Saturday, November 11, 2017


Who was Martin of Tours? First, he is one of the most famous fourth-century Christians. The son of a military tribune, he was born around 316. His parents were pagans who seemed to have moved to Italy when he was about nine. Over the objections of his parents, Martin prepared for baptism. He was thrilled to hear the stories of Christian martyrs and monks. 
An imperial edict required the sons of veterans to join the army. Although he was not quite sixteen—the minimum age—his father compelled Martin to enlist. Martin “kept completely free from those vices in which that class of men become too frequently involved,” wrote his disciple Sulpitius Severus. He donated most of his pay to charity. 
The best-known instance of Martin’s charity came during a severe winter, in which “extreme cold was proving fatal to many.” A poor man at the gate of Amiens was ill-clothed. Martin “recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him.” Martin had already parted with all of his spare garments to help the poor and needed his cloak himself. Taking his sword, he divided it into two equal parts, giving half to the poor man. That night, Martin had a vision in which Jesus, wrapped in the beggar’s piece said, “Martin, who is still but a catechumen [one preparing for baptism], clothed me with this robe.” 
Martin recognized both praise and censure in Christ’s words. Why was he not yet baptized? He hurried to fulfill that Christian obligation. Soon afterward, he requested emperor Julius Constans to release him from military service. The emperor accused him of cowardice because a battle was impending, but that night the enemy sued for peace and Martin got his discharge. 
Martin studied under Bishop Hilary and lived as a hermit, emerging from solitude only to preach. Traveling to seek the conversion of his parents, he was captured by bandits, but won one of his captors over to Christ and the man released him. Martin’s mother became a Christian during that visit, but his father held out until later. Martin returned to Gaul where he built some of its first monasteries and impressed many with his holy life and miracles. 
Around 371, the people of Tours lured him to their city with a plea that he come pray over a sick woman. As soon as he entered the town, they surrounded him and made him Bishop by force. 
As a bishop, Martin never lost his warm sympathy for suffering people. While he preached the gospel, he also assisted the needy and championed political freedom. Excessive taxation had crushed the middle class in the Roman empire. Many were forced into slavery. Martin took the side of the people against the rulers and offered asylum to fugitives. He probably acted as Defensor for Tours, an advocacy position created by the empire. His monasteries provided security to many who were otherwise crushed by meaningless oppression. All this made him highly popular. 
Hundreds of churches and places are named for Martin and the church honors him with a feast on this day 11 November. Lecoy de la Marche observed about Martin, “he who attempts to measure his stature succeeds only in measuring his own littleness.”

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