The Apostle who betrayed his Divine Master. The name Judas (Ioudas) is the Greekform of Judah (Hebrew “praised”), a proper name frequently found bothin the Old and the New Testament.
Even among the Twelve there were two that borethe name, and for this reason it is usually associated with the surname Iscariot. There can be no doubt that this is the right interpretation ofthe name, though the true origin is obscured in the Greek spelling, and, asmight be expected, other derivations have been suggested (e. g.Order now
from Issachar). Very little is told us in the Sacred Text concerning the history of JudasIscariot beyond the bare facts of his call to the Apostolate, his treachery, andhis death. His birthplace, as we have seen, is indicated in his name Iscariot,and it may be remarked that his origin separates him from the other Apostles,who were all Galileans. For Kerioth is a city of Judah.
It has been suggestedthat this fact may have had some influence on his career by causing want ofsympathy with his brethren in the Apostolate. We are told nothing concerning thecircumstances of his call or his share in the ministry and miracles of theApostles. And it is significant that he is never mentioned without somereference to his great betrayal. Thus, in the list of the Apostles given in theSynoptic Gospels, we read: “and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayedhim”. (Matthew 10:4.
Cf. Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16). So again in St. John’sGospel the name first occurs in connection with the foretelling of the betrayal:”Jesus answered them: Have not I chosen you twelve; and one of you is adevil? Now he meant Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for this same was about tobetray him whereas he was one of the twelve” (John 6:71-2).
In this passageSt. John adds a further particular in mentioning the name of the traitorApostle’s father, which is not recorded by the other Evangelists. And it is heagain who tells us that Judas carried the purse. For, after describing theanointing of Christ’s feet by Mary at the feast in Bethania, the Evangelistcontinues: Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about tobetray him, said: ‘Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, andgiven to the poor?’ Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor; butbecause he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were puttherein (John 12:4-6).
This fact that Judas carried the purse is again referredto by the same Evangelist in his account of the Last Supper (13:29), TheSynoptic Gospels do not notice this office of Judas, nor do they say that it washe who protested at the alleged waste of the ointment. But it is significantthat both in Matthew and Mark the account of the anointing is closely followedby the story of the betrayal: “Then went one of the twelve, who was calledJudas Iscariot, to the chief priests, and said to them: What will you give me,and I will deliver him unto you?” (Matt. , xxvi, 14-5); “And JudasIscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests, to betray him to them. Who hearing it were glad; and they promised him they would give him money”(Mark, xiv, 10-1). In both these accounts it will be noticed that Judas takesthe initiative: he is not tempted and seduced by the priests, but approachesthem on his own accord. St.
Luke tells the same tale, but adds another touch byascribing the deed to the instigation of Satan: “And Satan entered intoJudas, who was surnamed Iscariot, one of the twelve. And he went, and discoursedwith the chief priests and the magistrates, how he might betray him to them. Andthey were glad, and convenanted to give him money. And he promised. And hesought opportunity to betray him in the absence of the multitude” (Luke,xxii, 3-6).
St. John likewise lays stress on the instigation of the evil spirit:”the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son ofSimon, to betray him” (xiii, 2). The same Evangelist, as we have seen,tells of an earlier intimation of Christ’s foreknowledge of the betrayal (John,vi, 71-2), and in the same chapter says expressly: “For Jesus knew from thebeginning, who they were that did not believe, and who he was, that would betrayhim” (vi, 65). But he agrees with the Synoptics in recording a moreexplicit prediction of the treachery at the Last Supper: “When Jesus hadsaid these things, he was troubled in spirit; and he testified, and said: Amen,amen I say to you, one of you shall betray me” (John, xii, 21). And whenSt. John himself, at Peter’s request, asked who this was, “Jesus answered:He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped.
And when he had dipped the bread,he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the morsel, Satanentered into him. And Jesus said to him: That which thou dost, do quickly. Nowno man at the table knew to what purpose he said this unto him.
For somethought, because Judas had the purse, that Jesus said to him: Buy those thingswhich we have need of for the festival day: or that he should give something tothe poor” (xii, 26-9). These last details about the words of Jesus, and thenatural surmise of the disciples, are given only by St. John. But the predictionand the questioning of the disciples are recorded by all the Synoptics (Matt. ,xxvi; Mark, xiv; Luke, xxii).
St. Matthew adds that Judas himself asked,”Is it I, Rabbi?” and was answered: “Thou hast said it” (xxvi,25). All four Evangelists agree in regard to the main facts of the actualbetrayal which followed so closely on this prediction, and tell how the traitorcame with a multitude or a band of soldiers from the chief priests, and broughtthem to the place where, as he knew, Jesus would be found with His faithfuldisciples (Matt. , xxvi, 47; Mark, xiv, 43; Luke, xxii, 47; John, xviii, 3). Butsome have details not found in the other narratives. That the traitor gave akiss as a sign is mentioned by all the Synoptics, but not by St.
John, who inhis turn is alone in telling us that those who came to take Jesus fell backwardto the ground as He answered “I am he. ” Again, St. Mark tells thatJudas said “Hail, Rabbi” before kissing his Master, but does not giveany reply. St.
Matthew, after recording these words and the traitor’s kiss,adds: “And Jesus said to him: Friend, whereto art thou come:” (xxvi,50). St. Luke (xxii, 48) gives the words: “Judas, dost thou betray the Sonof man with a kiss?” St. Matthew is the only Evangelist to mention the sumpaid by the chief priests as the price of the betrayal, and in accordance withhis custom he notices that an Old Testament prophecy has been fulfilled therein(Matt. , xxvi, 15; xxvii, 5-10).
In this last passage he tells of the repentanceand suicide of the traitor, on which the other Gospels are silent, though wehave another account of these events in the speech of St. Peter: “Men,brethren, the scripture must needs be fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost spokebefore by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was the leader of them thatapprehended Jesus: who was numbered with us, and had obtained part of thisministry. And he indeed hath possessed a field of the reward of iniquity, andbeing hanged, burst asunder in the midst: and all his bowels gushed out. And itbecame known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: so that the same field wascalled in their tongue, Haceldama, that it to say, the field of blood. For it iswritten in the book of Psalms: Let their habitation become desolate, and letthere be none to dwell therein.
And his bishopric let another take” (Acts,I, 16-20). Cf. Ps. , lxviii, 26; cviii, 8).
Some modern critics lay great stresson the apparent discrepancies between this passage in the Acts and the accountgiven by St. Matthew. For St. Peter’s words taken by themselves seem to implythat Judas himself bought the field with the price of his iniquity, and that itwas called “field of blood” because of his death. But St. Matthew, onthe other hand, says: “Then Judas, who betrayed him, seeing that he wascondemned, repenting himself, brought back the thirty pieces of silver to thechief priests and ancients, saying: I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.
But they said: What is that to us? Look thou to it. And casting down the piecesof silver in the temple, he departed: and went and hanged himself with anhalter. ” After this the Evangelist goes on to tell how the priests, whoscrupled to put the money in the corbona because it was the price of blood,spent it in buying the potter’s field for the burial of strangers, which forthis cause was called the field of blood. And in this St.
Matthew sees thefulfillment of the prophecy ascribed to Jeremias (but found in Zach. , xi, 12):”And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that wasprized, whom they prized of the children of Israel. And they gave them unto thepotter’s field, as the Lord appointed to me” (Matt. , xxvii, 9, 10). Butthere does not seem to be any great difficulty in reconciling the two accounts.
For the field, bought with the rejected price of his treachery, might well bedescribed as indirectly bought or possessed by Judas, albeit he did not buy ithimself. And St. Peter’s words about the name Haceldama might be referred to the”reward of iniquity” as well as the violent death of the traitor. Similar difficulties are raised as to the discrepancies in detail discovered inthe various accounts of the betrayal itself. But it will be found that, withoutdoing violence to the text, the narratives of the four Evangelists can bebrought into harmony, though in any case there will remain some obscure ordoubtful points. It is disputed, for instance, whether Judas was present at theinstitution of the Holy Eucharist and communicated with the other Apostles.
Butthe balance of authority is in favour of the affirmative. There has also beensome difference of opinion as to the time of the treachery. Some consider thatit was suddenly determined on by Judas after the anointing at Bethania, whileothers suppose a longer negotiation with the chief priests. But these textualdifficulties and questions of detail fade into insignificance beside the greatmoral problem presented by the fall and treachery of Judas.
In a very truesense, all sin is a mystery. And the difficulty is greater with the greatness ofthe guilt, with the smallness of the motive for doing wrong, and with themeasure of the knowledge and graces vouchsafed to the offender. In every way thetreachery of Judas would seem to be the most mysterious and unintelligible ofsins. For how could one chosen as a disciple, and enjoying the grace of theApostolate and the privilege of intimate friendship with the Divine Master, betempted to such gross ingratitude for such a paltry price? And the difficulty isgreater when it is remembered that the Master thus basely betrayed was not hardand stern, but a Lord of loving kindness and compassion. Looked at in any lightthe crime is so incredible, both in itself and in all its circumstances, that itis no wonder that many attempts have been made to give some more intelligibleexplanation of its origin and motives, and, from the wild dreams of ancientheretics to the bold speculations of modern critics, the problem presented byJudas and his treachery has been the subject of strange and startling theories.
As a traitor naturally excites a peculiarly violent hatred, especially amongthose devoted to the cause or person betrayed, it was only natural thatChristians should regard Judas with loathing, and, if it were possible, painthim blacker than he was by allowing him no good qualities at all. This would bean extreme view which, in some respects, lessens the difficulty. For if it besupposed that he never really believed, if he was a false disciple from thefirst, or, as the Apocryphal Arabic Gospel of the Infancy has it, was possessedby Satan even in his childhood, he would not have felt the holy influence ofChrist or enjoyed the light and spiritual gifts of the Apostolate. At theopposite extreme is the strange view held by the early Gnostic sect known as theCainites described by St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer.
, I, c. ult. ), and more fully byTertullian (Praesc. Haeretic. , xlvii), and St.
Epiphanius (Haeres. , xxxviii). Certain of these heretics, whose opinion has been revived by some modern writersin a more plausible form, maintained that Judas was really enlightened, andacted as he did in order that mankind might be redeemed by the death of Christ. For this reason they regarded him as worthy of gratitude and veneration. In themodern version of this theory it is suggested that Judas, who in common with theother disciples looked for a temporal kingdom of the Messias, did not anticipatethe death of Christ, but wished to precipitate a crisis and hasten the hour oftriumph, thinking that the arrest would provoke a rising of the people who wouldset Him free and place Him on the throne. In support of this they point to thefact that, when he found that Christ was condemned and given up to the Romans,he immediately repented of what he had done.
But, as Strauss remarks, thisrepentance does not prove that the result had not been foreseen. For murderers,who have killed their victims with deliberate design, are often moved to remorsewhen the deed is actually done. A Catholic, in any case, cannot view thesetheories with favour since they are plainly repugnant to the text of Scriptureand the interpretation of tradition. However difficult it may be to understand,we cannot question the guilt of Judas. On the other hand we cannot take theopposite view of those who would deny that he was once a real disciple. For, inthe first place, this view seems hard to reconcile with the fact that he waschosen by Christ to be one of the Twelve.
This choice, it may be safely said,implies some good qualities and the gift of no mean graces. But, apart from thisconsideration, it may be urged that in exaggerating the original malice ofJudas, or denying that there was even any good in him, we minimize or miss thelesson of this fall. The examples of the saints are lost on us if we think ofthem as being of another order without our human weaknesses. And in the same wayit is a grave mistake to think of Judas as a demon without any elements ofgoodness and grace.
In his fall is left a warning that even the great grace ofthe Apostolate and the familiar friendship of Jesus may be of no avail to onewho is unfaithful. And, though nothing should be allowed to palliate the guiltof the great betrayal, it may become more intelligible if we think of it as theoutcome of gradual failing in lesser things. So again the repentance may betaken to imply that the traitor deceived himself by a false hope that after allChrist might pass through the midst of His enemies as He had done before at thebrow of the mountain. And though the circumstances of the death of the traitorgive too much reason to fear the worst, the Sacred Text does not distinctlyreject the possibility of real repentance. And Origen strangely supposed thatJudas hanged himself in order to seek Christ in the other world and ask Hispardon (In Matt. , tract.