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Pope Benedict on James the Less

"Contributed to Integrate the Original Jewish Dimension of Christianity"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 29, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at Wednesday's general audience. The Pope spoke of the Apostle James the Less.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Beside the figure of James "the Greater," son of Zebedee, of whom we spoke last Wednesday, another James appears in the Gospel, who is called "the Less." He also forms part of the list of Twelve Apostles chosen personally by Jesus, and is always specified as "son of Alphaeus" (cf. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 5; Acts 1:13).

He has often been identified with another James, called "the Younger" (cf. Mark 15:40), son of a Mary (cf. ibid.), who could be Mary of Clopas present, according to the Fourth Gospel, at the foot of the cross together with the Mother of Jesus (cf. John 19:25). He was also from Nazareth and probably a relative of Jesus (cf. Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), who, after the Semitic manner, was called "brother" (cf. Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19).

Of this last James, the book of Acts underlines the pre-eminent role played in the Church of Jerusalem. In the apostolic council held there shortly after the death of James the Greater, he affirmed together with the others that the pagans could be received in the Church without first having to undergo circumcision (cf. Acts 15:13). St. Paul, who attributes to him a specific apparition of the Risen One (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:7), on the occasion of his trip to Jerusalem names him directly before Cephas-Peter, describing him as a "column" of the Church together with him (cf. Galatians 2:9).

Afterward, the Judeo-Christians considered him their main point of reference. To him in fact is attributed the Letter that bears the name James and is included in the New Testament canon. He does not present himself as the "Lord's brother," but as "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1).

There is a debate among scholars over the identification of these two personages of the same name, James son of Alphaeus and James "brother of the Lord." The evangelical traditions have not preserved for us an account of one or the other in reference to the period of the earthly life of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles, instead, show us that a "James" carried out a very important role within the early Church, as we already mentioned, after the resurrection of Jesus, (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18).

The most prominent action he accomplished was his intervention on the question of the difficult relationship between Christians of Jewish origin and those of pagan origin. In this he contributed, together with Peter, to surmount, or better, to integrate the original Jewish dimension of Christianity with the need not to impose on converted pagans the obligation to be subjected to all the norms of the law of Moses.

The book of Acts has preserved for us the compromise solution proposed precisely by James and accepted by all the apostles present, according to whom the pagans who had believed in Jesus Christ should only be requested to abstain from the idolatrous custom of eating the flesh of animals offered in sacrifice to the gods, and from the "immodesty," a term that probably alluded to marital unions without consent. In practice, it was a question of adhering to only a few prohibitions, held rather important by the Mosaic legislation.

In this way, two significant and complementary results were obtained, both still valid: On one hand, the unbreakable relationship is recognized that links Christianity to the Jewish religion as its perennially living and valid matrix; on the other, Christians of pagan origin are allowed to preserve their own sociological identity, which they would have lost if they had been constrained to observe the so-called Mosaic ceremonial precepts: These now were no longer to be considered obligatory for converted pagans. In essence, a reciprocal praxis of esteem and respect was being initiated, which, notwithstanding subsequent unfortunate misunderstandings, sought by its nature to safeguard all that was characteristic of each of the two sides.

The most ancient information on the death of this James is given to us by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In his Jewish Antiquities (20, 201f), written in Rome toward the end of the first century, he tells us that James' end was decided with the illegitimate initiative of the High Priest Ananus, son of the Annas attested in the Gospels, who took advantage of the interval between the deposition of one Roman Procurator (Festus) and the advent of his successor (Albinius) to decree his stoning in the year 62.

To the name of this James, in addition to the apocryphal proto-Gospel of James, which exalts the holiness and virginity of Mary the Mother of Jesus, is particularly linked the Letter that bears ...

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