CHAPTER XVII - CONTINUATION OF THE SAME SUBJECT—JESUS IS CROWNED AS THE SAVIOUR OF MANKIND
"We see Jesus ... For the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour." (Heb. 2:19)1. A crown is an object of human ambition. The reason may be because a crown, by its very nature and form represents the idea of perfection and of endless duration, having neither beginning nor end. Moreover a crown is always associated with the idea of honor, dignity, power and glory. Several crowns have been invented in different nations for the encouragement and reward for brave deeds and glorious achievments. The Pagan Romans, however, surpassed every other nation in inventing, and, in awarding these honorable distinctions. Different writers mention seven as the principal crowns bestowed upon deserving persons as a reward for their meritorious deeds.
The first and most illustrious was the Triumphal Crown. This was a golden crown placed on the head of the Emperor, or of some very distinguished general of the army, when he was received in triumph in the city of Rome, after having obtained some great victory over the enemies of the country.
The second was the Crown of Deliverance awarded to a general, or officer who delivered a city, or fortress from a seige by forcing the enemy to withdraw from it. This was a golden crown with a beseiged city engraved on its front.
The third was the Mural Crown which was given by the emperor to any officer, or soldier, who was the first to scale the wall of a city or fortress of an enemy during an assault made upon it. This was another golden crown with a walled city or fortress being assaulted and scaled, engraven on it.
The fourth was the Camp Crown awarded to the soldier who was first to enter the enemy's entrenched camp during a battle. This crown was also made of gold and had a military encampment engraven on it.
The fifth was the Naval Crown made of gold having a ship engraven upon it. This crown was given to the sailor who during a naval engagement was the first to board an enemy's ship.
The sixth was the Civic Crown. It was formed of small boughs of holm and oak trees, carefully entwined in a garland, with which was publicly crowned any person who had saved the life of a citizen.
The seventh was the Poetic Crown formed of laurel leaves, and awarded to poetic genius.
2. These crowns were highly esteemed by the ancient Romans. No man upon earth deserved all these crowns more than our divine Savior. But as he came to redeem man from the curse of sin, and thorns being the most expressive figure thereof, so he selected for himself a Crown of Thorns. By this choice, our Lord wished to announce to us, that he came to remove from earth the malediction pronounced against it by God on account of the prevarication of our first parents, Adam and Eve. These are the sentiments of the great and glorious martyr, St. Cyprian, the eloquent Bishop of Carthage in northern Africa. In his sermon on the passion and cross of our Lord, St. Cyprian says: "In order that you may understand the deep mystery of the Crown of Thorns, you should know that our Savior not only came to take away sin from the world, but also to remove the curse from the earth which God pronounced against it in punishment of the sin of our first parents when He said: "Cursed is the earth in thy work... Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." Hence, Jesus our Lord, is crowned with thorns to the end that this first sentence of condemnation may be removed. " Propterea ergo spinis coronatur Jesus, utprima ilia condemnationis sententia solvetur." (St. Cypr. Serm. de Pass and Cruce Domini). As this first sentence of condemnation was pronounced by God against the first man, who was the head and representative of mankind; so our divine Redeemer as the head of the church, and the first of the elect wished to have his adorable head crowned with thorns, to teach us that by so doing he, as God, removed the curse which had been pronounced against us. For the head of Jesus represents his divinity.Coronam ex spinis peccata sunt; quae Christus sua Deitate consumit. Per caput enim Deltas praesignatur (Theophil. in Matt. 27:29)
3. Jesus is crowned as a victim. It was a general custom among Jews and Gentiles to crown the victims intended for sacrifice. This crown laid on the head of the victim was a public profession of profound respect for him to whom the sacrifice was offered. Sacrifice strictly speaking being, by its very nature offered to God alone, hence, to him should always be offered the most perfect, the most worthy and select victims. Now a crown was placed on the head of the animal to declare it to be the best victim found for the occasion.
We have a remarkable illustration of this in the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul and St. Barnabas being in the city of Lystria in Lycaonia, miraculously cured in an instant a poor man who had been born lame, and never could walk. When the multitude had seen this prodigy they all lifted up their voice saying: "The gods in the likeness of men are come down to us ..." Then the priest of Jupiter, bringing oxen and garlands would have offered sacrifice in honor of the two Apostles, had he not been strongly rebuked for it by St. Paul. (Acts. 14:12) Now Jesus our Lord was truly the most worthy, indeed he was the only worthy victim fit to be offered to the supreme majesty of God. He was to be offered to God for the four principal objects for which victims are immolated, namely in recognition of the supreme dominion of God over all creatures; as the most perfect act of adoration of his divine majesty; as the most complete act of atonement for sin; and lastly, as the most powerful and effective prayer to obtain every grace and blessing from Almighty God for time and eternity.
Moreover, in the person of our Savior sacrificed on the Altar of the Cross on Mount Calvary, all the victims and sacrifices of the old Testament were contained in a most eminent degree of perfection. "For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of a heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, Who, through the Holy Ghost, offered himself without spot to God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? And therefore he is the mediator, of the New Testament; that by means of his death for the redemption of those transgressions, which were under the former Testament, they who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance." (Heb 9:13) Surely this great, this glorious, this divine Victim of the cross deserved to be crowned before sacrifice. Behold here another cause of the Crown of Thorns.
We have seen above that our divine Lord has been crowned with thorns in order to atone for our sins, and thus satisfy divine justice. The holy and learned Pope, Innocent III, concludes from this fact our individual duty of doing penance. The Crown of Thorns is intended, he says, to teach us that we should surround our head, or rather our mind with deep sentiments of sorrow and penance for our sins according to the words of the Royal Psalmist who says: "lam turned in my anguish whilst the thorn is fastened. I have acknowledged my sins to thee." (Ps. 31:4) By these words: "/ am turned in my anguish whilst the thorn is fastened," may be expressed the intensity of the Royal Prophet's sufferings, who could not enjoy any rest; but they may also signify the salutary effect produced in his soul by these intense pains which become the happy cause of his perfect conversion and turning to God. Let us imitate his good example.
Sin being committed by the understanding and will, our conversion should begin from a full understanding of the malice of sin, passing then to sorrow of heart, and to the detestation of sin by the will. All this we shall learn and accomplish, if we meditate deeply on the mystery of the Crown of Thorns.
Moreover, from our thorn-crowned Savior, we should learn the duty of penance, because, as St. Bernard says, we should be ashamed to be delicate members of Jesus Christ crowned with thorns. "Sub capite spinoso pudeat membrum esse delicatum." Thorns and thistles represent the sorrows, trials and sufferings of this life. Let us learn from our divine model to bear them with perfect patience and full resignation to the will of God. "Not my will, but thine be done." The holy Martyr St. Agapitus having red hot coals put upon his bare head exclaimed with joy: "I can cheerfully bear to have my head burned with fire, which will be crowned in heaven with glory. These burning coals will be changed into precious stones to adorn and enrich my crown. Oh! how glorious that crown will be for my head tormented for love of Christ. An habitual dislike for suffering, and a constant yearning for the amusements and pleasures of this world, are essentially opposed to the spirit of Jesus Christ, the King of Sorrows. How can loving and faithful subjects crown themselves with flowers, when they behold their king crowned with thorns on account of their sins? Saint Clement of Alexandria says: "It is contrary to reason and to common sense for a Christian who has heard the history of the Crown of Thorns of our Lord, himself crowned with flowers. This is a mockery and an insult to our thorn-crowned King." (Lib. 2 Poer, Chap. 8)
The famous ecclesiastical historian, Baronius relates that about the year 167, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, on a certain occasion of general rejoicing, commanded all his soldiers to wear a crown of laurel leaves in sign of joy. Observing however that one of them had no crown, he asked the cause of it. The brave soldier calmly and respectfully answered: "Sire, it is not proper for a Christian to wear during this present life a crown of pleasure. Non decet Christianum in hac vita coronari." Worldlings may wish to be crowned with roses, but they renounce thereby the crown of eternal glory. Those who wish to be crowned with Jesus in heaven, must be willing to share his Crown of Thorns upon earth. The pious king of Jerusalem, Godfrey de Bouillon, constantly refused to wear a crown of gold in that city wherein our Lord, the King of Kings, was crowned with thorns.
4. Jesus is crowned as our King. Jesus Christ, being the incarnate Son of God is consequently by creation, preservation, and redemption, the Lord, Master and King of the Universe. But, because upon this subject some reflections will be made in the following chapters, we wish here to consider him as our King in relation only to his Crown <of Thorns. Through his passion and death our Savior has conquered sin, death and hell.
First. He wished to be crowned with thorns and thistles, both being the emblem and the punishment of sin. Our Lord, through his thorny crown, shows to all the world that he has removed sin from mankind, and the curse of God from the Earth. Through the punctures of the Crown of Thorns, our crucified Lord has removed from the penitent sinner the sting of conscience, and the pang and danger of despair. Moreover as the Crown of Thorns caused copious streams of blood to flow from our Savior's head down on the inferior members of his suffering body, so, through this sacred crown he obtained for all his elect, who are the mystical members of his body the Church, all the graces, blessings, and gifts of God. As sinners we were thorny, noxious and barren trees destined to be cut down to the ground, and doomed to eternal fire. But since our Lord has been crowned with the thorns of our sins, he has removed the thorny branches, and by engrafting his prolific holiness upon us through his Sacraments, has enabled us to bear abundant fruits of virtuous actions. These are in substance the words of Clement of Alexandria, "Coronatus est Christus spinis, ut nos qui antea spinei et infructuosi eramus, fructum bonae arboris apportemus." (Epist. ad .Oceanum)
Second. Through his Crown of Thorns our heavenly King has conquered death. By removing sin our Savior has taken away its terrible sting from death. "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is thy victory ? O death where is thy sting ? Now the sting of death is sin. But thanks be to God who hath given the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:55) Our Lord, then having obtained the victory over sin and death, deserved to receive a crown. The crown which he was pleased to choose was that of thorns.
Reflecting on this glorious victory the servants of God rejoiced at the hour of death. Gerard, the pious brother of St. Bernard, feeling that he was dying, intoned aloud with a cheerful voice the psalm; Laudate Dominun. "Praise ye the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the high places; Praise ye him all his angels." (Ps. 148:1) St. Bernard says: "I was called to witness this prodigy. I saw this man exulting in death, and defying its terrors. "Accitus sum ego ad id miracculi, videre exultantem in morte hominem, et insultantiem morti." (Serm. 26. in Cantic.)
In his last agony the seraphic Patriarch, St. Francis, was singing sacred hymns and psalms, together with his religious. Being somewhat chided for this by Brother Elias, the dying Saint mildly answered: "Dear brother, I cannot help doing this, knowing that I shall soon be with God." Blessed Reginald, a Dominican friar, being near death, was exhorted by his religious brethren to prepare himself for his last combat by receiving the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. "I desire, my dear fathers," he said, "to receive all the Sacraments of the Church, because through them all the merits of our Savior's Passion are applied to our soul, and because the grace that we have received through them is by them increased. However, I have not the least fear of death; on the contrary, I am expecting it with great joy. Christ our Lord has overcome death and has taken away from it its sting. Through the Crown of Thorns he has blunted the sting of death. Death, my dearest brothers, is life for those for whom the passage to heaven is opened through the sacred side of our crucified Savior. Do then, very dear fathers, in your charity, administer to me the Sacrament of Extreme Unction." This dying servant of God having received this last Sacrament with the most lively faith and devotion, sweetly slept in the Lord. "Obdormivit in Domino." (Malvenda, Annals O. P.)
Third. Through the Crown of Thorns hell has been conquered. Sin and death being overcome, the devil can no longer have any power over our soul. The infernal serpent is defeated by those very thorns which he sowed upon earth, through the sins of our first parents, and the malediction that on his account God pronounced against this earth, rebounds with terrible effect upon his proud and malignant head. The Crown of Thorns, on our Savior's head is the impenetrable hedge with which he surrounds and protects the vineyard of his Church, and every one of his elect. Through this hedge the friends of Christ are defended, and the infernal enemy of their soul is excluded. "Hoc diadem a spinarum, inimicumiis, qui insidiantur, eos prohibet; Us autem qui in ecclesia simul versantur, amicum, eos circumsepit et munit." (Clement Alexand. Lib. 2 Poen. Cap. 8)
Fourth. Lastly the Crown of our Savior is the infallible pledge of our diadem of everlasting glory. Sin, death, hell being overcome, heaven is secured to us. It was in a special manner through his Crown of Thorns, that our Savior has merited, for his faithful servants the crown of immortal glory, "Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee the Crown of Life." (Apoc. 2:10)
Dionysius the Carthusian says: Jesus has been crowned with thorns, that we may be crowned in heaven with a crown of precious stones. "Therefore they shall receive a kingdom of glory and a crown of beauty at the hand of the Lord. (Wis. 5:17) Spinea corona capitis Jesu diadema regni adepti sumus," St. Jerome says.