MAY 3 – SAINTS PHILIP AND JAMES, Apostles and co-patrons

These two Apostles are never paired in the New Testament. The name James, ‘whom God protects,’ was common in both Hebrew and Aramaic. Given Luke’s identification of the Apostles with the Twelve, the James we celebrate today is James the son of Alpheus, not the son of Zebedee, nor James the Less, nor James the brother of Jesus. Alpheus was probably well known in the early Jerusalem community. Still, we have little historical data about this James.

The Synoptics simply mention Philip, but the fourth Gospel tells us he a disciple of John the Baptist and among the first to follow Jesus (cf. Jn 1:43 ff.). He was from Bethsaida (cf. Jn 6:8) and maintained a close relationship with Andrew. They are the only two among the Twelve with Greek names. Both are present at the multiplication of the loaves, and act as intermediaries to the Greeks asking to see Jesus (cf. Jn 12:22). At dinner, Philip is portrayed as dim for his failure to recognize the Father in Jesus (cf. Jn 14:8).

Claret focused on the Apostles as preachers, unimpressive in human terms and persecuted, yet highly successful thanks to God’s grace. “Oh most holy and most glorious first preachers and founders of the faith! Who can doubt you were sent from God, united and dedicated to him? In spite of daunting odds, you embraced your mission, endured every kind of trial, including torture and even death, only to bring to Christ more followers than it would have been possible to imagine. You took on the powers of hell, armed only with the name of the Risen Lord, and witnessed the entire Roman Empire comes to its knees in homage to him”(1, p. 396).

PHILIP: Historical and Biblical Data

In the Synoptic Gospels, Philip, whose name means friend of horses, is mentioned only as one of the Twelve, whereas in the fourth Gospel he plays an active role in several scenes. We have already mentioned that he was called by Jesus along with Andrew, when both were disciples of the Baptist (John 1:40 ff.). When there was no bread, Jesus asked Philip how they might feed the crowd. Andrew says a boy has five loaves and two fishes (Jn 6:8s). Together, Philip and Andrew, approach Jesus on behalf of Greek pilgrims wishing to speak with Jesus “(Jn 12:21s). Their Greek names may indicate their familiarity with Hellenistic culture and their command of the Greek language. Perhaps, as disciples of the Baptist (cf. Jn 1:40 to 44), their practice of Judaism was syncretistic, but that could have been of help to Jesus in dealing with Jews or other God-fearing people of the diaspora. Finally at the Last Supper, Philip beseeches Jesus to show him the Father so that as a missionary, Philip might show the Father to others. Jesus assures Philip that it is enough to have seen Jesus himself, the perfect reflection of the Father (cf. Jn 14:8).

Was Philip the Apostle also Philip, who is in Acts 6.5? Historical and literary criticism increasingly favor the opinion that he was. His Greek name, his serving as a go-between between the Greeks and Jesus, his ties to the Baptist, and his prompt response, as attested in Acts (8), to the mission to the gentiles bolster that argument.

The same Philip, then, was the successor of Stephen and among Hellenist leaders expelled from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-4); the initiator of the mission to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5-13); the first to introduce the Church to a God-fearing gentile, the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27-38); and the first to establish the church in a pagan city, Caesarea Maritima (cf. Acts 8:40). Philip’s emissaries probably founded the church of Antioch (Acts 11:19s), to the best of our knowledge the first ecumenical community, made up of Jews and pagans. It appears that Philip chose to remain in Caesarea for a good length of time and remained behind, even when Paul passed through on his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 21:8), probably in the year 55.

This is the last we read of Philip in the New Testament. In the early second century, Bishop Papias of Hierapolis says that Philip eventually went on to Asia Minor, which is plausible, given Philip’s role in John’s Gospel and John’s roots in Asia Minor. At any rate, there are in Pamulkale, Turkey, originally Hierapolis, the ruins of a fifth century church dedicated to St. Philip.

Claretian Account

First and foremost, Claret emulated the apostles as preachers, men beset by every kind of human weakness and dogged by persecution, yet amazingly successful, thanks to the grace of God who anointed and sent them on mission. “Oh most holy and most glorious pioneers in preaching the Word and establishing the faith! Can anyone doubt it was God, who sent you as missionaries? In spite of all odds and the objections of others, you went forth and drew far more followers than anyone would have dared imagine possible. In the midst of the worst afflictions, including torture and death […] you remained dauntless, overcoming the powers of hell with nothing more than your proclamation of the name of Jesus your Master, the Risen Lord. Inconceivably, you brought the entire Roman Empire to the faith” (1, p. 396).

JAMES, SON OF ALPHEUS: Historical and Biblical Data

In all four lists of the apostles, James the son of Alpheus appears consistently ninth among the Twelve (cf. Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13). Apparently, it was important to distinguish among James the son of Zebedee, also listed among the Twelve, and other New Testament counterparts. Whom God Protects, whether in Hebrew or Aramaic was a popular name in Palestine at the time – hence the need to differentiate. Alpheus is also given to Levi, a follower of Jesus (Mk 2:14). It is possible but improbable that Levi and James, not only a disciple but one of the Twelve, were brothers. Mark’s repeated mention of the surname Alpheus suggests that it was common in the first Jerusalem community.

Some identify James the son of Alpheus with James the Less, mentioned in Mark 15.40, 16.1 and Luke 24.10, as the son, husband or, more likely, the father of one of those named Mary, who witnessed the death of Jesus, but why would Mark change the name of a well-known member of the community? The name The Less distinguishes him from the son of Zebedee, the son of Alpheus and the brother of Jesus, all of whom are mentioned in the Gospel of Mark.

Respected Lives of the Saints, as well as current liturgical texts, have mistaken James the son of Alpheus for the brother of Jesus. Based on following of St. Jerome, these ‘lives of the saints’ have James as an ascetic Jew, a kind of Nazir, who abstains from meat or wine, always barefoot and constantly calls upon the Lord Yahweh for forgiveness for the sins of his people; and, supported by St Epifanio, he is a celibate. Above all, in the New Testament the data concerning the Lord’s brother reportedly received a personal appearance by the Risen One (cf. 1 Cor. 15:7), and would become second in the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 12:17) and in charge of the Church after the missionary departure of Peter (Acts 21:18 ff.). He is highly regarded, according to the testimony of Josephus and Hegesippus, would have given rise to the nickname of the ‘just’ and would have caused anger and jealousy from the high priest Annas II, who, taking advantage of a vacancy of the Roman government, would have him executed to the year 62. Admittedly, the description of his death is recorded by Hegesippus was according to legend.

But such identification must be rejected; it is an early creed transmitted by 1Cor 15:5-7 clearly distinguishes between the Twelve and James and all the apostles. It is not likely that the title of brother of the Lord it was replaced by the much less honorific of Alpheus. However, thanks to the traditional confusion centered on the Lord’s brother, was our James son of Alpheus sheltered from the legends that were transferred to other apostles. This misidentification was, perhaps, the reason why there is no feast for the Lord’s brother.

Claretian account

In his collection of select Panegyrics, there is Claret sermons on almost all the apostles; but not James the son of Alpheus. Presumably, the Founder usually attributed to the Apostles.

“What shall I say of James, St John and all the others? With which solicitude! With what zeal would they run from one kingdom to another! With what zeal would they preach without fear nor human respect, whereas earlier one must obey God rather than men! This was their response to the scribes and Pharisees when they were told not to preach anymore (Acts 4:19). If they whipped, or intimidate but not stop from or preaching; on the contrary, they considered themselves happy and blessed to have been able to suffer for Jesus Christ”(Aut 223).

To encourage veneration of the Apostles, Claret employs both historical and theological arguments: “The esteem shown the eleven Apostles by the disciples of Emmaus, the attention paid them by on nearly every page of the Gospel writings by all four evangelists, and the honor that Jesus Christ himself accorded them is a powerful incentive to all Christians to honor these holy founders of sowers of the Gospel to the fullest extent possible to the end of the ages. This is what exemplary Christians understood and practiced in antiquity, omitting nothing of authentic observance, constant reverence and veneration befitting the Apostles […]. Today, many lesser saints are accorded praiseworthy devotion, while the Apostles seem all but ignored. As Jesus Christ is the heavenly and inexhaustible source of the supernatural waters of eternal life, the Apostles are so many rivers and channels, through which these sacred waters flow “(1, p. 389).


  1. CLARET., Collection of Selected Panegyrics, t. V, Barcelona 1860.
  2. MEIER, J. P., A Marginal Jew, t. III, Estella 2004.
  3. ODELAIN, O. AND SÉGUINEAU, R., Dictionnaire des noms propres of the Bible, Paris, 1978.
  4. PLOTINUS, R., Voice Giacomo, in Bibliotheca Sanctorum, Rome 1988, t. VI, col. 401.