Some ancient Christian commentators on James 1:17-27


This is a continuation of the previous discussion of this Sunday’s Epistle Reading from James particularly with reference to true religion.

John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople (344/354-407) wrote: “We can become more like God if we are merciful and compassionate. If we do not do these things, we have nothing at all to our credit. God does not say that if we fast we shall be like him. Rather he wants us to be merciful as he himself is. ‘I desire mercy’, he says, ‘and not sacrifice’”

In the 7th century, Bede – commonly known as Bede the Venerable (c.672/73-735) the author of An Ecclesiastical History of the English People noted that spiritual happiness is gained not by empty words but by putting our good intentions into practice.

The contrasts in these two examples need no more elaboration.

What Hilary of Arles (c. 401-449) writes in Introductory Tractate on the Letter of James speaks eloquently today, especially with regard to public policy, policy making in general and prioritizing. He wrote: “What he (James) says about widows has to be understood in the light of the fact that there were many who tried to rob them of their possessions…”.

In biblical language, widows and orphans are terms used to include the poor, the needy, the aliens, and all who are vulnerable in society.

There is another good example from the 6th century, from Oecumenius, in his work on “The Practice of Religion”. He wrote, “If you want to be truly religious, do not demonstrate this by your knowledge of the law but by the way you put it into practice. Religion appears to mean something more than ‘faith’…”

How about James’ exhortation about controlling the tongue?

Bede writes, “James says here that even if someone appears to be doing the good works of faith…none of this matters unless he restrains his tongue from slanders, lies, blasphemes, nonsense, verbosity and other things which lead to sin”.

I have sometimes wondered if there has been any significant change in human thinking over the centuries, especially with regard to religion, spirituality and how we practice them in society.




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