April 2, 1896
RELIGIOUS intolerance is never slow to shield itself behind “the law.” Masked under legal forms, it can do its work with certainty, and with the appearance and air of a conservator of the public welfare. If its work is spoken of as persecution, it can reply that its victims have merely been punished for violating the law of the land.
The papal church claims that she never persecuted, since the millions put to death for conscience’ sake during the ages of her supremacy, suffered at the hands of the civil authority. “Heresy” was contrary to the “law” of the land; hence “heretics” were criminals, and were punished accordingly. The church points to the personality of civil government and exclaims, “I didn’t do it; the [sic.] did it.” And on the same grounds a prominent Hebrew recently addressed Christendom asking them to do justice to the Jews and exonerate them from the guilty of murdering Jesus Christ, since the record shows that he was put to death by the Roman, Pontius Pilate!
The Jews did not propose to put Christ to death because his teaching and example were contrary to their traditions,—not at all; but because he was making himself a king in the place of Cesar! This was the argument which prevailed with Pilate. They would not seize him and hurry him off to crucifixion with their own hands because they hated him; that would have been persecution. “We have a law,” said they, “and by that law he ought to die.” They were simply zealous for “the law”! They could also invoke the Roman law, for which, in this case, they were likewise zealous. So they brought Jesus before the high priest and he was tried “according to law,” and before Pontius Pilate as well, where also he was legally condemned. Surely this ought(?) to exonerate the Jews from the charge of being our Saviour’s persecutors in the events which terminated with his crucifixion.
But Peter, on the day of Pentecost, plainly told the Jews that they were Christ’s betrayers and murderers. The legal forms under which the Saviour was put to death did not in the least change the complexion of the part played in the drama by the Jews. It was persecution, and that alone. And no more did the sanction of the civil authority, given in accordance with the “law of the land,” exculpate the papal persecutors of the Christians in the Dark Ages. “Laws” which sanction injustice and constitute ready weapons for the hands of religious bigots, ought to have no place upon human statute books. God is a God of justice. He “hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all.” Justice is law; and only justice can properly be affirmed by the decisions of courts, or enforced by those invested with civil authority.