A Tale of Two Martins

Five hundred twenty-seven years ago in the Saxon town of Eisleben, Hans and Margarethe Luther welcomed their firstborn son.  On the following day, November 11, the feast of Saint Martin, the infant was carried to church and christened.  In honor of both Martin Luther and St. Martin of Tours, I offer this account from Seppel, the narrator of Kingdom of the Birds:

Every November on St. Martin’s Day and six days later on the feast of St. Elisabeth, I remember my time at the Wartburg.  That year Martinstag dawned cold and damp, and Sir Georg did not leave his room.  After I had tended his fire, he wrote steadily all day, occasionally rising to pace and mutter to himself.  He might have spent the entire evening alone had I not been sent with the captain’s request that the knight leave off scribbling to attend the traditional soldiers’ feast.

Downstairs in the Ritterhaus the aroma of roasted goose filled the air.  The soldiers of the Wartburg sat at the long banqueting table.  Without the civilizing presence of women or royalty, the men drank deeply, spoke crudely, and laughed loudly.

Sir Georg did not participate in the banter about women and weapons.  He did appreciate the wine which Captain von Berlepsch had ordered in honor of the day.  However, when the captain signaled the servants to fill the cups a third time, Sir Georg turned his down on the table.

“Come now,” said one of the soldiers.  “Surely you have no objection to the best wine of the season?”

“Not at all,” said Sir Georg. “The Apostle Paul writes that whatever goes into a man does not defile him.  It is what comes out of a man that defiles him–drunkenness, gluttony, deceit–“

The other man laughed. ”Are you a priest to whom we should confess our sins?”

The knight shook his head.  “I am no more a priest than you.  Are we not all called to do God’s will?  No priest’s robe or bishop’s ring, no vow or discipline gives one man spiritual authority over another.  All of us in this room and in all of Christendom are a priesthood.”

“Enough, Georg,” said Captain von Berlepsch. “We know you have a poet’s tongue.  If you must speak, give us a few words in keeping with the day.”

“Very well, Captain.” Sir Georg rose from his seat.

“My friends, on this day we mark the feast of Saint Martin, who was a soldier like ourselves.  God gives us saints not as intercessors, but as examples.  What do we learn from the example of the soldier Martin?  All of us remember his most famous act.  Upon seeing a beggar shivering in the cold, Martin drew his sword, cut his cloak in half, and shared it with the one in need.”

The knight looked up and down the long table.  “How many other soldiers had already ridden past that beggar without seeing him?  How many of us stride along each day wrapped in our own cares?  Occupied with what appears to be our duty, we look neither to the right nor to the left.  How then will we ever know whether God has other plans for us?”

For a moment Sir Georg stood in silence.  “It sometimes happens that a man finds himself at a loss as to what God expects him to do.”  The knight glanced at the captain.  “After all, a sword is hardly a suitable tool for cutting fabric.  Why did not God provide our sainted Martin a tailor’s shears?”         He smiled.  “We must use what God has given us.  In every circumstance we must look around to see how we might best serve Our Lord.  Like Saint Martin himself, wherever God has placed us and with whatever tools we have been given, we must never tire of seeking to know His will.”  He closed his eyes and bowed his head. “Amen.”

The captain raised his cup. “To our brother Martin!”

“To Martin!” the soldiers chorused.

Sir Georg opened his eyes.  “To the glory of God!”