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The Apostle St James the Less

One of the Twelve Apostles
From Nazareth; stoned to death in late 1st century
Feast day - 3 May (with St Philip)

Catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, Wednesday 28 June 2006 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"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, 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."


"Je salue cordialement les pèlerins francophones, en particulier les jeunes du Collège Saint-François-de-Sales de Dijon, et le groupe d’étudiants de Montpellier. Que votre pèlerinage à Rome ouvre vos cœurs au mystère de l’Église, pour que vous en soyez vous-mêmes des pierres vivantes!

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 the Saints 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.

Einen herzlichen und frohen Gruß richte ich an dieser Stelle an alle Pilger und Besucher deutscher Sprache, heute besonders an die Teilnehmer der Diözesanwallfahrt Trier und an die Kirchenchöre aus Oberösterreich. Gottes Gnade stärke euren Glauben und lasse ihn allzeit reiche Frucht bringen in Werken der Liebe. Der Herr segne euch und eure Familien!

Saludo cordialmente a los visitantes de lengua española, en especial a los formadores y alumnos de varios Seminarios españoles, a las parroquias, grupos escolares y asociaciones, así como a los peregrinos de Puerto Rico y de otros Países latinoamericanos. Os animo a vivir con esperanza firme manifestando vuestra fe en el Señor con obras de caridad, para testimoniar en el mundo la belleza del amor de Dios ¡Gracias por vuestra visita!

A todos peregrinos de língua portuguesa saúdo com votos de felicidades, especialmente os grupos de portugueses aqui presentes, e o numeroso grupo de brasileiros. Que Deus vos abençoe e vos proteja!

Nuoširdžiai sveikinu piligrimus iš Lietuvos. Tegul Viešpats nuolat apšviečia jūsų širdis, kad drąsiai ir džiugiai liudytumėte Kristaus Evangeliją. Garbė Jėzui Kristui!

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów polskich. Jutro będziemy obchodzili uroczystość świętych Apostołów Piotra i Pawła. Z Rzymem złączyło ich głoszenie Ewangelii, świadectwo wiary i męczeńska śmierć. Niech nawiedzenie ich grobów umocni waszą więź z Chrystusem i Kościołem. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus.

S láskou vítam pútnikov z farností Vinodol, Lipany, Sverepec, ako aj starostov zo Zvolena a okolia. Drahí bratia a sestry, modlite sa za vašich novokňazov, vysvätenych v tomto mesiaci. Rád žehnám vás i vaše rodiny. Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!

Isten hozott Benneteket, kedves magyar zarándokok, különösen titeket, akik Kaposvárról jöttetek! Szent Péter és Pál ünnepének vigiliáján megemlékezünk e két apostolfejedelem vértanúságáról. Az ő közbenjárásukra szeretettel adom Rátok apostoli áldásomat. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!

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Rivolgo un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto i partecipanti ai Capitoli Generali della Società del Verbo Divino e delle Suore Francescane Immacolatine, ed auspico che le rispettive assemblee capitolari siano un’occasione di profondo rinnovamento spirituale e di vitalità apostolica. Saluto poi i rappresentanti dall’Apostolato della Preghiera convenuti in occasione del 50° anniversario di promulgazione dell’enciclica “Haurietis aquas”: l’unione al Cuore di Gesù sia per tutti sorgente di santità e di efficace azione apostolica. Saluto, inoltre, quanti prendono parte all’Incontro promosso dalla Famiglia Orionina, in occasione della “Festa del Papa”, che quest’anno ha come tema “Tanti cuori attorno al Papa, evangelizzatore della vita”. Cari amici, vi ringrazio per la vostra presenza e per l’amore che volete manifestare verso il Successore di Pietro con questa vostra iniziativa. Continuate a seguire fedelmente il vostro Fondatore e testimoniate il Vangelo della vita mediante ogni vostra Istituzione ed attività, al servizio specialmente delle persone deboli e sofferenti, ricordando – come diceva don Orione – che “nel più misero dei fratelli brilla l’immagine di Dio”.

Il mio pensiero va poi, come di consueto, ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli. Siamo ormai entrati nell’estate, tempo di ferie e di riposo. Cari giovani, profittatene per utili esperienze sociali e religiose; e voi, cari sposi novelli, per approfondire la vostra missione nella Chiesa e nella società. A voi, cari malati, non manchi anche in questo periodo estivo la vicinanza dei vostri familiari."