About St. Martin of Tours.
(ca 316 - 397 AD; Feast Day November 11th)
A conscientious objector who wanted to be a monk; a monk who was manoeuvred into being a bishop; a bishop who fought paganism as well as pleading for mercy to heretics - such was Martin of Tours, one of the most popular saints, and one of the first not to be a martyr.
Born of pagan parents in what is now Hungary and raised in Italy, he was the son of a veteran, forced to serve in the Roman army from the age of 15. He became a Christian, baptized at age 18. It was said that he lived more like a monk than a soldier.
At 23, he refused a war-bounty from Julius Caesar with the words "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ".
On a bitterly cold day, legend has it, Martin met a poor man, almost naked, trembling with cold, begging from passers by at the city gate. Martin had nothing but his weapons and his clothes. He drew his sword, cut his cloak in two, gave one half to the beggar, and wrapped himself in the other half. Some bystanders laughed at his now odd appearance, while others were ashamed at not having relieved the beggar's misery.
Later, whilst he slept, Martin saw Christ dressed in the half-garment he had given away, and heard him say "Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his garment."
Discharged from the army, he was ordained and became a monk, living initially in Milan. He worked with great zeal against the Arians, before moving to France and establishing what may have been the first French monastery, near Poitiers. He lived there for ten years, attracting a following of disciples, and preaching throughout the countryside. The people of Tours clamoured for him to be their bishop, and he was enticed into the city on the pretext of seeing a sick person, but was brought to the church, where reluctantly he allowed himself to be consecrated bishop.
Along with St. Ambrose, Martin rejected the contemporary Bishop Ithacius' principle of putting heretics to death - as well as the Emperor's intrusion into such matters. Martin prevailed upon the Emperor to spare the life of the heretic Priscillian, but, for his efforts, Martin was accused of the same heresy, and Priscillian was executed anyway. Martin later, with a much-troubled conscience, eased his stance towards Ithacius.
(Adapted from an article in BEMA, the Parish Magazine).