HERBERT BUTTERFIELD
(1900 – 1979)
(from History and Human Relations, 1951)

One of the most solemn facts in all history – one of the most significant for anybody who cares to ponder over it – is the fact that Jesus Christ was not merely murdered by hooligans in a country road; He was condemned by everything that was most respectable in that day, everything that pretended to be most righteous – the religious leaders of the time, the authority of the Roman government, and even the democracy itself which shouted to save Barabbas rather than Christ…. In a profound sense we may say that the Crucifixion, however else we may interpret it, accuses human nature, accuses all of us in the very things that we think are our righteousness.  If we followed the twentieth-century forms of moralising, which have run so quickly to the national sort, we might imagine that the Jews of the time of Christ were particularly bad sinners, worse than the rest of human nature.  Our attitude to the Crucifixion must be that of self-identification with the rest of human nature – we must say ‘We did it’; and the inability to adopt something of the same attitude in the case of twentieth-century events has caused our phenomenal failure to deal with the problem of evil in our time.  So the Crucifixion challenges the prestige and power of the Pharisaical notion of upright living, challenges the old Roman respectabilities, and supersedes the pre-Christian notion of a righteous man.  In the light of it the claim that ‘our conscience is clear’ is the ugliest pretence of all.  Indeed, if we call to mind that high-and-mighty kind of righteousness which congeals into moral rectitude and seems to close up the windows of the soul and sometimes makes good people so intolerable – in all the world’s literature there is no place where it is attacked more persistently and more profoundly than in the Bible. 

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.