The interventions of Maximus in the face of this situation bears witness to his commitment to do something about civil degradation and disaggregation. Even though it is difficult to determine the social composition of the people that his Sermons addressed, it appears that his preaching, to overcome the risk of being generic, was addressed specifically to a select nucleus of the Christian community of Turin, comprised of rich landowners who owned land in the countryside and a home in the city. It was a lucid pastoral decision of the bishop, who envisaged this kind of preaching as the most effective path to maintain and reinforce his ties with the people.
To illustrate Maximus’ ministry in Turin from this perspective, I wish to refer to Sermons 17 and 18 as examples. They are dedicated to a theme that is always current, that of wealth and poverty in Christian communities. Sharp tensions ran through the city on account of this topic. Wealth was accumulated and hidden. “One does not think of the needs of others,” the bishop said bitterly in Sermon 17.
“In fact, not only do many Christians not distribute what they have, but they also plunder the possessions of others. Not only do they fail to bring to the feet of the apostles the money they collect, but they even drive away their brethren who seek help from the feet of the priests.” And he concludes: “Many guests and pilgrims come to our city. Do what you promised” in good faith, “so that what was said of Ananias may not be said of you: ‘You have not lied to men, but to God.'” (Sermon 17, 2-3).
In the next Sermon, No. 18, Maximus criticizes the common forms of profiting from the misfortunes of others. “Tell me, Christian,” the bishop asked his faithful, “Tell me: Why have you taken the loot abandoned by the plunderers? Why have you brought to your house a savage and contaminated so-called profit?” “But,” he continued, “perhaps you say you bought it, and in this way think you can avoid being accused of avarice. But this is no way to establish a buyer-seller relationship. Buying is something good, but in times of peace, when one sells freely, and not when one sells what has been looted in plunder. … Therefore, act like Christians and as citizens who buy back things in order to return them” (Sermon 18,3).
Maximus preached of an intimate relationship between the duties of a Christian and those of a citizen. For him, to live a Christian life also meant taking on civic commitments. And on the other hand, the Christian who, “despite the fact that he could live on the fruits of his own labor, takes someone else’s loot with the fierceness of beasts,” or who “ambushes his neighbor, attempting day by day to claw at his neighbor’s fence and take possession of his crops,” isn’t even similar to a fox who beheads chickens, but rather a wolf who preys on pigs” (Sermon 41,4).
Compared to the prudent defensive attitude taken by Ambrose to justify his famous initiative of rescuing prisoners of war, it can clearly be seen the historical changes that have since taken place in the relationship between a bishop and civic institutions. Supported in his time by a law that urged Christians to redeem prisoners of war, Maximus, facing the collapse of the civil authority of the Roman Empire, felt fully authorized to exercise a true and proper power of control over the city.
This power would become broader and more effective to the point of substituting for the absence of magistrates and civic institutions. Maximus not only dedicated himself to reignite in the faithful a traditional love for their native city, but also proclaimed that it was their duty to take on fiscal responsibilities, as serious and unpleasant as they may be (Sermon 26, 2).
In short, the tone and substance of his Sermons assume a mature and growing consciousness of the political responsibility of a bishop in specific historical circumstances. He was the city’s “watchtower.” Are not the watchtowers, Maximus asked in Sermon 92, “the blessed bishops who, being raised, so to speak, on an elevated on a rock of wisdom to defend the people, see from afar the evils that are approaching?”