Monday, January 28, 2008

Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin 17

Here is the latest installment of our St. Martin story.

Translation:

At the same time, the slave of a certain proconsul, Taetradius, was seized by a demon and was tortured in a painful way. Therefore, when Martin was asked to lay hands on him, he ordered the slave to be brought to him, but in no way could the spirit be brought from the cell where he was. He savaged those who came with raging teeth. (2) Then, Taetradius fell prostrate around the knees of the blessed man, begging that Martin himself should descend to that cell where the demon-possessed man was held. Martin refused to enter the house of an impious pagan. (3) For Taetradius, at that time, was entangled and held by pagan error. Therefore, Taetradius swore that, if the demon was taken away from the boy, he would become a Christian. (4) Then, Martin, after laying hands on the boy, cast the spirit from him. When he saw this, Taetradius believed in the Lord Jesus. Immediately, he was made a catechumen and not long after he was baptized. He always honoured Martin with astonishing affection as the author of his salvation.

(5) At the same time, in the same town, the head of a certain household entered and, hesitating on the threshold, said he had seen a horrible demon in the atrium of the house, When Martin ordered it to leave, a certain person who was staying in the interior part of the house seized the head of the household and the wretch began to rage with his teeth and tear at anyone who was opposite him. With the house disturbed, the family thrown into confusion and people turning in flight, Martin placed himself opposite the raging man. First, he ordered him to stand. (6) When the man ground his teeth and threatened to bite him with a gaping mouth, Martin brought his fingers into his mouth. "If you are able," he said, "devour them." (7) As if he received glowing iron in his gullet, the man, drawing his teeth far back, avoided touching the fingers of the blessed man. When the spirit was forced to flee from the besieged body through punishments and tortures (not was it permitted for it to leave through the mouth), it was discharged through a flux of the stomach, leaving foul remains.


Commentary:

Here we return to the healings of St. Martin.

The first of the cures, I think, are meant to echo some of Jesus' cures of demoniacs. In particular, I think there is an echo of the centurion's slave in Matthew 8,5-13 and Luke 1-10 in which the slave of an outright pagan (and Roman, hence, oppressor!) is healed by Jesus as well as the cure of the Canaanite woman's daughter (Matthew 15, 21-28 and Mark, 7, 24-30) whom Jesus cured, albeit reluctantly and in response to the faith of the Canaanite woman.

Clearly, the fit is not perfect with either story. The centurion refuses to allow Jesus to enter his house because it was not worthy for him, a Jew, to enter a Gentile house. Taetatradius has no such qualms and begs Martin to come into his house, despite the fact that he, Taetradius, wasn't even a Christian. The reluctance to enter is entirely Martin's, so it casts a rather different colour to the story.

Similarly, the fact that Jesus hesistated from entering the Canaanite woman's house matches well with Martin's hesitation to enter Taetradius' house. Yet, Jesus was convinced to do the healing because of the woman's faith in him, so he relented from his opposition. Martin is only convinced by Taetradius' very conditional vow to become a Christian, if Martin could cure his slave. This kind of bargaining is very much in line with pagan practice, although it looks like Taetradius seized his faith wtih both hands, once he accepted it. The final line of the episode, I think, is meant to prevent us from thinking of this conversion as a conversion of convenience.

The second episode, I don't think, has any direct Scriptural resonance. The calm shown by Martin before the raging demon-possessed man is parallel to Jesus' cool-headedness and authority in dealing with even the most raging demon-possessed people. It is, also, entirely consistent with his calm in dealing with raging pagans. Secure in God's protection, Martin stands up to the demons and wins. Of course, it is understood that this is God's victory, not Martin's, but the calm is a sign that Martin isn't just another wonder-worker (whether Christian or pagan, these were a dime a dozen at the time), but an outright holy man.

Peace,
Phil

2 comments:

Thos said...

Phil,

Thank you for sharing this -- good stuff! I wouldn't come across it, but for your taking the time to share.

Peace in Christ,
Tom

jolie said...

thanks alot for your sharing
lots of love
always in prayers
john