“Pilate said to them, ‘What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let Him be crucified!’” (Mt. 27:23)
Believe it or not, June 26th is St. Pontius Pilate day in the Ethiopian (Abyssinian) Church. Did I say Saint Pontius Pilate? Yes I did. There are two traditions in the history of the Church about Pontius Pilate and his wife Claudia Procula that come down to us outside the pages of Scripture. Eusebius records in his Ecclesiastical History that Pontius Pilate continued his misguided rule of Judea after the trial of Christ and eventually was recalled to Rome. Through a series of political misfortunes Pilate ended up getting reassigned to a backwater post in Gaul (modern-day France) where eventually a regime change in Rome dispatched a Roman guard unit to find him and invite him to commit suicide or face a more humiliating death at their hands. Thus in the Western tradition, Pilate dies in ignominy providing a fitting end to him who washed his hands of any guilt for Jesus’ death. The Eastern tradition of Pilate is far more generous. In their extrabiblical writings they record that his wife Claudia (the one who was disturbed in her dream about Jesus) became a disciple of Jesus and eventually converted Pilate to become a Christian too. Because of Pilate’s political position he was a “secret service believer” but eventually was found out and was martyred by the Romans by death on a cross just like Jesus. Several locations in present day France, Switzerland, and Germany have legends that they are the burial place for Pilate. This more positive history also has been attested by Origen, Tertullian, and Augustine, all luminaries in the early Church. Did Pilate end as a pagan or a Christian martyr? Such a question will always remain open this side of heaven but in the mysterious plan of God who redeems people like Saul of Tarsus and rascals like me and you, you just never know.
Happy belated Pontius Pilate day!