The Feast of Saint James, the Brother of Jesus
Last weekend we observed the Third Sunday of Easter, but it was also the Feast Day of Saint James the Less. This is the "James" that is often called the "Brother of The Lord". Even though he was one of the apostles, imagine going through life known as "The Less". That can't be good for one's self esteem. Usually folks in this situation tend to be over-achievers, and James was no exception. In nearly every human way, his works excelled those of St. James "The Great".
James The Less is the human author of the Epistle of James in the Bible, which tends to balance out the often misunderstood statements of St. Paul (see 2Pet 3:16) concerning salvation by grace through faith, with a more rational, reasonable, and intuitive explanation than the one offered by, for example, Martin Luther. This is why Luther called James' book "...an epistle of straw..." and wrote "...away then with Jimmy! I have no use for him in my Bible." and actually excluded the Epistle of St. James from his Bible!
In addition to writing this great epistle, James was the Bishop of Jerusalem, and seems (with Peter) to have presided over the first ecumenical council in the Book of Acts. Quite an accomplishment for someone tagged "The Less"!
Now what about this "The Brother of Jesus" stuff? Most of our Protestant friends would tell us that Mary was not a perpetual virgin, because the Bible clearly states that James was Jesus' brother. We Catholics counter with the fact that apostolic tradition affirms Mary remaining a virgin after the birth of Jesus, and since the Hebrew word for "brother" and "cousin" are the same, James was a close relative of our Lord, but not the son of Mary. Other traditions infer that James was the son of Joseph (Alpheus) from a previous marriage. Joseph, a widower, was betrothed to Mary in a caretaker's role rather than that of a husband, so the story - in the Protoevangelium of James - goes. I actually find some scriptural support for this in Mary's response to Gabriel "How can this be, since I do not know a man?". If she and Joseph were soon to be married in the conjugal sense, why would the angel's announcement seem so shocking to her? Just my own two cents. Also, if James was the son of Mary, why would our Lord have given custody of her to Saint John, on the cross. It certainly wasn't because James was a negligent son!
Still, this "brother of Jesus" stuff has been insisted upon since the times of the Reformation. One of the most profound statements regarding this is seen in the famous and highly respected (and distressingly anti-Catholic) "Foxe's Book of Martyrs" where in 1563 John Foxe writes:
"Regarding the martyrdom of James the Less, who is supposed by some to have been the brother of our Lord, by a former wife of Joseph. This is very doubtful, and accords too much with the Catholic superstition, that Mary never had any other children except our Savior. He was elected to the oversight of the churches of Jerusalem; and was the author of the Epistle ascribed to James in the sacred canon. At the age of ninety-four he was beat and stoned by the Jews; and finally had his brains dashed out with a fuller's club. This occurred under the persecutions of Domitian in 81 AD."
Interesting how God often trips up the detractors of His Church with their math. (81 AD at the age of 94? Think about it)! Unfortunately this dispute tends to detract from the saintly, heroic life of a great apostle. Saint James, pray for us!