—rendered impossible any effort to discount the power of these men. Paulinus made clear that, despite their failure to die in persecution, these martyrs possessed enough power to prove their martyrdoms.

It was certainly this superabundance of saintly power that freed Paulinus to claim unequivocally that God honors Felix as a martyr in heaven, that he will honor Victricius as such once he arrives, and that he reckons Maximus, too, a martyr. Despite being decidedly human and firmly entrenched in Cimitile, Paulinus claimed for himself the same authority we saw Prudentius asserting, namely, the authority of poetic omniscience. With this authority, he recounts God’s presentation of the rose-red crown of martyrdom to Felix, Victricius’s perfection and current possession of the crown, and the reasoning behind God’s decision to use Felix to rescue Maximus.

The Natalicium of 400 takes up Felix’s story just after his death. As Paulinus is describing Felix’s reception in heaven, we see the bands of angels who have escorted him into the presence of God adorning Felix’s sacred head with “a snow-white crown.”57 This is the crown befitting a confessor. But God intervenes, adding a rose-red crown, the martyr’s crown, at Christ’s behest:

But nevertheless, the father also added a rose-colored one, with Christ as guide,

and doubled [Felix’s] snowy cloaks with a purple garment,

since each of these is the distinction for such services.

For Felix, who died a confessor, assumed bright white

garlands—as if he had been carried into the aether by a peaceful death—

but deserved, equally, the purple—as if of a slaughtered martyr.

Thus he holds as well the prize of one who suffered,

because the award was brought forth on account of courage . . .58

God himself, Paulinus claims, bestowed the crown of martyrdom on Felix. And, what is more, he did so in order to honor the precise distinctions that Felix’s merits demanded. Paulinus essentially covers all his bases by arguing for Felix’s martyr status on two fronts: he is martyr by God’s decree and because of his own meritorious actions.59

Similarly, Paulinus asserts that Victricius has received divine coronation and uses his heaven’s-eye view to describe the further honors the martyr will receive. Paulinus describes Victricius’s coronation and his stamp of perfection: “Should we doubt whether you are perfected even now, you who have begun perfect? Or whether you are legitimately crowned by the contest already won, when you began your run with the crown?”60 Paulinus then laments that, when he met Victricius all those years ago, he was still so sinful and incapable of true reverence that he saw Victricius as “only a priest” and did not recognize “that which is more outstanding, you as a living martyr.”61 Now, by contrast, Paulinus has the knowledge, he has the faith, and he can access God’s assessments of his servants. So much so that he describes, in detail similar to the detail he included in describing Felix’s coronation, what Victricius’s reception in heaven will be.

Be mindful of us, I beg you, on that day on which the hands of the angels running to meet you will carry to you . . . the snowy ribbons of a hallowed bishop and the shining purple garments of confessors and that highest purifier of his gold and silver will receive you yourself as silver weighed in fire and as gold tested in the furnace of this age and the eternal king will fasten [you] as a precious pearl onto his diadem.62

As with Felix, Paulinus envisions for Victricius welcoming bands of angels and the glory of distinctions in white and purple, as well as special recognition from God. As he had done with Felix, Paulinus includes God’s logic in this analysis, explaining on what merits Victricius has garnered his recognition. Even though here the purple garments designate confessor status, the extended connection between Victricius and divine coronation, in combination with Paulinus’s earlier statements about the bishop’s status as crowned martyr, serves to make the case for Victricius’s coronation as martyr.

Paulinus was similarly authoritative in describing God’s reaction to Maximus’s suffering in the wilderness. He writes that “the pity of the highest father was moved for so great a priest.”63 This pity is why God “did not allow the body to be consumed by death unseen, / although he could have either fed him just as that same Elias, / sending food-bearing birds to barren deserts / or could have opened a secret grave for him like Moses.”64 Maximus would have been just as sainted if he had been miraculously (but quietly) preserved or if he had been allowed to die in some secret place, but God weighed his options and chose to honor Maximus differently by associating him even more closely with Felix. Paulinus says that God not only sought to honor Maximus but also chose Felix as the instrument of that honor: “looking upon the priest and confessor / with a glad eye, the gentle Father did not suffer him / to waste away further in silent woods and, because he was preparing / to join to his dignity a companion similarly worthy in merit, / he chose Felix from the whole number of those in prison”65 as Maximus’s savior. Paulinus not only describes what happens to Maximus but also confidently depicts God’s motivations for and the logic behind his interventions. This demonstration of authority helps validate as empirically true Paulinus’s claim that Maximus “was suffering martyrdom with torture different / but no lighter than if he had given his neck to the sword” because “concern for his flock burned and troubled him.”66

The final mode of martyr-construction Paulinus employed was to characterize these men as martyrs by configuring them as imitators of Christ. Paulinus took great care to render his martyrs Christ-like. At times he made direct connections between the martyr and Christ. In the Natalicium of 398, he describes Felix as “ready, following the example of the Lord, to lay down his life for his sheep.”67 A few lines later, imitation of Christ’s example becomes identification, when Paulinus writes that under threat of persecution Felix “grew strong, . . . mindful of Christ and unmindful of the world, / bearing God in his heart and filled with Christ in his chest.”68 The connections are not always quite so overt. In the Natalicium of 405, we can see Felix’s imitation of Christ slip into an elision with Christ as Paulinus structures his appositions to blur the boundaries between the two. Felix is the subject of a subordinate clause, whose verb (uiueret) appears in line 285.69 The next two lines are filled with descriptions of the identity of that subject: confessor, presbyter, magister, martyr, sacerdos. Immediately after these nominatives describing Felix, the subject changes to omnipotens dominus, the lord who grants Felix and his corpse life beyond temporal bounds. The moment at which it is impossible (grammatically speaking) to conflate omnipotens dominus with Felix is a full line later when, in line 289, Felix appears as the recipient of the dominus’s largesse. Reading through the poem, this is a moment of pause, a stutter in which Felix and Christ are combined, a rhetorical illusion intended first to connect Christ and Felix more closely and only later to differentiate them.70

Paulinus likened Victricius, too, to Christ. He writes that Victricius mirrors Christ in his role as beacon to the world (as depicted in Matt. 4:15): “Just as once in the land of Zebulon and Naphthali . . . those who lived in the land in the shadow of death saw a great light, thus even now in the land of the Morini . . . those who live in the hidden places beyond the Jordan . . . they devote rough hearts to the lord Christ . . . through your sanctity.”71 Victricius is acting as a new Christ, refiguring Christ for new onlookers. He even shares the cross with Christ, as Paulinus asserts that despite harsh torments: “You were not conquered, because you were supported by the cross of Christ.”72 Paulinus later makes this connection explicit, saying that all of those whom Victricius has converted “love Christ in you”73 and expressing his desire to be physically close to Victricius and hence closer, physically, to Christ:

Who would give us wings like a dove? We would fly to you and rest in the sight of your sanctity, admiring and venerating the Lord Christ in person in your face; we would wipe off with hair his feet in your feet, and would wet [them] with tears, and in your scars we would caress the imprinted traces as if they were of the Lord’s passion.74

Victricius refigures Christ so completely that Paulinus equates interacting with Victricius to interacting with Christ.

At other times, Paulinus connected his martyrs to Christ by linking them to other biblical figures who are themselves typologically identified with Christ: Abraham, the father of faith; Isaac, the willing (and stave-carrying) victim; Jacob, the chosen twin and laboring shepherd; Daniel, faithful believer unharmed in the lion’s den; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who survive the furnace of Babylon through steadfast faith; Peter, the miracle-working apostle.75 Paulinus’s use of these types helps emphasize the continuity of holiness that enables martyrs to stand in for Christ. He even makes this point explicitly while comparing Felix’s escape from prison to Peter’s:

Is there not one Christ

present in every saint? Just as the same spirit flourishes in all

born in Christ, thus the very grace of the pious ones

harmonizes. I see that the ancient type returns

in recent history, when Peter was commanded to escape—

exalted in the line of the twelve disciples—

by his own will with loosed chains, and he

emerged from the locked prison, where the earlier

angel drove him, having plundered the spoils of Herod.76

The nighttime arrival of an angelic rescuer, the loosened chains and thwarted guards, and the miraculously unlatched gates that Peter encountered in Acts 12 all parallel Felix’s escape, so that in his miraculous survival the priest more closely mirrors Peter, and through this comes to a further connection with Christ. For Paulinus, all the saints refigured Christ. All were driven by the same spirit and power. The same types return, over and over again, to refigure the same manifestations of holiness—the same miracles—to new and more recent audiences.

By linking Felix, Victricius, and Maximus to Christ, directly or obliquely, Paulinus simultaneously cements and defends their depictions as martyrs because, in his view, similarity to Christ is crucial to martyrdom. It is this similarity that enables martyrs to be influential with God:

Thus the more powerful limbs in his venerable body

are the martyrs (out of whom Felix is distinguished in strength,

shining among the sacred eyes of the divine head),

justly influential with God, because they suffered very much like Christ.77

While suffering seems to be key to the imitation here, Felix is also the martyr adduced as “distinguished in strength,” and while Felix was willing to suffer, he did not actually have to—his sufferings were minimal, limited to his imprisonment in a dark and shard-strewn cell. What is happening here is that Paulinus is using typology to bind together Christ and his martyrs, to elide their differences by making connections that do not seem intuitive. This typological method mirrors what Catherine Conybeare identifies in Paulinus’s letters, a pattern of relying on “complex connections of thought, drawn through symbolically significant images” to develop the “active reading” required to access the “truth that lies beyond the textual.”78 The seeming contradictions in Paulinus’s interpretation lead the well-equipped reader to “look beyond the letter to the spirit,”79 absorbing the full meaning of the text and then superseding the text by using it as a conduit to an external truth. In this case, the external truth would be that (at the very least) Felix’s willingness to suffer was sufficiently equivalent to Christ’s to make him a martyr.

Finally, as further proof that we should not take Paulinus’s assertion of martyrdom lightly, we can look to the contrasting example provided by Sulpicius Severus. Paulinus’s friend wrestled openly with the decision of whether or not to call Martin of Tours a martyr, and he decided against it precisely because Martin had not met the condition of death in persecution.80 This took nothing away from Martin’s holiness, in Severus’s view: Martin’s miracles, both in life and after death, cemented his status as saint and gave witness to his ability to channel God’s power. Nonetheless, there was something in the title of “martyr” that Paulinus understood differently than did Severus, something that he wanted to claim for Felix, Maximus, and Victricius. Paulinus could have chosen to blur or merge the categories, as Prudentius did, but he instead preferred to maintain the separation between confessors and martyrs and nonetheless to use both terms to refer to Felix, Maximus, and Victricius. But Paulinus knows, as well, that his designations of Felix, Maximus, and Victricius as martyrs will stand at odds with what others expect martyrs to be. This is why he not only uses the title “martyr” to refer to each of them but also defends and explains his use of the title for all three.


We have seen that Paulinus regards Felix, Victricius, and Maximus as martyrs, and not in some lesser “figurative” sense, as Thomas Aquinas would have it.81 But what was it, essentially, that made them worthy of martyrdom, if not death?

One criterion Paulinus employed to justify martyrdom without death, as I pointed to above in the discussion of the first Natalicium, is the proper orientation of the mind to the body. It is this correctly ordered valuation that enables Felix to “scorn savage punishments.”82 The inner mind remains unconquered because it is able to distinguish between itself and the transient body, with “a faith which, mindful of heavenly / truth, compares the future life to the present death / and, happy, brings the mind victorious over the conquered body / up to the rejoicing stars, returning it to God.”83 Because of his faith and his knowledge that the mind is both separate from and superior to the transient body, the victim will not truly be harmed. Felix goes on to demonstrate this faith in action:

Neither devoid of rest, however, nor free from light

is the confessor, with whom Christ, the ally in all things, already

co-suffers, for whom graver punishments multiply verdant

crowns, who traverses the heavens in his wandering mind.

And ahead of him, though he is chained in body, his free

spirit flies into the innermost chambers of highest Christ,

with the soul considering in advance its reward for resolute devotions.

Therefore the blessed passion with sacred punishments was bearing down on Felix

with heavy chains and a blind prison

and however many punishments from men the submissive flesh clothed itself in,

so many palms did his patience receive from Christ.84

Felix is imprisoned, weighed down by chains, and shrouded in darkness, but he is nonetheless free in spirit to ascend to heavenly heights. What frees him is the knowledge that this life and these punishments pale in comparison to the heavenly realm and the rewards that the soul will receive upon arrival there. The soul’s ascent despite the body being chained is made possible by its contemplation on future things, on its ability to “consider in advance its reward for resolute devotions.” The non-attachment to the physical, then, is what enables Felix to “scorn savage punishments.” Paradoxically, the reward that Felix gets for paying no heed to threats of torture is a physical one: comfort, or at least avoidance of physical torment. In other words, the thing he scorns is the means by which he is rewarded.

Moreover, Paulinus reinforces the idea that true merit lies in mental disposition, rather than physical activity, by establishing that this separation is both a cosmic reality and also the key to God’s evaluation of martyrs. Paulinus’s most vehement and explicit defense of Felix’s martyr status occurs in the Natalicium of 397. He opens the poem with a heavy-handed distinction between the physical and the heavenly realms:

The day has arrived, joyous in heaven and most celebrated on earth,

bearing the birthday of Felix, on which in body he died on earth

and was born in Christ in the highest stars,

having received heavenly honor as a martyr without blood.85

We see again the separation of Felix’s body from his incorporeal existence, and here, as in the first Natalicium, it mirrors the distinction between earth and heaven. The message is more forceful here, however, as Paulinus uses chiasmus and repetition to emphasize a contrastive symmetry between heaven and earth. Heaven and earth, at the same time but in different ways, mark this day—it is festa in heaven and celeberrima on earth—this day that saw Felix’s death on earth and his birth into the realm of the “highest stars.” The chiasmic caelo . . . terris . . . terris . . . astris, with terris repeated at the end of two successive lines, effectively highlights both the contrast and the symmetry of body/mind and earth/heaven. Paulinus caps off this stanza with the claim that Felix received heavenly honor as sine sanguine martyr, juxtaposing the separation of body and soul with the reward Felix earned and implying a causal relationship. Paulinus appears to know that this claim will not stand on its own and so explains further, acknowledging Felix’s widely known status as confessor:

For he died a confessor, having escaped punishments unwillingly,

with God accepting the faithful mind in place of blood.

He, who is the examiner of the silent heart, holds those prepared to suffer

on par with those who have, considering that internal things have proven [them].86

Felix’s mind took the place of blood as an offering to God and a sign of true faith. God knew his innermost heart and the level of his devotion and therefore deemed Felix worthy of life because of it, regardless of what befell his body. Thus the proper orientation of mind and body is not only essential to the formation of the martyr himself, it is also assented to by God. Just as the martyr disregards the pain threatening the physical body in favor of mental action, so too does God.

The passage continues, and Paulinus circles back once again to reiterate his explanation that inward devotion makes one worthy of a martyr’s crown:

Martyrdom without slaughter is pleasing, if, ready for suffering,

both mind and faith burn for God. The will for suffering

suffices, and giving testimony of devotion is the height of service.87

Bodily suffering looms on the horizon and must be embraced as a possibility, but God’s judgment is based on the internal orientation of the martyr, whose mind and faith burn for God so keenly that they do not balk at the threat of physical torment.

Moreover, we can see from this passage that martyrdom for Paulinus involved not just the correct orientation between mind and body but also the correct orientation toward God: “Martyrdom without slaughter is pleasing if, ready for suffering / both mind and faith burn for God” (emphasis mine). This notion that proper piety is required for martyrdom recurs in the Natalicia. In the Natalicium of 402, Paulinus attributes Felix’s martyr status to his subordination of his own honor to that of God.

Perhaps that very piety will bring more safety,

if we can lay down our cares

so that we might bear glad hearts to the confessor

at whose honor God rejoices, because the martyr spurned

his own honor on behalf of the name of Lord Christ;

he became cheaper to himself so that he might become more precious to Christ.88

While addressing a crowd anxious about Gothic incursions into Italy, Paulinus asks the people to give up concern for themselves and to focus instead on celebrating the saint, exactly as Felix had done for Christ. This disavowal of worldly honor helped earn Felix his martyr’s crown. We can actually see Felix’s transition from confessor to martyr through the spurning of honor. Paulinus juxtaposes the two titles but ultimately leaves “martyr” the subject of its clause so that Felix, acting as martyr, spurns honor in favor of Christ. This honor that Felix discards might refer to worldly splendor (which would be appropriate for a Natalicium whose intent was to comfort the Nolans in the face of impending war), or it might refer to his maintenance of humble priestly status despite being sought after as bishop. Alternatively, it might refer to the glory of a martyr’s death—perhaps Paulinus is here highlighting Felix’s trust in God, which enabled him to lay his fate in God’s lap rather than to insist upon death. Whichever “honor” Felix spurns, however, he has spurned it in favor of Christ, with Christ in mind throughout, and this is integral to his martyr status.

This attitude, the display of devotion to God through a willingness to suffer and die for him, not only warrants the title of martyr, in Paulinus’s view, but also explains why Felix did not die: Paulinus writes that God “remits punishment of the flesh on account of proper piety.”89

In the absence of “punishment of the flesh” (and with the benefit of divine insight into the hearts of men), interior orientations take center stage in Paulinus’s negotiation of martyrdom. Foremost among these is the willingness to do what God demands, even if God demands suffering and death. The willingness to subordinate all temporal concerns for the sake of God emerges as the best qualification for martyrdom in several of the Natalicia, and we can see this theme running through several of Paulinus’s defenses of living martyrs.

As we saw in the first Natalicium, Felix sponte (“willingly” or “unprompted”) gives his limbs over to punishment,90 while in subsequent poems Paulinus argues that Felix “holds . . . the prize of one having suffered, / because he lived with willing virtus91 and lauds him for his willingness to die.92 This willingness appears in Maximus’s story as well, when Maximus explains that he could have fled to a comfortable hideout in a distant town but chose instead to “seek unknown mountains and barren deserts, / placing my head on the lap of the sweet Lord, / so that I might wither away under his witness or be fed by him.”93 This absolute trust in God confirms Maximus’s claim that “I did not flee for fear of death, nor put my life before Christ.”94 Maximus is willing to be God’s instrument, no matter how God chooses to use him. Victricius, too, finds his status as a living martyr bolstered through his willingness to die, when Paulinus depicts him as sacra victima obediently following his executioner.95

Once again, however, the clearest explication of this criterion of martyrdom comes from Paulinus’s full-throated defense of Felix’s martyr status in the third Natalicium. Explaining the claim that Felix was received in heaven as sine sanguine martyr, Paulinus continues:

For he died a confessor, having escaped punishments unwillingly,

with God accepting the faithful mind in place of blood.

He, who is the examiner of the silent heart, holds those prepared to suffer

on par with those who have, considering that internal things have proven [them].

He remits punishment of the flesh on account of proper piety.

Martyrdom without slaughter is pleasing, if, ready for suffering,

both mind and faith burn for God. The will for suffering

suffices, and giving testimony of devotion is the height of service (emphases mine).96

Paulinus repeatedly hammers home this point: willingness to suffer is the true mark of the martyr. Felix did not avoid punishments willingly—he would gladly have suffered for his faith. God knows this, as he knows all things, and counts the suffering already completed, simply because Felix was willing to undergo it. Paulinus is clear here that God sees no difference between Felix and other martyrs who did actually suffer and die in persecution. What truly matters is the willingness; the will for suffering suffices to earn the crown of martyrdom. Again, it is the internal orientation that matters.

Orientation toward God was, for Paulinus, paramount in martyrdom, but I do not want to give the impression that Paulinus saw martyrdom as a wholly mental phenomenon or that he rejected wholesale the idea of the body as a site of holiness. Even if he considered martyrdom primarily a matter of orientation, he did think that some sort of bodily engagement should support and complement the martyr’s mentality. This is an important corrective: Paulinus advocated the primacy of the mind, will, and orientation, but he did not devalue the physical. He was adamant about the physical body’s role in salvation and resurrection—as Catherine Conybeare underscores by attributing Augustine’s increasing valuation of the body at the resurrection in part to Paulinus’s influence.97

As evidence of this, we can see that while Paulinus continually asserts that actual bodily suffering is not necessary to martyrdom, he nonetheless persistently returns to suffering as an important imaginative feature of martyrdom. The language of suffering recurs in his discussions of the living martyrs and indeed features prominently in their martyrdoms.

The physically inflicted suffering that Felix undergoes is, all told, rather minor. He is bound in uncomfortable chains, in a shard-strewn cell, and kept in total darkness. Paulinus makes the most of these torments, building up anticipation for them and then describing them in as torturous a manner as possible:

At once he, rejoicing, is seized and dragged away by the savage hands

of furious men. But such is the custom of the unjust enemy,

for whom it is more important to destroy souls than

our bodies—he beforehand tests with terrors the one delayed

from the sword and escalates toward death by stages of punishments.

The first row in the tortures is woven from the prison.

Iron chains are fastened in the gloomy enclosures;

steel rested on his hands and neck and his feet grew numb

with his fetters drawn tight; shards of pottery were scattered

so that the penal bed might ward off sleep with their sting.98

The “savage hands of furious men” seizing a joyful Felix and dragging him away to torture and execution recall the standard martyrdom narrative. The villain, too, seems to be a conflation of Devil and persecutor, in keeping with the standard “cosmic battle” aspect of martyrdom and the similarly standard alignment of persecutors and bystanders with Satan: “Just as the martyrs are filled with Christ, their opponents are filled with Satan.”99 The “terrors” with which he tests the faithful and which he “escalates toward death” serve as a shorthand for all possible punishments inflicted upon a martyr and call them to mind—claws, fire, flaying, dismemberment, animal attacks, and all manner of alternative tortures are possibilities here. Whoever reads or hears this poem would, at this point, know to expect the worst. Even the descriptor “delayed from the sword” (dilatum gladio) adds to this expectation, as dilatum is often used in a juridical context to describe long, drawn out interrogation and is recognizable from other martyr stories, when the martyr is threatened with long, drawn-out punishments, as Lawrence was.100 Differo, while signifying a respite from torture, is also a word used to indicate anticipated or enhanced torture. And this is just the beginning—or so Paulinus would have the reader assume: he describes Felix’s rough imprisonment as “the first row of punishment woven,” as if the torments would ultimately constitute a tapestry for which the chains and the darkness are only the foundational layer. Furthermore, while Paulinus invokes the specter of harsher punishments, he also lingers on the suffering Felix actually does undergo, adding the ambience of iron and gloom (ferrea . . . tenebrosis), emphasizing the experience of chains (stat manibus colloque chalybs neruoque rigescunt / diducente pedes) as well as the implements of torture (chalybs, fragmina testae, lectus poenalis) and their effects (ut arceat somnum).101

Even in the lead-up to this passage, Paulinus sets a suffering-centered tone by addressing Felix’s would-be persecutors. In this apostrophe, Paulinus both follows a conventional narrative pattern that would indicate tragedy to come (i.e., foreshadowing suffering) and also highlights the suffering Felix’s persecutors would have inflicted upon him if given the chance. His would-be tormentors “brandish weapons,” “destroy bodies,” “attack with furor,” and burn “with bloody thirst for holy blood.”102 Had the intentions of the persecutors been enacted, the result would have been gruesome. By calling to mind these specific potentialities, Paulinus creates within the poem an imaginary realm, an alternate reality in which all these torturous prospects are still, indeed, on the table. Similarly, Paulinus refers to the bodies of the saints suffused with Christ and slaughtered as a means of highlighting the economy of suffering in this alternate world, so close to being realized. Paulinus’s emphasis on physical suffering is clearly in evidence here.

Bishop Maximus, in contrast, earned his martyrdom by suffering emotionally: “He was suffering martyrdom with torture different / but no lighter than if he had given his neck to the sword . . . / concern for his flock burned and troubled him.”103 Here Paulinus notably prioritizes mentally derived suffering over physically derived suffering: Maximus is starving and freezing, but it is his concern for his flock that explicitly makes him a martyr. But whatever the source, suffering is nonetheless part of the picture of martyrdom that Paulinus sketches.

Similarly, Paulinus details Victricius’s sufferings in order to situate him more firmly among the martyrs. Paulinus recites Victricius’s own story back to him, describing the consequences of Victricius’s public refusal of military service:

You were pulled in different directions into floggings and broken with monstrous clubs, but you were not conquered, because you were supported by the cross. And soon, with doubled bodily punishment, you were stretched out, limbs mangled by massive blows, over sharp fragments of shards, with Christ then supporting you more softly, Christ whose lap was a bed for you and whose right hand a pillow.104

The physicality of Victricius’s punishment is front and center. Even his sources of respite are physical, if perhaps metaphorically so: the cross supports him, and Christ himself offers him his lap and his hand as soft landing places.

Martyrdom was, in Paulinus’s view, not only a reorientation of the self to God but also an embodied one. While it did not require physically-inflicted suffering, and certainly not death, it did require suffering to be part of the visceral imaginary of the martyr.


Paulinus’s construction of martyrdom as primarily a matter of embodied reorientation toward God parallels his wider thinking about Christian life, most notably his ideas on ascetic life and on friendship. As Dennis Trout notes, “Paulinus regularly turned the light of examination from action to attitude.”105

In his pursuit of the ascetic life, for example, Paulinus saw biblical study as most essential (as we have seen), in preference to more mundane exertions of discipline such as giving up wine. He also did not share Jerome’s view that a monachos could be neither a cleric nor a suburbanite: rather than retreating from the world either physically or administratively, Paulinus largely maintained his temporal connections and instead sought predominantly mental discipline. In what is actually a rather hilarious letter to Severus, Paulinus complains about a mutual friend’s penchant for flavorless cooking but then takes a philosophical view of it—saying that his food “imitated the bread of affliction”106 from Ezekiel and that the friend “wanted therefore to humble me not only through fasting but also through food.”107 In addition to signaling the relative palatability of Paulinus’s usual food choices, this passage (and particularly the lightness with which Paulinus treats the topic) indicates that such deprivations were not foremost in Paulinus’s evaluation of what constituted asceticism, that the choice of what to eat ultimately did not matter much. It also signals the importance of interiority and interpretation, since the food gains value not from its simplicity, blandness, or its instantiation of denial but because that simplicity is interpreted through biblical lenses.

Nevertheless, while Paulinus was (by Jerome’s standards) lenient on what a monk should eat and drink, he was fastidious about when a monk should eat and drink, as his seemingly good-natured mockery of the monk Cardemas indicates. He writes to Amandus that the monk, his courier, was not quite up to the task of eating just once a day and would beg for food and drink at midday when all the other members of Paulinus’s community only ate at dusk.108 And, as we saw above, Paulinus held the external trappings of monasticism in high esteem. He even rejected Severus’s courier Marracinus because of his healthy red cheeks and un-monkish clothing.109 Thus, while interior orientation is paramount, Paulinus does not completely disavow bodily implementation and, in fact, on certain occasions privileges it.

Likewise, just as Christians earn martyrdom through proper piety and the willingness to die for Christ, they create friendship, according to Paulinus, not primarily by actions but, as Catherine Conybeare and others have shown, by a shared orientation toward Christ. If two men were equals in God’s eyes, they shared a bond that would make them instant friends, regardless of disparities in age or experience, the newness of the acquaintance, or their physical distance from one another.110

Paulinus, on arriving at Nola, found himself physically distant from all his Christian friends and physically close to all his former friends whose spiritual distance from him he now judged insurmountable.111 But this was not, ultimately, a problem. As Catherine Conybeare demonstrates, for Christian letter-writers in this period and particularly for Paulinus, the virtual presence of friends through letters comes to be better than actual presence.112 The “very fact of absence becomes significant, for it enables the spiritual and the physical to be seen in their true relationship.”113 Paulinus, at one point, writes to Severus dismissing the need for a personal visit by saying, “you have come to us—the part of you better than that which stayed at home, residing in body only—in will and in spirit and in speech.”114 Physical presence was not foregrounded or even required in Paulinus’s understanding of friendship. This is why, for example, Paulinus could assertively introduce himself to Augustine and Alypius as a friend despite never having met.115

And yet there were embodied components to all these communications: the letters themselves, the gifts of materials or texts that frequently accompanied them, and the messengers who carried them.116 These letters and their messengers thus provided a physical grounding for a non-physical friendship: while they made possible the sublimation of the physical relationships between friends, they simultaneously served as the physical, embodied core of the friendship. Through their physical presence, their embodiment of the friendship, the letters and their carriers enable the reorientation of Christians from physical to spiritual friendship.

Even beyond these substitutionary exchanges, however, and despite all his claims that they are, in fact, sufficient proxies, Paulinus still desired the real physical proximity of his friends. Paulinus made frequent and fervent pleas for Severus to visit him, even while asserting that the messengers Severus sends fully satisfy his need to see his friend because they are, in a sense, him: “But you were not wholly absent indeed in body, when the limbs of your body came to us in the form of your boys joined to you in holy servitude to the Lord.”117 Nonetheless, Paulinus berated Severus for ignoring his calls to visit and even enlisted Felix in an attempt to shame Severus into coming—Paulinus had promised Felix that Severus would visit, and now Paulinus blames Severus for making him look bad in front of his holy patron.118 Paulinus’s pleas were complex and cloying and (as I read them) heartfelt. While expressions of desire for physical visits were a late antique epistolary commonplace alongside (frequently disingenuous) statements of affection and thus not to be read as solely reflecting Paulinus’s own wishes,119 no late antique letter-writer is quite as committed as Paulinus is to this trope. Paulinus goes above and beyond in demanding Severus’s presence, and, in addition, he reserves this exuberant pleading for his letters to Severus alone. None of Paulinus’s other correspondents receive the same caliber of entreaties to visit, and so it seems safe to regard his demands to Severus as genuine, if also in genuine tension with his more sublimating statements about friendship.

Thus, in the same way that Paulinus moves the burden of martyrdom from physical death to an internal orientation, from action to attitude, so too is friendship’s burden relocated from visits to letters. And, just as there is still a physical component that remains central to martyrdom, there is, nonetheless, still an importance placed on physical proximity.

With reference to both asceticism and friendship, identifying the pattern of embodied orientation toward God helps enrich our understanding of Paulinus’s thought. While not resolving the tensions and contradictions reflected in his writing and, instead, helping us see how these views can coexist without reconciliation, this paradigm helps us as scholars to identify, acknowledge, and validate as proper to his devotional thinking the multiple avenues of spirituality that Paulinus pursued, giving scholarly voice to the full range of thoughts he expressed, including those about living martyrs. To fail to see living martyrs as a real and powerful category for Paulinus would be to damage the continuity of his thinking by ignoring some of its major components. Paulinus is, in fact, remarkably consistent across several of his major fields of concern: embodied orientation toward God trumps the purely physical particulars of life and experience.


Claiming that, for Paulinus, martyrdom consisted in an embodied orientation toward God might seem like a cheat, a way to let Paulinus have his cake and eat it too. In its bluntest form, it makes the simultaneous claim that Paulinus did not require suffering or death for martyrdom and that also, in some sense, he did. But what it offers, on a subtler plane, is a way for us to acknowledge and highlight the interiority of martyrdom in Paulinus’s thinking without disregarding the physical, which, while secondary, is nonetheless inseparable in Paulinus’s thinking from the spiritual. An interior shift necessitates an exterior shift if only because, for Paulinus, no interior shift can come without imaginative, emotional, or physical consequences. But it is still the interior shift, the orientation toward God, that constitutes martyrdom for Paulinus—and merits its rewards.

As with Prudentius, we cannot know with certainty exactly how Paulinus’s message about living martyrdom was received, but there are some indications that Paulinus was partially successful in promoting the idea of martyrdom without death. Felix, at least, appears to have been embraced as a martyr, albeit with a fair amount of confusion. Augustine labels him a confessor in De cura pro mortuis gerenda, but nonetheless uses Felix as his sole example of a “martyr” intervening in human affairs.120 And while Uranius, who wrote an epistolary account of Paulinus’s death, seems to have missed the memo entirely,121 Gregory of Tours, over a century later and aware of (but ignoring) Uranius’s evaluation of Felix, nonetheless categorizes him as a martyr.122 Of course, as I noted in the Introduction, it is uncertain whether Gregory thought Felix had achieved that martyrdom without death—indeed, we must remember that Gregory did think martyrs and confessors were distinct categories of saints, as he separated his hagiographical compendium into two volumes, one for martyrs (in which Felix is among the final entries) and one for confessors (in which Paulinus is the last named figure)—but at the very least Paulinus’s advocacy for Felix must have troubled that facile distinction in Gregory’s mind. Similarly, as Lucy Grig points out, Felix was included in the Calendar of Carthage—an honor that seems mostly to have been bestowed on biblical figures, local saints, and popular martyrs from across the empire who were famous for their deaths (like Lawrence, Eulalia, and Hippolytus, all commemorated by Prudentius).123 And while Felix is missing the “martyr” moniker in the calendar, so too are Lawrence, Eulalia, and Hippolytus. This evidence all lends itself to the conclusion that Paulinus clearly gained some traction in making the argument that Felix was, indeed, a martyr, though the categorization was not as fully adopted as Paulinus would have liked and appears to have only extended to Felix himself.

There is one further potential case of reception for Paulinus and his living martyrs: that of our very own Prudentius. It is almost certain that Prudentius was aware of Paulinus: given Paulinus’s level of celebrity and the fact that they were exact contemporaries and shared geographical connections, it would really be quite surprising if that were not the case. Indeed, Prudentius appears to refer to Paulinus himself twice—a mention of the “eager faith” of one of the Paulini that could really only be a reference to our Paulinus; and a description of “the Nolan” who had joined the throngs making pilgrimage to Hippolytus’s tomb.124 Notably, though, these do not tell us whether Prudentius is familiar with Paulinus’s writing—after all, Prudentius focuses on the piety of “the Nolan” without mentioning or even alluding to his poetry or letters. Their works, however, dovetail often: Prudentius and Paulinus frequently share messages, themes, logical progressions, and word choices.125 While many commentators have noted these similarities, most have refrained from positing a direction of influence.126 Quite notably, Giuseppe Guttilla, the most vocal proponent of Prudentius being a reader of Paulinus, hypothesized that one of the reasons that scholars have been hesitant to make such claims is that Paulinus argues for martyrdom without blood and Prudentius’s own martyr stories are so very bloody and death-centered: Guttilla suggests that there would be less debate over Prudentius’s role as reader of Paulinus if not for the disparity in their ideologies of martyrdom.127 If we (as we now know we should) understand Prudentius’s martyrial theology as not being centered on death and bloodshed, that then removes this obstacle to recognizing a moment of successful reception. Nonetheless, due to the vagaries of dating and direction of influence (or even of establishing a bilateral relationship between the two authors), I am reluctant to assert any firm conclusions about Prudentius as a reader and receiver of Paulinus or vice versa. Indeed, I think these possibilities are less likely and less illuminating than a third, more organic, story: that the idea of living martyrdom was widespread at this time and that many among the elite were amenable to the concept and promoted it—not necessarily independently, but as part of a general milieu where such ideas circulated with a fair amount of excitement and cross-pollination. The sympathy of these two contemporary culture-makers on this point of living martyrdom means that this was a broadly possible ideology at the time. It renders what could otherwise be taken as isolated incidents of living martyrdom and transports them into the realm of an ideology, perhaps even a coherent one, that found elite and influential spokesmen at the turn of the fifth century.


1. Paulinus, Natalicium 4.238–306.

2. Natalicium 5.72.

3. Natalicium 5.95–119.

4. Natalicium 5.161–191; 5.196–210; 5.192–195.

5. Natalicium 3.9 (CCSL 21, 298): supplicium carnis justa pietate remittit.

6. Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 63.

7. Grig, Making Martyrs, 106–107.

8. See Trout, Paulinus of Nola, 160–197, and Jennifer Lynn Smith, “The Natalicia of Paulinus of Nola and the Embodiment of Authority at the Shrine of Saint Felix” (PhD diss., Indiana University, 2004), 71–84, for assessments of how Paulinus’s role as spokesman for Felix lent him both spiritual and temporal authority and influence and also raised Nola’s profile.

9. In Natalicium 13.365–386, delivered in 407, Paulinus recounts his years as a youth and later a governor at Nola, including his depositio barbae (377) and his early building projects (382–386). For Paulinus’s son’s burial ad sanctos, see Carmen De Obitu Celsi, 607–608; for his ordination in Barcelona, see Paulinus, Epistula 1.10; for his miraculous healing by Martin, see Natalicium 11.39–40 and Sulpicius Severus, Vita martini 19.3.

10. In the first Natalicium, Paulinus describes his lifelong connection to Felix and asserts that he has called on his help in times of trouble since his youth (5–19).

11. Indeed, he advised others to follow similar paths, as with, for instance, the student Jovius in Carmen Epistula ad Iovium, the grieving parents Pneumatius and Fidelis in Carmen De Obitu Celsi, and the soldier Crispinianus in Letters 25 and 25*.

12. Gregory of Tours, GM 103 (Felix) and Liber in gloria confessorum, 108 (Paulinus); Gregory the Great, Dialogues 3.1.1–8.

13. Conflict and resolution recounted in Natalicium 13.672–835.

14. See Natalicium 9.511–595; see also Natalicium 10.20–27; 167–325. See also below at [134–136].

15. Trout, “Christianizing the Nolan Countryside,” 284.

16. Natalicium 1.5 (CCSL 21, 293): contemnendo truces meruisti euadere poenas.

17. Trout, Paulinus of Nola, 136.

18. See Trout, Paulinus of Nola, 2–10. As Trout points out, this very celebrity status makes it more difficult to ascertain an accurate account of Paulinus’s conversion. All commentators, Paulinus himself included, used the conversion story to further their own agendas.

19. Jerome, Epistula 53.11.

20. Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012), 259–272.

21. For an excellent summary of Paulinus’s life at Nola, the people with whom he interacted, and his role in Nola’s rise to religious and cultural prominence, see Sigrid H. Mratschek, “Multis enim notissima est sanctitas loci: Paulinus and the Gradual Rise of Nola as a Center of Christian Hospitality,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 9, no. 4 (2001): 511–553.

22. As Dennis Trout notes: “The cross-fertilization of western and eastern ascetic thought and practice in the later fourth century yielded a heterogeneous crop of ascetic lifestyles and practices that resists the imposition of any simple taxonomy” (Paulinus of Nola, 121). For a summary of Paulinus’s possible monastic influences, see Trout, Paulinus of Nola, 122–128. See also Joseph T. Leinhard, Paulinus of Nola and Early Western Monasticism, With a Study of the Chronology of His Works and an Annotated Bibliography, 1879–1976 (Köln-Bonn: Peter Hanstein Verlag, 1977), 82–110.

23. Leinhard, Paulinus of Nola, 107–110.

24. Leinhard even suggests that this, at one point, comprised the whole of Paulinus’s awareness of monks and monastic life (Paulinus of Nola, 99).

25. Trout, Paulinus of Nola, 122. For the influence of Paulinus’s interpretation of Acts 4:32a on Augustine’s definition of both monos and monachus, see Catherine Conybeare, Paulinus Noster: Self and Symbols in the Letters of Paulinus of Nola (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 144–145.

26. See Joseph T. Leinhard, “Paulinus of Nola,” in Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 628–629; Trout, Paulinus of Nola, 218–251; and Conybeare, Paulinus Noster, 138–144. For an overview of Paulinus’s participation in late antique epistolary culture and the collection and transmission of his letters, see Dennis Trout, “The Letter Collection of Paulinus of Nola,” in Late Antique Letter Collections: A Critical Introduction and Reference Guide, eds. Cristiana Sogno, Bradley Storin, and Edward Watts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019), 254–268.

27. Frederick Van Fleteren, “Confessiones,” in Fitzgerald, Augustine Through the Ages, 227.

28. Carmina ad Gestidium; Fragmenta e Carmine “De Regibus” in Ausonii Epistula Servata.

29. Brown, Cult of the Saints, 55.

30. Paraphrases Psalmorum 136, 1, et 2. Paulinus may also have written a verse encomium to John the Baptist: Hartel’s Carmen 6. Dolveck doubted this poem’s authorship and did not include it in his edition.

31. Roger P. H. Green, The Poetry of Paulinus of Nola: A Study of His Latinity (Brussels: Latomus, 1971), 21–40; André Basson, “A Transformation of Genres in Late Latin Literature: Classical Literary Tradition and Ascetic Ideals in Paulinus of Nola,” in Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity, eds. Ralph W. Mathisen and Hagith S. Sivan (London: Aldershot, 1996), 267–276.

32. Smith, “Natalicia,” 48–93. Smith establishes that Paulinus, like many of his contemporaries, was more concerned with style and content than with genre, and she shows that the Natalicia defy classification by genre.

33. Natalicium 1.1 (CCSL 21, 293): inclyte confessor, meritis et nomine Felix.

34. Or “tested.”

35. Natalicium 1.2–4 (CCSL 21, 293): mens pietate potens, summi mens accola coeli, / nec minus in totis experta potentia terris, / qui, Dominum Christum non uincta uoce professus. . .

36. Natalicium 1.5–9 (CCSL 21, 293): contemnendo truces meruisti euadere poenas, / deuotamque animam tormenta per omnia Christo / sponte tua iussus laxatis reddere membris, / liquisti uacuos rabidis lictoribus artus: / uectus in aetherium, sine sanguine martyr, honorem.

37. Natalicium 4.200–203.

38. Natalicium 3.20 (CCSL 21, 299): sidereum . . . honorem.

39. Natalicium 3.21–24 (CCSL 21, 299): denique nil impar his qui fudere cruorem / testibus, et titulo simul et uirtute recepti / martyris ostendit meritum, cum iure potenti / daemonas exercet deuinctaque corpora soluit.

40. Natalicium 8.364–365 (CCSL 21, 378): qualem pro meritis sit gestatura coronam / cum steterit toto rediuiuus corpore Felix.

41. Natalicium 7.96–98 (CCSL 21, 356): mira haec sunt et magna—quis abnegat?—et tamen usu / nota magis: minus auditu miranda uidentur, / quamlibet et uisu reuerenda et grandia facto.

42. Natalicium 6.92–101 (CCSL 21, 336): ecce uides tumulum sacra martyris ossa tegentem / et tacitum obtento seruari marmore corpus; / nemo oculis hominum qua corpore cernimus, exstat, / membra latent positi, placida caro morte quiescit, / in spem non uacuam rediuiuae condita uitae; / unde igitur tantus circumstat limina terror? / quis tantos agit huc populos? quaenam manus urget / daemonas inuitosque rapit, frustraque rebelli / uoce reclamantes compellit adusque sepulcrum / martyris et sancto quasi fixos limite sistit? See also Natalicium 7.45–105 for a similar emphasis on exorcism.

43. See Paulinus, Natalicium 8.307–323 for the chicken-eating demoniac; 6.198–205 for the children and cattle; for the unspecified illnesses 7.59–60; and 8.380–386 for channeling Christ’s power.

44. Natalicium 12.62–209.

45. Natalicium 11.16–45, 164–236, 283–306.

46. Natalicium 11.294–298.

47. Natalicium 11.283–292 (CCSL 21, 432): sed quia non poterat mortalibus unius aetas / sufficere ut longo contagia tempore tracta / dilueret paucis quos corpore uiueret annis / confessor Felix et presbyter, ore magister, / elogio martyr, merito officioque sacerdos, / omnipotens Dominus finitum corporis aeuum / Felici potiore uia persistere fecit, / continuans medicos operosi martyris actus, / uirtutes ut eas idem celebraret humatus, / quas in carne manens Christi uirtute gerebat.

48. Natalicium 3.44–78.

49. Natalicium 13.365–366ff. (CCSL 21, 475): tu mihi caelestum . . . rerum / prima salutiferis iecisti semina causis. This seed and flower metaphor is repeated often, notably earlier in this same poem (13.60–61) when Paulinus calls the Roman converts “flowers in the field of Felix”: nam quasi fecundo sancti Felicis in agro / emersere noui fores, duo germina Christi (CCSL 21, 465).

50. Paulinus, Epistula 18.4 (CSEL 29, 131): ubi quondam deserta siluarum ac littorum partier inuta aduenae barbari aut latrones incolae frequentabant, nunc uenerabiles et angelici sanctorum chori urbes oppida insulas siluas ecclesiis et monasteriis plebe numerosis, pace consonis celebrant.

51. Epistula 18.4–5. In 18.4, Victricius is literally configured as a light, shining for all to see, whereas in 18.5, Victricius leads Rouen in its transformation into Jerusalem.

52. Epistula 18.7.

53. Epistula 18.10 (CSEL 29, 137): uere tu beatus tot beatorum parens, tantae messis sator, centenum et sexagesimum ac tricesimum fructum deo fecunditate tuae terrae efferens et mensuram parem de uariis partuum tuorum fructibus recepturus. te altissimus inter regni sui maximos nominauit, cui concessit facto aequare sermonem, ut et doctrina tibi uitae tuae sit et uita doctrinae. quo fit, ut nemo se audeat excusare discipulus uelut difficultatis imperio, cum prius adstringatur uirtutis exemplo.

54. For rescuing travelers, see Natalicium 8.387–394 and Epistula 49.3. See Natalicium 13.777–787 for the water-rights dispute; Carmen Ad Cytherium 409–422 for the balking mule; Natalicium 13.25–36 for protecting Rome; and Natalicium 10.148–155 for burning down the ill-placed hovel.

55. Epistula 18.10 (CSEL 29, 136): Memineris, quaeso te, nostri in illa die.

56. Natalicium 4.351–361 (CCSL 21, 318): “Cape tu quoque, dixit, / muneris, o mihi nate, uicem, quam me tibi iussit / reddere compositum qui te mihi iussit adesse / deposito.” Tum deinde sacram Felicis amati / imponit capiti dextram, simul omnia Christi / dona petens, uelut ille patrum uenerabilis Isaac / rore poli natum et terrae benedixit opimo; / Felicem Christo sic Maximus ore paterno / ore et apostolico benedicens et locupletans / immarcescibilis redimiuit honore coronae / perpetuisque opibus quas et modo cernimus auxit.

57. Natalicum 6.145 (CCSL 21, 339): tum niuea sacrum caput ornauere corona.

58. Natalicium 6.146–153 (CCSL 21, 339): sed tamen et roseam pater addidit indice Christo / purpureoque habitu niueos duplicauit amictus, / quod meritis utrumque decus; nam lucida sumpsit / serta quasi placido translatus in aethera leto, / sed meruit pariter quasi caesi martyris ostrum / qui confessor obit tenet ergo et praemia passi / quod prompta uirtute fuit, nec pacis honore / ornatuque caret, quia non congressus obiuit. Note, too, the parallel use of quasi in lines 149 and 150. Both deaths—the peaceful and the bloody—are given the same “as if” treatment, even though we know that Felix did, in fact, die a peaceful death rather than a bloody one.

59. We see a similar crowning in Natalicium 3.113–114 (CCSL 21, 302), where Paulinus says that Felix holds the twin crown of war and peace: ast illum superi sacra gloria liminis ambit / florentem gemina belli pacisque corona. We see it again in the Natalicium of 407, when Paulinus says of Felix: “he was not defrauded of the crown of the martyr, / because he had discharged the vow of passion in his mind,” and “[God] did not deny the crown of the martyr, / but added the crown of a priest” (Natalicium 13.152–158 [CCSL 21, 467]: non defraudatus a corona martyris, / quia passionis mente uotum gesserat. / nam saepe agonem miles intrauit potens / uictoque semper hoste confessor redit; / sed, praeparata mente contentus, deus / seruauit illum, non coronam martyris / negans sed addens et coronam antistitis).

60. Epistula 18.8 (CSEL 29, 135–136): dubitemus etiam nunc an perfectus sis, qui de perfectio coepisti? et si legitime coronandus sis agone decurso, cum currere coeperis a corona?

61. Epistula 18.9 (CSEL 29, 136): sacerdotem te tantum, quod in medio erat, uiderim et, quod inerat insignius, martyrem uiuum uidere nescierim.

62. Epistula 18.10 (CSEL 30, 136): Memineris, quaeso te, nostri in illa die, qua ad te innumera meritorum tuorum cohorte comitatum ornamentisque felicibus comptum et infulis pariter atque adoreis coronatum et niueas sacratorum antistitum uittas et floridas confessorum purpuras occurrentium manus adferent angelorum teque ipsum ut argentum igne examinatum et aurum in fornace saeculi huius probatum ipse summus auri sui argentique purgator accipiet et ut pretiosam diademati suo margaritam rex aeternus aptabit.

63. Natalicium 4.220 (CCSL 21, 313): mota patris summi pietas antistite tanto.

64. Natalicium 4.221–224 (CCSL 21, 313): non tulit obscuro consumi funere corpus; / quamquam et, ut Elian, istum quoque pascere posset, / esciferas uolucres ieiuna per auia mittens, / posset et ut Moysen secreto operire sepulcro.

65. Natalicium 4.230–234 (CCSL 21, 313): ergo sacerdotem confessoremque sereno / lumine respiciens tacitis tabescere siluis / non tulit ulterius mitis pater, et quia digno / condignum comitem meriti sociare parabat, / Felicem numero de carceris eligit omni.

66. Natalicium 4.200–203 (CCSL 21, 312): diversa at non leuiore ferebat / martyrium cruce, quam si ferro colla dedisset / membraque tormentis aut ignibus; acrior illum / cura sui gregis urit et afficit.

67. Natalicium 4.170 (CCSL 21, 310): exemplo domini promptus pro grege vitam.

68. Natalicium 4.172–174 (CCSL 21, 311): reuirescit in annis, / totus in astra animo, Christi memor, inmemor aeui, / corde deum gestans et plenus pectora Christo.

69. Natalicium 11.283–292 (CCSL 21, 432): sed quia non poterat mortalibus unius aetas / sufficere, ut longo contagia tempore tracta / dilueret paucis quos corpore uiueret annis / confessor Felix et presbyter, ore magister, / elogio martyr, merito officioque sacerdos, / omnipotens dominus finitum corporis aeuum / Felici potiore uia persistere fecit, / continuans medicos operosi martyris actus, / uirtutes ut eas idem celebraret humatus, / quas in carne manens Christi uirtute gerebat.

70. As an additional example of Paulinus linking Felix to Christ, in Natalicium 5.64–70, Felix, like Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, is not recognized by those seeking him.

71. Epistula 18.4 (CSEL 29, 131): sicut terra Zabulon quondam et Nephthalim, uia maris trans Iordanen Galilaeae, qui sedebant in regione umbrae mortis, lucem uiderunt magnam: ita et nunc terra Morinorum situ orbis extrema, quam barbaris fluctibus fremens tundit oceanus, gentium populous remotarum, quie sedebat in latebris uia maris harenosa extra Iordanem, antequam pinguescerent fines deserti in ea, orta sibi per tuam sanctitatem a domino luce gaudents corda aspera Christo intranet posuerunt. See too 18.6, where Paulinus depicts Victricius as the candelabrum that is no longer hidden under a bushel.

72. Epistula 18.7 (CSEL 29, 134): nec tamen uictus es, quia crucis ligno innitebaris.

73. Epistula 18.5 (CSEL 29, 133): in te Christum amantes.

74. Epistula 18.8 (CSEL 29, 136): quis daret nobis pennas sicut columbae? et uolaremus ad te et requiesceremus in conspectu sanctitatis tuae, coram in ore tuo Christum dominum admirantes atque uenerantes, tergeremus capillis pedes illius in tuis pedibus et lacrimis rigaremus et in illis cicatricibus tuis quasi dominicae passionis inpressa uestigia lamberemus.

75. On Abraham: Paulinus links Felix to Abraham in Natalicium 4.61–68, drawing on the move he made (in the person of his father) from foreign lands to promised ones. This comparison also works as an Isaac comparison, as Abraham represents both Felix and Felix’s father, who, by causing Felix to be born in Italy, “plants the sacred seed in Canaan’s fields” (deposuitque sacrum Chananaeis semen in aruis) as Abraham had done with Isaac. In addition, when Felix rescues Maximus in the wilderness (Natalicium 4.282ff.), he acts as an Abraham figure, using divinely provided resources to save his companion. On Isaac: in addition to the allusion in Natalicium 4.61–68, Paulinus figures Felix as Isaac in Natalicium 8.230. Maximus is explicitly configured as Isaac in Natalicium 4.354–361, when he blesses Felix as Isaac blessed Jacob, and he is implicitly depicted as Isaac in the narrative in which he willingly sacrifices himself in the wilderness but is saved by divine providence (Natalicium 4.282ff.); on Jacob: Felix appears as Jacob first when he is contrasted to his brother Hermias (Natalicium 4.89–94) as the divinely chosen twin, and again when he is blessed by Maximus as if the latter were Isaac blessing his son (Natalicium 4.354–361); on Daniel: Natalicium 8.255ff; 8.294 (in contrast to Daniel, which still calls to mind the comparison) and 8.374ff.; on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Natalicium 8.380; on Peter: Natalicium 4.257.

76. Natalicium 4.257–265 (CCSL 21, 314–315): nonne unus in omni / Christus adest sancto? sicut uiget omnibus idem / spiritus in Christo genitis, sic ipsa piorum / gratia concordat: ueterem remeare recenti / historia uideo speciem qua iussus abire / bisseno sublimis in agmine discipulorum / Petrus sponte sua uinclis labentibus aeque / carcere processit clauso, qua praeuius illum / angelus, Herodi praedam furatus, agebat. For the idea that Christ is ever-present in his saints, see also Natalicium 12.308–311.

77. Natalicium 8.207–210 (CCSL 21, 372): sic potiora eius uenerando in corpore membra / martyres—e quibus est insigni robore Felix / inter diuini capitis sacra lumina fulgens— / iure deo ualidi, quia Christo proxima passi. See also in the ninth Natalicium, where Paulinus compares the martyrs’ survival after death to Christ’s: “you, also, who with slaughtered bodies and spilled blood, / the martyrs having witnessed the Lamb slain and alive” (Natalicium 9.215–216 [CCSL 21, 389]: uos quoque corporibus caesis et sanguine fuso / occisum et uiuum testati, martyres, Agnum).

78. Conybeare, Paulinus Noster, 115–116.

79. Conybeare, Paulinus Noster, 116.

80. Severus, Epistula 2.9–12.

81. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 2a2ae. 124, 4. See Introduction, [page 6].

82. Natalicium 1.5.

83. Natalicium 4.149–152 (CCSL 21, 309): . . . fide quae, conscia ueri / caelestis, uitam praesenti morte futuram / comparat, et uicto uictricem corpore mentem, / laeta, deo referens gaudentibus inuehit astris?

84. Natalicim 4.187–197 (CCSL 21, 311–312): nec requie tamen est uacuus nec luminis expers / confessor cui iam sociatus in omnia Christus / compatitur, uirides grauior cui poena coronas / multiplicat, spatiante polum qui mente peragrat / seque ipsum, uincto quamuis in corpore liber / spiritus anteuolat summi in penetralia Christi, / praemeditante anima certis sua praemia uotis. / ergo beata sacris Felicem passio poenis / urgebat, grauibus uinclis et carcere caeco, / quantasque ex homine induerat caro subdita poenas, / tantas a Christo recipit patientia palmas.

85. Natalicium 3.1–4 (CCSL 21, 298): Venit festa dies caelo, celeberrima terris, / natalem Felicis agens qua corpore terris / occidit et Christo superis est natus in astris, / caelestem nanctus sine sanguine martyr honorem.

86. Natalicium 3.5–8 (CCSL 21, 298): Nam confessor obit, poenas non sponte lucratus, / acceptante Deo fidam pro sanguine mentem, / qui cordis taciti scrutator, ferre paratos / aequiperat passis: sat habens interna probasse.

87. Natalicium 3.10–12 (CCSL 21, 298): martyrium sine caede placet si prompta ferendi / mensque fidesque Deo caleat; passura voluntas / sufficit et summa est meriti testatio voti.

88. Natalicium 8.58–63 (CCSL 21, 367): forte magis pietas nobis dabit ista salutem / si nostras ideo libeat deponere curas, / ut confessori laetantia corda feramus, / cuius honore deus gaudet, quia martyr honorem / contempsit proprium domini pro nomine Christi, / uilior ipse sibi ut Christo pretiosior esset.

89. Natalicium 3.9 (CCSL 21, 298): supplicium carnis justa pietate remittit.

90. Natalicium 1.7–8 (CCSL 21, 293): deuotamque animam tormenta per omnia Christo / sponte tua iussus laxatis reddere membris, / liquisti uacuos rabidis lictoribus artus.

91. Natalicium 6.151–152 (CCSL 21, 339): tenet ergo et praemia passi / quod prompta uirtute fuit.

92. See Natalicia 4.170 and 5.23–24.

93. Natalicium 4.321–323 (CCSL 21, 317): Ignotos montes desertaque nuda petiui, / in gremio domini dulcis mea colla reponens / ipso ut deficerem teste aut ut pascerer ipso.

94. Natalicium 4.316–317 (CCSL 21, 317): non mortis fugisse metu Christoque meam me / praeposuisse animam.

95. Epistula 18.7.

96. Natalicium 3.5–12 (CCSL 21, 298): Nam confessor obit, poenas non sponte lucratus, / acceptante Deo fidam pro sanguine mentem, / qui, cordis taciti scrutator, ferre paratos / aequiparat passis, sat habens interna probasse, / supplicium carnis iusta pietate remittit, / martyrium sine caede placet si prompta ferendi / mensque fidesque Deo caleat; passura voluntas / sufficit, et summa est meriti, testatio voti.

97. Conybeare, Paulinus Noster, 138–139.

98. Natalicium 4.177–186 (CCSL 21, 311): ilicet arripitur gaudens saeuisque furentum / protrahitur manibus; sed, qui mos hostis iniqui, / cui potior labor est animas quam corpora nostra / perdere, dilatum gladio terroribus ante / temptat et in mortem surgit gradibus poenarum. / primus suppliciis de carcere texitur ordo: ferrea iunguntur tenebrosis uincula claustris, / stat manibus colloque chalybs neruoque rigescunt / diducente pedes; sternuntur fragmina testae, / arceat ut somnum poenalis acumine lectus.

99. Middleton, Radical Martyrdom and Cosmic Conflict, 101; Candida R. Moss, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 199.

100. Prudentius, Peristephanon 2.337.

101. A similar instance of threatened violence being treated as accomplished violence occurs in Natalicium 1.5–9, when Felix is described as having abandoned his limbs to frenzied lictors.

102. Natalicium 4.141–143, 153–154, 161–163 (CCSL 21, 309–310): in quem tela moues? an credis in uno / mortali constare deum, et, si corpora soluas, / uim simul et mentem diuinam posse aboleri. . . . quid iuuat ergo pium tanta quod mole furoris / Felicem, uesane, petis? . . . sed fera corda suus stimulis furialibus error / sanguinea flagrare siti sanctumque cruorem / urgebat ueluti sceleris deposcere palmam.

103. Natalicium 4.200–203 (CCSL 21, 312): diversa at non leuiore ferebat / martyrium cruce quam si ferro colla dedisset / . . . cura sui gregis urit et afficit.

104. Epistula 18.7 (CSEL 29, 134): districtus in uerbera et uastis fustibus fractus nec tamen uictus es, quia crucis ligno innitebaris. geminataque mox corpori poena acuto testarum fragmine laniata inmanibus plagis membra substratus es, tunc mollius fulciente Christo, cuius tibi gremium lectulus erat et dextra puluinar.

105. Trout, Paulinus of Nola, 136. Trout goes on to elaborate that this was “a subtle deflection but one that somewhat paradoxically allowed the approbation of a significant range of behavior and pragmatic relationships between committed Christians and their worldly goods.”

106. Epistula 23.6 (CSEL 29, 163): panes. . . tribulationis.

107. Epistula 23.7 (CSEL 29, 163): Voluit ergo frater Victor, ut non solum ieiunio sed et cibo humiliare animam disceremus et recordatione peccatorum ueterum intellectuque praesentium tristes manducare panem doloris, quamuis ex parte nobis pepercerit fabam tantum milio panicioque confundens, quod tamen forsitan obliuionis magis quam moderaminis fuerit.

108. Epistula 15.4.

109. Epistula 17.1, although the tirade against Marracinus in Epistula 22.1–2 indicates that there was much more about Marracinus that Paulinus disliked: in addition to rejecting Paulinus’s ascetic practices, he seems to have scorned them, complaining, for instance, about the bad breath of Paulinus’s fasting monks.

110. Conybeare, Paulinus Noster, 90; see also Carolinne White, Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 154.

111. Epistula 11.3.

112. Conybeare, Paulinus Noster, 67.

113. Conybeare, Paulinus Noster, 68.

114. Epistula 5.1 (CSEL 29, 24): tu uero potiore tui parte quam qua manseris, solo corpore domi residens, uoluntate ad nos et spiritu et sermone uenisti.

115. See Epistula 4 to Augustine and Epistula 3 to Alypius.

116. See Bradley K. Storin, Self-portrait in Three Colors: Gregory of Nazianzus’s Epistolary Autobiography (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2019), 103–107.

117. Epistula 5, 1 (CSEL 29, 24): quamquam ne corporaliter quidem penitus afueris, quando in pueris tuis sancta in domino tibi seruitute conexis corporis ad nos tui membra uenerunt.

118. Epistula 17.3.

119. Bradley K. Storin, “The Letters of Gregory of Nazianzus: Discourse and Community in Late Antique Epistolary Culture” (PhD diss., Indiana University, 2012), 139–141.

120. Augustine, De cura pro mortuis gerenda, 19.

121. Uranius, De Obitu Sancti Paulini, 2 identifies Felix as a confessor only and downplays Felix’s importance to Paulinus by depicting the bishop as calling out to other saints on his deathbed (3).

122. Gregory (in GM, 103) uses Uranius’s De Obitu for his account of Paulinus but ignores Uranius’s text in his account of Felix, for which Gregory relies on the Natalicia. See also my comments in the Introduction, 10–11.

123. Grig, Making Martyrs, 106. Grig states that Felix is the “the only non-martyr (apart from the apostles)” to be so honored in this calendar, but the identities of all those listed are not secure enough for me to confirm this. For the Kalendarium Carthaginensis, see PL 13.1219A–1230A.

124. Giuseppe Guttilla, “Un Probabile incontro a Roma di Paolino di Nola e Prudenzio,” Aevum 79, no. 1 (2005): 95–107. Guttilla goes so far as to hypothesize a meeting between the two in Rome when both were likely present for the feast day of Hippolytus, but this cannot be proven and it seems unlikely to me that neither author would mention such an encounter.

125. See in particular the work of Salvatore Costanza (“Rapporti Letterari Tra Paolino e Prudenzio,” Atti del Convegno, XXXI Cinquanternario della morte di S. Paolino di Nola (431–1981) [Rome: Herder, 1982], 25–65 and “Le concezioni poetiche di Prudenzio e il carme XVIII di Paolino di Nola,” Siculorum gymnasium: rassegna della Facoltà di lettere e filosofia dell’Università di Catania 29 [1976]: 123–149). Costanza is very careful not to assert a direction for these influences, and I am inclined to follow his lead.

126. The notable exceptions are Jean-Louis Charlet, “Prudence, Lecteur de Paulin de Nole. A propos du 23e quatrain du ‘Dittochaeon,’” Revue d’Etudes Augustiniennes et Patristiques 21, nos. 1–2 (1975): 55–62, and (more than any other scholar) Giuseppe Gutilla, who has published prolifically on this topic over the last thirty years—in far too many articles to list here.

127. “Il martyrium e la duplex corona in Paolino di Nola e in Prudenzio,” Bollettino di studi latini 34, no. 1 (2004): 91–116.

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