Today is the feast day of Saints Philip and James. Orate pro nobis.
By Dom Gueranger
Two of the favored witnesses of our Beloved Jesus’ Resurrection come before us today. Sts. Philip and James are here, bearing testimony to us that their Master is truly risen from the dead, that they have seen Him, that they have touched Him, that they have conversed with Him (1 John 1: 1), during these forty days. And, that we may have no doubt as to the truth of their testimony, they hold in their hands the instruments of the martyrdom they underwent for asserting that Jesus, after having suffered death, came to life again and rose from the grave. St. Philip is leaning upon the cross to which he was fastened, as Jesus had been; St. James is holding the club wherewith he was struck dead.
St. Philip preached the Gospel in the two Phrygias, and his martyrdom took place at Hierapolis. He was married when he was called by our Savior; and we learn from writers of the second century that he had three daughters, remarkable for their great piety, one of whom lived at Ephesus, where she was justly revered as one of the glories of that early church.
St. James is better known than St. Philip. He is called in Sacred Scripture, the brother of the Lord (Gal. 1: 19 and elsewhere), on account of the close relationship that existed between his own mother and the Blessed Mother of Jesus. (He is also called James the Less, to distinguish him from James the Greater—who was the brother of St. John, and of greater bodily stature.) He claims our veneration during Paschal Time, inasmuch as he was favored with a special visit from our Risen Lord, as we learn from St. Paul (1 Cor. 15: 7). There can be no doubt but that he had done something to deserve this mark of Jesus’ predilection. St. Jerome and St. Epiphanius tell us that our Savior, when ascending into Heaven, recommended to St. James’ care the Church of Jerusalem, and that he was accordingly appointed the first Bishop of that city. The Christians of Jerusalem, in the fourth century, had in their possession a chair on which St. James used to sit when he assisted at the assemblies of the faithful. St. Epiphanius also tells us that the holy Apostle used to wear a lamina of gold upon his forehead as the badge of his dignity. His garment was a tunic made of linen.
He was held in such high repute for virtue that the people of Jerusalem called him the Just; and when the time of the siege came, instead of attributing the frightful punishment they then endured to the deicide they or their fathers had committed, they preferred to think of it as a consequence of the murder of St. James, who, when dying, prayed for his people. The admirable Epistle he has left us bears testimony to the gentleness and uprightness of his character. He there teaches us, with the eloquence of an inspired writer, that works must accompany our faith if we would be just with that justice which makes us like our Risen Lord.
The bodies of Sts. Philip and James repose in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Rome. These relics are counted as one of the richest treasures of the Holy City, and there is reason to believe that the first day of May (which was formerly the date of this Feast), is the real anniversary of their translation. For a long period the Church of Rome kept special Feasts in honor of only four of the Apostles: Sts. Peter and Paul, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Andrew (the brother of St. Peter); the rest were united in the solemnity of June 29, and a vestige of this is still to be found in the office of that day, as we have seen. The reception of the bodies of Sts. Philip and James, which were brought from the East somewhere about the sixth century, gave rise to the institution of today’s Feast; and this led gradually to the insertion into the Calendar of special Feasts for the other Apostles and Evangelists.
In the Collect, the Church acknowledges that Her children justly suffer the chastisements which are the consequences of sin; but She beseeches Her Divine Lord to send them that mercy which will deliver them:
Let us now read the brief account given of St. Philip in the Breviary:
St. Philip was born in Bethsaida, and was one of the twelve Apostle that were first called by Christ Our Lord. It was from St. Philip that Nathanael learned that the Messias who was promised in the Law (of Moses) had come; and by him also he was led to Our Lord. We have a clear proof of the familiarity wherewith St. Philip was treated by Christ, in the fact that the Gentiles addressed themselves to this Apostle when they wished to see the Savior. Again when Our Lord was about to feed the multitude in the desert, He spoke to St. Philip, and said, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6: 5) After having received the Holy Ghost, he went into Scythia, which was the country allotted to him, wherein to preach the Gospel; and converted almost the entire people to the Christian Faith. Having finally reached Hierapolis in Phrygia, he was crucified there for the Name of Christ, and then stoned to death. The Christians buried his body in the same place; but it was afterwards taken to Rome, and, together with the body of the Apostle St. James, was placed in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles.
Thou, O St. Philip, wast devoted to our Risen Jesus, even from the first day of His calling thee. Scarcely hadst thou come to know him as the Messias, than thou didst announce the great tidings to thy friend Nathanael. Jesus treated thee with affectionate familiarity. When about to work the great miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, it was to thee that He addressed Himself, and said to thee, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat. A few days before the Passion of thy Divine Master, some of the Gentiles wished to see this great Prophet, of whom they had heard such wonderful things, and it was to thee that they applied. How fervently didst thou not ask Him, at the Last Supper, to show thee the Father! Thy soul longed for the divine light; and when the rays of the Holy Ghost had inflamed thy spirit, nothing could daunt thy courage. As a reward of thy labors, Jesus gave thee to share with Him the honors of the Cross. O holy Apostle, intercede for us, that we may imitate thy devotedness to Jesus; and that, when He deigns to send us the Cross, we may reverence and love it.
The Breviary then gives the two following Lessons upon St. James:
St. James, the “brother of Our Lord,” was called the Just. From his childhood he never drank wine or strong drink; he abstained from flesh meat; he never cut his hair, or used oil to anoint his limbs, or made use of the (public) baths. He was the only one permitted to enter the Holy of Holies. His garments were of linen. So assiduous was he in prayer, that the skin of his knees was as hard as that of a camel. After Christ’s Ascension, the Apostles made him Bishop of Jerusalem; and it was to him that the Prince of the Apostles sent the news of his having been delivered out of prison by an angel. A dispute having arisen in the Council of Jerusalem concerning the Mosaic Law and circumcision, St. James sided with St. Peter, and in a speech which he made to the brethren, proved the vocation of the Gentiles, and said that the absent brethren were to be told not to impose the yoke of the Mosaic Law upon the Gentiles. It is of him that the Apostle (St. Paul) speaks in his Epistle to the Galatians, when he says: But other of the Apostles I saw none, saving James, the brother of the Lord.
Such was St. James’ holy life, that people used to strive with each other to touch the hem of his garment. At the age of 96 years—of which he had spent 30 governing the Church of Jerusalem in the most saintly manner—as he was one day preaching, with great courage, Christ the Son of God, he was attacked by stones being thrown at him; after which he was taken to the highest part of the Temple, and cast headlong down. He legs were broken by the fall; and as he was lying half dead upon the ground, he raised up his hands toward Heaven, and thus prayed for his executioners, “Forgive them, O Lord, for they know not what they do!” Whilst thus praying, he received a blow on the head with a fuller’s club, and gave up his soul to his God, in the seventh year of Nero’s reign. He was buried near the Temple, from which he had been thrown down. He wrote a Letter, which is one of the seven Catholic Epistles.
O St. James, thou that art called brother of the Lord, on whose venerable features was stamped the likeness of our Redeemer, we also honor thy love for Him. If, like the rest of the Apostles, thou didst abandon Him in His Passion, thy repentance was speedy and earnest, for thou wast the first, after St. Peter, to whom He appeared after His Resurrection. We affectionately congratulate thee, O St. James, for the honor thus conferred upon thee; do thou, in return, obtain for us that we may taste and see how sweet is our Risen Lord (Ps. 33: 9). Thy ambition was to give Him every possible proof of thy gratitude; and the last testimony thou didst bear, in the faithless city, to the divinity of thy dear Master (when the Jews took thee to the top of the Temple) opened to thee, by martyrdom, the way that was to unite thee to Him for eternity. Pray for us, O thou generous Apostle, that we also may confess His Holy Name with the firmness which befits His disciples; and that we may ever be brave and loyal in proclaiming His rights as King over all creatures. (3)
Saints Philip and James
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
St. Philip was born at Bethsaida, a city near the Sea of Genesareth. What we know concerning him is contained in the following words of the Gospel: One day, as Christ our Lord was going to Galilee, he met Philip and said to him: “Follow me.” Philip unhesitatingly obeyed, and as, after a long conversation with Christ, he became convinced that He was the true, long-promised Messiah, he endeavored to lead others also to Him. Among the first of these was Nathaniel, an upright man and well versed in the law of God. After some time, Christ appointed Philip an Apostle, and he was extremely zealous in the fulfilment of his duties. Before the Saviour fed, with five loaves of bread, the five thousand men in the desert, he had asked Philip: “Where shall we buy bread that they may have to eat?” Philip replied: “Bread for two hundred pence is not sufficient to give each one a small piece.” Christ, however, showed that He did not need so much to feed the assembled multitudes. After Christ had raised Lazarus from the dead, and had made His glorious entry into Jerusalem, some heathens came to Philip and said: ” Sir, we would see Jesus.” Philip informed the Apostle Andrew of it, and both acquainted the Saviour with the request. When Our Lord, in His exhortation after the last supper, spoke of His heavenly father, Philip said; “Lord, show us the Father, and it will suffice us.” In addition to the above, tradition gives us the following of the life and labors of this Saint. When, after having received the Holy Ghost, the Apostles dispersed into the world to preach the Gospel, Scythia, still wild and savage, fell to the lot of Philip, and by his preaching and the wonders he wrought, he converted almost all its inhabitants. Thence he went to Phrygia, where he found in the Capital, Hierapolis, an unusually large dragon, which the blind heathens worshipped as their God, and even cast as sacrifices living human beings before it, whom it tore in pieces and devoured. The Saint had deep compassion upon their blindness, and prayed to God upon bended knees, to destroy the monster by His power, that the people might recognize how wretched a God they had worshipped until now. What the Holy Apostle asked for he received. The dragon burst asunder in the presence of many heathens. The Saint, improving the opportunity, disclosed to the assembled multitude their error, and preached to them the true faith, which many readily embraced. The idolatrous priests and some of the magistrates, much incensed at what had taken place with their pretended god, gave no respite to Philip, but immediately seized him, and threw him into a dungeon: then, after having most cruelly scourged him, they hung him upon a cross with orders to stone him to death. During his martyrdom, however, there was so terrible an earthquake, that all the heathens ran away in affright. The Christians wished to take the Saint from the cross, but he requested to be allowed to die upon it, after the example of his divine Master. His wish was complied with, and after he had most fervently recommended himself and the newly converted Christians to the care of the Almighty, he gave up the ghost.
The Apostle James, whose festival is also celebrated today, is called the Younger, or the Less, because he was the second of that name who became a follower of Christ. He was related to the Saviour, and therefore is sometimes called a brother of our Lord. His parents had consecrated him to God before his birth, and he therefore led, when grown up, that kind of life which was usual to a Nazarene. He abstained from meat and wine, cast off all sensual desires, and was so devoted to prayer, that the skin of his knees was hard, like the skin of a camel. Moreover, he lived so retired, and so blamelessly, that he obtained the surname of the “just.” Christ received him among the number of His Apostles, and it is not to be doubted that he followed the Saviour everywhere, with the others, and shared with them in many of their graces. St. Peter ordained him Bishop of Jerusalem, after they had received the Holy Ghost. This difficult position he occupied during thirty years with unwearied diligence. His zeal in preaching the Gospel, and still more the holiness of his life, and the many wonders God wrought through him, placed him so high in the esteem even of the Jews that many, on meeting him, prostrated themselves before him and kissed the hem of his garment. The greatest comfort, however, that the Saint enjoyed was the conversion of so many persons to the faith of Christ. The number of the faithful increased daily, and also their piety as well as the purity of their life. The Saint insisted on the exercise of good works and avoidance of sin: the beautiful Epistle, which he wrote to the faithful, and which is contained in Holy Writ, is a proof of this. In it he exhorts them to avoid anger, pride, calumny, cursing and other sins, and to obey God and fulfil His commandments, to resist all sensuality, to bridle the tongue, to be patient in suffering, steadfast in persecution, and above all things, kind towards others. The reason he gives for this, is, that faith without good deeds is not sufficient to lead to heaven. “What shall it profit, if a man say he has faith, but hath not works?–shall faith be able to save him? If faith have not works, it is dead in itself.” Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only? “For even as the body without the spirit is dead, so also, faith without works is dead.” Thus writes the Holy Apostle, and with it refutes the dogma of the non-Catholics, who say that faith alone secures justification and salvation; while by the same words he gives a brilliant testimonial that the Catholic doctrine, which, to gain salvation, requires good works as well as faith, is the true Apostolic doctrine.
It ought not to be passed in silence that this Apostle in the above epistle distinctly makes, mention of, first, the Holy Sacrament of Extreme Unction which should be given to the sick. His own words I shall give somewhere else. Secondly, he speaks of the confession which one man should make to another; that is, to a priest. Both these show that Extreme Unction and Confession were already practised by the early Christians, and were not, as the non-Catholics wrongly and foolishly pretend, instituted or commanded by the Popes. Holy Writ says also that St. James was present at the first Council which was held in Jerusalem, and that he was of the opinion of St. Peter, not to oblige the newly-converted Christians to observe the old Mosaic ceremonies.
Meanwhile, the Scribes and Pharisees noticing the daily growth of the Christian faith in Jerusalem and all Judea, and not knowing how to prevent it, determined to persuade St. James, by flatteries and promises, to renounce the teachings of Christ and go back to the old laws. Ananus, at that time High Priest, summoned him, therefore, to the grand Council. After he had praised his virtue and piety, he requested him to exhort the people, who, on account of the Passover, were assembled at Jerusalem in great numbers, to leave the new heresy and once more return to the right path. St. James promised to show them all publicly the true path to salvation. He was accordingly led upon the battlement of the Temple that his voice might be better heard by the assembled multitude. The Scribes, who were standing among them, called up to him: ” Tell us, thou just man, what shall we think of the crucified Christ, because we will believe thy words. Show us the right path wherein we should walk.” The Apostle, raising his voice, said; “Hear, my brethren, the proofs which I give of the truth. The Crucified Jesus Christ is the Messiah whom our fathers so long hoped for, so long expected. He is the true Son of God who sits now on His right hand, until He shall return to judge the living and the dead. Whosoever believeth in Him cannot be lost.” This and more the Saint fearlessly said in order to preach and defend the teaching of the Gospel. Many of those present applauded him and showed themselves ready to accept the teachings of Christ. The Pharisees, however, running hither and thither among the people, said: “Dear friends, this just man has erred; be not troubled. It is not as he says.” At the same time some of them hastened upon the pinnacle of the Temple, whence the Saint had, with such undaunted courage, proclaimed his confession, and precipitated him to the ground. St. James, having raised himself upon his knees, lifted his eyes and hands to heaven, and in imitation of his divine Master, said: “Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The Jews, however, threw stones upon him, and one with a heavy club struck him on the head so that he sank dead upon the ground. (4)
Research by REGINA Staff