When you follow the Passion this time of year, you hear all the names of various characters: Caiaphas, the high priest; Judas, the wicked disciple; Peter, who pulled out his sword but later denied Our Lord; and the others. One name, however, was put forever in infamy: Pontius Pilate. Of all the people and names surrounding the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord, why is Pilate singled out in the Apostles Creed by name?
Every time you say a rosary or some other prayer, you say it by name: “…Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died, and was buried.”
We don’t mention Judas, who is identified from the beginnings of the Church as “the lover of money” (N.B. modern opinions on the matter to the contrary should be discounted in favor of the universal opinion of twenty centuries). Judas does get adequate scorn in many places of the Oriental rites, for instance, the Troparion sung during yesterday’s Office and Divine Liturgy:
“When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of the feet, then Judas the ungodly one was stricken and darkened with the love of silver. And unto the lawless judges did he deliver Thee, the righteous Judge. Behold, O lover of money, him that for the sake thereof did hang himself; flee from that insatiable soul that dared such things against the Master.”
We also ignore Caiaphas and the Pharisees in general when it comes to the Creed. Worth mention, however, is that the Pharisees get adequate disdain, but not a place in the creed.
But Pilate has name billing. Of blessed memory, Fr. Hardon tells us why: over the centuries, it has been “apostate Christians who have used the State to crucify the martyrs of Christianity.”
Stop and re-read that for a moment. Pilate represents the State. Who twists the State to murder Christ? Apostate believers. It’s a memorial of Jesus’s words to James and John that if they were to follow Him, they must be prepared to drink of His cup. Today is the memorial of that cup.
Fr. Hardon explains this detail of the Passion, with regard to Pilate, this way:
It is not coincidental that Pontius Pilate should be identified in the Apostles Creed. Pilate symbolizes the sufferings and persecution of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ.
The enemies of Christ were the religious leaders of the Jewish people who envied Him. They were, as Jesus more than once told them, hypocrites. They were the chosen priests and teachers of the Chosen People. Yet they misled those whom they were to lead. Their hatred of the Savior was grounded on envy. Thousands followed Jesus to listen to His words. They spent days, even without food, to hear what He had to say. The Scribes and Pharisees had to resort to the most extreme means to have people even pay attention to them. The result was inevitable. This hated Nazarene must die.
There were three main charges which the Jews brought against Jesus. “We have found this man,” they claimed “perverting our nation, and forbidding the payment of taxes to Caesar and saying that he is Christ the king” (Luke 23:2).
As we know all these charges were malicious. They were also political in nature. Yet they were enough to sway the cowardly Pilate to condemn Jesus to death.
This has been the history of the Catholic Church ever since. By now millions of faithful followers of Christ have shed their blood for their fidelity to the Savior. Without exception, it has been the Pilates of every age who have been used by Christ’s enemies to persecute the Church He founded. The Neros and Attillas, the Huns and Communists have been the agents of the devil in persecuting faithful Christians. But let us be clear. No less than on the first Good Friday, so over the centuries it has been the apostate Christians who have used the State to crucify the martyrs of Christianity.
How can we disagree today? On nearly every front of the Creed, there is an attack, and behind that attack is somebody twisting the State to enforce it.
Memorize the logic of Fr. Hardon above, though: the apostates use the concerns of the state to force the persecution. They lie. They manipulate. They even co-opt Bishops, like Judas, to assist them. (how I could go on for hours just on this point alone). The attack doesn’t come from outside, but from people close to Jesus. Likewise today, it is often people claiming to be Catholic who are the public face of these manipulations. All of them were motivated by a concern for their own interests, their own feelings, their own futures. Everything, it seems, but the interests of God. So it is today…
At the front of these attacks, though, is Pilate. The fake court trial, the interrogation, and his washing of his hands (as if that did anything) remind us that the state can see Truth, even have a friendly chat with Truth, and still do the wrong thing out of concern to satisfy the apostate manipulators (even the etymology of manipulate explains this, from Latin for “handful”).
Let’s not be naive, however, and take the cue Mother Church gives us: look what the state did to Our Lord — shall we be any different? The answer is what Father Hardon points out above: no, if we follow Jesus Christ, we won’t be any different.
For our part, we should learn from Jesus, Who even under the pain of crucifixion said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Even Pilate was the object of that prayer. As we see Our Lord today, is this part of what He teaches us — that even Pilate deserves forgiveness from us?
For my own part, I think it is, but that is tough…