Introduction to the Epistle of St. James
This and the six Epistles following it in the New Testament are known as Catholic (1), i.e., universal. This name has been traced back to early ecclesiastical writers such as Eusebius, Origen, and St. Jerome. The explanation of this name is found in the fact that these Epistles, except: 2 and 3 John, are addressed to a much wider circle of readers than are the Pauline Epistles. St. Paul’s letters are addressed to individuals or to particular congregations, whereas the catholic Epistles (2) are in the nature of encyclicals addressed to the whole Church.
St. James the Less, the author of the first Catholic Epistle, was the son of Alphaeus or Cleophas (Mt. 10: 3). His mother Mary was a sister or close relative of the Blessed Virgin, and for that reason according to the usage of the day, St. James was called a brother, i.e., a relative, of the Lord. St. James held a prominent position in the early Church. He was a witness of the Resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15: 7); St. Paul (Gal. 2: 9) describes him as a “pillar” of the Church. He was present and played a prominent part in the meeting at Jerusalem about C.E. 49 (Acts 15: 4). He held the post of Bishop of Jerusalem and was martyred for the faith in the year C.E. 62 (3).
The theme of the Epistle is that the faith must be lived, not merely believed in a theoretic way. The faith is not a speculative creed; it is also a code of conduct. Faith that fails to regulate the conduct of the believer is sterile, dead, worthless. This main idea underlies all the teaching of the Epistle. The advice on putting faith into practice (1: 22 — 25), on the nature of true religion (1: 26 — 27), on partiality (2: 1 — 3), on the control of the tongue (3: 1 — 12), on the exercise of brotherly love (4: 11; 5: 9), and on zeal for the conversion of sinners (5: 19 — 20) presents so many practical applications of faith to daily life.
James also wished to encourage his readers in their trials by proposing the hope of recompense in the life to come for the life to come for the good and of adequate punishment for the wicked.
The Epistle was written from Jerusalem sometime before C.E. 62 and was addressed to Jewish Christians in various parts of the world.
(From “The New Testament”
By J Keist, S.J. and J. Lilly, C.M.
Bruce Publishing Co 1954)
(1) Catholic – Greek ‘Katholikos’ universal – from ‘Kata’, throughout. And ‘holos’ the whole.
(2) Catholic Epistle – sometimes referred to as ‘General Epistle’ being a letter or document addressed to the Church universal, or to a large and indefinite circle of readers. The word catholic can have a small or capital “c” but usually in the expressions: General Epistle or Catholic Epistle the words are spelled with capitals.
(3) The Epistle gives valuable insight into the spirituality of the first Bishop of Jerusalem who continued, throughout his life, to uphold his Jewish Faith and practice, fulfilled, as he saw it, in the light of Christ.
Index of Reflections and Related Text
This page is a work in progress:
(Meanwhile, please scroll down to chosen reading.)
Chapter and verse/s
1 1: 2 — 5
2 1: 6 — 11
3 1: 12 — 13
4 1: 14 — 16
5 1: 17 — 18
6 1: 19 — 20
7 1: 21 — 22
8 1: 22 — 24
9 1: 25 — 26
10 1: 27
11 2: 1 — 4
12 2: 5 — 7
13 2: 8 — 9
14 2: 10 — 11
15 2: 12 — 13
16 2: 14 — 17
17 2: 18 — 19
Chapter and verse/s
18 2: 20 — 26
19 3: 1 — 2
20 3: 3 — 6 and 6 — 12
21 3: 13 — 18
22 4: 1 — 3
23 4: 4
24 4: 5 — 7
25 4: 8 — 10
26 4: 11 — 12
27 4: 13 — 16
28 5: 1 — 3
29 5: 4 — 6
30 5: 7 — 8
31 5: 9 — 11
32 5: 12
33 5: 13 — 18
34 5: 19
The Epistle of St. James
1. St. James 1 verses: 2 to 5
Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and
complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to
all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.
We must pray, not just for book learning, but for that practical good sense (not only in the things of the Spirit) which holy people often unaccountably have.
2. St James 1 verses 6 to 11
But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one
who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and
tossed about by the wind.
For that person must not suppose that he will receive
anything from the Lord,
since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.
The brother in lowly circumstances should take pride
in his high standing,
and the rich one in his lowliness, for he will pass away
“like the flower of the field.”
For the sun comes up with its scorching heat and dries
up the grass, its flower droops, and the beauty of its
appearance vanishes. So will the rich person fade away
in the midst of his pursuits.
The point is not that the rich man will lose his money, but that he cannot take it with him when he dies, and will look foolish when he is found to be destitute of the true riches.
3. St. James 1 verses 12 and 13
Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for
when he has been proved he will receive the crown of
life that he promised to those who love him.
No one experiencing temptation should say, “I am being
tempted by God”; for God is not subject to temptation
to evil, and he himself tempts no one.
The word ‘temptation’ is used by New Testament writers in two different senses.
It may mean:
(i) solicitation by the devil, which it is our duty to resist; such solicitation as was
experienced by our Lord in the wilderness. Or it may mean,
(ii) what we describe nowadays as a ‘trial’, some unavoidable affliction which it is our
duty to endure. This latter sense is far commoner in The New Testament.
In chapter 1, St. James makes use of both meanings of the word ‘temptation’.
In this short reading he establishes very clearly that moral evil is a thing outside of God’s orbit; impossible then, that He should tempt us to commit it.
4. St. James 1 verses 14 to 16
Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and
enticed by his own desire.
Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when
sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers:
St. James warns his readers that they must not be misled by the use of the word ‘tempt’ in describing the relations between God and man. He says, in effect, “You must not, therefore tell yourself that it is God who is trying to make you do something wrong, when you are tempted to sin. The source of the temptation lies in yourself.” His purpose saying this is to help us face facts, own the problem and deal to it.
5. St. James 1 verses 17 and 18
all good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights, with whom
there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.
He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that
we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
St. James contrasts earthly spiritual privileges; the latter, which he describes as ‘perfect’, come to us, all of them, from a God who is unchangeable and therefore can be trusted not to revoke them.
6. St. James 1 verses 19 and 20
Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be
quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath,
for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the
righteousness of God.
St. James declares authoritatively as Bishop of Jerusalem that the disciples of Jesus Christ should be ‘swift’ to hear the word of God, and ‘slow’ to speak in controversy. There is a time to listen, a time to speak, and a time to keep silent; and we should pray to reflect the wisdom of God.
7. St. James 1 verses 21 and 22
Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly
welcome the word that has been planted in you and is
able to save your souls.
Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding
St. James refers metaphorically to ‘uncleanness’ that defiles the soul. This must we take action to remove from us. Even more ‘abundance of malice’, meaning not merely excessive malice but outright, inexcusable wickedness which must be discarded before the word of God can be received. Clearly He is calling us to ensure we are inwardly cleansed so that we can grasp the true meaning of the Scriptures. Only then will our actions truly display Christian principles to the world. These well-known words arise from a heart which loves the Torah (The five books of the Teaching, or Law), and knows the mind of Jesus Christ — Word of God.
8. St. James 1 verses 23 and 24
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer,
he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror.
He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets
what he looked like.
It is unthinkable that we could look at ourselves in a mirror, and then go away and forget what we look like. Likewise it should be unthinkable that we can genuinely hear the word of God and not put it into action. In Biblical language, to listen to the Divine Word requires an attitude of ‘listening to do’ — to obey its message. The mirror is the Gospel. When we look into it we see what we should be.
If we don’t reflect that in our lives, we haven’t looked or listened properly, and need to do something about it.
9. St. James 1 verses 25 and 26
But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom
and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but
a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle
his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.
The Christian who not only listens but practises what he hears, exemplifies the perfect law of liberty, i.e. the Gospel which frees him from sin and bondage to the world. When he truly listens to the Gospel, he sees his imperfections but is not depressed by them — he is encouraged to persevere towards the ideal of Christian perfection.
10. St. James 1 verse 27
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and
the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows
in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by
Does of the word of God — or religious minded people — must be charitable in speech, pure in heart and ready to help the poor and afflicted. In other words, they should practise what they preach.
11. St. James 2 verses 1 to 4
My brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith
in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine
clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person
in shabby clothes also comes in,
and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes
and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one,
“Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,”
have you not made distinctions among yourselves and
become judges with evil designs?
St. James illustrates how easily we can let the principles and practices of the world creep into our life and Christian service. We need to be constantly on the watch for any such intrusions.
12. St. James 2 verses 5 to 7
Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those
who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs
of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?
But you dishonored the poor person. Are not the rich
oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you
off to court?
Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was
invoked over you?
St. James condemns particularly those who showed undue preference to the rich, and contempt for the poor in the synagogue and Church, as well as the Courts of Justice.
God, the just judge, acts otherwise and will reward the devout poor person, for they are an heir of the kingdom of heaven. Remember the Name into which you were baptised.
13. St. James 2 verses 8 and 9
However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the
scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,
” you are doing well.
But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are
convicted by the law as transgressors.
St. James calls for a fair application of principle to rich and poor alike reminding us that both are our neighbours. He invokes the ‘royal law’ — that of fraternal charity which forbids hatred of one’s neighbour.
14. St. James 2 verses 10 and 11
For whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one
particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it.
For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”
also said, “You shall not kill.” Even if you do not
commit adultery but kill, you have become a
transgressor of the law.
The Apostle concludes by saying that the whole Torah (i.e. Teaching, sometimes called the Law) and each article of it must be observed in the light of Christ. It is no good observing the divine Law in one point (by showing kindness to the rich) if you are at the same time infringing it in another (by discriminating against the poor) — or vice versa! To ignore or despise the Torah (Teaching of God) is to ignore and despise giver of the Torah.
15. St. James 2 verses 12 and 13
So speak and so act as people who will be judged by
the law of freedom.
For the judgment is merciless to one who has not
shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
St. James is at pains to encourage Christians not to judge others by the standards of the world. To do so is to forget the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge others, or you yourselves will be judged.” To judge merely by outward appearances would be severe, and would merit severe judgment in return! Uphold, he says, the “Law of liberty — a law of love which man obeys freely and gladly, because to serve Christ means true freedom. In this law, God’s mercy is not opposed to, but is above His justice.
16. St. James 2 verses 14 to 17
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith
but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no
food for the day,
and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm,
and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities
of the body, what good is it?
So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
In this section St. James insists that faith alone without the good deeds it dictates is insufficient for salvation. He does not contradict St. Paul who insists that it is not the actual deeds in themselves prescribed by the Mosaic Law that will make a man holy: rather the obedient spirit they call for. St. Paul himself repeatedly demands holy living in addition to faith. Indeed, St. James develops St. Paul’s teaching, “faith working through charity” (Galatians 5: 6 etc.). Faith devoid of the vivifying principle of charity and good works is like the body without the soul.
17. St. James 2 verses 18 and 19
Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have
works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works,
and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the
demons believe that and tremble.
It is impossible, St. James argues, to prove that a man has faith unless it produces corresponding deeds. The existence of faith without deeds is not denied, but such a sterile faith is not merely valueless; it is impossible even to prove its existence. If you truly believe in the one God (have faith) then you must give intellectual assent to revealed truths — and thus must obey His commandments and love all people for His sake. Otherwise we would be no better than evil spirits whose faith begets profound fear. (Mark 1: 24)
18. St. James 2 verses 20 to 26
Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without
works is useless?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when
he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?
You see that faith was active along with his works,
and faith was completed by the works.
Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says,
“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as
righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.”
See how a person is justified by works and not by
And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also
justified by works when she welcomed the messengers
and sent them out by a different route?
For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith
without works is dead.
St. James enforces his arguments by presenting a few examples of practical faith from Sacred Scripture. Abraham’s willingness to comply with God’s commands was the crowning act of a life of faith. His readiness to sacrifice his son was a proof of his faith and love of God. Rahab also, by the courage of her convictions, manifested her practical faith (see Joshua 2: 1 — 24). As a result she was rewarded by becoming an ancestress of our divine Saviour (Matthew 1: 5).
These are sublime and well known examples St. James presents to his loyal Hebrew Christian listeners.
19. St. James 3 verses 1 and 2
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers,
for you realize that we will be judged more strictly,
for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not
fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle
his whole body also.
St. James continues his earlier instruction on practical faith and charity to others. Let not many of you strive to become teachers, seeking the honour but with insufficient appreciation of the responsibility. Some people have far too much to say and should ‘hold their tongue’. Do not be too anxious, he implies, to act the schoolmaster over other people. This leads too easily and frequently to criticism, the commonest fault of all.
20. St. James 3 verses 3 to 6 and 6 to 12.
If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them
obey us, we also guide their whole bodies.
It is the same with ships: even though they are so large
and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very
small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes.
In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet
has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can
set a huge forest ablaze.
The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members
as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting
the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire
St. James warns of the damage that can be done by those whose speech comes from their lack of formation by applied Christian principles.
20. St. James 3 verses 6 to 12
The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members
as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting
the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea
creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the
but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless
evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we
curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
This need not be so, my brothers.
Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both
pure and brackish water?
Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a
grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.
The tongue can be so harmful that it represents in an eminent degree the world, that force of wickedness which is opposed to the conquests of Christian sanctity. All kinds of animals can be tamed but no human skill or industry can tame the tongue.
21. St. James 3 verses 13 to 18
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him
show his works by a good life in the humility that
comes from wisdom.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in
your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above
but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there
is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then
peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good
fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for
those who cultivate peace.
This self-contained section on wisdom, as with the preceding section on the tongue, may be referring to the ‘teacher’ of 3: 1, understanding ‘teacher’ in Judaism as almost identical with the ‘wise man’. Wisdom may always be recognised by its works: purity, tranquillity, modesty, docility, equity, mercy and piety.
The qualities of a true teacher are knowledge, good example and meekness. Thus true wisdom is at once practical and gentle. On the other hand, false wisdom is characterised by strife.
St. James, as this reading proceeds, gives us further description of the qualities of earthly and heavenly wisdom. The effect of true and heavenly wisdom is peace; peace and righteousness go hand in hand. The fruit of justice may mean justice itself reared by the peacemaker, or the fruit which the seed of justice produces.
22. St. James 4 verses 1 to 3
Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among
you come from? Is it not from your passions that make
war within your members?
You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but
you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not
possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly,
to spend it on your passions.
This venerable Bishop of Jerusalem pulls no punches. If we are genuinely eager to live Christ-like lives, we need to be told the truth as it really is. St. James enjoins his listeners to make sure they have honest motives for doing things — especially when asking favours of God. His warning is aimed at preventing us from falling away from worship by being seduced by the world and its false enticements. He is very aware how this has been a major problem for God’s people throughout Salvation History.
23. St. James 4 verse 4
Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the
world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever
wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an
enemy of God.
The union between God and His people is in a familiar biblical image compared to a marriage. Infidelity or disloyalty to God in keeping with this image is called adultery. So St. James, here, has spiritual infidelity particularly in mind. The figure is quite common in the Old Testament and is used of Jews who often fell away from the worship of the one true God. God and “the world” are rivals, and it is impossible to serve both at the same time as we so often hear.
24. St. James 4 verses 5 to 7
Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks without
meaning when it says, “The spirit that he has made to
dwell in us tends toward jealousy”?
But he bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he
will flee from you.
St. James is understood here to be reciting Scripture freely from memory, pointing to the Holy Spirit’s concern for the true Christian. In Scripture, God is often described as a jealous God who will not give His glory to another. The idea is here applied to the Holy Spirit dwelling in the soul of the Christian; the Holy Spirit loves that soul so intensely that He is offended when another supplants Him there. God has a greater claim because He gives “a greater grace”, i.e. more valuable gifts than the world can give. But humility is required before we can receive them.
25. St. James 4 verses 8 to 10
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse
your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of
Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be
turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.
Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
St. James was not a miserable ‘kill-joy’. He lays down a practical way to deal with the attractions of the world, to free us for a higher level of joy, freedom and happiness experienced by those who love God above all else.
26. St. James 4 verses 11 and 12
Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever
speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks
evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law,
you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save
or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?
St. James reminds us of the Lord’s ‘New Commandment': to love one another as He loves us. The person who rashly judges his neighbour presumptuously usurps a prerogative of God.
27. St. James 4 verses 13 to 16
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we shall
go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing
business, and make a profit” –
you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.
You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then
Instead you should say, “If the Lord wills it, we shall
live to do this or that.”
But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such
boasting is evil.
So for one who knows the right thing to do and does
not do it, it is a sin.
Life is uncertain and far-reaching plans must be made cautiously. St. James does not condemn the prudent foresightedness of Christians but those whose practices are contrary to Christian virtue. Our conduct could, in fact, be presumptuous when it disregards God’s providence.
28. St. James 5 verses 1 to 3
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become
your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion
will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh
like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days.
In these verses, St. James denounces the rich pagans who cruelly and unjustly mistreated the Christians. His condemnation of riches horded up by rich Christians guilty of similar crimes applies equally to them. “Weep and howl”, he says, confident of future punishment, for “in the last days” (echoing the Final Judgment) you will receive what you deserve.
29. St. James 5 verses 4 to 6
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who
harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of
the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have
fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous
one; he offers you no resistance.
St. James models the Good Shepherd who stands up and speaks out for those who are unable to defend themselves. Establishing a long tradition of social justice he warns the powerful not to grow fat and over-indulgent riding on the backs of the labourer. Be warned; do not misread their lack of resistance as approval, he says. Just as animals are fattened in preparation for slaughter, so can the selfish rich expect to end their days! This Hebrew Christian Bishop speaks plain language.
30. St. James 5 verses 7 and 8
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the
Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of
the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early
and the late rains.
You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because
the coming of the Lord is at hand.
St. James returns to his opening theme, patience in affliction. Be long-suffering, he says, till the final judgment. He encourages us to respond to affliction as did the Lord — with resignation and undisturbed dignity. Throughout the history of the Church, the martyrs and saints have simply got on with preparing themselves for the coming of the Lord. That is an essential mind-set for Christians who can expect many trials and injustices because of their loyalty to Christ. The advice of this great Jewish Bishop is deeply grounded in his knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, and their focus on the coming of the Messiah. In his Epistle he helps us keep our focus on the Return of the Lord. Thus he sees the Church as comprising a great body of people constantly preparing for the Second Coming of Christ.
31. St. James 5 verses 9 to 11
Do not complain, brothers, about one another, that you
may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing
before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered.
You have heard of the perseverance of Job, and you
have seen the purpose of the Lord, because “the Lord
is compassionate and merciful.”
St. James exhorts the poor and oppressed to keep their focus on the promises of God, reflected in the words of the prophets. There is a day set for the return of the Lord, but this was not disclosed even to the Apostles. They too found they needed the patience of Job.
32. St. James 5 verse 12
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by
heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let
your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No,”
that you may not incur condemnation.
St. James cautions us against the frequent vice of imprudent and unnecessary oaths; not against oaths made on just and necessary occasions. In ordinary daily life our reputation for honesty and absence of deceit should be so established that others know they do not need to verify our word by an oath. St. James gives one of the most important pieces of advice from Sacred Scripture: “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no!”
33. `St. James 5 verses 13 to 18
Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is
anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise.
Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the
presbyters of the church, and they should pray over
him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord,
and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and
the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any
sins, he will be forgiven.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray
for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent
prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.
Elijah was a human being like us; yet he prayed earnestly
that it might not rain, and for three years and six months
it did not rain upon the land.
Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the
earth produced its fruit.
There is much unnecessarily strained analysis of these closing verses from St. James to deny or supplement what the Church has believed and taught for two millennia. He begins his rousing finale with a call to prayer and praise. That much we can all agree on. After 1 ½ millennia of consistent application of verse 14, the Council of Trent acceded to the wish of the Bishops throughout the world to declare that St. James, here promulgated the sacrament of Extreme Unction (or the Last Anointing of the sick with oil). Traditionally there has never been any doubt that this was always a religious ceremony, and not just an attempt at physical healing, since the presbyters (Greek for priests) were to be called to the sick person. Thus priests have always, in traditional Christianity, been the ministers of this sacrament.
Earnest prayer will help restore the spiritual health of the sick person and if God should choose — physical health also. St. James here urges confession of sin, not in a widely publicised, indiscreet broadcast, but to those appointed to hear and pronounce absolution in the name of Christ. And this is to be conducted in an atmosphere of devout prayer for each other. St. James is thus recording the already established custom of the early Church. A beautiful and consoling conclusion to a pithy and powerful epistle. We have added an extended note in this Reflection as our Protestant readers, who make frequent use of these readings, have expressed appreciation for any explanation of Catholic tradition that they might better understand the beliefs of their Catholic friends.
34. St. James 5 verses 19 and 20
My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the
truth and someone bring him back,
he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from
the error of his way will save his soul from death and
will cover a multitude of sins.
Instead of a customary greeting to close the Epistle, St. James squeezes in one last piece of advice, echoing the parable of the lost sheep, and calling for the active seeking out of he wayward. In doing so the ‘lost’ are ‘saved’ from spiritual; death in this life, and eternal death in the life to come. This action will ‘cover a multitude of sins’ — both of the converted person, as well as the one bringing him back. By this act of charity he will obtain from God the remission of his own sins, and an increase in grace to persevere in this just state.