Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, Patrick shared with his listeners an article by Fr. Hugh Barbour, a Norbertine Father associated with St. Michael’s Abbey in southern California. The article asks a question which many have pondered, argued, and debated over the years: Is Judas in Hell?
Patrick prefaced his discussion of the topic by noting that he believes Judas was, in fact, condemned to hell, both based on his actions, his fate, and the things implied by Jesus’s statements about him. Specifically, we know that after Judas betrayed Jesus by turning Him over to the authorities, he despaired and hanged himself instead of seeking repentance. However, while that is not enough to confirm his place in hell, Jesus says a couple of things about him.
“When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12)
“The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” (Matthew 26:24)
What could He mean by “lost”, if not hell? Why would it have been better if he hadn’t been born if he did make it to heaven? But, for the sake of those who didn’t hold the same view as Patrick, he presented the article by Fr. Barbour for a more in-depth examination of the topic.
Fr. Barbour began by presenting the two arguments that Patrick had just referenced. According to people like St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Alphonsus, it was that overwhelmingly common interpretation of Jesus’s words that led to the understanding that Judas was in hell. And while Fr. Barbour admits that he is in no position to question the authority of these great saints, it is worthwhile to consider the perspectives of others.
Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian (who did err on some teachings), said that he held out hope that Judas, in his anguish, wished to “precede Our Lord in death so as to be able to encounter him in his ‘naked soul’ and beg for pardon”. St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Silouan of Athos both had hopeful ideas of where Judas resides, the latter even saying that we should still pray for his salvation.
Pope Benedict said, “The choice [of Our Lord in making Judas an apostle and companion] darkens the mystery around his eternal fate, knowing that Judas “repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood’” (Matt. 27:3-4). Even though he went to hang himself (cf. Matt. 27: 5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God.”
And further, Pope St. John Paul II once speculated at a conference on the four last things that there might be “an order undisclosed to us that would resolve the problem in an unknown way.” In other words, this was a take on the speculations of St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote that according to St. John Damascene, the emperor Trajan’s soul was in hell but was brought back to life through prayer, and his salvation was secured. As Fr. Barbour says, “This differs not at all from the speculations of John Paul!”
He continued, offering the fact that these ideas, while not included in the traditional Catechetical teaching, are certainly not heretical. It is a beautiful thing to be able to remain hopeful, even for those deemed to be the worst of humanity. “We can be hopeful about the salvation of even the worst of us without falling into a sentimental naturalism and the doctrine of universal salvation,” wrote Fr. Barbour. He closed not by offering a certified decision on whether Judas was in heaven or hell but by pointing us to the example set before us. Judas repented for his sins, but only to the point of despair and regret. Rather than taking it further and requesting forgiveness and absolution, he chose to punish himself. Peter also betrayed Jesus, but he chose the route of contrition and restoration.
“Every sinner, at least every grave sinner, is a Judas, one who has betrayed the Lord… The absolution of the priest will do for us far more than we can desire or hope for. Let us hope for all, and cling to the means of grace, and then we will escape the fires of hell for sure!”
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