Feast of Saints Simon and Jude

Today marks the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, both apostles and early missionaries of the Church. Of the two, St. Jude, the patron of lost causes, the namesake of a notable children’s hospital, is the better known of the two. Jude, also known as Judas Thaddaeus was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. He is generally identified with Thaddeus, and is also variously called Jude of James, Jude Thaddaeus, Judas Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus. He is sometimes identified with Jude, the brother of Jesus, but is clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus prior to his crucifixion. Catholic writer Michal Hunt suggests that Judas Thaddaeus became known as Jude after early translators of the New Testament from Greek into English sought to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot and subsequently abbreviated his forename. Most versions of the New Testament in languages other than English and French refer to Judas and Jude by the same name.

Aside from Judas Iscariot, the New Testament mentions Jude or Judas six times, in four different contexts:

  • “Jude of James”, one of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13);
  • “Judas, (not Judas Iscariot)”, apparently an apostle (John 14:22);
  • the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3);
  • the writer of the Epistle of Jude, who identifies himself as “the brother of James” (Jude 1).

Within the Christian world there is disagreement about the meaning of “brother of Jesus.” According to the surviving fragments of the work Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord of the Apostolic Father Papias of Hierapolis, who lived c. 70–163 AD, Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus would be the mother of Judas the brother of Jesus that Papias identifies with Thaddeus: “Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph…” (Fragment X)

In the apostolic lists at Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18, Jude is omitted, but there is a Thaddeus listed in his place. This has led many Christians since early times to harmonize the lists by positing a “Jude Thaddeus”, known by either name. This is made plausible by the fact that “Thaddeus” seems to be a nickname and that many New Testament figures have multiple names (such as Simon Peter and Joseph Barnabas). A further reason is the fact that the name “Judas” was tarnished by Judas Iscariot. It has been argued that for this reason it is unsurprising that Mark and Matthew refer to him by an alternate name.

Tradition holds that Saint Jude preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya. He is also said to have visited Beirut and Edessa, though the emissary of the latter mission is also identified as Thaddeus of Edessa, one of the seventy missionaries that Jesus sent out. The 14th-century writer Nicephorus Callistus makes Jude the bridegroom at the wedding at Cana.

Although Saint Gregory the Illuminator is credited as the “Apostle to the Armenians”, when he baptized King Tiridates III of Armenia in 301, converting the Armenians, the Apostles Jude and Bartholomew are traditionally believed to have been the first to bring Christianity to Armenia, and are therefore venerated as the patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Why is St Jude the patron saint of lost causes? That is not clear. Speculation is that the church understood people were reluctant to pray to St. Jude (Judas) lest they “mistakenly prayed to the Iscariot.” In a way to promote remembrance and honoring the saint and apostles, it was suggested that he receive the prayers for lost causes.

St. Simon, also known as Simon the Zealot (Acts 1:13, Luke 6:15) or Simon the Cananite or Simon the Cananaean (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:18) was one of the most obscure among the apostles of Jesus.

To distinguish him from Simon Peter he is called Kananaios or Kananites, depending on the manuscript (Matthew 10:4 Mark 3:18), and in the list of apostles in Luke 6:15, repeated in Acts 1:13, Zelotes, the “Zealot”. Both titles derive from the Hebrew word קנאי qanai, meaning zealous, although Jerome and others mistook the word to signify the apostle was from the town of Cana, in which case his epithet would have been “Kanaios“, or even from the region of Canaan.

Little is known about Simon from scripture. One later tradition states that he traveled in the Middle East and Africa. Christian Ethiopians claim that he was crucified in Samaria, while Justus Lipsius writes that he was sawn in half at Suanir, Persia. However, Moses of Chorene writes that he was martyred at Weriosphora in Caucasian Iberia. Tradition also claims he died peacefully at Edessa. Another tradition says he visited Britain and during his second mission to Britain he was crucified May 10, 61AD by the Romans in modern-day Lincolnshire, Britain.

In art, Simon has the identifying attribute of a saw because he was traditionally martyred by being sawn in half.

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