On the 11th of November we keep the glorious Feast of Saint Martin, Bishop of Tours, the great Thaumaturges (“wonder worker”) who was one of the greatest Saints the Church has ever seen and is considered by some to be the Saint Patrick of France. This was the time when great Saints were ever under the tutelage of other great Saints. Saint Athanasius had studied under Saint Alexander and succeeded him as patriarch of Alexandria, and was then fighting against the first major heresy: the terrible scourge of Arianism. During his trial he would seek refuge in the West with the Bishop of Poitiers: Hilary, who is known as the “Athanasius of the West”, and who was the teacher and mentor of Saint Martin. Meanwhile in Italy Saint Augustine was meeting the venerable Bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose, who along with Saint Monica would work the conversion of the man who would come one of the most important Fathers of the Church. These wonderful examples of discipleship are again exemplified in the shining example from the middle ages of Saint Albert the Great who was the teacher of the greatest genius the Church and even the world have ever seen: Saint Thomas Aquinas, who would be a professor alongside Saint Bonaventure at the University of Paris in the land of Saint Martin of Tours.
The original biography of Saint Martin of Tours was written by Saint Sulpicius Severus. And one cannot highly recommend this great work enough to anyone interested in learning more about Saint Martin. The work is not long and it is available free of charge here and a free audio recording of the work can be found here.
For those in the United States it is especially fitting that Saint Martin’s Feast falls on this day when it is also Veterans Day as Saint Martin was himself a soldier in the Roman Legion.
The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.
Saint Martin of Tours
Bishop and Confessor
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;” (Sulpit. Sever. Vita, vi.) 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. (Ibid, ii) 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. (Ibid, x) 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.” (Cardinal Pie, Homily pronounced on occasion of the re-establishment of the Benedictine Order at Ligugé, Nov. 25th, 1853.)
The holy Liturgy refers to St. Hilary the honour of the wonderful virtues displayed by Martin. (In festo S. Hilarii, Noct. II, Lect. ii.) 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.” (Cardinal Pie, ubi supra)
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 humane sapientiae verbis, but by displaying a power altogether divine: sed in ostensione 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. 2:4) 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.” (Cardinal Pie, Sermon preached in the cathedral of Tours, on the Sunday following the patronal feast of St. Martin, Nov. 14th, 1858.)
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, (Concil. Mogunt. an. 813, can. xxxvi.) and bringing with it the brief return of bright weather known as St. Martin’s summer, the eleventh of November rivaled 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; (Greg. Tur. De miraculis S. Martini, IV. in Prolog.) 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?” (Greg. Tur. Historia Francorum, II. 37.)
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 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.
We here give the beautiful Antiphons of Vespers. The first five are composed of passages from the letter of Sulpicius Severus to Bassula, in which he relates the Saint’s death, thus completing the book he had written of the Life of St. Martin, while the holy bishop was still on earth.
Dixerunt discipuli * ad beatum Martinum: Cur nos pater deseris, aut cui nos desolatos relinquis? Invadent enim gregem tuum lupi rapaces.
His disciples said * unto Blessed Martin: Father, why wilt thou go away from us? or with whom wilt thou leave us orphans? For ravening wolves will break in upon thy flock.
Domine, * si adhuc populo tuo sum necessarius, non recuso laborem: fiat voluntas tua.
Lord, if I be still needful to thy people, I refuse not * to work. thy will be done.
O virum ineffabilem, * nec labore victum, nec morte vincendum, qui nec mori timuit, nec vivere recusavit.
Not to be told is this man’s glory; * whom work did not and death could not conquer; who neither feared to die, nor refused to live.
Oculis ac manibus * in caelum semper intentus, invictum ab oratione spiritum non relaxabat, alleluia.
With eyes and hands lifted up to heaven, * he never let his mighty spirit slacken in prayer. Alleluia.
Martinus * Abrahae sinu laetus excipitur: Martinus, hic pauper et modicus, caelum dives ingreditur, hymnis caelestibus honoratur.
Martin is called joyfully into Abraham’s bosom. * Martin, who was poor here and of small estimation, entereth rich into heaven, and the songs of heaven are raised in his honour.
O beatum virum, cujus anima paradisum possidet: unde exsultant Angeli, laetantur Archangeli, chorus Sanctorum, proclamat, turba Virginum invitat, Mane nobiscum in aeternum.
O blessed man, whose soul is now in possession of Paradise! Wherefore the Angels exult, the Archangels rejoice, the choir of the Saints proclaims his glory, the Virgins crowd around him saying: Remain with us forever.
O beatum Pontificem * qui totis visceribus diligebat Christum Regem, et non formidabat imperii principatum: o sanctissima anima, quam etsi gladius persecutoris non abstulit, palmam tamen martyrii non amisit!
O how blessed a Bishop was he! * All his bowels yearned on the King Christ, and he had no dread for the power of the Empire! O how holy a soul was his, which passed not away by the sword of the persecutor, and yet lost not the palm of martyrdom.
St. Odo of Cluny, one of the most illustrious and devout clients of St. Martin, composed the following hymn in his honour. The faithful will find in their Vesper books, in the Common of the Saints, the more ancient hymn, Iste Confessor; it is somewhat altered from the original, which was intended to celebrate the miracles wrought at the tomb of this the first Saint not a martyr to be honoured by the whole Church.
Rex Christe, Martini decus,
Hic laus tua, tu illius:
Tu nos in hunc te colere,
Quin ipsum in te tribue.
Qui das per orbis cardines,
Quod gemma fulget Praesulum;
Da quos premunt culpae graves,
Solvat per ingens meritum.
En pauper hic et modicus
Coelum dives ingreditur;
Coeli cohortes obviant,
Linguae, tribus, gentes ovant.
Ut vita, fulget transitus,
Coelis et arvo splendidus;
Gaudere cunctis pium est,
Cunctis salus sit haec dies.
Martine, par Apostolis,
Festum colentes tu fove;
Qui vivere discipulis
Vis, aut mori, nos respice.
Fac nunc quod olim gesseras,
Tu Praesules clarifica,
Auge decus Ecclesiae,
Fraudes relide Satanae.
Qui ter chaos evisceras
Mersos reatu suscita:
Diviseras ut chlamydem,
Nos indue justitiam.
Ut specialis gloriae
Quondam recorderis tuae,
Monastico nunc Ordini,
Jam pene lapso, subveni.
Sit Trinitati gloria,
Martinus ut confessus est;
Cujus fidem per opera
In nos et ipse roboret.
O Christ our King, Martin’s glory, he is thy praise, and thou art his: suffer us to honour thee in him, yea and him in thee.
Thou who causest the jewel of Pontiffs to shine throughout the world; grant that through his exceeding great merit, he may deliver us who are oppressed by the weight of our sins.
Poor and humble here on earth, lo! now he enters heaven abounding in riches; the celestial hosts come forth to meet him, and all tongues, tribes, and nations celebrate his triumph!
His death, like his life, was resplendent with light, a glory to earth and to heaven; to rejoice thereat is the duty of all; may this day be to all a day of salvation.
O Martin, equal to the Apostles, succour us who keep thy feast; look upon us, O thou who wast willing alike, to live for thy disciples or to die.
Do now what thou didst heretofore: make Pontiffs illustrious in virtue, increase the glory of the Church, and frustrate the wiles of Satan.
Thrice didst thou despoil the abyss of its prey: raise up now those that are buried in sin. As once thou didst share thy mantle with another, clothe us with the garb of holiness.
Remembering what was once thy special glory, succour the monastic Order now well-nigh extinct.
Glory be to the holy Trinity, whom Martin confessed by his life; may he obtain that our faith in that mystery be confirmed by works. Amen.
Adam of St. Victor has consecrated to the holy Bishop of Tours one of his most enthusiastic pieces.
Gaude Sion, quse diem recolis,
Qua Martinus, compar Apostolis,
Mundum vincens, junctus caelicolis
Hic Martinus, pauper et modicus,
Servus prudens, fidelis villicus,
Coelo dives, civis angelicus
Hic Martinus, jam catechumenus
Nudum vestit, et nocte protinus
In sequenti, hac veste Dominus
Hic Martinus, spernens militiam,
Inimicis inermis obviam
Ire parat, baptismi gratiam
Hic Martinus, dum offert hostiam,
Intus ardet per Dei gratiam:
Supersedens apparet etiam
Hic Martinus, qui coelum reserat,
Mari praeest et terris imperat,
Morbos sanat et monstra superat,
Hic Martinus nec mori timuit,
Nec vivendi laborem respuit,
Sicque Dei se totum tribuit
Hic Martinus, qui nulli nocuit,
Hic Martinus, qui cunctis profuit,
Hic Martinus, qui trinae placuit
Hic Martinus, qui fana destruit,
Qui gentiles ad fidem imbuit,
Et de quibus eos instituit,
Hic Martinus, qui tribus mortuis
Meritis dat vitam praecipuis:
Nunc momentis Deum continuis
O Martine, pastor egregie,
O coelestis consors militiae,
Nos a lupi defendas rabie
O Martine, fac nunc quod gesseras,
Deo preces pro nobis offeras,
Esto memor, quam numquam deseras
Rejoice, O Sion, celebrating the day whereon Martin, equal to the Apostles, conquering the world, is crowned among the heavenly citizens.
This is Martin, poor and humble, the prudent servant, the faithful steward; now rich, he is throned on high in heaven, a fellow-citizen of the Angels.
This is Martin, who, yet a catechumen, clothes the naked, and straightway the next night the Lord himself is covered with that garment.
This is Martin, who, despising the army, is ready to go unarmed and face the foe; for now he has obtained the grace of baptism.
This is Martin, who, while he offers the holy Victim, is all on fire within, through the grace of God, and lo! a fiery globe appears resting above his head.
This is Martin, who opens heaven, gives orders to the sea, commands the earth, heals diseases, and vanquishes monsters: incomparable man!
This is Martin, who neither feared to die, nor refused to live and labour, thus abandoning himself entirely to the will of God.
This is Martin, who never injured any; this is Martin, who was good and kind to all; this is Martin, who was wellpleasing to the majestic Trinity.
This is Martin, who destroys the pagan temples, who initiates the nations to the faith, and what he teaches them does first himself.
This is Martin, who by his singular merits raises three dead men to life; he now beholds God for ever without intermission.
O Martin, illustrious pastor, O soldier in the heavenly ranks, defend us from the fury of the ravening wolf.
O Martin, act once more as thou didst of old; offer to God thy prayers for us; be mindful of thine own nation and forsake it never. 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.
How lamentable, above all, has become the destitution of France, which thou didst once enrich with the blessings of heaven, and where thy benefits have been requited with such injuries! Deign to consider, however, that our days have seen the beginning of reparation, close by thy holy tomb restored to our filial veneration. Look upon the piety of those grand Christians, whose hearts were able, like the generosity of the multitude, to rise to the height of the greatest projects; see the pilgrims, however reduced their numbers, now taking once more the road to Tours, traversed so often by people and kings in better days of our history.
Has that history of the brightest days of the Church, of the reign of Christ as King, come to an end, 0 Martin? Let the enemy imagine he has already sealed our tomb. But the story of thy miracles tells us that thou canst raise up even the dead. Was not the catechumen of Ligugé snatched from the land of the living, when thou didst call him back to life and Baptism? Supposing that, like him, we were already among those whom the Lord remembereth no more, the man or the country that has Martin for protector and father need never yield to despair. If thou deign to bear us in mind, the Angels will come and say again to the supreme Judge: “This is the man, this is the nation for whom Martin “prays;” and they will be commanded to draw us out of the dark regions where dwell the people without glory, and to restore us to Martin, and to our noble destinies. (Sulpit. Sever. Vita, vii.)
Thy zeal, however, for the advancement of God’s kingdom knew no limits. Inspire, then, strengthen and multiply the apostles all over the world, who, like thee, are driving out the remnants of infidelity. Restore Christian Europe, which still honours thy name, to the unity so unhappily dissolved by schism and heresy. In spite of the many efforts to the contrary, maintain thy noble fatherland in its post of honour, and in its traditions of brave fidelity. May thy devout clients in all lauds experience that thy right arm still suffices to protect those who implore thee.
In heaven to-day, as the Church sings, the Angels are full of joy, the Saints proclaim thy glory, the Virgins surround thee saying: “Remain with us for ever.” (Ant. ad Magnificat, in I Vesp.) Is not this the continuation of what thy life was here on earth, when thou and the virgins vied with each other in showing mutual veneration; when Mary their Queen, accompanied by Thecla and Agnes, loved to spend long hours with thee in thy cell at Marmoutier, which thus became, says thy historian, like the dwellings of the Angels? (Sulpit. Sever. Dialog. I.) Imitating their brothers and sisters in heaven, virgins and monks, clergy and pontiffs turn to thee, never fearing that their numbers will cause any one of them to receive less; knowing that thy life is a light sufficient to enlighten all; and that one glance from Martin will secure to them the blessings of the Lord.