Cornelius a Lapide on Today’s Gospel, John 19:25-27
Posted by Dim Bulb on September 12, 2010
Joh 19:25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen.
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister (cousin), Mary the wife of Cleophas (and the mother of S. James the Less and Jude), and Mary Magdalene, who was the more enkindled with love for Jesus, when she saw Him washing away with His Blood those very sins which she had just washed away with her tears. Christ wished it so to be, that He might suffer the more by witnessing the sorrows of His mother, and that she by sharing His sufferings might give us a perfect example of patience and charity: as Damascene says (Lib. iv. 13), “The pangs of child-birth which she escaped she suffered at the time of His Passion, by her motherly compassion, bearing Him afresh in beholding His wounds.” For the holier she was, and the nearer to Christ, the larger was the cup of suffering which He offered her. Euthymius states that she stood quite close to the cross, her ardent love overmastering her fear of the Jews. She stood therefore firm and erect in her body, more erect in her mind, looking and wondering at this great mystery of godliness, God hanging on the cross. Hence Sophronius (S. Jerome. Serm. de Assump.) calls the Blessed Virgin a martyr; nay, more than a martyr, “Because,” he says, “she suffered in her mind. Her love indeed was stronger than death, because she made the death of Christ her own.” And S. Ildephonsus (Serm. ii. de Assumpt.), “She was more than a martyr, because there was in her no less love than sorrow. She was wounded with a sword within, for she stood prepared, though the hand to smite her was wanting. And she was rightly more than a martyr, for, wounded with overpowering love, she witnessed His death, and in her inward grief she bare the torture of the Passion.”
S. Anselm (de Excell. Virg. cap. v.) says, “Whatever cruelty was inflicted on the bodies of the martyrs, was light or rather nothing in comparison with thy suffering, which in its very immensity pierced through to the inmost parts of thy most tender heart And I could not believe that thou couldest endure such cruel tortures without losing thy life, unless the spirit of life itself, the spirit of consolation, the spirit of thy most loving Son, for whose death thou wast then in torture, taught thee within that it was not death that was destroying Him, but rather a triumph which was bringing all things under Him, which thou didst behold when He was dying in thy sight.”
S. Bernard (Lamen. B. Maria) says, “No tongue can speak, nor mind imagine, how the tender feelings of the Virgin were affected with sorrow. Now, 0 Virgin, thou payest with interest that natural suffering which thou hadst not in childbirth. Thou didst not feel pain at thy Son’s birth, but thou sufferedst a thousand-fold more at His death.” S. Mechtildis relates a vision in which she saw a seraph saluting the Blessed Virgin on account of the great love she had to God above all other creatures, which was especially manifested in the Passion of her Son, when she kept down all her human feelings, and rejoiced that He was willing to die for the salvation of the world.
John Gerson (in Magnif.) says that she manifested the highest obedience in offering up her Son to the Father, conforming herself therein to the Divine will. He compares her to the mother of the Maccabees, to S. Felicitas, and to S. Symphorosa, who encouraged their sons to suffer martyrdom for the faith.
S. Bridget describes the intense grief of the Virgin (Revel. i. cap. 10, 27, 25 and iv. cap. 23 and 70). His “sorrow was my sorrow,” she said, “for His heart was my heart.”
Adrichomius (Descript. Jerusalem) mentions the exact spot where she stood near the cross, a spot now much honoured (he says) by the pious veneration of the faithful.
A question is here discussed whether the Blessed Virgin reasoned at seeing her Son on the cross. Authorities are given on both sides, the greater part maintaining that she did not, grounding their opinion on her entire conformity to the Divine will, and her own constancy and resolution, suffering rather in her mind than in her senses and feelings.
Salmeron (Lib. x. tract. 41) thinks that she swooned at first, and then recovered and stood by the cross: and that her swoon did not deprive her of her reason, but took away her senses for a while. He adds that she suffered thus of her own accord, to testify to men her exceeding love for Him, and her exceeding sorrow. Just as Christ voluntarily underwent His agony in the garden. Both had perfect control over their feelings, just as Adam had before he fell.
S. Ambrose (de Instit. Virginum, cap. vii.) thus writes, “The mother stood before the cross, and when men fled she remained intrepid. See whether the mother of Jesus could put off her modesty, who put not aside her courage. She looked with loving eyes on the wounds of her Son, through whom she knew that the Redemption of all men would come. She stood, no ignoble spectacle, since she feared not the murderer. The Son was hanging on the Cross, the mother offered herself to the persecutors, as not being ignorant of the mystery, that she had borne one who would rise again.” And S. Athanasius: “Mary stood most firmly and most patiently in her faith in Jesus. For when the disciples fled, and all men held aloof from Him, to the glory of the whole of her sex, amidst the countless sufferings of her Son, she alone remained firm and constant in her faith, and indeed was a beauteous sight, as became her Virgin modesty. She did not disfigure herself in the great and bitter sorrow. She reviled not, she murmured not, she asked not from God for vengeance on her enemies. But she stood as a well-disciplined modest virgin, most patiently, full of tears, immersed in grief.”
She was indeed so strengthened on beholding the blessed wounds of her Son as to be ready, says S. Ambrose (in Luke xxiii.) herself to die for the salvation of the world. For in faith, strength, and warmth of charity she was not inferior to Abraham, who was willing at God’s command to offer up his son Isaac with his own hand. Besides this, her sure belief in His resurrection alleviated her sorrow and strengthened her resolution. She knew that He would rise on the third day.
Joh 19:26 When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son.
When Jesus therefore saw His Mother, and His disciple standing by whom He loved, He saith unto His Mother, Woman, behold thy son! Christ pierced her heart with the wound both of love and sorrow, for He meant, Mother, I am, as thou seest, dying on the Cross: I shall not be able to be with thee, to attend to thee, to provide for thee, and assist thee as I have hitherto done. I assign to thee, in my place, John to be thy son; a man in the place of God, a disciple for a master, an adopted son instead of thine own by nature; in order that he, as a virgin, and most beloved by thee as the Virgin Mother of God, may bestow on thee all the solace, and all the devotion, which both thy dignity and thy advancing age demand, and which the zeal and love of John promises and assures to thee. Christ therefore here teaches that children should care for their parents even to the last, says Theophylact from S. Chrysostom. Hear S. Augustine: “Here is a passage of moral teaching. Our good Teacher instructed His own by His own example, that pious children should have a care for their parents; as if that wood on which His limbs were fastened when He was dying, were also the chair of the teacher.” For, as S. Cyril says, “We ought to learn from Him, and through Him, first of all, that parents must not be neglected, even when intolerable sufferings are hanging over us.” “But wonder, with Theophylact, at the calmness with which He does everything on the cross; caring for His mother, fulfilling prophecies, promising paradise to the thief; but before He came to it, how burdened was He, pouring forth His sweat, and full of trouble.” For, as Euthymius says, “in the one case the weakness of nature was seen, in the other His great power of endurance.” Christ commends His mother to S. John, whom at the same time He put in His own place as her son, that thus they might have a mutual care for each other. [Pseudo]-Cyprian (De Passione Christi) gives the reasons for this. First, to provide for His mother, who was now waxing old, the care and kind offices of a son. As if He said, “I am dying. I cannot care for thee any more, I resign thee into the hands of John.”
Secondly, that He might commend a Virgin to a Virgin. “The pure is entrusted to the pure,” says Theophylact. As Nonnus paraphrases it: “0 Mother, thou lover of virginity, behold thy virgin son; and on the other hand He said to His disciple, 0 thou lover of virginity, Behold a virgin who is thy parent, without giving thee birth.” And S. Ambrose (de Instit. Virgin) says, “But with whom should the Virgin dwell, rather than with him, whom she knew to be the heir of her Son, and the guardian of her chastity?” And in this matter Jesus, as anxious for her purity, wished that her continuance in this state (as a mother and yet a Virgin) should be fully proved. As S. Ambrose writes (ibid.), “that no one should cast on her the reproach of having lost her purity.”
Thirdly, To show that Joseph was not His father, He set him aside, and put John in his place. Hear [Pseudo]-Cyprian: “Thou carefully providest for her who was Blessed among women, the protection of an Apostle, and Thou deliverest the care of the Virgin to a Virgin-disciple; in order that Joseph might be no longer burdened with the charge of so great a mystery, but that John should bear it. For reason now demanded that he should no longer be regarded as her husband, nor be counted the father of Christ, who had hitherto held the place of father and husband.” He then meets a tacit objection. “Joseph would have had good reason to object to this arrangement of Christ had he regarded himself as a husband in the flesh. But because the mystery of that union was spiritual, he allowed John to be preferred to himself in this office, as being more worthy, and more especially because the Master’s choice had so ordered it.”
This rests on the supposition that Joseph was then alive. But most commentators, and with greater probability, think otherwise. For no mention whatever is made of him, and Christ seems to have commended His mother to the care of John, because Joseph was dead. For had he been alive, Christ would certainly have committed His mother to his care, as He had done at His Incarnation and Nativity, and as having had experience of his fidelity and care in the flight into Egypt, and at other times.
Fourthly, John alone remained fearlessly and firmly with Mary at the cross, amidst all the insolence and reviling of the Jews. He therefore deserved to be adopted by Jesus as His brother, and to be put in His room as the son of the Virgin Mother. Moreover, Christ commended, in the person of S. John, the rest of the Apostles, nay all the faithful, to His mother, especially those who are chaste and virgins, and follow most closely Christ on His Cross, and thus become most beloved and most closely joined to Christ, just as was S. John, who was called by [Pseudo]-Cyprian His chamber-fellow.
Whom He loved. To whom He exhibited greater external tokens of love, as being younger than the other Apostles, more modest and chaste, and loving Him more than did the rest.
Woman, behold Thy Son! He calls her woman, not mother, “lest that loved name should wound the mother’s heart,” as Baptist of Mantua says: not to rouse the Scribes and Pharisees against her; to show that He had put off all human affections, that He resigned all human relationships, and wished to teach their abandonment; and lastly, to arouse her courage and strength of mind to bear all these things with fortitude, and to remind her of that resolute woman whom Solomon had foretold (Prov. xxxi. 1). For the Blessed Virgin suffered for a longer time than Christ. His suffering ceased at His death. Her suffering and compassion increased more and more. For she received His body when taken down from the cross, thus reviving her grief; and for the three days He lay in the tomb, His sufferings on the cross, which she had witnessed close at hand, remained vividly impressed on her mind, and gave it pain, till Christ rose again, and removed them all by the consolations and glory of His appearing. Again, the Blessed Virgin was left behind Him, to be the mother of the Apostles and the faithful, to gather them together again, to comfort the afflicted, to support the stumbling, to advise the doubting and anxious, and through all trials direct, instruct, and animate them.
Joh 19:27 After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.
After that,he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. Love her, attend to her, help her, as thy mother. And, on the other hand, betake thyself to her, as thy mother in every difficulty, temptation, persecution, and affliction. She will cherish thee with motherly affection, will console and protect thee, and ask help for thee from her Son. And, these words of Christ are not mere lip words, and without effect, like those of men: but as the words of God they are real and efficacious, and effect that which they declare. And accordingly they impressed on S. John a filial affection and spirit towards the Blessed Virgin, as though she were his mother. Theophylact exclaims, “How wonderful! how doth He honour His disciple, in making him His brother? How good is it to stand by the cross, and to abide close to Christ in His sufferings!” And S. Chrysostom: “What honour does He confer on His disciple! For when He was about to depart He left the care of His mother to His disciple. For when it was natural for her to sorrow as His mother, and to seek for protection, He most fitly commends her to His beloved disciple, to whom He says, ‘Behold thy mother!’ that so they might be bound together in love.”
Behold thy mother! And the mother also of thy fellow-Apostles. Accordingly all the faithful (as S. Bernard teaches) should betake themselves to her with full confidence and love. She is the Eve of the faithful, the mother of all living, to whom the wise and Saints of every age betake themselves.
Hear S. Augustine: “When He said these words, these two beloved ones ceased not to shed tears; they were both silent, for they could not speak for excessive grief; these two virgins heard Christ speaking, and saw Him gradually dying: they wept bitterly, for they sorrowed bitterly, for the sword of His sorrow pierced through both their hearts.”
And (i.e., therefore, because Jesus had ordered it) the disciple took her unto his own (sua). Some read suam, his own house, as Nonnus. paraphrases it. Bede suggests, for his own mother, or better still, into his own charge. As S. Augustine says, “not into his own hands, but into those kind offices, which he undertook to dispense.” S. John accordingly took her with him to Ephesus, and the Council of Ephesus (cap. xxvi. Synodical Epistle) says that they both for a time lived at Ephesus. (See Christopher Castro in Hist. Deiparæ.)
This then was Christ’s testament, and John was the executor. As S. Ambrose says on Luke 23, “He executed His testament on the cross and John witnesses to it, a fitting witness for so great a testator.” Gather from this also that Joseph was dead. As S. Ambrose says (ibid.), “The wife would not be devorced from her husband, but she who veiled the mystery under the guise of marriage, now, when this mystery was finished, no longer had need of wedlock.” And Epiphanius (Her. lxxviii.) says, “if she had had a husband, or a home or children of her own, she would have retired to them, and not to a stranger.” See then how poor the Blessed Virgin was, and how devoted to poverty.