Sunday, January 4, 2015

St Maximus of Turin: "Oh the glory of this day!"

We don’t really know very much about the life of Maximus of Turin. He was born in the mid to late 4th century (perhaps around 380 A.D.) and lived until the mid 5th century (perhaps 465 A.D.). He was an Italian bishop and theologian who wrote numerous discourses, including 118 homilies, 116 sermons, and six treatises or tracts. Like most of the Church Fathers, he preached a lot from the Old Testament, sometimes finding Jesus in the narrative which symbolically foreshadowed him, and sometimes in contrast with what took place in the days of the Old Covenant. The following extract (from his Sermon 45) is a fitting reflection for this Epiphany: 

Today the true Sun has risen upon the world; amid universal darkness light has dawned. God has become man, so that men may become divine; the Lord has assumed the likeness of a slave, so that slaves may become lords. He who created the heavens as his dwelling place has made his home on earth, in order that earth’s inhabitants may find their way to heaven.

O the glory of this day, eclipsing the very sun in its splendour, the culmination of centuries of waiting! The revelation to which the angels looked forward, the secret hidden from seraphim, cherubim, and every heavenly spirit has been disclosed to our generation. What former ages perceived in figures and images, we see in reality. The God who spoke to the people of Israel through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophets now speaks to us through his Son. Mark the difference between the Old Testament and New! In the Old Testament God spoke in a storm cloud; in the New he speaks in the clear, calm light of day. In the Old Testament God appeared in a bush; in the New he is born of a virgin. In the Old Testament God was present as a fire consuming the sins of his people; in the New he is present as a man who forgives them - or rather, as the Lord who pardons his servants, since no one can forgive sin but God alone.

There are various opinions current in the world, since our ideas reflect a diversity of traditions, but whether the Lord Jesus was born or baptized on this day, this much at least is clear: Christ’s birth both in the flesh and in the spirit is to our benefit. Both are mysteries to me and both are advantageous to me. The Son of God had no need to be born or baptized. He had committed no sin that required forgiveness through baptism. On the contrary, his condescension is the cause of our exaltation, his cross our victory, his gibbet our triumph.

Let us joyfully raise the banner of his cross on our shoulders and bear the ensign of his victory; better still, let us carry this great standard as a sign emblazoned on our foreheads. Whenever the devil sees this sign on our doorposts he trembles; demons who have no reverence for gilded temples fear the cross. They may despise royal sceptres, grand banquets, and imperial purple, but they are cowed by the fasting and humble garb of Christians.

Let us be filled with exultation then, dear friends, and lift up holy hands to heaven in the form of a cross. When Moses held up his hands Amalek was defeated, but if he lowered them for a while Amalek prevailed. Birds too resemble the cross in shape as they are borne aloft and glide through the air on outstretched wings. Even our memorials and victory processions take the form of crosses. Surely then we ought to bear the cross not on our foreheads only but within our very souls, so that by its protection we may trample on the snake and the serpent in Christ Jesus, to whom belongs the glory for ever and ever.


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