Depicting the person of James the Less, Benedict XVI recalled the phrase, "faith without works is dead", at times contrasted to the affirmations of Paul about justification by faith. It is possible to reconcile the two perspectives.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) The "inseparable ties" linking Christianity to the Jewish faith "as to its perennially alive and valid womb", and the need to concretely express one's faith in good works, are the two qualifying elements of the legacy of James "the Less", the apostle to who Benedict XVI dedicated his meditation today. The pope was addressing a crowd of around 40,000 people in St Peter's Square for the general audience. There was a festive atmosphere, despite the very hot weather that prompted the pope for the second consecutive week to "cut short" his prepared speech which, he smilingly assured the crowd, they would "be able to read in the Osservatore Romano".
Progressing in his depiction of the personalities of the "Twelve", Benedict XVI talked about James the Less, claiming that the "most relevant act" undertaken by this apostle, who played a very important role in the ancient Christian community, was his "intervention in the matter of the difficult relationship between Christians of Jewish origin and those of pagan origin". Refusing to impose upon converted pagans the obligation to submit to all the norms of the law of Moses, as some wanted, "he contributed together with Peter to overcoming, or better to integrating the original Jewish dimension of Christianity" with its expansion. Benedict XVI recalled the "solution of compromise, proposed precisely by James and accepted by all the Apostles present, which was that pagans who came to believe in Jesus Christ would be asked only to abstain from the idolatrous practice of eating the meat of animals offered in sacrifice to the gods, and from 'immodesty', a term which probably referred to forbidden marriage unions. In this way, two significant and complementary results were achieved, both still valid to this day: on the one hand, the inseparable ties linking Christianity to the Jewish religion as to "its perennially alive and valid womb"; on the other, Christians of pagan origin were allowed to preserve their sociological identity, which they would have lost had they been obliged to observe the so-called "ceremonial precepts" of Mosaic Law: these no longer had to be considered as obligatory for converted pagans. In essence, this marked the beginning of a practice of mutual esteem and respect, which despite later regrettable misunderstandings, aimed by its very nature to safeguard what was characteristic of both sides."
The pope then highlighted what was written in the Letter that bears the name of James the Less. "This is rather an important writing, which insists much on the necessity of not reducing one's faith to mere verbal or abstract statements, but to express it concretely in good works. Among other things, he invites us to constancy in trials joyfully borne, and to faith-filled prayer to obtain from God the gift of wisdom, thanks to which we reach an understanding that the true values of life are not found in transitory riches but rather in knowing how to share what we have with the poor and needy (Jm 1:27). A very significant phrase in this letter is the one that says 'faith without works is dead' (Jm 2:26). At times, this statement of James has been contrasted to the affirmations of Paul that we are justified by God not because of the virtue of our works, but thanks to our faith (cfr Gal 2:16; Rm3:28). However, as St Augustine did, it is possible to reconcile the two perspectives and to understand the works rejected by Paul as those which would proudly 'merit' justification and to interpret the call made by James as the normal fruit of faith, essential 'to manifest visibly' the justification conceded by God to the believer."