Martin (of Tours), Saint (ca. 316-400)

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Martin (of Tours), Saint (ca. 316-400)

One of the most venerated Christian saints in Europe during the Middle Ages. Most of the Christian luminaries were credited with working miracles, and indeed the great majority of them maintained that if the people were to be won for Christ, the one sure way was to show them extraordinary marvels. Even Columba, most engaging of saints, was not averse to practicing deception with a view to making converts, and it has often been suggested, not without considerable reason, that some of these early thaumaturgists brought science to their aid. Perhaps St. Martin was among those who tried this practice, and certainly the list of miracles attributed to him is formidable, for he is traditionally credited with more than 200.

Martin was born about the year 316 at Sabaria, in Pannonia. His parents were heathen, yet he very soon came into contact with Christians, and their teaching impressed him greatly. As a young man he entered the army, and it was soon after this step that, while stationed with his regiment at Amiens, he performed his famous act of charity, dividing his cloak with a beggar who was shivering with cold. The night after this act he had a vision of Christ appearing to him and giving him his blessing. Thereupon Martin espoused the Christian faith formally, was baptized, and renounced soldiering.

Going to Poitiers, he then made the acquaintance of Hilary, who wished to make him a deacon, but at his own request ordained him to the humbler office of an exorcist. A little later, during a visit to his home, Martin experienced the joy of winning his mother to the new faith. However, his open zeal in opposing the Arians (heterodox Christians) raised persecution against him, and for some time he found it advisable to live at the island of Gallinaria, near Genoa, where he engaged in scientific research and theological studies.

By the year 365 he was back with Hilary at Poitiers, when he founded the Monasterium Locociagense. In 371 the people of Tours chose him as their bishop, and for some time he was active trying to extirpate idolatry in his diocese and extending the monastic system.

Nevertheless, he was no fierce proseletyzer. At Trèves in 385, he entreated that the lives of the Priscillianist heretics should be spared, and afterward he refused to have anything to do with those bishops who had sanctioned their execution.

Meanwhile, being anxious for a period of quiet study, Martin established the monastery of Marmontier les Tours on the banks of the Loire, and here much of his remaining life was spent, although it was at Candes that his death occurred about the year 400.

Martin left no writings behind him, the Confessio with which he is sometimes credited being undoubtedly spurious. His life was written by his ardent disciple, Sulpicius Severus, and it is more a hagiography than a biography, filled with accounts of the miracles and marvels worked by the quondam bishop. Martin was canonized a saint by the church. He is commemorated on November 11, but the feast of Martinmas, which occurs on that date, and which of course derives its name from him, is, nevertheless, a survival of an old pagan festival. It inherited certain pagan usages, which accounts for the fact that Martin is regarded as the patron saint of drinking, joviality, and reformed drunkards.

Certain miracles and other incidents in his life were depicted by noted painters. Perhaps the finest picture of him is one by the Flemish master Hugo van der Goes, which is now in the Municipal Museum at Glasgow.

It should be said that the term "martinet," signifying a severe and punctilious person, is not derived from the saint's name, but from one Jean Martinet, a French soldier who, during the reign of Louis XIV, won fame by his ardor in promoting discipline in his regiment.

Martin, Saint

views updated May 23 2018

Martin, Saint (315–97) Bishop of Tours. Born a heathen, he became a Christian in his youth. As a Roman soldier, Martin is reputed to have torn his cloak to share it with a beggar. From 360, he lived as a monk and was acclaimed Bishop in 371 (against his will). His feast day is known as Martinmas.

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Saint Martin