Saint Martin of Tours
Feast day: November 11th
Saint Martin of Tours
Bishop, Soldier, Hermit
Bishop; born at Sabaria (today Steinamanger in German, or Szombathely in Hungarian), Pannonia (Hungary), about 316; died at Candes, Touraine, most probably in 397. In his early years, when his father, a military tribune, was transferred to Pavia in Italy, Martin accompanied him thither, and when he reached adolescence was, in accordance with the recruiting laws, enrolled in the Roman army. Touched by grace at an early age, he was from the first attracted towards Christianity, which had been in favour in the camps since the conversion of Emperor Constantine. His regiment was soon sent to Amiens in Gaul, and this town became the scene of the celebrated legend of the cloak. At the gates of the city, one very cold day, Martin met a shivering and half-naked beggar. Moved with compassion, he divided his coat into two parts and gave one to the poor man. The part kept by himself became the famous relic preserved in the oratory of the Frankish kings under the name of "St. Martin's cloak". Martin, who was still only a catechumen, soon received baptism, and was a little later finally freed from military service at Worms on the Rhine. As soon as he was free, he hastened to set out to Poitiers to enrol himself among the disciples of St. Hilary, the wise and pious bishop whose reputation as a theologian was already passing beyond the frontiers of Gaul. Desiring, however, to see his parents again, he returned to Lombardy across the Alps. The inhabitants of this region, infested with Arianism, were bitterly hostile towards Catholicism, so that Martin, who did not conceal his faith, was very badly treated by order of Bishop Auxentius of Milan, the leader of the heretical sect in Italy. Martin was very desirous of returning to Gaul, but, learning that the Arians troubled that country also and had even succeeded in exiling Hilary to the Orient, he decided to seek shelter on tbe island of Gallinaria (now Isola d'Albenga) in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
As soon as Martin learned that an imperial decree had authorized Hilary to return to Gaul, he hastened to the side of his chosen master at Poitiers in 361, and obtained permission from him to embrace at some distance from there in a deserted region (now called Ligug?) the solitary life that he had adopted in Gallinaria. His example was soon followed, and a great number of monks gathered around him. Thus was formed in this Gallic Thebaid a real laura, from which later developed the celebrated Benedictine Abbey of Ligug?. Martin remained about ten years in this solitude, but often left it to preach the Gospel in the central and western parts of Gaul, where the rural inhabitants were still plunged in the darkness of idolatry and given up to all sorts of gross superstitions. 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. When St. Lidorius, second Bishop of Tours, died in 371 or 372, the clergy of that city desired to replace him by the famous hermit of Ligug?. But, as Martin remained deaf to the prayers of the deputies who brought him this message, it was necessary to resort to a ruse to overcome his resistance. A certain Rusticius, a rich citizen of Tours, went and begged him to come to his wife, who was in the last extremity, and to prepare her for death. Without any suspicions, Martin followed him in all haste, but hardly had he entered the city when, in spite of the opposition of a few ecclesiastical dignitaries, popular acclamation constrained him to become Bishop of the Church of Tours.
Consecrated on 4 July, Martin brought to the accomplishment of the duties of his new ministry all the energy and the activity of which he had already given so many proofs. He did not, however, change his way of life: fleeing from the distractions of the large city, he settled himself in a small cell at a short distance from Tours, beyond the Loire. Some other hermits joined him there, and thus was gradually formed a new monastery, which surpassed that of Ligug?, as is indicated by the name, Marmoutier (Majus Monasterium), which it has kept to our own day. Thus, to an untiring zeal Martin added the greatest simplicity, and it is this which explains how his pastoral administration so admirably succeeded in sowing Christianity throughout Touraine. Nor was it a rare occurrence for him to leave his diocese when he thought that his appearance in some distant locality might produce some good. He even went several times to Trier, where the emperors had established their residence, to plead the interests of the Church or to ask pardon for some condemned person. His role in the matter of the Priscillianists and Ithacians was especially remarkable. Against Priscillian, the Spanish heresiarch, and his partisans, who had been justly condemned by the Council of Saragossa, furious charges were brought before Emperor Maximus by some orthodox bishops of Spain, led by Bishop Ithacius. Martin hurried to Trier, not indeed to defend the Gnostic and Manichaean doctrines of Priscillian, but to remove him 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. Deeply grieved, Martin refused to communicate with Ithacius. However, when he went again to Trier a little later to ask pardon for two rebels, Narses and Leucadius, Maximus would only promise it to him on condition that he would make his peace with Ithaeius. To save the lives of his clients, he consented to this reconciliation, but afterwards reproached himself bitterly for this act of weakness.
After a last visit to Rome, Martin went to Candes, one of the religious centres created by him in his diocese, when he was attacked by the malady which ended his life. Ordering himself to be carried into the presbytery of the church, he died there in 400 (according to some authorities, more probably in 397) at the age of about 81, evincing until the last that exemplary spirit of humility and mortification which he had ever shown. The Church of France has always considered Martin one of her greatest saints, and hagiographers have recorded a great number of miracles due to his intercession while he was living and after his death. His cult was very popular throughout the Middle Ages, a multitude of churches and chapels were dedicated to him, and a great number of places have been called by his name. His body, taken to Tours, was enclosed in a stone sarcophagus, above which his successors, St. Britius and St. Perpetuus, built first a simple chapel, and later a basilica (470). St. Euphronius, Bishop of Autun and a friend of St. Perpetuus, sent a sculptured tablet of marble to cover the tomb. A larger basilica was constructed in 1014 which was burned down in 1230 to be rebuilt soon on a still larger scale This sanctuary was the centre of great national pilgrimages until 1562, the fatal year when the Protestants sacked it from top to bottom, destroying the sepulchre and the relics of the great wonder-worker, the object of their hatred. The ill-fated collegiate church was restored by its canons, but a new and more terrible misfortune awaited it. The revolutionary hammer of 1793 was to subject it to a last devastation. It was entirely demolished with the exception of the two towers which are still standing and, so that its reconstruction might be impossible, the atheistic municipality caused two streets to be opened up on its site. In December, 1860, skilfully executed excavations located the site of St. Martin's tomb, of which some fragments were discovered. These precious remains are at present sheltered in a basilica built by Mgr Meignan, Archbishop of Tours which is unfortunately of very small dimensions and recalls only faintly the ancient and magnificent cloister of St. Martin. On 11 November each year the feast of St. Martin is solemnly celebrated in this church in the presence of a large number of the faithful of Tours and other cities and villages of the diocese.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX
Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910, Remy Lafort, Censor
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
Text Courtesy of TraditionalCatholic.net
St. Martin, Bishop of Tours
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
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."
I. St. Martin trembled on entering a Church and never sat, stood or spoke while there, because he remembered that he was before God, his Judge. Oh, that all who go to Church, would take to heart that they appear before their Judge! How differently would they conduct themselves! May you, at least, think earnestly of it. Say to yourself: "I go to my God; I shall appear before Him, Who, in a little while, will be my Judge, and Who will sentence me for all eternity. At this moment He is still my Savior, ready to pardon my sins and give me grace, that I may go to heaven. But soon He will judge me according to His justice."
Considering all this carefully, you will surely avoid everything that is displeasing to God, and you will guard against the least disrespect. "This place is terrible. It is nothing less than the house of God and the gate of heaven," said the Patriarch Jacob of the place where he had seen, in his sleep, the Lord of Heaven. He was afraid, because he had dared to sleep there, though he knew not that the place was holy. How much more reason have you to fear when you are irreverential in Church, as you know that it is, in a grander sense, the house of God and the gate of heaven.
II. The Evil Spirit, who appeared to St. Martin in his last hour, was easily driven away with, the words: "Wherefore art thou standing there, thou blood-thirsty beast? Thou hast nothing to expect from me." Consider well; if Satan dares to tempt so holy a man; if he can fill him with fear and confusion; what will he not do to those who have led an indolent, lukewarm, or even sinful life? "The devil has descended upon you," says Holy Writ; "he is full of great wrath because he knows that he has but little time." St. Martin feared not, but drove him away, because his conscience was free from anything with which Satan could reproach him. Oh! happy is he, who cannot be reproached in his last hour with anything that he has not confessed already and expiated. St. Martin was accustomed to fight during his life with Satan; therefore he easily conquered him in death.
Think deeply on it; those who accustom themselves during their lives to fight with Satan's temptation, will be able, by the grace of God, to do the same on their death-bed. But how will those fare, who, during the greater part of their lives, have consented to the temptations of Satan? Oh! there is good reason to fear that, in their last hour, they will do the same, and thus go to eternal perdition. Impress this point well upon your mind, and accustom yourself in time to fight bravely against Satan and his temptations, as otherwise you are lost for all eternity. "Vainly do they promise themselves security in their dying hour, who, during their life, resist not temptation,'' says St. Leo. "If Satan finds any one who is not watchful, and well experienced in fighting, he will easily conquer him," says St. Cyprian.
Prayer for the intercession of Saint Martin de Tours
Blessed Saint Martin of Tours, You were born under pagan ways but since your childhood you were
chosen to be a Prince of the Church and, as Bishop of Tours, many souls were redeemed and liberated from the satanic forces through your prayers, austerities and blessings.
Oh Saint Martin, who cut your own cloak to clothe Our Lord disguised as a begger,
We humbly ask for you intercession before Our Lord Jesus Christ and help us to be worthy of the grace and mercy of the Holy Ghost that lead us from darkness to light into the eternal kingdom, forever and ever. Amen.
Prayer to Continue to Fight for God
Lord, if your people still have need of my services, I will not avoid the toil. Your will be done. I have fought the good fight long enough. Yet if you bid me continue to hold the battle line in defense of your camp, I will never beg to be excused from failing strength. I will do the work you entrust to me. While you command, I will fight beneath your banner. Amen
-St Martin of Tours