Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Martin

Nov. 11; A.D. 397

Late in the autumn, towards the close of the year, there is a season which we call "Martinmas," or sometimes St. Martin's summer." A little earlier there is also what is termed "S. Luke's little summer," that is, a few bright, sunny days, falling warm and summer-like upon us before the setting in of winter.

Mass implies feast. Christmas, the feast of CHRIST. The feasts of the Church used always to last eight days, or as we say an octave; and the little season of the feast of St. Martin, coming between the first and the later chills of the fall of the year, is usually a very sweet and quiet week. The stillness of autumn is around; the trees of our parks and gardens, the woods of the hillside are all rich in colour, and glow in the sunlight of those few days. To the sense of rest which autumn always brings, the sunshine gives a feeling of hope, a feeling that earth's greenness is dying now only to burst out with new gladness in the spring of the next year. So the body of the saint dies only that his soul may live in the eternal spring of heaven, and the good deeds of his life bloom forth in the memory of men, helping those who follow after to be brave and faithful as he.

Martin was the child of pagan parents. His father was of an old Roman family and a soldier in the army of the Emperor. But while yet a child Martin heard much about JESUS, and what he heard touched his pure young heart. At the age of ten he became a catechumen, that is, one preparing for Baptism. His spirit was stirred by all he heard and learned of the lives of the noble Christian saints and Fathers of the Church who had given themselves up to CHRIST, and his earnest wish now was to become a monk. But his father wished that he should be a soldier like himself. So at the age of seventeen he was enrolled in the army, and sent with the Roman legions to fight in Gaul. Ready to do his duty in whatever state of life he was placed, the young Martin threw his whole heart into his work, and made a good and brave soldier. But he had not yet been baptized. One bitter cold night he was riding out on the hillside near the town of Amiens. As he rode along, warmly wrapped in his soldier's cloak, he came upon a poor ragged man who was shivering with cold. His heart was filled with pity. He took his sword, cut his cloak in two, and gave half to the poor man, while he wrapped the other half as well as he could about his own shoulders. His companions were struck with wonder, some jeered, some looked with respect at the kind-hearted young man. But St. Martin did not ask what others thought of his act. All he cared for was to do what was right and kind. He went gaily on his way with his half-cloak, happy to forego a little warmth himself if he could give the more to others. But that night he had a strange dream. It seemed to him that he saw our LORDamong His angels, clothed in the half-cloak he had put round the poor man. Then he thought the Saviour spoke, saying, "Know ye who has thus arrayed Me?

My servant Martin, though not yet baptized, has done this."

St. Martin rose in the morning and went out at once to be baptized.

His wish to become a monk had not changed, but he did not hurry from his post of duty as a soldier. For fourteen years longer he continued to fight for his country, setting a noble example of pure and unselfish life all the time. But at last his desire to give himself entirely to CHRIST grew too strong, and he asked leave to withdraw from the army. It was the eve of a great battle. The Emperor had told his soldiers that he would grant to each one the favour he most desired. It came to Martin's turn to make his request. I have but one wish, Sire," he said, "it is to quit the service. Through many years I have fought for my land and for you, I have gladly faced all dangers; now I wish to fight for CHRIST alone, and to become a Priest of GOD . This is the favour I would ask."

The Emperor was Julian, called the "Apostate," because, after having become a Christian, he gave up his faith, and turned again to paganism. It is said that when he was dying, slain in battle by his enemies, the whole force and truth of the faith he had denied came upon him, and that he died with the cry, "The Nazarene has conquered." At the time that St. Martin came to him and begged release from the army, Julian was already trying to stifle in his heart the faith he meant to abjure. So he pretended not to understand why Martin should wish to become a Priest, and said it was fear of the morrow's fight that made him ask this.

"Fear!" cried the Christian soldier. "If you think I know what is meant by fear, place me to-morrow in the very front of the battle: without armour, without arms, I will fight. The name of my Saviour alone shall defend me."

"It shall be as you propose," was the reply of the Emperor, and that night he had him placed under a strong guard lest he should attempt to escape.

But the soldier was spared such an ordeal. The next day, instead of advancing to battle, the enemy sent to beg for a treaty of peace.

Now St. Martin was free, and he went at once to St. Hilary of Poitiers to ask of him advice and counsel as to what he ought to do. St. Hilary told him his first duty was to go to those of his own family, and try to win them to Christianity. So he set out on his way to Italy. It was a long and toilsome journey in those days, and St. Martin met with many dangers. Once he fell among thieves. They were about to strike him down dead with the blow of an axe when some of the party thought, "No, it would be better simply to take him captive." So they bound his hands behind him, and he was given in charge to one of the band. This man took him aside and asked him who he was. St. Martin gave the answer that had been given so often and so bravely by saints and martyrs before him, "I am a Christian."

The robber asked if he felt afraid. Afraid! nay, I was never more at ease," replied the saint. "I know that the LORDS mercy will be with me, and that He will be my Help in trial and temptation. Rather am I grieved for you who live by robbery and evil deeds."

The thief was struck by his words, and when St. Martin went on to tell him the story of the Saviour, and to beg him to change his bad way of life, he listened with respect, and by-and-by set the Christian saint safely on his way, begging his prayers.

He reached home and fulfilled his sacred mission. His mother and several other members of his family were turned to JESUS. But he was not able to remain in his native town; the people beat him out of the place with rods because he owned himself a Christian. Then he went to live at Milan, but, here, too, he was ill-treated and forced to leave the city. He took with him one faithful Priest, and lived hidden for some years in a small desert island not far from Genoa, trying by prayer and self-denial to make himself more fit for the sacred office he had undertaken.

By-and-by he went back to France to St. Hilary, to whom he always looked up with deep respect, and whose counsels he was careful to follow. Then, after long preparation, he entered upon active work and founded a monastery in a lonely part of Poitou. His life here was very spare and simple. He would allow himself nothing either in food or dress that he could possibly do without. As a Roman soldier he had learned to bear fatigue and hardship, and to think only of the duty before him. As a soldier of CHRIST he tried to show himself still braver and more ready to give up everything that could hinder him in his warfare. So simple and poor was he in his dress and manner of life, that when the Christians of Tours asked him to become their Bishop, some among them thought he was not the fit person to place in such a post.

As Bishop, he was simple and austere as before, and kept to his strict monastic rules, though he was at the same time always gentle and kind and gracious in his manner. But he had a great dislike to visitors; he longed for quiet, and in order to live a life given up entirely to his duties, and undisturbed by the strangers who came constantly to visit the Bishop or Abbots who lived in the towns, he built a monastery two miles away from the city. Many brethren gathered round him here. They made their own cells, either of wood or hewn out of the rocks in the hillsides. None of them were idle. Manuscripts were copied, "books" made, the young taught; for St. Martin set up a great school, and he had often nearly a hundred scholars under training, most of them the sons of the great nobles of the land.

Often the Bishop would go through the country preaching. He loved chiefly to go to the poor, who heard him gladly, for they knew the kindness of his heart. But he went also to courts and boldly preached before the Emperor, rebuking him for his wrong-doing, and for the persecution of the Christians, which he allowed to go on.

He was active to the last. At the age of eighty he travelled to a distant part of his diocese to make peace between two of his clergy. His strength was failing, and the journey was too much for him. He was stricken with fever. When he felt that his end was at hand, he gathered his disciples round him and bade them lay him on a bed of ashes; so he passed away.

There is a beautiful story told of how one day St. Martin was celebrating the Holy Eucharist in his cathedral, when there entered a man so poor and wretched that he was almost naked.

The instant he saw him, the Bishop bade one of his Deacons go and fetch a cloak to clothe the poor beggar. But the Deacon was slow, he seemed to think there was no need for him to be disturbed in the middle of the service for such a pupose. St. Martin knew that a deed of charity was more worth than many prayers, and when he noticed the Deacon's delay, he at once threw off the cope in which he was celebrating, and cast it to the poor man. Then, without waiting for another to be brought to him, he proceeded with his service. The story goes on to say that the people who were in the church, looking upon their Bishop, seemed to see his bare arms covered with chains of gold and silver, hung there by angels.