Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Feast of St Martin of Tours 2023

Truly is it fitting and just, right and profitable to salvation, that we should honor Thee, almighty Lord, in the praises of Thy blessed priest and confessor Martin, who, being filled with the gift of Thy Holy Spirit, already in his preparation for the Faith was found to be so perfect, that he covered Christ in the person of a poor man, and with the garment that he received in his own poverty, clothed the Lord of the world. O happy the generosity that divinity performeth! O glorious the divison of the cloak that covered both the solder and the king! Worthily didst Thou bestow the rewards of Thy confession upon this man; worthily did the Arians’ ferocity lie subject to him; worthily with such great love for martyrdom did he in safety not fear the torments of the persecutor. How great, do we think, will be the glorification of his passion, when a (mere) piece of his cloak hath been so precious? And what shall he receive for the offering of his whole body, who for the small amount of his cloak, merited both to clothe and to see God? O the kindliness of his spirit, worthy to be imitated; o the might of his virtues, worthy to be venerated! So did he fullfil the duties of the bishop’s office which he undertook, that he could demand the observance of discipline through the model of his upright life. So did he give medicine to the hopeful by his apostolic virtue, that he saved some by his prayer, and others by his very countenance. This, o Lord, is Thy power and glory, which the Angels praise, the Archangels venerate; the Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Principalities and Powers adore; which the Cherubim and Seraphim with shared rejoicing praise. And we pray that Thou may command our voices to be brought in among them, saying with humble confession: Holy, Holy, Holy... (The Ambrosian Preface of St Martin of Tours.)

The central lower panel of the St Martin Polyptych, 1485-1505, by Bernardo Zenale and Bernardino Butinone; painted for the church of St Martin in Treviglio, Italy, about 22½ miles to the east of Milan.
Vere dignum et justum est, aequum, et salutare, nos te, omnipotens Domine, in beati Sacerdotis et Confessoris tui Martini laudibus honorare. Qui Sancti Spiritus tui dono repletus, ita in ipso fidei tirocinio perfectus inventus est, ut Christum texisset in paupere, et vestem, quam egenus accéperat, mundi Dominum induisset. O felix largitas, quam divinitas operatur! O chlamydis gloriosa divisio, quae militem texit et Regem! Digne huic confessionis tuae præmia contulisti: digne Arianorum subjacuit ei feritas: digne tanto martyrii amore persecutoris tormenta non timuit securus. Quanta, putamus, erit glorificatio passionis, quando pars chlamydis sic exstitit pretiosa? Et quid erit pro oblatione integri corporis recepturus, qui pro quantitate vestis exiguae et vestire Deum meruit, et videre? O animi imitanda benignitas! O virtutum veneranda potentia! Sic egit suscepti Pontificatus officium, ut per formam probabilis vitae observantiam exigeret disciplinae. Sic apostolica virtute sperantibus contulit medicinam, ut alios supplicationibus, alios visu salvaret. Haec tua est, Domine, virtus, et gloria. Quam laudant Angeli, venerantur Archangeli; Throni, Dominationes, Virtutes, Principatus et Potestates adorant; quam Cherubim et Seraphim socia exsultatione concelebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces, ut admitti jubeas, deprecamur, supplici confessione dicentes: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus…

The complete painting; at top, from left to right, Ss Lucy, Catherine of Alexandria, and Mary Magdalene, the Virgin and Child with Angels, Ss John the Baptist, Stephan and John the Evangelist: at bottom, from left to right, Ss Zeno of Verona, Maurice, and the Apostle Peter, the Charity of St Martin, Ss Sebastian, Anthony, and the Apostle Paul. In the predella; from left to right, the Annunciation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The church of St Martin in Treviglio (photo by Nicola de’ Grandi)
A few things in this preface call for some comment. The Latin word I have here translated as “preparation” is “tirocinio”, which literally means “a soldier’s first military experience”, what we would now called “basic training.” This refers to the fact that St Martin was a young soldier, but also a new recruit to the Faith, so to speak, a catechumen, when the famous episode of the cloak took place. The words “love for martyrdom” refer to the fact that he was one of the very first Saints who was not a martyr to be widely venerated in the Church. The author of his biography, Sulpicius Severus, like those of other early Confessors, is careful to assure his readers that his ascetic practice and exercise of the virtues was a kind of bloodless martyrdom, and that had he been called upon to shed his blood for the Faith he would certainly have been glad to do so.

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