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Who were Saint Philip and Saint James the Younger?

James the Younger stained glass
St. James the Younger portrayed in a lunette window

Out of the 12 men called by Jesus to be disciples, Saints Philip and James the Younger are generally less well-known than many of their peers. They were neither Gospel writers, nor frequently-mentioned figures in the Gospel accounts – and yet, they were faithful servants of Jesus, eager to carry out the mission of sharing the way of salvation with others. As we celebrate their feast day on May 3, we invite you to read more about their lives and what we can learn from them.

St. James the Younger: Son of Alphaeus

Not much is said in the Bible about James — the only instances where his name appears are in lists of the apostles. He is known as “James the Younger” so as not to be confused with James, the brother of John (who is known as “James the Elder”). He was the son of Alphaeus, and some also believe him to be Jesus’ cousin, son of Mary of Clopas. Mark also refers to Levi the tax collector, also known as Matthew, as “son of Alphaeus,” which means that the two could possibly be brothers.

Along with the other apostles, James was given power to heal and to cast out demons (Matthew 10, Mark 3, Luke 6) and commissioned to go and spread the Gospel. In addition to accompanying Jesus throughout much of His ministry, James was also present at Pentecost.

St. Philip: The Practical Disciple  

Scripture indicates that Philip was from Bethsaida, and that Jesus called him as His disciple after meeting him in Galilee. Philip was eager to spread the news to his cousin, Nathanael, as described in John 1:45-46:

“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.’”

Philip was ever the practical disciple, as demonstrated in the story of the loaves and fishes. When Jesus asked Philip where they could get food for the crowd, Philip exclaimed, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little!” (John 6:7). Jesus then performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, providing food for the thousands gathered to hear him.

St. Philip Lunette Window
St. Philip portrayed in a lunette window

Philip’s other notable interaction with Jesus was at the Last Supper, when he asked to see the Father. In John 14:6-7, Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” Philip then asked Jesus to show them the Father, and was met with a reprimand:

“How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.”

What We Can Learn

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 28:19

Philip and James demonstrate how Jesus can transform even the most ordinary men into mighty instruments of His divine purposes. Though Philip and James may not have always shown great spiritual understanding, Jesus was patient as He instructed them in the truth of the Gospel. Empowered by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, they helped the Church grow through their bold witness and commitment to the Great Commission.

St. Philip and St. James are both portrayed in the Basilica in the west buttress of the south entrance, the Mary Memorial Altar, and in lunette windows in the Crypt Church. 


Butler’s Lives of Saints, ed. Bernard Bangley

The Way of Saints, Tom Cowan


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