« Martinianus, a martyr at Rome Martinus, St., bp. of Tours Martinus, bp. of Dumium »

Martinus, St., bp. of Tours

Martinus (1), St., bp. of Tours in the latter portion of 4th cent. Of all the prelates of that age he made the deepest impression upon the imagination of France and of a considerable part of Western Christendom.

Authorities.—The authorities practically resolve themselves into one, Sulpicius Severus, who mentions Martin in his Sacra Historia (lib. ii. cc. xlv. seq.), in connexion with the important case of Priscillian. [PRISCILLIANUS.] Of three dialogues composed by Sulpicius, two treat de Virtutibus B. Martini. An epistle, addressed to a presbyter named Eusebius (some say addressed to Desiderius), is composed contra Aemulos Virtutum B. Martini; and two more, written respectively to a deacon named Aurelius and to the author's mother-in-law Bassula, narrate the circumstances of Martin's death. Finally, we have a biography, de Beati Martini Vitâ Liber. In Horn's ed. of Sulpicius (Amsterdam, 1665), an 8vo of some 570 pages, including notes, at least a sixth part is occupied with St. Martin. St. Gregory of Tours devotes 3 books out of his 7 on miracles to those wrought by the relics of St. Martin, and references to Martin in his Church History again shew the large space in the mind of France occupied by our saint. We possess two versified biographies of St. Martin. Neither the later, in 4 books, by Venantius Fortunatus, merely adapted from the writings of Sulpicius, nor the earlier, more elegant poem, in 6 books, by Paulinus, has any claim to be considered an independent authority. Sozomen (H. E. iii. 16) has a brief account of Martin.

Life.—He was born at Sabaria in that part of Pannonia which is now Lower Hungary. He apparently lived at least 80 years (316–396).100100Although some of the dates are well established, considerable uncertainty prevails respecting others. Thus though his length of life seems unquestioned, its limiting dates are not quite settled. It is difficult to reconcile some of the statements of Severus with the chronology set forth by Gregory of Tours.

A.D. 316–336.—His father, a soldier in the Roman army, rose to be a military tribune. Martin's infancy was passed at Pavia in Italy, where his father was for some time stationed, and there he received his education, apparently a pagan one. But even in boyhood his real bent was made manifest, and at the age of ten he fled to a church and got himself enrolled as a catechumen against the wish of his parents. His father succeeded in checking for a season the boy's desire for a monastic career. An imperial edict ordered the enrolment of the sons of veterans, and Martin, who had become a wanderer among churches and monasteries, was, through his father's action, compelled to serve. Though living with much austerity, he won the affection of his fellows during his three years' service. During this period, between Martin's 15th and 18th year, we must place a well-known incident, which is thoroughly characteristic. At Amiens, in a winter of unusual severity, he met at the city gate a poor man naked and shivering. His comrades did not heed the sufferer's petitions, and Martin's purse was empty. But Martin with his sword divided his cloak and gave one half to the beggar. That night Martin, in a dream, saw Christ Himself clad in that half cloak. He regarded his dream as a call to baptism, which he straightway received. At the request of his military tribune, he stayed in the army two years after baptism.101101The chronology is here painfully confused.

a.d. 336–360.—The next important event in his career was his first visit to St. Hilary of Poictiers. Martin was his guest for a considerable time, and Hilary was anxious to ordain him deacon. Martin refused on the plea of unworthiness, but accepted the more lowly office of exorcist. Soon after he conceived it his duty to visit his parents and convert them from paganism. In crossing the Alps Martin fell in with a band of robbers, and was brought with hands bound before the chief, who asked who he was. He answered, "A Christian." To the further query whether he feared, he promptly replied that he never felt more secure, but that he grieved for the condition of his captors. The robber is said to have been converted. Martin's mother, with many more in Illyricum, became a convert to Christianity; his father remained a heathen. Arianism was particularly prevalent there, and Martin stood forth as an almost solitary confessor for the faith. He was publicly scourged and compelled to depart. Gaul being in a state of confusion in consequence of the exile of Hilary, Martin went to Italy, and for a short time found a safe retreat at Milan. But the bp. Auxentius, a leader among the Arians, severely persecuted him, and at length drove him away. He retired to the island of Gallinaria (now Galinara) off the coast of the Riviera.

a.d. 360–371.—Hilary being permitted to return home, Martin kept his promise and returned to Gaul, an attempt to meet Hilary at Rome having failed. Having settled near Poictiers, Martin founded, some five miles off at Locociagum (Lugugé), what is considered the earliest monastic institution in Gaul. Hilary gave him the site. If, as seems to be implied by Sulpicius, Martin returned to Gaul immediately after Hilary, his monastic life commenced A.D. 360. After 11 years in his monastery, his reputation led to his election to the see of Tours. It required what is called a pious fraud to entice him from his monastery; a leading citizen of Tours, having pretended that his wife was ill, begged Martin to come and visit her. A crowd of the people of Tours and from neighbouring cities had been gathered together, and the all but unanimous desire was for the election of Martin. The few opponents objected that his personal appearance was mean, his garments sordid, his hair unkempt. One of the objectors was a bishop named Defensor. At service that day the reader, whose turn it was to officiate, failed, through pressure of the crowd, to arrive in time. A bystander took up a psalter and read the verse which in A.V. stands thus: "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength 703because of Thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger." But in the version then employed in Gaul, the concluding words were: "ut destruas inimicum et defensorum." It is characteristic of the age that at this point a loud shout was raised by Martin's friends and his enemies were confounded, the reader's choice of the verse being regarded as a divine inspiration. Opposition thenceforth ceased, and Martin was duly consecrated.

A.D. 371–396.—To a great extent the new bp. of Tours continued to be the monk. He built a monastery two miles from the city, where 80 scholars, some of them noble, pursued a severe discipline. The art of transcribing was cultivated by the younger brethren. In time several cities obtained bishops from this institution. Unlike Hilary, whose controversies with Arians and semi-Arians formed his chief polemical work, bp. Martin was especially called upon to fight paganism. The country people in Gaul were still largely heathen. Martin, as portrayed by Sulpicius, simply lives in an atmosphere of marvels. During the first years of his episcopate the record is especially abundant, though his biographer declares he is restricting himself to a few specimens.

Martin must be regarded as the great evangelizer of the rural districts of Gaul, especially in the considerable and not very defined diocese of Tours. His work and influence are facts which no historian of France can omit. Twice he came across the path of emperors—namely, Valentinian I. and Maximus. Valentinian, the ruler of the West (364–375) for a time (in 368) fixed his seat of empire at Trèves. Martin repaired thither, for some unspecified reason. Moved by his Arian wife Justina, the great opponent of St. Ambrose, the emperor refused an audience. Martin within a week made his way into the palace. The emperor, indignant at the intrusion, declined to rise, until his chair caught fire and compelled him to move forward. Convinced of the divine aid, Valentinian granted all Martin's requests and took him into favour. Martin accepted the royal hospitality but declined all personal presents.

Somewhat different were the relations of Martin with the emperor Maximus, who, after the flight of Valentinian II., fixed his capital also at Trèves. Martin declined from Maximus such invitations as he had accepted from Valentinian, declaring it impossible to banquet with one "who had dethroned one emperor and slain another." The excuses of Maximus, however, induced Martin to appear at the imperial board. The seat assigned to him was among the very highest. In the middle of the feast the proper functionary offered, according to custom, a goblet to the sovereign. Maximus ordered that it should first be given to Martin, expecting to himself receive it from the bishop. But Martin handed the goblet to his chaplain, holding it wrong to allow the emperor higher honour than a presbyter. The bishop's conduct was admired, though no other prelate had acted thus even at the repast of secular dignitaries of inferior rank.

The intercourse of Martin with Maximus involved the bishop in the difficulties which troubled the church in connexion with the Priscillianist error. The leading opponent of Priscillian was the Spanish bp. Ithacius.

Priscillian, though condemned by a local council, was supported by some bishops, who consecrated him to the vacant see of Avila. The members of the council thereupon had recourse to the civil power; while the friends of Priscillian sought the aid of Damasus, bp. of Rome. Failing to obtain it, they betook themselves to Milan, where the great Ambrose was bishop. But St. Ambrose shewed them no more favour than Damasus. In 384 Ithacius went to Trèves to seek an interview with Maximus, and obtained the summoning of a council at Bordeaux. This all recognized as within the fair limits of imperial authority. But Priscillian, on his arrival at Bordeaux, instead of defending his cause by argument, appealed to the emperor. The Ithacians had already committed themselves to the permission of a considerable amount of state interference. Priscillian now came to Trèves and Ithacius followed. Martin objected to a case of heresy being left to a secular tribunal, begged Ithacius not to press the charges against Priscillian before such a court, and besought Maximus not to allow any other punishment of the accused beyond excommunication. Finding that he must leave Trèves and return home, Martin obtained a promise from the emperor that there should be no bloodshed. The trial of Priscillian, which had been delayed until Martin's departure, was now eagerly pressed on, at the instance of two bishops, Magnus and Rufus. The emperor seems to have been sincerely convinced that the heretical teaching of the Priscillianists involved gross immoralities; and, accordingly, in 385 Priscillian was executed with several of his adherents, while others were exiled.

This was the first instance of the capital punishment of a heretic. St. Martin and St. Ambrose protested, and refused communion with the bishops responsible for this sentence.

Martin paid a visit to Trèves later to plead that some of Gratian's officers might be spared. He found there a number of bishops gathered for the consecration of a new bishop, Felix, to the vacant see of Trèves. These prelates had, with one exception, communicated with the adherents of Ithacius, and had endeavoured unsuccessfully to prevent Martin's entrance into the city. The information that those for whose lives he came to plead were doomed, and that a sort of raid against Priscillianism was contemplated, induced Martin to change his mind, especially as he feared that the charge of sympathy with heresy might plausibly be imputed to himself and to others of ascetic life who had taken the same line. Martin evidently considered himself in a situation which involved a cruel and perplexing question of casuistry. Felix was himself a good man and well fitted for the vacant see. Still, Martin would not have communicated, but for the impending danger to the lives of innocent men and to the cause of religion. On his journey homeward, which he commenced on the day after his communion, he sat down in the vast solitude of a forest, near the village of Andethanna, and again debated with himself whether he had acted aright or not. It seemed to him that an angel appeared and told him that his compunction was right, but 704that he had had no choice. Henceforth he must be more careful. Martin believed that his power of working miracles and of relieving the oppressed was diminished ever after this unfortunate event. To escape such risks in the future, he never, for the remaining 16 years of his life, attended any synod or gathering of bishops. Sulpicius believes that in due time he regained his supernatural powers. The remainder of his career was spent in the conversion of his diocese, amidst constant prayer and toil. His death was calm, pious, and edifying. It probably occurred in 397, on Nov. 11, a date well known throughout the N. of England as the term-day of Martinmas. His funeral is said to have been attended by 2,000 monks. He is specially named among confessors in the Mass of pope Gregory, with Linus, Cletus, Hilary, Augustine, and 13 more. One of the oldest churches in England is that of St. Martin at Canterbury; and the earliest apostle of Scotland, St. Ninian, having heard of Martin's death while labouring in Galloway, dedicated to him the first stone church of the country, Candida Casa.

A cheap popular Life of St. Martin of Tours by J. C. Cazenove is pub. by S.P.C.K. in their Fathers for Eng. Readers.


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