St Jerome’s “Monument” to St Paula

Gregory DiPippo

Yesterday, we looked at the life of St Paula of Rome, a spiritual daughter and collaborator of St Jerome. The principal source of information about her is a letter which Jerome write to her daughter Eustochium after her death, which he describes with the words of one of Horace’s odes (3.30): “Exegi monumentum aere perennius. – I have raised up a memorial more lasting than bronze.” This is one of the longest amon all of St Jerome’s letters, and we can give no more than a few excerpts here.

“Si cuncta mei corporis membra verterentur in linguas, et omnes artus humana voce resonarent, nihil dignum sanctae ac venerabilis Paulae virtutibus dicerem. Nobilis genere, sed multo nobilior sanctitate, potens quondam divitiis, sed nunc Christi paupertate insignior, Gracchorum stirps, suboles Scipionum, Pauli heres, cuius uocabulum trahit, … Romae praetulit Bethlem et auro tecta fulgentia informis luti vilitate mutauit.

Non maeremus, quod talem amisimus, sed gratias agimus, quod habuimus, immo habemus: Deo enim vivunt omnia…

Testor Jesum et sanctos angelos ejus, ipsumque proprie angelum, qui custos fuit et comes admirabilis feminae, me nihil in gratia, nihil more laudantium, sed, quidquid dicturus sum, pro testimonio dicere, et minus ejus esse meritis, quam totus orbis canit, sacerdotes mirantur, virginum chori desiderant, monachorum et pauperum turba deplangit.

(The Holy Trinity, with Ss Jerome, Paula and Eustochium, ca. 1453, by Andrea del Castagno, in the Montauti chapel of the basilica of the Annunciation in Florence. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY 3.0)

If all the members of my body were to be converted into tongues, and all my limbs were to be gifted with a human voice, I could still say do no justice to the virtues of the holy and venerable Paula. Noble in family, she was nobler still in holiness; rich formerly in this world’s goods, she is now more distinguished by the poverty that she has embraced for Christ. Of the stock of the Gracchi and descended from the Scipios, the heir and representative of that Paulus whose name she bore, … she yet preferred Bethlehem to Rome, and left her palace shining with gold to dwell in a mud cabin.

We do not grieve that we have lost such a woman; rather we give thanks that we had her, or rather, have her still. For all live unto God…

I call on Jesus and His holy angels, and the particular angel who was the guardian and the companion of this admirable woman, to bear witness that I say nothing by way of flattery or adulation, but that whatever I shall say, it is as an eyewitness, and is less than she deserves, one whose praises the whole world sings, whom bishops admire, whose loss the choirs virgins regret, and a crowd of monks and poor folk weep for. (Letter 108 to Eustochium, 1 and 2)

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