Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Sermon given after Epiphany.

Sermon 65. Given after Epiphany{1}.

1. I believe that my preaching on the holy day of Epiphany reached all of you, brethren, especially you catechumens. In it we spoke to those who assert that water was changed into wine then{2} and also to the many who testily that the Lord was baptized in the Jordan on that day{3}. Although it is believed by different people that only one of these took place, nonetheless I hold that both took place and that one is a sign of the other, for both took place. For when the Lord was baptized He instituted the mystery of washing and also, by contact with the Divinity{4}, changed the human race – brackish water, as it were – into an eternal substance. Likewise, when He turned the jars full of spring water into wine He did both things: He presented something far better to the wedding feast and also showed that, by the washing, the bodies of human beings are to be filled with the substance of the Holy Spirit. The Lord declared this in clearer fashion elsewhere when He said that new wine was to be stored in new skins{5}, for in the newness of the skins the purity of the washing is signified, and in the wine the grace of the Holy Spirit.

2. Therefore it behooved you catechumens to have listened to this quite closely. There is greater need that your understanding, which is now as chilly as water because of ignorance of the Trinity, should become as warm as wine with a knowledge of the mystery, and that the brackish and weak liquid of your souls may be decanted into a precious and strong grace. Thus, instead of wine we may taste what is good and be redolent of what is sweet, and hence we can say, in the words of the Apostle: For we are the good odor of Christ to God (2 Cor. 2.15). For a catechumen is like water, cold and pale, before he is baptized, but a believer is strong and red like wine. A catechumen, I say, is like water, having no taste or smell, valueless, useless, unpleasant to drink, and unable to keep{6}. For just as water spoils and smells when it is kept a long time and has deteriorated within itself, so also a catechumen becomes worthless and goes to ruin when he remains a catechumen a long time, for he deteriorates within himself{7}. As the Lord says: Unless one is born again from water and the Holy Spirit he will not enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 3.5). The one who does not enter into the kingdom, however, necessarily remains in hell. But rightly is the faithful compared to wine, for just as every part of the whole creation goes to ruin as it gets older and only wine improves with age, so, while all are perishing of old age from throughout the human race, only the Christian improves with age. And just as wine acquires a pleasant savor and a sweet odor as its bitterness diminishes from one day to the next, so also the Christian takes upon himself the wisdom{8} of the Divinity and the agreeable aroma of the Trinity as the bitterness of his sins diminishes with the passing of time.

3. On this holy day, then, the Lord was baptized. See how well He ordained that He should be born on His birthday and reborn on the Epiphany, so that the vows{9} of human salvation might not be too distant from Him and that we might constantly give eternal thanks to the Savior. Then our vows were also solemnized, when the Church was united to Christ, as John says: The one who has the bride is the bridegroom (John 3.29){10}. Because of this marriage, therefore, it behooves us to dance, for David, at once king and prophet, is also said to have danced before the ark of the covenant with much singing{11}. In high rejoicing he broke into dancing, for in the Spirit he foresaw that through Mary, born of his own line, the Church was to be joined in Christ’s chamber{12}; about this he says: And He, like a bridegroom, came forth from His chamber (Ps. 19.5). Thus he sang more than the other prophetic authors because, gladder than the rest of them, by these joys he united those coming after him in marriage. And to his own vows he invited, with more than customary charm, all the nations, and he taught us what we ought to do at this wedding feast, inasmuch as, before the wedding feast, he rejoiced in utter joy.


The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, trans. by B. Ramsey, New York 1989, p. 159-161.


1 Much of §3 recalls Ambrose, Exp. evang. sec. Luc. 6.5-9. On the feast of the Epiphany cf. Sermon 13A n. 1. For §3 cf. also Sermon 42.5, and for the image of dancing there, cf. Sermon 42 n. 1. The present sermon is primarily addressed to catechumens.

2 Cf. John 2.1-11.

3 Cf. Matt. 3.13-17.

4 divinitatis sapore : lit., by a taste of the Divinity.

5 Cf. Matt. 9.17.

6 TThe baptismal imagery of water and wine here appears as resurrectional imagery in Sermons 101.3 and 103.2; in all cases, however, the idea is fundamentally the same inasmuch as baptism is itself a type of resurrection.

7 Maximus is alluding to the custom, often opposed in the ancient Church, of putting off baptism for as long a time as possible, sometimes until one's deathbed. Opposition is voiced in canon 12 of the Synod of Neocaesarea, which forbade ordination to the priesthood to persons baptized on their sickbed; Basil, In sanct. bapt.; Gregory of Nyssa, Adv. eos qui differunt bapt. Some delay is defended, however, in Tertullian, De bapt. 18, where it is argued that younger people cannot adhere to the baptismal vows as well as older people.

8 savor... wisdom: saporis... sapientiam.

9 vota.

10 On the marriage of the Church to Christ cf. Sermon 42 n. 14.

11 Cf. 2 Sam. 6.14.

12 praevidebat enim in spiritu per Mariam de germine suo ecclesiam Christi thalamo sociandam: cf. Sermon 42 n. 16.