St. Simeon Salus, the Holy Fool

The feast day of Saint Simeon on July 1―a good reason to proclaim and enjoy ‘Fool for Christ Day.’

Simeon the Holy Fool and his friend John of Edessa
Simeon the Holy Fool and his friend John of Edessa (photo: Register Files)

Everywhere we look, troubles assail us. Ireland has accepted abortion. Canada allows “trouples” in an unmarried polyamorous relationship to adopt children as if they were no more than a fashion accessory. Men assume they are women and vice versa. Christians are being slaughtered and no one cares. The Left has redefined the words “open-mindedness” and “tolerance” to mean, “You must agree with us or we will destroy you!” People have come to vilify Christians even though the later rarely, if ever, commit acts of terrorism while Islam is given a pass for the sake of political correctness, or perhaps fear of reprisals.

The world has officially gone mad. 

We all saw it coming. Both Popes Paul VI and St. John Paul II warned us about it. St. Anthony the Great even told us about this nearly 1700 years ago when he wrote, "Here comes the time, when people will behave like madmen, and if they see anybody who does not behave like that, they will rebel against him and say: ‘You are mad,’ — because he is not like them."

But the truth is, the world has always been messed up ever since the first two humans got kicked out of their cushy gated community.

There has never been a time in which all was well and good with the world. If this were Paradise, why would we need redemption or, indeed, look forward to yet another Paradise far off in the future? Christ didn't suffer and die for us because everything was hunky-dory.

And ever since Christians and Jews have noticed that not everything is as it should be with the world, there has been a class of holy people who have been given the grace to hold a mirror up to the world and ask, “Are you practicing what you preach?” They are called “holy fools.”

King David danced before the Ark of the Convent wearing not his kingly vestments but rather only a linen ephod, earning him the clucking tongues of some onlookers. (2 Samuel 6:14, 1 Chronicles 15-27)

The Prophet Isaiah walked around naked for three years warning the ancient Jews about their upcoming enslavement in Egypt. (Isaiah 2:2-3)

The Prophet Ezekiel lay before a brick and made sand castles around it to represent Jerusalem and the upcoming war against it. (Ezekiel 4:1-6) He baked bread with beans and peas in the dough and ate it for 390 days while lying on his left side (Ezekiel 4:9) and only when people were watching him. (Ezekiel 4:12)

The Prophet Hosea married a prostitute to symbolize the infidelity of Israel before God. (Hosea 3)

But this kind of foolishness and self-debasement didn’t end with the Jewish prophets. St. Paul proudly calls himself a “fool for Christ”―an expression that has caused a great deal of confusion in the ensuing 2000 years. 

Christ endured mockery and humiliation throughout His life and Passion. In fact, when He first preached the significance of the Holy Eucharist, a great number of His followers fell away at the seeming foolishness of eating His Body. (John 6:66-69)

Nicodemus was shocked when Jesus told him point-blank that only one who is born again can see the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus, who had been pretty calm and polite until that point raises his voice and asks, "How can a grown man be born again? He certainly cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time!" (John 3:4)

Christ constantly challenged established norms and concepts of God as He preached in ancient Israel. He had no problem overturning moneychanger’s tables (Luke 19:45-48) or working on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28,) or engaging in conversations with Samaritan women lingering at the village well (John 4:1-42), consorting with tax collectors and prostitutes (Mark 2:14-17,) rescuing adulteresses (John 7:53-8:11), or telling jokes to little kids (Matthew 19:13-15,) even though none of these behaviors was becoming of a first-century Jewish gentlemen―let alone the Messiah and the Son of God.

St. Paul describes the connection between foolishness and faith when he writes:

For Christ's sake we are fools; but you are wise in union with Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! We are despised, but you are honored! (1Corinthians 4:10-13)

For what this world considers to be wisdom is nonsense in God's sight. As the Scripture says, ‘God traps the wise in their cleverness.’ (1Corinthians 3:19)

For the message about Christ's death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God's power. The Scripture says, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the understanding of the scholars.’ …God has shown that this world's wisdom is foolishness! (1Corinthians 1:18-24)

This kind of foolishness isn’t restricted to people in the Bible. At one Christmas party, St. Francis of Assisi was so overwhelmed with joy due to the Reason for the Season, that he took the donated pork roast and smeared it on the walls of their grass hut so that, “the very house itself might share in the joy” he felt.

That’s a bit odd. I enjoy Christmas as much as the next Christian but I’ve never did that to my main course before.

One of Francis’ followers, Brother Juniper, once cut of the foot of a pig he didn’t own, leaving it to die in the forest so that he could offer it to a sick and dying friar. The swineherd was less than pleased at this development. But, upon learning of Juniper's reasoning, the man forgave him and delivered the rest of the pig to the friars.


On July 1, the Church celebrates Simeon Salus the Holy Fool―a sixth-century Christian monk born in Edessa. When he turned 20, he and his friend, John of Edessa, entered the monastery of Abba Gerasimus in Syria near the Dead Sea. They lived there for 29 years where he grew spiritually. At that point, Simeon was urged by God in a vision to move to Emesa to perform social and charitable works. The saint asked God to allow him to serve others in a way that they wouldn’t thank him. So, once in Emesa, Simeon feigned madness but despite his strange behavior, he brought many citizens to true conversion.

Simeon entered Emesa dragging a dog’s carcass after him. You may not approve of his educational model, but it’s certainly an attention-getter. Children chased and taunted him in the streets. Simeon often pretended to have a limp or would scoot about on his rear end. He would trip people if they ran past him. He would go to church and extinguish candles and throw nuts at women. On leaving, he overturned tables of pastries set up chefs on the street hoping to sell them. This didn’t make him popular―at least not at first. But the local deacon was a good friend―John from his monastery days―in whom he would confide. But despite his wild antics, Simeon fed the hungry, healed many possessed people by his prayer, reprimanded people when they refuse to obey the Gospel. Many of Simeon’s kindly acts were done in secret.

Interestingly, St. Simeon is the Patron Saint of Ventriloquists and Puppeteers because he often used puppets to challenge sinners and to castigate himself. This helps explain how it is that ventriloquists accept so much abuse from their dummies. 

Conventional worldly wisdom urges us all to get a good job, to get ahead by any means possible, to not care about our fellow man and to ignore God, charity and spirituality. Foolishness for Christ is the Spirit-guided refusal to live by the world’s rules for the sake of the World to Come. Thus, a man or woman who gives up his worldly possessions to join a monastery or who chooses to be homeless in order to assist other homeless people or who travels to a far-off land in order to evangelize are all holy fools. examples of this deliberate flouting of society's conventions to serve a religious purpose. 

The feast day of Saint Simeon on July 1―a good reason to proclaim and enjoy ‘Fool for Christ Day.’