Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Paulinus of Nola

“The poor widow has put more in than all who contributed.” (Mt: 12:44)

“What have you,” asks the Apostle, “that you have not received?” This means, beloved, that we should not be miserly, regarding possessions as our own, but should rather invest what has been entrusted to us.

We have been entrusted with the administration and use of temporal wealth for the common good, not with the everlasting ownership of private property.

If you accept the fact that ownership on earth is only for a time, you can earn eternal possessions in heaven.

Call to mind the widow who forgot herself in her concern for the poor, and, thinking only of the life to come, gave away all her means of subsistence, as the judge himself bears witness.

Others, he says, have given of their superfluous wealth; but she, possessed of only two small coins and more needy perhaps than many of the poor—though in spiritual riches she surpassed all the wealthy—she thought only of the world to come, and had such a longing for heavenly treasure that she gave away, all at once, whatever she had that was derived from the earth and destined to return there.

Let us then invest with the Lord what he has given us, for we have nothing that does not come from him: we are dependent upon him for our very existence.

And we ourselves particularly, who have a special and a greater debt, since God not only created us but purchased us as well—what can we regard as our own when we do not possess even ourselves?

But let us rejoice that we have been bought at a great price, the price of the Lord’s own blood, and that because of this we are no longer worthless slaves.

For there is a freedom that is baser than slavery, namely, freedom from justice. Whoever has that kind of freedom is a slave of sin and a prisoner of death.

So let us give back to the Lord the gifts he has given us; let us give to him who receives in the person of every poor man or woman. Let us give gladly, I say, and great joy will be ours when we receive his promised reward.

Letter 34, 2-4: CSEL 29, 305-06

Paulinus of Nola (353/54-431), was the son of a noble family of Bordeaux. He seems to have received a good education, and sat at the feet of the famous Ausonius. After a brief public career he was baptized, and in agreement with his wife Therasia retired from the world, after dividing his fortune between the Church and the poor. He was ordained priest at Barcelona in 394. Shortly afterward he settled at Nola, near the tomb of Saint Felix, and with his wife opened a home for monks and the poor. In 409 he was ordained bishop. Paulinus was the foremost Christian Latin poet of this period, and the friend of Martin of Tours, Ambrose, and Augustine. Many of his letters survive. They are filled with Christian hope and charity and reflect the Church’s understanding of the mystery of salvation.

Jacob of Serugh

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson