St. James the Less, Son of Alphaeus, Pray For Us

St. James shares a feast day on May 3 with St. Philip the Apostle

Pompeo Batoni, “Saint James the Less,” ca. 1740
Pompeo Batoni, “Saint James the Less,” ca. 1740 (photo: Public Domain)

“When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” —Acts 1:13–14a

St. James the Less is known as “James, son of Alphaeus” in the Bible. Because there are so many references to the name of James in the Bible, it becomes a bit of a challenge to figure out exactly who this James was. All that is known with certainty is that he was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles and that his father’s name was Alphaeus.

The title of James “the Less” can be confusing and misleading. Chances are that he was either smaller in size, younger in age, or merely called to be an apostle after James the Greater. Assuming that his work and life were of less value than that of James the Greater is unfair.

One point to ponder is that his father’s name of Alphaeus is often considered to be a variant of the name Clopas or Cleopas. Therefore, it becomes possible that James the Less was the son of Mary of Clopas, who was at the Crucifixion. If this James was indeed a son of Mary of Clopas (who did in fact have a son named James), we would know that he had a brother named Joses (or Joseph).

Some have also suggested that the father of James the Less, Alphaeus, might be the Cleopas who met up with yet didn’t immediately recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus. While not certain, it is plausible that the differences in spelling (Clopas versus Cleopas) could be attributed to two separate authors using different spellings.

James the Less is considered by many (but not all) to be the same as James the Just, who became the much-loved first bishop of Jerusalem and attended the Council of Jerusalem, as described in Acts 15.


Nine Days with St. James the Less

This son of Alphaeus — a second apostle named James — shares a feast on May 3 with St. Philip the Apostle. The relics of both James and Philip are kept at the Basilica of the Holy Apostles (Santi Apostoli) in Rome.

Because this James’s identity is shrouded in mystery, people who often go unnoticed might claim him as their patron. Consider reading the Scripture passages below; try to imagine St. James taking a role in each of the narratives. See if you can tap into this hard-to-know apostle by simply knowing that he did all apostle things!  See what insights you might glean, and ask St. James the Less to pray for a special intention!

  • Day 1) Mark 3:13–19
  • Day 2) Mark 6:1–13, 30–33
  • Day 3) Luke 6:12–19
  • Day 4) John 6:48–52, 66–71
  • Day 5) Matthew 26:20–30
  • Day 6) Matthew 28:16–20
  • Day 7) Acts 1:6–14
  • Day 8) John 19:25
  • Day 9) Luke 24:10, 18
Archbishop Hubertus van Megen celebrates the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret on May 25, 2024.

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The Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat, who has also been representing the Holy Father in South Sudan, highlighted the need to seek God’s mercy as important and implored: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”