Paula of Rome vs. Marcella of Rome

Yesterday, in one of the tightest matches in Lent Madness history, Pandita Ramabai snuck past Damien of Molokai despite a virtual dead heat. With over 8,500 votes cast, she won by a mere 45 votes. She'll square off against Marguerite d'Youville in the Saintly Sixteen. Close observers of this tight contest watched as Pandita staked out a slim early lead, watched as Damien came storming back as the Hawaiians woke up -- literally -- because of the time difference, and then Pandita's enthusiastic advocates tipped the scales. Whew!

Today, it's the Battle of Rome as contemporaries Paula of Rome and Marcella of Rome clash for the exclusive right to claim Rome as their own. Who will end up as queen of the Eternal City? You won't have to wait an eternity to find out, but a mere 24 hours.

And in case you missed yesterday's edition of Monday Madness, why not watch it right now? You'll be reminded of why Tim and Scott are serious when they claim each episode is never rehearsed and always done in a single take. Also, they share the stunning (and true) news that this week we have passed the 5 millionth page view in Lent Madness history. Not bad for a mom-and-pop online Lenten devotion.

Paula of Rome

Paula of Rome was a wealthy woman purportedly descended from the line of Agamemnon, the Greek king during the Trojan War. When she was 16, she married a nobleman named Toxotius, and they had five children. In her youth, Paula lived extravagantly. She wore lavish silks procured from the finest markets in China. When she traveled around the city streets, a cluster of eunuch slaves carried her.

When Paula was in her thirties, Toxotius died. Then five years later, one of her daughters died. Paula’s grief was so great that she nearly died herself. Inspired by the faith and action of her contemporary Marcella, Paula opened her palace to the needy and set upon a life dedicated to God. She met Saint Jerome, who later described the “earnestness of her prayers, the brilliancy of her conversation, the tenacity of her memory, and the quickness of her intellect.” Paula and her daughter Eustochium joined Jerome on a pilgrimage from the bustling city of Rome to the Holy Land and Egypt. Paula settled in Bethlehem and built four monasteries, one for men and the other for women. She fasted, abstained, and lived a destitute life in order to focus on God, spending the rest of her years giving away her vast fortune to the poor.

Paula and Jerome continued working together. Jerome was commissioned to revise the Old Latin Gospels. Paula encouraged Jerome to expand the job and translate most of the books of the Bible into Latin. She provided him with resources for the translation, suggested revisions, and edited the manuscripts. The women of the convents served as scribes, making copies of this groundbreaking work, which became known as the Vulgate, the first translation of the Old Testament directly from Hebrew to Latin (rather than from Hebrew to Greek to Latin). In the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed the Vulgate as its official Latin Bible, and it remained the standard until 1979.

Some have speculated about the extent of the relationship between Jerome and Paula. Yet Jerome’s words about his friend offer important insight to her life’s work. He wrote that Paula continued to practice a life of poverty and ascetic devotion in order “to preserve a singular attachment to God.”

Collect for Paula of Rome
Compel us, O God, to attend diligently to your Word, as your faithful servant Paula, that, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we may find it profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness; and that thereby we may be made wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

-Carol Howard Merritt

Marcella of Rome

Marcella of Rome was born in 325 ce in Rome to wealthy parents. Her father died while she was still young. Her mother, Albina, continued to be an important influence, modeling kindness and care for those who were vulnerable. One of the more noteworthy guests to their home was Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, during one of his many exiles. Upon his departure he gave Marcella a copy of his Life of Antony, a gift that would deeply inform Marcella’s life.

As a prominent noblewoman in Rome, Marcella married a wealthy aristocrat. He died just seven months after their marriage. Shortly thereafter, to the chagrin of her mother, Marcella rejected the marriage offer of an older Roman consul and took on the life of an ascetic. She wore simple clothes and abstained from meat. She regularly fasted and avoided excessive wine. She turned her estate into a place of refuge for those who were poor and vulnerable. As Saint Jerome so aptly wrote, Marcella chose “to store her money in the stomachs of the poor rather than to keep it at her disposal.” The community in her home came to be known as the Brown Dress Society, on account of their simple and unadorned attire.

Although education was not commmon for women in that time, Marcella also became a student of the scriptures, reading them in both Hebrew and Greek. Jerome, the famed translator of the Vulgate and one of our best sources on Marcella’s life, clearly thought the world of her and deeply respected her intellect. She is described as a keen mind who would, in spite of social pressures to be a silent woman, engage in rigorous theological debate.

In 410 when the Visigoths sacked Rome, they ravaged wealthy homes; those with money could pay for their survival. The Visigoths approached Marcella’s large estate and were incredulous when she informed them that she had no money. They beat her mercilessly. She was transferred to the Basilica of St. Paul and died there of her wounds.

Collect for Marcella of Rome
O God, who satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry with good things: Grant that we, like your servant Marcella, may hunger and thirst after you more than the vain pomp and glory of the world and delight in your word more than all manner of riches. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

-David Creech

Paula of Rome vs. Marcella of Rome

  • Paula of Rome (57%, 4,088 Votes)
  • Marcella of Rome (43%, 3,118 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,206

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Paula of Rome: By kenward [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Marcella of Rome: Illustration by Alexis Fortuna Caoili

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149 comments on “Paula of Rome vs. Marcella of Rome”

  1. When he wrote about wealthy Marcella
    Turning down that old consular fella,
    The brown dresses she wore,
    And her care for the poor,
    St. Jerome made her life a best-sella.

      1. Just noticed something about the image used with Paula's bio . . . she is shown seated in a fancy chair with a group of nuns. In that time, if I recall correctly, it was still Christian tradition (inherited from the Jewish tradition of Jesus' day) that teaching/preaching was done whilst seated on a fancy chair. Usually it was a Bishop doing the teaching/preaching in the early Church and that is why Cathedrals each have a fancy chair for exclusive use of the local Bishop.

        1. FYI My comment directly prior to this comment was supposed to be in the main thread not as a reply to anyone else's post.

  2. Today's Roman monastic tribute takes us to the musical town of "Chicago" where it can be sung to the tune of "When You're Good to Mama."

    Ask any Roman Christians who lived then,
    They’ll rave about their works from way back when.
    These Rome-born saints from the 4th Century –
    Yes, in both time and space, these women lived as contemporaries.

    Motto by Marcella
    Always sees me through:
    Store your wealth in others,
    Don’t hoard it for you.

    She was born to money.
    Dad died early. Boo!
    So, she’s raised by Mama
    Taught her kindness, too.

    Marcella made her grand estate
    A refuge for the poor.
    When Visigoths could find no cash,
    They beat her all the more.

    Jer and Athanasius
    Gave her great reviews.
    Voting for Marcella
    Will speak well of you!

    Born in wealth and grandeur.
    Nobly married, too.
    Paula life was lavish.
    Hubster said “adieu!”

    Opened up her palace;
    Fed the poor some stew.
    Emigrates with St. J.
    She has work to do.

    She founds four monasteries,
    Fasts, abstains, and prays prostrate.
    With Jer, the Latin Bible wrote -
    Developed the Vulgate.

    Lived as an aesthetic;
    Poverty she knew.
    To get closer to God,
    Money she’d eschew.

    So, what's the one conclusion
    I can bring this number to?
    Paula or Marcella
    Need a vote from you.

    1. I just sang this whole thing about (it's one of my favorite numbers from "Chicago"). Good thing I live alone.

    2. Michael, are you already hard at work on Songs for the Saintly Sixteen matchups? Or are your show tune skills only for the opening round?

      1. Yes, I’ve been worried that this would all stop once we move into the next round....

    3. Great way to start the day! I love it when you’re able to change just a word or two of the line!

  3. Not the biggest fan of the St. Jerome, who I generally give the blame for making the Holy Spirit masculine. Marchella spent less time with him, so I picked her.

    1. I have a soft spot for Jerome, because if a vituperative old crank could be acclaimed not only a saint but also a Doctor of the Church, there's hope for the rest of us.

    2. From the bios, it looks like Marcella may have changed Jerome's mind about the value of women. I'd like to see a timetable. Without Marcella's influence is it possible that Jerome may never have been open to Paula's help?

  4. Impossible choice, and why aren't they on the Anglican calendar? Absent a coin toss, I chose Marcella because I'm fascinated by the idea of Athanasius as a dinner guest, and I enjoyed reading Life of Antony when in seminary.

    1. Both are in the Episcopal Church's calendar: Paula (with Eustochium) on September 28, and Marcella on January 31. See Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018.

    1. I, too, relate to the Holy Spirit as feminine and use the pronoun "she" when saying the creed.

  5. Another fantastic choice but Paula gets my vote with her encouragement and support of Jerome.

    Nonetheless 2 amazing Saints of Catholicism.

    1. I am just curious. Why do you call them "Saints of Catholicism", when they are considered to be Saints in other denominations, too? Thanks. 🙂

  6. Such similar women, similar times, similar influences, similar devotion to God. While Marcella paid the ultimate price of giving away her wealth and devotion to God by being beaten to death, Paula had greater long-term influence, with her assistance in translating the Vulgate. My vote is for Paula.

  7. Another mind wringer! Both used wealth to help and sustain others. Both were educated and recognized as intellectual women. One suffered and died because she gave to the needy rather than hoard her money to save her life and the other used her money to encourage the spread of the gospel while eschewing the use of her wealth for her own comfort. I want to vote for BOTH!!!!! But I will choose Paula because the Vulgate may have been the cause of the greater spread of the Gospel and the emergence of more Paula and Marcellas in the world.

  8. Hey, Carolyn Mack - Our priest, when saying the Nicene Creed says...
    "We believe in the Holy Spirit..... With the Father and the Son SHE is worshipped and glorified. SHE has spoken through the Profits". ( I could hear her quietly while up on the altar being a chalice bearer.) I loved it and now do the same. Tho not a big woman's libber, I can relate to the Holy Spirit as a female. Give it a try next Sunday, think you'll like it! PS although Rodney, I am a female!!!

    1. Great idea! I was doing a children's talk on Sunday and the Spark Bible we use always pictures God as a man. I kept emphasizing that God is not an old man. In fact, we don't know what God looks like. The children were game to taste the fresh figs I brought for the parable of the fig tree. 🙂

      1. What a great idea the figs are. Next year when my tree produces that will be on my Sunday School agenda.

    2. I do this too - and I also only say the Holy Spirt “comes from the Father” - that is correct.

    1. I wondered about that. Depending on what exactly her "editing" and "suggested revisions" were, is this one of those cases where all the credit went to one person (Jerome), even though the work was really a collaboration?

      I voted for Paula, in honor of all the forgotten "assistants" of history.

  9. Both amazing and inspiring women. Paula got my vote because of the fond memories of my church history class in seminary.

  10. I thought that yesterday's choice was tough but I found today's to be the most difficult vote so far this season!

  11. Who knew that so much was made of the Latin translation of the Bible. My high school Latin may now be coming into focus. Thank you Paula and Jerome and the others Ambrose,Augustine and Gregory, the Latin Doctors of the Church.

  12. Tough one. I voted for Paula because she had five children and I do too. She also went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and we’re reading about pilgrimages in our Lenten book group in our parish.

  13. All these husbands and fathers dying early. What's with this?
    (Now, with a name like Toxotius, I can understand why one wouldn't survive long.)

    1. I agree, pHil. I was reading bios aloud to help two friends make decisions, and was struck by how one woman after another got married, only to have her husband pass away, which then led to her saintliness! What indeed is going on here? Perhaps there's a dark side to some of these women. Or perhaps I watch too many true crime programs.

      1. Hahaha! It's either because all the guys start out as monks and never have a wife, or life expectancy being what it was, the guys kicked off early! I surmise.

      2. In the case of these two women, they had more power to decide their own destiny, as well as how to use their money and estates, after they became widows. Prior to their husbands' death, they had little to no legal agency.

  14. I went with Marcella as the inspiration which led Paula to become the benefactor and publisher of the Good News via the Vulgate

    1. I was in the end won over by the fact that Marcella actually opened her home to the poor. Actually lived with them.

    2. I agree with you, Lee, and did the same. (This battle brought back memories of translating the Vulgate Book of Genesis in Latin class...ugh!)

  15. While our vote yesterday was the flip of a coin, today’s was not a hard choice for us. Paula for the win today.

  16. This really seems like Tweedledum vs. Tweedledee to me. How did they find two contemporary women so much alike who are both admired by Jerome? Using Jerome's assessment of each, I will vote for Marcella for her decision to "store her money in the stomachs of the poor ..." Also she was cruelly martyred. Good enough reasons as any, I guess.

  17. Notwithstanding their odd choices in male friends (Jerome, whose translation of the scriptures is seriously flawed; Athanasius who, even though he didn't, has been credited with writing the most convoluted of creeds!), Marcella and Paula are worthy competitors for the Golden Halo. After thought and prayer, I went with Marcella, because I liked Jerome's description of her storing her wealth in the stomachs of the poor instead of keeping it at her own disposal. I am involved in food ministries in my parish and through the Grow Hope program of the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund. Anyone who feeds the hungry gets my vote!

  18. PS to Rodney and Mindy" I also use the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit. Her name is, after all, Sophia. I percieve God as both-gendered, Jesus as the male aspect of God and the Holy Spirit as God's female aspect.

    1. With you Rene. Sophia, wisdom, was there from the beginning in the form of the Holy Spirit though I have heard her referred to as God's girl friend.....

  19. Paula, for supporting the poor and providing women with a role in producing the Vulgate, however Unacknowledged.

  20. I chose Paula. It was hard - they are very similar, down to the close association with St. Jerome! Marriage, widowhood, and dedication to those in need. But I chose Paula because I think it must have been harder to leave her home and family and dedicate herself to Christ and the Church in a foreign land, than to remain at home as Marcella did.

  21. I am not overwhelmed by either of these women, and so many things in their lives were similar. But in the end I went for Narcella.

  22. I woke up this morning with the words of the Magnificat on my lips, so my choice had to be Marcella. And as always the collects were part of my devotions.