Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Saint Martin, Bishop and Confessor

I haven't the time today to explore the great subject of Saint Martin at any length, as I would like, but I would make a couple of observations.

The Missouri Synod, with this feast, continues its refusal to use the term 'saint' for those on its list of commemorations. If Martin of Tours is not a saint, then why commemorate him? Such criticisms will seem nit picky to some, and will feel to some to be getting rather old. Shouldn't we, after all, simply be grateful for all the good things in the new worship resources? What ought to get old, on the other hand, are all the ways in which these resources display shortsightedness, and all too much reflect the limited thinking of our own protestantized culture. They won't "get old," though, unless gadflies who care about their Church keep the issues alive. Another example of this limited, protestantized thinking, is to refer to Saint Martin merely as "Pastor." Of course the mini bio on the Synod's web site admits that he was made bishop of Tours. But why the need to downplay his office as bishop in the title given him in his commemoration? Just as the makers of these lists would, I am sure, agree that Martin is a saint, the real question is not what they think of Martin, but why the need to downplay these truths. Is being a pastor the same as being a bishop? Sure, it is exactly the same, at least if one can think of himself as pastor of a whole city, or even a whole region, filled with several parishes, and a crew of presbyters and deacons. So why do we play these games?

Just as strange is that some apparently think that Martin should be commemorated not only for his episcopal office, but also for the fact that before his conversion he was a soldier. I myself see much rich significance in Martin's military experience. There is great potential, for example, for connecting allegorically the soldier Martin with the Lord who fights for us against sin and the devil, whose office Martin would go on to fill. Yet to commemorate Martin as "soldier, pastor, and bishop," seems a bit much. It fits all too well the militaristic politics of the day.

Martin was a great saint, the renown of whose holiness extended throughout the long history of the Western Church, especially in France. He was a faithful and fearless bishop, and a confessor of Christ, evidenced in both his teaching and life. I would add another thought here. Martin was also a faithful catechumen, who can serve as an example for all catechumens today. Polycarp had his John, Augustine had his Ambrose, and we ought not forget that Martin had Hilary, the great bishop of Poitiers. Hilary recognized in Martin much potential for service in the Church, and even offered Martin diaconal ordination before Martin felt ready for it.

So much to say of Saint Martin. But let me at this point encourage you to do two things, if you can.

1. Go to church. If your church has Mass today, take advantage of that gift, if you are able. If you cannot, at least be sure to thank God for the life He lived in the holy bishop of Tours.

2. Read a good treatment of Saint Martin, such as Regine Pernoud's excellent book, Martin of Tours, published by Ignatius Press.


Brian P Westgate said...

I did today's feast at the church Vespers tonight. And yes, I used the traditional terminology. Though I guess I said bishop=pastor. Didn't do much with the soldier thing, other than to say he might be the perfect saint for Veterans Day. I more connected him to Dr. Luther; their ministries, and their preaching, were in a way the same, and all pastors should see them as role models.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...


Indeed, the sermonic potential on this feast is endless. Some may think of the story of Martin cutting the cape to clothe the beggar to be a bit cliche, but frankly, I think it is very rich with significance, especially if the connection is made between Martin's capella, and the word coined as a result of the incident, chapelle. Martin, then, not only can be seen as a great example of a faithful bishop and teacher, but is also a man whose life can serve as an image through which we may see both the Christus Victor, and the protective maternal nature of the Church. For just as Martin covered the cold and shame of the poor man with his capella, Christ protects us, and covers our shame and nakedness by the sacramental means of the Church, or chapelle.

And I do think this incident is also a foreshadow of how Christ through the reforming work of Martin Luther would provide the comforting cover of the Gospel to the Church, as a cape over the nakedness and coldness of legalism and works righteousness. However, I personally think it best, normally, to resist the temptation to spend too much of one's preaching time on this feast dwelling on that comparison, lest Martin not be given fair consideration on his own terms. There are plenty of other opportunities, after all, to preach and teach on the life and work of Luther, like his heavenly birthday (28 Feb). (Not that I condemn others for thus dwelling.)

Brian P Westgate said...

I didn't dwell much on the cape thing. Just that his dream was really remembering the judgment scene from St. Matthew "Whatever you have done for the least of these My brethren you have done for Me." As well as connecting it to the end of the Epistle "It is better to give than to receive." Then on to the ministry of the Holy Bishop.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

What you did is commendable. I'm just saying that I myself would tend toward a different type of emphasis. Of course, not all these things have to be done in the same sermon each time his feast comes up. That's the great thing about preaching on a set of propers that is handed down to us, one gets to spend a whole lifetime exploring the possibilities. But isn't it interesting that Christ can be seen in all sides of the equation, even in the cape incident? He is the one being clothed; and as I would argue, He can also be pictured as the one clothing us, both as the Church, and as members thereof.

Brian P Westgate said...

I do like that. Christ covers you with Himself in His chapel, the holy Church.