Post 3: St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on John 19:1-24

xix, 1, 2, 3 Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged Him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and arrayed Him in a purple garment; and they came unto Him, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! And they struck Him with their hands.

He scourges Him unjustly, and suffers the crowd of soldiers to insult Him, and put a crown of thorns about His Head, and throw a purple robe upon Him, and buffet Him with the palms of their hands, and otherwise dishonour Him. For he thought he could easily put to shame the people of the Jews, if they saw the Man Who was altogether free from guilt suffering this punishment, only without a cause. He was scourged unjustly, that He might deliver us from merited chastisement; He was buffeted and smitten, that we might buffet Satan, who had buffeted us, and that we might escape from the sin that cleaves to us through the original transgression. For if we think aright, we shall believe that all Christ’s sufferings were for us and on our behalf, and have power to release and deliver us from all those calamities we have deserved for our revolt from God. For as Christ, Who knew not death, when He gave up His own Body for our salvation, was able to loose the bonds of death for all mankind, for He, being One, died for all; so we must understand that Christ’s suffering all these things for us sufficed also to release us all from scourging and dishonour. Then in what way by His stripes are we healed, according to the Scripture? Because we have all gone astray, every man after his own way, as says the blessed Prophet Isaiah; and the Lord hath given Himself up for our transgressions, and for us is afflicted. For He was bruised for our iniquities, and has given His own back to the scourge, and His cheeks to the smiters, as he also says. The soldiers indeed take Jesus as a pretender to the throne, and insult Him soldierlike. And for this cause was a crown of thorns brought and put upon His brow, being the symbol of earthly |607 sovereignty; and the purple robe was, as it were, an image and type of royal apparel; and ridicule also was thereby heaped upon Him, for they came near unto Him, and cried, as the Evangelist says: Hail, King of the Jews!

And I have heard some say, and to some the conceit is well-pleasing, that the crown of thorns further signifies the multitude of idol-worshippers who will be taken up by Christ, as it were, into a diadem, through faith in Him; and they liken the Gentiles to barren and useless thorns, through their bearing no fruit of piety, and being rather fit to feed consuming fire—-just like rubbish in the fields, just as wild thicket, which grows up without any culture; and the royal apparel, I mean the purple robe, they say, means Christ’s Kingdom, which will be extended over all the world. We may well receive any interpretation which is not alien to the truth, and which it is not unprofitable to believe in. We need not therefore reject such a construction of the passage, indicative as it is of careful ingenuity.

4 And Pilate went out again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring Him out to you, that ye may know that I find no crime in Him.

He confesses the wrong he had done, and is not ashamed. For he admitted that he had scourged Him without a cause, and declares that he will show Him unto them, supposing that he would glut their savage passion by so pitiable a spectacle, and well-nigh accuses them henceforth, and that publicly, of putting Him to death unjustly, and of compelling him openly to be a law-breaker, who, if he transgressed his own laws, could not escape scot free. The saying was fulfilled in Christ, and shown to be true, that the prince of this world cometh, and he will find nothing in Me. For observe how Satan, after throwing everything into confusion, finds nothing at all cast out from God, and ranked under the power of sin, which he might, perhaps, if it had been referred to the Saviour Christ, have caused to be rightly |608 condemned and implicated in his accusations. Just as; then, in Adam he subdued the whole human race, showing it to be subject unto sin, so now was he vanquished by Humanity. For He That was truly God, and had no sin in Him, was yet Man; and just as the sentence of condemnation for transgression went forth over all mankind, through one man, the first Adam, so likewise, also, the blessing of justification by Christ is extended to all through One Man, the Second Adam. Paul is our witness, who says: As through one the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through One the free gift came unto all men to justification of life. We therefore are diseased through the disobedience of the first Adam and its curse, but are enriched through the obedience of the Second and its blessing. For He that was Lord of the Law as God came among us, and kept the Law as Man. Yea, we find Him saying unto us: He that loveth Me will keep My commandments; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. Note how He, as Lawgiver and God, has enjoined upon us the keeping of His commandments; and how, as keeping the Law while a Man among men, He declares that He Himself also kept the commandment of His Father.

5, 6 Jesus therefore came out, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple garment. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the Man! When therefore the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, Crucify Him, Crucify Him.

He showed, then, the Lord of all impiously outraged, and mocked by the intolerable insults of the soldiers, trusting that the furious wrath of the Jews would be sated, and now, at last, abate, and rest content with that most pitiable and dishonourable spectacle. But they were so far from showing any mercy in word or deed towards Him, and from entertaining any kind of good intentions, as even to surpass the ferocity of beasts, and to hurry onward to greater evil still, and make a still |609 more furious outcry, condemning Him to the worst of deaths, and compelling Him to undergo the extremity of suffering. For what punishment can be as severe as the Cross? And it is to the leaders of the Jews alone, it appears, that the wise Evangelist ascribed the origin of this impious doom. For see how, as it were, carefully guarding his words, he says: When, therefore, the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him. For, when the multitude of the vulgar were, it may be, somewhat ashamed by the sight of Christ’s sufferings, for perhaps they called to mind the wonderful miracles wrought by Him, the rulers first start the clamour, and kindle into strange fury the passions of the people subject unto them. That which was said of God in the prophets, concerning them, is true: For the pastors have become brutish, and have not sought the Lord; therefore all their flock perceived Him not, and were scattered abroad. And the saying is true. For as those in the pasture, that is, the multitude of the vulgar, did not enjoy the direction of their rulers to the knowledge of Christ, they perished, and relapsed into ruinous heedlessness of Christ. For let any man that likes probe the origin of the impious crime, and he will ascribe it to the rulers. For it was in the outset their most unholy design; they it was who induced the traitor to make a bargain with them, and bought Him over with the money of the Sanctuary; they joined the band of soldiers to the officers, bade them bind Him like the meanest of robbers, and brought Him to Pilate; and now, when they saw Him scourged, and well-nigh beside Himself with insults from every quarter, are but exasperated the more, and utter the dictates of their unmeasured hatred. For they purposed to put the Lord of the Vineyard to death, and thought they would securely enjoy His heritage, and, if Christ were removed, that they would again rule and enjoy all honour. But, as the Psalmist says: He that sitteth in the heavens, shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall hold them in derision. For nothing happened |610 according to their expectation, but, on the contrary, the course of events was completely reversed.

6 Pilate saith unto them, Take Him yourselves, and crucify Him; for I find no crime in Him.

Pilate is in consternation, that the people of the Jews and the inhuman crowd of the chief priests should attain to such a pitch of presumption, as not even to shrink from subjecting Christ to so frightful a death, though no fault was found in Him to bring Him to such a doom. And, therefore, he says, almost like one annoyed at an insult offered to himself: “Make you me a judge of this unjust shedding of blood? Am I, contrary to all Roman Law, become the murderer of the Innocent? and shall I, at your beck and call, fling to the winds all thought of myself? and shall I not, if I minister at my own peril to your requests, live in expectation of paying the penalty? If you do not think that you are doing an unholy deed; if you think the work presents no difficulty; do you yourselves, he says—-you, who boast of Divine instruction, you, who vaunt so highly your knowledge of your Law—-do you fix the cross, dare the murder, do of yourselves the unholy deed, bringing down on your own heads the charge of this great impiety; let the presumptuous act be the act of Jews, and upon them let the blood-guiltiness rest. If you have a Law that subjects the Sinless to so fearful a penalty, that chastises the Guiltless, execute it with your own hands; I will not endure to be a party to it.” We may imagine this to be what Pilate says, for his words are pregnant with some such meaning. And the shamelessness of the Jews may here also well excite our amazement, for they are not even put to shame by the just judgment of a foreigner, though the Divine Law said concerning this people: For the priest’s lips should keep judgment, and they should seek the Law from his mouth. |611

7 The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.

When their false accusation that they had at first contrived proved fruitless, and they established against Him no attempt at revolution or revolt against Caesar’s rule (for the Lord parried these charges, saying: My Kingdom is not of this world; if my Kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews), and when Pilate thereupon gave a just and impartial verdict, and did not as yet comply with their will, but said openly that He found no fault in Him, the audacious Jews completely changed their tactics, and asserted that they had a law, which condemned the Saviour to death. What law was that? That which fixes the punishment for blasphemers; for in the book called Leviticus it is recorded, that certain men, who were counted among Jews, strove together, according to the Scripture, in the camp, and that one of them made mention of the Name of God, and blessed Him, for thus saith the Scripture euphemistically, meaning that he cursed and blasphemed Him, and was then doomed to die, and to pay a bitter penalty for his impious tongue, God plainly declaring: Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin, and he that taketh the Name of the Lord in vain, shall be put to death, and all the congregation of Israel shall stone him: as well the stranger as he that is born in the land, when he taketh the Name of the Lord in vain, shall be put to death.

But, perhaps, someone may be in doubt, and ask this question: “What, then, does the Law say, and what does it intend to signify hereby?” For that a man who is convicted of blasphemy against God should die is, indeed, just, and he very rightly meets his doom. But suppose a man treat a false god with contumely, is he then not free from guilt? For the words of the Law are, If any man curse God, he shall bear his sin. What do we reply? The Lawgiver is infallible, for to |612 love to hurl scorn upon false gods is, as it were, a course of preparation which makes us ready to utter blasphemies against the true God. Therefore also, in another passage, He dissuades us from it, saying: Gods thou shalt not revile; for He thought it meet to give unto the name of Godhead, though it be sometimes misplaced, the honour that is its due. The Law, however, did not certainly bid us ascribe any honour to gods erroneously so called, but teaches us to regard as holy the name of Godhead, though it be stolen by some.

As the Law, then, orders that the man who is convicted of blasphemy should be rewarded with death, they say that Christ is subject to the penalty, for that He made Himself the Son of God. We ought to bear in mind where, and in what sense, this was said by Christ. At the pool that was called after the sheep-gate, He healed the impotent man of his long and grievous infirmity on the Sabbath-day. And the Jews, when they ought to have marvelled at the wonders that He wrought, were, on the contrary, offended at His breaking the Sabbath, and for that reason only railed against Him. Then Christ answered, and said: My Father worketh even until now, and I work; and thereupon says the Evangelist: For this cause therefore the Jews persecuted Jesus, because He not only brake the Sabbath, but also called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. The Jews, then, were offended when Christ called the Lord of all His Father; and then He made this most mild reply to them, saying: It is written in your Law, I said, Ye are gods, and are all sons of the Most High. If he called them gods unto whom the Word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), say ye of Him Whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? But the people of the Jews, remembering none of these things, make the truth a charge against the truth; and because Christ said what |613 was in fact the truth, they assert that He is worthy of death. Here I will make use of the Prophet’s words: How do ye say, We are wise, and the Law of the Lord is with us? For would it not have been right, either first to ascertain by the strictest scrutiny Who Christ was, and whence He came; and if He had been convicted of falsehood, then, very justly, to pass sentence upon Him, or if He spoke the truth, to worship Him? Why, then, did you Jews give up searching and satisfying yourselves by Holy Writ, and betake yourselves to making a mere outcry against Him? and why made you what was in fact the truth, the ground for accusation? You ought, when you said unto Pilate: He made Himself the Son of God, to have charged Him also with the works of Godhead, and to have made His mighty wonder-working power a count in the indictment; you ought to have cried out thereafter, that a man who had been three days dead, rose again, and came back to life at the mere bidding of the Saviour; you ought to have brought forward the only child of the widow, and the daughter of the leader of the synagogue; you ought to have called to mind that Divine saying, spoken unto the son of the widow: Young man, I say unto thee, Arise; and to the damsel: Maiden, Arise. You ought, besides, to have told Pilate, that He gave sight to the blind, and cleansed the lepers of their leprosy; and also, that by a single word of command He calmed the storm of the angry sea, and the onslaught of the raging billows; and whatever else Christ did. All this, however, they bury in the silence of ingratitude, and passing over those miracles whereby Christ was seen to be God, in malice they proceed to basely state the paradox; and, miserable wretches that they were, they cried out to a foreigner, who had no knowledge of the Divine Scripture, and saw that Jesus was a Man: He made Himself the Son of God; though the inspired Scripture declared that the Word of God should visit the world in human form: Behold, the Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring |614 forth a Son, and they shall call His Name Emmanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us. And what could that which was born of a virgin be but a man, like unto us in bodily appearance and nature? But, besides being Man, He was also truly God.

8, 9 When Pilate therefore heard this saying, he was the more afraid; and he entered into the palace again, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art Thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.

The malicious design of the Jews had a result they little expected. For they wished to pile up the indictment against Christ, by saying that He had ventured to sin against the Person of God Himself. But the weighty character of the accusation itself increased Pilate’s caution, and he was the more oppressed with alarm, and more careful concerning Christ than before, and questioned Him the more particularly, what He was, and whence He came; not disbelieving, as I think, that though He was a Man, He might be also the Son of God. This idea and belief of his, was not derived from Holy Writ, but the mistaken notions of the Greeks; for Greek fables call many men demi-gods, and sons of gods. The Romans, too, who in such matters were still more superstitious, gave the name of god to the more distinguished of their own monarchs, and set up altars to them, and allotted them shrines, and put them on pedestals. Therefore Pilate was more earnest and anxious than before, in his inquiry Who Christ was, and whence He came. But He, the Scripture saith, answered him not a word, remembering, I suppose, what He Himself had said unto him: Every one that is of the truth, heareth My voice. And how could Pilate, a worshipper of idols, have hearkened to the voice of the Saviour, when He said that He was Truth, and the Child of truth? And how could he at all have received and honoured the name of truth, who at once ridiculed it, and said, What is truth? because he still worshipped |615 false gods, and was buried in the darkness of their deceitfulness?

10    Pilate therefore saith unto Him, Speakest Thou not unto me? Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and have power to release Thee?

Pilate thought this silence the silence of a madman. Therefore, he stretches over Him, as it were, the wand of his official power, and thought that he could induce Him by fear, against His Will, to return a fruitless answer. For he says that nothing could hinder his inclining whichever way he chose, either to punish Him, or to take compassion upon Him; and that there was nothing to turn him aside, to give a verdict against his will, with whom alone rested the fate of the accused. He rebukes Him, therefore, as though he felt himself insulted by untimely silence, and, so far as that went, his indignation were whetted against Him. For he perceived not at all the hidden meaning of Christ’s silence. Observe here the accurate fulfilment of that which was foretold by the voice of the Prophet: He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth. In His humiliation His judgment was taken away. Thus saith the blessed Isaiah, and the Psalmist also, assuming the Person of Christ, saith in the Spirit: I have kept My mouth with a bridle, while the wicked congregated themselves before Me. I was dumb, and humbled Myself, and kept silence from good words. By good words, curses must be understood. For it is usual with Holy Scripture to speak euphemistically on such occasions, when reference is made to the Person of God Himself.

11     Jesus answered him, Thou wouldest have no power against Me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivereth Me unto thee hath greater sin.

He makes no clearer revelation of what He was, or |616 whence He came, or Who was His Father. Nor, indeed, does He suffer us to waste the word of revelation, by giving it to ears that are estranged, saying: Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine. When, then, Pilate was parading before Him his official power, and, in his folly, alleging that he could wholly determine His fate according to his mere will and pleasure, He very appropriately meets him with a declaration of His own power and might, and stops him short, as it were, as he was vaunting himself with vain and empty boasting against the glory of God. For, in truth, it were no small calamity that any should suppose that Christ could be dragged, against His Will, to suffer insult; and that the malice of the Jews vanquished Him, Who was truly God, and proclaimed Sovereign of the universe by the holy and inspired writings. He has, therefore, removed this stumblingblock from our path, and cuts up, as it were, such an error by the roots, by the words: Except it were given thee from above. And when He says, that power was given to Pilate from above, He does not mean that God the Father inflicted crucifixion upon His own Son, against His Will; but that the Only-begotten Himself gave Himself to suffer for us, and that the Father suffered the fulfilment of the mystery in Him. It is, then, plainly the consent and approval of the Father that is here said to have been given, and the pleasure of the Son is also clearly signified. For, no doubt the force of numbers could never have overcome the power of the Saviour; but we may easily see this from the numerous plots they laid against Him, which resulted in nothing but their being convicted of having made an insolent attempt. They, indeed, desired to seize Him, as the Evangelist says; but He, going through the midst of them, went His way, and so passed by. He says, so passed by, meaning, not cautiously, or with bated breath, or practising the manoeuvres that men do who wish to escape; but with his usual step, free from all alarm. For |617 He hid Himself by His Divine and ineffable might, and then eluded the sight of His would-be murderers; for He did not wish as yet to die nor did He suffer the passions of His persecutors to determine, as it were, without His consent the hour of His peril. Therefore He says, that by His own command, and the consent of God the Father, power was given unto Pilate, so that he was enabled to accomplish the deeds which he did, in fact, venture to perform. For the nature of the Most High God is wholly invincible, and cannot be subdued by anything that exists; for in Him the power of universal dominion of necessity exists. He accuses of the greater sin—-that is, of greater sin against Himself—-the traitor that brought Him to Pilate; and with great reason. For he was, as it were, the source from which the impious crime against Him sprang, and also the gate through which it passed; while the judge was but the minister to the crimes of others, and so showed himself, by his ill-timed cowardice, a partaker in the iniquity of the Jews. Who, then, is the traitor, and to whom is the prime authorship of the charges to be referred? Surely, to that most venal disciple, or rather traitor and destroyer of his own soul; and besides him, the crowd of the rulers and the people of the Jews; and though Christ attributes to them the greater part of the blame, He does not acquit Pilate wholly of complicity in guilt.

12 Upon this Pilate sought to release Him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou release this Man, thou art not Caesar’s friend: everyone that maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.

The exclamation of the Jews afflicts Pilate with panic, and sharpens the keenness of his caution, and makes him pause before putting Him to death. For they shouted out, that that very prisoner had made Himself the Son of God, Whom Pilate had been most anxious to release from all danger, and to acquit of every false |618 accusation, having this fear at heart. The Israelites saw this, and returned to their original falsehood, saying, that Jesus had courted the people, and transgressed against Caesar’s power, and, so far as His power went, had waged war against the rule of Rome, for He had made Himself a king. See how laborious and passionate was the attempt of His accusers against Him! For, first of all, they cried out with one accord, miserable wretches that they were, and asserted that He had ventured to assail Caesar’s power. But when they did not meet with much success, Christ declaring that His Kingdom was not an earthly kingdom, they alleged, even unto Pilate, who sat in a Roman tribunal, His offence against God Himself, saying: He made Himself the Son of God. For the villains thought that they could thereby spur Pilate to heedless wrath, and lend him courage to doom the Saviour to death, making His action a mark of His piety towards God; but when their malicious attempt proved unavailing, they once more recurred to the charge they had presumed to make at first, declaring that He had ventured to assail the rule of Caesar, and violently accusing the judge of taking up arms against Caesar’s majesty, if he did not consent to pass the sentence of fitting condemnation upon Him Who, as they alleged, had spoken against Caesar, by daring to take upon Himself, in any shape, the title of King; though Caesar did not claim an empire in the heavens, such as that of which Christ was, indeed, the Lord, but an earthly and inferior empire, which itself had its root in the power of Christ. For through Him kings reign, according to the Scripture, and monarchs rule over the earth. Therefore these most impious men bridled not their tongues, but, in their excessive enmity to God, attacked the glory of the Saviour. Them did the blessed Prophet Isaiah justly rebuke, saying: But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. Against Whom do ye sport |619 yourselves? against Whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? Are ye not children of perdition, a lawless seed? For it was not against any mere man that they made their outcry, and spoke out with unbridled tongues, and practised every sort of calumny; but against their own Lord Himself, Who ruleth over all with the Father. Therefore rightly did they become, and are in truth, children of perdition, and a lawless seed,

13, 14 When Pilate therefore heard this saying, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment-seat, at a place called the Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the preparation of the Passover: it was about the sixth hour. And he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!

The Evangelist, when he thus speaks, throws the whole burden, as it were, of the charge of shedding Christ’s blood upon the Jews. For he now clearly says, that Pilate was well-nigh overcome against his will by their opposition, so that he put away the thought of justice, and paid little heed to the consequence; and, therefore, he was dragged down to do the will of Christ’s murderers, though he had often expressly told them, that Jesus had been found guilty of no fault at all, and it is this which will make Him subject to the worst of penalties. For, by preferring the pleasure of a mob to honouring the Just, and giving over a guiltless Man to the frenzy of the Jews, he will be convicted out of his own mouth of impiety. He ascends, therefore, to his usual judgment-seat, as about to pronounce sentence of death against Christ. The inspired Evangelist is induced to signify to our profit the day and hour, because of the resurrection itself, and His three days’ sojourn among the departed, that the truth of our Lord’s saying to the Jews might appear: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so also shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The Roman ruler on his judgment-seat, pointing to |620 Jesus, says: Behold your King! Either he was jesting with the multitude, and was granting, with a scornful smile, the innocent blood to those who thirsted for it without a cause, or, perhaps, he was casting in the teeth of the savage Jews the reproach that they endured to see in such evil plight Him Whom they themselves named and asserted to be King of Israel.

15 They therefore cried out, Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King?

They reiterate their old cry with the same fury, and desisted not from their lust for blood, and were not softened at all by the insults He had endured, nor inclined to clemency by the outrages inflicted upon Him; but were rather goaded to a greater pitch of fury, and intreat that He Who had raised the dead in their midst, and shown Himself the worker of such marvels, should be crucified; at which Pilate was sore amazed, seeing that they declared with such vehemence, that He, Who had acquired such eminence among them as to be deemed the Son of God, and King, was not merely worthy of death, but that He deserved so cruel a fate, for crucifixion is the worst of deaths. The judge, therefore, makes their outcry a charge and reproach against them, that they should be desirous that He should be crucified, Who had excited so great admiration by deeds which were so pre-eminent as to transcend anything on earth. For what is there that is equal to what does not fall short of the Son of God, and King?

15 The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.

Hereupon the well-beloved Israel spurned his God, and started aside from his allegiance, and, as Moses said, abandoned the God that was his Father, and remembered not the Lord his helper. For see how he turned his eyes upon an harlot, according to the Scripture, refused to be ashamed, disowned his own glory, and |621 denied his Lord. Of this very charge God accused Israel of old, speaking by the mouth of Jeremiah: For pass over the isles of Chittim, and send unto Kedar, and see whether the nations change their gods, who are yet no gods; but My people have changed their glory. And again: The heavens were astonished thereat, and were horribly afraid, saith the Lord; for My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me the fountain of living waters, and have hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water. For while other nations throughout the whole world clung fast to the deceitfulness of their idols, and steadfastly adhered to the gods whom they so deemed, and did not readily undergo a change of faith, nor easily alter their form of worship, the Israelites started aside, and joined themselves to the empire of Caesar, and cast off the rule of God. Therefore, very justly, were they given over into Caesar’s hands, and, having at first welcomed his rule, afterwards brought themselves to grievous ruin, and underwent expulsion from their country, and the sufferings of war, and those irremediable calamities that befell them.

Observe, too, here the minuteness of the writer. For he does not say that the people started the impious cry, but rather their rulers. For he says: the chief priests cried out, everywhere pointing out, that it was through their submissively following their leaders that the multitude was carried down the precipice, and fell into the abyss of perdition. The chief priests incur the penalty, not merely as losing their own souls, but also as having been leaders and responsible guides of the people subject unto them, in the fatal shedding of blood; just as also the prophet rebuked them, saying: Because ye have been a snare unto the watch-tower, and as a net stretched out upon Tabor, which they who catch the prey have spread. The Prophet here means by the watch-tower the multitude, who were subject unto them, who were arrayed, as it were, to observe the conduct of their rulers, and to conform their own to it. And, therefore, the leading men of the people are |622 called watchmen in Holy Writ. The chief priests themselves, then, were a snare and a net unto the watch-tower; for they both started this denial, and also induced all the rest to cry: We have no king but Caesar. These miserable men presumed so to say, though God the Father, by the mouth of the Prophet, predicted the coming of the Saviour, and cried out: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass. These men, who had once brought Jesus into Jerusalem riding upon an ass, and honoured Him as a God with blind praises, with one accord, for they cried: Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord! now make an outcry against Him, accusing Him only of attacking the Roman rule, and shaking off, as it were, the yoke of the Kingdom of God from their necks. For this was the plain meaning of the cry: We have no king but Caesar. But we shall find that then, too, it was the people that raised the shout for the Saviour Christ, and that it was the chief priests who presumed in their madness to make this exclamation, just as the others had proceeded from them.

16 Then therefore he delivered Him unto them to be crucified.

Pilate henceforward permits the Jews, in their unbridled resentment, to run to all lengths in lawlessness; and, divesting himself of the power due unto a judge, suffers their uncontrolled passions at length to take their course unreproved, in allowing them to crucify One Who was wholly guiltless, and Who received this monstrous condemnation merely because He said He was the Son of God. One must lay the whole guilt of the impious crime at the door of the Jews; and rightly and justly, I think, accuse them of being the prime movers in the act, for with them originated this impiety against Christ. Yet we cannot acquit Pilate of complicity in their iniquity; for he shared their responsibility, inasmuch as when he might have |623 delivered and rescued Him from the madness of His murderers, he did not merely refrain from releasing Him, but even gave Him up to them for the very purpose, that they might crucify Him.

16, 17, 18 They took Jesus therefore. And He went out, bearing the Gross for Himself, unto the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha: where they crucified Him, and with Him two others, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.

They lead away, then, to death the Author of Life; and for our sakes was this done, for by the power and incomprehensible Providence of God, Christ’s death resulted in an unexpected reversal of things. For His suffering was prepared as a snare for the power of death, and the death of the Lord was the source of the renewal of mankind in incorruption and newness of life. Bearing the Cross upon His shoulders, on which He was about to be crucified, He went forth; His doom was already fixed, and He had undergone, for our sakes, though innocent, the sentence of death. For, in His own Person, He bore the sentence righteously pronounced against sinners by the Law. For He became a curse for us, according to the Scripture: For cursed is everyone, it is said, that hangeth on a tree. And accursed are we all, for we are not able to fulfil the Law of God: For in many things we all stumble; and very prone to sin is the nature of man. And since, too, the Law of God says: Cursed is he which con-tinueth not in all things that are written in the book of this Law, to do them, the curse, then, belongeth unto us, and not to others. For those against whom the transgression of the Law may be charged, and who are very prone to err from its commandments, surely deserve chastisement. Therefore, He That knew no sin was accursed for our sakes, that He might deliver us from the old curse. For all-sufficient was the God Who is above all, so dying for all; and by the death of |624 His own Body, purchasing the redemption of all mankind.

The Cross, then, that Christ bore, was not for His own deserts, but was the cross that awaited us, and was our due, through our condemnation by the Law. For as He was numbered among the dead, not for Himself, but for our sakes, that we might find in Him, the Author of everlasting life, subduing of Himself the power of death; so also, He took upon Himself the Cross that was our due, passing on Himself the condemnation of the Law, that the mouth of all lawlessness might henceforth be stopped, according to the saying of the Psalmist; the Sinless having suffered condemnation for the sin of all. And of great profit will the deed which Christ performed be to our souls—-I mean, as a type of true manliness in God’s service. For in no other way can we triumphantly attain to perfection in all virtue, and perfect union with God, save by setting our love toward Him above the earthly life, and zealously waging battle for the truth, if occasion calls us so to do. Moreover, our Lord Jesus Christ says: Every man that doth not take his cross and follow after Me, is not worthy of Me. And taking up the Cross means, I think, nothing else than bidding farewell to the world for God’s sake, and preferring, if the opportunity arise, the hope of future glory to life in the body. But our Lord Jesus Christ is not ashamed to bear the Cross that is our due, and to suffer this indignity for love towards us; while we, poor wretches that we are, whose mother is the insensate earth beneath our feet, and who have been called into being out of nothing, sometimes do not even dare to touch the skirt of tribulation in God’s service; but, if we have anything to bear in the service of Christ, at once account the shame intolerable, and shrinking from the ridicule of our adversaries, and those who sit in the seat of the scornful, as an accursed thing, and preferring to God’s pleasure this paltry and |625 ill-timed craving for reputation, fall sick of the disease of disdainful arrogance, which is the mother, so to say, of all evils, and so make ourselves subject to the charge. For thus is the servant above his lord, and the disciple above his master, and thinks and acts accordingly. Alas, for this grievous infirmity, which always in some strange shape lies athwart our path, and leads us astray from the pursuit of what is meet!

Call to mind, too, how the inspired Peter could not endure Christ’s prophecy, when He foretold His sufferings upon the Cross, for He said: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is betrayed unto the hands of sinners; and they shall crucify Him, and kill Him. The disciple, not yet understanding the mysterious ways of God’s providence, God-loving and teachable as he was, was moved by his scruples to exclaim: Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall never be unto Thee. What answered Christ? Get thee behind Me, Satan; thou art a stumblingblock unto Me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men. But we may hence derive no small profit, for we shall know, that when occasion calls us to exhibit courage in God’s service, and we are compelled to endure conflicts that ensue for virtue’s sake; yea, even if they who honour and love us best strive to hinder us from doing anything that may tend to stablish virtue, alleging, it may be, our consequent dishonour among men, or from some worldly motive, we must not yield. For they, then, are in nowise unlike Satan, who loves and is ever wont to cast stumblingblocks in our path by divers deceits, and sometimes by smooth words, so as to divert from the pursuit of what is meet, the man who is urged thereto by the spirit of piety. And methinks Christ meant something like this, when He said: If, therefore, thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. For that which does us injury is no longer our own, even |626 though united to us by the bond of love, and though its connexion with us be but its natural desert.

Two robbers were crucified together with Christ, and this was owing to the malice of the Jews. For, as though to emphasize the dishonour of our Saviour’s death, they involved the just Man in the same condemnation as the transgressors of the Law. And we may take the condemned criminals, who hung by Christ’s side, as symbolical of the two nations who were shortly about to be brought into close contact with Him, I mean the children of Israel and the Gentiles. And why do we take condemned criminals as the type? Because the Jews were condemned by the Law, for they were guilty of transgressing it; and the Greeks by their idolatry, for they worshipped the creature more than the Creator.

And after another manner those who are united with Christ are also crucified with Him; for enduring, as it were, death to their old conversation in the flesh, they are reformed into a new life, according to the Gospel. Yea, Paul said: And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh, with the passions and the lusts thereof; and again, speaking of himself in words applicable to all men: For I, through the Law, died unto the Law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ: yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me. And he exhorts also the Colossians: Wherefore, if ye died from the world, why do ye behave yourselves as though living in the world? For, by becoming dead unto worldly conversation, we are brought to the rudiments of conduct and life in Christ. Therefore the crucifixion of the two robbers, side by side with Christ, signifies in a manner to us, through the medium of that event, the juxtaposition of the two nations, dying together, as it were, with the Saviour Christ, by bidding farewell to worldly pleasures, and refusing any longer to live after the flesh, and preferring to live with their Lord, so far as may |627 be, by fashioning their lives according to Him, and consecrating them in His service. And the meaning of the figure is in no way affected by the fact, that the men who hung by His side were malefactors; for we were by nature children of wrath, before we believed in Christ, and were all doomed to death, as we said before.

19 And Pilate wrote a title also, and put it on the Cross. And there was writ/en, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

This is, in fact, the bond against us which, as the inspired Paul says, the Lord nailed to His Cross, and in it led in triumph the principalities and the powers as vanquished, and as having revolted from His rule. And if it were not Christ Himself that fixed the title on the Cross, but the fellow-worker and minister of the Jews, still, as He suffered it so to be, it is as though He were recorded as having inscribed it with His own Hand. And He triumphed over principalities in it. For it was open to the view of all who chose to learn, pointing to Him Who suffered for our sake, and Who was giving His Life as a ransom for the lives of all. For all men upon the earth, in that they have fallen into the snare of sin (for all have gone aside, and have all together become filthy, according to the Scripture), had made themselves liable to the accusation of the devil, and were living a hateful and miserable life. And the title contained a handwriting against us—-the curse that, by the Divine Law, impends over the transgressors, and the sentence that went forth against all who erred against those ancient ordinances of the Law, like unto Adam’s curse, which went forth against all mankind, in that all alike broke God’s decrees. For God’s anger did not cease with Adam’s fall, but He was also provoked by those who after him dishonoured the Creator’s decree; and the denunciation of the Law against transgressors was extended continuously over all. We were, then, accursed and |628 condemned, by the sentence of God, through Adam’s transgression, and through breach of the Law laid down after him; but the Saviour wiped out the handwriting against us, by nailing the title to His Cross, which very clearly pointed to the death upon the Cross which He underwent for the salvation of men, who lay under condemnation. For our sake He paid the penalty for our sins. For though He was One that suffered, yet was He far above any creature, as God, and more precious than the life of all. Therefore, as the Psalmist says, the mouth of all lawlessness was stopped, and the tongue of sin was silenced, unable any more to speak against sinners. For we are justified, now that Christ has paid the penalty for us; for by His stripes we are healed, according to the Scripture. And just as by the Cross the sin of our revolt was perfected, so also by the Cross was achieved our return to our original state, and the acceptable recovery of heavenly blessings; Christ, as it were, gathering up into Himself, for us, the very fount and origin of our infirmity.

20 This title therefore read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and in Latin, and in Greek.

We may remark that it was very providential, and the fruit of God’s inexpressible purpose, that the title that was written embraced three inscriptions —- one in Hebrew, another in Latin, and another in Greek. For it lay open to the view, proclaiming the Kingdom of our Saviour Christ in three languages, the most widely known of all, and bringing to the crucified One the first-fruits, as it were, of the prophecy that had been spoken concerning Him. For the wise Daniel said that there was given Him glory and a Kingdom, and all nations and languages shall serve Him; and, to like effect, the holy Paul teaches us, crying out that every knee shall bow; of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth; and every tongue shall confess that |629 Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore the title proclaiming Jesus King was, as it were, the true firstfruits of the confession of tongues. And, in another sense, it accused the impiety of the Jews, and all but proclaimed expressly, to those who congregated to read it, that they had crucified their King and Lord, purblind wretches that they were, without thought of love toward Him, and sunk in crass insensibility.

21, 22 The chief priests of the Jews therefore said to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews, but, that He said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written, I have written.

The rulers of the Jews took ill the writing on the title, and, full of bitter hatred, once more denied the Kingship of Christ, and said in their great folly that He had never reigned in fact, nor been accepted as King, but had merely used this expression: not knowing that to lie is contrary to the nature of truth, and Christ is Truth. He was, then, King of the Jews, if He was proved to have given Himself this title, as they themselves also confirmed by their own words. And Pilate rejected their request that he should alter the inscription, not consenting in all things to do despite unto the glory of our Saviour, doubtless owing to God’s Ineffable Will. For the Kingship of Christ was firmly rooted, and beyond the reach of calumny, though the Jews might not consent thereunto, and might strive to deface the confession of His glory.

23, 24 The soldiers therefore, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also the coat. Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore one to another, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.

The soldiers, then, divided our Saviour’s garments |630 among themselves, and this is indicative of their brutal ferocity and inhuman disposition. For it is the custom of executioners to be unmoved by the misery of condemned criminals, and to obey orders sometimes with unnecessary harshness, and to show a masculine indifference to the fate of the sufferers, and to divide their garments among themselves, as though the lot fell upon them by some sufficient and lawful reason. They divided, then, the dissevered garments into four portions, but kept the one coat whole and uncut. For they did not choose to tear it in pieces, and make it altogether useless, and so they decided it by casting lots. For Christ could not lie, Who thus spake by the voice of the Psalmist: They divided My raiment among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots. All these things were foretold for our profit, that we might know, by comparing the prophecies with the events, what He is of Whom it was foretold that He should come for our sake in our likeness, and of Whom it was expected that He should die for the salvation of all men. For no man of sense can suppose that the Saviour Himself, like the foolish Jews, would strain out the gnat, that is, foretell a trifling detail concerning His sufferings, as in this mention of the partition of His raiment, and, as it were, swallow the camel, that is, think of no account the great lengths to which the impious presumption of the Jews carried them. Rather, when He foretold these details, He foretold also the great event itself; firstly, in order that we might know that, as He was by Nature God, He had perfect knowledge of the future; secondly, also, that we might believe that He was in fact the Messiah of prophecy, being led to the knowledge of the truth by the many and great things fulfilled in Him.

And if it behoves us also to declare another thought which strikes us with regard to the partition of the garments—-a thought which can do no harm, and may possibly do good to those who hear it—-I will speak as follows: Their division of the Saviour’s garments into |631 four parts, and retention of the coat in its undivided state, is perhaps symbolical of the mysterious providence whereby the four quarters of the world were destined to be saved. For the four quarters of the world divided, as it were, among themselves the garment of the Word, that is, His Body which yet remained indivisible. For though the Only-begotten be cut into small pieces, so far as individual needs are concerned, and sanctify the soul of every man, together with his body, by His Flesh; yet is He, being One, altogether subsistent in the whole Church in indivisible entirety; for, as Saint Paul saith, Christ cannot be divided. That such is the meaning of the mystery concerning Him, the Law dimly shadows forth. For the Law represented the taking of a lamb at the fitting time, and the taking, not of one lamb for every man, but of one for every house, according to the number of the household; for every man (if his household were too small) was to join with his neighbour that was next unto his house. And so the command was, that many should have a part in one lamb; but, in order that it might not appear, therefore, to be physically divided, by the flesh being dissevered from the bones, and taken from house to house, the Law laid down the further injunction: In one house shall it be eaten: ye shall not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house. For observe how, as I said just now, the Law took care that many who might be in one household should have a part in one lamb, but most carefully also took great precautions that it should not appear physically divided, but should be found in its completeness and entirety as one in all who partook of it, being, at the same time, divisible and indivisible. We must entertain some such view with regard to Christ’s garments, for they were divided into four portions, but the coat remained undivided.

And it can do no harm also to add, that if any man choose, by way of speculation, to look upon the coat that was woven from the top throughout, and seamless, as an |632 illustration of Christ’s holy Body, because It came into being without any connexion or intercourse of man with woman, but woven into its proper shape by the effective working of the Spirit from above, this view is worthy our acceptance. For such speculations as do no damage to the elements of the faith, but are rather fertile of profit, it would surely be ill-advised for us to reject; nay, we ought rather to commend them, as the fruit of an excellent disposition of mind.

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One Response to Post 3: St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on John 19:1-24

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord | stjoeofoblog

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