Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pontius Pilate in the Creed

by Victor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cristianisme i Justícia Blog
April 3, 2015

It is somewhat surprising that both in the short creed (the so-called Apostles' Creed) and the long creed (the Nicene-Constantinopolitan one) that we profess in the Sunday Eucharist, refderence is made to Pontius Pilate, under whose power Jesus suffered, was crucified, died and was buried. It is strange and even shocking that along with the Father, His Son Jesus Christ incarnate of the Virgin Mary and with the Holy Spirit, Pontius Pilate is mentioned.

Pilate, governor of Judea (26-36) was a man both weak in the face of popular pressure and arrogant, cruel, arbitrary and ruthless, "the imperial, bloody and ruthless Roman" [“el romano imperialista, puñetero y desalmado”] as is sung in the Nicaraguan Mass ... While recognizing the innocence of Jesus, accused because of the envy of the priests, he did not free him so as not to fall into disfavor of Tiberius Caesar -- "if you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar" (Jn 19,12). He wanted to act speedily in the face of Rome, so he washed his hands in a cowardly way (Mt 27, 24) and ordered Jesus to be crucified. Years later, Pilate was removed from office for his brutal actions and banished to Gaul. How, then, to explain this strange intrusion of Pilate in the Creed?

When the early Church introduced Pilate into the Creed, it was not acting irresponsibly but with great wisdom. The reference to Pilate places Jesus in human history, in time -- under the Roman Empire and in Judea, where Pontius Pilate was governor. Jesus, and therefore the Christian faith centered on Jesus, the Son of the Father incarnate in Mary, is not an invention, a dream, an ideology or a beautiful myth to comfort our angst. Jesus is certainly an extraordinary, novel and mysterious event, but a historical one that is part of the history of salvation, part of our human history.

And it is great news that he suffered, was crucified and buried under the power of Pontius Pilate, has risen and is sitting with the Father. He who rose was the same Jesus of Nazareth who went about doing good and freeing victims of oppression (Acts 10:38).

This is the historical dimension of faith underlying the Creed when citing Pontius Pilate, the foundation upon which we Christians follow Jesus in today's world and our time, discerning the signs of the times and proclaiming the joy of the gospel to today's world. And it is a call to not wash our hands before the real problems of our time, not put our selfish interests ahead of the defense of truth and justice, not be content with asking skeptically, like Pilate, "What is the truth?"(Jn 18,38). Because the truth is siding with those who suffer, with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did -- He is the truth (Jn 14:14). Washing one's hands like Pilate did ends up producing victims ...

Pilate's presence in the Creed not only roots Jesus in history but becomes a negative warning of how we are not to act in life -- we can't act like Pilate. All this we can keep in mind when, while reciting the creed -- both the short and the long one, we say that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate" ...

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