Christ’s being scourged at the pillar before His Crucifixion in His Passion, which constitutes the Second sorrowful mystery of the Rosary, is mentioned in three of the four Gospels (in John 19:1, Mark 15:15, and Matthew 27:26).
Archbishop Fulton J.Sheen, in Life of Christ, his excellent biography of our Lord, posits that the roman procurator Pontius Pilate, who was in charge of Judea at the time, ordered the scourging as a kind of compromise with a rabid mob hell bent on having Christ crucified. Clearly, Pilate didn’t see our Lord as having committed seditious behavior against Rome, which would have been a capital offense.
So, in the manner of a wily politician, he wished to find a way to appease Christ’s enemies while not losing control of the situation entirely, which might very well have meant losing his job, or worse! Yet his misguided attempt to inspire compassion in the mob by showing them our scarred and bleeding Savior badly backfired and brought out only more of their bloodlust instead!
As Sheen wrote “Pilate inflicted a punishment [on Jesus] in the hope of moving the crowd to pity….Pilate tried to strike a balance between satisfying the Sanhedrin and his own conscience. But Pilate was wrong in thinking the drawing of blood would calm their passions and melt them to pity. Such compromises in the face of justice rarely achieve their ends.”
The 19th century German mystic Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, in the book of her visions entitled The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, enhances the scriptural accounts of our Lord’s scourging, as excerpted below.
These details are all from Church approved private revelations. Besides those from Sister (?) Emmerich we also have our Lord’s own words to Sr. Josefa Menendez in 1923, as recorded in the book Christ’s Appeal For Love.
Putting these together with the blood curdling glimpse of our Lord’s scourging in Mel Gibson’s epic film The Passion of the Christ, one can easily ask “you call this a compromise?” Jesus was beaten so badly that, as he told Sr. Menendez, he was “reduced to such a state of pitiful disfigurement as to no longer resemble a human being.”
Consider this description from Sister Emmerich’s account:
That most weak and undecided of all judges, Pilate, had several times repeated these dastardly words: 'I find no crime in him: I will chastise him, therefore, and let him go;' to which the Jews had continued to respond, 'Crucify him! Crucify him!' but he determined to adhere to his resolution of not condemning our Lord to death, and ordered him to be scourged according to the manner of the Romans…
The pillar where criminals were scourged stood to the north of Pilate's palace, near the guard-house, and the executioners soon arrived, carrying whips, rods, and ropes, which they tossed down at its base…
These cruel men had many times scourged poor criminals to death at this pillar. They resembled wild beasts or demons, and appeared to be half drunk…It is quite impossible to describe the cruelty shown by these ruffians towards Jesus: they tore off the mantle with which he had been clothed in derision at the court of Herod, and almost threw prostrate again.
Jesus trembled and shuddered as he stood before the pillar, and took off his garments as quickly as he could, but his hands were bloody and swollen. The only return he made when his brutal executioners struck and abused him was, to pray for them in the most touching manner: he turned his face once towards his Mother, who was standing overcome with grief; this look quite unnerved her: she fainted, and would have fallen, had not the holy women who were there supported her.
Jesus put his arms round the pillar, and when his hands were thus raised, the archers fastened them to the iron ring which was at the top of the pillar; they then dragged his arms to such a height that his feet, which were tightly bound to the base of the pillar, scarcely touched the ground.
Thus was the Holy of Holies violently stretched, without a particle of clothing, on a pillar used for the punishment of the greatest criminals; and then did two furious ruffians who were thirsting for his blood begin in the most barbarous manner to scourge his sacred body from head to foot.
The whips or scourges which they first made use of appeared to me to be made of a species of flexible white wood, but perhaps they were composed of the sinews of the ox, or of strips of leather.
Our loving Lord, the Son of God, true God and true Man, writhed as a worm under the blows of these barbarians; his mild but deep groans might be heard from afar; they resounded through the air, forming a kind of touching accompaniment to the hissing of the instruments of torture. These groans resembled rather a touching cry of prayer and supplication, than moans of anguish.
I saw groups of infamous, bold-looking young men, who were for the most part busying themselves near the watch-house in preparing fresh scourges, while others went to seek branches of thorns. Several of the servants of the High Priests went up to the brutal executioners and gave them money; as also a large jug filled with a strong bright red liquid, which quite inebriated them, and increased their cruelty tenfold towards their innocent Victim.
The two ruffians continued to strike our Lord with unremitting violence for a quarter of an hour, and were then succeeded by two others. His body was entirely covered with black, blue, and red marks; the blood was trickling down on the ground, and yet the furious cries which issued from among the assembled showed that their cruelty was far from being satiated…
The two fresh executioners commenced scourging Jesus with the greatest possible fury; they made use of a different kind of rod,—a species of thorny stick, covered with knots and splinters. The blows from these sticks tore his flesh to pieces; his blood spouted out so as to stain their arms, and he groaned, prayed, and shuddered…
Two fresh executioners took the places of the last mentioned, who were beginning to flag; their scourges were composed of small chains, or straps covered with iron hooks, which penetrated to the bone, and tore off large pieces of flesh at every blow. What word, alas! could describe this terrible—this heartrending scene!
The cruelty of these barbarians was nevertheless not yet satiated; they untied Jesus, and again fastened him up with his back turned towards the pillar. As he was totally unable to support himself in an upright position, they passed cords round his waist, under his arms, and above his knees, and having bound his hands tightly into the rings which were placed at the upper part of the pillar, they recommenced scourging him with even greater fury than before; and one among them struck him constantly on the face with a new rod.
The body of our Lord was perfectly torn to shreds,—it was but one wound. He looked at his torturers with his eyes filled with blood; as if entreating mercy; but their brutality appeared to increase, and his moans each moment became more feeble. The dreadful scourging had been continued without intermission for three quarters of an hour, when a stranger of lowly birth, a relation to Ctesiphon, the blind man whom Jesus had cured, rushed from amidst the crowd, and approached the pillar with a knife shaped like a cutlass in his hand. 'Cease!' he exclaimed, in an indignant tone; 'Cease! Scourge not this innocent man unto death!'
The drunken miscreants, taken by surprise, stopped short, while he quickly severed the cords which bound Jesus to the pillar, and disappeared among the crowd. Jesus fell almost without consciousness on the ground, which was bathed with his blood. The executioners left him there, and rejoined their cruel companions, who were amusing themselves in the guardhouse with drinking, and plaiting the crown of thorns.
During the time of the scourging of our Lord, I saw weeping angels approach him many times; I likewise heard the prayers he constantly addressed to his Father for the pardon of our sins—prayers which never ceased during the whole time of the infliction of this cruel punishment.
Whilst he lay bathed in his blood I saw an angel present to him a vase containing a bright-looking beverage which appeared to reinvigorate him in a certain degree. The archers soon returned, and after giving him some blows with their sticks, bade him rise and follow them.
He raised himself with the greatest difficulty, as his trembling limbs could scarcely support the weight of this body; they did not give him sufficient time to put on his clothes, but threw his upper garment over his naked shoulders and led him from the pillar to the guardhouse, where he wiped the blood which trickled down his face with a corner of his garment. When he passed before the benches on which the High Priests were seated, they cried out, 'Put him to death! Crucify him! Crucify him!' and then turned away disdainfully. The executioners led him into the interior of the guardhouse, which was filled with slaves, archers, hodmen, and the very dregs of the people, but there were no soldiers.
Add to this more from Jesus’ shorter, but still plaintive description He gave Sister Josefa Menendez, as quoted above:
"Contemplate Me, O My beloved, being led away as a meek lamb to the shameful and terrible punishment of the scourging. Blow after blow is discharged by the executioners on My body, already covered with bruises and broken with fatigue…With whips and knotted cords they strike Me with such violence that My very bones are shaken and I am torn with innumberable wounds…bits of My divine flesh are rent off by the scourges…blood flows from every limb, and I am reduced to such a state of pitiable disfigurement as no longer to resemble a human being….See My wounds! Who has suffered for love of you as I have?"
I heard someone say once that we crucify Christ further each time we sin. If that seems a little harsh, consider this way of looking at things which indeed might seem more fitting.
When we sin deliberately, especially when those sins are mortal ones, we are applying the lash to Jesus as well, not brutally as these ruffians did, for sure, but in a manner that inflicts pain on him, on an emotional level if nothing else.
More importantly, though, when we acquiesce in some kind of sin to appease some nagging temptation, we run the grave risk, like Pilate in putting not water on those concupiscent fires, but rather oil or gasoline! You might have heard that old but true saw of the alcoholic who knows he can stop drinking; after all, he’s done it hundreds of times!
That one drink turns into several, that one night on a bender turns into a week, and then he’s trapped in that web of addiction once more. This can apply not just to those struggling with booze, but also to narcotics, gambling, pornography, and sex outside of marriage, among other satanic snares.
That one drink or one visit to a porn website (which might give your computer an “STD” of sorts if it’s linked to a virus, as often happens) isn’t the same compromise with evil of having someone beaten savagely, of course, but the principle in this case is the same: that of our assuming somehow that we’re quashing our temptations when giving into them!
Thus, the scourging becomes a cautionary tale about compromising with sin for us as well. But it also has an inspiring aspect to it: Christ knew he would be scourged, as he told his disciples in Matt 20:19 and Luke 18:32-33 as part of His Passion, so that we might have eternal life!
Remember, He allowed Himself to be incredibly brutalized not just humanity but for each one of us as well, and that includes me and you! And He would have undergone this Scourging and the rest of His Passion for you even if you were the only person on earth.
Perhaps He was thinking of this great line from the Prophet Isaiah in the Scripture Passages we read on Good Friday about the Suffering Servant: “By his bruises we are healed” (Is 53:5). May Christ’s Precious Blood not have been shed in vain that horrible day for any of us!!