Saint James was one of Jesus' apostles, who by tradition was a relative of Jesus, either a step-brother or a cousin. He was the bishop of Jerusalem in the early church, and wrote the epistle of James, one of the books in the New Testament. He is known for his crucial role in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, a meeting of the Christian leaders of the early church that decided that gentile Christians did not have to be circumcised or follow Jewish law.
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God is glorious in his saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is Prof Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we celebrate St James, the brother of the Lord, also known as Saint James the Just, or Saint James the Less
James is described in the gospels as a brother of Jesus. Traditionally, it is believed that James was either a cousin or a stepbrother of Jesus, that is, a son of Joseph, born before the bethrothal to Mary.
There are many different people named James in the Bible. It is clear that this James is different from James the son of Zebedee, (brother of Saint John). But it is less clear whether this James is different from James, son of Alphaeus, one of the Jesus’ 12 apostles. Generally Roman Catholics consider them the same person, whereas Eastern Orthodox and protestants consider them to be two different people.
James ended up being a very important leader in the early church. He held the position of Bishop of Jerusalem. He played a crucial role in the council of Jerusalem, which was a meeting to resolve a disagreement in the early church about whether gentiles who joined the Christian faith needed to follow Jewish laws. Tradition holds that James died a martyr. One of the books of the Bible is attributed to him, the epistle of James, which emphasises the connection between faith and action. He is also traditionally held to be the author of the Infancy Gospel of James, which is not in the Bible, but is an important source of Christian tradition about Mary and the nativity of Christ.
Let us read an account of his life from Pope Benedict the XVIth, who discussed Saint James the brother of the Lord extensively in a general audience on 28 June 2006.
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 Gospels, known as "the Lesser". He is also included in the list of the Twelve Apostles personally chosen by Jesus and is always specified as "the son of Alphaeus" (Mt 10: 3; Mk 3: 18; Lk 5; Acts 1: 13). He has often been identified with another James, called "the Younger" (cf. Mk 15: 40), the son of a Mary (cf. ibid.), possibly "Mary the wife of Clopas", who stood, according to the Fourth Gospel, at the foot of the Cross with the Mother of Jesus (cf. Jn 19: 25).
He also came from Nazareth and was probably related to Jesus (cf. Mt 13: 55; Mk 6: 3); according to Semitic custom he is called "brother" (Mk 6: 3; Gal 1: 19).
The book of the Acts of the Apostles emphasizes the prominent role that this latter James played in the Church of Jerusalem. At the Apostolic Council celebrated there after the death of James the Greater he declared, together with the others, that pagans could be received into the Church without first submitting to circumcision (cf. Acts 15: 13). St Paul, who attributes a specific appearance of the Risen One to James (cf. I Cor 15: 7), even named James before Cephas-Peter on the occasion of his visit to Jerusalem, describing him as a "pillar" of that Church on a par with Peter (cf. Gal 2: 9).
Subsequently, Judeo-Christians considered him their main reference point. The Letter that bears the name of James is also attributed to him and is included in the New Testament canon. In it, he is not presented as a "brother of the Lord" but as a "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Jas 1: 1).
Among experts, the question of the identity of these two figures with the same name, James son of Alphaeus and James "the brother of the Lord", is disputed. With reference to the period of Jesus' earthly life, the Gospel traditions have not kept for us any account of either one of them.
The Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, reveal that a "James" played a very important role in the early Church, as we have already mentioned, after the Resurrection of Jesus (cf. Acts 12: 17; 15: 13-21; 21: 18).
His most important act was his intervention in the matter of the difficult relations between the Christians of Jewish origin and those of pagan origin: in this matter, together with Peter, he contributed to overcoming, or rather, to integrating the original Jewish dimension of Christianity with the need not to impose upon converted pagans the obligation to submit to all the norms of the Law of Moses. The Book of Acts has preserved for us the solution of compromise proposed precisely by James and accepted by all the Apostles present, according to which pagans who believed in Jesus Christ were to be asked only to abstain from the idolatrous practice of eating the meat of animals offered in sacrifice to the gods, and from "impropriety", a term which probably alluded to irregular matrimonial unions. In practice, it was a question of adhering to only a few prohibitions of Mosaic Law held to be very important.
Thus, two important and complementary results were obtained, both of which are still valid today: on the one hand, the inseparable relationship that binds Christianity to the Jewish religion, as to a perennially alive and effective matrix, was recognized; and on the other, Christians of pagan origin were permitted to keep their own sociological identity which they would have lost had they been forced to observe the so-called "ceremonial precepts" of Moses.
Henceforth, these precepts were no longer to be considered binding for converted pagans. In essence, this gave rise to a practice of reciprocal esteem and respect which, despite subsequent regrettable misunderstandings, aimed by its nature to safeguard what was characteristic of each one of the two parties.
The oldest information on the death of this James is given to us by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In his Jewish Antiquities (20, 201ff.), written in Rome towards the end of the first century, he says that the death of James was decided with an illegal initiative by the High Priest Ananus, a son of the Ananias attested to in the Gospels; in the year 62, he profited from the gap between the deposition of one Roman Procurator (Festus) and the arrival of his successor (Albinus), to hand him over for stoning.
As well as the apocryphal Proto-Gospel of James, which exalts the holiness and virginity of Mary, Mother of Jesus, the Letter that bears his name is particularly associated with the name of this James. In the canon of the New Testament, it occupies the first place among the so-called "Catholic Letters", that is, those that were not addressed to any single particular Church - such as Rome, Ephesus, etc. - but to many Churches.
It is quite an important writing which heavily insists on the need not to reduce our faith to a purely verbal or abstract declaration, but to express it in practice in good works. Among other things, he invites us to be constant in trials, joyfully accepted, and to pray with trust to obtain from God the gift of wisdom, thanks to which we succeed in understanding that the true values of life are not to be found in transient riches but rather in the ability to share our possessions with the poor and the needy (cf. Jas 1: 27).
Thus, St James' Letter shows us a very concrete and practical Christianity. Faith must be fulfilled in life, above all, in love of neighbour and especially in dedication to the poor. It is against this background that the famous sentence must be read: "As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead" (Jas 2: 26).
At times, this declaration by St James has been considered as opposed to the affirmations of Paul, who claims that we are justified by God not by virtue of our actions but through our faith (cf. Gal 2: 16; Rom 3: 28). However, if the two apparently contradictory sentences with their different perspectives are correctly interpreted, they actually complete each other.
St Paul is opposed to the pride of man who thinks he does not need the love of God that precedes us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification without grace, simply given and undeserved.
St James, instead, talks about works as the normal fruit of faith: "Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit", the Lord says (Mt 7: 17). And St James repeats it and says it to us.
Lastly, the Letter of James urges us to abandon ourselves in the hands of God in all that we do: "If the Lord wills" (Jas 4: 15). Thus, he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives autonomously and with self interest, but to make room for the inscrutable will of God, who knows what is truly good for us.
In this way, St James remains an ever up-to-date teacher of life for each one of us
Let us read a passage from the Epistle of James, written by Saint James the brother of Jesus. This epistle’s theme is that faith must be evidenced by action, and good works. We will read from the second chapter of this epistle:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James also played a crucial role in the book of Acts, chapter 15. In this chapter a disagreement emerged in the early church. Paul and Barnabas were very successful in bringing gentiles to the Christian faith, at a time when almost all Christians were Jewish. Some factions in the church were insisting that gentiles could not be admitted unless they agreed to circumcise and follow other Jewish laws in the old testement. The church gathered in a council in Jerusalem to discuss this matter. The book of Acts portrays James as having the last word in the council, resolving this dispute.
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon[a] has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
16 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’[b]—
18 things known from long ago.[c]
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.
Saint James is celebrated on May 3 in the Roman Catholic church, and Oct 23 in the Eastern Orthodox church.
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As the Lord’s disciple you received the Gospel, O righteous James; / as a martyr you have unfailing courage; / as God’s brother, you have boldness; / as a hierarch, you have the power to intercede. / Pray to Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion — Tone 4
When God the Word, the Only-begotten of the Father, / came to live among us in these last days, / He declared you, venerable James, to be the first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem / and a faithful steward of the spiritual Mysteries. / Therefore, we all honor you, O Apostle.