The soldier and his cloak are radical

Posted November 11, 2017 8:10 pm by Editor

The radical nature of St Martin’s giving of his cloak to the beggar is easily reduced to the sentimental or just overlooked: the soldier Martin, a catechumen, meets a beggar, and then later in a vision or a dream or in prayer sees that has given the cloak to Christ himself, St Francis and the leper is a similar story.

It is radical because of what it says about the ‘personhood’ of the outsider, the poor, the powerless. In the medieval world it was a frequently seen reminder of human dignity. It subtly conveys Martin’s own anti-Arian teaching.

Martin lived at a time when Christianity had become legal, but armies tend to be conservative, the Mythraic cult seems to have been the dominant religion of the army. Scholars now suggest that the reason Christianity had been persecuted and suppressed at least by the powerful, though it seems to have grown widely amongst the masses in the 3rd and 4th centuries, to emerge as a great torrent with the Constantinian coup d’etat, was precisely because of the Trinitarian and Christological doctrines that underlined St Martin’s (and his master Hiliary of Poitiers’) anti-Arianism. It is also an indication of why Arianism was so attractive to the upper classes.

Christianity did threaten the power structures of Roman society: it actually said that slaves and beggars and the poor were of equal value to the emperors or patricians, in the same sense that publicans and sinners were of equal value to Pharisees, because in them Christ was made present.

It seems folly, but an accepted one, to imagine outside of Christianity that all are of equal importance or value in the state and society. When society excludes Christ it is easy to devalue the poor, the unborn, the elderly. racial minorities.

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