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E04741: Paulinus of Nola, writing in Latin between 395 and 408, in Spain and later Nola (southern Italy), composes fourteen poems (the Natalicia) to be delivered on the feast day of *Felix (priest and confessor of Nola, S00000). These poems provide an account of Felix’s life. They also describe devotion to Felix, focusing on his feast day, 14 January; miracles performed by the saint; and the expansion of Felix’s shrine which took place under Paulinus. Overview entry.

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posted on 29.01.2018, 00:00 by frances
Paulinus of Nola, Natalicia

The Natalicia are a series of poems, each one delivered annually on Felix’s feast day [14 January]. Each poem starts with a statement to this effect, a declaration of Felix’s holiness, and Paulinus’ duty to celebrate this.

Natalicium 1 [AD 395]
Paulinus describes his desire to travel to Nola.

Natalicium 2 [396]
Paulinus describes his journey to Nola.

Natalicium 3 [397]
Paulinus describes the devotion of pilgrims to Felix, his miraculous powers and his feast day celebrations. The feast day is identified as twenty days after the solstice, on which day Christ was born in the flesh (post solstitium, quo Christus corpore natus). For more on this theme – which appears throughout all fourteen poems of the Natalicia – see $E04767.

Natalicium 4 [398]
An account of Felix’s life is given. In a period of persecution, Felix rises to be the de-facto leader of the Christians in Nola when Maximus, the bishop, fled. He was tortured and imprisoned. Here two miracles are described: Paulinus is miraculously freed from prison. He then finds a weakened Maximus in the wilderness and restores him to health.

Natalicium 5 [399]
Paulinus continues the account of Felix’s life. After being freed, Felix's enemies were unable to recognise him, even when speaking to his face. On another occasion, a spider built a web over the entrance of the house he was hiding in, and kept him safe. After this, Paulinus hid in a chamber of a cistern for several months, demonstrating his ascetic prowess. Once the period of persecution was over, Felix returned to society, but continued to live modestly.

Natalicium 6 [400]
Paulinus opens this poem by considering the nature of miracles. Felix’s soul lives on after death, and so can bring about miracles on earth. The strength to effect these miracles comes from Christ.

Paulinus then describes Felix’s death and funeral: although his death was a happy occasion, the grief and devotion of the people of Nola – exemplified in their desire to see, touch and kiss the body – demonstrate his sanctity.

The healing miracles effected at the tomb are further evidence of this sanctity. Paulinus gives an example. A farmer’s oxen were stolen, he went to the shrine of Felix and, weeping, demanded the return of the beasts. The farmer prayed all day. Although Felix was amused by the audacity of the farmer’s demands, he returned the oxen because he was impressed by the faith of this simple man. The farmer returned to Felix’s shrine and related this tale to all gathered there.

Natalicium 7 [401]
Felix’s exorcism miracles are mentioned. A hook from a lamp caught Theridius, a monk, in the eye, injuring him severely. Theridius prayed to Felix for aid, which was provided. He retrieved the hook and his eye was washed clean and healed with tears. Felix is identified as the special guardian of the audience of this poem.

Natalicium 8 [402]
The people of Nola ought to reach out to Felix for aid in times of hardship and invasion. Paulinus describes the suffering of a farm labourer who was possessed by an evil spirit which caused him to devour the raw flesh of animals. He was cured in the church of Felix. Paulinus describes how crowds are routinely cured by Felix’s power. He also states that each saint has their own 'brightness' (lumen), but all are equal as the same God works through them.

Natalicium 9 [403]
Paulinus celebrates the presence of Nicetas, bishop of Remesiana, in modern Serbia, (ob. 414) at Felix’s feast day celebrations. He then describes the basilica complex, completed under his guidance, at Felix’s shrine in Cimitile, Nola. See $E04768.

Natalicium 10 [404]
The basilica complex is described in further detail. The miraculous burning of two small huts, which ruined the beauty of the complex, is narrated. None of the buildings of the basilica were harmed, due to the protection afforded by a relic of the True Cross.

Natalicium 11 [405]
Paulinus states that great saints are granted to great cities, and places Nola alongside cities such as Rome, which houses the Apostles, *Peter (S00036) and *Paul (S00008). Felix is able to torment any demons which enter his church in Nola and heal those who need it. Paulinus also describes the translation of various relics, referring to Ambrose’s discovery and translation of the bodies of holy men, Gervasius and Protasius (martyrs of Milan, S00313) and Constantine’s translation of the relics of *Andrew (the Apostle, S00288) and *Timothy (the disciple of Paul the Apostle, S00466) to Constantinople.

Paulinus recounts one story to demonstrate Felix’s power. A thief attempted to steal treasures from Felix’s church, including a golden cross. The man took sanctuary in the church pretending he was evading military service. He attempted to travel to Rome, but was unable to leave the vicinity of Nola and was soon caught after walking in circles for many days. The thief had been unable to break up the golden cross which was then returned to the church.

Natalicium 12 [406]
Paulinus recounts three stories, all of which relate to animals. A stranger from Abella [near Nola] fulfilled a vow he had made by slaughtering a pig in Nola for the poor. He divided the head and offal between the poor, and retained the body for himself. The man was thrown from his horse, which returned to Felix’s church. The man also returned, supported by others as he could not walk properly. He distributed all the meat to the poor and was healed.

Several farmers brought a pig as an offering to Felix. The pig was so fat it could not walk, so they turned back to get piglets to offer instead. When they reached the house, the pig had returned to the house and was willing to be slaughtered.

Other men planned to offer a heifer to the poor. The animal refused a yoke, but galloped ahead to the shrine of Felix, of its own accord.

Natalicium 13 [407]
Paulinus celebrates the end of fighting, and attributes this to Felix, Peter and Paul. He narrates stories from his own life and attributes his own conversion to Felix’s influence. Regularly, perfumed oil (nardus) would be poured into the tomb, and the resulting discharge was thought to have miraculous powers. One day, strange dust and pieces of bone were found in this oil. Fearing an animal had entered the tomb, they opened it. Yet no animal was found, and Felix remained undisturbed. See $E05123.

Natalicium 14 [408]
[incomplete] Paulinus begins by restating Felix’s sanctity and his duty to praise him.

Summary: Frances Trzeciak.

History

Evidence ID

E04741

Saint Name

Felix, priest and confessor of Nola (southern Italy) : S00000 Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Gervasius and Protasius, martyrs of Milan : S00313 Timothy, the disciple of Paul the Apostle : S00466 Andrew, the Apostle : S0028

Saint Name in Source

Felix Petrus Paulus Gervasius, Protasius Timotheus Andreas

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts Literary - Poems

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

395

Evidence not after

408

Activity not before

395

Activity not after

408

Place of Evidence - Region

Italy south of Rome and Sicily Italy south of Rome and Sicily

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Nola Cimitile

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

Nola Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare Cimitile Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare

Major author/Major anonymous work

Paulinus of Nola

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miracle during lifetime Exorcism Healing diseases and disabilities Miracle with animals and plants Miraculous sound, smell, light Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Miraculous protection - of people and their property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics – unspecified Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Peasants Demons Crowds Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Oil lamps/candles Precious cloths Crosses Flowers

Source

The Natalicia are a series of poems which were composed by Paulinus of Nola (ob. 431), to be delivered annually on Felix’s feast day (14 January) between 395 and 408. These poems were written and delivered before Paulinus became bishop of Nola. Natalicium 1 was composed in Spain whilst the rest of the poems were written and delivered at Nola. They provide an insight into the development of the cult of Felix in Nola under Paulinus. They are often understood in the classical tradition of ‘birthday poems’ – in this case Felix’s birthday being the day he was reborn in heaven. Yet Roberts (2010) has argued they equally incorporate tropes from epideictic poetry and speeches delivered at public festivals. Additionally, Nat. 3 and 4 – sometimes called the Vita Felicis – draw on hagiographic tropes. The Natalicia have been re-edited in their original order by Dolveck (2015), the numbering we follow. A concordance with the numbering of Wilhelm Hartel's earlier edition (1894) is offered below: Natalicium 1 (395) - Carmen 12 Natalicium 2 (396) - Carmen 13 Natalicium 3 (397) - Carmen 14 Natalicium 4 (398) - Carmen 15 Natalicium 5 (399) - Carmen 16 Natalicium 6 (400) - Carmen 18 Natalicium 7 (401) - Carmen 23 Natalicium 8 (402) - Carmen 26 Natalicium 9 (403) - Carmen 27 Natalicium 10 (404) - Carmen 28 Natalicium 11 (405) - Carmen 19 Natalicium 12 (406) - Carmen 20 Natalicium 13 (407) - Carmen 21 Natalicium 14 (408) - Carmen 29

Discussion

Several major themes are addressed throughout the Natalicia, including: The devotion of pilgrims and the residents of Nola to Felix (Nat. 3, 9, see E04373). The identification of Felix as a special patron of Nola (Nat. 3, 7, 11, see E04767). Miracles effected by Felix (Nat. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 12). The building works Paulinus oversaw at the basilica complex surrounding Felix's tomb in Nola/Cimitile (Nat. 9 and 10, see E04768). Paulinus notably characterises Felix as a martyr 'without blood' (sine sanguine). In doing so, he indicates that Felix suffered as a martyr - he was persecuted and lived an ascetic life - even if he did not die violently. He thus claims that he was equal in worth to those who died as martyrs: the usual way sanctity was gained. Paulinus describes Felix’s miracles at length. These miracles show a range of devotees to the cult, from the outspoken farmer who demanded Felix return his cattle (Nat. 6), to the more eloquent monk, Theridius, who humbly laments his sins and beseeches Felix for aid (Nat. 7). This reflects the variety of devotees to Felix’s cult, and the importance of faith, and not eloquence, in supplication to the saint. Paulinus also includes a consideration of the nature of miracles in Nat. 6. They are a visible sign of the holiness of the saint. Their power originates with Christ, and they can only be brought about because the soul remains alive after the body dies. Paulinus' account of the miracles regarding the animals slaughtered at Felix's shrine (Nat. 12) repurposes tropes relating to non-Christian ritual sacrifices - for example the willingness of the sacrificial animal and the denotation of this animal as victima or sacer - for a Christian audience. The animal is clearly slaughtered to provide food for the poor. In these stories, we also see a clear example of the social contract between saint and devotee. The vow must be fulfilled, or (as in the case of the man in the first story who only donated inferior meat to the poor) the dishonest devotee will face the consequences. The fighting mentioned in Nat. 8 and Nat. 13 refers to the invasions of Italy by Alaric the Visigoth which took place in the first decade of the fifth century. It is possible that Paulinus himself bought off Alaric, and in doing so saved Nola from destruction. See also the Martyrologium Hieronymianum for the identification of Felix's feast day as the 14th January (E04609).

Bibliography

Edition Dolveck, Franz, Carmina, Paulini Nolani (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 21; Turnhout: Brepols, 2015), 293–493. Translation Walsh, P.G., The Poems of Paulinus of Nola (Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Newman Press, 1975) pp. 73-105; 114-201; 209-220; 254-307. Further Reading Mratschek, Sigrid, ‘Multis enim notissima est sanctitas loci: Paulinus and the Gradual Rise of Nola as a Center of Christian Hospitality’, Journal of Early Christian Studies, 9(4) (2001) 511-53. Trout, Dennis, Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters and Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975). Roberts, Michael, ‘Rhetoric and the Natalica of Paulinus of Nola’, Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, 95(2) (2010), 53-69 Evenepoel, W., ‘Paulinus of Nola, Carmen 26: The Threat of War, St Felix and Old Testament Examples of the Power of God and of his Saints’, in: The Impact of Scripture in Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 1999) pp. 133-160.

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