Life of St Paula , (continued), Book 1d
(Also St Marcella further down this page)
I must briefly mention the manner in which she fled from the broken cisterns, enabling her to find the fountain of the Lord (Jeremiah 2.13) and sing, 'Like as the hart desires the water-brooks, so longs my soul after you, O God. When shall I come to appear before the face of God?' (Psalms 42.1-2). The heretics were the polluted cisterns she avoided; she held them to be no better than the heathen. There was a certain cunning knave, very learned and clever in his own estimation, who without my knowledge was putting certain questions to her.
"What sins has an infant committed, that he needs to be rescued from the devil? In the resurrection what age shall we be? If we are to be of the same age as that at which we die, there will be a need for nursemaids. But if we will be of a different age, that would not be a resurrection of the dead, but a transformation into somebody different Will there still be different sexes, male and female, or not? If yes, it follows there would have to be marriage, and intercourse, and childbearing. If not, then we would be beings without any sexual distinction, and so the body that arose from the dead would not be the same body. 'The earthly tabernacle weighs down the mind that thinks about many matters' (Wisdom 9.15), but in heaven we shall be unsubstantial and spiritual, as the Apostle says, 'It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body' (2 Corinthians 15.44)."
He was trying to prove, out of all this, that rational creatures, because of some ancient vices and sins, had been sent into bodily form, and subjected to such conditions as befitted the variety and seriousness of their sins. Some enjoy physical health, being born to rich and noble parents, some have ill health, born into needy households, suffering the penalty of their former sins, and enclosed bodily in this present age as if in a prison. When she had listened to all this, she asked me about it and pointed the man out to me. I could see how necessary it was to counter the arguments of this wicked viper, this death-dealing beast, about whom the Psalmist says, 'Do not hand over the soul of those who trust in you into the power of the wild beasts' (Psalms 74.19), and, 'Set your face against the wild beasts of the reeds' [Crocodiles?] (Psalms 68.30, Vulgate), whose writing is wicked, who speak lies against the Lord, and lift up their voices on high.
She asked me to talk to this man who had been trying to deceive her, so I asked him to meet me, and I set him a problem.
"Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead, or not?" I asked him
"Yes, of course," was the reply.
"Do they rise with the same body, or a different one?"
"Well, the same."
"Of the same sex as before, or different?"
He seemed disinclined to reply, and waved his head about this way and that like a serpent trying to avoid being struck.
"Since you won't answer," I said, "I will answer for you, and give you what follows on logically from your last reply. You say they rise with the same body, that is, women as women and men as men. If not, there is no resurrection of the dead. The difference between the sexes lies in their bodily function, and bodily function defines what the whole body is. Resurrection of the dead, therefore, must mean that the sexes rise with distinct bodily functions, otherwise it would not be resurrection from the dead. If it is not resurrection of the whole body it is not a true resurrection of the dead.
"Now, as to your other argument, your objection that if there are different bodily functions, there must also be marriage, the Saviour himself has already solved that one, for he said, 'You are wrong. You do not know the Scriptures or the power of God, for in the resurrection there is neither marrying nor being given in marriage, but they are like the Angels' (Matthew 22.29.30). In saying 'neither marrying nor being given in marriage' he confirms that the sexes will still be different. One does not talk about sticks and stones as either marrying or being given in marriage; they just do not have the possibility of marriage. In the resurrection, people must still have the possibility of marriage, but because of the grace and power of Christ they don't exercise it.
"And if you ask how can we be like Angels, who are neither male nor female, let me give you a brief answer. It is not the nature of Angels that the Lord promises us but their way of life and their blessedness. So it is that John the Baptist, even before his death by beheading, is called an Angel. [In Luke 7.27 it is written of John, 'Behold I send my angelos before your face'. Angelos in Greek simply means messenger] Besides, all the holy virgins of God, even in this life, show forth the Angelic life. We are promised a likeness, not a change of nature.
"Tell me also, how do you interpret Thomas touching the hands of the risen Lord, and looking at the wound of the spear in his side (John 20.27)? Or Peter who saw the Lord standing on the shore. And they also saw him eating a piece of roasted fish and a honeycomb (Luke 24.42). The fact that he was 'standing' shows that he must have had feet. The fact that he showed them his wounded side proves that he also had a chest and an abdomen, because you can't have a side without a chest and an abdomen for the side to be attached to. He spoke to them, so he must have had a tongue and a palate and teeth. Like a plectrum touching the strings, so the tongue engaging with the teeth produces a voice. If his hands were touched he must also have had arms. You could go through all the members of the body like this, and find that he had a whole body, made up of all its members, a male body like the body he died with, not a female body.
"And if you wonder whether we shall need to eat after the resurrection, or how it is that we should enter a room through closed doors, contrary to the properties of thick, solid bodies (John 20.26), then listen: don't make a mockery of faith in the resurrection because of a quibble about food. When the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue was raised Christ ordered that she be given something to eat (Mark 5.43). And it is written that Lazarus who had been dead for four days sat at meat (John12.2). These things were written to prevent us thinking that they were mere phantoms that were raised.
"And if you argue from the account of him walking through closed doors, that his body was always spiritual and wraithlike, and his body must have been a spiritual body even before he suffered, especially since he was able to walk on water, then Peter also, who walked lightly upon the water, must also be believed to have had a spiritual body, when it was really a simple case of God showing forth his power of being able to overcome the forces of nature. To make it quite clear that this great sign was for the purpose of showing God's power, and not for changing nature into something different, remember that Peter who walked on the water by faith, would have sunk as soon as his faith wavered, if the hand of the Lord had not lifted him up, saying, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?' (Matthew 14.26-31).
"I am astonished that you can be so stubborn [or pig-headed? lit, 'harden your forehead'] when the Lord has said, 'Reach out your finger and touch my hands, and thrust your hand into my side, and don't be faithless but believing' (John 20.27). And again, 'Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me, and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you can see that I have. And when he had said that, he showed them his hands and his feet' (Luke 24.39). Bones, flesh, feet, hands - are you listening? Don't talk to me of the airy rubbish about the spheres that the Stoics go on about.
"But if you want to talk about infants who have committed no sin being saved from the devil, and what age they will appear to be in the resurrection, having died at a variety of different ages, I don't suppose you will be pleased with my answer - 'The judgments of God are like a bottomless deep' (Psalms 36.6), and, 'O the depth of the riches of the knowledge and wisdom of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out! Who shall know the mind of the Lord or who will give him counsel?' (Romans 11.33). The essential integrity of the body is not altered by the variety of ages through which it passes. Our bodies are daily in a state of flux, either getting stronger or getting weaker; are we constantly changing into different people because our bodies change? Am I not the same person when I was ten as when I was thirty, or fifty, or now when I am gray-headed? So then, the traditions of the church and the apostle Paul reply that we are resurrected into the perfect man, according to the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4.13). The Jews assume Adam to have been created as if at the age of thirty; it is the age at which we read that our Lord and Saviour arose from the dead."
All this and a great deal more I offered him from both Testaments in order to confound this heretic. From that day onwards she conceived a detestation of the man and of all those who were of his opinion, and publicly declared that they were the enemies of the Lord. I said it all not in the hope that I would be able to refute his heresy thus briefly, for it would take many books to do that. But I did want to outline the true faith to this great woman, for she always preferred to endure the hostility of other people, rather than offend God by forming harmful friendships.
But I must return to the main drift of my story. I have never met anyone more teachable than her. She was always slow to speak and swift to hear (James 1.19), mindful of the precept 'Hear, O Israel, and be still'. She knew the Scriptures by heart. She loved the histories, and said that all truth was founded on them, but she was even more eager to discern the spiritual truth underlying them, and with this keystone she ensured the integrity of the building of her soul. She asked that she and her daughter might read over the old and new Testaments under my guidance. Out of modesty I would not agree at first, but at last in reply to her many persistent requests I agreed to pass on to her what I had learnt from the famous teachers of the Church, not presuming to be that worst type of teacher, someone who thinks he knows it all. Whenever I hesitated, and frankly confessed that I was not quite sure of the right answer, she would not leave it there, but would keep on probing, urging me to say which of various different opinions was most likely to be the right one.
I will tell you something else she did, which to anyone who has tried it would seem to be quite impossible. She said she wanted to learn Hebrew, and gave herself diligently to it. Now I had studied Hebrew from my youth up with much sweat and toil, and have never ceased to ruminate in it, lest the knowledge of it desert me. But she can now sing the psalms in Hebrew, and pronounce the words without a trace of a Latin accent. Even today her holy daughter Eustochium displays the same kind of ability - but of course she has always remained very close to her mother, and obeyed her commands. She has never slept apart from her, or gone anywhere without her, eaten apart from her, or possessed a single nummus of her own. She was perfectly happy for the patrimony of her father and mother to be distributed to the poor; she was quite certain that the godliness of her parents was the richest possible inheritance she could receive.
I must not pass over, either, how joyful she was to hear her grandchild, Paula, the daughter of her son Toxotius and Laeta, lisp out falteringly while still in her cradle the words "Alleluia", and "gran'ma" and "aunt". Little Paula had been conceived in answer to a vow that she would be dedicated to virginity when she grew up, and there was one reason alone for the grandmother to wish to see her native land again, and that was that she might see that her son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter had renounced the world and dedicated themselves to the service of Christ. And that has been granted to her in part. For although the granddaughter has not yet fulfilled her destiny of becoming the bride of Christ, her daughter in law has vowed herself to perpetual chastity, and follows her mother-in-law's example of faith and almsgiving, resolved to do in Rome the same sort of thing that Paula does in Bethlehem.
O my soul, what is the matter with you? Why are you so afraid of telling about her death? I have already spun my tale out longer than necessary, unwilling to come to the end of her life, as if by keeping quiet about it and concentrating on praising her, I could put off the evil day. Up till now we have travelled with favourable winds, and my keel has ploughed smoothly through the heaving waves of the sea, but now I am running upon the rocks, with tumultuous waves threatening on all sides. We are so badly in danger of shipwreck that I cry out, 'Master, save us, we perish!' (Luke 8.24), and 'Arise, O Lord, why are you sleeping?' (Psalms 44.23).
For how can anyone tell the story of Paula's death with dry eyes? She fell into a severe illness, in which she indeed seemed to welcome the idea of leaving us in order to be joined to the Lord. The loving care which her daughter, Eustochium, had always shown towards her came even more to the fore in this illness, for she sat by her bedside, fanned her, supported her head, plumped up her pillows, rubbed her feet, massaged her stomach, straitened out the bedclothes, warmed water for her, and brought her towels. In fact she forestalled the other nurses in all their duties, counting it loss to herself if anyone else did anything for her at all.
What tears she shed, what sighs and laments she uttered, as she ran back and forth between the cave of the Lord and the place where Paula was lying! How often she begged that she might not lose such a dear companion, or if she must, that she might share the same bier with her. How frail and fleeting is our mortal nature! Had it not been for the faith of Christ which raises us to the heavens with the promise of eternal life, our fate is one with the bodies of beasts both wild and tame. There is one grave for both the righteous and the ungodly, the good and the evil, the clean and the unclean, the worshipper and the non-worshipper. The good man and the sinner both come to the same end, as do the man who swears and the man who fears to take an oath. Both men and beasts, we all go down into dust and ashes (Ecclesiastes 9.2).
Why do I delay? Why make it into a much sadder story by dragging things out! This most discerning of women knew that her end was near. Both body and limbs were growing cold; only the warmth of her soul still struggled in her holy breast. As if she were going home and saying goodbye to strangers, she murmured 'Lord I have loved the beauty of your house and the place where your glory dwells' (Psalms 26.8), and, 'How lovely are your tabernacles, O Lord of might! My soul faints with longing to enter into the courts of the Lord' (Psalms 84.1-2), and, 'I had rather be the least in the house of God than dwell in the tents of the ungodly' (ibid.10).
I spoke to her, she fell silent, and when I asked her why, and whether she was in pain, she replied in Greek that she had no pain, but that all was peace and tranquillity. She spoke to us no more, but closed her eyes as though taking leave of everything mortal, and continued until her last breath repeating those words from the Psalms, so softly that we could scarcely hear them. She lifted her hand to her mouth and made the sign of the cross on her lips. Her spirits sank, she gasped for breath, her soul struggled to break forth, the death rattle which usually accompanies death was turned into the praise of the Lord.
The bishop of Jerusalem and some from other cities, numbers from the lower priesthood and the Levites all gathered together; [i.e. bishops, priests and deacons, in our terms. Priesthood, sacerdotium, resided primarily in the bishop, and to presbyters if the bishop so chose to confer it. The levitical class, the deacons, were a class on their own] groups of monks and virgins filled every monastery to overflowing. And when Paula heard the bridegroom calling, 'Arise, my love, my fair one, my dove, for the winter is past and gone, the rains have ceased', she joyfully replied, 'The flowers are seen on the earth, the time to cut them has come' (Song of Songs 2.10-11), and, 'I truly believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living' (Psalms 27.13).
There was no weeping or lamentation such as is customary among people of the world, but all joined together in singing psalms in their various tongues. The bishops bowed their necks to carry her bier, while others brought torches and tapers to lead the choirs of psalmody as she was placed in the middle of the church of the Saviour's cave. The whole of Jerusalem turned out for her funeral. Was there a single hermit who kept to his desert cell? Was there a virgin who remained enclosed? They would all have deemed it sacrilege not to have paid their last respects to such a great woman. The poor and the widows all showed the garments which she had provided them with, following the example of Dorcas (Acts 9.39). A large crowd of the needy cried aloud that they had lost a mother and a nurse.
Wonderful to relate, her face had not become pallid; her features were as grave and dignified as if she were not dead but sleeping. Psalms could be heard being sung in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Syriac, not only during the three days before she was laid to rest in the church of the Saviour's cave, but for the rest of the week as well. All those there shed tears as if it were their own funeral they were attending. Her revered daughter Eustochium, as if being newly weaned, could hardly be dragged away from her mother. She kissed her eyes, she laid her cheek on hers, she embraced her whole body in her desire to be buried with her.
As Jesus is my witness, she left not a single nummus to her daughter, only a mountain of debt, as I have already mentioned, and what was even more difficult, she left an immense host of brothers and sisters who were difficult to maintain and whom it would have been quite wrong to cast off. Can there be anything more astonishing than that this woman sprung from the most noble of families, formerly of immense wealth, had so divested herself of everything she owned that she finished up in the extremes of poverty herself? Others may boast of the alms they have given, or of the rewards stored up for them in God's treasury, or of the votive gifts hanging in the midst of tapers of gold. But no one has given so much to the poor that nothing was left for herself. But now she enjoys those riches and delights which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor entered into the heart of mankind (Isaiah 64.4 & 1 Corinthians 2.9). If we were to carry on weeping for her now that she reigns with Christ, it would seem as if we were weeping because we ourselves were envious of her glory.
Rest secure, Eustochium. You have been endowed with a great inheritance. The Lord is your portion, and what should rejoice you more, you mother has been given the crown of her long martyrdom. Martyrs are not only those who have shed their blood; the pure offering of a devoted soul is itself a daily martyrdom. She has been crowned with roses and violets, albeit lilies are reserved for those who have shed their blood. Hence it is that we read in the Song of Songs 'My beloved is white and ruddy' (Song of Songs 5.10); God gives the same reward to anyone who is victorious, whether in peace or in war.
Your mother paid heed to the same command as was given to Abraham, 'Leave your own land and nation and go into a land that I will show you' (Genesis 12.1). The Lord also warned through the words of Jeremiah, 'Flee from Babylon and save your souls' (Jeremiah 50.28). Paula likewise left her own land and to the day of her death did not return to the land of the Chaldees, [i.e. Rome. cf. Genesis 11.31] nor did she hanker after the fleshpots of Egypt (Exodus 16.3), but joined to the company of virgins she became a citizen of the city of the Lord, and now that she has gone up from the little town of Bethlehem to the kingdom of heaven, she says to the real Noemi, 'Your people is my people, and your God is my God' (Ruth 1.16).
I have burned the midnight oil for two nights over this little essay for you, [14,679 English words to this point, probably about 7000 Latin words. Not bad going for two nights' work!] with the same sort of grief as you must be feeling. I have had to dictate it, for as often as I have picked up my pen to do what I had promised you, my fingers just went stiff, my hand failed me, I lost all sensation in it. Hence the unpolished style, lacking any elegance or verbal charm, which bears witness to the writer's feelings.
Farewell, O Paula, and may your prayers come to the aid of one who holds you in deep reverence. Your faith and works unite you to Christ. Now you are in his very presence you may gain answers to your requests all the more easily. In your honour I have built a monument more lasting than bronze, which the years will not be able to destroy. I have had a eulogy inscribed on your tomb, which I here copy out for you, so that wherever the words that I have written may reach to, the reader may know that your praise is also recorded in Bethlehem where you are buried.
THE INSCRIPTION ON PAULA'S TOMB
Offspring of Scipio, born of the Pauline house, an offshoot of the Gracchi, and descendant of the famous Agamemnon, here in this grave lies Paula, so-named after her ancestors. Eustochium was her daughter. She was the first of Roman ladies. She chose poverty with Christ and Bethlehem for her country. ON THE FRONT OF THE CAVE
Do you see this sepulchre, carved out of the living rock? It is the tomb of Paula who now lives in the heavenly kingdom. She left her brother, her family, Rome, her native land, her wealth, her children, and is buried in this Bethlehem cave. Your manger, O Christ is here, and here the Magi, bearing their mystical gifts, worshipped the God-made-man.
The holy and blessed Paula fell asleep on the seventh day before the Kalends of February, [22 January] on the third day of the week, after sunset. She was buried on the fifth day before the Kalends of February, [24 January] in the sixth consulship of Honorius Augustus, and the first of AristŠnetus. [The year 404]
She lived in religious vows for five years at Rome and twenty years at Bethlehem. She died at the age of fifty-six years, eight months and twenty-one days.
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