Here is what the world knows about it, I hope. 11 November was originally Armistice Day, from the armistice that ended hostilities in the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, GMT (or UTC), in 1918. Later, with another and even worse World War having been fought despite a War to End All Wars, in 1954 Congress changed the observance to include all veterans, hence Veterans Day.
What's An Armistice?
English word armistice is transliterated from the Latin
armistitium, which literally means a stopping of arms. It's a truce,
a cessation of hostilities. Now, if you're one of those getting
shot at, that's a good thing -- but, it's not a comprehensive social
and political solution to what led to the hostilities, and not even
necessarily permanent, let alone that universal aspiration of
beauty pageant contestants, world peace. Which means, hostilities
may well resume at some point. And always have.
is what the world probably does not know or care about. 11 November
is the feast day of St Martin of Tours, who is the patron saint of,
guess what, soldiers! Hmm.
Who Is St Martin of Tours and Why Is He Patron Of Soldiers?
was born a pagan around 316 in what is now Hungary, and was what is
now called a military brat. Then as now, military families move a
lot, and Martin grew up where his father was stationed, at Ticinum,
which is now Pavia, Italy. His father was a tribune, which is roughly
equivalent to a modern colonel, in the crack Roman unit the
Imperial Horse Guard (equites singulari Augusti). Being a military
kid, he was named Martin, from Mars, the Roman god of war.
year of his birth, 316, was also the year it became legal to be a
Christian in the Roman Empire, but it was a decidedly minority
religion, and in the army the cult of Mithras was common. When
Martin was ten, he ticked off his parents by starting to go to church
and taking instruction as a catechumen (you know, the Sunday
School, mid-week, etc of the time). However in 331 at 15 he joined
the army, as sons of senior officers did, in a provincial cavalry
unit (ala, or wing) and about 334 was stationed at Samarobriva, the
Roman name for Amiens, in northern France.
by the city gate of Amiens, he passed a man freezing on the road,
tore his military issue cloak in half and gave half to him. That
night, he had a dream seeing Jesus wearing the half a cloak. This
shook him up, and he got baptised that year, 334, at 18. He remained
in the army, but in 336 when it looked like the army and the local
Gauls were about to engage at Worms, he declared he was a soldier of
Christ and could not fight. He was thrown in the brig (military
jail) and charged with cowardice. He offered to be in the front
lines but unarmed, and the army was going to do just that with him,
but the Gauls made peace with Rome and the battle did not happen.
that Martin was discharged from the service. He went to Tours, and
began to study with the renowned, even in his own time, St Hilary.
Hilary was a convert too. who vigourously opposed the Arian
"Christianity" of the Visigoths and was elected by the faithful of
Poitiers as their first bishop (they did that then), married with a
daughter and all (they did that then too). Martin set about
combating the Arian heresy too, which about did the church in at the
time, thinking he was God's soldier now.
Hilary were both forced into exile by persecution. Martin lived as a
hermit but when Hilary was restored in 361 Martin joined him. He
started a monastery in nearby Liguge, which is still there as the now
Benedictine (of course) St Martin's Abbey, from which he preached
Christianity all around the area. Later, the people of Tours made him
their third bishop when the old one died in 371 and he was finally
persuaded to accept. From there he soldiered on to preach the true
Gospel in Gaul, and, to get away from the attention of his office, he
established another monastery, Marmoutier, which also later became
Benedictine, on the other side of the River Loire in Tours, about
372, which lasted until the French Revolution in 1799 and is largely
in ruins now.
A good insight into Martin is this:
uncompromising as he was in preaching the true doctrine, when
Priscillian, bishop of Avila in Spain, and his followers were brought
before the Emperor on charges of false doctrine, heresy, stemming
from their severe asceticism, the penalty was beheading, but Martin,
though he was quite opposed to Priscillian, hurried to Trier, where
the Imperial court held forth at the time, not Rome, to protest the
sentence as both unjust and an unjust imposition of civil power in a
church matter. The Emperor relented, then beheaded them in 385 after
Martin left. This was the first time ever that a Christian executed
another Christian for heresy, and Martin was absolutely
disconsolate after he heard the news.
remember that 385 is just five years since the Imperial Edict of
Thessalonica defined what is and is not the Catholic Church and made
the Catholic Church the state religion. Hence, heresy is a state
offence punishable by the Empire.
Martin died 8
November 397 and was buried 11 November, which became his feast day,
though the date of death is the usual practice. He was widely
venerated for centuries, which I will not go into except for this,
soon after his death it became the custom to begin a 40 day fast in
preparation for Christmas, the quadragesima sancti Martini or St
Martin's Fast, with his feast day being the last non-fasting day
until Christmas. This eventually shortened into what we know as
Advent now. More on that in the "Advent" post coming up.
An Armistice on St Martin's Day 1918.
11 November, feast of the patron of soldiers for centuries, date of
Armistice Day, now Veterans Day? Hmm. Coincidence, or one of those
little things that pokes through from what is beyond the surface?
Wanna know something else just a little too co-incidental? The
military campaign that led to the armistice is the Hundred Days
Offensive, aka the Grand Offensive, from 8 August to 11 November
1918. Guess where the Hundred Days Offensive started. With the
Battle of Amiens, where the Roman officer Martin had given the
freezing beggar the cloak. Hmm.
The armistice of 11
November 1918 turned out to be just that, a cessation of
hostilities. What was fought as The War to End All Wars would become
World War One, as hostilities resumed in an even worse World War Two.
Along with the millions of lives lost, millions more lives were
forever changed, and, something changed in what might be called the
spirit of Man too. The great sense in the age leading into these
cataclysms that Man was on an upward spiral of progress toward an
enlightened future lay rotting like the wreck of that great
expression of the age the RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic.
"Titans" had lost, but unlike the mythological battle, who the
victorious Olympians were, or if there even were victors or
Olympians, was not clear. The old world order, and its certainties
both temporal and eternal, were gone. Man began to speak of life as
absurd, and the search for "meaning" was on, amid an apparently
essentially meaningless existence. One could simply accept that life
is absurd and meaningless; one could understand that meaning is
something Man, or each man, creates for himself; one could deny the
whole thing and remain irrelevant and inauthentic in either a
religious faith or, equally, in holding on to the secular faith in
the progress and perfectibility of Man.
resolution? Well, 94 years later in 2012 hostilities continue amid
the arrangements worked out nearly a century ago following the War
to End All Wars in Southeast Europe, the Middle East and the Asian
So the Twelve Titans. So the Twelve
Olympians, who this time apparently aren't going to show up. If
Genesis isn't witness to Man as fallen, the world history of Man
surely is. A history filled with the universal intuition that Man is
less than he is meant to be or can be, filled with however many
religious, philosophical, social and political programmes to
accomplish his fulfillment -- and filled with the dashing of all of
There's twelve something else who had
something to say about that. The Twelve Apostles. They got told to
go into the world with the message that Man just isn't going to get
himself out of his self-constructed mess, that God has seen that and
became Man in Jesus to die to pay for all that and rise again, so
that Man can by the gift and power of God repent of his own
self-destructive efforts and start over, be reborn in faith in the
One God has sent, that because of Him one can be washed clean by being
covered in his sacrificial blood, and even amid the brokenness of
this world live in partial experience of that which is beyond it,
dying with him to rise with him. That message continues to-day as God
calls and feeds Man in the church wherever his Word is properly
preached and his Sacraments properly administered.
that in that context, 11 November, St Martin's Day, in 1483 was the
day that Mr and Mrs Luther brought their day old baby boy to be
baptised, and following the traditional custom he was given the name
of the saint of the day -- Martin Luther, who too would devote his
life to preaching the true Gospel against false doctrine and
corruption from state control of the church.
on 11 November, Armistice Day now Veterans Day and also St Martin's
Day, as we rightly remember and celebrate in gratitude those who
have served to preserve and defend our temporal freedom, let us also
remember that armistice is the best we can do, the hostilities
cease for a while only to resume, and let us remember and celebrate
in gratitude Him who gained our true spiritual freedom for now and
all eternity, who gives peace not as the world gives peace, but for
real and for ever.
Pacem relinquo vobis, pacem meam
do vobis. Peace I leave thee, my peace I give thee. (John 14:27,
used in the liturgy after the Agnus Dei before Communion)
Here is the Collect from the mass propers for the feast of St Martin of Tours:
God of hosts, who clothed Your servant Martin the soldier with the
spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in Your Church to be a
defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy
steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness
in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
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