He was wealthy but not attached to his wealth. He was born in Bordeaux in France and his family owned lands in Italy and Spain. He married a Spanish woman Therasia. He was later baptised, after which the couple moved to their Spanish estates near Barcelona. A son was born but he died in his infancy. This may have been the spur for Paulinus to give away most of his money to the poor of Barcelona. They responded by clamouring for him to be ordained a priest and the bishop obliged them on Christmas Day 393.

He did not stay in Barcelona but moved to Italy. He and his wife settled on their estate in Nola near Naples. Here they provided for those in need and helped with the building projects. In 409 he was made a bishop and was said to have been wise and liberal. He died in Nola in 431. Some 30 poems, fifty letters and some other fragments of his writings survive, enough to show him to have been one of the best Christian poets of his age.