I never thought of this

…but the psychology of it seems obvious once Benedict points it out:

“Judas could have left as many disciples did,” the pontiff explained. “Indeed, he should have left had he been honest. Instead, he stayed with Jesus, not out faith, nor out of love, but with the secret desire of taking revenge against the Master. Why? Because Judas felt betrayed by Jesus, and decided in turn to betray him. Judas was a Zealot; he wanted a winning Messiah, one who would lead a revolt against the Romans. However, Jesus did not live up these expectations. The problem is that Judas did not leave, and his fault is that of falsehood, which is the mark of the devil. For this reason, Jesus told the Twelve: “Yet is not one of you a devil?” (John, 6:70).

My picture of Judas has always been unconsciously influence by the portrayal  of him in Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth: a well-meaning mid-20th century English liberal sap with vague ideas of social improvement who got played for a sucker by reptilian bureaucrats.  He is a deeply tragic figure who doesn’t so much sin as commit epic failures of judgment as a bumbling and thoughtful product of 20th century thought who just can’t quite focus.  You feel great pity for his suicide, but you don’t really believe he is the sort of person–Himmler, Hitler or Charles Manson–that one could plausibly say “It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”  You emphatically don’t believe that Jesus would call him a “devil” (and, in fact, Jesus never does, in the film).  You certainly don’t think him a “son of perdition”.  He’s a sap.  A sucker.  A ninny who gets manipulate not because his soul is consumed with black evil, but because he’s just too dim to realize that the real bad guys–ice cold bureaucrats scheming for Jesus’ death–are that bad.  You come away thinking that he will meet Jesus in purgatory in a day or two, tell him how ashamed and stupid he feels, and beg for forgiveness which he will readily receive.

In contrast, the biblical account (and Benedict’s) suggests that Judas is damned because he is damnable: a vindictive, bitter man whose will to stay and punish Jesus for disappointing him is a kind of hellish parody of Peter’s faith.  Do such people exist?  You know they do.  The feminist scholar Mary Daly promoting goddess worship and hatred of the faith at a Catholic college out of pure spite instead of leaving.  John Dominic Crossan using his Catholic credentials to teach that Jesus’ corpse was eaten by wild dogs.  There are people who leave the Church because they hate it.  There are also people who stay in the Church because they hate it more deeply still and wish to do whatever they can, from within, to hurt it in its vital organs.  Judas “looked for an opportunity to hand him over”.  Unlike the movie Judas, that’s not because he was a clueless git who had no idea what would happen to Jesus once his enemies got ahold of him.  It’s because he knew perfectly well.

Of course, as is often the case, the vengeance tasted like ashes in his mouth and he felt remorse about betraying innocent blood.  There is a wisp of a chance that this remorse might have issued in repentance and a desire for mercy.  So we can’t say for certain that he is in hell and there is no doctrine that we much believe he is.  But it doesn’t look good for Judas.  If he just stuck with his pride and spite and directed it away from Jesus and toward himself then he cut himself off from the love of God.  And to do that is to choose Hell.  We may never know how he chose.  But we can make sure we don’t make that choice by asking for the grace to believe in, love, and obey Jesus.

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  • Don’t forget that Judas also loved money. (1 Tim 6:10; St. John 12:6)

    • Blog Goliard

      He did. No doubt about it.

      But I suspect he would have betrayed Jesus for free.

  • SDG

    Mark, if you haven’t seen The Miracle Maker, you really, really should. Excellent depiction of Jesus, very much as Pope Benedict describes him (though no John 6 sequence).

    • SDG

      OOOPS, obviously I meant Judas, NOT Jesus!Through my typo, my typo, my most grievous typo!

      • billtuba

        Im trying to be funny and clever – (showing my geek chops) and failing spectacularly.

      • SDG

        Trying to kill it.

    • SDG

      Not that the portrayal of Jesus isn’t also excellent.

      • Margaret

        The Miracle Maker does the best job I’ve ever seen of portraying a truly lovable, winsome Jesus.

  • The Deuce

    Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way either, but Benedict is right! I think that Judas’ remorse tends to make us overlook the rest of what the Scriptures tell us about his character and motivations.

  • Glenn

    A priest once told me that Judas is a canonized saint in the Eastern Orthodox church. A quick scan of Catholic Answers says otherwise, but does not cite any sources. Anyone know for certain?

    • Dan Berger

      You might be thinking of Pontius Pilate; tradition among the Copts and Abyssinians says that he turned Christian and was martyred.

  • What, exactly, is the Church trying to preserve in her refusal to definitively state the obvious about Judas’s fate? If Christ said it would have been better for Judas had he never been born, then it’s impossible for me to reconcile that with any sort of salvation; judgement has been pronounced.

    • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

      Jesus did NOT say it would have been better for Judas had he never been CONCEIVED. (At any rate let us all remember that our Lord was not entirely averse to using hyperbole on occasion.) Nor can any didactic purpose be assigned to a dogma that would teach that Judas is reprobate. Lucifer and other wicked angels, sí. But Mr. or Ms. N., no. Was Judas damnable? Sí. Was he damned? Quién sabe?

      • Chris

        Not sure about that. Jesus called Judas the “Son of Perdition”. He effectively re-named Judas much as he re-named Simon bar-Jonah “Rock”, or even calling James and John, “Sons of Thunder”. I don’t think Jesus would apply the label of “Hellbound” to anyone in vain, anymore than He called Peter “Rock in vain. He is, after all, the Supreme Judge of the Universe, and His Word is judgment upon us all.

        • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

          If one resorts to our Lord’s epithets, He also called Simon Peter “Satan”. And I admit that Judas was damnable and “hellbound”. But one does not always reach the place to which one is “bound”. (Columbus was India-bound. Did he get there?)

      • I think, in this context, the distinction between “birth” and “conception” is without merit. Further, if you are prepared to dismiss the words of Christ here as mere hyperbole, then it’s hard for me to see why you couldn’t do the same for every threat of Hell, rendering its possibility no more than an idle threat.

        • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

          “I think, in this context, the distinction between “birth” and “conception” is without merit.” Well, as one of Scholasticism’s adages indicates, what is gratuitously asserted may be gratuitously doubted.
          And whereas the statement in question about Judas is about some individual man, warnings about hell are general and concern each of us quite closely. Besides, hell (final non-union with God) as a real possibillity is, as I see it, evident to hunan reason even apart from divine revelation, which merely confirms what just about everyone holds who admits a life after death: it is heaven — the concrete offer of eternal divine life with God — which is the Good News of Christianity.

          • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

            I mean to say that it’s the supra-natural beatitude of heaven — a truth NOT accessible to unaided human reason — which is Christianity’s astonishing Good News.

  • Chris M

    When reading this, I tend to think of the “more Catholic than the Pope” types. The ones who are just frothing to have Benedict bring the Papal Mjolnir down on the dissenters.. then decry him as weak and possibly a heretic himself for not living up to their expectations.

  • Mark R

    I am sure the priest is confused with Pontius Pilate. And I believe he is a canonized saint only in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

  • Observer

    When Christ says, “..better that he had never been born…” (not necessarily referring to Judas), would he -Who is the Son of God – care anything at all for person who is fallen unto certain circumstances pertaining to a particular fate? If He’s God, why would he not lift him out of misery and evil? Why not, as He stood on water to lift Peter up and turned water into Wine to re-enforce God’ love for His Mother’s petition and desire for the wedding guests, Bride, and Bride-Groom, give Judas the fullness of love and mercy overshadowing any doubts leaning towards and on despair? I understand a person’s decision and choice. But, does God only pardon the ignorant and deals a blow to those who, though not ignorant of their sins, would otherwide choose God because what apparently lacks? I mean, think of the circumstances which prevail upon someone (inside and out) to push the person or impresses upon them to forfeit loving God (particularly atheists and agnostics or those who may be anti-theistic)? Doesn’t mercy sincerely, as Christ says to the lady who was running away from those who were going to stone her, mean to assist and be God’s assurance tot he person to “…sin no more…”? My question begs because our world today is prompting and promoting the fall for which particularly impressed upon Judas to turn away from Christ and turn him over. A man was greatly distressed for some reason and turned away from, forfeited at the particular moment, and turned over the Salvation of the world. Sadly, you don’t get an assurance of God’s mercy with Judas as you do with Mary Magdalene, the Canannite Woman, St. Peter’s remorse, and even doubting Thomas. You even see a Leper get cured. What was so hurtful to Judas that God seemed not only far, but as well as incapable to fall into His arms (so-to-speak) and be assured He would safely take him away from any and all dangers?

  • Edward De Vita

    Some people seem to think that our Lord’s words, “…better for that man had he never been born.”, are a clear pronouncement of final judgment on Judas. Case closed. It is more likely, however, that this is a matter of reading into the Scriptures something that is not there. Consider the following text from Ecclesiastes 6:3:
    “Should a man have a hundred children and live many years, no matter to what great age, still if he has not the full benefit of his goods, or if he is deprived of burial, of this man I proclaim that the child born dead is more fortunate than he.”
    I am no Scriptural authority, but my guess is that this is a form of Semitic hyperbole intended to draw attention to the magnitude of the evil that can befall a man in this world. This would mean that our Lord’s words to Judas are not meant to be taken literally, but rather, are a way of saying that what Judas was about to do was a great evil. I agree with Mark that it does not look good for Judas. Nevertheless, we must not forget that our Lord is the Good Shepherd Who leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the lost sheep “until” He finds it. I have no doubt in my mind that He continued to pursue Judas even after the betrayal.


    • Dante Aligheri

      If the Scripture, in fact, is referring to that verse in Ecclesiastes, then Judas’ death is also paralleled here. In fact, Jesus could be making a reference to the type of death he will have – a death without the benefit of burial, i.e., a suicide through hanging which imputes ritual impurity. I am puzzled as to what that verse in Ecclesiastes actually means, however, and how – other than his suicide – this might apply Judas Iscariot.

  • Mark, this fits in to something I’ve been pondering lately. What did Our Lord mean when He said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the one unforgivable sin? You’ve probably written on this somewhere. I just did over the weekend here – http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/08/blasphemy-against-holy-spirit.html .

    The caveat remains that we can not know of anyone who is damned, but we know of many who are damnable; and we all have the ability to persist in our damnability and join them.

    Hell is less a place that God made and more a place that we make.

  • Observer

    A man has free-will no doubt. But, is his will so jeopardized which God’s mercy does not overflow and transcend those dark corners (and breaches) from God’s infinite love in order to make the soul aware he is the one alienating God (not the other way around)? And, does God work in a particular manner which He provides all the accomodations necessary though the fulfillment of grace to return the soul to Him? Literally, there isn’t a sin which God cannot forgive.

    My point is circumstances may press upon a person so much that the darkness of their sins appear to transcend and overflow all their desire to be with God; and, because of which, such darkness impresses the person that God is alienating him from His mercy. Suppose something terrible happens to the sinner which leaves him unrepentant so much he cannot come to God for mercy, since he has fallen so deep and so-unwillfully wanting to be there. But yet, his attempts come to an exhaustion. And, his faith becomes tepid and weak. In the end, he ultimately gives up finding either an untimely delivery from God’s providence nearing or at the end of his life. Or, he , when in the moment of temptation (and those perpetual moments following afterwards along with other circumstances of misfortune or anything else) push him away from God’s love. God’s mercy is so needed as the shepherd who freed the lamb with its’ head caught in a thicket.

  • Meggan

    Something else about Judas… I had never thought of this until I read it in a short story (the name of which I’ve forgotten). Judas was offered the bread and cup just like the rest of the apostles. The gospels don’t say whether he took them or not. But the point is, he was there when Jesus said, “Take this all of you…” Judas made a choice. I presume that he drank from the cup and still went out and betrayed his friend and Master.