Sunday, 20 September 2009

Considerations on the passion of Jesus Christ - Chapter 4

Agony of Jesus on the Cross.
Pride, as we have said, was the cause of the sin of Adam, and, consequently, of the ruin of the human race. On this account Jesus Christ came to repair this ruin by his own humiliation; not refusing to embrace the shame of all the insults that his enemies offered him, as he had himself predicted by David: Since for thy sake I have endured reproach, confusion hath covered My face.1 The whole life of our Redeemer was filled with shame and insults which he received from men; and he did not refuse to accept them, even to the extent of death itself, in order to deliver us from eternal shame: Who, having joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame.2
O God, who would not mourn with pity, and love Jesus Christ, if he would consider that he suffered for the three hours during which his crucifixion lasted, and he was in agonies upon the cross? Every one of his limbs was stricken and tormented, and one could not relieve the other. The afflicted Lord on that bed of pain could not move, being fastened with nails in his hands and feet; all his most sacred flesh was full of wounds, while those of his hands and feet were most painful, and were compelled to sustain his whole body; so that wheresoever he rested upon that cross, whether on his hands or his feet, there his pains increased. It may be truly said, that in those three hours of agony Jesus suffered as many deaths as he passed moments upon the cross. O innocent Lamb, who hast suffered such things for me, have mercy upon me! Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me!3
Yet these outward pains of the body were the least bitter; the inward pains of the soul were far greater. His blessed soul was all desolate, and deprived of every drop of consolation and sensible relief; all was weariness, sorrow, and afflictions. This he uttered in the words, My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!4 Drowned in this sea of inward and outward griefs, our Saviour, so worthy of our love, thought fit to end his life, as he had foretold by the mouth of David: I have come into the depths of the sea, and the storm hath sunk Me.5
If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the Cross.”
Behold also, that, at the very time when he was thus in agonies upon the cross, and was drawing near to death, all they who stood near him, priests, scribes, elders, and soldiers, wearied themselves in adding to his pangs with insults and mockeries. St. Matthew writes, They that passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads.6 This was already prophesied by David, when he wrote, in the person of Christ, All they that saw Me reviled Me, they spoke with their lips, and wagged their head.7
They who passed before him said, Vah, Thou that destroyest the temple of God, and in three days dost rebuild it, save Thy own self; if Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.8 Thou hast boasted, they said, that Thou wouldst destroy the temple, and rebuild it in three days. Yet Jesus had not said that he could destroy the material temple, and raise it again in three days; but he had said: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.9 With these words he indeed intended to express his own power; but he really (as Euthymius and others explain it) spoke allegorically, foretelling that, through the act of the Jews, his soul would be one day separated from his body, but that in three days it would rise again.
They said, Save Thyself.10 O ungrateful men! If this great Son of God, when he was made man, had chosen to save himself, he would not voluntarily have chosen death.
If Thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross;11 yet, if Jesus had come down, he would not have accomplished our redemption by his death; we could not have been delivered from eternal death. “He would not come down,” says St. Ambrose, “lest when he came down, I should die.”12 Theophylact writes, that they who said this spoke by the instigation of the devil, who sought to hinder the salvation which was about to be accomplished by Jesus by means of the cross.13 And then he adds that the Lord would not have mounted the cross, if he had been willing to come down from it without accomplishing our redemption.14 Also St. John Chrysostom says that the Jews uttered this insult in order that Jesus might die insulted as an impostor in the sight of all men, and be proved unable to deliver himself from the cross, after he had boasted that he was the Son of God.15
St. John Chrysostom also remarks that the Jews ignorantly said, If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross; for if Jesus had come down from the cross before he had died, he would not have been that Son of God who was promised, and who was to save us by his death. On this account, says the saint, he did not come down from the cross until he was dead, because he had come for the very purpose of giving his life for our salvation.16 St. Athanasius makes the same remark, saying that our Redeemer chose to be known as the true Son of God, not by coming down from the cross, but by continuing upon it till he was dead.17 And thus it was foretold by the prophets that our Redeemer must be crucified and die, as St. Paul wrote, Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, for it is written, that cursed is every one who hangeth on a tree.18
He saved Others, Himself He cannot save.”
St. Matthew goes on to relate the other insults which the Jews offered to Jesus Christ: He saved others, Himself He cannot save.19 Thus they treated him as an impostor, by referring to the miracles which had been wrought by him in the restoration of the dead to life, and by treating him as one who was unable to save his own life.
St. Leo replies to them, that this was not the proper hour for Jesus to display his divine power; and that he would not hinder the redemption of man in order to confound their blasphemies.20
St. Gregory suggests another motive why Jesus would not descend from the cross: “If he had then come down, he would not have shown to us the virtue of patience.”21 Truly could Jesus Christ deliver himself from the cross and from these insults; yet this was not the time for making a display of his power, but to teach us patience in our toils, in order that we may fulfil the divine pleasure; and therefore Jesus would not deliver himself from death before he had fulfilled his Father’s will, and in order that he might not deprive us of this great example of patience. “Because he taught patience, he laid aside his power,”22 says St. Augustine.
The patience which Jesus Christ exercised in enduring the shame of all the insults which were offered him by the Jews obtained for us grace to endure with patience and peace of mind all the humiliations and persecutions of the world. Therefore St. Paul, speaking of the journey of Jesus Christ to Calvary when he carried the cross, thus exhorts us to accompany him, Let us, therefore, go forth to meet him without the camp. bearing his reproach.23 The saints, when they received injuries, did not think of revenging themselves, nor were they disturbed; they were even comforted at seeing themselves despised, as Jesus Christ was despised. Therefore let us not fear to embrace, for the love of Jesus Christ, all the insults that were offered to him, since Jesus Christ has suffered so many insults for love of us.
O my Redeemer, for the time past I have not done this. For the future I desire to suffer everything for love of Thee: give me strength to put my desires into execution.
If God loves him, let him deliver him now.”
The Jews, not satisfied with the injuries and blasphemies which they had offered to Jesus Christ, reproached him with the name of his Father, saying, He trusted in God, let Him now deliver Him, if He will have Him; for He said, I am the Son of God.24 This sacrilegious expression of the Jews was already foretold by David, when he said in the name of Christ, All they that saw Me derided Me; they spoke with their lips, and shook their head, saying, He trusted in God, let Him deliver Him, let Him save Him; for He desireth Him.25 These very men who thus spoke were called bulls, dogs, and lions, by David in the same Psalm: Fat bulls encompassed me. Many dogs surrounded me. Save me from the mouth of the lion.26 Thus, when the Jews said, Let Him now deliver Him, if He will have Him,27 they truly showed that they were these bulls, dogs, and lions which had been foretold by David. These very same blasphemies, which were one day to be spoken against the Saviour and against God, were already foretold by the Wise Man with even more exactness: He declares that He has the knowledge of God, and calls Himself the Son of God, and He glories that He has God for His Father. If he is the true Son of God, let Him accept Him, and deliver Him from the hands of His adversaries. Let us try Him with insults and torments, that we may know His reverence, and prove His patience; let us condemn Him to a most shameful death.28
The chief priests were stirred up by envy and hatred against Jesus Christ thus to insult him; but, at the same time, they were not exempt from the fear of some great punishment, as they could not deny the miracles wrought by the Lord. Wherefore all the priests and chiefs of the synagogue continued disturbed and in terror, and therefore desired to be present at his death, in order to be freed from this fear which tormented them. Seeing him then fastened upon the cross, and that he was not delivered from it by his Father, they proceeded with increased audacity to taunt him with his impotence and his persuasion that he was the Son of God. They said, “He trusted in God, that he was his Father; why, then, does not God deliver him if he loves him as his Son?” But grievously were these malicious men in error, for God did truly love Jesus Christ, and loved him as his Son; and he loved him on this very account, that Jesus was sacrificing his life upon the cross for the salvation of men, in order to obey his Father. This Jesus himself had said, I lay down My life for My sheep . . . therefore hath the Father loved Me, because I lay down My life.29 The Father had already destined him to be the victim of this great sacrifice, which would bring to him an infinite glory, as the God-man would be sacrificed, and which would ensure the salvation of all men; but if the Father had delivered him from death, the sacrifice would have been imperfect, and then the Father would have been deprived of that glory, while men would have been deprived of their salvation.
Tertullian writes that all the insults that were offered to Jesus Christ were a secret remedy for our pride; for these injuries, which were unjust, and unworthy of him, were nevertheless necessary to our salvation,30 and worthy of a God who chose to suffer so much in order to save man. And then, speaking of the reproaches laid against Jesus, he adds: “Of him they were unworthy, but to us they were necessary, and therefore they were worthy of God, because nothing is so worthy of God as the salvation of man.”31
Let us, therefore, who boast that we are disciples of Jesus Christ, be ashamed of angrily resenting the injuries which we receive from men, because a God made man suffered the same for our salvation with so much patience. And let us not be ashamed of imitating Jesus Christ in pardoning those who offend us, as he himself declares that in the day of judgment he will be ashamed of those who in this life have been ashamed of him.32
O my Jesus! how can I grieve for any insults that I may receive, who have so often deserved to be trodden under foot by the devils in hell! Oh, by the merits of all the insults which Thou didst suffer in Thy Passion, give me grace to suffer with patience all the insults which may be offered to me, through love of Thee, who hast embraced so many for love of me. I love Thee above everything, and desire to suffer for Thee, who hast suffered so much for me. I hope for everything from Thee, who hast bought me with Thy blood. And I also hope in thy intercession, O my mother Mary.

1“Quoniam propter to sustinui opprobrium, operuit confusio faciem meam.” – Ps. lxviii. 8.
2“Qui, proposito sibi gaudio, sustinuit crucem, confusione contempta.” – Heb. xii. 2.
3“Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi! miserere mei.”
4“Deus meus! Deus meus! ut quid dereliquisti me?” – Matt. xxvii. 46.
5“Veni in altitudinem maris, et tempestas demersit me.” – Ps. lxviii. 3.
6“Pratereuntes autem blasphemabant eum, moventes capita sua.” – Matt. xxvii. 39.
7“Omnes videntes me deriserunt me, locuti sunt labiis et moverunt caput.” – Ps. xxi. 8.
8“Vah, qui destruis templum Dei, et in triduo illud readificas!” – Matt. xxvii. 40.
9“Solvite templum hoc, et in tribus diebus excitabo illud.” – John, ii. 19.
10“Salva temetipsum!”
11“Si Filius Dei es, descende de cruce.” – Matt. xxvii. 40.
12“Noluit descendere, ne descenderet sibi, sed ut moreretur mihi.” – In Luc. xxiii.
13“Diabolus incitabat illos ut dicerent: Descendat nunc de cruce,—quia cognoscebat quod salus per crucem fieret.” – In Marc. xv.
14“Si voluisset descendere, neque a principio ascendisset.”
15“Volebant enim ut tamquam seductor in conspectu omnium vituperatus decederet.” – In Matt. hom. 88.
16“Qui Filius Dei est, ideo non descendit de cruce; nam ideo venit, ut crucifigeretur pro nobis.” – De Cruce et Latr. hom. 2.
17“Neque descendendo de cruce voluit Filius Dei agnosci, sed ex eo quod in cruce permaneret.” – Serm. de Pass. et Cr.
18“Christus nos redemit de maledicto legis, factus pro nobis maledictum; quia scriptum est: Maledictus omnis qui pendet in ligno.” – Gal. iii. 13.
19“Alios salvos fecit, seipsum non potest salvum facere.” – Matt. xxvii. 42.
20“Non vestræ cæcitatis arbitrio, o stulti Scribe, ostendenda erat potentia Salvatoris; nec secundum preces blasphemantium linguarum, humani generis redemptio debebat omitti.” – De Pass. s. 17.
21“Si de cruce tunc descenderet, virtutem nobis patientiæ non demonstraret.” – In Evang. hom. 21.
22“Quia patientiam docebat, ideo potentiam differebat.” – In Jo. tr. 37.
23“Exeamus igitur ad eum extra castra, improperium ejus portantes.” – Heb. xiii. 13.
24“Confidit in Deo; liberet nunc si vult eum; dixit enim: Quia Filius Dei sum.” – Matt. xxvii. 43.
25“Speravit in Domino, eripiat eum; salvum faciat eum, quoniam vult eum.” – Ps. xxi. 9.
26“Tauri pingues obsederunt me. . . . Circumdederunt me canes multi. . . . Salva me ex ore leonis.” – Ps. xxi. 13, 17, 22.
27“Liberet nunc, si vult eum.” – Matt. xxvii. 43.
28“Promittit se scientiam Dei habere, et Filium Dei se nominat . . ., et gioriatur Patrem se habere Deum. Si enim est verus Filius Dei, suscipiet illum, et liberabit eum de manibus contrariorum. Contumelia et tormento interrogemus eum, ut sciamus reverentiam ejus, et probemus patientiam illius; morte turpissima condemnemus eum.” – Wisd. ii. 13, 16, 18-20.
29“Animam meam pono pro ovibus meis. . . . Propterea me diligit Pater, quia ego pono animam meam.” – John, x. 15, 17.
30“Totum denique Dei mei penes vos dedecns, sacramentum est humanæ salutis.”
31“Sibi quidem indigna, homini autem necessaria: et ita jam Deo digna, quia nihil tam dignum Deo, quam salus hominis.” – Adv. Marc. l. 2.

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