Sunday, November 12, 2006

St. Martin and the Clothing of the Pauper

Yesterday was the patronal festival for the Anglican parish I attend here in Toronto, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Well, for that matter, it is also the patronal festival for another former parish I attended just over ten years ago in my home town. So, you can say that I feel a real link to this saint, so much so that I've been working on translating Sulpicius Severus' Life of St. Martin for several years as a kind of labour of love for my present parish. For all those reasons, I decided I would preview my translation with what is, certainly, the best known incident of Martin's life: the clothing of the pauper at the gates of Amiens.

As background, let me note that St. Martin was a military saint, of a sort, in that, despite his clear desire to become a monk, he was forced by his pagan, ex-military father to join the army. In the army, Martin tried to live as faithful a life as possible; avoiding the vices of the military life and devoting himself to good works. It was that devotion to good works which brought about the story which follows. So, without more ado, here is the story of St. Martin and the clothing of the pauper.

At that time, when he was used to having nothing except his arms and a simple military uniform, in the middle of the winter which shivered more bitterly cruelly than usual to such an extent that force of the cold killed very many, Martin met a naked pauper in the gate of the city of Amiens, whom all would pass by, although the wretch begged them to take pity on him. Martin, who was full of God, understood that, since others showed no pity, the pauper was reserved for him. Nevertheless, what could he do? He had nothing but his military cloak which he was wearing because he had already used up the rest of his clothing in similar work. Therefore, seizing the sword with which he was armed, he divided the cloak in the middle and he gave part of it to the pauper and he put on the rest. Meanwhile, some of those standing around laughed because, having cut up his clothing, he seemed disfigured. However, some who had a more sane mind, groaned because they had not done something similar, especially because they had more and could clothe the pauper without making themselves naked.

On the following night, when Martin went to sleep, he saw Christ clothed in the part of Martin’s own military cloak which he made for the pauper. He was ordered to look very carefully at the Lord and to recognize the clothing which he had given. Then he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing around: “Martin, until now a catechumen, made this clothing for me”. The Lord, truly mindful of his own words, who had proclaimed that as long as you did this for the one of the least of them, you did this for me (Matthew 25,40) , acknowledged that He himself had been clothed in the person of the pauper. In order to confirm the evidence of such a great work, he thought it worthwhile to show himself in the clothing which the pauper received. In this vision, that very blessed man was raised up not in human glory, but recognizing the goodness of God in his own work, when he was 22 years old, ran to be baptized. Nevertheless, he did not renounce military service, but was won over by the prayers of his own tribune whom he retained as a friend and tentmate. Because the tribune promised that, after he had completed his tribunate, he would renounce the world with him, Martin was held back by this expectation for almost two years after he had pursued his baptism and served in the army, although only in name.

So, there it is. Let me know what you think either about the story or the translation. This is the first translation I've published online, so I'm a little self-conscious.



Anonymous said...

I think it's very well done but I would watch awkward constructions like more bitterly cruelly, even if they are technically correct.

Phil S. said...

Thanks for the comment. I take your point on the awkward constructions. My academic training had stressed a very literal translation style and I've been trying to loosen up a bit. Thanks to my wife, a lot of the worst of the Latlish constructions (that's what I call overly literal translations when my students do them) have been edited out, but I'm sure a few slipped through.


Jim said...

Hi Phil,

I do not have a copy of the original, so I cannot say anything about the fidelity of the translation. I do agree with Anon's comment on style.

I read, somewhere, that the translators of the Authorized Version had a committee on style.
While, your natural style, as reflected by your other writings here and elsewhere flows quite naturally, this seems a bit awkward here and there.

I have a suggestion: read it aloud. That will give you a sense of how if at all to edit it.

Over all, I think it quite good.