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Saint Martin of Tours (Latin: Martinus), (316 or 317 - November 11, 397) was a bishop of Tours, a city in France. His life story was recorded by a friend, Sulpitius Severus, and relates Martin's piety as a monk, and the miracles that followed his ministry. Martin was used to raise the dead, heal the sick, prophecy, cast out devils, and tear down the altars of the heathen. Through all this, Martin regularly chose to give his belongings to the poor, and caused those that heard him to believe on the Lord Jesus.
Sulpitius Severus records:
- What power and dignity there were in Martin's words and conversation! How active he was, how practical, and how prompt and ready in solving questions connected with Scripture! And because I know that many are incredulous on this point,--for indeed I have met with persons who did not believe me when I related such things,--I call to witness Jesus, and our common hope as Christians, that I never heard from any other lips than those of Martin such exhibitions of knowledge and genius, or such specimens of good and pure speech....being reckoned holy by all, he was also deemed powerful and truly apostolical.
Martin was named after Mars, the god of war. He was a native of Sabaria, Pannonia (modern Szombathely, Hungary). His father was a senior officer (tribune) in the Imperial Horse Guard, a unit of the Roman army, and was stationed at Ticinum, Cisalpine Gaul (modern Pavia, Italy).
At the age of ten, he went to the church against the wishes of his parents and became a catechumen, or candidate for baptism.
When Martin was fifteen, as the son of a veteran officer, he was required to join a cavalry Ala (Roman military) himself and thus, around 334 was stationed at Ambianensium civitas or Samarobriva in Gaul (modern Amiens, France). It is therefore likely that he joined the Ambianenses, a unit listed in the Notitia Dignitatum.
While Martin was still a soldier at Amiens he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. He was at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clad me.".
The dream confirmed Martin in his piety and he was baptized, but served another two years as a soldier before he told the Emporer, Julian Caesar, the day before a major battle, that he could no longer be a soldier. Martin said to the raging Emporer: "If this conduct of mine is ascribed to cowardice, and not to faith, I will take my stand unarmed before the line of battle tomorrow, and in the name of the Lord Jesus, protected by the sign of the cross, and not by shield or helmet, I will safely penetrate the ranks of the enemy." The next day, however, the enemy sent ambasadors to negotiate their surrender. Martin was then released from prison, left his legion at Worms, Germany, and made his way to the city of Tours.
Years as a Monk
In Tours, Martin became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, a chief proponent of Trinitarian Christianity, who opposed the Arianism of the Visigothic nobility. When Hilary was forced into exile from Poitiers, Martin returned to Italy, and, according to Sulpicius Severus, converting an Alpine brigand on the way and confronted the Devil himself. Returning from Illyria, he was confronted by the Arian archbishop of Milan Auxentius, who expelled him from the city. According to the early sources, he decided to seek shelter on the island then called Gallinaria, now Isola d'Albenga, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, where he lived the solitary life of a hermit.
With the return of Hilary in 361, Martin joined him and established a monastery nearby, at the site that developed into the Benedictine Abbey of Ligugé. He traveled and preached through Western Gaul: "The memory of these apostolic journeyings survives to our day in the numerous local legends of which Martin is the hero and which indicate roughly the routes that he followed." (Catholic Encyclopedia).
Sulpicius Severus described the severe restrictions of the life of Martin among the cave-dwelling cenobites who gathered around him, a rare view of a monastic comunity that preceded the Benedictine rule:
- Many also of the brethren had, in the same manner, fashioned retreats for themselves, but most of them had formed these out of the rock of the overhanging mountain, hollowed into caves. There were altogether eighty disciples, who were being disciplined after the example of the saintly master. No one there had anything which was called his own; all things were possessed in common. It was not allowed either to buy or to sell anything, as is the custom among most monks. No art was practiced there, except that of transcribers, and even this was assigned to the brethren of younger years, while the elders spent their time in prayer. Rarely did any one of them go beyond the cell, unless when they assembled at the place of prayer. They all took their food together, after the hour of fasting was past. No one used wine, except when illness compelled them to do so. Most of them were clothed in garments of camels' hair. Any dress approaching to softness was there deemed criminal, and this must be thought the more remarkable, because many among them were such as are deemed of noble rank. (Sulpicius, Vita, X)
Bishop of Tours
Martin was happy with the life of a monk, and would have remained there except that in 371 the people of Tours lured him into the city, and, to the dismay of many of the local clergy, voted him as their bishop on his arrival. As a Bishop, Martin continued to live a holy and simple life with a friendly demeanor, ministering, praying for the sick, helping the poor, and tearing down the temples of the heathen.
As an indication of the depth of the Druidic folk religion compared to the veneer of Roman culture in the area, "when in a certain village he had demolished a very ancient temple, and had set about cutting down a pine-tree, which stood close to the temple, the chief priest of that place, and a crowd of other heathens began to oppose him; and these people, though, under the influence of the Lord, they had been quiet while the temple was being overthrown, could not patiently allow the tree to be cut down" (Sulpicius, Vita ch. xiii). Sulpicius affirms that he withdrew from the press of attention in the city to live in Marmoutier (Majus Monasterium), the monastery he founded, which faces Tours from the opposite shore of the Loire. Although he returned often to fulfill his duty as a Bishop.
His role in the matter of the followers of Priscillian was especially remarkable. Priscillian and his partisans, who had been condemned by the Council of Saragossa, had fled; furious charges were brought before Emperor Magnus Maximus by some bishops of Hispania, led by Bishop Ithacius. Martin hurried to the Imperial court of Trier on an errand of mercy to remove them from the secular jurisdiction of the emperor. Maximus at first acceded to his entreaty, but, when Martin had departed, yielded to the solicitations of Ithacius and ordered Priscillian and his followers to be beheaded (385).
Priscillian was the first Christian martyred for heresy by other Christians. His beliefs included a call for all Christians to study the scriptures, be celibate, abstain from meat and wine, maintain a life of piety, and to demonstrate all of the charismatic gifts. In contrast, the Arians who persecuted Martin believed that Jesus was a creation of, and therefore inferior to, God the Father.
Martin and Christianity
While St. Martin is one of the most recognizable Roman Catholic saints, his form of Christianity is not Catholic by modern standards, but rather apostolic. Like Paul, threads were taken from Martin's garments, and "wrought frequent miracles upon those who were sick." Martin also prophecied to the Emperor Maximus that he would be successful in attacking Emperor Valentinianus, but would die shortly thereafter - which came to pass. There is also no indication, other than a friendship with Hilary of Poitiers, that Martin was a Trinitarian, although persecution from the Arians showed that he was not an Arian either. The only indication of Martin's view of the Godhead is that throughout his biography, Sulpicius Severus refers only to God, the Lord, the name of the Lord Jesus, and the name of Christ.
The cult, or veneration, of Martin was hugely popular in the Middle Ages. His body was taken to Tours and the simple shrine erected over his sarcophagus later increased to a great basilica. The later bishop, Gregory of Tours, made it his business to write and see distributed an influential Life filled with miraculous events of the saint's career. The basilica was finally sacked by the Huguenots during the Wars of Religion in 1562, then utterly demolished during the French Revolution, when two streets were opened on the site to ensure it would not be rebuilt. In 1860, excavations established its former site and recovered some fragments of architecture.
- Biography by Sulpitius Severus
- Source: A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 11, New York, 1894, Translation and Notes by Alexander Roberts, See also : College of Saint Benedict and Saint John' University Website.
- This information is based on material from Wikipedia. As a result, this article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License which governs this website as well.