St. Martin of Braga
March 20, Saint


Saint Martin of Braga (in Latin Martinus Bracarensis, c. 520–580 AD) was an archbishop of Bracara Augusta in Gallaecia (now Braga in Portugal), a missionary, a monastic founder, and an ecclesiastical author. According to his contemporary, the historian Gregory of Tours, Martin was plenus virtutibus ("full of virtue") and in tantum se litteris imbuit ut nulli secundus sui temporis haberetur ("he so instructed himself in learning that he was considered second to none in his lifetime"). He was canonized in the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church for his work in converting the inhabitants of Gallaecia to Chalcedonian Christianity, and his feast day is 20 March.


Born in Pannonia, in Central Europe, Martin made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he became a monk. He found his way to Hispania, decided to settle in Gallaecia. "His intentions in going to a place so remote by the standards of his own day are unknown," writes Roger Collins. But his arrival in Gallaecia was historically significant, for he played an important role in converting the Suevi from their current Arian beliefs to the Roman Catholicism of their Fifth-century king Rechiar. While there he founded several monasteries, the best known of which was at Dumium (modern Dumio); around 550 he was consecrated bishop of Braga, whence comes his surname.

In May 561, Martin attended the provincial First Council of Braga as bishop of Dumio. He presided over the Second Council of Braga held in 572 as archbishop of Braga, having been elevated to the archdiocese between the two events; Laistner notes "His authorship of ten chapters submitted and approved in 572 is certain and there is little doubt that he also compiled the Acts of both Councils."


Martin of Braga was a prolific author. Besides his contributions to the two provincial councils, he translated into Latin a collection of 109 sayings attributed to Egyptian abbots, while at his instigation the monk Paschasius, whom Martin had taught Greek translated another collection of sayings, entitled Verbum seniorum. But for modern scholars, his most interesting works were two treatises he wrote in the final decade of his life, De ira and Formula vitae honestae, because they were adapted from two essays of Seneca the Younger which were subsequently lost. "Martin's tract are valuable evidence that some at least of Seneca's writings were still available in the land of his birth in the sixth century," writes Laistner. Three other short essays on ethics demonstrate his clear familiarity with the works of John Cassian.

Another important work is his sermon, written in the form of a letter to his fellow bishop Polemius of Asturica, De correctione rusticorum, which discusses the issue of rural paganism. Noting that this sermon has often been seen as evidence of Martin's missionary work against rural paganism, Collins asserts that a closer look does not support this thesis, for "there are no points of contact [in this work] with what is known of the indigenous pre-Christian cults of rural Galicia." The influences present in this work have been debated: Laistner sees evidence of the sermons of the Gallic bishop Caesarius of Arles, who lived a generation ago; Collins believes it is modelled on a treatise of Augustine of Hippo on the same topic.

Martin also composed poetry; Gregory of Tours notes that he authored the verses over the southern portal of the church of Saint Martins of Tours in that city.

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