CATHOLIC EPISTLE OF S. JAMES,
ON THE CATHOLIC EPISTLES.
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 S. 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 S. James, the Second of S. Peter, the Second and Third of S. John, that of S. Jude, as also the Epistle of S. Paul to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse or Revelation of S. John, were doubted of , and not received always and every where in the three first ages, 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 S. 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 S. James, surnamed the lesser, and James of Alpheus, (Mat. x. 3.) one of the twelve apostles, called the brother of our Lord, (Gal. 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, Mat. xiii. 55. How great a veneration the Jews themselves had for this apostle and bishop of Jerusalem, see not only Hegisippus apud Euseb. l. ii. hist. c. 23. and S. Jer. de viris illustribus, also the same S. Jer. in Gal. i. 19. (tom. iv, p. 237, l. 1. cont. Jovin. tom. iv, part 2, p. 182.) but even Josephus, (l. xxviii. Antiq. c. 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 S. Aug. observed, l. de fid. et oper. c. 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. S. Jerom, 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. Wi.
--- S. Gregory Nazianzen remarks, that the faithful were not agreed as to the number of these epistles; some admitted seven and some only three, viz. this of S. James, the first of S. John, and the first of S. Peter:
TineV men epta fasin, oi de treiV monaV
Crhnai decesqai thn Iakwbou mian,
Mian de Petrou, thnte Iwannou 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. C.
--- The object of these epistles was, according to the remark of S. 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 S. Paul's words in his epistle to the Romans, pretended that faith alone, without good works, was sufficient for salvation; although S. Paul expressly requires Christians, a faith working by charity, Gal. v. 6. and 1 Cor. 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." S. Aug. lib. de fide et operibus, c. xiv. C.
--- As to what regards the authenticity of S. 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 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 S. Athanasius in synopsi, Epiphanius hæresi 76; from S. Jerom, ad Paulinum Epis.; from S. Austin, lib. ii. de Doc. Chris. c. viii; from S. Gregory Nazianzen, tom. iii, p. 98; from Amphilochus, apud Greg. Nazian. tom. ii. p. 194; from Innocent I. Epis. ad Decentium; from Rufinus, Exposit. Symboli; and from Gelasius I. who in the fifth age, 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.
--- S. Jerom and S. Austin 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 S. James wrote this epistle in Greek, as he quotes the Scripture according to the version of the Septuagint, as C. 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. C.
Ver. 1. James, a servant of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some have doubted whether the author of this epistle was S. James, the apostle, because he does not call himself an apostle. By the same weak argument we might reject all the three epistles of S. John and his Apocalypse, and the epistle of S. Jude. Nor does S. Paul give himself this title in those to the Thessalonians, to the Philippians, to Philemon, or to the Hebrews.
--- To the twelve tribes, which are dispersed. Lit. which are in the dispersion. That is, to the Jews converted in all nations.
--- Greetings.† Lit. salvation. Which comprehendeth much the same as, when S. Paul says, grace, peace, mercy, &c. Wi.
[†] V. 1. Salutem, cairein, salvari, salvos esse.
Ver. 2. Into divers temptations. The word temptations, in this epistle, is sometimes taken for trials by afflictions or persecutions, as in this place; sometimes for a tempting, enticing, or drawing others into sin. Wi.
Ver. 3-4. The trying of your faith worketh patience. S. Paul seems to assert the reverse: (v. 3.) when he says, patience worketh a trial. They are easily reconciled. Here S. James teacheth us, that patience is occasionally obtained, and strengthened by sufferings, the meaning of S. Paul is, that patience worketh, sheweth itself, and is found perfect in the sight of God by trials. Wi.
Ver. 5. And upbraideth not. That is, God does not think much, nor reproach us with the multitude of his benefits and favours: and if he puts sinners in mind of their repeated ingratitude, it is for their good and conversion. Wi.
Ver. 7. Let not that man think that he shall receive. He that has not a lively faith and firm hope, wavering with a distrust of God's power or goodness, must not imagine to receive what he so faintly asks. Wi.
Ver. 8. Such a one, is as it were a double-minded man,† divided betwixt God and the world, halting betwixt two, and becomes inconstant in all his ways, always rising and falling, beginning and relapsing. Wi.
[†] V. 8. Duplex animo, anhr diyucoV, quasi habens duas animas, dubius, incertus, potius quam hypocrita.
Ver. 9-12. The brother of low condition. Lit. humble.† See Luke i. 48. The sense is, that a Christian, of never so low and poor a condition, may glory, and rejoice even in his poverty, that he is not only the servant, but even the adoptive son of God. But the rich, in his being low. Some word must be here understood to make the sense complete. If we understand, let the rich man glory, it must be expounded by irony, by what follows, of his passing away like a flower. But others rather understand some other word of a different signification; as, let the rich man lament the low condition that he must come to; for he must quickly fade away like grass.
--- The beauty of the shape thereof†† perished. So the Hebrews say, the face of the heavens, the face of the earth, &c. Wi.
[†] V. 9. Humilis, and in humilitate, tapeinoV, tapeinwsei. See Luke i. 48.
[††] V. 11. Decor vultus ejus, euprepeia tou proswpou; the Hebrews say, faciem, cœli, terræ, gladii, &c.
Ver. 13. God is not a tempter† of evils, and he tempteth no man. Here to tempt, is to draw and entice another to the evil of sin, which God cannot do. The Greek may also signify, he neither can be tempted, nor tempt any one. But every one is thus tempted by the evil desires of his corrupt nature, which is called concupiscence, and which is not properly called a sin of itself, but only when we yield to it. Wi.
[†] V. 13. Deus enim intentator, i.e. non tentator; by the Greek, apeirastoV; which may signify intentabilis, qui non potest tentari.
Ver. 15. When concupiscence hath conceived, (man's free will yielding to it) it bringeth† forth sin, our perverse inclinations become sinful, and when any grievous sin is completed, or even consented to, it begetteth death, it maketh the soul guilty of eternal death. It may not be amiss here to observe with S. Gregory, &c. that there are three degrees in temptations: the first, by suggestion only; the second, by delectation; the third, by consent. The first, the devil, or our own frail nature, tempts us by a suggestion of evil thoughts in our imagination: to have such thoughts and imaginations may be no sin at all, though the things and objects represented be never so foul and hideous, though they may continue never so long, and return never so often. The reason is, because we cannot hinder them. On the contrary, if our will remains displeased with them, and resist them, such a resistance is meritorious, and by the mercies of God will purchase us a reward. Second, these representations may be followed with a delight or delectation in the senses, or in the body only; and if by an impression made against the will, which we no ways consent to, there is again no sin. There may be also some neglect in the person tempted, by not using sufficient endeavours to resist and repel those thoughts, which if it be only some small neglect, the sin is not great: but if the person tempted hath wilfully, and with full deliberation, taken delight in evil thoughts, either of revenge, or of fornication, or adultery, or about any thing very sinful, such a wilful delight is a grievous and deadly sin, though he hath not had a will or design to perform the action itself. The reason is, because he then wilfully consents in mind and heart to a sinful delight, though not to the execution or action. And the sin may be great, and mortal, though it be but for a short time: for a temptation may continue for a long time and be no sin; and there may a great sin in a short time. The reason again is, because we are to judge of sin by the dispositions and consent of the will, not by the length of time. Third, when the sinner yields to evil suggestions and temptations, so that his will fully consents to what is proposed, and nothing can be said to be wanting but an opportunity of putting his sinful desires in execution, he has already committed the sin; for example, of murder, of fornication, &c. in his heart, as our blessed Saviour taught us. Mat. v. 28. Wi.
[†] V. 15. Generat mortem, apokuei qanaton; apokuein is fætum emittere, and generare, as it is also here again used v. 18.
Ver. 16-17. Do not err, nor deceive yourselves by yielding to temptation; beg God his supporting grace, for every good gift is from him. Wi.
Ver. 18. By the word of truth. Some, with S. Athanasius, understand the eternal word made man. Others commonly understand the word of the gospel, by which we have been called to the true faith, &c.
--- Some beginning† of his creatures, (or as the Greek signifies) such a beginning as are the first-fruits; and perhaps S. James may so call the Jews, as being the first converted to believe in Christ. Wi.
[†] V. 18. Initium aliquod creaturæ ejus, aparchn tina. See Rom. xi. 16. 1 Cor. xv. 20. and xvi. 15. &c.
Ver. 19. You know, or you are sufficiently instructed in these things.
--- Let every man be swift to hear the word of God, but slow, or cautious in speaking, especially slow to anger, or to that rash passion of anger, which is never excusable, unless it be through a zeal for God's honour, and against sin. Wi.
--- S. James in this epistle does not aim at a regular discourse: he proposes a diversity of moral sentences, which have not much connection with each other. He here instructs the faithful how to behave in conversation. He recommends to them modesty and prudence in their discourses; and rather to be fond of hearing much, than of speaking much; and of practising the truth, than of preaching it to others. "For not those who understand the law, nor those who preach it, are justified before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified before God." Rom. c. ii. 13. C.
--- A wise man is known by the fewness of his words. Sapiens verbis innotescit paucis. Regl. S. Ben. c. vii. With hearing, the wise man will become wiser. Sen. lib. ii. de Irâ. c. 28.
--- Anger is a short madness. The best cure is to permit it to subside, and to let our reason have time to reflect upon the propriety of doing what we are at first inclined to. The first motions to anger are frequently indeliberate, and consequently not sinful; but we must be careful to resist as soon as we perceive them, lest they should become too violent, and obtain the consent of our will. C.
--- Learn of me, says our Saviour, because I am meek and humble of heart. Mat c. xii. 29. If, says S. Francis de Sales, being stung and bit by detractors and enemies, we fly out, swell, and are enraged, it is a great sign that neither our humility nor meekness are true and sincere, but only apparent and artificial. It is better, says S. Austin, writing to Profuturus, to deny entrance to just and reasonable anger, than to admit it, be it ever so little; because, being once admitted, it is with difficulty driven out again; for it enters as a little twig, and in a moment becomes a beam: and if it can once but get the night of us, and the sun set upon it, which the apostle forbids, it turns into a hatred, from which we have scarcely any means to rid ourselves; for it nourishes itself under a thousand false pretexts, since there was never an angry man that thought his anger unjust. Introduction to a devout life, p. 3. c. viii.
Ver. 20. The anger of man, &c. Let us not then be angry with each other on the way to eternal life, but rather march on with the troop of our companions and brethren meekly, peaceably, and lovingly; nay, I say to you absolutely and without exception, be not angry at all, if it be possible, and admit no pretext whatsoever to open the gate of your heart to so destructive a passion: for S. James here tells us positively, and without reservation, "the anger of man works not the justice of God." S. Francis, ibidem.
--- The patient man is better than the valiant; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh cities. Prov. c. xvi. 32. The anger of man is the daughter of pride, the mother of enmities, he enemy of peace and harmony, and the source of stubbornness and blindness of mind and heart. The justice of God is humility, meekness, charity, peace, docility, and forbearance. How great the contrast!
Ver. 21. All uncleanness.† The Greek shews that hereby is meant a sordid, filthy uncleanness, infecting and defiling the soul.
--- The engrafted†† word. The word and doctrine of Christ, by the labours of his preachers, and chiefly by his divine grace engrafted and fixed in your souls. Wi.
[†] V. 21. Immunditiam, ruparian, from rupoV, sordes, spurcitia.
[††] Ibid. Insitum verbum, emfuton logon.
Ver. 23. He shall be compared to a man, &c. The sense is, that it is not enough for a man to examine and look into his interior, and the state of his conscience in a negligent and superficial manner, no more than one that goes to a looking-glass, but does not take care to take away the dirt or spots which he might discover. Wi.
Ver. 25. The law of Christ, called here the perfect law of liberty, as it is distinguished from the Jewish law of fear and slavery, is as it were a looking-glass, which may make us know ourselves, and discover and correct our failings. Wi.
Ver. 26. If any man think, &c. He here blames those hot disputes, which seem to have been frequent amongst the converted Jews, concerning the necessity of observing the legal rites. In vain, says he, do you pique yourselves upon the rigorous observance of the law, and your zeal to unite its ceremonial rites with the practice of the gospel. If you be void of the essence of Christianity, which is charity, prudence, and moderation, your religion will avail you nothing. C.
--- This may also be understood of those devotees who are fond of making a parade of their virtues, and who, as S. Gregory says, (hom. xii. in Mat.) afflict their bodies indeed with fasting, but for this they expect to be esteemed by men. A.
--- A man must not imagine himself to be religious, and perfect in the way of virtue, unless he governs and bridles his tongue from oaths, curses, calumnies, detractions, lies, of which more in the third chapter. Wi.
Ver. 27. Religion pure and unspotted, &c. S. James may use the word pure, as a proper admonition to the Jews, who were generally mostly solicitous to avoid legal uncleanness, such as were incurred by eating meats forbidden in their law as unclean, by touching a dead body, &c. He therefore tells them that the Christian religion is known by acts of charity, by visiting and assisting widows, the fatherless, and such as are under afflictions, and in general by keeping our consciences interiorly clean, unspotted, and undefiled from this world, from the corrupt maxims and sinful practices so common in this wicked world. Wi.