St. Martin of Braga : sources for his tolerance toward the rustici in sixth century Galicia

St. Martin of Braga : sources for his tolerance toward the rustici in sixth century Galicia

By Edward Kim Follis

Master’s Thesis, University of British Columbia, 1992

Abstract: A short time after the II Council of Braga in A.D. 572, Bishop Martin of Braga wrote a letter to his fellow bishop, Polemius of Astorga. The letter addressed a concern which Polemius had raised in their correspondence regarding the first canon of the recent council, which instructed the bishops to call the people of the Church together, and “teach them, so that they will flee the errors of idols…”  In response, Martin composed a sermon designed to serve Polemius as a model for his instruction of those rural peasants who still maintained strong ties with their traditional pagan religion. During the middle ages, the sermon, commonly known as De Correctione Rusticorum, caught on as a guide for bishops and missionaries facing the same task as Polemius. Martin’s sermon is of value to scholars because of its detailed catalogue of pagan practices. However, the sermon stands out from others in the same genre because of its tolerant approach to the pagani. While J.N. Hillgarth and Peter Brown, among others, are surprised by Martin’s tolerance, few have considered why this bishop from Northwestern Iberia was so gentle with his wayward charges. Alberto Ferreiro, in an article which appeared in the American Benedictine Review, December 1983, attributes Martin’s tolerance to his classical education and training. In advancing this thesis, Ferreiro refers to Martin’s heavy indebtedness to Seneca in several other writings, and references to his knowledge of classical authors, notably Plato, by Fortunatus. While Martin’s knowledge of the classics may be a contributing factor, it is only one element in the makeup of a complex man who labored in a unique situation. In this study, Martin emerges as an adventuresome man whose thirst for knowledge put him at odds with the anti intellectual policies of Emperor Justinian. He entered monastic life in the east just as the Academies were closing in Greece. Prior to the crushing of Origenism in A.D. 553, Martin stayed a step beyond the repressive emperor by retreating to the kingdom of the autonomous Sueves in Galicia. When migrating west, Martin brought with him the literary and intellectual heritage of eastern monasticism. This material included the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and a collection of canons from various eastern Councils. Claude W. Barlow edited this literature along with the extant writings of Martin in Martini Episcopi Opera Omnia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950). In Galicia he found a people beyond the control of Justinian, and the Church hierarchy as well. Located at the fringes of the Roman Empire, Galicia was marginally influenced by the Catholicism which dominated southern Iberia. Indeed, a dispirited Church was overpowered by both a vital indigenous paganism, a persistent Priscillianism, and the Arianism of the independent Sueves. Lacking the support at the disposal of bishops in southern Spain and Gaul, Martin of Braga never attempted to enforce Catholicism on the populace. Instead, in his sermon, commonly known as De Correctione Rusticorum, Martin adapts his eastern monastic experience to the cultural and religious situation in Galicia in order to persuade his semi-pagan converts to give up their traditional pagan practices. His message of salvation rests theologically on the principles of Origenism and is characterized by the pastoral tone of the Desert Fathers. The easterness of Martin’s sermon is discerable when compared with the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Origen’s De Principiis and contrasted with the sermons of Caesarius of Aries and Augustine’s De Catechizandis Rudibus. While Ferreiro points the search for the source of Martin’s tolerance in the right direction, he fails to recognize the influence of Martin’s eastern monastic experience as a whole on his his pastoral endeavours.”. ..convocata plebe ipsius ecclesiae, doceant illos, Ut erroresfugiant idolorum…” Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Anilpissima Collectip, vol. 9, 838. Note: All translations are mine unless otherwise stated. Evidence from Augustine, Caesarius of Arles and the Council of Elvira reveals that the nonnal western approach to pagan survivals was confrontational in nature.

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