St. James the Less
Feast Day: May 3 (May 1 before 1955)
St. James the Less, the author of an inspired epistle, was also one of the Twelve. St. Paul tells us that he was favored by a special apparition of Christ after the Resurrection. On the dispersion of the apostles among the nations, St. James was left as Bishop of Jerusalem; and even the Jews held in such high veneration his purity, mortification, and prayer, that they named him the Just. The earliest of Church historians has handed down many traditions of St. James’s sanctity. He was always a virgin, says Hegesippus, and consecrated to God. He drank no wine, wore no sandals on his feet, and but a single garment on his body. He prostrated himself so much in prayer that the skin of his knees was hardened like a camel’s hoof. The Jews, it is said, used out of respect to touch the hem of his garment. He was indeed a living proof of his own words, “The wisdom that is from above first indeed is chaste, then peaceable, modest, full of mercy and good fruits.” He sat beside St. Peter and St. Paul at the Council of Jerusalem; and when St. Paul at a later time escaped the fury of the Jews by appealing to Cæsar, the people took vengeance on James, and crying, “The just one hath erred,” stoned him to death.
Born: 1st Century BC Died: 62 AD
ST. JAMES, to distinguish him from the other apostle of the same name the son of Zebedee, was called the Less; which apellation is supposed to have taken its rise, either from his having been called later to the apostleship than the former, or from the lowness of his stature, or from his youth. He is also known by the title of James the Just, a denomination all agree, with Hegesippus and St. Clement of Alexandria, to have been given on account of his eminent sanctity. He was the son of Alpheus and Mary, the sister of the Blessed Virgin, and seems to have been born some years before our Lord. Jesus came with his brethren, and probably St. James among the rest, to settle in Capernaum, at the beginning of his ministry.2 James and his brother Jude were called to the apostleship in the second year of Christ’s preaching, soon after the Pasch, in the year 31. He was favored with an extraordinary apparition of his Master after his resurrection. Clement of Alexandria says, that Christ being risen from the dead, communicated the gift of science to SS. James the Just, John, and Peter, and that they imparted it to the other apostles. We are told by SS. Jerome and Epiphanius, that our Lord, at his ascension, recommended his church of Jerusalem to St. James; in consequence whereof the apostles, before their dispersion, constituted him bishop of that city. It was probably for a mark of his episcopal authority, and as an ensign of his dignity, that he wore on his head a lamina, or plate of gold, as is recounted by St. Epiphanius. Polycrates, quoted by Eusebius, testifies, that St. John did the same: others relate the like of St. Mark. It was probably done in imitation of the Jewish high-priest.
St. James governed that church in perpetual dangers, from the fury of the people and their violent persecutions; but his singular virtue procured him the veneration of the Jews themselves. As to his sanctity, Eusebius and St. Jerome give from Hegesippus the following account concerning him: “He was always a virgin, and was a Nazarite, or one consecrated to God. In consequence of which he was never shaved, never cut his hair, never drank any wine or other strong liquor; moreover, he never used any bath, or oil to anoint his limbs, and never ate of any living creature except when of precept, as the paschal lamb: he never wore sandals, never used any other clothes than one single linen garment. He prostrated so much in prayer, that the skin of his knees and forehead was hardened like to camels’ hoofs.” St. Epiphanius says, that, in a great drought, on stretching out his arms to heaven, he, by his prayers, instantly obtained rain. His eminent sanctity made even the Jews style him the just man: and Origen observes, that Josephus himself gives him that epithet, though it is not to be found now in Josephus’s works. The same reverence for his person procured him the privilege of entering at pleasure into the Sanctum or Holy place, namely, that part of the temple where none but the priests were allowed by the law to enter.13 St. Jerome adds, that the Jews strove, out of respect, who should touch the hem of his garment. In the year 51, he assisted at the council of the apostles, held at Jerusalem, about the observance of circumcision, and the other legal ceremonies of the law of Moses. Here, after having confirmed what St. Peter said, he devised the sentence which the apostles drew up on that occasion. This apostle being bishop of a church, which then chiefly consisted of Jewish converts, tolerated the use of the legal ceremonies, and, together with others, advised St. Paul to purify himself and offer sacrifice. He is the author of a canonical epistle which he wrote in Greek. It is at the head of those called catholic, or universal, because addressed not to any one particular church, but to the whole body of the converted Jews dispersed throughout the then known world. It was penned some time after those of St. Paul to the Galatians, in 55, and to the Romans in 58. It could not, therefore, be written before the year 59, fourteen years after the death of St. James the greater. The author’s view in this epistle is to refute the false teachers, who, abusing certain expressions in St. Paul’s writings, pretended that faith alone was sufficient to justification without good works: whereas, without these, he declares our faith is dead. He adds excellent precepts of a holy life, and exhorts the faithful not to neglect the sacrament of extreme unction in sickness.
The oriental liturgy or mass, which bears the name of this apostle, is mentioned by Proclus, patriarch of Constantinople, and by the council in Trullo, and is of venerable antiquity. St. Basil, indeed, testifies, that the words of the sacred invocation in the consecration of the bread and of the cup, were not committed to writing, but learned and preserved by tradition down to the fourth century, which was done on a motive of respect and veneration: but other parts of the liturgy were written. Perhaps St. James gave only general directions about this liturgy, upon whose plan it was afterwards drawn up or enlarged. His singular learning in sacred matters is extolled by St. Clement of Alexandria, and St. Jerome.
The Jews, being exasperated at the disappointment of their malicious designs against St. Paul by his appeal to Cæsar, to whom he was sent by Festus, in the year 60, were resolved to revenge it on St. James. That governor, dying before the arrival of his successor, Albinus, this vacancy gave them an opportunity of acting more arbitrarily than otherwise they durst have done. Wherefore, during this interval, Ananus, the high-priest, son of the famous Annas mentioned in the gospels, having assembled the Sanhedrim, or great council of the Jews, summoned St. James and others before it. Josephus, the Jewish historian, says, that St. James was accused of violating the laws, and delivered to the people to be stoned to death. And Hegesippus adds, that they carried him up to the battlements of the temple, and would have compelled him from thence to make a public renunciation of his faith in Christ, with this further view, thereby to undeceive, as they termed it, those among the people who had embraced Christianity. But St. James took that opportunity to declare his belief in Jesus Christ, after the most solemn and public manner. For he cried out aloud from the battlements, in the hearing of a great multitude, which was then at Jerusalem on account of the Passover, that Jesus, the Son of man, was seated at the right hand of the Sovereign Majesty, and would come in the clouds of heaven to judge the world. The Scribes and Pharisees, enraged at this testimony in behalf of Jesus, cried out: “The just man also hath erred.” And going up to the battlements, they threw him headlong down to the ground, saying, “He must be stoned.” St. James, though very much bruised by his fall, had strength enough to get upon his knees, and in this posture, lifting up his eyes to heaven, he begged of God to pardon his murderers, seeing that they knew not what they did. The rabble below received him with showers of stones, and at last a fuller gave him a blow on the head with his club, such as is used in dressing of cloths, after which he presently expired. This happened on the festival of the Pasch, the 10th of April, in the year of Christ 62, the seventh of Nero. He was buried near the temple, in the place in which he was martyred, where a small column was erected. Such was the reputation of his sanctity, that the Jews attributed to his death the destruction of Jerusalem, as we read in St. Jerome, Origen, and Eusebius, who assure us that Josephus himself declared it in the genuine editions of his history. Ananus put others to death for the same cause, but was threatened for this very fact by Albinus, and deposed from the high-priesthood by Agrippa. The episcopal throne of St. James was shown with respect at Jerusalem, in the fourth century. His relics are said to have been brought to Constantinople about the year 572.
The name “James” in the New Testament is borne by several:
1. James, the son of Zebedee — Apostle, brother of John, Apostle; also called “James the Greater”.
2. James, the son of Alpheus, Apostle — Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13.
3. James, the brother of the Lord — Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19. Without a shadow of doubt, he must be identified with the James of Galatians 2:2 and 2:9; Acts 12:17, 15:13 sqq. and 21:18; and 1 Corinthians 15:7.
4. James, the son of Mary, brother of Joseph (or Joses) — Mark 15:40 (where he is called ò mikros “the little”, not the “less”, as in the D.V., nor the “lesser”); Matthew 27:56. Probably the son of Cleophas or Clopas (John 19:25) where “Maria Cleophæ” is generally translated “Mary the wife of Cleophas”, as married women are commonly distinguished by the addition of their husband’s name.
5. James, the brother of Jude — Jude 1:1. Most Catholic commentators identify Jude with the “Judas Jacobi”, the “brother of James” (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), called thus because his brother James was better known than himself in the primitive Church.
The identity of the Apostle James (2), the son of Alpheus and James (3), the brother of the Lord and Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem (Acts 15, 21), although contested by many critics and, perhaps, not quite beyond doubt, is at least most highly probable, and by far the greater number of Catholic interpreters is considered as certain The objection moved by Mader (Biblische Zeitschrift, 1908, p. 393 sqq.) against the common statement that “Apostles” in Galatians 1:19 is to be taken strictly in the sense of the “Twelve” has been strongly impugned by Steinmann (Der Katholik, 1909, p. 207 sqq.). The James (5) of Jude 1:1 must certainly be identified with James (3), the brother of the Lord and the Bishop of Jerusalem. The identification of James (3), the brother of the Lord and James (4), the son of Mary, and probably of Cleophas or Clopas offers some difficulty. This identification requires the identity of Mary, the mother of James (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40), with Mary the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25), and, consequently, the identity of Alpheus (2) and Clopas (4). As Clopas and Alpheus are probably not two different transcriptions of the same Aramaic name Halpai (see CLEOPHAS), it must be admitted that two different names have been borne by one man. Indeed, there are several examples of the use of two names (a Hebrew and a Greek or Latin name) to designate the same person (Simon-Petrus; Saulus-Paulus), so that the identity of Alpheus and Cleophas is by no means improbable.
On the whole, although there is no full evidence for the identity of James (2), the son of Alpheus, and James (3), the brother of the Lord, and James (4), the son of Mary of Clopas, the view that one and the same person is described in the New Testament in these three different ways, is by far the most probable. There is, at any rate, very good ground (Galatians 1:19, 2:9, 2:12) for believing that the Apostle James, the son of Alpheus is the same person as James, the brother of the Lord, the well-known Bishop of Jerusalem of the Acts. As to the nature of the relationship which the name “brother of the Lord” is intended to express, see BRETHREN OF THE LORD.
James in the Scriptures
Had we not identified James, the son of Alpheus with the brother of the Lord, we should only know his name and his Apostleship. But the identity once admitted, we must consequently apply to him all the particulars supplied by the books of the New Testament. We may venture to assert that the training of James (and his brother Jude), had been that which prevailed in all pious Jewish homes and that it was therefore based on the knowledge of the Holy Scripture and the rigorous observance of the Law. Many facts point to the diffusion of the Greek language and culture throughout Judea and Galilee, as early as the first century B.C.; we may suppose that the Apostles, at least most of them, read and spoke Greek as well as Aramaic, from their childhood. James was called to the Apostolate with his brother Jude; in all the four lists of the Apostles, he stands at the head of the third group (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). Of James individually we hear no more until after the Resurrection. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:5-7) mentions that the Lord appeared to him before the Ascension.
Then we lose sight of James till St. Paul, three years after his conversion (A.D. 37), went up to Jerusalem. Of the Twelve Apostles he saw only Peter and James the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:19; Acts 9:27). When in the year 44 Peter escaped from prison, he desired that news of his release might be carried to James who held already a marked preeminence in the Church of Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). In the Council of Jerusalem (A.D. 51) he gives his sentence after St. Peter, declaring as Peter had done, that the Gentile Christians are not bound to circumcision, nor to the observance of the ceremonial Mosaic Law, but at the same time, he urged the advisability of conforming to certain ceremonies and of respecting certain of the scruples of their Jewish fellow-Christians (Acts 15:13 sqq.). On the same occasion, the “pillars” of the Church, James, Peter, and John “gave to me (Paul) and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision” (Galatians 2:9). He publicly commended the great charter of Gentile freedom from the Law, although he still continued the observance in his own life, no longer as a strict duty, but as an ancient, most venerable and national custom, trusting to “be saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:11). When afterwards some came from James to Antioch and led Peter into dissimulation (Galatians 2:12), his name was used by them, though he had given them no such commandment to enforce their interpretation of the concordat which, on his proposal, had been adopted at the Council of Jerusalem. When St. Paul after his third missionary journey paid a visit to St. James (A.D. 58), the Bishop of Jerusalem and “the elders” “glorified the Lord” and advised the Apostle to take part in the ceremonies of a Nazarite vow, in order to show how false the charge was that he had spoken of the Law as no longer to be regarded. Paul consented to the advice of James and the elders (Acts 21:1 sqq.). The Epistle of St. James reveals a grave, meek, and calm mind, nourished with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, given to prayer, devoted to the poor, resigned in persecution, the type of a just and apostolic man.
James outside of the Scriptures
Traditions respecting James the Less are to be found in many extra-canonical documents, especially Josephus (Antiq., XX, ix, 1), the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” (St. Jerome, Illustrious Men 2), Hegesippus (Eusebius, Church History II.23), the pseudo-Clementine Homilies (Ep. of Peter) and Recognitions (I, 72, 73), Clement of Alexandria (Hypot., vi, quoted by Eusebius, Church History II.1). The universal testimony of Christian antiquity is entirely in accordance with the information derived from the canonical books as to the fact that James was Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem. Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian, who lived about the middle of the second century, relates (and his narrative is highly probable) that James was called the “Just”, that he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor ate animal food, that no razor touched his head, that he did not anoint himself or make use of the bath, and lastly that he was put to death by the Jews. The account of his death given by Josephus is somewhat different. Later traditions deserve less attention.