James the Greater
"His Path Is a Symbol of the Pilgrimage of
JUNE 21, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address
Benedict XVI gave at today's general audience. The Pope
dedicated is talk to the figure of the Apostle James the
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Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We continue with the series of portraits of the apostles chosen
directly by Jesus during his life. We have spoken of St. Peter
and of his brother Andrew. Today we meet the figure of James.
The biblical lists of the Twelve mention two people with his
name: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus (cf.
Mark 3:17,18; Matthew 10:2-3), who are generally distinguished
with the names James the Greater and James the Lesser.
These designations are not intended to measure their holiness,
but simply to state the different relevance they receive in the
New Testament writings and, in particular, in the framework of
Jesus' earthly life. Today we dedicate our attention to the
first of these two personages of the same name.
The name James is the translation of "Iلkobos,"
a variation under Greek influence of the name of the famous
patriarch Jacob. The apostle of this name is John's brother, and
in the mentioned lists he occupies second place after Peter, as
occurs in Mark (3:17), or the third place after Peter and
Andrew, as in the Gospels of Matthew (10:2) and Luke (6:14),
while in the Acts of the Apostles he appears after Peter and
John (1:13). This James belongs, together with Peter and John,
to the group of three privileged disciples who were admitted by
Jesus to important moments of his life.
As it is very hot today, I would like to abbreviate and mention
only two of these occasions now. He was able to take part, along
with Peter and John, in the moment of Jesus' agony in the Garden
of Gethsemane, and in the moment of Jesus' transfiguration.
Therefore, it is a question of two very different situations: In
one case, James, with the other two disciples, experiences the
Lord's glory, sees him speaking with Moses and Elijah, sees the
divine splendor revealed in Jesus; in the other, he finds
himself before suffering and humiliation; he sees with his own
eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, becoming obedient unto
The second occasion was surely for him an opportunity to mature
in the faith, to correct the unilateral, triumphalist
interpretation of the first: He had to discern how the Messiah,
awaited by the Jewish people as a victor, was in reality not
only surrounded by honor and glory, but also by sufferings and
weakness. The glory of Christ was realized precisely on the
cross, in taking part in our sufferings.
This maturation of the faith was brought to completion by the
Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that when the supreme moment of
witness arrived, James did not draw back. In the early 40s of
the first century, King Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the
Great, as Luke informs us: "laid violent hands upon some who
belonged to the Church. He killed James the brother of John with
the sword" (Acts 12:1-2). The brevity of the news, lacking any
narrative detail, reveals, on one hand, how it was normal for
Christians to witness to the Lord with their lives and, on the
other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of
Jerusalem, in part because of the role carried out during Jesus'
A subsequent tradition, which goes back at least to Isidore of
Seville, recounts that he was in Spain to evangelize that
important region of the Roman Empire. According to another
tradition, his body was taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago
de Compostela. As we all know, that place became an object of
great veneration and, still today, is the objective of numerous
pilgrimages, not only from Europe, but from the whole world. In
this way is explained the iconographic representation of James
with the pilgrim's staff, and the Gospel story, characteristics
of the itinerant apostle, committed to the proclamation of the
"good news," characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian
Therefore, we can learn much from James: promptness in accepting
the Lord's call, even when he asks us to leave the "bark" of our
human securities; enthusiasm in following Him on the paths that
he indicates to us beyond our illusory presumption; readiness to
give witness to Him with courage and, if necessary, with the
supreme sacrifice of life. Thus, James the Greater is presented
to us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ.
He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be
seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was
precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion, in
sharing martyrdom with the Apostles.
And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that his
path, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount
of the Transfiguration to the mount of the agony, is a symbol of
the pilgrimage of Christian life, amid the persecutions of the
world and consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council
states. Following Jesus, we, like James, know that, even in
difficulties, we are on the right path.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read the following
summary in English:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our weekly catechesis on the Church's apostolic ministry, we
now consider the Apostle James. James -- called the Greater, in
order to distinguish him from James, the son of Alphaeus -- was
the brother of the Apostle John.
In the New Testament, James is often named with Peter and John
as one of the three disciples privileged to be present at the
most significant events in Jesus' earthly ministry. These
include the Lord's transfiguration on Mount Tabor and his agony
in the Garden of Gethsemane. Through these two events, which
revealed Christ's glory as the Son of God and the meaning of his
redemptive sacrifice, James came to a deeper understanding of
the Lord's messianic mission. This growth in faith was crowned
by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The Acts of the Apostles presents James as an authoritative
figure in the Church of Jerusalem and the first of the apostles
to meet a martyr's death. His example inspires us to be zealous
disciples of Christ, prepared to drink from the cup of his
suffering in order to reign with him in glory (cf. Mark
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In
English, he said:]
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and
pilgrims present at today's audience, including the delegates to
the conference on plasma physics, and the delegates to the
symposium on atherosclerosis. I extend particular greetings to
the groups from Ireland, Ghana, China and the United States of
America. May your stay in Rome renew your faith and your love
for our Lord, and may God bless you all!
© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana [adapted]