As a literate, Paulinus contributed to form an European cultural tradition that was afterwards to last for centuries. As a patriarch of Aquileia, he was one of the protagonists of the religious life of the Carolingian reign, and earned the reputation of an authoritative theologian and wise priest.
A diploma issued in 776 by Charlemagne in favour of Paulinus «vir valde venerabilis et artis grammaticae magister» documents that in that same year he was already a man held for responsible and trustworthy by the Frankish court. According to the subsequent chronology of his life it can inferred that he was born around the years 730-740, most likely in Friuli, surely in a family of Italian origin. His succeeding literary, canonistic and theological production shows that he had a rhetoric education, maybe acquired in the school of Cividale and subsequently in Pavia, in the later Lombard period. With the nick name of ‘Timotheus’ Paulinus took part, among the first, in that circle of court literates that addressed the cultural and educational policy of the Carolingian age. His stay in the Frankish land had an end when he was appointed patriarch of Aquileia, probably in 787. The Aquileian territory, placed on the extreme border of the Frankish empire towards the territories of not-yet-christianised Slavs and Avars, was becoming more and more important from a strategic viewpoint. By appointing a trustworthy patriarch, who was aware of the Carolingian lines of cultural and religious politics, Charlemagne’s court also got a decisive support to start up the same policy of the sword and the cross, already practised with the Saxons, with the Avars and Slavs, too. In 792 Paulinus participated in the synod of Ratisbon; in 794 he took a leading part in the synod of Frankfort. In 796, after accompanying Pepin in his new campaign against the Avars, with Arno and other bishops he took part in a synod that was held in an unspecified place ‘in ripa Danubii’ (on the banks of the Danube), in which they decided on a program of evangelisation of the subdued territories. At the end of 796 or the beginning of 797 he called the suffragan bishops of Aquileia in a synod at Cividale; this council above all dealt with matters of ecclesiastical discipline and the sacrament of marriage, but the patriarch expounded theological subjects, as well. He died in 802, according to tradition on 11 January. Beside his pastoral and doctrinal works, Paulinus composed also a treatise in prose on virtues and duties of laypeople, the so-called Liber, which was to have very great success in the Middle Ages. It is of high significance the poetic production attributable to him, which comprises various hymns for the celebration of liturgical feasts, where Paulinus apparently operated towards a substantial unification in favour of Roman traditions. In 799 he composed a plaint inspired by the death of Eric, margrave of Friuli, who was killed in an expedition against some Slavic tribes in the area of the Kvarnar Gulf. The celebrated De destructione Aquileiae, an alphabetic rhythm on the ruin of the city at the time of Huns’ invasions, should be also a work by Paulinus.
For further information see the entry Paolino, patriarca d’Aquileia written by Paolo Chiesa in Nuovo Liruti. Dizionario biografico dei Friulani, 1, Il Medioevo, edited by C. Scalon, Udine, Forum, 2006, 641-650.