The Bible in Its Traditions

James 4:6

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But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

But our LORD has given us abundant grace. Therefore he said, God humbles the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

6c God opposes the arrogant Prv 3:34; 1Pt 5:5

Text

Vocabulary

6a grace As a Gift The word charis (V = gratia; S = ṭybwt’) has rich connotations in Hellenistic, Jewish, and Christian traditions. The basic meaning is any attractive quality.

This passage fits in well with James' characterization of God as a liberal giver of gifts (Jas 1:5: the God who gives to all without hesitation; Jas 1:17: every good gift is from God). This characterization is in sharp contrast to the characterization of the community as dominated by a spirit of selfish jealousy. See also Biblical Intertextuality 4:6a.

6c humble Lowliness of Heart James evokes here the humble, lowly person (tapeinos) discussed earlier in the letter (Jas 1:9-11). The term can refer either being poor in an economic sense, or to having a humble character, especially humility before God. In the contrast with the rich, the focus is on the economic sense in Jas 1:9; while here, in contrast to the arrogant, the accent is on the lowliness of heart. See also Vocabulary 1:9; Ancient Cultures 1:9-11; Biblical Intertextuality 1:9; Peritestamental Literature 1:9; Christian Tradition 1:9.

Context

Ancient Texts

6c opposes the arrogant Greco-Roman Criticism of Arrogance In Greco-Roman literature, the gods oppose the arrogant. Diodorus Siculus Bib. hist.  6.7.1-3 records that Salmoneus was arrogant and impious (asebês), boasting that the machine he made produced thunder claps louder than those of Zeus. Zeus killed him with a lightning bolt for his impiety (Oldfather 1967, 340-43).

Reception

Theology

6c to the humble gives grace Application to Marriage

  • Pius XI's Cast. Con. (98) applies James' teaching to modern challenges to traditional marriage, including advocacy of contraception, abortion, full equality of wife and husband, eugenics, and divorce. Pius teaches that only couples who first humble themselves before God will then be given the grace to control the various passions that are encouraged by these modern challenges.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

6c God opposes the arrogant Exhortation to a Godly Humility James quotes Prv 3:34, G replacing kurios with theos. 1Pt 5:5 also quotes this passage (also writing theos instead of kurios), in a similar context of exhorting community members to act humbly towards one another; similarly 1 Clem. 30:2. The quotation draws from G, as the Hebrew of Prv 3:34 differs significantly: "Those who scoff, he scoffs at, but the lowly he favors."

Peritestamental Literature

6c the arrogant Arrogance Associated with Envy and Strife Arrogance is often associated with envy (phthonos) and jealousy or rivalry (zêlos) in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs:

1. T. Reu. 3.2-6 identifies arrogance (huperêphania) as one of the seven "spirits of error" (planê). Among the other spirits are

  • strife (machê; cf. Jas 4:1a); 
  • lying, associated with destructiveness and rivalry (zêlo; cf. Jas 4:2a); 
  • injustice (adikia), associated with theft and crooked dealing motivated by desire for pleasure (philêdonia; cf. Jas 4:1b); 
  • arrogance is specifically associated with being boastful (kauchatai) and haughty (megalophronêᵢ; OTP 1:783; de Jonge 1978, 5). 

2. T. Jud. 13.2 "Do not pursue evil impelled by your lusts (epithumia), by the arrogance (huperêphania) of your heart, and do not boast the exploits and strength of your youth" (OTP 1:798; de Jonge 1978, 65).  

3. T. Gad. 3.3: The person who hates "envies (phthonei) the successful person, relishes slander, loves arrogance" (huperêphania; OTP 1:815; de Jonge 1978, 128).

Reception

Christian Tradition

1–7 Divisio textus

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena identifies Jas 4:1-7 as a section under the heading: "That strife (eris) and instability (akatastasia) and enmity towards God arise from desire and love of pleasure" (philêdonia; Cramer 1844, 8:24).

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

Text

Literary Devices

6a Yet greater grace does he give Transition This is a transitional verse, linking the criticism in Jas 4:1-5 (God opposes the proud) with the call to repentence and humility (God gives a "greater gift" to those who humble themselves).

Anastrophe

The adjective meizona which modifies charin is placed as the first element of the sentence to emphasize the contrast with the preceding phrase

Reception

Liturgies

3:11–4:6 Use in Lectionary BL : Wednesday, 32nd Week after Pentecost. 

1–10 Use in Lectionary RML : Tuesday, Week 7, Year 2.

Christian Tradition

6c God opposes the arrogant, but to the humble gives grace A Favorite Verse of the Tradition This verse, whether in reference directly to Prv 3:34 or its citation in 1Pt 5:5 or Jas 4:6, is cited often by early Christian preachers exhorting their congregations to practice humility. Already it appears in 1 Clem. 30.2.

A Favorite Text of Preachers

A Text for Self-criticism

Pride is the Worst of Sins

Several authors take "God resists the proud" to indicate that pride is the greatest sin.

  • Cassian Inst. 12.7 "How great the evil of pride is (quantum est malum superbiae), that it deserves to have as its adversary not an angel or other virtues contrary to it but rather God himself!...it is never said of those who are caught up in the other vices that the Lord resists them...." (Ramsey 2000, 258; Petschenig 1888, 210). Cf. the similar interpretation in Martin of Braga Sup. 7: "only the swelling of pride struggles directly against God (nititur contra Deum), that is why he takes it as an enemy" (Barlow  1969, 47; Barlow 1950, 72).
  • Aquinas ST 2-2.162.6 teaches that pride (superbia) is the greatest sin, "because in other sins man turns away from God, either through ignorance or through weakness, or through desire for any other good whatever; whereas pride denotes aversion (aversio) from God simply through being unwilling to be subject to God and His rule (non vult Deo et eius regulae subiici). Hence Boethius [cf. Cassian Inst. 12.7] says that "while all vices flee (omnia vitia fugiant) from God, pride alone withstands God" (sola superbia se Deo opponit) ; for which reason it is specially stated (Jas 4:6) that "God resists the proud." Wherefore aversion from God and His commandments, which is a consequence as it were in other sins, belongs to pride by its very nature (per se ad superbiam pertinet), for its act is the contempt of God (actus est Dei contemptus; English Dominicans 1947, 4:1853-54). Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. also notes that those who are proud "refuse to seek the help of grace from above (superna gratia), as if they are sufficient by themselves to achieve salvation" (Hurst 1985, 50; Hurst 1987, 213).

Augustine's Interpretations

  • Augustine of Hippo Doctr. Chr. 3.(23).33 sees the passage as a constant scriptural theme: "There is, in fact, almost no page of the holy books in which the lesson is not echoed (Nulla enim fere pagina est sanctorum librorum, in qua non sonet), that 'God withstands the proud, but gives grace to the humble'" (Hill 1996, 184; Martin 1962, 97)
  • Augustine reflects on the passage in the beginnings of his great works The City of God (Civ. 1 Pref.) and Confessions (Conf.1.1).
  • Augustine of Hippo Civ. 17.4 applies the passage to the Song of Hannah (1Sm 2:1-10). Hannah's (whose name represents grace) description of the humbling of the rich and powerful and the exaltation of the humble are nothing less than a prophecy of the Church (the City of God) in its struggle with arrogant opponents.
  • Augustine of Hippo Enn. Ps. 2 ad Ps 29:18 identifies the proud with all of humanity in their pride against God and subsequent banishment from Eden. 
  • Augustine of Hippo Enn. Ps. 86(85).13 applies it against the pride of the Donatists and others who question the teachings of the Church; see  also Enn. Ps. 131(130).6; likewise he applies it to the pride of the Jews: Enn. Ps. 107(106).8.
  • Augustine of Hippo Civ. 19.27: God resists the proud man who thinks he has no need to ask forgiveness for his sins.
  • Augustine of Hippo Serm.  81.3 warns those who do good to not be pleased with themselves about it, but to be pleased only with God about it (non tibi placeas nisi Deus; PL 38:500-1).
  • See also Augustine of Hippo Serm.  144.1.

Examples in Scripture

  • John of Avila Aud. Fil. 97 identifies the proud in this verse with those how built the tower of Babel (Gn 11:1-9). 
  • Augustine of Hippo Civ. 11.33: God opposed the pride of the evil angels, casting them from heaven.
  • Aquinas ST 3.37.4 citation of this verse to show that it was fitting that Mary should be purified in the Temple (Lk 2:22). Just as Christ, to give an example of humility and obedience, submitted to the Law even though he was not subject to the Law, so too he desired Mary to show her humility in submitting to the Law.

Interpretations of Thomas

  • Role of humility in receiving God's grace. Aquinas ST 1-2.113.4 takes James' reference to grace (gratia) in a theological sense as sanctifying grace, and thus suggests that this passage implies that a person can be justified through his humility: "he gives grace to the humble." Thomas, however, clarifies that humility is involved in the free act of faith by which a person is justified: "Now free-will is moved to God by being subject to Him; hence an act of filial fear and an act of humililty also concur (concurrit; English Dominicans 1947, 2:1147). 
  • Humility and baptism. Aquinas ST 3.39.4 ad 2 uses the verse to connect the virtue of humility with baptism.
  • Humility as a foundational virtue. Aquinas ST 2-2.161.5 ad 2 teaches that although love is the greatest virtue, humility (humilitas) is in a certain sense the foundation of the virtues. "Now the virtues are in truth infused (infunduntur) by God. Wherefore the first step in the acquisition of virtue may be understood in two ways. First by way of removing obstacles: and thus humility holds the first place, inasmuch as it expels pride, which "God resists," and makes man submissive and ever open to receive the influx of Divine grace (semper patulum ad suscipiendum influxum divinae gratiae). Hence it is written, "God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble" (English Dominicans 1947, 4:1845-46). The first step in acquiring a virtue is to remove obstacles, and humility drives out pride, thus making a person submissive and open to the influx of God's grace.

Application to Prayer during Worship

  • Caesarius of Arles Serm. 77.1-4: Drawing on a sermon from Ephrem, Caesarius admonishes the congregation to bow and kneel during worship. "I have carefully noted that when the deacon says the usual flectamus genua ("let us kneel"), most of the people frequently remain standing like straight columns" (Mueller 1973, 1:355; Morin 1953, 1:319). The refusal to bow their heads or kneel during prayer at church is a sign of pride, but no one is able to draw from "the living water" of Christ unless he first bows or kneels in humility (Mueller 1973, 1:357; Morin 1953, 1:321).

Application to the Sacrament of Confession

  • Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 16.(6).10: Bernard alludes to this passage in exhorting the reader to make a humble confessions, warning against a subtle form of pride that is more concerned with appearing humble during confession than with actually being humble. God will accept only a truly humble confession: "For when did the Master of humility (humilitatis magister), who by his very nature is inclined to give grace to the humble, ever scorn a humble confession?" (Edmonds 1980, 1:122; Leclercq et al. 1977, 1:95); cf. also Bernard's quotation in his discussion of true humility at Serm. Cant. 34.3.

Other Interpretations

  • Gregory the Great Ep. 5:37 and 44 (Ep. 18 and 20 in NPNF2;Norberg 1982, 1:311 and 333) quotes the passage in his condemnation of the pride of priests.
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. paraphrases this passage: [God] abandons those who arrogantly trust in their own wealth (suis opibus arroganter fidunt). He helps those who attribute nothing to themselves, but trust instead in God's goodness" (fidunt bonitati divinae; Bateman 1993, 162; Bateman 1997, 150).

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. Vat.gr. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.

Suggestions for Reading

1–12 Internal and External Conflicts Overall, James again emphasizes the connection between the microcosm of the individual person and the macrocosm of the community: disorder and strife (caused by passions and conflicting desires) within the person manifest themselves in disorder and conflict in the community. This section expands earlier topics :

  • it expands the topic of contrasting wisdoms (Jas 3:13-18), focusing on the negative results of following worldly wisdom: strife, jealousy dissension and even murder within the community;
  • it also develops the related topic of the selfish desire that leads to sin and death (Jas 1:14-15) and applies the theme of proper asking (prayer; Jas 1:5-8).

Thematic Structure

James' exhortation to the community may be analyzed in the following way: 

  • Jas 4:1-5: A sharp criticism of the community's vices: they are dominated by their passions, they desire covetously, they kill, they envy, they fight. James, ever the teacher, however, does not merely condemn the vices, but simultaneously teaches the community their cause: their social strife is caused by their unrestrained passions, they cannot fulfill their desires because they ask with the wrong motivation. The accusation culminates in Jas 4:4, where James accuses them of adultery and enmity with God. Jas 4:5 is a scriptural witness to James' accusations.
  • Jas 4:6: A transitional verse, affirming God's opposition to the proud, but his readiness to help the humble.
  • Jas 4:7-10: A call to conversion. The community is called to submit themselves to following God's will, purifying their hearts to an exclusive obedience to God, not the ways of the world (vv. 7-8). They should lament their sins and humble themselves, and the Lord will raise them up again.
  • Jas 4:11-12: Returning to the topic of divisions in the community, James admonishes members to avoid speaking badly of one another. 

Reception 

While the pericope presents one famous crux interpretativaJas 4:5, a challenging verse that defies clear interpretation, raising a host of textual, grammatical, and interpretative issues, cf. Textual Criticism 4:5b; Grammar 4:5b; Christian Tradition 4:5a; Christian Tradition 4:5b—several texts have drawn special attention in the interpretive tradition: