Chapter 10. Martin and Maximus

"He lieth in ambush, that he may catch the poor man; he will crouch and fall, when he shall have power over the poor."


WHO has not heard of St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, and Confessor? In our part of the world at least he is well known, as far as name goes, by the churches dedicated to him. Even from British times a church has existed under his tutelage in the afterwards metropolitan city of Canterbury; though we know little or nothing of churches to St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Basil, or St. Athanasius. Considering how many of our temples are called after the Apostles, and how many of them piously preserve the earthly name of those who may be said to "have no memorial," and are "as if they had never been," as St. George, or St. Nicolas; it is a peculiarity in St. Martin's history that he should be at once so well known and so widely venerated; renowned in this life, yet honoured after it. And such honour has been paid him from the first. He died in the last years of the fourth century; his successor at Tours built a chapel over his tomb in that city; St. Perpetuus, also of Tours, about seventy years afterwards built a church and conveyed his relics {186} thither. In the course of another seventy years his name had taken up its abode in Canterbury, where it remains. Soon after a church was dedicated to him at Rome, and soon after in Spain. He alone of the Confessors had a service of his own in the more ancient breviaries; he is named, too, in the mass of Pope Gregory, which commemorates, after our Lady and the Apostles, "Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sextus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Laurence, Chrysostom, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, Hilary, Martin, Augustine, Gregory, Jerome, Benedict, and all Saints."

I am not going to present the reader with more than a slight sketch of his history, which we have received on very authentic testimony, as in St. Antony's case, though St. Martin, like St. Antony, has left no writings behind him. Nay, the biographer of St. Martin is not merely a friend (such as St. Athanasius), who saw him only now and then, but he was a disciple, an intimate, an eye-witness, as well as a man of cultivated mind and classical attainments,—Sulpicius Severus, who wrote his memoir even while the subject of it was alive, and while his memory was fresh.


Martin was born about the year 316, in Pannonia, in a town which now forms part of Hungary; his father was a pagan, and had risen from the ranks to the command of a cohort. A soldier has no home, and his son was brought up at Pavia in North Italy with very little education. What influenced Martin is not known; but at the age of ten he fled to the Church against the wish of his parents, and enrolled himself as a catechumen. Under these first impressions of religion, he formed the desire of retiring to the desert as a solitary; however, {187} things do not happen here below after our wishes; so at fifteen he was seized, upon his father's instance, and enlisted in the army. In consequence, he remained a soldier five years, and, in the course of them, was sent into Gaul. It is recorded of him, that at a time when he was stationed at Amiens, being then eighteen, he encountered at the gate of the city a poor man without clothes. It was mid-winter, and the weather more than ordinarily severe; he had nothing on him but his single military cloak and his arms. The youth took his sword, cut the cloak in two, and gave half to the beggar. The bystanders jeered or admired, according to their turn of mind; and he went away. Next night he had a dream: he saw our Lord clad in the half cloak which he had bestowed on the poor man. The Divine Vision commanded the youth's attention, and then said to the Angels who stood around, "Martin, yet a catechumen, hath wrapped Me in this garment." On this Martin proceeded forthwith to baptism, and two years afterwards left the army.

Of the next fourteen years we know nothing; then, he had recourse to the celebrated St. Hilary, who was afterwards bishop of Poictiers, and an illustrious confessor in the Arian troubles. Martin, however, was destined to precede him in suffering, and that in the same holy cause. He undertook a visit to his parents, who now seem to have retired into Pannonia, with a view to their conversion. When he was in the passes of the Alps he fell in with bandits. Sulpicius gives this account of what happened:

"One of them raised an axe and aimed it at his head, but another intercepted the blow. However, his hands were bound behind him, and he was given in custody to one of them for plunder. This man took him aside, and began to ask him who {188} he was. He answered, 'A Christian.' He then inquired whether he felt afraid. He avowed, without wavering, that he never felt so much at ease, being confident that the Lord's mercy would be specially with him in temptations; rather he felt sorry for him, who, living by robbery, was unworthy of the mercy of Christ. Entering, then, on the subject of the Gospel, he preached the Word of God to him. To be brief, the robber believed, attended on him, and set him on his way, begging his prayers. This man afterwards was seen in the profession of religion; so that the above narrative is given as he was heard to state it."—Vit. M. c. 4.

Martin gained his mother, but his father persisted in paganism. At this time Illyricum was almost given over to Arianism. He did not scruple to confess the Catholic doctrine there, was seized, beaten with rods publicly, and cast out of the city. Little, again, is known of these years of his life. Driven from Illyricum, he betook himself to Milan, A.D. 356, when he was about forty years old. Here he lived several years in solitude, till he was again driven out by the Arian bishop Auxentius. On leaving Hilary, he had promised to return to him; and now Hilary being restored from exile, he kept his word, after a separation of about nine or ten years. He came to Poictiers, and formed in its neighbourhood the first monastic establishment which is known to have existed in France.

He was made bishop of Tours in the year 372, about the time that Ambrose and Basil were raised to their respective sees, and that Athanasius died. There were parties who opposed Martin's election, alleging, as Sulpicius tells us, that "he was a contemptible person, unworthy of the episcopate, despicable in countenance, mean in dress, uncouth in his hair." Such were the outward signs of a monk; and a monk he did not cease to be, after that he had become a bishop. Indeed, as far as was possible, he wished to be still just what he had {189} been, and looked back to the period of his life when he was a private man, as a time when he was more sensibly favoured with divine power than afterwards. Sulpicius thus speaks of him in his episcopate:

"He remained just what he was before; with the same humbleness of heart, the same meanness of dress, and with a fulness of authority and grace which responded to the dignity of a bishop without infringing on the rule and the virtue of a monk. For a while he lived in a cell built on to the church; but, unable to bear the interruptions of visitors, he made himself a monastery about two miles out of the city. So secret and retired was the place, that he did not miss the solitude of the desert. On one side it was bounded by the high and precipitous rock of a mountain, on the other the level was shut in by the river Loire, which makes a gentle bend. There was but one way into it, and that very narrow. His own cell was of wood. Many of the brethren made themselves dwellings of the same kind, but most of them hollowed out the stone of the mountain which was above them. There were eighty scholars who were under training after the pattern of their saintly master. No one had aught his own; all things were thrown into a common stock. It was not lawful, as to most monks, to buy or sell any thing. They had no art except that of transcribing, which was assigned to the younger: the older gave themselves up to prayer. They seldom left their cell, except to attend the place of prayer. They took their meal together after the time of fasting. No one tasted wine, except compelled by bodily weakness. Most of them were clad in camel's hair; a softer garment was a crime; and what of course makes it more remarkable is, that many of them were accounted noble, who, after a very different education, had forced themselves to this humility and patience; and we have lived to see a great many of them bishops. For what is that city or church which did not covet priests from the monastery of Martin?"—Vit. M. c. 7.

Once on a time, a person whom he had benefited by his prayers sent him a hundred pounds of silver. Martin put it aside for redeeming captives. Some of the brothers suggested that their own fare was scanty and their clothing {190} deficient. "We," he made answer, "are fed and clad by the Church, provided we seem to appropriate nothing to ourselves."—Dial. iii. 19.

It will be seen from the passage quoted overleaf, that St. Martin, though not himself a man of learning, made his monastic institution subservient to theological purposes. This monastery became afterwards famous under the name of the Abbey of Marmoutier; eventually it conformed to the Benedictine rule.


St. Martin was a man of action as well as of meditation; and his episcopate is marked with strenuous deeds sufficient to convince all readers of his history, that, whatever blame this age may be disposed to throw on him, it cannot be imputed on the side of mysticism or indolence. Gaul was, even at this time, almost pagan: its cities, indeed, had long enjoyed the light of Christianity, and had had the singular privilege of contributing both Greek and Latin Fathers to the Catholic Church. Marseilles, Lyons, Vienne, Toulouse, Tours, Arles, Narbonne, Orleans, Paris, Clermont, and Limoges, seem to have been episcopal sees; but the country people had never been evangelized, and still frequented their idol temples. It is difficult to assign the limits of Martin's diocese, and perhaps they were not very accurately determined. On the east of Tours, we hear of his evangelical prowess in Burgundy and the neighbourhood of Autun, and on the north towards Chartres; the nearest sees round about were Poictiers, Limoges, Clermont, and Orleans; and his presence is mentioned, though perhaps only on political or synodal business, at Paris, Treves, and Vienne.

In the first years of Martin's episcopate, heathen {191} sacrifices were forbidden by law; and the resignation with which the pagans submitted to the edict, at least showed, what the history of the times so often shows otherwise, that their religion had no great hold on their hearts. Martin took upon him to enter and destroy the kingdom of Satan with his own hands. He went, unarmed, among the temples, the altars, the statues, the groves, and the processions of the false worship, attended by his monastic brethren: he presented himself to the barbarian multitude, converted them, and made them join with him in the destruction of their time-honoured establishment of error. What were his weapons of success does not appear, unless we are willing to accept his contemporary biographer's statement, that he was attended by a divine influence manifesting itself in distinct and emphatic miracles. In consequence of his triumphant exertions, he is considered the Apostle of Gaul; and this high mission is sufficient to account for his miraculous power. It is on this ground that even Protestants have admitted a similar gift in St. Augustine, Apostle of England.

Nor had Martin only to do with barbarians and idolators; he came across a powerful sovereign. This had been the lot of St. Basil a few years before, but with a very different kind of warfare. Basil was assailed by persecution; Martin was attempted by flattery and blandishment. It is harder to resist the world's smiles than the world's frowns. We began with the combat between Basil and Valens; let us end with a tale of temptation, which a crafty monarch practised upon a simple monk.


The sovereign with whom Martin came into collision {192} was Maximus, the usurper of Britain, Gaul, and Spain, with whom we are made familiar in the history of St. Ambrose. Gratian becoming unpopular, Maximus had been proclaimed emperor by the soldiers in Britain, had landed on the opposite coast with a great portion of the British nation (who emigrated on the occasion, and settled afterwards in Bretagne), and had been joined by the armies of Gaul. Gratian had fled from Paris to Lyons, attended by only 300 horse; the governor of the Lyonese had played the traitor, and Maximus's general of horse, who was in pursuit of the emperor, had come up and murdered him. The usurper incurred, not unjustly, the stigma of the crime by which he profited, though he protested, whether truly or not, that he was not privy to the intentions of his subordinate. He was equally earnest, and perhaps sincere, in maintaining that he had been proclaimed by the legions of Britain against his will. So much Sulpicius confirms, speaking of him as "a man to be named for every excellence of life, if it had been allowed him either to refuse a diadem placed upon him, not legitimately, by a mutinous soldiery, or to abstain from civil war;" "but," he continues, "a great sway could neither be refused without hazard, nor be held without arms."—Dial. ii. 7.

Maximus established his court at Treves, and thither proceeded a number of bishops to intercede, as in duty bound, for criminals, captives, exiles, proscribed persons, and others whom the civil commotion had compromised. Martin went up with the rest, and it soon became obvious to the world that there was some vast difference between him and them; that they allowed themselves in flattery and subserviency towards the usurper, but that Martin recollected that he had the authority of an Apostle, and was bound to treat the fortunate soldier, {193} not according to his success, but according to his conduct.

Maximus asked him, again and again, to the imperial table, but in vain; he declined, "alleging," according to Sulpicius, "that he could not partake in the hospitality of one who had deprived one emperor of his dominions, another of his life." "However," continues our biographer, "when Maximus declared that he had not of his own will assumed the imperial power; that he had but defended in arms that compulsory sovereignty which the troops had, by a Divine Providence, imposed on him; that God's favour did not seem estranged from one who had gained such incredible success; and that he had killed no enemy, except in the field,—at length, overcome either by his arguments or his prayers, he came to supper, the emperor rejoicing wonderfully that he had prevailed with him."— Vit. M. c. 23.

Martin seems to have been not quite satisfied with his concession, and Maximus seemed determined to make the most of it. The day of entertainment was made quite a gala day; the first personages about the court were invited; the monk Martin was placed on a couch close to the usurper, and near him was his attendant presbyter, seated between two counts of the highest rank, the brother and uncle of Maximus. In the middle of the banquet, according to custom, the wine-cup was handed to Maximus; he transferred it to Martin, wishing him first to taste, and then to pass it to himself with the blessing and good auspice which a bishop could convey. Martin took it, and drank; but he saw through the artifice; and, instead of handing it to the emperor, passed it to his own presbyter, as being higher in true rank, as Sulpicius says, than any others, even the most noble, who were there assembled. {194}

Maximus was a crafty man; and perhaps he thought he had discovered a weak point in Martin. He broke out into admiration of his conduct, and his guests did the like. Martin gained more by loftiness than others by servility. The feast ended; not so the emperor's assaults upon a saintly personage. He presented him with a vase of porphyry, and it was accepted.

Maximus now became a penitent, with what sincerity it is impossible to say. And at length, it would appear, he obtained absolution from Martin for his crimes; he sent for him often, and communed with him on the present and the future, on the glory of the faithful and the immortality of saints. Meanwhile the empress took her part in humbling herself before one who indeed, of all men alive, had certainly, in his miraculous power, the clearest credentials of his commission from the Author of all grace. She attended the exhortations of the aged bishop, and wept at his feet: but let us hear Sulpicius's account of what happened. "Martin," he says, "who never had been touched by any woman, could not escape this lady's assiduous, or rather servile attentions. Neither the power of dominion, nor the dignity of empire, nor the diadem, nor the purple did she regard. Prostrate on the ground, they could not tear her from Martin's feet. At length she begged her husband, and then both begged Martin, to allow her, by herself, without assistance of attendants, to serve him up a repast; nor could the blessed man hold out any longer. The hands of the empress go through the chaste service; she spreads a seat; she places a table by it; water she offers for his hands; food, which she herself had cooked, she sets before him; she at a distance, as servants are taught, stands motionless, as if fixed to the ground, while he sits; showing in all things the reverence of an attendant, and the humbleness {195} of a handmaid. She mixes his draught, she presents it to him. When the small meal is ended, she sweeps up with all carefulness the broken bits and crumbs of bread, preferring such relics to imperial dainties. Blessed woman, in such devotion willing to be compared to her who came from the ends of the earth to hear Solomon!"—Dial. ii. 7. Yes, blessed the princess who performs such humble service; but "a more blessed thing is it to give rather than to receive." Let us see what came of it.


Maximus was not only a penitent, but he was a champion of the orthodox faith, nay, even to enforcing it with the sword. And Martin, while at court, had not only to intercede for the partisans of Gratian, but also, if possible, to rescue from the said imperial sword, and from the zeal of some brother bishops, certain heretics who had been treated with extreme severity, both by the local hierarchy and the civil power. These were the Priscillianists of Spain, and their principal persecutor was Ithacius, a bishop of the same country. Their history was as follows: Priscillian, a man of birth, ability, and character, undertook in Spain the dissemination of an Egyptian form of the Gnostic or the Manichæan heresy, and formed a party. The new opinion spread through all parts of the country, and was embraced by some of its bishops. A Council condemned them; they retaliated by consecrating Priscillian to the see of Avila. On this the Council called in the civil power against the heretics, and the heretical bishops on their part made for Pope Damasus at Rome. Failing to circumvent the see of St. Peter, they betook themselves to Milan. Failing with St. Ambrose, they bribed the officers of the court; and thus, whereas the Council had gained an imperial {196} rescript, exterminating them from the whole Roman Empire, they obtained another restoring them to their own churches in Spain. This was the state of things when Gratian lost his life by the revolt of Maximus, who was in consequence naturally disposed to take part against the heretics whom Gratian's government had been at that moment supporting.

Ithacius, the acting Bishop of the Council, had been obliged to fly to Gaul; and in A.D. 384, when the civil troubles were over, he went up to Treves, had an interview with Maximus, and obtained from him a summons of the heretics to a Council to be held at Bourdeaux. Priscillian was obliged to attend; but being put on his defence, instead of answering, he appealed to the new emperor, and the orthodox bishops committed the scandalous fault of allowing his appeal.

Such an appeal, in a matter of faith or internal discipline, was contrary at once to principle and to precedent. It was inconsistent with the due maintenance of our Lord's canon, "Cæsar's to Cæsar, and God's to God;" and with the rule contained in St. Paul's charge to Timothy to "keep the deposit;" and it had been already condemned in the case of the Donatists, who, on appealing to Constantine against the Church, had encountered both the protest of the Catholic Fathers and the indignant refusal of the emperor. However, the Ithacians had united themselves too closely to the State to be able to resist its encroachments. This is the point of time in which Martin enters into the history of the dispute; Priscillian was brought to Treves; Ithacius, his accuser, followed; and there they found Martin, come thither, as we have seen, on matters of his own.

Martin naturally viewed the Ithacian faction with displeasure; he condemned the appeals which in a matter {197} of faith had been made to the civil power, and he looked forward with horror to the sort of punishment which that power was likely to inflict. Accordingly, he remonstrated incessantly with Ithacius on the course he was pursuing; and Ithacius, a man of loud speech, and luxurious and prodigal habits, did not scruple to retort upon the devout and ascetic Martin, that the monk was nothing short of a Gnostic himself, and therefore naturally took the part of the Priscillianists.

Unable to persuade his brother bishops, Martin addressed himself to Maximus, representing to him, to use the words of Sulpicius, "that it was more than enough that, after the heretics had been condemned by an episcopal decision, they should be removed from their churches; but that it was a new and unheard-of impiety for a temporal judge to take cognizance of an ecclesiastical cause."—Hist. ii. The interposition of one, to whom emperor and empress were paying such extraordinary court, of course was of no slight weight. It was effectual for protecting the Priscillianists all the time he continued at Treves; but the time came when he must take his departure for his own home; and before doing so, he exacted a promise of the usurper that nothing sanguinary should be perpetrated against them.

He went; Ithacius did not go; the promise was forgotten; matters went on as if Martin had never been at Treves; the heretics were tried by the judge of the palace, and were found guilty of witchcraft and various immoralities. Priscillian and others were beheaded, and others afterwards were either killed or banished: Ithacius sheltered himself under the protection of Maximus, and Maximus wrote to the see of St. Peter, not to justify, but to take credit for his conduct.

What return he, or rather his ecclesiastical advisers, {198} received from Siricius, the Pope of the day, and from the body of the Church, need not here be mentioned in detail. Suffice it to say, that a solemn protest was entered against their proceedings, in the course of the following years, by St. Siricius, St. Ambrose, and Councils held at Milan and Turin. Ithacius was deposed, excommunicated, and banished. Felix, bishop of Treves, though a man of irreproachable character, and not bishop at the time of the crime, yet, as a partisan of the guilty bishops, was excommunicated with all who supported him; and when St. Ambrose came to Treves on his second embassy, he separated himself not only from the adherents of Maximus, but of Ithacius too. This, however, is to digress upon subsequent and general history, with which we have nothing to do; let us go back to St. Martin.


On the year that followed the execution of Priscillian, Martin had again to visit Treves, as a mediator for certain civil governors, Narses and Leucadius, whose loyalty to Gratian had gained for them the resentment of his conqueror. A Council of bishops was just then assembled in the imperial city, with the double purpose of formally acquitting Ithacius, and of consecrating Felix, who has just now been mentioned, to the vacant see of Treves. The news arrived that Martin was coming, and spread great dismay among the assembled Fathers. They betook themselves to Maximus, and gained his consent to forbid Martin's entrance into the city except on a promise of communicating with themselves. Martin eluded their vigilance, and entered at night. He had come, as I have said, only on political business, though such as became a bishop to undertake; but when {199} he got to Treves, he was met with news which more intimately concerned every Catholic, and needed his more prompt and urgent intercession. A day or two before he came, the Ithacian party had prevailed on the emperor to send military commissioners into Spain to detect, arrest, pillage, and kill all heretics; a mission which, considering that the broad test of heresy adopted by the soldiers was paleness of face and peculiarity of dress, was likely to terminate in a great accession doubtless, of wealth to the imperial treasury, but in as great a destruction of innocent persons and orthodox believers. The prospect of such outrages affected Martin still more than the severity directed against the Priscillianists; though "he was piously solicitous," says Sulpicius, "to rescue the heretics themselves, as well as the Christians, who were to be troubled under this pretence."—Dial. iii. 16. Accordingly, he was urgent in his intervention at court, but Maximus had by this time forgotten the lesson of humility which, two years since, he and the empress had so dutifully learned; or perhaps he thought, for one reason or another, that he had got an advantage over Martin, and understood him. Anyhow, he put off from day to day his answer to Martin's request, whether in behalf of the Spanish Catholics, or of the two friends of Gratian, who had been the cause of his journey.

Meanwhile Martin refused to communicate with the party of Ithacius; a vigorous step, to which only one bishop, Theognistus, out of all there assembled, had found himself equal. The Ithacians betook themselves in haste to Maximus, "complaining," says Sulpicius, "that they were prejudged, predisposed of, if the pertinacity of Theognostus was armed by the authority of Martin; that the latter ought never to have been allowed {200} to enter the city; that he was no longer engaged in the mere defence, but in the rescue of the heretics; that nothing was gained by the death of Priscillian if Martin exacted reprisals for it. And lastly, they threw themselves on the ground, and with tears and lamentations implored the imperial power to show its vigour in its dealings with, after all, but one man."—Dial. iii. 16. Maximus began to believe that Martin really was a Priscillianist.

However, he both felt a reverence for him, whatever were the grounds of it, and he understood perfectly well that Martin was not to be prevailed on by threats of personal violence. He pursued a way with him which perhaps he thought successful on the former visit of Martin. He gave the Saint a private interview, and addressed him in a complimentary manner. He alleged, that the heretics had been punished, not at the instance of the bishops, but by the secular courts in a regular way for their evil deserts; that such a procedure formed no reason for blaming and separating from Ithacius and the rest; that Theognistus, the only outstanding bishop, had been influenced by personal feelings; and that a Council had acquitted Ithacius. Finding, however, he made no way with Martin, the emperor burst out into anger, quitted him hastily, and gave orders for the execution of Narses and Leucadius, the partisans of Gratian, on whose behalf Martin had come to Treves. The news of this determination came to the Saint during the following night: no time was to be lost; his kindness of heart was too much for him; he gave way; he entered the palace; he promised to communicate with the Ithacians, on condition that Narses and Leucadius should be spared, and that the military inquisitors which had been sent into Spain should be recalled. {201} The emperor readily granted his terms in full; and the next day Felix was consecrated, Martin assisting and communicating with the persecutors of Priscillian. They urged him with much earnestness to sign an instrument in attestation of his concession, but this he refused.


Writers of great seriousness have not been unwilling to suggest that, extraordinary as was St. Martin's habitual humility, yet he might have experienced some elation of mind from the remarkable honours which he had received from the court on his first visit to Treves; but, whatever was the cause of his change of purpose, that he might have acted better, was soon confessed by himself. Thus ended his intercourse with the great world. He had gained the object which had brought him to Treves; Maximus, too, had gained his: there was nothing more to detain him in the imperial city, and the day after his act of concession he set off on his return to Tours.

He went on his way with downcast mind, sighing, as his biographer tells us, to think that he had even for an hour shared in a communion so unhealthy to the soul; when now an occurrence took place, which, it seems, he ever studiously concealed, though his intimate friends got acquainted with it. About ten miles from Treves his journey lay through deep and lonely woods; he let his companions go forward, and remained by himself, examining his conscience, and first blaming, and then again defending what he had done. While he was thus engaged, he was favoured with a supernatural vision: an Angel appeared to him, and said, "Martin, thou art pricked in heart with reason; but no other escape {202} opened to thee. Retrieve thy virtue; resume thy firmness; lest thou risk, not thy renown, but thy salvation."

Martin lived eleven years after this, but, somewhat in the spirit of Gregory Nazianzen, he never went to council or meeting of bishops again. And afterwards, when he was engaged with the energumeni or demoniacs,

"He used from time to time to confess to us," says Sulpicius, "with tears, that from the mischief of that communion, which he joined for a moment, and that not in heart, but on compulsion, he was sensible of a diminution of his supernatural gift."

Sulpicius also happens to mention in another connection, that in the last years of his life—

"when the prefect Vincentius, a person of singular worth, and as excellent a man in every respect as was to be found in any part of Gaul, passed through Tours, he often begged of Martin to entertain him in his monastery, alleging the example of blessed Ambrose the bishop, who at that time was said now and then to receive consuls and prefects at dinner; but that the man of high mind would not grant his request, lest it should give secret entrance to vanity and elation of spirit."—Dial. i. 17.

Such self-imposed penances were quite in the spirit of those ages of sanctity. Notice has been taken of Gregory's silence during Lent in a former chapter; and Sulpicius in his old age, on being betrayed for an instant into an advocacy of Pelagian doctrine, punished himself with silence to the end of his life.


Martin's end was delayed till he was past the common age of man. With the weight of eighty years upon him, he had betaken himself to a place, at the extremity of his charge, to settle a quarrel existing between the clergy there. When he set out to return, his strength suddenly {203} failed him, and he felt his end was approaching. A fever had already got possession of him. He assembled his disciples, and announced to them that he was going: they, with passionate laments, deprecated such a calamity, as involving the exposure of his flock to the wolves. The Saint was moved, and used words which have become famous in the Church, "Lord, if I be yet necessary to Thy people, I decline not the labour; Thy will be done!" His wish was heard, not his prayer. His fever lay upon him; during the trial he continued his devotions as usual, causing himself to be laid in sackcloth and ashes. On his disciples asking to be allowed to place straw under him instead, he made answer, "Sons, it becomes a Christian to die in ashes. Did I set any other example I should sin myself." They wished to turn him on his side, to ease his position; but he expressed a wish to see heaven rather than earth, that his spirit might, as it were, be setting out on its journey. It is said that on this he saw the evil spirit at his side. "Beast of blood," he exclaimed, "why standest thou here? Deadly one, thou shalt find nothing in me; Abraham's bosom is receiving me." With these words he died.

At this time, Sulpicius, his biographer, was away, apparently at Toulouse. One morning, a friend had just departed from him; he was sitting alone in his cell, thinking of the future and the past, of his sins, and the last judgment.

"My limbs," he writes to the friend who had thus left him, "being wearied by the anguish of my mind, I laid them down on my bed, and, as is customary in sorrow, fell into a sleep,—the sleep of the morning hours, light and broken, and taking but wavering and doubtful possession of the limbs, when one seems, contrary to the nature of deep slumber, to be almost awake in one's sleep. {204} Then suddenly I seem to myself to see holy Martin, the bishop, clad in a white robe, with face like a flame, eyes like stars, and glittering hair; and, while his person was what I had known it to be, yet, what can hardly be expressed, I could not look at him, though I could recognize him. He slightly smiled on me, and bore in his right hand the book which I had written of his life. I embrace his sacred knees, and ask his blessing as usual; and I feel the soft touch of his hand on my head, while, together with the usual words of blessing, he repeats the name of the cross, familiar in his mouth: next, while I gaze upon him, and cannot take my fill of his face and look, suddenly he is caught aloft, till, after completing the immense spaces of the air, I following with my eyes the swift cloud that carried him, he is received into the open heaven, and can be seen no more. Not long after, I see the holy presbyter Clare, his disciple, who had lately died, ascending after his master. I, shameless one, desire to follow; while I set about it, and strain after lofty steps, I wake up, and, shaking off my sleep, begin to rejoice in the vision, when a boy, who was with me, enters sadder than usual, with a speaking and sorrowful countenance: 'Why so sad and eager to speak?' say I. 'Two monks,' he answers, 'are just come from Tours; they bring the news that Martin is departed.' I was overcome, I confess; my tears burst forth, I wept abundantly. Even now while I write, my brother, my tears are flowing, nor is any comfort adequate to this most unruly grief. However, when the news came, I felt a wish that you should be partner in my grief who were companion in my love. Come, then, to me at once, that we may mourn him together, whom we love together; although I am aware that such a man is not really to be mourned, who, after conquering and triumphing over the world, has at length received the crown of justice."—Ep. 2.

This letter is written to a private friend, at the time of St. Martin's death, as appears on the face of it; the memoirs of the Saint are written with equal earnestness and simplicity. They were circulated throughout Christendom with astonishing rapidity: but the miraculous accounts they contained were a difficulty with great numbers. Accordingly, in the last of his publications, Sulpicius gave the names of living witnesses in corroboration {205} of his own statements. "Far be such suspicion," he adds, "from any one who lives under God's eye; for Martin does not need support from fictions; however, I open before Thee, O Christ, the fidelity of my whole narrative, that I have neither said, nor will say, aught but what I have either seen myself, or have ascertained from plain authorities, or for the most part from his own mouth."—Dial. iii. 5.

Martin was buried at Tours, and two thousand of his monks attended the funeral. As has been said, he was more than eighty years old at the time of his death, out of which he had been bishop twenty-five. Some say that he died on a Sunday, at midnight. His festival is placed in the calendar on the 11th of November, the day either of his death or of his burial. His relics were preserved in his episcopal city till these latter days, when the Huguenots seized and burned them. Some portions, however, are said still to remain.


St. Martin, as I have several times said, is famous for his miraculous powers. He is even said to have raised the dead. He was persecuted by the Evil One, as St. Antony had been before him. One of these assaults has so deep an instruction in it, and is so apposite both to the foregoing narrative and to this age, that I shall take leave of the reader with relating it:—

"While Martin was praying in his cell, the evil spirit stood before him, environed in a glittering radiance, by such pretence more easily to deceive him; clad also in royal robes, crowned with a golden and jewelled diadem, with shoes covered with gold, with serene face, and bright looks, so as to seem nothing so little as what he was. Martin at first was dazzled at the sight; and for a long while both parties kept silence. At length the Evil One began:— {206} 'Acknowledge,' he says, 'O Martin, whom thou seest. I am Christ; I am now descending upon earth, and I wished first to manifest myself to thee.' Martin still kept silent, and returned no answer. The devil ventured to repeat his bold pretence. 'Martin, why hesitate in believing, when thou seest I am Christ?' Then he, understanding by revelation of the Spirit that it was the Evil One and not God, answered, 'Jesus, the Lord, announced not that He should come in glittering clothing, and radiant with a diadem. I will not believe that Christ is come, save in that state and form in which He suffered, save with the show of the wounds of the Cross.' At these words the other vanished forthwith as smoke, and filled the cell with so horrible an odour as to leave indubitable proofs who he was. That this so took place, I know from the mouth of Martin himself lest any one should think it fabulous."—Vit. B. M. 25.

The application of this vision to Martin's age is obvious; I suppose it means in this day, that Christ comes not in pride of intellect, or reputation for philosophy. These are the glittering robes in which Satan is now arraying. Many spirits are abroad, more are issuing from the pit; the credentials which they display are the precious gifts of mind, beauty, richness, depth, originality. Christian, look hard at them with Martin in silence, and ask them for the print of the nails.

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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