An English translation of Martin of Braga’s “De correctione rusticorum”

Rather to my surprise I found a website online dedicated to the 6th century writer Martin of Braga, best known for a work De ira which is based on Seneca’s lost work of the same title.

The site is run by Angus Graham and is here. (Update 2017: link repointed to  He also scanned a bunch of Latin texts, from the edition of Barlow (mirrored at the Bibliotheca Augustana page), and these are available in zip form, together with a Word document translation of De correctione rusticorum (in file BRAGARUSE.DOC).

It was the latter for which I was looking, because it witnesses to some unusual paganism in what is now Portugal in his period.  The translation, made in 2001, is very smooth and I make no bones about giving some relevant sections here:

[7] Then the devil and his agents, demons who had been cast down from heaven, seeing man in ignorance abandoning God his creator and led astray by created things, began to reveal themselves in different forms, speaking to man and demanding things of him, and in the lofty mountains and leafy forests he made offerings, considering them to be gods. They gave themselves the names of evil men who spent their lives in all manner of sin and wickedness. The one called himself Jupiter, who was a magician and whose incestuous adultery was so great that he took his own sister as wife, whose name was Juno; he corrupted his daughters, Minerva and Venus, shamefully committing incest even with his grand-daughters and all his family. Another of these demons called himself Mars, who was the cause of strife and discord. Yet another of these demons preferred the name of Mercury, and he was the inventor of all theft and crafty deceit; to him greedy men render sacrifice as if he was a god of profit, throwing down heaps of precious stones at crossroads. Another of these demons, having given himself the name of Saturn and living in all cruelty, even devoured his own children. Yet another of these demons pretended to be Venus, who was a slut. Not only did she commit countless adulteries, but she was even her own father, Jupiter’s, slut, and Mars, her brother’s.

[8] This is the sort of degenerate men there were in those days, who common people ignorantly honoured for their wicked inventions, whose names were assumed in this way by demons so that men would worship them as gods and offer them sacrifices and imitate the deeds of those whose names they invoked. Those demons even persuaded men to build temples to them and to place there images and statues of wicked men and to set up altars, at which the blood not just of animals but even of men was shed for them. But besides this, many of these devils who were banished from heaven hold sway over the rivers, the springs and the forests, and ignorant men worship them and make sacrifices to them as if they were gods. And in the sea they are called Neptune, in the rivers Lamia, in the springs Nymphs, in the forests Diana, and they are all no more than evil demons and spirits who harm and harass unfaithful men who do not know how to defend themselves with the sign of the cross. Yet they cannot do harm without the permission of God, for men have angered God and do not believe with all their heart in Christ’s faith, and are so doubting that they give the names of these demons to each day of the week, calling these days by the names of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn, where these created no days, but were wicked and evil men among the Greeks.

[9] … What folly it therefore is that man, baptised in the faith of Christ, does not honour the Lord’s day, but says to honour the days of Jupiter, and Mercury, and Venus and Saturn, who have no days of their own, but rather were adulterers and sorcerers and were wicked and who died evilly in their own land! Yet as we have said, it is with these kind of names that foolish men show veneration and honour to demons.

[10] In the same way the error was insinuated among the ignorant and simple that the year should begin on the calends of January, which is altogether fictitious. For as holy scripture tells us, the first year began at the equinox of the eighth of the calends of April. As we may read: ‘and God divided the light from the darkness’. Since in all true division there is equalness, so on the eighth of the calends of April the day has as many hours as does the night. And so it is false that the year should begin on the calends of January.

[11] With what anguish should we speak of that foolish error of observing the day of the moth and the mouse, and is it right to say that a Christian may worship the moth and the mouse in place of God? …

[16] … So why do some of you who have renounced the devil and his angels, his worship and his evil deeds then go back to worshipping the devil? For lighting candles by rocks, by trees, by springs and at crossroads – what is this other than worshipping the devil? Celebrating the feast of Vulcan and the calends, decking tables, laying laurel wreaths, placing the right foot first, throwing food and wine over the hearth-log, casting bread into the spring, what else is this but worshipping the devil? Women that invoke Minerva at their looms, that choose the day of Venus to get married, and that regard a particular day as auspicious for travel – what else is this but worshipping the devil? Making spells with herbs to do injury and thereat invoking the names of demons – what else is this but worshipping the devil? And there are many more things that would take too long to tell. …

[18] … How unjust and shameful it is that those who are pagans and ignorant of Christian faith should worship the idols of demons, should observe the day of Jupiter or some other demon, and refrain from toil even though these demons neither have nor have they created any day. And we, who worship the true God and believe that the Son of God was resurrected from the dead, should so poorly revere the day of His resurrection, that is Sunday!

Again we see the idea of not working on Thursday present among the ignorant folk whom Martin evangelised, and various kinds of superstition.

It is tempting to think here of Thor, rather than Jupiter, for this was a German society in this period, not a classical one.  But of course this can only be speculation.  The gods specified earlier are certainly the Olympians, but Martin’s concern seems mainly to be to break the link between the days of the week and paganism, rather than any fear of these gods being worshipped now.  The observances are much more petty.

Martin is very careful to remind his hearers that none of the demons have any power when confronted with the sign of the cross.  This is not an abstract treatise, but a real problem and a real solution demanded.  Those who do not follow Christ will always fall into superstition.

Somebody needs to collect all the testimonia for late paganism.  Until this is done no individual piece of data can be more than interesting.

UPDATE (2017): I find that the Angus Graham site vanished in 2016.  The link above is to the Wayback Machine at

UPDATE: I think that I will append the page contents.  This information should not be allowed to vanish from the web.

Martin of Braga: Opera omnia
Martin, abbot of Dume, bishop of Braga, saint, died in 579 (feast day 20 March). Later in the middle ages, his works were sometimes attributed to Seneca. His Formula vitae honestae (= De quattuor virtutibus) was especially widespread.

Texts presented here are taken from ed. Claude W. Barlow, Martini Episcopi Bracarensis Opera Omnia, Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome, XII, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1950. This publication is now out of copyright. You have here the bare text: I do not include Barlow’s rich critical apparatus or his thorough and enlightening discussion.

There is a recent edition of the De correctione rusticorum giving the Latin text, a Spanish translation, and a discussion: José Eduardo López Pereira, Cultura, Relixión e Supersticións na Galicia Sueva: Martiño de Braga ‘De correctione rusticorum’, Monografías 39, La Coruña, Universidade da Coruña, 1996 (ISBN 84-89694-08-7).

The text De Pascha is included by Barlow; more recent scholarship has questioned its place in Martin’s canon because of its occasional manichaean and priscillian content. The minutes of the two councils of Braga may very well not have come from Martin’s pen; however, he played a sufficiently prominent role at them that they should certainly be considered as reflecting his acta if not his opera.

Back to Albertano.

Back to texts.

Opera omnia:

Moral Treatises:

Pro repellenda iactantia
(Barlow, pp. 65-69)

Item de superbia
(Barlow, pp. 69-73)

Exhortatio humilitatis
(Barlow, pp. 74-79)

Councils and canons:

First council of Braga
(Barlow, pp. 105-115)

Second council of Braga
(Barlow, pp. 116-123)

Canons of St. Martin
(Barlow, pp. 123-144)

Other works:

Sententiae Patrum Aegyptiorum
(Barlow, pp. 30-51)

De ira
(Barlow, pp. 150-158)

De correctione rusticorum
(Barlow, pp. 183-203)
• My own English translation is included in the Opera *.zip file.

Formula vitae honestae
(Barlow, pp. 236-250)

De trina mersione
(Barlow, pp. 256-258)

De Pascha
(Barlow, pp. 270-275)

(Barlow, pp. 282-283)


Original sources for his life
(Barlow, pp. 288-304)

You can download Martin’s Opera (141k *.zip file) by clicking here.

Angus Graham.


13 thoughts on “An English translation of Martin of Braga’s “De correctione rusticorum”

  1. Remember, Romans have a tendency to turn the gods of other nations into their Romans “equivalents.”

  2. Very interesting! Note that in French and in Spanish the names of the days are indeed connected to those gods and goddesses, but in Portuguese they are just numbered: second-day, third-day, all the way to sixth-day. The weekends are different, with Sabado (from sabbath) and Domingo (from dominus). Perhaps this guy was actually influential.

  3. I’m wondering if Thursday also might be an astrological thing. Pagan astrology had its own bunch of customs and taboos, and they weren’t the same as regular Roman pagan stuff.

    Over in Spain, Beatus of Liebana had a big bunch of superstitious divination customs that he complained about (which don’t seem to be duplicated elsewhere), and maybe there were some day things too. I’ll have to look.

  4. At the vulgar end of society, I suspect paganism and superstition and magic all more or less ran together. I’m backing Thor, tho, on this one 🙂

    @TimP: My mistake. I foolishly repeated something unchecked from Wikipedia. Will fix this.

  5. “Formula vitae honestae” gets quoted quite a bit by Beatus, albeit it’s mostly the same line: “Si prudens es, animus tuus tribus temporibus dispensetur: praesentia ordina, futura praevide, praeterita recordare.” (If you are prudent, your mind should manage three times: arrange the present, foresee the future, remember the past.)

  6. I didn’t actually say that “Formula vitae honestae” is by Martin of Braga. But it is.

  7. Oh, Beatus did have stuff about days. You can see that it’s a bit of a mix of paganism and the folk occult. Here’s his bit, from Commentary on the Apocalypse, Book 2 Prologue, the section on the Woman sitting on the Dragon:

    Those who [do] auguries, and are accustomed to write down incantations and the characters which the rustics call “Solomon’s seal” or other characters of this kind, and to hang them from their necks; and to collect herbs with the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer or with incantations; and foolish women [who are accustomed] to observe spiderwebs or feet; and men to observe the moon or the day for sowing, as well as for the domestication of animals, for children to study, for arbors or vines to be planted, for doing other work, for slaughtering animals, for moving things from place to place, or for proceeding on a journey; or they watch on the second day of the week so as not to throw out anything from their house, neither fire nor a morsel of food. All these things, and things like them, were invented by the devil and instituted by pagan humans.

    He who would have heeded what we said before, or those things like it, is not a son of the Church but of the devil, of whom [his] works are an imitation. These are effeminate works, which are “the woman” “sitting upon” the “waters.” This is “the woman” Corruption “who sits upon” “the Beast” — that is, the works of iniquity “sitting upon” “the waters” — that is, [upon] the peoples, as it is written: “The woman,” it is said, “which you saw, who sits upon many waters, which are peoples and nations.” (Rev. 17:15, VL)

    These doctrines remained from the damnable workshop of the pagans. These did not receive the dogma of the Fathers, nor of Holy Mother Church. And some religious, under the name of holiness, are accustomed to look into books and investigate words with a view to what they do, and to say these are the saints’ [casting of] “lots.” (cf. Acts 1:26 and many other OT places) These things and those like it were invented by heretics and pagans; everything which is in a number of books — that is, in both old and new ones — is not discovered to be proven. It was all condemned beforehand by holy doctrine, and thrown out by Holy Mother Church.

    * Hanging magical words around the neck against sicknesses was a common Roman practice that persisted into medieval and modern times. Quintus Sammonicus Serenicus wrote a didactic poem about medical treatments, “De medicina praecepta,” which notoriously promoted hanging the word Abracadabra (written in Greek letters) around your neck, as a treatment for cricks in the neck.

  8. Hmm. Interesting. But again we can’t tell whether this is old Roman paganism or old German paganism. Thank you very much for sharing this with us!

  9. There is something about Thursdays but pre-Germanic the references are to fasting while post-Germanic the references are to work:

    The Didache (1st century)
    8.1 “But do not let your fasts coincide with those of the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, so you must fast on Wednesday and Friday.” Some writers identify “the hypocrites” as “the Jews” which appears to predate the dualist sects referred to in ^5 below.

    Pope St. Miltiades (?-314) in Liber Pontificalis:,d.aWc
    “He decreed that no one of the faithful should in any wise keep fast upon the Lord’s day or upon the fifth day of the week, because the pagans celebrated those days as a sacred fast.^5”

    ^5 “Sunday fasting has been forbidden in the church since the rise of the dualist sects who testified by that observance their abhorrence of the material world. Thursday also is rarely a fast day, although the reason for the latter rule is not so clear. Duchesne, Lib. Pont.,vol. I,p. i68, n. 2.”

    Liber Pontificalis – compilation of 8th & 9th century, beginning of the Liber Pontificalis as the work of a single author contemporary with Pope Anastasius II (496-498), possibly corroborated by St Augustine below:

    St Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
    Letter 36 “Let the Romans, then, figure out what they should do, because this man’s line of argument also treats them very contemptuously. For how many are found among them, apart from a very few clerics or monks, who fast daily on all these six days, especially since it seems that one is not supposed to fast there on the fifth day of the week?”

    From “European Paganism”, by Ken Dowden,
    Caesarius of Arles (470-543)
    page 164
    “Let no-one on day five presume to practise the observance, in honour of Jove, of not doing any work.”
    Recurs in Martin of Braga (520-580), a Penitiential apparently by Bede, and the omnibus edition of Burchard of Worms
    Caesarius, Sermon 19.4

    Eligius of Noyon (c588-660)
    Page 158
    “Don’t take a holiday on Thursday…”
    in Audoenus, Life of St Eligius Bishop of Noyon 2.15 (16)

    Bede (c672-735)
    ? text

    Burchard of Worms (c950-1025)
    ? text

    Oops, led astray by False Decretals of Psuedo-Isidore (c845):

    Ieiunium ergo dominici diei et quintae feriae nemo celebrare debet, ut inter ieiunium christianorum et gentilium et veraciter credentium et infidelium atque hereticorum vera et non falsa discretio habeatur, unde scriptum est: Quae pars Christi ad Belial aut quae pars fideli cum infidele? Quae autem participatio iustitiae cum iniquitate? Et iterum: Nolite iugum ducere cum infidelibus.

    “No one must celebrate the holiday, therefore, of the Lord’s day, and the fast of the fifth, that they may truly among the Gentiles, and also of believers and unbelievers, and heretics, Christians and the fast of the true and not a false distinction may be formed, from which it is written: What part hath Christ with Belial or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And again: ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”

  10. Those are very interesting references – thank you. The liber pontificalis, however, is again at the earliest in the period of the German invasions? But Augustine is not. That last reference to fasting on the fifth day, on Thursday, must refer to ancient paganism.

    Let me have a go at the Latin of the forged decretal, now you’ve done all the hard work! How about: “Therefore no-one must celebrate (both) the fast of the day of the Lord and of the feria of the fifth (day), as between the fast of the Christians and of the gentiles, and indeed (between the fast) of the believing and of the infidels and heretics, truly and not falsely*, a separation must be kept, from which it is written: “What part has Christ in Belial, or what part the faithful with the infidel? And what is the participation of justice with iniquity?” and again: “Do not be married to infidels”.

    * I am taking “vera et non falsa” as adverbs, since I can find no noun that agrees in number (plural) and case (nom. or acc.) with them, if they are adjectives.

    Well done for having a go, by the way: I wish more people woul do so.

  11. Update: I heard today from Angus Graham, who advises me that the Latin texts on the site were actually scanned by him, and not from the Bibliotheca Augustana, as I had originally thought. I’ve modified the post slightly to say so. Many thanks!

Leave a Reply