When as in the time of the cruel Vandals, that part of Italy which is called Campania was overrun and sacked, and many were from thence carried captive into Africa: then the servant of God, Paulinus, bestowed all the wealth of his Bishopric upon prisoners and poor people. And not having now anything more left, a certain widow came unto him, lamenting how her son was taken prisoner by one that was son-in-law to the king of the Vandals, and by him carried away to be his slave: and therefore she besought him, that he would vouchsafe to help her with a ransom for the redeeming of her son.
But the man of God, seeking what he had to give the poor woman, found nothing left but himself alone, and therefore he answered her in this manner:
“Good woman, nothing have I to help thee withal but myself, and therefore take me, and a God’s name say that I am your servant, and see whether he will receive me for his slave, and so set your son at liberty”.
Which words she hearing from the mouth of so notable a man, took them rather for a mock, than to proceed indeed from true compassion. But as he was an eloquent man, and passing well learned in humanity, so did he quickly persuade the doubtful woman to give credit to his words, and not to be afraid to offer a Bishop for the ransom of her son; whereupon away they travelled both into Africa. And when the king’s son-in-law came abroad, the widow put up her petition concerning her son, humbly beseeching him that he would vouchsafe to set him now at liberty and bestow him upon his mother. But the barbarous man, swelling with pride and puffed up with the joy of transitory prosperity, refused not only to do it, but disdained also to give any ear to her petition.
This way, therefore, taking no success, the desolate widow tried the next, and said unto him:
“Behold, I give you here this man instead of him, only take compassion on me, and restore to me mine only son.”
At which words he, casting his eyes upon Paulinus, and seeing him to have an honest and good face, asked him of what occupation he was: to whom the man of God answered:
“Trade or occupation I can none, but some skill I have in keeping of a garden.”
This pleased the Pagan very well, whereupon he admitted him for his servant, and restored the widow her son, with whom she departed out of Africa, and Paulinus took charge of the garden. The king’s son-in-law coming often into the garden, demanded certain questions of his new man, and perceiving him to be very wise and of good judgment, he began to give over the company of his old familiar friends, and conversed much with his gardener, taking great pleasure in his talk. Every day Paulinus brought him to his table divers sorts of green herbs, and after dinner returned to his garden. After he had used this a long time, upon a day, as his master and he were in secret talk together, Paulinus spake unto him in this manner:
“Consider, my Lord, what is your best course, and how the kingdom of the Vandals shall be disposed of, for the king is to die shortly”
Which news, because he was in special grace with the king, he gave him to understand, adding that his gardener, who was a passing wise man, had told him so much. The king, hearing this, was desirous to see the man he spake of:
“Your Majesty,” quoth he, “shall see him, for his manner is to bring me in daily fresh herbs for my dinner, and I will give orders that he shall do it in your presence”
Which direction being given, as the king sat at dinner, Paulinus came in, bringing with him divers sallettes and fresh herbs: whom so soon as the king beheld, he fell a trembling, and sending for Paulinus’ master (who by the marriage of his daughter was so near allied unto him), acquainted him with that secret which before he had concealed, saying:
“It is very true that which you have heard, for the last night, in a dream, I saw certain judges in their seats sitting upon me, amongst whom this man also sat for one: and by their sentence that whip was taken from me, which for the punishment of others some time I had. But inquire, I pray you, what he is, for I do not think one of so great merit to be an ordinary man, as he outwardly seemeth.”
Then the king’s son-in-law took Paulinus in secret, and asked him what he was: to whom the man of God answered:
“Your servant I am,” quoth he, “whom you took for the ransom of the widow’s son “
But when he would not be satisfied with that answer, but did instantly press him to tell, not what he was now, but what he had been in his own country, and did urge him very often to answer to this point: the man of God, adjured so strictly, not being able any longer to deny his request, told him that he was a Bishop; which his master and lord hearing became wonderfully afraid, and humbly offered him, saying:
“Demand what you will, that you may be well rewarded of me, and so return home to your country.”
To whom the man of God, Paulinus, said:
“One thing there is wherein you may much pleasure me, and that is, to set at liberty all those that be of my city”
Which suit he obtained, for straightways throughout Africa all were sought out, their ships laden with wheat, and to give venerable Paulinus satisfaction, they were all discharged, and in his company sent home: and not long after the king of the Vandals died, and so he lost that whip and severe government, which to his own destruction and the punishment of Christians by God’s providence he had before received.
And thus it came to pass that Paulinus, the servant of almighty God, told truth, and he that voluntarily alone made himself a bondman, returned not back alone, but with many from captivity: imitating him who took upon him the form of a servant, that we should not be servants to sin: for Paulinus, following his example, became himself for a time a servant alone, that afterward he might be made free with many.