Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
James the Less
"Contributed to Integrate the Original Jewish Dimension of Christianity"
H.H. Benedict XVI
June 28, 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 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;
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 2:9).
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" (James 1:1).
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;
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
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 legislation.
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 sides.
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
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.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read the following summary
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
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.
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