Our commemoration today is for the fourth-century bishop Martin of Tours, and we read about him in an excerpt from Celebrating the Saints.
Martin of Tours is remembered for his charity, his faithfulness to Christ, and his zeal for sharing the Gospel with people who did not believe in Jesus. He is also Martin Luther’s namesake; on this day more than a thousand years after Martin of Tours’s death, Martin Luther was brought to the waters of Holy Baptism and given his first name.
Martin was born into a heathen family in present-day Hungary around AD 316. His father, a senior officer in the Roman army, was transferred to Lombardy. There Martin grew to manhood. He was reportedly but ten when (against his parent’s wishes) he began attending church and even enrolled as a catechumen. When the young lad was but fifteen, he was conscripted to join the cavalry according to the custom of the time for children of officers. At eighteen, he was stationed in Gaul, present-day France. As a soldier, he once came upon a poor beggar, wrapped in meager rags, on a cold winter’s day. Martin is said to have used his sword to slice his own cloak in two parts, giving half of it to the freezing beggar to wrap up in.
Once in the course of his military service, Martin felt that he could not join in a particular battle. “I am a soldier of Christ,” he protested. He was immediately arrested and jailed until it befell that the battle did not actually take place, the enemy suing for peace instead. Martin was eventually released both from prison and from all obligation of military service.
Freed at last to pursue his faith in freedom, he made his way to Poitiers. There he studied with the great Hilary, a famous teacher of the faith and confessor of the orthodox teaching of the Holy Trinity. Martin joined in the orthodox resistance to the Imperial embrace of Arianism. In 371, he was lured to Tours on the pretense of visiting and praying with a sick man. Once there, he was acclaimed the city’s bishop, a position he accepted only reluctantly.
As bishop, Martin gave his energies toward the spread of Christianity among the natives of Gaul and the alleviation of the suffering of captives. He reportedly once ordered a pine tree chopped down that the locals worshiped. They agreed only if he would stand in the path. He did so and the tree missed him as it fell. He thus won over the heathen to Christ.
He was also remembered (with Ambrose of Milan) for unyielding opposition to the notion that the state should ever execute people for heresy. He experienced great sorrow when the Emperor did not finally heed his warning and executed some of the Priscillian heretics.
St. Martin died this day in 397, a man much loved and revered. The account of his charity in the gift of his cloak made the saint quite popular. The Frankish kings treasured his piece of the cloak, which they kept as a relic.
It was on the day of this popular saint in 1483 that Hans and Margaret Luther brought their one-day-old son to the saving waters of Baptism. Since it was St. Martin’s day, the child was named in honor of Martin of Tours: Martin Luther.
Lord God of hosts, Your servant Martin the soldier embodied the spirit of sacrifice. He became a bishop in Your Church to defend the catholic faith. Give us grace to follow in his steps so that when our Lord returns we may be clothed with the baptismal garment of righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Devotional reading and prayer are from Celebrating the Saints, pages 206–7 © 2016 William C. Weedon. Published by Concordia Publishing House.