November 11, 2021: ST. MARTIN OF TOURS
November 11, 2021: ST. MARTIN (OF TOURS), BISHOP AND CONFESSOR
O man beyond all praise! neither conquered by labour, nor conquerable by death; who neither feared to die, nor refused to live. Ever intent with eyes and hands raised to heaven, he never relaxed from prayer his invincible spirit. Alleluia.
Martin is received with joy in Abraham's bosom: Martin here poor and humble, enters heaven rich, and is honoured with celestial hymns.
O God, who seest we rely on no strength of our own; mercifully grant, by the prayers of blessed Martin, thy Confessor and Bishop, that we may be defended against all adversities. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
O holy Martin, have compassion on our depth of misery! A winter more severe than that which caused thee to divide thy cloak now rages over the world; many perish in the icy night brought on by the extinction of faith and the cooling of charity. Come to the aid of those unfortunates, whose torpor prevents them from asking assistance. Wait not for them to pray; but forestall them for the love of Christ in whose name the poor man of Amiens implored thee, whereas they scarcely know how to utter it. And yet their nakedness is worse than the beggar's, stripped as they are of the garment of grace, which their fathers received from thee and handed down to posterity.
Three thousand six hundred and sixty churches dedicated to St. Martin in France alone, and well-nigh as many in the rest of the world, bear witness to the immense popularity of the great thaumaturgus. In the country, on the mountains, and in the depth of forests, trees, rocks, and fountains, objects of superstitious worship to our pagan ancestors, received, and in many places still retain, the name of him who snatched them from the dominion of the powers of darkness to restore them to the true God. For the vanquished idols, Roman, Celtic or German, Christ substituted their conqueror, the humble soldier, in the grateful memory of the people. Martin's mission was to complete the destruction of paganism, which had been driven from the towns by the martyrs, but remained up to his time master of the vast territories removed from the influence of the cities.
While on the one hand he was honoured with God's favours, on the other he was pursued by hell with implacable hatred. At the very outset he had to encounter Satan, who said to him: “I will beset thy path at every turn;” and he kept his word. He has kept it to this very day: century after century, he has been working ruin around the glorious tomb, which once attracted the whole world to Tours; in the sixteenth, he delivered to the flames, by the hands of the Huguenots, the venerable remains of the protector of France: by the nineteenth, he had brought men to such a height of folly, as themselves to destroy, in time of peace, the splendid basilica which was the pride and the riches of their city. The gratitude of Christ, and the rage of Satan, made known by such signs, reveal sufficiently the incomparable labours of the pontiff, apostle, and monk, St. Martin.
A monk indeed he was, both in desire and in reality, to the last day of his life. “From earliest infancy he sighed after the service of God. He became a catechumen at the age of ten, and at twelve he wished to retire to the desert; all his thoughts were engaged on monasteries and churches. A soldier at fifteen years of age, he so lived as even then to be taken for a monk. After a first trial of religious life in Italy, he was brought by St Hilary to this solitude of Ligugé, which, thanks to him, became the cradle of monastic life in Gaul. To say the truth, Martin, during the whole course of his life, felt like a stranger everywhere else, except at Ligugé. A monk by attraction, he had been forced to be a soldier, and it needed violence to make him a Bishop: and even then he never relinquished his monastic habits. He responded to the dignity of a Bishop, says his historian, without declining from the rule and life of a monk. At first he constructed for himself a cell near his church of Tours; and soon afterwards built, at a little distance from the town, a second Ligugé, under the name of Marmoutier or the great monastery.”
The holy Liturgy refers to St. Hilary the honour of the wonderful virtues displayed by Martin. What were the holy bishop's reasons for leading his heaven-sent disciple by ways then so little known in the West, he has left us to learn from the most legitimate heir of his doctrine as well as of his eloquence. “It has ever been,” says Cardinal Pie, “the ruling idea of all the Saints, that, side by side with the ordinary ministry of the pastors, obliged by their functions to live in the midst of the world, the Church has need of a militia, separated from the world and enrolled under the standard of evangelical perfection, living in self-renunciation and obedience, and carrying on day and night the noble and incomparable function of public prayer. The most illustrious pontiffs and the greatest doctors have thought, that the secular clergy themselves could never be better fitted for spreading and making popular the pure doctrines of the Gospel, than if they could be prepared for their pastoral office by living either a monastic life, or one as nearly as possible resembling it. Read the lives of the greatest bishops both in East and West, in the times immediately preceding or following the peace of the Church, as well as in the middle ages: they have all, either themselves at some time professed the monastic life, or lived in continual contact with those who professed it. Hilary, the great Hilary, had, with his experienced and unerring glance, perceived the need; he had seen the place that should be occupied by the monastic Order in Christendom, and by the regular clergy in the Church. In the midst of his struggles, his combats, his exile, when he witnessed with his own eyes the importance of the monasteries in the East, he earnestly desired the time when, returning to Gaul, he might at length lay the foundations of the religious life at home. Providence was not long in sending him what was needful for such an enterprise: a disciple worthy of the master, a monk worthy of the bishop.”
Elsewhere, comparing together St. Martin, his predecessors, and St. Hilary himself in their common apostolate of Gaul, the illustrious Cardinal says: “Far be it from me to undervalue all the vitality and power already possessed by the religion of Jesus Christ in our divers provinces, thanks to the preaching of the first apostles, martyrs, and bishops, who may be counted back in a long line almost to the day of Calvary. Still I fear not to say it: the popular apostle of Gaul, who converted the country parts, until then almost entirely pagan, the founder of national Christianity, was principally St. Martin. And how is it that he, above so many other great bishops and servants of God, holds such pre-eminence in the apostolate? Are we to place Martin above his master Hilary? With regard to doctrine, certainly not; and as to zeal, courage, holiness, it is not for me to say which was greater, the master's or the disciple's. But what I can say is, that Hilary was chiefly a teacher, and Martin was chiefly a thaumaturgus. Now, for the conversion of the people, the thaumaturgus is more powerful than the teacher; and consequently, in the memory and worship of the people, the teacher is eclipsed and effaced by the thaumaturgus.
“Now-a-days there is much talk about the necessity of reasoning in order to persuade men as to the reality of divine things: but that is forgetting Scripture and history; nay more, it is degenerating. God has not deemed it consistent with his Majesty to reason with us. He has spoken; he has said what is and what is not; and as he exacts faith in his word, he has sanctioned his word. But how has he sanctioned it? After the manner of God, not of man; by works, not by reasons: non in sermone, sed in virtute, not by the arguments of a humanly persuasive philosophy: non in persuasibilibus humanӕ sapientiӕ verbis, but by displaying a power altogether divine: sed in ostensiane spiritus et virtutis. And wherefore? For this profound reason: Ut fides non sit in sapientia hominum, sed in virtute Dei; that faith may not rest upon the wisdom of man, but upon the power of God (I Cor, ii. 4). But now men will not have it so: they tell us that in Jesus Christ the theurgist wrongs the moralist; that miracles are a blemish in so sublime an ideal. But they cannot reverse this order; they cannot abolish the Gospel, nor history. Begging the pardon of the learned men of our age and their obsequious followers: not only did Christ work miracles, but he established the faith upon the foundation of miracles. And the same Christ, — not to confirm his own miracles, which are the support of all others; but out of compassion for us, who are so prone to forgetfulness, and who are more impressed by what we see than by what we hear, — the same Jesus Christ has placed in his Church, and that for all time, the power of working miracles. Our age has seen some, and will see yet more. The fourth century witnessed in particular those of St. Martin.
“The working of wonders seemed mere play to him; all nature obeyed him; the animals were subject to him. ‘Alas!’ cried the Saint one day: ‘the very serpents listen to me, and men refuse to hear me.’ Men, however, often did hear him. The whole of Gaul heard him; not only Aquitaine, but also Celtic and Belgic Gaul. Who could resist words enforced by so many prodigies? In all these provinces he overthrew the idols one after another, reduced the statues to powder, burnt or demolished all the temples, destroyed the sacred groves and all the haunts of idolatry. Was it lawful? you may ask. If I study the legislation of Constantine and Constantius, perhaps it was. But this I know: Martin, eaten up with zeal for the house of the Lord, was obeying none but the Spirit of God. And I must add, that against the fury of the pagan population Martin's only arms were the miracles he wrought, the visible assistance of Angels sometimes granted him, and, above all, the prayers and tears he poured out before God, when the hard-heartedness of the people resisted the power of his words and of his wonders. With these means Martin changed the face of the country. Where he found scarcely a Christian on his arrival, he left scarcely an infidel at his departure. The temples of the idols were immediately replaced by temples of the true God; for, says Sulpicius Severus, as soon as he had destroyed the homes of superstition, he built churches and monasteries. It is thus that all Europe is covered with sanctuaries bearing the name of St. Martin.”
His beneficial actions did not cease with his death; they alone explain the uninterrupted concourse of people to his holy tomb. His numerous feasts in the year, the Deposition or Natalis, the Ordination, Subvention and Reversion, did not weary the piety of the faithful. Kept everywhere as a holiday of obligation, and bringing with it the brief return of bright weather known as St. Martin's summer, the eleventh of November rivalled with St. John's day in the rejoicings it occasioned in Latin Christendom. Martin was the joy of all, and the helper of all.
St. Gregory of Tours does not hesitate to call his blessed predecessor the special patron of the whole world; while monks and clerics, soldiers, knights, travellers and inn-keepers on account of his long journeys, charitable associations of every kind in memory of the cloak of Amiens, have never ceased to claim their peculiar right to the great Pontiff's benevolence. Hungary, the generous land which gave him to us, without exhausting its own provision for the future, rightly reckons him among its most powerful protectors. But to France he was a father: in the same manner as he laboured for the unity of the faith in that land, he presided also over the formation of national unity; and he watches over its continuance. As the pilgrimage of Tours preceded that of Compostella in the Church, the cloak of St. Martin led the Frankish armies to battle even before the oriflamme of St. Denis. “How,” said Clovis, “can we hope for victory, if we offend blessed Martin?”
Let us read the account given by holy Church, who lingers lovingly over the last moments of her illustrious son, worthy as they are of all admiration.
Martin was born at Sabaria in Pannonia. When ten years old he fled to the church, against his parents' will, and had himself enrolled among the catechumens. At the age of fifteen he became a soldier, and served in the army first of Constantius and afterwards of Julian. On one occasion, when a poor naked man at Amiens begged an alms of him in the name of Christ, having nothing but his armour and clothing, he gave him half of his military cloak. The following night Christ appeared to him clad in that half-cloak, and said: Martin, while yet a catechumen has clothed me with this garment.
At eighteen years of age, he was baptized; and abandoning his military career, betook himself to Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, by whom he was made acolyte. Later on, having become bishop of Tours, he built a monastery, where he lived for some time in a most holy manner, in company with eighty monks. He was seized with a violent fever at Cande, a village in his diocese; and he earnestly besought God to free him from the prison of the body. His disciples hearing, asked him: Father, why dost thou abandon us? or to whom dost thou leave us in our desolation? Martin, touched by their words, prayed to God in this manner: O Lord, if I am still necessary to thy people, I do not refuse to labour.
When his disciples saw him praying in the height of the fever, lying on his back, they besought him to turn over for a little while, that he might get some rest and relief. But Martin answered: Suffer me to gaze on heaven rather than earth, that my spirit, which is about to depart, may be directed on its way to our Lord. As death drew nigh, he saw the enemy of mankind, and exclaimed: What art thou doing here, thou cruel beast? Thou wilt find no evil in me. While uttering these words he gave up his soul to God, at the age of eighty-one. He was received by a choir of Angels, whom many, and in particular St. Severinus Bishop of Cologne, heard singing the praises of God.
Another account of St. Martin.
St. Martin, celebrated throughout the whole Church of Christ, and praised and exalted in the works of several holy Fathers, was born in Hungary of heathen parents. Having reached his tenth year, he went often secretly to the Church of the Christians to assist at Mass and to listen to instructions. All seemed to him so good and holy, that without the knowledge of his parents, he desired to be enrolled among the catechumens, that is, among those who are to receive holy baptism. From that moment, he became devoted to prayer, and performed other good works with great zeal. At the age of fifteen years, he was enlisted in the Roman army, in which he served until the reign of Julian, without, however, indulging in any of the vices so common among soldiers. An oath, a lie, an indecent expression was never heard from his lips. The time that most of his comrades passed in gaming and drinking, he devoted to prayer and devout reading. His kindness to the poor is known to the whole Christian world. In the depth of winter, he once met, not far from Amiens, a half-naked beggar, who asked an alms for Christ's sake. Martin had no money with him, but unwilling to send the man away without comfort, he took the cloak from his shoulders, cut it into two pieces and gave one of them to the beggar. His comrades laughed at him, but Martin, in a vision during the following night, saw Christ covered with the piece of the cloak, and heard Him say to the Angels surrounding Him: “Martin, not yet baptized, has covered me with this!” This vision not only comforted Martin greatly, but also induced him to give himself wholly to the service of the Most High. Hence, in his eighteenth year, he received holy baptism, left the army, and, in order to learn how to lead a Christian life, went to the holy bishop Hilarius, who joyfully received him and instructed him in virtue and holiness. Being thoroughly instructed, he went, with the consent of his holy teacher, to Hungary, intending to convert his parents. His mother and many others were easily persuaded to embrace the true faith, but his father proved obstinate. Martin was sorely grieved at this, and desired to remain longer in the hope of yet gaining his father and other heathens; but the Arians drove him away. He therefore returned to his holy master in France. With his consent, he built a small monastery outside the walls of Poitiers, and lived there, with a few disciples, in the practice of austere penance. The fame of his sanctity soon spread far and wide, especially when it became known that he had recalled to life a man who had died before receiving the holy sacrament of regeneration. On account of this and other miracles, Martin was obliged, after the death of the bishop of Tours, to become his successor. Hard as it seemed to the humble servant of God to receive the episcopal dignity, yet he administered his new functions with wonderful zeal and untiring energy. He erected a monastery not far from Tours, into which he gathered a community of eighty monks, with whom he lived an extremely severe life. His clergy were instructed by him in such a manner, that they were always able and willing to assist him efficaciously in the care of his flock. With some of these, he visited his entire diocese, preaching everywhere, administering the sacraments, visiting the sick, and giving alms to the poor. He was most earnest in exhorting the faithful to make their churches fit dwelling-places for the Majesty of God, and to behave in them with due reverence. He himself was often seen to tremble when he stood at the entrance of a Church; and being asked the reason of it, he replied: “Shall I not tremble for fear, when appearing before the Highest Majesty, before my God, my Judge?” While at Church he was never seen either sitting or standing, except when his office or the service required it; and unless it was necessary, he never spoke a word while there. He was a shining example of every virtue to all under him, laity as well as clergy. His historians say that he was never seen angry and never heard to laugh aloud. One of his priests, who had previously been very virtuous, gradually lost his fervor and began to show some levity in his conduct, for which he was kindly rebuked by the bishop. Offended at the admonition, the guilty man endeavored to arouse in others ill-feelings against the Saint, and went so far as to blame all his actions and to abuse him publicly. St. Martin bore it all patiently, treated him with great sweetness, and prayed unceasingly for him. All were greatly astonished at this, and some endeavored to persuade the Saint to banish the wicked man from the convent. Martin however, said: “If Christ bore with Judas, why should I not bear with Britius?” He then foretold that this very Britius would be his successor in the See. No one would believe this, and even Britius laughed at it; but time revealed the truth of the prophecy: for, Britius soon commenced a different course of life, and on St. Martin's death, was raised to the episcopal throne of Tours. Greatly as we must admire the patience and meekness of the holy bishop towards offenders, the zeal which he manifested in destroying idolatry, which still lingered in many places, was no less worthy of praise. Wherever he found an idolatrous temple, he destroyed it either by his prayers or by force, though not without danger of his life. One day, he was about to fell a tree, because the heathens used it for their idolatry. They opposed him, most violently; at length, one of them said: “Behold! we ourselves will fell the tree if you promise that, as it falls, you will support it in your hands. By this sign we shall be convinced of the might of the God whose word you preach.” The Saint promised without any hesitation, to do as they desired. The tree was cut so that it would fall towards Martin; and when it came down, he made the sign of the Cross and stretching out his hands, not only received the tree into them, but threw it back to the opposite side, without injuring any one. By this and several other miracles, the holy bishop not only converted a great many heathens, but also made a great impression on the Arians, who, at that time, cruelly persecuted the Catholics. The holy man was greatly esteemed and highly honored on account of his apostolic zeal, his great virtues, and the gifts bestowed upon him by the Almighty. Therefore Satan was much embittered against him and sought to ruin him. One day he appeared to the Saint, in royal magnificence, saying that he was Christ, and had come to visit him, Martin, startled at this apparition, said: “My Lord Jesus Christ did not say that He would come in such splendid array, but in the same form in which He ascended to heaven.” At these words Satan vanished. Many other incidents of the life of this Saint we omit, in order to give space for a short account of his death.
The holy man had reached his eighty-first year, when he desired to be released from the fetters of earth, and go to God. The Almighty visited him with a dangerous fever and revealed to him his approaching end. His disciples grieved greatly at the thought of his being taken from them, and said with weeping eyes: “Why dost thou leave us, father? To whom dost thou give us? Wolves will attack thy flock, and when our shepherd is gone, who will defend us? Have pity on us and remain yet for a time among us.” The Saint sighed, and prayed to the Almighty: “Lord, if I am needful to Thy people, I do not refuse the labor. But not my will, but Thine be done.” Hereupon he received the holy sacraments, and lying down, in his penitential garment, upon the floor strewn with ashes, he said: “Thus must a Christian soldier die in his armor.” And when his disciples, perceiving that he lay continually on his back, and kept his eyes fixed on heaven, said to him that, in order to ease his pain, he should turn to the right or left side, he replied: “Rather let me look up to heaven than towards the earth.” In his last hour, the tempter came once more to the holy bishop, who, fearlessly addressing him, said: “Wherefore art thou standing there, thou bloodthirsty beast? Thou hast nothing to expect from me.” With these words, the holy bishop closed his eyes and ended his holy life, in the year of our Lord 402. St. Severin, bishop of Cologne, although far away, saw his spotless soul borne to heaven by Angels. The same was witnessed by many others. The Roman Martyrology testifies that St. Martin, during his life, raised three from the dead. Many other great miracles are to be found in his biography. In conclusion, we add the words of St. Gregory of Tours in his praise: “Oh happy man,” said he, “at the close of whose life, the Saints of the Most High sing hymns of praise, the Angels rejoice and come in crowds to meet him, the Evil One is confounded, and the Church of God strengthened in virtue.”
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. VI, Edition 1903;
The Lives of the Saints, Rev. F.X. Weninger D.D., S.J. Vol. II, Permissu Superiorum, 1876; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Martin of Tours, pray for us.