Sunday, April 29, 2012

"WHAT IS TRUTH?" PONTIUS PILATE REDUX

PONTIUS PILATE AS PORTRAYED IN "THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST"
BY THE ACTOR  HRISTO SHOPOV
Mention the name Pontius Pilate, and the most rapid word association for most people is "washing his hands". No doubt his failure to free Our Lord, whom he believed to be without fault, was the gravest injustice in the history of the World , because it was done to God Himself made Man.

Without diminishing that horror by one iota, I think we should accord Pilate great responsibility for putting a finger on one of the main issues of all human history.The issue was critically important then , and it is robustly so to-day.

BACKGROUND

I came to think about this matter in a three step process. For some years now, my Lenten reading has been "The Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ"by the late Archbishop Alban Goodier S.J. In it, Archbishop Goodier leads us very carefully through the scenes of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. He recounts the troubled history of Pilate's term in office which had already seen him in trouble with Rome. He was by no means free to act in a cavalier fashion toward the Jewish High Priesthood as one might assume. 

The Emperor appointed Governors and Prefects to ensure the peace and not to cause revolt and ferment, which Pilate had earlier done.As was often the case, the Romans ruled the tiny Province of Judea (in their Classification System it was of the least important 3rd Rank - poor revenues, troublesome people and not of immediate strategic importance.) through the High Priestly class. The Romans intervened when necessary e.g. to suppress threats to the peace, to depose or install new High Priests.

Pilate had left in place, the  High Priest in power when he took up his appointment - Caiaphas,  who had been in office 11 years when Pilate finally left Judea.  Caiaphas' Father-in-Law  Annas , was his immediate predecessor and the fourth High Priest in the term of Gratus ,Pilate's predecessor , co-incidentally, also for 11 years. 

Pilate had already had several severe threats to the peace by the Jews reacting adversely to some of his actions, and in fact he was ultimately recalled to Rome by Tiberius following further Jewish protests. By the time he reached Rome Tiberius was dead , succeeded by the insane Gaius Caligula.Nothing more of Pilate is known to reliable history.

So, when the Jews insist that if he frees Jesus , he is no friend of Caesar,we see rat cunning at its sharpest. They knew just where to skewer Pilate.

THEN A MISQUOTE

That was background. Then, more recently, in the course of commenting upon some very unfortunate comments by a Priest in another place, a gentleman from an African University took me to task for insisting on Catholic Truth, referring to Pontius Pilate having said "What is the Truth?" I think this was in an effort to discredit my comments. Rather came unstuck! Firstly I had to point out that Pilate actually said "What is Truth?"That is to say  he was not asking about the facts of his just concluded questioning of Our Lord, but rather appeared to be making a sceptical response to deflect Our Lord's continuing effort to save Pilate from the grave error he was about to commit. Archbishop Goodier draws out this process very thoroughly, just as he had done earlier , in examining Our Lord's efforts to protect Judas Iscariot and conceal his identity from the time of the Last Supper,  until he had actually committed the greatest betrayal.

ENTER POPE BENEDICT XVI

Finally, having this year forsaken Goodier's book to read Pope Benedict XVI's  "JESUS OF NAZARETH PART TWO HOLY WEEK", I was rewarded to come upon the Holy Father's commentary on these same words "What is Truth?" 

He examines the immediately preceding words - 
"So you are a King?"asks Pilate.

JESUS' response is direct and firm "YOU SAY THAT I AM A KING. FOR THIS I WAS BORN, AND FOR THIS I HAVE COME INTO THE WORLD,  TO BEAR WITNESS TO THE TRUTH. EVERYONE WHO IS OF THE TRUTH HEARS MY VOICE."( John 18:37)

The Holy Father reminds us that in the preceding Verse, Jesus had said : "My Kingship is not of this world; if My  Kingdom were of this world , my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews ; but My Kingdom is not from the world."( 18:36)


POPE BENEDICT XVI


The Holy Father points out then , that Christ's Kingdom is, in terms Pilate would recognise, powerless,and Jesus characterises His Kingdom by its essence in Truth, whereas for the world a kingdom has as its essence power.

In considering what Truth might be in this context, the Holy Father refers to the great intellect of Saint Thomas Aquinas who after making several prior points, arrives at the succinct formula : "God is :"ipsa summa et prima veritas"( Truth itself, the sovereign and first truth; Summa Theologiae I , q. 16,a. 5c)."

The Holy Father goes on to make the point : "Bearing witness to the Truth "means giving priority to God and to His will over against the interests of the world and its powers. God is the criterion of being." As the Holy Father makes clear, all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem and to the Cross ,all of Christ's "Kingdom"and "Kingship" language is consistent in its meaning -  He is talking of nothing other than this kingdom centred on truth. 

"In Christ, God - the TRUTH - entered the world."

The words of Jesus spring to our mind :

"I AM the Way and the TRUTH and the Life"(John 14 :6)




JESUS CHRIST OUR SAVIOUR THE TRUTH


A GREAT SERVICE

Pilate in seeking with scepticism, to elude the "Hound of Heaven"has done us a great service - he has focussed our attention on that critically important issue : "What is TRUTH?"

And the answer is in fact, ultimately fundamental, for Truth is God Himself. And precisely here is the problem of the modern world. Stumbling in the midst of the ruins of the failed "Enlightenment project", the modern Western world has abandoned God , and thus the very idea of objective Truth, for Relativism. It is adrift on the sea of relativism, there is no compass point for it, in fact like a deceived helmsman it is chasing the compass, going round and round in circles, getting nowhere and without Hope.

Just like Pontius Pilate, we have the answer immediately before us - JESUS CHRIST, the Man on the Cross, the Man Who rose again from the dead, GOD made Man!

Let us not make the same mistake Pilate did, trying to elude the Hound of Heaven.

This is why the New Evangelisation is required now, to help the world re- discover the TRUTH - GOD made Man - JESUS CHRIST present in the world in His Mystical Body, His Catholic Church and working through the Seven Sacraments with which He has armed  her to support the Proclamation of His WORD.

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