St Martin’s Day (Lest We Forget)

Today is Remembrance Day. The eleventh day of the eleventh month. And at the eleventh hour, a moment of silence will be taken to remember the war dead, especially of the First World War and the Second World War. It is an event and moment forged in the aftermath of a bloody, destructive conflict that ran 1914-1918 and that many considered the war to end all wars. I wear a poppy to remember the dead, as well as the survivors, and to be thankful that I grew up in a Canada and live in a Europe free of war. May God keep it thus.

It is also the Feast of St Martin of Tours (316/36-397). St Martin is the western, Gallic, proto-monk. One of the first of his kind in the Latin West. He was not always a monk.

He started a soldier.

St Martin, according to his hagiographer Sulpicius Severus, was converted while on campaign in Gaul, serving under Julian Caesar. He felt that he could no longer maintain his career as a soldier and hold up his Christian profession because of the shedding of blood, the violence, the killing of humans.

So St Martin left the army and ended up become a monk, and later bishop.

I am not arguing for pacifism here. But war is terrible, even when fought for just reasons. (And when you read about some of the things the Romans did against the Alemanni in the fourth century, you question the justice of it all.) It is a hard, harsh reality.

It is thus fitting that on this day, when we remember the 17 million dead in WWI, that we also remember St Martin.

2 thoughts on “St Martin’s Day (Lest We Forget)

  1. St. Martin’s story is a bit more intriguing. (St. Martin is my favorite Saint.) Martin was a “Medico” with a Roman Legion; he didn’t fight-he patched them up. He was a Medico for 20 years. A Medico was important enough in a Legion to sleep in the commanding officer’s tent.

    After his “tour” of duty, he became the Confessing Christian he always wanted to be and moved into a hermetic monastic community that more resembled a Celtic Rule than any Roman Rule.

    The reason we call him St. Martin of Tours is that the people of Tours kidnapped him, brought him back to Tours against his will, and made him bishop.

    My favorite St. Martin story has to do with a healing miracle. Being a former Medico, sick, lame, and even dead people were brought to his hermit cell. Once Martin was called to heal a “dead man.” Martin looked at him, took him into his cell, and laid on top of him all night, praying and massaging the body. At dawn the “dead man” revived and Martin came out of his cell jumping up and down and praising God.

    • Hi Bill! Indeed, there are all sorts of fascinating things in the life of St Martin. For me, on Remembrance Day, as the grandson of men who were part of the war effort in WWII and as a Canadian in the 100th anniversary of Passchendaele where 4000 Canadians died, it is the question of being a miles Christi or a miles Caesaris.

      Re monasticism, it makes sense that Irish and Gallic monasticism (St Martin, the islands of Lérins) would develop in similar ways, especially after Ireland gets somewhat cut off after the departure of the legions from Britannia. The roots of them all are the same, but their historical road to the early 600s is different.

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