pardon

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pardon

pardon, in law, exemption from punishment for a criminal conviction granted by the grace of the executive of a government. A general pardon to a class of persons guilty of the same offense (e.g., insurrection) is an amnesty. A pardon (at least in the United States) absolutely terminates criminal liability, including any restrictions that result from a criminal conviction (though the pardoned person is not exonerated from the civil liability that a crime may have incurred). A pardon is thus to be distinguished from alleviation of punishment (such as commutation of sentence, reprieve, and parole), which does not nullify the conviction and all of its effects. The Constitution of the United States gives the president power to grant reprieves and pardons for all federal crimes, but he may not release a person from the effects of impeachment; pardons issued by the president are unreviewable. In most of the states the governor has nearly the same power in respect to state crimes. Usually, the governor may not pardon those convicted of treason or criminal contempt of court. In canon law the pardon is the absolution granted in penance; in the Middle Ages the word was used commonly to mean an indulgence (hence pardoner, a dispenser of indulgences).
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Pardon

The golden threads of forgiveness, pardon, and release weave in and out of the events commemorated during Holy Week. Pontius Pilate pardons Barabbas. Jesus forgives his tormentors and pardons the Good Thief (Luke 23:32-43). After his death Jesus releases the souls of the departed from captivity in the underworld (see also Descent into Hell). In addition, the early Christians quickly came to see Jesus' death itself as a sacrifice that offered both forgiveness and redemption to the whole human race.

In recognition of the importance of these themes to the spiritual message of the Easter festival, the early Christians pardoned and released criminals during Holy Week. St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) mentioned this practice in his writings, drawing a parallel between these earthly pardons and Jesus' Descent into Hell, an event commemorated on Holy Saturday. St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-c. 394) recorded the fact that some Christians expanded the concept of the Easter pardon by freeing slaves at this time of year.

Centuries later French monarchs still granted an Easter pardon on Good Friday, releasing one prisoner whose crime was otherwise unpardonable. Some called this period of the year the "reign of Christ" in reference to the spirit of forgiveness evidenced in these kinds of actions. In the eleventh century the citizens of Aquitaine, a region of southwestern France, were expected to uphold the "truce of God" from the evening prayer service on Spy Wednesday until the morning of Easter Monday. The local laws imposed strict punishment on any who dared commit an act of violence or revenge during these holy days.

In a few countries Christians still observe the old tradition of granting Easter pardons (see also Forgiveness Sunday). In Colombia this custom is called the "Feast of the Prisoners" and is practiced on Maundy Thursday in the town of Popayán. On this day a small band of politicians, priests, and children, accompanied by the army band, march out to the local jail. There they prepare a banquet for the prisoners from the cartloads of food that they brought with them in the procession. After the feast, officials select one prisoner from among those who have served most of their sentence. For the rest of the day he sits on a street corner, under guard, while passersby offer him gifts of food and money. At evening time the guards set him free (see also Colombia, Easter and Holy Week in).

Further Reading

Griffin, Robert H., and Ann H. Shurgin, eds. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Holidays. Volume 1. Detroit, MI: UXL, 2000. Monti, James. The Week of Salvation. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publications, 1993. Slim, Hugo. A Feast of Festivals. London, England: Marshall Pickering, 1996. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

pardon

1. Law
a. release from punishment for an offence
b. the warrant granting such release
2. a Roman Catholic indulgence
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005