St. Jude: What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? As Shakespeare famously noted, a rose would still have the same fragrance no matter what we call it, so does it really matter which name we pick?

Any advertising executive or PR rep would tell you differently though, arguing that names hold the power to shape and warp the world’s perception of the object, and today’s saint may be inclined to agree.

St. Jude Thaddeus was one of Christ’s Apostles, this much is clear.  Equally certain was that he was the brother of James and was present at Pentecost.  Following that, the Apostle preached the Gospel in Judea, Syria and Libya.  He was martyred along with another Apostle, St. Simon the Zealot, and his remains now rest in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

And from there, facts about St. Jude’s life become murky. Some biblical scholars maintain that Jude was the bridegroom at the wedding in Cana, though it’s hard to move this anywhere beyond speculation. Other stories connect him to a convoluted apocryphal story involving the King of Edessa.  This king, confronted by a terminal illness, wrote to Christ asking for a cure.  According to some versions of the legend, Christ was impressed enough by the king’s faith to press His holy face against a cloth, leaving behind a perfect image.  The king venerated this image, and upon Christ’s death, St. Jude sent a disciple to visit the monarch. The king experienced a miraculous healing and then converted to Christianity.  Many statues of St. Jude now include a nod to this tale by having the saint hold a portrait of Christ.

Even St. Jude’s authorship of the Epistle that bears his name is a matter of contention, at least between Catholics and Protestants.  Generally speaking, since the early 3rd century, Catholics have understood the Apostle and the author to be the same person, while Protestants do not.  The source of this disagreement lies in part with Luther.  Since the Epistle of James, with its exhortation that “faith without works is dead” was in clear conflict with the new religion of “sola fide”, Luther was forced to call the Apostleship of James himself into question.  That meant that the Epistle of Jude, which begins with “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” would have to strip the Apostleship from Jude as well.

Some of the murkiness around St. Jude’s life and accomplishments can be chalked up to the question of names.  While a rose by any other name smells as sweet, an Apostle sharing the same name as Christ’s betrayer may not, or so the thinking went.  In an attempt at “re-branding” of a sort, Judas Thaddeus became Jude Thaddeus, or simply Thaddeus by the early translators of the New Testament.  “Thaddeus” meaning “gift of God” helped drive home the clear distinction between the betrayer and the faithful, if shortening “Judas” to “Jude” didn’t.

St. Jude is best known as the patron saint of hopeless causes based on this name game.  If you were desperate enough to call on the help of someone who shared a name with Judas Iscariot, you were desperate indeed, and sure to meet a lonely saint with a lot of intercessory time on his hands.  The irony being, of course, that St. Jude is one of our most beloved and invoked saints, second probably only to Our Lady.  This popularity speaks to both our desperation here in the Vale of Tears and St. Jude’s strength as an intercessor.

In fact, we catch a glimpse of Jude’s powerful intercession in his one recorded verse in the Bible.  In the Gospel of St. John, we learn that St. Jude asked the Lord, “why is it that you reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” In response to this question, Christ reveals to the Apostle, and all of us, that anyone who loves and obeys the Son will not only find favor with the Father but also be made a fitting dwelling place for the Holy Trinity.

Such a powerful and comforting assurance obtained for us via St. Jude, powerful intercessor, patron saint of hopeless causes, and a true rose among thorns — no matter what name we know him by.

image: Shrine of St Jude Thaddeus by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr


Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a website for her farm, Ghost Fawn Homestead.

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