Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin 13

Here is the latest installment to the Life of St. Martin


Likewise, when Martin had destroyed a very old temple in a certain village and he advanced to cut down a sacred pine tree which was nearby the altar, a priest of that place and the rest of a mob of pagans began to obstruct him. (2) When they also grew silent, as God ordered while the temple was destroyed, they could not endure the tree being cut down. Martin warned them sincerely that there was no religious obligation to a tree. Rather they should follow God whom Martin served and it was fitting for that tree to be cut down because it was dedicated to a daemon. (3) Then, one of them who was bolder than the rest aid "If you have any faith in your God whom you say you worship, we ourselves will cut down this tree. You, catch it while it is falling. If the Lord is with you as you say, you will, you will escape (harm). (4) Martin boldly confident in the Lord, promised he would do it. The whole mob of pagans agreed to this type of arrangement and thought it an easy sacrifice of this tree, if they would destroy an enemy of their rites in its fall. (5)Accordingly, since that pine was leaning to one side in such a way that there was no doubt on which side it would fall after being cut down, Martin was bound to that place where it was decided by the decision of the rustic that no one doubted the tree would fall. (6) Therefore, they began to cut down their own pine with great joy and happiness. A crowd of Martin's admirers was present a short distance away. Then the pine gradually began to nod and, about to fall, to imitate its own ruin. (7) The monks grew pale at distance and terrified with their own danger and lost all their hope and faith, awaiting only the death of Martin. (8)That man, bold in the Lord, waited, when the pine feel and gave a crack, with his hand raised, made sign of safety as the tree fell and rushed down on top of him. Then, truly, just as you would think would happen in a type of whirlwind, it fell in a different place so that it almost felled the rustics who were standing in that place. (9) Then, after shouting to heaven, the pagans were stunned by the miracle and the monks wept with joy. The name of Christ was proclaimed in common by all. It was agreed on that day that salvation came to that region. For there was almost no one from that huge mob of pagans who did not believe in the Lord Jesus, desiring the imposition of hands and setting aside the error of their impiety. Truly, before Martin, few, indeed almost no one received the name of Christ. it became so strong by Martin's virtues and example that soon there was no place there which was not filled with crowded churches and monasteries. For when he destroyed an altar, at once he built there either churches or monasteries.


This passage continues to feature St. Martin's conflict with the pagan practices so prevalent in the countryside of Gaul. For the last three chapters, we see St. Martin's tactics become increasingly intentional and provocative. In section 11, he was merely concentrating on suppressing a insufficiently attested (and, ultimately, demonic) martyrs cult. In section 12, a chance meeting with a pagan funeral procession gives St. Martin the opportunity to show his power over both the demons worshipped by pagans, but, even, his power over nature itself in inhibiting the movements of the pagans he encounters. Here, St. Martin is beginning to seek out pagan altars in order to destroy them and the cults which belong to them. This progression (whatever our opinion about the miracles attached to this story) suggest an escalating campaign to Christianize the Gallic countryside around Tours. The successes noted here suggest that it began to work to an unprecedented degree.

This, of course, leaves aside the questions of the miracles which play such a role in these stories. Modern history, notoriously, has problems with miracles stories for the excellent reason they are exceedingly improbable. This is rather the point, of course, because, if St. Martin only did what was expected he would have been squished by this tree. More to the point, these miracles represent the power that St. Martin has over the pagan gods which were his (and Jesus') real opponents. As I noted in earlier comments, I really don't know that I can prove these miracles using historical methods because they are unprovable. Yet, in faith, I have to also, in all honesty, say that nothing is impossible for God.


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