Friday 11 November 2016

A Middle-Irish Homily on Saint Martin of Tours

Below is a translation of the text of a medieval homily for the feast of Saint Martin of Tours. The original translator, Whitley Stokes, dated it to the 13th century but in a more recent examination Profesor Máire Herbert has pushed the date back to the 12th century. Her paper The Life of Martin of Tours: a view from 12th century Ireland provides a commentary on the homily and is available at the Celtic Digital Initiative. We begin with the introduction by Stokes:

On S. Martin of Tours. Text Matth. vi. 24.

The homily was probably written in the thirteenth century. After the eight introductory paragraphs, it follows closely Sulpicius Severus' well-known De beati Martini Vita Liber, and towards the end takes four or five incidents from his second dialogue De Virtutibus B. Martini (§§ III, IX) and from the third dialogue de eddem re (§§ VII, XVII, XX).


1. Nemo, etc. Hard it is for anyone to serve two lords at the same time. For he will bear hatred to, one of them and he will love the other : or he will endure the sway of the one lord and will revile the other lord. Even so, it is hard for men to serve God and the World at the same time.

2. Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, to wit, the Lord of all lords, Giver of every goodness, Saviour of Adam's seed, He it is that spake these words to instruct and to teach the folk of the Church and to suppress (?) the serving of two lords, to wit, God and the World.

3 . Now it was Matthew son of Alpheus that wrote these words in the gospel canon, and left them in remembrance with the Christian Church, saying after Jesus « Nemo potest, » etc.

4. The part, then, that is in union with this declaration is as far as the place at which he before said this to his Apostles « Nolite, » etc. « I give counsel to you, » says Jesus : « Gather you neither coffers nor treasures on the earth, » etc. So that in accordance with those words he said this, to wit, to refuse the earthly treasure. There is, however, a command to gather the heavenly treasure.

5. Jesus declared these words to suppress the serving of God and the World, and said « Nemo potest, » etc. For the mind is unable to delight at the same time in the things perishable and the blessings eternal. Aut enim, etc. And he will bear hatred and abhorrence to the Devil, as is meet, but he will give love of heart and mind unto God. Aut enim, etc. i.e. he will cleave to and adore the Devil's counsel, for lust and desire of the things worldly. Et alterum, etc. i.e. he will make naught of the counsel of the Lord.

6. Non dixit, etc. (It was) from vigilance and watchfulness that Jesus said not here that any one hates the Lord, but only that he outrages and reviles him. Sicut solent, etc. Now the two lords of whom Jesus spoke before, He himself manifests them when he says Non poteris, etc. i.e. « thou canst not serve God and the World, » Mamon, etc. Mammon, then, is the name of the demon who is chief over the treasures of the world and over the pitiless rich. Et tamen, etc. Not the possession of the worldly treasures is a fault, but the utter serving of them. Not he that possesses treasures is censured here, but he that serves them : he is the same as one who is a slave to his treasures : this is what he does, guard his wealth as is meet for a slave (to do). Qui enim, etc.

7. Now a multitude of the saints and the righteous of the Lord, both in the Old and the New Testament, cast from them service and warfare on behalf of Devil and World and worldly wealth for service of the heavenly King, to wit, God. For no one could serve them both : even as he cast from him the earthly warfare for the heavenly warfare, to wit, the high Saint, noble, venerable, who hath a festival and commemoration on the occurrence of this time and this season, to wit, holy Martin, high bishop of Tours.

8. Now the time that the Christians every year venerate the festivalday and the solemnity of the death of this holy Martin is on the third before the ides of November as regards the day of the solar month, which is on this very day, and as regards the day of the week in the year in which we are.

9. Martin, then, of France was his tribe, and of free and noble parents was he born, and in Italy was he reared. His father was in the military service of earthly kings to wit, of the king of the Romans, and he desired that his son, to wit, Martin, should do likewise. But from his infancy Martin yearned to serve God. For when he was ten years old he used to fare to the church, in spite of his parents, that he might be (made) a catechumen. When, moreover, he was twelve years old he desired to go into a hermitage, but the weakness of his age prevented him. Nevertheless his mind continually meditated on the monasteries and the cells.

10. Thereafter it came to pass that an edict was made by the king of the Romans, to wit, that the sons should serve as soldiers in the place of the veterans. And his father betrayed Martin to the king, for he was envious of the amount of service which he paid to God. So Martin was bound to earthly warfare against his will.

11. One slave only had Martin, and it was Martin that used to do lowly deeds for him, such as pulling off his sandals and washing his feet, and preparing food for him, though he, Martin, was the lord. Humble was he, and gentle and patient with his fellow-soldiers, so that they gave respect and honour unto him; and he reserved nothing of his pay except a sufficiency of food and raiment, but used to give to the poor and the needy of God : so that he was not deemed a soldier but a monk.

12. On a certain day, then, in a very cold winter, as Martin was marching with his comrades, a poor naked man met him, crying out in the gate of the city of the Ambianenses. But Martin understood (for he was full of God's grace) that for him God had kept the poor man to be clad. So he passed his sword through the mantle that was round him and thereof he gave the moiety to the poor man, for naught else had he that could be given. The foolish folk, however, mocked at Martin, for unseemly was his appearance in only half of his mantle : and they who were sager were grieved that it not fallen to themselves to clothe the poor man in that wise. On the next night Martin beheld the Lord Jesus Christ with half his mantle around Him, and He said this to His Angels: « Martin the exorcist, he it is that gave me today this raiment. » Then Martin was forthwith baptized; but he did not give up military service.

13 . Meanwhile barbarians came to harry France. Then Julianus Caesar gathered his soldiers and his retainers, and gave treasures and gifts to each of them, until he came to Martin, because of fighting against barbarians. This is what Martin said to the King : « Thee have I served as a soldier down to this day, but God will I serve henceforward. So bestow thy gifts on some one who will serve thee. » The king replied : « Not for religion dost thou draw back from service, but for fear of the battle tomorrow. » « Since thou sayest that, » quoth Martin, « I will go tomorrow without arms between the hosts, and the Lord Jesus Christ will protect me. » Then he was kept in hold by the king that he might fulfil what he had promised. But on the morrow the barbarians sent envoys and surrendered themselves and every one (or every thing) they had to Julianus Caesar that they might have peace. Unto whom then was it unclear that God wrought this marvel for Martin's sake, so that the eyes of the Saint might not be defiled by the deaths of the impious men before him?

14. Thereafter Martin left his earthly service, and went to Hilary Bishop of Poitou, and abode a long time with him. Hilary was fain that Martin should take deacon's orders. But for lowliness Martin refused those orders. Hilary ordered him to become an exorcist. Martin refused not this grade lest it should seem that he thought it insignificant.

15. Not long after that, Martin was enjoined in a vision to go and teach his parents who were (still) in heathenism. He was allowed to depart provided that he would return. So he went on his way till he met two robbers. One of the robbers was going to strike him with an axe, but the other robber forbade him. However, Martin's hands were tied behind his back, and one of the robbers was set to strip him. The robber took him to a secret place, and asked him « What manner of man art thou ? » Said Martin « I am a Christian. » The robber asked « Art thou afraid ? » Said Martin « Never before was my fear less, for I know that God helps every one who is in anguish and tribulation ; and it is greatly more that I grieve for thee thyself, for thou hast no share (?) in God's mercy. » Then Martin preached the word of God to him, and he believed, and afterwards that robber was a pious man.

16. Thereafter Martin went on his way and the Devil appeared to him in human form and said to him: « Whithersoever thou shalt go, Martin, or whatsoever thing thou shalt do, the Devil will be adverse to thee. » This is the answer that Martin gave him : «Dominus, etc., the Lord is my helper always, » says Martin, « and therefore have I no fear of anyone. » When the Devil heard the words of truth then he vanished forthwith and went into nothingness.

17. Thereafter Martin brought his mother out of heathenism. But he could not (convert) his father.

18. Thereafter went Martin to the island named Gallinaria. There he ate amongst other herbs the hellebore. But when Martin perceived the poisonous power (of it), he besought the Lord and was forthwith healed.

19. After that Martin set up his monastery, and he was not far from Hilary. And Hilary joined to Martin a certain catechumen [lit. « outside- hearer »] to be taught and to learn his discipline. The catechumen was stricken with ague and died. Martin was at that time away from his monastery. When he came to his church he found the catechumen dead for the space of three days. Then Martin shed tears and besought the Lord. The corpse arose forthwith from death, and was baptized, and declared that he had been borne into hell and up to the judge's throne, and that he heard the angels saying to the judge : « This is he for whom Martin prayed. » Said the judge : « Then leave ye him to Martin. »

20. At another time as Martin was journeying he heard heavy waitings, lamenting a certain slave of a respectable man, which (slave) had ended his life with a halter ". Martin went to that corpse and awoke it from death, through his intercession with the Lord.

21 . When Martin had done somewhat in miracles and marvels he was compelled by the people to take the bishopric of Tours. Orders were then conferred upon him. The impious bishops, however, kept saying that he was not a person worthy of the bishopric, for he was unsightly in face and ugly in hair. But the wise folk mocked at the madness of this crew, so Martin was ordained in the bishopric thereafter ; and as a bishop he relinquished not his monk's way of life, for he was humble and lowly of heart.

22. Since he could not endure the oppression of the people visiting him in the middle of the city, he established a monastery two thousand paces from the city. The river Loire on one side of it, a great crag on the other, and one path only (leading) into it. Eighty monks were his number : none of them had anything of his own: none of them was free to make sale or purchase: the juniors (were employed) in writing, the elders in prayer ; for no other art was (practised) therein save only reading and writing; and rarely used any of them to go out of his cell except to the church. They used to eat their dinner together. None of them drank wine, save he who was sick. Many of them were clad in cloth of camel's hair. When Martin used to go out of his monastery to the city, the demons (leg. demoniacs?) would break their bonds and go fluttering into the air for dread of Martin.

23. Now in Martin's neighbourhood was a place whither people used to go as if a wonderful martyr was (there) seated. For an altar under a martyr's name was there. Martin sought the name of this martyr and the time of hjs suffering, and found not. Martin fasted in that place until God revealed to him who was there. Then Martin perceived a shadow foul and dark on his left, and he asked him his name and his deserts. I am a robber » said he, « and for my evil deserts I was killed. » And thus was that error removed through Martin.

24. When Martin was on his road thereafter he beheld a certain heathen corpse borne with evil rites to its grave. Great crowds were with it and over it white linen sheets with the wind disturbing them. So he thought it was idol worship that was being performed there. And Martin raised against it the sign of the Cross and detained them in that place. But when he understood that it was a corpse (going) to its grave, he gave the sign of the Cross again and they went on at once. Wherefore it was manifest that Martin had power of binding and loosing.

25. There was a pinetree which the heathen used to worship, and Martin desired to cut it down. But the heathen would not let him. Said one of them : « We ourselves will cut down this tree if thou wilt come under it. » Martin consented thereto. So Martin was bound in the place in which they were sure the tree would fall, and the heathen cut down the tree with gladness. When Martin saw the tree falling upon him he raised the sign of the Lord's Cross against it, and then the tree was hurled back over him on the heathen, and it killed many of them, and many of the heathen then believed in Christ and in Martin through that miracle.

26. At another time Martin was burning an idol-temple and the wind carried the flame to the neighbouring house. Martin signed the symbol of the Cross against the flame, and the flame was turned back against the wind though it was a marvel.

27. Martin desired to overthrow a certain great temple wherein was idol worship. But the heathen allowed him not. Two Angels with shields and spears came, and they hunted the heathen, and then the temple was overthrown.

28. Then Martin went to attend a consumptive girl who could not stretch forth foot or hand. And he put consecrated oil into her mouth and healed her straightway.

29. A certain man named Tetradius had a slave full of demons. Tetradius said this to Martin : « I will believe in Christ if thou expellest the demons from my slave. » Martin went along with him, and expelled the demons from the slave, and Tetradius believed in Christ forthwith.

30. At another time as Martin was walking he saw a hideous demon in the hall of a certain prud'homme and ordered him to come out of that place. So he entered into the cook and the miserable man was biting and mangling every one who came to him. Martin, however, put his fingers into his mouth and said this to him : « If thou hast power (to do so), lacerate these fingers. » So the demon shrunk from Martin's fingers as if redhot iron had been put into his maw ; and then the demon escaped through the flux of his (the cook's) belly and left the foul traces.

31. At another time trembling and great fear seized the city wherein Martin was dwelling. For these were the tidings that were sown throughout the city, that the barbarians were coming to harry it. Martin ordered a demoniac who was in the city to be brought to him, and he asked him whence were the tidings. Said the man to him : « Sixteen demons have just come in civitatem : it is they that have made this figment, in order that thou mayst go out of the city. » And in that wise the city was freed (from alarm).

32. At another time when Martin was sore wounded there came an angel in the night and cleansed his wounds, and applied a healing unguent to him ; so that he was quite whole on the morrow as if he had not been previously wounded.

33 . Once upon a time as Martin was in his cell, there came to him a demon with a horn full of blood in his hand, and this is what he was saying : « Where is thy might, Martin, for now I have killed one of thy family? » Martin summoned his family, and asked them who had been hurt by this peril? They said it was not any of the monks, but a certain dryingman who was going through the wood after fuel, and an ox which was under the yoke drove its horn into his groin and killed him at once.

34. At another time as Martin was in his cell a demon came to him and sat down near him. A great radiance was before the demon : a vast light around himself and he was brilliant and shining : royal raiment was upon him : a king's diadem on his head : golden sandals had he. Then he said « Why doubtest thou, Martin ? I am Christ who have come to the earth, and I desired that the manifestation should be to thee the first of all. » Said Martin « I do not believe that Christ will come save in the shape and appearance in which he suffered. » When the devil heard these words, he straightway vanished like smoke and filled the cell with stench. Then Martin saw the angels conversing in his presence. As to the Devil, whatever might be the form in which he would come to Martin, whether in his proper garb (?), or some other shape of transformation, he was seen by Martin. The brethren then used to hear him, and the Devil reproaching Martin since he could do nothing else to him.

35. A certain Christian man, Evantius by name, was stricken by the ague and he summoned Martin to him. That man became well before Martin had gone half the way to him {and he met Martin on the road. Martin went back with him and he (Evantius) took him with him to his house. Then the serpent wounded a gillie of the same man's family and caused a sudden (?) swelling of his body. He was at once brought to Martin, and Martin put his fingers round the wound and compressed it, and a stream of venom and blood came out of the wound. The boy arose straightway and was whole. And all rejoiced at that marvel, and all said that there was no one under heaven who had power like Martin in miracles and in marvels and in wonders.

36. Once as Martin was journeying there came in the contrary way a vast crowd of the heathen. Then a certain woman, with her dead son, came to Martin and besought him that the Lord would raise her son from death. Martin bent his knees then, and made genuflection and cross-vigil , and besought the Lord with right good will. The boy arose at once from death, and the heathen believed in Christ.

37. Another time, as Martin was journeying, a mad cow came towards him : she had left her herd, and was enraged against human beings. Martin saw a demon on her back, and he said to the demon : « Dismount (?) from the harmless beast. » The demon dismounted (?) forthwith at Martin's word, and the cow was gentle (again).

38 . A plague of hail used to come every year into the country of the Senones. The inhabitants of that country asked help from Martin. And so Martin besought the Lord for them, and they were freed from the pest of the hail. During the score of years that Martin lived (after that) the hail came not. Immediately after Martin's death the hail came. So it is manifest that the world bewailed Martin's death even as it had rejoiced in his life.

39. Certain persons were in great peril on the Tyrrhene sea. When they invoked Martin they were forthwith saved from drowning.

40. Such was the amount of grace that God bestowed on Martin, that were any one in tribulation, if he touched the mould or the rushes whereon Martin had spat, he was healed forthwith. Were anyone in danger of sea or land, if only he remembered Martin he was helped quickly. Were anyone demoniacally possessed in his finger or his neck, if a hair of his (Martin's) raiment was put round it he was healed rapidly.

41. Once as Martin was in his cell he saw two demons on the crag over the monastery, and this is what they were saying. Eia te Bricio, Eia te Bricio! that is to say « Do boldly, Bricio ! good courage, Bricio, to shame Martin! » Bricio went without delay to Martin, and vomited a thousand reproaches against him. Martin, however, was not moved thereby, but he said this: «Since Jesus suffered Judas to betray him, why should not I suffer Bricio to reproach me ? » Then Bricio repented, and knelt at Martin's feet, and Martin forgave him.

42. Since the miracles and marvels of Martin are numerous, a little of them is enough by way of example, for it would not be possible to declare them all, unless God Himself, or an angel of God, should come from heaven to relate them. For Martin's inner life, and his use of every day, and his mind continually contemplating God, his abstinence and his moderation, and his great labour in fastings and in prayers, there is no one who could declare them, for not an hour or (rather) not a moment of time used he to pass without prayer or reading. So great was his lowliness that he used to wash the feet of the guests and pour water over their hands, and he used not to sit in a canopied place as some sit in canopied thrones.

43. Great the good that Martin was gentle in word, and wise in converse, and ready in solving questions. And that was a wonder for one who had not read letters or scripture in his youth. Wherefore of those marvels, and of many other marvels which we know not, the Sage bears this testimony concerning Martin and said : vere beatus, etc., i.e. he was one and the same always, so that the heavenly bliss, to wit, God's grace, shone upon his face supernaturally, and so great was this that it could nowise be supposed that he was a human being, because of the greatness of his grace and his dignity.

44. The relics of this holy Martin are on earth, with glory, with miracles, with marvels, with wonders. But his soul is shining in the heavenly City inter ceteros fideles Dei, inter sidera, with light of sun, with the splendour of the angels and archangels of the Lord, with the might of the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ the Son of living God, in bliss eternal, in presence of the holy Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Ghost.

45. I beseech the Lord's mercy, through Saint Martin's intercession. May we all reach that bliss and may we dwell therein in saecula saeculorum! Amen. Amen.

Whitley Stokes, 'A Middle-Irish Homily on S.Martin of Tours' Revue Celtique II, 1873-5, 381-402.

Another Irish text on Saint Martin can be found here and an overview of Irish devotion to the saint here.

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