St. James the Less

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James the Less, called Saint James the Less in Catholic and Orthodox traditions, is also called James the Lesser [1]. He was the brother of Joses and the son of a woman named Mary, who, when Jesus was in Galilee, followed him.[2] Joses was also called a brother of Jesus.[3]


The name James is from the Hebrew: יעקב Ya'aqov, Jacob, "holder of the heel" (see Genesis 25:26). There are five biblical men named James, and James the Lesser is sometimes identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve Apostles, and is also sometimes identified with Saint James the Just, although the evidence indicates they are different people.

Catholic tradition

In the Catholic tradition he was the son of Alpheus of Cleophas and Mary, who was either a sister or a close relative of the Blessed Virgin Mary (for that reason, according to Jewish custom, he was sometimes called the brother of the Lord). In the Protestant tradition, he is the younger brother of Jesus born of Mary and Joseph. He wrote the epistle which bears his name. James was a witness of the Resurrection of Christ; he is also a "pillar" of the Catholic Church, whom St. Paul consulted about the Gospel.[4] He was the first Bishop of Jerusalem.


Author of the first Catholic Epistle, his discourse is an exhortation to practical Christian living. His most famous teaching, and most controversial, is found in James 2:14-26

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was call the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
—KJV text (boldface emphasis added)

Martin Luther wrote in his 1599 preface that the St. James Epistle is really "an epistle of straw" compared to St. John's Gospel and his first epistle, to St. Paul's epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and to St. Peter's first epistle[5], because of its insistence on works as a requirement for justification to life and its rejection of faith alone without works (sola fide). He afterward removed the "straw" statement, insisting that the epistle was good[6]

His place in history

James had a prominent place in the early church and Christian history:

  • He was one of select individuals Christ appeared to after his resurrection (I Cor 15:7)
  • Paul called him a 'pillar' of the church (Gal 2:9)
  • Paul, on his first post conversion visit to Jerusalem, saw James (Gal 1:19)
  • Paul did the same on his last visit (Acts 21:18)
  • When Peter was rescued from prison, he told his friends to tell James (Act 12:17)
  • James was a leader in the important Council of Jerusalem (Act 15:13)
  • Jude could identify himself simply as "a brother of James" (Jude 1:1), so well known was James.
  • Josephus mentions James' death at the hands of the Jewish authorities (Antiquities 20.9.1).

Martyrdom and feastday

James was martyred in 62 A.D. His Feastday is May 3 (traditionally the day he was martyred).

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.

See also


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