FEAST OF ST. MARTIN, BISHOP OF TOURS. Born probably at Sabaria in Pannonia about the year 320; died, about 400.
AT the age of fifteen St. Martin started in life as a heathen soldier in the Roman army, though already he had felt the attractive influence of Christianity.
One winter's day, noticing a poor tattered beggar he divided with him his cloak. And the next night, in a dream, he saw our Lord enthroned in glory, arrayed in the half cloak and saying, "Behold the mantle given Me by Martin." After this dream, at the age of eighteen, Martin was baptized. Some two years later, he seems to have demanded his discharge from military service at a moment of impending battle: his commander, Julian, the future apostate Emperor, denied his request with contempt, only to be answered, "Post me in the fore-front of the army, without weapons or armor; but I will not draw sword again. I am become the soldier of Christ."
It may have been some years later that he resorted to St. Hilary of Poitiers by whom he was ordained exorcist. Ere long filial affection carried him back to Pannonia, where his piety was rewarded by the conversion from paganism of his mother, though not, alas! of his father: where, moreover, protesting against the heresy of certain Arian bishops, he was publicly beaten and expelled from his (assumed) birthplace Sabaria.
We next behold him as a hermit in a Milanese solitude, exchanged later for the little solitary island. Still later he founded a monastery in the vicinity of Poiteirs.
At length, about the year 371, the See of Tours falling vacant, the people of Tours by stratagem and force conducted him to his consecration as their Bishop. But he who had been monk and hermit before such elevation, monk and hermit remained in spite of it. First he occupied a cell near the Church; but afterwards he removed to a mere lonely hut of branches on the bank of the Loire, where with eighty disciples he led an ascetic life.
He waxed great as promulgator of the Faith among his heathen neighbors, great as champion of the Truth against internal errors, great as contender that the weapons of church warfare must be spiritual, not carnal. In this last particular he showed himself a faithful disciple of his teacher St. Hilary, whose noble words on the same point I quote (at second hand): "God will not have a forced homage. What need has He of a profession of faith produced by violence? We must not attempt to deceive Him; He must be sought with simplicity, served by charity, honored and gained by the honest exercise of our free-will."
Even at the end of his long life St. Martin expressed willingness to live on, if for the good of others; but this final sacrifice was not required of him, "for God took him."