Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Works of Sulpitius Severus.: Chapter II. Military Service of St. Martin.
Military Service of St. Martin.
Martin, then, was born at Sabaria 3 in Pannonia, but was brought up at Ticinum, 4 which is situated in Italy. His parents were, according to the judgment of the world, of no mean rank, but were heathens. His father was at first simply a soldier, but afterwards a military tribune. He himself in his youth following military pursuits was enrolled in the imperial guard, first under king Constantine, and then under Julian Cæsar. This, however, was not done of his own free will, for, almost from his earliest years, the holy infancy of the illustrious boy aspired rather to the service of God. 5 For, when he was of the age of ten years, he betook himself, against the wish of his parents, to the Church, and begged that he might become a catechumen. Soon afterwards, becoming in a wonderful manner completely devoted to the service of God, when he was twelve years old, he desired to enter on the life of a hermit; and he would have followed up that desire with the necessary vows, had not his as yet too youthful age prevented. His mind, however, being always engaged on matters pertaining to the monasteries or the Church, already meditated in his boyish years what he afterwards, as a professed servant of p. 5 Christ, fulfilled. But when an edict was issued by the ruling powers 6 in the state, that the sons of veterans should be enrolled for military service, and he, on the information furnished by his father, (who looked with an evil eye on his blessed actions) having been seized and put in chains, when he was fifteen years old, was compelled to take the military oath, then showed himself content with only one servant as his attendant. And even to him, changing places as it were, he often acted as though, while really master, he had been inferior; to such a degree that, for the most part, he drew off his [servants] boots and cleaned them with his own hand; while they took their meals together, the real master, however, generally acting the part of servant. During nearly three years before his baptism, he was engaged in the profession of arms, but he kept completely free from those vices in which that class of men become too frequently involved. He showed exceeding kindness towards his fellow-soldiers, and held them in wonderful affection; while his patience and humility surpassed what seemed possible to human nature. There is no need to praise the self-denial which he displayed: it was so great that, even at that date, he was regarded not so much as being a soldier as a monk. By all these qualities he had so endeared himself to the whole body of his comrades, that they esteemed him while they marvelously loved him. Although not yet made a new creature 7 in Christ, he, by his good works, acted the part of a candidate for baptism. This he did, for instance, by aiding those who were in trouble, by furnishing assistance to the wretched, by supporting the needy, by clothing the naked, while he reserved nothing for himself from his military pay except what was necessary for his daily sustenance. Even then, far from being a senseless hearer of the Gospel, he so far complied with its precepts as to take no thought about the morrow.
The text is here corrupt and uncertain, but the general meaning is plain to the above effect. Hahn has adopted “divinam servitutem,” instead of the common “divina servitute.”5:6
Sulpitius uses reges instead of the more common expression imperatores.5:7
Sulpitius manifestly refers to baptism in these words. However mistakenly, several others of the early Fathers held that regeneration does not take place before baptism, and that baptism is, in fact, absolutely necessary to regeneration. St. Ambrose has the following strong statement on the subject: “Credit catechumenus; sed nisi baptizetur, remissionem peccatorum non potest obtinere.”—Libri de his, qui initiantur mysteriis, chap. 4.
Next: Chapter III. Christ appears to St. Martin.
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