Thursday, May 3, 2012

Whatever the modern scholars tell you, James the Less is one of the Twelve Apostles

It may come as something of a surprise to many, but it is not uncommon for modern historical-biblical “scholars” (I, for my part, doubt whether they are deserving of the name) to claim that St. James the Less, “the brother of the Lord”, was not the same St. James who was an Apostle and the son of Alphaeus.
Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, clearly states (by the authority of his ordinary Magisterium) that James the son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve, is the same James the Less, “the brother of the Lord”.
James the Less and James the Greater
In earlier articles, we have already detailed the ancestry of these two men – [here] and [here] – for the present, we will simply indicate which James is which.

James the Greater is an Apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother of St. John the Beloved who was called from the sea of Galilee while fishing. He is the James who was regularly chosen (with Peter and John) apart from the other Apostles to experience special revelation from Jesus. St. James the Greater is buried in Compostela, Spain.
James the Less is an Apostle, the son of Alphaeus, the “brother” (i.e. first cousin) of the Lord, the son of a woman named Mary (who was at the foot of the Cross), and the brother of St. Jude. This James is called Iustus or The Just. Further, James the Less was the bishop of Jerusalem and his bones are kept at Dodici Apostoli church in Rome.
Finally, in the Roman Canon at the listing of the Apostles, James the Greater is named first, while James the Less (together with Philip) comes later.
“In communion with those whose memory we venerate, […] your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James (the Greater), John, Thomas, James (the Less), Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, and Jude.”
The doubts of “scholars”
Some modern scholars, however, call this tradition into question. They suppose that James the Less was not the same as James the son of Alphaeus, and therefore was not one of the Twelve Apostles.
In other words, these scholars think that the “brother” of the Lord was not an Apostle, not one of the Twelve.
It is true that St. Jerome stands out from among the other Fathers of the Church in that he doubts whether James the Less is indeed one of the Twelve Apostles and the same James who is the son of Alpheus. In at least two places (the prologue to Isaiah and Ecclesiastical Writers), St. Jerome intimates that the brother of the Lord may not have been one of the Twelve Apostles, but that James the son of Alphaeus was another man who happened also to be named “James”.
However, St. Jerome here is inconsistent with his earlier writings (in which he clearly identified James the Less with the son of Alphaeus and the Apostle). Further, he gives no good reason for rejecting the common opinion of the Church Fathers that the brother of the Lord was an Apostle. Finally, the Scriptures themselves regularly call James the Less an Apostle, and it is a strain on the text to interpret this in any way other than to conclude that the brother of the Lord was truly one of the Twelve Apostles.
The teaching of Pope Benedict XVI
Our Holy Father Pope Benedict has recently re-iterated the tradition belief that James the Less is indeed one of the Twelve Apostles (General Audience, 28 June 2006 [here]):
“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 (cf. ibid.), 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. […]
“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. […]
“The Letter that bears his name is particularly associated with the name of this James.”
Thus, it is clear that, while Pope Benedict acknowledges the doubts of modern scholars, he does not let them influence his own teaching in any respect. Rather, he passes over the uncertainties of historical-critical exegetes, and affirms the tradition of the Church.
In his ordinary magisterial teaching, Pope Benedict has affirmed that James the Less, the brother of the Lord, is the same as James the son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve Apostles.

[And, yes, I am aware of the fact that (in his personal writings as a private theologian) Joseph Ratzinger has somewhat joined the modern scholars in doubting whether James the Less was one of the Twelve. However, it is quite striking to note that, in his role as Supreme Pastor and in his office as teacher of the Faith, Pope Benedict shows no sympathy for these doubters.]
The Liturgy of the Church
Finally, and (for me) most convincingly, we must recognize that today’s feast is in honor of an Apostle named James who was the son of Alphaeus.
If James the Less, the brother of the Lord and first bishop of Jerusalem, is not this Apostle James son of Alphaeus, then James the Less has no liturgical feast nor does he receive any official prayers or honors from the Church. Indeed, if James the Less is not the son of Alphaeus, then the Church has completely forgotten the “brother of the Lord”!
Can we really believe that the Holy Spirit would allow the Church to ignore and abandon the author of a New Testament Letter? Is it at all likely that the Church would have no Mass in honor of the Lord’s cousin?
Taken together with the biblical evidence and the witness of the Church Fathers, this final point (for me at least) is decisive. James the Less, the brother of the Lord, must have been the son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve Apostles.

Sts. Philip and James, Pray for us!


Ben said...

It seems puzzling that the Pope, as private theologian, would publicly dissent from his very own Magisterium.

I'm happy to believe that the two James's are identified but I don't really see the Pope's affirmation of this in what you quoted. Yes, he calls the son of Alphaeus 'James the Lesser', but James the 'brother of the Lord' he calls 'James the Younger'. No where does he commit himself to their identification.

It seems to me it would be against the trend of his way of thinking and acting, for him to affirm by fiat a (relatively minor) point disputed by exegetes.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The Holy Father very clearly says that James the Less is the brother of the Lord ... look again at the second paragraph of the quote:

"James [...] known as "the Lesser" [...] He also came from Nazareth and was probably related to Jesus; according to Semitic custom he is called "brother"."

But I do not intend to claim that Pope Benedict has spoken definitively on this subject -- as though one would be a dissenting heretic to claim otherwise ... I only point out that, in his ordinary magisterial teaching (at a Papal Audience on James the Lesser) the Holy Father very clearly says that the brother of the Lord is the son of Alphaeus and an Apostle.

Private theologians (even Joseph Ratzinger) are free to disagree ... but they are departing from a well established tradition when they do so. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Also, just to be clear, the modern scholars do not doubt whether James the Lesser is the Brother of the Lord -- this is pretty well accepted.

The real controversy these days is whether James the Lesser is the son of Alphaeus ... and, as you say, Pope Benedict very clearly states that he is.

Peace! +

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. Mark 2:14 recounts the calling of Levi, "And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, 'Follow me.' And he rose and followed him." Is Levi related to James the Less? Is this the same Alphaeus? I appreciate your research and sharing.

Keen Reader said...

Why does it matter?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Dr. Evangelicus,
Well, some people would like to know who the 12 Apostles were ... after all, it seemed important enough to the Gospel writers to publish their names.

I should think that, out of devotion to the Scriptures themselves and inspired by love of the Apostles, we would like to know who they were.

But some people are just too lazy to care ... I suppose. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (10:45am),
Please us a pseudonym.

Short answer: No, this is not the same Alphaeus ... some people think it is, but (from my studies) it seems that most of the Fathers of the Church (as well as the Scholastic and Catholic Reformation Doctors) hold that Levi (i.e. Matthew) is not related to James the Less.

Great question, though ... good eye! :-)

Father S. said...

@ Father,

It seems to me that much of modern Biblical scholarship is DOA on account of the need to publish. It is as if scholars have decided that since tradition already explains things, the only thing left to write about that is new is what is opposed to the tradition. There is at once a certainty about the obsolete character of the Fathers and also an attempt to mystify the past, as if things cannot really be known. It boggles the mind how these scholars work.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Father S,
Well put!
And how often we hear this same nonsense from the pulpit ... because the priest wants to be "original" and "clever" -- feeding his own ego, rather than Christ's sheep.

Let us pray for one another, and for all priests. +

Nick said...

The argument is really rock solid: use any lexicon and notice that Acts only speaks of two men named "James," both of the Apostles. No new "James" is ever introduced in Acts, unlike the numerous other new folks who receive an introduction. Since Acts 10 states that Apostle James Zebedee was martyred by Herod, then this leaves only one James remaining, the Apostle James Alphaeus who is mentioned in the later chapters (e.g. Acts 15).

It is the apex of dishonesty and false scholarship for these "scholars" to even suggest there is a 3rd person named James.

Strossmayer said...

Fr. Ryan,

Your assessment of the Fathers' teaching on this is a bit off. St. Jerome was actually the first to suggest (in his treatise against Helvidius) the theory that St. James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem, was the same man as St. James the Less, the son of Alphaeus. It was pure conjecture on his part (he never claims the authority of tradition), and it's clear from his later writings that Jerome himself didn't place that much weight on it. But it caught on in the West (and in Armenia, if I'm not mistaken) and has been enshrined in the Calendar ever since.

But don't worry, the Church hasn't forgotten St. James the Less entirely. The Orthodox (and Eastern Rite Catholics) have a separate feast for him on October 9th. You see, the Greek Fathers before and after Jerome (excepting Chrysostom and Theodoret) all taught that James the Just and James Alphaeus were two different men.

I would commend to you this essay on the subject by J.B. Lightfoot, the (Anglican) bishop of Durham. The essay includes a thorough review of early teachings and is notable as the strongest argument for our Lady's perpetual virginity that I have ever encountered from a Protestant writer.

Grace be with you,


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

That is not true ... Jerome WAS NOT the first.
Look at Eusebius' Ecclesiatical History, Book II, chapter 1 -- he very clearly names James the Just, the brother of the Lord as one of the 12 Apostles.
And the only "James" he could then be would be the son of Alphaeus (cf. Matthew 10:3).

Eusebius refers to "the ancients" who held this same tradition about James the Just.

Surely you do know that Eusebius was before Jerome?

Strossmayer said...

Dear Fr. Ryan,

Actually, Eusebius strongly distinguishes James the Just from James the Lesser. For example, in the passage you quoted, Eusebius calls James the Just the son of Joseph, not Alphaeus. Read the chapter again. Eusebius is not discussing the Twelve Apostles, but rather those who were called afterwards to carry out an apostolic ministry. The chapter mentions Matthias (who replaced Judas), Stephen and Philip (deacons), Thaddeus (of the Seventy), and lastly Paul. James the Just, the kinsman of our Lord is put squarely in this group as a supernumerary Apostle. Eusebius does not consider him one of the Twelve, but rather one who was called later and exercised ministry on their level.

You may have been thrown off by that quotation from Clement where he says "there were two Jameses: one called the Just, who was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and was beaten to death with a club by a fuller, and another who was beheaded." This is just Greek idiom; Clement is not saying there were only two disciples named James, but only distinguishing between James the Just and James son of Zebedee. "For there were many that bore the name of James" as Hegesippus wrote years earlier. Eusebius draws out the distinction more clearly between James the Just and the Twelve in HE 1.12.3-4.

But Eusebius is most clear in his Commentary on Isaiah. He draws a parallel between the Apostles and the olives of Isaiah 17:6. Eusebius' commentary has never (to my knowledge) been translated into English, but you can see the Greek here (PG 24.268D-269A).

Eusebius says that the three olives at the very top of the tree are Peter, James, and John, who beheld the Transfiguration. The next groups of olives, four and five, make up the number of the Twelve (3 + 4 + 5 = 12). But the two initial olives Eusebius takes to denote the supernumerary apostles par excellance: Paul and James, the kinsman of our Lord and first Bishop of Jerusalem.

Grace be with you,


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Eusebius' citation of Clement (just before the place you mentioned "There are two Jameses"): "The Lord after his resurrection imparted knowledge to James the Just and to John and Peter, and they imparted it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the seventy, of whom Barnabas was one."

It is clear that Clement does not consider James to be an "apostle" the way that some of the seventy were, but an "Apostle" in the way that John and Peter were.
And this is why he distinguishes James the Just from James the Greater -- lest we think that it was the Lesser who went up the mount with Peter and John at the transfiguration.

You are correct that Eusebius calls him the son of Joseph ... even St. Jerome (in De Vir. Ill.) mentions this as a possibility -- it does not rule out the identification of him with the son of Alphaeus (though, I admit, it makes it more strained).

So, I will concede that I did go too far in saying that Eusebius actually defends the position ... but I still insist that (if somewhat ambiguous) the foundations for the tradition are there -- at least in the citation from Clement.

At least this much is clear -- St. Clement did not see James as on the level of the seventy, or of Barnabas, or of those who came later ... but on the level of Peter and John and James the Greater -- that would seem to make him one of the 12.

Finally, I apologize for my snide remark about Eusebius being before Jerome ... in any case, I should not have written that. +

Strossmayer said...

Certainly, Fr. Ryan. No hard feelings.

Grace be with you,


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

If you are interested ... you may consider checking out Fr. Cornelius a' Lapide (the great Jesuit Biblical Scholar) ... in his introduction to the Letter of St. James, he deals with these issues far better than I ever could.

Here is a link ( ... the relevant passage beings on Page 6 of Tome XX ... it should be the fourth image down.

Anonymous said...

I've been looking into the identity of the three James' in scripture. Considering James the son of Alphaeus as James the brother of the Lord is troublesome because of Acts 1:13.

Act 1:13 And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.

This scripture separates James the brother of Jesus from James the son of Alphaeus. The James mentioned here can not be James brother of John because he had already been killed by Herod prior this meeting in Jerusalem.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are a bit confused ... I never claimed that James the son of Alphaeus was the brother of John ... of course not!
He is the brother of the Lord, and the bishop of Jerusalem. And he had not yet been killed in Acts 1:13 - that was only 50 days after Easter.

Anonymous said...

In the book of 1st Corinthians, Paul says that Jesus appeared to Peter then to the twelve and after to James the Just and to "all the apostles." Paul seems to consider the brother of the Lord outside the Twelve.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Peter is also mentioned specifically in addition to the Twelve - and yet we know that Peter was an Apostle. Why would we assume that James was not an Apostle simply because he is named specifically?

Anonymous said...

There were apostles outside the Twelve. According to Hippotylus James the Just was one of the seventy two and he ruled in conjunction with the apostles.


Anonymous said...

There were apostles outside the Twelve. According to Hippotylus James the just was one of the seventy two and he ruled in conjunction with the apostles.


Anonymous said...

As an aside, the only person called cousin of the Lord is Simeon by Eusebius. James is a brother but Simeon a cousin. The Greek word adelphos could mean stepbrother but not cousin.

Anonymous said...

James the Less may be related to Jesus because Alphaeus=Clopas, but he is not the same as James the Just.
John son of Zebedee may have been Jesus nephew through Salome, or Salome may have been related to Mary so John might have been his cousin.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

James, I am well aware of the fact that there were "Apostles" beyond the Twelve. What I am saying is that Peter was certainly one of the 12 Apostles, and yet he is listed separately by St Paul. How then can you possibly claim that the fact that James is listed separately means that he cannot be one of the 12?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anonymous, 5:53pm -- Use a pseudonym if you want to be part of this discussion.

Correct, adelphos means "brother" and not "cousin" in Greek -- but it is translating an aramaic work that can mean either "brother" or "cousin", and in fact the LXX Greek uses adelphos in the Old Testament to mean "cousin" or other relations of kin.

Anonymous said...

Peter was distinguished because of his preeminence. I did not claim anything about Peter. However I said it is clear from these texts that Paul distinguished James from the twelve when he says that "He appeared to James, then to all the apostles."
From Eusebius, quoting Clement of Alexandria:
"Then James, whom the ancients surnamed the Just on account of the excellence of his virtue, is recorded to have been the first to be made bishop of the church of Jerusalem. This James was called the brother of the Lord because he was known as a son of Joseph, and Joseph was supposed to be the father of Christ.”

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The fact that Eusebius thinks Joseph had children (from a prior marriage) shows well enough to me at least that he is not trustworthy on this point. There is a clear and consistent tradition in the West that James the Just is the Brother of the Lord and the same James the Less who is one of the 12. Of course some say otherwise - but nothing in Scripture forces us to reject the general Latin tradition.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

1 Cor 15:5 "he was seen by Cephas then by the eleven."
If this verse does not indicate that Peter isn't one of the 12, then neither does 15:7 indicate that James isn't one of the Apostles nor one of the 12.


Jim said...

Your position doesn't reallyfit in with the context of what Paul said in that Chapter. Paul is not only discussing who Jesus is appearing to: He is discussing the hierarchy of the Church itself. First Peter, the prince of the Apostles, then the Apostles themselves, then James, the first among the Apostles outside the Twelve.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

James, nothing in that verse indicates that James is not an apostle. Peter is the prince of the apostles, then there is all of the apostles, one of whom was James who is mentioned again as having authority as bishop of jerusalem.

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