St. Jude, Judas Thaddaeus: Patron Saint of Desperate Cases

Farragutful's photo: St. Jude the Apostle Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Florida. (July 26, 2017)
(From Farragutful, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(Interior of St. Jude the Apostle Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Florida.)

One thing’s certain. Well, actually, quite a few things are certain.

Something that’s certain about Saint Jude the Apostle is that he’s not Judas Iscariot.

Which may take some explaining. Then again, maybe not. In any case, “Jude” and “Judas” look like two different names in English translations of the Bible.

But they’re two ways of transliterating the same name, יְהוּדָה, Y’hudah, into my language’s version of the Latin alphabet.

Seems that Y’hudah was a fairly common name when our Lord was living in Roman Judea and Galilee. Sorting out which Y’hudah is which isn’t always easy.

As an illustration, let’s take a hypothetical case involving 41st century scholars. If you’ve been reading my stuff, you’ve learned that I like hypothetical cases.

Anyway, some academic debates over ‘who’s this Jude and/or Judas’ started me thinking about a hypothetical 41st century scholarly squabble.

The imaginary task at hand was determining whether Jim, James, Jim Johnson, James Johnson and J. Johnson — all living in northern Minnesota around the year 2000 A.D. — were one person or several different individuals.

Adding to the fun — we’re back to the non-hypothetical world now — folks in the Judea-Galilee area two millennia back started using Greek names after Alexander the Great conquered the region.

By the first century, Judea was a Roman province: so having a Latin name, or at least a Latin nickname, helped make life easier.

I gather that transliterating יְהוּדָה as “Judas” in one case and “Jude” in another is generally done in English and French New Testament translations, but not in other languages.1

In any case, I’ll be talking mostly about St. Jude the Apostle. And the Letter of Jude, plus whatever else comes to mind.

A Digression: Elizabethan Playwrights and Chorizo

An unknown artist's portrait which may be of Christopher Marlowe. (1585), left; John Taylor's (?) Shakespeare (1610), right.

But first, a disclaimer of sorts. I’m neither a professor of Bible studies nor a PhD in pedagogic obfuscation.

So I haven’t claimed that Bacon wrote Shakespeare; or that Homer wasn’t really Homer, or that ancient Greek poets invented Homer.

On the other hand, I have said that Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare might be the same person: and that they were both really Queen Elizabeth. Who let off steam by writing plays and dressing up like a man. Two men, actually.

But the Marlow-Shakespeare-Elizabeth secret identity was a joke. As I explained back in January of 2021. Just the same, I’ll repeat what I said then:

“…No, I really do not believe that.

“But after reading enough learned ‘what really happened and who was really what’ papers, I feel like letting off steam. Or, in this case, sharing wildly-improbable nonsense….”
(“Rereading Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’,” Marlowe Didn’t Write Shakespeare — Marlowe IS Shakespeare!!! (January 6, 2021)

Happily, academic fashions seem to have changed since my youth.

There’s a consensus of sorts, at any rate, that Judas Iscariot is a real person. Although I gather that we’re still getting imaginative speculations as to what “Iscariot” really means, and why it’s Christianity’s fault.2

I’ll count that as a partial ‘win,’ and move on.

‘Proxima Chorizo:’ It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time?

A 'top scientist's' photo: a slice of chorizo, with a black background, which he described as a James Webb Space Telescope image of Proxima Centauri. (July 31, 2022)Academic speculation and/or goofiness isn’t limited to claims that Bacon, Marlowe, Derby or someone else wrote Shakespeare.

Take, for example, what I called the ‘Proxima Chorizo’ hoax. A “top scientist” posted a photo of a chorizo slice — claiming that it was a James Webb Space Telescope image of Proxima Centauri.

Then his fans found out, and he apologized: explaining that his motives were pure, and anyway he did it during cocktail hour.

As I see it, ‘Proxima Chorizo’ doesn’t prove that science is a hoax — not any more scholarly insistence that almost any Elizabethan playwright other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare besmirches either history or English literature as valid academic disciplines. And I forgot where I was going with this.

Let me think. Jude, Judas, transliteration and names. Bacon, Marlow, Shakespeare and ‘Proxima Chorizo.’ Valid academic disciplines and the occasional screwball notions. Right.

I enjoy alternate histories. When they’re presented as speculative fiction. I enjoy gag photos, some of them at any rate, when they play with our perceptions. And I like Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images.”

But I’m none too pleased when academics and fanboys start acting like conspiracy theory buffs: and are apparently taken seriously.3

Now, finally, an Apostle and The Letter of Jude.

Jude and Judas, Sons and Brothers

Anthony van Dyck's 'The Apostle Judas Thaddeus/Apostel Judas Thaddäus.' (ca. 1620)Backing up a bit, the Apostle I call Jude is “Judas, son of James:” and definitely not Judas Iscariot. (Luke 6:16; John 14:22; Acts 1:13)

That particular James is James, a brother of Jesus the Nazarene, son of Mary; along with Joseph, Simon, and Judas; or maybe it’s Joses and Judas and Simon. (Matthew 13, 55; Mark 6:3)

Then again, maybe not. The Mark 6:3 list of “brothers” may be the “Jude” who wrote The Letter of Jude. I’ll get back to that.

About Jesus having “brothers,” that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it might.

Partly because I’m an only child and I have “brothers:” men who are also in the Knights of Columbus. And, getting further out in metaphorical waters, “brothers in Christ;” or should that be farther out? Never mind.

Besides, the Apostles aren’t Americans. They’re not even post-Renaissance Europeans. I think a great deal of sound and fury could be avoided if folks would remember this.

The “brothers” of Jesus could have been step-brothers, cousins, or more distant kinfolk.4 Assuming that they were blood relatives, not the metaphorical “brethren” even my poetically-challenged culture occasionally recognizes.

Simon and Jude: Saints

Ricardo André Frantz's photo of Bernini's baldacchino, inside Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. (2005)Jude the Apostle was with Simon the Zealot when authorities in Roman Syria ordered their execution.

Simon the Zealot, by the way, isn’t the Apostle we call Simon Peter or St. Peter.

All three are Saints, and were executed for insisting that Jesus didn’t stay dead.

Simon the Zealot and Jude’s execution happened in 65 A.D. or thereabouts. They were probably an evangelizing team, working from Egypt to Armenia. Our day for remembering them is October 28.

Another version of St. Simon the Zealot’s life has him dying peacefully in Edessa.

St. Jude’s and St. Simon the Zealot’s bodies were eventually interred in St. Peter’s, in Rome. Or somewhere else. Fact is, we don’t know much about either.5

A Letter From “Jude, … Brother of James”

Anonymous photographer's image: Papyrus 78, a fragment containing the verses 4, 5, 7 and 8 of the Epistle of Jude; currently at Sackler Library, in Oxford. (ca. 3rd or 4th century)
(From Farragutful, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(A fragment from a copy of The Letter of Jude. (ca. 3rd or 4th century))

The Letter of Jude starts conventionally enough, identifying the writer:

“Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ:”
(Jude 1:1)

But, as I said before, “Jude” is what Y’hudah — a common name back in the day — looks like when it’s transliterated into my language. Except when it’s rendered as Judas.

This particular Jude may be Jude, brother (cousin or some other relative) of Jesus. And that Jude probably isn’t Jude the Apostle, who’s “Judas the son of James” in The Gospel According to Luke.

“Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?”
(Matthew 13:55)

“When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles:
“Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew,
“Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot,
and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. “
(Luke 6:1316) [emphasis mine]

On the other hand, maybe Jude the Apostle had good reason to remind the letter’s recipients that he was “…and brother of James,” rather than flashing his Apostle credentials.

Small wonder we’ve got ongoing discussions over who wrote The Letter of Jude.

I could let that — and the very minimal information we have about St. Jude the Apostle, St. Peter the Zealot, along with exactly when The Letter of Jude was written — bother me.

But I won’t.

I’ll grant that it’d be interesting, maybe useful, to know whether St. Jude the Apostle wrote The Letter of Jude, or whether the Jude who wrote the letter was so obscure that he identified himself by reference to his more famous relative.

It’d also be interesting, maybe useful, to know exactly when The Letter of Jude was written.

I gather that many academics say it must have been written later than either Jude/Judas the Apostle or Jude the brother of James. Mainly, I gather, because the letter refers to stuff that was happening during and after the late 1st century.

Specifically, problems with what St. Irenaeus called “he legomene gnostike haeresis:” “the heresy called Learned (Gnostic),” or “the sect called Learned,” or something like that.6

Beliefs, Assumptions and Jude’s Letter

Eric Gaba's photo: Imperial Roman bust of Aristotle (ca. 1st or 2nd century A.D.); copied from a lost bronze sculpture made by Lysippos.Maybe so, but The Letter of Jude doesn’t mention Gnosticism specifically. If it did, that’d be evidence that it had been written during or after the 17th century.

That’s when Henry More, a Cambridge Platonist, took an ancient Greek word and plopped it into English.

I’ve seen Gnosticism labeled as a Christian and Jewish idea and/or heresy.

There’s something to that, since self-identified Christians have acted as if they thought God made a horrible mistake by creating a physical reality as well as the ‘nice’ spiritual stuff.

I don’t see it that way; but then, I haven’t seen a reason for arguing with God:

“God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.”
(Genesis 1:31))

Gnosticism is a catch-all category for the idea that folks with spiritual knowledge are special and the material world is icky. Or unimportant, at any rate. It got traction in the late first century and took off in the second.

If that sort of religious fastidiousness and/or license popped up out of nowhere, The Letter of Jude must have been written after the late first century.

But I suspect that current flavors of Gnosticism are rebrandings of Platonism, with roots going back to at least the Axial Age. And that’s another topic.7

In any case, the letter is none too clear about exactly what the folks who “revile what they do not understand” called themselves. (Jude 1:10)

Saints, Emperors, and Our Heritage of Faith

Hubert Rober's 'The Fire of Rome/Incendie à Rome.' (1785)
(From Hubert Rober, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(“The Fire of Rome,” July 64 A.D., by Hubert Rober. (1785))

So, how come we know so little about St. Jude the Apostle, AKA Jude Thaddeus? And why isn’t the authorship and provenance of The Letter of Jude well-documented?

My guess is that if Judas, son of James, and all the rest had known how important those details would be to English-speaking scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries, then they might have kept scrupulous records. And their successors would have preserved those records.

Or maybe they wouldn’t have. The point is, they didn’t.

But the Apostles and their successors have been passing along what is important.

“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
“He was in the beginning with God.
“All things came to be through him,
“and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be
“through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
“the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(John 1:15)

Passing Along What We Received

 Gian Lorenzo Bernini's 'Dove of the Holy Spirit,' stained glass over the Throne of St. Peter, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican. (ca. 1660)What’s important — is Jesus.

The Bible, the Magisterium and Tradition? Those matter, too. That’s Tradition, with a capital “T,” which isn’t trying to live as if it’s 1947, 1066 or whatever.

Our capital “T” tradition is the Apostolic Tradition. It’s a “living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit,” passed along from the Apostles. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 75-79)

Our heritage of faith also includes the Bible and the Magisterium. All of which interact. (Catechism, 74-95)

The Magisterium is the Church’s teaching authority, which came from Jesus; and is maintained through the Holy Spirit. (Catechism, 85-87)

Reading, studying and understanding the Bible is literally Catholicism 101. (Catechism, 101-133)

But it’s not just ‘the Bible and me’ — and I’ve talked about that before.8

Roman Law, Dead Emperors and Beliefs

Godot13's photo of Masada, in the Judaean Desert, with the Dead Sea in the distance. (March 28, 2013)Again, the Apostles could have kept detailed accounts of who did what and where.

They could have saved those records, too. If they’d been living in an ideal world. But they didn’t and they weren’t.

Their homeland was occupied territory, held by the Roman Empire.

That wasn’t, as I see it, entirely bad news.

Like the Republic before it, the Roman Empire was run by very religious and very tolerant folks. By standards of the day.

Roman emperors had no problem with imperial subjects worshiping however and whatever they liked.

As long as they obeyed Roman law, paid their taxes and followed whatever beliefs their ancestors had.

Roman emperors did, however, have a problem with Christians. And Jews.

Pretty much everyone else was willing, sometimes grudgingly, to add dead emperors to their roster of deities.

The Roman imperial cult wasn’t exactly like its analogs in, say, Egypt. But a blending of religious and secular authority was a familiar part of the ancient political landscape.

Jews and Christians were — unaccountably, from a Roman viewpoint — unwilling to acknowledge the deity of deceased emperors.

What impresses me isn’t that eradicating Christians happened sporadically, until Constantine decriminalized our faith.

It’s that Roman officials weren’t consistently trying to stamp out what must have seemed like a subversive anti-Roman movement.

Speaking of Constantine and Christianity, I think his decision made sense; and that Emperor Theodosius I did us no favors by making Christianity a state religion.

I see how it looked like a good idea at the time. But legitimate ideas about authority and law morphed into notions like the divine right of kings.

That, decisions by folks like England’s Henry VIII and Louis XIV of France, plus centuries of religion-themed propaganda, made a mess we’ll be cleaning up for centuries. And that’s yet another topic.9

“A Class Hated for Their Abominations”

Henryk Siemiradzki's 'Nero's Torches.' (1876)
(From Henryk Siemiradzki, via The National Museum in Kraków Digital Collection and Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(“Nero’s Torches,” by Henryk Siemiradzki. (1876))

The year before Saints Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot were executed, fire broke out in a retail district near Rome’s Circus Maximus.

Some Romans evacuated the area. Others tried putting the quickly-spreading blaze out, while still others looted abandoned structures and occasionally lit new fires.

Six days later, the fire was out. Temporarily. Then, three days after the fire’s second burn started, Romans began clearing rubble, rebuilding, and finding someone to blame.

Roman politics was more volatile than contemporary America’s. We have learned a bit over the last couple millennia, and I’ve said that before. Often.

According to records we have of the fire and its aftermath, opinion was divided.

Some folks said Nero hired arsonists, then sang while playing a lyre as he watched the fire from his Palatine Hill palace. Or from the Tower of Maecenas on the Esquiline Hill, or that he was singing on a private stage somewhere.

That’s a nifty story, but others acknowledged that Nero was out of town, in Antium, when the fire started. And that the fire was an accident.

But blaming Nero was popular, at least in some circles. Which may be why Nero said Christians started the blaze, since ‘everybody knows’ what they’re like.

“…ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit, quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Chrestianos appellabat. … igitur primum correpti qui fatebantur, deinde indicio eorum multitudo ingens haud proinde in crimine incendii quam odio humani generis convicti sunt.”

“…Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. … Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”
(“Annals,” 15.44, Tacitus (14-68 A.D.) translation by A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb (1876) via Wikipedia)

I get the idea that Tacitus wasn’t a fan of either Nero or those Christians. I also think that post-Enlightenment academic efforts to sort out what actually happened — have been influenced by fallout from events like the Thirty Year’s War and Beeldenstorm.10

Patron Saints

Saint Edmund Arrowsmith; from The Arrowsmith House, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission. (1628)Thanks in part to the policies of folks like Nero, we’ve got Christians who became Saints because they wouldn’t play ball with some secular leader.

But a messy death isn’t what makes them Saints, it’s that they showed “heroic virtue,” and “lived in fidelity to God’s grace….” (Catechism, 828)

Some Saints, like St. Francis of Assisi, are so high-profile that many non-Catholics know about them. Some, like St. Edmund Arrowsmith, aren’t.

St. Jude, AKA St. Jude Thaddeus, the Saint I had in mind when I started writing this, is arguably toward the high-profile end of the ‘awareness’ spectrum.

I’ll admit to a bias. I know about St. Jude in part because he’s the patron Saint of, among other things including Armenia and St. Petersburg, Florida — I’ll start that again.

St. Jude is the patron Saint of desperate situations. And hospitals.

A patron Saint is someone who has shown heroic virtue by living as if Jesus matters, and who has died. That, and canonization, makes the person a recognized Saint.

The “patron” part of the “patron Saint” designation is that they’ve got a reputation for being an advocate for some place or occupation.

I started a “novena to St. Jude” earlier this month, praying on behalf of someone else.

And that brings me to one of the few things I don’t like about my native language.


Sauk Centre Adoration chapel: 'Quiet please, prayer in progress.'I’ve been “praying to” St. Jude.

That most emphatically does not mean that I’ve been treating the Apostle as if he’s God.

In my dialect of English, at any rate, “praying to” a Saint means that I’m asking the Saint to pray for me, on my behalf: just as I’ve been praying for someone else.

Asking Saints to pray for us is a good idea. “…We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.” (Catechism, 2683)

And my getting around to mentioning St. Jude the Apostle is long overdue. I asked him to put in a word for me and my family, decades back, when we were in — maybe not a desperate situation, but one in which I felt very close to being “helpless and alone.”

We got out of that situation, moved here to Sauk Centre, Minnesota; and I’m finally getting around to “gratefully encouraging devotion” to St. Jude.11

Procrastination can be a very real problem and that’s — yep, that’s yet again another topic.

In case you haven’t had enough of what I write, here’s more:

1 Names and a little history:

2 More names, questions and a definition:

3 Art and a slice of sausage:

4 Names and terms in context:

5 Saints, readings and a place:

6 A durable idea and a Saint:

7 History with a philosophical slant:

8 Background:

9 Apostles, kings and religion:

10 Remembering Rome flambe:

11 More Saints:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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2 Responses to St. Jude, Judas Thaddaeus: Patron Saint of Desperate Cases

  1. Your description of American culture as poetically challenged got a laugh out of me, particularly since I had this thought recently about the slogans of our highly Westernized (or mostly American) pop culture today, especially in terms of social justice, needing better poetry and less vanity. And I imagine Nero blaming Christians being something most folks today as well would begrudgingly accept, trying to outstyle his hatred of Christians and all, which reminds me about how these fellow fools of ours are as human as us in so many ways.

    Also, martyrdom. Most of us mistake it for self-hatred, and if we were to call it self-love, I imagine that we’d expect it to be a spectacle most of the time, with our dramatic stylings decorating the scene rather than God’s work on and through us being the core of it. Good thing God knows how to humor on top of humble our silly little desires for that thing we call style, then. And if you ask me further, I’m now thinking of these more obscure Saints’ obscurity as a sort of martyrdom as well, with them sacrificing their chances for worldly renown, which is full of vanity, for chances at heavenly renown, which only God can give.

    And praise and thanks be to God for His work on you and your family through St. Jude’s help, Mr. Gill! He seems like he’d be a Saint I’d be devoted to, though that’s something I’d say about a bunch of other Saints, and the truth is that the Saints I’m particularly inclined to are St. John Bosco, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, and St. Pedro Calungsod, and even then, whatever devotion I have for them started during my university years. Still, they all do God’s work as He likes along with the rest of the Communion of Saints, so yeah. 😀

  2. 😀 Glad to hear it, about ‘poetically challenged.’ And good point, about obscurity being a sort of martyrdom.

    And amen! God be praised! – – – also thanks for the heads-up on Sts. Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod. Around here, Saints with name-recognition are generally Irish, Italian or Spanish, with the occasional French Saint. And that’s another topic.

Thanks for taking time to comment!