About St. Paul

St. Paul the First Hermit is very dear to the Pauline Fathers.  Though he was not the founder of the order named after him, in fact he lived long before the order was founded, he was the saint that our founding fathers took as their patron and guide.

The Life of Paulus the First Hermit

The Life of Paulus the First Hermit written by St Jerome of Stridon with a commentary by Br. Casimir

A Vita is a particular form of literature that marks a transition from the acts of martyrdom to more hagiographical writings equally seeking to inspire and edify Christians. It is not a biography in the modern sense, and is written for a certain set purpose with a particular aim to inspire. It is not devoid of historical fact, but rather uses various symbols and images to illustrate its purpose. The Vita presents a new type of Hero for a new type of Christian, living in a new age, which, not least of all includes Jerome himself.

The Life of Paulus the First Hermit

Early Christian asceticism In the Vita of St Paul the First Hermit

Early Christian asceticism In the Vita of St Paul the First Hermit is an essay written about St Paul the First hermit, by Br Casimir, in 2016 as part of a seminar on Christian Asceticism at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome. It provides an interesting commentary and insight into the person of St Paul the First Hermit.

Early Christian asceticism In the Vita of St Paul the First Hermit

St. Paul the First Hermit, Patron of our Order

St. Paul the First Hermit, also known as St. Paul of Thebes was born around 227 AD. in the Thebaid region of Egypt.  He is best known in the West through an account of his life recorded by St. Jerome. 

St. Jerome tells us that as a young man he was gifted in learning but also filled with a deep love of God.  He lost both of his parents when he was about 16, leaving him, and his married sister, a rich inheritance.  However his brother-in-law desiring all the inheritance, planed to take advantage of the persecution then raging in Egypt and denounce him as a Christian.  Paul chose to flee into the desert until the persecution should pass. However he soon fell in love with this new life, and stayed, and there in the desert spent the rest of his life in prayer and solitude.  It is from this life that the Order named after him would takes it motto, Solus cum Deo solo — alone with God alone.

He would survive this time in desert living in a cave in which flowed a stream of water.  He would eat the dates from the palm tree that grew outside, and use its leaves to weave a course kind of garment. God would also begin to send him a raven with half a loaf of bread each day, recalling Elijah the prophet’s time in the desert.

It would be these elements that the Order would later use for its coat of arms, the Palm tree, and the raven with the bread the it brough, along with two lions from the account of his death.  The Pauline flag would use colours to represent similar elements, green for the palm tree, yellow for the desert sand, black for the raven, and white for the bread it brought.

Before his death, after nearly 90 years in the desert, St. Paul would receive his first visitor.  The account given to us tells us that St. Anthony the Abbot was being tempted to think he was the first and the greatest of the hermits.  God revealed to him in a dream that there was another. So St. Anthony, though an old man himself, set out to find St. Paul.  The account given to us includes some fantastic events that happened to him during this search that in one way or another symbolise the trials both physical and spiritual of the desert.

Once he found St. Paul, it would be some time before St. Paul would admit him to his cave.  Something that seems much less strange when we realise this was common practice for a spiritual master to let the one seeking him wait outside to test the seriousness of his quest.

After a dispute over who should have the honour of breaking the bread, a full loaf being brought that day by the raven, St. Paul revealed to St. Anthony that he had known that he would come just before his death.  To soften his guest’s sorrow at learning of his approaching death he asked him to bury him in the cloak that St. Athanasius had given him.

St. Anthony hurried off to fetch it, but on the way back he saw the soul of St. Paul being taken up into heaven.  When he arrived he was troubled by the fact that he had no means of digging a grave in which to bury the saint.  It was then that two lions arrived and dug the needed grave with their paws.  St. Anthony then wrapped him in the cloak, and buried him.  He would take St. Paul’s own garment of palm leaves with him and only wear them on the most solemn of occasions.

St. Paul the First Hermit would be taken in the 13th century to be the Patron of the Order that bears his name when Blessed Eusebius gathered the hermits then living in the Pilis mountains together into the monastery of the Holy Cross.  These hermits having a great devotion to the desert fathers chose St. Paul the First Hermit to be their example and patron.