A friend of mine recently asked me who I thought killed Christ. “Was it the Jews? Was it the Romans?” I must admit that such considerations were not something I had particularly thought about much before although the question and the controversy was something I was aware of from previous encounters with other Catholics and with Rabbis. The racial question of blame seems quasi-appropriate in the present tense atmosphere with the issue of immigration in Europe and Pale-Blacki relations in America. It still begs the question however of “why does it matter?” Unsurprisingly, similar to the question of homosexuality that I addressed before, it is of little importance and of great importance simultaneously. While the superficial question is inherently low class, it can yield considerations of a higher and necessary nature. Let’s examine the major ways in which individuals deal with this issue and then I shall propose a meditation on the subject which seeks to rise above all three.
For most of the people I have observed, the question of whether or not the Jews were the ones who killed Christ is usually at the service of some ideological aim; i.e. that the question is only relevant in establishing a kind of “bloodline” of iniquity. These individuals explicitly or covertly take the admission of, “his blood be on us, and on our children,” (Matthew 27:25) as justification for the continual skepticism or suppression of what they consider “Jews.” The indictment of “Jews” and “Jewry” as scapegoats is then put to use to advance agendas meant to affect the political, social, and economic make-up of modernity. To individuals who take this path, it is a question of diagnosis on a material plane for the world’s ills. In some ways, too, it becomes a kind of fantasy. “If only we could get rid of Jewry, things would be better,” is the implication. Furthermore, I can’t help but imagine it as a kind of dualistic, Manichean fantasy as well: that the “Christian” way is opposed to the “Jewish” way.
On the other side, there are those few who blame the Romans. “They are the ones who actually crucified the Lord,” I hear many apologetic Christians says. I am sure many of them are channeling Nostra Aetate which is explicit when it states how:
What happened in [Christ’s] passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God.ii
However, the shifting of the blame to the Romans seems like a rather easy “cop-out” if not a serious and grave error when it is used as yet another example of the superiority of modern, whig politics over ancient monarchical systems. Again, the reduction to an ideological utilitarianism is intrinsic in that line of argument whether it panders to Jewish sensibilities or to modern anti-authoritarian sentiments.
But what does the Church herself believe? Most Catholics will be quick to toe the line and recognize that “everyone” is to blame. The Catechism is clear, after all, when it says that:
In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.” Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone…iii
This leads to the third (though not ultimate) option which many have taken as their preferred method of resolving the conflict: that it was not a question of whether it was the Jews or the Romans, but all people universally in their participation in sin. The question of “races” is translated to the question of one “race” only — the human race.
Pope Benedict XVI, furthermore, wrote in Jesus of Nazareth that he interprets the translation of “ochlos” in Matthew’s gospel as “crowd” as opposed to the entirety of the Jewish race. In fact, he goes on to say in the same book (my emphases added):
[W]e must ask: who exactly were Jesus’ accusers? Who insisted that he be condemned to death? We must take note of the different answers that the Gospels give to this question. According to John it was simply “the Jews.” But John’s use of this expression does not in any way indicate — as the modern reader might suppose — the people of Israel in general, even less is it “racist” in character. After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers. The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews … The real group of accusers are the current Temple authorities, joined in the context of the Passover amnesty by the “crowd” of Barabbas’ supporters.
Benedict’s words are quite interesting. There were two points in particular that I found fruitful: one is that it is the failing of modernity to conceptualize such spiritual events in spiritual terms. Rather, it necessarily reduces such an event to whatever modern ideology or category (e.g. racism) that it finds appropriate for the particular passage. The focus on racism for most moderns is especially indicative of the obsession modernity has with materialism in general. Since no universal, spiritual, metaphysical, or objective reality outside of scientism is permitted in a truly modern or post-modern concept, then “blame” and “race” is taken only in the modern understanding: of biological ethnicity.
Furthermore, he notes how it was the excitement of the “crowd” by the temple authorities that led to Jesus’ accusation. This connection between demagoguery and excitement of the lower strata should not be overlooked as part of the condemnation of Christ. Indeed, there is something to be said about the dangers of pandering to the masses that should be taken as a lesson against the modern, democratic mentality but would be too lengthy to discuss here.
These are the three major viewpoints that individuals I have met seem to take vis-à-vis the question of deicide: that the Jews are to blame, that the Romans are to blame, and that all are to blame. Certainly the last one seems to have the most sensible and spiritual elements as the first two specifically pander to utilitarian and modern obsessions with materialism and biology. Indeed, the first two seem to make the same mistake which, according to Benedict, accused Christ in the first place: by attempting to push a political agenda by pandering to the masses for excitement. It is the great irony that modern “anti-semitism”iv takes on the same demagogic form as the quintessential crucifixion of a Jew.
However, I’d like to propose a fourth option and one which does not simply “negate” the racial element as if it was a spectre to be avoided as too dangerous for modern audiences or unimportant at all. I believe that a deeper meditation can be acquired on the nature of race and deicide in this case. My answer, therefore, to the question of which race killed Christ is that no race did. In fact, I contend that the high priest and Pontius Pilate were acting with such deracinated attitudes that not only can we find Jews and Romans not guilty of the crime, but highlight the golden virtue of both in the infernal example of the false accusation.
The easier of the two to deal with is Pontius Pilate: prefect of the province of Judea and judge over Jesus’ trial. It is easy enough to sum up his various crimes in how he dealt with Christ. Perhaps the most egregious was his indifference towards the truth especially as Truth was staring him in the face. This episode was immortalised when Jesus says to Pilate, “every one that is of the truth heareth my voice,” and Pilate responds with, “Quid est veritas?”v implying a kind of jovial joke. The fact that he not only took the matter lightly but had no interest in judging properly is why he may be the one who is present in the vestibule of hell in Dante‘s Divine Comedy as “the coward who made the great refusal.”vi Dante refuses to acknowledge him by name — a poetic choice as it was Pilate who refused to acknowledge the name of Jesus (“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”vii).
This refusal to acknowledge Truth; the cowardice in refusing to seek it out; and the abdication from the right of judgment and from administering justice is exactly what makes Pilate a traitor to the Roman gens. The Roman spirit is that of virtue and Imperium; the two being tied closely together. The manly art of virtue (even the name itself is derived from vir meaning “man”) is so profoundly documented as a necessity to the Roman individual of high (and especially political) standing that it is not necessary to include examples at the present time. Any individual can find a multitude of sources on the subject to their satisfaction. It is clear that Pilate’s refusals to administer justice is inherently un-Roman. This is especially true as Pilate is a representative of the Emperor who so often was associated with virtus.viii Indeed, Pilate traded in his Roman virtues for political expedience. He exchanged his delegated fasces of justice for material gain. No Roman gave justice that day — only a political machine shrugged its cold indifference.
While the merits of Roman virtue are clear especially as they are — at least in theory — perpetuated by young men of today who consider themselves loyal to the Church, what is less clear are the merits of “Jewishness.” Either individuals find “Jewishness” to be an interior archetype towards materialism and other serpentine vices, or, like many Catholics, they have a quaint yet detached association with it. However, the Jewish spirit should be respected.ix Indeed, a wise man once said:
The spiritual tradition of Israel being of universal significance, every particular spiritual tradition falls under the law of its origin, life and work. In other words, no spiritual tradition can live or accomplish its mission in the world without conforming to the essential conditions of the origin, life and mission of the tradition of Israel. In other words again, there are no true traditions other than those modelled on the tradition of Israel. For it is the tradition par excellence — the model, the prototype and the law of all visible spiritual traditions which have missions to accomplish.x
However, was this spiritual tradition in the mind of the High Priest and the other men of the Temple when they were condemning Jesus? Was this the Jewish tradition that they employed to condemn the Messiah? What were the motivations for their judgment? “It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish,” (John 11:50) was the stated reasoning. In other words, the High Priest chose a quantitative motivation. Not only that, but he expressed little trust in the administration of God’s justice. Thus, he traded Logos for Logic — a betrayal of the mystical and qualitative tradition of Israel for the quantitative calculus of the world. No Jew gave judgment that day.
Indeed, both men acted not as their race had been called to act — Romans to rule the world with Justicexi and Jews to bring the Messiah — but as cowards. They abdicated not only their race but their virility. They became nobodies. Thus, it was neither race that condemned Christ. It was, in fact, the rather unique attribute to the human race: our ability to negate our own race-identity. It was our choice to deracinate and degenerate ourselves from the gloria of our ancestors that caused the Jew to act un-Jewish and the Roman to act un-Roman. It is our betrayal of our lineage that causes every act of us, who are made in the image and likeness of God, acting un-Godly to continually condemn Jesus to the cross.