The following is from my book, Torchbearers: Profiles in Christian Courage.
MARTIN OF TOURS
Soldier for Christ
“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. Martin 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)