Week 5: Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Saint Martin of Tours
Martin of Tours was one of the best known saints of the fourth century. His lifespan from 316 to 397 put him right in the middle of the most important century of Christianity after the first. Martin was named after Mars, god of war, which Sulpicius Severus interpreted as carrying the meaning of “the brave, the courageous”. His father was a senior officer (tribune) in the Imperial Horse Guard, a unit of the Roman army, and was later stationed at Ticinum, Cisalpine Gaul (now Pavia, Italy), where Martin grew up. At the age of ten, he went to the church against the wishes of his parents and became a catechumen or candidate for baptism. At this time, Christianity had been made a legal religion (in 313), but it was by no means the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. As a member of a high level Roman family who chose Christianity on his own, his life resembles that of Augustine. When Martin was fifteen, as the son of a veteran officer, he was required to join a cavalry unit himself and thus, around 334, was stationed at Ambianensium civitas or Samarobriva in Gaul (now Amiens, France). While Martin was still a soldier at Amiens, he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. He was at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clad me.” (Sulpicius, ch 2). In another story, when Martin woke his cloak was restored, and the miraculous cloak was preserved among the relic collection of the Merovingian kings of the Franks. The dream confirmed Martin in his piety and he was baptized at the age of 18. Martin’s decision to come to France (Tours) to help the church began one of the most important careers in the whole history of Christianity. Martin lays the foundations for the whole French Christian church.
The life of Martin is known to us through the work of Sulpitius Severus.
Sulpitius Sulpitius Severus,
The Works of Sulpitius Severus,
Alexander Roberts (translator),
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 4, 2012),
“Alexander Roberts, Sulpitius Severus on the Life of S. Martin
from NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERS: Second Series, Volume XI Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian”
Tours became the cradle of Christianity in France and Saint Martin of Tours became its most famous citizen. This evening we will visit Tours thanks to the photography of Nat Collins who just visited Tours in order to bring these beautiful images to our class.