VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican’s daily newspaper has once again questioned whether Judas is in Hell, in contradiction to the Catholic Church’s consistent teaching on the matter.
On March 29, L’Osservatore Romano published an article entitled “Our brother Judas,” written by Father Simone Caleffi. The article presented Judas to readers as an individual beset by difficult circumstances who should merit pity and favorable attention.
“What could be more despairing than not accepting to be forgiven, and thus loved, by the person dearest? Yet, who can be certain of Judas’ eternal perdition?” wrote Caleffi, adding:
What could possibly have gone through his heart at the end, what final thought, what cry? One thing is certain: Jesus, who is Mercy infinitely, offered his life for every man, and therefore also for the most unfortunate, desperate and guilty of his friends.
Getting into a person’s heart is arduous. Let alone understand the motives and behaviors of others when sometimes we cannot even understand ourselves!
Caleffi referenced the kiss Judas gave to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:49), arguing that it was a kiss of friendship without any more sinister meaning: “The kiss on the face was a sign of friendship, unlike the one on the hands, and was meant to indicate nothing more than a disciple’s respect for his master.”
Christ’s calling Judas “friend” means that “Christ also says this to each of us, to each of those who might betray him every day,” wrote Caleffi. He called on his readers to empathize with Judas, asking them to “try for a moment to imagine his existential situation … The love for Jesus, by whom he had felt truly loved, as well as the unspeakable weight of guilt, crushed him.”
The article was modeled after, and bore the same title as, a 1958 Maundy Thursday homily delivered by Fr. Primo Mazzolari which argued that Judas was not in Hell and called on Catholics to have sympathy for Judas. That homily was itself published by L’Osservatore Romano in 2021.
Arguing against the condemnation of Judas to Hell has been a regular theme in post-Conciliar theological missives. The thesis famously was proposed by Hans Urs von Balthazar in his text “Dare We Hope ‘That All Men Be Saved?’”
Pope Francis has also made comments similar to Caleffi’s, when in Holy Week of 2020 he stated he did not know where Judas was. “How did Judas end up? I don’t know.”
“Judas, perhaps a good boy, with good intentions, ends up as a traitor to the point of going to the market to sell,” said Francis, who also drew from Fr. Mazzolari’s homily. But “Christ never calls Judas a ‘traitor’ personally. Rather, Jesus calls him ‘friend’ and kisses him.”
Catholic Tradition on Judas
Such arguments on Judas’ eternal rewards do not lie in accord with the account of Sacred Scripture, though. Matthew’s account of the Last Supper (Matt 26:24) records Christ’s words on the one who would betray Him:
The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him, if that man had not been born. And Judas that betrayed him, answering, said: Is it I, Rabbi? He saith to him: Thou hast said it.
The Acts of the Apostles (1:16) recount the fallen Apostle’s position in Hell, stating that Judas “hath possessed a field of the reward of iniquity.” In choosing Judas’ replacement, the eleven Apostles speak thus:
Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen to take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas hath by transgression fallen, that he might go to his own place.
St. John’s Gospel recounts the words of Christ referring to Judas, during his prayer prior to His arrest:
While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. Those whom thou gavest me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture may be fulfilled.
Commenting on the Gospel passage (Matt 26:49) of the meeting between Judas and Christ in Gethsemane, St. Thomas Aquinas rebuffs the arguments presented by Caleffi and Francis. Judas, writes St. Thomas, “made a sign of friendship into a sign of betrayal; ‘better are the wounds of a friend, than the deceitful kisses of an enemy’ (Prov 27:6).”
While both Caleffi and Francis argue that Christ calling Judas “friend” suggests that Judas is not as wicked as Catholic theology has taught, Aquinas cited Scripture to note that “Whenever He [Christ] calls someone a friend, he speaks by way of reproach.”
St. Thomas added that another interpretation of “friend” is that it was a “permissive” word used by Christ, to encourage Judas to complete his action of betrayal in accord with the testimony of the Scriptures.
In his Catena Aurea, which collates the commentary of saints and Church Fathers, Aquinas further presents Origen’s comments on the passage which Caleffi and Francis referenced:
but I think that all betrayers of truth love to assume the guise of truth, and to use the sign of a kiss. Like Judas also, all heretics call Jesus Rabbi, and receive from Him mild answer. “And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come?” He says, “Friend,” upbraiding his hypocrisy; for in Scripture we never find this term of address used to any of the good, but as above, “Friend, how camest thou in hither?” (Matt 22:12) and, “Friend, I do thee no wrong.” (Matt 20:13)
Avery Cardinal Dulles once explained in an article titled “The Population of Hell” about the fate of Judas:
The New Testament does not tell us in so many words that any particular person is in hell. But several statements about Judas can hardly be interpreted otherwise. Jesus says that he has kept all those whom the Father has given him except the son of perdition (John 17:12). At another point, Jesus calls Judas a devil (John 6:70), and yet again says of him: “It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21).
Continuing, Dulles wrote that: “If Judas were among the saved, these statements could hardly be true. Many saints and doctors of the Church, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, have taken it as a revealed truth that Judas was reprobated. Some of the Fathers place the name of Nero in the same select company, but they do not give long lists of names, as Dante would do.”