As significant the Twelve Apostles are to the Christian faith, we know so little about them. Even the book in the Bible known as the Acts of the Apostles is a misnomer, because it’s really only about one of the original Twelve (Peter) and the late-comer Paul.
What we know about the rest of the original Twelve is nothing. There is simply no reliable contemporary writing about what happened to the other apostles after Pentecost. There is, however, plenty of tradition. Each of these men have had fascinating stories develop around their person throughout 2,000 years of Christian tradition, mostly written centuries after their deaths. None of them is more interesting than St. James the Greater, whose feast day we celebrate July 25.
St. James is the first of the apostles to be martyred, as recorded in Acts 12, so his story is not about what he did, but what happened to him after the Bible left off, and it happens to have an appropriate message for us today.First we have to identify St. James the Greater as James the brother of John. This James is called “the greater” simply because he was called before the other apostle of the same name (James the Less).
Spain factors heavily into the story of St. James. Though nothing is mentioned in the Scriptures, one tradition from an ancient Ethiopian text known as he “Acts of James” has him traveling to Spain between Pentecost and his death, but that is highly unlikely. What is more likely was the transferring of his relics to Spain at a later date, which is where his relics still lie, at the shrine of Santiago de Compostela, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Christian history.
St. James looms large Spain’s history because of his supposed appearance at the battle of Clavijo in 844 A.D., when the Christians were defending the country against the Islamic invasion of the Moors. According to the tradition, St. James appeared on a white horse and helped the Christian soldiers kill 5,000 of the invading Muslims. This tradition and battle, which most historians dismiss, has given James the nickname “Matamoros,” or “Moor-Slayer.”
I have seen more than a few old holy cards portraying St. James on the white horse with a sword in hand stabbing and killing the Moors, and truth be told I love those old pictures. The message for us today is that although I doubt we will ever see new holy cards produced showing an apostle killing Muslims, the fact is that these old images captured the imagination of the faithful in past generations, and though they are far from politically correct, they are not sinful.
Political correctness, or “PC” as it is often called, has become a scourge on our society. We need to make sure that we do not purposely offend people by our comments, but the sensitivity that has developed over the past few decades is beyond the pale.
Recently comedian Jerry Seinfeld made a statement that he will no longer do his stand-up routine on college campuses, because the college students and staff are too PC and too easily offended, rendering his humor humorless.
There are millions of other examples that we could cite as political correctness gone over the top, but I think a helpful example can be found in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus was conversing with the Canaanite woman who wanted him to heal her daughter.
In response to her request, Jesus said, “It is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). Jesus was actually referring to her as a dog! It was common practice at the time for the Jewish people to refer to gentiles as dogs; it was hardly PC, but it wasn’t sinful.
All too often we see political correctness seep into text books, children’s sports (everyone gets a trophy) and even into religion. Though we are never justified in purposely hurting someone with our words, it is also important that we don’t become offended by everything we don’t like.
I am pretty sure St. James will not be killing Moors in any of the new children’s saint books, but there is nothing wrong in seeing just how important this apostle’s intercession became to Spain’s historic fight to remain a Christian nation.
St. James the Greater, pray for us!
Previously published July 2015