Beloved of God and Men: A Sermon for Martinmas

In his Speculum Ecclesiae, Honorius Augustodunensis includes a sermon on the feast of St. Martin of Tours as well as a few words about St. Brice to add if St. Martin’s feast fell on a Sunday. We offer our readers a translation into English below, or

He was beloved of God and men, whose memory is in benediction.[1] Saint Martin, dearly beloved, was beloved of God, and so he was chosen to rule over his people as a glorious pontiff. He was beloved of men, for, in sooth, his patronage guards God’s people from enemies of body and soul. Therefore his memory is in benediction, since men throughout the whole world and the blessed spirits in heaven bless him in glory everlasting. Today, too, the whole Church blesses the name of Jesus Christ through him who has been set as such a powerful patron over her. He is called the jewel of priests,[2] for the priestly dignity throughout the entire world is made fair by his precious life and shining miracles. 

Hence from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same,[3] Martin’s praiseworthy name is celebrated and invoked to succour all who labour. Yea, he quickly lends help to all who invoke him, and God grants every petition by virtue of his merits. For, besides the numerous miracles that make God worthy of glory, he raised three men from the dead through Martin. 

The Apotheosis of St. Martin, Church of St. Martin, Castelnau-d’Estrétefonds, late 18th century.

He was born in Pannonia to Roman but pagan parents and educated in Italy. At twelve years of age, he desired with all his heart to retire to the desert, but his father, who was a military tribune, quashed his pious desire with his threats. Thereupon he was put in chains and, against his will, forced into military service. He had not yet been washed by the waters of baptism, and nevertheless he alacritously carried out works of mercy, feeding the needy and assisting the downtrodden in their distress so far as he was able. He was content with only one servant, often serving him himself in turn. 

Once during wintertime, when Martin was on the road with his fellow soldiers, he came upon a poor naked beggar asking passersby for mercy. While all the others ignored the wretch, Martin seized his sword, sliced apart the cloak he was wearing, and gave part of it to the beggar. The following night, our Lord appeared to Martin with a host of angels and, shewing them the piece of cloak Martin had given, told them how he had received it from Martin, a man who was not even baptized. Inspired by this vision and emboldened by a desire for an even greater grace, Saint Martin was immersed in Christ’s font in his thirty-eighth year, and soon gave himself entirely to God’s service.  

St. Martin and the Beggar, El Greco, c. 1578.

Meanwhile, Julian, so hateful to God, was hastening to battle and offering soldiers a bonus for re-enlisting. Martin refused enlistment and the bonus, so the tyrant ordered him to be imprisoned, intending to cast him unarmed to the enemy. But the loving Lord, heedful of the advantage of all, delivered his faithful soldier from danger, by taking away the need to fight. Verily, the next day the enemy sued for peace, and subjected themselves and all their men to the emperor. 

St. Martin refuses to fight for Emperor Julian, Simone Martini, San Martino Chapel in the Basilica of Assisi, 14th century.

After this, Martin abandoned arms and took up the monkish habit under Hilary, bishop of Poitiers. After Martin had stayed with him for some time, he went to his parents, but the devil accosted him on the way and swore to oppose him in all things. As Martin entered a forest, he was seized by thieves who tied him up and brought him to their hiding-place, where one of them was set to guard him. This man believed in God through Martin’s words, freed him, and led him back to the road. He forswore thievery and joined Martin as his faithful companion and disciple. 

Martin made his way back to his parents and converted his mother to the Lord, but was unable to convert his father. Then he returned to Hilary and the heretics afflicted him with many pains. At that time, a certain catechumen who had joined Martin died unbaptized while Martin was away. When he returned, Martin was moved to tears, but the Lord consoled him and quickly turned his sadness in joy.[4] Verily, forthwith through his prayers he raised up the dead man, and men wondered to see him alive again. 

St. Martin Converts His Mother, Bernard Benezet, 1896, Church of St. Martin, Buzet-sur-Tarn.

Another time, while Martin was passing by a certain village, there came to his ears a mournful cry. When he asked the cause of this plaint, he was told that a certain man had torn out his own soul by hanging himself. And so Martin pitied the wretch and commanded everyone to depart while he poured out prayers to the compassionate and merciful Lord. O how close is the Lord to all that call upon him in truth![5] The dead man instantly returned to life and walked about alive with Martin to the amazement of all. O how much merit this man had before God, bringing back to life one who did not balk at killing himself!

These marvellous miracles made him known to the world, and by God’s will Martin was raised to the mitre as the bishop of Tours. He ruled the flock committed to him[6] with marvellous humility and care, instructing his subjects with sweet doctrine and living example. He adorned his age with signs and wonders and like a golden column[7] held up the entire church steadfastly.

When Martin entered a church the demons therein let out a bellow, and clerics sensed the bishop’s approach by the reaction of the energumens. Evildoers were tortured by the presence of this prelate worthy of God. As soon as he covered himself in haircloth and laid upon ashes, the band of filthy spirits would be expelled from the possessed. 

On a certain solemnity, when Martin was sitting in the sacristy about to celebrate mass, lo! a certain beggar asked him for clothing. Martin immediately sent the deacon to get clothes for the beggar. Since he tarried, Martin removed his own clothes and vouchsafed them to the beggar. When the deacon returned, he urged the bishop to celebrate mass, saying that the people were tired of waiting so long. Martin replied that the beggar should be clothed first, and thus God’s service would be performed. The dyspeptic deacon purchased a short black garment from a nearby shop with a few coins, and angrily cast them at the bishop’s feet. But Martin, not at all bothered, ordered the deacon to leave and secretly put on the clothes he had brought. And so he went up to mass with his arms half bared, but the Lord made the merit of this illustrious prelate manifest before the assembled people. For as he celebrated mass a fiery sphere rose from his head and its flames grew reaching up to the highest heaven.[8] Often, too, during the mass Martin’s hands seemed to shine with jewels and to crackle with gold and electrum. 

St. Martin’s Miraculous Mass, San Martino Chapel in the Basilica of Assisi, 14th century.

At another time, while Martin was in a field preaching to a group of pagans, a certain child was crushed to death by the packed crowd. His mother’s wailing drew the holy man’s attention, and  in the sight of all she soon merited to receive her child back alive by his prayers. Together with all the people she believed and gave thanks to God. Thus did the Holy Trinity glorify his elect before men by bringing three dead men back to life through him.

St. Martin Resurrects a Baby, Simone Martini, San Martino Chapel in the Basilica of Assisi, 14th century.

So much has been written about the extraordinary signs this blessed man performed that no sermon can relate them all. And so let these things suffice, lest a lengthier sermon bore you. 

A certain Postumianus[9] traveled around the world, visiting the holy Fathers in Egypt, Judea, and Greece. When he returned home, he recounted to his brethren many marvellous things worthy of telling, and Martin was discovered to have surpassed all these Fathers in merits and deeds and in miracles and holiness, and none of them even matched him. For Martin returned sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speaking to the mute, and restored cleanness to lepers, walking to the lame, and restored strength to a number of people struck with palsy. He broke a burning fever, expelled raging demons, and not only did he accomplish many signs by himself, but many performed miracles in Martin’s name. Oil blessed by Martin banished all sickness; letters sent by him cured pains and restored health; and birds, beasts, and serpents obeyed his commands. Touching his clothing or the bed on which he slept expelled demons or any illness and swiftly restored health. His cape was borne as a banner before the kings of France when they went to war, lending them victory over their enemies, and today chaplains (capellani) are so called after the keepers of this cape. Angels often spoke to Martin, and saints frequently held conversation with him. He always raised up his eyes and hands to heaven, and he manifested Christ in heart and word. He forcefully gave orders to kings, and overcame heretics with great authority. He patiently bore the injuries committed by subjects resentful of their bishops, and gave an example of holiness to everyone in all things.

He foreknew his death long before it happened, and foretold his brethren the day of his passing. And so when the Lord decided to reward the glorious merits of blessed Martin and to crown this old soldier with an everlasting garland after his many trials, the man was wracked with bodily pain. Thus, he was at once delivered from pain and death, and happily entered the joy of his Lord[10] to the singing of angels and saints. Many heard this heavenly melody: when Martin’s soul left his body and sped to the heavenly temple, Bishop Severin of Cologne, renowned for his many virtues, was going around the monasteries to pray with his deacon Eberigisil,[11] who later also became bishop of Cologne. Severin heard an angelic symphony, and when his deacon asked what it could mean, he replied that Bishop Martin of Tours had passed from this life and the choirs of angels were welcoming his soul; that a band of demons had  met him on the way, but since they found nothing belonging to them, they departed in confusion, and hence the heavenly host broke into a song of praise with much exultation. 

The Death of St. Martin, Derick Baegert, 1490.

Alas, dearly beloved, what will become of us wretches, begirt by all sins, if a band of demons lay in wait for Martin, who blossomed with all virtues? This blessed man, repairing to heaven, also appeared to Severus,[12] who published his Life.

Martin left the prison of the body and the world and entered the lofty palace of heaven on a Sunday. On that very day, Bishop Ambrose of Milan, remembered in all churches for his sanctity and bountiful teaching, was standing at the altar about to celebrate mass. He was taken up by the Holy Ghost and carried away to Tours to bury Martin’s body. After the burial, Ambrose returned to himself, and explained what had happened to all, much to their surprise and amazement. 

St. Ambrose celebrates the funeral of St. Martin, Simone Martini, San Martino Chapel in the Basilica of Assisi, 14th century.

Therefore, dearly beloved, we must all praise and venerate blessed Martin, singing sweet melodies with the angels to the man Our Lord and the angels appeared to while he was still a pagan soldier. Once he became a Christian and an abbot, the dead were brought back to life through him. When he was exalted to the pontifical dignity, he was adorned with virtues and miracles. A queen rescued him, and when a king refused to rise for him, his throne was engulfed by flames. When Martin was beaten by the king’s servants, he made them and their animals stand like fixed statues by the river, but once they repented he allowed them to cross. He cut down trees dedicated to demons and stopped them from falling upon him without harm to himself. He beheld the shadow of a slain thief, listened to his words, and destroyed an altar and other sacred sites dedicated to him. He stopped a crowd of pagans carrying a corpse, and then allowed them to continue. He froze a pack of dogs in their tracks, rescuing a little rabbit from their bite. He healed those bitten by serpents, removing the venom; he denounced the deceptions of tricksters; he extinguished a fire raging around him; he made a three-day-old baby speak. By the power of his name a dog whose barking savagely was silenced. A possessed man was tied to his mat by nuns and his demon was expelled. He commanded serpents to leave a river, and water-birds to migrate from a river into the desert. He foretold his death long before it happened, and made peace between those who quarrelled. When he died a host of angels went to meet him, the choir of the saints hailed him with harmonious acclamations,, the heavens were opened as he entered, and all heaven-dwellers rejoiced. 

Emperor Valentinian’s throne catches fire after he refuses to rise for St. Martin, Simone Martini, San Martino Chapel in the Basilica of Assisi, 14th century.

It is also said about Martin that he revealed to a certain hermit that, on his feast day, as many souls would be delivered from purgations as men should come together to celebrate the festivity. O truly blessed pontiff blessed in all things, worthily praised by all the churches in all things, by whose blessed merits blessed joys are granted to souls! Let us ask, dearly beloved, with devout hearts, that by Martin’s prayers we might come to reign in the heavenly fatherland with Christ, where eye hath not seen &c.

On this Sunday, add about St. Brice:[14]

Today, dearly beloved, let us beg Saint Brice to be favourable to our prayers, since his intercession is powerful with God. Brice, indeed, learned by his own sufferings how much help there is for those who find themselves subject to misfortunes. Forsooth, virtue is always accompanied by envy, as is so manifest in this example. 

When Saint Martin shone like the sun with signs and virtues, and his sweet fame spread far and wide, many bishops, alas! desirous of his praises but unwilling to be adorned with his holiness of life, schemed to bring down by some ruse him whom God’s right hand had raised up. Meanwhile, a certain woman bore a child conceived in sin, but the identity of the evildoer was unknown. And so the bishops, seeing an opportunity for their mad design, held a council and agreed with the woman to accuse Martin of the crime. Martin, however, ordered the little baby brought to him and holding him in his arms sweetly said to him, “My son, my son.” But the child, who was not yet a week old, broke into a clear voice saying, “Thou art not my father! John the merchant is.” All were astounded and fell to their knees begging for forgiveness. The worthy priest of God kindly pardoned the injury, baptized the infant, and named him Brice.

Once Brice grew to adulthood, he embraced the monastic discipline and Martin ordained him a priest. Brice committed many affronts against him, but Martin asked God to raise him to the episcopate as his reward. And so when Martin passed on to the Lord, Brice was made head of the church, and on the thirtieth year of his episcopate he was forced to requite what he had sinned against his master. For an unhappy woman begot a child out of wedlock and the entire people accused their bishop of the crime. Brice, following the example of his master, ordered the month-old child brought to him. Before all the people, Brice charged the baby to say openly if he was his father, and the child denied in a clear voice that Brice was his father. But since the people deemed this was done by art of magic and called him a fornicator and a sorcerer, Brice carried burning charcoals in his cloak around the city and displayed them before Saint Martin’s tomb. Brice’s clothes were unburnt, but the raging people refused to believe him and deposed him from the episcopate, since he had received it from Martin’s favour. Brice lamenting went to Rome and the pope received him with honours. After seven years, he was sent back to his see and was received by the entire people with great honour and joy. Having fulfilled his office worthily he is today joined with the saints in glory.

Let us pray with all our hearts that we might join him, where eye hath not seen &c.[15]

St. Brice carries embers to the tomb of St. Martin, former high altarpiece of the Church of Saint Martin in Cserény, now in the Museum of Fine Arts of Budapest.

[1] Ecclesiasticus 45:1. The first phrase in the Epistle in the Common of Abbots.

[2] In two antiphons (CI 3713 and 3715), as well as an introit (CI 1044), none of which survive in the Tridentine liturgy.

[3] Psalm 112:3

[4] John 16:20

[5] Cf. Psalm 144:18.

[8] Responsory Dum sacramenta (CI 006558.1) and Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum PL 71:393. 

[9] One of the interlocutors in St. Sulpitius Severus’ first Dialogue

[10] Matthew 25:21.

[11] Gregory of Tours, De miraculis S. Martini 1.4. Severin had the habit of going through different churches on Sundays after Matins.

[13] If Martinmas falls on a Sunday, Honorius counsels the preacher to remember St. Brice, since his feast fell in the same week (viz. on 13 November).

[14] 1 Corinthians 2:9. Honorius invariably ends his sermons with this closing doxology evoking eternal glory. 

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