Saint James the Lesser

Feast Day: May 11th

[painting of Saint James]

Saint James the Lesser


    James, the son of Alphaeus and Mary, is named in the same lists of Apostles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in Acts 1:13 is one of the other apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after Christ's Ascension. James is mentioned as one of the "brothers" (parthenos) of the Lord (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3) with Joseph, Simon, and Jude and is called the "brother of the Lord" (most likely meaning a first cousin) in Galatians 1:19. It was to James that Peter wanted the news of his miraculous escape transmitted (Acts 12:17), and James seems to have been regarded as the head of the primitive Church of Jerusalem. He was the one who suggested that only four Jewish practices be imposed on Gentile Christians (Acts 15:13-21), beginning this statement with the words, "It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us. . . ." Paul reported to him and sought his approval several times.

    This James seems to be the James of the Epistle of James who opens the letter by calling himself "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," which may indicate it was an official Church title; James uses the tone of authority of one well known in the Church and accustomed to wielding authority.

    Traditionally, biblical exegetes have considered James, the son of Alphaeus, as the same James called "the brother of the Lord," the James who speaks with the voice of authority in the early Church; many modern scholars, however, hold that there may have been two men named James, one the son of Alphaeus and one of the Twelve, and the other "the brother of the Lord" and author of the epistle. Among the reasons cited is that James speaks of the Apostles in the past tense and does not identify himself as an Apostle; the apparent distinction between this James and the Apostle James in 1 Corinthians 15:7; and the elegant Greek literary style used that the author of the epistle, which is unlikely to be that of a Galilean peasant.

    The name "James the Less" is usually applied to James the son of Alphaeus, because of the reference in Mark 15:40, where he is called "James the Less" or "James the Younger." According to the converted Jew Heggesippus, a 2nd-century ecclesiastical historian, James was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Pharisees and then stoned to death about the year 62 AD. The contemporary Jewish historian Josephus records that the bishop James was stoned to death. Ancient legendary sources recorded in the Golden Legend say that he was killed by the blow of a fuller's club after his fall from the temple. He lived just long enough to forgive his killers. This James is also known as "the Just." Eusebius contended that the catastrophes that later struck Jerusalem were a punishment for their treatment of one "who was the most righteous of men" (Appleton, Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Farmer, Tabor, Walsh, White).

Born: Around 5 A.D.

Died: martyred c.62 at Jerusalem by being thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple, then stoned and beaten with clubs, including fuller's mallets, while praying for his attackers

Canonized: Pre-Congregation: "Pre-Congregation" is a term for the Beatification and/or Canonization of saints prior to the institution of the modern investigations performed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It designates those saints who were canonized by local bishops, primates, or patriarchs, often as a result of popular devotion.

Patronage: apothecaries; druggists; dying people; fullers; hatmakers; hatters; milliners; pharmacists; Uruguay

Representation: Saint James is depicted in art as facially similar to Jesus, whose cousin he is said to have been. He may be portrayed (1) with a club or large mallet (Tabor); (2) holding his epistle, either as a book or scroll; (3) with the prophet Haggai and the words credo in Spiritu Sanctu; (4) as a child with a toy mill; or (5) flung from the pulpit or a pinnacle of the temple (Roeder). A 13th- century sculpture at Chartres shows Saint James with the fuller's club. In addition to the emblems of their martyrdom, the Apostles were each given other distinctive symbols in the 14th-15th centuries (Appleton).

Prayer to Saint James the Lesser

O Glorious Saint James, you were our Lord's cousin and at the same time his friend and follower. You wrote that every good and perfect gift comes to us from the Father of lights, and that faith without works is useless. You preached the divinity of Jesus until your death as a martyr. Obtain for us from the Father of lights the great gift of a living faith in Jesus' divinity which will inspire us to unstinting labor in the service of God and our fellow human beings and enable us to reach our heavenly destiny. Amen.