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The Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus

Can St. Jude Make the Impossible Possible?

Benedict M. Ashley, O.P.

Dedicated to the Dominicans in Charge
of the St. Jude Shrine,
Church of S. Pius V, Chicago

With many thanks to Fr. Thomas McDermott, O.P.
 for his suggestion that I do research and write on St. Jude



Devotion to St. Jude is a widespread form of Catholic piety with some 25 shrines internationally, six of them in the United States. At present I am living in a Dominican community attached to the Shrine of St. Jude on 1909 South Ashland in Chicago. Everywhere, he is referred to as the Patron Saint of “Impossible Cases.” Since in our lives we are faced with many seemingly impossible cases—ourselves and others for whom we pray—seemingly to little good, it is no wonder that this title has made St. Jude popular.

The name “Jude” of “Judah” is from the abbreviated form of YWHY, God, and the verb (yada) meaning to praise or give thanks. There are seven men in the Bible with this name: 1) the fourth son of the Patriarch Jacob by his first wife Leah (Genesis 29:35); (2) a postexilic Levite (Ezra 3:9) or another Levite (Ezra 10:23); (3) a postexilic overseer (Nehemiah 11:9); (4) a Levite who returns with Zerubbabel to Jerusalem after the Exile (Nehemiah 12:8); (5) a postexilic leader (Nehemiah 12:34); (6) a priestly musician (Nehemiah 12:36); (7) the Apostle Jude who is the Patron of Impossible Cases.

Where did this saint, like most of the Twelve Apostles of whom we have only vague references in the New Testament along with contradictory legends, get this attractive title? Is it based on fact or legend? There is a vast fund of legends in apocryphal writings about Jude and Simon, but if this title of Patron of Impossible Cases had no other grounding than these legends it would deserve little respect. Consequently, in this essay I will delay discussion of these legends and seek for some other basis for this confidence in St. Jude’s advocacy.

Commonly today in the explanations given by these shrines, it is said that it was St. Brigitta of Sweden (1303-1373) who in her remarkable Revelations gave him (under his other name of Thaddeus) this title. I have skimmed modern editions of her book but found no reference to St. Jude. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) is also cited as greatly devoted to St. Jude, but I find his works too voluminous to bother with such an investigation. Thus all that I can claim is certain is that the title of “Patron of the Impossible” was attached to St. Jude when devotion to him was revived in the 18thcentury.

Yet strangely it seems impossible to decide either whether this St. Jude is the Apostle, sometimes confused with that other much less venerable Apostle, the betrayer of the Lord, Jude the Iscariot, whose title indicates that he had first been a member of the band of Jews who were in revolt against the Roman-Jewish government of Jesus’ time, or whether he was the author of the shortest book of the Bible, the Epistle of St. Jude, as was supposed by many of the Church Fathers.

Modern Biblical critics emphasize that this Epistle is closely related to that of 2 Peter,19 of whose verses seemed borrowed from the 5 of Jude. On the other hand, 2 Peter omits Jude’s references to the fallen angels and to the apocryphal Book of Enoch and did so probably because these might offend Jewish readers. Since 2 Peter seems to be the last book to be included in the Canon and therefore must be dated between 120-140 BC, this means that Jude must be dated from about 90 -110 AD, close to the time that according to these same critics the Gospel according to St. Matthew was published.

Elsewhere I have shown in detail why I think the Two Gospel theory of William R. Farmer and his associates—which defends the view of the Church Fathers that Matthew was written in Hebrew or Aramaic, was abbreviated by Mark and used independently by Luke—is historically sounder than the Standard or Two Document Theory of most critics today, which depends on the existence of a Q (German Quelle) document for which there is no other evidence that it ever existed. From about 200 AD the Church Fathers seem to all consider the Epistle of St. Jude as canonical. But in the 4th century the church historian Eusebius says that some doubted this because Jude refers to the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Current critics note that, beside this reference to Enoch, Jude refers to another apocrypha, The Assumption Moses. In these centuries, however, such apocrypha were widespread, and their dating is impossible really to determine. Moreover, that fact that Jude quotes these two apocrypha does not mean that he is guaranteeing their divine inspiration, but merely assuming that his readers would be acquainted with them. The name “Jude” is the same as Judah which is the same as that of the fourth son of the Patriarch Jacob and Leah, founder of the Israelite Tribe of Judah, after whom the Kingdom of Judah was named and from which the present term “Jews” is derived, meaning “Praise ([of God].” (When the letter D is dropped this becomes in Hebrew YAHWEH, the name of God.)

These critics also doubt the view of the Church Fathers that this “Jude” who calls himself “brother of James,” no doubt to distinguish himself from Jude Iscariot, is the Apostle James (who is called “Thaddeus” (courageous one, heart, God’s gift) or “Lebbaeus” (courageous one) in some texts, or one of the so-called “brothers of Jesus,” who many non-Catholic as well as Catholic, critics grant are his cousins (Aramaic does not distinguish them from blood-brothers). Moreover, besides the Apostle James the Greater whose brother was John the Apostle and who were the “Sons of Thunder” and of Zebedee and Salome, and who saw the Transfiguration of Jesus, there was certainly a James the Less who was the son of Alphaeus (Clopas) who is mentioned four times in the Bible (Mt 10:3, Mk 3:18, Lk 6:16, Acts 1:13) and who may be James the Younger, whose mother stood at the foot of the Cross (cf., Mt 27:56 and Jn 19:25).

James, son of Alphaeus, may also be identified as James the Just (Hebrew: יעקב Ya'akov; Greek Ἰάκωβος Iákōbos), first bishop of Jerusalem martyred in 62 AD, who at the Council of Jerusalem in c. 50 AD proposed the compromise of retaining the prohibitions against eating blood, or bloody meat, or meat of animals not properly slain, and against fornication (Acts 15; Gal 1:19). He is called “James the brother of the Lord” by Paul (Gal 1:19); “James the Just” by Hegesippus and others; "James the Righteous", "James of Jerusalem", "James Adelphotheos" (Ἰάκωβος ὁ ἀδελφόθεος), and so on…

The name ‘Jude” when it is not that of the Judas Maccabeus of the Old Testament does not refer to Judas the traitor (Judas Iscariot) of the New Testament (Mt 10:4), but refers not only to the author of the brief but also to a brother of James (13:55) and cousin of Jesus (Mt 13:55 Mk 6:30); An apostle, probably identical with Lebbaeus (a man of heart) or Thaddaeus (John 14:22) of Galilee, who stirred up sedition among the Jews soon after the birth of Jesus (Acts 5:37); A disciple who hosted Paul; (Acts 9:11), surnamed "Baarsabas" in St. Paul’s native city of Tarsus and who was sent to Antioch of Syria with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:22-32).

The important point that is ignored by these critics is that the Epistle of Jude, brief and as rather vague as it is, is canonical, which means that it was regarded by the Church Fathers as divinely authoritative. This implies that it was written by someone regarded in the early Church as having this kind of authority, so that if this “Jude of James” has such authority he is one of the Twelve—either that James the Less, who was an apostle and the first bishop of Jerusalem, or the Apostle Jude who is listed in conjunction with Simon.

The only argument that leads these critics to dismiss this solution to our problem is that in the exhortation of the Epistle v. 17 the author writes, “But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they told you that ‘In the last time there will be scoffers who live according to their godless desires’ (1 Tm 4:1).” The critics presume that therefore he must not be an apostle since he is referring to them as of the past.

This critical argument, however, ignores the very first words of the Epistle in which its author calls himself “a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” Thus it is likely that the author here avoids including himself among the apostles in order to be consistent with this position of humility as a “slave” and instead, to back up what he is about to say, identifies himself by mentioning his brother, the Apostle James the Less. Thus the canonicity of the Epistle seems solid and provides sufficient evidence that its author, although a “slave,” is a member of the Apostolic Twelve and thus is writing with apostolic authority.

We have, however, only legendary information about James the Less’ subsequent life and mission after the Council of Jerusalem in 50. According to these legends James, besides being bishop of Jerusalem, also went on mission, principally to Armenia, but was martyred by being clubbed or stoned to death at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt.

That St. Jude had preached in Armenia was believed by the Dominicans who in the 14th century founded a Province there and who in their Chicago Shine of St. Jude exhibit in a silver case one of his arm-bones which is certified as coming from Armenia. Nothing in the Epistle seems to relate to such missions, although Josephus (Antiquities 20,9) says that Christianity spread very early to this area.


All things are possible with God (except, of course, that he contradict himself). How then can we pray to St. Jude as the Patron of Impossible Causes? Obviously, as long as our prayers are for something good, it is not impossible for God to fulfill them, and since Jesus teaches that God will answer our prayers, he should grant them. However, when Jesus teaches that God will answer our prayers, he does not mean that God will always answer by giving us exactly what we pray for, but that he will give either this or something that is better for us and for all his children. Thus when we speak of St. Jude as Patron of impossible Causes, we mean causes that seem to us impossible, and we mean that St. Jude by his advocacy will obtain what we pray for or something that is better for us or for all God’s children. But since we ought to know that all this is true, why do think that St. Jude can help us more than Our Lady, St. Joseph, or all the saints taken together? It is because Christians have experienced that St. Jude, perhaps to offset that wicked Apostle of that same name, Judas Iscariot, is a saint with a particular concern for persons who are discouraged because they have prayed and prayed for a cause without God ever seeming to hear them. This is in keeping with the general principle that although Christians all love each other as brothers and sisters, yet because of our human limitations, we have greater obligations to family and friends than to others.

Thus St. Jude is the Patron of those who are praying for what seems to them may be impossible in that he among the saints seems to us a special friend especially concerned about those discouraged in prayer. I have had the privilege of reading many of the letters to St. Jude turned into our Dominican Shrine of St. Jude in Chicago and have been edified by the fact that the far greater number of these are asking for St. Jude’s help not for their own needs but for those of others. Thus the promotion of this patronage is an important element of the Church’s mission and is worthy of the Dominican order, whose mission is “preaching and the saving of souls.”

To further investigate the authorship of the Epistle of St. Jude, I will first examine this Epistle in the light of current biblical criticism, hoping that after unwinding these critical entanglements we will find in that most sacred of sources, the Bible, that St. Jude’s title is justified and in what sense. This short epistle is divided into three brief sections as follows in the Catholic New American Bible (Revised edition, 2002):

A. Address:

  1. Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ:

  2. may mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.

  3. Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, 3 I now feel a need to write to encourage you to contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones.

B. Body of the Epistle:

  1. For there have been some intruders, who long ago were designated for this condemnation, godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

  2. I wish to remind you, although you know all things, that (the) Lord who once saved a people from the land of

  3. Egypt later destroyed those who did not believe.

  4. The angels too, who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains, in gloom, for the judgment of the great day.

  5. Likewise, Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding towns, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual promiscuity and practiced unnatural vice, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

  6. Similarly, these dreamers nevertheless also defile the flesh, scorn lordship, and revile glorious beings.

  7. Yet the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him but said, "May the Lord rebuke you!"

  8. But these people revile what they do not understand and are destroyed by what they know by nature like irrational animals.

  9. Woe to them! They followed the way of Cain, abandoned themselves to Balaam's error for the sake of gain, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.

  10. These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they carouse fearlessly and look after themselves. They are waterless clouds blown about by winds, fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead and uprooted.

  11. They are like wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shameless deeds, wandering stars for whom the gloom of darkness has been reserved forever.

  12. Enoch, of the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied also about them when he said, "Behold, the Lord has come with his countless holy ones

  13. to execute judgment on all and to convict everyone for all the godless deeds that they committed and for all the harsh words godless sinners have uttered against him."

  14. These people are complainers, disgruntled ones who live by their desires; their mouths utter bombast as they fawn over people to gain advantage.

  15. But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,

  16. for they told you, "In (the) last time there will be scoffers who will live according to their own godless desires."

  17. These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane, devoid of the Spirit.

In this main section of the Epistle St. Jude warns faithful Christians no to be influenced by the views of some sect that the writer compares to (1) the inhabitants of the cities of Sodom and Gomarrha, whose ruins are now beneath the Dead Sea where Abraham and his family confronted such sexually wicked men (Gn 19:1-29) and which God destroyed; (2) the angels (Gn 6:1-4) who had sexual relations with women that produced the Nephilim or giants.

Why did Jude choose the ugly story of the Sodomites as a comparison for the sectarians against whom he is warning the Christians of his own day? Some critics, troubled by the Scriptural condemnation of practicing homosexuals, want to say that these inhabitants of the two condemned cities are not chosen by Jude as wicked because they are homosexuals but simply because they were so inhospitable to Abraham. It seems obvious from a reading of the text, however, that both Genesis and Jude depict homosexual rape as despicable not only because it is rape but because it is a sin against nature. Thus the sectarians against whom he is warning while claiming to be Christians are not because---among other matters---they, like these critics, defend active homosexual relations.

This is why Jude can link this sin to his other example of the fallen angels who went against nature in having intercourse with human women (Gn 6:1-4) who belonged to a lower species than themselves. But isn’t this mere superstition? What evidence is there for the existence of such giants? Here I agree with the critics that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are a re-write of various Middle Eastern myths to cover pre-historic times that the Divine author of the Bible deemed important to tell us about. But they form a profound rewrite which puts revealed theological truth into concrete language. For example, the story of Noah and the Ark illustrates that after the Fall God is permitting many natural disasters but is sparing the human race and its necessary environment. [For those interested in the aforesaid legends a detailed study is to be found in Els Rose, Ritual Memory: The Apocryphal Acts and Liturgical Commemoration in the Early Medieval West (c. 500-12150) (The Netherlands; Brill, 2009), Chapter 5, pp. 213-219.]


  1. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit.

  2. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

  3. On those who waver, have mercy;

  4. save others by snatching them out of the fire; on others have mercy with fear, abhorring even the outer garment stained by the flesh.

  5. To the one who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you unblemished and exultant, in the presence of his glory,

  6. to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, power, and authority from ages past, now, and for ages to come. Amen.

In this time when so many call evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil,’ let us hold fast to the straight and narrow path revealed by our Lord through the Church, and through St. Jude’s intercession let us beg mercy for ourselves and the whole world.

Appendix I

Benedict XVI, General Audience, Saint Peter's Square, Wednesday, 11, October 2006, The Apostles Simon and Jude

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, let us examine two of the Twelve Apostles: Simon the Cananaean and Jude Thaddaeus (not to be confused with Judas Iscariot). Let us look at them together, not only because they are always placed next to each other in the lists of the Twelve (cf. Mt 10: 3, 4; Mk 3: 18; Lk 6: 15; Acts 1: 13), but also because there is very little information about them, apart from the fact that the New Testament Canon preserves one Letter attributed to Jude Thaddaeus.

Simon is given a nickname that varies in the four lists: while Matthew and Mark describe him as a "Cananaean", Luke instead describes him as a "Zealot".

In fact, the two descriptions are equivalent because they mean the same thing: indeed, in Hebrew the verb qanà' means "to be jealous, ardent" and can be said both of God, since he is jealous with regard to his Chosen People (cf. Ex 20: 5), and of men who burn with zeal in serving the one God with unreserved devotion, such as Elijah (cf. I Kgs 19: 10).

Thus, it is highly likely that even if this Simon was not exactly a member of the nationalist movement of Zealots, he was at least marked by passionate attachment to his Jewish identity, hence, for God, his People and divine Law.

If this was the case, Simon was worlds apart from Matthew, who, on the contrary, had an activity behind him as a tax collector that was frowned upon as entirely impure. This shows that Jesus called his disciples and collaborators, without exception, from the most varied social and religious backgrounds. It was people who interested him, not social classes or labels! And the best thing is that in the group of his followers, despite their differences, they all lived side by side, overcoming imaginable difficulties: indeed, what bound them together was Jesus himself, in whom they all found themselves united with one another.

This is clearly a lesson for us who are often inclined to accentuate differences and even contrasts, forgetting that in Jesus Christ we are given the strength to get the better of our continual conflicts.

Let us also bear in mind that the group of the Twelve is the prefiguration of the Church, where there must be room for all charisms, peoples and races, all human qualities that find their composition and unity in communion with Jesus. Then with regard to Jude Thaddaeus, this is what tradition has called him, combining two different names: in fact, whereas Matthew and Mark call him simply "Thaddaeus" (Mt 10: 3; Mk 3: 18), Luke calls him "Judas, the son of James" (Lk 6: 16; Acts 1: 13).

The nickname "Thaddaeus" is of uncertain origin and is explained either as coming from the Aramaic, taddà', which means "breast" and would therefore suggest "magnanimous", or as an abbreviation of a Greek name, such as "Teodòro, Teòdoto". Very little about him has come down to us. John alone mentions a question he addressed to Jesus at the Last Supper: Thaddaeus says to the Lord: "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?".

This is a very timely question which we also address to the Lord: why did not the Risen One reveal himself to his enemies in his full glory in order to show that it is God who is victorious? Why did he only manifest himself to his disciples? Jesus' answer is mysterious and profound. The Lord says: "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14: 22-23).

This means that the Risen One must be seen must be perceived also by the heart, in a way so that God may take up his abode within us. The Lord does not appear as a thing. He desires to enter our lives, and therefore his manifestation is a manifestation that implies and presupposes an open heart. Only in this way do we see the Risen One.

The paternity of one of those New Testament Letters known as "catholic", since they are not addressed to a specific local Church but intended for a far wider circle, has been attributed to Jude Thaddaeus. Actually, it is addressed "to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ" (v. 1).

A major concern of this writing is to put Christians on guard against those who make a pretext of God's grace to excuse their own licentiousness and corrupt their brethren with unacceptable teachings, introducing division within the Church "in their dreamings" (v. 8). This is how Jude defines their doctrine and particular ideas. He even compares them to fallen angels and, mincing no words, says that "they walk in the way of Cain" (v. 11).

Furthermore, he brands them mercilessly as "waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever" (vv. 12-13).

Today, perhaps, we are no longer accustomed to using language that is so polemic and yet that tells us something important. In the midst of all the temptations that exist, with all the currents of modern life, we must preserve our faith's identity. Of course, the way of indulgence and dialogue, on which the Second Vatican Counsel happily set out, should certainly be followed firmly and consistently.

But this path of dialogue, while so necessary, must not make us forget our duty to rethink and to highlight just as forcefully the main and indispensable aspects of our Christian identity. Moreover, it is essential to keep clearly in mind that our identity requires strength, clarity and courage in light of the contradictions of the world in which we live.

Thus, the text of the Letter continues: "But you, beloved" - he is speaking to all of us -, "build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt..." (vv. 20-22).

The Letter ends with these most beautiful words: "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (vv. 24-25).

It is easy to see that the author of these lines lived to the full his own faith, to which realities as great as moral integrity and joy, trust and lastly praise belong, since it is all motivated solely by the goodness of our one God and the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, may both Simon the Cananaean and Jude Thaddeus help us to rediscover the beauty of the Christian faith ever anew and to live it without tiring, knowing how to bear a strong and at the same time peaceful witness to it.

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. Today, the Liturgy commemorates my venerable Predecessor Bl. John XXIII, who served Christ and the Church with exemplary dedication, doing his best with constant concern for the salvation of souls. May his protection support you, dear young people, in the effort of daily faithfulness to Christ; may it encourage you, dear sick people, not to lose trust in the hour of trial and suffering; may it help you, dear newly-weds, to make your family a school of growth in love of God and others.

© Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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1. For those interested in the aforesaid legends a detailed study is to be found in Els Rose, Ritual Memory: The Apocryphal Acts and Liturgiacl commemoration in the Early Medieval West (c. 500-12150) (The Netherlands; Brill, 2009), Chapter 5, pp. 213-219.