1 Christ is delivered bound to Pilate. 3 Judas hangeth himself. 19 Pilate, admonished of his Wife, 24 washeth his hands: 26 and looseth Barabbas. 29 Christ is crowned with thorns, 34 crucified, 40 reviled, 50 dieth, and is buried: 66 his sepulchre is sealed, and watched.
HEN the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:
Douay Rheims Version
The continuation of the history of the passion of Christ. His death and burial.
ND when morning was come, all the chief priests and ancients of the people took counsel against Jesus, that they might put him to death.
Ver. 1. But when the morning was come (Syr. when it was dawn), all the chief priests, &c. “See here,” says S. Jerome, “the eagerness of the Priests for evil,” their feet were swift to shed blood (Ps. xiv. 6). They were urged on by their bitter hatred of Christ, and by Satanís instigation. It was the morning of Friday, only a few hours before His crucifixion, when Caiaphas, who had already tried and condemned Him the night before, summoned thus early the great Council of the Sanhedrin. It was to obtain His condemnation by the whole Body, which would ensure the subsequent condemnation by Pilate. S. Matthew omits the proceedings of this Council, as being a mere repetition of what he had already recorded (chap. xxvi. 59 seq.). But the narrative is supplied by S. Luke (xxii. 26 seq.), as explained above (see ver. 59).
S. Leo says strikingly, “This morning, 0 Jews, destroyed your Temple and altars, took away from you the Law and the Prophets, deprived you of your kingdom and priesthood, and turned all your feasts into unending woe” (Serm. iii. de Pass.).
To put Him to death. That is, how they could do it without hindrance or tumult, and also by what kind of death, as, e.g., that of the Cross, the most ignominious of all. Some members of the Council were probably Christís followers and friends; and these most likely absented themselves, or were not summoned, or sent away elsewhere, for fear they should defend Him. But if any of them were present, they either gave sentence in His favour, or were forced by the clamour of the rest to remain silent; as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa (Luke xxiii. 51). Here notice, this wicked Council erred not only in fact, but in faith. For it gave sentence that Jesus was not the Christ nor the Son of God, but that He was guilty of death, as having falsely claimed to be both: all which statements are erroneous and heretical. This, however, was only a small and particular, not an Ćcumenical Council. These latter, as representing the whole Church, have the gift of inerrancy by the power of the Holy Ghost and by Christís own promise. But you will say the whole Jewish Church at that time fell away from the faith. It was not so, for many of Christís converts in Judæa remained steadfast, and there were true believers among the Jews who were converted at the day of Pentecost (Acts ii.).
Ver. 2. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away, and delivered Him to Pontius Pitate the governor. “For,” as S. Jerome says, “it was the Jewish custom to bind and deliver to the judge those they had condemned to death.” Here then was Samson bound by Delilah, Christ by the Synagogue. Origen says truly, “They bound Jesus who looseth from bonds; who saith to them that are in bonds, I Go forthí (Isa. xlix. 9); who looseth the fetters, and saith, ĎLet us break their bands asunder.í” For Jesus was bound that He might set us free by taking on Himself the bonds and the punishment of our sins.
They brought. Caiaphas, i.e., and all the other members of the Council, to crush by the weight of their authority both Jesus and Pilate alike. For if Pilate refused to ratify their sentence, they would be able to accuse him of aiming at the sovereignty of Judæa, and being thus an enemy of Cæsar, and so force him in this way, even against his will, to condemn Him to death.
Delivered to Pontius Pilate. Why? Some think from what is said in the Talmud that the Jews were forbidden to put any one to death. But see Deut xxi. 23; Num. xxv. 4; Josh. xiii. 29; 2 Sam. xxi. 6 and 9.
But the fact was that the Romans had taken away from the Jews the power of life and death (John xviii. 31). Ananus was deposed from the High-Priesthood for killing James the Lordís brother and others, without the consent of the Roman governor. The stoning of S. Stephen was only an outbreak of popular fury.
There were also other reasons. 1. To remove from themselves the discredit of His death, as though it had arisen merely from envy. 2. To dishonour Him as much as they could, by getting Him condemned by Pilate to the ignominious death of crucifixion, the punishment of rebels. They themselves had condemned Him of blasphemy, which was punished by stoning (Lev. xxiv. 16). 3. To dishonour Him the more by causing Him to be put to death as a profane person, by one, too, who was himself profaning the holy feast of the Passover (see S. Chrysostom, Hom. lxxxvi in Matt.; S. Augustine, Tract. cxiv. in John; and S. Cyril, Lib. xii in Joan. cap. 6).
But a retaliatory punishment was inflicted on the Jews; for as they delivered up Christ to Pilate, so were they in turn delivered up to be destroyed by Titus and Vespasian (S. Cyril on John, cap. xviii.; Theophylact, and Victorinus on Mark xiv.).
Vers. 3, 4. Then Judas, which had betrayed Him, when he saw that he was condemned, &c. Judas, when he sold Christ, did not expect that He would be killed, but merely seized, and either render them some satisfaction, or in some way escape, as before, out of their hands. But on finding Him condemned to death, he felt the gravity of his sin. And repenting, when too late, of what he had done, he was self condemned, and hanged himself. “The devil is so crafty,” says S. Chrysostom, Ďthat he allows not a man (unless very watchful) to see beforehand the greatness of his sin, lest he should repent and shrink from it. But as soon as a sin is fully completed, he allows him to see it, and thus overwhelms him with sorrow and drives him to despair. Judas was unmoved by Christís many warnings; but when the deed had been wrought, he was brought to useless and unavailing repentance.”
That He was condemned. By Caiaphas, i.e., and the whole Council, and that he would shortly be condemned by Pilate on their authority, and by their urgent importunity.
Repented himself. Not with true and genuine repentance, for this includes the hope of pardon, which Judas had not; but with a forced, torturing, and despairing repentance, the fruit of an evil and remorseful conscience, like the torments of the lost. In Gr. μεταμεληθείς.
Brought again the thirty pieces or silver to the Chief Priests. To rescind his bargain. As if he had said, “I give back the money; do ye, on your part, restore Jesus to liberty.” So S. Ambrose (in Luc. xxii.), “In pecuniary causes, when the money is paid back, justice is satisfied.” And S. Hilary, “Judas gave back the money that he might expose the dishonesty of the purchasers.” And S. Ambrose, “Though the traitor was not absolved himself, yet was the impudence of the Jews exposed; for though put to shame by the confession of the traitor, they insisted wickedly on the fulfilment of the bargain.”
I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent Blood; Gr. α̉θω̃ον; for what more innocent than the immaculate Lamb? what purer than the purity of Jesus Christ?
But they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. Carry out what thou hast begun. Bear the punishment of the guilt thou ownest. We own no fault in ourselves. But He is guilty of death as a false Christ, and therefore we insist on it. Now, as they refused to take back the money, Judas cast it down in the Temple, and hung himself, despairing of the life of Jesus and of his own salvation. For assuredly he would not have thus acted had the Chief Priests taken the money back and set Jesus free. Up to a certain point, then, his repentance was right, but when it drove him to despair it was wrong. “See how unwilling they were,” says S. Chrysostom, “to see the audacity of their conduct, which greatly aggravated their fault. For it was a clear proof that they were hurried away by audacious injustice, and would not desist from their evil designs, foolishly hiding themselves the while under a cloak of pretended ignorance.”
And he cast down the pieces of silver in the Temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. He first took them to the house of Caiaphas, or certainly to that of Pilate, where the Chief Priests were prosecuting their case; and afterwards, on their refusing to take them, threw them down in the Temple for the Priests to pick up. Some of the Chief Priests were probably there, but anyhow by throwing them down in the Temple he devoted them, as the price of the Most Holy Blood, to sacred and pious uses, if the Priests refused to take them back.
And he went and hanged himself. The Greek writers are mistaken in thinking that he did not die in this way, but was afterwards crushed to death (see on Acts i. 18). Judas then added to his former sin the further sin of despair. It was not a more heinous sin, but one more fatal to himself, as thrusting him down to the very depths of hell. He might, on his repentance, have asked (and surely have obtained) pardon of Christ. But, like Cain, he despaired of forgiveness, and hung himself on the self-same day, just before the death of Christ. For he could not bear the heavy remorse of an accusing conscience. So S. Leo (Serm. de Pass. iii.; S. Augustine, Quæst. v., and N. Test. xciv.). David had prophesied respecting him, “Let a sudden destruction,” &c. (Ps. xxxv. 8). Thus S. Leo, “0 Judas, thou wast the most wicked and miserable of men, for repentance recalled thee not to the Lord, but despair drew thee on to thy ruin!” And again, “Why dost thou distrust the goodness of Him who repelled thee not from the communion of His Body and Blood, and refused thee not the kiss of peace when thou camest to apprehend Him? But thou wast past conversion (a spirit that goeth and returneth not); and with Satan at thy right hand, thou followedst the mad desire of thy own heart, and madest the sin which thou hadst sinned against the King of Saints to recoil on thine own head; that thus, as thy crime was too great for ordinary punishment, thou mightest pronounce, and also execute, the sentence on thyself.
Some say that Judas hung himself from a fig-tree, the forbidden tree of Hebrew tradition, and one of ill-omen. Hence Juvencusó
“Even as his own wild punishment he sought,
He hung with deadly noose on fig-treeís height.”
Now it was avarice that drove Judas to this fate. “Hear ye this,” says S. Chrysostom; “hear it, I say, Ye covetous. Ponder it in your mind what he suffered. For he both lost his money, and committed a crime, and lost his soul. Such was the hard tyranny of covetousness. He enjoyed not his money, nor this present life, nor that which is to come. He lost them all at once, and having forfeited the goodwill even of those to whom he betrayed Him, he ended by hanging himself.”
This confession of Judas, then (not in word, but in deed), was a clear proof of Christís innocence, and it assuredly ought to have kept the Jews from killing Him, if they had only had the smallest amount of shame. But their obstinate malice could not be restrained even by this strange portent.
Symbolically: Bede remarks (in Acts i.), “His punishment was a befitting one. The throat which had uttered the word of betrayal was throttled by the noose. He who had betrayed the Lord of men and angels hung in mid-air, abhorred by Heaven and earth, and the bowels which had conceived the crafty treachery burst asunder and fell out.” S. Bernard, too (Serm. viii. in Ps. xc. [vci.]), says, “Judas, that colleague of the powers of the air, burst asunder in the air, as though neither the Heaven would receive nor the earth endure the betrayer of Him who was true God and man, and who came to work salvation in the midst of the earth” (Ps. lxxxiii. 12, Vulg.). Again, S. Augustine (Lib. Hom. 1., Hom. xxvii.), “That which he wrought on his own body, this was also wrought on his soul. For as they who throttle themselves cause death, because the air passes not within them, so do they who despair of the forgiveness of God choke themselves by their very despair, that the Holy Spirit cannot reach them.”
But the chief priests said, It is nor lawful for to put them into the treasury. Corban is the same as offering. It here signifies the treasury into which the offerings were cast. In Arab. the house of offerings (see Joseph de B. J., i. 8).
Because it is the price of blood. What hypocrisy! They suffer not the price of Christís blood to be paid into the treasury, whereas they had taken money out of it to procure His betrayal and death.
Ver. 7. And they look counsel, and bought with them the potterís field, to bury strangers in. “They saw,” says Origen, “that it was most fitting that, as the price of blood, it should be expended on the dead and their place of burial.”
Strangers: for the inhabitants had their own burial-places. And God so ordered it that this field should be a standing witness both of Judasí repentance and of Christís innocence. “The name,” says S. Chrysostom, proclaims their bloody deed with trumpet tongue, for had they cast it into the treasury, the circumstances would not have been made so clearly known to future generations.”
Symbolically: It was thus signified that the price of Christís Blood would benefit not Jews only, but strangers, the Gentiles, i.e., who would hereafter believe on Him. So Hilary, “It belongs not to Israel, but is solely for the use of strangers.”
Ver. 8. Wherefore that field was called Arcedama. A Chaldee word. The Ethiopic and Persian versions agree as to its meaning. Adrichomius (Descr. Jerus. Num. 216) describes the spot, and a peculiar property of the soil, that it destroys within a few hours the dead bodies which are placed in it, a property which it preserves even when taken elsewhere. Some of it the Empress Helena is said to have taken to Rome, where it forms the Campo Santo. “It still retains,” says Cornelius, “the same property.”
Tropologically: “The field bought for strangers with Christís Blood is the Church (S. Chrysostom in loc.; S. Augustine, Serm. cxiv. de Temp.), and particularly the state of ĎReligious,í who count themselves strangers upon earth, and citizens of Heaven, and of the household of God,” &c. See also 1. Pet. ii. 11, where S. Chrysostom says, “Nothing is more blessed than this burial, over which all rejoice, both angels and men, and the Lord of angels. For if this life is not our life, but our life is hidden, we ought to live here as though we were dead.” So S. Paul, Col. iii. 3. It was perhaps for this symbolical reason that this soil possessed the remarkable property mentioned above. See Comment. on Acts i 18, 19.
Vers. 9, 10. Then was fulfilled, &c. See on Zech. xi. 12, 13.
The price of Him that was valued; Gr. τὴν τιμὴν του̃ τετιμημένου. Christ, who is beyond all price (Theophyl.), Whom the Chief Priests bought of the sons of Israel, of Judas, i.e., who was one of them. (So Titelman and Barradeus.) This is stated to add to the ignominy of the transaction, viz., that He was sold not by a Gentile, but by an Israelite, and one, too, who was called after the Patriarchís eldest son. The plural is here put for the singular. Theophylact explains it otherwise, that Christ was valued, or bought, by the Chief Priests for the thirty pieces. Euthymius and others, that this price was put on Christ by those who were of the sons of Israel, i.e., Israelites.
The Syriac version has the first person, agreeing with Zechariah, “And I took,” &c. (Zech. xi. 13).
As the Lord appointed me. These words can be taken: 1. As the words of Christ speaking by the Prophet, and signifying that God would suffer nothing which concerned Him to come to nought, so that even the field purchased with the price of His Blood should not be unoccupied, but serve for the burial of strangers. 2. As the words of the Prophet, “God ordained that I should by my own act, as well as by my word, prophesy and foretell this, and even the goodly price,” as he says in irony, “at which Christ should be valued.”
Ver. 11. But Jesus stood before the Governor. S. Matthew having recorded the fate of Judas, now returns to the main narrative, omitting, however, several incidents, which are to be found in John xviii. 19. It appears from S. Luke xxiii. 2 that the Jews brought three definite charges against Jesusóthat He was perverting the people, that He forbade them to give tribute to Cæsar, and maintained that He was Himself a King. Pilate, it would seem, put aside the first two as false and malicious, and dwelt only on the third. He simply asked Him whether he were the King of the Jews, as being of royal descent, or as the promised Messiah, or on any other ground. Jesus asked him in reply, “Sayest thou this of thyself?” (John xviii. 34). He knew very well the nature of the charge. But he wished to mortify Pilate by suggesting that this must be a mere calumny of His enemies, since he who was bound to maintain the authority of the Emperor, and had hitherto been most vigilant in the matter, had heard nothing of the kind. Pilate was irritated, and replied, “Am I a Jew, so as to know or care anything about Thy family or descent, or aught else relating to Thyself, who art a Jew born? Thine own nation and the Chief Priests have delivered Thee to me. What hast Thou done?” This was the very answer which Jesus wished to obtain from him, and He clearly and directly replied, “My kingdom is not of this world,” &c. (John xviii. 36).
He explained that it was not to be supported by human agency or force of arms (so that Tiberius need not fear that he would lose the kingdom of Judæa, but that it was heavenly, spiritual, and transcendental,óa kingdom wherein He would reign in the hearts of the faithful by grace, and bring them to His kingdom in Heaven. S. Matthew, omitting all other points for the sake of brevity, assigns this last as the true cause of Christís death, merely saying, The Governor asked Him, saying, Art Thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. He meant by this, I am Messiah the King. He might have said truly, I am not the King of the Jews, I am no temporal King, nor do I aim at being one. But the Jews understood the title King of the Jews to mean the Messiah, and as He could not deny His Messiahship, He confessed that He was the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah.
It will be asked, What is the nature of Christís kingdom, and its manifold relations? Christ, then, as man had a twofold kingdom even when on earth. 1. A spiritual kingdom, i.e., His Church, which He instituted as a commonwealth of the faithful, and founded with certain laws, ordinances, and sacraments. He rules it by S. Peter and his successors, as His Vicars, and makes it spread through all nations. This kingdom David and the Prophets foretold would be given to Christ (S. Aug. Tract. cxvii. in John). 2. As S. Thomas (Lib. i. de Reg. Princ. cap. xii.) and others rightly teach, in opposition to Abulensis [Tostatus] on Matth. xxi., it is physical and of this world. For Christ, from His very conception, had properly and directly dominion over the world, so as to depose and appoint kings, though as a fact He did not exercise such power on earth.
Here observe there is a threefold dominion and sovereignty. 1. The highest of all, which God exercises over all creatures, being peculiarly His Own. 2. The human authority, which earthly kings and princes exercise. 3. Between these two is the authority of Christ as man, which far surpasses all kingly power: 1. In its origin, for God gave it to Christ. 2. In its stability, for it cannot be overcome, and abides for ever. 3. In its object, as extending to all created beings, even to angels (see Rev. xix. 16; i. 5; Matt. xxviii. 18). This was His, as man, by reason of His hypostatic union with the Word or Son of God. And accordingly this sovereignty is peculiar to Christ as man, nor has He communicated it to any one, not even to S. Peter and the Pontiffs his successors.
It will be asked whether Christ as man had a human claim to the Jewish kingdom? And I say, He had; for He was the son, the successor, and heir of David. He did not, it is true, enter on His kingdom, nor was He inaugurated as King. But yet He furnished an instance of what He was by His triumph and entry into Jerusalem. He did not actually enter on His kingdom, both because the family of David had long ceased to reign, and the kingdom had by common consent passed into other hands.
Ver. 12. And when He was accused of the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. 1. Because all the charges against Him were false, and deserved not an answer. So S. Augustine (Serm. cxviii. de Temp.), “The Lord by keeping silence does not confirm the charge, but makes light of it. For far better is that cause which is undefended, and yet is successful; that justice is most complete which is not supported by words but is based on truth. The Saviour, who is Wisdom itself, knew how to conquer by silence, to overcome by not replying.” 2. Jesus knew that any answer would be useless, and would only make the Jews more eager for His death. 3. For fear He should excuse His crime, and obtain His deliverance, and so the benefit of His death be deferred, says S. Jerome, “for He wished to he condemned through keeping silence, and to die for the salvation of men.” So S. Ambrose (in Luc. xxii.), “He rightly keeps silence who needs not a defence. Let those who fear defeat be eager for defence. But why should He fear who wished not to escape? He sacrificed His own single life for the salvation of all.” 4. To atone thus for all faults of the tongue, and teach men to keep their tongues from all evil words.
Ver. 13. Then saith Pilate unto Him, Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee? For Pilate had brought Him forth from his house to hear the accusations of the Chief Priests, as they would not enter the hall, lest they should be defiled (see John xviii. 28).
Ver. 14. And He answered him to never a word, insomuch that the Governor marvelled greatly. Pilate marvelled at His silence in this His extreme peril, when assailed by vehement accusations and clamour. He marvelled at His gentleness, calmness, and contempt of death, and, recognising more fully His innocence and holiness, he laboured the more earnestly to deliver Him. [Pseudo-]Athan. de Cruce, says, “It was a marvellous thing that our Saviour was so effectual in His persuasion by keeping silence, and not by answering, that the judge acknowledged of His own accord that it was a mere conspiracy against Him.” And thus do the Saints often in like manner refute the false charges against them.
Ver. 15. Now at that feast the Governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner whom they would. There comes in before this verse Luke xxii. 5, which records Jesus being sent to Herod, Pilate and Herod being reconciled, and His coming back again in a gorgeous or white robe. This was the dress of candidates for an office, of royal persons, and also of buffoons: Herod mocking in this way at the supposed ambition of Jesus in affecting to be a king.
Symbolically: The white garment represented the innocence, victory, immortality, glory, &c., of Christ, which He purchased by His sufferings and insults. “Let thy garments be always white” (Eccles. ix. 8). And so S. Ambrose, “He is arrayed in white, in evidence of His immaculate Passion,” and that as the spotless Lamb of God He took on Himself the sins of the world. Pilate then saw what was Herodís object in sending Him back, and said to the Chief Priests (Luke xxiii. 14), “Ye have brought this man unto me as one that perverteth the people . . . I will therefore correct Him, and let Him go,” that is, chastise and punish Him, not for His offence (for He is guiltless), but to satiate your rage against Him. Shortly afterwards he proposed another plan for His deliverance, viz., by releasing some one to them at the Passover, having little doubt, if the choice were given them, whom they would prefer. This Paschal custom was introduced in memory of the deliverance from Egypt. But did Pilate really wish to release Christ? Rupertus thinks it was mere pretence, for that he had secretly agreed with the Jews to put Him to death, having given Him up to their will. But S. Augustine and the rest suppose, more correctly, that Pilate was sincere (see Luke xxiii. 20 and Acts iii. 13). This is clear also from the many occasions on which he laboured to save Him (see John xviii. 31, 38; Luke xxiii. 7, 15).
Ver. 16. For he had then a notable prisoner called Barabbas. Notorious, that is, for his crimes. S. John terms him “a robber.” S. Mark and S. Luke, “one who had committed murder in the insurrection.” “Notorious,” says S. Chrysostom, “for his bold bearing, and stained with many murders.” Now to be thus compared with Barabbas, and counted his inferior, was a great dishonour and pain to Christ. And His patience under this wrong is a fitting pattern to all Christians when slights are put on them.
Barabbas. In Hebrew “the Son of a father, of Adam, i.e., the first father of all sinners.” And Christ was made lower than Adam when He took on Himself to atone for his disobedience and sin.
S. Jerome explains it less correctly as Barabbas, the son of a Master.
Ver. 17. When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus? “That if the Chief Priests wished through envy to destroy Him, the people, who had experienced His manifold benefits, might ask for His life,” saith Druthmar; or if, as S. Chrysostom says, “they did not wish to pronounce Him innocent, they might release Him, though guilty, in consideration of the feast.”
Which is called Christ. Pilate was in earnest, wishing the Jews to demand His deliverance, as being their promised Messiah.
Ver. 18. For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him. From their general bearing and demeanour, and also from his own knowledge of His holiness, and teaching, and boldness in reproof.
Ver. 19. When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day (this night) in a dream because of Him. This act of Pilateís wife is a fresh effort to deliver Him. Her dreams were full of threats against her husband and herself, if he condemned Christ. Some suppose them to have been the work of an evil angel, wishing to prevent His death, lest sinners should be saved by Him. (See the Sermon on the Passion, apud S. Cyprian; S. Bernard, Serm. i. in Pasch; Lyranus, Dionys. Carthus., Rabanus, and others.)
Origen, S. Hilary, S. Chrysostom, S. Augustine, S. Ambrose, and others more correctly suppose that it was the work of a holy angel, and that the dream was sent to Pilateís wife (not himself): 1. That both sexes (as well as all the elements afterwards) might witness to Christís innocence. 2. That she might make it publicly known by telling her husband. 3. Because she appears to have been a noble, tenderhearted, and holy woman. Origen, S. Chrysostom, and others consider that she was in this way brought to a true belief in Christ. S. Augustine (in Aurea Catena) says, “that both husband and wife bore witness to Christ;” “thus presaging,” says S. Jerome, “the faith of the Gentiles.” And S. Augustine (Serm. cxxi. de Temp.), “In the beginning of the world the wife leads the husband to death, in the Passion she leads him on to salvation.” Joanna, too, the wife of Chusa, Herodís steward, was one of those who ministered to Christ of their substance.
The Greek Menology terms her Procula; some suggest that she was Claudia (2 Tim. iv. 21), as she probably remained at Rome when he was banished. S. Augustine implies that she converted him (Serm. iii. de Epiph). “The Magi came from the East, Pilate from the West. They accordingly witnessed to Him at His birth, he at His death, that they might sit down with Abraham, &c., not as their descendants in the flesh, but as grafted into them by faith.” Tertullian, too (Apol. cap. xxi.), speaks of Pilate as a Christian.
But all this is at variance with what others say of his banishment and his self-inflicted death.
When Pilate then is termed a Christian, it must mean a favourer and protector of His innocence. He yielded, it is true, at last to the threats of the Jews; and so it was that by the just retribution of God he was himself the victim of the like false charge from the Jews, who caused him to be exiled.
Ver. 20. But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The Chief Priests used the time which Pilate had given the people for consideration in persuading them to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus, as the most dangerous person of the two.
Notice here the effect of anger and malice, and the false and perverted judgments of the world. Jesus, the author of salvation, was to suffer; but Barabbas, the murderer, was to he spared. But God undoubtedly so ordered it that the Innocent should suffer, and thus atone for the guilt of sinners, whom Barabbas represented.
Ver. 21. But the Governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. That is, after he had given them time for consideration, he again asked them, and demanded an answer.
Bede (on Mark xv. 9) strikingly remarks, “The demand they made still cleaves to them. For as they preferred a robber to Jesus, a murderer to the Saviour, the destroyer to the Giver of Life, they deservedly lost both their property and their life. They were reduced, indeed, so low by violence and sedition as to forfeit the independence of their country, which they had preferred to Christ, and cared not to recover the liberty of body and soul which they had bartered away.”
A1legorically: “Their choice of Barabbas foreshadowed,” says S. Jerome, “that robber Antichrist, whom they would hereafter choose in the end of the world.” And S. Ambrose (in Luke xxii.), “Barabbas means the son of a father. They, therefore, to whom it was said, ĎYe are of your father the devil,í are set forth as those who would afterwards prefer Antichrist, the son of his father, to the true Son of God.”
Ver. 22. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let Him be crucified. “Pilate,” says S. Chrysostom, “places the matter in their hands, that all might be ascribed to their clemency, thus to charm and soften them down by his obsequiousness. But all in vain. For the Chief Priests had already resolved to insist on His crucifixion, as being not only the most cruel, but also the most ignominious of deaths, the death of robbers and other evil-doers. For they hoped in this way to destroy all His former credit and reputation.” So says S. Chrysostom, “Fearing that His memory should be kept in mind, they chose this disgraceful death, not knowing that the truth when hindered is more fully manifested.”
Ver. 23. The Governor said, Why, what evil hath He done? But they cried out the more (vehemently, πεζισσω̃ς), saying, Let Him be crucified. The more Pilate insisted on His innocence, the more did they clamour for His crucifixion, “not laying aside their anger, hatred, and blasphemy, but even adding to them” (Origen). They thus fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah (xii. 11), “Mine heritage (the synagogue) is made unto Me as a lion in the forest; they have uttered their voice against Me;” and Davidís (Ps. xxii. 13), “They opened their mouth upon Me, as a ravening and a roaring lion;” and Isaiahís (v. 7), “I looked for judgment, and behold iniquity; and for righteousness, and behold a cry.” (So S. Jerome.)
Ver. 24. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude. α̉πενίψατο, washed away. “He adopted,” says Origen, “the Jewish custom, and wished to calm them down, not by words only, but also by deed.” He washed his hands, but not his conscience. But this took place after the scourging and crowning, of Christ. (See S. John.) Here is a transposition.
Saying, I am innocent. I condemn Him against my will. Ye are the offenders. Ye are guilty of His death. How foolish was this timid, heartless, and slothful Governor in speaking thus! Why opposest thou not the injustice of the people? “Seek not to be judge, if thou canst not by thy power break through iniquities” (Eccles. vii. 6). At another time thou didst let loose the soldiers an the riotous mob (Joseph. B. J., xviii. 4). Why dost thou not act thus firmly now? If thou canst not, through the fury of the Jews, set Him free now, at least delay thy sentence till their fury subsides.
S. Chrysostom (in Luke xxiii. 22) says, “Though he washed his hands, and said he was innocent, yet his permitting it was a sign of weakness and cowardice. For he ought never to have yielded Him up, but rather rescued Him, as the Centurion S. Paul” (Acts xxi. 33). S. Augustine more forcibly (Serm. cxviii. de Temp.) “Though Pilate washed his hands, yet he washed not away his guilt; for though he thought he was washing away the Blood of that Just One from his limbs, yet was his mind still stained with it. It was he, in fact, who slew Christ by giving Him up to he slain. For a firm and good judge should not condemn innocent blood, either through fear or the risk of being unpopular.” And S. Leo (Serm. viii. de Pass.) said, “Pilate did not escape guilt, for by siding with the turbulent mob he became partner of othersí guilt.”
Ver. 25. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Let the guilt thou fearest be transferred from thee to us. If there be any guilt, may we and our posterity atone for it. But we do not acknowledge any guilt, and consequently, as not fearing any punishment, we boldly call it down on ourselves. And thus have they subjected not only themselves, but their very latest descendants, to Godís displeasure. They feel it indeed even to this day in its full force, in being scattered over all the world, without a city, or temple, or sacrifice, or priest, or prince, and being a subject race in all countries. It was, too, in punishment for Christís crucifixion that Titus ordered five hundred Jews to be crucified every day at the siege of Jerusalem, as they crowded out of the city in search of food, “so that at last there was no room for the crosses, and no crosses for the bodies” (Joseph. B. J. vi. 12). “This curse,” says Jerome, “rests on them even to this day, and the blood of the Lord is not taken away from them,” as Daniel foretold (ix. 27).
Strange stories are told by Cardinal Hugo of special diseases which attacked the Jews, in periodical loss of blood, etc., though Salmeron and Abulensis [Tostatus] attribute them to natural causes.
Ver. 26. Then (when the Jews had taken on themselves the guilt of Christís death) released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. S. Matthew, as usual, slightly touches on the scourging; S. Mark and S. Luke speak of it more fully, and reckon this as Pilateís fifth appeal to the compassion of the Jews, to induce them to ask for His life.
Observeó1. Scourging among the Romans was the punishment of slaves. (See Ff de Pænis 1. “Servorum,” and the Lex Sempronia.) S. Paul, as a Roman citizen, protested against being scourged (Acts xvi.). Martyrs were scourged by way of disgrace, of which many instances are given. 2. Free persons also were scourged after they had been condemned to death, as though they had thus become slaves. Hence the fasces had rods for scourging, and the axe for executions. 3. This scourging of Christ was before His condemnation, and He was thus spared the usual scourging afterwards. For one scourging only is spoken of in the Gospels. 4. S. Jerome (Epitaph. Paulæ), S. Paulinus (Ep. xxxiv.), Prudentius, and others (see Gretser, de Cruce, Lib. i.), say that Christ was fastened to a column to be scourged, and that this column was afterwards placed in the Church of S. Praxedes at Rome. But the column which is there is very small, and is consequently supposed to be only a part of the large column mentioned by S. Jerome. Bosius maintains that it is the whole of the column, and that S. Jerome is speaking of the column at which Christ was first scourged. S. Chrysostom considered that there were two scourgings. But most probably it was only part of the column S. Jerome mentions, or one of those to which He was bound in the house of Caiaphas, and the larger one that at which He was scourged in the house of the Governor.
But in what respects was this scourging so cruel and savage?
1. Christ being bound to this short column, and standing with the whole height of His body above it, was quite at the mercy of those who scourged Him. Again, the mere exposure of His most pure and virgin body to these filthy mockers was a sore affliction to Him. But He was twice, or as some say thrice, stripped; first, at His scourging; secondly, when crowned with thorns. This stripping was attended with the greatest pain; for as His garment stuck to His wounds, they were forcibly reopened as it was torn away.
The forty martyrs were animated by this example, when they boldly stripped themselves and plunged into the freezing water. (See S. Basilís Homily.)
2. Pilate wished to excite the compassion of the Jews by saying, “Behold the man.” Behold Him who has no longer the appearance of a man, but of some slaughtered animal, so besmeared was He with blood and marred in His form.
3. The soldiers had of their own wanton cruelty crowned Him with thorns, and perhaps had been bribed by the Jews to scourge Him with greater severity. The blessed Magdalene of Pazzi, a nun of Florence, saw in a trance Christ scourged by thirty pairs of men, one after the other. Some say that He had 5000 blows inflicted on Him. S. Bridget is said to have had the exact number (5475) revealed to her. From such a scourging as this He would have died naturally again and again, had not His Godhead specially sustained Him.
4. His bodily frame was most delicate, and acutely sensitive to pain, as fashioned by the Holy Spirit, and He consequently felt the scourging more severely than we should have done.
5. The prophets, and also Christ Himself, foretold that this scourging would be most heavy and severe. See S. Matt. xx. 19, and Job xvi. 14, “He brake Me with wound upon wound.” They added, i.e., blows to blows, wounds to wounds, so that the whole body seemed one continuous wound. Conf. Ps. lxxiii. 14, “All the day long have I been scourged;” and Ps. cxxix. 3, “The sinners wrought upon my back as smiths on an anvil;” but the Hebrew [and A.V.], “The ploughers ploughed upon My back,” they made furrows on My back with scourges. So, too, Aquila and Theodot. This is also indicated by Jacobís words (Gen. xlix. 11), “He shall wash His garments in wine, and His clothes in the blood of the grape,” meaning by His garments and clothes His flesh, and by the wine His blood.
6. Christ was scourged, as slaves were, with small ropes or thongs. Some suppose that He was scourged: 1. with rods of thorns; 2. with cords and iron goads; 3. with chains made of hooks. Antonius Gallus (de Cruciatu Martyrum) describes the various kinds of scourges which were used.
S. Bridget says that the Blessed Virgin was present at the scourging, and that her pain and sorrow added wondrously to His. She describes also the mode and the barbarity of His scourging (S. Bridget, Rev. i. 10).
Now Christ wished in this way to atone for our evil lusts and manifold sins. And in doing this (says S. Thom., par. iii. sec. 46, art. 6, ad. 6), He considered not only the great virtue of His sufferings from the union of His Godhead with His human nature, but also how much it would avail even in that nature for making satisfaction. Moreover, He wished to obtain power and strength for all martyrs, in order to their enduring every kind of scourging. Conf. Isa. liii. 5. In all this Christ manifested most marvellous patience. He uttered not a groan, gave no indication of pain, stood firm as a rock. Nay, He lorded it over all sufferings, as being above them. Such a temper obtained heathen admiration. S. Cyprian (de Bono Patient. cap. iii.), among the proofs of His Divine Majesty, speaks of “His continuous endurance, in which He exhibited the patience of His Father.” Tertullian, too (de Pat. cap. iii.), “He who had proposed to hide Himself in manís form, exhibited nought of manís impatience. And in this ye Pharisees ought to have specially recognised the Lord.” S. Ambrose, too (Serm. xvii. in Ps. cxviii.) [cxix.], speaks of His “triumphant silence under calumny.” The Jews ought to have gathered from this the conclusion of the Centurion, “Truly this was the Son of God.” All this was caused by His love of God and man. Love triumphed over pain, and made His pains as nothing. And hence He was willing to suffer in all points, and in all His members and senses. S. Thomas (par iii. qu. 46, art. 5) thus writes, “He suffered in the desertion of His friends, in His credit, in His honour, in the spoiling of His goods, in His soul by sorrow, in His body by His wounds. He suffered too in all parts of His body, and in every sense.” But His sufferings of mind were by far the greatest. For He was specially wounded by the sins of each single man. He grieved also for the multitude of the lost. He had sympathy for the martyrs and others who had to endure sufferings. But His boundless love urged Him on to endure all this. For love is the measure of pain, and we cannot live in love without pain. Hence it is said of Christ, “Sculptured, thou seest His love in every limb.”
Delivered Him to be crucified. After His scourging and crowning with thorns, which comes next, as I have said (ver. 24). This is therefore a transposition. S. Matthew here relates many things briefly, which S. John (xix. 1-16) records more fully. Pilate then delivered Jesus to the Jews, after he had condemned Him. Adrichomius (p. 163) gives Pilateís supposed sentence, which states that the charges had been proved; making these charges, which he knew to be false, a cloak for his own sloth and injustice; the Chief Priests gave no proof, but merely made false and calumnious assertions.
Pilate in his rescript to Tiberius says that he had condemned Jesus through the importunity of the Jews, though He was in other respects a holy and divine man. Orosius (Hist. vii. 4) speaks of his testimony to Christís virtues; and Eusebius (in Chron. ad an. 38), that he spoke in favour of Christians to Tiberius, who proposed that Christianity should be recognised among other religions. (Conf. Tert. Apol. cap. 5 and 21; Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. ii. 2, and others.)
Christ, then, was on Pilateís own testimony most unjustly condemned by him; for envy accused, hatred witnessed against Him; His crime was innocence; fear perverted judgment, ambition condemned, cruelty punished.
Ver. 27. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall. “Then” refers not to the preceding words, “delivered Him to be crucified,” but to the scourging. The soldiers scourged Jesus, and crowned Him at the same time with thorns.
Gathered unto Him the whole band, to adorn Him, by way of insult, with the royal insignia, as pretending to be King of the Jews. “For soldiers are a cruel race,” says S. Chrysostom, “and take pleasure in insulting.” It was the Prætorian Band, quartered in the castle of Antonia.
Ver. 28. And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe. “Making jest of Him,” says Origen. This stripping can be referred either to His scourging or to His crowning with thorns. It is consequently uncertain whether He resumed His garments after He had been scourged, and was stripped of them again and arrayed in the scarlet robe, or whether the scarlet robe was put upon His naked body immediately after His scourging.
Symbolically: “In the scarlet robe,” says S. Jerome, “the Lord bears the blood-stained works of the Gentiles.” “He bare,” says S. Athanasius, “in the scarlet garment a resemblance to the blood wherewith the earth had been polluted.” And Origen, “The Lord, by taking on Him the scarlet robe, took on Himself the blood, that is, the sins of the world, which are bloody and red as scarlet; for the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Anagogically: S. Gregory, “For what is purple save blood, and the endurance of sufferings, manifested for love of the Kingdom?” And again, “The Lord made His empurpled ascent in a triumphal litter, because we attain to the Kingdom that is within through tribulation and blood.”
S. Mark and S. John call this a purple garment (not scarlet). S. Ambrose says they were two different garments, and that He was arrayed in both. Gretser (Lib. 1, de Cruce) gives authorities for there being only one garment, called indifferently purple or scarlet. Perhaps the garment had been twice dyed,ówith the murex and the coccus; and garments thus dyed are of a more lasting colour. Now this was a kingly dress, and thus did they make Christ a King in mockery. This robe or chlamys was shorter and tighter than the pallium, and soldiers wore it over their armour. The one then used seems to have been the worn-out dress of some Roman soldier, but being purple, was of the imperial colour.
Symbolically: S. Cyril (in John xii. 15) says, “By the purple garment is signified the sovereignty over the whole world, which Christ was about to receive.” So, too, Origen, S. Augustine, and others. But this He obtained for Himself by fighting and shedding His blood. African and other soldiers anciently wore red garments. See, too, Nahum ii. 3.
Ver. 29. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head. This was done both for insult and for torture. It was done, too, by Jewish insolence, and not by Pilateís order, though he permitted it (see above on ver. 25). These thorns were those of the sea-rush or of the blackthorn; perhaps the two sorts were twisted together. S. Helena brought two of them to Rome and placed them in the Church of Santa Croce. S. Bridget (Rev. 1. 10) says that the crown was placed a second time on His head when on the Cross; that it came down to the middle of His forehead, and that such streams of blood flowed from the wounds as to run down to His eyes and ears, and even to His beard; that He seemed one mass of blood. He could not indeed see His Mother till the blood had been squeezed out of His eyelids. All pictures represent Him as crucified with the crown of thorns, as Origen and Tertullian distinctly assert He was. The torture of all this was very great, for the thorns were very sharp, and also driven into the head and brain. The literal object of this was to insult and torture Christ for pretending to be King of the Jews.
But Origen gives its mystical meaning, “In this crown the Lord took on Himself the thorns of our sins woven together on His head.” For S. Hilary says “the sting of sin is in the thorns of which Christís victorious crown is woven.” “Let me ask you,” says Tertullian (de Con. Milit. ad fin.), “what crown did Jesus wear for both sexes? Of thorns, methinks, and briars, as a figure of those sins which the earth of our flesh hath brought forth unto us, but which the virtue of the Cross hath taken away, crushing, (as it did) all the stings of death by the sufferings of the head of the Lord. For besides the figurative meaning there is assuredly the contumely, disgrace, and dishonour, and, blended with them, the cruelty, which thus both defiled and wounded His brows.”
Tropologically: The thorns teach us to wound and subdue the flesh with fastings, haircloths, and disciplines. “For it is not fitting that the members of a thorn-crowned Head should be delicate,” says S. Bernard. And Tertullian (ut supra) teaches us that Christians out of reverence for Christís crown of thorns, did not wear crowns of flowers, as the heathen did. Christ offered S. Catharine of Sienna two crowns,óone of jewels, the other of thorns,óon condition that if she chose one of them in this life she should wear the other in the next. She seized at once the crown of thorns from His hand, and fixed it so firmly on her head that she felt pain for many days, and therefore she received a jewelled crown in heaven. S. Agapitus, a youth of only fifteen, when live coals were put on his head, said exultingly, “It is a small matter that that head which is to be crowned in heaven should be burned on earth,” &c. Think, then, when enduring any kind of pain, that Christ is giving thee one of the thorns from His crown.
Anagogically: S. Ambrose (in Luke xxii.) says, “This crown placed on His head shows that triumphant glory should be won for God from sinners of this world, as if from the thorns of this life.”
Symbolically: S. Bernard (de Pass. Dom. cap. xix.) says, “Though they crown Him in derision, yet in their ignorant mockery they confess Him to be a crowned King. Therefore is He proved to be a King by those who knew Him not.” And S. Augustine (Tract. cxvi. in John) says, “Thus did the Kingdom which was not of this world overcome the proud world, not with fierce fighting, but lowly suffering. [Jesus comes forth] wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, not resplendent in power, but overwhelmed with reproach.” “Purple,” again says Elias Cratensis, “exhorts good rulers to be ready to shed their blood for the benefit of their subjects.” Hence the purple is given to Cardinals to remind them that they should shed their blood for the Church; and S. Germanus, Patriarch of C. P. (Orat. in Sepult. Christi), says that the purple robe and the crown of thorns which was placed on Him before His crucifixion assured the victory to Him who said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
[Pseudo-]Athanasius (de Cruce) strikingly says, “When the Lord was arrayed in the purple, there was raised invisibly a trophy over the devil. It was a strange and incredible marvel, and doubtless a token of great victory, that they placed the ornaments of triumph on Him whom they had struck in mockery and derision. He went forth to death in this array, to show that the victory was won expressly for our salvation.” He points out also that Christ was crowned with thorns to restore to us the tree of life, and to heal our worldly cares and anxieties by taking them on Himself.
Godfrey of Bouillon refused on this ground to be crowned king of Jerusalem, since it ill became a Christian king to wear a crown of gold in the very city in which Christ had worn one of thorns.
The tonsure of priests and monks represents this “crown of thorns,” and is a token of their humility and contempt of the world (Bede, Hist. Angl. v. 22, and S. Germanus, C. P., in Theor. rer. Eccles.).
Anagogically: Tertullian (de Cor. Mil. cap. xiv.) says, Put on Christís crown of thorns, “that so thou mayest rival that crown which afterwards was His, for it was after the gall that He tasted the honey; nor was He saluted as King by the heavenly hosts till He had been written up upon the Cross as the King of the Jews. Being made by the Father a little lower than the angels, He was afterwards crowned with glory and honour.” “Christ,” says S. Jerome, “was crowned with thorns that He might win for us a royal diadem.”
And a reed in His right hand. This, which represented His sceptre as King of the Jews, was a fragile, worthless, mean, and ridiculous thing. It is described as a smooth cane with a woolly top, &c.
Symbolically: S. Jerome and [Pseudo-]Athanasius say, as the reed drives away and kills serpents, so does Christ venomous lusts. Hear S. Jerome: “As Caiaphas knew not what He said (John xi. 50 seq.), so they too, though acting with another intent, yet furnished us believers with mysteries (sacramenta). In the scarlet robe He bears on Him the blood-stained deeds of the Gentiles; in the crown of thorns He does away with the ancient curse; with the reed He destroys poisonous animals, or (in another sense) He holds in His hand the reed to record the sacrilege of the Jews.” S. Ambrose too (in Luke xxii.) says, “The reed is held in Christís hand that human weakness should no more be moved as a reed with the wind, but be strengthened and made firm by the works of Christ; or, as S. Mark says, it strikes His head that our nature, strengthened by contact with His Godhead, should waver no more.” This reed and other relics of the Passion are said to have been carefully preserved (Bede, de Con. Sanctis, cap. xx.; and Greg. Turon. de Gloria Martyrum, cap. vii.)
And they bowed the knee before Him, and mocked Him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! Notice here all that was done in jest. Bringing together the whole band as an attendant army. His throne a stone or seat, raised up like a tribunal. His crown was of thorns, His robe a scarlet chlamys, His sceptre a reed; in the place of the peopleís applause were the mockings of the soldiers; there were the spittings, the blows, and the stripes. All these did Christ bear with divine humility and patience, and thus deserved “that at the name,” &c. (Phil. ii. 10).
Tropologically: Christ here wished to set forth the vain estate and the sufferings of all kings and rulers; to turn all insults into weapons of victory, and specially to overcome the pride of Satan by His humility; to teach that worldly kingdoms consisted in pomp and display, His in contempt of honour, pleasures, and self. See Theophylact, Jansenius [Gaudno], Pseudo-Athanasius, and Tertullian, ut supra.
It is to be noted that Agrippa was shortly afterwards insulted at Alexandria exactly in the same way. See Philo, in Flaccum.
Ver. 30. And they spit upon Him, and took the reed, and smote Him on the head. As having foolishly aspired to be King of Judæa; to drive also the crown of thorns more firmly into His head. These grossest insults and most cruel pains were devised by devils rather than men, says Origen. “Not one member only, but the whole body suffered these atrocious injuries,” &c., says S. Chrysostom. Here comes in John xix. 1-16. Pilateís presenting Christ to the people to excite their compassion; their vehement demand that He should be crucified, as making Himself the Son of God. Pilate on hearing this was startled, and asked Him who He was, as if He might have been the son of some heathen god who might avenge His death. When He gave no answer, Pilate added that He had power to put Him to death, which brought out our Lordís reply, that he had no power over Him, “unless it were given him from above.” For Pilate, notwithstanding his paramount authority over other Jews, had but a permissive authority over Christ, who, as the Son of God, was not subject to any human power. Pilate then, in judging and condemning Christ, sinned in a threefold way: by usurping an authority over Him which He really had not; by yielding to the clamour of the Jews, and by condemning an innocent man.
Ver. 31. And after that they had mocked Him they took the robe off from Him. “After they had fully satiated themselves with their insults,” Victor of Antioch on Mark xv. “But they left on Him (says Origen) the crown of thorns.” “He is stripped,” says [Pseudo-]Athanasius, “by His executioners of the coats of skins which we had put on in Adam, that for these we might put on Christ.”
And put His own raiment on Him. That they who crucified Him might claim it as their own, and also that He might thus be recognised and be insulted the more.
And led Him away to crucify Him. Preceded, it would seem, by a trumpeter, who summoned the people to the execution (Gretser, de Cruce, 1. 16). Now Christ was worn out by having been constantly on foot both through the night and on the morning. (Adrichomius calculated the exact distances.) Accordingly,
Ver. 32. As they came out (either from Pilateís house, so S. Jeromeóor from the city, so Fr. Lucas and others) they found a man of Cyrene. Either Cyrene in Libya, or in Syria, or in Cyprus, from whence he came to Judæa. He was a Gentile (S. Hilary, S. Ambrose, S. Leo, Bede, and others), though Maldonatus and Fr. Lucas consider he was a Jew, having probably become a proselyte on coming to Judea. This signified that the Gentiles would believe in Christ, and that the Jews would be eventually converted by their means.
Simon by name. Pererius mentions the tradition that he and his afterwards became Christians. S. Mark adds that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, who, it seems, were well known in his day as Christians. (Rufus was first Bishop of Thebes and afterwards of Tortosa. He is mentioned by Polycarp (ad Philipp. chap. ix.). Alexander was martyred at Carthagena, March 11.) Some suppose Simon or Niger (Acts xiii. 1) to be the same person.
Him they compelled. See above, chap. v. 41. It was a great injury and insult which they put on Simon as a stranger. But he bore it all with patience, and therefore was enlightened by Christ, and became, as I have said, a Christian. He was a sharer in His Cross first, and afterwards a partaker of His joy.
Symbolically: S. Gregory (Mor. viii. 44), “To bear the Cross by compulsion is to submit to affliction and abstinence from some other motive than the proper one. Does not He bear the Cross by compulsion who subdues his flesh, as if at Christís command, but yet loves not the spiritual country? So, too, Simon bears the Cross, and yet dies not under it, since every hypocrite chastens, indeed, his body by abstinence, and yet through love of glory lives to the world.”
To bear the cross. Christ at first bare His own Cross, fifteen feet high (as is said) and eight feet across. And that, too, when covered all over with blood, wearied, and broken down. He supported one end on His shoulder, and dragged the other along the ground. He thus constantly struck against the stones, and so reopened His wounds, causing continual pain. S. John says, “He went forth bearing His cross” (xix. 17), as was customary with criminals (see Lipsius and Gretser). But when the soldiers saw that He was sinking under it, they placed it on Simon, to keep Jesus alive, and reserve Him for greater sufferings. They wished, too, to get quickly over their work, and then go home to their meal, for it was now mid-day.
It does not appear that Simon carried the Cross with Jesus in front and himself behind, but that he bare it alone. (See Luke xxiii. 26.) The Fathers here discern various mysteries.
[Pseudo-]Athanasius, “The Lord both bear His own Cross, and again Simon bare it also. He bare it first as a trophy against the devil, and of His own will, for He went without any compulsion to His death. But afterwards the man Simon bare it, to make it known to all that the Lord died not as His own due, but as that of all mankind.” S. Ambrose (in Luke xxiii.), “He first lifted up the trophy of His Cross, and afterwards handed it to His martyrs to do the like. For it was meet that He should first lift up His own trophy as victor, and that afterwards Christ should bear it in man, and man in Christ.”
Origen, “It was not only meet that He should take up His Cross Himself, but that we also should bear it, and thus perform a compulsory but salutary service” (see Matt. x. 38). It was the heresy of Basilides and Marcion, that Christ, having dazzled the eyes of the Jews, disappeared from their sight and left Simon behind, who was crucified in His stead. This, too, is the error of the Mahometans.
Here comes in, from Luke xxiii. 31, our Lordís meeting the women on His way to Calvary, and telling them not to weep for Him; “for if they do these things in the green tree,” &c. For He Himself was a green tree, ever flourishing with the branches and fruits of grace, and thus unsuited for the fire of Godís vengeance. But the Jews were a dry tree, void of grace and barren of good works, and thus most fitted for the fire of His wrath. One of these women, Berenice or Veronica, offered Christ a napkin to wipe His face, and received it back from Him with His features marked on it (see Marianus, Scotus, Baronius, and others). The napkin is said to be preserved at Rome.
Ver. 33. And they came unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull. “Calvary” is the bare skull of a man; Golgotha means the same; so called from its roundness; from the root “gal” or “gabal,” to roll about. Some suppose that S. Matthew wrote in Greek and himself explained the Hebrew; others that the explanation was given by the Greek translator of the original Hebrew.
But why was the place so called? Some say because Adam was there buried, and redeemed, too, by Christ on the same spot by the Blood of the Cross, and restored to the life of grace. See note on Eph. v. 14, and the Fathers there quoted. For there was a tradition that Noah took the bones of Adam into the ark, and after the deluge gave the skull, and Judæa with it, to Shem, his favourite son. Such respect did the ancients pay to their dead from believing in the immortality of the soul. “Christ,” says S. Ambrose (in Luke xxiii.), “was crucified in Golgotha because it was fitting that the first-fruits of our life should rest in the very spot from which our death had come.” Others give a more literal and obvious reason, that it was because criminals were there beheaded. Baronius and others reject this view, on the ground that beheading was not a Jewish practice. But it is certain that after the Roman conquest criminals were beheaded, as John the Baptist by Herod Antipas and S. James by Herod Agrippa. Besides this, there were lying about on that spot the skulls of those who had died in various other ways.
Mystically: Gretser says, “It was prophetically called Golgotha, because Christ our Lord, our true Head, there died.”
It was Christís own will to be crucified in a dishonourable place like this, in order to expiate our infamous and execrable sins. He thus converted it into one of honour and adoration, for Christians in Calvary reverence and adore Christ crucified. For Christ, as Sedulius says,ó
So, too, Seneca (Cons. ad Helvidiam) says that Socrates entered the prison to take away the ignominy from the place.
Bede (de Locis Sanctis, cap. ii.) observes, from S. Jerome and S. Augustine (Serm. lxxi. de temp.), that Abraham offered up his son on this very mountain. For Mount Moriah and Calvary are close together, and they look like one mountain parted into two ridges or hills.
The Apostle (Heb. xiii. xi seq.) gives four reasons for Christ being crucified outside Jerusalem, and thence concludes, “Let us go forth to Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” It was chiefly to signify that the virtues of His Cross were to be transferred from the Jews to all nations, that “the Cross of Christ might be the altar, not of the temple, but of the world” (S. Leo, Serm. ix. de Pass.).
Ver. 34. And they gave Him wine (Arab. and A. V., vinegar) to drink mingled with gall. This was while the Cross was being made ready, and Christ was resting for a while. Wine used to be given to condemned criminals to quench their thirst, and to strengthen them also to endure their sufferings, as it is said (Prov. xxxi. 6), “Give strong drink unto those that are ready to perish, and wine to those in bitterness of heart.” But the Jews, with untold barbarity, made this wine bitter with gall, partly to insult and partly to give Him pain. Whence Christ complains, “They gave Me gall to eat” (Tertullian, Lib. x. contra Judæos, reads “to drink”); for the gall was Christís food, the wine His drink. Euthymius thinks that bits of dried gall were steeped in vinegar, so that the vinegar was in the place of wine, and the bits of gall instead of the morsel of bread which is thrown into the wine, that those who are faint might drink first and eat afterwards.
This was different from the draught given to Christ on the Cross, this being of wine, the latter of vinegar. The Greek writers here mention “vinegar,” but it was probably only a sour kind of wine. On the first occasion Christ says, “They gave Me gall to eat;” on the second, “They gave Me vinegar to drink.” S. Mark terms it “wine mingled with myrrh,” myrrh and gall having been mixed together, or because the myrrh, from being bitter, was called gall. So say all the Fathers and commentators, except Baronius, who considered that the wine was flavoured with myrrh and other spices. But the Jews would not have allowed this to be given to Christ. Baronius seems afterwards (vol. x. ad fin.) to have changed his opinion.
And when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink. Either as offended at the Jews for offering so nauseous a draught, or as wishing to suffer greater thirst on the Cross, and thus set us an example of self-mortification.
Palamon is said to have refused to taste some wild herbs which his disciple Pachomius had, for his Easter repast, flavoured with oil, saying, “My Lord had vinegar to drink, and shall I taste oil?”
Ver. 35. But after they had crucified Him (see Vulg.). S. Matthew here studies brevity (as usual), and partly shrinks with horror from the crucifixion, not speaking of it as an actual occurrence, but only by the way. It is a doctrine of the faith that Christ was nailed, not merely tied, to the Cross. (See John xx. 25, and Ps. xxii. 16.) But it is possible that ropes were used as well, so says S. Hilary (Lib. x. de Trin.). The ropes are to be seen in the Church of Santa Croce at Rome. Nonnus, in his paraphrase of S. John, says that Christís hands were fastened to the Cross with an iron band as well as by nails. The Cross, he says, was first raised up, and then a huge nail driven through both feet, laid one over the other. Some writers speak of a support for the feet to rest on, or a space hollowed out for the heels; and questions, too, are raised as to the number of the nails, whether three or four (or, as S. Bernard suggests, six), and the direction in which they were driven so as to cause the greatest torture.
The anguish of the crucifixion was very great; because the tenderest parts of the body were pierced by the nails, and the whole weight hung from the hands. The pain was lasting Christ hanging on the Cross for three hours. Mystically, the words spoken of Jerusalem (Lam. i. 12) are applicable to Christ. Very great pain, too, was caused by the racking and stretching out of His limbs. S. Catharine of Sienna said she had practically experienced this when she had been made by Christ a partaker of all His sufferings. His bones were able to be counted when He was thus stretched out. It is in the Hebrew, “I will tell all My bones,” that is, I am able to do so. But the Vulgate has it, “they counted,” since Christ, while suffering such torture, was not able to count them Himself.
He was crucified with the crown of thorns, and between two robbers, as though He were the chief of them; and naked too, after the Roman custom. Some suppose that He was entirely naked, though others consider that this would have been too unseemly before a crowd of both sexes. This, then, was the greatest shame and pain to One who was so pre-eminently modest and chaste. S. Ambrose (in Luke xxiii.) says, “Naked He ascends the Cross. I behold Him naked. Let him who is preparing to conquer the world ascend in like manner, not seeking worldly supports. Adam, who sought to get clothing, was a conquered person. But He who laid aside His garments, and went up on the Cross just as nature had made Him, was a conqueror.” “Adam,” said Tauler (Excerc. Vit. Christi, cap. xxxiii.), “hasted to clothe himself because he had lost his innocence, but Christ was stripped naked because He had preserved His innocence, and needed no other covering.” S. Francis, wishing to follow Christís example, threw himself, when dying, naked on the ground. See notes on S. Matt. v. 3.
S. Flavia, a noble virgin and martyr, when she was exposed naked at the command of the tyrant Manucha, to make her deny Christ, said, “I am ready to endure not merely the stripping of my body, but also the fire and the sword, for Him who was willing to suffer all this for me” (see Acta S. Placidi, art. 5).
It is generally thought that Christ was nailed to the Cross when lying on the ground, as was the case with those who carried their own cross. S. Anselm, S. Laur. Justiniani, and others hold this view; S. Bonaventura, Lipsius, and others, the contrary, which is supported by the text (Cant. vii. 8), “I will go up to the palm-tree,” on which passage see the notes. But it is quite an open question.
But why was Christ crucified rather than put to death in any other way? The obvious reason was, that the Jews wished to inflict on Him a most ignominious death, and thus bring discredit on His name and followers. They wished Him also to bear the punishment which was due to Barabbas, whom they preferred before Him. But on Godís part the reason was to save by the foolishness of the Cross those that believed (see 1 Cor. ii. 23).
Besides which, victims of old time were lifted up as offerings, and afterwards burnt. And so, too, Christ, who offered Himself as a burnt-offering for our sins, was raised up on the Cross, and burnt and consumed there, not so much with pain as with love for men; just as the paschal lamb was stretched on the spit in the form of a cross, and then roasted.
There were various moral causes on the part of Christ and of men. 1st. That as Adam and Eve sinned by stretching forth their hands to the forbidden tree, so Christ might atone for their sin by stretching forth His hands to the wood of the Cross (so Augustine in Append. Serm. de Diversis iv.). Whence the Church sings, “By a tree we were made slaves, and by the holy cross have we been set free” (in the Office for Sept. 14); and “that life might spring from that from which death arose, and that he who conquered by the tree might be conquered by the tree.” And S. Greg. Naz. (in Orat. de Sepsio), “We are by the tree of disgrace brought back to the tree of life which we had lost.” And S. Ambrose (in Luke iv.), “Death by the tree, life by the cross.” Nay, Christ Himself says, “I raised thee up under the apple-tree; there was thy mother defiled, there was she defiled that bare thee.” The Cross, again, is the remedy and expiation of the concupiscence which came from Adamís sin, itself the fount and origin of all sins. Christ therefore teaches us by the pattern of His Cross continually to crucify and mortify our evil affections, if we wish to avoid sin and save our souls (S. Ath. de Incarn. Verbi).
2d. That by hanging between Heaven and earth He might reconcile those in Heaven and those on earth. So S. Ambrose (in Luc. xxiii.), “That He might conquer not for Himself only, but for all, He extended His arms on the Cross to draw all things to Himself, to free from the bands of death, raise aloft by the balances of faith, and associate with things in Heaven the things that before were earthly.” So too [Arnoldus apud] Cyprian, “I see Thee victorious over sufferings, with uplifted hands triumphing over Amalek, bearing up into the heavens the standard of Thy victory, and raising up for those below a ladder of ascent to the Father.”
Hence S. Jerome teaches that Christ on the Cross embraces the four quarters of the world with its four arms. In its very shape does it not resemble the four quarters? The east shines from the top, at the right is the north, the south on the left, the west firmly planted beneath His feet. Whence the Apostle says, “that we may know the height and breadth, and length and depth.” Birds fly in the form of a cross; we swim or pray in the same form. The yards of a ship resemble a cross. And S. Greg. Naz. says (Carm. de Virg.),ó
“For stretching forth to earthís remotest bounds
His sacred limbs, He brought the human race
From every clime, and gathering them in one,
He placed them in the very arms of God.”
As Christ said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth,” &c.
S. Athanasius (de Incarn. Verbi) says, “If He came to bear our sins and curse, how could He have done so but by takinog on Himself an execrable death? But the Cross is that very death, as it is written, ĎCursed is every one that hangeth on a treeí” (Deut. xxi. 25; Gal. iii. 13).
Besides this, all kinds of suffering concur in the Cross, and Christ embraced them all in His own, to set the martyrs an example of every kind of endurance. For the Cross wounds the hands and feet as a sword, it stretches out the body as a rack, lacerates it as a hoof, mangles it as a beast, burns and tortures it as a flame, and kills the whole man, as it were, with a slow fire. He experienced, then, the torments of all the Martyrs, and brought them before Himself, and was evil-entreated for their sakes, that He might obtain for all of them the power of over-coming them. As the blessed Laurence Justiniani says (de Triumph. Christi Agone, cap. xix.), “He was stoned in S. Stephen, burnt in S. Laurence, and bore the special sufferings of each several Martyr.”
S. Augustine says further (Serm. lxix. de Diversis), “He refused to be stoned, or smitten with the sword, because we cannot always carry about stones or swords to defend ourselves. But He chose the Cross, which is made with a slight motion of the hand, and we are protected thereby against the craft of the enemy.” As S. Paul says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse,” &c. (Gal. iii. 13).
S. Anselm (in Phil. ii.) says, “He chose the worst kind of death, that He might overcome all death.” As S. Augustine says (in Ps. cxl.), “That His disciples should not only not fear death itself, but not even this kind of death.” And (de Ag. Christi, cap. xi.), “Fear not insults, and crosses, and death, for if they really were hurtful to men, the man whom the Son of God took upon Him would not have suffered them” (see S. Thomas, Par. iii. Quæst. 48, art. 4).
S. Athanasius (de Incarn. Verb.) says, “The Lord came to cast down the devil, to purify the air, and to make for us a way to Heaven.” It was therefore requisite for Him to be crucified in the air (see S. Chrysost. de Cruce). S. Thomas (par. iii. Quæst. 46, art. 4) gives many other reasons. Lastly, S. Basil (Hom. de Humil.) says, “The devil was crucified in Him whom he hoped to crucify, and was put to death in Him whom he had hoped to destroy.” And S. Leo (Serm. x. de Pass.), “The nails of Christ pierced the devil with continuous wounds, and the suffering of His holy limbs was the destruction of the powers of the enemy.”
Moreover, in the Cross that ancient reading of Ps. xcvi. was made good, “God hath reigned from the tree;” for, as S. Ambrose says (in Luke xxiii.), “though He was on the Cross, yet He shone above the cross with royal majesty.” And as S. Augustine says, “He subdued the world not by the sword, but by the tree” (Serm. 21, Ben.). The Cross was the triumphal car of Christ, in which He triumphed over the devil, sin, death, and hell. S. Ambrose accordingly calls it “the chariot of the Conqueror, and the triumphal Cross.”
The Cross is said to have been made of the cypress, cedar, palm, and olive:ó
“Cedar the trunk, tall cypress holds His frame,
Palm clasps His hands, and olive boasts His name.”
(Dr. LITTLEDALEíS Version in Cant. vii. 8.)
For Christ was on the Cross exalted as a cedar, beauteous as the leafy cypress, poured forth the oil of grace as the olive, triumphed over death as the victorious palm. So says [Arnold. apud] S. Cyprian, “Thou hast gone up unto the palm tree, because the wood of thy Cross foretold Thy triumph over the devil, Thy victory over principalities, and powers, and spiritual wickednesses,” &c.
In short, God willed the Cross to be the price of our redemption, a book of heavenly wisdom, a mirror of every virtue and perfection. The book, I say, of the wisdom of God; for in the sufferings of the Cross Christ set forth His supreme love for man, for whom He was so cruelly and ignominiously crucified; the heinousness of mortal sin, which could not be atoned for in any other way; the awfulness of hell-torments (for if God punished so heavily the sins of others in Christ His Son, how will He not punish in hell-fire the personal guilt of sinners themselves?); the value of each single soul, for which so great a price has been paid; the care which should be had for the salvation of souls, lest the Blood of Christ should be shed for them in vain; the great happiness in store for the blessed, as having been purchased by Christ on the Cross. Rightly, therefore, S. Augustine says (Tract. cxix. in S. John), “The tree on which were fastened the limbs of the sufferer was the seat also of the Master and Teacher.”
It is also the mirror of all virtue and perfection, for Christ on the Cross exhibited humility, poverty, patience, fortitude, constancy, mortification, charity, and all other virtues in their highest perfection. Look on Him, therefore, 0 Christian, and live “according to the pattern showed thee in the Mount ” (Exod. xxv. 40). This, too, is the teaching of the Apostle (Eph. iii. 17), “That ye being rooted and grounded in love,” &c. And accordingly the Martyrs strengthened themselves to bear all their sufferings by meditating on the Cross of Christ. As, e.g., S. Felicitas, S. Ignatius (whose saying it was, “Jesus, My Love, is crucified”), the Brothers Marcus and Marcellinus (who said that “they were never so glad at a feast as in enduring this for Christís sake; we have now begun to be fixed in the love of the Cross, may He permit us to suffer as long as we are clothed in this corruptible body”): and, among others, the Martyrs of Japan. S. Francis, too, counted himself happy in receiving the Stigmata, and being thus conformed to Christ crucified. Those in “religion” should also rejoice, as having been crucified with Christ by their three vows, which are, as it were, three nails they have taken to bear for Christís sake (see Pintutius apud Cassian, lib. iv. de Instit. Renunc. cap. 34, &c.). In a word, how holy, tender, and true was that couplet of S. Francis de Salesó
“Or love or madness slew Thee, Saviour mine:
Ours was the madness, Lord; the love was Thine!”
But, next, on what day was Christ crucified? I answer, on March 25, the day of His conception, on which day S. Dismas, the penitent thief, is commemorated. So say, too, S. Augustine (de Civ. lib. xviii. ad fin.), S. Chrysostom, Tertullian, S. Thomas, and others, whom Suarez follows (par. iii. disp. xl. sect. 5, ad fin.). This was the completion of His thirty-fourth year, the day, too of the sacrifice of Isaac, and the passage of the Red Sea (both eminent types of Christ on the Cross), and of the victory of Michael the Archangel. Hence it is inferred that the world and the angels were created on the same day, and that they began from the very first to war with each other.
The hour was mid-day. “The sixth hour,” says S. John (xix. 14), i.e., from sunrise. S. Mark says “the third hour” (xv. 25), meaning the end of the third and the beginning of the sixth; for these hours with the Jews and Romans contained three of ours. S. Mark clearly means this when he says (ver. 33), “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land.” Theophylact speaks of the fitness of this: “Man was created on the sixth day, and on the sixth hour he ate of the tree. At the same hour that the Lord created man, did He heal him after his fall. On the sixth day, and on the sixth hour, was Christ nailed to the Cross.” Bede, among the Latins, takes the same view. “At the very hour when Adam brought death into the world did the second Adam by His dying destroy death.”Many suppose that Adam was created on the same day of the year, and ate the forbidden fruit at the same hour, when Christ expiated his sin on the Cross. Tertullian (lib. i. contra Marcion) gives it in verse-
“íTwas on the day and place where Adam fell,
As years rolled on the mighty athlete came
And battle gave, where stood thí accursed tree;
Stretched forth His hands, sought pain, despising praise,
And triumphed over death.”
Procopius says (in Gen. iii.), “It was at the same hour in which Adam ate of the tree.”
But, observe, He was crucified with His back to Jerusalem, as though He were its enemy, and unworthy to look on it; but in truth, as being about to reject the Jews, and choose the Gentiles. He thus looked on the west (Rome and Italy). Christians accordingly, by Apostolic usage, pray towards the east, as if looking at Christ crucified; and as the Crucifix in a Church looks west-ward, so must they who look towards and adore it necessarily look eastward. (See S. J. Damasc. de Fide, iv. 13; S. Jerome, &c.) Jeremiah prophesied this (xviii. 17), “I will show them the back,” &c.; and David (Ps. lxvi. 7), “His eyes look upon the Gentiles.”
S. Bridget speaks of the details of the Crucifixion as revealed to her by Christ (Rev. vii. 15) and by the Blessed Virgin (Rev. i. 10).
To conclude, Lactantius (iv. 26) says, “Since he who is hung upon a cross is raised high above all about him, the Cross was chosen to signify that He would be raised so high that all nations would flock together to acknowledge and adore Him,” &c. He, therefore, stretched forth His hands, and compassed the world, to show that from the rising to the setting sun a mighty people from all languages and tribes would come under His wings, and receive on their brows that noblest of all signs. On other points relating to the Cross, its various forms, its oracular answers, &c., see Gretser, i. 29 seq.; S. Thomas, par. iii. Q. 46; and Suarez in loc. On the Moral Cross, i.e., the patient, resolute, and firm endurance of all tribulations, see Gretser, lib. iv. de Cruce.
Tropologically: S. Chrysostom (Hom. de Cruce) thus recounts its praises: “It is the hope of Christians, the resurrection of the dead, the leader of the blind, the way to those in despair. It is the staff of the lame, the consolation of the poor, the restrainer of the rich, the destruction of the proud. It is the punishment of evil-livers, the triumph over evil spirits, the victory over the devil. It is the guide of the young, the support of the destitute, the pilot to those at sea, the harbour of those in peril, the bulwark of the besieged, the father of orphans, the defender of widows, the counsellor of the righteous, the rest of the troubled, the guardian of the young, the head of men, the closing act of the old.” And so on at great length. See, too, S. Ephr. de Cruce; and S. J. Damasc. iv. 12.
Seven holy affections (especially) should be excited by meditating on Christ crucified,ócompassion, compunction, gratitude, imitation, hope, admiration, love and charity.
Here comes in from S. Luke xxiii. 34 our Lordís first word on the Cross, "Father, forgive them,” &c. He forgets entirely the pains and injuries He had received, and, kindled with the glow of charity, prayed for their forgiveness. And He was “heard for His reverence” (Heb. v. 7). For many repented at S. Peterís preaching, and were converted to Christ at Pentecost. He Himself taught us to pray for our persecutors, to do good to those who do us wrong, and to overcome evil with good. S. Stephen, too, imitated His example (Acts vii. 59). “They know not what they do.” They know not I am the Christ the Son of God, for else they would not dare to commit this monstrous sacrilege, the murder of God. They know not that I am the Saviour of the world, and that I am dying for their salvation. “So does the gentleness and tenderness of Christ triumph over the cruelty and malice of the Jews” (de Passione apud S. Cyprian).
The flint is the emblem of the love of our enemies, and has this motto, “Fire comes from flint, but not without a blow.” The flint is popularly called a “living stone” from the living fire within. The flint, then, here is Christ, the corner-stone. For He poured forth on the Cross the latent fire of His Godhead and His boundless charity. But yet not without a blow, for it was while smitten by His persecutors that He prayed for them so ardently. He had Himself said before, “I came to send fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?” (Luke xii. 49). Let the Christian, then, imitate Christ, and make himself a flint, which is full of fire itself, and ignites others; and when he is wrongfully smitten, let him shoot forth sparks of Divine love, as Christ did against His smiters.
They parted His garments, casting lots. S. John relates this more fully (xix. 23). S. Cyril observes on this, “They claim the garments as being theirs by the law of inheritance, as the reward for their services.” S. Chrysostom says also, “This was generally done in the case of mean and utterly destitute criminals.” And again, “They part those garments wherewith miracles were wrought. But at that time they wrought none since Christ did not display His unspeakable power.” It was a great affront and distress to Christ to see His garments insolently torn by the soldiers before His very eyes, and divided by casting lots. But He doubtless wished to die and suffer for us in the utmost poverty, in nakedness and disgrace, and to lay aside not merely His garments, but also His body and His life; that so His ignominy might clothe and hide the ignominy both of our and Adamís nakedness, and restore to us thereby the garments of immortality; “that He might clothe us with immortality and life” ([Pseudo-] Athanasius, de Cruce).
Tropologically: He would teach us to strip off the superfluities of this world.
Now, here observe Christ had a coat without seam. It was a kind of under-garment, worn next to the body, says Euthymius. And he adds, approvingly, that it was woven for Him (as ancient writers held) when a child by the Blessed Virgin. If so, it appears to have grown with His growth, like the garments of the Hebrews in the wilderness. It is religiously preserved, and is to be seen at Treves.
Symbolically: [Pseudo-]Athanasius says, This coat was without seam, “that the Jews might believe who and whence He was who ware it; that He was the Word, who came not from earth,but from Heaven; that He was the inseparable Word of the Father; and that when made man He had a body fashioned of the Virgin alone by the grace of the Spirit.” And again, “This was not their doing, but that of the Saviour as He hung on the Cross. He spoiled principalities, and led the devil captive, and terrified the soldiers so that they rent not the coat, but that as long as it remained it might be a standing testimony against the Jews. For the veil was rent, but not the coat, no not even by the soldiers, but remained entire. For the Gospel ever remains entire when the shadows pass away.” The soldiers rent Christís other garments, and divided them into four parts for the four soldiers who crucified Him, and they again cast lots what each should take. It is supposed He had three garments, the stainless coat, another one over it like a soutane, and the upper coat, which covered the whole body.
Symbolically: [Pseudo-]Athanasius says, “They divided His garments into four parts, because He wore them for the sins of the four quarters of the world. And when the Baptist saw Him clothed therein, he said, ĎBehold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.í”í
Ver. 36. And sitting down they watched Him there. They watched Him lest His disciples should take Him away, or lest He should miraculously descend. But in the Divine counsels it was for another purpose, which they knew not. For, as S. Jerome says, “The watchfulness of the soldiers and of the priests was for our benefit, as manifesting more fully the power of His resurrection.” For they saw Him dying on the Cross, and after He had been seen again alive, would be obliged to confess that He had risen by Divine power.
Ver. 37. And set up over His head His case (causam) written (Syr. the occasion of His death), This is the King of the Jews. They put up a board inscribed with the reason of His crucifixion, that He had set up to be a King. And, consequently, the chief priests suggested that Pilate should not write, “The King of the Jews, but that He said, I am the King of the Jews” (John xix 21). Pilate refused, for he and the Jews meant the same thing. But God guided his hand, and he wrote, in another and truer sense, “This is the King of the Jews,” i.e., the Messiah or Christ. This inscription, then, conferred on Christ the highest honour, for it set forth not only His innocence, but also His dignity, that He was indeed the very Christ, the Redeemer of the world. It therefore convicts and condemns the Jews as His murderers, since it was they who compelled Pilate to crucify Him. Pilate, then, by this very title reproaches them with it, avenges himself on them for their obstinate importunity, and holds them up to general infamy. For he knew well that Jesus was the Messiah, the desire and expectation of all people. Hence Origen says, “This title adorns the head of Jesus as a crown.” And Bede, dwelling on the words “over His head,” says, “Though He was in the weakness of a man suffering for us on the Cross, yet did He shine forth with regal majesty above the Cross.” For it was made known that He was even now beginning to “reign from the tree.” Pilate accordingly refused to alter the title. And by this is signified, mystically, that while the Jews remained in their obstinate unbelief, Gentiles, such as Pilate, would acknowledge and worship Him as their King and Saviour.
Observe, 1. A title, declaring the cause of their death, used to be placed over the head of malefactors. It is hence inferred that the cross was not T-shaped, but with an upper limb to carry the title.
2. No one Evangelist fully sets out the title; but on comparing them all, it is concluded to have been, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
This title still exists in the Church of S. Croce at Rome, though much mutilated. Bosius (de Cruce Triumph. i. 11) gives an exact copy of it as it was when he wrote.
Ver. 38. Then were there crucified (with the like spikes and nails, says Nonnus, on John xix. 19) two thieves, one on the right hand and another on the left. The cross was the punishment of such criminals, and Christ, as placed between them, seemed to be their chief and leader, exactly as the Jews wished, in order to dishonour Him. But God overthrew and turned back on them all their artifices. For, as S. Chrysostom says, “The devil wished to hide the matter, but could not.” For though three were crucified, Jesus only was the distinguished one, to show that all proceeded from His power; for the miracles which took place were attributed to no one but Jesus. Thus were the devices of the devil frustrated, and recoiled on his own head; for even of these two one was saved. Thus, then, so far from marring the glory of the Cross, he greatly increased it. For it was as great a matter for the thief to be converted on the Cross, and to enter Paradise, as for the rocks to be rent.
Symbolically: Christ between the thieves represents the last judgment, with the elect on his right hand and the wicked on His left. So S. Ambrose (in Luke xxiii.); and S. Augustine (Tract. xxxi. in S. John) says, “The Cross, mark it well, was a judgment seat, for the judge, being between them, he who believed was set free, the other was condemned, signifying the judgment of the quick and dead.”
Ver. 39. And they that passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads. All their revilings and insults were blasphemies, as being against the Son of God. “They blasphemed the Holy One of Israel,” Isa. i. 4, and Ps. xxii. 8. This was a greater torment even than the crucifixion. Whence it is said (Ecclus. vii. 11), “Laugh not at a man in the bitterness of his soul.” And Christ complains (Ps. lxix. 26), “They persecute Him whom Thou hast smitten, and added to the pain of My wounds;” and (Ps. xxii. 13), “They gaped upon Me,” &c., so great was their cruelty.
Ver. 40. And saying, Ah! Thou that destroyest the temple of God. The word “Ah!” is a term of reproach. Shame on Thee for boasting! Thou canst destroy the temple of God and build it up in three days! Show that Thou canst do it by setting Thyself free from the cross. If Thou canst not do this small matter, how canst Thou do that greater work on the temple, that vast building?
Ver. 41. Likewise also the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders, said. These were more fierce than the people against Christ, for they jest at His miracles, as though wrought not by the power of God, but by Beelzebub; or certainly as not real, but imaginary. For had they been wrought by God, He would certainly have delivered Him from the Cross. But His not doing it was a sign that He was an impostor. “For they wished Him to die as a boastful and arrogant deceiver,” says S. Chrysostom, “and to be reviled in the sight of all men,” that they might thus utterly stamp out His name and sect, so that no one might afterwards follow his teaching reverence and preach Him as the Messiah.
If Thou be the King of Israel. The King of the Jews, that is, the Messiah. “What is the connection here?” says S. Bernard (Serm. i. in Pasch.); “that He should descend from the Cross, if He be the King of Israel, and not rather go up on it? Hast thou, then, so entirely forgotten, 0 Jew, that Ďthe Lord hath reigned from the tree,í as to say, ĎHe is not King, because He remains on it.í Nay, rather, because He is the King of Israel let Him not abandon the royal title, let Him not lay down the rod of empire, for His government is upon His shoulder. If Pilate hath written what he hath written, shall not Christ complete that which He hath begun?” He goes on to say, “This is clearly the craft of the serpent, the invention of spiritual wickedness. The evil one knew His zeal for the salvation of that people, and therefore most maliciously did he teach these blasphemers to say, ĎLet Him descend, and we will believe,í as though there were now no obstacle to His descending, since He so earnestly desired that they should believe. But He, as knowing all hearts, is not moved by their worthless profession. For their malicious suggestion tended not only to their unbelief, but to our own utter loss of faith in Him. For if we read, ĎPerfect are all the works of Godí (Deut. xxxii. 14), how could we even believe in Him as God if He had left the work of salvation unfinished?” He adds a further reason, “To give him no opportunity of stealing from us our perseverance, which alone is crowned; and that preachers should not be silenced when they exhort the feeble-minded not to abandon their post. For this would be the sure result if they were able to reply that Christ had abandoned His.
Let Him come down from the cross. Christ, though able to do so, was unwilling to descend when thus taunted, because it was the Fatherís command that He should die on the Cross for our redemption. He despised, therefore, their reproaches, to teach us to do the same. So Theophylact (on Mark xv.) observes, “Had He been willing to descend, He would not have ascended at all. But knowing that men were to be saved by this means, He submitted to be crucified.” “He wished not,” said Origen, “to do any unworthy act, because He was jested at, or to do their bidding against reason and due order.” And S. Augustine (Tract. xxxvii. an S. John), “ Because He was teaching patience, He deferred a display of His power. For had He descended, it would seem as though He had given way to their cutting reproaches.” And again, “He deferred the exercise of His power, because He wished not to descend from the Cross, though able to rise from the grave. But yet He manifested His compassion, for while hanging on the Cross He said, ĎFather, forgive them,í &c.”
Lastly, S. Gregory (Hom. xxi. in Evang.) says, “Had He then come down from the Cross, as yielding to their insults, He would not have exhibited the virtue of patience. But He waited awhile, He endured their reproaches and derision, He maintained His patience, He deferred their astonishment, and though He had refused to descend from the Cross, yet He rose from the tomb. And this, indeed, was a much greater matter; greater, indeed, to destroy death by rising again, than to save life by descending from the Cross.”
And we will believe Him to be the Messiah. They spake falsely, for they who believed Him not when He raised others, would assuredly not have believed Him had He freed Himself from death. They should have said that He had descended in appearance only. S. Jerome calls this promise of theirs a “fraudulent one; for which is greater, to descend when alive from the Cross, or to rise again from the grave? He rose again, and ye believed not, and were He even to descend from the Cross, ye would, in like manner, believe not.” Just as heretics now say, We would believe the saints if they wrought miracles; but when their miracles are adduced, they cavil at them as pretended or imaginary.
Ver. 43. He trusted in God, let Him deliver Him, if He will have Him (Arab., if He loved Him), for He said, I am the Son of God. They used the very words of David (Ps. xxii. 8), thus testifying that they were the very persons who were foretold, and that Jesus was the true Messiah, for the whole Psalm speaks of Him. When a man is in the agony of death, all human hope is gone. Confidence in God alone remains, and of this, His last stay, they try to deprive Him. Thou hast vainly put Thy trust in God. Thou hast said falsely that Thou art the Son of God. If He loved Thee, He would set Thee free. But as He will not, Thou art clearly not His Son, but an odious impostor. Thus do they revile and seek to drive Him to despair, as the devil who assails men in their last agony. But how fallacious was their argument! For God, as specially loving Christ, wished Him to die on the Cross, that He might afterwards glorify Him in His resurrection, and by Him save many souls. Now Christ knew all this. He heeded not their revilings, but fixed all His hope on God, and thereby gained from Him both of these great ends. He poured forth accordingly, after all these insults, fresh acts of confidence in God, teaching us to do the like. “Thou art He that took Me out of My motherís womb,” &c. (Ps. xxii. 10). And so, too, the Martyrs used to say that God would not deliver them, in order that He might give them a better life, and the crown of martyrdom.
The Wise Man, speaking in their person, foretold all these insults (Wisd. ii. 13), and then added, “Such thoughts had they, and were in error,” &c.
Tropologically: Sinners utter reproaches against Christ when they dishonour Him by their sins. S. Bernard (Rhythm on Passion) makes Him thus tenderly appeal to them:
“íTis I who die for thee, to thee who cry,
Thee I exhort on Cross uplifted high;
íTis I who bare for thee, and open wide
The cruel spear-wound in My sacred side;
My inward and My outward pains are great,
But sadder far to find thee thus ingrate.”
Zechariah (xiii. 6) speaks of His being wounded in the house of His friends.
Ver. 44. The thieves also which were crucified with Him uttered against Him the like reproach. The Greek Fathers, and S. Hilary among the Latins, think it probable that both the thieves blasphemed Christ at first, but that one of them afterwards repented. But the Latin Fathers consider that the plural is here, by synecdoche, put for the singular. “Thieves,” i.e., “one of the thieves” (as Luke xxiii. 36, “the soldiers,” meaning one of them); S. Matthew wishing by the word thieves to point out not so much the persons of the thieves, as the condition of those who insulted Christ; all vying in insulting Him, even the thief at His side. S. Luke (xxiii. 40) gives the story of the other thief (see Comment. in loc.).
Here comes in the third word on the Cross, “Woman, behold thy Son,” &c. (see John xix. 26, and the notes thereon).
Ver. 45. But from the sixth hour there was darkness over the whole earth unto the ninth hour. From mid-day, i.e., till 3 P.M., which is usually the brightest part of the day. This darkness was supernatural; as though the sun and the whole heavens were veiled in black, as bewailing the ignominious death of Christ their Lord. So S. Jerome and S. Cyprian (de Bono Patient.); and S. Chrysostom (in Catena), “The creature could not bear the wrong done to its Creator, and the sun withdrew his rays, that he might not see the evil doing of the wicked.”
Again, it took place at full moon. It lasted much longer than an ordinary eclipse; it was total, the light of the moon as well as of the sun being withdrawn, the stars being seen, and so on.
Over the whole earth. Of Judæa, say Origen and Maldonatus. Others, more correctly (as S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and others), over the whole world. Dionysius, the Areopagite, is said to have exclaimed at the time, “Either the God of Nature (or, as otherwise quoted, Ďan Unknown Godí) is steering, or the fabric of the world is being dissolved.” He was afterwards converted by S. Paulís preaching Christ at Athens as the Unknown God. ĎThis, then, was a token of Christís Godhead; for when the sun, the eye of the world, was obscured and dying out, it signified that Christ, its God and Lord, the Sun of Righteousness, was dying on the Cross, and that sun and moon and all the elements were bewailing Him in His agony.
Symbolically: This darkness signified the blinding of the Jews. So S. Chrysostom (de Cruce), Darkness is to this very day upon them; but with us night is turned into day. For it is the property of godliness to shine in the darkness; but ungodliness, though in the light, is in darkness still. Night is for believers turned into day, but for unbelievers their very light is darkness. It is said of believers, “Their darkness is no darkness, and their night shall be clear as the day” (Ps. cxxxix. 11); but for unbelievers even the day is turned into night, for “they shall grope for the wall as the blind” (Isa. lx. 10), “they will walk in mid-day as in the night” (Job v. 14).
Ver. 46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama Sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? quoting Ps. xxii. 1. “Sabachthani” is Syriac, not Hebrew.
He was indeed continually praying on the Cross, and offering Himself wholly to God for manís salvation. But as his death was drawing near He recited this Psalm, which throughout speaks of His Passion, to show that He was the very person there spoken of, and that the Jews might thus learn the reason why He refused to descend from the Cross, viz., because the Father had decreed that He should die for the salvation of men; as David had there foretold.
Calvin says impiously that these were the words of Christ in despair, for that He was obliged to experience the full wrath of God which our sins deserve, and even the sufferings of the lost, of which despair is one. But this blasphemy refutes itself. For if he despaired on the Cross, He sinned most grievously. He therefore did not satisfy but rather enflamed, the wrath of God. And how can it be said that Christ ever despaired, when He said shortly afterwards, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit”? Christ therefore does not cry out as being forsaken by the Godhead and hypostatic union of the Word, nor even by the grace and love of God, but only because the Father did not rescue Him from instant death, nor soothe in any way His cruel sufferings, but permitted Him to endure unmitigated tortures. And all this was to show how bitter was His death on the Cross, the rending asunder of His soul and body with such intense pain as to lead Him to pray in His agony and bloody sweat, “Father, if it be possible,” &c. So S. Jerome, S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and other Fathers; nor do & Hilary and S. Ambrose mean anything else in saying, “The man cried aloud when dying at being separated from the Godhead.” For they mean not a severing of essence and of the hypostatical union, but of support and consolation. For the faith teaches us that though the soul of Christ was separated from His body, yet the Godhead remained as before, hypostatically united both to His soul and His body. Besides this, Christ complained of His desertion, because the Godhead withheld Its succour, solely to keep Him still suffering, and to prolong His life for greater endurances; nay, rather to augment His pain when He saw Himself, though in union with Godhead, enduring such atrocious indignities (see S. L. Justiniani, de Triumph. Agone Christi, cap. viii.).
Symbolically: Christ here inquires why He was thus forsaken. What have I done that I should die on this Cross? I am most innocent, the Saint of Saints. He gives His own answer. “Far off from My salvation are the words of My sins” (Ps. xxii. 1), meaning thereby, “The sins of men, whose expiation the Father hath put on Me, these are they which take away My life, and bring Me to the death of the Cross.” But some (see Theophylact) consider that He is here speaking not of His own desertion, but of that of the Jewish people.
Origen thinks He is complaining of the fewness of those who will be saved, and the multitude of the lost, in whom the fruit of His Passion comes to nought. Why forsakest Thou My kinsmen in the flesh, for whom I am dying? Why savest Thou the few and rejectest the many? For in so doing Thou forsakest Myself; for thou makest the fruit of My suffering to perish.
Tropologically: [Arnold apud] Cyprian (de Passione) thinks He spoke thus in order that we should inquire why He was forsaken. “He was forsaken,” he says, “that we should not be forsaken; that we should be set free from our sins and eternal death; to manifest His love to us; to display His righteousness and compassion; to draw our love towards Him; lastly, to set before us an example of patience” The way to Heaven is open, but it is arduous and difficult. He wished to precede us with His wondrous example, that the way might not terrify us, but that the stupendous example of God in suffering might urge us on to say exultingly with S. Paul, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
This, then, His fourth word on the Cross, is a consolation to all who are desolate and afflicted. He consoled in this way S. Peter Martyr when falsely accused. The Saint complained to Christ (he was kneeling before the crucifix) that he had kept silence, and not defended him. Christ replied, “What wrong had I done to be crucified for thee on this Cross? Learn patience from Me, for all thy sufferings cannot equal Mine.” The Saint on this was so strengthened that he wished to endure still further suffering. And therefore Christ at length established his innocence, and turned all his disgrace into glory (see Surius, April 29).
Ver. 47. Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. According to S. Jerome and others, these were the Roman soldiers, who also gave Him vinegar (Luke xxiii. 36). But not understanding Hebrew, they thought He called for Elias, of whose return at Christís coming they had beard from the Jews.
Ver. 48. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave Him to drink. All these were ready at hand, for the drink used to be given to those who were crucified. They did this as soon as Jesus had cried, “I thirst” (John xix. 28), His fifth word on the Cross. The sponge was for Christ to suck out the vinegar, as they could not lift a cup to His lips. The sponge is preserved in St. Johnís Lateran. Wine was usually given to those who were crucified, to quench their thirst, and strengthen them to bear their tortures. But the Jews (and, the soldiers to gratify the Jewsí hatred to Christ) offered Him vinegar instead (Ps. 1xix. 22). De Lyra says (quoting Prov. xxxi. 6) that devout women used to prepare wine flavoured with spices, but that the Jews on this occasion took it away, and put in its stead vinegar mingled with gall.
Now they gave it Him in mockery, to give Him pain by the bitterness of the draught; to increase and not to quench His thirst, this being the property of vinegar. Baronius thinks it was given to keep Him alive, and thus prolong His suffering; Theophylact, Cajetan, and others, that it was to hasten His death. “For vinegar has malignant properties,” says Theophylact, “which penetrates into wounds.” Thusó
Symbolically: It signifies the malignity which the Jews, and all sinners, exhibit to Christ. So S. Augustine (in John xix. 29), “Give that which ye are yourselves.” For the Jews were as vinegar, in degenerating from the wine of the Patriarchs and Prophets; having a heart full of iniquity, as a vessel full of vinegar; and full of fraud, like a sponge, with its winding and hollow hiding-places.
But Christ by drinking the vinegar converted it for us into wine, and by so doing gained power to turn our vices into virtues, our weaknesses into glory. “The wine,” says S. Hilary, “which turned acid in Adam was the glory or might of immortality. But He drank it, and thus transfused into Himself, and into union with immortality, that which in us was vitiated.” And so Remigius, “Vinegar means the Jews who had degenerated from their fathers; the sponge, their hearts full of fraud; the reed, Holy Scripture, which was thus fulfilled.”
And put it on a reed. That is, the stalk of some plant. S. John (xix. 29) says it was the stalk of the hyssop. For the Cross was not high, so that by stretching out the arms the sponge on a short stalk would easily reach Christís mouth. In Palestine the garden hyssop grows higher than in Europe, though on walls it grows low (1 Kings iv. 33). Sometimes it runs to 18 inches.
Some suspect that for ύσσώπω is to be read ύσσω̃, a spear; a mere conjecture. Others think, with S. Augustine, that a sponge full of vinegar was placed on the hyssop, and then both of them on the reed. Others, that a sponge full of hyssop juice and vinegar was placed on the reed. Anyhow, the sponge was placed on the hyssop, whether it was itself the stalk or merely fastened to it.
Hyssop was given, because it is frequently used with wine and vinegar (see Columella, de Re Rust. xii. 35; and Pliny, N. H. xiv. 16). It has reviving, and strengthening, and other medicinal properties.
Now the soldiers tied the hyssop round the sponge, that the vinegar should not escape, and that Christ, taking the vinegar and the hyssop, might revive.
It was used for cleansing lepers (Lev. xiv. 49), also in the sin-offering and in the sprinkling of the water of purification (Num. xix. 2 seq); and was therefore a type of Christís Blood, in its purifying, refreshing, and strengthening power. “It is a lowly herb,” says S. Augustine on John xix., “cleansing the chest, and signifies the humility of Christ, whereby we are cleansed.”
Ver. 49. But the rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save Him. The word “let be” is here in the singular, in S. Mark in the plural. In the plural it would mean, keep quiet, attend solely to Jesus, see whether Elias will come to save Him; for they doubted whether He were really the Messiah, whose precursor Elias was to be. S. Mark says that only one soldier spoke thus, addressing the rest. It is supposed by S. Augustine (de Cons. Evang. iii. 17) and others that the word was used both by the one soldier and by the whole body; secondly, that the soldiers said to him that offered the vinegar, Wait a while, do not give it, for fear He should die too soon, for vinegar hastens death; let us see whether Elias will come. And that he replied, Let me give it, lest He should die of thirst. Just let Him drink it, and keep alive; so shall we see whether Elias will come (so Jansenius). Or, again, that the soldiers said to him who offered the vinegar, Leave Him alone, do not annoy Him. For they thought that Elias would come if He were left alone, but not if others were about Him. And that he replied, Cease your clamour, lest ye drive Elias away; or otherwise, Leave Him lest ye hasten His death (Barradi). Or, again, Suffer me to mock Him in this way, for the more He is molested, the more will Elias come if he wishes to help Him. What I am doing will not delay but rather hasten his coming. Or, it may be, Let me give Him the vinegar, for I shall thus kill Him, and keep Elias from saving Him. For all this (as S. Luke says) was done in jest and mockery.
Ver. 50. But Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. “Again” refers to the former words on the Cross. He first cried out, and then expired. S. Luke gives the exact words, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” In the Greek, “I will lay down My life; I will consign it into Thy hands as a deposit, to take it back when I am raised up on the third day.” Hence the faithful use this verse when dying, as David first used it when in suffering (Ps. xxxi. 5).[xxx. 6]
It was by a miracle that Christ cried with a loud voice, for the dying lose their voice, so that they can hardly speak. For though S. Thomas says (par. iii. q. 47) that Christ preserved the vigour and strength of His body to the last; yet others suppose, more correctly, that His strength had so failed by what He had gone through, that He could not cry out naturally, but only by a miracle, for otherwise He would not have died through the violence of His sufferings, but merely by His own voluntary severing of His soul and body, and thus would not have been slain, or have made satisfaction to His Father by His death of violence.
He cried out, then, by the supernatural powers which His Godhead furnished. And that to signify, 1st, that He, as God, died not by compulsion or necessity, but of His own free will. As He said, “I have power to lay down My life,” &c. (John x. 18); and that His sacrifice of Himself might clearly be voluntary. “He had His whole life and death,” says S. Victor of Antioch, “entirely in His own power.” 2ndTo show that He was more than man, and was God, as the Centurion exclaimed. 3rd To set forth His vehement love of God, His reverence, His obedience, and earnest desire for manís salvation (see Heb. v. 7, and notes thereon). 4th To indicate His sure and certain hope of His glorious resurrection on the third day (so Origen).
Yielded up the ghost. Voluntarily. “For that which is sent forth (emittitur) is voluntary, that which is lost (amittitur) is of necessity,” S. Ambrose (in Luc. xxiii.); and S. Augustine (de Trin. iv. 13), “The spirit of the Mediator left not His body against His will, but because of it when He willed, and as He willed it; for man was blended into union with the Word of God. Hence He says, ĎI have power,í” &c. (John x. 18).
So, too, S. Jerome, Bede, and others. Whence, also, “He bowed His head” (John xix. 30). “As the Lord of death,” says Theophylact; “for other men when dying first breathe their last, and then bow the head, which thus droops by its own weight.” S. Chrysostom says this was “to show that He died not of necessity, but voluntarily. He lived as long as He willed; when He willed He gave up the ghost.” A spurious work attributed to S. Athanasius is also quoted to the same effect. For though His human nature sank beneath the violence of His pains, and He ought to have died, yet His Godhead was able to give it strength, and to prolong His life. That nature, therefore, could not die, except by permission of His Godhead. He therefore freely died, whether as God or man; for His human nature could have asked, and would have obtained, this strength from His Godhead.
Observe, He died at the ninth hour, the very hour when Adam sinned, and to expiate his sin. The same hour also when the Paschal Lamb was slain, and the Jews offered the daily sacrifice. And this to show that He thus fulfilled all these types in His death. Whence the ninth hour is the Christianís hour of prayer.
Symbolically and Morally: He bowed His head, as bearing the burden of all menís sins, sin being the heaviest of all burdens; to mark His obedience, thus teaching “religious” persons, and those under authority, to obey those over them (conf. Phil. ii. 8); to humble Himself before the Father, to do Him reverence, and to submit His own will to His, even to the death of the Cross; to bid farewell to the world, especially to Italy and the West, for His head, as we have said, was turned towards Italy, which He wished to make illustrious by His faith, and by the Pontificate and martyrdom of SS. Peter and Paul; to bid farewell to His Mother; to mark the spot where the spear was to pierce Him; to show that He and His Father were by His Passion reconciled to men. So S. Augustine (de Virg,.) says, “Behold His wounds when hanging, His Blood when dying, His value when dying, His scars when rising, His head bent down to kiss, His heart opened to love, His arms extended to embrace, His whole body exposed to redeem,” &c. It was, again, to show that His soul would descend below, and set the Patriarchs free; to manifest His compassion. “He made His head to melt,” says Laur. Justiniani (de Triumph. Agone, cap. xx.), “to show compassion; He bent down to display His grace; He bowed it to show forgiveness;” again, to manifest His love for S. John, the Magdalen, and others like them who were standing by, and to turn away from those who shrank from the Cross; to look away (again) from the title on the Cross, as declining, and teaching us to decline, all worldly sovereignty and pomp; to show that His death, as He was to rise on the third day, was rather sleep than death; for they who sleep bow the head, “I will lay me down in peace,” &c. (Ps. iv. 8). Lastly, having fulfilled His mission, He asks, as it were, His Fatherís blessing and permission to depart from the world. He seems to say, I have finished My course, I have done and suffered for manís salvation all Thou commandest. Permit Me to die, and return to Thee. And I ask, too, according to Thy promise (Ps. ii. 8), that all nations may be converted and saved by My Passion and death. I have done Thy bidding, fulfil Thou Thy word. “Religious” persons and Priests, in like manner, when their mission is done, return to their Superiors, bow the head, and ask their blessing, and their former rank and position. S. Bernard pointedly says, in a moral sense, “What avails it to follow Christ if Thou canst not come up with Him? For S. Paul said, ĎSo run that ye may attain.í Fix the limits of thy course where Christ fixed His. ĎHe became obedient even unto death.í However far thou hast run, if thou hast not gone as far as unto death, thou wilt not win the prize.”
Ver. 51. And behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. At the death of Christ the Creator the whole Creation was agitated with indignation. S. Augustine (de Cons. Evang. iii. 19) observes that the veil was rent immediately on His death, to show that it was on account of it. S. Luke, therefore, who connects it with the darkness which took place before His death, speaks by anticipation. Now there were two veils, one before the Holy of Holies, the other before the Holy Place, which the priests entered every day. But the Holy of Holies the Chief Priest alone entered, and once only in the year. Some consider that the outer veil was rent (S. Jerome, Ep. cl. ad Hedibiam). But it was clearly the inner one. (See S. Leo, Serm. x. de Pass.; S. Cyril, in John xix.; Euthymius and others.) But why was it rent? S. Cyril, Theophylact, and Euthymius say to show that the temple was indignant that the Priests, who should have been the first to acknowledge Christ, had denied and slain Him. And that it thus foretold, and threatened, as it were, that they were to be deprived of their Priesthood (S. Leo, Serm. x. de Pass.).
Mystically: Theophylact says it was to signify that the temple was to be profaned, and done away with, and set aside, with all its rites and sacrifices (nay, more, says S. Chrysostom, “to be laid waste”). “God in this way made it manifest,” says Theophylact, “that the grace of the Holy Spirit was flying away from the temple, and that the Holy of Holies (before inaccessible) was brought within view of all.” “For then,” says S. Cyril (xii. 27 on John), “Israel fell utterly away from the grace of God when it so madly and impiously slew its Saviour.” And S. Hilary, “The glory of the veil was taken away, and the protection of the guardian angel.” Hence S. Ephr. (Serm. de Pass.) records that when it was rent asunder, a dove, the type of the Holy Spirit flew out of the temple.
Allegorically: To signify that the veil of legal ceremonies was thrown open, as fulfilled in Christ, so that henceforth both Jews and Gentiles should clearly know God, and Christ, and His Mysteries, which the Jews figuratively shadowed forth in so many ways; nay, more, that the service and Church of God should be transferred from Jerusalem, and the temple to the Gentiles and to Rome. So Origen, S. Jerome, S. Ambrose, and others. S. Leo says (Serm. xvii. de Pass.), “There was then so clear a change made from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from the many sacrifices to the One Victim, God Himself, that when our Lord gave up the ghost the veil was violently and suddenly rent asunder.” And S. Jerome, “The veil of the temple was rent, and all the mysteries of the Law, which before were kept secret, were then laid open, and handed over to the Gentiles.”
Anagogically: S. Paul says (Heb. ix.) that the way to Heaven, was then opened, for the Holy of Holies was a type of Heaven, and the veil signified that it was closed till Christ burst through it by His death. S. Jerome mentions that the huge lintel of the temple was then broken (Epist. cl.). But Josephus says that it was at the destruction of Jerusalem.
And the earth did quake. 1. That is, the whole earth, as the darkness (ver. 45) was universal. Many authorities are quoted for this. Didymus (in Catena) says it was prophesied by Job (ix. 6). Both Pliny and Suetonius speak of a great earthquake in Asia at this time. By this earthquake was indicated the Godhead of Christ, for He it was who shook the earth, earthquakes being frequently ascribed to divine power, e.g., 1 Kings xix. 11; Ex. xix.; Ps. xviii. 7; Nahum iii. 6. In the Passion, then, of Christ is fulfilled the prophecy of Hag. ii. 6.
2. It signified the natural indignation of the earth at the awful crime committed against its Lord.
Mystically: It signified the new heavens and earth (Isa. lxv. 17), for the old earth seemed to be passing away.
Tropologically: It signified that the earthly and stony hearts of men would be moved to repentance by the death of Christ, since the earth, the sea, the sun, and the heavens, the darkened air, and the riven rocks, proclaimed their indignation at the death of their Creator. But see here how Christ, in His lowliest estate, manifested His supreme majesty and power, that He might not seem to be compelled to die, and that men, learning who and how mighty He was, who was suffering for them such vile indignities with such great dignity, might be astounded and awe-struck. For, as S. Ambrose says (de Fide v. 2), “Jesus was wearied by His journey, that He might refresh the wearied; He asks for drink, though about to give spiritual drink to those who thirsted for it; He is hungry, though about to give the food of life to the hungry; He dies, though about to quicken; He is buried, though about to rise again; He hangs on the trembling tree, though about to strengthen the trembling; He covers the heaven with darkness, that He may illuminate it; He shakes the earth, in order to make it firm; He lifteth up the sea, that He may calm it; He unbars the tombs of the dead, to show that they are the abodes of the living; He is fashioned of a Virgin, that He may be believed to be the Son of God; He assumes ignorance, that He may instruct the ignorant; He is said to worship as a Jew, to the end that He may be worshipped as indeed the Son of God.”
And the rocks rent. First in Golgotha. Whence S. Cyril Hieros. says (Catech. xiii.), “Up to this day Golgotha bears its witness, where on Christís account the rocks were rent.” And S. Lucian, too, giving a reason for His faith to the Governor, says, “With these, too, agree the very spot at Jerusalem, and the rock of Golgotha, which was burst asunder by the weight of the Cross.” Adrichomius (Descr. Jerus. num. 252) speaks more fully. “There can be seen even now the fissure which was made at Christís death, and also the stain of His Blood,” and then describes at length its size, &c. But in many other places besides, says Baronius (ad An. 34, num. 107), the rocks were rent, as at Mount Alverno, where it was revealed to S. Francis that this took place at the crucifixion. He had accordingly a great devotion to the place, and he there received the Stigmata. S. Ambrose therefore justly exclaims, “0 breasts of the Jews! harder than rocks, for the rocks were rent, but their hearts were hardened,” &c.
Allegorically: S. Jerome (ad Hedib. q. 8), “The rocks were rent, that is, the hard hearts or rocks of the Gentiles; the universal predictions, too, of the Prophets (who, as well as the Apostles, were termed rocks, by the Rock which is Christ), that whatever was concealed in them by the hard covering of the Law might be rent open and revealed to the Gentiles. The tombs also (of whom it was written that they were as whited sepulchres) were rent, that they who were dead in unbelief might come forth; might live with Christ who had risen; might enter the Heavenly Jerusalem, and have their citizenship no longer on earth, but in Heaven; might die with the earthly, to reign with the Heavenly Adam.” Eusebius mentions that at Paxos a voice was heard, “Great Pan is dead,” which he explains of Lucifer, whom Christ destroyed by His own death. Others say that Pan was Christ, being “our God and all,” and that the devils bewailed His death, because they were thereby despoiled of their dominion over the world.
Ver. 52. And the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. This was immediately on Christís death (as S. Matthew implies), to signify that it was wrought by the power of His Passion, and consequently that by the same power death was overcome, and life restored to mankind. So Bede, Theophylact, and S. Jerome, who says, “The graves were opened in token of the future resurrection.” So, too, S. Ambrose (cap. x. on Luke). And S. Hilary says, “Illumining the darkness of death, and lighting up the gloom of the pit, He robbed death of its spoils, in order to [mark? word missing] the resurrection of the dead who are now asleep.” But yet they came not forth from their graves till after Christís resurrection (see ver. 53). For S. Paul terms Christ “the first-born from the dead” (Col. i. 18), and “the first-fruits of them that rise again” (1 Cor. xv. 20). For Christ by His death procured resurrection both for Himself and for us. It was therefore but right that, when He had overcome death, He should be the first to rise as its conqueror, and others after Him. (So Origen, S. Jerome, and Bede.)
They rose, then, that Christ might confirm the truth of His resurrection, by those His companions who announced it; and, again, that in and through them Christ might manifest the power of His Passion; that just as the souls of the Patriarchs were freed by it from the pit, so, mystically, would menís souls, which were dead in sin, be now quickened by His grace, and themselves rise gloriously at last to a blessed and eternal life.
Did, then, these saints die again after their resurrection, or continue in life and glory? Some think they did die, and are to rise again at the last day, and this from S. Paulís words, “That they without us should not be made perfect.” (See S. Augustine, Epist. xcix. ad Evodium.) Others suppose, and more correctly, that they died no more, but were raised up to life immortal. Because it was but fitting that Christ should manifest at once in their resurrection the power of His own. It was also meet that happy souls like these should be united only to glorious and immortal bodies. But their happiness would have been but brief, and their misery greater, if they had died again so speedily. It would have been better, indeed, if they had not risen at all. It was also but fitting that they should adorn Christís triumphant ascension, as captives redeemed by Him, and the spoils He had won from death; and, lastly, that He should have them with Him in Heaven, and that His human nature, enjoying their presence and society, might never be solitary and void of human consolation. So Origen, S. Jerome, S. Clemens Alex. (Strom. lib. vi.), and others. The words “without us” do not refer to the day of judgment, but to the resurrection of Christ and Christians. (See notes on Heb. xi. 40.)
But it is not clear who these saints were. Probably those, in the first place, who were specially connected with Christ, either by kindred, or promise, or type and figure, or by faith and hope, or else by chastity and holiness; as Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Melchisedek, David, who wished to be buried in the promised land, and thus be partakers of Christís resurrection. Job, also, and Jonah, as types of the resurrection; Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Isaiah, and the other Prophets. Daniel, also, and his three companions (though their bodies are at Rome). Eve, also (some suppose), as well as Adam, though Lorinus considers that the Blessed Virgin was the first woman raised from the grave, as Christ Himself was the first-fruits among men. Those, also, who died but recently; as Zacharias, Simeon, S. John the Baptist (though his head is shown at Rome and Amiens, his finger at Florence). Raymundus also (lib. de Bono Latrone, cap. xiii.) mentions the penitent thief, though S. Augustine (contr. Felician cap. xv.) says, but only by the way, that he was reserved for the future resurrection. There were also many more (especially those mentioned in Heb. xi.) outside Judæa, for “many bodies of the saints arose.” For it was indeed quite in harmony with the profuse magnificence of Christ that a crowded procession of the saints who then arose should dignify His resurrection and ascension.
Tropologically: This, says S. Jerome, “is a type of believers, who once, like the graves of the dead, have forsaken their sins, and whose hard hearts have been softened to acknowledge their Creator, and who have risen through penitence to a life of grace.”
Went into the Holy City. Jerusalem, so called because of the temple worship, of the many saints who had been there, and of the institution of the Church therein by Christ the King of Saints.
And appeared unto many. To the Apostles, and disciples, and also to the Jews, to persuade them to believe in the resurrection. “That by their resurrection,” says Euthymius, “others might be the more assured, by considering that He who had raised them had much more surely raised Himself.”
Now when the centurion, &c. Baronius and others suppose that this was Longinus, to whose keeping Pilate had consigned Christ. He was converted by the miracles he had seen, and became a witness and preacher of the resurrection. He is said to have retired to Cappadocia, and there to have been martyred by the Jews (see Surius, March 15). Lucius Dexter, a writer of small authority, considers it was C. Oppius, a Spaniard, afterwards the third Bishop of Milan (see Cornelius, Proæm. in Acta ad fin.).
Saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. God enlightened him to acknowledge from what he had seen that Jesus was more than man, and God indeed. He had heard that He had been condemned for calling Himself the King of the Jews. But when he saw that God had borne witness to Him by these many miracles, he acknowledged that He had spoken truly. It was thus Godís will that the Centurion should bear unquestionable witness to Christ (S. Hilary). S. Augustine thinks that he confessed Him to be the Son of God not in a natural, but only in a spiritual sense, as a righteous and holy man (Luke xxiii. 47). But others, more correctly, that he confessed Him to be the Son of God by nature. So S. Jerome, “Consider that the Centurion in the very scandal of the Passion confessed Him to be truly the Son of God, and that Arius proclaims Him a creature;” and adds, “But now the last are first; the Gentile people confess, the Jews in their blindness deny, that their last error may be worse than their first.” And Theophylact, “The order of things is reversed, while the Jews kill, the disciples fly, and a Gentile confesses. Now do the Lordís words (John xii. 32) receive their fulfilment, for lifted up on the Cross He drew to Himself the robber and the Centurion.” Bede too, “The faith of the Church is very fitly designated by the Centurion, for when the Synagogue is mute, it affirms Him to be the Son of God.” Lastly, S. Bernard (Serm. ii. de Epiph.), “How keen-sighted is faith! It recognises the Son of God when at the breast, when hanging on the Cross. If the thief recognised Him on the Cross, so did the Magi in the stable. The thief proclaims Him King, but the Centurion the Son of God, and man too at the same time.”
Not only the Centurion and the soldiers, but, as S. Luke (xxiii. 48) adds, “All the people . . . smote their breasts,” in token of sorrow, “and returned.” They begin now to put forth the blossoms of repentance, that they may bear fruit at the preaching of S. Peter and the Apostles (Acts ii.).
Here comes in S. John xix. 31, on which see notes in loc.
Ver. 55. And many women were there (beholding) afar off, &c. S. Matthew says this to set forth how much greater faith, constancy, and affection for Jesus these women had than men. “See how things were reversed,” says Euthymius; “the disciples had fled, but the women remained.” For women are commonly more holy than men, and hence the Church prays “for the devout sex of women.” It was also to point out that they, as grave and pious matrons, were reliable witnesses of what had taken place, and moreover that they had carefully provided for His burial. It was also to show that they had been so drawn to Him by His patience and holiness, that they could not be torn away, either by fear, or by the threats of the Jews, from wondering, gazing, and meditating on Him.
Many women. The Blessed Mother was the chief, the others merely her attendants. She “stood by the Cross,” bearing all the pains in her compassion which He endured in His Passion, and with like constancy and fortitude. S. Antoninus says (Theol. par. iv. tit. 15, cap. 41), “The Virgin was so conformed to the Divine Will that, if necessary (as Anselm says), she would herself have offered Him on the Cross; for her obedience was equal to Abrahamís.”
Damascene (de Fide, iv. 25) points out the greatness of her pain. “The Virgin suffered at the Passion the pangs she escaped in child-birth.” And S. Anselm (de Excell. Virg. cap. v.), “Whatever suffering was inflicted on martyrs was light, 0 Virgin, compared with thine.” And S. Laur.Justiniani (de Agone Christi, cap. ii.), “The heart of the Virgin was made the brightest mirror of Christís Passion;” and cap. xvii., “The Son was crucified in body, the Mother in mind.” And S. Bernard, in Apoc. xii., on the words “a great sign,” says, “A mighty pain, 0 Virgin, pierced thy soul, so that we rightly term thee more than martyr, for in thee the feeling of compassion was far greater than the sense of bodily suffering.”
Baronius (ad An. 34, cap. xi.) describes, from Simeon Metaphrastes, her great self-possession, in helping to take Him down from the Cross, treasuring the nails in her bosom, washing His wounds with her tears, embracing His body in her arms, and saying at last with calm voice, “0 Lord, the mystery ordained for Thee before all ages has come at length.” And on giving the napkin to Joseph, she said, “It will now be thy duty to bury Him honourably in this, to perfume Him with myrrh, and to perform for Him all rightful observances.”
Afar off. S. John says they stood “by the Cross,” meaning thereby opposite to it, though at some distance. For the soldiers who were watching Christ, and the dense crowd, kept them from coming very near. But they came as close as they could to hear and see Him. Adrichomius says about eighteen paces. Some say that they were close at one time, and farther off at another. The Greek adds, “beholding” both the wondrous patience of Jesus, and the prodigies which took place around Him, and pondering over them in their mind with holy meditation.
Ministering unto Him. Supporting Him and His disciples. S. Jerome says, “It was a Jewish custom for women thus to minister to their teachers.”
Among whom (as the chief and leader of the rest) was Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast forth seven devils, who clung to Him from gratitude, and would not be torn from Him.
And Mary the mother of James and Joses. The wife of Cleophas or Alphæus. Salmeron considers her the daughter of Cleophas; called from her relationship, Mary the sister of our Lordís mother, from her husband, Mary (the wife) of Alphæus. See above, chap. xiii. 55.
And the mother of Zebedeeís children. Salome. See Mark xv. 40.
Ver. 57. But when even was come. Evening was drawing on, but had not yet come, and it was necessary for Him to be buried before the evening, when the Sabbath (on which they had to rest) began.
A certain rich man. For a poor man would not have dared to make such a request, says S. Jerome.
Of Arimathæa. Called (1. Sam. i.) Ramathaim-Zophim, afterwards Rania, Aarima, and Memphis (S. Jerome, de locis Hebr.), called Rama from its high position. Joseph was a native of the place, but a citizen of Jerusalem. Arimathæa, says S. Jerome, means “lifted up,” as was Joseph here.
Named Joseph. Christ came into the world by Joseph the betrothed husband of the Virgin,* and was buried by another Joseph. Joseph means “increased”óthat is, by the grace of God. For as the Patriarch Joseph abounded in chastity and affection for his father, so did Joseph the husband of the Virgin excel in chastity; and this Joseph, again, was eminent for his tender love for Christ, his spiritual father, when now dead. S. Mark calls him a noble Counsellor (βουλευτής), in Vulg. decurio, which was the provincial word for Senator. He is supposed to have been a Councillor of Jerusalem, from his having lived and made his burial-place there. Maldonatus supposes he took part in the Council about taking and killing Christ (Matt. xxvi. 4), but that he did not agree with the rest (Luke xxiii. 51). “Whence some think,” says S. Jerome, “that he is spoken of in Ps. i.”
Who also himself was Jesusí disciple, and thus wished to perform the last offices for his Master.
Ver. 58. He came to Pilate. “Came boldly, says S. Mark, for though, for fear of the Jews, he was a secret disciple, yet he fearlessly entered on this difficult work; for he was both strengthened by Christ and urged on by the Blessed Virgin (see above, ver. 55). “From this we may see, says Victor of Antioch, “his great resolution and boldness, for he nearly sacrificed his own life for Christís sake, by drawing down on himself the suspicions of his Jewish enemies;” and S. Chrysostom, “The boldness of Joseph is highly to be admired, when for love of Christ he incurred peril of death, and exposed himself to general hatred.” S. Luke and S. Mark say, “who also himself waited for the Kingdom of God.” He hoped, i.e., through Christ, for heavenly love, and thus risked danger for His sake.
And begged the body of Jesus. S. Anselm (Dial. de Pass.) says it was revealed to himself by the Blessed Virgin that Joseph gave this reason, among others, for his request, that His mother was dying of grief for her only Son, and that it was unreasonable that the innocent mother should die as well as the Son; but that it would be some consolation to her to bury Him. Grant her, therefore, most afflicted as she is, this favour. It is probable, also, that he alleged the holiness and innocence of Jesus, which Pilate well knew, and that therefore His body ought not to be cast forth with those of criminals into the Valley of Corpses, adjoining Golgotha, but was worthy of honourable burial, which he was ready to provide.
A wild story is here told, on the authority of the Gospel of Nicodemus, that Joseph was in consequence imprisoned by the Chief Priests, and miraculously delivered; and that, when the Chief Priests required the soldiers to produce the body of Jesus, they replied, “Do you produce Joseph, and we will produce Christ” (Greg. Tur. Hist. i. 21), whereupon the soldiers were acquitted of the charge. There is an equally improbable story in Baronius (ad An. 35, cap. 4), that Joseph crossed with S. Mary Magdalene and others in a vessel without oars or sail to Marseilles, and from thence to England, where he preached Christ, and was venerated after his death there as the Apostle of England.
Then (having heard and approved of Josephís reasons) Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. That he might thus make Him some kind of satisfaction for having condemned Him to death, and also palliate his own conduct by giving Him an honourable burial, as though he had condemned Him by compulsion.
To be delivered. On Joseph paying a price, says Theophylact. But this is not probable, for the reasons just given, and because S. Mark says, “He gave the body to Joseph,” who had it as a gift, and did not pay for it. It would indeed have been a most sordid and avaricious act for Pilate to have sold it. “To be delivered” means “to be given,” as in the Syriac. But the Evangelist says “to be delivered,” because the body had been already given up to the soldiers for crucifixion. He orders them, therefore, to return it to Joseph. S. Mark adds, “But Pilate marvelled if He were already dead,” because the thieves were not yet dead, and also (says Euthymius) because he expected that Jesus would die slowly being a divine man, far surpassing others in endurance. “But when he knew from the Centurion that He was dead, he gave the body to Joseph” (Mark xv. 45).
Ver. 59. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. Such a cloth well suited this most pure body. Sindon is a cloth woven of the finest and most delicate flax, so called from Sidon, where it was first made. The Jews used to wrap their dead bodies in it, bound their hands and feet with bandages, and the head with a napkin (John xi. 44). Thus did Joseph do to Christ (John xix. 40). S. Jerome from this condemns the lavish funerals of the rich, and adds, “But we can take this to signify, in a spiritual sense, that he who receives Jesus in a pure mind wraps him in a clean linen cloth.”
For this reason the body of Christ is in the Mass placed only in a very clean and fine linen cloth. This is called a Corporal, from the body of Christ which it contains within it, as though in a tomb. S. John adds that Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes to anoint and perfume the body (John xix. 39). For these kept bodies from putrefying.
Mystically: Euthymius wishes us to be fragrant with these ointments when we receive the body of Christ in our breast, as in a new tomb. “Let us, too,” he says, “when we receive the body of Christ at the altar, anoint it with sweet odours, i.e., by virtuous acts and by contemplation,” &c. Baronius describes from Jewish writers their mode of laying out for burial.
Ver. 60. And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock. S. John adds (xix. 41) that it was in a garden. It was “a new tomb,” lest any one else who had there been buried should be supposed (says S. Chrysostom) or pretended (S. Jerome) to have risen again. S. Augustine says,
Mystically: As no one either before or after Him was conceived in the Virginís womb, so no one either before or after Him was buried in this tomb.
In the rock. “For had it been built of many stones, and the foundations had fallen in, it might have been said that the body had been stolen away,” says S. Jerome. Bede, on Mark xv., describes fully its shape, “That it was so high that a man could hardly touch the top. Its entrance was on the east. On the north was the place where the Lord lay, raised up above the rest of the floor, and open on the south.” Adrichomius also describes it, and adds “that Joseph gave up his own tomb to Christ, who was thus buried in the grave of a stranger.” “He who had no home of His own when alive (says Theophylact), has no tomb of His own, but is laid in anotherís tomb, and being naked is clothed by Joseph.” “He is buried,” says S. Augustine (Serm. cxxxiii. de Temp.), “in the tomb of another, because He died for the salvation of others. Why needed He a tomb of His own, who had not any true cause of death in Himself? Why needed He a tomb on earth, whose seat was for ever in Heaven? What had He to do with a tomb, who for the space of three days rather rested in His bed than lay dead in the grave?”
Anagogically: Christ thus signified that He and His were strangers on earth, and that Heaven was their true country. S. Antony, S. Ephrem, S. Francis, and others preferred to be buried in anotherís grave, and not their own, after Christís pattern. Here, then, was fulfilled Isaiahís prophecy (xi. 10), “And His sepulchre shall be glorious.” Hence, too, the custom of pilgrimages to Jerusalem for so many centuries. Hence the erection by S. Helena of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with its surpassing splendour, enclosing under the same roof the site of the crucifixion, resurrection, &c. Hence the wish of Godfrey of Bouillon, and other kings after him, to he buried on the same spot, and the institution also of an order of knighthood.
Lastly, that tomb was in a garden, because Adam had sinned in a garden. Hence, too, Christ began His Passion in a garden, and completed it by being buried in a garden. And this, too, to atone for the sentence passed on Adam; and, moreover, that He might form and plant a most beautiful garden, flourishing with the blossoms and fruits of all virtues, i.e., His Church. Note here that Christís body was laid in the tomb, as on the Cross, with its head and face so turned as to look away from the east, and towards the west. So Bede and Adrichomius.
Observe, Christ, as soon as He expired, descended in His soul to the Limbus Patrum, and made the patriarchs glad by manifesting to them Himself and His Godhead. He freed also the souls in Purgatory, and gave them the first general jubilee. He manifested His Godhead to them also, and made them blessed (see on 1 Pet. iii. 19). The devils also, and ungodly men in hell, He condemned to perpetual punishment, as their Lord, their judge, and their triumphant Victor. The soul of Christ there remained till the third day, when it came forth with the Patriarchs and other saints, resumed its body, and rose in glory. He then made the Patriarchs resume their bodies, and rise together with Him. The order, mode and time when these things took place is mentioned in the beginning of Chap. xxviii. Observe, the Godhead of Christ, the Divine Person of the Word, ever remained hypostatically united both to His body in the tomb and to His soul in the Limbus, for that which it once assumed it never gave up, and will not give up for ever.
And he rolled (aided by his servants and Nicodemus) a great stone to the door of the sepulchre. That no one might take away the body; or, rather, Divine Wisdom so ordered it, lest the Jews after the resurrection should deny the fact, and maintain that the Apostles, who had stolen the body away, had boldly invented the tale. And for the same reason God willed that His body should be buried by those, as Joseph and Nicodemus, who were worthy of credit, and that it should he sealed up and watched by the Jews, that in this way His death and subsequent resurrection might be clearly known to all. Now the Lordís body, while still in the grave, gave indeed an indication and prelude (as it were) of His resurrection, by remaining uncorrupt for three days; being in truth a virgin and holy body, fashioned by the Holy Spirit, and as such does it abide for ever.
Ver. 61. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary. The other Mary, the mother of James and Joses. It appears that Salome, having no further office to do for Jesus, returned home in sorrow, or took home the Blessed Virgin. Simeon Metaphrastes, however, asserts that the Blessed Virgin remained on the spot till the resurrection, as assuredly believing that it would take place on the third day.
Sitting over against the sepulcre. Our Lord, as was fitting, was laid out by men, and not by women, who, while this was taking place, did not venture to enter the sepulchre. But they waited till the men retired, and then went in and saw how he was laid, that they might return very early the next morning, when the Sabbath was over, and anoint His body.
Ver. 62. Now the next day, that followed the day of preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together to Pilate. The day of the preparation was the Friday, so called because they then prepared everything needed for the Sabbath, on which day they had to rest.
But it was the day after, that is, on the Sabbath, that they came together unto Pilate. Theophylact says, “He names not the Sabbath, for there was no Sabbath (or rest) in the Jewsí madness.” They raged, indeed, like madmen against Jesus, to abolish utterly His name and memory. And it increased their rage to see Him so honourably buried, as though it were the prelude to His future resurrection, whether it were actually to occur, or would be a mere invention of the disciples.
Ver. 63. Saying, Sir, we remember that deceiver said, when He was yet alive. “That impostor” (S. Augustine, Hom. xxxvi. inter 1.). “By this name,” he says also (in Ps. lxiii. 7), “was the Lord Jesus Christ called, to console His servants when called deceivers.”
After three days I will rise again. Three days not completed, but only begun, i.e., within three days, or the third day after.
Ver. 64. Command therefor, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest His disciples come and steal Him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead. Wishing before this to prove Him an impostor, they carry out their malice even to the grave. They were greatly afraid that He would rise again, and therefore ask for a guard, either to keep Him from rising, or to seize Him at the moment and put Him to death. For what they add about the disciples stealing Him was a mere pretext, for they knew that they had fled in fear and consternation, and would never think or attempt anything of the kind.
So the last error shall be worse than the first. The first error was the Gospel doctrine that Jesus was the Son of God. The last error was His resurrection, and it would be the worst as confirming the first. For if Jesus had spoken falsely in calling Himself the Son of God, God would not “have raised Him.” But if He is believed to have risen, He will have a multitude of followers; and if this belief once takes root, it will not afterwards be eradicated. Lastly, it would arouse great hatred and ill-will against the Chief Priests and Romans for having killed Him unjustly; and might indeed lead them to avenge His death by war or rebellion. It would therefore have been better not to have killed Him than to allow Him to rise again. For the devil, foreseeing the future of the Church (the numbers, the faith, the holiness of Christís followers), endeavoured to crush and choke it in its birth. But “there is no counsel against the Lord” (Prov. xxi. 30).
Ver. 65. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch (i.e., the soldiers assigned you for His crucifixion; use them now to guard Him in the grave).
Go your way, make it as sure as ye can. Guard Him as ye know how (Vulg.), i.e., in the best way ye know. I leave to your skill and prudence the mode of doing it. I do not wish to interfere any more in this matter. “As if taught by experience,” says S. Chrysostom, “he does not wish to act with them any further.”
Some take the word (έχετε) imperatively, Take ye, summon ye the guard. But it is more forcible to consider it in the indicative mood, “Ye have,” &c. (So Vulg., Arab., and A. V.)
Ver. 66. So they went their way, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch. They secured the sepulchre in a twofold wayówith the guard of soldiers, whom they ordered to keep diligent watch, and by sealing the stone.
They sealed it with a signet, not Pilateís, as S. Chrysostom suggests, but with their own, i.e., with the signet of the city of Jerusalem, or of the Sanhedrin, so that the stone could not be moved, nor the body be taken away, without its being detected. So, too, Darius (Dan. vi. 17). Nicephorus adds that the Jews bored through both the stones of the tomb, and fastened them with an iron band. And thus, by endeavouring to prevent the resurrection of Christ, they did but add to the miracle, and furnished greater evidence for it; which God, as it were, extorted from them. So S. Chrysostom, “An undoubted demonstration is furnished by your own doings. For if the sepulchre were sealed, no room was left for fraud and deceit. But if no fraud had been committed, and the tomb was found empty, it is clear beyond all question that He had risen. Thou seest how, even against their will, they help to demonstrate the truth.” “It was not enough,” says S. Jerome, “for the Chief Priests and Pharisees to have crucified the Lord, unless they took a band of soldiers, sealed the stone, and, as far as they could, opposed His resurrection; so that all they did was for the furtherance of our faith. For the more it is kept back, the more fully is the power of the resurrection displayed.”
Tropologically: Says Barradius, “From this deed of the ungodly let us learn godliness. After we have received Christ into our breast, as into a new tomb, let us take diligent heed that He may remain therein by grace, and never forsake us. Let us post our vigilant guardsóthat is, our watchful virtuesóto drive away sleep and sloth from us; let us gird ourselves with a weapon stronger than iron; let us fortify our breasts with an unconquerable resolve to sin no more.”
* Cornelius adds, “For He did not wish to be born except of a virgin espoused to Joseph.” - Editor. (Back up the the place)