Here is the new installment of St. Martin's life.
Arborius was a man of prefectoral rank. He was faithful and had a very holy nature. When his daughter was burning with a very serious quatrain fever, Arborius placed a letter of Martin which, by chance, had been brought to him, in the bosom of the girl at the height of the fever and immediately the fever was put to flight. (2) This incident impressed Arborius so much that he immediately devoted the girl to God and declared her everlasting virginity. He went to Martin and brought with him the girl, the present testimony of Martin's virtues, who had been cured even in Martin's absence. Nor would he allow her to be consecrated or the habit of virginity imposed by anyone else but Martin.
(3) Paulinus, a man who would a little while later be a great example to the age, began to suffer grievously in an eye. Cloudiness began to cover over the pupil rather densely. Martin touched the eye with a brush and restored it to its earlier health with all the pain removed. (
4) Martin himself, when, he by some accident, fell headlong from an upper story after tripping on an uneven stair, suffered many wounds. While he lay half-dead in his cell and tortured with terrible pain, by night, an angel was seen washing the wounds and anointed the bruises of his body with a healing ointment. On the next day, he was restored to health so that one would think that nothing harmful had ever happened to him.
(5) But it takes a long time to go through each example. These few things shall suffice for the many incidents. It is enough that we do not take away from the truth in striking cases and that we avoid weariness in telling about many.
Here we come to the end of a fairly lengthy section on Martin's cures and miracles which come to a climax in an peculiar indication of divine favour. Before this, we have two healings of notable men. Arborius is described by St. Martin as having the rank of prefect, but doesn't indicate his office, if he was then holding one. I'm sure if I hunted him up in the Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, I'd find him, but, as I don't have that particularly useful behemoth of a resource on hand, I think that is about all I can say about him. A rank of prefect puts him in the higher echelons of Roman civil administration, so his testimony would have particular weight.
Paulinus, if I'm guessing right, is probably St. Paulinus of Nola, an associate of Sulpicius Severus and an important saint/bishop in Gaul in his own right. The coy reference to him being a little later a great example seems to support this identification, but I am always happy to hear if I'm wrong here.
The content of these first two miracles, I think, are straightforward. In the Arborius miracle, we find an object from St. Martin effecting the cure of Arborius' daughter. This kind of story, of course, drive Protestants a little crazy because it implies that the cure is effected by something akin to sympathetic magic: because St. Martin wrote/touched the letter, the letter itself is infused by his spiritual power. What this evokes is the practices from the time of the Reformation which saw practices such as indulgences or relics prey upon the credulity of the common people. I'm not saying, incidentally, that God can't effect miracles in this way, but that this kind of concept has, historically, been exploited by religious hucksters in such a way that makes Protestants very leery of entertaining stories like this.
Arborius' reaction to this miracle, making his daughter a nun, may strike us as an odd one, if not an offensive one, if we should adopt, say, a feminist critique of it. There is no doubt that the girl is simply expected to go along with it and Sulpicius did not see fit to say what she thought of the whole transaction. She was, after all, under the authority of her father, what kind of opinion could she expected to have, at least in Sulpicius' mind?. Yet, I think we have to be careful not to presume too much on the lack of evidence. It is possible that she agreed with Arborius' action and, in gratitude for her life, she also wanted to become a religious. We simple don't know.
The Paulinus miracles is rather more straight-forward, almost to the point of being prosaic. I'm not a doctor, of course, (perhaps someone with better medical knowledge can pronounce on this), but this seems to be the healing of a really bad eye infection by something which looks like a simple cleaning of the eye. I must admit that I do think the clouding of the eye may be indicative of cataracts, but I'm just not learned enough here to say for sure.
This brings me to the last miracle which is the climax of this section. Here it is Martin himself who is badly injured and on the edge of death. Here also Martin isn't the person who is curing, but the person being cured. Yet, the image of the angel washing his wounds seems to recall the Gospel accounts of the Temptation of Jesus in which, after Satan fails in his temptations of Jesus and leaves, the angels serve Jesus (Matthew 4,11; Mark, 1,13). I recognize this isn't the same thing as binding up wounds, but the idea, I think, is similar. That is, Jesus has undergone a difficult physical trial and the angels help him recover from it. I note that the verb used in both of these Biblical passages is also used for serving food to someone as a sort of waiter or servant. However, the common element is service by angels which is a sign of divine approval.
Yet, I also have to note a certain tentativeness in the Latin here. The verb used (visus est) is a passive form and, I think, is definitely kept vague about who was doing the seeing and how. I think it probably means that Martin saw it, but I don't know if it wants to distinguish between actually seeing it, seeing it in a dream or in a vision. Not that it matters, since the cure was effective.
The last part of this passage is a fairly straightforward transition to the next section. It is not unusual as we've found in this work for an ancient author to make a transition by emphasizing that the examples cited are only a few of the many incidents like this. Nor is it unusual for the idea of balancing giving a true picture of the person involved and not wearing the reader unduly to be brought out. This kind of affected humility is a favourite rhetorical stance of Sulpicius Severus and, indeed, many other authors, Christian and pagan.
So, next month we'll move on into a new section of Sulpicius Severus. We're down to the last eight chapters, so enjoy!