My text this Easter morning is a couple of lines from the Paschal Hymn Chorus novae Ierusalem, by S Fulbert of Chartres.
Captivitate libera/ Iesum sequuntur agmina.
In the Name ...
Once upon a time, back in the dark, unreformed days when Roman Pontiffs could both read and write, Prospero Lambertini ... you think of him as Benedict XIV (1740-1758) ... was visiting the papal prisoners in the Sant' Angelo. No; I'm afraid he didn't wash their feet, because most unfortunately none of them was a Moslem or a woman and in any case their feet were quite disgustingly clean. But he did speak to each of them individually in that quiet and pastoral way which comes as naturally to the Successors of S Peter as nuclear buttons do to American Presidents. He asked every one of them in turn how he came to be incarcerated there.
In their understated, frank, and honest Italian way, they told him. And what a sad story it was. All the enormities of the pre-Garibaldian legal system were described to him: corrupt judges; venal juries; mendacious witnesses ... Each convict emphasised his own intensely devout Catholicism and (of course) the depth of his personal piety.
The Holy Father listened quietly and sympathetically. Each prisoner was impressed, and given the hope that his own case might be favourably reviewed on the Pope's instructions.
The final prisoner, however, was different. Trembling with guilt, he did not even venture to look up into the Pope's face. "Holy Father," he mumbled, "I was a professional burglar. I was fairly convicted after a just trial, and given a proper sentence. I deserve to be here".
Pope Benedict's reaction was peremptory, merciless, and rigid. Turning upon the Governor, he angrily ordered "What a dangerous crook this one is, and by his own admission! Release him instantly before he has any chance to corrupt all those other innocent and devout men!"