CHURCH FATHERS (61) – Saint Maximus of Turin

– Anastasios

Saint Maximus of Turin (Northern Italy) lived between the 4th and the 5th centuries. We don’t know much about his life, we have mostly information coming from his sermons. Gennadius, of whom we talked already, in his De viris illustribus gives us some information about Maximus: “Maximus, bishop of the church at Turin, a man fairly industrious in the study of the Holy Scripture, and good at teaching the people extemporaneously, composed treatises In praise of the apostles and John the Baptist, and a Homily on all the martyrs.

 Moreover he wrote many acute comments on passages from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. He wrote also two treatises, On the life of Saint Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli, and confessor, and On Saint Cyprian, and published a monograph On the grace of baptism. I have read his On avarice, On hospitality, On the eclipse of the moon, On almsgiving, On the saying in Isaiah, Your wine dealers mix wine with water, On Our Lord’s Passion, A general treatise On fasting by the servants of God, On the quadragesimal fast in particular, and That there should be no jesting on fast day, On Judas, the betrayer, On Our Lord’s cross, On His sepulchre, On His resurrection, On the accusation and trial of Our Lord before Pontius Pilate, On the Kalends of January, a homily On the day of Our Lord’s Nativity, also homilies On Epiphany, On the Passover, On Pentecost, many also, On having no fear of carnal Foes, On giving thanks after meat, On the repentance of the Ninivites, and other homilies of his, published on various occasions, whose names I do not remember. He died in the reign of Honorius and Theodosius the younger.”

In a sermon delivered on Easter Sunday Maximus affirmed: “We have yet another shining example of the Lord’s most loving kindness, and because of it, let us, putting away all fear, and all deadly despair, place our trust in the unspeakable generosity of Our Redeemer. For when, condemned by the Godless, Christ hung upon the Cross, and the Jews in their evil rage mocked Him they had crucified, in the midst of His agony, this kind Petitioner prayed to His Almighty Father for His executioners, and said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34). And though in His hands was the judgement of both the living and the dead, He implored pardon for those who were then perishing in sin; and this, I believe, that He might show us beyond any manner of doubt, that He forgave them their awful crime, and that His Father would also spare them, if they, putting away their unbelief, would come together in Christ’s Name. For who can doubt the effect of that prayer, where He Who is Goodness asks help for those in misery? They know not, He says, what they do. The Jews knew well that they were shedding the blood of an innocent Man; but they did not know that the guilt of all men was being washed away in that Blood. They knew they were punishing Christ by this most bitter torment of the Cross; but they did not know that it was through this Cross the Son of God would triumph. They knew He would die; but they did not know He would rise again. So, well might the Lord declare: They know not what they do.”

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking of Maximus, affirmed: “In short, historical and literary analysis show an increasing awareness of the political responsibility of the ecclesiastical authority in a context in which it continued de facto to replace the civil authority.  Indeed, the ministry of the Bishop of Northwest Italy, starting with Eusebius who dwelled in his Vercelli ‘like a monk’ to Maximus of Turin, positioned ‘like a sentinel’ on the highest rock in the city, developed along these lines. It is obvious that the contemporary historical, cultural and social context is profoundly different. Today’s context is rather the context outlined by my venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa, in which he offers an articulate analysis of the challenges and signs of hope for the Church in Europe today (nos 6-22). In any case, on the basis of the changed conditions, the believer’s duties to his city and his homeland still remain effective. The combination of the commitments of the ‘honest citizen’ with those of the ‘good Christian’ has not in fact disappeared. In conclusion, to highlight one of the most important aspects of the unity of Christian life, I would like to recall the words of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes on consistency between faith and conduct, between Gospel and culture. The Council exhorts the faithful “to perform their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel. It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities; this is to forget that by our faith we are bound all the more to fulfil these responsibilities according to the vocation of each one” (no 43). In following the Magisterium of St Maximus and of many other Fathers, let us make our own the Council’s desire that the faithful may be increasingly anxious to “carry out their earthly activity in such a way as to integrate human, domestic, professional, scientific and technical enterprises with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are ordered to the glory of God and thus for humanity’s good.”

And this wish of the Pope is certainly at the core of our Christian life.

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