Posted June 30, 2006
A Scripture Lesson on James the Less by Pope Benedict XVI
James the Less
"Contributed to Integrate the Original Jewish Dimension of Christianity"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 28, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict
XVI's address at today's general audience. The Pope spoke of the Apostle
James the Less.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Beside the figure of James "the Greater," son of Zebedee, of whom we spoke
last Wednesday, another James appears in the Gospel, who is called "the
Less." He also forms part of the list of Twelve Apostles chosen personally
by Jesus, and is always specified as "son of Alphaeus" (cf. Matthew 10:3;
Mark 3:18; Luke 5; Acts 1:13).
He has often been identified with another James, called "the Younger" (cf.
Mark 15:40), son of a Mary (cf. ibid.), who could be Mary of Clopas present,
according to the Fourth Gospel, at the foot of the cross together with the
Mother of Jesus (cf. John 19:25). He was also from Nazareth and probably a
relative of Jesus (cf. Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), who, after the Semitic
manner, was called "brother" (cf. Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19).
Of this last James, the book of Acts underlines the pre-eminent role played
in the Church of Jerusalem. In the apostolic council held there shortly
after the death of James the Greater, he affirmed together with the others
that the pagans could be received in the Church without first having to
undergo circumcision (cf. Acts 15:13). St. Paul, who attributes to him a
specific apparition of the Risen One (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:7), on the
occasion of his trip to Jerusalem names him directly before Cephas-Peter,
describing him as a "column" of the Church together with him (cf. Galatians
Afterward, the Judeo-Christians considered him their main point of
reference. To him in fact is attributed the Letter that bears the name James
and is included in the New Testament canon. He does not present himself as
the "Lord's brother," but as "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ"
There is a debate among scholars over the identification of these two
personages of the same name, James son of Alphaeus and James "brother of the
Lord." The evangelical traditions have not preserved for us an account of
one or the other in reference to the period of the earthly life of Jesus.
The Acts of the Apostles, instead, show us that a "James" carried out a very
important role within the early Church, as we already mentioned, after the
resurrection of Jesus, (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18).
The most prominent action he accomplished was his intervention on the
question of the difficult relationship between Christians of Jewish origin
and those of pagan origin. In this he contributed, together with Peter, to
surmount, or better, to integrate the original Jewish dimension of
Christianity with the need not to impose on converted pagans the obligation
to be subjected to all the norms of the law of Moses.
The book of Acts has preserved for us the compromise solution proposed
precisely by James and accepted by all the apostles present, according to
whom the pagans who had believed in Jesus Christ should only be requested to
abstain from the idolatrous custom of eating the flesh of animals offered in
sacrifice to the gods, and from the "immodesty," a term that probably
alluded to marital unions without consent. In practice, it was a question of
adhering to only a few prohibitions, held rather important by the Mosaic
In this way, two significant and complementary results were obtained, both
still valid: On one hand, the unbreakable relationship is recognized that
links Christianity to the Jewish religion as its perennially living and
valid matrix; on the other, Christians of pagan origin are allowed to
preserve their own sociological identity, which they would have lost if they
had been constrained to observe the so-called Mosaic ceremonial precepts:
These now were no longer to be considered obligatory for converted pagans.
In essence, a reciprocal praxis of esteem and respect was being initiated,
which, notwithstanding subsequent unfortunate misunderstandings, sought by
its nature to safeguard all that was characteristic of each of the two
The most ancient information on the death of this James is given to us by
the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In his Jewish Antiquities (20, 201f),
written in Rome toward the end of the first century, he tells us that James'
end was decided with the illegitimate initiative of the High Priest Ananus,
son of the Annas attested in the Gospels, who took advantage of the interval
between the deposition of one Roman Procurator (Festus) and the advent of
his successor (Albinius) to decree his stoning in the year 62.
To the name of this James, in addition to the apocryphal proto-Gospel of
James, which exalts the holiness and virginity of Mary the Mother of Jesus,
is particularly linked the Letter that bears his name. It occupies the first
place in the canon of the New Testament after the so-called Catholic
Letters, addressed, that is, not to one particular Church -- such as Rome,
Ephesus, etc. -- but to many Churches. It is a rather important writing,
which insists much on the need not to reduce one's faith to a pure verbal or
abstract declaration, but to express it concretely in good works. Among
other things, he invites us to constancy in joyfully accepted trials and to
trusting prayer to obtain from God the gift of wisdom, thanks to which we
succeed in understanding that the true values of life are not in transitory
riches, but rather in being able to share one's food with the poor and needy
(cf. James 1:27).
Thus the Letter of St. James shows us a very concrete and practical
Christianity. Faith must be carried out in life, above all in love of
neighbor and particularly in commitment to the poor. It is with this
background that the famous phrase must be read: "For just as a body without
a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). At
times this statement of James has been contrasted to Paul's affirmations,
according to whom we are rendered just by God not in virtue of our works,
but thanks to our faith (cf. Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28).
However, the two phrases, seemingly contradictory in their different
perspectives, in reality, if well interpreted, complement one another. St.
Paul is opposed to man's pride who thinks he has no need of the love of God
which anticipates us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification
without the grace simply given and not merited. St. James speaks instead of
works as the normal fruit of faith: "The sound tree bears good fruit," says
the Lord (Matthew 7:17). And St. James repeats it and says it to us.
Finally, the Letter of James exhorts us to abandon ourselves into God's
hands in everything we do, always pronouncing the words: "If the Lord wills"
(James 4:15). Thus he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives in an
autonomous and selfish way, but to make room for the inscrutable will of
God, who knows the true good for us. In this way, St. James is always a
timely teacher of life for each one of us.
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read the following summary in
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our weekly catechesis on the Church's apostolic ministry, we now turn to
the Apostle James the Less. In the Gospels, James is called the son of
Alphaeus. He is often identified with another James, known as "James the
younger" (cf. Mark 15:40), or "James, the brother of the Lord" (cf. Matthew
13:55; Galatians 1:19).
The Gospels themselves do not relate anything about either James during our
Lord's earthly ministry. The Acts of the Apostles, however, present[s] a
"James" whom St. Paul names with Peter as a "column" of the Church in
Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). At the Council of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15), it was
James who proposed that the Gentiles converted to Christ not be forced to
follow all the precepts of the Mosaic law.
Together with Peter, he thus enabled Gentile Christians to maintain their
identity, while respecting the perennially valid relationship between
Christianity and its Jewish origins. James also gave his name to the New
Testament Letter of James, which continues to speak to us today, stressing
the need for a living faith expressed in good works (2:26), and serene
abandonment to the will of God (4:15).
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this
audience, particularly those from the Philippines and the United States of
America. On this eve of the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, I pray that
all of you may be filled with the same zeal for Christ that inspired the two
holy apostles. May God bless you during your stay in the Eternal City.