Sulpicius Severus, How Saint Martin cut down a sacred tree…


By : Leo Tepper
 
 
There are some reasons for me to pay attention to Saint Martin. First of all the main church of the city where I live – Groningen – is dedicated to this saint. It is visible from far outside the city and for students living here the point of orientation when deep in the night lost in some outer part of Groningen. Secondly, Saint Martin’s day is approaching: 11 November. At around 5 in the afternoon children are going with lampoons from door to door, sing a song about Saint Martin and get some candy in return. Apparently I live in a part of the city where reproduction has dramatically dropped: the last 6 years the number of children at my door varied between one and zero, leaving me with a bag full of candies. And no I am not a candy eater, but some female friends are and they had no problems with helping me to get rid of the stuff….
Saint Martin (316-397) was born in Pannonia, current Hungary. His father was a senior cavalry officer in the Roman army. At 10 he went to the church, against the will of his parents, who were not Christians. Initially he was destined to follow the career of his father and so at the age of 15 he joined the Roman cavalry. He was stationed at Gaul, when at the age of 18 he got a mystical experience: he met a beggar asking for some clothing and Saint Martin cut his army cloak in two and gave one part to the poor man. That night he got a dream in which Jesus appeared, urging him to be baptized.  And indeed, he became now a baptized Christian and being convinced that the life of the military is incompatible with being a Christian, he left the army. From that moment he worked for the church. He was mainly working in Gaul, spreading Christianity there and in 371 He was elected bishop of Tours. Apart from building churches he also propagated monastic life and founded monasteries in Gaul. Already during his lifetime he was very famous and seen as a miracle worker. A follower of him, Sulpicius Severus, of whom little is known, not even the dates of his birth and death, wrote after the death of Saint Martin a biography about him, or rather a hagiography, the Vita Sancti Martini.Martin was the first to be called a saint without dying as a martyr. It is the earliest example of a hagiography and thus set the pattern for later hagiographies. The Latin is remarkably good for that period.
Saint Martin is the patron saint of soldiers, a bit strange for someone with conscience objections.
In Chapter 13 Sulpicius describes how Saint Martin wants to destroy a sacred tree at some village. This was not an unusual practice: in 754 Bonifatius tried to do the same at Dokkum, a Frisian place not fat away from here, but he was less lucky than Saint Martin and the Frisians killed him!
13 (1) Item, cum in vico quodam templum antiquissimum diruisset et arborem pinum, quae fano erat proxima, esset aggressus excidere, tum vero antistes loci illius ceteraque gentilium turba coepit obsistere. (2) et cum idem illi, dum templum evertitur, imperante Domino quievissent, succidi arborem non patiebantur. ille eos sedulo commonere, nihil esse religionis in stipite: Deum potius, cui serviret ipse, sequerentur: arborem illam succidi oportere, quia esset daemoni dedicata. (3) tum unus ex illis qui erat audacior ceteris: si habes, inquit, aliquam de Deo tuo, quem dicis te colere, fiduciam, nosmet ipsi succidemus hanc arborem, tu ruentem excipe: et si tecum est tuus, ut dicis, Dominus, evades. (4) tum ille intrepide confisus in Domino facturum se pollicetur. hic vero ad istius modi condicionem omnis illa gentilium turba consensit, facilemque arboris suae habuere iacturam, si inimicum sacrorum suorum casu illius obruissent. (5) itaque cum unam in partem pinus illa esset acclinis, ut non esset dubium, quam in partem succisa corrueret, eo loci vinctus statuitur pro arbitrio rusticorum, quo arborem esse casuram nemo dubitabat. (6) succidere igitur ipsi suam pinum cum ingenti gaudio laetitiaque coeperunt. aderat eminus turba mirantium. iamque paulatim nutare pinus et ruinam suam casura minitari. (7) pallebant eminus monachi et periculo iam propiore conterriti spem omnem fidemque perdiderant, solam Martini mortem exspectantes. (8) at ille confisus in Domino intrepidus opperiens, cum iam fragorem sui pinus concidens edidisset, iam cadenti, iam super se ruenti, elevata obviam manu, signum salutis opponit. tum vero – velut turbinis modo retro actam putares – diversam in partem ruit, adeo ut rusticos, qui toto in loco steterant, paene prostraverit. (9) tum vero in caelum clamore sublato gentiles stupere miraculo, monachi flere prae gaudio, Christi nomen in commune ab omnibus praedicari: satisque constitit eo die salutem illi venisse regioni. nam nemo fere ex immani illa multitudine gentilium fuit, qui non impositione manus desiderata Dominum Iesum, relicto impietatis errore, crediderit. et vere ante Martinum pauci admodum, immo paene nulli in illis regionibus Christi nomen receperant: quod adeo virtutibus illius exemploque convaluit, ut iam ibi nullus locus sit, qui non aut ecclesiis frequentissimis aut monasteriis sit repletus. nam ubi fana destruxerat, statim ibi aut ecclesias aut monasteria construebat.
 
item: in the same way. In later Latin item is often used to introduce a new topic.
vicum: village
diruo (3) destroy, demolish
pinus:  pine-tree, fir (arborem is a bit superfluous). pinus is feminine, because arbor is femine, see at 5 pinus illa.
fanum = templum
aggredi, agressi sum: to approach
excido (3): to cut down
antistes, -itis: priest
gentilis: `belonging to a clan’, but here it is used as noun
turba: crowd
coepio: to begin
everto: to turn upside down
imperante Domino: it is more likely that this was a Roman temple with no religious significance for the Cetls, provided there is some truth in this episode.
quiesco, -evi: to be quiet
succido (3): to cut down
patior: to endure
sedulo: eagerly, zealously
commoneo: to put in mind commonere is a historic infinitive, to be translated as a main verb. Also nutare and minitari at 6, stupereflereand praedicari at 9. The historic infinitive is known to everybody who has struggled with Livy. It is used to make a story more lively. Compare a live report of a football match: Manchester coming forward.  X passing the ball to y and GOAL!!!!
nihil + gen.
stipes, stipites, m.: trunk
oportet: it is proper. It occurs only as an impersonal verb
audax: courageous
colo (3): to worship
fiducia: trust
nosmet is a strengthened nos.
ruo (3) to fall. The English to ruin comes from the noun ruina `a falling, crushing down’ which has the same root ru as ruo.
excipit: i.e. on his body.
intrepide : unshakably. In 8 the adjective intrepidus is used, where in English the adverb is required
confido  – confisus sum: to trust on, believe in
polliceor: to promise
hic: then
istius modi condicionem: litt. `on the condition of that way’ = on that condition
facilemque arboris suae habuere iacturam; `taking the loss of their tree easy
inimicus: enemy
casus, -us: fall
obruo: to destroy
acclinis: hanging over
casurus: fut. participle  of cado (3) : to fall
vincio – vinxi  – vinctus: to bind
statuo (3): to set
arbitium: judgement
rusticus: a person living in the countryside (rus), hence: heathen. This word is derived from heath and so has undergone the same semantic development
ingens, -entis: great
eminus (adv.): at a distance
paulatim: slowly
nuto: waver, to be ready to fall
ruinam suam probably for ruinam eius: the tree was not threatening its own destruction but that of St. Martin, but the translation takes it  – with some hesitation – as it stands and referring to the tree.
minitor: to threaten
palleo: to turn pale
periculo propiore: by very the imminent danger
conterritus: frightened
solam mortemsolam must be translated as an adverb: solely
opperior: to wait, attend
fragor,- oris, (m): a crashing noise
obviam (adv.): against
signum salutis: The sing of the cross: he stretches one hand towards falling tree while with his other making the sign of the cross.
oppono + dat.
velut turbinis modo retro actam putares:  you would think as led by way of a whirlwind  (it turned) back. Note how whole section 8 gives a lively description
paene: almost  
prosterno- prostravi – prostratus: to throw to the ground
clamor (m): cry, loud noise
suffero –sustuli –sublatum: to take up, carry
caelum clamore sublato: standard expression in Latin, but here significant because of the Christian context.
stupeo + dat.: to be stupefied about
praedico: to proclaim
satisque constitit: it has been sufficiently ascertained
fere: almost
immanis: immense
qui non impositione manus desiderata Dominum Iesum, relicto impietatis errore, credideritnon with crediderit. The imposition of the hand by a priest means that one is allowed to become acatechumenen, the first stage of becoming a member of the church.
paucus: few
admodum: only
immo paene: nay, almost
quod =  Christi nomen
adeo: to such extent
convalesco – convalui: to grow strong
frequens, -entis:  crowded
repletus: filled
statim: immediately
 
Translation:
 
 

 

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