Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Simon, Surnamed the Zealot, Apostle

[Saint Simon the Apostle]Article

Saint Simon is surnamed the Cananæan or Canaanite, and the Zealot, to distinguish him from Saint Peter, and from Saint Simeon, the brother of Saint James the Less, and his successor in the see of Jerusalem. From the first of these surnames some have thought that Saint Simon was born at Cana, in Galilee: certain modern Greeks pretend that it was at his marriage that our Lord turned the water into wine. It is not to be doubted but he was a Galilæan: Theodoret says, of the tribe either of Zabulon or Nepthali. But as for the surname of Cananæan, it has in Syro-Chaldaic the same signification which the word Zelotes bears in Greek. Saint Luke translated it; the other evangelists retained the original name; for Canath in Syro-Chaldaic, or modern Hebrew, signifies Zeal as Saint Jerom observes. Nicephorus Calixti, a modern Greek historian, tells us this name was given to Saint Simon only from the time of his apostleship, wherein he expressed an ardent zeal and affection for his Master, was an exact observer of all the rules of his religion, and opposed with a pious warmth all those who swerved from it. As the evangelists take no notice of such a circumstance, Hammond and Grotius think that Saint Simon was called the Zealot, before his coming to Christ, because he was one of that particular sect or party among the Jews called Zealots, from a singular zeal they professed for the honour of God, and the purity of religion. A party called Zealots were famous in the war of the Jews against the Romans. They were main instruments in instigating the people to shake off the yoke of subjection; they assassinated many of the nobility and others, in the streets, filled the temple itself with bloodshed and other horrible profanations, and were the chief cause of the ruin of their country. But no proof is offered by which it is made to appear that any such party existed in our Saviour’s time, though some then maintained that it was not lawful for a Jew to pay taxes to the Romans. At least if any then took the name of Zealots, they certainly neither followed the impious conduct, nor adopted the false and inhuman maxims of those mentioned by Josephus in his history of the Jewish war against the Romans.

Saint Simon, after his conversion, was zealous for the honour of his Master, and exact in all the duties of the Christian religion; and showed a pious indignation towards those who professed this holy faith with their mouths, but dishonoured it by the irregularity of their lives. No further mention appears of him in the gospels, than that he was adopted by Christ into the college of the apostles. With the rest he received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, which he afterwards exercised with great zeal and fidelity. Nicephorus Calixti, and some other modern Greeks, pretend, that after preaching in Mauritania, and other parts of Africa, he sailed into Britain, and having enlightened the minds of many with the doctrine of the gospel, was crucified by the infidels. But of this there appears no shadow of probability, and the vouchers, by many inconsistencies, destroy the credit of their own assertion. If this apostle preached in Egypt, Cyrene, and Mauritania, he returned into the East; for the Martyrologies of Saint Jerom, Bede, Ado, and Usuard place his martyrdom in Persia, at a city called Suanir, possibly in the country of the Suani, a people in Colchis, or a little higher in Sarmatia, then allied with the Parthians in Persia: which may agree with a passage in the Acts of Saint Andrew, that in the Cimmerian Bosphorus there was a tomb in a grot, with an inscription, importing, that Simon the Zealot was interred there. His death is said in these Martyrologies to have been procured by the idolatrous priests. Those who mention the manner of his death say he was crucified. Saint Peter’s church on the Vatican at Rome, and the cathedral of Toulouse are said to possess the chief portions of the relics of Saints Simon and Jude.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Simon, Surnamed the Zealot, Apostle”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 27 August 2014. Web. 16 February 2019. <>