MARTIN, THE APOSTLE OF GAUL.
"Gird Thee with Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Thou Most Mighty, according to Thy worship and renown; good luck have Thou with Thine honour; ride on because of the word of truth, of meekness, and righteousness; and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things."
Who has not heard of St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, and Confessor? In our part of the world at least he is well known, as far as name goes, by the churches dedicated to him. Even from British times a church has existed under his tutelage in the since metropolitan city of Canterbury; though we know little or nothing of churches to St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Basil, or St. Athanasius. Considering how many of our temples are called after the Apostles, and how many piously preserve the earthly name of those who almost "have no remembrance, and are as if they had not been," as St. George, or St. Nicolas; it is a peculiarity in St. Martin's history that he should at once be so well known and so widely venerated: renowned in this life yet honoured after it. And such honour has been paid him from the first. He died in the last years of the fourth century; his successor at Tours built a chapel over his tomb in that city; St. Perpetuus, another successor, about 70 years afterwards, built a church and conc c
veyed his remains thither. In the course of another 70 years his name had taken up its abode in Canterbury, where it remains. Soon after a church was dedicated to him at Rome, and soon after in Spain. He alone of the Confessors had a service of his own in the more ancient breviaries; he is named too in the mass service of Pope Gregory,—which commemorates, after St. Mary and the Apostles, "Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sextus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Laurence, Chrysostom, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, Hilary, Martin, Augustine, Gregory, Jerome, Benedict and all Saints."
I am not going to present the reader with more than a slight sketch of his history, which we have received on very authentic testimony, as in the case of St. Antony, though St. Martin like him has left no writings behind him. Nay, perhaps more so, for the biographer of St. Martin is not merely a friend, who but sometimes saw him, though a great authority in himself, but a disciple, and intimate, and eyewitness, as well as a man of classical and original mind,—Sulpicius Severus, who wrote his memoir even while he lived, and while his memory was fresh.
Martin was born about the year 316, in Pannonia, in a town which now forms part of Hungary; his father was a pagan, and had risen from the ranks to the command of a cohort. A soldier has no home, and his son was brought up at Pavia in North Italy with very little education. What influenced Martin is not known; but at the age of ten he fled to the Church against the wish of his parents, and enrolled himself as a catechumen. Under these first impressions, he formed the desire of retiring to the desert as a solitary; however, things do not happen after our wishes here helow; so at fifteen, he was seized at his father's instance, and enlisted in the army. In consequence, he remained a soldier five years, and was sent into Gaul. It is recorded of him, that at a time when he was stationed at Amiens, being then eighteen, he encountered at the gate of the city a poor man without clothes. It was mid-winter, and the weather more than ordinarily severe; he had nothing on him but his single military cloak and his arms. The youth took his sword, cut the cloak in two, and gave half to the beggar. The bystanders jeered or admired, according to their turn of mind; and he went away. Next night he had a dream: he saw our Lord clad in the half cloak which he had bestowed on the poor man. Christ commanded his notice, and then said to the Angels who stood around, "Martin, yet a catechumen, hath wrapped me in this garment." On this Martin proceeded forthwith to baptism, and two years after left the army.
He then had recourse to the celebrated St. Hilary, who was afterwards bishop of Poictiers, and anillustrious confessor in the Arian troubles. Martin, however, was destined to precede him in suffering and in the same holy cause also. He undertook a visit to his parents, who now seem to have retired into Pannonia, with a view to their conversion. 'When he was in the passes of the Alps he fell in with bandits. Sulpicius gives this account of what happened :—" One of them raised an axe and aimed it at his head, but another intercepted the blow, However, his hands were bound behind him, and he was committed to one of them in custody for plun
der. This man took him aside, and began to ask him who he was. He answered, 'a Christian.' He then inquired whether he felt afraid. He avowed, without wavering, that he never felt so much at ease, being confident that the Lord's mercy would be specially with him in temptations; rather he felt sorry for him, who, living by robbery, was unworthy of the mercy of Christ. Entering, then, on the subject of the Gospel, he preached the Word of God to him. To be brief, the robber believed, attended on him, and set him on his way, begging his prayers. This man afterwards was seen in the profession of religion; so that the above narrative is given as he was heard to state it."—Vit. M. c. 4.
He gained his mother, but his father persisted in paganism. At this time Illyricum was almost given over to Arianism. He did-not scruple to confess the orthodox doctrine there, was seized, beaten with rods publicly, and ejected the city. Little, however, is known of these years of his life. Driven out from Illyricum, he betook himself to Milan, A. D. 356, when he was about forty years old. Here he lived several years in solitude, till he was again driven out by the Arian bishop Auxentius. On leaving Hilary, he had promised to return to him, and now Hilary being restored from exile, he kept his word, after a separation of about nine or ten years. He came to Poictiers, and formed in the neighbourhood the first monastic establishment which is known to have existed in France.
St. Martin is famous for his alleged miraculous power. Sulpicius's memoir is full of accounts of miracles wrought by him. He is even said to have raised the dead. I cannot deny that a chance reader would regard his life merely as an early specimen of demonology. Whether the works attributed to him were really miracles, and whether they really took place, I leave to the private judgment of each reader of them. What has been said in former chapters applies here; it is difficult often to draw the line between real and apparent interruptions of the course of nature; and, in an age of miracles, ordinary events will be exaggerated into supernatural: veneration, too, for an individual, will, at such a time, occasion the ordinary effects of his sagacity or presence of mind to be accounted more than human.
He was made bishop of Tours in the year 372, about the time that Ambrose and Basil were raised to their respective sees, and Athanasius died. There were parties who opposed Martin's election, alleging, as Sulpicius tells us, that "he was a contemptible person, unworthy of the episcopate, despicable in countenance, mean in dress, rough in his hair." Such were the outward signs of a monk; and a monk he did not cease to be after he had become a bishop. Indeed, as far as was possible, he wished to be still just what he had been, and looked back to the period of his life when he was a private man, as a time when he was more sensibly favoured with divine power than afterwards. Sulpicius thus speaks of him in his episcopate :—
"He remained just what he was before; with the same humbleness of heart, the same meanness of dress, and with a fulness of authority and grace which responded to the dignity of a bishop without infringing on the rule and the virtue of a monk. For a while he lived in a cell built on to the church; but, unable to bear the interruptions of visitors, he made himself a monastery about two miles out of the city. So secret and retired was the place, that he did not miss the solitude of the desert. On one side it was bounded by the high and precipitous rock of a mountain, on the other the level was shut in by the river Loire, which makes a gentle bend. There was but one way into it, and that very narrow. His own cell was of wood. Many of the brethren made themselves dwellings of the same kind, but most hollowed out the stone of the mountain which was above them. There were eighty scholars who were under training after the pattern of their saintly master. No one had aught his own; all things were thrown into a common stock. It was not lawful, as to most monks, to buy or sell any thing. They had no art except that of transcribing, which was assigned to the younger: the older gave themselves up to prayer. They seldom left their cell, except to attend the place of prayer. They took their meal together after the time of fasting. No one tasted wine, except compelled by bodily weakness. Most of them were clad in camel's hair; a softer garment was a crime; and what of course makes it more remarkable is, that many of them were accounted noble, who, after a very different education, had forced themselves to this humility and patience; and we have lived to see a great many of them bishops. For what is that city or church which did not covet priests from the monastery of Martin ?"—Vit. M. c. 7.
Once on a time, a person whom he had benefited by his prayers, sent him a hundred pounds of silver. Martin put it aside for redeeming captives. Some of the brothers suggested that their own fare was scanty and their clothing deficient. "We," he made answer, "are fed and clad by the Church, provided we seem to appropriate nothing to ourselves."—Dial. iii. 19.
It is worth noticing in the former of these passages, that St. Martin, though not himself a man of learning, far from despising it, made his monastic institution subservient to theological purposes. This monastery became afterwards famous under the name of the Abbey of Marmoutier; and eventually it conformed to the Benedictine rule.
St. Martin was a man of action still more than he was of meditation; and his episcopate is marked with strenuous deeds sufficient to convince all readers of his history, that, whatever blame this age may be disposed to throw on him, it will not be made on the side of mysticism or indolence. Gaul was even at this time almost pagan: the cities, indeed, had long enjoyed the light of Christianity, and had had the singular privilege of contributing both Greek and Latin Fathers to the Catholic Church. Marseilles, Lyons, Vienne, Toulouse, Tours, Aries, Narbonne, Orleans, Paris, Clermont, and Limoges, seem to have been episcopal sees; but the country people had never been evangelized, and still frequented their idol temples. In the first years of Martin's episcopate, heathen sacrifices were forbidden by law; and the resignation with which the pagans submitted to the edict, showed, at least, what the history of the times so often shows otherwise, that their religion had no great hold upon their hearts. Martin took upon him to enter and destroy the kingdom of Satan with his own hands. He went, unarmed, among the temples, the altars, the statues, the groves, and the processions of the false worship, attended by his monastic brethren: he presented himself to the barbarian multitude, converted them, and made them join with him in the destruction of their time-honoured establishment of evil. What were his weapons of success does not appear, unless we are willing' to accept his contemporary biographer's statement, that he was attended by a divine influence manifesting itself even in distinct and emphatic miracles.
It is difficult to assign the limits of his diocese, and perhaps they were not very accurately determined. On the east of Tours, we hear of his evangelical prowess in Burgundy and the neighbourhood of Autun, and on the north towards Chartres; the nearest sees on all sides of him were Poictiers, Limoges, Clermont, and Orleans; and his presence is mentioned, though perhaps on political or synodal business, at Paris, Treves, and Vienne. In consequence of his triumphant exertions, he is accounted the apostle of Gaul; and this function, let it be observed, may account for his having the gift of miracles in the height and fulness in which it is ascribed to him, though this general admission does not oblige us to put credit in each particular statement made concerning its exercise.
It may probably occur to some one to ask how it is that miraculous narratives, such as those which occur in the lives of St. Martin and St. Antony, belong to places removed from the populous thoroughfare of society, and the keen eyes of science. The supernatural incidents in Antony's life, are for the most part the produce of the desert; and in Martin's they were the persuasives of a barbarous people. The obvious answer is, that towns had already been converted by miracle, and the divine gift travelled onwards. It is remarkable too, that St. Paul did no miracle among the heathens of Athens, and scarcely at Corinth, but among the barbarous Lycaonians who had faith, and the ignorant people of Melita. Nay, as if some unknown law of divine agency were in operation, it is expressly said of our Blessed Lord Himself, that in one place "He did not many mighty works, because of their unbelief." A living writer of great genius has suggested the existence of a parallel law of connexion between barbarous countries and demoniacal influence.
"Many travellers," he says, "who have been conversant with savages, have been fully persuaded that their jugglers actually possessed some means of communication with the invisible world, and exercised a supernatural power which they derived from it. And not missionaries only have believed this, and old travellers who lived in ages of credulity, but more recent observers, such as Carver and Bruce, whose testimony is of great weight, and who were neither ignorant, nor weak, nor credulous men. What I have read concerning ordeals, also staggers me; and I am sometimes inclined to think it more possible, that where there has been full faith on all sides, these appeals to divine justice may have been answered by Him who sees the secrets of all hearts, than that mode of trial should have been provided so long and so generally, from some of which no person could ever have escaped without an interposition of Providence. . . . May it not be, that by such means in dark ages, and among blind nations, the purpose is effected of preserving conscience and the belief of our immortality, without which the life of our life would be extinct? And with regard to the conjurers of the African and American savages, would it be unreasonable to suppose that, as the most elevated devotion brings us into fellowship with the Holy Spirit, a correspondent degree of wickedness may effect a communion with evil intelligences1?" If there then be some special Satanic influence in a pagan country, it is not surprising that Christianity should meet it with a correspondent supernatural power on its side.
Martin was not content with destroying the heathen temples; he built churches in their place. At first sight it may be questioned whether the better course would not have been to spare the temples and to consecrate them to Christian uses; but probably they were very rude and miserable buildings, and either not worth preserving, or not capable of a convenient adaptation. In the cities the Church seems to have preserved and retained them; except, indeed, at first, when there was an obvious wisdom to accept the state's permission to destroy them, when their abiding presence would have suggested to the pagans hopes of the future restoration of their idolatry. Add to this, it cannot be denied there was a difference of opinion in the early Fathers, whether, and how far, the fine arts which had been exercised on the temples of idolatry, might lawfully be applied to the service of religion. The conversion of the en> perors brought with it into the Church wealth, and the skill to use it; it seemed pious and dutiful to dedicate these gifts to God: and, moreover, a direct fulfilment of the prophecy, that "the glory of Lebanon should come unto" the Church, "to glorify the place of the sanctuary," that "the sons of strangers should build her walls," and the ships of Tarshish bring silver and gold, and that "her windows should be agates, and gates carbuncles;" illustrated too, as this prophecy had been by the offering of the Magi, who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, to their divine Lord, when an infant in arms, with temptation and suffering before Him. However, a natural jealousy would be sure to exist in holy men, lest the inward glory of the Gospel should be sacrificed to its material decorations; the Arian or rather semi-Arian faction had been busy in the erection of churches; and we find Jerome, Epiphanius, and Isidore, not to search deeply into the history of the times, discouraging the spirit which was rising on all sides of them.
1 Southey's Colloquies. Introduction.
For instance, Jerome says, in the letter to Demetrias, which has already come before us, speaking of the disposal of her property; "Let others build churches, incase the walls with marble, transport immense columns, and gild their heads, which cannot feel the precious decoration: let them ornament the folding doors with ivory and silver, and the altars with gold and jewels. I do not blame, I do not dissent; let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind. It is better so to do, than to brood over one's store of wealth. But something else is proposed to you; to clothe Christ in the poor, to visit Him in the sick, to feed Him in the hungry, to entertain Him in the houseless, especially in ' the household of faith,' to maintain monasteries of virgins, to have a care of the servants of God, and poor in spirit, who day and night serve your Lord, who, though on earth, imitate the life of Angels, and speak nothing hut God's praises, and ' having food and raiment' rejoice in this wealth as desirous of nought besides, that is, if they keep their resolve. Else, if they desire more, they show themselves unworthy too of what is necessary. I speak to a rich virgin, and a noble virgin." —Ep. 130.
But to return to St. Martin: one other passage of his history shall here be mentioned, if that can so be called which brings before us his departure from this life into the unseen world. Something more of his deeds in the flesh shall be reserved for the next and concluding chapter.
He had been at a place, at the extremity of his charge, to settle a quarrel existing between the clergy there. When he set out to return, his strength suddenly failed him, and he felt his end was approaching. A fever had already got possession of him. He assembled his disciples, and announced to them that he was going: they, with passionate laments, deprecated such a dispensation, as giving over his flock to the wolves. The saint was moved, and used words which have become famous in the Church, " Lord, if I be yet necessary to Thy people, I decline not the labour; Thy will be done!" His wish was heard, not his prayer. His fever lay upon him; during the trial he continued his devotions as usual, causing himself to be laid in sackcloth and ashes. On his disciples asking to he allowed to place straw under him instead, he made answer, "Sons, it becomes not a Christian to die, except in ashes. Did I set other example, I should sin myself." They wished to turn him on his side, to ease his position; but he expressed a wish to see heaven rather than earth, that his spirit might, as it were, be setting out on its journey. It is said, that on this he saw the evil spirit at his side; and he addressed him in words expressive of his assurance, that his Lord's merits were fully imparted to him, and his soul perfected. "Beast of blood," he exclaimed, "why standest thou here? Deadly one, thou shalt find nothing in me; Abraham's bosom is receiving me." With these words he died.
At this time Sulpicius his biographer was away, apparently at Toulouse. One morning a friend had just departed from him, he was sitting alone in his cell, thinking of the future and the past, his sins, and the last judgment. "My limbs being wearied," he writes to the friend who had thus left him, "by the anguish of my mind, I laid them down on my bed, and, as is customary in sorrow, fell into a sleep; —the sleep of the morning hours, light and broken, and taking but wavering and doubtful possession of the limbs, when one seems, contrary to the nature of deep slumber, to be almost awake in one's sleep. Then suddenly I seem to myself to see holy Martin, the bishop, clad in a white robe, with face like a flame, eyes like stars, and glittering hair; and, while his person was what I had known it to be, yet, what can hardly be expressed, I could not look at him, though I could recognise him. He slightly smiled on me, and bore in his right hand the book I had written of his life. I embrace his sacred knees, and ask the blessing as usual; and feel the soft touch of his hand on my head, while, together with the usual words of blessing, he repeats the familiar name of the cross: next, while I gaze upon him, and cannot take my fill of his face and look, suddenly he is caught aloft, till, after completing the immense spaces of the air, I following with my eyes the swift cloud that carried him, he is received into the open heaven, and can be seen no more. Not long after, I see the holy presbyter Clare, his disciple, who had lately died, ascending after his master. I, shameless one, desire to follow; while I set about, and strain after lofty steps, I wake up, and, shaking off my sleep, begin to rejoice in the vision, when a boy, who was with me, enters sadder than usual, with a -speaking and sorrowful countenance: 'Why so sad and eager to speak?' say I: 'Two monks,' he answers, 'are just come from Tours; they bring the news that Martin is departed.' I was overcome, I confess; my tears burst forth, I wept abundantly. Even now while I write, my brother, my tears are flowing, nor is any comfort adequate to this most unruly grief. However, when the news came, I felt a wish that you should be partner in my grief, who were companion in my love. Come then to me at once, that we may mourn together, whom we love together; although I am aware that such a man is not really to be mourned, who, after conquering and triumphing over the world, has at length received the crown of righteousness."— Ep. 2.
This letter is written to a private friend, at the time of St. Martin's death, as appears on the face of it; the memoirs of the saint are written with equal earnestness and simplicity. They were circulated throughout Christendom, with astonishing rapidity: but the miraculous accounts they contained, were a difficulty with great numbers. Accordingly, in the last of his publications, Sulpicius gave the names of living witnesses in corroboration of his own statements. "Far be such suspicion," he adds, "from any one who lives under God's eye; for Martin does not need support from fictions; however, I open before Thee, O Christ, the fidelity of my whole narrative, that I have neither said, nor will say, ought but that I have either seen myself, or have ascertained from plain authorities, or for the most part from his own mouth,"—Dial. iii. 5.
Martin was buried at Tours, and two thousand of his monks attended the funeral. He was more than eighty years old at the time of his death, out of which he had been Bishop twenty-five. Some say that he died on a Sunday, at midnight. His festival in our calendar, as in the Latin Church, is placed on the 11th of November, the day either of his death, or of his burial. His remains were preserved in his episcopal city, till the latter days, when the Huguenots seized and burned them. Some bones, however, are said still to remain.