CAUSES OF THE CROWN OF THORNS
"Transgressors shall all of them be plucked up as thorns, and they shall be set on fire." (2 Kings 23:5)
1. These are words of inspiration, and refer to the thorny crown of our blessed Lord. They were uttered by holy David in his old age, and are a portion of the last words which this holy king, and prophet pronounced under a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost. David the son of lsai said: The man to whom it was appointed concerning the Christ of the God of Jacob ... The spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me and his words by my tongue. The God of Israel said to me ...Trangressors shall all of them be plucked up as thorns." These words of inspiration evidently refer to the Crown of Thorns of our divine Savior and indicate the causes, which induced him to wear upon his adorable head, this terrible crown of pain and ignominy. This will form the subject matter of this present chapter.
2. Thorns seem to be the natural fuel for fire. Hence the Royal Prophet in this place says: Transgressors shall all of them be plucked up as thorns, which are not taken away with hands ...but they shall be set on fire. As we have already observed, thorns are the effect of sin, and the most striking figure of sinners. Hence, St. Augustine says: "What do thorns signify but the condition of sinners who, like hedgehogs, are all over bristling with the thorns of sin," spinae quid significant, nisi peccatores, qui quasi ericiis spinae peccatorum cooperti sunt. (In Ps. 10) St. Basil says, that whenever he beheld a beautiful and sweet smelling rose, his heart was more deeply pained than his senses were gratified. He reflected that the rose, queen of flowers, is surrounded with sharp and crooked thorns, that bitterly reproached him for his sins, on account of which this earth has been condemned by the irritated justice of God to produce thorns and thistles. (St. Basil in Exame.) Hence, according to the opinion of this holy doctor of the Church, the rose would have been free from thorns, if sin had never been committed by men. St. John Chrysostom affirms, that God did not originally create thorns upon earth, but, that He only permitted their growth in consequence of sin and as a punishment to sinners. No wonder, then, that sinners, like prickly thorns and thistles, are doomed to be burned up with fire, as holy David says: "All transgressors shall be plucked up as thorns ... and shall be set on fire." To fire then we wretched sinners are condemned.
3. But happily for us, there are two very different kinds of fire. The first is the uncreated fire of God's eternal love. The second is the created fire of his irritated justice, prepared, and intended for the punishment of the rebellious angels, and of all unhappy sinners. To deliver us from the fire of hell, our merciful Savior brought with him from Heaven the fire of his divine love. It was in fact of this love, he spoke, when he said:"/ am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I, but that it be kindled? (Lk. 12:49) Sinners, he says to us, sinners, like thorns and thistles, you are doomed to be burned with fire. In punishment of your transgressions, you should have to burn in hell, during a miserable eternity in company with the devil, and all his wicked companions. It is however, in my power to offer to you, the blessed fire of my divine love, which burns in the bosom of God from all eternity, in exchange for the terrible fire of hell due to your crimes. Accept my love and I undertake to atone for all your sins. "l am come to send fire on the earth, and what willl, but, that it be kindled?"
Behold here the first formal cause of the Crown of Thorns. It is the goodness of God: It is the love and mercy of His incarnate Son, who with the Crown of Thorns assumed upon his head, the responsibility of atoning for all the sins of mankind. The great St. Leo, the Pope says: Causa reparationis nostrae non est nisi misericordia Dei." (Serm. de jejun. 10. mens.) Origen says, our Lord Jesus Christ assumed the thorns of our sins, infixed upon his head. These are his genuine words: "In spina ilia corona suscepit (Jesus) spinas peccatorum nostrorum intexta in capite suo. "(Tract. 35 in Mt. 27:29) The angelic doctor St. Thomas says: "These bloody thorns of our Savior's crown are intended to signify the stings of sin, with which our conscience is wounded. Our merciful Lord accepted these thorns as our substitute, because he undertook to suffer and die for our sins. (St. Thorn, in Chap. 27 Matt.) He is truly the Good Shepherd who thrusts his head and body within a thorny bush in order to disentangle the suffering sheep from its prickly branches by which she is surrounded, and held captive, in pain and hunger. Prompted by his love, he endures the pricks of the thorns in his effort to free his beloved sheep from suffering and death. His love and mercy was then the moving cause that induced our blessed Savior to endure the painful and ignominious Crown of Thorns. "In his love and in his mercy the prophet says: He redeemed them, and he carried them and lifted them up."
4. The second cause was the source of sin. Three conditions are essential to sin. Sufficient matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. Whatever may be the matter of sin, no sin can be committed without the necessary knowledge of its malice, and the free deliberate consent of our will. Now knowledge is a prerogative of our mind, as consent is the free act of our will. Sin therefore is committed first in our mind, when, with full knowledge and deliberate consent we form in our head the resolution of doing anything morally wrong. Hence, St. Augustine says "that it is with the will that we do wrong, as it is with the will that we do good." "Voluntate peccatur, et bene agitur." All sins originate their malice in our mind. Sin is first conceived in the head, and consented to in the soul. "Every man is tempted, being drawn away and allured by his own concupiscence. Then, when concupiscence hath conceived it bringeth forth sin." (James 1:14) Our divine Master expressly teaches: "that it is out of the heart of man that originate, and proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies, which defile with sin the soul of man." (Mt. 15:19) The organs, senses and members of the body are only the instruments used by the soul in her operations and external deeds. Hence, the external action, as theft, murder, adultery, blasphemy is not the cause, but it is the consequence and the effect of the internal sin of the heart. In short, sin is committed with the mind, and with the will. Every sin is an internal rebellion of the soul against God's eternal law. Now the brain is the organ of human intelligence and will. The head is the workshop of the mind. The brain is the laboratory of the soul. This head, this human brain deserved therefore a special punishment. Behold here the other cause of our Savior's Crown of Thorns. Like a wise and skillful physician, he applied the remedy to the seat of the complaint, to the very root of the evil. Having become our Redeemer, he applied to his innocent, most holy and adorable head, the painful Crown of Thorns as a full atonement, and most effective cure for our sins. Moreover, man fell off from God, through pride. "The beginning of the pride of man is to fall off from God ... For pride is the beginning of all sins." (Eccli. 10:14)
Pride being the origin of every sin, it was necessary that humility should become the general remedy of all evil. Now, we have seen in the previous chapter, what profound humility our divine Lord practiced at his crowning of thorns. Thus the Crown of Thorns on the head of our Lord, becomes the general remedy of sin. May the contemplation of this crown enlighten the mind of men, to understand the malice of sin and especially the internal sins of thought and affection.
5. Many persons make little account of internal sins. But besides the fact, that all sins are essentially committed by the mind, and will of men, we should, moreover, observe that the greater number of our sins are by their nature accomplished in the soul. All bad thoughts, and sinful affections belong to this category. The Holy Ghost says: "Perverse thoughts separate from God." (Wis. 1:3) In fact evil thoughts and sinful affections by their nature, corrupt more immediately the heart, and defile the soul more directly than bad external actions. For, as we have observed, the malice of sin is derived from the knowledge that the mind has of the evil, and from the consenting of the will to it. All this mischief is perpetrated in the sacred cabinet of the soul.
We should, moreover, observe, that for the accomplishment of exterior actions many external circumstances of time, place, persons, and means are required, which are not necessary for the commission of internal sins. Again sinful external acts naturally, and often bring upon the sinner temporal losses, disgrace, infamy and many other human and physical punishment, to which internal sins cannot be subject. Hence both reason and experience force us to conclude that internal sins are without comparison more frequently committed, than exterior evil actions. We cannot venture to form any calculation, but the knowledge of human nature induces us to fear that thousands of internal sins are committed before one external crime is perpetrated. But what idea shall we be able to form of the awful amount of interior sins committed, when so many exterior sinful actions are witnessed in human society?
Reflect, now, that all these sins were fully known to our divine Savior. He knew all past, present and future sins of mankind. He saw them all committed in the soul, through the understanding and will. He observed the vast majority of sins accomplished in the mind. To offer to his Eternal Father an adequate satisfaction for them our merciful Savior consented to bear the painful and ignominious Crown of Thorns. "The Crown of Thorns, Theophilatus says, is the figure of our sins which Jesus Christ abolished by his divinity, represented by his head." (Com. in St. Matt. 27:29)
6. Reflect then, Christian reader, that our divine Savior is crowned with sharp thorns, to punish on his own head all your sinful deeds, but more especially the wicked thoughts, by which you have offended God, and have defiled his divine image impressed upon your soul. Numerous thorns pierce, and torture his divine head, because we have harbored in our mind many bad thoughts of different kinds. Our thoughts against faith and against hope, our thoughts of presumption, or despair, impious and blasphemous thoughts against God, have produced the longest and sharpest thorns that torment the most holy head of our divine Savior. Our habitual dissipation of mind, our forgetfulness of God's holy presence, our voluntary distractions in prayer, are the reeds with which, like his cruel executioners, we strike and more deeply press his thorny crown. Uncharitable thoughts against our neighbors, rash judgment, envy and jealousy against our fellow Christians, are the cruel thorns that torture our Savior's head. Those frequent thoughts of pride/ambition, vain-glory; that hypocrisy, that habitual disposition to overreach, and deceive our fellow men, so common in human society at the present time, those desires of revenge, sensuality and lust, have produced that terrible thorny bush from which the Crown of Thorns has been formed, that pricks and torment the head of the incarnate Son of God.
Whilst, Christian reader, you are considering the sufferings of your Savior crowned with thorns, enter into your heart and examine therein what are the evil thoughts that more frequently occupy your mind. Conceive a sincere sorrow for them. Ask with profound humility your Savior's pardon; and firmly resolve for the future to watch over your heart, and promptly to banish from your mind every imagination or thought that may be displeasing to God, and calculated to increase the sufferings of your loving Redeemer, crowned with thorns as the King of Sorrows. It is only in this practical way that we can render our spiritual reading, or our meditation on the Passion of our dear Lord, pleasing to his Sacred Heart, and profitable to our souls.