Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Three sermons on the Anniversary of Saints Peter and Paul.
Sermon 1. On the Anniversary of Saints Peter and Paul.
1. Although all the blessed apostles are recipients of an equal share of grace from the Lord of holiness, nonetheless in some way Peter and Paul seem to stand out from the others and to excel by reason of a certain special virtue of faith in the Savior. Indeed, we are able to prove this by referring to the judgment of the Lord Himself. For to Peter, as to a good steward, He gave the key of the heavenly kingdom, and upon Paul, as one skilled in instruction, He enjoined the teaching office in the school of the Church. Thus those whom the one would educate to salvation the other would receive into peace, and while Paul would enlighten their hearts with the teaching of his words Peter would open to their souls the kingdom of heaven. Hence Paul also received, so to speak, a key from Christ, that of knowledge. For whatever opens up the hard places of hearts to faith, lays bare the secrets of minds, and brings what is kept closed within out into the open by an intelligible presentation ought to be called a key. A key, I say, both opens the conscience to the confession of sin and inserts grace for the eternal saving mystery. Each, then, received a key from the Lord: the one of knowledge, and the other of power. The one dispenses the riches of immortality, the other distributes the treasures of knowledge. For there are in fact treasures of knowledge, as it is written: in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden (Col. 2, 3).
2. Consequently blessed Peter and Paul stand out among all the apostles and excel by a certain special prerogative. But between these two it is uncertain who is to be placed first. For I think that those who have suffered equally are equal in merits, and that those who we see have attained the glory of martyrdom at the same time have pursued a life of like intensity of faith. Let us not imagine that they bore the savagery of one tyrant on one day in one place for no reason. They suffered on one day so that together they would attain to Christ, in one place so that Rome would lack neither, and under one persecutor so that each would endure an equal cruelty. Thus the day was fixed with merit in mind, the place for glory, and the persecutor for virtue.
But where did they suffer martyrdom? In the city of Rome, which holds the leadership and the chief place among the nations, so that where the head of superstition had been, there the head of holiness might rest, and where the princes of the peoples used to live, there the princes of the churches might remain.
From this we are able to grasp how meritorious blessed Peter and Paul are: as the Lord illumined the region of the East with His own suffering, so He deigned to illumine the region of the West – lest it be inferior – by the blood of the apostles who were acting in His place. And although His suffering is sufficient for salvation, nonetheless He has offered us these martyrs’ as an example.
3. On this day, then, the blessed apostles poured out their blood. But let us see why they suffered precisely these things. Note that, among other marvels, by their prayers they cast down the magician Simon from the airy void by a headlong fall. For when this same Simon called himself Christ and claimed that he could ascend like the Son to His Father by flying, and when suddenly in his pride he began to fly by his magic arts, then Peter beseeched the Lord on his knees and conquered the magic flight by his holy prayer. The prayer ascended to the Lord before the flier did, the righteous petition before the wicked presumption. Peter, I say, from his place on the earth obtained what he sought before Simon attained to the heavenly places where he was going. Peter cast him dow n from the airy height as if he were bound, and striking a rock in his onrush he broke his legs. This occurred as a rebuke for what he had done: the one who a little before had tried to fly was suddenly unable to w alk, and he who had assumed wings was deprived of his feet.
Yet lest perhaps it seem marvelous that this magician flew about in the air for a while in the apostle’s presence, Peter accomplished the same thing by his suffering. For God permitted Simon to ascend higher so that his fall would be greater. He wished him to be lifted up on high in the sight of all so that the eyes of all would see him w hen he fell. This, then, is the lifting up of wickedness, that a person should set himself up on high and raise himself upwards. But holy prayer puts dow n all pride and casts down all vanity.
The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, trans. by B. Ramsey, New York 1989, p. 15-16.
Sermon 2. On the Anniversary of the Same.
1. As we observe today the anniversary of blessed Peter and Paul, we ought to enjoy different dishes and celebrate such a festival with great happiness. For, on the feast of men like these, who would not make elaborate preparations so that he might prove his love for the apostles by the amount that he spent? Yet there is no need to spend what is ours for our own refreshment; on his anniversary Saint Peter himself gives us to eat, for there is that vessel of his filled with every kind of good thing, which was brought from heaven to him when he was hungry. Therefore the one who hungers as Peter did is himself refreshed along with Peter. Why should we ready our own meal, then, when we ought to be fed with apostolic food? Why should we seek after this-worldly dishes when we have a heavenly abundance? For Saint Luke says in the Acts of the Aposdes that after prayer at about the sixth hour heaven was opened and a splendid vessel like a linen cloth was brought down to Peter, who was hungry. In it were all the four-footed beasts and crawling creatures of the earth and the birds of heaven, and the Lord said to him: Peter, arise, kill and eat (Acts 10, 13). Look at Peter! Elsewhere he says: Gold and silver I have none (Acts 3, 6), but now he has a banqueting plate more splendid than silver, and he who on account of Christ had resisted the beauty of silver is enriched by Christ with the brightness of silver. Peter, as he is about to dine, has neither the preparations of cooks nor the services of attendants. But, what is better, he does not want for divine ministrations, and, by an advantageous exchange, what the holy man lacks on earth abounds in heaven. For, so that Peter might eat, it is not a storeroom that is carefully unlocked but rather heaven itself that is instantly opened. We read in the sacred Scriptures that Elijah was fed in the desert by ministering ravens. How much better Peter, who was not given a small amount of food by a loathsome bird but was offered a whole banquet by an angelic multitude!
2. After his prayer, then, Peter eats. It is remarkable that hunger overtakes the holy man after praying, since hunger is usually driven away by prayer and the hungry soul is fed exclusively by its supplications. But I am of the opinion that, after having prayed, Peter hungered not for food but for the salvation of humankind, and that he was not oppressed by bodily fasting but afflicted by the lack of believers. For when the faithless and ungrateful Jewish people did not believe him when he was preaching Christ, Peter experienced a certain kind of hunger in his ministry. For one who does not obtain the fruit of his own labor suffers hunger. Therefore he went quickly to the upper room to pray. Well does it say that Peter went to the upper room to pray, since whenever someone who is holy prays, leaving behind lower or earthly affairs, he is raised aloft in his mind, rapt on high in his senses, and drawn near to heaven in holy thought. And there, for the salvation of the Jewish people, a vessel filled with animals of different sorts is offered to that hungry man, that is, to that man who is reflecting in the higher part of his heart, while God, as it were, tells him: “Your hunger is for the Jews only. Behold, I am assuaging the hunger of your faith with the diversity of all nations.” For indeed the different animals collected in a single vessel are a type of the gathering of different nations collected in a single Church. This Church, having neither spot nor wrinkle anywhere on its splendid vessel, shines with the brightness of linen. In it the first animal to be sacrificed to God from the nations is the centurion Cornelius.
3. From this vessel of his, then, Peter feeds us. For when we sec the throngs of the nations hasten to the Christian faith, we rejoice together with the apostles. For those whose anniversary we celebrate today are not dead but reborn. It is clear that they are alive because they have become partakers in Christ, who is life. Although their bodies have been slain in suffering, nonetheless the process of life has not been interrupted. For they still give thanks to God and offer praises to the Savior, and in fact they adhere more closely to Christ inasmuch as their members are no longer bound together, as the apostle Paul says: To be dissolved and to be with Christ is better by far (Phil. 1, 23). Thus that should not be called death which, when it occurs, separates us from our persecutors and joins us to Christ. It is clear that that should not be called death which associates the one who has died with Christ and brings gain to the dying, as the blessed Apostle says: For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1, 21). But that is real death which binds by the death of sinners even the living person who, although he appears to be alive, seems nonetheless already given over to death on account of his crimes. In this respect the Apostle says of that voluptuous widow: While living she has already died (Tim. 5, 6),
The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, trans. by B. Ramsey, New York 1989, p. 17-19.
Sermon 9. On the Anniversary of Saints Peter and Paul.
1. All of you know, brethren, and the whole world knows well indeed that today is the anniversary of the most blessed Peter and Paul. Such devotion can be hidden in no pan of the world inasmuch as the prophet David is speaking of them: Their sound has gone out through the whole earth, and their words to the ends of the world (Rom. 10, 18). The power of Peter’s miracles has gone out through the whole earth, and the words of Paul’s epistles have penetrated to the ends of the world. For who has not heard that the first thing that Peter did was to restore strength to the man sitting at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, who was crippled and had been suffering from a weakness of the feet even from his mother’s womb, apostolic grace thus repairing what nature had been unable to bestow? For when the same cripple asked for a little donation of money and thought that the apostles were about to give him some, Peter said to him: Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you: in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ arise and walk! (Acts 3, 6). Blessed indeed is this largesse which, to be sure, did not bestow silver on the beggar but did bestow health! Blessed is this largesse which did not produce gold from its coffers but did produce medicine! And blessed is that cripple who, seeking an alms of money, received the riches of good health! For what he had been unable to purchase for want of money from the physicians he merited to be given by the apostles. The first wonder of his miracles, then, Peter performed by restoring a crippled man’s feet.
We have frequently said that Peter was called a rock by the Lord. Thus: You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church (Matt. 16, 18). If, then, Peter is the rock upon which the Church is built, rightly does he first heal feet, so that as he maintains the foundations of the Church’s faith he also strengthens the foundations of a person’s limbs. Rightly, I say, does he first heal a Christian’s feet so that he can walk upon the rock of the Church not as one who is fearfiil and weak but as one who is robust and strong.
And where are the words of Paul the apostle not read? Where are they not written down, kept in the heart, and preserved in speech? This Paul was called a vessel of election by the Lord.6 A good vessel, in which the precious precepts of Christ’s commandments are treasured! A good vessel, from whose fulness the substance of life is always poured forth for the peoples, and still it is full!
Rock and vessel – most appropriate names for the aposdes, and necessary instruments for the house of the Savior! For a strong house is built of rock and rendered useful by vessels. A rock provides the peoples with something firm lest they waver, while a vessel shelters Christians lest they be tempted.
2. But there is no one who is not aware of how blessed their departure was from this world. And this is their first blessing, that the two of them arc known to have suffered on one day, so that one day would crown with martyrdom those whom one faith had united in its service. And on account of holiness this suffering, though different in each, nonetheless presupposed equal grace. For Peter, like the Savior, endured the death of the cross, and even in his death he was not separated from a likeness of the Lord’s oblation, so that the one whom he imitated by faith he would also imitate in his suffering. And it is said that when the executioner struck Paul’s neck with his sword a stream of milk rather than blood poured forth, and wondrously at his very slaying the holy apostle stood out as resplendent with baptismal grace rather than covered with gore. For why is it marvelous that the one who nourishes the Church should abound in milk? He himself says to the Corinthians: I gave you milk to drink, not food (1 Cor. 3, 2). This is clearly that promised land which God promised to our fathers when He said: I will give you a land flowing with milk and honey (Exod. 3, 8). For the land of which He is speaking is not the one which, as the waters well up, envelops the mire and mingles it with mud, but that land of Paul and those like Paul which constantly drips with what is pure and sweet. For which of Paul’s epistles is not sweeter than honey and whiter than milk? These epistles are like the breasts of the churches, nourishing the peoples unto salvation.
From the neck of the Apostle, then, milk flowed instead of blood. We read in his own words: For flesh and blood shall not possess the kingdom of God (1 Cor 15, 50). Consequently Paul already possesses the kingdom, for the blood that is said to prevent one from reigning is lacking to him. Until this day, then, Paul has lain in the earth, but already he is transformed into the substance of the heavenly kingdom.
The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, trans. by B. Ramsey, New York 1989, p. 26-28.