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Martin of Tours’ Monasticism and Aristocracies in Fourth-Century Gaul
lundi 20 juin 2016
par Matheus Coutinho Figuinha
popularité : 2%

Based on the close relations between Vitricius, Bishop of Rouen, and Martin, and the affinity of their natures, Camille Jullian raises the hypothesis that the former had been the disciple of the latter in Marmoutier [60]. In fact, the similarities between their biographies are surprising : both were converted soldiers, bishops of large provincial cities in western Gaul, thaumaturges, evangelists in the countryside, and founders of churches and monasteries [61]. It is very probable that Martin had influenced Vitricius to some extent, but it is impossible to know if he had actually lived in Marmoutier before his ordination. In my opinion, if not Sulpicius, at least Paulinus would have given some indication of this [62]. Anyway, Vitricius was not an aristocrat, since he had served as a soldier before being ordained.

At the beginning of the second journey in the Dialogues [63], Sulpicius mentioned the arrival of a « mob of monks, » consisting of Presbyter Evagrius, who was accompanied by Aper [64], Sabbatius, and Agricola, Presbyter Aetherius, who was accompanied by Deacon Calupio and by Sub-Deacon Amator, and finally by Presbyter Aurelius. Sulpicius insisted on stating the ecclesiastic title of those who had one, but did not reveal anything about their social origins. Gallus’ reference to Martin’s wooden seat with the words « which was known to everyone » is an indication that they passed by Marmoutier [65]. Another indication resides in the fact that they had joined monastic discipline and clerical life, as Martin had also done. According to Sulpicius, they all came « from very different regions. » But their arrival on the morning of the day after Gallus had begun to narrate the uirtutes of Martin, and in two groups, each led by a presbyter (Aurelius was the only one to arrive alone), shows that actually they could not have come long or « from very different regions. » It is assumed that they installed themselves in Primuliaco after Martin’s death due to Brice’s persecution of the Martinians [66]. Some of them are mentioned at other moments. Evagrius is cited by Gallus as a witness of one of Martin’s miracles [67]. Aper dispersed the « many mundane persons » who were at the door, expecting to be accepted in the auditorium, because he thought that they were only stimulated by curiosity, not religious zeal [68]. Sulpicius resorted to the Ciceronian formula dulcissimus meus to show this great affection for Presbyter Aurelius. When the latter was still a deacon, Sulpicius had dedicated a second letter to him in the appendix of the Vita, in which it appears that he frequented Primuliaco [69]. It may be thought that Aurelius was of aristocratic origin due to his closeness to Sulpicius and his priesthood. Evagrius and Aetherius are identified as priests (presbyters). However, as in the cases of Eusebius and Refrigerius, there are strong doubts about this. It is strange to consider that Sulpicius, who sought to highlight their ecclesiastic titles, had not wanted to indicate their aristocratic origins, as he did in the case of Clarus.

Other disciples of Martin lived around Tours as hermits. One report tells of a former soldier who wanted to remove his wife from a monastery of women, where she had been put by Martin, so that he could live with him in his cell [70].

Martin, therefore, also encouraged female monasticism. It is known that he, probably in Tours, consecrated the daughter of Arborius, nephew of noone less that Ausonius, to perpetual virginity [71]. René Metz estimates that, « Après la cérémonie, Arborius a, sans aucun doute, ramené sa fille à la maison ; elle vécut son idéal de vierge consacrée dans le milieu familial, selon la pratique courante à l’époque » [72]. Fontaine, to the contrary, raised the hypothesis that she had remained in the women’s monastery. He argues that her personal oblation to Martin goes back to an Egyptian custom of offering oblates to celebrated hermits or cenobites for them to receive a spiritual education [73]. Sulpicius, however, does not give any indication that Arborius’ daughter had remained in Tours. Moreover, female monastic practices in Gaul in the second half of the fourth century and the religious customs of Egypt were part of different worlds, so that Fontaine’s assertion is not sustained. In fact, due to the elevated social condition of the daughter of Arborius and, as indicated by Metz, the custom of the time, it is much more probable that she had returned to her parents’ house to live out her ideal of virginity in the company of her family.

Some monks and virgins from the Tours community are mentioned anonymously [74]. Gallus also testifies that virgins from « distant regions » frequently came to Tours to visit Martin [75], but does not indicate who they were or if they were under the direction of the bishop.

In Martin’s diocese, a virgin retired to a small property (agellum, uillula), hiding herself from the view of all men [76]. She certainly owned the property on which she lived, but she was not in any way related to Martinian monasticism. When he went to visit her for pastoral motives, she refused to see him.

In relation to a conversation in an unnamed village (uicus), Sulpicius writers : « The name of Christ, thanks to his miracles and his example, gained such force that there was nowhere that was not full of well attended churches and monasteries. Since where he destroyed temples, he immediately built churches or monasteries » [77].

Due to the supposed enthusiasm of peasants to convert and the foundation of monasteries in the location, it is logical to think that these monasteries were peopled by locals. Martin founded other monasteries in his campaigns to convert the countryside, perhaps in the same manner, in other words, on top of destroyed pagan temples. The monks are only mentioned anonymously. The presence in Tours of monks from an unknown diocese is only alluded to (Sulpicius Severus, Ep. 1.13). In Clion-sur-Indre a « multitude of consecrated virgins and saints » was encountered [78]. Amboise was inhabited by the presbyter Marcellus and his « brothers, » criticized by Sulpicius for his incapacity to destroy a pagan sanctuary [79].

Other supposed disciples of Martin appeared in the works of Gregory of Tours. In his Liber in gloria confessorum (22), Gregory, basing himself on a Vita composed in verses which did not come down to us, identified Maximus as a « disciple of our Martin. » Maximus, seeking isolation, established himself initially in a monastery on Barbara island in Lyon. However, after becoming known, he decided to return to his place of origin, Chinon, a castrum in the territory of Tours, and founded a monastery there. In the same Book (45), Gregory stated that Presbyter Romano, according to a Vita which was also lost, was buried close to Blaye by Martin. For this reason, Prinz considered him a disciple of the bishop [80]. Gregory also speaks of Martin, who was abbot of a monastery in Saintes, but demonstrated some caution in identifying him as a disciple of the Bishop of Tours : « Martin … as they say, a disciple of our Martin » [81]. In his Ten Books of History (7.10), Gregory mentions another Martin, who was buried in Brives-la- Gaillarde. Gregory also demonstrates a certain caution in regard to him : « Martin, as they say, a disciple of our Martin. » These reports transmitted by Gregory are not supported by any contemporary source, so they are not very reliable. Even in the cases of Maximus and Romano, we are unable to judge the reliability of the Vitae which Gregory consulted to write about them. These Vitae could have been written many years after the death of their protagonists and have been based on not very trustworthy traditions.

According to a Vita written around 620 by Bishop Magnobodo, which is based on a previous Vita [82], now lost, Maurilius, originally from Milan, abandoned his mother and his goods to follow Martin. Maurilius, who could read, was ordained sub-deacon, deacon, and a priest by Martin [83]. However, desiring to isolate himself, Maurilius retired to Angers, where he built a church over a destroyed pagan sanctuary [84] and a monastery on a hill close to the same church [85]. In 423, he was ordained bishop of Angers. Also according to Magnobodo, Maurilius was of noble origin [86]. This Vita, however, is not very reliable : some plausible chronological arguments are mixed with unlikely elements and numerous legendary episodes [87]. Moreover, the attribution of noble origin to a saint was in the seventh century a hagiographical topos. No matter how much his association with Martin was chronologically possible - Maurilius died on 13 September 453 and according to Magnobodo, was in his nineties [88] -, we cannot accept his noble origin without another corroborating source.

Finally, the supposed coincidences of Marmoutier with the description of the druidic traditions of Pomponius Mela - in relation to the living traditions, the recruitment, and the religious formation conferred by a master - led [89] to question :

Pourquoi, dans l’ordre des mobiles les plus secrets, d’antiques traditions celtiques n’auraient-elles pas eu au moins autant de poids, dans de grandes familles encore partiellement christianisées, dont certains membres pouvaient encore assumer des sacerdoces gaulois (comme en témoigne Ausone à propos du Bajocasse Patera devenu rhéteur à Bordeaux), que les traditions de la ’matière d’Égypte’ et le style de vie de l’ascétisme monastique ?

Although Fontaine’s hypothesis is suggestive, we have no evidence which relates the recruitment of the monks of Marmoutier with druidic traditions. All of Martin’s disciples who we have identified above have names of Latin or Greek origin. It is a simple coincidence.


[60] Jullian, 1923, pp. 50-51 ; Prinz, 1988, p. 23 and 25, also argues that Vitricius was a disciple of Martin. However, Prinz has a broader concept of disciple than me, also taking into account those who, even without knowing Martin, were influenced by his example.

[61] cf. Fontaine, 1982, pp. 13-24

[62] Paulinus, who met Vitricius and Martin in Vienne (Ep. 18.9), would certainly have indicated if the former had been the disciple of the latter, since this letter speaks of the missionary work of Vitricius, the foundation of monasteries in Rouen, and his conversion.

[63] 3.1.4-5

[64] Heinzelmann, 1982, p. 555, records that the Aper of the Dialogues can be identified with the Aper the receiver of Epp. 38, 39 and 44 from Paulinus de Nola. This second Aper, a friend of Paulinous was rich and had been a lawyer and judge before becoming a monk. However, nothing indicates that they were both the same person. Fabre, 1948, p. 75, had already demonstrated caution about identifying the two persons. Furthermore, Aper the friend of Paulinus was not a disciple of Martin. Ep. 38, probably from 399/400 (FABRE, 1948, pp. 75-83), defines the conversion of Aper as recent, and Ep. 44 shows that after his conversion he continued to live on his property, whose administration was the responsibility of his wife, Amanda.

[65] de Vogüé, 1997, p. 138

[66] Pietri ; Heijmans, 2013, p. 370

[67] Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 3.2.8

[68] Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 3.1.6 and 3.5.7

[69] Ep. 2.1, 7 and 18

[70] Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 2.1.11

[71] Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 19.1-2

[72] Metz, 1961, p. 124

[73] Fontaine, 1967-1969, p. 882

[74] Sulpicius Severus, Epp. 2.6 and 3.18-19 ; Dialogi 2.2.2, 2.5.4, 3.14.6 and

[75] Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 2.12.11

[76] Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 2.12.1-2

[77] Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 13.9 ; 11Gregory of Tours, in Historiarum libri decem 10.31, identifies six uici where Martin founded churches after destroying pagan temples : Langeais, Sonnay, Amboise, Ciran-la-Latte, Tournon, and Candes.

[78] Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 2.8.5-9

[79] Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi 3.8.4-6

[80] Prinz, 1988, p. 24

[81] Gregory, Liber in gloria confessorum 56

[82] Magnobodo, Vita Maurilii, Praefatio

[83] Magnobodo, Vita Maurilii 1

[84] Magnobodo, Vita Maurilii 1-2

[85] Magnobodo, Vita Maurilii 6

[86] Magnobodo, Vita Maurilii 1 : de genere nobile ueniens ; natalibus claris fuerat oriundus

[87] Pietri ; Heijmans, 2013, p. 1286 ; cf. Prinz, 1988, p. 23

[88] Vita Maurilii 28

[89] Fontaine, 1967-1969, pp. 673-674

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