Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries

Haydock's Catholic Bible CommentaryHaydock's Catholic Commentary

- James

by George Leo Haydock







The seven following Epistles have been called Catholic or general, not being addressed to any particular Church or person, if we except the Second and Third of St. John. They are called also Canonical, having been received by the Church as part of the canon of the New Testament, and as writings of divine authority. It is a matter of fact allowed by every one, that five of these epistles, to wit, this of St. James, the Second of St. Peter, the Second and Third of St. John, that of St. Jude, as also the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse or Revelation of St. John, were doubted of , and not received always and every where in the three first ages [centuries], till the canon and catalogue of Scripture books was examined by tradition, and determined by the authority of the Catholic Church, the supreme judge of all controversies in matters of faith and religion, according to the appointment of our Saviour, Christ, expressed in many places in the holy Scriptures. But I could never learn upon what grounds they who deny the Catholic Church and General Councils to be of an infallible authority, and who deny Christ’s promises to guide his Church in all truth to the end of the world, can be certain which Scriptures or writings are canonical, and which are not. I could never understand what construction to put on the sixth of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England. We there meet with this declaration: In, or by the name of the holy Scripture we understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church. These I have mentioned were certainly for some time doubted of; they are still doubted of by some of the late reformers: Luther, the great doctor of the reformation, is not ashamed to say that this epistle of St. James is no better than straw, and unworthy of an apostle. These writings therefore, according to the said declaration, ought not to be accounted and received as canonical; and yet before the end of the said sixth article, it is again declared, that all the books of the Old and New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical. And in all New Testaments of the Church of England, all these are received for canonical in the same manner as the four gospels, without any remark or advertisement to the contrary. --- The first of the seven epistles was written by St. James, surnamed the lesser, and James of Alpheus, (Matthew x. 3.) one of the twelve apostles, called the brother of our Lord, (Galatians i. 19.) who was made bishop of Jerusalem. His mother is thought to have been Mary, sister to the blessed Virgin Mary, and to have been married first to Alpheus, and afterwards to Cleophas; to have had four sons, James, Joseph, Simon, (or Simeon) and Jude, the author of the last of these epistles. All these four being cousins-german, are called brothers of our Lord, Matthew xiii. 55. How great a veneration the Jews themselves had for this apostle and bishop of Jerusalem, see not only Hegisippus apud Eusebius, lib. ii. hist. chap. 23. and St. Jerome de viris illustribus, also the same St. Jerome in Galatians i. 19. (tom. iv, p. 237, lib. 1. cont. Jovin. tom. iv, part 2, p. 182.) but even Josephus, (lib. xxviii. Jewish Antiquities, chap. 8.) where he calls him the brother of Jesus, surnamed the Christ. This epistle was written about the year 62. The chief contents are: 1. To shew that faith without good works will not save a man, as St. Augustine observed, lib. de fid. et oper. chap. iv.; 2. He exhorts them to patience, to beg true wisdom, and the divine grace; 3. He condemns the vices of the tongue; 4. He gives admonitions against pride, vanity, ambition, &c.; 5. To resist their disorderly lusts and desires, which are the occasions and causes of sin, and not Almighty God; 6. He publisheth the sacrament of anointing the sick with oil; 7. He recommends prayer, &c. St. Jerome, in a letter to Paulinus, (t. iv. part 2, p. 574.) recommends all these seven epistles in these words: James, Peter, John, and Jude, published seven epistles....both short and long, short in words, long as to the content; Jacobus, Petrus, Joannes, Judas, septem epistolas ediderunt....breves pariter et longas, breves in verbis, longas in sententiis. (Witham) --- St. Gregory of Nazianzus remarks, that the faithful were not agreed as to the number of these epistles; some admitted seven and some only three, viz. this of St. James, the first of St. John, and the first of St. Peter:

        Greek: Katholikon Epistolon

        Tines men epta phasin, oi de treis monas

        Chrenai dechesthai ten Iakobou mian,

        Mian de Petrou, tente Ioannou mian. --- Naz. Carm. de Script. Canon.

We shall state at the beginning of each epistle, the reason why they have been adopted into the canon of Scripture. (Calmet) --- The object of these epistles was, according to the remark of St. Augustine, to refute the rising errors of Simon Magus, the Nicolaites, and other such heretics, who abusing the liberty of the gospel, and perverting the meaning of St. Paul’s words in his epistle to the Romans, pretended that faith alone, without good works, was sufficient for salvation; although St. Paul expressly requires Christians, a faith working by charity, Galatians v. 6. and 1 Corinthians xiii. where he uses these emphatic words: "If I should have all faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." (St. Augustine, lib. de fide et operibus, chap. xiv. (Calmet) --- As to what regards the authenticity of St. James’ epistle, although Luther with his usual boldness asserts that many with good reason denied this epistle to be canonical, and affirmed that it was unworthy the pen of an apostle, yet, admitting that some individuals in the first ages [centuries] of the Church doubted of its authority, we are nevertheless assured from certain monuments that it was always considered as sacred and inspired both by the Latin and Greek Churches. This is evident from the sixtieth canon of the council of Laodicea; from the forty-seventh of the council of Carthage, in 397; from Origen, hom. vii. in Josue; from St. Athanasius in synopsi, Epiphanius hæresi 76; from St. Jerome, ad Paulinum Epis.; from St. Augustine, lib. ii. de Doc. Chris. chap. viii; from St. Gregory of Nazianzus, tom. iii, p. 98; from Amphilochus, apud St. Gregory of Nazainzus, tom. ii. p. 194; from Innocent I. Epis. ad Decentium; from Rufinus, Exposit. Symboli; and from Gelasius I. who in the fifth age [century], in a council of seventy bishops, at Rome, settled the canon of the genuine books of the holy Scripture, and distinguished them from what are spurious. (Cal. et Habert de Sacr. Ext. Un.) --- St. Jerome and St. Augustine quote frequently this epistle as the undoubted work of this apostle; and since their time, its authenticity has never been called in question by Catholics. It is believed St. James wrote this epistle in Greek, as he quotes the Scripture according to the version of the Septuagint, as Chap. iv. 6; and as this language was commonly spoken in the East by the dispersed Jews, to whom he wrote. his style is concise and sententious, like that of Solomon in his proverbs, and like the maxims of the Orientals even to the present day. (Calmet)


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