What do we Know About the Apostles St. Philip and St. James the Less?

Celebrated by the Church on the same day, they testify to us that in the great harvest of the Lord every work counts, every little grain has its importance. 

Newsdesk (27/06/2023 12:35, Gaudium Press) The Catholic liturgy celebrates the Feast of the Apostles St. Philip and St. James the Less together. About them we have some references in the Gospel which demonstrate their character and uprightness even before the coming of Pentecost.

St. Philip, Apostle of the Apostles

The illustrious Philip was called by Our Lord, according to the Holy Scriptures, on the same day that St. Peter and St. Andrew were also invited to be fishers of men.

This shows the predilection that Jesus had for Philip, who became responsible for calling Nathanael, his great friend, the one of whom Christ uttered, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Today we invoke Nathanael under his surname as St. Bartholomew, and if he was honest and not at all hypocritical, his friends also shared this truthfulness, for nothing is more despicable to the honest man than lies. Therefore, this same praise given to St. Bartholomew by Christ can be applied to St. Philip.

In a biblical passage, during one of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, it is St. Philip who, concerned about the crowd, asks, “Lord, how shall we feed the people?” In another passage, we note that a group of Greeks wishes to see Jesus, and it is St. Philip and St. Andrew who encourage them and introduce them to Our Lord. Such zeal for others denotes the charity of St Philip, who was already extending, even to pagans, the blessing of Our Lord. That is why the Apostle Philip is highly esteemed in Greece, and is a great patron for the nation that was the cradle of Western philosophy.

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A curious fact of St. Philip’s life, as narrated by his contemporary writers, is that the apostle was called by Jesus when he was already married with three daughters. Therefore, his enlistment in the ranks of the apostles, consented to by his family, did not come without pain.

He is thought to have died around the year 80 AD, for that is when his ardent disciple, St. Polycarp, who will go on to do wonders for the nascent Church, converts to the true religion. It was not enough to bring St. Bartholomew, but the magnitude of St Philip’s greatness is further increased by the list of disciples converted by St. Polycarp.

His death is said to have taken place in Hierapolis, in the lands of ancient Greece, making the bond that unites them even more palpable. He was stoned and buried by his persecutors, who hated the Christian faith and its marvels.

Saint James, physically similar to Jesus

The Apostle we know as James ‘the Less’, or ‘the Lesser’, is not to be confused with another of the apostles, St. James the Great, brother of St. John. The title “the Great” refers to the sublime mysteries that St. James the Great was able to witness, such as the Transfiguration and the vigil in the Garden of Olives. However, in the matter of holiness, the two James’ both reached the heights and achieved prodigious results. St. James the Less was a relative of Jesus, and two more of his brothers were also apostles, St. Jude Thaddeus and St. Simon, who, incidentally, are celebrated together in the month of October.

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The accounts indicate to us that St. James the Less was very similar to Our Lord, being His first cousin, and that it was possible to confuse the two. This is one of the reasons why Judas, the traitor, needed to identify who Jesus was for the Romans.

His presence in the Gospels is not so manifest, partly because he was invited by Christ when already in His second year of public life. Some authors believe that Jesus would have appeared exclusively to Him after the Resurrection, entrusting him with the task of shepherding the Church of Jerusalem.

We see this function of St. James the Less already in the Acts of the Apostles, when it says that “James, Cephas and John were the support of the Church”. Of his writings, we have the letters of St. James, where he makes explicit the “icing on the cake” to counter once and for all all the heresies pertaining to the subject of faith that would develop in the future: “Faith without works is dead”. It is for this reason that Luther, to validate his erroneous doctrine, needed to actually expunge St. James’ book from the Bible, thus mutilating it and, along with it, the entire Tradition!

Saint James the Less was martyred by the Jews. The year was 62 AD, and the instrument of martyrdom was stoning. He was 96 years old, a very old man who was not even given the respect due to one of such an extreme age. Like Jesus, his divine cousin, St. James also said before he died: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. Eight years after his death, the Siege of Jerusalem took place and many perceived the horrific events to be a punishment for the death of the holy bishop.

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St. Philip and St. James, Apostles

At a certain moment, Philip asks Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Christ answers him: “Philip … whoever has seen me has seen the Father”. This revelation has been a source of study for the whole of theology, helping to better establish the mystery of the Trinity.

Thus we may note that, in the work of Our Lord, each apostle had a specific mission, a particular calling to accomplish various deeds. St. Philip and St. James remain in our hearts as having fulfilled those designs, of being faithful and extremely generous.

Both could not have had a more different destiny: one was charged with evangelizing the Greeks, the other with preserving what was good in the Hebrews. But the feast of the two, Philip and James, is celebrated on the same day to testify to us that in the great harvest of the Lord every work counts, every little grain has its importance. Let us ask the apostles Philip and James for discernment in understanding our own vocation and the constancy to fulfil it for the glory of God.

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan

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