Life of St. Martin, Bishop of St. Martin is a biography written by Sulpicius Severus. It talks about the life of one Saint Martin of Tours who was a well-known Bishop of Tours. Severus himself was an educated man who knew a lot about St. Martin particularly towards the end of his life. He set out to write a biography about Martin before he passed own, Severus started by interviewing St. Martin himself as well as several other people who knew anything about him (Severus). The result came as an intriguing mix of hagiography and history that includes a little bit about Emperors Maximus and Julian, as well tales about a society that is in transition. Severus wrote the piece in the 5th century. His purpose for writing about St. Martin is quite evident in the first chapter where he says that unlike in his past works where he wrote with the notion of imitation or emulation, his new approach was meant to rouse the readers to the pursuit of divine virtue, heavenly warfare and actual knowledge. The piece expresses an intimate closeness that was seen in the 4th century, a time when Christians felt the wrath the Devil in all his possible disguises.
This primary source is about the life story of St. Martin of Tours, who was best known for his many acts of charity. One of his selfless acts was when he was stationed at civitas Ambianensium (which is currently known as Amiens in France) as a young soldier during a bitterly cold winter. He used his sword to cut his cloak in half and offered it to a freezing beggar, an act that amused even his fellow soldiers (Severus, Sulpicius Severus the Life of St. Martin of Tours). That act of selflessness defines Martin and is the one that is often used or represented in many artistic depictions. However, the larger arc of his remarkable life story reveals a fascinating period of tumultuous political and religious change seen in the Roman Empire. The Empire was Christianized during his time, and St. Martin himself played a vital role in the conversion process of what is currently known as France.
The fact that Mart became a revered saint who was widely known all over Europe was mostly due to constant literary efforts of Severus. Severus was originally from Aquitania; his fluent and polished Latin style displays his traditional classical education. As a young man and already a recognized prominent orator, Severus converted to Christianity, issued out a significant portion of his fortune (both the one he acquired through marriage and the one he inherited), and later decide to devote himself to retirement life of piety. Severus had heard about the ascetic lifestyle, devotion and miracles of Martin, and sort to meet the man in person and write about his life. He decodes in section twenty-five of the book that he met Martin briefly at a time near the end of his life. That is to say that most of the miracle stories and anecdotes revealed in the book derive from the friends and Monks in Martin's circle. Severus's work is aimed firstly, at the addressee who is the Christian Desiderius and secondly, at the Christian converts found in Gaul and elsewhere in the West of Latin. It is a call to take as a model Martin's austere and holy lifestyle and also an indictment of the Bishops who had put a lot of focus on worldly luxury, wealth and political ambitions than was Martin.
By 395, the year that Martin died, "The Life of Martin" was finished. Among many saints' lives, Severus's Life of Martin stands out remarkably for its engagement with classical models and elegant Latinity. In his general attitude towards writing history, Severus has exemplary intent, pessimistic outlook and a rhetorical approach. Sulpicius consciously decided to revolutionize or change this classical heritage, to put an end to its practical orientation, and put its persuasive and literary tools fit into the new Christian purposes. Its structure is carefully planned and recollects the previous biographies of other Roman emperors by Suetonius; for instance, the account starts sequentially until the summit of his career. At that point, he treats things by topic and finishes with an assessment of his character at the end.
The introduction discusses the main reason for writing the history and biography. It is then followed by a chronological narrative of St. Martin's life at the second section. From Severus's account, it is quite clear that Martin was by far one of the most controversial figures of his time. An exciting aspect of "The Life of St. Martin" is the manner in which it reveals the struggles that went on between individuals and the various classes of people that made up the Roman Empire in the fourth century. The two groups had different ideas about how Christians were expected to act and how Christianity was supposed to be. Sulpicius's book, therefore, presents a good read and raises questions into the reader's mind; for instance, how did the old timers of the fourth century conceive the supernatural and natural world? It also presents a compelling that is fit to be read by anyone that is interested in learning about Christian life and monasticism.
Severus, Sulpicius. Sulpicius Severus the Life of St. Martin of Tours. 397.
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