The Mysteries of the Crown of Thorns
“In that day the Lord of hosts shall be a crown of glory and a garland of joy to the residue of His people.” (Is. 28:5)
In two different ways, namely, in a merely human, or in a truly Christian point of view, can we consider the sufferings and humiliations of Jesus, our Lord. If we look at them, with a merely human eye like the carnal Jews, and the proud Pagans, we shall like them, incur the danger of being scandalized at their apparent foolishness. The excess of the sufferings of our dear Redeemer, the depth of His humiliations, His apparent complete helplessness, have often been a stumbling block of scandal to proud men. Hence St. Paul could say: “We preached Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness.” (1 Cor. 1:23) If, however, with the enlightened eye of Christian faith we try to penetrate into the deep mysteries of our Savior’s Passion, we shall discover the wonders of God’s power, and the merciful designs of His Divine wisdom. “To them that are called, that is, to sincere and reflecting Christians, Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:24) In the light of Christian faith we will therefore consider the mysteries of the Crown of Thorns. In the present chapter we shall have an opportunity of admiring the designs of the wisdom and mercy of our Divine Lord. We shall soon be able to discover important meanings, and learn practical lessons from the thorns, reed, and mockeries used by His cruel and malicious enemies against our Savior.
THE CROWN OF THORNS
The thorns, with which the adorable head of our Lord was crowned, were not planted upon earth by the paternal hand of God, but they were maliciously sowed by a treacherous enemy. From the Gospel we learn that this enemy was the Devil, and the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve was the noxious seed. The curse of God made them grow long and sharp. These thorns and thistles were more intended to prick the sinner’s conscience than the callous hand of the industrious laborer. This is the wise reflection of St. John Chrysostom: “when God said to our fallen parents: Cursed is the earth in thy work; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.” He intended to signify: thy conscience O sinner, shall never cease producing thorns and stings which will prick thy guilty soul. (St. John Chrys. in Mark 10:19) The thorns of this accursed earth are therefore the figures of our sins. They are the brand of God’s malediction impressed on the forehead of sinners. Even the learned Protestant Grotius discovered this truth and said: “The curse of sin was the origin of thorns.” “Maledictio in spinis Coepit.” (Grot. comm. in Mark 15:17)
Now our Lord Jesus Christ, being the second Person of the most adorable Trinity, essential holiness in human flesh, Verbum Caro factum and the most cherished object of the eternal predilection of His heavenly Father, could never be defiled by the least shadow of sin and consequently He never could be subject to the malediction of God. In His infinite mercy He could however consent to experience the temporary effects of both. Jesus could assume and wear for our sake the infamous badge of sin. He could in mercy for us taste and drink the loathsome bitterness of the cup filled up to the brim with the gall and vinegar of God’s malediction.
Our Divine Redeemer did in fact consent to wear during His whole mortal life, the sinner’s garb and He daily drank in large doses the disgusting potion squeezed from the corrupted hearts of sinful men as from sour grapes by the weight of God’s anathema. But because the large and deep vessel containing the poison of sin was not exhausted, being daily and hourly replenished by new crimes; so our dear Lord was obliged to make a most painful effort in order to drain it all at once and completely during His bitter Passion. This heroic act was accomplished in the garden of Gethsemani wherein He was so copiously drenched with the large chalice of sin that He was cast into a deadly swoon and His life’s Blood was forced out from every pore of His agonizing Body.
Now we should attentively observe that the same plan was followed by our merciful Redeemer in wearing the filthy badge of sin. Having once assumed it in His incarnation with our human nature, He had to wear it continually during His whole mortal life. At the time, however, of His Passion our Lord had to be publicly and solemnly installed as the King of Sinners and Sorrows. Oh! the grand and sublime mystery of the Crown of Thorns.
It was then in the city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, it was in the hall of Pilate, the Roman Governor, that our Divine Lord chose to be crowned with thorns and to assume the full uniform of sinner and the infamous wreath of sin. It was on this memorable occasion that the great and eternal Son of God the Incarnate Word was installed as the King of Sinners and consequently as the man deepest in infamy and greatest in sorrow: “Despised and the most abject of men! …” Our sins are Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. “Corona ex spinis peccata sunt… (Theopil. in Matt. 27) Thorns being the offshoot and the stigma of God’s malediction against sin, hence, by consenting to be crowned with thorns, our merciful Lord voluntarily became the responsible head and the willing victim of God’s anathema directed and intended for sinners only. It is thus according to St. Paul that “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” (Gal. 3:13) Hence, by wearing the Crown of Thorns, our most holy Redeemer received upon His adorable head the curse pronounced by the irritated justice of God against our sinful race, and through this act of mercy He shielded us from its terrible blow. “In corona spinea maledictum solvit antiquum,” says Origen.
Our merciful Savior effected still more in our behalf. Thorns and thistles, as we have remarked, are the principal offshoot of God’s curse against sin. Now by consenting to take these sharp thorns upon His adorable head, He removed this malediction and changed it into a blessing for mankind. In this way our Lord Jesus Christ diminished the quantity and the intensity of our temporal sufferings; and through His blessing, grace and example, He rendered all our labors and toils meritorous of eternal reward. Children of sinful parents, conceived and born in sin, we have indeed much to suffer yet; but had not our blessed Lord come to our relief our temporal sufferings should have been by far more numerous in quantity and more intense in quality as daily experience testifies among Infidel and Pagan nations. Moreover we should have been condemned to pass from temporal to eternal misery. Through His merciful Crown of Thorns our Savior has removed from mankind the brand of everlasting infamy and has secured for His faithful servants the diadem of heavenly glory. “In that day, the prophet Isaias says, the Lord of Hosts shall be a crown of glory, and a garland of joy to the residue of His people.” (Is. 28:5) Hence St. Jerome could with reason say that: Through the merit of the thorny crown of Jesus’ head we have acquired a right to the diadem of the heavenly kingdom. “Corona spinea capitis ejus diadema regni adepti sumus.” (In Marc. 15)
In all our sufferings then let us look up to the King of Sorrows crowned with thorns. This should be done more especially when by irksome neuralgia, and severe headaches, we are invited to bear a share of the thorny crown of our Divine Master. St. Bernard justly remarks that: “Christians should be ashamed to be too delicate members of a Divine head crowned with thorns.” We should however acknowledge that persons afflicted with these sufferings deserve more charitable compassion than they do generally receive. These afflictions being internal and invisible do not excite to commiseration those especially who had never experienced their painful and saddening effects. We should also reflect that headaches are often caused by an overflow of blood to the head which produces a flush on the face and this is mistaken by many superficial observers for a sign of vigorous health. Hence compliments are offered which to the ears of the sufferer sound like irony. Moreover these painful attacks of the head are naturally the cause of mistakes and of awkward failures, which bring upon their victim ridicule and undeserved humiliations. The best and perhaps the only comfort and consolation on these mortifying occasions, will be a devout glance at Jesus crowned with thorns and mocked in the hall of Pilate. He is fully aware of our sufferings and trials. He suffered more than we do both in physical pain and in humiliations. Our Lord can compassionate our misery and will abundantly reward our humility, meekness and patience.
In the lives of the Fathers of the Desert, we read that St. Pacomius towards the end of his life, while suffering intense pain in his head and oppressed with interior anguish of mind, had recourse to prayer to obtain some relief and consolation from God. On this occasion our Lord appeared to him accompanied by many holy Angels and wearing a Crown of Thorns but at the same time shining with dazzling glory. Surprised at the heavenly vision the suffering servant of God prostrated himself with his face to the ground when one of the Angels very affectionately raised him up and informed him that Jesus Christ had come to console him in his affliction. Our Lord then spoke to Pacomius words of heavenly comfort encouraging him to bear his trials and sufferings with resignation, assuring him that they were intended for the purification of his soul, and for a great increase of merit which was soon to be crowned with corresponding glory and bliss for all eternity in Heaven.
THE SCARLET CLOAK
“They put a scarlet cloak about him.” (Mt. 27:28)
We will now proceed to examine for a short time the meaning of the scarlet cloak which the malicious enemies of our Lord, Jesus Christ threw in derision over His bruised and bleeding shoulders.
In order to understand the mysterious significance of this extraordinary event, we should reflect that our first parents in the terrestial paradise had no need of any material dress so long as they were clad and adorned with the beautiful robe of original grace and innocence. The same should have been the happy condition of their posterity, had they persevered in their state of holiness. Innocent childhood alone partially enjoys this privilege now, and this only for a very short space of time. But the prevarication of Adam and Eve caused the rebellion of the flesh against the spirit and produced a general feeling of shame. All this combined with their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and their perpetual exile to this cold region of the earth, imposed upon mankind the necessity of external dress. Dress then should be considered both the badge and the punishment of sinners. Here we may begin to understand the profound meaning of the scarlet cloak thrown over the shoulders of our Divine Savior. Being essential holiness He could not assume the guilt, nor, strictly speaking feel the remorse of sin. But in His infinite mercy He could assume its appearance, and experience its temporal effects. Hence our Lord was first stripped of that sacred garment which He had received from the immaculate hands of His most holy Mother. Thus He was in appearance deprived of the essential attribute of His inseparable holiness. Then a soiled and worn out red cloak of a Pagan soldier was temporarily cast over His sacred shoulders. This cruel and humiliating insult was permitted by Divine Wisdom to enable us to understand that our merciful Savior wished, through this action, to signify that He consented to assume the filthy dress of sin, deeply dyed in the blood and crimes of mankind during the long period of four thousand years. This is the admirable expression of the great Origen who said: “Suscipiens Dominus clamydem coccineam in se, sanguinem mundi, idest peccata suscepit.” (Homil. 35 in Matt. 27:29)
In assuming and wearing before Heaven and earth the degrading livery of sin, our dear Lord had also to bear the burning shame and confusion due to all sinners. He had moreover to endure a special mortification, and to feel a deep blush at the conduct of those worldly persons that boldly carry vice in triumph in the extravagance of public luxury in dress, in the ridiculous whims of modern fashions, and in the scandalous immodesty of unblushing vanity. Oh! If Christian men, and more especially if Christian women were able to reflect occasionally on the deep shame and confusion their criminal vanity and extravagance in dress caused our suffering Savior: they should remember that at the Baptismal font they were solemnly pledged to renounce worldly pomps and empty vanities and bound to appear in public, as St. Paul directs, “in decent apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, and not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.” (1 Tim. 2:9) But alas! That modishness has affected the brain, and corrupted the heart of modern society, which disdains to listen to the voice of truth …
Some courage and firmness of determination is certainly necessary to withstand the frothy, sweeping current of modern fashion, which carries away headlong so many thoughtless victims to the abyss of temporal ruin and eternal misery. But let more serious Christians reflect that our Lord Jesus Christ, by the shame and ignominy which He underwent in Pilate’s hall, has sanctified modesty and has acquired for Christian society the necessary grace and strength for resisting the seductions of worldly vanity. By bearing the humiliation and the blushing shame of the old scarlet cloak, our blessed Savior has hallowed evangelical poverty, simplicity, humility and modesty in dress. This is one of the principal reasons why the poor, humble and modest habit of religious persons is generally honored and respected not only among real Christians but also by Pagans and by savages as daily experience teaches. Let us conclude with the opportune words addressed by the Prince of the Apostles to all Christian women. “Considering your chaste conversation with fear: whose adorning let it not be in the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel; but in the hidden man of the heart,. in the incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God.” (1 Pet. 3:2)
The Fathers of the Church in their enlightened zeal frequently inculcated these salutary lessons with such warmth of eloquent power, that made a deep and lasting impression on the minds of their Christian auditors. The effects of their sermons were evident on the modesty of Christian society. All our female Saints and great servants of God, have been remarkable for their strict modesty and evangelical simplicity in dress. The bright example of the holy Empress, St. Pulcheria, the daughter, sister and wife of an emperor, that of St. Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, of St. Bridget, Duchess of Sweden, of St. Frances of Rome, in short of all Christian female Saints should convince us that modesty in dress is the most valuable ornament of a Christian lady. “Favor is deceitful,” the Holy Ghost says, “and beauty is vain: The woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her works praise her in the gates.” (Prov. 31:30)
May all men of the present frivolous age understand and appreciate the worth and beauty of Christian modesty. It will adorn them in life, it will comfort them in death, and finally it will clothe them with a mantle of glory during an ever blessed eternity, “when the Lord will reform the body of our lowliness, and make it like the body of His glory, ” as St. Paul teaches. (Philip. 3:21)
THE REED IN THE HAND OF JESUS
“They put a reed in his right hand.” (Mt. 27:29)
As the scarlet cloak was the figure of our sinfulness, as the thorns were the sign of our barrenness and sterility; so the reed is a striking emblem of human frailty, emptiness and inconstancy. A reed is an empty, hollow, frail, light and inconstant plant. It has no solidity. It is moved about in every direction by the least breath of wind. This despicable plant was never more honored than when it was in derision put in the Divine hand of our Lord.
What an admirable figure is this of our fallen human nature! What can be more hollow and empty than the reed of a poor sinful man? Sin strips him of every supernatural grace, virtue and merit. Like the merchant of Jericho, he is robbed of all his wealth and he is left prostrate upon the ground wounded and bleeding to death. Like the eminent man of the Apocalypse who in his greedy and ridiculous vanity flatters himself that he is rich, wealthy and wants nothing, sin has made him “wretched and miserable, poor, blind and naked.” (Apoc. 3:17)
Then what is more weak and frail than a sinner? Stripped of the supernatural strength of grace, left to his own innate weakness, urged by temptation, impelled by his own evil passions, he totters and falls at every step. Like a frail reed he bends to every whim of fancy and to the slightest whisper of seduction. Such is the reed of fallen human nature left to itself.
But since our Blessed Lord took this reed in His hand it has been completely changed; its hollowness has been filled with the solidity of His grace and love. In the hand of our Savior we become firmer and stronger than the cedars of Lebanon. Through faith and confidence in Him we can resist the most violent temptations of Hell and the fiercest storms of human persecutions. By assuming our frail nature the Son of God has endowed us with the power and strength of His Divine Omnipotence, and we like St. Paul “can do everything in the power of Him Who strengtheneth.” (Phil. 4: 13) St. Ambrose says: “Our Lord has taken the reed of our humanity in His hand in order to hinder the frailty of our fallen nature from being tossed by every wind of false doctrine and to render it firm and steady by the truth of faith and solid by the fullness of virtuous works.” (S. Ambrose. com. in. S. Matt. chap. 27) So long then as we remain in the hand of Jesus we are invincible. He changes us from frail and empty reeds into golden scepters of His power. With these scepters, if we remain faithful, He will make us kings of his heavenly kingdom as Origen says: “Pro calamo illo priori, dedit nobis sceptrum Regni caelestis.” (Orig. Homil. 35 in Matt.)
JESUS IS MOCKED AND OUTRAGED
The insults and mockeries of the Crown of Thorns remain to be
considered. St. Matthew says: “And bowing the knee before Him, they mocked Him saying: Hail King of the Jews. And spitting upon Him, they took the reed and struck His head.” (Mt. 27:30). From these words we learn that our Divine Lord received on this memorable occasion four different marks of contempt.
First. These impious men bowed the knee in derision before Him.
Second. They saluted Him in mockery, King of the Jews.
Third. They struck His thorn-crowned head with a reed.
Fourth. They spat upon His face.
These are the four kinds of insults that the majesty of God daily receives from men and which our suffering Savior on this occasion undertook to expiate.
1. The first insult is offered to God by Pagans in their idolatrous worship, when they bow their knees to abominable idols. Reason alone is capable of seeing, and able to demonstrate that there can be but one God, self-existent, eternal in duration, infinite in His perfections, immense in His nature, Creator of the world, supreme Lord and absolute master of all creatures. For this one and only God, Pagans have substituted an endless variety of dumb and material idols which they have shaped with their own hands according to the suggestion of their whims and fancies. Before them they bow their knee, these they worship, to them they offer incense and immolate their victims. It is evident that by so doing, Pagans discard the true living God, and they insult His Divine majesty by every act of their idolatrous worship. It is no less evident that some condign expiation is demanded by the offended majesty of God. A Divine victim only can duly expiate outrages offered directly to God, in His highest attribute of supreme Lord of Creation. Behold then what our most holy Savior is doing now in Pilate’s hall. Reflect that Pilate is a Pagan, his soldiers are Pagans, like himself. This hall is turned by these men into a temporary temple. The hard and cold stone, upon which our Lord is seated, serves as His altar. Victims of sacrifice are by Pagan hands garlanded with roses about their heads. Jesus is, by them crowned with thorns. They bow down their knee before Him in mock worship. That this act was intended by the Pagan soldiers as derisive and ironical worship towards our Lord, we learn from St. Mark who expressly says: “that bowing their knees, they worshipped Him. ” (Mk. 15:19)
Jesus being the Person of the Incarnate Word of God by Whom all things were made, truly deserves Divine worship. But by receiving impious mockeries and sacrilegious insults, instead of adoration, He fully expiates before His eternal Father for all the impieties of Paganism, abolishes more effectively Pagan idolatry, and through His profound humiliations, merits for all idolaters the light of faith and the grace of conversion to Christianity.
2. The second insult offered to our Savior was to salute Him in derision King of the Jews.
Jesus was by every right and title the true King of the Jews. He was their supreme Lord in His Divine nature. He was their King by Divine appointment because God bestowed the kingdom of Judea on the descendants of David, and our Lord in His human nature belongs to the family of David. Moreover the Angel said to Mary His Mother: “The Lord, God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father, and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” (Lk. 1:32) But the Jews have repudiated Him. They have just protested before the Roman Governor, that they have no king but Caesar. (Jn. 19:15) Our blessed Lord heard these words. Now the Pagan soldiers to humble and degrade Him more, and to gratify the Jews who witnessed these outrages with immense satisfaction, ridicule and mock Him by ironically saluting Him, King of the Jews. By rejecting Jesus as their King, the Jews reject Him as their Messias. Because in His person these two titles are inseparable. By rejecting the Son they reject the Father, because the Son and the Father are one. (Jn. 10:30) The Jews have arrived at this depth of impiety by performing their religious acts of worship in the temple, in their synagogues and on every other occasion without any spirit of devotion but by mere routine in a mechanical and material way. As St. Paul says they stuck to the letter, which killeth, and abandoned the true spirit of religious worship which alone can give life to the individual soul and to the entire nation. In bearing these humiliations and insults, our blessed Lord expiates the irreverences of the Jews in their acts of religion towards God, and for their rejection of Him as their Messias and King. It is through these sufferings and deep humiliations that He confirms to the Jewish nation the privileged honor of the Apostolate; for all the Apostles were selected exclusively from them. He merits and obtains for many thousands of them the grace of conversion to Christianity as the first fruit of His Passion; and towards the end of the world he will see prostrate at His feet like the penitent Magdalene the entire Jewish nation worshiping Him, in spirit and in truth, in deep sorrow and sincere repentance as their true Messias and only King.
3. The third outrage offered to our Lord was the striking of His thorn-crowned head with a reed. This represents the malice of heretical Christians.
Heresy is essentially an individual choice in belief. Heresy necessarily rebels at least indirectly against the authority of the Church. Obedience and heresy is a contradiction in terms. No heretic as such has ever been found in practice docile to the decisions of the Church of God. The authority of the Church has by Jesus Christ been concentrated in the person of Peter when He said to him: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church. (Mt. 16:18) Feed My lambs, feed My sheep. (Jn. 21) Heresy changes lambs into rams that butt against the Shepherd. All heretics rebel against the Pope and make war against his authority. Hence they strike Jesus on the head. And as we have learned from St. Paul, the head of Christ is God; so our suffering Lord had also to atone for this insult and merit for many deluded heretics the grace of their return to Catholic faith and unity.
4. The last and most shocking insult offered to our Savior crowned with thorns was that of spitting upon His sacred countenance. St. Gregory remarks that we know a person by his face. This vulgar insult comes then from those who know our Lord. These then are bad Catholics. They spit upon His face by their bad example by which they scandalize their fellow-Christians, they dishonor their religion and make the enemies of God blaspheme His holy name. This terrible insult is in a special manner offered to our Lord by those hypocritical Catholics who practice some external acts of religion through human motives, self-interest and vain-glory. But above all, those truly spit upon our Lord who receive Him, like Judas, sacrilegiously in Holy Communion with mortal sin in their souls. As our most merciful Lord suffered and prayed on the Cross for His executioners, so in the hall of Pilate He prays and atones for these unworthy members of His Church. These are the principal mysteries of the Crown of Thorns. They are mysteries of the wisdom and power of God. We have so far considered the wonders of our Savior’s wisdom and mercy in the mystery of His crowning with thorns. In the next chapter we will admire the triumph of His Divine power.
TAKEN FROM The Mystery of the Crown of Thorns by a Passionist Father 1879
Published by Preserving Christian Publications, Inc.