ARE THERE TROUBLEMAKERS in your parish? In every congregation of Christians we can expect to find a few saints, a few sinners, and a lot of people who are a bit of both. Unfortunately one can often find people who join a church or become active in its organizations for social, financial or political gain. They tend to keep their motivations secret in order to win the approval of other members.
Others are motivated by a desire to dominate or control others. Always ready to make a speech, they push their own agendas to such an extent that they become divisive elements in churches. They may take on the clergy, the members of the church council or other parishioners. Easy targets are the less influential parish groups such as the youth or any other group sharing church facilities.
The Apostle Jude pulled no punches in dealing with such people. He confronted the issue of divisiveness in his General Epistle, one of the last – and shortest – books of the New Testament. He described such people as barren. They are, he said, “…spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 1:12-13).
Jude summons several examples from the Old Testament to show what such people can expect to receive: “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah” (v. 11). Still, Jude notes, some of these people can be corrected gently but others need the fear of God put in them lest they perish: “on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire…” (vv. 22-23). Church leaders need to know when to be strict and when to be lenient in dealing with such people: when to apply the law and when to extend clemency.
The Apostle Jude
The Scripture identifies the author of this epistle as Jude, “the brother of James” (Jude 1:1), but which James is his brother? There are three known in the New Testament; two are described as having a brother named Jude.
One James in the New Testament is “the brother of the Lord,” who is thought to be the son of St. Joseph by his first wife (in the West James is usually described at the Lord’s relative). When the people of Nazareth wondered about what they were hearing about Jesus they said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?” (Matthew 13:54-55) Both “Jude” and “Judas” translate the same Hebrew name, Yahudah; English speakers have always felt squeamish about giving the same name to both the faithful apostle and the traitor.
Another James in the New Testament is found in the Gospel list of the Twelve: “James the son of Alphaeus” (Luke 6:15). Paired with him is “Judas the son of James” (v.16). So our Jude is either the brother of James, the Lord’s brother, who would become the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, or the son of James, the son of Alphaeus, who was one of the Twelve.
In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jude is not mentioned in the list of the Twelve Apostles. Instead a Thaddeus is named in his place. These names have often been harmonized as “Jude Thaddeus.” It was not unusual, especially in a border region such as Galilee, for people to have both a Greek and a Semitic name, but there is no concrete evidence that this was so in the case of St Jude.
The Acts of Simon and Jude
The New Testament makes no further mention of St Jude or other of the apostles. As a result many apocryphal Gospels and Acts were written in the first centuries to detail their later adventures. Simon and Jude are variously described as preaching in North Africa, Gaul, Britain and the East. One such source, The Acts of Simon and Jude, has these two apostles preaching and ultimately martyred in the Persian Empire. It is thought that this text comes from as late as the fourth century ad, but its description of first-century Persia is said to be remarkably accurate.
Material from The Acts of Simon and Jude came to be included in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legends, a thirteenth-century collection of saints’ lives beloved in the Medieval West. It was printed in countless editions and soon translated from Latin into most European languages, accounting for the popularity of this otherwise unknown Apostle in the Middle Ages.
Jude and His “Hopeless Cases”
In the West today St. Jude has become known as the “patron of hopeless cases” or “patron of the impossible.” How did this come about?
This devotion may have been popularized by St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and later by St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373). She reputedly had a vision in which the Lord Himself told her to pray to St. Jude with faith and confidence, because the apostle would “show himself to be the most willing to give you help.” This was one of a host of visions of Christ, the Virgin and other saints who appeared to her and dictated prayers and devotions for her to observe. A collection of these visions, The Prophecies and Revelations of St Bridget, was another popular work in the Medieval West.
Jude and the Apocrypha
One unusual feature of the St. Jude’s Epistle is that it quotes directly from a Jewish work called the Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch, dating from the second century bc. This book is considered part of the Old Testament by the Ethiopian and Eritrean Churches but not in any other Church. It was well-known by first-century Jews, however, who saw it as having great historical and devotional interest.
Jude 1:14-15 quotes the following passage directly from 1 Enoch 1:9: “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
An undisputedly apocryphal book, The Ascension of Moses, is the source of another passage, Jude 1:9: “Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling ‘accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” This first-century ad Jewish work was known to early Christian writers, but was long thought to have been lost, or even never to have existed. Finally, in the nineteenth century, a copy was discovered in Milan’s Ambrosian Library by an Italian scholar.