of the Crown of Thorns
TAKEN FROM The
Mystery of the Crown of Thorns
by a Passionist Father
Published by Preserving
Christian Publications, Inc.
"In that day the Lord of hosts shall be a crown
of glory and a garland of joy to the residue of His people." (Is. 28:5)
In two different ways, namely, in a merely human, or in a truly
Christian point of view, can we consider the sufferings and
humiliations of Jesus, our Lord. If we look at them, with a merely
human eye like the carnal Jews, and the proud Pagans, we shall like
them, incur the danger of being scandalized at their apparent
foolishness. The excess of the sufferings of our dear Redeemer, the
depth of His humiliations, His apparent complete helplessness, have
often been a stumbling block of scandal to proud men. Hence St. Paul
could say: "We preached Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling
block, and to the Gentiles foolishness." (1 Cor. 1:23) If, however,
with the enlightened eye of Christian faith we try to penetrate into
the deep mysteries of our Savior's Passion, we shall discover the
wonders of God's power, and the merciful designs of His Divine wisdom.
"To them that are called, that is, to sincere and reflecting
Christians, Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor.
1:24) In the light of Christian faith we will therefore consider the
mysteries of the Crown of Thorns. In the present chapter we shall have
an opportunity of admiring the designs of the wisdom and mercy of our
Divine Lord. We shall soon be able to discover important meanings, and
learn practical lessons from the thorns, reed, and mockeries used by
His cruel and malicious enemies against our Savior.
THE CROWN OF THORNS
The thorns, with which the adorable head of our Lord was crowned, were
not planted upon earth by the paternal hand of God, but they were
maliciously sowed by a treacherous enemy. From the Gospel we learn that
this enemy was the Devil, and the sin of our first parents, Adam and
Eve was the noxious seed. The curse of God made them grow long and
sharp. These thorns and thistles were more intended to prick the
sinner's conscience than the callous hand of the industrious laborer.
This is the wise reflection of St. John Chrysostom: "when God said to
our fallen parents: Cursed is the earth in thy work; thorns and
thistles shall it bring forth to thee." He intended to signify: thy
conscience O sinner, shall never cease producing thorns and stings
which will prick thy guilty soul. (St. John Chrys. in Mark 10:19) The
thorns of this accursed earth are therefore the figures of our sins.
They are the brand of God's malediction impressed on the forehead of
sinners. Even the learned Protestant Grotius discovered this truth and
said: "The curse of sin was the origin of thorns." "Maledictio in spinis Coepit."
(Grot. comm. in Mark 15:17)
Now our Lord Jesus Christ, being the second Person of the most adorable
Trinity, essential holiness in human flesh, Verbum Caro factum
and the most cherished object of the eternal predilection of His
heavenly Father, could never be defiled by the least shadow of sin and
consequently He never could be subject to the malediction of God. In
His infinite mercy He could however consent to experience the temporary
effects of both. Jesus could assume and wear for our sake the infamous
badge of sin. He could in mercy for us taste and drink the loathsome
bitterness of the cup filled up to the brim with the gall and vinegar
of God's malediction.
Our Divine Redeemer did in fact consent to wear during His whole mortal
life, the sinner's garb and He daily drank in large doses the
disgusting potion squeezed from the corrupted hearts of sinful men as
from sour grapes by the weight of God's anathema. But because the large
and deep vessel containing the poison of sin was not exhausted, being
daily and hourly replenished by new crimes; so our dear Lord was
obliged to make a most painful effort in order to drain it all at once
and completely during His bitter Passion. This heroic act was
accomplished in the garden of Gethsemani wherein He was so copiously
drenched with the large chalice of sin that He was cast into a deadly
swoon and His life's Blood was forced out from every pore of His
Now we should attentively observe that the same plan was followed by
our merciful Redeemer in wearing the filthy badge of sin. Having once
assumed it in His incarnation with our human nature, He had to wear it
continually during His whole mortal life. At the time, however, of His
Passion our Lord had to be publicly and solemnly installed as the King
of Sinners and Sorrows. Oh! the grand and sublime mystery of the Crown
It was then in the city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, it was in
the hall of Pilate, the Roman Governor, that our Divine Lord chose to
be crowned with thorns and to assume the full uniform of sinner and the
infamous wreath of sin. It was on this memorable occasion that the
great and eternal Son of God the Incarnate Word was installed as the
King of Sinners and consequently as the man deepest in infamy and
greatest in sorrow: "Despised and the most abject of men! ..." Our sins
are Jesus' Crown of Thorns. "Corona
ex spinis peccata sunt... (Theopil.
in Matt. 27) Thorns being the offshoot and the stigma of God's
malediction against sin, hence, by consenting to be crowned with
thorns, our merciful Lord voluntarily became the responsible head and
the willing victim of God's anathema directed and intended for sinners
only. It is thus according to St. Paul that "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of
the law, being made a curse for us."
(Gal. 3:13) Hence, by wearing the Crown of Thorns, our most holy
Redeemer received upon His adorable head the curse pronounced by the
irritated justice of God against our sinful race, and through this act
of mercy He shielded us from its terrible blow. "In corona spinea maledictum solvit antiquum,"
Our merciful Savior effected still more in our behalf. Thorns and
thistles, as we have remarked, are the principal offshoot of God's
curse against sin. Now by consenting to take these sharp thorns upon
His adorable head, He removed this malediction and changed it into a
blessing for mankind. In this way our Lord Jesus Christ diminished the
quantity and the intensity of our temporal sufferings; and through His
blessing, grace and example, He rendered all our labors and toils
meritorous of eternal reward. Children of sinful parents, conceived and
born in sin, we have indeed much to suffer yet; but had not our blessed
Lord come to our relief our temporal sufferings should have been by far
more numerous in quantity and more intense in quality as daily
experience testifies among Infidel and Pagan nations. Moreover we
should have been condemned to pass from temporal to eternal misery.
Through His merciful Crown of Thorns our Savior has removed from
mankind the brand of everlasting infamy and has secured for His
faithful servants the diadem of heavenly glory. "In
that day, the prophet Isaias says, the Lord of Hosts shall be a crown
of glory, and a garland of joy to the residue of His people."
(Is. 28:5) Hence St. Jerome could with reason say that: Through the
merit of the thorny crown of Jesus' head we have acquired a right to
the diadem of the heavenly kingdom. "Corona
spinea capitis ejus diadema regni adepti sumus." (In Marc. 15)
In all our sufferings then let us look up to the King of Sorrows
crowned with thorns. This should be done more especially when by
irksome neuralgia, and severe headaches, we are invited to bear a share
of the thorny crown of our Divine Master. St. Bernard justly remarks
that: "Christians should be ashamed to be too delicate members of a
Divine head crowned with thorns." We should however acknowledge that
persons afflicted with these sufferings deserve more charitable
compassion than they do generally receive. These afflictions being
internal and invisible do not excite to commiseration those especially
who had never experienced their painful and saddening effects. We
should also reflect that headaches are often caused by an overflow of
blood to the head which produces a flush on the face and this is
mistaken by many superficial observers for a sign of vigorous health.
Hence compliments are offered which to the ears of the sufferer sound
like irony. Moreover these painful attacks of the head are naturally
the cause of mistakes and of awkward failures, which bring upon their
victim ridicule and undeserved humiliations. The best and perhaps the
only comfort and consolation on these mortifying occasions, will be a
devout glance at Jesus crowned with thorns and mocked in the hall of
Pilate. He is fully aware of our sufferings and trials. He suffered
more than we do both in physical pain and in humiliations. Our Lord can
compassionate our misery and will abundantly reward our humility,
meekness and patience.
In the lives of the Fathers of the Desert, we read that St. Pacomius
towards the end of his life, while suffering intense pain in his head
and oppressed with interior anguish of mind, had recourse to prayer to
obtain some relief and consolation from God. On this occasion our Lord
appeared to him accompanied by many holy Angels and wearing a Crown of
Thorns but at the same time shining with dazzling glory. Surprised at
the heavenly vision the suffering servant of God prostrated himself
with his face to the ground when one of the Angels very affectionately
raised him up and informed him that Jesus Christ had come to console
him in his affliction. Our Lord then spoke to Pacomius words of
heavenly comfort encouraging him to bear his trials and sufferings with
resignation, assuring him that they were intended for the purification
of his soul, and for a great increase of merit which was soon to be
crowned with corresponding glory and bliss for all eternity in Heaven.
THE SCARLET CLOAK
"They put a scarlet cloak about him." (Mt. 27:28)
We will now proceed to examine for a short time the meaning of
cloak which the malicious enemies of our Lord, Jesus Christ threw
in derision over His bruised and bleeding shoulders.
In order to understand the mysterious significance of this
extraordinary event, we should reflect that our first parents in the
terrestial paradise had no need of any material dress so long as they
were clad and adorned with the beautiful robe of original grace and
innocence. The same should have been the happy condition of their
posterity, had they persevered in their state of holiness. Innocent
childhood alone partially enjoys this privilege now, and this only for
a very short space of time. But the prevarication of Adam and Eve
caused the rebellion of the flesh against the spirit and produced a
general feeling of shame. All this combined with their expulsion from
the Garden of Eden, and their perpetual exile to this cold region of
the earth, imposed upon mankind the necessity of external dress. Dress
then should be considered both the badge and the punishment of sinners.
Here we may begin to understand the profound meaning of the scarlet
cloak thrown over the shoulders of our Divine Savior. Being essential
holiness He could not assume the guilt, nor, strictly speaking feel the
remorse of sin. But in His infinite mercy He could assume its
appearance, and experience its temporal effects. Hence our Lord was
first stripped of that sacred garment which He had received from the
immaculate hands of His most holy Mother. Thus He was in appearance
deprived of the essential attribute of His inseparable holiness. Then a
soiled and worn out red cloak of a Pagan soldier was temporarily cast
over His sacred shoulders. This cruel and humiliating insult was
permitted by Divine Wisdom to enable us to understand that our merciful
Savior wished, through this action, to signify that He consented to
assume the filthy dress of sin, deeply dyed in the blood and crimes of
mankind during the long period of four thousand years. This is the
admirable expression of the great Origen who said: "Suscipiens Dominus clamydem coccineam in
se, sanguinem mundi, idest peccata suscepit." (Homil. 35 in
In assuming and wearing before Heaven and earth the degrading livery of
sin, our dear Lord had also to bear the burning shame and confusion due
to all sinners. He had moreover to endure a special mortification, and
to feel a deep blush at the conduct of those worldly persons that
boldly carry vice in triumph in the extravagance of public luxury in
dress, in the ridiculous whims of modern fashions, and in the
scandalous immodesty of unblushing vanity. Oh! If Christian men, and
more especially if Christian women were able to reflect occasionally on
the deep shame and confusion their criminal vanity and extravagance in
dress caused our suffering Savior: they should remember that at the
Baptismal font they were solemnly pledged to renounce worldly pomps and
empty vanities and bound to appear in public, as St. Paul directs, "in decent apparel, adorning themselves
with modesty and sobriety, and not with plaited hair, or gold, or
pearls, or costly array."
(1 Tim. 2:9) But alas! That modishness has affected the brain, and
corrupted the heart of modern society, which disdains to listen to the
voice of truth ...
Some courage and firmness of determination is certainly necessary to
withstand the frothy, sweeping current of modern fashion, which carries
away headlong so many thoughtless victims to the abyss of temporal ruin
and eternal misery. But let more serious Christians reflect that our
Lord Jesus Christ, by the shame and ignominy which He underwent in
Pilate's hall, has sanctified modesty and has acquired for Christian
society the necessary grace and strength for resisting the seductions
of worldly vanity. By bearing the humiliation and the blushing shame of
the old scarlet cloak, our blessed Savior has hallowed evangelical
poverty, simplicity, humility and modesty in dress. This is one of the
principal reasons why the poor, humble and modest habit of religious
persons is generally honored and respected not only among real
Christians but also by Pagans and by savages as daily experience
teaches. Let us conclude with the opportune words addressed by the
Prince of the Apostles to all Christian women. "Considering
your chaste conversation with fear: whose adorning let it not be in the
outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on
of apparel; but in the hidden man of the heart,. in the
incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight
of God." (1 Pet. 3:2)
The Fathers of the Church in their enlightened zeal frequently
inculcated these salutary lessons with such warmth of eloquent power,
that made a deep and lasting impression on the minds of their Christian
auditors. The effects of their sermons were evident on the modesty of
Christian society. All our female Saints and great servants of God,
have been remarkable for their strict modesty and evangelical
simplicity in dress. The bright example of the holy Empress, St.
Pulcheria, the daughter, sister and wife of an emperor, that of St.
Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, of
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, of St. Bridget, Duchess of Sweden, of St.
Frances of Rome, in short of all Christian female Saints should
convince us that modesty in dress is the most valuable ornament of a
Christian lady. "Favor is deceitful,"
the Holy Ghost says, "and
beauty is vain: The woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her works praise her in the
gates." (Prov. 31:30)
May all men of the present frivolous age understand and appreciate the
worth and beauty of Christian modesty. It will adorn them in life, it
will comfort them in death, and finally it will clothe them with a
mantle of glory during an ever blessed eternity, "when the Lord will reform the body of our
lowliness, and make it like the body of His glory, " as St. Paul
teaches. (Philip. 3:21)
THE REED IN THE HAND OF JESUS
"They put a reed in his right hand." (Mt. 27:29)
As the scarlet cloak was the figure of our sinfulness, as the
thorns were the sign of our barrenness and sterility; so the reed
is a striking emblem of human frailty, emptiness and inconstancy. A
reed is an empty, hollow, frail, light and inconstant plant. It has no
solidity. It is moved about in every direction by the least breath of
wind. This despicable plant was never more honored than when it was in
derision put in the Divine hand of our Lord.
What an admirable figure is this of our fallen human nature! What can
be more hollow and empty than the reed of a poor sinful man? Sin strips
him of every supernatural grace, virtue and merit. Like the merchant of
Jericho, he is robbed of all his wealth and he is left prostrate upon
the ground wounded and bleeding to death. Like the eminent man of the
Apocalypse who in his greedy and ridiculous vanity flatters himself
that he is rich, wealthy and wants nothing, sin has made him "wretched and miserable, poor, blind and
naked." (Apoc. 3:17)
Then what is more weak and frail than a sinner? Stripped of the
supernatural strength of grace, left to his own innate weakness, urged
by temptation, impelled by his own evil passions, he totters and falls
at every step. Like a frail reed he bends to every whim of fancy and to
the slightest whisper of seduction. Such is the reed of fallen human
nature left to itself.
But since our Blessed Lord took this reed in His hand it has been
completely changed; its hollowness has been filled with the solidity of
His grace and love. In the hand of our Savior we become firmer and
stronger than the cedars of Lebanon. Through faith and confidence in
Him we can resist the most violent temptations of Hell and the fiercest
storms of human persecutions. By assuming our frail nature the Son of
God has endowed us with the power and strength of His Divine
Omnipotence, and we like St. Paul "can
do everything in the power of Him Who strengtheneth."
(Phil. 4: 13) St. Ambrose says: "Our Lord has taken the reed of our
humanity in His hand in order to hinder the frailty of our fallen
nature from being tossed by every wind of false doctrine and to render
it firm and steady by the truth of faith and solid by the fullness of
virtuous works." (S. Ambrose. com. in. S. Matt. chap. 27) So long then
as we remain in the hand of Jesus we are invincible. He changes us from
frail and empty reeds into golden scepters of His power. With these
scepters, if we remain faithful, He will make us kings of his heavenly
kingdom as Origen says: "Pro calamo
illo priori, dedit nobis sceptrum Regni caelestis." (Orig.
Homil. 35 in Matt.)
JESUS IS MOCKED AND OUTRAGED
The insults and mockeries of the Crown of Thorns remain to be
considered. St. Matthew says: "And
bowing the knee before Him, they mocked Him saying: Hail King of the
Jews. And spitting upon Him, they took the reed and struck His head."
(Mt. 27:30). From these words we learn that our Divine Lord received on
this memorable occasion four different marks of contempt.
First. These impious men bowed
the knee in derision before Him.
Second. They saluted Him in
mockery, King of the Jews.
Third. They struck His
thorn-crowned head with a reed.
Fourth. They spat upon His
These are the four kinds of insults that the majesty of God daily
receives from men and which our suffering Savior on this occasion
undertook to expiate.
1. The first insult is offered to God by Pagans in their idolatrous
worship, when they bow their knees to abominable idols. Reason alone is
capable of seeing, and able to demonstrate that there can be but one
God, self-existent, eternal in duration, infinite in His perfections,
immense in His nature, Creator of the world, supreme Lord and absolute
master of all creatures. For this one and only God, Pagans have
substituted an endless variety of dumb and material idols which they
have shaped with their own hands according to the suggestion of their
whims and fancies. Before them they bow their knee, these they worship,
to them they offer incense and immolate their victims. It is evident
that by so doing, Pagans discard the true living God, and they insult
His Divine majesty by every act of their idolatrous worship. It is no
less evident that some condign expiation is demanded by the offended
majesty of God. A Divine victim only can duly expiate outrages offered
directly to God, in His highest attribute of supreme Lord of Creation.
Behold then what our most holy Savior is doing now in Pilate's hall.
Reflect that Pilate is a Pagan, his soldiers are Pagans, like himself.
This hall is turned by these men into a temporary temple. The hard and
cold stone, upon which our Lord is seated, serves as His altar. Victims
of sacrifice are by Pagan hands garlanded with roses about their heads.
Jesus is, by them crowned with thorns. They bow down their knee before
Him in mock worship. That this act was intended by the Pagan soldiers
as derisive and ironical worship towards our Lord, we learn from St.
Mark who expressly says: "that bowing
their knees, they worshipped Him. " (Mk. 15:19)
Jesus being the Person of the Incarnate Word of God by Whom all things
were made, truly deserves Divine worship. But by receiving impious
mockeries and sacrilegious insults, instead of adoration, He fully
expiates before His eternal Father for all the impieties of Paganism,
abolishes more effectively Pagan idolatry, and through His profound
humiliations, merits for all idolaters the light of faith and the grace
of conversion to Christianity.
2. The second insult offered to our Savior was to salute Him in
derision King of the Jews.
Jesus was by every right and title the true King of the Jews. He was
their supreme Lord in His Divine nature. He was their King by Divine
appointment because God bestowed the kingdom of Judea on the
descendants of David, and our Lord in His human nature belongs to the
family of David. Moreover the Angel said to Mary His Mother: "The
Lord, God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father, and He
shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there
shall be no end." (Lk. 1:32) But the Jews have repudiated Him.
They have just protested before the Roman Governor, that they have no king but Caesar.
(Jn. 19:15) Our blessed Lord heard these words. Now the Pagan soldiers
to humble and degrade Him more, and to gratify the Jews who witnessed
these outrages with immense satisfaction, ridicule and mock Him by
ironically saluting Him, King of the
By rejecting Jesus as their King, the Jews reject Him as their Messias.
Because in His person these two titles are inseparable. By rejecting
the Son they reject the Father, because the Son and the Father are one.
(Jn. 10:30) The Jews have arrived at this depth of impiety by
performing their religious acts of worship in the temple, in their
synagogues and on every other occasion without any spirit of devotion
but by mere routine in a mechanical and material way. As St. Paul says
they stuck to the letter, which killeth, and abandoned the true spirit
of religious worship which alone can give life to the individual soul
and to the entire nation. In bearing these humiliations and insults,
our blessed Lord expiates the irreverences of the Jews in their acts of
religion towards God, and for their rejection of Him as their Messias
and King. It is through these sufferings and deep humiliations that He
confirms to the Jewish nation the privileged honor of the Apostolate;
for all the Apostles were selected exclusively from them. He merits and
obtains for many thousands of them the grace of conversion to
Christianity as the first fruit of His Passion; and towards the end of
the world he will see prostrate at His feet like the penitent Magdalene
the entire Jewish nation worshiping Him, in spirit and in truth, in deep
sorrow and sincere repentance as their true Messias and only King.
3. The third outrage offered to our Lord was the striking of His
thorn-crowned head with a reed. This represents the malice of heretical
Heresy is essentially an individual choice in belief. Heresy
necessarily rebels at least indirectly against the authority of the
Church. Obedience and heresy is a contradiction in terms. No heretic as
such has ever been found in practice docile to the decisions of the
Church of God. The authority of the Church has by Jesus Christ been
concentrated in the person of Peter when He said to him: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will
build My Church. (Mt. 16:18) Feed
My lambs, feed My sheep.
(Jn. 21) Heresy changes lambs into rams that butt against the Shepherd.
All heretics rebel against the Pope and make war against his authority.
Hence they strike Jesus on the head. And as we have learned from St.
Paul, the head of Christ is God;
so our suffering Lord had also to atone for this insult and merit for
many deluded heretics the grace of their return to Catholic faith and
4. The last and most shocking insult offered to our Savior crowned with
thorns was that of spitting upon His sacred countenance. St. Gregory
remarks that we know a person by his face. This vulgar insult comes
then from those who know our Lord. These then are bad Catholics. They
spit upon His face by their bad example by which they scandalize their
fellow-Christians, they dishonor their religion and make the enemies of
God blaspheme His holy name. This terrible insult is in a special
manner offered to our Lord by those hypocritical Catholics who practice
some external acts of religion through human motives, self-interest and
vain-glory. But above all, those truly spit upon our Lord who receive
Him, like Judas, sacrilegiously in Holy Communion with mortal sin in
their souls. As our most merciful Lord suffered and prayed on the Cross
for His executioners, so in the hall of Pilate He prays and atones for
these unworthy members of His Church. These are the principal mysteries
of the Crown of Thorns. They are mysteries of the wisdom and power of
God. We have so far considered the wonders of our Savior's wisdom and
mercy in the mystery of His crowning with thorns. In the next
chapter we will admire the triumph of His Divine power.