The Cruelest Death
by Fr. Robert D Smith
In the Year 70 B.C., the Roman orator Cicero initiated a prosecution against
Verres, the Roman governor of Sicily, for cruelty and malfeasance in office. Verres
had sentenced a Roman citizen named Gavius to prison in the stone quarries of
Syracuse. Somehow, Gavius escaped, made his way to the city of Messina, and was
boarding ship to Rome, exclaiming that he was going there to protest about Verres.
Verres' agents heard of these protests and arrested Gavius. Just then, Verres himself
happened to arrive in Messina. He had Gavius stripped naked, scourged, and crucified
then and there. This was done. All the while, Cicero tells us that "no words came from
the lips of Gavius in his agony except, 'I am a Roman citizen.' " (see Against Verres II,
Cicero describes crucifixion as "that most cruel and most disgusting (crudelissimi
taeterrimique) of penalties", and mentions that as Gavius saw the cross being made
ready, "the hapless and broken sufferer...had never seen such an accursed thing until
then." He then adds, "To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination,
(for a magistrate) to slay him is almost an act of murder, to crucify him is....what? There
is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed."
To Cicero, crucifixion is not merely a painful death, a shameful death, but the
"most cruel" death of all, the "most disgusting," the most shameful death of all. In this
category, it is not just one among many. It is the worst of all. It is the "worst extreme of
the tortures inflicted upon slaves."
This is the death that Christ, the Son of God, was to suffer about 100 years
later. He not only suffered it, He suffered it through the will of God the Father. Even when
Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that He might be spared that which He saw
coming, His own prayer for Himself appeared to go unanswered.
All this teaches us about the intrinsic and irrevocable nature of penalties for sin.
Even Christ, who, though innocent, came to redeem man from sin, had to pay them. He
Himself taught that similar hideous and irrevocable penalties, those of consignment
eternally to Hell, await those who die unrepentant in sins against the Commandments.
Great numbers of people today, unrepentant in sin, boasting even of their unrepent-
ance in sin, also boast at the same time of what a great friend they are to Christ, and of
how great a friend Christ is to them. "He will surely take care of me. After all, He, Himself,
is the Judge on Judgment Day. He will take care of everyone. He will save everyone."
They forget that Christ on Judgment Day will act in divinely perfect accord with
the will of the Father, and can do nothing other than that.
It is a great mystery—the greatest. But it is clearly expressed again and again in
the New Testament, for those who have eyes to see. Those who see Judgment coming,
accept it as a future fact, and prepare humbly for it; prepare themselves for God's mercy.
Those who blind themselves to it, allow themselves in their pride to drift unblinking into
that part of God's justice which means irreversible punishment for all eternity.
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'The Other Side of Christ' copyright © Fr. Robert D Smith. All rights reserved.