Claudia Procula is the name commonly given to the wife of Pontius Pilate. One of the characters in the Gospel story of the Passion. Pilate’s wife is celebrated as a saint by some Eastern Christian Churches. The Churches of the Seven Councils celebrate her on October 27. And the Ethiopian Orthodox Church on June 25. According to various traditions, she would have been identified without much plausibility. With a relative of Emperor Tiberius or with the niece of Emperor Augustus.
Imaginative speculations about the origin of this woman who supposedly belonged to this great aristocratic family have made it possible to explain her husband’s social rise. According to some mystical revelations, she separated from Pilate after the Passion of Jesus.
Claudia Procula was the youngest of the daughters of Julia, the daughter of Emperor Octavian Augustus. And, therefore, a granddaughter of the founder of the Empire of Rome. Julia had three husbands, the last of whom was Tiberius. Lucius and Caius were Julia’s sons, boys whom her grandfather Augustus adored and saw as his successors.
But they were the plague of Rome’s youth. One died in the war, the other of disease, not yet 20 years old. Because of her dissolute life, Julia was seen as opposed to her father’s “moralizing” policy and exiled from Rome. But Augustus associated with the throne was Julia’s last husband, precisely Tiberius, who succeeded him in 14 CE. During her exile, Julia gave birth to Claudia Procula, the daughter of a Roman knight whose name we do not know.
Claudia Procula – Governor’s wife
Being the daughter of such a mother was enough for little Claudia Procula to be part of Rome’s most illustrious family, the “gens Julia-Claudia,” the clan of Rome’s first emperors, from Octavian to Nero. When Claudia Procula was thirteen years old, Julia sent her to Tiberius to provide for her education.
At sixteen, Claudia Procula met Pontius Pilate, a man of humble origins, who asked Tiberius to marry her-a good match indeed, which would serve his military-political career.
Thus, Pilate became related to the emperor’s family. Thanks to Claudia’s good offices and the support of Sejanus, Tiberius’s plenipotentiary. He was appointed governor of Judea in 26 CE. It happens even today to certain men, who, though they are at zero, rise to the top thanks to their distinguished wives. That’s the way the world was. Indeed that’s the way it still is.
Pilate had been in Jerusalem for a few years when he welcomed Claudia Procula, who was looking forward to a new life, far from the world’s capital, among unfamiliar people and yet fascinating for her singular religiosity. Already in Rome, she knew that the Jews worshiped a unique, hidden, mysterious God, creator, and father of all.
In defense of Jesus
No woman was allowed to interfere in the systems of law or even to suggest some advice about legal procedure. But Claudia Procula, knowing herself beloved by Pilate, felt she must do something. To defend the young Rabbis of Nazareth, the noblest One she had seen. The kindest, the most charming.
Claudia’s intervention is all the more remarkable in that she sent her husband, Pontius Pilate, a message at the hour when he was deciding “the most important case” that had ever happened to him in his entire career and that would make him a part of history for centuries to come.
Sending a message to a judge in the performance of his duties was outrage worthy of punishment. Only the atrocity Claudia Procula had seen unfolding around her had prompted her to carry it out. The evangelist St. Matthew recounts, “As he [Pilate] sat in court, his wife sent word to him, ‘Do not meddle with that righteous man; for today I have suffered much in a dream because of him” (Mt. 2:19).
The women of Israel were silent. They were absent. If any were on that square between the Temple and the praetorium, they were shouting, “Crucify him” against Jesus. A pagan woman, a woman of high rank, a granddaughter of Augustus, and a relative of Tiberius. The reigning emperor moves to defend Jesus so that her husband, who has already acknowledged his innocence, will not give in to the “anointed beards” of the synergies and the populace and treat him fairly.
A true Roman Woman
Claudia Procula is the only Roman woman mentioned in the Gospels. And she is a woman of the highest rank. In her is the Roman patriciate, the Italian aristocracy rising in defense of Jesus. She is the woman of still imperfect, barely beginning faith who grows in the protection of the One who will give the most extraordinary dignity to woman, true fulfillment, which no feminist can claim.
What did Claudia Procula dream about? What made her suffer so much? Perhaps she “saw” in a dream; what would happen in a few hours on Calvary with “that Jesus” mangled on the cross, between heaven and earth? The sky darkened with darkness, the earthquake-splitting rocks, and the tomb’s opening?
Indeed, that dream was the epitome of the goals and desires of a pagan world, the illumination of its centuries-old hope in a “Righteous Man,” a Savior. It was a reminder of Sophocles, who had written, “Do not expect this curse (sin, pain, death) to end, until a God comes who takes on, in your stead, the sins you have committed.”
Claudia Procula felt – glimpsed still vaguely, but really – that that “Righteous One,” that “Savior,” that God who takes on the sins of men and atones for them, was there in front of the curule chair of her husband, Pilate, whom she called out not to enter the story of that Jesus of Nazareth. But Pilate was too weak to listen to her.
The politician was wrong; his apolitical woman was already in the truth. She had heard the omens fulfilled in that fateful hour, the most fateful in history.
The most Loyal Woman
She was more loyal and stronger than Pilate. Her faith was imperfect, but it was enough to speak and act in defense of Jesus, “the Righteous One,” the Holy One par excellence. The One who alone in the world and throughout the centuries would give man and woman, history and geography, in every place and time, a chance to redeem themselves and to express themselves. With the divine life, He merited the highest human condition, the redeemed man, the redeemed woman.
Today the world seems to be dominated by men like the Sanhedrists who want to make Jesus disappear. By men like Pilate who wash their hands of Him — today’s secularists say that He has nothing to do with it and that truth being relative, does not exist. By others, wicked or unconscious, who cry out their hatred with “crucify Him”; by still others who pass by indifferently.
Looking only at the surface, it seems Jesus’ true friends have all fled, and not a single one remains. They are there and love Jesus but do not make much noise.