Paulinus of Nola

Paulinus of Nola (353-431) has never come to my attention hitherto.  He was a contemporary of St. Augustine and lived through the times of the fall of Rome.  His works consist of poems and letters.  The poems include anti-pagan material which must therefore be of value for late paganism.  His works were translated in the Ancient Christian Writers series by P. Walsh during the late 60’s and 70’s.

Rather to my surprise I can find no trace of any of his works online in English.  There must be few fathers of that period so under-represented!

Among the material sent to me about the bruma is this from carmen 14, v.13 (p. 46):

 ergo dies, tanto quae munere condidit alto 
 Felicem caelo, sacris sollemnibus ista est, 
 quae post solstitium, quo Christus corpore natus
 sole nouo gelidae mutauit tempora brumae
 atque salutiferum praestans mortalibus ortum 
 procedente die se cum decrescere noctes 
 iussit, ab hoc quae lux oritur uicesima nobis, 
 sidereum meriti signat Felicis honorem.

Linking the birth of Christ and the bruma, it would be interesting to know what it says.

UPDATE: Here it is, from the Walsh translation, p.77:

13. So the day which bestowed so great a gift by setting Felix in the heights of heaven is the day of our yearly ritual. It comes after the solstice, the time when Christ was born in the flesh and transformed the cold winter season with a new sun, when He granted men His birth that brings salvation, and ordered the nights to shorten and the daylight to grow with Himself. The twentieth day that dawns on us after the solstice marks the heavenly glory which Felix merited.

De la Cerda believed that solstitium only meant summer solstice, in the purest Latin.  But by the time of Paulinus this was clearly no longer so.  This identifies the day of Christmas with the solstice, solstitium (“after the solstice … the twentieth day” is the martyrdom of Felix, not Christmas).

UPDATE: A preview of the Walsh translation is here.


23 thoughts on “Paulinus of Nola

  1. There is a Paulinus translation on line somewhere. I had to refer to it because his is one of the earliest mentions of the martyrdom tradition of St. Mark in Alexandria.

  2. Hi Stephan, can you name the source for St. Mark’s Alexandria martyrdom? And when you say “one of the earliest mentions”, are there older sources? Thank you in advance.

  3. Hans, I can send you my article when it appears in the Journal of Coptic Studies in the next few weeks. I try to show that there is a confusing nexus of stories related to the martyrdom of St. Mark in Alexandria where – ultimately – the body of Peter I, seventeenth Patriarch of Alexandria was taken to Venice and presumed to be that of St. Mark owing to its association with the Evangelist’s cathedra. Schneemelcher puts forward the possibility that an early Latin version of the Passio Petri Sancti might have been produced just before Paulinus’ reference to Mark being in a struggle with Serapis:

    Here is Paulinus of Nola’s reference to the details of the martyrdom (p. 134):

    Roger, when I found this reference I was so happy that I could read the letter that I needed to read that assumed that the whole book was available. It turns out it’s one of those ‘limited previews’ from Google.

  4. One more thing has to be said. Michael the Syrian identifies Paneas (modern Banias) as St. Mark’s final resting place. Theodore Weeden argues at great length that the Gospel of Mark was written in this city (his recent paper goes well beyond that arguing that Matthew and John were written from this geographic locale). Even though Michael is a late witness there might be something to this report. I’d like to know if anyone has come across any earlier witnesses that might have been Michael’s ultimate source for this information?

  5. You’d think it would be in Post-Nicene Fathers! and therefore at CCEL. (But it isn’t). If he doesn’t blather on endlessly like some of those guys, I wouldn’t mind putting him up; but it’ll take a few weeks.

  6. @Stephan: Thank you for the info.

    @Roger & Bill:

    I’ve seen some of his stuff, and it is tedious blather if ever I saw it. Doubtless that is why no-one ever felt like doing him.

    I haven’t read him yet, but the bruma source is quite striking, I think: He directly associates Christmas and the solstice and even connects the two festivals theologically.

  7. An awful lot of PN’s poems is up at (but notice the ominous “temporar.php” in the true URL: I say grab it while you can); the brumal connection with Christmas is in Poem 14 on the Feast of Felix Martyr — among several dozen martyrs either truly or conventionally called “Felix”, this one’s feast is obviously the 14th of January — and the Christmas digression reads:

    Nam post solstitium, quo Christus corpore natus
    Sole novo gelidae mutavit tempora brumae,
    Atque salutiferum praestans mortalibus ortum.
    Procedente die secum decrescere noctes
    Jussit, ab hoc quae lux oritur vicesima nobis
    Sidereum meriti signat Felicis honorem.

    and then continues with the praises of Felix

  8. The material is from Intratext, I think:

    Yes, the Paulinus statement directly links Christmas (at a date when this must mean 25 Dec.) with the winter solstice, and links it to the “bruma season”.

    We must also not forget that there is some drift going on in the calendar. Whatever Julius Caesar stated for 45 BC, four centuries on the calendar will be a couple of days behind. (Before Julius, of course, it was all over the place). But the solstice is observable. These calendar problems may be why we find so few people linking the paper calendar directly to the astronomical and agricultural solstice.

    But I think the combination of Paulinus and … was it Censorinus who gave bruma as viii kal. jan? … is enough to indicate that in Roman imperial times, 25 Dec. was the winter solstice or near enough so.

    Mind you, we’re still stuck with Julian the Apostate who says that the “Heliaia” takes place AFTER the solstice, at the time when the change becomes visible to the farmers (in his Hymn to King Helios). But a look at the original text would seem advisable; I have found that the translations of Julian in the Loeb series are not entirely reliable.

  9. Prudentius’ Cathemerinon hymn is titled as “Hymnus VIII. Kalendas Ianuarias”, but I don’t know if that was in the original or what.

  10. Thank you Maureen, that is very interesting. Must look at that, then.

    I don’t know whether the title is original either, but the question is worth asking.

  11. Umm Roger, does that mean that you need a Greek text of that passage in Julian? (p428 in the facing Greek of the same Loeb) — If so, holler.

    And Censorinus merely says “aliis a novo sole, id est a bruma, aliis ab aestivo solstitio [… etc.] incipere annus naturalis videtur.” No date.

  12. Thanks for the offer, but I have the Loeb Julian somewhere, including the Greek, so I’m fine.

    It must be someone else who gives a date. I’m harried at work at the moment, so haven’t a moment to do anything, which is why my notes are so short! 🙂

  13. And Censorinus merely says “aliis a novo sole, id est a bruma, aliis ab aestivo solstitio [… etc.] incipere annus naturalis videtur.” No date.

    There is a date, in Censorinus plus other sources, when read in conjunction: novus sol = bruma = VIII Kal Ian = 25 Dec (Julian). Servius + Censorinus + Plinius etc. pp.

  14. You’re right about Intratext — indeed they wrote and asked for permission to copy my Latin texts ages ago, which I gave them since that’s my thing. But they must have *some* original content … mustn’t they?

    I never quite worked out what Intratext is. Do you suppose they make money off that lot somehow?

    Thanks for the link to Bede’s “Life of Felix.” I think Bede is generally too late for my collection (well, I have to draw the line somewhere!) but interesting all the same. Mind you, I think it is permissible to wonder about the “divine providence” origin of that fire in a neighbouring cottage!

  15. Yeah, I posted too fast; at the time I hadn’t more than glanced at it, and didn’t realize it isn’t the original of Paulinus’ “Life of Felix”, but a translation of Bede’s version of it. Still, grist for the mill at this season of the year.

  16. Just noticed I didn’t answer a question of yours Roger: I don’t believe “Intratext”, whatever it is, has anything original at all. I have no idea what the site is about, and even less whether it might be making bundles of cash from everyone else’s work. I kinda doubt it.

  17. Thanks!

    I don’t know much about Intratext, but if their work makes stuff available to people who might not otherwise access it, then I’m all for it. The people from there have been very friendly when I’ve swapped emails with them.

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