During Sundays and special solemnities of the Catholic Church’s calendar, the Catholic faithful recite what is commonly called the Nicene Creed as well known as the Apostles creed. As we say this Creed the only names mentioned in the creed are the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate. Isn’t that Odd, right?
And if I may ask, why is a “villain” given such a prominent place in the Church’s summary of faith?
The applying of Pilate’s name in the creed can be traced back to the very beginnings of the Catholic Church. By the early 3rd century this section of the prayer was already quoted by Tertullian. For the early Christians, it was a primary thing to include Pilate’s name.
One of the essential reasons the Church has kept this inclusion is to reinforce the historicity of the Passion of Jesus. How Pontius Pilate existed can be verified by sources outside of the Gospels and his name provides a powerful reminder that the death of Jesus occurred within the context of Roman rule and at a specific date in human history.
The creed also, was developed during the first few centuries of the Church, during time when Christians were still under the Roman Empire. Including Pilate’s name in the creed was a way to situate Jesus within the history of the Roman Empire, appealing in a particular way to Roman Gentiles.
However, Fr. John Hardon believed that the inclusion of Pilate’s name was meant to be a symbol of those political leaders who have persecuted Christians over the centuries.
According to Fr. Hardon, “It is not a coincidence that Pontius Pilate should be identified in the Apostles Creed. Because ,he symbolizes the sufferings and persecution of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ.”
The Jews brought about three main charges against Jesus. In (Luke 23:2) they claimed, “We have found this man, perverting our nation, and forbidding the payment of taxes to Caesar and saying that he is Christ the king”.
We already know that all these charges were malicious. And they were also political in nature. Still, they were enough to push the cowardly Pilate to condemn Jesus to death. It has been the history of the Catholic Church ever since. Currently, millions of faithful followers of Christ have shed their blood for their fidelity to the Savior. Out of exception, it has been the Pilates of every age who have been used by the enemies of Christ to persecute the Church He founded.
The use of the name of Pilate is also considered by many as a symbol of our own participation in Jesus’s Passion and death.
Though, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are Pilate always condemning Jesus to death.
The Church, in her teaching has never forgotten that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Savior endured.” As to take into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself, the Church does not delay to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus.
Lastly, Pilate inclusion in the creed is not to place all the burden of Jesus’ death upon his shoulders, but it stands as a name that represents various spiritual and temporal truths.
Our sins were the essential reason why Jesus died on the cross. Jesus gave his life for us freely all in order the we might experience the beauty of the resurrection.