Tag Archives: France

Martin of Tours: Soldier for Christ

The following is from my book, Torchbearers: Profiles in Christian Courage.

PROFILE FIVE

MARTIN OF TOURS

Soldier for Christ

(316-397)

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the comic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:11-12

We are called to be soldiers for Christ. We are commanded to preach the good news to the ends of the earth and to help establish God’s kingdom here on earth. History is filled with great examples of men and women who have answered that call. St. Martin of Tours is one of them.

The son of pagan Roman officials, Martin was born in Upper Pannonia—present day Hungary—in 331 and was educated in Pavia in northern Italy. He knew from the age of ten that he wanted to become a Christian, but was enrolled in the Imperial cavalry five years later against his will. He had yet to be baptized. This is the basis of his patronage of soldiers and horsemen. On one bitterly cold night at Amiens, he gave half his cloak to a naked and freezing beggar. Soon afterward, he saw a vision of Christ wearing it. This is the basis of his invocation against impoverishment. Martin was finally baptized soon after this.

He asked for a discharge from the army, believing that as a Christian he was not allowed to fight. He was accused of cowardice. His answer was to stand unarmed in the battle line, holding only a cross—at the sight of which the enemy surrendered. MartSt_Martin_Icon_2006in was given his discharge and he left the army in his early 20s to become a disciple of Hilary of Potiers. He later traveled in Italy and Dalmatia. He lived as a hermit for ten years before rejoining Hilary, who encouraged him to found a community of hermit-monks at Liguge, the first monastery is what is now France.

In 372, at the age of 56, he accepted the epicopate of Tours. Though he was reluctant to accept the offer and continued to live as a monk, he was zealous in the discharge of his duties. He was a dedicated missionary to the Franks who adopted military methods to lead an army of monks through the land destroying idols, pagan temples, and graves and preaching the good news to all. He traveled to the remotest parts of his diocese by foot, by donkey and by boat and was a wonder-worker whose miracles included healing lepers and raising a man from the
dead. He later established another great monastic center at Marmoutier.

Martin opposed Arianism and Priscillianism, the two great heresies of his day, but he opposed the practice of putting heretics to death. He unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the execution of Priscillian and others for heresy. He interceded with the emperor Maximus arguing that it was sufficient to declare them heretics and excommunicate them.

Martin, the first great pioneer of Western monasticism, died at Candes near Tours in 397. More than 2,000 monks accompanied his body back to Tours. St. Martin of Tours is the patron saint of France and over 4,000 churches in France are named after him.

Martin of Tours’ selfless dedication is an inspiration to us all. Each and every one of us should be zealous in spreading the gospel by using whatever gifts has given us. Not every one of us is called to be preaching on the street corner or to go the remotest parts of the globe. We are all gifted in different ways. But whatever gifting each of us may have, we are all to be about the kingdom’s work. As St. Augustine once said, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Words to live by!

O God, who are glorified in the Bishop Saint Martin both by his life and death, make new, we pray,

the wonders of your grace in our hearts, that neither death nor life may separate us from your love.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Common of Pastors)

St. Martin of Tours (316-397)

320px-El_Greco_-_San_Martín_y_el_mendigo

He was the son of a pagan Roman officer and born in 316 in what is now Hungary. Educated in Pavia in northern Italy. From the age of ten, he knew he intended to become a Christian but was enrolled in the Imperial calvary five years later against his will and before he could be baptized. One bitterly cold night at Amiens, he gave half of his cloak to a freezing naked beggar and soon afterwards saw a vision of Christ wearing it. This is the basis of his invocation against impoverishment and has been depicted by numerous artist including El Greco (seen above). As a result of this event, he was finally baptized.

He asked for a discharge because he believed that as a Christian he was not allowed to fight and was accused of cowardice. His answer to that was to stand unarmed in battle holding only a cross-at the sight of which the enemy surrendered. He was given his discharge in 339 and became a disciple of St. Hillary of Potiers; he ended up converting his mother to Christianity. Martin later travelled in Italy and Dalmatia. He lived as a hermit for ten years before rejoining Hilary who encouraged him to found a community of monk-hermits at Liguge, the first monastery in what is now France.

In 372, Martin, now 56, accepted the episcopate in Tours. He was reluctant to accept the position and continued to live as a monk, first in a cell near his church and later at Marmoutier where he established another great monastic center. He continued to live in a strict monastic way until his death. He was zealous in the discharge of his duties. As bishop of Tours, he was a dedicated missionary to the Franks and other northern tribes who had invaded the region. As a former soldier, he used military methods in missionary work. He travelled to the remotest parts of the diocese by foot, by donkey and by boat. From Tours, he led an army of monks through France destroying idols, pagan temples and graves and preaching. Martin was also a wonder worker whose miracles included healing lepers and raising a man from the dead.

Martin opposed Arianism and Priscillianism, the two great heresies of the day, but condemned the practice of putting heretics to death. He actually interceded with the emperor Maximus in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the execution of Priscillian and others for heresy, declaring that it was sufficient to declare them heretics and excommunicate them.

The first great pioneer of Western monasticism, Martin died at Candes, near Tours in 397. More than 2,000 monks attended his body on its return to Tours. He is the patron saint of France. His feast day is November 11. The saint has given his name to a spell of good weather around his feast day (Nov. 11) known as St. Martin’s summer; the English equivalent of the American Indian summer. His biography, written by Sulpicius Severus, was extremely popular in the Middle Ages and his cult was widespread. In France, over 4000 churches are dedicated to him. And the Benedictine monastery near me where I am going to be an oblate is named after St. Martin of Tours. A popular saint indeed, he is the patron saint of not only France, but also soldiers, horses, riders, geese and wine growers. His emblems are a globe of fire and a goose.

Birth of Christendom: Coronation of Charlemagne (800)

By the dawn of the ninth century, the celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25 was a well-established practice. And so was the odd mixture of Christian content and pagan festivity that so characterizes Christmas celebrations. But something also happened on Christmas day in the year 800 that greatly changed the face of Europe and the course of history in the West.  The turning point happened in Rome at St. Peter’s church. At the end of the day’s main service, Charles, king of the Franks (modern France and much of Germany) rose from praying before the tomb of the apostle. As he did, Pope Leo III walked forward, and in the words of an eyewitness, “the venerable holy pontiff with his own hands crowned Charles with a most precious crown.” Then all the people apparently arose as one and having been told what to say, shouted three times: “Carolo Augusto a Deo coronato, magno et pacifico imperatori, vita et victoria” or in English: “To Charles Augustus, crowned by God, great and peace-giving emperor of the Romans, life and victory.”

Now what happened was not on the same level as the Nicene Council or the founding of the monasteries. If these events had not occurred, the same results would have most likely marked the progress of Christianity during the Middle Ages. But what happened was a dramatic symbol of relationships undergoing permanent change. It also anticipated the future and outlined the shape of Christianity for the next seven or eight centuries.

There was the rise of papal power. Now the coronation of Charlemagne did not represent the height of papal power. But rather a strategic alliance between the papacy’s expanding influence and a political house that was also expanding in influence.

There was also the rise of Northern Europe which had the expansion of Islam to thank for its rise in power and influence. Due to the expansion of Islam in the East, there was a geographic refocusing and a papal willingness to give up the ideals of a Mediterranean Roman Empire for one centered in the North. When the crowds addressed Charles as Augustus, they were evoking the past majesty of Rome. The papacy realized that the connection between Rome and Constantinople was now bankrupt. You therefore had the transition of Western Christianity from a Mediterranean eastern-oriented faith to an strictly European northward-looking faith.

Charlemagne’s grandfather was the famous Charles Martel who led the Franks to victory at Poitiers in 732 and halted the western expansion of Islam. It is no exaggeration to state that Charles Martel and his successors came to be seen as the saviors of Europe. Charles Martel initiated friendly relations with the papacy and his son and grandson succeeded to this alliance between them and Rome. When Pope Leo III crowned Charles emperor, he was only solidifying a connection that had been developing for more than fifty years. The papacy had turned to the north where a new imperial household was emerging. The link with Rome was now secure. For the next eight centuries and more, the politics, learning, social organization, art, law and economics of Europe would be “Christian,” not in the sense of fully incorporating the gospel, but because the fate of the church in the West was so decisively linked with the imperial household across the Alps.

Charlemagne and those who succeeded him bequeathed Christendom to Europe and Christendom would endure as the shape of Christianity in the West. It affected the practice of the Christian faith in every way. Today we regard the sacred and secular spheres separate. But Christendom harmonized those two spheres of life. This ideal was symbolized by the integrated view of life in which everything from politics to religious life was based on the Christian life as communicated by the Church and protected by the actions of secular rulers.

But Christendom did not function with the harmony and efficiency that the ideal suggested. But for all of its failures, Christendom remained a powerful ideal. At the heart of it was the all-encompassing presence of divine grace in every aspect of life. And in practice of this ideal was the cooperation between church and state.

After many centuries, Christendom would be fatally wounded by the Renaissance, Protestantism, the modern nation-state, atheism, and the spread of of the Christian faith beyond Europe. But as a symbol for the inauguration of a new, long-lasting and far-reaching era of Christianity, it is tough to beat the coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas Day 800.

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