Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Works of Sulpitius Severus.: Chapter XXVII. Wonderful Piety of Martin.
Wonderful Piety of Martin.
No one ever saw him enraged, or excited, or lamenting, or laughing; he was always one and the same: displaying a kind of heavenly happiness in his countenance, he seemed to have passed the ordinary limits of human nature. Never was there any word on his lips but Christ, and never was there a feeling in his heart except piety, peace, and tender mercy. Frequently, too, he used to weep for the sins of those who showed themselves his revilers—those who, as he led his retired and tranquil life, slandered him with poisoned tongue and a vipers mouth. And truly we have had experience of some who were envious of his virtues and his life—who really hated in him what they did not see in themselves, and what they had not power to imitate. And—O wickedness worthy of deepest grief and groans!—some of his calumniators, although very few, some of his maligners, I say, were reported to be no others than bishops! Here, however, it is not necessary to name any one, although a good many of these people are still venting 42 their spleen against myself. I shall deem it sufficient that, if any one of them reads this account, and perceives that he is himself pointed at, he may have the grace to blush. But if, on the other hand, he shows anger, he will, by that very fact, own that he is among those spoken of, though all the time perhaps I have been thinking of some other person. I shall, however, by no means feel ashamed if any people of that sort include myself in their hatred along with such a man as Martin. I am quite persuaded of this, that the present little work will give pleasure to all truly good men. And I shall only say further that, if any one read this narrative in an unbelieving spirit, he himself will fall into sin. I am conscious to myself that I have been induced by belief in the facts, and by the love of Christ, to write these things; and that, in doing so, I have set forth what is well known, and recorded what is true; and, as I trust, that man will have a reward prepared by God, not who shall read these things, but who shall believe them. 43
Lit. “are barking round about.”17:43
It seems extremely difficult (to recur to the point once more), after reading this account of St. Martin by Sulpitius, to form any certain conclusion regarding it. The writer so frequently and solemnly assures us of his good faith, and there is such a verisimilitude about the style, that it appears impossible to accept the theory of willful deception on the part of the writer. And then, he was so intimately acquainted with the subject of his narrative, that he could hardly have accepted fictions for facts, or failed in his estimate of the friend he so much admired and loved. Altogether, this Life of St. Martin seems to bring before us one of the puzzles of history. The saint himself must evidently have been a very extraordinary man, to impress one of the talents and learning of Sulpitius so remarkably as he did; but it is extremely hard to say how far the miraculous narratives, which enter so largely into the account before us, were due to pure invention, or unconscious hallucination. Milner remarks (Church History, II. 193), “I should be ashamed, as well as think the labor ill spent, to recite the stories at length which Sulpitius gives us.” See, on the other side, Cardinal Newmans Essays on Miracles, p. 127, 209, &c.
Next: The Letters of Sulpitius Severus.
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