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E02874: Paulinus of Nola, in a letter to Sulpicius Severus, rebukes him for neglecting a promised visit to the shrine of *Felix (priest and confessor of Nola, S00000), even though he frequently visits the shrine of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in Gaul. Letter written in Latin at Nola (southern Italy), c. 399.

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posted on 2017-06-01, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Paulinus of Nola, Letter 17.4

Causari infirmitatem magis quam pigritiam uel exceptionem personarum qui possis, nescio, cum intra annum eadem opera ad nos potueris peruenire ac recurrere, qua Gallicanas peregrinationes tot annis frequentas et iteratis saepe intra unam aestatem excursibus Turonos et remotiora uisitas. Non inuideo, praedico magis deuotionem tuam in domino, quam in seruis suis admiraris et honoras. Iuste fateor et merito Martinum frequentari; sed dico iniuste pernicioseque Felicem ab eodem, qui illum honoret, promissis inanibus ludi uel secura promissi iam ut aboliti dissimulatione contemni. Qua fide speras Christi gratiam in honore Martini, eadem Christi offensam in offensione Felicis; et tibi forsitan mens fortior et anima robustior aut potens conscientia perfectae in Christo dilectionis tantam ministret fiduciam, ut magnorum fidei et operationis tuae meritorum conpensatione delictum hoc, quo dominum meum Felicem, quod absit, laeseris, diluendum putes. Quamquam de ipsius etiam tibi bonitate, quam de ipso, cuius spiritus est, deo Christo largissimam habet, ueniam tibi polliceris et fideliter facis: uerum ego uel tam timidum me uitio infirmitatis meae uel tam nimium amoris tui fateor, ut pro te etiam tuta timeam, et dum in omni sancto abundare tibi gratiam Christi cupio, nolim te in eo potissimum, in quo dei caritas est insignis et eminens, lapidem offensionis incurrere. Scio quidem secundum diuitias bonitatis dei et in domino meo Felice uiscera pietatis adfluere; sed tu, quaeso, hoc eum magis diligas et timeas, quo melior est et indulgentior. Magnam tibi talis formido mercedem pariet, ut hinc sollicitior sis, unde potes esse securior, id est ut tanto magis carissimum dei metuas offendere, quanto promptius dignatur ignoscere, quia maiore inpietate laeditur qui nescit offendi et grauuius uindicatur a domino qui non expetit uindicari.

'Who you are to be able to plead sickness rather than laziness or choosiness about persons [to honour], I do not know. For you could have visited me and hastened back within a year. The effort would have been only the same as you have repeatedly expended on travelling in Gaul all these years, visiting Tours and more distant places often more than once within the same summer. I am not envious; I praise your devotion to the Lord more than your admiration and recognition for his servants. I admit that Martin deservedly merits his visits. But I maintain that Felix is undeservedly and wrongfully mocked by the empty promises of the man who honours Martin, or is held in contempt by a dissembling which feels secure in regarding a promise made as now annulled. The faith which makes you hopeful of Christ's favour in honouring Martin must also make you fearful of his offence if you offend Felix. Yet perhaps your mind is more intrepid and your soul hardier, or strong in its awareness of your perfect love for Christ, so that you believe the sin with which you have afflicted my lord Felix (may it not be so) can be expiated and compensated for by your great and deserving merits of faith and good works. But though you promise yourself pardon and base your actions on faith because of the goodness shown to you by Felix, who derives it in great abundance from Christ our God himself, whose breath he is, I confess I am so fearful because of my fault of weakness, or so excessively devoted to you, that on your behalf I fear even what is safe. I want you to have abundance of Christ's grace through every saint, but I should not like you to encounter a stumbling block, especially not in the saint in whom God's love is notable and outstanding. I know that my Lord Felix, too, abounds with fatherly love through the riches of God's goodness, but I beg you to increase your love and fear for him as he shows greater goodness and kindness. Such fear will win you a great reward, and your greater anxiety will be the cause of your greater safety. In other words, you should fear to offend him, who is most dear to God, accordingly as he readily deigns to pardon you. For it is the greater impiety to insult one who refuses to take offence; he who does not look to be avenged is more heavily avenged by the Lord.'

Text: Hartel/Kamptner 1999, 127-128. Translation: Walsh 1967, 165-166, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix priest and confessor of Nola (southern Italy) : S00000 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source

Felix Martinus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy south of Rome and Sicily

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Nola Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare

Major author/Major anonymous work

Paulinus of Nola

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


Letter 17 in the letter collection of Paulinus of Nola (ob. 431). It is one of many letters which Paulinus addressed to aristocratic and ascetic Roman circles in the later fourth and early fifth centuries. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Paulinus did not curate any collection of his letters: instead collections were compiled by friends and admirers. The letter dates from after the death of Martin of Tours in 397; the standard modern work on the chronology of Paulinus' letters dates it to 399 (Fabre 1948, 25-26).


This passage comes from one of the thirteen surviving letters from Paulinus to his friend Sulpicius Severus, the disciple and biographer of Martin of Tours. In previous letters, Paulinus had repeatedly invited Sulpicius to visit him at Nola. The present letter begins with Paulinus expressing his impatience at Severus for his failure to visit him at Nola or to reply promptly to Paulinus' letters (17.1), especially since Severus had at some point promised to visit. In this passage, Paulinus takes his rebuke to Severus a step further by suggesting that his apparent lack of interest in visiting Nola is disrespectful not only to him, but to Felix, the saint whose shrine had drawn Paulinus to settle there. Paulinus begins by contrasting Severus' willingness to visit Tours and other places in Gaul several times a year with his apparent unwillingness to travel to Nola even once. Paulinus praises Severus for the respect that he pays to Martin, but goes on to suggest that his seeming lack of interest in paying respect to Felix will incur God's anger. Paulinus suggests that although Felix is so generous that he himself would never be angered by such seeming disrespect, God might nonetheless be angered on his behalf, and might punish Severus in some way. Paulinus and Severus were close friends, and subsequent letters to Severus from Paulinus show that the seeming tension between them was transient. Given this context, it is possible that the suggestion Severus could be punished by God for not paying sufficient respect to Felix is more playful than it may seem when read in isolation.


Edition: Hartel, W., Sancti Pontii Meropii Paulini Epistulae, 2nd ed., revised M. Kamptner (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 29; Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, 1999). Translation: Walsh, P.G., Letters of St. Paulinus of Nola, vol. 1 (Ancient Christian Writers 35; Westminster MD: Newman Press, 1967). Further Reading: Conybeare, Catherine, Paulinus Noster: Self and Symbols in the Letters of Paulinus of Nola (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). Fabre, P., Essai sur la chronologie de l'œuvre de saint Paulin de Nole (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1948). Trout, D., Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters and Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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