an examination of the lives of some saints for Lent (39/40 (deo volente))
De Voragine (mostly):
The passion of Christ was bitter in its pains, scornful in the mockery it laid upon him, and fruitful in its manifold benefits.
The pain of the passion was of five kinds.
The first was its shamefulness. It was shameful because of the place, namely Calvary, a place for the punishment of malefactors; the mode, the Cross being an instrument of punishment for thieves; and the company, namely the two thieves, of which one was saved and the other damned.
The second was its injustice. Christ had done no wrong, and there was no deceit in his mouth. The principal charges unjustly brought against him were three: that he forbade the payment of tribute, that he called himself a king, and that he claimed to be the Son of God. But when we sing: “O my people, what I have I done to you, etc.?” on Good Friday, we refute these three charges. For instead of accusing him regarding the payment of tribute, they should rather have thanked him for freeing them of paying tribute to Egypt (i.e. sin). Instead of accusing him of calling himself a king, they should thank him for the royal fare he provided them in the desert (i.e. the world). And instead of accusing him of calling himself the Son of God, they should thank him for choosing them as his vine and planting them in a very good place (i.e. in the worship of the One God).
The third pain was because it was his friends who brought it upon him. For pain is more bearable if it is caused by people who have reason to be your enemies, or by strangers or foreigners. But he suffered at the hands of friends (or rather of those who should have been his friends) and his kinsmen.
The fourth pain was the result of the tenderness of his body, as David says: “He was like the most tender little worm of the wood.” St. Bernard: “Oh Jews, you are stones! You strike a softer stone, out of which the chime of mercy resounds and the oil of love gushes.”
The fifth pain was the totality of the sensual pain.
The pain was first of all in his eyes, because he wept. The first time he wept, at the resurrection of Lazarus, it was because of love, the second time, over Jerusalem, it was because of compassion, but here, the third time, it was out of pain.
He suffered in his hearing, when insults and blasphemies were levelled at him. Against his nobility they asked: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?” His power was derided: “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” and “He saved others, he cannot save himself.” His truth was denied: “You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true.” Against his goodness they said: “We know that this man is a sinner” and that he violated the Law: “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
He suffered in the sense of smell. A strong smell of decay pervaded Calvary, where bodies were left to rot.
He suffered in the sense of taste, when they gave him vinegar to drink.
Finally, he suffered in the sense of touch.
St. Bernard: “The head that angels trembled to look upon is stabbed with clustered thorns; the face, more beautiful than the faces of the children of men, is befouled by the spittle of the Jews; the eyes that outshine the sun are clouded over in death; the ears that hear the angels sin hear the taunts of sinners; the mouth that teaches angels is given gall and vinegar to drink; the feet whose footstool is adored because it is holy are fixed to the cross with a nail; the hands that shaped the heavens are spread open and nailed to the cross; the body is scourged, the side is pierced with a lance, and what more is there? Nothing is left in him except the tongue, so that he could pray for sinners and commend his mother to a disciple.”
It is said that there are three opinions about the principal seat of the soul in the body. Some say it is in the heart, others in the blood, and again others in the head. It seems that the Jews knew these three opinions, and used them all. For in order to tear his soul from his body they sought it in his head by driving thorns all the way into the brain, looked for it in his blood by opening the veins in his hands and feet, and tried to reach it in his heart by piercing his side.
We see then that the Passion was bitter in its pains, let us now see how it was scornful in the mockery of Christ.
He was mocked four times.
The first was in the house of Annas, where he was blindfolded, slapped, and spat upon. Bernard: “Your lovely face, O good Jesus, that face the angels desire to look upon, they defiled with spittle, struck with their hands, covered with a veil in derision, nor did they spare it bitter wounds.”
The second time was in the palace of Herod, who deemed Jesus a simpleton and of unsound mind because he refused to answer him, and draped him in a white robe to make a fool of him.
But why did the Lord remain silent before Herod, Pilate, and the Jews? First, they were not worthy of hearing an answer. Second, Eve had sinned by saying too much and Christ willed to make satisfaction by saying nothing, and third, no matter what he said, they would have distorted and perverted it.
The third time he was mocked was in the house of Pilate, where the soldiers wrapped a scarlet cloak around him, put a reed in his hands and a crown of thorns on his head, and bending the knee, said: “Hail, king of the Jews!”
The fourth time was on the Cross, when the Jews said: “If he is the king of Israel, let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” Bernard: “At this time he exhibits patience more than ever, commends humility, fulfils obedience, and shows perfect love.”
Bernard briefly sums up all that Christ suffered: “As long as I live, I will remember the labours that he put forth in his preaching, his fatigues in explaining, his vigils in prayer, his temptations while he fasted, his compassionate weeping, the snares set for him in arguments with his opponents, and lastly, in the insults, the spittings, the slappings, the derisive gestures, the nails, the reproaches.”
Having dealt with the mockery, let us move on to the fruits of the Passion. They can be described as threefold, namely the remission of sins, the granting of grace, and the manifestation of glory. There three are indicated in the title placed over him on the cross: “Jesus” refers to the first, “of Nazareth” to the second, “king of the Jews” to the third, because in heavenly glory we will all be kings. Augustine: “Christ blotted out past sins by remitting them, present sins by holding us back from them, future sins by giving us grace to avoid them.”
How beneficial to us the mode of our redemption was is clear for four reasons. First, it was most acceptable to God as a way of placating him and reconciling us to him. As Anselm puts it: “There is nothing more painful or difficult that a man can do for God’s honour than to suffer death voluntarily and not for debt but of his own free will, and no man can give himself more fully than by surrendering himself to death for God’s honour.” So we read in Eph. 5:2: “Christ delivered himself, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.” Augustine: “What could be so readily accepted as the flesh of our sacrifice being made the body of our Priest?” There are four things to be considered in every sacrifice: to whom it is offered, what is offered, for whom it is offered, and who offers it. Christ remained with him to whom he made the offering, could make those for whom he made the offering one in himself, and could himself be the one who made the offering and simultaneously the offering that he made.
By the offering of the Lamb of God the Eternal High Priest, who is one with the Father, makes the faithful one with him. God is both the sacrificer and the sacrificed and to whom is sacrificed, and we are incorporated in this sacrifice, as if the whole earth, continually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death.
Thus Augustine says that Christ is the priest through whom we are reconciled, the sacrifice by which we are reconciled, the God with whom we are reconciled, and the temple in which we are reconciled.
Second, the mode of our redemption was most apt for curing humanity’s sickness. Apt from the point of view of the time, the place, and the way the cure was effected.
It was fitting from the point of view of the time, because the Lord was sacrificed on the same day that Adam was created and fell.
It was fitting from the point of view of the place, because Adam was buried in the place where Christ suffered, or, at least, Adam was deceived in the wood of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Christ suffered and thus enlightened on the wood of the Cross. It is said that it was the same wood.
It was fitting from the way the cure was effected, because it operated through similarities and through opposites.
By similarities: man was deceived by a woman, so men were liberated by a man born of woman, mortals by a mortal, the dead by his death. Adam was formed from the virgin earth, Christ was born of a virgin. Adam was made to God’s image, Christ is the image of God. Folly came through a woman, through a woman Wisdom. Adam was naked, Christ was naked. Death came by a tree, life came by the wood of the Cross. Adam was in the desert, Christ was in the desert.
By opposites: the first man had sinned by pride, disobedience, and sensual pleasure. The second man cured us by humiliation, the fulfilling of God’s will, and physical pain.
Third, the mode of our redemption was the most efficacious way to attract mankind. In no other way could men have been more strongly drawn to love God and trust in him, without impairment of their freedom of choice. St Bernard: “More than anything else, O good Jesus, the cup that you drank—the work of our redemption— makes you lovable. That work fully justifies your claim to our total devotion: it sweetly entices, justly demands, swiftly clasps, and strongly constrains our love. For when you emptied yourself and put off your natural splendour, then your compassion shone more brightly, your love gleamed more brilliantly, your grace cast its rays more.” And regarding our trust in God, Romans 8: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, has he not also given us all things with him?” Bernard: “Who is there who would not be caught up by the hope of obtaining confidence when we attend to the way his body is disposed— the head bowed to kiss, the arms outstretched to embrace, the hands pierced to pour out gifts, the side opened for love, the feet held fast to keep him with us, his body stretched to give himself wholly to us?”
Fourth, our redemption was best adapted to accomplish the defeat of man’s ancient enemy. Job: “Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook?” Christ had hidden the hook of his godhead under the bait of his humanity, and the devil, wanting to swallow the bait of his flesh, was caught by the hook of his divinity.
Eve borrowed sin from the devil, and the interest on this debt was inherited by her descendants. This Christ took and nailed to the cross, so that mankind was made free from the debt of the usurious enemy.
We see that both the body and soul of Christ are totally assaulted. For his soul was entirely pained by the dishonour and humiliation and betrayal and injustice that befell him, and his body was entirely pained by the assault on all his senses. The Jews took the soul from his head by the crown of thorns, the soul from his blood by the nails, and the soul from his heart by the spear. His body then entirely weakened, his soul humiliated into nothing, all that remained was his spirit, which he commended into the hands of his Father. So it is with us, let the bodily for us become nothing through fasting, let the psychic become nothing through humiliation, so that the spirit may remain and be in the hands of God.
We see that in his humiliation Christ was first blindfolded, beaten and spat upon, then was clothed in white, then was clothed in red, and finally was crucified. The first corresponds to the alchemical nigredo, the second to the albedo, the third to the rubedo, and the fourth is really the extension of the third (so we might also say that the third is citrinitas and the fourth rubedo, but because of the scarlet cloak we say here that the third is rubedo).
We see that in the crucifixion all things are united. The Cross indeed is the ultimate ‘coincidentia oppositorum’. God and Man were united in Christ, Heaven and Earth were united in the Cross. We may see this easily, for the vertical line signifies Heaven, and the horizontal line signifies Earth, and the cross is the union of these lines. Christ then, united both with the Father, in his divinity, and mankind, in his humanity, is the ultimate mediator between God and Man, and this is why he is called Eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. For the high priest is indeed the mediator between God and his people. He brings up the prayers and offerings of the people to God, and brings down the blessings of God to the people. But Christ is not only the high priest, but also the offering that is brought up to God by the high priest. And in this we may say takes place according to his human nature. For he is also the God to which offering are brought up and who pours down blessings, and this we may say takes places according to his divine nature. Daring then to say something perhaps incorrectly, I would say that here is revealed the true meaning of ‘human sacrifice’ (the historical cases of literal human sacrifice of course being degenerations and misunderstandings of this primordial truth). For here we see God sacrificing Man. But we may only correctly understand is if we understand the meaning of sacrifice. For to sacrifice means ‘to make holy’. The self-sacrifice of Christ is then the deification (for nothing other must we understand by the ‘making holy’) of his human nature by his divine nature. This could only happen due to their union. Thus we see that Christ is both God, to whom is sacrificed, Man, who is sacrificed, and High Priest, the God-man who sacrifices. But the union is still not complete, for while Christ in principle deified the human nature, individual men still remained in sin. By his example then, and especially by the example of the Cross (for this sacrifice was made for men), men may be united to Christ, and since Man unites in himself the entirety of creation the entire creation is also united to Christ. The Crucifixion is then the ultimate sacrifice, in which all the participants are united and made holy, dare I even say, made God.
We see the comparisons made between Christ and Adam, the first man and the last man. The one first because he was made man by God, the second last because he made man into God. We see that, at this same cruel time, Adam was created and fell, and the Lord suffered and died. We see that, in the same place, either at Golgotha or the Cross, they both passed. For either Adam died and was buried in this hill, or he died (spiritually that is) by the wood of the tree where later the Cross was fashioned from. This is an astounding fact, which if not literally true at least is symbolically true. For the tree of knowledge of good and evil was the cause of Adam’s fall. And by the ‘good’ we may as well understand God or Heaven, and by the ‘evil’ Man or Earth. If we then recall that ‘knowledge’ is merely a mode of being, we see that the fall of Adam was the subjection to the duality of good and evil, i.e. God and Man, Heaven and Earth. Where before all these things were united in the Tree of Life, they were torn apart by that perfidious tree. But in the wood of the Cross, which is the salvation of all men, i.e. the reversal of the fall, the duality of good and evil, of God and man, of heaven and earth and whichever other names one may give to this primordial duality, is resolved. That is, the duality is ‘dissolved’ in the world and then ‘fixed’ in God. This thus we may understand by the fact that the tree and the cross were of the same wood.
Finally, we see the ancient deceiver deceived, the baiter baited, the liar lied to. For the deception is not in this, that Christ did not really take on flesh, as some heretics teach. For the bait is real, but the fish deceives himself into believing it to be a good prey, without realising the nature of it. So this ancient deceiver, called prince of this world, not because he made it, but because he deceives men into thinking it to be real (i.e. real in itself or ‘absolutely’ real), like a child playing a joke by deceiving its father into thinking that a rope is a snake, is himself deceived, because he sees only the appearances of things, not the essence, while God sees both the appearances and the essences. The Leviathan was then hooked on the divinity of Christ, taking the bait of his humanity, and by this capture his influence over men (i.e. the faithful) is removed, so that to all the path to eternal life lay open.
We will also say that it seems to us no coincidence that the Jews have been so often involved in usury, as the devil is clearly shown to be a usurer himself by the interest he demands from mankind on the debt of their mother.
If we have said anything incorrectly here it must be ascribed to the emotions in which we found ourselves while writings this blogpost.
It is said that the Christ died on this day, thirty three years after his birth, on which we base our calendar.
O Jesus, my Savior and Redeemer, Son of the living God,
behold, we kneel before Thee and offer Thee our reparation;
we would make amends for all the blasphemies uttered against Thy holy name,
for all the injuries done to Thee in the Blessed Sacrament,
for all the irreverence shown toward Thine Immaculate Virgin Mother,
for all the calumnies and slanders spoken against Thy spouse, the holy Catholic and Roman Church.
O Jesus, who hast said:
“If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you”,
we pray and beseech Thee for all our brethren who are in danger of sin;
shield them from every temptation to fall away from the true faith;
save those who are even now standing on the brink of the abyss;
to all of them give light and knowledge of the truth,
courage and strength for the conflict with evil,
perseverance in faith and active charity!
For this do we pray, most merciful Jesus,
in Thy name, unto God the Father,
with whom Thou livest and reignest,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
world without end.