SULPITIUS SEVERUS

ON THE

LIFE OF ST. MARTIN.

Notes by Alexander Roberts


From: A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 11

New York, 1894


1. "Delere licebit Quod non edideris:
nescit vox missa reverti
."
    -- Hor. Art Poet. 389-90.

2. This is a remarkable asseveration in view of the many miraculous accounts which follow. When we remember, on the one hand, how intimate Sulpitius was with St. Martin, and how strongly, as in this passage, he avouches the truth of all he narrates, it is extremely difficult to decide as to the real value of his narrative. It has been said (Smith's Dict. II. 967) that Sulpitius' Life of St. Martinus is "filled with the most puerile fables," and undoubtedly many of the stories recorded are of that character. But whether, considering the close relation in which the two men stood to each other, all the miraculous accounts are to be discredited, must be left to the judgment of the reader. The following valuable remarks may be quoted on this interesting question. "Some forty years ago," writes Dr. Cazenove, "an audience in Oxford was listening to a professor of modern history (Dr. Arnold of Rugby), who discussed this subject. After pointing out the difference between the Gospel miracles and those recorded by ecclesiastical historians, the lecturer proceeded as follows: `Some appear to be unable to conceive of belief or unbelief, except as having some ulterior object: "We believe this because we love it; we disbelieve it because we wish it to be disproved." There is, however, in minds more healthfully constituted a belief and a disbelief, founded solely upon the evidence of the case, arising neither out of partiality, nor out of prejudice against the supposed conclusions, which may result from its truth or falsehood. And in such a spirit the historical student will consider the case of Bede's and other historians' miracles. He will, I think, as a general rule, disbelieve them; for the immense multitude which he finds recorded, and which, I suppose, no credulity could believe in, shows sufficiently that on this point there was a total want of judgment and a blindness of belief generally existing which make the testimony wholly insufficient; and, while the external evidence in favor of these alleged miracles is so unsatisfactory, there are, for the most part, strong internal evidence against them. But with regard to some miracles, he will see that there is no strong a priori improbability in their occurrence, but rather the contrary; as, for instance, when the first missionaries of the Gospel in a barbarous country are said to have been assisted by a manifestation of the spirit of power; and, if the evidence appears to warrant his belief, he will readily and gladly yield it. And in doing so he will have the countenance of a great man (Burke) who in his fragment of English history has not hesitated to express the same sentiments. Nor will he be unwilling, but most thankful, to find sufficient grounds for believing that not only at the beginning of the Gospel, but in ages long afterwards, believing prayer has received extraordinary answers; that it has been heard even in more than it might have dared to ask for. Yet, again, if the gift of faith--the gift as distinguished from the grace--of the faith which removes mountains, has been given to any in later times in remarkable measure, the mighty works which such faith may have wrought cannot be incredible in themselves to those who remember our Lord's promise, and if it appears from satisfactory evidence that they were wrought actually, we shall believe them,--and believe with joy. Only as it is in most cases impossible to admit the trustworthiness of the evidence, our minds must remain at the most in a state of suspense; and I do not know why it is necessary to come to any positive decision.'"--"The Fathers for English Readers": St. Hilary of Poitiers and St. Martin of Tours, p. 191.

On this subject it has lately been said: "Most, if not all, of the so-called miracles which were supposed to surround Martin with a blaze of glory were either absolutely and on the face of them false; or were gross exaggerations of natural events; or were subjective impressions clothed in objective images; or were the distortions of credulous rumor; or at the best cannot claim in their favor a single particle of trustworthy evidence. They cannot be narrated as though they were actual events. Martin was an eminent bishop, but half of the wonderful deeds attributed to him are unworthy and absurd."--Farrar's Lives of the Fathers, I. 644.

3. Sarwar.

4. Pavia.

5. The text is here corrupt and uncertain, but the general meaning is plain to the above effect. Hahn has adopted "divinam servitutem," instead of the common "divina servitute."

6. Sulpitius uses reges instead of the more common expression imperatores.

7. Sulpitius manifestly refers to baptism in these words. However mistakenly, several others of the early Fathers held that regeneration does not take place before baptism, and that baptism is, in fact, absolutely necessary to regeneration. St. Ambrose has the following strong statement on the subject: "Credit catechumenus: sed nisi baptizetur, remissionem peccatorum non potest obtinere."--Libri de his, qui initiantur mysteriis, chap. 4.

8. The place here called by Sulpitius "Ambianensium civitas" was also known as "Samarobriva," and is supposed to be the modern Amiens.

9. St. Matt. 25:40.

10. There is a peculiar use of quamdiu in the old Latin rendering of the passage here quoted. It is used as an equivalent for the Greek ἐφ’ ὅσον, no doubt with the meaning "inasmuch as."

11. Comp. Tacitus, Agric. Chap. 5 [51K], "electus, quem contubernio æstimaret."

12. Commonly known as Julian the Apostate.

13. This city was called Borbetomagus, and is represented by the modern Worms.

14. This was a city of the Pictones (or Pictavi) who are mentioned by Cæsar, Bell. Gall. iii. 11. Their territory corresponded to the modern diocese of Poitiers.

15. Comp. Ps. 118:6.

16. An island near Albium Ingaunum--the modern Allenga, on the Gulf of Genoa. The island was so named for abounding in fowls in a half-tamed state. It still bears the name of Gallinaria.

17. All this seems to be implied in the words "institui disciplinis."

18. "Adesse virtutem."

19. Or "powers" according to the use of the Greek word δύναμις in St. Luke 8:46.

20. Here again it is to be noted what fatal consequences were supposed to flow from dying without receiving baptism.

21. The Turones occupied territory on both sides of the river Loire. Cæsar refers to them (Bell. Gall. ii. 35, &c. [60K]). Their chief town was named Cæsarodunum, the modern Tours.

22. It is clear from this passage that the people at large were accustomed in ancient times to give their votes on the appointment of a bishop.

23. Here we adopt Halm's reading "cogitabat," in preference to the usual "cogebat."

24. Ps. 8:3.

25. The word translated "avenger" in the English A. V. is "defensor" in the Vulgate, and thus the man referred to would have seemed to be expressly named.

26. Cf. St. Matt. 3:4.

27. In St. Matt. 11:8, there is a reference to those "that wear soft clothing,"--οἱ τὰ μαλακὰ φοροῦντες.

28. Perhaps "suam" here stands for "ejus," as in other passages of our author. The meaning will then be, "and to threaten his (Martin's) destruction by falling."

29. It seems better to preserve the parenthesis than to translate the words as they stand in Halm's text, "tum vero--velut turbinis modo retro actam putares--diversam in partem ruit."

30. Literally "a covering made of Cilician goats' hair." It was called Cilicium, and was worn by soldiers and others.

31. The Latin word gratia here corresponds to the Greek χάρισμα. St. Paul says much respecting the various χαρίσματα in 1 Cor. 12, and speaks, among others, of χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων (v. 9).

32. The name Treveri at first denoted the people (as often in Cæsar, Bell. Gall. i. 37 [106K], &c.), and was afterwards applied to their chief city, the modern Treves.

33. "Nubes," lit. "a cloud."

34. "Regni necessitatem"--an awkward expression.

35. There is considerable confusion in this sentence.

36. Halm reads the imperative "videris," "consider."

37. Halm reads "aut sibi nuntiata fratribus indicabat."

38. This is a truly noteworthy passage. It anticipates a well-known sentiment of Burns, the national bard of Scotland. In his Address to the Deil, Burns has said that if the great enemy would only "tak a thocht an' men'," he might still have a chance of safety, and this idea seems very much in accordance with the opinion of St. Martin as expressed above. Hornius, however, is very indignant on account of it, and exclaims: "Intolerabilis hic Martini error. Nec Sulpicius excusatione sue demit, sed auget. Origenes primus ejus erroris author."

39. "Prece" for the usual reading "præ se."

40. In spite of the combined piety of Martin and Sulpitius here referred to, few will have any doubt as to the real character of this narrative.

41. "Summus sacerdos": "that is," remarks Hornius, "bishop. They were also in those ages styled Popes (Papæ). This is clear from Cyprian, Jerome, and others of a much later age."

42. Lit. "are barking round about."

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 Newman's Essays on Miracles, p. 127, 209, &c.


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Sulpitius Severus: Life of St. Martin. Notes. / Revised 16 August 2005 / © Copyright 2005, Elizabeth T. Knuth / URL: http://www.users.csbsju.edu/~eknuth/npnf2-11/sulpitiu/lifenote.html