THE CROWN OF THORNS - A CROWN OF PAIN
"Platting a Crown of Thorns, they put it upon his head." (Mt. 27:29)1. The bad example of superiors is contagious, and strongly affects the life and conduct of their subjects. The soldiers of the Roman Governor Pilate had during the morning repeatedly heard him giving to Jesus of Nazareth the title of King of the Jews. They presumed that such a high title had by the President been used in irony and mockery. This was the reason, says St. John Chrysostom, why those barbarous men, after having, during the scourging at the pillar, covered our Lord from head to foot with wounds and blood, resolved to make sport of him, by treating him in every possible ' way as a mock king, and by forcing upon him all the ridiculous theatrical insignia and the affected homages of a sham royalty. "Quia Pilatus dixit eum Regem, Schema ei contumeliae apponunt." (Chrysostom Homil. 88). Our Lord had been scourged in the court of the palace. From this place the soldiers of the Governor took him into the hall, and gathered together around him the whole band of the garrison, which served as a body guard to Pilate. Now, for his greater shame and confusion, they rudely strip our Saviour once more. They make him sit down upon a cold stone, as his royal throne; and affect to offer him the flattering homages of obsequious courtiers. "The soldiers of the Governor, (St. Matthew says), taking Jesus into the hall, gathered together unto him the whole band." (Mt. 27:27) Whilst the majority of these heartless men heap outrages and insults upon the incarnate Son of God, another small party, more malignant and cruel, is eagerly engaged in weaving together, in the form of a helmet or cap, a horrible and ignominious crown of Red-Sea bulrushes, the thorns of which are very long, hard and sharp. St. Vincent Ferrer says, that the Crown of Thorns intended for our Lord was made in the shape of a hat covering his whole head. "Domini Corona erat ad modum pilei, ita ut totum togebat caput." (Serm. in Parasc.) Such an instrument of torture could only be formed with long and pliable thorns like Red-Sea rushes. This is also the opinion of St. Augustine and St. Anselm, who mention a revelation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of others. (See above, ch. 15) The famous St. Vincent of Lerins, on the authority of eyewitnesses, states that these Red-Sea thorns are so strong and sharp as to perforate the soles of the shoes of travelers. In fact, some of the thorns of our Savior's crown are to the present day religiously preserved in various Catholic sanctuaries, and the sight of them always produces a shudder of pious horror.
2. The pagan soldiers then, having prepared this horrible crown, proceed to place it on the adorable head of our Lord. Two of the stoutest executioners plant themselves at opposite sides, close to him. They put the thorny cap over his head, and, taking hold of the two extremities of a strong knotted stick, they cross it over the Crown of Thorns, and press this thorny bush down in different directions, right and left, back and in front, with such force and violence as to cause the internal long and sharp thorns to pierce the skin, penetrate the skull, and prick the very brain of our dear Lord. "Spinarumpunctiones cerebrum perforantes." (St. Lawrence Justin, de Triumph. Christ. Agon. cap. 14) Some of the longest thorns tear and torture the most delicate and sensitive tissues of that adorable head, forcing their way out of the occiput, whilst others take an opposite direction, and appear projecting with their bloody points outside the forehead and temples. Some of these terrible thorns penetrate as far as the ears, the eyes, the nose and cheeks of our agonizing Savior.
Blessed Tauler says: "The most handsome countenance of Jesus was disfigured by these thorns and by the streams of blood that flowed upon it." (B. Taulerus, con. 10 de Passione) See how the blood is running from every part of the perforated head and face! The long Nazarean hair of our Lord's head, his sacred countenance and his beard are covered and saturated with his divine blood, which trickles down in large red drops upon his wounded shoulders, and bruised chest. "Divinum Mud caput multiplici spinarum densitate perforatum usque ad cerebri teneritudinem conflxum est." (St. Peter Damian, serm. de Exalt Crucis.)
We learn from the revelations of St. Bridget that the most holy Mother of our Lord was present at his scourging and crowning with thorns. Our Blessed Lady gave the Saint the following description: "The soldiers of the Roman Governor, after having scourged my Son at the pillar, adapted a Crown of Thorns to his adorable head, and, pressed it with such violence that blood was made to gush so copiously from it as to cover his eyes, fill his ears and imbrue all his beard." (Lib. 2 cap. 10)
This torture of the Crown of Thorns made such an impression on the imagination, mind and heart of the afflicted Mother of our Lord, that she revealed it twice to her favorite servant. Here is the second revelation: "A Crown of Thorns, reaching to the middle of his forehead, was most violently pressed upon the adorable head of my Son. Through the numerous wounds caused by those perforating thorns so many streams of blood were flowing in every direction, and in such a quantity, as to soak the hair of his head, fill his ears, cover his face, and saturate his beard. His whole countenance was covered with blood. His eyes were so filled with it that, when he wished to look at any object, my Son was obliged, by compressing the eye-lid, to squeeze the blood out of them." (Lib. 4 chap.7)
3. Reflect now, devout reader, that the head, on account of the brain, is the most sensitive portion of the human body. Who will then be able to imagine, and much less to express, how intensely painful must have been the agony caused to our dear Lord by that horrible Crown of Thorns piercing all at once, like a thorny bush, every part of his adorable head! "Ipsa corona .... Mille puncturis speciosum caput ejus devulnerat." (St. Bernard, de Passione Domini) Consider, moreover, that the brain is most intimately connected with every portion of the human body, and especially with the heart. The head is the seat and center whence radiate all the muscles, nerves, veins and arteries that branch out and pervade every member, limb and organ of our body, diffusing a thrill of joy or pain everywhere, according to the actual condition of the head and affection of the brain. Hence it naturally follows that even a slight pricking of the brain, or wounding of the head, produces intense suffering, causes convulsions, swoons and apoplectic strokes. A severe headache, an intense neuralgic pain, prostrates the strongest man. See whether you can .now conceive what agonizing martyrdom that frightful crown of long and sharp thorns must have produced in every part of the most refined and sensitive body of our divine Savior .... "When the pricking of one single thorn is sufficient to produce in our foot intolerable pain, who can form an idea of the intense agony caused to our Lord by so many thorns perforating all at once his adorable head?" exclaimed St. Vincent Ferrer. "Spinarum punctiones cerebrum perforantes,
Christus debuisset mori tanto dolore transfixus." (S. Laurent. Justin, de Triumphali Christi Agone.)
Reflect, finally, that all these terrible sufferings were directed as to a common center and compressed within his palpitating heart, submerging it into a rushing flood of overwhelming anguish .... Ah! our suffering Lord could indeed cry out, "Save me, O God, for the waters of affliction and sorrow are come in even into my soul." (Ps. 68:2)
The thorns that perforated his head were a figure of those more piercing that penetrated into his heart. For this motive our Lord showed his heart to blessed Margaret Marie Alacoque, surrounded by a Crown of Thorns, and the Church represents it to us in this painful condition. The thorns and the lance have left their impression upon it. The lance, however, is not there; but the thorns remain, to attract our attention, excite our compassion and stimulate our devotion.
Meditate often and deeply, Christian reader, upon this painful mystery. It will give you some faint idea of the harrowing agony endured by your Redeemer on account of that terrible Crown of Thorns. This, however, represents only his physical sufferings.
Catharine de Sandoval, a young Spanish lady of high aspirations, experienced in a very extraordinary manner the powerful attractions of the King of Sorrows crowned with thorns. She was very wealthy, beautiful and highly acomplished. All these qualifications obtained for her the attentions and homages of many of the Spanish nobility anxious to solicit her hand. But she rejected them, with haughty disdain as far beneath her ambition. Catherine had often been heard to protest that she should never consent to marry any person except a king with a royal crown over his head, or at least a prince of royal blood. One of the Spanish grandees, who was very persevering in his suit to the young lady, succeeded to engage in his favor the chamber-maid of Catharine, to whom he promised a handsome reward if she helped him in obtaining his intended object. The servant agreed to use all her influence in his favor with her young mistress. From that day she seized every favorable opportunity for speaking in his praise, and extolling his personal qualities and merits but without any visible effect upon Catharine.
One morning, after having with great care accomplished the toilet of her young mistress, the wily chamber-maid burst into expressions of high admiration of her charming beauty, and began to relate a most agreeable dream of the previous night, wherein she delighted to witness her splendid wedding with that noble and handsome cavalier. At the mention of his name Catharine, with great indignation, strictly forbade her servant ever to speak of him in her presence, and raising up from the chair with an air of great dignity, she said: "How often have I told you that I will never consent to marry any person except a king? Now remember this well, and begone immediately out of my room." After this ebullition of pride and ambition, Catharine began to pace up and down in the room, stopping once or twice before a large mirror in admiration of her handsome and majestic form, saying to herself: "I am made to be a queen. I should marry only a king." With these thoughts in her head, she turned from the mirror, and her look fell upon a silver crucifix standing on the table. The Crown of Thorns first attracted her attention; then she read the inscription over the head of the sacred image, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." A strong interior inspiration was moving her to choose this great King for her only spouse, when she heard in a sensible manner a miraculous voice, saying: "Behold the King who loves thee more than anybody else, and desires to be thy spouse. Take me as I am." At these words Catharine fell in terror prostrate to the floor of the room, when she saw our Savior coming near her, who said: "Fear not, I am He." Consoled by the heavenly sweetness of these words, she rose upon her knees and, shedding abundant tears, she addressed to our Lord the following prayer: "My Lord and my God, Thou knowest how often and how far I have fled from Thee. But now I surrender myself entirely and forever to Thy most holy cross. I accept Thee as my Lord, my King and my Spouse, just because Thou art crowned with thorns. I renounce every thought and affection for the world, and offer my whole heart to Thee, beseeching Thee never to permit it to escape from Thy hands." Hereupon our Lord extended his right arm to embrace his new bride, saying: "I stretch forth my omnipotent arm to communicate to thee the strength necessary for the accomplishment of my divine will, and for keeping the promises thou hast made to me. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give . thee the crown of life."
From that moment Catharine was completely dead to the world, and lived only for her divine Spouse crowned with thorns, as the King of Sorrows. After having for some years edified her household and the whole city by her profound humility, self denial and detachment from creatures, she offered herself to St. Teresa as one of her first companions in the reformation
of the Carmelite nuns. She requested to be called in religion "Catharine of Jesus," in order that, whenever she heard her name, she might remember the promises she had made to our Lord, and thus remain faithful to him. (Boscape cant. 3, and instruzioni in forma di catechismo di Padre Maria Ferreri, S. J., art. 4 Credo.) Having so far considered the physical sufferings caused to our Lord by the Crown of Thorns, we will now proceed to reflect on the deep humiliations and internal anguish endured by the great Son of God on that memorable occasion.