Today is Armistice Day, celebrating the end of World War I. It is also the feast of St. Martin of Tours, a bishop known for his charity for the poor, who died in 397.
When he was a soldier of the Roman army he cut his cloak in half for a beggar. That night he had a dream of Christ wearing the cloak he had given the beggar.
But Martin is also known as an objector to war. When he was called upon to actually engage in battle, he refused, saying, “I am a soldier of Christ; I cannot fight.” His superiors considered him a coward, but he offered to walk unarmed at the front of the army. He didn’t have to, since that night the opponents sued for peace.
Many centuries later, a retired US general, Omar N. Bradley, spoke out strongly about war.
“With the monstrous weapons man already has, humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world with its moral adolescence. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. [Humanity] is stumbling blindly through spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death….
“…the world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience, Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace; more about killing, than we know about living.”
Today is also the anniversary of the death of the Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, in 1855. His biting critique of bourgeois Christianity is at the center of his “existentialist” philosophy. He once wrote, “What this age needs is not a genius, but a martyr.”
Ours is an age of martyrs who sought justice, without revenge and without violence. They are the true geniuses of our day.