Who Is St. James the Less?
According to the Catholic Church, St. James was named the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and because of his location, he became a champion for Jewish converts to Christianity.
(first century a.d.–a.d. 62)
Patron: fullers, pharmacists
Feast day: May 3
James is the author of the New Testament epistle in his name. He is called “the Less” to distinguish him from the older James (see the section on St. James the Greater, earlier in this chapter).
St. James the Less was the son of Alpheus, brother to Joseph (often written as “Joses”) and cousin to Simon and Jude. Although he was sometimes referred to as the “brother of the Lord” or the “brother of Jesus,” in reality he was a cousin, although no one knows whether the relationship was through the Virgin Mary or her husband Joseph. (Ancient Greeks used the word adelphos to refer to any male relative, be it brother, cousin, uncle, or nephew, so precise relationships are often difficult to determine.)
Unlike Paul, St. James the Less favored following the Mosaic laws of circumcision and diet. This debate led to the First Ecumenical Council of Jerusalem. Historic in nature, the council showed the workings of the Church after the Ascension of the Lord. James had been a strong proponent of requiring Gentiles to first convert to Judaism before converting to Christianity. After listening to Peter say in Jerusalem that there was a direct, fast-track conversion from paganism to Christianity, James deferred to that decision.
There are many stories concerning the death of James the Less, but the most credible one comes from the Jewish historian Josephus. He wrote that James was martyred in a.d. 62 by being thrown from a pinnacle off the Temple and then stoned and beaten with clubs.