SAINTS & ART: We have a tradition and a legend associated with each of these apostles.
As we noted earlier, some apostles—like Peter, James, and John—get great press from the New Testament. Some – like Andrew – are singled out for “best supporting apostle”. Some – like Bartholomew and Matthew – are mentioned for the account of their call. Finally, some — like Simon and Jude — are named in the apostolic catalog without anything else being really said about them. At least Jude is also the name of a short New Testament epistle; Simon otherwise seems to disappear. We have a tradition and a legend associated with each one.
Indeed, the two Apostles have identity problems. In biblical times, a name is a sign of the deepest identity, so names often include X bar, “son of X”, to clarify family roots. This is why, when Jesus recognizes Saint Peter’s confession of faith, he speaks to him by his first name, “Simon, son of Jonas” (Matthew 16:17).
In biblical times, to change one’s name is to profoundly change one’s identity, which is why only God does it. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel. And “Simon son of Jonas” becomes Peter, the ecclesiastical rock (Matthew 16:18).
But before Jesus named him Peter, Peter was Simon. Therefore, in order to distinguish the chief Apostle from “the other” Simon, today’s saint often appears in apostolic lists as “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15) or “Simon the Canaanite (Mark 3:18). The first, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia is not indicative of his political views (the Zealots were a party willing to use what we would today call terrorism to rid Israel of the Romans) but his zeal for the Law of God. The latter suggests his origins: another Galilean.
Beyond that, the New Testament is silent to Simon. There are all sorts of traditions about where he preached, although Persia seems to be the most common. For much of Christian tradition, he was said to saw to pieces: Christian iconography typically depicts him holding a deer saw, today typically used for cutting firewood but also meat – including including, apparently, human flesh.
If Simon suffers from silence, Jude suffers from confusion. Saint Jude is known as the “patron of hopeless causes and hopeless things”. Devotion to Saint Jude was strong in the United States, especially from the 1930s through the 1970s. Many parishes included a novena to Saint Jude among weekly services. The novena prayer includes the observation that “the name of the traitor has caused you to be forgotten by many”, hence the confusion. Just as Simon is distinguished as the “Zealot” or “Canaanite” to distinguish him from Peter, so Jude is distinguished from Judas Iscariot by also being called “Thaddeus” (of the great heart) (Mark 3:18), the “son of James” or “son of Alphaeus” (Luke 6:16), or simply “Judas (not Iscariot)” (John 14:22). The Johannine reference is to a question asked by Jude at the Last Supper, why Jesus revealed himself to the Apostles and not to the world. This question becomes an opportunity for Jesus to develop the role of the coming to the Apostles of the Holy Spirit, the “Paraclete”, by whose power they would reveal him to the world.
Like Simon, we know little of Jude’s later activities. Two questions related to tradition influenced his iconography. One is a tradition that says that Abgar, king of Edessa in today’s Turkey, was gravely ill. He sent for Jesus to come to him, but Our Lord pressed his face against a cloth on which his image was imprinted, and sent this Veil of pre-Veronica with Jude to Abgar, who was healed. This is why Jude is often depicted with a medallion bearing the image of Jesus either on his hand or around his neck. He is also often depicted holding a halberd – a battle ax on a long pike – because this is often cited as the means of his martyrdom in Persia around AD 65. One tradition holds that Simon and Jude opposed idol worship in Persia and were therefore killed. by the priests of the pagan cult. Because Jude is the “Boss of Hopeless Cases”, he often dresses in green, the color of hope and life.
Our saints are illustrated in a book of the Vatican Museum which dates from the end of the 14th century. The center represents a pagan altar dedicated to the worship of the sun and the moon. The golden legend says that when Simon and Jude entered this temple, they declared that the idols were full of demons, ordering the demons to come out and destroy them. We see the two black devils on the altar, smashing the idols. But we also see the temple clergy, now unemployed in a lucrative sinecure, crushing the Apostles. Two on the left brandish a halberd and a club, both about to bring them down on Jude, dressed in green. Simon, in white, appears cut down by a sword (as opposed to the saw usually associated with him). The gold background in this case is not the typically celestial realm we see in art from this period, but an allusion to the opulence in which the golden legend said that the pagan temple of Suanir was equipped.
In a world where hopelessness and hopelessness affect many people (consider how many people anesthetize themselves or commit suicide), the patronage of the patron of hopeless causes seems especially needed. For the novena prayer of Saint Jude and others, see here.