James the Less: Son of Alphaeus, called "Less" because he was younger in age or shorter in stature than James the Greater; one of the Catholic Epistles bears his name; was stoned to death in 62 or thrown from the top of the temple in Jerusalem and clubbed to death in 66; in art, is depicted with a club or heavy staff; May 3 (Roman Rite), Oct 9 (Byzantine Rite).
James the Less, firmly fixed in the ninth place in all four lists of the apostles, was made the leader of the third group of apostles, which was comprised of the brethren of Jesus-and His betrayer. St Mark called him "the Less" in order to distinguish him from the other apostle named James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John. He is also called "the Younger". It seems he was not so old as Jacobus major-James the Great, the Elder-and perhaps he was smaller in stature-the Latin word minor can mean either younger or smaller, or both. The symbolic meaning of the apostles's word will come to light in the course of this chapter.
The men of this last group before us not only new faces, but also new characters among the ranks of the Twelve. Many have become accustomed to calling all of the apostles simply "the poor fishermen of Galilee. " But actually the group around Christ was comprised of men not only of many very different temperaments and personalities, but also of various professions. They came from different social circles. Some were rich; some were poor. With the calling of this third group of apostles, tillers of the soil also were given a voice in changing the whole world. James, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon were farmers.
The Gospel itself does not explicitly justify such a conclusion. With the exception of the names of these three relatives of Jesus, nothing else was mentioned about them. Only about Jude Thaddeus did St. John record a few words. On the other hand, James and Jude left two Epistles behind them in the New Testament, both of which indirectly disclose much about their personalities and attitudes. These allusions surround the Epistles as the fragrance of the blooming fields, the fat of the earth, and the dew of heaven surrounded Esau. The background schemes, descriptions, comparisons, allusions: all point to laborers of the land as their authors. No rough fisherman, no clever tax-collector, not educated scholar, but only a farmer, who was devoted to nature, and its care and cultivation, could write such sentences at these:
...The rich man... will pass away like the flower of the grass. For the sun rises with a burning heat and parches the grain, and its flower falls and the beauty of its appearances perishes...If anyone does not offend in word, he is a perfect man, able also to lead round by a bridel the whole body. For if we [-we!-] put bits into horses' mouths that they may obey us, we control their whole body also... Be patient, therefore, brethren, for the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient until it receives the early and the late rain.
The supposition which such language awakens is confirmed by an historical document of Hegesippus, which was stored away by the Church historian Eusebius in the middle of the second century. According to this historical record, Domitian, who ruled from 81 to 96, summoned Zoker and James, two grandsons of the apostle and brother of the Lord, Jude Thaddeus, and grandnephews of the apostles and brother of the Lord, James the Less, to come to Rome, because they were suspected of high treason. In the course of their official interrogration, the two named their allotted property, about nine and half across of arable land, and showed him their calloused hands. Domitian who had feared them as dangerous relatives of Jesus of Nazareth, set them free, unharmed, to return to their home.
If one bears in mind that, according to Jewish custom, possessions of a family are inherited only by blood relatives, then he will readily understand that the grandfather, Thaddeus, and his brothers, James and Simon, had already worked those nine and a half acres by the sweat of their brow.
The Lord called both fishermen and farmers to be His apostles. How significant it is that brothers had lived by much work, and even more by patience! Neither the one nor the other had complete control over his success, for both worked with nature, which God alone controls, This was a good preparation for the apostolate, for the fishing and cultivating of souls for their divine Creator. The farmer worked on the firm and solid land; the fisherman had to ply his trade on the uncertain surface of the sea. The former was less flexible, and also less adaptable, than the latter. The farmer was slow to act, thoughtful, considerate, and persevering. His occupation certainly helps to explain the conservative speech of James the Less.
James, the Brother of the Lord
In all four lists of the apostles, this younger James was named the "son of Alphesus: to distinguish him from the other James, the "son of Zebedee. Hegesippus also called this Alpheus Clopas, Cleophas. Perhaps this was a second name. Possibly it is merely a different form or pronunciation of the same name. This opinion that Alpheus was also called Cleophas finds some support even in the Gospels. Mark and John recorded several of the names of the pious women who stood by the cross on Calvary. Among them Mark names a "Mary the mother of James the Less." John, however, wrote, "Now there were standing by the cross of Jesus him mother and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas," meaning, Mary the wife of Cleophas.
It is quite possible that these two seemingly different Marys were one and the same person. Mark distinguished her from other Marys by naming her son; John, by naming her husband. Then, however, Alpheus must necessarily be taken to be the same person as Cleophas, for James the Less was definitely the son of Alpheus and Mary; and this Mary, as pointed out before, was the wife of Cleophas. Concerning this Alpheus Cleophas there was no reference made in Scripture. Many commentators conjecture he was the Cleophas to whom the risen Savior appeared on the road to Emmaus. Hegesippus was of the opinion that he was the brother of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jeus. This would already establish a certain affinity between James and Christ.
The mother of James and the wife of Cleophas, Mary, was explicitly called "his [Christ's] mother's sister" by St John. Perhaps she actually was a sister of Mary, the mother of God-this presents the difficulty of explaining two sisters with the same name in one family. Possibly they were cousins. Or it could be that there was an affinity by marriage, the wife of Celophas being the sister-in-law of the Blessed Virgin Mary, In any cae, they were related.
The close relationship of this noble wife with the mother of Jesus is vividly expressed in their sharing in the life and sufferings of the Lord. In his account of the Crucifixion, St. Matthew praised the pious women who
were there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Mary, the mother of James, stood beneath the cross with the brave and faithful few, embracing her sister. Mary comforted the mother of God, assuring her that she would not be abandoned and alone, even though her son was dying on the cross. She was with Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and together they were the last to leave the grave on the dark evening of Good Friday. She was with Mary Magdalene and Salome when they went to the tomb in the gray dawn of Easter morning to take their gifts of love, spices and ointments, to anoint the body of their crucified Messias. And therefore she was among the women to be blessed with the first "Lumen Christi," the first Easter alleluia. She also went with the others to bring the happy news to the apostles.
James had a good mother, a faithful follower of Christ who ministered to Him during His public life until the cross, even until the grave. Like most of the apostles of all ages, he was prepared by his mother for the apostolate of Christ. The holy woman deemed it a great grace and blessing and honor to be able to offer her son to God-and how sad and pathetic the mother who refuses this rare privilege!
The writings of the new Testament also mentioned brothers of James. When recording the accounts of Good Friday and Easter, St. Mark once spoke of "Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joseph," and another time, simply "the mother of Joseph," and a third time, only "the mother of James." The author of the Epistles of St. Jude the Apostle introduces himself as "the brother of James." The close relationship between Jude (Thaddeus) and James was noted in Luke's lists of the apostles.
James, Jude, Joseph, and Simon are first encountered as brothers in the Gospels, where they were called "brethren of Jesus." When Jesus had returned to Nazareth, to His native country, and was teaching in the synagogue, the people there, who knew Him well, were offended and astounded. And these people could say, "'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon?'"
The question immediately arises, "In what sense is the term brethren of Jesus used in this passage, and in a few other similar passages of the Gospels?" Much has been written discussing only the one question as to whether the James called the brother of the Lord was the same man as the apostle, James the Less, the son of Alpheus.
Since the Gospels so repeatedly speak of many "brethren of Jesus," one can immediately presume that natural brothers are not meant, but more distant relatives of Jesus. In the Gospel, Mary's supreme intention is made evident: "'...I do not know man.'" Since very early times, the Church has defended and preserved the Gospels's testimony of the virginity of Mary like a precious pearl. The expression "brother of Jesus," therefore, in no way stands as proof of the opinion that this term signifies a blood relationship.
Even today in the Orient, as it was centuries ago, the word brother has more than one meaning. It not denotes brother, but it can also mean nephew, cousin, brother-in-law, and even a friend or comrade or companion. When the names of the parents are given, it can be concluded that the term means "brother" in the normal sense. But never are the "brethren of Jesus" meant to signify sons of Mary. The people of Nazareth emphasized that Jesus was the Son of Mary, and this they did in the same sentence in which His "brothers" were named.
Yet the plea of Christ on the cross to John remains at first puzzling: "'Behold thy mother.'" And He consoled His mother Mary: "'Woman, behold thy son'"-thy son, not a son. But here the only logical interpretation of this relationship is a close spiritual union. If Mary had had other sons, our Lord would not have entrusted John alone with the care of His lonely mother. All would have immediately expressed not only their right, but also their duty to see after her. Meanwhile, the evidence that the "brother of Jesus" not only can be understood as "cousin," but even must be taken in that sense, is certainly make clear by James the Less, "brother" of the Lord. For in all probability-implying practical certitude-James the apostle of the Lord.
In the introductory chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke named only two men called James, not three: James, the son of Zebedee, and James, the son of Alpheus. In the twelfth chapter he recorded the death of the elder James. After that the sacred writer spoke simply of a James: he no longer found it necessary to distinguish him from any other James. These passages, however, show clearly that this James was well-known and much esteemed, that he was a leader of the Church at Jerusalem. Had St. Luke been speaking of a third James, distinguishing between James the Less and James, the brother of the Lord, he would have pointed this out as he had before James the Great was martyred.
The Epistle to the Galatians confirms this same interpretation. St. Paul was speaking of his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion, to see Peter. He continued, "But I saw none of the other apostles, except [in Greek: ei me] James, the brother of the Lord." Here Paul testified that James, the brother of the Lord, was one of the apostles. This is the natural and logical interpretation; and any other is labored and artificial.
Finally, if this James had not been one of the apostles, his position in the early Church would not have been understandable. Those who refuse to accept that James, the brother of the Lord, was the apostle, James the Less, are forced to admit that this "James, even though he was not received by the other apostles into their group after the death of the son of Zebedee, nevertheless... maintained an apostolic position." Cullmann made the statement, certainly indefensible, that, when Peter departed from Jerusalem, he left his special rights behind him with James.
James the Less, the brother of the Lord, was James the apostle. This is the only conclusion possible if this "brother of Jesus" is unequivocally to be shown to be the son of Alphesus and Mary, the sister of Jesus' mother. He is not the son of the mother of God, nor a son of Joseph by an earlier marriage-as the legendary accounts of the so-called Proto-Gospel of the Apostle James claimed. Only with this interpretation is James shown to be a son of the "sister" of the mother of Jesus and a relative of the brother of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.
The Greek Church sees in these "brothers of Jesus" the sons of Cleophas, the sons of the brother of St. Joseph. The Roman Church, on the other hand, recognizes them as the sons of that Mary who was the sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yet these two different interpretations concerning the nature of their relationship are not diametrically opposed: they can be harmonized. For in virtue of Mary's marriage with Cleophas, referred to by St John (19:25), these " brothers" were related to Jesus as well as to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
In the course of the Gospels the brethren of Jesus often assumed relationship with the Lord, which relationship stood in direct contrast to that of the other apostles with Jesus Christ, their leader.
St. Mark, for example, wrote,
And his mother and his brethren came, and standing outside, they sent to him, calling to him. Now a crowd was sitting about him, and they said to him, "Behold, thy mother and thy brethern are outside, seeking thee." And he answered and said to them, "Who are my mother and my brethren?" And looking around on those who were sitting about him, he said, "Behold my mother and my brethren. For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."
And St. John observed in the middle of his Gospel, "For not even his brethren believed in him." Here Jesus again referred to relatives, but not blood brothers; and obviously these brethren were not the two or three He had chosen to be apostles. These distant relatives were also His "brothers." Meanwhile, the text does not rule out the idea that those of His brethren who were raised to the nobility of the apostolate found it especially difficult to believe in Jesus. Psychologically that is understandable, inevitably natural. For these kin of the Lord, those companions who traveled daily with Him in His youth, those comrades who played with Him and shared His hardships, those who possibly even enjoyed the same bed and table with Him, those familiar relatives, then, humanly speaking, lived too close to Jesus.
According to an old tradition, the mother of these sons, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, after the early death of her husband went to live with her sister, the mother of Jesus, in the house at Nazareth. Her sons never even notices their noble and serious cousins's unusual superiority. And now they were only too happy with Him, naively proud that such a great one should come from their own poor group. Yet, for a full comprehension and appreciation of the spiritual and divine mission of Jesus these relatives, precisely as relatives, had a longer and more difficult way to travel than the other aposles.
Christ's relatives were placed at the end of the four lists of apostles. Tactfully our Lord assigned His cousins to the last places, but it may also have been their painful hesitation to believe that classed them in the last group. Peter, the first among the ranks of the apostles, was also the first in faith. In the first Epistles to the Corinthians, St. Paul mentioned that Christ "was seen by James, then by all the apostles." The "Hebrew Gospel" recorded that, after the Last Supper, James made a vow not to eat any bread until he had again seen Jesus as the risen Saviour. Did James, by chance, need a special strengthening in his faith, as Thomas did, or even more than Thomas did? As Thomas was physically absent when Christ appeared to the apostles, did James, though present, fail to believe the first time?
It may be supposed that James did not thoroughly believe in Jesus his cousin, as "the Lord and God" until he had met Him face to face after the Resurrection. His personal contact with Jesus was merely an external one, not a true inner union. Many times this proved to be an obstacles to and a hindrance for Jesus' grace. Blood is less-minor! than grace. He who is united with Jesus in faith and love is really His brother, sister, even mother, like Mary, who was bound to Him in body and soul.