ON THE INSTRUMENTS OF CHRISTíS PASSION AND DEATH
Taken from CHRIST IN HIS CHURCH, Rev.ís Butler, Rutter, OíLeary and Shea, Imprimatured 1890.
As the sacred passion of Christ is the source of all our happiness and good, so the instruments of it are justly considered as objects of our respect and veneration. "If the ark," says St. Jerom, "was held in such high veneration among the Jews, how much more ought Christians to respect the wood of the cross whereon our Saviour offered himself a bleeding victim for our sins. By devoutly respecting the instruments of Christís passion, we profess our faith in him who suffered for us, we excite our hope in his merit, enkindle his love in our breasts, and renew the grateful remembrance of his death. We shall, therefore, subjoin the following account respecting these sacred instruments by which our Redeemer triumphed over sin and the devil, and purchased for us mercy, grace, and salvation.
THE PILLAR AT WHICH OUR LORD WAS SCOURGED
This was anciently kept at Jerusalem with other holy relics on Mount Sion, as mentioned by St. Gregory of Tours, venerable Bede, St. Prudentius, and St. Jerom. It remained in the same place till the thirteenth century, when it was brought to Rome by Cardinal John Columna, Apostolic Legate in the East, under Pope Honorius III., anno. 1213. It was placed in a little chapel in the church of St. Praxedes and is still shown there. The pillar is of gray, or black and white marble, one foot and a half long, or two Italian feet, and one foot in diameter at the bottom, and eight inches at the top, where is an iron ring to which criminals were tied. Some think it only the upper part of the pillar mentioned by St. Jerom; but others, with more probability, maintain it to be entire, as there appear no marks of a fracture. The Jews scourged criminals, first on the back; then often on the belly, and also on both sides; which seems likewise to have been the Roman custom.
THE CROWN OF THORNS
What kind of thorns these were, is a question among the learned: they were platted together so as entirely to cover the top of Christís head, like a cap, and not merely as a wreath or fillet to bind the temples or forehead. St. Bridget, in the fourth book of her revelations, chapt. 40, says that this "thorny crown was pressed down upon his head, reaching to the middle of the forehead." It was given by the emperor Baldwin II to St. Louis as to his cousin and great benefactor, when the city of Constantinople was no longer considered as a place of security against the Saracens and Greeks; also in gratitude for his extraordinary contributions to the defense of the Eastern empire and the holy places. St. Louis afterward in requital voluntarily paid off a loan which that emperor had borrowed of the Venetians. William of Nangis,, Vincent of Beauvais, and other French historians of that time, relate how this sacred treasure was, with great devotion, carried in a sealed case, by holy religious men, by the way of Venice into France. St. Louis, with the Queen-mother, his brothers, and many prelates and princes, met it five leagues beyond Sens. The pious king and Robert of Artois, his second brother, being barefoot and in their shirts, carried it into that city, to the Cathedral of St. Stephen, accompanied by a numerous procession bathed in tears, which the sentiments of gratitude and religion drew from their eyes. It was thence conveyed to Paris, where it was received with extraordinary solemnity. St. Louis built for its reception the Holy Chapel, as it is called, and annexed thereto a rich foundation of a chapter of canons. Some thorns have been distributed from this treasure to other churches, and some have been made in imitation of them. They are for the most part very long.
THE FORM OF OUR SAVIOURíS CROSS
To understand the form of our Redeemerís cross, we must observe, that there are some crosses that have only three extremities, in the shape of a Roman T, or crutch. This is sometimes called St. Anthonyís cross: There is another kind of cross, which is called St. Andrewís cross, made of two equal pieces of wood obliquely crossing one another in the middle, after the manner of a Roman X. The reason why this is termed St. Andrewís cross, is because he is said to have been crucified on a cross of this description. The third kind of cross is this +, and is commonly made use of in our churches, from the resemblance it is supposed to have with the Cross on which Christ died. I know indeed that St. Jerom and Tertullion, seem to insinuate that this cross was in the shape of a Roman T; but they must be understood as speaking of it separated from the TITLE, which was a board elevated in the middle. Hence St. Justin, St. lrenaeus, and others mentioned by Gretzer, speak of the cross as having four ends or extremities; one fixed in the earth, two formed by the crossbeams to which his arms were nailed, and the fourth raised in the middle by the title, which must have been twelve inches long. This seems likewise to be confirmed by what St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Ephesians, iii. 18, when he describes four dimensions of the cross of Christ, viz., its BREADTH, its LENGTH, its HEIGHT, and its DEPTH. In this sense St. Austin likewise explains it, considering the height to be that piece of wood which is elevated above the transverse beam which makes its breadth. It is dubious of what kind of wood the cross of our Saviour was formed. According to Lipsius and Rocca it was of oak; for this abounded in Judea, and the particles of this sacred wood which have been cut off confirm the conjecture. Gretzer, however, is of a different opinion. Nothing appears in the ancient fathers to ascertain the length and breadth of the holy cross. It was probably of the usual size, and such as was prepared for persons of mean rank. For otherwise Christ could not have carried it, exhausted as he was with the loss of blood, and spent with fatigue and ill treatment.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE CROSS
Is kept on the 3rd of May, and is a festival in memory of this holy cross being found by St. Helen in the year 326, about 180 years after it had been buried by the heathens. For out of an aversion to Christianity, they had done all in their power to conceal the place where it lay, and where our Saviour was buried. They had therefore heaped upon his sepulchre a great quantity of stones and rubbish, besides building a temple to Venus; that those who came thither to adore him, might seem to pay their worship to a marble idol representing this false diety. They had, moreover, erected a statue to Jupiter in the place where our Saviour rose from the dead, as we are informed by St. Jerom; which figure contained there from the emperor Adrianís time to Constantineís reign. The precautions of the persecutors evidently show the veneration which Christians must have paid from the beginning to the instruments of our redemption. Helena, Constantineís mother, being inspired with a great desire to find the identical cross on which Christ had suffered for our sins, came to Jerusalem, and consulted all those whom she thought likely to assist her in compassing her pious design. She was by them credibly informed, that if she could find out the sepulchre, she would likewise find out the instruments of the punishment; it being always a custom among the Jews to make a great hole near the place where the body of the criminal was buried, and to throw into it whatever belonged to his execution; looking upon all these things as detestable objects, and which for that reason ought to be removed out of sight. The pious empress, therefore, ordered the profane building to be pulled down, the statues to be broken in pieces, and the rubbish to be removed; and upon digging to a great depth, they discovered the holy sepulchre, and near it three crosses; also the nails which had pierced our Saviourí s body, and the TITLE which had been affixed to his cross. By this discovery they understood that one of the three crosses was THAT which they were in quest of, and that the other two belonged to the two malefactors between whom our Saviour had been crucified. But as the TITLE was found separate from the cross, a difficulty remained to distinguish which of the three was THAT cross on which our divine Redeemer had consummated his sacrifice for the salvation of the world. In this perplexity the holy bishop Macanus, knowing that one of the principal ladies of the city lay extremely ill, suggested to the empress to cause the three crosses to be carried to the sick person, not doubting but God would discover which was the cross they sought for. This being done, St. Macanus prayed that God would have regard to their faith, and after his prayer, applied the crosses singly to the patient, who was immediately and perfectly recovered by the touch of one of the crosses, the other two having been tried without effect. St. Helen, full of joy for having found the treasure which she had so earnestly sought, and so highly esteemed, built a church on the spot, and lodged it there with great veneration, having provided an extraordinary rich case for it. She afterward carried part of it to the emperor Constantine, then at Constantinople, who received it with great veneration. (It was out of a religious respect to the sacred instrument of the death of Christ, that Constantine, in the twentieth year of his reign, forbade the cross to be used in the punishment of malefactors in any part of the Roman dominions, which decree has been observed ever since throughout all Christendom.) Another part she sent, or rather carried to Rome to be placed in the church which she built there, under the name of THE HOLY CROSS OF JERUSALEM, where it remains to this day. The TITLE was sent by St. Helen to the same church in Rome, and deposited on the top of an arch, where it was found in a case of lead in 1492, as may be read at length in Bozius. The inscription in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, is in red letters, and the wood was whitened. Thus it was in 1492, but these colors are since faded. Also the words JESUS and JUDOEORUM are eaten away: the board is nine, but must have been originally twelve inches long. The main part of the cross St. Helen enclosed in a silver shrine, and committed to the care of St. Macarius, that it might be delivered down to posterity as an object of veneration. It was accordingly kept with singular respect in the magnificent church which she and her son built at Jerusalem, and was shown publicly to the people at Easter. This stately church was hence called the BASILIC OF THE HOLY CROSS; it was also called the church of THE SEPULCHRE or of THE RESURRECTION, though this was properly the title only of the holy chapel which stood over the sepulchre or cavern in which our Saviour was buried, which was in the garden adjoining to Mount Calvary; so that this great church covered the sepulchre, and was extended so far on Mount Calvary as also to include the rock Golgotha, and the very place where the cross of Christ stood at his crucifixion. This extensive building was enclosed within the walls of Jerusalem when that city was rebuilt. The finding of the cross by St. Helen happened in the year of our Lord 326, in the twenty-first year of Constantineís reign, the thirteenth of the pontificate of Sylvester, and the after the council of Nice.
As to the NAILS with which Christ was fastened to the cross, they were found together with the cross, as before observed. It seems most probable, that four nails were made use of in Christís crucifixion; two for his hands and two for his feet, though some pretend that the latter were fastened across with one. The Romans fixed little broad pieces of wood on the crosses of malefactors for the feet to rest upon, as Pliny mentions, and this was probably observed in regard to our Saviour 's cross. One of these nails St. Helen threw into the Adriatic Sea, to lay a violent storm in which she was in danger of perishing, and which, according to St. Gregory of Tours, immediately ceased. Perhaps, as Gretzer observes, it was not thrown into the sea irrecoverably, but only held under water. For. it is not likely that St. Helen would be willing totally to deprive herself and others of so great a treasure; and this explanation St. Gregory himself seems to insinuate. St. Ambrose and others testify, that her son Constantine the Great fixed another nail in a rich diadem of pearls which he wore on the most solemn occasions; and that for a protection he set a third in a costly bridle which he used. This bridle, and the sacred nails, were preserved at Constantinople with great respect till 550, when they were brought to Rome, and probably by St. Gregory the Great, who was then legate at Constantinople, to Constantine Tiberius Augustus; for it appears that he returned to Rome an. 586, as Baronius shows, loaded with gifts, that is, with sacred relics. Calvin pretends to reckon fourteen or fifteen nails, held for genuine; but names some never heard of except by himself. Some multiplication of these nails has sprung from the filings of that precious relic put into other nails made like it. The true nail, kept at Rome, in the church of the Holy Cross, has been manifestly filed, and is now without a point, as may be seen in all pictures of it. St. Charles Borromeo, a prelate most rigorous in the approbation of relics, had many nails made like that which is kept at Milan, and distributed them after they had touched the holy nail. He gave one as a relic to King Philip II. These are all like that at Rome. St. Gregory the Great also, and other ancient popes, sent filings of the chains of St. Peter as relics, and occasionally put something of them into other chains made like them.
THE HOLY LANCE
Which opened Christís sacred side, is kept at Rome, but has no point. Andrew of Crete, who lived in the seventh century, says that it was buried together with the cross. At least St. Gregory of Tours, and Venerable Bede, testify, that in their time it was kept at Jerusalem. For fear of the Saracens it was buried privately at Antioch, in which city it was found under ground, an. 109, and wrought many miracles, as Robert the Monk and many eyewitnesses testify. It was carried first to Jerusalem, and soon after to Constantinople. At the time this city was taken by Godfrey of Bouillon, the Emperor Baldwin II sent the point of it to Venice as a pledge for a loan of money. St. Louis, King of France, redeemed this relic, by paying off the sum for which it lay in pledge, and caused it to be conveyed to Paris, where it is still kept in the HOLY CHAPEL. The rest of the lance remained at Constantinople after the Turks had taken that city, till in 1492 the sultan Bajazet sent it by an ambassador in a rich beautiful case to Pope Innocent VIII, adding, that the point was in the possession of the King of France.
THE HOLY SPONGE,
Tinged with blood, made use of at our Lordís crucifixion, is shown at Rome in the church of St. John Lateran, and held in great veneration. For while the malefactor hung bleeding on the cross, it was usual, by means of a sponge, to apply vinegar to his wounds, that by its astringent quality it might serve to stanch the blood in some degree, and prevent the criminal being put out of his pain by death sooner than was intended.
THE BLOOD OF CHRIST,
Which is kept at some places, and especially at Mantua, seems to be what has sometimes issued from the miraculous bleeding of some crucifix, when pierced in derision by Jews or pagans; instances of which are recorded in authentic histories. Assiduous meditation on the passion of Christ is the great school of Christian perfection; the saints found in it their comfort and their joy; here they feaster their souls with the sweet fruits of love and devotion, learned to die to themselves, and entered into the sentiments of Christ crucified. Happy those Christians who, like St. Paul, GLORY IN THE CROSS of Christ, and who can truly say with him, that the world IS CRUCIFIED to them, and they to the world.
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