Today, 31 Aug 2012, is the memorial of St Paulinus of Trier, a valiant bishop of the 4th century. For St Paulinus to remain in honour in the Church, despite not leaving any extant writings behind and the upheavals of the Reformation and World Wars, testifies that he was a remarkable holy man and an excellent intercessor. His relics are preserved in the crypt of the church of St Paulin in Trier.
St Paulinus of Trier started life in south-west France, somewhere in the region known as Gascony or Aquitaine. To leave his home land and go to Poitiers in central-western France to study at the cathedral school shows us his commitment to God and to study was present already in his formative years. When St Maximinus went to Trier to seek the way of holiness at the feet of St Agritius, bishop of Trier, a major city on the banks of the Moselle River near the current border of France and Germany, Paulinus went with him. This shows a continuing commitment to seek holiness on Paulinus’s part and a willingness to go where ever God leads him.
St Maximinus became bishop upon the death of St Agritius in the late 330s or early 340s. Paulinus was there with him when St Maximinus warmly welcomed St Athanasius, who had been sent to Trier as an exile from Alexandria because of his opposition to the Arian heresy. At stake in this rather violent theological conflict was the Church’s understanding of the nature of God. Athanasius, Maximinus and Paulinus held to the apostolic teaching that Jesus was truly divine, only-begotten and totally equal to the Father. Arius and his followers held that Jesus was less than divine, and less than equal to the Father. Both sides argued from Scripture, and the consequent implications for the extent of the salvation won for us by Jesus were huge. If Jesus were divine, then many things followed from that. If Jesus was created by God, then very different theological implications followed.
So Paulinus was formed by men of outstanding holiness : Agritius, Maximinus and Athanasius, and learned how to follow Jesus wholeheartedly from each one of them. St Athanasius in his writings called Paulinus, ‘a truly apostolic man.’ By 349, Paulinus had succeeded Maximinus as bishop of Trier, and when Athanasius was sent to Trier as an exile again Paulinus welcomed him and honoured him, even through Athanasius had incurred the wrath of those who did not want to accept the decrees of the Council of Nicea.
In 351 Paulinus set out from Trier to attend the second Council of Sirmium, in north-west Serbia on the banks of the Sava River. Sirmium at that time was one of the four capital cities of the Roman Empire and the capital of the prefecture of Illyricum. That was a long way to travel to defend the Faith against the Arian heresy, but he did it. In 353 Paulinus travelled again, this time to the Council of Arles, a French city on the banks of the Rhone River close to the Mediterranean Sea. Here Paulinus gave a passionate defence of Athanasius’s person and doctrine to those assembled for the Council. St Hillary mentions this in his ‘Ad Constantium’.
So strongly did Paulinus champion the divinity of Christ Crucified that he was willing to stand up for God’s truth and take the consequences. Accordingly those allied to the Arian cause lobbied to get Paulinus banished by Emperor Constantius II, along with others who objected to the treatment of Athanasius. Once more Paulinus made a long journey, this time into exile, to a place called Phrygia which today is in the eastern part of Turkey; a place considered to be full of heathens and heretics. Regarding Paulinus, St Jerome wrote that this bishop of Trier was ‘happy in his sufferings’ for the faith.
In 358, after about 5 years in exile, St Paulinus breathed his last and entered the eternal home prepared for him by God. When the worst of the Arian heresy died down, the believers of Trier arranged for the remains of St Paulinus to be returned to Trier in 395. His holy life has been honoured there ever since.
Just like Jesus, St Paulinus was willing to leave his home and to travel where God sent him. He was willing to stand up and be counted for the truth, even though it meant difficulty, ridicule and exile far from all familiar things. He cheerfully accepted the cost of following in the footsteps of Jesus, and has left us a luminous example of holiness.
St Paulinus of Trier, pray for us.