And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
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Cornelius a Lapide
And then shall appear the sign, &c. You will ask, what is the sign of the Son of Prayer of Manasseh , that is to say, of Christ Incarnate? I answer, it is the Cross. For this is the sign, because it is the standard (vexillum) of Christ, and the cause of the victory of believers. And as it was beforetime the scandal of unbelievers and the impious, so will it be in the Day of Judgment their condemnation and their torment. So the Fathers, almost passim. Yea, the Church herself gives this meaning her sanction, when she sings in the office for Holy Cross Day, "This sign of the Cross shall be in heaven when the Lord shall come to judgment." There are three reasons why the Cross shall then appear1To signify that Christ by the Cross has merited this judicial power and glory2d To show that Christ was crucified for the salvation of all men, and that therefore they are ungrateful and without excuse who have neglected so great grace and love3d To show that all worshippers of Christ crucified shall be then exalted with Him to Heaven, and all who hate and despise Him cast down to hell.
From this saying of Christ it is extremely probable that the actual cross on which He was crucified shall appear in heaven at the Day of Judgment, for the consolation of the Saints, who have been saved by it, and who therefore have striven to conform themselves in their lives, by patience and self-denial, to Christ crucified; and for the condemnation of the wicked, who have despised the Cross of Christ, and who have ungratefully preferred pleasures to self-mortification. This is the opinion of S. Chrysostom (Hom. de Cruce et Latrone). The Sibyl predicts the same thing (lib6)—
"Whereon God hung, 0 blessed Tree!
Not earth alone, but heaven hath thee,
When lightning-crown"d God"s face we see."
S. Anselm is of a different opinion, viz, that at the Day of Judgment it will not be the actual Cross of Christ which will appear in the air, but a symbol, or image of it, formed by the angels. The expression sign is in favour of this.
Moreover, SS. Chrysostom and Augustine and S. Cyril teach that this standard of the Cross will be borne by the angels before the face of Christ, coming to judgment, as a trophy of victory, and a royal banner of supreme power and dignity.
Our Salmeron also says, "The doctors of the Church believe that, together with the Cross will appear the pillar, the scourge, the crown of thorns, the nails, the sponge, the spear, and the rest of the instruments of the Passion." Song of Solomon , too, S. Thomas (Opusc. ii. cap244). This is probable, but not certain, because nowhere expressly declared.
Lastly, at that time the sign of the cross shall appear on the foreheads of all the elect, according to what is said in Revelation 7:3 , "Let us sign the servants of our God on their foreheads" (Vulg.); and Ezek. ix4 , in an allegorical sense, "Sign Tau, i.e, the sign of the Cross, upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry" (Hebr. and Vulg.). Hear S. Augustine (Serm. de temp130), "Hast thou considered how great is the virtue of this sign of the Cross? The sun shall be darkened, the moon shall not give her light; but the Cross shall shine and shall obscure the heavenly luminaries. When the stars shall fall, it alone shall send forth radiance, that thou mayst learn how the Cross is more luminous than the moon and more glorious than the sun. For like as when a king enters into a city, his soldiers go before him, bearing upon their shoulders the royal arms and standards, and all the pomp of military array, to proclaim the monarch"s entry; so when the Lord descends from Heaven, the angel hosts shall go before Him, bearing upon their lofty shoulders that sign which is the ensign of triumph, to announce to the inhabitants of earth the approach of the King of Heaven."
And then shall all the tribes, &c. That Isaiah , many of every tribe, viz, all the reprobate and the damned, because they have neglected their salvation, to procure which Christ was crucified. But the elect will rejoice and sing, because they will see that they have been saved and blessed by the Cross. S. Augustine gives the cause of this weeping, "All the tribes of the earth shall mourn, because they shall see their accuser, that Isaiah , the Cross itself; and at the sight of this reprover they shall acknowledge their sin. Too late, and in vain shall they confess their impious blindness. And dost thou marvel that when Christ cometh He will bring His Cross, since He will show His wounds also?" S. Chrysostom also, "Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, because they shall perceive that they gained nothing by His death, and that they crucified Him who ought to be adored." And S. Jerome, "Rightly doth He say, The tribes of the earth; for they shall mourn who have no citizenship in Heaven, but whose names are written in the earth." Again, hear S. Chrysostom on this passage (Hom77), "He brings with Him the Cross, that their sin may be condemned without accusation, as though a man who had been struck with a stone should produce the stone itself, or the blood-stained clothes as a witness of the deed." Moreover, they shall mourn, because (as Auctor Imperfecti, Hom77 , says) Christ will then reprove the wicked thus, "For your sakes I became Prayer of Manasseh , was bound and crucified. Where is the fruit of all My sufferings? Behold the price of My blood, which I paid for the redemption of your souls! Where is your service, which you owe Me as the price of My blood? I valued you above My own glory, when, being God, I appeared in fashion of a man; and yet ye accounted Me of less worth than any of your possessions. For ye loved every vile thing upon earth more than My justice and faith." And shortly afterwards he adds, "Deservedly shall they mourn, because then neither shall money profit the rich to do alms withal; nor righteous parents be able to intercede for their children; nor the angels themselves to say a word, as is their wont, for men, because the nature of judgment accords not with mercy, as neither the time of mercy with judgment. As saith the Prophet, "I will sing of mercy and judgment;" of mercy in the first Advent, of judgment in the second."
Hear S. Bernard mourning, yea, trembling with horror (Serm16 in Cant.), "I am afraid of hell; I fear the face of the Judges , before whom the heavenly hosts themselves tremble. I tremble at His almighty wrath, at the crash of a falling world, at the conflagration of the elements, at the horrible tempest, at the voice of the archangel, and the dreadful words. I tremble at the teeth of the infernal beast, at the belly of hell, at the lions roaring for their prey. I dread the gnawing of the worm, the fiery torrent, the smoke and vapour, the brimstone, and the spirit of tempests. I dread the outer darkness." Then he adds, "Who will give water to my head, and a fountain of tears to my eyes, that by my tears I may prevent the weeping and gnashing of teeth, the hard chains for hand and foot, the weight of the fetters that press and bind and burn without consuming? Woe is me, my mother! Wherefore hast thou brought me forth, a child of sorrow? a child of bitterness, of indignation, of weeping without end? Why did the knees prevent me, and the breasts that I sucked, that I should he born for burning and for fuel of fire?"
And they shall see the Song of Solomon , &c1That the clouds may temper the exceeding brightness of the Body of Christ, which otherwise would blind the eyes of the reprobate2d Because a cloud is the symbol of the hidden Deity3d Because the cloud is the seat, as well as the vehicle and covert, of Christ"s glory. Hence, constantly in the Old Testament, God appeared to Moses and the Prophets in a cloud. (See Ezekiel 1:4 , and Exodus 19:9-18.) There is an allusion to Daniel 7:13, "And lo, one like unto the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven."
With power, &c. (Vulg.), with great virtue or strength and majesty. For as Christ at His first Advent came in great infirmity of the flesh, in poverty and contempt, so He hath thereby deserved to come in His second Advent with great strength, glory, and majesty. His Power and strength shall appear in that at His command all the dead shall arise in a moment; in that all men, angels, and devils shall behold and worship Him as their God, their Lord, and their judge; in that He shall pass sentence upon all according to their deserts, and shall execute His sentence, so that none shall dare to gainsay or resist. His majesty shall appear in the infinite splendour of His body, in the multitude and brightness of all the angels surrounding Him, and in His garments of radiant clouds.