3rd Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-25
That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, […] One of them, named Cleopas.
St. Cleopas, one of the disciples who met the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus, is commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on 25 September. While little is known with certainty of either him or his companion, there is a tradition which identifies this Cleopas (or Cleophas) with the wife of Mary (the mother of James the Lesser). Furthermore, some speculate that he was the brother of St. Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary.
We will consider the tradition as expressed by the great biblical scholar Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide, sj (d. 1637). The Catholic Encyclopedia, however, does not follow the Jesuit on this point, and argues instead that there were two men named Cleopas and that, while the other may have been the brother of St. Joseph, the history of Cleopas of Emmaus is almost entirely unknown.
Cleopas of Emmaus
Fr. Lapide writes: “Emmaus was a village in the time of Christ, according to S. Jerome the birthplace of Cleopas; who seems now to have gone thither for some family reason.” It would seem that, after the crucifixion of our Lord, Cleopas decided to return home – on the way to his home in Emmaus, he and his companion met the risen Lord.
The identity of Cleopas’ companion
It has become popular in some intellectual circles to speculate that the companion was the wife of Cleopas; there is, however, little textual evidence to support such a claim. Certainly, it is grammatically possible that the companion was a woman, but this theory seems to stem more from modern feminism than from historical evidence.
Who then was the other disciple? “You ask, who were these two? I answer, one was Cleopas, but that it is uncertain about the other. S. Ambrose thinks he was called Amaon, because he was a native of Emmaus. Origen calls him Simeon. S. Epiphanius considers him to be the Nathanael mentioned by S. John i. 45. Very many again think that it was S. Luke himself, but it seems from the introduction to this Gospel that S. Luke had never seen Christ in the flesh, and that he was converted after the death of the Lord.” (Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide)
Cleopas, the brother of St. Joseph
There is a tradition of identifying Cleopas of Emmaus as the brother of St. Joseph. This connection is drawn from the reference to Mary, the wife of Cleopas who stood at the foot of the Cross (cf. John 19:25). This Mary is identified with Mary the mother of James the lesser, of Joseph and of Salome (cf. Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56). Moreover, James the lesser is stated to be the son of Alpheaus, which may be the Aramaic version of Cleopas (cf. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18). Then he would also be the father of St. Jude Thaddeaus, who is the brother of James (cf. Jude 1:1). Now, both Jude and James are among the brothers of the Lord, which likely indicates that they were the cousins of Jesus. This would provide some scriptural foundation for the identification of Cleopas as a relative of St. Joseph. However, for this pious belief, we rely far more on the oral tradition of the Church Fathers, than on explicit passages of Scripture.
Further, if Cleopas is the same who was the husband of Mary the mother of James the lesser, it may then be inferred that he was the grandfather of the sons of Zebedee – since Mary, the mother of James, seems to be also the mother of Salome (Mark 16:1, Mary, the mother of James and Salome) who is herself the mother of James and John (since Salome is not mentioned by name in Matthew 27:56, but is instead intended as the mother of the sons of Zebedee).
Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide states all this in abbreviated form: “This Cleopas was the brother of S. Joseph (the husband of the Blessed Virgin), the father of S. James the less, and S. Jude, and the grandfather of S. James the greater and S. John, who were the sons of Salome, the daughter of Cleopas.”
The authority of the patristic witness is cited by the Jesuit scholar: “Helecas, Bishop of Cæsarea, tells us on the authority of S. Jerome, that ‘Cleopas, or Alphæus, was the brother of S. Joseph, and one of the seventy disciples, and that he was slain by the Jews in the castle of Emmaus because of Christ.’ He was therefore a martyr. Hence, in the Roman Martyrology, the 25th of September is put down as the birthday of Blessed Cleopas, the disciple of Christ, who they say was slain by the Jews for confessing the faith in the very house in which he had entertained the Lord. See also Dorotheus (Lives of the Patriarchs).”
Cleopas and Clopas – an objection
The Catholic Encyclopedia considers it to be highly unlikely that Cleopas of Emmaus and Cleopas, the husband of Mary and father of James, are one and the same. The primary difficulty in identifying these two men, is that the two names are spelled differently in Greek. “Cleophas: According to the Catholic English versions the name of two persons mentioned in the New Testament. In Greek, however, the names are different, one being Cleopas, abbreviated form of Cleopatros, and the other Clopas.”
The Cleopas of Emmaus mentioned in Luke 24 is written Kleopas, while that mentioned as in John 19 is written Klopas. Hence, there is a difficulty. Nevertheless, this difficulty does not seem to be insurmountable.
First, we note that Cleopas could likely be the Greek version of an Aramaic name (Alpheaus), hence it would be no surprise if the two Evangelists spelled it slightly differently – much as Elijah and Elias are one and the same, though different English spellings are used in the transliterations.
As a second and connected point, we mention the fact that these are accounts derived from two Evangelists and not one – and it is not uncommon for numerous minor spelling varioutions to exist among the Sacred Authors (hence, in the book of Revelation, Jerusalem is spelled differently than in the Gospels).
Therefore, there does not seem to be any reason prima facie to rule out the tradition of venerating St. Cleopas of Emmaus as the brother of St. Joseph.
St. Cleopas, Pray for us!