Martin the Warrior – Martin the Saint

By Br. Stephen, MIC

One of the greatest features of fiction is its ability to provide a lens through which we see reality more clearly. Take the Redwall  series by Brian Jacques, for example.

In the fabled recesses of Mossflower Wood, where the mice and squirrels talk together and the weasels and rats quarrel, there is a tall fortress of red stone called Redwall Abbey. The abbey and the mouse-monks who live there are a symbol and source of peace to those dwelling nearby, but it had not always been so. As the Castle of Kotir, it had once been the headquarters of a family of wildcats, who demanded tribute and slaves from the surrounding countryside. The last ruler of Kotir, Tsarmina, was defeated by a mouse, Martin the Warrior, who then forsook his sword and vowed to live monastically in the castle, at peace with all animals of good will.

Clearly, the characteristics of animals become types of human character, of which Jacques was a keen observer. The story he tells, furthermore, illustrates a pattern of behavior that is equally heroic in fiction and in fact. The noble warrior who defeats evil then casts his sword away; he refuses to use his power to supplant the sinner he defeated. Rather, he trades the sword for a monk’s habit, and he trades the castle for an abbey.

There are real-life examples of such heroic sanctity, and one of them is St. Martin of Tours, whose feast we celebrate on Nov. 11. Born in the early 300s to a Roman tribune, he moved from Pannonia (modern Hungary) to northern Italy as a boy. He followed his father in a military career, and from his time of service comes the oft-repeated (and depicted) story of him dividing his military cloak with a beggar. That night, he had a vision of Christ wearing the other half of his cloak and thanking him for giving it.

At the age of 20, Martin felt called to a life of peace, and refused to continue his military service, becoming the first recognized “conscientious objector” in recorded history. After leaving the military, he traveled to Tours to study under the future Doctor of the Church, Hilary of Poitiers. He was also known for combatting Arianism and Priscillianism (although he persuaded the Roman emperor for a time not to execute the heretic Priscillian). In 361, he established the Benedictine monastery of Liguges, which remains to this day (although the buildings were destroyed during the French Revolution). Ten years later, the people of his diocese called him to become bishop. In his diocese, he confronted pagan (particularly druidic) practices, constructed another monastery for retreats, and established an early version of the now-standard parish system.

At the age of 20, Martin felt called to a life of peace, and refused to continue his military service, becoming the first recognized 'conscientious objector' in recorded history.

Many miracles were attributed to the holy bishop Martin even during his lifetime. Once, while challenging the beliefs of the Druids, he was dared to stand in the path of a sacred tree that was being felled. He took the dare and stood directly in the path of the pine that was about to fall. Despite all the known laws of physics, the tree missed him completely. This apparent miracle persuaded many of the scornful Druids to renounce their pagan beliefs and be baptized.

Saint Martin of Tours reflects concretely into our day the virtues of peace and charity. He never compromised on the truth, but was always careful to love the sinner even as he condemned the sin. Though trained for battle, he was given the spirit of peace which drew him to a life of prayer, penance, and service to others. Furthermore, his charity, which was evident from his youth, only increased from day to day. From providing for the physical needs of one beggar, his heart expanded through the years to embrace the spiritual needs of an entire diocese. He took to heart the words of Jesus that have been assigned as the Communion antiphon of his feast day: “Amen, I say to you: Whatever you did for one of the least of My brethren, you did it for Me” (Mt 25:40).

On this Feast of St. Martin of Tours, soldier, monk, and bishop, when we also honor veterans of military service, let us pray for peace in the world. We ask not simply for a negative “peace” that is the absence of conflict, but a positive, life-giving peace within which persons and peoples can flourish. For peace, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, is not only the agreement between persons about something they desire, but also the agreement of all desires within each person towards the same thing. This sort of peace, he adds, can only be the fruit of charity, for God is the One who unifies our desires both within and with one another. Only when we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength can we really love our neighbor as ourselves. But each step toward one of the Two Great Commandments helps us toward the other. 

Today, look for some works of mercy you can do for love of God and your neighbor. You may not be called to turn a fearsome castle into a peaceful abbey, but perhaps, in clothing the naked as St. Martin did, you will likewise be clothing Christ present in the poor.

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