Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
James the Greater
"His Path Is a Symbol of the Pilgrimage of Christian Life"
H.H. Benedict XVI
June 21, 2006
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
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 "Iákobos," 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 death.
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' earthly
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 life.
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
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 10:35-40).
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he
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
© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana [adapted]
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