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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

Augustine of Hippo preaches a sermon on the feast of *Marianus and Iacobus (martyrs of Numidia, S01132). He compares the mother of Marianus to *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) and encourages his audience to imitate the martyrs. Sermon 284, delivered in Latin, probably in Carthage (North Africa), possibly in either 397 or 418.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies

Major author/Major anonymous work

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 284

[In natali Martyrum Mariani et Iacobi

'On the feast of Marianus and Iacobus']

1. Hodierno die reddendi nostri debiti, propitio deo, tempus illuxit. Cum ergo deuoti sint debitores, quare tumultuantur exactores? Si omnium mentes quietas habeamus, ad omnes potest peruenire quod reddimus. De passione et gloria sanctorum martyrum sermo debetur. Quoniam ergo illi gloriosissime passi sunt, patientiam nobis indicunt.

'Today the time has come, by the grace of God, for me to pay the debt. So since the debtors are committed to payment, why are the debit collectors making such a noise? If we have everyone quiet and calm of mind, then what I am paying back can reach everyone? What is owing to you is a sermon on the passion and the glory of the holy martyrs. So, as they suffered so gloriously, they are enjoying patience upon us.'

Augustine reminds that some relatives of diverse martyrs-to-be tried to discourage them from martyrdom.

Non ex illis erat Mariani mater, non ex illis male suadentibus, carnaliter blandientibus, amando decipientibus: non erat ex illis sancti Mariani mater. Nomen non inane portabat, non frustra Maria uocabatur. Mulier quidem illa, non uirgo, non intacta de spiritu sancto, sed tamen pudica de marito, tale pignus pepererat, quod ad gloriosissimam passionem suis potius exhortationibus deducebat, quam inde suis malis blanditiis reuocabat. O sancta et tu Maria, impar quidem merito, sed par uoto. Felix et tu. Peperit illa martyrum principem, peperisti tu principis martyrem: peperit illa testium iudicem, peperisti tu iudicis testem. Felix partus, felicior affectus.

'Not of their sort, however, was the mother of Marianus, not of their sort with their misguided attempts to persuade, their pleading of close kinship in the flesh, their misplaced way of loving; not of their sort was saint Marianus' mother. She bore a by no means significant name, it was not for nothing she was called Mary. It's true, she had given birth as a woman, not as a virgin, not by the Holy Spirit as a maiden, but still by her husband as a chaste wife; but she had given birth to such a marvelous pledge of love, whom she accompanied with her encouragement to his glorious passion, instead of trying to deflect him from it with her misjudged pleas. Yes, you too, Mary, are holy (
sancta), not your namesake's equal of course in merit, but her equal in desire. Blessed are you also. She have birth to the Prince of martyrs, you gave birth to a martyr of the Prince. She bore the Judge of witness, you bore a witness of the Judge. a blessed childbirth, an even more blessed mother love.'

In the following Augustine tells about the martyrs and martyrdom in general, but does not refer to Marianus and Iacobus until the final phrase of the sermon, which runs as follows:

6. ... Ex gratia Domini imitare conseruum, imitare Stephanum, imitare Marianum et Iacobum. Homines erant, conserui erant; sicut tu nati, sed ab illo qui non sic natus est, coronati.

'... By the grace of the Lord, then, imitate your fellow servants, imitate Stephen, imitate Marianus and Iacobus. They were only human, they were fellow servants of yours; born just like you, but crowned by the one who was not born in that way.'

Text: Patrologia Latina 38, 1288-1293. Translation: Hill 1994, 87-93. Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.

Liturgical Activities

Service for the saint


Saint’s feast

Non Liturgical Activity

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


Augustine of Hippo was born in 354 in the north African city of Thagaste. He received an education in rhetoric at Carthage, and after a period teaching there moved to Rome, and then in 384 to a public professorship of rhetoric in Milan. In these early years of adulthood Augustine was a Manichaean, but then got disillusioned with this religion, and in Milan in 386, largely under the influence of Ambrose, bishop of the city, he converted to Christianity, and was baptised by Ambrose in 387. Returning to Africa in 388, he was ordained a priest in 391 at Hippo Regius (in the province of Numidia), and rapidly acquired a reputation as a preacher. In 395 he became bishop of Hippo, which he remained until his death in 430. Details of his early life were recorded by Augustine himself in his Confessions, and shortly after his death a pupil and long-time friend, Possidius, wrote his Life, focused on Augustine as an effective Christian writer, polemicist and bishop (E00073).

Amongst his many writings, the most informative on the cult of saints are his numerous
Sermons, the City of God, and a treatise On the Care of the Dead. The Sermons tell us which saints (primarily African, but with some from abroad) received attention in Hippo, Carthage and elsewhere, and provide occasional details of miracles and cult practices. The City of God records the distribution, and subsequent miracles, of the relics of saint Stephen, after they arrived in Africa from Palestine in around 420. On the Care of the Dead, discusses the possible advantages of burial ad sanctos (in other words, close to a saint), and theorises on the link between the saints who dwell in heaven and their corporeal remains buried in their graves. In these works, and others, Augustine reveals his own particular beliefs about the saints, their relics and their miracles.

This sermon is tentatively dated either to 397 or 418 on the basis of intertextual references and its place in the collection of Augustine's sermons. If the former date is correct the debt which Augustine mentions refers to his
Sermon 256 (E01193). If either of these dates is true the sermon was preached in Carthage, where Augustine attended a synod.


Migne, J.P., Patrologia Latina 38 (Paris, 1865).

Hill, E.,
The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, vol. III 9. Sermons 306-340A for the Saints (New York: New City Press, 1994).

Kunzelmann, A., "Die Chronologie der sermones des hl. Augustinus," Miscellanea Agostiniana, vol. 2 (Rome: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1931), 417-452.

Record Created By

Robert Wiśniewski

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00030Stephen, the First MartyrStephanusCertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S01132Marianus and Iacobus, clerics and martyrs in NumidiaMarianus, IacobusCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Robert Wiśniewski, Cult of Saints, E02294 -