Dom Prosper Guéranger’s masterpiece of Catholic piety and erudition, The Liturgical Year is now happily back in print. The following selection, which comes from Volume 11 (pgs. 215-249) of the fifteen-volume work, is the learned and holy Abbot’s reflections on the Gospel reading for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, wherein Our Lord prophesies the Destruction of Jerusalem. As the reader can see, Flavius Josephus (Jos.) — a Jew who was an eyewitness to the events here described, who aided the Romans in trying to talk the Jews out of resistance — is one of the principal historical sources used.
We remind our readers that St. Paul (cf. Romans 11:21, for instance) warns us to learn a lesson from what happened here. Holy Mother Church, by Her frequent liturgical meditation on this matter, would impress this same example upon us regularly. Let us take it to heart! For if God hath not spared the natural branches, fear lest perhaps also he spare not thee!
The lamentation over Jerusalem’s woes, the subject of to-day’s Gospel, has given its name to this ninth Sunday after Pentecost, at least among the Latins. We have already observed that it is easy to find, even in the liturgy as it now stands, traces of how the early Church was all attention to the approaching fulfillment of the prophecies against Jerusalem-that ungrateful city upon which our Jesus heaped His earliest favours. The last limit put by mercy upon justice has, at length, been passed. Our Lord, speaking of the ruin of Sion and its temple, had foretold that the generation that was listening to His words should not pass until what He had announced should be fulfilled. (St. Luke xxi. 32.) The almost forty years accorded to Juda, that he might avert the divine wrath, have had no other effect than to harden the people of deicides in their determination not to accept Christ as the Messiah. As a torrent, which, having been long pent back, rushes along all the fiercer when the embankment breaks, vengeance at length burst on the ancient Israel; it was in the year 70 that was executed the sentence he himself had passed when, delivering up his King and God to the Gentiles, (St. Matt. xx. 19.) he had cried out: ‘His blood be upon us and upon our children!’ (Ibid. xxvii. 25.)
Even as early as the year 67, Rome, irritated by the senseless insolence of the Jews, had deputed Flavius Vespasian, to avenge the insult. The fact of this new general being scarcely known was, in reality, the strongest reason for Nero’s approving of his nomination; but to the hitherto obscure family of this soldier God reserved the empire, as a reward for the service done to divine justice by this Flavius and his son Titus. Later on, Titus will see and acknowledge (Jos., De Bello Jud. , vi. 9.) that it is not Rome but God Himself who conducts the war and commands the legions. Moses, ages before, had seen the nation, whose tongue Israel could not understand, rushing like an eagle upon the chosen people, and punishing them for their sins. (Deut. xxviii. 49.) But no sooner has the Roman eagle reached the land where he is to work the vengeance, than he finds himself visibly checked by a superior power; and his spirit of rapine is held back, or urged on, precisely as the prophets of the Lord of hosts had foretold. The piecing of that eagle, as eager to obey as it was to fight, almost seemed to be scrutinizing the Scriptures. It was actually here that he found the order of the day for the terrible years of the campaign. (St. Luke xxi. 22.)
As an illustration of this, we may mention what happened in the year 66. The army of Syria, under the leadership of Cestius Gallus, had encamped under the walls of Jerusalem. Our Lord intended this to be nothing more, in His plan, than a warning to His faithful ones, which He had promised them when foretelling the events that were to happen. He had said: ‘When ye shall hear of wars, and seditions, and rumours of war, be not terrified; these things must first come to pass; but the end is not yet presently. (St. Matt. xxiv. 6; St. Luke xxi. 9.) But when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed about with an army, then know that the desolation thereof is at hand.’ (Ibid. 20) The Jews had been for years angering Rome by their revolts, but she bore with it all, if not patiently, contemptuously; but when, in one of these seditions, Roman blood had been spilt, then she was provoked and sent her legions. Her army, however, had first of all to furnish Jesus’ disciples with a sign; (St. Mark xiii. 4.) He had promised them that this sign should consist in her ‘compassing Jerusalem,’ then withdrawing for a time; this would give the Christians an opportunity of quitting the accursed city. The Roman proconsul had his troops stationed so near to Jerusalem that it seemed as though he had but to give the word of command and the war would be over; instead of that, he gave the strange order to retreat, and throw up the victory which he might have if he wished. (Jos,. De Bello Jud. , ii. 19) Cestius Gallus seemed to men to have lost his senses; but no, he was following, without being aware of it, the commands of heaven. Jesus had promised an escape to His loved ones; He fulfilled His promise by this unwitting instrument.
Vespasian himself had scarcely started for Judea when he met with one of these divine adjournments which all the Roman tactics were several times powerless to resist; the hour marked for them to act had not come, so they must wait, however reluctantly. The preordained counsel of the Most High decreed that before all these things (St. Luke xxi. 12.) which men were to bring about, before the already broken sceptre of the ancient alliance (Zach. xi. 10.) should have disappeared in the flames enkindled by the Jews themselves (Isa. I. 11.) — the establishment of the new Testament was to be solidly set up among the Gentiles, and be solemnly confirmed by the blood of the apostles, its witnesses. (St. Matt. xxiv. 9; St. Mark xiii. 10.) It was on June 29 in the year 67 that Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom in the city of Rome. Rome was thus made the mother-Church; and the reign of the Messiah, whom Israel rejected, was promulgated to the whole world, with an evidence which only the voluntarily blind could resist. Though Vespasian had opened the campaign against Judea in the spring of that year 67, yet he had to wait for the glorious confession of these two princes of the apostles; that triumph secured, the impatient legions might rush to victory as soon as they pleased. For forty-seven long days they had been kept, by some power, staring at the citadel of Jotapata, which it was so easy for them to take, and which would make them masters of Galilee; but June 29 had now had its apostolic triumph in Rome, and Vespasian was at liberty to do what he had so long wished to do; on that very June 29 he did it — he took Jotapata.
Forty thousand dead, strewn upon the steeps of the hill, and heaped up as high as the walls, showed the Romans what desperate resistance they were to expect from the Jewish fanaticism. Of all the male defenders or inhabitants of Jotapata, only two survived; one of these was Josephus, a chief leader in the Jewish forces, and historian of these cruel wars. The women and children were spared. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , iii. 7.) But, some short time later on, another fortress, Gamala, was attacked; it overhung a chasm. When one-half of the besieged had been slain, and it was evident that further resistance was impossible, the survivors, assembling the women and children, threw them and themselves down the rock; and five thousand was their number. When the legions stood looking around, at the close of the day’s work, they could see but a desert and death. (Ibid. iv. 1.)
In every part of the unhappy Galilee blood was flowing in torrents, and the flames of burning villages lighted up the horizon. It was hard to recognize this as the land where Jesus had spent the years of His childhood, or as the scene of His first miracles, and of those teachings of His which were ever borrowing some exquisite parable or other from the sight of the pretty hills and fertile vales of that then favoured country. The arm of God was now pressing with all its weight on this land of Zabulon and Nephthali, on which first so brightly shone the light of salvation, (Isa. Ix. 1, 2.) as we sang on Christmas night. So again this time it was the first to be visited by God. But these were unhappy times; and the visit was no longer that of the divine Orient, opening out to the world the paths of peace. (St. Luke i. 78, 79.) He was hid behind the tempest, (Ps. xvii. 12.) and darted the fiery arrows of destruction on the ungrateful country that had refused to welcome Him in the weakness of human flesh, which nothing but His mercy had led Him to assume. ‘They cried out, on the day of my vengeance,’ says this rejected King of Israel, ‘but there was none to save them; they cried to me their Lord, but I heard them not: and I will break them as small as dust, and scatter them before the wind; I will bring them to nought, like the dirt in the streets.’ (Ps. xvii. 42, 43.)
Terrible lesson which the Church learned and has never forgotten, that no blessing, no past holiness, is of itself a guarantee that the place thus favoured will not afterwards draw down on itself desecration and destruction! She saw, and trembled as she saw, these events of the first age of her history. She beheld violence and every sort of crime profaning the paths that had been trodden by the feet of her adorable Master, and the hills where He had passed whole nights in prayer and praise to His eternal Father. She one day witnessed even the pure waters of the Lake of Genesareth fearfully polluted; those waters that had so oft reflected the features of her divine Spouse, as when He walked on their glassy surface, or sat in Peter’s bark superintending those mystery-meaning fishings of His apostles. The event we here allude to was that of six thousand Jewish insurgents — hemmed in between God’s wrath and their Roman pursuers — reddening with their blood this Sea of Tiberius, where once Jesus had spoken to the storm and quelled it. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , iii. 9.) Their livid carcasses were thrown back by the waves on the shore, where our Lord had uttered woe to the cities that had witnessed His miracles, and yet were not converted. (St. Matt. xi. 20, 21.)
And souls, too, on whom God heaps His choicest favours, inviting them thereby to a closer union with Himself, have a lesson to learn from all this. Woe to them if, through indifference or sloth, they neglect to correspond with their graces! Woe to them if they imitate the cities on the Lake of Galilee, by greedily accepting the honour done them but never producing the fruits of holiness which should follow such signal and frequent gifts of heaven. The prophet Amos couples these forgetful, careless souls with the cities which our Lord had treated with such partiality, and which yet remained apathetic and worldly; and he tells us what this slighted benefactor will say to both: ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth! Therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities! Shall two walk together, except they be agreed?’ (Amos iii. 2, 3.)
As to Israel, the highly-favoured above all people, he would not agree with the Jesus who so loved him, and was visited with chastisements exactly corresponding to his crimes. In the spring of the year 68, an officer under Vespasian scoured the left banks of the Jordan, driving the terrified Israelites before him. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , iv. 7.) They fled in thousands toward Jericho, where they hoped to find refuge; but the river had so flooded the country round the city, that entrance was impossible; the wretched fugitives were overtaken and slain by the Roman troops. The Ark of the Covenant had once opened there a miraculous passage to the tribes of Israel; but even had it been there now, how was it to protect such unworthy descendants of the patriarchs — descendants, that is, who broke the Covenant made by God with the sons of Jacob? A frightful massacre, a merciless mowing down of human beings, followed; and, at what a place! The very place where, forty years before, St. John the Baptist had seen the axe laid to the root of the tree, and foretold the wrath to come upon this brood of vipers, who called themselves children of Abraham, and would not do penance. (St. Matt. iii. 5-12.) A countless multitude drowned themselves in the Jordan; they found death in the very stream to which our Saviour had imparted sanctification by being Himself baptized in it, and imparting to it the power to give light to the world. But Israel had chosen the kingdom of the prince of this world in preference to that of the divine Giver of life. (St. John xix. 15.) The number of those who perished in that holy stream was so great that the heap of their dead bodies made it impossible for vessels to sail in the river; and this fearful obstacle continued until such times as the current had swept the corpses down to the Dead Sea, and scattered far into that dismal lake of malediction that hideous jetsam of the Synagogue. Had not our Lord said, that Sodom’s guilt was less than theirs? (St. Luke x. 12.)
Rome and her legions were masters, in the north, of Galilee and Samaria; in the east and west, of the banks of Jordan and of the Mediterranean coast; and the conquest of Idumaea completed the circle of iron and fire that was to shut Jerusalem in. Roman garrisons held Emmaus, Jericho, and all the fortified positions round the Jewish capital. Having, as God’s instruments, chastened so many other ungrateful cities. Vespasian was preparing to lay siege to the most guilty of all, when Nero’s fall, and the events which followed it, drew the attention, both of himself and of the whole world, from Judea.
The last years of the tyrant had witnessed frequent ‘earthquakes in divers places,’ (Senec., Natur. Quaest ., vi. 1.; Tac. An., xiv. 27, xv. 22.) and ‘plagues’ (Senec., Ibid. , 27; Tac., Ibid. , xvi. 13; Suet. In Ner. , 39.) and ‘signs in the heavens’; (Tac., Hist., v. 13; Jos., De Bello Jud., vi. 5.) but when he died there came ‘risings of nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.’ (St. Luke xxi. 10, 11) The entire west was in arms; and the east herself was attracted towards Rome by the immense political commotion of the year 69. From the heights of Atlas to the Euxine Sea, and from the Humber to the Nile, provinces and peoples were striving for the mastery. Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, proclaimed emperors by their respective armies, sent their rival legions from Britain and the Rhine, from Illyria and the Danube; they met at Bedriac for mutual slaughter. In one thing alone they that survived were unanimous: friends of foes, all must Italy waste. Rome was taken by the Romans; whilst on the undefended frontiers appeared Suevians, Sarmatians, and Dacians. The Capitol and Jupiter’s temple in flames excited the Gauls to declare their independence, and Velleda to stir up Germany to revolt. The old world was gradually disappearing beneath the universal anarchy and war.
Circumstances, then, suddenly seemed favourable to Jerusalem; they gave her a fresh invitation to atone for her crimes; but, as we shall see when commenting on this Sunday’s Gospel, she made no other use of them than to multiply her sins, and treat herself with greater cruelty than the Romans would have done.
In the Mass of this Sunday, which is their ninth of St. Matthew, the Greeks read the episodes of Jesus; walking on the waters.
‘I have great sadness,’ cried out the Apostle of the Gentiles, as he thought of the malediction which was about to fall on the Jews: ‘continual sorrow have I in my heart; for I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh; who are Israelites, to whom belongeth the adoption of children, and the glory, and the covenant, and the giving of the Law, and the service (the worship of God, prescribed by Himself), and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ according to the flash, who is over all things, God blessed for ever!’ (Rom. ix. 2-5.) But now, they are gone astray by their own fault; they see nothing; they understand nothing. (Isa. vi. 9; St. Matt. xiii. 14, 15.) The royal banquet of the Scriptures, on which their fathers feasted, (Ibid. , iv. 4.) is now turned by them into an occasion of error; they have made those Scriptures a snare for their own destruction; darkness covers their understanding, and chastisement for all future ages is their own making. (Ps. lxvii. 23, 24)
Gentiles! You that have been substituted for those broken branches, and are grafted on the stem of the Covenant, (Rom. xi. 17.) learn a lesson from their fall. God, who has shown you so much and so great gratuity of mercy, and that at the very time He was inflicting upon them the chastisements they so richly merited, will not allow His loving designs upon you to be frustrated against your own will. If you are faithful to the call of His grace, He will be faithful to you, and preserve you from temptations which you could not resist; or, He will so watch the combat that His divine help will make your soul rise superior to the trial; and this in every temptation you will find, not defeat, but the merit of a victory, all the more glorious, as it seemed so much above the power of human strength. And yet, never forget that the same causes which brought about the destruction of the Jews would also lead you to ruin. They fell, because of their unbelief; you, who once had no faith and yet God showed mercy to you, are now what you are by faith. Be not, therefore, high-minded with self-complacency; but remember how God, who broke off the natural branches from the glorious tree, will not spare you, if you cease to be faithful; and whilst you do well to admire His mercy, you do not wisely if you forget His inexorable justice. (Rom. xi. 20-30.)
Well, therefore, does our mother the Church instruct us in to-day’s Epistle, as to the lamentable antecedents of the Jewish deicides; she tells us of that list of sins and chastisements, which gradually led on to the final crime and total ruin of the apostate nation. We, who live in what the Church calls the ‘evening of the world,’ (Hymn for Adv. Vesp.) have this great advantage, that we can profit by the what the past ages have experienced. The holy Spirit had no other end in view, when He would have the history of the ancient people written: He would have the future ages there learn lessons of salvation. By the various episodes of that history, which form so many groups of prophetic events, He would show us the economy of God’s providence in His government of the world and of His Church. Founded as she has been by her divine Spouse in immutable truth, and maintained by the Holy Ghost in unfailing and ever-increasing holiness, the Church has nothing to fear of that which happened to the Synagogue — we mean, of that total wreck which the liturgy brings forward for our consideration today. No, the ruin of the Jews is a prophetic image of the destruction of the world, (St. Matt. xxiv. 3.) which will have rejected the Church; not of the Church herself, who will then ascend to her Lord, perfected in love and holiness by the trials endured in those latter days. (Apoc. xxii. 17.) But the assurance of salvation, granted to the bride of the Son of God, does not extend to her children, taken either individually or collectively — that is, men or nations. On each one of us it is incumbent that we meditate on the sad fate which befell Jerusalem; as also on what happened, ages before, to the ancestors of the Jewish people, viz., that scarce one of those who were living when Moses led them out of Egypt lived to enter into the promised land.
And yet, as the apostle argues, they were all journeying in the path of life, protected by the mysterious cloud , beneath which divine Wisdom shaded them by day, and served them as a pillar of fire by night. (Wisd. x. 17.) Led on by Moses — who was a type of the future divine Head of the Christian people — they had all passed through the sea. All of them thus baptized in that symbolic cloud and in those saving waters which had engulfed their foes, just as the water of the Christian font destroys the sins of them that are washed in it — all of them were fed by the same spiritual food, and all drank at the same holy source which issued from the rock, which was Christ. Yet there were very few, out of all those thousands, with whom God was pleased. (1 Cor. x. 1-6) But how much more grievous would the sins of Christians be, who are blessed with the resplendent and solid realities of the Law of grace, than were the evil desires, and idolatry, and fornication, and mumurings of the Israelites , who had but the figures and foreshadowings of our privileges!
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke
Chapter XIX [19:41-47]
And when he drew near, seeing the city, he wept over it, saying: If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace: but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee: and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee and compass thee round and straiten thee on every side, And beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee. And they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation. And entering into the temple, he began to cast out them that sold therein and them that bought. Saying to them: It is written: My house is the house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves. And he was teaching daily in the temple.
The passage just read to us from the holy Gospel takes us back to the day of our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This triumph, which God the Father willed should be offered to His Son before the commencement of His Passion, was not, as we well know, anything of a recognition of the Messiah made by the Synagogue. Neither the meek, gentle manners of the King, who came to the daughter of Sion seated on an ass, (Zach. ix. 9.) nor His merciful severity upon the profaners of the temple, nor His farewell teachings in His Father’s house, could open the eyes of men who were determined to keep them shut against the light of salvation and peace. Not even the tears of the Son of Man, then, could stay God’s vengeance: there is a time for justice, and the Jews were resolved it should come to themselves.
How loudly had the prophets spoken to them in God’s name! Woe to the provoking and redeemed city! She hath not hearkened to the voice her God. Her princes are in the midst of her as roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; her prophets are senseless, men without faith; her priests have defiled the sanctuary; they have acted unjustly against the law (they have violated it). (Soph. iii. 1-4, i. 9.) Crush the city as in a mortar! (Ibid. , 11.) Go through the city and strike! let not your eye spare, nor be ye moved to pity! Utterly destroy old and young, maidens, children and women — yea, destroy all that are not marked upon their foreheads with Thau! And begin ye at my sanctuary; slay the priests, and the ancients; defile the house (my temple), and fill its courts with the bodies of the slain!’ (Ezech, ix, 4-7)
Alas! precedence in chastisement was richly due to those princes of the people who had had precedence in crime; it was due to those priests and ancients who had decreed the death of the Just One, and driven the multitude to cry out: ‘Crucify Him!’ (St. Matt. xxvii. 20.) Jealous of the miracles of the Man-God, they said in their perfidious hypocrisy: ‘If we let Him alone’ (doing all these miracles), ‘all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away our nation.’ (St. John xi. 47-53) God has turned their impious diplomacy against them. But, as far as they themselves are concerned, they will have their way; not one of them will see the Romans; for, before the arrival of the legions, John of Gischala, and Simon the son of Gioras, will have annihilated this deicidal aristocracy, hated of both heaven and earth. When, after the war is over, Titus shall enter into Rome, these two brigand chiefs, and prime movers of the war, shall adorn his triumph; they shall be the substitutes of the nobles of Juda before the conquerors chariot. Two bandits, representatives of Jerusalem, in the streets of Rome, her rival! What a divine retaliation for the two thieves, whom the Synagogue gave as an escort to its King on the Dolorous Way, and made them His crucified fellows in Calvary! — But, let us resume the sequel of events, and give them as briefly as the subject permits.
After the rupture with Rome, and the retreat of Cestius Gallus, the government of Jerusalem had been entrusted to the high-priest Ananus, (Jos., De Bello Jud. , ii. 20 et seq.) brother-in-law to Caiphus, and the last of the five sons of Annas, who succeeded each other in the office of high-priest. By a visible dispensation of God’s justice, this family, the guiltiest of all in the crime of the crucifixion, found itself at the head of the nation when the fatal hour came: it was impossible then to mistake the meaning of God’s vengeance upon His people. Independently of the enormous crime, whose responsibility rested on his race, Ananus had a personal sin to atone for — the death of St. James the Less, who had been martyred, by his orders, in the year 62. Rationalist or Sadducee like his kin, he deplored the war, and would have been glad to see peace restored; (Jos., De Bello Jud. , iv. 5.) but he could not shirk the obligation his office imposed on him of organizing the defence. Ruler most unworthy, yet ruler he was; and therefore, as the Prophet Isaias expresses it, this whole ruin was under his hand, (Isa. iii. 6.) under his management; it would, necessarily, when it came, fall on him and crush him.
It was not long before the fanatics, who had instigated the rebellion and taken the name of Zealots, became dissatisfied with the way in which Ananus was managing affairs: so they revolted against him, and put to death the most illustrious men of the city. Reinforced by all the enthusiasts of the other towns, and by the highway-robbers who were daily flocking to Jerusalem, they made themselves masters of the temple. Out of hatred for the ancient priestly families, they changed the order of sacrifice. They put the office of high-priest on a peasant, who happened to be a descendant of Aaron’s family, but was so unfitted for the dignity that he did not even know what was meant by a priest. (Jos., De Bello Jud., iv. 3.)
About this same time the wreck of the Galilean bands, headed by John of Gischala, occasioned the first defeats, and excited the people to exasperation; they made common cause with the rebels, and increased their fury against all whom they suspected of an inclination to treat with Rome. The Zealots were hard pressed by the troops of Ananus, and had already been forced back into the inner temple; on the advice of John of Gischala; they called the wild Idumean herdsmen to come to their aid. These fierce auxiliaries came on Jerusalem in the thick of a storm that was raging during the night; they found the watchmen asleep, and put them to death. The very earth, says Josephus, had shaken at their approach; and, on the evening before their arrival, had been heard to moan. (Jos., De Bello Jud., iv. 4.) Up to the morning, amidst violent wind and rain and lightning, howling themselves as if to add to the din of the tempest, amidst the shouts of the wounded and the screams of women, they pitilessly murdered every one they met. When at length daylight appeared, it revealed the horrors of the previous night; eight thousand five hundred dead bodies were lying on the ground, and the blood was running in streams all around the temple. The corpse of Ananus, after being insulted, stripped, trodden on, was given as food to the dogs. The following days, twelve thousand men, in the vigour of health, and picked out of the most distinguished families, were also put to death by the Idumeans, either by torture or by other means. As soon as they left, the Zealots became masters of the city, and were guilty of cruelties even greater than those exercised by the Idumeans. All those whose independent character, or influence, or noble birth, excited suspicions were at once massacred, nor were their friends or relatives allowed to bury or mourn over them. The lower classes, the poor, and the unknown, alone escaped with their lives.
The justice of God overtook the princes of Juda. (Isa. iii. 14.) Their blood mingled with the dust, their unburied bodies lying as dung upon the streets, (Soph. i. 8, 17.) would all this remind Sion of those prophecies which had foretold these days of tribulation and anguish, these days of bitterness for the mighty and the strong? (Ibid. , 14-16; Ezech. xxiv. 3-5.) The Christians of Jerusalem, who were then sheltering beyond the Jordan, would remember, if no one else did, the inspired words which their bishop, St. James, had written eight years before to the twelve tribes who were dispersed throughout the world: (St. James i. 1.) ‘Go to now, ye rich men! Weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you! Your riches are putrefied; you treasure is a store of wrath. Ye have feasted; but your feasts have but nourished you for the day of slaughter. Ye have condemned, and put to death the just one, and he resisteth you not…. But the coming of the Lord draweth near.’ (Ibid. v. 1-8.) It was truly the Lord, who was avenging His own cause; (Jer. v. 5, 9.) and Vespasian was well aware of it, when he thus answered those who urged him to take advantage of all these troubles, and attack the city: ‘God is a better general than I: let us leave Him to deliver up the Jews to the Romans without any trouble on our side, and give us victory without our incurring any risk.’ (Jos., De Bello Jud. , iv. 6.)
Jerusalem was then but in the beginning of her woes and of her civil strifes. The ambitious character of John of Grischala did not allow him to be long at peace with the Zealots. He separated himself from them; and to the Galileans, who supported his cause, he gave permission to do whatever they pleased. To pillage and murder were added the frightful excesses of the half-idolatrous race which, in the days of the Assyrian kings, had been substituted for the tribes of Israel; (4 Kings xv. 29, xvii. 6, 18, 23-41.) it had borrowed from Judaism little better than a mass of superstition, which it mingled with the customs and vices of its predecessors. Then was the daughter of Sion compelled to witness and endure the abominations, wherewith the prophets of the Most High had threatened her. Humbled and indignant, the unhappy city would fain have shaken off the yoke. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , iv. 7, 9.)
In those days a celebrated brigand was laying Idumea waste; towns and villages were destroyed, houses were pulled down or burnt; and, according to the prophecy of Abdias, (Abdias 5, 6) he was ransacking Edom through and through, right to the very core. His name was Simon, son of Gioras. What with slaves, criminals, outlaws, and malcontents of every party, he had got together upwards of 20,000 well-armed men, not counting other 40,000 who followed him. This was the strange Messiah on whom Jerusalem cast her eyes for help in her trouble! A deputation, headed by a high-priest, waited on this son of Gioras, begging him to accept the sovereignty. He deigned to consent to their wishes! Proud and haughty, says Josephus, (Ubi supra.) he graciously allowed Sion to offer him her suppliant homage. He was led into the city of David, amidst the enthusiastic acclamations of the people, who hailed as their protector and saviour Simon the murderer, Simon the brigand! O Jesus, Son of David and Son of God, how art Thou avenged by all this! They wished it to be; they themselves had passed the sentence: ‘Not Him, but Barabbas!; (St. John xviii. 40.) The choices of the children was in keeping with the preference entertained by their fathers. Bar Gioras — worthy descendant of Barabbas — once he was master of the city, treated alike both them that had invited him and them that he had been invited to reduce order — that is, he treated them all as enemies. Day and night was the massacre kept up by his savage horde, until every man of worth or credit in Jerusalem was made away with. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , vii. 8.)
Meanwhile, the Galileans, driven back from Sion and the lower town by the new-comers, had retreated to the temple, of which they occupied the first enclosure. The Zealots had grown more than ever discontented with John of Grischala, and made the inner temple their fortified place of refuge. They were less numerous than the two other parties, but their position was far preferable, for it was on the very summit of the holy mount. Then, too, they had provisions in abundance, seeing that all the first-fruits and offerings made to the temple were under their absolute control. They passed their time in feasting and drunken revellings. Little cared they for the stones hurled by Galilean catapults; nor were they in the least troubled at finding that these huge missiles struck the priests at the altar, thus mingling the blood of the sacrificers with that of the victims, and strewing the sacred courts with the bodies of dead or dying. Sacrilege and drunkenness — such was the end of those descendants of the austere pharisees! (Jos., Ibid., v. 1.) Here again Jesus, their crucified victim, was avenged.
Whilst the abominations of desolation, foretold by Daniel, was thus standing in the holy place, (St. Matt. xxiv. 15.) John of Grischala saw that the Zealots were too stupefied by the feastings to cause him any further alarm. He fell on the city, like a bird of prey, there to find the necessary provisions; and out of hatred for Simon, he destroyed by fire all he could not carry away. Simon, instead of quenching the fire, extended it in every part where John was likely to pass, hoping, by this means, to deprive the Galileans of all further victualling. Immense stores of corn and other provisions had been amassed by the Jewish leaders, as a necessary resource in case of a future siege; but all were now destroyed by these two men, who were greater enemies to their country than were the Romans themselves. Thus was spent the year 69 — a year of respite, which Rome, torn as she was by factions of her own, was compelled to allow, and which might have been of such incalculable benefit to the Jews. (Jos., ubi supra. )
With the exception of the armed troops, there were no other inhabitants in Jerusalem but women and old men. The passover of 70 was drawing near, and it produced a sort of truce among the several parties. The city began to be again crowded, and with a population far exceeding the ordinary number. The Romans had pillaged the Jewish provinces; Sion had been even more cruelly treated, and by her own children: and yet, in this year of 70, there assembled within this city of final vengeance as though it were the whole nation, and that from every quarter of the globe. (Ibid. , vi. 9.) It had been the same at the time of our Jesus’ crucifixion; it seemed as though the whole Jewish people insisted on witnessing the consummation of the deicide. The apostles afterwards besought them to confess their having been accomplices in the crime of Calvary, but the preaching was fruitless; the terrific lessons of recent events was unable to open their eyes. As it was in the days of the Pasch so salutary to mankind, but so fatal to Juda; and as it was a subsequent Pentecost, so now there were Jews congregated ‘out of every nation under heaven,’ (Acts ii. 5.) not, indeed, to hear an apostle preaching to them to do penance, (Ibid. , 38) but to undergo that which Moses had foretold, and St. Peter had recalled to their memory — the extermination of all such as should refuse to hearken to the Messiah of the Lord. (Ibid. iii. 22, 23)
As the Man-God had said, the terrible day came suddenly, and as a snare, upon this immense assemblage of people. (St. Luke xxi. 34, 35.) The empire was in the hands of Vespasian; the prosperous fortune of Rome was re-established on the whole of the frontiers; and Titus had just reached Caesarea, with orders to put an end to the eastern question. He sent word to the legions then in Judea to effect, from the respective points they occupied a joint concentration towards the capital. When the tenth legion marched from Jericho and was seen encamped on Mount Olivet — that is, on the very place where Jesus wept as He looked on Jerusalem, and foretold the siege which was to be its ruin — the unexpected arrival of the Romans alarmed the pilgrims, and made them busy themselves with preparations for a battle, rather than for the solemnization of the Pasch. The several parties agreed to forget, at least for a day, their own animosities, and unite all their forces together; they made two desperate sallies, for the purpose of dislodging the enemy on the Mount; but each time they were repelled. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , v. 2.)
The Pasch which is about to be celebrated, is, as ever, and now more than ever, the passover of the Lord; but the Lord is no longer leading the sons of Jacob to their deliverance by it. Juda has made himself the enemy of the Lamb, whose blood should be the sign of the redeemed of the Pasch. Whilst the blood of this divine Lamb is enriching the whole earth, whilst the light of the vanquisher of death is illumining the whole world, Juda is there, obstinately keeping to his figures and shadows. More stiff-necked than the Egyptian, and more guilty than Pharaoh, he would, if he could, hold the true Israel in the trammels of his own slavish law, just as he once vainly tried to make the true Son of God an everlasting prisoner in the tomb. As to Jesus, He has, years ago, set Himself free; and now more terrible than He was in Mesraim, He is passing over , as the avenger both of Himself and of His Church. The Pasch — the feast of feasts, whose memory is every Sunday brought back to us — is now about to receive its final completion. On the Tuesday of our Easter, we were saying: ‘How terrible will be the passage of the Lord over Jerusalem, when the sword of the Roman legions shall destroy a whole people! (See our first vol. of ‘Paschal Time.’ P. 226.)
‘Woe to thee, O Ariel! Ariel, the city which David took — the city where God had His temple and His altar — thy years are passed; thy solemnities are at an end! (Isa. xxix. 1.) Take away from me the tumult of thy songs! Psalms, in thy mouth, have lost all their meaning. I will not hear the canticles of thy harp. (Amos v. 23.) The song of lamentation is heard in Israel, for his house is fallen. (Ibid. , 1.) In every street there shall be wailing; and in all places, they shall say: Woe! Woe!’ (Ibid. , 16.)
This prophetic cry of Woe — this most gloomy foreboding that all the threats uttered in Scripture against Jerusalem are on the point of being fulfilled — was forced upon the inhabitants’ ears. Ever since the feast of Tabernacles of the year 62, an unknown peasant — the husbandman, as the prophet Amos called him, a man skillful in lamentation (Ibid.) — had been ceaselessly paving the streets of the wretched city, crying out day and night: ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegroom and the brides, a voice against all this people!’ Tried, questioned, scourged, even till his flesh was torn to pieces and his bones laid bare — nothing could prevent him from continuing his most unwelcome work. On the festival days above all, this precursor of the vengeance of the Son of Man redoubled the energy of his plaintive enthusiasm, which gave a superhuman emphasis to his cry of Woe. To every word of kindness or reproach, to every act of charity or cruelty, he gave neither thanks nor plaints, but went on with the same words: ‘Woe! Woe! to Jerusalem!’ And thus he continued for seven years and five months, without his voice being altered by weakness or hoarseness. During the early days of the siege he was seen by the Romans running to and fro along the walls, shouting: ‘Woe to the city! Woe to the people! Woe to the holy house!’ At length he added: Woe! woe to me!’ Immediately a stone, thrown from one of the engines, smote him, and he died on the spot. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , vi. 5.)
Jerusalem has drunk of the cup of madness, and nothing seems to impress her; she is drunk with the cup of God’s wrath; yea, she has drained it to the last dregs. (Isa. xxix. 9-14, li. 17.) What a terrific day, this last celebration of the Jewish Pasch! The historian Josephus tells is what it was — sacrilegious, bloody, and noisy with the shouts, which even the enemy could hear, of the strife of the dissentient factions, for all had revived. Taking advantage of the gates being opened to the pilgrims, some Galileans, disguised, made their way into the inner temple; where, throwing aside their cloaks, and displaying their weapons, they attacked the crowd that stood round the altar. They beat and murdered; then, trampling on the dying and the dead, they drove the people outside the courts. Meanwhile, the Zealots, who were taken unawares, rushed, in dismay, into the subterranean caverns of the temple. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , v. 3.) What a Pasch! What a feast! worthy, indeed, of God’s hatred and rejection. (Amos v. 21.) Unhappy feasters, that had come from the ends of the world to this solemnity! how is it that they forgot to apply the words of the prophet? ‘Woe to them that desire the day of the Lord! To what end is it for you? This day of the Lord is darkness and not light. You shall be as a man fleeing from the face of a lion, and a bear should meet him; or, as one that entereth into the house, and, when he leaneth with his hand upon the wall, a sepent should bite him.’ (Ibid. , 18, 19.) Terrible prophecy! How strangely it is verified: — the Romans are yonder in their camps; Simon is in the city; John of Gischala is in the temple, its sole master!
As in the days of Jeremias, so now : the sword and famine — it is hard to say, which was the busier to make this multitude prey; (Jer. xiv. 18.) for, owing to the previous depredations, famine had made itself felt from the beginning of the siege. Each day added to its intensity, and urged on the savage instincts of the armed ruffians to attack all who were not of their party. It was not hatred only that now filled Sion with murder; to rob, or to get something to keep themselves from starvation, these were additional motives to make such men grudge each other’s existence. Under plea that they were conspirators, Simon and John had the rich summoned to their respective tribunals; and then, adding insult to injustice, these two wretches, who, in the intervals between fighting against the Romans, were carrying on their own deadly feud — these two judges, having first seized the property of their victims, sent them to the second bar, (Jos., De Bello Jud., v. 10.) under pretense that they wished to show each other a mutual kindly feeling; giving the one who had nothing to steal, the option of condemning to death. Scarcely forty years before in these very streets, through which the Jewish aristocracy was being ignominiously dragged from Simon to John, and from John to Simon, there was another Victim of the nation, was made the pledge of a mock reconciliation, and, with a fool’s uniform put on Him, was sent back from Herod to Pilate, there to await judgment! (St. Luke xxiii. 7-12.)
Whilst these tyrants were thus living on the public distress, there were hundreds of starved creatures, whom hunger drove to go forth by night into the fields, and there try to find some wild herbs. If they fell into the hands of the Romans, these, unwilling to be burdened with such prisoners, had them crucified within sight of the walls. Five hundred and upwards were thus captured each day; and, oh! what a fearful detail, but how loud in its significance! — all this was done, with Calvary opposite! and, as Josephus tells us, there was not room enough to plant the crosses, nor wood enough for making them. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , v. 11.)
Titus had flattered himself that the taking of Jerusalem would be an affair of a few days. He, of course, disregarded the prophecies which declared that the deicide city was to be ‘compassed round with a trench’; and preferred to use negotiations and a series of assaults, rather than be detained by the tedious operation of a blockade. But he was, of course, mistaken; his messengers received, in answer to their parlays of peace, nothing but insults and arrows; and, as to assaults, all the bravery of his legions was powerless against the fortresses where the factions were protected. Two months thus passed away in useless attempts; all that the Romans had possession of was the lower town, which the Jewish contesting parties had already reduced to ruins; but Sion and Moriah still held up their heads in defiance against the determined invaders. There was nothing, them, to do, but make up their minds to defer Rome and her pleasures to some later season, (TAC., Hist., v. 11.) and encircle Jerusalem with that terrible trench, which the Gospel had said must be cast about her. The literal following out of the plan traced by God got the better of Titus’ impatience. He set his legions to the work; they must change their manual labour, and instead of bows and arrows, they must handle pickaxe and spade. To have seen them at work, one would have said they were thinking of Jesus’ words, for they were fulfilling them as though they were the most devoted of His servants; Josephus would have it, that they were animated by a divine influence. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , v. 12.) In the brief space of three days, they completed an earth-wall measuring a little over five miles round, a work which would ordinarily, have occupied several months. God had thus spoken by the prophet Isaias: ‘I will make a trench about Ariel; and it shall be in sorrow and mourning; and it shall be to me as Ariel. I will make a circle round about thee (O Jerusalem), and will cast up a rampart against thee, and raise up bulwarks to besiege thee.’ (Isa. xxix. 2,3.) Truly, Jerusalem was thus made as an Ariel to Jehovah — that is, on immense altar of countless victims.
The famine, by this time, was intensely increased; for every exit into the fields was now closed against the unfortunate creatures, who, till then, had been able to eke out their miserable existence by picking up, at the risk of their lives, a few seeds or roots. (Lam. V. 9, 10.) A bushel of wheat was sold for a talent (about 240 pounds sterling). Those who could afford it gave their costliest treasures for a morsel of bread; (Lam. i. 11.) but, as to those who had nothing to give, they must drag the sewers in hope of finding food. The vilest rubbish was devoured with avidity. Filth, too foul to have a name was hidden as though it were a treasure, for which husband quarreled with his wife, and mothers grudged it their children. (Deut. xxviii. 56, 57; Jos., De Bello Jud., v. 10-12.) The factions had, thus far, laughed at the people’s starvation; but they soon began themselves to feel the gnawings of famine, and then they furiously attacked those who were reported as having something to eat. If a man were sinking, he was said to be feigning the weakness of death, in order to prevent search being made for his victuals; if he had just strength enough to walk a few steps, it was taken as an indication that he had some hidden eatables about him. All were savagely tortured to make them own the imputed crime of having something yet to live on. Like famished dogs — it is the expression used both by the historian and the Psalmist (Ibid. vi. 3; Ps. lviii. 7, 15, 16.) — they ran wildly through the city, knocking down the doors of the suspected, ferreting in every nook and hole, and returning two or three times within the hour. A savoury smell was one day perceived coming from a house which had been thus frequently visited; this was more than enough for a further search. In they rushed; a woman was there; they threatened her with death, unless she at once declared where was her feast. ‘It is my son,’ she replied; ‘there are the remnants!’ The woman was Mary, daughter of Eleazer; once rich, and of a noble family, she, maddened by hunger, had murdered her infant child, and had fed on his flesh. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , vi. 3; Deut. xxviii. 53-56.)
All these horrors failed to subdue the ferocious obstinacy of John of Gischala and Simon, son of Gioras. In spite, however, of their precautions, and their cruelties towards those who were suspected of meditating an escape, there were, every day, scores who, by throwing themselves down the walls, were able to reach the Roman camp. Deeply moved at the sight of so much misery, Titus received them kindly, and gave them their liberty. But, adds Josephus, ‘God had condemned the whole of this people, and turned the very means of safety into occasion of destruction.’ (Jos., De Bello Jud. , v. 13.) Many of these poor fugitives were so exhausted on reaching the camp that they died on taking the food which had been too long denied them. A still greater number fell victims to the Arabs and Syrians, who followed the Roman army; for, a report having been circulated that some of the Jews had swallowed their gold before leaving Jerusalem, in order the more effectually to hide it, these wild auxiliaries, strangers to the discipline of the legions and born enemies of the Jewish people, ensnared the unfortunate fugitives and cut them into pieces, hoping to find what would satisfy their monstrous avarice. During one single night there were two thousand found lying thus embowelled. (Ibid. ) How all this forces us to think of the death of Judas, (Acts i. 18.) and of the punishment of his deicidal betrayal! And had not all this people imitated that traitorous apostle? He, the Iscariot, had delivered up the Son of Man to the chief priests and leaders of the Jews; the Jews delivered Him up to the Gentiles; and the Prophet Zacharias makes them all share in the responsibility of that infamous barter, wherewith began the sacred Passion of our sweet Jesus. (Zach. xi., 12, 13.)
In the city, the ravages of the famine were beyond all imagination. Josephus, speaking of them, uses, without being aware of it, the very expression of our Redeemer: ‘In no time did any other city ever suffer such miseries.’ (Jos., De Bello Jud. , v. 10; St. Matt. xxiv. 21.) In the space of a few months there were counted six hundred thousand dead, and to these burial of one sort or other was given; as to the rest, they could not be numbered, for the survivors had not the strength needed for burying them, and they were left to rot in the houses or streets.
Meanwhile, on July 12, a greater trial than all this befell Jerusalem and the whole Jewish people: for want of victims, the continual sacrifice was taken away, as in the days of Antiochus, (Dan. viii. 11-13.) but this time it was for ever. It was the end, the openly declared end, of Mosaism and its worship, to be henceforth replaced, and without dispute, by the Sacrifice of the law of love; the end, with but the brief interval of a siege and a war, which had then no other object to achieve, and therefore, no further reason for its continuance. An immense grief — a grief that admitted no consolation — seized the hearts of the Jewish people, who, up the very last, had lived on the empty hope fostered by the false prophets. (Jos., De Bello Jud. , vi. 5.)
The foolhardy obstinacy of Simon and John rejected, even then, the proposals of Titus, that he would spare both city and temple. Hostilities were therefore resumed, implacably and pitilessly resumed. But the Jewish soldiers had not energy enough to keep pace with the fanaticism of their leaders; worn out by famine, they had not the unflinching resistance needed for repelling the sustained assaults of the Romans. Already the tower of Antonia, which commanded the temple, was in the power of the enemy, and each day he was seen closing in nearer to the sacred edifice. Its defenders resolved on one last effort; roused by the greatness of their misfortune, they rushed through the vale of Cedron, and made a desperate charge on the post of Mount Olivet. It looked though, for these final engagements, the instinct of God’s vengeance, which weighed upon them, was leading them to this place of prophecy, where the Son of Man had wept over Jerusalem, and where, as we already said, the first battle was fought. Repelled, and in despair, they returned to the city, which they were never again to leave; then, with their own hands, setting fire to the outer porticoes of the temple, they gave the first enclousure over to the Romans.
Titus was desirous, above all things, to save the temple; but, as Josephus observes, ‘God had, for certain, long ago doomed it to the fire;… and the flames were kindled by the Jews themselves, when that fatal day came.’ (Jos., De Bello Jud. , vi. 4.) It was August 4, in the year 70, a Sabbath-day, and the anniversary of the first destruction of the holy place under Nabuchodonosor. The guards of the temple, exasperated by suffering, stupefied by hunger, attacked the soldiers who, by Titus’ orders, were quenching the fire that had been some days burning at the outer portion of the building. They were soon beaten back into the temple, and, this time, they were not the only ones to enter. While they were falling by hundreds beneath the sword of the Romans, now unexpectedly made masters of the inner enclosure, one of the soldiers, forgetting the orders given by Titus, but, as Josephus puts it, ‘urged on by a divine power,’ (Jos., De Bello Jud., vi. 4.) seized a firebrand, and hurled it, through a window, into one of the rooms adjoining the sanctuary. The flame burst forth and spread; the efforts of Titus to stay it were useless. Simon’s soldiers on Mount Sion saw it rising up towards the sky. At this fearful spectacle, the famished and wounded, turning towards the falling temple, forgot all their sufferings. From these thousands of dying Jews, all of them possessed with the one same grief, there arose a loud scream of despair, which, blending with shouts of the pagan soldiers, was heard even on the mountains of Perea, beyond the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Mount Moriah, on fire, seemed as though its very foundations were burning, and blood was flowing enough to quench the flames. The number of the slain was so great that the ground could not be seen, and the soldiers, as they marched, had to trample on the dead. The priests who had mounted on the roof of their temple, the women and children crouching by thousands in its galleries, all perished in the flames with the treasures of the sanctuary. (Ibid. 5.)
John of Gischala, gathering together his few remaining followers, had escaped between the enemy’s battalions, and had joined Simon in the high portion of the city. The contest continued for a few weeks longer, but it was the effort of a last agony. On September 1, Sion was taken, plundered and burnt like Moriah and the lower town. The prediction of to-day’s Gospel was fulfilled. Jerusalem, beaten flat to the ground, and her children that were with her, was but a mass of smoking ruins. Eleven hundred thousand men had perished during the siege. Of the ninety-seven thousand that had been taken prisoners during the whole war, seven hundred were picked out as fit to grace the conqueror’s triumph; of the remainder, those who were over seventeen years of age were sent to the mines, or reserved for the amphitheater; the others supplied the slave-markets of the empire for some length of time. (Jos., De Bello Jud., vi. 9,)