The Mystical Vine
A treatise on the Passion of Our Lord

Saint Bonaventure

Translated from the Latin by a Friar of S.S.F.
Edited by Matthew Dallman




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CHAPTER FOUR

THE TRAINING OF THE VINE

A vine has also to be trained, and who can fail to observe the bonds by which our Vine is tied? The first bond was, I think, the bond of obedience. “He was obedient to the Father even unto death, the death of a cross.” Also he was obedient both to his mother and to Joseph, as Scripture affirms, “He came with them to Nazareth and the subject unto them.” He also obeyed his earthly rulers, and paid his didrachma.

The second bond was the Virgin’s womb, as says the Respond, “Thou didst bear in thy bosom him whom the heavens cannot contain.”[1]

The third bond was the crib, as the Office Hymn[2] says, “Vagit infans inter arcta positus praesepia” (the infant whimpers as he lies in his narrow crib).

The fourth bond was the rope with which he was bound when they took him captive. Wicked men laid their hands on Jesus and bound him.

O King of kings, O Lord of lords, why should you have to be bound with such bonds? Vines have to be tied up to prevent them falling to the ground; otherwise their crop would be poor and would perhaps go bad. But thy fruit is incorruptible. Why are thou then bound? Well spoke Alexander the king when he had been pierced by a crooked arrow, and they asked him to allow himself to be bound up till he should die, so that he might undergo death with as little suffering as possible. “A king,” he said, “ought never to be bound; a king’s power should always be free and unlimited.”

O God of gods, what deprivation of thy liberty and power didst thou suffer! How many were the bonds that bound thee, who alone knew true freedom and alone had the power to bind and to loose! It was out of compassion for us that thou wert bound; it was that we might be released from our miserable condition.

O most gentle Lamb, what cruel bonds were those with which those cruel men did bind thee! As far as I am able, Lord Jesus, I will try to imagine thee bound by those hard bonds. Like a common robber thou wast dragged before the chief priest’s seat of judgment, and then before Pilate. The picture makes me tremble with horror, and I would faint with astonishment did I not clearly realize that thy heart had already been bound by bonds of love, and that it was these that enabled thee to suffer the hardship of the physical bonds more patiently. Thanks be to God, good Jesus, for thy bonds, which have been so effective in breaking ours.

The fifth bond was that by which he was bound to a pillar, when he was scourged, though we might call the scourges themselves bonds, since they encircled his body. Yet, cruel, hard, and unjust as they were, I love those bonds, those scourges which thou didst permit to touch thy most holy body, and which became not a little soaked in thy most pure blood. The scourging, good Jesus, caused thy blood to be shed so copiously that the column is said to still preserve the red marks of thy blood.[3] How much of thy blood must also have adhered to the scourges that rent thy body!

We observe, too, that in the process of binding, it is proper for a vine to be bound to a pole. What better thing could serve for a pole than the pillar to which our Lord was bound? Thus Christ was bound to a pillar as a vine to a pole.

The sixth bond was the crown of thorns, which pressed with great severity upon that adorable head, leaving upon it the marks of many pricks, drawing out all round it a circle of blood drops, which, I think, must have streamed down upon the venerable face, before it was scarcely dry of the Jews’ spittle.

The bond was indeed a cruel one, and we notice that those sufferings which appear to us to bear most the marks of dishonor were taken by him as marks of honour.

O good Jesus, thou King of glory, the crown of all who trust thee, all who follow thee, all who fight for thee, all who share thy victory, and all who abide in thee, who could have delivered thee over to so bitter a bond of shame? Behold “shame hath covered thy head and thine adorable face.” The honour of derision in the form of a crown was heaped upon thee by a crooked and perverse generation. But the pain inflicted by the points of the thorn was truly real. Here we see shame and pain vying with one another. I know not which of them hurts him most, the mockery of the crown or the prickling of the thorns.

“Go forth, then O ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon with the crown, wherewith his mother crowned him on the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.”[4] A soul that claims to be a daughter of Zion—that is to say, of the Church—should relinquish all secular business and all vain imagination, and in contemplation behold this King Solomon. This is Jesus Christ, called “our Peace” because he destroys the enmity and restores the friendship between God and man.

Behold him, then, faithful soul, crowned with the crown with which his mother crowned him—his mother being the Jewish synagogue or the Jewish people. O harsh mother, how has thy good Son sinned that he should be bound with these thorny bonds? It is he who “looseth thy prisoners,” who “raiseth up them that are bowed down,” relieving the “fatherless and the widow.”[5] Does such a man deserve to be bound? Is this his dowry? Is this the mean gift you provide for his nuptials? The day of espousals should be a great day for him; yet, I say, it is become a day of indignation and blasphemy; a day of tribulation and misery; a day of beating a sorrow; a day of bonds and death.

Such is the day of his espousals; and this is the pledge of marriage, faithful soul, with which thy Bridegroom, “fairer than the sons of men,” has pledged thee. As a “Bridegroom he goes forth,” crowned not with gold and gems, but with thorns.

Nor does he lack a purple garment of scorn; for they clothed him with a scarlet robe, even though he himself had already liberally dyed his garments in the super-abundant outpouring of his most holy blood. Purple garments were not usually dyed more than twice. Yet not twice but three times he thoroughly dyed the purple garment of his body with the torrent of his blood.

O spouse, behold your Bridegroom, red with the sweat, with the scourging, and with the crucifixion. Raise your gaze and in imagination see if this coat belongs to your Bridegroom or no.[6] Lo, those evil beasts, those rabid dogs, the Jewish people have devoured him. Those evil beasts have condemned One who is your Son, your Brother, and your Bridegroom. Who would withhold their grief, who would restrain their tears and groans? Right as it is to rejoice with Jesus, it is also right to mourn with him.

The seventh bond was of iron. This bound him to the cross, and it was a much stronger and more savage bond than the others, for it not only rent the framework of his most holy hands and feet, but parted his most righteous soul from the hospitality of his earthy body.

Now go ye forth, O daughter of Zion, and behold how our man of peace has fallen as he fights the battle for our liberty! See how for our sake the Author of Life enters the portals of death in order to recall us to the way of life. See how cruelly those iron nails, the hardest of his bonds, penetrate those hands and feet that were always directed towards our salvation. Using them, he “worked out our salvation in the midst of the earth.”[7] See how the trunk of the cross is blended with our Bread,[8] that Bread so pure and refined, the Bread of angels that came down from heaven to feed us with himself. By the hardship he underwent, he desired to refresh our souls with no other food but himself.

He became incarnate for us, not only in order to change himself into our flesh, but also to transform us into his spirit.

Behold then, dearest one, how he was bound, and how he, our so noble and good a Bridegroom, was “reckoned with the transgressors.” He who is our Life died not indeed for himself, but for us. O let rivers of tears be shed for this death in the midst of so many bonds. We he not the first to weep for us?

Stand close by him as he hangs there. “Let be and know”[9] how bitter was this death to which he was condemned, and how ignominious.

He looked round and diligently searched whether “any would take pity of him,” and whether he could discover a comforter. Was there anyone who would dry those streams of blood, or who would dress his eyes, or who would draw out the nails with which he was fastened to the cross? Was there anybody who would be able to place his body in a clean linen cloth, who would let him down from the cross, not in a blanket like Saint Paul, but by cords, and follow the blessed women to the sepulchre, “weeping with those who wept”?

Let us therefore follow the counsel of blessed Paul, and go with our Bridegroom, the good, the very good Jesus, “outside the camp,” that is to say, beyond the world and its lusts.

Let us bear with him the reproach of the cross and the roughness of his bonds; for “it is not fitting that a member that lives delicately should belong to a crucified head,”[10] nor that a limb should claim membership of the body without sharing the suffering of the head.

Let us be bound with the passion-bonds of our good and loving Jesus, that we may be worthy of sharing his bonds of charity. For it was those bonds of charity that drew him from heaven to earth to endure the bonds of his passion. On the other hand it was those very passion-bonds which drew us to our Head, when we had a desire to be taken up from earth to heaven. When through the bonds of his passion we have gained the bonds of his charity, we shall become one with him.

1. Respond for Christmas, second nocturne, for the sixth lection.
2. Office Hymn for Matins on Passion Sunday.
3. Saint Jerome mentions this in Letter 108, par. 9.
4. S. of S. 3:11.
5. Ps 146:7,9.
6. Cf. Gen 37:32.
7. Ps 74:12.
8. Jer 11:19 (Douay-Rheims).
9. Ps 46:10.
10. From Saint Bernard’s fifth sermon for the Feast of All Saints, par. 2.


Forward to CHAPTER FIVE


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