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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

And now that we find St. Patrick at Tours, we must give a short account of St. Martin, and of his celebrated Monastery of Marmoutier.

It is fortunate that we have the Life of St. Martin, written by one in every way worthy to be the herald of his virtues. The ‘Vita S. Martini’ by Sulpicius Severus is one of the most beautiful works in the whole range of Christian hagiology. The historian was in every way qualified for the task, for he was a man of the highest culture, possessing a chaste and polished style, and was, moreover, for several years the intimate friend and disciple of St. Martin, who loved him as a son. Then, he was a man of austere virtue, who had voluntarily renounced great wealth, high station, official rank and authority, in order to give himself entirely to the service of God as a simple, self-denying monk—for it is doubtful if ever he became a priest. But he loved and venerated Martin with his whole soul, and he tells us that, in recording the facts of the Saint’s life, what he did not know of his own knowledge he had learned from Martin himself or from his chosen friends and disciples. When the work appeared, shortly after the death of St. Martin, it was sought after everywhere with the utmost eagerness. It was read throughout all Gaul. Copies could not be multiplied fast enough in Rome to supply the demand, and booksellers made large profits on the work. It was inquired for with similar eagerness in Africa, at Alexandria, even in Syria, and in Constantinople, although written in Latin. Many religious men carried it always with them on their journeys, and some of them had it almost by heart. If it were written by an Irish monk in a rude style, Lanigan and writers of that school would set it aside as ‘stuff,’ for it is filled with miracles; but it is not so easy for a Catholic to set aside the work of a scholar and saint like Sulpicius Severus, for he was assuredly both. He may possibly have been deceived himself, but such a man could never voluntarily deceive others. In most cases he cites his authority, and frequently attests the truth of what he says with the utmost solemnity in the presence of God. It is not improbable that our St. Patrick met him or saw him at Tours, for he was writing the Life of St. Martin and his Dialogues, or perhaps some of the Letters, at the very time that St. Patrick sojourned at Marmoutier.

St. Martin was born at Sabaria in Pannonia early in the fourth century. Being the son of a veteran officer, he was compelled in his youth to serve in the imperial cavalry, but though only a catechumen—for his parents were pagans—in the midst of the licence of a camp he lived the life of a saint. Escaping as soon as he could from the army, he went first to Milan, where his zeal against the Arians exposed him to great danger, and finally caused his expulsion from the city. He then retired to the small island of Gallinaria, near Genoa, where he devoted himself to a life of silence, prayer, and penance. Shortly afterwards he visited the great St. Hilary of Poitiers, who received him with the utmost kindness, and led him up the steep ascent of heroic virtue. With the aid of Hilary, he founded, near Poitiers, the Monastery of Ligugé, which was probably the earliest institution of its kind in Gaul. There he raised to life a catechumen of the Monastery who had died in his absence, and “who lived afterwards many years amongst us,” says Sulpicius, “at once the object and the testimony of the miraculous power of Martin.”

Then, most reluctantly, he was taken from his cell to become Bishop of Tours, to the great joy of the people, but to the dissatisfaction of certain ecclesiastics, who thought the illiterate soldier-monk unworthy of that high station, for they said “he was a contemptible person, of mean presence, with hair unkempt, and poorly clad.”

But the ‘sordid’ monk, still remaining poor and humble, became the greatest and most venerated prelate in all the Gauls. At first he dwelt in a little cell near his church, but being too much disturbed there by crowds of importunate visitors, he built himself that Monastery which still bears his name, about two miles from the city. It was a spot as lonely as the desert, for it was enclosed on one side by a steep cliff running parallel to the river, and on the other side by the river itself, which at two points came quite close to the cliff, thus entirely insulating the intervening meadow, and leaving only a narrow passage leading into the secluded valley which formed the monastic enclosure. There the saint himself dwelt in a wattled cell, but his monks, climbing up the face of the cliff, found caves in its rocky walls which they further excavated, thus forming for themselves little cells like pigeon-holes, where they watched and worked and prayed. There were eighty monks there living the life of angels under the care of the blessed Martin. They had nothing of their own, they bought nothing, they sold nothing. They took their food together—one meal in the afternoon. They never knew the taste of wine except a brother got sick. They were clothed in garments of camel’s hair. They seldom left their cells except to go to the oratory. The elder ones gave themselves almost exclusively to prayer, but the younger wrote and copied books or worked in the garden. Such is the picture of the life led by Martin and his monks, given, too, by an eye-witness, at the very time that St. Patrick visited them. “And yet,” adds Sulpicius, “many amongst them were of noble birth, and brought up in the lap of luxury, but now of their own accord they trained their hearts in the way of patience and humility.” It is not surprising that many amongst them were chosen to be Bishops of various cities throughout Gaul and all its borders.

Such was the first monastic school of our St. Patrick on the Continent. The tradition of his presence there is still very vivid at Tours, and one of the rock-hewn cells is pointed out to the visitor as that in which he dwelt. These cells are yet in a remarkable state of preservation, in the very face of the steep escarpment overlooking the Loire. We visited them all; they were airy and dry, and, although dimly lighted, might still be used as sleeping chambers or small oratories. Outside the cells is a level platform of rock, not more than ten feet wide, but forty feet over the road beneath. This served at once as a kind of street before the cells, and also as a graveyard for the monks; for, in the solid rock are excavated graves, just the size and shape of the human body, in which the dead monks were laid outside their cells, exactly as they slept during life in their habits within. They were doubtless covered with flags or concrete after burial in the old times; but these flags are now removed, and the empty grave-chambers are quite open in the surface of the rocky platform. This platform is approached from below by a flight of stone steps cut in the rock. There must have been a railing of some kind running along the edge of the platform, otherwise a single false step might have been fatal.

This rocky platform looks south over the river and far away into a richly-wooded, undulating, and very fertile country. When we saw it, the whole scene was bathed in the rich effulgence of the mid-day sun, and a scene more varied and more picturesque it would be difficult to imagine. The fare of the monks might be scanty, and their beds be hard—a rug covering the naked rock—but when they emerged from their cells to the rocky platform before their door, they could at least feast their eyes on a glorious scene of beauty. In dry weather the Loire is a mere stream, treading its way through wastes of sand; but when the mountain floods came rushing down and filled the whole bed of the river, it must have presented a scene of awful grandeur. As it fronted the south, too, the chambers in this rocky escarpment must have been, during most of the year, both dry and healthy; although, doubtless, in the long nights of winter, they would be cold and cheerless for those whose hearts were not warmed with the fire of Divine love.

The ancient monastery at the foot of the rock, once the richest and most famous in Gaul, has completely disappeared, with the exception of a single carved gateway of exquisite workmanship, which is now the only surviving remnant of the building. The grounds, however, are—or were until lately—in possession of the Nuns of the Sacred Heart, who have not only a convent, but also a large boarding school for young ladies, which is one of the best in France. The grounds are admirably kept, and the vineyards seem to be cultivated with skill and success.

The memory of St. Martin is still greatly revered in the city itself. A new church has been built over his shrine, and the chapel in the crypt has every hour in the day fervent worshippers, whose prayers to St. Martin are frequently attended with most wonderful results, as their votive offerings testify.

As we have seen from the testimony of Sulpicius Severus, the discipline in Marmoutier was strict, and the fare was meagre in the extreme, meat and wine being only allowed in case of sickness. A man of Britain must have found this fare harder than even a man of Gaul; and, moreover, Patrick was not quite accustomed to it. So on one occasion, we are told, he greatly longed to eat some pork that came in his way; but, in order not to give any scandal to the brethren, he hid the pork under a barrel, waiting to get a chance of cooking and eating it. Straightway he met a strange being, with eyes in the back, as well as in the front, of his head. Whereupon Patrick asked him in surprise who and what he was. “I am a servant of God,” replied the monster, “and with my eyes in front I see the ordinary actions of men, but with those behind I saw a certain monk hiding pork under a barrel that he might not be caught”—and having thus spoken the strange being at once vanished. Thereupon Patrick was smitten with sore sorrow, and besought with ardent prayers pardon from God. Then the Angel Victor appeared to him, and told him that God had forgiven his sin, whereupon Patrick rose up full of joy, and promised that he would never again in the whole course of his life eat flesh meat—a promise which the writer declares that he kept. But still anxious to get a further assurance of pardon, he besought Victor to give him some other proof of forgiveness. Whereupon Victor told him to throw the pork into the water in presence of his monastic brethren. Patrick did so, and in sight of all the pork was changed into fishes suitable for the monks. Patrick, it is added, used himself to tell this story to his own disciples, in order to teach them the need and merit of restraining gluttonous desires.

The Tripartite also states that it was at St. Martin’s Monastery of Tours Patrick received the monastic tonsure, which is a further proof that it was the first of the Gallic monasteries that he visited; hitherto he had been tonsured as a slave. This would, certainly, seem to imply that the visit to Tours was paid shortly after his captivity in Ireland. It is also expressly stated that after he received this tonsure from St. Martin he renounced all worldly cares and pleasures, and devoted himself entirely to prayer and self-denial. It is not easy to determine how long he remained at Marmoutier. One writer says four years, and, in the absence of better authority, we may accept the statement. If Patrick, as we think, came to Marmoutier in A.D. 402, he came the very year in which, at the latest, St. Martin died. We have the express statement that he received the monastic tonsure from St. Martin, and, although then, as now, a monastery is often called by the name of its founder, it would be difficult to understand this expression as simply meaning that he received it in St. Martin’s. We are inclined, therefore, to think that the saint did not die until late in 402—the IIth November; and that St. Patrick had the satisfaction of being tonsured by his illustrious relative, and making his vow of monastic obedience into his hands. Martin has been always perhaps the most popular saint in France, if we judge from the number of dedications under his name. He has been also—excepting, of course, St. Patrick—the most popular saint of foreign birth in Ireland. His festival from the earliest times has been observed with pious fidelity by the people, and Martinmas was one of the ‘set times’ of special feasting in Ireland. It is difficult to explain this peculiar devotion to St. Martin in Ireland, except on the ground of his known relationship to our own national Apostle, who, doubtless, from the very beginning taught his Irish children to pay special reverence to the name and memory of one who was at once his blood relation and spiritual father.

But much greater prominence is given in the Ancient Lives to St. Patrick’s tuition under Germanus of Auxerre than under St. Martin. Some of the authorities say that he spent no less than thirty years under the guidance of Germanus; others reduce it to eighteen; and some still further to fourteen, or even to four years. It is certain that the period of fourteen years fits in best with the known dates of the life of Germanus, for he became Bishop of Auxerre in 418, and, therefore, if St. Patrick had not met him while still a layman, he could not have been his disciple for a longer period than fourteen years.

These ancient authorities, too, whilst expressly stating that Auxerre was the episcopal city of Germanus, yet make what at first sight appears to be a strange statement, that Patrick was trained under him in the island called “Aralatensis”—that is the island of Arles, although Arles is an inland city. Other authorities call this island the Insula Tamarensis—the island of Tamara, in which he is said to have spent nine years. Then Probus makes the significant statement that before going to that island, ‘between the mountains and the sea,’ he had spent eight years with certain eremites and bare-footed solitaries who dwelt in separate cells, but he does not state where. We have personally gone over the ground, and studied the Lives, and we think all these places can be identified with reasonable certainty, and that the dates given above will fit in with the known facts of St. Patrick’s history. Our opinion, then, is that Lerins is the solitude of the bare-footed hermits where Patrick spent eight years, that the Isle de Camargue, as it is now called, is the Insula Aralatensis, or Tamarensis, where he spent nine years, and that part of that time he was under the spiritual care of St. Germanus at Arles, and for several years afterwards at Auxerre, until Germanus, after his return from Britain, sent Patrick to Rome to receive episcopal consecration, and formal authority to preach the Gospel in Ireland.

The development of these points has a very special interest.






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