Words on the Word
Sts Simon and Jude
In the tenth chapter of the book of Genesis, we are told how, once the ark was settled on firm ground, the sons of Noah scattered over the face of the earth. So closely were various parts of the inhabited world linked with them and their descendants that geography and ethnography merge in later biblical narrative. Personal names are irrevocably connected with places. In the early Church, lists of Jesus’s apostles evoked similar associations. True to Christ’s commandment the apostles scattered to the north and south, east and west. Like Noah’s children, they represented a new humanity. It had to spread everywhere, lest the light of Christ should be hidden under a bed.
It is fashionable these days to say that we do not know anything about the later life of the apostles, that these men, so characteristically present in the Gospels, vanish into thin air after the Ascension. That is what sceptics maintain who have no time for tradition. But perhaps we need not be quite so reductive?
The apostles we celebrate today, Simon and Jude, are in very ancient sources associated with a mission to the east. One of the most venerable documents of early Church history, the Doctrine of Addai, tells us how Jude or Thaddeus (Addai in Syriac) was despatched by St Thomas to Edessa in modern-day Turkey. There his preaching and works of healing brought about the almost unanimous conversion of that great city. Let the doubter doubt. The fact remains that Christianity was firmly established in that part of Mesopotamia by the early second century with a firm claim to apostolic origins. Someone must have brought it there, and Thaddeus’s name is connected with the mission from the first.
An impressive feature of the Doctrine of Addai is the apostle’s serene self-consciousness. He knows he is carrying an infinitely precious message; at the same time he is quite uninterested in any honour for himself. He does not even bother to make a display of his humility. So obvious is it to him that his person is of no consequence. What matters is the word, the power, entrusted to him. At one point, King Abgar of Edessa wants to pay him gold and silver for his benefits to the city. Thaddeus calmly retorts, ‘If we have left our own property behind, how can we accept other people’s?’
It is not strange that this humble man should gradually disappear in the mists of history. What he was concerned to bestow was Christ, not traces of self. He lived out the principle of all mission: ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’ He was committed to remaining poor and transparent, a voice crying in the wilderness. Now, isn’t that a lesson to us all?