Friday, November 11, 2016

St Martin of Tours, Enlightener of the West

The feast of the church is given sanctity by a triple virtue: that is, the dedication of the temple, the transfer of the body of the saint, and his ordination as bishop. This feast you shall observe four days before the Nones of July [4 July--W.G.], and remember that his burial is the third day before the Ides of November [11 Nov.--W.G.]. And if you celebrate these faithfully, you will merit the protection of the blessed bishop both in the present life and that to come.  -- St Gregory of Tours (+594), The History of the Franks, Book II, Ch. 14,, opened 10 Nov. 2016, © Paul Halsall, December 1997.  Dates supplied from Penguin Classics version, Lewis Thorpe trans., 1974, p. 130.

Donald Trump has been elected President of the [u]nited States, and the world is on fire because of it.  Whether this is warranted remains to be seen, but one thing seems certain:  Important things will be overlooked with such intense focus on Trump and Washington City.  So let us take care not to lose sight of at least one of them:  the Feast Day of St Martin of Tours (+397) on 11 November. 

St Martin’s ceaseless labors enlightened with the Holy Gospel of Christ many places of Western Europe, both during and after his life, personally and through his famous monastic center at Marmoutier, which trained many missionaries.  Let us look at his life and work.

This holy and beloved Western Saint, the patron of France, was born in Pannonia (modern-day Hungary) in 316, to a pagan military family stationed there. Soon the family returned home to Italy, where Martin grew up. He began to go to church at the age of ten, and became a catechumen. Though he desired to become a monk, he first entered the army in obedience to his parents.

 One day, when he was stationed in Amiens in Gaul, he met a poor man shivering  for lack of clothing. He had already given all his money as alms, so he drew his sword, cut his soldier's cloak in half, and gave half of it to the poor man. That night Christ appeared to him, clothed in the half-cloak he had given away, and said to His angels, "Martin, though still a catechumen, has clothed me in this garment." Martin was baptised soon afterward. Though he still desired to become a monk, he did not obtain his discharge from the army until many years later, in 356.

 He soon became a disciple of St Hilary of Poitiers (commemorated January 13),  the "Athanasius of the West." After traveling in Pannonia and Italy (where he converted his mother to faith in Christ), he returned to Gaul, where the Arian heretics were gaining much ground. Not long afterward became Bishop of Tours, where he shone as a shepherd of the Church: bringing pagans to the faith, healing the sick, establishing monastic life throughout Gaul, and battling the Arian heresy so widespread throughout the West. Finding the episcopal residence too grand, he lived in a rude, isolated wooden hut, even while fulfilling all the duties of a Bishop of the Church.

 His severity against heresy was always accompanied by love and kindness toward  all: he once traveled to plead with the Emperor Maximus to preserve the lives of some Priscillianist heretics whom the Emperor meant to execute.

 As the holy Bishop lay dying in 397, the devil appeared to tempt him one last  time. The Saint said, "You will find nothing in me that belongs to you. Abraham's bosom is about to receive me." With these words he gave up his soul to God.

 He is the first confessor who was not a martyr to be named a Saint in the  West. His biographer, Sulpitius Severus, wrote of him: "Martin never let an hour or a moment go by without giving himself to prayer or to reading and, even as he read or was otherwise occupied, he never ceased from prayer to God. He was never seen out of temper or disturbed, distressed or laughing. Always one and the same, his face invariably shining with heavenly joy, he seemed to have surpassed human nature. In his mouth was nothing but the Name of Christ and in his soul nothing but love, peace and mercy."

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In the 4th century the fire of Christianity began to burn fiercely in Orthodox Gaul. This was largely due to the example and inspiration of the growing monastic movement throughout the Christian world.

Two of the greatest saints of this time in Gaul were St. Hilary of Poitiers and St. Martin of Tours. St. Hilary, known as the “Athanasius of the West,” was the spiritual father of St. Martin. St. Martin is considered Gaul’s first great monastic saint. His example of “bloodless martyrdom” through asceticism was embraced by many.

 . . .

a.) The first true monastery was Marmoutier, founded by St. Martin. The monks in Marmoutier, who numbered eighty, all lived in tiny wooden cells built halfway into the natural caves on the side of an immense cliff along the banks of the Loire River. One can still see these caves near Tours. The monastery of Marmoutier had a strong influence, for many bishops were chosen from its enclosure. St. Sulpicius Severus speaks of monasticism there in his Life of St. Martin:

“No one there had anything which was called his own. It was not allowed to buy or to sell anything.…

No art was practiced there, except that of transcribers, and even this was assigned to the brethren of younger years, while the elders spent their time in prayer. Rarely did any one of them go beyond the cell. They all took food together.

Most of them were clothed in garments of camel’s hair. This must be thought the more remarkable, because many among them were such as are deemed of noble rank … and far differently brought up.” (Chapter 10 of St. Martin’s Life.) St. Martin’s particular expression of the monastic life at Marmoutier was naturally harmonious to the soul of the Gauls and served as a catalyst to the spread of Christianity among the people.

b.) One of the immediate spiritual fruits of St. Martin’s example was the famous monastery of Lerins. The founding of the monastery on the Isle of Lerins in 410 was the work of St. Honoratus, the future bishop of Arles. The monastery served as a spiritual school for bishops and ecclesiastical writers, such as St. Faustus of Riez, St. Eucherius of Lyons, St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Hilary and St. Caesarius of Arles, and St. Patrick of Ireland. The information that has come down to us about the life of the monastery of Lerins can be found primarily in the Life of its founder, St. Honoratus, and in St. Eucherius of Lyons’ In Praise of the Desert. From these sources one can see that most of the monks lived in community, while the more experienced struggled in an eremitic or partially eremitic way of life. Lerins-style monasticism (which held the anchoritic life in the desert as its highest ideal) spread throughout all of southeastern Gaul, notably in the Jura mountains with Sts. Romanus and Lupicinus, and in the Valais, where the monastery of St. Maurice of Agaune would remain an important spiritual center for centuries to come.

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Source:  Monk Nicodemus,, opened 10 Nov. 2016

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By the 4th century Christianity had reached all the Celtic peoples, and this "leaven" was preparing people's hearts to receive the second burst of Christian missionary outreach to the Celts, through St. Hilary and St. Martin.

The seeds that St. Irenaeus planted bore abundant fruit in the person of St. Hilary of Poitiers, who, having lived in Asia Minor, would be the link between East and West, transmitting Orthodoxy in its fullness to the Celtic peoples. He was not only a great defender of the Faith, but also a great lover of monasticism. This Orthodox Faith and love for monasticism was poured into a fitting vessel—Hilary's disciple, St. Martin of Tours, who was to become the spiritual forefather of the Irish people. What Saints Athanasius and Anthony the Great were to Christianity in the East, Saints Hilary and Martin were to the West.

By the 4th century an ascetic/monastic revival was occurring throughout Christendom, and in the West this revival was being led by St. Martin. The Monastery of Marmoutier which St. Martin founded near Tours (on the Loire in western France) served as the training ground for generations of monastic aspirants drawn from the Romano-Celtic nobility. It was also the spiritual school that bred the first great missionaries to the British Isles. The way of life led at Marmoutier harmonized perfectly with the Celtic soul. Martin and his followers were contemplatives, yet they alternated their times of silence and prayer with periods of active labor out of love for their neighbor.

Some of the monks who were formed in St. Martin's "school" brought this pattern back to their Celtic homelands in Britain, Scotland and Wales. Such missionaries included Publicius, a son of the Roman emperor Maximus who was converted by St. Martin, and who went on to found the Llanbeblig Monastery in Wales—among the first of over 500 Welsh monasteries. Another famous disciple of St. Martin was St. Ninian, who traveled to Gaul to receive monastic training at St. Martin's feet, and then returned to Scotland, where he established Candida Casa at Whithorn, with its church dedicated to St. Martin. The waterways between Ireland and Britain had been continually traversed by Celtic merchants, travelers, raiders and slave-traders for many centuries past, so the Irish immediately heard the Good News brought to Wales and Scotland by these disciples of Ninian.

About the same time that the missionaries were traveling to and from Candida Casa amidst all this maritime activity, a young man named Patrick was captured by an Irish raiding party that sacked the far northwestern coasts of Britain, and he was carried back to Ireland to be sold as a slave. While suffering in exile in conditions of slavery for years, this deacon's son awoke to the Christian faith he had been reared in. His zeal was so strong that, after God granted him freedom in a miraculous way, his heart was fired with a deep love for the people he had lived among, and he yearned to bring them to the light of the Gospel Truth. After spending some time in the land of Gaul in the Monastery of Lerins, St. Patrick (451), was consecrated to the episcopacy. He returned to Ireland and preached with great fervor throughout the land, converting many local chieftains and forming many monastic communities, especially convents.

 . . .

Source:  Monk Nicodemus,, opened 10 Nov. 2016

Clearly, St Martin had a tremendous influence on Western Europe.  Though his labors have been largely undone by the Roman Catholic Great Schism of 1054 and the Protestant Reformation and their fruits of scholasticism, agnosticism and atheism, rationalism and emotionalism, etc., repentance is always possible.  For those concerned with the future of Western civilization, your return to the Church that made St Martin and the whole of the First Europe, the Orthodox Church, is the first and crucial step.

As the South is descended from nations very deeply affected by St Martin’s work like Scotland, Ireland, and France, we should be at the forefront of those venerating him on his principal feast days of 11 November and 4 July (yes, this celebration, together with the commemoration of the Holy Royal Martyrs of Russia, should be given preeminence over that of America’s Independence Day).

A service to St Martin may be found here under 12 October (which is the date for St Martin on the Slavic calendar of Saints):

May hymns to our father in the Faith St Martin always rise from the South, a couple more of which are here:

Holy Martin of Tours, pray for us sinners at the South!


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð!

Anathema to the Union!

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