“Martin of Tours challenged a dying Roman culture by presenting a radical Christian counter-culture, rooted in Christian valor,” Bequette, a professor at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. wrote in Crisis Magazine Nov. 8.
“This re-orientation saved what was truly worthwhile of Roman culture and give it new life within the emerging Christian culture.”
“As Christians, we have a responsibility to build a distinct, living culture in the twenty-first century, just as our forebears had the same responsibility in their time, a culture which will manifest itself in education and humanitarian institutions.”
Bequette recounted the life of St. Martin of Tours in the fourth century Roman Empire, comparing it to the contemporary United States.
He said the Roman populace had lost its traditional civic devotion and its readiness to sacrifice, instead engaging in “an impoverished attitude of hedonism and self-promotion.”
“The cultural foundation of Rome was disintegrating, and since political life follows culture, Roman civic life was collapsing,” he said. The Catholic Church was cultivating “an alternative culture and alternative civic life” by “transforming what was good in the Roman legacy.”
Martin, a Roman soldier from a career military family, had begun to cultivate a monastic attitude. In a famous episode, he came upon a beggar outside the city of Amiens in what is now France. In the harshness of winter, Martin cut his cape in two and gave half to the beggar.
Though Martin was ridiculed by others for ruining his cloak, he was rewarded with a vision of Christ clothed in the half cloak he had given to the beggar.
Martin’s request for a discharge from the army of Julian the Apostate also showed his valor, Bequette said. Accused of cowardice, he offered to stand in front of the enemy lines without weapons and armor but “protected by the sign of the Cross.”
After his discharge, Martin became a monk, a deacon, and then Bishop of Tours. He retained independence of Emperor Maximus at a time when other bishops were subservient and fawning towards him.
While in Martin’s time, the Church began to have official status and was able to command deference from emperors, Bequette said that in the present day the Church is “increasingly under attack by a new, secular imperium which would strip the Church of her right to evangelize, educate, and minister.”
“This new imperium is possessed of the same ferocious hostility that beset the Church in reign of the pagan emperors,” the theology professor concluded. “In the face of this new, militant paganism, may God grant us the full measure of the Christian valor of Saint Martin of Tours.”
St. Martin of Tours' “Christian valor” is an example of how to sustain and rebuild Christian culture in a time of “moral exhaustion” and cultural decay, theology professor John P. Bequette said.