The following paragraph is taken from the "Catholic Almanac"
A disciple of Jesus whom the faithful 11 Apostles chose to replace Judas before the Resurrection; uncertain traditions report that he preached the Gospel in Palestine, Cappadocia or Ethiopia; in art is represented with a cross and a halberd, the instruments of his death as a martyr; May 14 (Roman Rite) Aug. 9 (Byzantine Rite).
St Matthias was not one of the original Apostles but was chosen by the other Apostles and Peter when Judas left their rank. According to Act 1:15-26, during the days after the Ascension, Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers (about 120 of Jesus' followers). Now that Judas had betrayed his ministry, it was necessary, Peter said, to fulfill the scriptural recommendation: "May another take his office." "Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to His resurrection" Act 1:21-22.
They nominated two men: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. They prayed and drew lots. The choice fell upon Matthias, who was added to the Eleven.
Matthias is not mentioned by name anywhere else in the New Testament.
The above information is taken form "Saint of the Day" by Fr Foley O.F.M.
The following links provides insight on St Matthias:
The following is taken from Otto Hophan, O.F.M.Cap. "The Apostles". Information on this book can be found in the sources listed in the below link:
In those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethen,... and he said,..."Therefore, of these men who have been in our company all the time that the Lord Jesus moved among us, from John's baptism until the day that he was taken up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of his resurrection."
...And they drew lots between them, and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles (Acts 1:15-26).
The Apostle Matthias represents the brightening of the darkness, the bridging of an abyss, the beginning of a new epoch. He was not one of the original Twelve. After Judas fell from the ranks of the apostles, Matthias was there to take his place. He became the first apostle chosen after the death of the crucified Christ. Often this apostle is compared with Benjamin, the youngest son of the Patriarch Jacob. Benjamin was the last-born son of the aging Jacob, and with him the number of his father's sons was brought to twelve. Matthias is also mentioned in the Canon of the Mass, but last, almost too late. He is not placed, with the other apostles, before the transubstantion of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, but after the Consecration, after the commemoration of the others. For him is reserved a singular apostolic homage and reparation.
The date of the feast day of the apostle Matthias is symbolic in itself. In the Latin Church he is commemorated on May 14, and in Leap Year, on the intercalary, or substitute, day itself, February 25. For Matthias was a substitute and had to fill in a black void.
The apostle Matthias is a source of joy to Christian hearts. It would have been depressing if the noble group of the twelve apostles had ended with the criminal face of Judas. Instead, this gentle and venerable old man closed the ranks of the Twelve. Attention is instinctively turned away from the wretched Judas and directed toward this last, good apostle.
Matthias was mentioned only once in the entire New Testament: the resplendent hour when he was chosen as an apostle. This fleeting hour came out of the darkness, remained for a time in the light, and sank again into obscurity. The usually loquacious apocryphal works remained almost completely silent, knowing and offering little about him.
The compilier, or better, the author of various legends concerning Matthias was a monk who worked during the twelfth century in a monastery in Trier, in the Rhineland of Germany. He must have breathed a sigh of relief after he had applied himself so industriously and painstakingly in seeking out the deed of this apostle. And in his own way, he managed to surmount many encountered difficulties, which will be noted later on. The short passage concerning the selection of Matthias as an apostle, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, is, despite its brevity, full of allusions to the personality and position of this apostle. And from this it is possible to assemble a distinct picture.
Matthias before the Drawing of Lots
The election of Matthias was overshadowed by the distress and indignation occasioned by the vile act of the betrayal by Judas. More than forty days had passed since the unforgetable events of the first Holy Week. The apostles were still dazzled, first from the terrifying horror of their Master's sufferings and death on the cross, and then from the glorious splendor of His Resurrection. There had been Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the death, the burial, the resurrection, their own shame of denial and desertion, and the joy of repentance and forgiveness. And then the apostles had just returned from the scene of the Ascension. Their eyes were still blinded by the magnificent splendor of the open heavens, and they could still hear the last, solemn words of the Lord ringing in their souls:
"you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the very ends of the earth."
Although St. Luke had little to say about most of the apostles in the so-called "Acts of the Apostles," he did mention the names of all chosen apostles of the newly founded Christianity in the beginning of his book. It was like a solemn procession from the Ascension as
they mounted to the upper room where they were staying Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas. Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon the Zealot, and Jude the brother of James.
One apostle had defected. The good Jude, the brother of James, was no help in removing the memory of the betrayer. It was his name that made them recall the other Judas, the accursed apostle from Kerioth. The traitor was no longer there, but the memory of him weighted on the minds and hearts of all. The glory of the Resurrection and the brightness of the Ascension had not been able to remove the stain and blemish from the circle of the Twelve. It was in this very upper room that the Lord had spoken words so unbelievable that they still could not fully comprehend them: "'One of you will betray me.'" They still imagined they could see the betrayer as he sneaked away along the wall and ran into the night.
Those days were filled with silence, the holy silence before the sudden storm of Pentecost. Again and again Judas was mentioned, and the recurring thought of the betrayal troubled and disturbed them. This thorn had to be removed; this scandal had to be wiped away. Their group was branded, and not until public reconciliation for the betrayal had been made would they be deserving of the coming of the Holy Spirit. There should be another to illuminate the darkness caused by Judas. There should be another to fulfill what Judas failed to do. As soon as the Lord had left them, as soon as they had been placed on their own, even before Pentecost, they had to undertake the urgent business of electing a replacement for Judas. How confused and distressed the betrayer had made the college of apostles!
Peter's discourse, delivered before the election of Matthias, adduced much more than a merely psychological reason for this immediate action:
In those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (now the number of persons met together was about a hundred and twenty), and he said, "Brethren, the Scripture must be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit declared before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was the leader of those who arrested Jesus; inasmuch as he had been numbered among us and was alloted his share in this ministry. And he indeed bought a field with the price of his iniquity and, being hanged, burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field came to be called in their language Haceldama, that is, the Field of Blood. For it is written in the book of Psalms, "Let their habitation become desolate and let there be none to dwell in it." And, "His ministry let another take."
The view assumed by Peter in this discourse is quite surprising: the need for selecting another apostle stemmed not so much from the command of the Lord as from a prophecy that had to be fulfilled. Yet Jesus Himself may had applied this passage from the Psalms to Judas during those forty mysterious days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, when "He opened their mind, that they might understand the Scriptures. To the Jewish mind-and the same compelling ground for such as event than the fulfillment of the word of God. The election of another apostle fulfilled what the Holy Spirit Himself and prophesied and what Christ had clearly intended. Twelve, the Lord had chosen as apostles, not thirteen, but twelve. No one belonged to the Chosen People of the Old Testament who had not descended from one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Israel of the New Testament was witnessed, for Christ, in a more spiritual manner by the twelve apostles. "And the wall of the city has twelve foundation stones, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."
St Augustine pointed out the great significance in the fact that there were exactly twelve apostles. He found a profound significance in this number, which was highly esteemed as a holy number at that time: three was the holy number of God; four, of the world, Three plus four and three times four symbolically signified the work of God in the world and with the world. Therefore seven were holy numbers.
The four directions of the world, east and west and north and south were called into the Trinity by baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Peter, however, a simple fisherman, did not propound such lofty and ingenious concepts before the election of Matthias. He only knew of the prophecy in Holy Scripture that, according to the decrees of Providence, a twelfth apostle had to be chosen. The light of Judas had burned out, and it had to be lighted once again. Once again the deserted office of the betrayer should be occupied.
Rubens, a master artist, portrayed Matthias with a meditative and humble demeanor. Many times Matthias may have pondered and reflected on the mystery of his calling to the apostolate. Another apostle had to become an apostate, that he might become an apostle. The dead branch of Judas had to be broken away from the living vine of Christ, that Matthias might be grafted in its place.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he will take away; and every branch that bears fruit he will cleanse, that it may bear more fruit."
But if some of the branches have been broken off, and if thou, being a wild olive, art grafted in their place, and hast become a partaker of the stem and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches.
Matthias shared in the grace of Judas, and the sin of the traitorous apostle became a blessing for him. This "felix culpa" was advantageous, not for Judas, but for Matthias. What Judas squandered was now entrusted to Matthias; what Judas should have accomplished was now to be completed by Matthias. Matthias humbly bowed his head. He prayed with the astonishing words which his great brother, Paul, who was soon to follow him into the apostolate, had used when, struck down on the way to commit a crime and no longer a stranger, but a friend to the mysterious decrees of Divine Providence, he prayed: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God!"
When we are unduly concerned about the mystery of grace, which is taken away from unworthy men, even from an entire nation, and "given to a people yielding its fruits," we can recall St Paul's praise to God, our great and incomprehensible Creator:
How incomprehensible are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For "Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor? Or who has first given to him, that recompense should be made him?" For from him and through him and unto him are all things. To him be the glory forever.
Conditions of the Selection
There is scarely a passage in Sacred Scripture that paraphrases the conditions necessary for the office of an apostle so simply and positively as the discourse of Peter before the selection of the apostle who would replace Judas. He demanded of the candidate for the apostolate three requisites, without which no one could be considered; he must be called; and he must accept his calling; and he must be sent. Furthermore, the new apostle had to have proved himself to be a prominent and distinguished person. It is also noteworthy that the conditions set down by Peter were in full accord, down to the last letter, with the apostolic mission set for in the Gospels.
As St. Mark recorded the choice of the Twelve, he also pointed out the office and mission of an apostle. Christ
called to him men of his own choosing, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them forth to preach.
Being chosen and called by Christ, following Christ, and being sent forth to preach for Christ: these alone could make one an apostle.
For this reason, Peter's remark is an echo of the Gospel:
"Therefore, of these men who have been in our company all the time that the Lord Jesus moved among us, from John's baptism until the day that he was taken up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of his resurrection."...And they prayed and said, "Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all, show which of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away to go to his own place."
With a special emphasis, St. Peter stressed the second quality necessary for every aspiring candidate to the apostolate of Christ: perseverance and sincerity in imitating, from the beginning to the end, the perfect life of Christ. His princely simplicity was a refutation of the suspicious rumors, circulated by heathen infidels, that the apostles were confidently deceitful men, if not downright impostors, who had fallen victims to their own imaginative ideas. Peter demanded from an apostle a thorough and sober knowledge of Jesus, a stable and prosaic recognition of the Messias. He was to be prompted neither by fickle and fleeting fantasy nor cursory and vagabond dreams. A new apostle had to be able to face a world of realities, not stereo types. Neither great erudition nor a fiery ambition was desired of the substitute apostle, but simply objectivity and Christian impartiality, with a mind and heart and soul open to Christ.
It was thirty years later, when Peter, nearing death and writing for the whole of Christianity, repeated and confirmed these thoughts: "For we were not following fictitious tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his grandeur."
This apostolic union with Christ is based on the third fundamental requirement of the apostle, the mission to preach for Christ by preaching Christ Himself. An apostle should be none other than a witness for Christ, and his testimony must come from the bottom of his heart. "'One must become with us of his resurrection.'" Peter declared, because all of Christianity depends on the Resurrection of the Lord. Without a living heart, the body is but loose and lifeless dust. Peter himself spoke of nothing else before Pentecost. This was his Easter sermon. The new apostle, who was to preach Christ with the others from then on, must have experienced the miracle of Easter.
But this was not all. Because an apostle had to preach not only the glory, but also the truth of the risen Savior, the candidate had to be one of them from "'John's baptism until the day that he was taken up,...'" from the beginning of the public life and works of Jesus until His death and resurrection.
The first requirement of the new apostle was demanded of Matthias: God's call. " 'Thou, Lord who knowest the hearts of all, show which of these two thou hast chosen...'" The Eleven did not dare to select the successor of Judas, aided only by their own judgment and responsibility, and their own sympathies, "'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.'" This fundamental principle of the Lord had to remain the standard for the choosing of a substitute apostle. The office in the apostolate was of such great responsibility and dignity that no one except God could, or should, have conferred it. "An apostle, sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead": thus St. Paul justified his own calling to the apostolate.
It is this last requisite that reveals the small difference between Matthias and the other apostles. The Eleven were called directly by Christ during our Lord's public life. Matthias was also chosen by Christ, but not directly as were the others. God inspired the remaining Eleven to elect Matthias, and they cast lot; thereby a too narrow and inflexible concept of an apostle was eliminated. The three conditions necessary for the apostolate, however, undoubtedly remained in a real sense: Jesus' call, the following of Christ, and the mission. That the first conditon, the Lord's call, had to be fulfilled, has a great and far-reaching importance, not only for the calling of the first eleven apostles, but also for the election of Matthias (and later for that of Paul).
This call can also come about through the direct inspiration of Christ, as was demonstrated when Matthias was chosen. This paved the way to the apostolate for Paul. Herein lies perhaps the greatest significance, the most far-reaching result, of that simple selection of Matthias. Yet another conclusion may be drawn from this: the Twelve were once again firmly united. Soon another was to enter their ranks with the full claim and title to be as true an apostle for Jesus Christ as the Twelve, not merely an apostle in the wider and more general sense. The simple Matthias completed the list of the Twelve, and at the same time he prepared the way for the most powerful of all the apostles, Paul.
The picture of this apostle can best be seen against the background of the calling of the first apostles. The words of Peter recorded in the Acts illuminate that apostle who appears in Scripture almost as briefly as Joseph. Matthias, therefore, was one "'of these men who have been in our company all the time that the Lord Jesus moved among us, from John's baptism until the day that he was taken up from us...'" He was capable and qualified to "'become a witness with us of his resurrection.'"
These words, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, enable us to reconstruct to some extent the life of the apostle Matthias. He was near the Messias from the very beginning. Perhaps he, like many of the other apostles, had already belonged to the group around John the Baptist. Certainly he left his home and occupation when Jesus entered into his life, and followed the Lord through the streets. He heard the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, His words spoken from the boat on the sea. He saw the sick being healed by Jesus, and the devil cast out of the possessed. The dead arouse; the lame walked; the crowds were fed through the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes.
Matthias remained faithful to Jesus in that critical hour after the discourse on the Eucharist in the synagogue at Capharnum. Some of "his disciples were murmuring at this...From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him." Matthias, too, heard Jesus say that one of the Twelve would betray the God-Man, but while he persevered and listened and believed, he did not know that he would be the one to replace the traitorous apostle. Even then Christ could see the grace of Judas' vocation being refused by His apostle and being unconsciously accepted by another disciple. As the Lord entered in spirit into the darkness of His sufferings, so Matthias stood by His Master in spirit and followed Him. He was astounded before the empty tomb and marveled at the glory of the risen Redeemer; he was truly a faithful disciple during all the long days filled with fear and anxiety between the Lord's coming and His return to them.
Eusebius, the Church historian, recorded that Matthias was enrolled by the Lord Himself into the group of seventy, or seventy-two disciples. This is quite probable. The apostle and the disciples had the same mission, although their office was not the same. If Christ's words to the apostles, spoken before He sent them on their mission, are compared to His words to the disciples on a similar occeasion-Matthew combined both to form one discourse-it can be recognized without difficulty, that both apostles and disciples were sent forth into the same difficulties and dangers. The words to the disciples were every more serious and urgent than those to the apostles. Luke joined these words directly to Christ's lament over the impenitent towns. "'I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves,'" He said to the disciples.
The disciples, however, did not received so privileged a position as was bestowed upon the apostles. As the Lord called by name the small circle of those to whom He entrusted the apostolate, His voice was noticeably softer, so that all others could not hear, not even Matthias. Matthias did not received the promise of one of the twelve thrones and the office of judging one of the twelve tribes of Israel. He was also not admitted into the quiet hours of trust which the Lord granted only to the Twelve. When He walked with them through the rustling fields, or took them out into the blue sea, or gathered them into the upper room and addressed them as "friends" and "little children," Matthias was not there.
The disciple Matthias was heroically faithful to the Messias when he persevered through the heat and burden of the day "all the time that the Lord Jesus moved among" them. Not working for position and gain, he never grew weary in his patience, but labored tirelessly, remained cheerful, remained a simple disciple of Christ quietly bearing a heavy burden. He neither hoped nor strove to be raised to the apostolate, but it is clear that Matthias must have proved himself among the large group of seventy disciples in striving for Christian perfection. For it is a high tribute that he should have been chosen as a candidate for the apostolate from among so many-"Now the number of persons met together was about a hundred and twenty." The great esteem of all for him is immediately evident.
Certainly many of the disciples would have been only too glad for the chance, had the lot fallen upon them. Perhaps many unconsciously showed their true human natures at that first ecclesiastical election. Yet the serious speech of Peter and the descending light of the Holy Spirit pointed to the most worthy of them: he who labored "'all the time that the Lord Jesus moved among us, from John's baptism until the day that he was taken up from us..."".
Matthias during the Drawing of Lots
And they put forward two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all, show which of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away to go to his own place." And they drew lots between them, and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
This passage in the Acts of the Apostles is immediately interesting and important, because here the inner structure of the Church is clearly seen. It took place before the first Pentecost, before the actual birth of the Church. There are three elements: monarchic, hierarchic, and democratic.
The monarchy of the Church rested in Peter. As soon as Christ had ascended to heaven, this first apostle naturally stood at the helm, controlling the rudder, as he had earlier on the sea of Galilee in the fishing boat. The first pages of the Acts sound like the echo of the last pages of the Gospels:
"Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?... Feed my lambs...Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?... Feed my lambs...Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?... Feed my sheep.
Peter was the initiator, the speaker, and the leader in the election of another apostle. He was the head, the first. He was the Vicar of Christ on earth.
At the same time a symbolic arrangement is to be found in this, that this Peter, the first leader and rock foundation of the Church, in his first official act as head of the church had consideration for the second element of the Church. He thought anxiously of the hierarchy. Not to Peter alone, but to the Twelve was the Church entrusted, to men called and chosen by Christ from the large gathering of His faithful followers. Though many were called, not all, but few, were chosen to bear public witness to the Resurrection. According to a remark of the apostle Paul, the risen Saviour, after appearing to Peter, and then to the Eleven, "was seen by more than five hundred brethren at one time." And yet, it was by the choice of the apostles that Matthias was officially recognized and commissioned to be a witnes of the Resurrection. He alone was delegated and empowered by them to preach Christ as an apostle. For in the very basic organization of the Church there is a holy class-hierarchy literally from the Greek, "keeper of sacred things"-of posts and offices which are held in reserve only for the chosen.
Nevertheless, at this first official function of the Church performed by the pastor and hierarchy, a strong democratic element can easily be noticed. Any capable and worthy man, irrespective of social standing, can be chosen to ascend to occupy a higher, reserved positon in the Church. And there is yet a more solid basis for pointing out the democracy in the Church: the entire community gathered at that time, "about a hundred and twenty," were permitted their say. They selected the two candidates for the apostolate. The Church of Christ was comprised not only of Peter and the Twelve, pontiff and bishops, but also of the community of the faithful. It was Peter, the "monarch," who addressed the first Christians as
a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people, that you may proclaim the perfections of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
It would be proper to digress even somewhat farther from the apostle Matthias here and to examine the limits and functions of the monarchic, hierarchic, and democratic elements in the Church through the centuries. At various times in Church history, one or the other of these elements has come to the fore. Always, however, since the election of Matthias as an apostle, there has been a single supreme authority guilding and commanding and assiting "holy people of God." All, however-Peter, the Twelve, the one hundred and twenty faithful-willingly submitted to the command of the Father, the voice of the Son, the light of the Holy Spirit-the grace of God: "'Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all, show which of these two thou has chosen...'"
In the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi,
Pope Pius XII explained,
Peter was only the Vicar of Christ. Therefore there is only a single head of this body, namely, Christ. He it is, who infuses the light of faith into the faithful. And He it is, Who enriches the pastors and teachers and especially His Vicars on earth with the supernatural gifts of knowledge, judgment, and wisdom.
What is so striking about the selection of Matthias to us today is the manner in which the apostles sought to discover the divine command; they cast lots. The apostles felt they were no different form the believing Jews. The lot as a means of learning the will of God played as big a role with the people of Israel as it did with other races. It was used in the Old Testament: the Promised Land was divided up by lot among the various tribes and families; the choosing of Saul as the king was also determined by lot
The apostles, therefore, were adhering to the practices of the Old Testament when they sought to learn by lot whom the Lord willed to be the apostle to replace Judas. The casting of lots happened in such a way that the names of the two candidates were written on small pieces of tablet and shaken in an urn. He whose name fell out of the urn first was the one chosen.
Of the two candidates between whom the great decison was to be made, Matthias was noticeably placed second. Joseph, called Barsabbas-the son of Sabbas-as unknown to us as Matthias, was placed in the first place with the honorable Roman surname Justus-from the Latin, "the righteous, or upright, one." One might conjecture that there were those present at the election who, had the decision been left up to them, would have chosen Joseph as the apostle. But the will of God was otherwise. There was tension and suspense for a moment when the name first fell out of the urn. It was Matthias'. Why? "'Thou, Lord, who knowest the heart of all...!'"
Humble and kind, the honest Joseph may have extended his hand to Matthias to wish him well. Humble and serious, the pensive Matthias took the place desert by Judas. Now he was one of the Twelve, an apostle, another Christ, chosen by Christ to continue and perpetuate His work on earth until the end of time, for all mankind. He belonged to the Twelve, who were preceded by the twelve tribes of Israel, the foundation stones of Jerusalem. He owed his calling, not to his own worthiness, but to the divine grace of Jesus, to the betrayal of Judas. A sigh of relief went through the young Church. The one who had sold himself to the evil spirit had finally been effaced. The Twelve, who were now prepared for the Holy Spirit, were again twelve.
As soon as Matthias was chosen as an apostle, he fell back into obscurity.
He experienced with the others the fiery and joyful grace of Pentecost. And with the others he suffered arrest and scourging by the Jewish leaders, and rejoiced that he "had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus." He journeyed and preached and healed, but not a single word more was dedicated to him in Holy Scripture. He was simply one of the Twelve. Even the spurious writings of the apostles rarely considered anything about Matthias worth mentioning. There are various Greek, Coptic, and old Latin legends concerning this apostle, but almost always they stem from a confusion of Matthias with Matthew and attribute the words and works of the former tax-collector to the wrong apostle.
How unknown Matthias was even in the Latin Church until the eleventh century is shown by the fact that in ten centuries only two sermons commemorating his feast have been preserved. One was given by an abbot from the monastery of Monte Cassino in the ninth century; the other has been attributed both to St Augustine and to the Venerable Bede. Even the writers of Christian antiquity-such as Paulinus of Nola, Venantius Fortunatus, Victor of Capua-who gathered information concerning the burial places of the apostles, had not a word to record about Matthias. Eusebius spoke of an unreliable "Gospel of Matthias," which may have originated in Gnostic circles during the first half of the second century in Egypt, the esoteric doctrines of which Christ supposedly revealed to Matthias.
Certainly Matthias labored in Judea. Perhaps his labors may not have been widely published, since he was a humble and reserved disciple and wanted to exercise his authority unnoticed and practice his new office quietly under the supreme direction of the older apostles. Lacking more precise and detailed information, legends could only conjecture and suggest that this silence was due to the fact that Matthias died very early. Clement of Alexandria thought that this apostle died a natural death. He also reported that Matthias-others credit Matthew with this-held the opinion that one must severly mortify the body and handle it very roughly.
In view of this almost complete silence about Matthias for a thousand years, it is all the more surprising, when, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there suddenly appeared some very detailed and explicit information about him. His origin, works and martyrdom were fully described, and all the circumstances surrounding the history of his relics were appended. These legends of Matthias originated in Trier. The author, a monk from Trier between the years 1127 and 1148, used as his main source of information an old Hebrew writing concerning the "deeds of St Matthias," which he obtained from a Jew. His "translation" is nevertheless a ponderous-but well-meant falsification, an amateur forgery, contrived and designed purely as an edifying discourse.
These legends concerning Matthias are the most recent of all legends about the apostles. In them is found the information that Helena, born in Trier, the mother of Constantine, should have requested that Agricus, who died in the year 332, be made bishop of Trier. To him she gave the seamless robe of Christ (such a garment is still displayed on occasion in Trier as recently as 1959), a nail from the true cross, and the relics of the apostle Matthias. These relics were then forgotten, and not until the year 1127 were they once again discovered. In the Middle Ages the popularity of a flourishing pilgrimage to this apostle's grave, the only grave of an apostle in Germany, spread over a wide area. Yet, St. Mary Major in Rome also lays claim to the relics of the apostle Matthias.
Following various legends, artists have represented this apostle with an axe-occasionally a hatchet, or lance, or sword-as the instrument with which he was tortured. Matthias can be only too happy with these symbols, for they have made him the patron of butchers and builders.
Leaving these uncertain and unsatisfactory legends on which our faith has no dependence, we return once again to conclude with the brief statements in the Acts of the Apostles. Matthias stands there, as solemn and silent as Holy Saturday. The Good Friday has passed; the sin of Judas has already been atoned for.
Yet Matthias is much more than a Holy Saturday; he was chosen as a witnesss of the Resurrection. He is a witness of the Resurrection, not only like the other apostles, but also in another sense. His mere presence among the other apostles is a living proof that Christ does not die but lives on, even though He was betrayed by one of His own apostles, and was crucified by His own people.
Christ died on the cross of a tree. Judas died on a tree of a cross. The betrayer died and remained dead. The Redemmer died, and rose again, and lived on in Matthias, and lives on in His new apostles, in other Christs.
Judas Iscariot betrayed our Lord and St Matthias replaced him by the company of the Apostles. To complete the list of the original Apostles, in addition to St Paul, the Author, Father Otto Hophan included Judas in his book.
Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve apostles, but today he has no
monument in the Lateran as all the others have. No calendar give a date
for his feast day. No people in the entire world claim him for a patron;
no country boasts of the honor of considering him as its first
After slowly studying the first eleven apostles, one is at first taken
aback when he comes to Judas Isacriot. It is like a sudden eclipse of a
noon sun, a night in the day. One is tempted to cover this name with silence, lest the dark horror of his crime be reflected upon the eleven
good apostles. They also were burdened with human weakness, but they
accepted the grace of God and became princes in the kingdom of
Artists of the early Christian centuries deliberately avoided Judas when
honoring the other eleven apostles. Only the symbol of disgrace, the
purse, which concealed the thirty pieces of silver, was depicted. They
wanted Judas to disappear behind the others, and after that they did not
want to awaken any memories of him. But this apostles has, contrary to
their hopes, remained neither silent nor hidden, nor even obscure.
The evangelists, true historians, revealed that Judas, too, was an
apostle, one of the Twelve, although they seemingly hesitated to do so.
Yet they have given us a deeper insight into this apostle than into some
of the good apostles; and in this lies the wisdom for these four
inspired historians. Next to this man of darkness they placed a light,
and the light was from Christ, and the light was Christ. The sin of
Judas is important for us, insofar as it forever remains a reminder and
a warning of the horror of sin.
This last of all the apostles, whose life is shrouded with mystery, for
the most part disturbs and provokes us. This is evident in the vast
world of literature that touches upon Judas. Apart from the three great
apostles, Peter, Paul, and John, there is not nearly so much written
about any of the disciples as there is about the betrayer of Christ.
What was only a possibility in every disciples of Christ became a
reality in "Judas Iscariot, who turned traitor." The evangelists were
quick to note this even when they merely listed the names of the
apostles. Very early a simple and clear outline was given of the
character and personality of this unfortunate apostle, the betrayer who
sold his Master.
The Temptation and Sin of Judas
There are those who have maintained that Judas was a cunning and obscure person from the very beginning of his calling to the apostolate. They assumed that only his avarice and eagerness for gain made him follow Christ. But such an assumption is certainly not compatible with the Gospels. Christ emphatically said, "'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you...'" Judas, too had Christ to thank for the grace of his vocation, not himself. Would Christ have made him a friend an apostle, if Judas had been a criminal and a traitor from the very beginning? Would Christ have invited him to stand next to Him and sit at His table, if Judas were and continued to be a hardened sinner? Would Christ have entrusted to him the pearls of the Gospels, if Judas were and remained a sly thief? No.
The Gospels give no reason to doubt that the original intentions of Judas were pure and simple. He also was earnest, zealous, and sincere; he believed and he depended on Christ. God had inspired him, and Judas accepted the grace of faith. He, too, made sacrifices. He journeyed the apostolic way with "no wallet, no bread, no money." It was troublesome and difficult; it was inconvenient and cumbersome. But there was nothing he would not do for Christ. Many villages of Galilee and Judea first heard of the Messias through Judas. Many of the sick were healed through Judas. Many of the lame were cured through him. And sometimes he, too, was not thanked.
Jesus Himself trusted Judas as much as He did the other apostles. But the evangelists did not reveal this, for in all four lists of the apostles Judas was placed at the end, each time called the betrayer. The Gospels were written down long after Judas Iscariot had hanged himself, and the inspired authors rightly placed him in the last place. It is possible, however, that the Lord had given Judas a much higher position, before many of the Twelve. Even the evangelist testified that Jesus had put so much trust in this apostle that He appointed him to the very important position of treasurer.
The defection of Judas, however, had taken root even before Christ called him. Even in his home life he had learned a talent that later was to be so fatal for him. He was the son of a certain Simon from Kerioth, a town of Palestine. No less than ten times in the Gospels was he called Iscariot-from the Hebrew ishqeriyoth, meaning "man of Kerioth." This city, which Judas brought into disrepute forever, was either the present-day Kariyut, near the old city of Silo in Ephraim, or Queriot-Hesron, today named Karjetein, about twelve miles south of Hebron. In either case, it was a city in Judea in southern Palestine.
Therefore, Judas was a Judean. Even here he was set apart from all the other apostles, for they were Galileans. It can be rightly conjectured that the different origin of Judas estranged and alienated him from the Eleven; the warm feeling of friendship between him and the others was noticeably absent. Even today the Judeans are very reserved, forever estimating, calculating, bargaining, and somewhat avaricious. It was the one Judean among the otherwise Galilean apostles who carried the money-purse, and finally sold the life of Christ for all of thirty pieces of silver. What a mysterious and often horrible heritage environment and customs can perpetuate for centuries!
Certainly all of the apostles, not Judas alone, had their human weaknesses, their fragilities, their faults, even their sins. They have been mentioned on many pages of this book: Peter was an extremist, alternating between left and right; James was ambitious; John was impatient; Thomas was distrusting-and there were others. But all of them were willing to be changed by Christ. They were other Christs striving for Christ-like perfection. Thankfully our Lord prayed His priestly prayer for unity: "'Not one of them perished except the son of perdition...'"
Here the mystery of Judas becomes even more mysterious and alarming. If all the other apostles decreased while Christ increased, how did it happen that Judas alone tried to increase while he wanted his Master to decrease? For, since he was not a wicked man before his calling, he must have grown evil while in the company of the Lord. This is difficult to imagine and believe. And what is most frightening and startling is that anyone, even one very closed to God, can sin and fall into the grasp of a devil. How can such an atrocity be explained?
Misleading and incompatible with the judgments of Holy Scripture is the opinion that Judas was acting in good faith when he betrayed his Master. Those who uphold this interpretation maintain that the apostle wanted to force the hesitating Christ to accept and use His power. He supposedly wanted to rid the God-Man of His humanity by bringing about his death. As early as the second
Century a Gnostic sect arose that considered Judas to be a hero, even a martyr, who merited honor, not condemnation. Similarly eccentric attitudes are found in some of today's accounts of the life of Christ.
Traditionally the sin of Judas has been interpreted as one of avarice. Certainly money did play a big role in his life. At the anointing at Bethany it was Judas who hypocritically few into a rage over the "wastefulness" of Mary Magdalene: "' Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii, and given to the poor?'" John, the bitterest opponent of Judas, made the sharp and blunt remark: "Now he said this, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and holding the purse, used to take what was put in it."
It is possible that Salome, the mother of John, together with the other ministering women, thought it odd and strange that the purse was often so noticeably empty whenever they had to buy necessities. The old, certainly spurious, Coptic "Gospel of Bartholomew" noted that Judas was accustomed to bring the money entrusted to him to his wife. And the poor he sent away empty-handed. Matthew, who earlier was a tax-collector, was also aware of the connection between betrayal and his greed for money:
Then one of the Twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said to them, "What are you willing to give me for delivering him to you?" But they assigned him thirty pieces of silver. And from then on he sought out an opportunity to betray Him.
Nevertheless, it would be too simple a solution to explain such a heinous crime merely and entirely against the background of the greed of an unhappy apostle. He who sinks so deep under the weight of money, especially only thirty pieces, has first set his soul on a boggy swamp. Thirty coins of silver was a paltry price for such an unbelievable deed. A man who had been thinking of nothing else but wealth would have had nothing to do with the Lord, who had nothing, who was so poor He did not have a place to lay His head. Judas’ avarice was not his real sin, but only the symptom of a yet more serious offense against God.
A third opinion held that a political attitude prompted Judas Iscariot to act, and caused his downfall. Certainly Judas pictured Jesus as the overthrower of the foreign dominating Palestine, as the victorious king of a new Jewish empire. And the Roman armor weighed more heavily on this Judean than it did on the eleven Galileans. After the removal of Archelaus from office in the year 6 A.D., Judeans was subjected to direct Roman administration. Yet, the other apostles, too, placed a great political hope in the Messias. Why did none of the others, not even the politically minded Simon, the Zealot, fall? They, too, were disappointed. Why would the crushed political dream crush only Judas?
Although political aspirations may not have been the deepest root of Judas’ sin, again and again they reveal the real nature of this apostle-turned-traitor. Judas did not have Jesus as his central thought, but himself, his own glory and prestige, his own power; and if his scheme failed, it was money and gain. Judas was like an old, freed slave who did not know how to live without his chains and shackles. He forgot how to live normally: his slavery had become an almost necessary part of his life. His self-seeking ego enslaved him. This was the sin of the traitorous apostle from Kerioth; and his gluttonous greed for glory and power, for fame and money, were only the black rays emitted from his defeated ego, which neurotically twisted away from the reality of the God-Man.
The ugly mask of Judas, which hid the real face Christ first saw, was not thick enough at first to smother him. But he could not see the light of the word and example of his Master as clearly as the other apostles. This darkness frightened Judas, and, foolishly afraid to turn to Christ for help, he clung to himself, But in his fear he panicked, lost all hope, and hooded his already masked face; he was blinded, and he smothered himself to death.
There was a world of self-made circumstances that befriended and encouraged Judas, and tempted his soul, which was ever sinking deeper into, and growing darker in, his frustrated ego. More and more frantically and brutally he pushed himself to the center, eventually looking upon Christ as a means to an end for his own self. He followed Him only as far as and as long as it was advantageous for his own interest to do so. And when there was no more to hope for from Jesus, when the Lord became an obstacle rather than a help to his ego, he sold Him for as little as thirty pieces of silver. Judas had nothing over himself except his won self.
Certainly this is a human way of thinking. The evangelist, inspired by God, went beyond the physical limitations of man, and twice remarked, “Satan entered into Judas.” After the first appearance of the Messias, Satan tired, with truly diabolical ambition, to strike this dangerous foe from the field before he could be thrown out of the world by Him. But Satan had lost the battle . Now he once again found a way. He could get back at Christ through Judas. For he who locks himself up, as did Judas, surrender himself to condemnation by opening the door to the devil.
Old pictures naively depict Judas Iscariot with a devil on his back or with a black halo. Here spiritual factors were expressed with painted symbols. The power of darkness made an alliance with this apostle and occasioned an act that far surpassed any human wretchedness. For there are sins that can be committed only with the direct help of hell.
Even the words of Sacred Scripture, however, do not give a clear insight into the mystery of Judas. Only in eternity was the complete darkness of the human mind enlightened for the evangelists, and there the gruesome secret which had been partially manifested to them was full revealed. God the Father had preordained that in the chalice of His Son’s suffering not even this most bitter hardship should be lacking-the betrayal-and it was one of His own apostles who betrayed Him. The betrayal, therefore, had to take place. Often the Lord spoke of this necessity: “That the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘he who eats bread with me has lifted up his heel against me.’” And, “’The Son of Man indeed goes his way, as it is written of him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!’” Peter, speaking before the apostles chose Matthias, also recognized this divine foreknowledge revealed by the prophets; “’Brethren, the Scripture must be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit declared before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was the leader of those who arrested Jesus.’”
The power of our human eyes cannot penetrate the secrets of divine foreknowledge or the mysteries of created free will. Never will we, by human intelligence alone, fully understand how the eternal will of God and the created will of man exist side by side. We only know-and it suffices to know this-that God’s foreknowledge in no way interferes with man’s free will, or his responsibility to use this free will. Although the betrayal “had” to happen, the betrayer did not “have” to act. It did not “have” to be Judas Iscariot. The act was necessary, but the actor was free. Judas freely chose to do what God knew from all eternity he would will to do and actually do. Therefore, after Christ said, “’The Son of Man indeed goes his way, as it is written of him, “’He also warned, “’Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It were better for that man if he had not been born.’”
Anyone reflecting on the sin of Judas easily becomes disturbed and depressed. How unstable man is , even an apostle, once he has surrendered to the folly and weakness of his own heart, to the voice of Satan! How unchangeable man is, once he has abandoned himself to the almighty will of God! But giving oneself to God, not to Satan-is this not also one’s salvation? Judas was lost because he had buried himself within himself and was firmly captured and bound by his own ego. He who unites himself completely with God cannot be torn away from God. And certainly this complete union is a grace that must be given by God. Gere curam mei finis! Your hands, Lord, I commend my soul!
The Despair and Fall of Judas
No one becomes an intimate friend or a hostile enemy all at once; the final act of betrayal was preceded by a gradual development. The poisonous germ of Judas’ sin would not have spread and grown into that monstrous deed if certain acts and events and circumstances had not prepared the way. So many possible evils lie dormant in and around man, neither stirred nor awakened throughout life. Disappointed in Jesus, allured by greed, baited by Christ’s enemies, offended by a censure, unmasked, vexed, ashamed, Judas lost himself in error and confusion. He doubted, was dazed, became delirious, until it was no longer possible for him to turn back.
The first time the ugly sin of Judas became apparent was during our Lord’s beautiful discourse on the Eucharist in the synagogue at Capharnaum, shortly after the miraculous feeding of five thousand. On the evening before, Jesus had refused the worldly crown of a king, which the people had want to force upon Him. In the discourse itself He bluntly renounced all political and mundane wishes:
“I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.:”
After his explanation, public opinion suddenly turned against Jesus: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” Then the Messias put critical question to His twelve apostles: “Do you also wish to go away?’” Peter was quick to reaffirm his trust and belief in the Master:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast words of everlasting life, and we have come to believe and to know that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.”
But Judas was there, too, He could not yet follow the deserting disciples. Peter walked up to the Lord, but Judas stood off to the side. Peter clung to the Lord, but Judas clung to himself. He was stunned and in pain. He could not pardon Jesus for refusing a worldly kingdom. He could not forgive Jesus for destroying all his dreams of a worldly power with one shattering blow. He could not excuse Jesus for rejecting all worldly fame and honor and glory. Judas was disappointed in Jesus.
For the beautiful confession of Peter, Christ had only a harsh answer: “’Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’” And St. John immediately noted, “Now he was speaking of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon; for he it was, though one of the Twelve, who was to betray him.” The chasm between Jesus and Judas was quickly growing wider and deeper-already unfathomable-but with a free will and the grace of God, not irreparable. Perhaps even then Judas had not surmised that he himself was the “devil”-a devil, because he was like Satan who had tempted Christ on “a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.
It is difficult to comprehend why Judas, despite his awakening to a disillusionment, remained with the Lord. Did he still have hopes that his wishes would be granted? He had placed everything in this Man from Nazareth, who could work miracles, do the impossible. He probably thought it would be foolish to jump away too quickly after he had waited this long, thereby throwing away any chance he might have later on.
This hypocritical perseverance was the beginning of the betrayal.
For a full year Judas persisted in this dangerous and increasingly overpowering attitude. The longer it lasted, the clearer it became to him that Jesus would not fulfill his worldly hopes and expectations. More and more Christ began to speak of the might and authority
of His enemies, and how He would suffer and die under their force and violence. More than once on Palm Sunday, during the almost majestic and certainly glorious entry into the capital city of Palestine, this apostle rejoiced. The streets were filled with wild and loud jubilation, the wild and loud joys of a liberated people. Judas followed closed behind; and as he went, he felt his heart pounding power through his veins,. He became hot with excitement.
Judas felt powerful. Buy the humble Jesus soon vexed him, and this irritation became a sore on his soul. The merciful miracles Christ performed for the lame and the deaf and the blind were repugnant to him, the mild and nonaggresive sermons of Christ on the kingdom of heaven, disgusting. He found the goodness and kindness of Christ odious. Full of wrath, Judas could not wait to free himself from the group of apostles, to which he inwardly no longer belonged. The favorable moment would soon present itself. Judas waited.
After the rising of Lazarus from the dead in the previous spring, the chief priests had made the firm and formal resolution: Jesus must die. They argued, “’ It is expedient for us that one man die for the people, instead of the whole nation perishing.’” This criminal decree was repeated and confirmed in the course of the following weeks, “for they were afraid of him,” and “they sought a way to destroy him.” But each time the same difficulty foiled the plans of the clever and conceited high priests, and blocked their way. “But they found nothing that they could do to him, for all the people hung upon his words.” And “they feared the crowd.”
What could they accomplish with a vast crowd against them? The mass of His faithful followers surrounded Him, and was stronger than the wall around the city. Had it come to a showdown in the streets, the hot temper of the Oriental rabble would have crushed the priests. How great the sympathy of the people was for Jesus showed itself here. The public summons and warrant for Christ’s arrest was given without success. Although weeks before this “the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that, if anyone knew where he was, he should report it, so that they might seize him,” there was no traitor in the whole country who would betray Him. There was no one-except one of the Twelve.
Judas was well aware of the dangerous position of Jesus, for often he had heard it mentioned among the group of apostles. When did his diabolical design to get rid of his Master first flash into his mind? Even Judas may have been shocked at first, when Satan entered his heart from the depths of hell, seeking entrance into his soul with the proposal of a betrayal. Yet, cannot even a slave of rage and passion successfully put such a hideous temptation of Satan out of his mind? Every temptation is accompanied by a grace.
Judas argued with himself. What would he do wrong, if he delivered his Mater up to the authorities? Did they not have a right and a duty to guard the safety and security of the public? Would he not be preserving the land and the people from a state of unrest and revolt? Had the Master Himself not clearly predicted His fate and destiny, and even called upon prophets to prove it? What would be so bad if he did gain from his action, for he would only be serving the official government? And so Judas turned and twisted his abominable plan, until eventually he thought he was completely in the right and Christ was completely in the wrong.
Certainly one’s first crime is always the hardest. When Judas glanced furtively at Jesus, he shuddered. He felt guilty and ashamed of his intention. He was still afraid, but the Lord was good and generous to him. The Messias could not fail to notice that Judas had been changing for a year, growing more silent and pent up. But Jesus was always the same. His eyes always fell upon Judas with kindness and love, and they pleaded with this apostle; He did not speak harshly to him. Christ overheard the insulting and scornful words, prompted only by a worried conscience, which Judas spoke to the others. And what is more difficult to comprehend, He knew Judas was cheating with the money. When James and John wanted to report this to their Master, they were quickly silenced by Jesus, who never withdrew His trust from the thief. He held His heart open until the last possible moment. Could Judas really betray the Lord, his Master? There are certain crimes that one simply cannot commit, even if he wants to commit them.
Then something occurred which tore away the last restraint of Judas: the anointing at Bethany, only six days before the Passover.
Mary therefore took a pound of ointment, genuine nard of great value, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and with her hair wiped his feet dry. And the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.
This extravagant homage of love must have thrown Judas into a rage. To sell the ointment would have profited him three hundred denarii. Still, Mary’s outpouring of love wounded Judas even more deeply than the thought of lost money, for nothing hurts hatred more than praise and love for the one hated. And this Mary gave to her Lord, whom Judas could no longer bear. She poured forth her tears, and “genuine nard of great value,” and her whole heart and soul at His feet. Judas raved and raged until he turned red, then white, with anger.
At the anointing at Bethany, Jesus spoke strangely: “’She has anointed my body in preparation for burial.’” This the naïve apostles from Galilee did not comprehend. For burial? They soon forgot. But the apostle from Judea now knew, and could not forget. The time had come for him to desert his Master and plan how to do what he was to do. Why should he hesitate and consider any longer? Had the Lord not exposed him before everybody? Was it not too late now to do anything else?
When Judas hypocritically referred to the poor, to whom he said he would have given the money from the sale of the alabaster jar of ointment, Jesus answered,
“Why do you trouble her? She has done me a good turn. For the poor you have always with you, and whenever you want you can do good to them; but you do not always have me.”
Judas felt ashamed; he could not face the others, and he could no longer hide his hatred or pose as a saint. He felt cut, and the cut was deep. He quickly took advantage of this holy prodigality on the pretext that it was a grave injustice to the poor, so that he could do what he had determined to do for a long time.
Both Matthew and Mark linked the betrayal directly to the anointing at Bethany. As soon as Christ had finished answering the diabolical excuse, Judas suddenly saw very clearly the course he must take.
Then one of the Twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said to them, “What are you willing to give me for delivering him to you?” But they assigned him thirty pieces of silver. And from then on he sought out an opportunity to betray him.
The high priests, who were frozen numb and motionless with astonishment, joy, and satisfaction, were not so stingy as the niggardly Judas was to them. Thirty pieces of silver, about a hundred and twenty denarii-one denarii was worth about a day’s wages then-was a large sum of the small service to which Judas bound himself. He had nothing else to do except to inform the enemies of Jesus and when Christ would be without a protecting crowd. And yet Judas was a mercator pessimus, the worst kind of tradesman possible.
It has been maintained by some, who based their opinion on a passage in the second book of Moses, that Judas demanded the same price for the Lord that one would have received for a slave. Yet, this sentence in Exodus does not give the price of a slave as such, but the amount to be paid if the ox of one slave injures another slave. “If he assault a bondman or a bondwoman, he shall give thirty pieces of silver to their master, and the ox shall be stoned.”
Judas sold his Master for much less than the customary price of a slave, which usually was five hundred denarii. (But if a beautiful or well-trained and talented slave was being sold, the price ranged between twenty-five thousand denarii and one hundred seventy-five thousand denarii.) Judas, the most distressed and last of all the apostles, demanded only thirty pieces of silver for the blood of the God-Man. Peter, the first of the apostles, placed this holy blood far above that unstable and perishable value:
You know that you were redeemed from the vain manner of life handed down from your fathers, not with perishable things, with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
Thirty pieces of silver! And then this blood of the Savior and Redeemer ransomed the whole world of the past and the present and the future.
Actually the traitorous apostle had not wanted to execute the betrayal so hastily. Emphatically the masterminds behind the plot stipulated, “’Not on the feast, or there might be a riot among the people!’” Nevertheless, the Lord, who relinquished Himself, seemingly helpless, to the malice of men, is powerful enough to define and determine the very hour of their evil work. And it was right on the feast, when the trumpets of the temple announced that the festive offering was completed, that Jesus, the true Easter and sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, was slain.
On the previous evening Jesus had enjoyed the Easter lamb with His disciples, yet that last, intimate celebration of love was darkly overshadowed by the thoughts of Judas. Even at the washing of the feet, when He, the Lord and Master, knelt before His betrayer and cleansed the feet to which the mud and dirt from the path of the betrayal still clung, Jesus sadly lamented to the Twelve, “’And you are clean, but not all.’”
The discourse that followed the washing of the feet gives the impression that Jesus would soon speak about the work and dignity of this apostle. Yet no sooner; had He sat down at the table than His thoughts of the betrayer began to break through:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no servant is greater than his master…. I do not speak of you all. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with me has lifted up his heel against me.’ I tell you now before it comes to pass, that when it has come to pass you may believe that I am he.”
And finally His soul cried out, loud and clear. It was rare for John to record the expressions of Jesus which told of the strong emotions in the Lord’s heart: “When Jesus had said these things he was troubled in spirit and said solemnly, “Amen, amen I say to you, one of you will betray me.’” Here the most bitter and painful suffering of Christ began to show. It was not so much the disdain and derision of the people, not so much the hate and heckling of His enemies, not so much the scourging and crowning of thorns and crucifixion, but the betrayal by “one of you,” that increased the agony of Christ. Not even the soldier’s lance pierced the God-Man’s heart so brutally as the sudden thrust of the betrayal by one whom Jesus still loved.
In Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” the storm caused in the souls of the disciples by the announcement of the betrayal was comparably portrayed. “Is it I, Lord? Is it I, Lord? Is it I, Lord? The shocked apostles began to ask Him one by one. Only John asked, “’Lord, who is it?’”
One does not know which should be the more surprising: the innocence of the apostle of the apostle John, who did not suspect the apostle Judas; or the craft of the apostle Judas, who had concealed his thoughts and feelings with such a tangled web of hypocrisy that the apostle John was suspected on account of his curiosity. Peter could not cope with the suspense and uncertitude. He nodded at the beloved disciple, who reclined on the bosom of the Lord, and said to him, “’Who is it of whom he speaks?’” Then Jesus revealed to the apostle of love, and to him alone, who the betrayer would be:
“It is he for whom I shall dip the bread, and give it to him.” And when he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
John’s heart stopped beating, and he grew pale. He knew Judas was capable of such a thing, and that he would actually do it. What merciful consideration and tact the Lord had! The offering of a morsel of bread was nothing striking or extraordinary in itself, nothing to arouse the suspicion of the others. On the contrary, it was an act of love and respect of the host to the guest-today somewhat comparable to a toast. It was a tacit permission for one to leave before the common breaking of bread by all present. Jesus did not betray His betrayer. He did not come to justice with him, as He had done the day before with His enemies in the temple. He did not show His anger by drawing a sword, as Peter would soon do.
The patient consideration of Jesus only enhanced and strengthened the impudence of Judas. This arrogant apostle even dare to try the boundless mercy of the Lord, and asked, “’Is it I Rabbi?’” Jesus looked at him, and He saw through him as only God can perceive all that lies behind a blackened soul. And Christ quietly gave him an answer: “’Thou has said it.’” Then, pleading, He slowly added, “ ‘What thou dost, do quickly.’”
Jesus had had enough of Judas; He chose the when and where. In order to prevent any misunderstanding of the statements of the other evangelists, John observantly noted that this entire event between Jesus, John and Judas at the table went unnoticed, or at least was not understood.
But none of those at the table understood why he said this to him. For some thought that because Judas held the purse, Jesus had said to him, “’buy the things we need for the feast”; or that he should give something to the poor. When, therefore, he had received the morsel, he went out quickly. Now it was night.
Which was greater, the mercy of the Lord, or the wickedness of Judas?
Judas understood what his Master wanted to say to him. He saw himself being unmasked by Christ, and, what infuriated him even more, he knew he was unmasked in front of John. The whispering of Jesus and John did not escape his sharp eyes; he was exposed. He crumbled like a decayed corpse first exposed to the light and air after months of death. The two were discussing him, and he hated each one on account of the other.
Judas had had enough of Jesus. As a meteor leaves no illuminated sky, falls into darkness, and speeds to its own destruction, Judas plunged away from Christ, into the night, to begin to die. “Now is was night.” The darkness of the night frightened him, but he did not stop. He hurried through the black night to the enemies of the Lord, and he alarmed them with the sudden warning that there was not a minute to lose: Jesus knew of the whole plan; the people would probably revolt; arms were either ready or on their way; the first posts were already assigned. The alarmed high priests may even have suspect Judas, for he was nervous. This was his first big crime. And the darkness of that hour, which God had chosen for them, must have gripped them, for God is also the Master of the night.
After the sudden departure of Judas, Jesus also had one more work to perform, the institution of the Holy Eucharist.
It is an old, controversial question, whether Judas may have received the Eucharist, whether he was the first Christian to communicate and receive the Body and Blood of the God-Man. The “Communion of Judas” is a well-known topic for sermons. With good reason, however, most scriptural commentators today agree that Judas left before the institution of this most holy sacrament. Matthew and Mark placed the account of the betrayal before this great and magnificent mystery. But St. Luke recorded the words concerning the betrayer immediately after the passage relating the institution of the sacrament, not before. However, his reason for this was only to connect the Paschal meal of the Old Testament and the Eucharistic Communion of the New Testament in one coherent paragraph. Therefore, he held the intervening events, such as the accounts of the betrayal and the contention among the apostles, until immediately after the more important passage on the institution of the Holy Eucharist.
The hour of the greatest and last love-“Jesus…loved them to the end”-Jesus wanted to spend alone with His “friends,” His “little children,” without the betrayer. Judas had excommunicated himself. Jesus rejoiced as the oppressing shadows were softened and soon disappeared from the room of light.
When, therefore, he [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and will glorify him at once.”
So each, Jesus and Judas, had “soon” done “what they wanted to do”: Jesus, the work of the sacrifice before the first communion; Judas, the work of the betrayal before the last kiss.
St. Augustine commented,
What you want to do, do quickly! These are the words more of a ready and willing heart than of an unwilling soul. These words do not express the punishment of the betrayer so much as they reveal the price of the Redemption. Christ spoke these words, not from an eagerness for the destruction of the faithless, but much more from the desire for the salvation of the faithful. Judas surrendered Christ. Christ Himself sacrificed Himself. Judas pursued the transaction of selling Christ. Christ pursued the act of redeeming mankind. What you want to do, do quickly, not because you can do it, but because He, who wills it, can do everythings.
The stain of Judas’ sin grew deeper and blacker as he led “a great crowd with swords and clubs” through the quiet night of the Passover. Luke carefully noted that Judas “was going before them.” It was not enough for an apostle who became an apostate to follow the mob; he led them. Did Judas feel out of place, uneasy, guilty? There are times when all lights in the hearts of men grow dim, and dull, then dead. With heartless and cold apathy, Judas offered himself as the key figure in the capture:
Now his betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, that is he; lay hold of him, and lead him safely away.” And when he came, he went straight up to him, and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Judas kissed Jesus! The betrayer kissed the Betrayed! Here there is little one can write. One can only bury his face in his hands and meditate.
In his painting of the betraying kiss, Giotto portrayed the meeting between Jesus and Judas with staggeringly strong emotion. Never have divine mercy and grandeur, and human vileness and depravity, been so close as they were in that hour of darkness in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Never has there been a longer second in the history of time than there was when Judas kissed Jesus. Judas, with the twisted face of a criminal, with the broad back of an animal, with the disguising cloak of a hypocrite, clutched Jesus as a wild beast seizes its prey. Judas could not have fallen any lower than he fell while embracing Christ. Yet, in that very position, without moving, he could have elevated his soul from the abyss of blackness by repenting, and Christ’s joy would have been greater than it was with all the other Eleven. The betrayer embraced the Redeemer, but refused to be sincere about it. In Judas, Jesus experienced what men are capable of, the power of man’s free will.
The Lord stood there quietly, majestic and sad. His eyes could still pierce the depths of the apostle’s blackened soul in the darkness of the night, and there He saw the shattered seal of His own name, for no apostate, especially an apostle-apostate, can successfully eradicate the name of God indelibly impressed upon his soul. Should the God-Man have called down the twelve legions of angels at His disposal, that they might have struck down the betrayer? Should He have turned the sword of Peter from the unimportant ear of Malchus to the criminal and masterminding head of Judas? Should He Himself have vehemently repelled this traitorous apostle?
In the sermon on the Mount, Christ had ordered the Christian of the New Law “’not to resist the evildoer; on the contrary, if someone strike thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’” On the Mount of Olives He Himself suffered more cutting insults. In return for the crime of the betrayal He offered His love and forgiveness. There was a moment of silence. Then Jesus asked, “’Friend, for what purpose hast thou come?’” But He already knew. He was asking Judas to repent. Again there was silence. Judas could scarcely keep from sobbing. Again the Lord asked, “’Judas, dost thou betray the Son of Man with a Kiss?’”
Jesus and Judas then separated. By delivering Christ’s body into the murderous hands of His enemies, Judas had fatally wounded his own soul. He could never forget these last words of his Master: “Friend!… Judas!…” And the Messias calmly raised His hands to be bound by His enemies. Was there anything worse that could happen to Him? The psalmist wrote,
For if my enemy had reviled me, I would verily have borne with it. And if he that hated me had spoken great things against me, I would perhaps have hidden myself from him. But thou a man of one mind, my guide, and my familiar, who didst take sweet meats together with me: in the house of God we walked with consent.
Did Jesus and Judas, after their meeting in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, turn back yet once more to look at each other? Judas still had the thirty pieces of silver. That was his reward. But he still had to pay for his sin. The price was not only the silver, all thirty pieces, but much more, his life.
The Price and Punishment of Judas’s Sin
When one looks upon Judas in the midst of his sin of betrayal, he cannot help but think that this infamous man was never capable of a good act, and never would have been, had he lived. This makes it all the more surprising when the objective Matthew explained further, “Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented…”Judas repented! Perhaps we have judged this apostle too harshly, thinking that his repentance was useless and valueless. According to the evangelist’s statement, his repentance stemmed from “betraying innocent blood.” And how bitterly serious Judas took his regret and remorse was shown by his conduct. He took every measure within his power, ran every which way, even the most difficult, to undo his crime. But why did he not take the easiest way, to the cross of Christ, where his soul could have been washed clean with the very blood he betrayed? Or was the way of the cross, perhaps, the most difficult way for him?
What led Judas, almost as quickly as Peter was led, from guilt to shame and repentance? People today have lived through much more morose and brutal examples of wickedness, and hardly felt it, much less sorry enough to repent. It is evident that the many words of Jesus were not completely lost in the soul of Judas, but only confused and obstructed. The blood of the Lord flowing from Calvary may also have touched the sin of Judas. Matthew hinted at the reason: Judas woke up to the fearful position he was in, when he saw the terrible and horrible consequences of his criminal act. He was confused, then startled. Already on Mount of Olives he realized, contrary to his plans and expectations, that the Lord had not opposed His enemies with weapons and miracles. He had let Himself be led away to the slaughter like a lamb.
Where were the tumult and revolt by which Judas had justified his traitorous actions before his conscience and his employers? Christ was innocent, harmless; He was not guilty. Nevertheless, the high priests had already condemned Him to death. Judas had not considered this; he had not wanted it to end this way. He, who always clung so tightly to his money, ran with “the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’” In one last desperate attempt to tear the holy, innocent Lamb, ready to be sacrificed on the cross, from the hands of the slayers, he pleaded, protested and implored. It was all in vain. The ruthless high priest were furious: “’What is that to us? See to it thyself.’” Judas was paralyzed with fear. “And he flung the pieces of silver into the temple, and withdrew…”
In spite of everything, the incident was very distressing and tormenting, even dangerous, to the enemies of the Lord in those critical hours. Everything was happening quickly and all at once. They were anxious lest their plan might yet fail, and their great foe escape. Judas, the main witness of the charge, broke down. Pilate, the judge, hesitated, and publicly admitted, “’I find no guilt in him.’”
Hypocritically the high priests picked up the disclaimed pieces of silver, which lay on the porch of the temple like the vomit of a diseased soul.
“It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, seeing that it is the price of blood.” And after they had consulted together, they bought with them the potter’s field, as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called even to this day, Haceldama, that is, the Field of Blood.
Matthew also noted that the prophecy of Jeremias was fulfilled:
And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him who was priced, upon whom the children of Israel set a price; and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.
This field of Blood-a translation of the Aramaic name Haceldama-has been, through all the centuries, up to our own day, a silent but permanent testimony of the innocence of Jesus. Even today there is a field with this name, to the south of Hinnomtales, that serves as a burial place for strangers. One readily notices that Matthew recorded the sin of Judas as the last warning of God to blinded and beguiled leaders. If they do not hear and heed, they will bring themselves to an everlasting indictment, an eternal damnation.
St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the heartless words, “See to it thyself,” addressed himself to the chief priests and elders:
Excusing yourselves, you accused yourselves. You threw the entire blame upon the betrayer and persisted in the sacrilege and even joined the crucifixion to the betrayal. What prevented you from giving up this outrageous act according to the words addressed to the betrayer? In this, however, you great guilt endures, that you did not relinquish this satanical scheme, and you foolishly wanted to cover yourselves with the cloak of a feigned ignorance.
The high priests were hard and harsh, stern and severe. Driven to despair, Judas “went away and hanged himself with a halter.” In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter seems to be relating a deviation from one of these statements of Matthew: “’And he indeed bought a field with the price of his iniquity and, being hanged, burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.’” With irony, Peter could designate Judas himself as the owner of the piece of ground that was bought with the money of his sin. Perhaps his death occurred in such a way that Judas-a burden too horrible even for a tree of the earth-was plunged by a sudden jerk and violent jolt to the depths below, so that the other details mentioned by Peter also happened.
After Judas was given up to his fate by those who paid for the murder of Christ, perhaps he desperately waited and watched to see what would happen. He stood off at a distance, hoping ashamed, and saw his Master before Pilate: “Ecce Homo!” He heard the furious storm of the rabble mockingly choosing between Jesus and Barabbas. Wildly he threw up his arms and yelled for Jesus. But Judas stood alone. He stood in the middle of the frenzied shouting: “’Crucify him! Crucify him! His blood be on us and on our children.’” His blood, His innocent blood, was the blood that he, Judas had betrayed. Judas was deserted and alone. He ran away. If Judas had only not run away, but rather to the bleeding feet of the Messias, to Him who once forgave Mary Magdalene, and who could for give a thief, and a robber, and even His own betrayer! “Friend..! Judas…!”
But Judas did not seek out Jesus, nor could he find Jesus in his sin. Rather he sought only himself, and in his sin he found only himself. Judas needed someone-he was deserted, and alone. Here he fell into a second, and even greater sin. Judas despaired. He was completely lost in the grip of Satan, for Christ, already dying on the cross, could have forgiven the sin of the betrayal, but not even Christ can forgive the sin of despair. Did Judas finally repent? Or was he damned for all eternity?
Dante, the great poet of the Middle Ages, assigned the lowest place in the region of “ice’ in the “Hell” of The Divine Comedy to the traitorous Judas. And the sin of Judas was heartless, and cold , full of unfeeling and pitiless scheming, plotting, cunning. It was not a thoughtless act of passion or greed for money.
Nevertheless, dare we ask the question: Was Judas unquestionably damned, unconditionally condemned to hell, as certainly as the Messias was condemned, through Judas, to die on the cross? The Lord was very stern and serious when He spoke of the destiny of the betrayed! It were better for that man if he had not been born.’” Here Jesus made use of a proverb concerning an unfortunate man and applied it to Judas. Even more hopeless is another statement made by Christ in His priestly prayer for unity at the Last Supper. Praying to the Father for the apostles, He affirmed, “’Not one of them perished except the son of perdition.’” And again, speaking to Pilate, Christ, said, “’He who betrayed me to thee has the greater sin.’” And in the passage in the Acts of the Apostles concerning the choosing of Matthias as the apostle to replace Judas, it is similarly repeated that “’Judas fell away to go to his own place.’’
Yet, do these words of Sacred Scripture unequivocally speak about an eternal fate of Judas in the next world, or perhaps merely about his calling to the apostolate and his temporal lot in this world? At the last meeting of Jesus and Judas, the Master called this apostle His friend. Judas had tried everything to stop the consequences of his act. He, who was so closely attached to money, even wanted to give back the thirty pieces of silver.
In the Old Testament, Joseph generously pardoned his brothers who had sold him into Egyptian slavery for twenty pieces of silver: “You thought evil against me; but God turned it into good, that he might exalt me, as at present you see, and might save many people.” The crime of Judas was more atrocious than the disgraceful trading of Joseph, yet what a beautiful triumph it would have been for the blood of Christ, which was shed for the forgiveness of the sins of the world, if it had brought back the betrayer, without whose act it would not have been shed, from the long way of that tree to the judgment seat of God!
We know nothing certain about the eternal judgments of God, but we do know God is just and merciful. The sin of Judas is like a monument erected to remind us of God’s infinite justice, if Judas did not finally repent and was damned, and of God’s infinite mercy, if perhaps he received and accepted a last grace, and found redemption and salvation.
The place of Judas among the Twelve is like a long night that stands motionless. Why did the Lord call into this small group one who fell away from Him as a shrunk and shriveled piece of unripened fruit from a tree, completely useless? But Judas was not made an apostle in vain. He must be as much a witness for Jesus Christ as the remaining Eleven. This apostle, who betrayed his Lord and Master, also preached, and perhaps more effectively than the others: “’I have betrayed innocent blood.’” It is Judas, the apostle laden with crime, who must testify to the innocence of Christ for all mankind.
How eagerly Judas, tortured with great pain, would have fallen upon a fault of Christ! What relief a single sin of his Master would have been to his guilty conscience!
The other apostles are bright stars in the dark heavens of the earth, which give testimony of the light they have received from the Messias, the Son of God. Judas is the night, and the heart-rending cry of the night bears witness for the light. This is the punishment of the sin of Judas; this is the price of the sin of Judas.
Jesus was the Light; Judas, the darkness. Sadly we look into the secret of the sin of Judas, which some men carry locked in their hearts. Joyfully we look into the mystery of the love of Jesus, which all men should bear openly in their souls.
Judas betrayed innocent blood with a horrible sin for the greed of silver; Jesus sacrificed His innocent blood with infinite love for the forgiveness of that sin.
May the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ protect and preserve our souls for all eternity! Amen.