Thursday, January 22, 2015

Martin of Tours - The Evangelist

Martin of Tours lived right after the transition from a persecuted Christianity to a Christianity in power. Martin resigned  from the army to spread the newly acceptable faith. He went to Gaul, the area of present day France, to live the life of a monk and to preach to the people. He faced the strong remnant of pagan worship and the advocacy for Arianism (the belief that Christ was not God, but a powerful created being).

Even though his history was written by a younger contemporary, it is hard to evaluate it. I do believe that God does miracles, but some biographers seem to get carried away in this regard. But it is clear that Martin is portrayed as one who cared for the sick and the hurting. The story is told of how he cut the cloak he was wearing in two to give half to a beggar who needed it. He was also a bold preacher. The story is told of how some pagans agreed to cut down a sacred tree if Martin would allow himself to be tied up where the tree would fall. Martin agreed, and the wind blew the tree so it fell in another direction. He is also pictured as questioning whether places which people honored as graves of martyrs really were; he seemed in favor of discernment. But one of the clear things he did was to oppose a decision of the emperor's to use force to impose the accepted orthodox faith on those who disagreed with it. He is pictured as being willing to risk his own life, but not to take the lives of others.

It is hard to be sure of the details of Martin's life. But the concept we get here is the correct one. The Christian ideal is the unarmed missionary who risks his life to bring the truth, rather than the government official who threatens punishment for others who will not convert. The important issue is one of faith from the heart. And we must not to confuse this with outward conformity. Martin lived at the point where this transition was being made. Even after they got into power, the orthodox branch of Christianity initially opposed the idea of imposition of the faith by force and endorsed toleration. But over time this position changed. Martin, in spite of being a strong preacher of Christianity, opposed this. He was, however, in the long run unable to prevail. But he did take a stand against drifting that way. There is a strong temptation for those in power to use that power to impose their beliefs on people. We need to be willing to stand firm to resist this.

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