CHAPTER I FIGURES OF THE CROWN OF THORNS
"Go forth, ye daughters of Sion, and see King Solomon in the diadem with which his mother crowned him." (Cant. 3:11)
St. Bernard contemplates and describes our divine Lord and King, Jesus Christ, wearing at different times four crowns.
The first crown, this holy doctor says, was placed upon the head of our Infant Saviour in the crib of Bethlehem by the loving hands of his Immaculate Virgin Mother. This was the crown of poverty and misery. "Coronavit eum Mater sua in corona paupertatis, in corona miseriae."
The second crown was more painful to him, because it was a Crown of Thorns, thrust and pressed upon his adorable head by the cruel hands of his heartless stepmother, the synagogue. "Coronavit eum noverca sua corona spinea."
The third is a crown of justice which his elect will place upon his glorious brow on the day of universal judgement. "Coronandus afamilia sua corona justitia, quando veniet ad judicium. "
The fourth and most illustrious crown is that which our blessed Lord has received from the hands of his Eternal Father. This is a crown of immense and eternal glory; according to the words of the psalmist: "Thou, O Lord, hast crowned him with glory' and honour." (Ps. 8:6) "Coronat eum Pater corona gloriae." (S. Bernard, Serm. 2, in Epiph. Domini)
We will, like Saint Bernard, contemplate, with the help of God, these four crowns at the proper time. At the holy season of Christmas we will, in company with Our Blessed Lady, consider the crown of poverty and misery of our new-born Saviour in the stable of Bethlehem. But at present we intend to meditate on the painful and ignominious Crown of Thorns which his stepmother, the synagogue, has barbarously pressed upon his sacred head. By so doing, we desire and hope to form for him that crown of justice with which his elect will honour our blessed Lord on the day of universal judgement, and thus deserve to contemplate him, in his crown of glory, which his Eternal Father has already placed upon his glorified human head. "Go forth, then, ye daughters of Sion, and see King Solomon in the diadem wherewith his mother crowned him."
We should reflect here that this invitation is more immediately addressed to the daughters of Sion, that is to say, to the Jewish nation. They are invited to see King Solomon, the wisest, richest and most glorious of their kings. But King Solomon was a figure of the Messias. The Messias could never be seen by the Jewish people crowned with a diadem of gold and precious stones, like Solomon; but they could contemplate him with a Crown of Thorns, which their calumnies and persecutions had prepared for his adorable head. Had they attentively perused the Old Testament, they could have discovered many striking figures of this mysterious Crown of Thorns. For, as every circumstance of the incarnation, birth, life, passion, death and resurrection of the Messias was clearly foretold, or prefigured in the Old Testament, so they could have found some special revelation about this mysterious crowning of thorns. But the carnal Jews could never be induced to think, much less to believe, that the expected Messias, or Great Deliverer, was to be a King, crowned with thorns, and covered with ignominy and contempt. We Christians, however, enlightened by faith, will very easily discover what the Jews have neglected to seek. We will soon have an opportunity of considering and admiring many striking figures of the Crown of Thorns of our dear Lord. Before examining them, we will make about the Word of God some general remarks.
The Word of God, contained in the Holy Scripture, says the angelic doctor, St. Thomas, has the special prerogative, which is exclusively its own incommunicable property, to signify things, and to impart to things signified the power of indicating other objects. (1 P. quest. I, art. 10) In books conceived by human minds, and written by human, hands, words express only some idea, or state a special fact. Hence human words can have only one immediate and historic meaning, which results from the grammatical construction of a definite sentence. But the Word of God, besides this immediate historic signification, which is called the literal sense, has likewise another, very often more important, meaning, which emanates from the things signified, and which is called the spiritual sense.
We learn from this that the historic sense of the Word of God is immediate and proximate, confined to the expression of a certain truth, or to the statement of a particular fact. But the spiritual sense, which is also called the prophetic meaning, is more remote and mediate, relating to some future event. The first, or the literal sense is more easily understood by the generality of readers; but it is also more limited, and often incomplete without the second, or the spiritual and prophetic meaning. This is by far more elevated, and for this reason it is more ample in its capacity, more noble in its object, and more perfect in its end. Both meanings, however, are and must be true; both are real, because both are the intended signification of God's inspired Word, which is essential truth: and hence both are important, and should be studied with care and attention. The first meaning, or the literal sense, is expressed by God according to the circumstances of the occasion, and is used by His divine wisdom as a veil of the future; the second meaning, or the spiritual sense, contains the prophetic mystery, which it unfolds and explains. Hence in perusing the Holy Scripture, St. Augustine says we should constantly keep before our mind these two meanings of the Word of God. If in reading the Bible we confine ourselves to the proximate and immediate sense of the words, and are satisfied with its literal and grammatical signification, which is only the bark and the superficial covering of the stem, we shall never obtain a full and perfect intelligence of the divine oracles, and we shall receive very little or no instruction and edification from this superficial reading of the Bible. But, alas! this is almost exclusively the way in which the Holy Scripture is read by the generality of Christians, and by those especially who consider the Bible the only rule of their religious belief, and of their moral conduct. What edification can we draw, for instance, from the canticle of Solomon, without the knowledge of its sublime spiritual meaning? Let us illustrate this fact by one out of innumerable examples.
We read in Genesis that Abraham had two sons, Ismael and Isaac. Ismael, his first-born, he had by Agar. (Gen. 16) Isaac, the second, was born to him from Sara. (Gen. 21) Now this statement of the fact is literal, immediate, and historical, and most certainly true. It is a fact which we learn from divine revelation, and which every Christian is bound to believe. But, without the knowledge of its more comprehensive and sublime, spiritual and prophetical meaning, very little profit and edification can be obtained by its perusal. The magnificent grandeur of this historic fact appears only when the great doctor of the Gentiles, St. Paul, with his inspired genius, removes the veil from the mystery, and, as the herald of God's truth, proclaims that Agar and Sara are only figures of the Old and New Testaments, of the Jewish synagogue and of the Christian Church. "It is written (the great Apostle says), that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman, and the other by the free woman. ...which things are said by allegory. For these are the two testaments:... therefore, brethren, we are not the children of the bond-woman, which is the synagogue: but of the free (which is the Church), by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free". (Gal. 4:22)
Our present object allows us merely to remark that this most illustrious doctor among the Apostles, and the most enlightened interpreter of the spiritual meaning of the Old Testament, saw figures, not only in the written Word of God, but also in the made Word of God, which is this created universe. In connection with this allegory of Agar and Sara, Ismael and Isaac, the penetrating eye of St. Paul discovers and points out to us, a prophetic meaning intended by the wisdom of the divine Creator in the very geographical configuration of Mount Sinai and Mount Sion, on the latter of which the city of Jerusalem was built. "For Sinai (he says), is a mountain in Arabia, which has affinity with that which now is Jerusalem, and is in bondage with her children; but that Jerusalem which, is above, is free, which is our mother (the Church of the living God)". (Gal. 4:25)
We have more than one motive in dwelling as we have done upon the literal and spiritual meaning of the Word of God. Let us now conclude that the Holy Ghost, in inspiring the sacred writers of the Scripture to state certain facts and give details of the circumstances by which they are surrounded, has, very often, some further and more important object in view than that expressed in the immediate and grammatical sense of the words. Holy Moses, in relating, under the guidance of divine inspiration, the simple and material historical fact of the two sons of Abraham, was moved to give to us a figure and a prophecy of the Jewish synagogue and of the Christian Church.
The principles being now sufficiently explained, let us proceed to the examination of the figures of the Crown of Thorns. In the Old Testament, these prophetic figures are so numerous that we can only mention the principal ones, and make some suitable comments on the more important and more striking among them.We will treat of these in separate chapters.