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

Sermon 64: On Epiphany{1}.

1. There are very many who, on this holy day of Epiphany, commemorate the marvelous deeds enacted by the Lord at the time when, upon having been importuned at a wedding feast, He changed the substance of water into the appearance of wine and, by His blessing, turned spring water to a better use{2}. The servants who had drawn water from the wells discovered wine in the jugs and, by a profitable loss, what they had filled them with disappeared and they found what had not been there. With this marvelous sign the power of His divinity was made manifest for the first time.

Some, however, refer on this holy day to His having been baptized by John in the Jordan{3}. In the grace of His washing, God the Father was present in voice, and the Holy Spirit came down. Nor is it remarkable if the mystery of the Trinity was not absent at the Lord’s washing, since the sacrament of the Trinity{4} makes our washing complete. For the Lord had to demonstrate first in Himself what He would afterwards demand of the human race, since He accomplished everything not for His own sake but for our salvation. Or did He wish to be baptized on his own account even when He had no sin? As the prophet says: He did no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth (Isa. 53. 9). But [He was baptized]{5} for our sake – we who, subject to punishment because of our many crimes and sins, needed to be cleansed in Christ’s baptism. And therefore the Lord came to the washing not so that He Himself might be purified by the waters but so that the streams of waters might purify us, for He went down into the waters, thereby destroying the sins of all believers. But it was necessary that He who bore the sins of all should destroy the sins of all, as the Evangelist says: This is the lamb of God, this is the one who takes away the sins of the world (John 1.29). In a wonderful way, then, one man goes down into the waters and the salvation of all is restored.

2. God the Father is present, then, when the Lord is baptized, and the Holy Spirit is present. See the kindness of the Savior because of which, in His suffering, He submitted Himself all alone to outrages: alone in His washing He did not seek grace, alone He does not wish to partake of glory. He is present, therefore, as I have said; the Father is present and also the Holy Spirit. And inasmuch as God cannot be seen, the Spirit descended as a dove and the Father as a voice. And this manifestation of the Savior was only necessary to build up the faith of human beings, for our faith depends on nothing but hearing and seeing; consequently the Spirit submits Himself to our eyes as a dove and the Father gives Himself over to our ears in a voice.

Now it would not have been necessary for these things to happen except for the sake of our belief; the Father and the Spirit, as God unseen, could have come down upon the Word, the Son, by an unseen descent. For the sake of our faith, then, when heaven was opened, the Spirit came down to Christ, the Father to the Son, a voice to the Word. For Christ is the Word, of whom it is written: In the beginning was the Word (John 1.1). Rightly, I say, is the Father called a voice and the Son the Word, because a word comes only from a voice. Voice and Word belong together, then, and in mysterious conjunction they provide for human salvation.

But let us see why the Holy Spirit came upon Christ in the form of a dove. Is there some similarity between the dove and the Lord, as there is between the voice and the Word? Clearly there is no small similarity, for I would also call the Lord Himself a dove, since He is quick, gentle, and simple. He is a dove because He commands His holy ones to be as doves when He says: Be simple as doves (Matt. 10. 16). But the prophet speaks of what Christ the dove is when, in His person, he describes His return to heaven after His suffering: Who will give me wings like a dove, and I shallfly away and be at rest? (Ps. 55. 6). When Christ the Lord, therefore, initiated the sacraments of the Church a dove came down from heaven. I understand the mystery and I recognize the sacrament. For the very dove that once hastened to Noah’s ark in the flood{6} now comes to Christ’s Church in baptism. Then it announced safety to the one with an olive branch, now it bestows eternity on the other with a token of divinity; then it bore a sign of peace in its mouth, now it pours out peace itself – Christ, in His own substance.

3. In the Jordan, then, the Lord is baptized. The Scripture recounts that many marvelous deeds were frequently done in this river. It says, among other things: And the Jordan turned back (Ps. 114.3). But I think that what happened when the Lord Jesus Christ was there was more marvelous. For in the past the waters turned back, but now sins are turned back; and just as the surging river left its bed then, so also now the surge of sins withdraws from a person in error. I think that this already happened in the time of the prophet Elijah. For just as Elijah made a division of waters in the Jordan, (Cf. 2 Kings 2.8) so also Christ the Lord worked a separation of sins in the same Jordan: the one commanded the waters to stand still, the other sins. And just as under Elijah the waters sought the primordial sources from which they had come, so also under Christ the Lord human beings have turned back to their beginning, from which they had sprung in infancy.


The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, trans. by B. Ramsey, New York 1989, p. 157-159.


1 The whole sermon recalls Ambrose, Exp. evang. sec. Luc. 2.83 and 92-94. On the feast of Epiphany cf. Sermon 13A n. 1.

2 Cf. John 2.1-11.

3 Cf. Matt. 3.13-17.

4 On the term “sacrament” here and later cf. Sermons 3 n. 3 and 13A n. 3.

5 Words supplied by the translator.

6 Cf. Gen. 8.11