Stories of the Saints by Candle-Light – Saint Martin

A little more than three hundred years after Our Lord formed the Christian Church and then went back to Heaven, having promised always to be in spirit with His people, a boy called Martin was born in Hungary. This boy God chose to be a very great leader among His people, the Christians, and so He began to arrange Martin’s life in such a way that he should be led, little by little, to the fulfilment of God’s plans. Now, part of God’s plan was that Martin should be given the chance of conquering himself, and, with the addition of a lot of God’s grace, be made strong and able to bear bravely the terrible dangers and hardships that were bound to go with a high position in the Church of Christ in those days of persecution. This story I am going to tell you is the story of all the hard things and disappointments and adventures God sent to the boy Martin, in order to prepare him well, and bring him, at last, to the position he was to fill in the Church.

Well, the first thing that happened was that the Holy Spirit put into the little boy’s heart the idea of praying to a wonderful, unknown being, Whom he called “the God of the Christians.” You see, his father was a pagan, and Martin had never been taught anything about God, and must have picked up this idea all on his own. He had no church to go to, or anything, so he set to and built himself a little chapel on the top of a hill near his home, and there he often ran off and prayed to the God he knew so little about, but Who, he felt sure, was a kind and loving friend of little boys.

Well, God was pleased to see that Martin had answered so well to the idea He had sent into his heart, so He rewarded him by making something happen, which was the next bit of His plan, so to speak.

Martin’s father was a soldier, and had risen from the ranks to the position of Colonel in the Roman Army. To repay him for his good services he was given a farm in Italy. And so, when Martin was ten years old, his father and mother moved to this farm, and Martin found himself living in a country where the Christian Faith was openly practised and people loved and served “the God of the Christians,” Whom Martin had so much longed to know more about.

You can imagine how pleased the boy was; and before long he had discovered the house of the priests who taught young pagans all about the Christian faith, and had begun to go to them regularly to learn. His father did not take much notice of this, and thought his small son would soon forget all about it when he got old enough to enter the life his father had decided he should follow – the exciting life of a soldier.

But Martin was not dreaming of battles and the adventures of a soldier’s life, for he had discovered that among Christians there was such a thing as specially giving yourself to God, and bravely breaking away from all the things you love by nature – like riches and fine clothes, and nice food, and friends, and adventures in the world, so as to love Christ only, and follow the adventures of the spirit to which He will lead His loyal soldiers. While still a boy Martin decided that this was the life for him, and he began to long to leave his comfortable home and go and join the hermits who lived in caves. So you can imagine that when his father began to talk about his starting his military training he was very much dismayed. Being a frank and honest kind of boy, he looked his father bravely in the face, and told him straight out that he wanted to be a Christian and give up his whole life to it.

Martin’s father was very angry indeed. He stormed at the boy, and when he found that was no good, he thrashed him. But nothing could make Martin change his mind, and at last he decided the only way was to run away from home.

But I told you God meant Martin to become a leader. To have run away and lived with the hermits would not have given him just the kind of training he needed, and the chance of showing he could stick to God through real difficulties. So God let the next bit of His plan happen.

Martin’s father told the Roman officials that his son had come to the age at which all boys had to undergo their military training (though he hadn’t, really). And as Martin would not go and “join up,” a kind of press-gang lay in ambush one day and captured him, and he was led away in chains and forced to take the oath of military allegiance.

His father being a Colonel, Martin was given a good position in the army straight off, and had his own horse and his own servant. Of course, nearly all his companions were pagans, and the life of the army was of a pretty low standard. But Martin stuck faithfully to the kind of life he knew was pleasing to God, and tried in his dealings with his fellow-men to do things in the brave, kind, generous, unselfish way Christ would have done them. Of course, this made all the soldiers and his fellow-officers love him, and they must often have wondered why he never got angry, or cheated, or grumbled and swore at unpleasant things; and why he was so very kind to his servant, and always ready to give up his place or any little privilege to other people. Though no one knew it, even his pay he gave away to the poor. And yet he was not yet a baptized Christian, for in those days people used to wait a long time and prepare themselves very carefully for the great honour of being made one of the children of God; and during this time of waiting they were called catechumens.

It was at this time, while Martin’s regiment was stationed in France, that a very wonderful thing happened to him – for God was still planning his life and giving him chances; and, if he took them, rewarding him with special graces which should turn him gradually into a brave “soldier of Jesus Christ.”

One cold wintry day, as the wind whistled down the narrow streets of Amiens, Martin’s troop came clattering through the old gateway, the soldiers wrapping their great military cloaks close round them, for the bitter French winter seemed to freeze their Southern blood. By the gate of the city they noticed, as they swung by, an old, ragged man. The wind fluttered his tattered rags about, and he stretched out his thin hands, all blue with cold, hoping for a few pence to buy himself some food. The soldiers, however, passed him by and gave him nothing. But when Martin reached the corner and saw the piteous sight his heart was touched, and he reined in his horse. He felt in his pockets, but, alas! they were empty, for he had given away all he had to some other poor person. He was very sad, because he always felt the poor were a kind of chance given him by God of showing his love for the Lord Christ, Who had said that if you served the poor and naked and hungry and unhappy you really served Him. Well, Martin felt he simply couldn’t pass on and give the old man nothing. And suddenly the idea came to him that he was warm in his big cloak, and the old man very cold. What if he gave his cloak? But it was his uniform, and he knew that he must not ride out without it altogether, so he took it off, drew his sword, slashed it in half, and then, bending down with a smile, put the warm folds about the old man’s cowering shoulders.

Of course, the soldiers and other officers laughed; but Martin didn’t care – he was willing to be what Saint Paul calls “a fool for Christ’s sake.”

And now comes the wonderful thing. That night as Martin lay in bed, asleep, a wonderful vision came to him. Suddenly his room seemed full of angels, and in the midst of them was Christ. And – on His shoulders was Martin’s half-cloak! Then Our Lord spoke. “Martin,” He said, “dost thou know this mantle?” And then He turned to the angels, and He said: “Martin, yet a catechumen, hath clothed Me with this garment.”

You can imagine what Saint Martin felt! But besides the joy in him, there was a feeling that Our Lord was a little disappointed because he was only a catechumen still, and not yet baptized and made a real part of His Church, a real child of God. And so, feeling that God wished him to have the great honour of Baptism, he went to the priests, and started on the long, hard preparation that they used to have in those days. No meat might he have, nor wine, and he must pray a lot, and often watch in the church the whole night, and in many other ways practise not giving in to himself. Only at Easter and Whitsun were the catechumens baptized; and then they were clothed in white garments, which they wore for a week. These were meant to show the perfect purity of their souls, from which all stain of sin had been washed away by the waters of Baptism.

At last the great day came, and Martin received the wonderful Sacrament with great love and humility. But now he felt that he simply couldn’t let his hands be stained with the blood of his fellow-men, and that the soldier’s life was not for him. And so, when the Emperor came one day and inspected his regiment, which was shortly to go into battle, he asked him if he might leave the army. “Until now I have fought for you,” he said; “let me henceforth fight for God. . . . I am a soldier of Christ, and it is not lawful for me to take part in a bloody battle.” The Emperor was very angry. “Coward!” he cried. “It is not religion that causes you to refuse to fight – you are afraid.”

So, to show them he was not afraid, Martin offered to go into battle in the very front rank, but to go unarmed (since he would not shed human blood). And, to show that he trusted in Christ as his protector, he said he would go without armour or helmet.

His challenge was accepted, and he was put under arrest, lest he might try to escape.

Of course, he spent the night praying, and the next day everyone was astonished by some strange news. The enemy had sent a despatch to sue for peace, and to say they would agree to the Emperor’s terms. So there was no battle; and not only was Martin’s life saved, but the lives of many other brave men. Probably the Emperor saw God’s hand in the unexpected action of his powerful enemy, for he at once gave Martin leave to go free.

At last Martin found himself at liberty to follow the life he had always felt called to; and once again God sent him where things should happen to him which would finally lead to the accomplishment of God’s great plan.

After making a pilgrimage to Rome, which was now not only the head of the worldwide Empire, but the kind of headquarters of the Christians, he returned to France, so as to put himself under the guidance of a very holy man, called Saint Hilary, the Bishop of Poitiers.

Saint Hilary soon saw that Martin was no ordinary young soldier, but was a very promising “soldier of Jesus Christ,” and that his services would be very valuable. He saw, also, that he had received a special call from God, so he proposed to ordain him deacon. But Martin was very humble, and he refused the honour. In the end he let Saint Hilary ordain him exorcist. But directly after this he was ordered by God in a dream to go back to his native land and visit his relations and bring them into the Christian Faith. Saint Hilary was disappointed, but he let him go, making him promise, however, that he would return to the Diocese of Poitiers, to which he now belonged.

After many adventures, including falling into the hands of robbers and escaping in a marvellous way, which must have been through God’s help, Martin reached his old home, and had the joy of seeing his mother received into the Church, as well as seven of his cousins and his two great-uncles.

At this time the Church was being persecuted by a very strong party called the Arians. They were heretics, who taught that Our Lord was only a man and not God, and as the Church turned them out on account of their false teaching, they did nothing but fight against her. Of course, Martin, the brave soldier of Christ, stood up for what he believed, so that one day he was seized by the Arians, beaten, and banished from his own country. He began to make his way back to Saint Hilary, but when he reached Milan he learned that his friend had been banished from Poitiers, and that an Arian Bishop ruled in his place. So Martin stayed at Milan; and this, too, was a part of God’s plan, because it was his stay here which started him on an idea which in the end developed into one of the most important things in his life.

This idea was to form a kind of little monastery outside the city, where he and a handful of other young men lived, and tried to do good and to live in a way specially pleasing to God, and more perfect than they could do in the busy rush of the ordinary world. But after a while the Arians got strong in Milan, and drove out Martin and his followers. For a while Martin and a friend of his lived as hermits on a wild little island off the coast of Spain. But, hearing that Saint Hilary had been restored to his see, Martin went to Poitiers so as to fulfil his solemn promise. But once more Saint Hilary was to be disappointed, for this time Martin begged to be allowed to continue his hermit’s life. Saint Hilary gave him leave, and Martin now withdrew to a forest about eight miles from Poitiers. Here he built himself a hut, and was soon surrounded by men who wished to lead the same kind of holy life. This was the beginning of all the wonderful monasteries of France, which civilized the whole country in time and taught it to be Christian.

That Martin’s new life was really pleasing to God was soon shown, for God gave him the gift of doing miracles, and twice he even raised the dead to life. You will remember how Our Lord specially promised that His faithful followers, in the years to come, should do miracles like He had done, and even greater ones. Well, Saint Martin was one of the men who showed that Our Lord’s promise was fulfilled. All the men to whom the Church has given the title “Saint” have done wonderful miracles, that God’s name might be glorified and people see that “with God all things are possible.” Saint Martin now lived in very close communion with God, and his miracles showed that he was not just an ordinary good man.

Besides training his monks, Saint Martin was working very hard among the heathen Gauls. He would press forward through the forests and preach in the little villages, and do miracles, and, after instructing the people in the true Faith, baptize them all, and leave a happy Christian village where he had found a miserable, frightened, heathen one.

Saint Martin’s tender pity for all suffering things is shown by this little story. One day, as he walked in the country, he saw a poor, terrified hare dashing along with starting eyes, and nearly exhausted, for a party of huntsmen and their hounds were close upon it. Saint Martin saw that in a few minutes it must be torn to bits by the hounds, for there was no cover for it. His tender heart longed to help it to escape, because it was weak and small and frightened. So he called out to the hounds to stop! And, strange to say, they pulled up short in their mad rush, and all stood still as if frozen to the ground, and the poor little hare scurried away into safety.

Now, this kind of life was just what suited Saint Martin, and he was very happy. He lived apart with God, and yet had work to do in training his monks in the way of perfection and teaching the Faith to the ignorant pagans. But he had not yet arrived at the end of God’s great plan for him. And if God now called him away from the life he loved to a life he did not want at all, we must not be surprised, for Christ said that those who would be His disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him, and that is what all good Christians must be ready to do – that is, live according to the way God wants instead of according to the way they want themselves.

Well, the change came when Saint Hilary died; for of course the people wanted Saint Martin to become Bishop in his place. To be Bishop was a very great honour, and one that many men would have been glad to accept. But Saint Martin was humble, like all Saints; and he also felt that if he was to remain pure of heart and close to God he must live in the quiet solitude and silence of his monastery, so he refused to become Bishop. But that he should be Bishop was God’s will, and also the people were quite determined to have him. They got him by making him think there was a poor sick woman who wanted him to come to her. He came out of his monastery, all unsuspecting, and the people carried him off by force to Poitiers, and he had to consent to be consecrated Bishop.

He did not look very like a Bishop as he was brought into the city. He was clad in a poor, thin old habit, and his head was closely shaved, as the monks were accustomed to do, and he was thin and pale with fasting and his hard life. But even his humble appearance made the people cheer him all the more; and the church was absolutely packed at the solemn service of his consecration as Bishop.

Now began a life in which his own will was altogether given up to that of God. He lived in a poor little hut adjoining the church – the poorness of it pleased him; but all day he was at it, doing things for people – now visiting a sick man to pray over him, now making peace between quarrelsome people, now blessing oils, that they might bring healing to the sick; preaching sermons, talking to people, and explaining Holy Scripture in the way he could do so wonderfully; visiting his priests, or listening to the worries and troubles they came to tell him; and when there was nothing else, there was always a crowd of people waiting just to see their beloved Bishop’s holy face and go away cheered with a patient smile from him.

But just sometimes he slipped away for a little peace alone with God, at a beautiful monastery called Marmontier, which he formed near the city, and which later became very famous, and kept the Rule of Saint Benedict I told you about before.

There were many things that were serious worries and very bitter sorrows and trials to Saint Martin at this time, but I can’t tell you all about these now. But there were also joys; and one of these I will tell you about, because it was the companionship of a little boy. He was nearly ten when Saint Martin baptized him and then adopted him. As they travelled together soon after the boy’s Baptism, and while he still had on the beautiful white robe I told you about, which showed outwardly the new purity of his soul, they came to the River Loire. A little way ahead of them they saw a poor blind beggar waiting for someone to help him across.

“Son,” said Saint Martin to the boy, Victorius, “go to that man; wash his face and eyes with water from the river; then bring him to me.”

So the boy went and did as Saint Martin had told him; and as soon as he had washed the poor man’s eyes, the man opened them and found he could see! With joy he looked about at the blue sky and the river; and when he heard that it was the holy Bishop who had sent the white-robed boy to him, he praised God for what had happened, and ran and fell down at Saint Martin’s feet. The poor beggar was very excited about it all, and didn’t know how to thank Saint Martin and the boy. So Saint Martin said:

“Calm thyself, cease talking, and come; for with me in this boat thou shalt cross the river.”

So the beggar stayed with them three days, and Victorius was allowed to look after him, and, as the old book says, “eagerly brought him everything to eat that he liked best.”

Victorius stayed always with Saint Martin, and went about everywhere with him, scarcely ever leaving his side. Even to the church he would go with him for the night offices; or on his tours visiting the churches or preaching to the heathen. Saint Martin taught Victorius, and in return the boy waited on him; also, I think, he must have cheered up the old Bishop, and often made him feel a boy again. But don’t you think Victorius was a very lucky boy? He saw a great many wonderful miracles of the Saint, and was even allowed to have a hand in the doing of some of them, as in the case of the blind beggar. When Victorius was old enough, Saint Martin made him a priest, and himself cut off the young man’s hair in the way priests used to have it cut.

There are a great many more wonderful stories about Saint Martin which I haven’t time to tell you now; but gradually, gradually he was establishing the Christian Faith very firmly in France. God’s great plan was being fully worked out, for, you see, Saint Martin had never resisted God’s will in any point; always he had done just what he felt God was gently leading him to do, never mind what it cost him at the time. And so he took each step that God arranged for him, and each one led on to the next, and all led on to the wonderful life of building up the Church of Christ, and making it bigger, stronger, purer, more healthy; and the great work, too, of turning a heathen land into a powerful Christian country.

At last came the day when the tired old Bishop felt, with unspeakable joy, that he was to go and receive his reward at the hands of Christ, Whom he had loved so faithfully and so long, and was to enter into his rest.

One day, after a long journey, Saint Martin was thinking of returning to his beloved Marmontier, when a great weakness came over him.

“The moment of my deliverance is at hand,” he said.

His monks and other faithful companions were nearly broken-hearted.

“Oh, Father, will you then leave us?” they cried. “Ravening wolves will fall on your flock, and who will protect it when the shepherd is struck? We know your longing to depart and to be with Christ, but your reward is assured and will be greater by delay. Have pity on us who must remain.”

So Saint Martin prayed a beautiful prayer, because he loved his children more than himself, and he was even willing to put off his reward and his longed-for rest for love of them.

“Lord,” he said, “if indeed I still be necessary to Thy people, I refuse not the labour. Let only Thy will be done.”

But it was not Our Lord’s will that His faithful soldier should fight any longer. Christ was waiting for him, all ready to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

And so, lying humbly upon a bed of sackcloth, Saint Martin, Apostle of France, finished the work that God had given him to do, and passed into the glory and eternal rest of the Blessed.

– text taken from the book Stories of the Saints by Candle-Light by Vera Barclay, 1922