Is There Really Hope for Judas?

My fear is that just as the Devil used Judas to thwart the Savior, Judas is now being similarly used to revise the traditional doctrine of salvation, particularly in its teaching about divine mercy.

These last few Maundy Thursdays, my feed has been populated by various musings presenting Judas as a pitiable figure who may not be in hell after all. I thought it rather diabolical that a day of sympathy for our Lord is now turning into a day of sympathy for His betrayer. But as I considered this transformation or, rather, deformation, I saw that sympathy for Judas is about far more. It is about the redefinition of divine mercy.

This year’s reconsideration of Judas was sparked at least in part by an article at Catholic Answers, this time by apologist Jimmy Akin. Titled “Hope for Judas?” it opens with Akin confessing that he “used to be” among those who thought Judas to be in Hell. Hope for Judas: God&rs... Christoph Wrembek S. J. Best Price: $19.01 Buy New $24.95 (as of 11:14 UTC - Details)

While he admits this was the overwhelming opinion throughout history, he thinks recent remarks by Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI suggest this traditional consensus does not rise to the level of infallible teaching. Of course, this is both because Judas’ fate is not a matter of faith and morals and because the Church refuses to identify the damned.

As Akin’s article made its way around, collecting more commendations than critical commentary, I foolishly abandoned my usual policy of not engaging in social media debates. I remarked that, in my view, the attempt to turn Judas from an example of perdition into an example of the liberality of divine mercy has more to do with the modern preoccupation with deconstruction of tradition through exploitation of extremes and exceptions than a genuine interest in the truth about his fate.

My fear, in other words, is that just as the Devil used Judas to thwart the Savior, Judas is now being similarly used to revise the traditional doctrine of salvation, particularly in its teaching about divine mercy.

Historically, or, as I prefer, traditionally, divine mercy was the reason why humans can face up to their sin and accept full responsibility. Precisely because God is merciful, we can entrust ourselves wholly to Him, faults and all. We can accept whatever discipline He deems just and we can own our mistakes with the hope of redemption.

Today, however, divine mercy seems to be increasingly associated with a different implication. Today,  divine mercy often occasions a kind of quest to discover all the excuses humans have for not living the moral standard and to elaborate human inculpability. Divine mercy now seems to be about how humans can’t be blamed.

The Judas Goat: How to... Stone, Perry Best Price: $1.45 Buy New $9.20 (as of 11:14 UTC - Details) Let’s survey briefly what has been the traditional interpretation of Judas up until the twentieth century. The ancient and medieval Church decidedly did not see Judas as a sympathetic figure, nor did it seize upon his suicide as an opportunity to expose the wideness of divine mercy.

Rather Judas was regularly cast as a negative example of hypocrisy, avarice, and despair. He was above all a pawn of Satan who had, in the words of Pope St. Leo the Great an “evil heart…given up to thievish frauds, and busied with treacherous designs.” Such a heart made him deaf to the teaching of the Lord on divine mercy. Indeed, St. Augustine made it clear that Satan’s possession of Judas upon his reception of the first Eucharist recounted in John 13 was but the culmination of the “enormous wickedness already conceived in his heart.” It was reason to beware of receiving grace with ingratitude and a sinful spirit.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent uses Judas as an example of false penance. Penance, it is taught, is the virtue which moderates sorrow over sin. Judas is an example of one who had false penance, because he despaired over his sin and lost all hope of salvation. True penance returns us to God and trusts in His mercy.

In Book IV of his treatise on Divine Love, St. Francis de Sales treated Judas under the heading of the “decay and ruin of charity.” According to the “Doctor of Love,” the problem with Judas is that he never sought the perfection of love for God and remained in imperfect love. This is why his return of the money and suicide were fatally misguided.

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