Sunday, December 07, 2014

What to do with Judas Iscariot?

A question was posed on the Catholic Converts Facebook group this morning that I help moderate. This is the question:

Where would we be without Judas? Someone had to betray Jesus, and He knew it. Do you think that Judas was motivated by greed, fear, or something, perhaps unknowingly, more divine?
We still use Judas as a metaphor for betrayal, but I wonder, since his treachery was prophesied, and in fact necessary for the fulfilment of prophesy, perhaps he deserves some slack...?And, frankly, it boils down to "only God knows the heart." 

What to make of Judas Iscariot is indeed a question theologians have debated for centuries.

It is always very interesting to see how various Christian groups and the Church interpret Judas at different points in history. There is certainly a large strain one can find in Europe where Judas is depicted as the stereotyped "dirty Jew." Hitler was not above using that image of Judas in anti-Jewish propaganda in his rise to power.

But, there have been other periods of history where Christians think he may have simply been misinformed or just simply "didn't get it." There were even some early Gnostics and St. Iraeneus that Judas may have been enlightened and we owe him a debt of gratitude because he intentionally betrayed Jesus so that Jesus would be forced to redeem us from death, though mostly the Church has rejected that notion.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia has this excellent summation:
"But, apart from this consideration, it may be urged that in exaggerating the original malice of Judas, or denying that there was even any good in him, we minimize or miss the lesson of this fall. The examples of the saints are lost on us if we think of them as being of another order without our human weaknesses. And in the same way it is a grave mistake to think of Judas as a demon without any elements of goodness and grace. In his fall is left a warning that even the great grace of the Apostolate and the familiar friendship of Jesus may be of no avail to one who is unfaithful. And, though nothing should be allowed to palliate the guilt of the great betrayal, it may become more intelligible if we think of it as the outcome of gradual failing in lesser things. So again the repentance may be taken to imply that the traitor deceived himself by a false hope that after all Christ might pass through the midst of His enemies as He had done before at the brow of the mountain. And though the circumstances of the death of the traitor give too much reason to fear the worst, the Sacred Text does not distinctly reject the possibility of real repentance. And Origen strangely supposed that Judas hanged himself in order to seek Christ in the other world and ask His pardon (In Matt., tract. xxxv). "

I heard a homily once during Holy Week, back in my Anglican days, that was a meditation on that latter bit by Origen. It has always stuck with me whenever this idea of what to make of Judas comes up. Basically, it suggests that maybe, if the hope of the Gospel is that all men might be saved, perhaps God's grace found in the events of the Holy Saturday when Christ descended to the dead with the harrowing of hell, that maybe one of the dead that he sought to redeem from death was none other that Judas himself. That Jesus descended to the dead to redeem not just the Old Testament prophets who had died in the faith of the Old Covenant but had not fully accepted the redemption to be found in the Resurrection of the Jesus, as it had not happened yet, that maybe one of the people that Christ searched for among the dead was Judas, to bring to fulfillment the idea that the name Judas (Ioudas) is the Greek form of Judah, which is Hebrew for "praised." Indeed, Jesus would be praised if he could not only forgive but even find a place to redeem even the likes of Judas.

Again, we can't really know, as only God knows the heart, but I think we lose if we think even Judas is somehow beyond any method of redemption.