I. NEW TESTAMENT ACCOUNTS
John was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and the brother of James the Greater. In the Gospels the two brothers are often called after their father "the sons of Zebedee" and received from Christ the honourable title of Boanerges, i.e. "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17). Originally they were fishermen and fished with their father in the Lake of Genesareth. According to the usual and entirely probable explanation they became, however, for a time disciples of John the Baptist, and were called by Christ from the circle of John's followers, together with Peter and Andrew, to become His disciples (John 1:35-42). The first disciples returned with their new Master from the Jordan to Galilee and apparently both John and the others remained for some time with Jesus (cf. John ii, 12, 22; iv, 2, 8, 27 sqq.). Yet after the second return from Judea, John and his companions went back again to their trade of fishing until he and they were called by Christ to definitive discipleship (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20). In the lists of the Apostles John has the second place (Acts 1:13), the third (Mark 3:17), and the fourth (Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:14), yet always after James with the exception of a few passages (Luke 8:51; 9:28 in the Greek text; Acts 1:13).
From James being thus placed first, the conclusion is drawn that John was the younger of the two brothers. In any case John had a prominent position in the Apostolic body. Peter, James, and he were the only witnesses of the raising of Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:37), of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), and of the Agony in Gethsemani (Matthew 26:37). Only he and Peter were sent into the city to make the preparation for the Last Supper (Luke 22:8). At the Supper itself his place was next to Christ on Whose breast he leaned (John 13:23, 25). According to the general interpretation John was also that "other disciple" who with Peter followed Christ after the arrest into the palace of the high-priest (John 18:15). John alone remained near his beloved Master at the foot of the Cross on Calvary with the Mother of Jesus and the pious women, and took the desolate Mother into his care as the last legacy of Christ (John 19:25-27). After the Resurrection John with Peter was the first of the disciples to hasten to the grave and he was the first to believe that Christ had truly risen (John 20:2-10). When later Christ appeared at the Lake of Genesareth John was also the first of the seven disciples present who recognized his Master standing on the shore (John 21:7). The Fourth Evangelist has shown us most clearly how close the relationship was in which he always stood to his Lord and Master by the title with which he is accustomed to indicate himself without giving his name: "the disciple whom Jesus loved". After Christ's Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, John took, together with Peter, a prominent part in the founding and guidance of the Church. We see him in the company of Peter at the healing of the lame man in the Temple (Acts 3:1 sqq.). With Peter he is also thrown into prison (Acts 4:3). Again, we find him with the prince of the Apostles visiting the newly converted in Samaria (Acts 8:14).
We have no positive information concerning the duration of this activity in Palestine. Apparently John in common with the other Apostles remained some twelve years in this first field of labour, until the persecution of Herod Agrippa I led to the scattering of the Apostles through the various provinces of the Roman Empire (cf. Acts 12:1-17). Notwithstanding the opinion to the contrary of many writers, it does not appear improbable that John then went for the first time to Asia Minor and exercised his Apostolic office in various provinces there. In any case a Christian community was already in existence at Ephesus before Paul's first labours there (cf. "the brethren", Acts 18:27, in addition to Priscilla and Aquila), and it is easy to connect a sojourn of John in these provinces with the fact that the Holy Ghost did not permit the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey to proclaim the Gospel in Asia, Mysia, and Bithynia (Acts 16:6 sq.). There is just as little against such an acceptation in the later account in Acts of St. Paul's third missionary journey. But in any case such a sojourn by John in Asia in this first period was neither long nor uninterrupted. He returned with the other disciples to Jerusalem for the Apostolic Council (about A.D. 51). St. Paul in opposing his enemies in Galatia names John explicitly along with Peter and James the Less as a "pillar of the Church", and refers to the recognition which his Apostolic preaching of a Gospel free from the law received from these three, the most prominent men of the old Mother-Church at Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). When Paul came again to Jerusalem after the second and after the third journey (Acts 18:22; 21:17 sq.) he seems no longer to have met John there. Some wish to draw the conclusion from this that John left Palestine between the years 52 and 55.
Of the other New-Testament writings, it is only from the three Epistles of John and the Apocalypse that anything further is learned concerning the person of the Apostle. We may be permitted here to take as proven the unity of the author of these three writings handed down under the name of John and his identity with the Evangelist. Both the Epistles and the Apocalypse, however, presuppose that their author John belonged to the multitude of personal eyewitnesses of the life and work of Christ (cf. especially 1 John 1:1-5; 4:14), that he had lived for a long time in Asia Minor, was thoroughly acquainted with the conditions existing in the various Christian communities there, and that he had a position of authority recognized by all Christian communities as leader of this part of the Church. Moreover, the Apocalypse tells us that its author was on the island of Patmos "for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus", when he was honoured with the heavenly Revelation contained in the Apocalypse (Revelation 1:9).
II. THE ALLEGED PRESBYTER JOHN
The author of the Second and Third Epistles of John designates himself in the superscription of each by the name (ho presbyteros), "the ancient", "the old". Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, also uses the same name to designate the "Presbyter John" as in addition to Aristion, his particular authority, directly after he has named the presbyters Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, and Matthew (in Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", III, xxxix, 4). Eusebius was the first to draw, on account of these words of Papias, the distinction between a Presbyter John and the Apostle John, and this distinction was also spread in Western Europe by St. Jerome on the authority of Eusebius. The opinion of Eusebius has been frequently revived by modern writers, chiefly to support the denial of the Apostolic origin of the Fourth Gospel. The distinction, however, has no historical basis. First, the testimony of Eusebius in this matter is not worthy of belief. He contradicts himself, as in his "Chronicle" he expressly calls the Apostle John the teacher of Papias ("ad annum Abrah 2114"), as does Jerome also in Ep. lxxv, "Ad Theodoram", iii, and in "De viris illustribus", xviii. Eusebius was also influenced by his erroneous doctrinal opinions as he denied the Apostolic origin of the Apocalypse and ascribed this writing to an author differing from St. John but of the same name. St. Irenæus also positively designates the Apostle and Evangelist John as the teacher of Papias, and neither he nor any other writer before Eusebius had any idea of a second John in Asia (Adv. haer., V, xxxiii, 4). In what Papias himself says the connection plainly shows that in this passage by the word presbyters only Apostles can be understood. If John is mentioned twice the explanation lies in the peculiar relationship in which Papias stood to this, his most eminent teacher. By inquiring of others he had learned some things indirectly from John, just as he had from the other Apostles referred to. In addition he had received information concerning the teachings and acts of Jesus directly, without the intervention of others, from the still living "Presbyter John", as he also had from Aristion. Thus the teaching of Papias casts absolutely no doubt upon what the New-Testament writings presuppose and expressly mention concerning the residence of the Evangelist John in Asia.
III. THE LATER ACCOUNTS OF JOHN
The Christian writers of the second and third centuries testify to us as a tradition universally recognized and doubted by no one that the Apostle and Evangelist John lived in Asia Minor in the last decades of the first century and from Ephesus had guided the Churches of that province. In his "Dialogue with Tryphon" (Chapter 81) St. Justin Martyr refers to "John, one of the Apostles of Christ" as a witness who had lived "with us", that is, at Ephesus. St. Irenæus speaks in very many places of the Apostle John and his residence in Asia and expressly declares that he wrote his Gospel at Ephesus (Adv. haer., III, i, 1), and that he had lived there until the reign of Trajan (loc. cit., II, xxii, 5). With Eusebius (Hist. eccl., III, xiii, 1) and others we are obliged to place the Apostle's banishment to Patmos in the reign of the Emperor Domitian (81-96). Previous to this, according to Tertullian's testimony (De praescript., xxxvi), John had been thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil before the Porta Latina at Rome without suffering injury. After Domitian's death the Apostle returned to Ephesus during the reign of Trajan, and at Ephesus he died about A.D. 100 at a great age. Tradition reports many beautiful traits of the last years of his life: that he refused to remain under the same roof with Cerinthus (Irenaeus "Ad. haer.", III, iii, 4); his touching anxiety about a youth who had become a robber (Clemens Alex., "Quis dives salvetur", xiii); his constantly repeated words of exhortation at the end of his life, "Little children, love one another" (Jerome, "Comm. in ep. ad. Gal.", vi, 10). On the other hand the stories told in the apocryphal Acts of John, which appeared as early as the second century, are unhistorical invention.
IV. FEASTS OF ST. JOHN
St. John is commemorated on 27 December, which he originally shared with St. James the Greater. At Rome the feast was reserved to St. John alone at an early date, though both names are found in the Carthage Calendar, the Hieronymian Martyrology, and the Gallican liturgical books. The "departure" or "assumption" of the Apostle is noted in the Menology of Constantinople and the Calendar of Naples (26 September), which seems to have been regarded as the date of his death. The feast of St. John before the Latin Gate, supposed to commemorate the dedication of the church near the Porta Latina, is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Adrian I (772-95).
V. ST. JOHN IN CHRISTIAN ART
Early Christian art usually represents St. John with an eagle, symbolizing the heights to which he rises in the first chapter of his Gospel. The chalice as symbolic of St. John, which, according to some authorities, was not adopted until the thirteenth century, is sometimes interpreted with reference to the Last Supper, again as connected with the legend according to which St. John was handed a cup of poisoned wine, from which, at his blessing, the poison rose in the shape of a serpent. Perhaps the most natural explanation is to be found in the words of Christ to John and James "My chalice indeed you shall drink" (Matthew 20:23).
St. James the Greater
(Hebrew Yakob; Septuagint Iakob; N.T. Greek Iakobos; a favourite name among the later Jews).
The son of Zebedee and Salome (Cf. Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1). Zahn asserts that Salome was the daughter of a priest. James is styled "the Greater" to distinguish him from the Apostle James "the Less", who was probably shorter of stature. We know nothing of St. James's early life. He was the brother of John, the beloved disciple, and probably the elder of the two.
His parents seem to have been people of means as appears from the following facts.
· Zebedee was a fisherman of the Lake of Galilee, who probably lived in or near Bethsaida (John 1:44), perhaps in Capharnaum; and had some boatmen or hired men as his usual attendants (Mark 1:20).
· Salome was one of the pious women who afterwards followed Christ and "ministered unto him of their substance" (cf. Matthew 27:55, sq.; Mark 15:40; 16:1; Luke 8:2 sq.; 23:55-24:1).
· St. John was personally known to the high-priest (John 18:16); and must have had wherewithal to provide for the Mother of Jesus (John 19:27).
It is probable, according to Acts 4:13, that John (and consequently his brother James) had not received the technical training of the rabbinical schools; in this sense they were unlearned and without any official position among the Jews. But, according to the social rank of their parents, they must have been men of ordinary education, in the common walks of Jewish life. They had frequent opportunity of coming in contact with Greek life and language, which were already widely spread along the shores of the Galilean Sea.
Relation of St. James to Jesus
Some authors, comparing John 19:25 with Matthew 28:56 and Mark 15:40, identify, and probably rightly so, Mary the Mother of James the Less and of Joseph in Mark and Matthew with "Mary of Cleophas" in John. As the name of Mary Magdalen occurs in the three lists, they identify further Salome in Mark with "the mother of the sons of Zebedee" in Matthew; finally they identify Salome with "his mother's sister" in John. They suppose, for this last identification, that four women are designated by John 19:25; the Syriac "Peshito" gives the reading: "His mother and his mother's sister, and Mary of Cleophas and Mary Magdalen." If this last supposition is right, Salome was a sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and James the Greater and John were first cousins of the Lord; this may explain the discipleship of the two brothers, Salome's request and their own claim to the first position in His kingdom, and His commendation of the Blessed Virgin to her own nephew. But it is doubtful whether the Greek admits of this construction without the addition or the omission of kai (and). Thus the relationship of St. James to Jesus remains doubtful.
His life and apostolate
The Galilean origin of St. James in some degree explains the energy of temper and the vehemence of character which earned for him and St. John the name of Boanerges, "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17); the Galilean race was religious, hardy, industrious, brave, and the strongest defender of the Jewish nation.
When John the Baptist proclaimed the kingdom of the Messias, St. John became a disciple (John 1:35); he was directed to "the Lamb of God" and afterwards brought his brother James to the Messias; the obvious meaning of John 1:41, is that St. Andrew finds his brother (St. Peter) first and that afterwards St. John (who does not name himself, according to his habitual and characteristic reserve and silence about himself) finds his brother (St. James). The call of St. James to the discipleship of the Messias is reported in a parallel or identical narration by Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:19 sq.; and Luke 5:1-11. The two sons of Zebedee, as well as Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew with whom they were in partnership (Luke 5:10), were called by the Lord upon the Sea of Galilee, where all four with Zebedee and his hired servants were engaged in their ordinary occupation of fishing. The sons of Zebedee "forthwith left their nets and father, and followed him" (Matthew 4:22), and became "fishers of men".
St. James was afterwards with the other eleven called to the Apostleship (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13). In all four lists the names of Peter and Andrew, James and John form the first group, a prominent and chosen group (cf. Mark 13:3); especially Peter, James, and John. These three Apostles alone were admitted to be present at the miracle of the raising of Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1; Matthew 17:1; Luke 9:28), and the Agony in Gethsemani (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33). The fact that the name of James occurs always (except in Luke 8:51; 9:28; Acts 1:13 -- Greek Text) before that of his brother seems to imply that James was the elder of the two. It is worthy of notice that James is never mentioned in the Gospel of St. John; this author observes a humble reserve not only with regard to himself, but also about the members of his family.
Several incidents scattered through the Synoptics suggest that James and John had that particular character indicated by the name "Boanerges," sons of thunder, given to them by the Lord (Mark 3:17); they were burning and impetuous in their evangelical zeal and severe in temper. The two brothers showed their fiery temperament against "a certain man casting out devils" in the name of the Christ; John, answering, said: "We [James is probably meant] forbade him, because he followeth not with us" (Luke 9:49). When the Samaritans refused to receive Christ, James and John said: "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?" (Luke 9:54; cf. 9:49).
On the last journey to Jerusalem, their mother Salome came to the Lord and said to Him: "Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom" (Matthew 20:21). And the two brothers, still ignorant of the spiritual nature of the Messianic Kingdom, joined with their mother in this eager ambition (Mark 10:37). And on their assertion that they are willing to drink the chalice that He drinks of, and to be baptized with the baptism of His sufferings, Jesus assured them that they will share His sufferings (Mark 5:38-39).
James won the crown of martyrdom fourteen years after this prophecy, A.D. 44. Herod Agrippa I, son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great, reigned at that time as "king" over a wider dominion than that of his grandfather. His great object was to please the Jews in every way, and he showed great regard for the Mosaic Law and Jewish customs. In pursuance of this policy, on the occasion of the Passover of A.D. 44, he perpetrated cruelties upon the Church, whose rapid growth incensed the Jews. The zealous temper of James and his leading part in the Jewish Christian communities probably led Agrippa to choose him as the first victim. "He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword." (Acts 12:1-2). According to a tradition, which, as we learn from Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., II, ix, 2, 3), was received from Clement of Alexandria (in the seventh book of his lost "Hypotyposes"), the accuser who led the Apostle to judgment, moved by his confession, became himself a Christian, and they were beheaded together. As Clement testifies expressly that the account was given him "by those who were before him," this tradition has a better foundation than many other traditions and legends respecting the Apostolic labours and death of St. James, which are related in the Latin "Passio Jacobi Majoris", the Ethiopic "Acts of James", and so on.
St. James in Spain
The tradition asserting that James the Greater preached the Gospel in Spain, and that his body was translated to Compostela, claims more serious consideration.
According to this tradition St. James the Greater, having preached Christianity in Spain, returned to Judea and was put to death by order of Herod; his body was miraculously translated to Iria Flavia in the northwest of Spain, and later to Compostela, which town, especially during the Middle Ages, became one of the most famous places of pilgrimage in the world. The vow of making a pilgrimage to Compostela to honour the sepulchre of St. James is still reserved to the pope, who alone of his own or ordinary right can dispense from it. In the twelfth century was founded the Order of Knights of St. James of Compostela.
With regard to the preaching of the Gospel in Spain by St. James the greater, several difficulties have been raised:
· St. James suffered martyrdom A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2), and, according to the tradition of the early Church, he had not yet left Jerusalem at this time (cf. Clement of Alexandria, "Strom.", VI; Apollonius, quoted by Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." VI, xviii).
· St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (A.D. 58) expressed the intention to visit Spain (Romans 15:24) just after he had mentioned (15:20) that he did not "build upon another man's foundation."
· The argument ex silentio: although the tradition that James founded an Apostolic see in Spain was current in the year 700, no certain mention of such tradition is to be found in the genuine writings of early writers nor in the early councils; the first certain mention we find in the ninth century, in Notker, a monk of St. Gall (Martyrol., 25 July), Walafried Strabo (Poema de XII Apost.), and others.
· The tradition was not unanimously admitted afterwards, while numerous scholars reject it. The Bollandists however defended it (see Acta Sanctorum, July, VI and VII, where other sources are given).
The authenticity of the sacred relic of Compostela has been questioned and is still doubted. Even if St. James the Greater did not preach the Christian religion in Spain, his body may have been brought to Compostela, and this was already the opinion of Notker. According to another tradition, the relics of the Apostle are kept in the church of St-Saturnin at Toulouse (France), but it is not improbable that such sacred relics should have been divided between two churches. A strong argument in favour of the authenticity of the sacred relics of Compostela is the Bull of Leo XIII, "Omn