Pilate's Wife

Q. What do we know about Pilate’s wife? The Gospel of Matthew tells us that she warned him not to harm Jesus. Do you think she might have been considering a conversion at that time?

 

A. As you note, the Gospel says: “While he [Pilate] was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him’” (Matthew 27:19).

 

We know nothing else of the governor’s wife from Scripture — not even her name. But ancient traditions and legends sought to fill in some of the details.

 

The second-century theologian Origen, in his Homilies on Matthew (35), suggests that Pilate’s wife became a Christian, or at the very least that God sent her the dream mentioned by Matthew so that she would convert. Several other ancient and medieval writers took the same position, though others insisted that the dream was induced by the Devil in an attempt to prevent Christ’s saving death.

 

The apocryphal fourth-century text Acts of Pilate (also called the Gospel of Nicodemus) also mentions Pilate’s wife, providing an elaborate version of the episode involving the dream. Various versions of the name that is commonly given to her, “Procula” (“Prokla,” “Procle”), derive from this text, as do many of the subsequent legends surrounding both her and her husband. (Some centuries later, the name “Claudia” appears in some references to her as well.)

 

With the name “Claudia Procla,” the governor’s wife appears in several scenes of The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a record of the visions of the German mystic and stigmatist Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774–1824). These visions claim to describe details of Claudia’s dreams and her attempts to persuade her husband not to condemn Jesus.

 

In some of the Eastern churches separated from Rome, Procula is venerated as a saint, whose feast day is October 27. In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, both Procla and Pilate are venerated as saints whose joint feast day is June 25. This veneration would imply, of course, that both were eventually converted.

 

Even so, the ancient Church historian Eusebius reports otherwise. On the authority of earlier writers whom he does not name, he insists that Pilate suffered great misfortunes under the Roman emperor Caligula, and he finally committed suicide (Church History, II.7).     PT

 

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