University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E02616: A Latin pseudepigraphic sermon attributed either to Ambrose of Milan or Maximus of Turin is dedicated to the feast of *Agnes (virgin and martyr of Rome, S00097) and describes episodes of her martyrdom on the basis of The Martyrdom of Agnes (E02475). Agnes is presented as an example to follow for young girls. Datable to before the late 8th c., and perhaps composed in 6th c. northern Italy.

online resource
posted on 2017-03-27, 00:00 authored by mpignot
BHL 158a


§§ 1-2: Agnes is an exemplary virgin. Other young girls (puellae) should learn from Agnes’ unconditional love for Christ, she chose this love over any other from this world.

§ 3: This does not mean that marriage is not good, but virginity is best. There are several married women in the Scriptures that can be imitated: Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, Anna, Susanna, Sephora, but for virgins, there is only the virgin Mary.

§ 4: Agnes followed Mary by rejecting worldly love in favour of heavenly love; she did not fear any attack, not even fire, torture and death by the sword. She refused gifts for the body, and instead of focussing on her appearance, she rather concentrated on the beauty of her mind and soul.

§§ 5-6: The young man could not tempt her with gifts: the virgin kept her promise until death. This should be an example for the young girls in the audience. Agnes followed Mary. She made the brothel a place of prayer and defeated the Devil precisely where he used to rule.

§ 7: Agnes was brought naked to the brothel by the leader (dux), who clearly was the Devil. All the people saw his defeat. She hid her body with her hair and then she was dressed by an angel. Virginity was crowned in a place of depravity. All those who entered as servants of the Devil, came back as servants of God.

§§ 8-9: Then, the young man was hit by death. The virgin fulfilled the wish of the judge and revived the dead man. Pagans rebelled against Christians, the father left the task to the vicarius, as we read (ut legitur). A fire was prepared but she only felt refreshment (refrigerius).

§ 10: Those who were burnt by fire for the name of Christ in fact did not perish. Elijah was taken by fire to heaven, the three boys in the furnace suffered no harm, Laurentius endured the grill, Agnes and Thecla avoided the flames. All these tortures were different but the faith of the saints of God (sancti Dei) was one. Isaiah dying as a martyr and Daniel avoiding the lion are both examples of God’s triumph over the Devil.

§ 11: Invocation to the virgin martyr, married to Christ and crowned in heaven, an example to be followed to share eternal joy.

Text (BHL 158/158a): Patrologia Latina 17, 701-705. Summary: Matthieu Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Agnes, martyr in Rome (ob. c. 304) : S00097

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracle during lifetime Miracles experienced by the saint Miracles causing conversion Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Power over life and death

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Officials Crowds Angels The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves)


This sermon is generally attributed in manuscripts either to Ambrose or to Maximus of Turin. It is first found under Maximus’ name in Paul the Deacon's homiliary (I, 62), from the 8th century. Lanéry (2008) counts 72 manuscripts preserving the sermon, starting with a homiliary from Luxeuil (Manchester, John Rylands University Library, Latin Ms 12) from the 8th or 9th century. There are two versions of this sermon, BHL 158 and BHL 158a, the latter including a final prayer omitted in the former. BHL 158a is best attested and the version found in Paul the Deacon’s homiliary. Incipit: 'Cum in toto mundo virgineus flos Mariae'; Explicit: 'aeterna credimus gaudia non neganda' (BHL 158); 'non neganda. Itaque o splendida Christo pulchra Dei filio... qui tibi tuorum omnium laborum tradidit palmam. Qui regnat... Amen' (BHL 158a) References in repertories: PS-AM s 48 = [MAX] s 56: Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007). CPPM 58 and 5862: Machielsen, J., Clavis patristica pseudepigraphorum medii aevi, part I: Opera homiletica, 2 vols (Turnhout, 1990). CPL 180 (Ps. Ambrosius sermo 48) and 221 (Ps. Maximus sermo 56): Dekkers, E., Clavis Patrum Latinorum, 3rd ed. (Steenbrugge, 1995).


The sermon is said to be composed for the feast of Agnes and is addressed to young girls (puellae), exhorting them to consecrate their lives to virginity. It describes a number of episodes of Agnes' martyrdom, evidently borrowing from the Martyrdom of Agnes (E02475) in several instances. It even refers to a specific text (ut legitur). The attribution to a known author has been generally abandoned in recent scholarship, although Étaix hypothesised that this sermon may belong to a broader series of sermons preached by the bishop Maximus II of Turin, living in the second half of the 5th century. In a detailed study, Lanéry (2008) wonders whether this sermon was really preached or whether it simply put together extracts from the Martyrdom of Agnes for the edification of virgins. Lanéry argues that it shows evidence of borrowings from late antique writings, in particular Fulgentius' Ep. 3 to Proba, written in the early 6th century. She therefore suggests that this sermon may have been composed later in the 6th century, perhaps in Northern Italy.


Edition: Patrologia Latina 17, 701-705 (Pseudo-Ambrose); Patrologia Latina 57, 643-648 (Pseudo-Maximus). Further reading: Étaix, R., “Trois nouveaux sermons à restituer à la collection du pseudo-Maxime,” Revue bénédictine 97 (1987), 28-41. Lanéry, C., Ambroise de Milan hagiographe (Paris, 2008), 414-422.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity