Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Sermon given before the Birthday of the Lord.

Sermon 61A. Given before the Birthday of the Lord{1}.

1. Even if I should be silent, brethren, the season warns us that the birthday of the Lord Christ is very near, since the extreme conclusion of the cycle of days has anticipated my preaching. For by this very brevity the world tells us that something is about to happen by which it will be restored to a better state, and with increasing longing it wishes for the brilliance of the shining sun to cast light on its darkness. While it dreads to have its course come to an end because of the shortness of the hours, it shows by a kind of hope that its year is to be formed anew. This longing on the pan of creation (Cf. Rom. 8.19), then, also persuades us to long that the new sun{2}, the risen Christ, may cast light upon the darkness of our sins, and that by the power of His birth the sun of justice (Cf. Mal. 4.2) may scatter the protracted gloom of sin in us; and it persuades us not to let the course of our life come to a close with shocking abruptness but to let it be extended thanks to His power. Therefore, since we know the birthday of the Lord because the world points to it, let us also do what the world is accustomed to do; that is to say, just as on that day the world extends the period of its light, so let us also prolong our righteousness. And just as the brightness of that day is common to poor and rich, so let our generosity also be common to travelers and needy folk. And just as the world has then thrown off the gloom of its nights, so let us also cut off the darkness of our avarice. And, as is the case in the winter season, just as seeds are sustained in the ground when the frost is broken up by the sun’s warmth, so let the sluggish seed of righteousness in our hearts grow strong when our hardness is broken up by the Savior’s radiance.

2. Therefore, brethren, let us who are about to celebrate the Lord’s birthday adorn ourselves in pure and shining garments. I speak, however, of the soul’s garments and not of those for the flesh. For the garment intended for the flesh is a mean piece of clothing, but the soul’s vesture is a precious object; the one has been put together by human hands, the other has been formed by the hands of God. And therefore more care is required to preserve the work of God without stain than to keep human works unsullied. For if worldly clothing gets dirty a hired launderer can wash it out, but if the soul’s garb once gets soiled it can hardly be cleaned except by special and unremitting works. The hand of a skilled worker is of no avail, neither is a launderer’s toil, for water can wash the polluted parts of one’s conscience but it cannot clean them. These are the soul’s precious garments, which the Evangelist Mark praises in the Savior when he says: And His clothes became shining, exceedingly white like snow, such as no launderer on earth could make them (Mark 9.3){3}. Christ’s raiment is praised, then, because it shone not on account of its texture but on account of grace. His raiment is praised not because it was put together with fine weaving but because it was conceived in bodily integrity. His garment is praised not because women’s hands wove it but because Mary’s virginity begot it. And therefore the grace of brilliance is magnified in Him, for it was not the care of a skilled worker that made it stainless. Such as no launderer on earth, he says, could make them. Obviously a launderer is unable to do such with Christ’s clothing, for a launderer can produce brightness, cleanness, and purity, but he cannot produce virginity, righteousness, or goodness: the one is a question of skilled work, the other is in the realm of virtue. The holy Evangelist praises these garments of virtue in the Lord Christ, which blessed David also preached in a similar way when he said: myrrh and aloes and cassia from your precious garments (Ps. 45.8). By these odors of holy aromas the garments of virtue are signified.

3. Therefore, brethren, let us who are about to celebrate the Lord’s birthday cleanse our conscience from all filth {4}. Let us array ourselves not in silken vesture but in precious works. For shining garments can cover limbs but they cannot adorn the conscience, and in fact it is all the more shameful to go about with handsome limbs while the senses within are foul. Let us first, therefore, adorn the disposition of the interior person so that the clothing of the exterior person may be adorned as well. Let us wash away spiritual stains so that our fleshly robes might shine on us. It is of no profit to wear shining robes and to be filthy with criminal deeds, for where the conscience is dark the whole body is in shadow. But we have the means of washing away the stains of our conscience, for it is written: Give alms and everything is clean for you (Luke 11.41){5}. Good is the command to give alms, by which we act with our hands and are cleansed in our heart.


The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, trans. by B. Ramsey, New York 1989, p. 150-152.


1 Extravagans. On the feast of Christmas cf. Sermon 60 n. 1. The first sentence of the present sermon, which speaks of “the extreme conclusion of the cycle of days” (dierum extrema conclusio) having already occurred, suggests that this sermon was preached in the few days between the winter solstice and Christmas.

2 Cf. Sermon 62 n. 1.

3 Sins are spoken of as filthy garments for the first time in patristic literature in Justin, Dial. c. Tryph. 116.

4 Cf. Sermon 60.4.

5 On almsgiving as capable of forgiving sin cf. Sermon 22 n. 5.