Saints in the mists of antiquity

The two Saints Simon and Jude have been linked together in the Canon of the Mass, since time out of mind. We continue to celebrate them, this day. Our missals suggest the reason: for these were Apostles, “brethren of Our Lord,” who went off to Mesopotamia, then into Persia. From hints in Bible and Tradition, Simon was a converted Jewish Zealot; Jude the sage author of the short New Testament Epistle, preserved in his name. (More fully, Judas Thaddaeus, pointedly distinguished from Judas Iscariot.) There is e.g. an apocryphal Passion of Simon and Jude, on their fate in Persia. We have hints of them in conflict with Zoroastrian priests and court magicians; of their previous success in making many converts. We cannot tell at this distance of nearly two thousand years, any more than we can of other major events, exactly what happened. For that matter, we cannot tell exactly what happened yesterday, this side of the grave. But we can see that this Simon and this Jude were famous, and easily guess what they were famous for.

We see from the news that the conversion of Persia is not yet complete. Indeed, it was farther ahead at several times in the past. To the modern mind, which takes Christianity as a brand, and may compare its spread to that of a global corporation, setbacks can be attributed to bad management. I like to mention the less-appreciated factor of market resistance. It is interesting to me that the objections raised against the Gospel account of Jesus, by Parsees, Mandaeans, Nabataeans, Manichees, and others, are only to his death and resurrection; otherwise they are happy to appropriate Him.

In other ways this habit of easy assimilation — but only on the condition that Christ is not Absolute — carries back to the old Persian, and Arab tribal religions, and forward into Islam. What the Arab historians called the Sabians — lumping together miscellaneous “peoples of the book” (of one book or another) — are always strongly dualistic. The Judaeo-Christian outlook is not. We all perceive a War in Heaven; for them it is more evenly matched.

To my mind, the significance of this is large. At the deepest level, to the mindset of this East, the Good Lord needs our help; to our more startlingly “Hebrew-Hellenic” outlook, we need God’s. Contemplation reveals that our respective notions of “will” (and “free will”) are founded in these different soils. To our prophets, there is no question that God will prevail. To theirs, even after the radically monotheist corrective of Islam, there remains a sneaking doubt, and I attribute a recurrent fanaticism to this recurring demand, in effect, for Allah to prove that he is still winning.

From ancient Sasanian to modern Salafist, they have been betting on the strong horse; and therefore, instinctively, on conversion by force. We, by contrast, have been betting on the weak one — which would be foolish, had we not some inside knowledge.

But now I am going deeper than I can dive, in pursuit of some pearl beyond me.