In his book Triumph: The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church, author H. W. Crocker writes:
The Roman conqueror Pompey, with the blood stench of battle behind him, greeted the Jews as a tribune of the Pax Romana and magnanimously allowed the ruling Hasmonean dynasty to remain. The Hasmoneans returned Pompey’s trust by supporting his rival, Julius Caesar, in the Roman civil war, and the grateful Caesar gave the Jews a protected status within the empire. That status ended, however, in the subsequent reign of Augustus, when Syria’s Roman governor Publius Quintilius Varus invaded Judea, putting down a nationalist uprising against the pro-Roman Jewish ruling class. He laid waste to nationalist strongholds, executed 2,000 reported traitors, sold 30,000 rebellious Jews into slavery and annexed Judea as a province under a Roman governor, or procurator. In the year A.D. 26 – though it was not yet called that – a new procurator was appointed. His name was Pontius Pilate.
My eyes had just started to gloss over before that last sentence startled me back to reality. It was about one in the morning and I had been up long past my bedtime engrossed in Church history. As exhaustion started to creep over me, the names and places and battles of two-thousand years ago started to blend together on the page. It was the name Pontius Pilate that caught my attention – a name I knew well from the gospel accounts.
For hours I had been reading this book, a history book, as though I was doing research for a college class. The names, the dates, the geography all had me in a kind of scholarly mindset, a way of thinking that I haven’t really employed since I was a student. When the name Pontius Pilate appeared, my research mindset was confronted with this other part of my brain that I apparently reserve for reading Scripture. In a moment of mildly disorienting cognitive dissonance, I thought to myself, “Whoa, weird. Pilate appears in the gospels, doesn’t he?”
Maybe it was the sleepiness (or maybe it was the glass of wine), but my metacognitive skills had obviously already gone to bed. I’ve been dwelling on this moment ever since, though. I’ve always understood the gospels to be true. Most respected historians are in agreement that the accounts are, if nothing else, factual records of events that actually happened. It should be no surprise to me then when key figures from the bible show up in world history records. Pontius Pilate is right in there with Pompey and Julius Caesar. History and scripture do not collide – they coincide.
I am a Catholic Christian because Catholic Christianity is true. How amazing to see history so beautifully synchronized with the chronicles of salvation we know from Sacred Scripture and Tradition. May my faith remain as veritable as the God I serve.