Monday, March 23, 2020

St. Alphonsus on the Scourging of Jesus Christ.

Let us enter into the praetorium of Pilate, one day made the horrible scene of the ignominies and pains of Jesus; let us see how unjust, how shameful, how cruel was the punishment there inflicted on the Savior of the world. Pilate, seeing that the Jews continued to make a tumult against Jesus, as a most unjust judge condemned him to be scourged: Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him [John 19:1]. The iniquitous judge thought by means of this barbarity to win for him the compassion of his enemies, and thus to deliver him from death: I will chastise Him (he said) and let Him go [Luke 23:22].

Scourging was the chastisement inflicted on slaves only. Therefore, says St. Bernard, our loving Redeemer willed to take the form, not only of a slave, in order to subject himself to the will of others, but even of a bad slave in order to be chastised with scourges, and so to pay the penalty due from man, who had made himself the slave of sin: “Taking not only the form of a slave, that he might submit, but even of a bad slave, that he might be beaten and suffer the punishment of the slave of sin.”
As soon as he had arrived at the praetorium (as was revealed to St. Bridget), our loving Savior, at the command of the servants, stripped himself of his garments, embraced the column, and then laid on it his hands to have them bound. O God, already is begun the cruel torture. O angels of heaven, come and look on this sorrowful spectacle; and if it not be permitted you to deliver your king from this barbarous slaughter which men have prepared for him, at least come and weep for compassion. And thou, my soul, imagine thyself to be present at this horrible tearing of the flesh of Thy beloved Redeemer. Look on him, how he stands, thy afflicted Jesus, with his head bowed, looking on the ground, blushing all over for shame, he awaits this great torture.

Flagellation of Christ, by Michael Pacher, c. 1495-98. Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
Behold these barbarians, like so many ravening dogs, are already with the scourges, attacking this innocent lamb. See how one beats him on the breast, another strikes his shoulders, another smites his loins and his legs; even his sacred head and his beautiful face cannot escape the blows. Ah me! Already flows that divine blood from every part; already with that blood are saturated the scourges, the hands of the executioners, the column, and the ground. “He is wounded,” mourns St. Peter Damian, “over his whole body, torn with the scourges; now they twine round his shoulders, now round his legs – streaks upon streaks, wounds added to fresh wounds.” Ah, cruel men, with whom are you dealing thus? Stay – stay; know that you are mistaken. This man whom you are torturing is innocent and holy; it is myself who am the culprit; to me, to me, who have sinned, are these stripes and torments due. But you regard not what I say.

And how canst Thou, O Eternal Father, bear with this great injustice? How canst Thou behold Thy beloved Son suffering thus, and not interfere in his behalf? What is the crime that he has ever committed, to deserve so shameful and so severe a punishment? For the wickedness of My people have I struck Him [Isaias 53:8]. I well know, says the Eternal Father, that this my Son is innocent; but inasmuch as he has offered himself as a satisfaction to my justice for all the sins of mankind, it is fitting that I should so abandon him to the rage of his enemies. 

Hast Thou, then, my adorable Savior, in compensation for our sins, and especially for those of impurity – that most prevalent vice of mankind, – been willing to have Thy most pure flesh torn to pieces? And who, then, will not exclaim with St. Bernard, “How unspeakable is the love of God towards sinners!”

Ah, my Lord, smitten with the scourge, I return Thee thanks for so great love, and I grieve that I am myself, by reason of my sins, one of those who scourge Thee. O my Jesus! I detest all those wicked pleasures which have cost thee so much pain. Oh how many years ought I not already to have been in the flames of hell! And why hast Thou so patiently awaited me until now? Thou hast borne with me, in order that at length, overcome by so many wiles of love, I might give myself up to love thee, abandoning sin. O my beloved Redeemer!

St. Bonaventure sorrowfully exclaims, “The royal blood is flowing; bruise is superadded to bruise, and gash to gash. That divine blood was already issuing from every pore; that sacred body was already become but one perfect wound; yet those infuriated brutes did not forebear to add blow to blow, as the Prophet had foretold: And they have added to the grief of my wounds [Ps. 68: 27]. So that the thongs not only made the whole body one wound, but even bore away pieces of it into the air, until at length the gashes in that sacred flesh were such that the bones might have been counted. “The flesh was torn away, that the bones could be numbered.” Cornelius a' Lapide says that in this torment Jesus Christ ought, naturally speaking, to have died; but he willed, by his divine power, to keep himself in life, in order to suffer yet greater pains for love of us. And St. Laurence Justinian had observed the same thing before: “He evidently ought to have died. Yet he reserved himself unto life, it being his will to endure heavier sufferings.”

Column of the Flagellation in the Church of St. Praxedes in Rome (Wikipedia)
 Cruel in excess to our Redeemer was this torture of his scourging in the first place, because of the great number of those by whom it was inflicted; who, as was revealed to St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, were not fewer than sixty. And these, at the instigation of the devils, and even more so of the priests, who were afraid lest Pilate should, after this punishment, be minded to release the Lord, as he had already protested to them, saying, I will therefore scourge him, and let him go [Luke 23:22], aimed at taking away his life by means of this scourging. Again, all theologians agree with St. Bonaventure that, for this purpose, the sharpest implements were selected, so that, as St. Anselm declares, every stroke produced a wound; and that the number of strokes amounted to several thousand, the flagellation being administered, as Father Crasset says, not after the manner of the Jews, for whom the Lord had forbidden that the number of strokes should never exceed forty; Yet so, that they exceed not the number of forty, lest thy brother depart shamefully torn [Deut. 25:3], but after the manner of the Romans, with whom there was not measure.

And so it is related by Josephus, the Jew, who lived shortly after our Lord, that Jesus was torn in his scourging to such a degree that the bones in his ribs were laid bare; as it was also revealed by the most Holy Virgin to St. Bridget, in these words: “I, who was standing by, saw his body scourged to the very ribs, so that his ribs themselves might be seen. And what was even yet more bitter still, when the scourges were drawn back, his flesh was furrowed by them.” To St. Teresa, Jesus revealed himself in his scourging, so that the saint wished to have him painted exactly as she had seen him, and told the painter to represent a large piece of flesh torn off, and handing down from the left elbow; but when the painter inquired as to the shape in which he ought to paint it, he found, on turning round again to his picture, the piece of flesh already drawn.

Ah, my beloved and adored Jesus, how much hast Thou suffered for love of me! Oh, let not so many pangs, and so much blood be lost for me!

But from the scriptures alone it clearly appears how barbarous and inhuman was the scourging of Jesus Christ. For why was it that Pilate should, after the scourging, have shown him to the people, saying, Behold the man! [John 19;5], were it not that our Savior was reduced to so pitiable a condition that Pilate believed the very sight of him would have moved his enemies themselves to compassion, and hindered them from any longer demanding his death?

Why was it that in the journey that Jesus, after this, made to Calvary, the Jewish women followed him with tears and lamentations? But there followed Him a great multitude of people, and women, who bewailed and lamented Him [Luke 23:27]. Was it, perhaps, because those women loved him and believed him to be innocent? No, the women, for the most part, agree with their husbands in opinion; so that they, too, esteemed him guilty. But the appearance of Jesus after his scourging, was so shocking and pitiable, as to move to tears even those who hated him; and therefore it was that the women gave vent to their tears and sighs.

The prophet Isaias has described more clearly than all the pitiable state to which he foresaw our Redeemer reduced. He said that his most holy flesh would have to be not merely wounded, but altogether bruised and crushed to pieces: But He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our transgressions [Isaias 53:5]. For, as the prophet goes on to say, the Eternal Father, the more perfectly to satisfy his justice, and to make mankind understand the deformity of sin, was not contented without beholding his Son pounded piecemeal, as it were, and torn to shreds by the scourges: And the Lord willed to bruise Him in infirmity [Isaias 53:10]. So that the blessed body of Jesus had to become like the body of a leper, all wounds from head to foot: And we esteemed Him as a leper, and one smitten of God [Isaias 53:4].

I love Thee my Jesus, thus wounded and torn to pieces for me; and would that I could see myself too torn to pieces for Thee, like so many martyrs whose portion this had been! But if I cannot offer Thee wounds and blood, I offer Thee at least all the pains which it will be my lot to suffer. I offer Thee my heart; with this I desire to love Thee more tenderly even than I am able. And who is there that my soul should love more tenderly than a God, who had endured scourging and been drained of his blood for me? I love Thee, O God of Love! I love Thee O infinite goodness! I love Thee, O my love, my all!

Excerpts from The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, by St. Alphonsus de Liguori.  

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