Saints Philip and James

May 3: Saints Philip and James, Apostles—Feast

Saint Philip: c. 4–c. 80
Patron Saint of hatmakers and pastry chefs
Saint James: First century B.C.–c. 62
Patron Saint of pharmacists and the dying
Pre-Congregation canonizations
Liturgical Color: Red

The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” ~John 1:43–46

In the sixth century, Pope Pelagius I traveled to Constantinople and brought the relics of the Apostles Philip and James back to Rome, placing them in what is today called the Church of the Holy Apostles. It is for this reason that we honor these two Apostles together with one feast.

Saint Philip was one of the Twelve Apostles. He was most likely a follower of Saint John the Baptist and was aware of John pointing to Jesus as the Messiah. Philip might have been a brother to Simon Peter and Andrew, making him a fisherman by trade. The day after Simon and Andrew were invited to follow Jesus, Jesus encountered Philip and said, “Follow me” (John 1:43). Philip obeyed. He was from the town of Bethsaida, just north of the Sea of Galilee. Philip’s first act of evangelization was to tell his friend, Nathanael, that they had found the Messiah. Nathanael was reluctant at first, stating to Philip, “​​Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip’s response was ideal. He said to his friend, “Come and see” (John 1: 46). When Nathanael came and saw, he immediately professed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Early Church theologians believe that Philip followed our Lord from that time forward, witnessing Jesus’ first miracle at Cana.

When Jesus established the Twelve, Philip was among them. He is mentioned in John’s Gospel during the feeding of the 5,000 when Jesus sees the large crowd and then turns to Philip and says, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” (John 6:6). Philip is also mentioned in connection with Greek-speaking Gentiles who want to see Jesus (see John 12:21), possibly indicating that Philip could speak Greek and was known to the Greek community. At the Last Supper, as Jesus was speaking about the Father, Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us”, to which Jesus gently responded, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8–14).

After Pentecost, little is known about Philip’s missionary activity. Ancient traditions state he preached in Greece, Phrygia, and Syria, being martyred at an old age in Hierapolis, Phrygia, modern-day southwest Turkey, not far from Ephesus where Saint Paul established a church. Philip is believed to have died either by being crucified upside down or by beheading.

Saint James is also one of the Twelve. The traditional view, from as early as the second century, is that there are only two disciples of Christ in the New Testament with the name James. Some modern scholars identify three or more. If we stick with the traditional view, which was also held by Saint Jerome in the fourth century, then the two Jameses are James the Son of Zebedee and James the Less (also referred to as James the brother of the Lord, and James the Son of Alphaeus). Later authors call him James the Just. If James the Less is also the James who is the Lord’s brother, then James’ father was Alphaeus and his mother was Mary of Clopas, the sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This would make James the nephew of the Blessed Virgin and a first cousin to Jesus. He is referred to as Jesus’ “brother” because it was common at that time to refer to cousins and other relatives as brothers and sisters. In Mark’s Gospel, Levi (better known as Matthew) is also referred to as the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14) which could make James and Matthew brothers.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul relates that the Lord appeared to James after His Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). After Pentecost, James became the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. The Acts of the Apostles relates that it was James, as the head of the Jerusalem Church, who oversaw the First Council of Jerusalem and declared the final judgment on behalf of Peter (see Acts 15). Eusebius, a fourth-century bishop, writes that James spent long hours in the Temple of Jerusalem: “…he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel.” Eusebius also wrote about James’ martyrdom, “…he was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club.” Traditionally, the New Testament letter of James is believed to have been written by James the Less, although modern scholars question this fact. That letter was a general letter, most likely sent to all of the Jewish Christian communities. It begins, “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings” (James 1:1). The letter then goes on to give encouragement in trials and persecutions, exhortations and warnings, and concludes by speaking of the power of prayer.

What we know for certain about these two disciples is that they were among the Twelve Apostles. They were uniquely chosen by the Savior to continue His divine mission of evangelizing the world. They embraced their ministry heroically, establishing communities of believers, preaching the Gospel, offering the sacraments, performing miracles, and governing the early Church. Allow the apostolic zeal and the courageous martyrdom of these apostles to inspire you today with the same zeal and courage, so that God can also send you forth on mission.

Saints Philip and James, you were both highly blessed to be companions of the Lord Jesus, listening to Him preach, witnessing His miracles, and receiving from Him a commission to continue His work. Please pray for me, that I will also come to know our Lord and Savior through prayer and the Holy Scriptures, so that I will be prepared for the mission that God has for me. Saints Philip and James, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

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