There is no doubt that Judas was sorry for his treason. Holy Writ tells us that he repented himself. However, let us examine both the occasion and the quality of this repentance.
The occasion leading Judas to repentance was the sight of the terrible effects, entirely unforeseen, of his treason. ”Judas who betrayed Him, seeing that He was condemned, repenting himself.” It appears clearly from the Scriptures that when Judas betrayed the Lord, he neither foresaw nor intended the awful results that ensued. Ile had no idea that his act would cause the Lord such terrible outrages and the loss of life. He had often witnessed how Christ walked unharmed through the midst of His enemies who sought to kill Him, how He often found ways and means to escape them. He hoped that now He would escape in like manner. It will not harm the Lord much, thought he, at most it may cause Him a little annoyance and I shall have thirty pieces of silver more.
Now he sees how everything turns out differently. He beholds how Christ is dragged from one high-priest to another. He witnesses the terrors of the passion. He hears Him condemned to death in the house of Caiphas. The sight of the results of his deed makes its weighty import clear to him. ” He repents himself.” He would fain have his deed undone; he runs after the high-priests on the way to Pilate to cancel the abominable contract; filled with loathsome disgust, he throws the money down in the temple at the feet of the priests offering the morning sacrifice.
From this incident we may draw a two-fold lesson. When Satan tempts us to grievous sin, he shows us some good or other to be had by committing it. To one he offers money, to another vain honor, to another sensual pleasure, and he would make us believe that, if we obtained this one good, our happiness would be complete. All that, however, is vain deception. As soon as the sin is committed, we experience what Judas experienced and what our first parents experienced long before. Our eyes are opened. It is only by resisting temptation and by despising the seeming goods of earth that we secure to ourselves true happiness.
We should, furthermore, carefully avoid the sin of scandal, not only in serious things but also in minor matters. Even if harm to one’s neighbor is neither intended nor foreseen, who can determine results? The bad example given to one’s neighbor in small matters only and in the commission of merely venial sin, may be to him the first link in a long chain of serious errors.
Let us now see whether the quality of the sorrow of Judas was such that, on its account, his sin could be forgiven. For that purpose, it was required in the first place that his contrition be perfect, as the sacrament of penance was not yet established.
But the contrition of Judas was, at most, imperfect only. Judas bewailed his sin because he had shed innocent blood, that is because of its own atrocity. Had he considered this atrocity of his sin not only with the eyes of reason, but also with the eyes of faith, his sorrow would have been supernatural, it is true, but nevertheless only imperfect and not sufficient for justification.
However, according to the commentators of Scripture, the sorrow of Judas lacked every reference to God; he measured the enormity of his treason by its natural, sad results only and from a purely natural point of view, and thus it was solely a natural sorrow. This appears more credible from the fact that the apostle, as we have seen before, had lost all faith in the divinity of Christ. He saw in Christ nothing more than a man.
Furthermore, to render the forgiveness of sin possible, the hope of pardon must be united with contrition. But Judas despaired. Finally, to obtain pardon, he should have had the earnest determination to make reparation and to undo, as far as possible, the unhappy results of his treachery. Freely and with full deliberation, he had gone to the high-priests and had asked them, ”What will you give me and I will deliver him unto you?” It was, then, not enough to cast the thirty pieces of silver at their feet. He should have gone to the house of Pilate, he should have forced his way through the crowd to the very seat of the judge, he should there publicly and solemnly have sworn that Christ was the victim of intrigue and of foul calumny. Instead of all that, he took his departure.
Oh, that Catholics would never approach the tribunal of Penance with the contrition of a Judas!