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E05320: Maximus of Turin composes three Latin sermons in Turin, northern Italy, between c. 390 and 408/423 in honour of *John (the Baptist, S00020).

online resource
posted on 2018-04-12, 00:00 authored by frances
Maximus of Turin, Sermons 5, 6, 88


Sermon 5
Maximus opens the sermon with a statement that he is preaching ‘in praise of the holy and most blessed John the Baptist, whose birthday we celebrate today’ (in sancti ac beatissimi Iohannis Baptistae laudibus, cuius natalem hodie celebramus). He continues to praise both John’s birth – which announced the coming of Christ – and his death at the hands of Herod. He recounts how John was conceived although his mother was very old, and this conception was announced to his father by the angel Gabriel. Maximus identifies John as a ‘precursor and forerunner’ (praecursor et praeuius) of Christ. Maximus praises John’s joy in the womb as he identified Christ.

Sermon 6
Maximus states that he would like to be silent on John’s feast day (natalis), but John’s virtues force him to speak. He compares this to Zecheriah’s inability to speak after he refused to believe Gabriel’s prophecy regarding John’s birth. Zecheriah could only speak again after John’s birth when he named him. John is greater than any other individual who was birthed by a woman – a category which does not include Christ who was born of a virgin.

Sermon 88
Although he has died a martyr’s death, John continues to cry out against sin. Maximus states that the congregation can learn from John and imitate his fasting, humility, frugality and chastity. He refers John's death at the hands of a dancer and uses this opportunity to criticise extramarital sex.

Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Baptist : S00020

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Turin Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Maximus of Turin

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Relatives of the saint Women Angels


Maximus was bishop of late antique Turin, but the exact dates of his episcopate has been contested over the centuries. Gennadius of Marseille, writing in the late-fifth century, refers to a prominent bishop of Turin – called Maximus - who composed sermons on a variety of topics. According to Gennadius (De viris illustribus 41), this Maximus died in the reign of Honorius and the younger Theodosius, which would place Maximus’ death between 408 and 423. This was challenged in the early 17th century. Cardinal Baronius believed that the author of the sermons was the same Maximus who signed the acts of the Council of Milan in 451 and the Council of Rome in 465. He claimed that there was a mistake in Gennadius’ account: Maximus did not die, but instead ‘flourished’ (claruisse) between 408 and 423. Although this view was held until the end of the 19th century, it is now widely accepted that there were two bishops of Turin called Maximus, and that the author of the sermons did in fact die between 408 and 423. For a full overview of this argument, see Mutzenbecher’s preface to her critical edition of Maximus’ sermons. Mutzenbecher’s edition contains 119 sermons, of which 106 are viewed as authentic. 89 of these apparently constituted the collection available to Gennadius in Marseille at the end of the fifth century. These sermons were preached to the congregation in Turin on a variety of different topics. Many of them were preached to celebrate the feast day of a specific saint. Andreas Merkt has identified three main motivations guiding Maximus’ sermons on the saints. Firstly, he argues that Maximus preached on saints to provide examples for his congregation to follow. Secondly, that Maximus uses stories of martyrdom to communicate messages about the importance of Christ’s passion and the nature of the Eucharist to his congregation. Thirdly, Merkt argues that the saints Maximus focused on reflect his view on the ideal structure of the Church: he emphasises the primacy of Peter and Paul and the Roman church.


Only the first two sermons are direct evidence of the celebration of John’s feast day: there is no indication that Sermon 88 was preaching on this occasion. Yet it provides an example of the ways Maximus used episodes from a saint’s life as examples which his congregation should follow.


Edition: Mutzenbecher, A., Maximi episcopi Taurinensis Collectionem sermonum antiquam (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 23; Turnhout: Brepols, 1962). Translation: Ramsey, B., The Sermons of Maximus of Turin (Ancient Christian Writers 50; Westminster MD: Newman Press, 1989). Further Reading: Lizzi, R., "Ambrose’s Contemporaries and the Christianisation of Northern Italy," Journal of Roman Studies 80 (1990), 156-173. Merkt, A., Maximus I. von Turin. Die Verkündigung eines Bischofs der frühen Reichskirche im zeitgeschichtliche liturgischen Kontext (Leiden:Brill, 1997).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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