The Mystery of the Crown of Thorns
by A Passionist Father
Preserving Christian Publications, Inc.
"Thou shouldst not have any power against Me; unless it were given thee from above." [Jn 19: 11]
The words and actions of the Roman Governor, Pilate, have afforded an opportunity, for studying the origin and nature of authority. From the doctrine and example of our Divine Master, we should learn our duties towards all our legitimate superiors. In the foregoing chapter, having had occasion to make some general reflections, about the obligations of persons in dignity, now justice demands, that we should also make some few remarks about the principal duties of Christian subjects, towards their respective superiors.
Superiors, though powerful for good, or for evil, are comparatively few in number; whilst, the vast majority of mankind, has ever been, and ever shall be, in a condition of subjection to authority. Many persons are occasionally raised to some temporary dignity or office; but they have to live in subordinate position for the rest of their life. Moreover, even those who actually occupy places of dignity and power have higher superiors above them, to whom they pay homage and obedience. "For," as the wise man says, "he that is high hath another higher; and there are others still higher than those. Moreover, there is the king that reigneth over all the land subject to him." [Eccles. 5: 8]
Finally, above all earthly dignities and powers, above magistrates,
presidents, kings, emperors, autocrats, there is the supreme sovereign
of Heaven and earth, the Most High and Omnipotent God, the real source
and center of all dignity and power, before Whom every knee must bow in
Heaven, on earth, and in Hell. We must therefore make some remarks on
duty of respect and obedience, which the vast majority of mankind owe
superiors. Jesus Christ crowned with thorns will be our Master and
The great Apostle Paul says: "Let every soul be subject to higher power; For there is no power, but from God, and those that are, are ordained of God." [Rom 13: 1] All those who understand well this sublime maxim of order and subordination become the most pious souls towards God, and the most humble and docile subjects towards their respective superiors.
Our Divine Savior knew this principle in speculation, and practiced it with greater perfection, than any other person has ever done upon earth. The first and principal object of His Incarnation was to make known to the world the power and dignity of His Heavenly Father; and to lead men by His example and doctrines, to honor His Divine Majesty, and to obey His commands. Corning into the world, Jesus said: "Sacrifice and oblation Thou, O Father, wouldst not; but a body Thou hast fitted to Me. Holocausts for sin did not please Thee, then I said: Behold I come to do Thy will O God." [Heb. 10: 17] During His whole life upon earth, our Divine Savior kept constantly in view, the honor and homage due to His Heavenly Father, and in all His actions, He studied and strove to accomplish His adorable will. This was the real meaning of the words which, at the age of twelve, He addressed to His holy Mother in the temple of Jerusalem, in the presence of the learned doctors of the law, and which these men were unable to understand: "Did you not know that I must be about the things that are My Father's." [Lk. 2: 40] The will of His Heavenly Father was the element and food of His life upon earth. "My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, that I may perfect this world." [Jn. 4: 34] He solemnly protested that He would not move a hand, or foot, or utter a single word, except in conformity with the will of His Father, and to promote His honor and glory. "I can do nothing of Myself ... because I seek not My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me." [Jn. 5: 30] As the will of God was the food of our Savior's life; so He made it the chalice of His Passion, the drink of His agony, and His Viaticum in death. In His mortal agony in the garden of Gethsemane, He said: "The chalice, which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it." [Jn. 18: 2] "Father not My will, but Thine be done." [Lk. 22: 42] Finally, we learn that our Divine Lord and Master sacrificed His Life upon a Cross, to do homage to His Father's supreme dignity; and in perfect obedience to His adorable will. "Jesus," St. Paul says, "Jesus was obedient even unto death of the Cross." [Philip 2: 8] Behold here a most perfect model of piety and devotion towards God.
Our parents, in the order of nature, are next to the Godhead, from whom
all paternity in Heaven and on earth is derived. [Ephes. 3: 15] Parents
being the fountain-head of human society, are the first visible and
representatives of our God-Creator upon earth; they are the first
created source of dignity and power among men. The Eternal Son of God,
wishing to become the Son of man, selected for Himself a mother upon
We may be sure that He will honor her. It was in respect for her
that he chose her from the noblest royal dynasty that has ever exalted
and illustrated human nature.
He wrought, in her honor, the most surprising prodigies. More wonderful than the miraculous opening of the Red Sea or the suspended course of the river Jordan, this Divine Son, in regard for the future dignity of His chosen mother, opened for her the tide of life; and rolled back the muddy wave of Original Sin. She came forth all fair, and in perfect holiness, whence all the children of men are defiled, and born in sin, "How beautiful art thou, My love, how beautiful ... thou art all fair, O My love, and there is no spot in thee." [Cantic. 4] He enriched her pure soul with His choicest gifts, and replenished her Immaculate Heart with all the graces of His filial love. From the first instant of her miraculous conception, Mary became the dearest object upon earth of the adorable Trinity, and Each of the three Divine Persons vied with the Other in the manifestations of Their affection. The highest Archangel proclaims her praises, and salutes her with words never heard before by human ears. In admiration of the sublime dignity of the Mother of God, to which this humble Virgin of Nazareth is now going to be raised, the Archangel in the most respectful manner says to her: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women thou hast found grace with God, because He desires to become thy Son ... Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth the incarnate God as thy true Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most high and 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 ... The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore, also the Holy One that shall be born in thee shall be called the son of God ... And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word." [Lk. 1: 28] Thus, the humble handmaid was honored before Angels and men, with the highest dignity possible for any creature upon earth, or in Heaven. More happy than St. Paul, Mary, on this glorious occasion, is elevated to the clear contemplation, and the ravishing enjoyment of the beatific vision of the Divinity.
While the Angelic intelligences admire in Heaven the sublimity of this truly Divine dignity of the Mother of God, Saint Elizabeth praises and honors it upon Earth. Being visited at her house in Judea, by her most holy cousin, soon after she had been raised to the dignity of her Divine maternity, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, and her infant leaped in her womb, through supernatural joy, and she cried out with a loud voice, and said "Blessed art thou, O Mary, among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? ... For behold, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed. because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord. And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my Spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid: For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." [Lk. 1]
This prophecy has been verified ever since. Her Divine Son, Who inwardly inspired these words, began to realize them at His Birth. Being lovingly clasped in the arms of His Mother, and sweetly nestling upon her virginal bosom, the Incarnate Son of God brought legions of Angels from Heaven to sing His praises, and to honor her, from whom He was made the Son of man. He called the poor and the rich, the low and the great, shepherds and kings, Jews and Gentiles to the grotto of Bethlehem to adore His Incarnate Divinity, and to venerate His immaculate Mother. It is His will that all generations should call her blessed. Thanks to Jesus' filial piety this august Mother is praised, honored and venerated in the Catholic Church in every part of the world. Hence these humble pages could not remain silent.
As this most dutiful Son "advanced in age, wisdom and grace before God, and before men," so He gave new proofs of affectionate respect for His worthy Mother. To screen her from the very shadow of unjust suspicion, He had most wisely provided her with a most holy, most noble and affectionate husband. Joseph was the protector of her virginal purity, and the greatest admirer of her extraordinary sanctity. He was the faithful companion of her travels, and the most careful provider in all her wants. Our Lord, to perfect and reward their virtue, and to honor their dignity, but more especially that of His virginal Mother, passed thirty years of His human life in their happy company; and spent only three in His public ministry, for the rest of mankind. His uniform conduct, during the thirty years of His private life, is described in few words, by the inspired Chronicler of His infancy and childhood. "He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them." [Lk. 2: 51] This Divine Child went down, indeed, in humility to be subject to His earthly parents; Who was profoundly adored by all the Angels of Heaven. But the more deeply Jesus humbled Himself, the more He exalted the dignity of maternal authority. In respectful homage to the charitable wishes of His Mother, and at the slightest indication of her secret desire, this dutiful Son wrought a more stupendous prodigy than that of Josue when he stopped the course of the sun and moon; [Josue. 10: 12] or that not less astonishing miracle of the prophet Isaias who pushed the sun back ten degrees. [Is. 30: 8] This our Lord did at the Marriage Feast of Cana, when to please and honor His Mother He accelerated the time fixed by the eternal decree of His Heavenly Father, to work His first public miracle, by changing ordinary water into the nature of exquisite wine [Jn. 2: 3] On the Cross of Calvary, this loving Son forgot His Own sufferings, to honor His afflicted and sorrowful Mother. Lastly, after her death, He suspended in her behalf the common laws of nature, and anticipating in her honor the joys of her resurrection, raised His most holy Mother from the grave; and in body and soul brought her in triumph, to the highest throne of glory, in the eternal kingdom of Heaven.
Behold, then how the Incarnate Son of God, and Child of Mary, honors His Mother. He has constituted her Queen of Heaven and earth, of Angels and men; and all generations shall call her blessed in her Divine maternity.
We will close our humble but sincere tribute to the Divine Son and Virgin Mother, by the more authoritative, and eloquent words of St. Bernard:
We are fully satisfied with this a magnificent eulogium, which shows how the Incarnate Word of God honors and rewards the dignity of His most holy Mother. We have expatiated at some length upon this subject partly because we desire to concur in the full realization of the prophecy, that all generations shall call Blessed, the Divine Mother of our thorn-crowned King, to Whom we have dedicated this humble volume. We feel most confident, that both Mother and Son will be pleased with our good intention.
Our second motive for extending our remark has been to offer all Christian children, the most perfect model of filial respect towards parents, that we could find. As parental authority is the first and most sacred in human society, so we are fully and firmly convinced that loving, respectful and obedient children, will grow up into law-abiding and useful citizens. Domestic discipline is the first and best school in Christian society. We must now return to our Divine Master.
RESPECT OF JESUS FOR THE PRIESTLY DIGNITY
As parents, in the order of nature, are the first dignity and authority, claiming the respectful homage of children; so the true ministers of God, are the first and highest dignity in the spiritual and supernatural order upon earth. If parents are the loving representatives and agents of God's creative fecundity, and the hand of His beneficent providence; the sacred ministers of God are the eye of His wisdom, the voice of His law, the vessels of His holiness, and the living channels of His graces to mankind. The priests of God are to human souls, what parents are to human bodies. They are our spiritual fathers. Speaking of the Christian priesthood, St. John Chrysostom says: "Consider the priestly dignity. A priest is a man upon earth; but he is elevated to the sublime rank of a Divine agent. He lives and works among men, and for men; but his actions are supernatural and Divine. The priestly office is not, and cannot be of human institution. The wise philosophers, and the most enlightened statesmen, the greatest generals, with the most powerful monarchs, cannot constitute an order of men, like that of the Christian priesthood. No man upon earth, no Saint in Heaven, no Angel, no Archangel, no Heavenly power, no creature whatever, can institute such sublime dignity and office; that those who live in a body of flesh upon earth, may exercise a greater than an Angelic ministry." [St. John Chrys. De dignit, sacerdotis Lib. 2.] It is evident, that God alone can communicate to His sacred ministers, the power of Consecrating the Body of His Incarnate Son, and of absolving well disposed sinners from all their sins.<> We are taught to measure the height of a building, from the length of its shadow. From the long and large shadow of the Jewish priesthood, we may form some imperfect idea of the sublime dignity of the Catholic priesthood. In the sixth chapter of this book, we had occasion to allude to the institution of the Aaronic priesthood, when we remarked how severely God punished those ambitious men, who attempted to usurp this dignity and office. In a subsequent occasion, King Saul, by the command of God, was deprived forever of his royal dignity, because once only he attempted to offer a sacrifice, which belonged, by right, to the priestly office. When King Ozias presumed to offer incense in the sanctuary of God's temple in Jerusalem, the High Priest, Azarias, accompanied by eighty zealous priests, bravely withstood the sacrilegious king, and said to him: "It doth not belong to thee, alias, to burn incense to the Lord, but to the priests ... who are consecrated for this ministry." Because, however, the king in his pride and arrogance, insisted in attempting this profanation, God miraculously covered him on the spot with leprosy, when he was thrust out of the temple; and died through this loathsome and humiliating disease. [2 Paral. 26: 18] The superiority of the priestly dignity, to that of earthly potentates in the spiritual and supernatural order, is shown in the Bible from the fact, that in the old law, the High Priest Samuel, by the command of God, made Saul, king; and deposed him for presuming to perform, once only, one single act of the priestly office, and on that occasion, He selected and anointed as king over Israel, the youthful David, son of Isai. [1 Kings 15 & 16] By the command of God, priests alone could minister at the altar, and offer sacrifice to Him. They were constituted the teachers, interpreters and judges, of God's holy laws, for every class of persons. The people were strictly commanded to listen respectfully to their voice, as the visible angels and ambassadors of God. "For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they, [the people,] shall seek the law at his mouth; because he is the angel of the Lord of Hosts." [Malach. 2: 7]
Let us see now, how our Divine Lord and Master has honored the dignity, and respected the authority of the priesthood. We should beforehand observe, that He is the first source and center of all priestly dignity and power. Jesus is the supreme and eternal Pontiff, according to the order of Melchisedech; and He became man to abrogate the Aaronic priesthood of the old law, and to substitute for it a more exalted dignity, and a more extensive, and effective power. [Heb. 7 & 8] Nevertheless, He manifested on every occasion great regard for the Jewish priesthood. He honored the Jewish priesthood, by selecting from it His mother, a near relative of Elizabeth, who was of the daughters of Aaron. [Luke 1: 5 & 36] His first visit upon earth, soon after His Incarnation and several months before His Birth, was to the house of Zachary, a priest of the house of Abia. [Lk. 1: 5] Hence, this holy Jewish priest learned the great mystery of the Incarnation, and the arrival of the expected Messias even before Saint Joseph, the virginal spouse of His immaculate Mother. At His Birth, our Lord sent a miraculous star to invite kings to His cradle; but He wished to be carried in person to the temple of Jerusalem to honor the Jewish priesthood. If our most holy Redeemer could not approve of the vicious conduct of some of the chief priests; yet He ever paid respect to their sacred office, and dignity; and exhorted His hearers and disciples to carefully distinguish the personal behavior, from the official dignity of the priests of God. The faults of a priest are personal acts; but His dignity and office are gifts and privileges of God. Our Divine Savior knew and foretold that the Jewish priests had conspired against His life. He knew that they were His mortal enemies, and would be the principal authors of His greatest sufferings, deep humiliations, and cruel Death on the Cross; nevertheless, though He refused to speak to King Herod, He readily answered, during His trial, every question of the high priest, Caiphas; and in this unworthy man, our blessed Lord respected the sacredness of the priestly dignity.
If the very shadow of Peter is honored we may justly conclude that higher honors, and greater respect will be shown for his real person. We may begin to learn the grave nature and sublime dignity of the Catholic priesthood, from the length of preparation required by our Divine Lord, before He consented to confer it upon man. The Eternal Son of God has assumed human nature, that He may purify, may sanctify, and elevate it to the sublime dignity of the Christian priesthood. He defers this, the most important of all His Divine actions upon earth, to the very last day of His life. Who can tell the care our Divine Master used; the trials He had to undergo; the patience He exercised in preparing during more than three years, His disciples and Apostles for the grand dignity of the Christian priesthood? ...
This most High God, this great Lord of Heaven and earth, is satisfied with a stable at His Birth; He contents Himself to love and work like an humble mechanic, in the carpenter's shop of His adopted father. During the three years of His apostolic life through Palestine, he cheerfully embraces every opportunity of practicing poverty, and of exercising His cherished virtue of humility, and self-abasement. But when the memorable evening arrived, on which Jesus intends to raise men to the sacred dignity of the Christian priesthood He cannot consent to go to a stable or a shop, or even to an ordinary house. He will use one of the most magnificent halls that can be procured in the royal city of Jerusalem. Our Divine Lord desires to perform His first Ordination in a richly carpeted hall, in order that, through the unusual magnificence of the place, the Apostles may begin to perceive how sublime is the dignity to which they are going to be raised on that ever memorable night. On this occasion our Savior procured "A dining room furnished." [Mk. 16: 15] Adorned with green boughs and fresh flowers and splendidly lighted. [A Lapide, Ibid.] It was on this solemn occasion, that our blessed Lord celebrated His first High Mass, at which He Consecrated bread and wine; and by the most wonderful prodigy changed them into the substance of His Sacred Body and Blood. It was at this grand High Mass, that the twelve Apostles were raised to the sublime dignity of the Catholic priesthood; when they received from our Divine Savior, the power of offering the same Sacrifice, of Consecrating, as He did, and of Ordaining other priests who should continue to offer daily, this Divine and august Sacrifice to the end of the world.
These great truths we learn from the first three Evangelists, and from St. Paul, who says: "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said: Take ye, and eat; this is My Body, which shall be delivered for you, do this for the commemoration of Me. In like manner also, the chalice . . . Saying, this chalice is the new testament in My Blood, this do ye, as often as you shall drink it, for the commemoration of Me, for as often as you shall eat this bread and drink this chalice you shall show the death of the Lord until He come. " [Cor. 11: 23] "Immensa infinita Sacerdotis dignitas," [exclaims St. Ephraim De Sacerdotio] From the example and doctrine of this great Apostle of the Gentiles, we learn that this sublime dignity, power and office of the Catholic priesthood, was through the Apostles of our Lord, communicated to other men. In fact St. Paul was not present with our Lord in the supper room. His conversion took place three years after. But he tells us that he and other bishops and priests, offered the same Sacrifice like the rest of the Apostles. "The chalice of benedictions which we bless, is it not the Communion of the Blood of Christ? And the bread which we break is it not the partaking of the Body of the Lord? [Cor. 10: 16] And in another place he says: "We have an altar, whereof they have no power to eat, who serve the tabernacle." [Heb. 13: 10] The continuation of the Catholic priesthood is essential to the Church of Jesus Christ, wherein, according to the repeated commands of our Lord, the holy Sacrifice must be offered daily, and Sacraments must be administered to men, to the end of time. "Do ye this, our Lord said, in commemoration of Me." ... "For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink this chalice, you shall show the Death of the Lord until He come." From other Epistles of the holy apostle we learn that bishops, priests, and deacons, were instituted wherever Christians were established. He wrote to Titus, whom he consecrated bishop, "for this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldst Ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee." [Tit. 1: 5] "Ingens et divina dignitas," says Dionysius [De Eccles. H. Cap. 3] We must now return to our Divine Lord, Who has other honors and privileges in store for His sacred ministers. Besides the sublime power of Order, through which he conferred on His priests the Divine prerogatives of Consecrating His sacred Body and Blood, He communicated to them the most extensive jurisdiction over the souls of men.
In the person of St. Peter our Divine Lord conferred the sublime and extensive power over the souls of men to the Pope, the supreme visible head of the Church. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church,. and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it; and I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosened also in Heaven." [Mt. 16: 18] This grand promise was fulfilled by our Savior after His glorious Resurrection, when He commanded Peter to feed His sheep and lambs. [Jn. 19: 15] To the rest of the Apostles, and to all the bishops and priests of His Church, our Lord said: "Amen, I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in Heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth shall be loosened also in Heaven." [Mt. 18: 18]
After His Resurrection, our Divine Master confirmed this power and more fully explained its object. "As the Father hath sent Me, so I also send you. When He had said this, He breathed on them, and He said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." [Jn 20: 23] Here is the Divine commission, stamped by the broad seal of Heaven, by virtue of which the pastors of Christ's holy Church absolve repenting sinners, after their humble and sincere Confession.
St. John Chrysostom says: "The Eternal Father has given all power to His Son, Who says, "All power is given to Me in Heaven and earth." [Mt. 28: 18] But I see that the same power is communicated to His priests by God the Son . . . These sacred ministers possess now more power than Almighty God has ever been willing to grant to His Angels or Archangels in Heaven." [Lib. 3 de Sacred. Cap 3] St. Bernard styles priests the parents of Jesus Christ, "Parentes Christi." St. Augustine exclaims: "Oh, truly venerable dignity, in whose hands the Son of God is Incarnate. The most blessed Mother of Jesus opened Heaven, and brought the eternal Son of God once only in her virginal womb; but the priest brings Him upon the altar in every Mass. In the womb of Mary the Son of God was passible and mortal; but in the hand of the priest, He is immortal and impassible." These are the words of St. Bernardine of Siena. All this is amply sufficient to show, how highly our most holy and Divine Master has honored the dignity of the priesthood, in the Old and New Testament. Our duty is to imitate His example.
We must now proceed to consider, how our Divine Lord has honored and
All power and authority emanating from God, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that all those who devoutly honor God, will invariably honor and respect all persons, that have by God been raised to any position of dignity and power upon earth. Devout children will always honor, love, respect, and obey their parents.
Pious Christians have always a profound respect for the sacred character of the ministers of God. And, because civil superiors are also in a lower sphere than the ministers of God's power and justice; so every sincere Christian, and practical Catholic, will respect their authority, and do homage to their dignity. St. Paul says: "Let every soul be subject to higher powers; For there is no power but from God; and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation ... For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear, for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore be subject of necessity, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." [Rom. 13: 1]
These sublime and solid principles of Christian jurisprudence and morality, were dictated to the apostolic Doctor of the Gentiles by our Lord, Jesus Christ. But according to his maxim, and uniform conduct, our Divine Master ever practiced, what He intended to teach. Let us see then, how He showed, in practice, His respect for civil authority.
1. On the very threshold of the palace of civil dignity and power, we should reflect that all power and authority emanated from Him, to whom all power is given both in Heaven and upon earth. For whatever good quality, whatever dignity or power come from God to man, must be transmitted by, and through our Lord Jesus Christ ... Who is the head of all principality and power. [Coloss. 2: 10] "For He is above all principality and power and virtue and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." [Ephes. 1: 21] Whatever, therefore, may be the civil dignity, power, or title of any potentate upon earth; it should by Christian faith be considered a badge of honor conferred upon him by the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. [Apo. 19: 16] By the selection of His blessed Mother, and adopted father, from a kingly race, our Divine Lord manifested His high regard for the dignity of man. Even before His Birth, He recognized the authority of the Roman Emperor Augustus, when in obedience to his decree, he inspired his Virgin Mother and St. Joseph, to undertake a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, in the very depth of winter. His birth in a stable, was an admirable act of obedience, in homage to the civil authority of a Pagan monarch. The holy name of Mary, of Joseph, and very likely of Jesus, on the roll book, or imperial register, testify our Divine Savior's respect for civil authority, and His ready obedience to human laws ... And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled ... And all went to be enrolled, every one to his own city. And Joseph also went from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass, that when they went there ... She brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn ... [Lk. 2: 1] Behold how soon, and with what inconvenience to Himself, and to His young Mother, and adopted father, our Infant Savior manifests His respect for civil authority.
Moreover, we are informed by the illustrious Cardinal Baronius, on the authority of Suida and Nicephorus, that soon after our Savior's Birth, our Blessed Lady appeared to Caesar Augustus in the Roman Capitol, holding the Divine Infant in her arms. The proper name of this emperor was Octavius; he was a nephew of the famous emperor, general, and historian, Julius Caesar. Octavius had been supernaturally informed of the imminent Birth of our Divine Lord, Who was to silence all Pagan oracles, and destroy the idols. In memory and honor of this apparition, this most happy and best of Roman Emperors that reigned before Constantine, had a magnificent altar erected on capitol hill, with this inscription "Ara primogeniti Dei, namely, "This altar is dedicated to the Incarnate Son of God." A little above three centuries after the remarkable event, the Emperor Constantine erected on the same site a large church in honor of our Blessed Lady, which still exists at the present day, under the ordinary title of "Ara Coeli." [A Lapide in Luc. 2: 1]
Behold, the holy bishop St. Fulgentius exclaims, behold, O impious King Herod, that there is no danger to thy kingly dignity in the Birth of this Heavenly Child. He does not wish to be thy successor on the throne, but He desires to have faithful believers in every part of the world. "Nec ideo natus est uttibisuccedat, sed ut in eum mundus fideliter credat." [Serm. 5 De. Epiph.] If the instances we have given could only be used as a favorable interpretation of the respectful regard of an ordinary man for human authority, we should reflect that the Divine Infant of Bethlehem is the Incarnate wisdom of God, Whose every act is full of important signification. We possess, however, more explicit proofs of our Savior's respect for civil authority in His more advanced age. St. Matthew relates, that on a certain occasion the hypocritical Pharisees consulted among themselves how to ensnare our Divine Master in His speech. For this malicious object, they sent some of their disciples with several officers of King Herod, to our Lord saying to Him: "Master, we know that Thou art a true speaker, and teacher in the way of God, in truth; neither carest Thou for any man; for Thou dost not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what dost Thou think; is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? ... But Jesus knowing their wickedness said: Why do you tempt Me, ye hypocrites? Show Me the coin of the tribute. And they offered Him a penny. And Jesus said to them: whose image and inscription is this? They say to Him, Caesar's. Then He said to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. [Mt. 22: 15] Such are the maxims of this Divine teacher of Christian jurisprudence. It is impossible to find any other more wise, more just, more solid, more comprehensive. But, the first part should never be separated from the second which is the most essential. Our duty to civil authority cannot dispense us from our higher obligations to God; but on the contrary, this is the foundation and support of the other. We will respect human authority in proportion as we respect the authority of God. Action however, is the most evident proof of our convictions. Many persons are as prompt and eloquent in propounding theories, as they are remiss in practicing them. But our Divine Master did not belong to this class of teachers. He was generally very concise in announcing theoretical principles, but very exact and perfect in acting upon them. He even taught more by His example, than by His words. Coepit Jesu facere et docere.
The following was one of His first maxims. "Whosoever shall do and teach, the same shall be called great, in the kingdom of Heaven." [Mt. 5: 19]
According to the assertion of Orosius, assented to by the learned Cornelius A Lapide: Our Lord Jesus Christ became a Roman citizen, by the fact that His parents and Himself, were after His Birth, enrolled in Bethlehem in the Roman register. As the King of Kings and Savior of the world, our Lord was not bound in justice to pay any tribute to any earthly monarch. Moreover He was so poor that He did not possess the necessary amount of money demanded. But He works a miracle, rather than fail in giving this practical proof of His subjection, to human authority and obedience to civil laws. This fact is related in all its beautiful simplicity by St. Matthew in the following words: "When they were come to Capharnum they that received the didrachma; came to Peter, and said to him: Doth not your master pay the didrachma? He said yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him saying: What is thy opinion Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take tribute, or custom, of their own children or strangers? And he said of strangers. Jesus said to him: then the children are free. But, that we may not scandalize them, go thou to the sea, and cast in a hook; and that fish which shall first come up, take; and when thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that and give it to them for Me and thee." [Mt. 17: 23] How many instructive lessons are contained in this fact! In His extreme poverty our Divine Lord works a miracle to pay the head, or personal tribute not only for Himself, but also for His Apostle Peter. He works a miracle to avoid giving any occasion of scandal, and this is charity. He consents to pay a tribute to which He is not bound in strict justice. This is an admirable act of respect for civil authority. In paying the tribute, He equals Himself to His humble Apostle, a poor fisherman. Is this not profound humility? . . . In this humility however, our Lord teaches us the honor due to Peter, whom He equals to Himself, and also the respect due to the Roman Pontiff, His vicar upon earth. But we must return to our main subject.
Words in praise of authority are good; tributes for the support of its dignity are better: but the best proof of our profound respect for it is to suffer and die, when necessary in obedience to its laws. This is what we have now to consider in our Divine Master and Model.
Let us return to the palace of the Roman Governor. Pilate is the legitimate representative of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, as governor of Judea. As man our Lord is now placed under his jurisdiction by the chief priests, senators and magistrates of the Jewish people. Look at our Blessed Redeemer and Master, and consider His behavior.
We read in history, that the emperor Alexander the Great, having been severely wounded in battle by an arrow, and a painful surgical operation being required, was asked by the military surgeon, to allow himself to be bound for a short time. His answer on this occasion has been highly extolled. He said with an air of dignified haughtiness: "It is beneath the dignity of an emperor to be bound with cords". When the pious and dethroned King of France, Louis XVI, was by his rebellious subjects brought to the scaffold for public execution in Paris; he firmly refused to have his hands manacled and his arms pinioned before being beheaded; and prepared to repel the brutal executioners saying: "I will never allow it to be said that a King of France consented to be bound with cords like a coward, and manacled like a vile criminal." It was only when his faithful, brave, and prudent confessor proposed to the saintly monarch, the example of our Divine Lord, and warmly exhorted him to imitate it, that King Louis devoutly raising his eyes to Heaven, heaved a deep sigh, and extending his hands, mildly consented to endure this public humiliation.
But Jesus Christ is the King of kings, and Lord of lords, supreme Sovereign of Heaven and earth, of Angels and men. He is a God of infinite majesty, and of omnipotent power. Countless millions of Angels are in adoration before Him ... with an act of His omnipotent will He could destroy all His enemies, and annihilate the whole world ... Yet ... behold, Christian reader, behold this Incarnate Son of God, meekly standing before the Roman Governor, bound in chains, like the lowest and worst of malefactors. Look at this Divine prisoner. His hands are manacled, His arms pinioned, a rope is fastened around His neck.
"When morning was come," St. Matthew says: "all the chief priests and ancients of the people held a council against Jesus to put Him to death. And they brought Him bound and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate, the Governor." [Mt. 27: 1] The conduct of our innocent Savior, before the Roman Governor, was very different from that of some great political criminals in the presence of their legitimate judge, when they attempted to justify their treason and rebellion, and boldly despised and denied the authority of their lawful superiors. Some superficial Christians, imbued with the modern spirit of insubordination, too often metamorphose this iniquitous behavior into an heroic act of patriotism, worthy of all admiration and praise. But all good Catholics prefer to follow the example and the doctrines of their Divine Master. Our Lord recognized the authority of the Roman Governor, Pilate, and respected his dignity. He declared that his authority had a Divine origin and came to him from above. He mildly answered the Governor's questions. He promptly obeyed all his commands. Our Lord went to the balcony, or retired therefrom, at the least intimation of the Roman Magistrate. Though perfectly innocent, yet when condemned to the cruel punishment of the flagellation at the pillar, the Divine Lamb of God humbly submitted to that unjust and degrading chastisement, and bore the scourge without a word of complaint.
See Him standing before the Roman Governor, with that horrible Crown of Thorns torturing His adorable Head. Does He complain? Does He even allude once to His agonizing sufferings? Not a word escapes from His mouth. He, the incarnate Son of the most High, is postponed to the bloody murderer, Barabbas, and bears the insult in silent meekness. He is condemned to the barbarous and infamous death of the Cross, and bows His Head in humble submission ... He cheerfully takes upon His shoulders, the heavy instrument of His Crucifixion, and carries it to Mount Calvary. There, at the least intimation of the presiding officer of justice, Jesus strips Himself, and meekly lays down upon the Cross, extending His Divine Hands and Feet, that they may be fastened thereon, with large and rough nails. All this is done in a spirit of obedience, and respect for authority not only Divine, but also human; for there is no power, but from God, "he humbled Himself; becoming obedient unto death, even the Death of the Cross." [Philip. 2: 8] Here is our teacher; this is our model; "Be ye subject, therefore, to every human creature, for God's sake whether it be the king as excelling or to the governors, as sent by him ... For so is the will of God, that by doing well you may silence the ignorance of foolish men ... Fear God, honor the king; servants be subject to your masters, with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward for this is thanksworthy, if for conscience towards God, a man endure sorrows, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if sinning, and being buffeted, you suffer it? But if doing well, you suffer patiently, this is thanksworthy before God. For unto this you have been called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow His steps." [1 Peter 2: 13]VIEW THE BANNER IMAGE LARGE
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