1 Kazizshura

Brother John Essay

My younger brother and I called him ‘the old lizard’ (on account of his reptilian resemblance — and to irk our mother, his partner at the time). To his enemies, he was a crackpot, fraud, and a cheat. And to his patients, and many of his friends, he was a source of support, an open listener, a sage and protector.

Dr John E Mack was many things to many people. A Harvard-trained psychiatrist, tenured professor, and one of the founders of the Cambridge Hospital Department of Psychiatry (a teaching hospital affiliated with Harvard University), John held an impressive command and was respected in his field. After an early career spent working on issues of child development and identity formation, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1977 for his psychoanalytic biography of Lawrence of Arabia, entitled A Prince of Our Disorder (1976). Then, in the late 1980s, John put his reputation on the line when he started investigating the phenomenon of alien abduction.

It all started innocently enough. He began holding sessions with patients or ‘experiencers’ (as they’re called) who believed they’d been abducted. He ran hypnotic regressions from our home, and he gradually came to furnish enough evidence for a book, Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens (1994). This was followed in 1999 by Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters. His standard line with the outside world was (as given to the BBC): ‘I would never say, yes, there are aliens taking people. [But] I would say there is a compelling powerful phenomenon here that I can’t account for in any other way, that’s mysterious… I can’t know what it is but it seems to me that it invites a deeper, further inquiry.’

Subscribe to Aeon’s Newsletter

In the privacy of our home, where he was a regular presence, John was bolder in his claims. Aliens were real — it was just that their existence threatened the dominant logic of our worldview. John attributed society’s failure to account for the abduction experience as a cultural failing. Alien abductees weren’t deranged or mentally ill — we just didn’t have a way of interpreting and understanding what they’d been through. Rather than label these peoples’ experiences as a new disorder or syndrome, John argued that we had to probe into and change our perception of reality to account for this phenomena. The subtext: we had to allow for the existence of aliens.

For more than a decade, from the time I was eight until I was of legal age, I was witness to these debates and to the politics surrounding John’s ‘coming out’ in support of abduction phenomena. My mother, an anthropologist by training, was John’s primary research assistant. They bought a house together in Cambridge, Massachusetts and my brother and I visited them once a month and during school holidays. The rest of the time we lived with my father and stepmother in Arlington, Virginia.

Like many of his colleagues, I viewed John with a mixture of scepticism and intrigue. Part of my scepticism can be put down to the fact that he was dating my mom; but a good fraction of it owed to my sense of reality being overturned by the postulation of ‘greys’ — a particular manifestation of extraterrestrials, known for their large heads, huge almond eyes, and shortened, pretty much featureless bodies.

The late John E. Mack – a Harvard psychiatrist who put his professional reputation on the line. Photo © John E Mack Archives LLC. Courtesy of Mack family

At eight, and still learning to distinguish between fantasy and reality, the imposition of adults who believed in aliens was confusing and anxiety-provoking, but adventurous and thrilling too. I was fairly sure that Santa Claus wasn’t real. But I wouldn’t have bet my life on it. My stuffed animals and toys had only just lost that animistic quality — becoming mere playthings, instruments of the imagination, as opposed to real creatures with essences all their own. As for aliens, I couldn’t be sure. Flying on airplanes between my parents’ houses I’d sometimes be on the lookout for a hovering metallic orb.

It was 1992 when John entered our lives. Bill Clinton was president, and Kurt Cobain dominated the airwaves. It was the end of the Cold War stand-off, and the political scientist Francis Fukuyama had just published his book The End of History and the Last Man, where he wishfully predicted that human evolution had come to an end with the triumph of Western liberal democracy. Everything was smooth sailing. We no longer had the threat of communists, but we didn’t yet have the threat of terrorists. In need of a symbolic enemy, aliens personified an important ‘other’ — a dystopian warning to our Western culture’s all too eager triumphalism.

On television, the paranormal soon paraded around on shows such as Roswell and The X-Files, which explored extraterrestrial phenomena in the shadow of government cover-ups and conspiracy. Flip channels and you might have caught Arthur C Clarke’s equally other-worldly 26-part series Mysterious Universe . It’s no wonder that the 1990s saw a rush of alien appearances in the popular imagination. The impending millennium brought with it the arrival of a future that had always been distant. As the political scientist Jodi Dean, author of Aliens in America (1998), articulated at the time, the appearance of aliens corresponds to our ‘anxieties over technological development and our growing consciousness of ourselves as a planet and our fears for the future at the millennium’.

There is some truth here. When I asked my mom and John growing up what the aliens intended (subtext: ‘Do they come in peace or should I be really scared?’), they said that many experience’s felt that aliens communicated an environmental message about the urgency of saving the planet.

At the same time, many of the abductees that John interviewed attested to the technological superiority of the alien race. I was told stories about patients who experienced aliens that could pass through walls, were able to communicate with extrasensory perception (ESP) and mind-reading, and perform medical experiments on humans without invasive surgery. In this light, aliens provided an outlet for all our fears of technological domination. To have an experience of aliens was to realise that the human race might not represent the pinnacle of evolution, that we were perhaps inferior to extraterrestrial life.

In daylight, I was sceptical (the good little rationalist), but night-time brought with it a tide of magical thinking

But as a kid largely ignorant of grander sociological forces, aliens were only one thing: scary. They had large black eyes and androgynous forms. And they were real — like ghosts and witches and monsters. In daylight, I was sceptical (the good little rationalist), but night-time brought with it a tide of magical thinking. I used to lie in bed and worry that maybe I would be abducted. I would even make supplicating promises of better behaviour in the hope of bartering with these outsiders — ‘I’ll be good, just leave me alone.’ In my secular progressive household, aliens offered a moral disciplining authority, an invisible spectator to police my actions.

After many years elapsed without any sign of extraterrestrial visitation, I began to feel ignored. My fears turned to pangs of dejection: ‘Wasn’t I special?’ ‘Shouldn’t I be a chosen ambassador for the human race?’ Or even: ‘If the aliens were really out to create a master race (as I overheard), didn’t they want my DNA?’

John had many of the same laments. They weren’t the ego bruises of a child in pursuit of some fantastical ambassadorial calling, but they were in the same genre. He felt passed over. He longed for an encounter. He was the public face of this movement and yet he had only secondary experience of the abduction phenomena. Having spent more than 15 years listening to other people’s encounters with these mythical beings, he wanted some evidence beyond the testimonials he gathered from his patients. He wanted to be visited. We all did.

Just as important, a visitation would have answered the growing chorus of critics lining up on the ‘respectable’ side of John’s working life. Many of his colleagues thought he’d gone crazy. He, in turn, felt betrayed by those academic collaborators who failed to support his work. John’s biggest critics called into question his use of hypnosis. In keeping with Freud’s theory of ‘repression’ — which held that the mind can banish traumatic memories to prevent us from experiencing anxiety — much of John’s research invoked the idea of recovered memory, whereby, through hypnosis, you could get a patient to go back into repressed traumas and recall their abduction experiences.

I remember one summer evening in a beach house on Martha’s Vineyard when I was about 11, we all watched as John regressed my aunt back into a past life. She lay on the couch recalling an incident in which she was a forest ranger who witnessed the death of a few people during some kind of avalanche. My aunt later told me that she was fully conscious of the experience, but couldn’t control what she was saying. It was like she was watching herself tell a story. John later tried to hypnotise my brother so that he wouldn’t be afraid of spiders.

Ultimately, the question that plagued memory excavators like John was whether these repressed memories, divulged under hypnosis, were mere ‘artefacts’ of the mind, or else legitimately true recollections. John’s tendency towards a more literal interpretation of his patients’ experiences with aliens was controversial.

John described the investigation as ‘Kafkaesque’. He never quite knew the status of it or the nature of the committee’s complaints

In 1994, the dean of Harvard Medical School called a committee of peers to investigate John’s scholarship. This was the first time a tenured professor had ever been subject to an investigation. It was, effectively, an inquisition that some likened to a ‘witch hunt’, and it left John feeling persecuted and misunderstood. John described the investigation as ‘Kafkaesque’. He never quite knew the status of it or the nature of the committee’s complaints. Unable to accuse John of any ethical violation or professional misconduct, its aim was to ask, as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz put it, ‘whether a Harvard Medical School professor ought to be lending his credibility to stories of space alien abductions’. To Dershowitz, this was a dubious goal. ‘No great university should be in the business of investigating the ideas of its faculty,’ he wrote in the university magazine, in 1995. In the end, the dean reaffirmed John’s academic freedom to study what he wished and to state his opinions without impediment. But the damage had already been done.

As his professional credibility faltered, John’s anxiety and anger began to rise. John cared about his reputation. It was not easy to become persona non grata in the very institutions he had helped to build. He was used to working within established professional systems, and when those very institutions called his integrity into question, he sought out allies in other like-minded people. He grew an entourage of support among shamans, experiencers, and celebrities.

Our household became a living altar to an esoteric band of misfits who were regular houseguests and interlopers. One morning, when I went to get some orange juice from the kitchen, the actor Woody Harrelson was there, drinking coffee with John at the table. It was normal. Normal was also being offered a peace pipe by Sequoia, a Native American shaman who blew tobacco in our youthful faces and challenged us to seek out greater visionary experience.

By 13, however, I was ready to move on. John and my mother were headed to the Australian outback for a year to speak with Aboriginal people about their experiences with aliens. My brother and I were invited to go along: our formal education would be satisfied by distance learning packets, while our real education, as I understood it at the time, was to be some combination of didgeridoo and Aboriginal creation myths. But something inside me desired stability and order. I longed to be absorbed into an antiseptic American culture where lacrosse, school dances and flared blue jeans were ends in themselves; where ordinary reality wasn’t usurped by the fantastical.

My brother and I ultimately opted to stay behind. We stayed living with my father and stepmother, and succumbed to a deliciously comfortable white picket-fence existence (literally, the fence was painted white). We became absorbed in teenage politics and concerns. And the only flying saucers we encountered were Frisbees.

Later on, at college at Brown University, I gave myself licence once again to explore the magical thoughts of my youth, not least the idea that reality was merely a construction. As an adult, it was a less threatening prospect. Rather than induce existential panic, it furnished reputational accolades. I ended up writing a thesis about 17th-century astrology and the fashioning of scientific boundaries. It was an ode to John in some ways. I wanted to understand how ‘science’ became ‘science’. Many of the astrologers of the time were booted out of the emerging scientific establishment — some were even put on trial for instigating civil disorder. It was not unlike John’s own experience, when his psychiatric methods were called into question by the scientific establishment.

Before my thesis was published, John was hit by a drunk driver and killed, in London. It was 2004. Immediately after his death, my mother began receiving phone calls from clairvoyants who claimed to have communicated with John, ‘on the other side’. Before he died, John had begun outlining a manuscript on the power of love, based on the stories of those who had been able to communicate with loved ones after death. It was a surreal experience for my mother to be experiencing such intense grief, while at the same time receiving phone calls from people who had reportedly been in conversation with John after the accident.

After John died, aliens seemed to vanish from household discussion almost entirely. It felt like the public’s interest had also waned. When I asked my mother why the phenomenon had seemed to die down, I was told that the aliens were placing less emphasis on the Western world; that they were more interested in China. And that’s where we left it.

But if I reflect on the impact of my childhood experience, I think it left me with a profound openness, and a generous ear. John taught me the power of listening; really hearing people out and having the courage and resilience to question established orthodoxies. I still remain entirely agnostic about the existence of aliens. I have a commitment to preserving unknowns, and I thrive on ambiguity and complexity in my work and my relationships. John’s legacy has also left me with a certain reverence for misfits, for outliers and challengers of the status quo: for the type of person who walks the line between delusion and insight.

John, too, remains immortalised in my mind as someone with great courage and empathy. I associate him with a period of my childhood wrought with big questions. Bearing witness to the craziness that surrounded those ten years of cosmological exploration left me with a shaky groundwork in which reality was never quite what it seemed, but it also furnished me with a profound sense of awe and wonder about the world.

I feel incredibly grateful for the experience. To be exposed at such a young age to a zeitgeisty obsession with deprogramming, where Western culture was perceived as an enemy of consciousness and truth, was an education that left me with a residual feeling of always being on the outside of mainstream culture. There is a part of me that also looks back with nostalgia for a time when the primary conversation was a probing of the cosmological – when we weren’t all busy on our laptops, stressed about finances, or waiting with bated breath for the next season of Homeland; but were concerned, rather, with ancient and meta-questions about our role in the universe and the existence of life elsewhere.

Syndicate this Essay

Childhood & AdolescenceFamily LifeValues & BeliefsAll topics →

Alexa Clay

is a writer and researcher in pursuit of misfit subcultures. She is the co-author of The Misfit Economy (2015). Her writing has appeared in WiredThe Guardian and Vice, among others. 


    Project Canterbury


Rector of the Church of the Annunciation, New-York,
and Professor of Biblical Learning, &c., in the General Theological Seminary.


"Who Was James, the Lord's Brother?"
Rector of St. Paul's Church, Baltimore, Md.

Nos. 5 & 13 COOPER UNION. 1868.

[From the CHURCH JOURNAL of February 2d, 1859.]


It has been suggested that as the more learned discussions of the above question are not accessible to all, a statement of the Scriptural argument in favor of the identity of James, the son of Alphaeus, and James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, might be interesting to some of the readers of the Church Journal.

In undertaking to give such a statement, we must say at the outset, that the controversial importance of the question has been, in our opinion, very much over-rated. It has little interest to us, except as connected with the harmony of the New Testament Scripture, or at most as a matter of simple historical fact.

We feel quite confident, moreover, that of the three several theories on this subject which have been maintained by learned divines, namely, James, the son of Joseph and Mary, James, the son of Joseph by a former wife, and James, the son of Alphaeus, neither is capable of legal or demonstrative proof; so that, while we claim a decided balance of probability in favor of the last opinion, we claim it rather as the sum total of a great many smaller balances, than as a thing that can be decided by the weight of any single text. In other words, the proof has to rest on inference only; we claim nothing more for the inferences, on which we rest, than that they are more numerous, more natural and better supported by ordinary principles of interpretation than such as are alleged on the opposite side of the question.

With this preliminary caution we proceed to the inquiry, who was James, the Lord's brother?

What he was in ecclesiastical position every body knows. That he was a near relation of our Lord is equally certain. The gist of the question that remains is simply, who, that is, whose son was he? Who were his next of kin?

Now, when a name is prominent in any particular book, (especially if it be a work of a historical character,) and we wish to learn any thing special about it, the natural course of inquiry is first to ascertain what light is shed upon it by the book in which it occurs; then to see what is said in any other work of the same author; and then finally, to glean what further information we can from other sources.

Applying the maxim to the present question, we find the subject of our inquiry to be mentioned as simply JAMES; without patronymic or other special designation, by St. Luke, in the Acts, by St. Paul, in his Epistles, and once by the Apostle St. Jude. In other writers' there are certain Jameses mentioned; but whether our particular James is included among them, or if included, whether he is to be identified with this one, or that, is a matter of inference only; and, in fact, is the very question in dispute. Before we go, then, to such uncertain sources, we must get as distinct a portrait as possible from the writings in which his identity is unquestioned.

In the Acts of St. Luke we find one passage (Acts i. 13) exactly paralleled by another in the Gospel of the same writer, (Luke vi. 15, 16,) that seems to bear on the question. One James is mentioned as the son of Alphaeus. This being the only James mentioned by this writer, with whom the James afterwards so often mentioned call possibly be identified, a presumption is created that the two names belong to one and the same person. This presumption rests on an ordinary practice of careful writers. When a historian, for example, recurs again and again to some particular name, he naturally expects to find that name once at least mentioned in full: and this "once," moreover, we look for in the place where it is first mentioned. Finding, then, a James, son of Alphaeus, in the beginning of St. Luke's Gospel and the Acts, and a James undesignated frequently recurring afterwards, the presumption is, that the two refer to the same person.

But in the same passages, a little further on, there is a Jude, designated (according to the original) as "Jude of James," which, by examining a parallel passage, the first verse of Jude's Epistle, we find to mean "Jude, the brother of James."

Now, we know under what circumstances a person comes to be known by the name of his brother, rather than by any other title. It is only when the brother has attained a peculiar and eminent position. Thus, James, the son of Zebedee, is designated (Acts xii. 2) as "James, the brother of John," though John was a younger brother. Or, to take a more familiar instance, nothing is more common than to speak of a Bonaparte as Napoleon's brother, or Napoleon's nephew; and for one person that could tell at once who was the father of the present Emperor of the French, thousands could say who his uncle was. When we find Jude, therefore, described as simply James's brother, we conclude that this James was some very eminent person. He must have been one to whom the mere name of James would be a sufficient designation. But the only person of whom this could be said was James of Jerusalem. We have reason to conclude, therefore, that, Jude, the Apostle, was a brother of James of Jerusalem. From the position of his name in, the catalogues, there is also reason to suspect that he is likewise the brother of James, the son of Alphaeus.

This much being settled, the Acts of St. Luke are exhausted, furnishing us: with three points, which may or may not be of use in our further investigation. We have James before us, a person so eminent that he needed commonly no patronymic or other title to designate him to his cotemporaries. We have Jude, a brother of James, most probably one of the Twelve. We have also a fair presumption that "James," "the son of Alphaeus," is merely the full name of the aforementioned James.

Proceeding to the Gospel of St. Luke, to which we naturally turn as next in order, we find among the women who visited the sepulchre of our Lord, (Luke xxiv. 10,). Mary Magdalene and "Mary, the mother of James." But, we naturally ask, the mother of which James? As there is nothing in the context, or elsewhere in the Gospel of St. Luke, to inform us, we are forced to answer the question in accordance with St. Luke's habitual mode of speaking. When he speaks of James simply, he means the James, who makes so large a figure in his Acts and in the Epistles of St. Paul. In all his writings there is no other James to whom it can refer. And as with him, so also with St. Paul. No other James is mentioned by either of these writers without a special designation. Having, then, a certain woman before as, as simply the "mother of James," we naturally ask, in the second place, "who she was?" To that question St.. Mark will give us an answer entirely consistent with what we have so far gathered from St. Luke. But we leave that for the present. It will be enough to say here, as we are examining St.. Luke only, that she was not the mother of our Lord. St. Luke mentions her only as the Mary that accompanied Magdalene, and as "the mother of James," a phrase, that: with him, when not otherwise qualified, means James of Jerusalem.

With four names, then, which (if we. find nothing to the contrary on subsequent investigation) may be regarded as fixed points in our inquiry, namely, James, an eminent and well known person at Jerusalem; Jude, "the brother of James," one of the Apostles; Mary, "the mother of James," who accompanied Mary Magdalene to the sepulchre; and Alphaeus, James's father; we leave St. Luke, and proceed to glean such further information as we can from the next authority in order, the Apostle St. Paul.

Here there are four passages in all, bearing upon the subject, but shedding light upon only two points, namely, upon the apostleship of James, and upon his relationship to our Lord.

In 1 Cor. ix. 5, 6, St. Paul asks, "have we not power?" namely, "I and Barnabas," to "lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and the brethren of our Lord and Cephas?" where grammatical precision requires that the first "and" should be rendered "both;" otherwise it would read as if Cephas were not numbered among the Apostles. With this easy and obvious correction, ("and—and" being used both in Latin and Greek for "both—and,") we have "the brethren of the Lord" in the same category as Cephas, namely, reckoned among the original Apostles.

In 1 Cor. xv. 7, it is mentioned that our Lord, after His resurrection, "was seen of James, then of all the Apostles; and last of all, he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." Whether in this, James is reckoned or not, among the Apostles, is a question much debated. As the sentence occurs, however, just after the parallel phrase, "He was seen of Cephas, then of the Twelve," and as Cephas was undoubtedly one of the Twelve, the natural inference is, that James also is to be interpreted as one of the Apostles; and, further, as St. Paul distinguished himself by the phrase, "one born out of due time," giving that as a reason why he was the "last" to see Christ, we naturally infer that James was not "born out of due time," but was one of the original Twelve.

The other passage is Gal. i. 19, where St. Paul says, "but other of the Apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord's brother." Here there are two presumptions, cited respectively on opposite sides of the question. The passage seems to say, that James was an Apostle, namely, one of those whom St. Paul distinguishes in the context as Apostles before him. It also seems to say, that he was the Lord's brother, namely, (it is urged,) a son of the Lord's mother.

The first of these presumptions is carried by all the context to a degree of probability that falls little (if at all) short of moral certainty. For St. Paul, in these opening chapters in: the Galatians, is asserting his own equality (as an Apostle of later appointment) with those whom he entitles "Apostles before him." To prove the independence and directness of his own commission, he mentions the fact, that when first made Apostle he did not "go to Jerusalem to them that were Apostles before him," but after three years went up "to see Peter;" on which occasion, we are told by St. Luke, Acts ix. 27, "Barnabas took him and carried him to the Apostles," namely, Peter and James, there being no others in Jerusalem at that time. With Peter he abode fifteen days; but other of the Apostles saw he none, except James, the Lord's brother, an assertion which, if he meant Apostles in the larger sense of the word, would be simply untrue, for (as we have seen) Barnabas (an Apostle in that larger sense) "took him?" and introduced him. He plainly means, then, that other of the Apostles (which were "Apostles before him," namely, the Twelve) saw he none, save James. This is confirmed by the next chapter, where he refers to "James, Cephas and John," as "pillars," and declares that they—these pillars"—gave to him "and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship;" acknowledged, in other words, their apostolic equality. Here, throughout, there is the same contrast between the earlier Apostles and those of more recent date; and James, in every circumstance, is placed among the former. Indeed, if he were not one of the former, it is strange that he showed so little sympathy with St. Paul. It would have been more natural for him, like Barnabas, being in the same predicament as Paul, to have sought him out, and introduced him. For the same reason it would have been more natural for Paul to have sought the acquaintance and sympathy of James. The same common cause that threw Paul and Barnabas together, ought to have had a similar effect upon Paul, Barnabas and James.

To this the only objection is a verbal criticism, first suggested (we believe) by the historian Neander. From the structure of the sentence, Gal. i. 19, there is reason to suspect that the clause, "save James, the Lord's brother," is not so much an exception as a sort of prudential qualification, so that Neander would paraphrase the passage, "other of the Apostles I did not see, unless (indeed) James, the Lord's brother, (be reckoned as an Apostle.") To this we have already answered, that if such be the meaning, Barnabas also ought to have been excepted in the same way; for Barnabas was an Apostle in the larger sense, and St. Paul not only saw him, but was introduced by him to "the Apostles." Another answer equally satisfactory may be stated as follows: granting Neander's premises, the "prudential qualification" implied in the word "save," (literally "if not," or "unless,") applies most naturally to the verb "did not see," which immediately precedes it; so that the sentence might be paraphrased, "other of the Apostles I did not see," unless (indeed) James, the Lord's brother, (whom I merely saw, but had no intercourse with him.") As if one were to say, I went to Washington, and stayed a fortnight with the Secretary of State; but other of the Cabinet saw I none, save the Secretary of War, to whom (I remember) I was introduced, but saw nothing further of him; such a prudential qualification would not imply a doubt as to the position of the Secretary of War as a member of the Cabinet, but merely a momentary forgetfulness of the fact of having seen him. On the whole, then, Neander's objection comes to nothing, and James stands before us ranking with Cephas and John, as one of "the pillars" —one of the original Twelve.

The second presumption drawn from Gal. i. 19, that James was the Lord's brother, in the sense of his mother's son, is weakened by the liberal way in which the word "brother" was used by the Jews. It may mean "half-brother;" it may mean "adopted" or "foster brother;" it may simply mean "cousin" or "near relation." If in any particular case there is no reason to doubt the exact relationship, we of course interpret the word in the proper and strict sense. But if there is reason for doubt, we are perfectly free to look for another interpretation. Thus, when we read in Gen. xxix. 12, "Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother," the fact that the Greek for "brother" means etymologically "mother's son," or other arguments based upon the word brother, we readily set aside as of no weight in the case whatever. To ascertain Jacob's precise relationship to Rachel's father, we go back to Gen. xxv. 20, and find that he was only his nephew.

On the whole, then, we get from St. Paul three additional facts, that may be considered highly probable, and that we are obliged to qualify with a. "perhaps" or "peradventure."' James was an Apostle—most probably one of the Twelve. James was a near kinsman of our Lord; perhaps a son of His mother. This last "perhaps," however, having no force in itself—for, in addition to other considerations, James might have been a brother on Joseph's side, by a former marriage—and, being directly at variance with all the other facts and probabilities, we can set it aside, as reduced to absolute nothing.

Having secured thus much light from those who undoubtedly mention our James, let us see how far it is affected by information derived from other quarters.

Here, every point is a battleground in itself. We will not enter into the discussion further than may be necessary to, show what are the principal issues, and where, in the main, the strength of the argument lies.

1. There is the inference, that the mother of our Lord had other children than Jesus, derived from the word "till" and the word "first-born,'" in Matt. i. 25. This is shorn of all force by the fact, that learned critics are unanimously of opinion-an opinion sustained by abundant citations from writers, sacred and profane-that the words in question are not conclusive on the subject. The meaning of a word is determined by its use: "quem penes arbitrium est, et jus et norma loquendi." But the use of "till" and "first-born," according to the force of the Greek idiom, is not such as to imply, in the passage in question, a second or third born child.

2. There is the passage (Mark vi. 3) in which our Lord is called "The Carpenter," the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses, and of Jude and Simon."

Here our Lord unquestionably is called "the brother" of James, Joses and the others. But, before we can determine in what sense He is their brother, we must endeavor to ascertain who was the mother and the father of these four. The same evangelist who records their names gives us information on that head. The same Mary, whom we have found St. Luke to designate as simply "the mother of James," St. Mark (xv. 40) more fully describes as "the mother of James and Joses"—that is, of the two, whose names are first mentioned on the above list of brethren of our Lord. Furthermore, Jude, as we have seen, was a "brother of James." If so, he was a son (whether own son or not, is unimportant) of that same Mary. Accordingly, we find his name the third on that same list. There remains only Simon, or Simeon, (for the identity of which names, see Acts xv. 14,) of whom nothing is told us in the New Testament. We find, however, in Eusebius, that one Simeon, "the son of Cleophas," (the husband of that same Mary, John xix. 25,) and "the cousin of our Saviour," succeeded James in the See of Jerusalem. Thus, the list is completed, and the four brethren of our Lord are identified in name with the four sons of Mary and Cleophas.

But why is our Lord described as "the brother of James" and of the others? We answer, by the same familiar idiom by which (Gen. xxix. 12) Jacob is called "Laban's brother." Or, we might answer, that it was in the same way as when our Lord was commonly reputed "The Carpenter's Son;" the terms "son" or "brother," in fact, being applied so liberally by the Jews, that a reader of the Scriptures has to be constantly on his guard. Timothy was not Paul's son, though Paul so entitles him. Neither was Mark Peter's son, in the strict sense of the word. To determine relation in Scripture, we have to follow facts, rather than mere words.

Now, in the present instance, the fact is simply this: There was a certain Mary, "the mother of James," according to St. Luke; the "mother of James and Joses," according to St. Mark; the mother of James, Joses, Jude and Simon, according to inference from St. Luke and the testimony of Eusebius; in short, the mother of those who are called the brethren of our Lord. This Mary (John xix. 25) was the wife of Cleophas or Alphous, and the sister of Mary, the Lord's mother. It is probable, on the authority of Eusebius, that her husband, Cleophas, was Joseph's brother. Thus, the four sons of Mary were cousins, and probably double cousins, of our Lord. This is amply sufficient to establish their claim to be called His brethren: whether the object in so calling them was to depreciate Him, as was the case with the unbelieving Jews, or to exalt and honor them, as was the case with Christians in later times.

In addition to this, it is natural and reasonable to suppose, that Joseph having died before the commencement of our Lord's ministry, Mary, thus left a widow resided henceforward with her sister; and the two families, so closely united before, were drawn together into bonds of still nearer brotherhood and friendship. On this supposition, we are not surprised to find the two Mary's together, as in John xix. 25, or to find Mary, the mother of our Lord, accompanied by her sister's sons, as in Mark iii. 21. Nor are we surprised to find our Lord committing His mother, as one widowed both of husband and child, to the care of the beloved Disciple. To have made such a disposal of a mother, blest with four sons and several daughters, would have been, indeed, surprising, and one may say unnatural. But supposing Mary to have been childless and a widow—poor, moreover, and dependent upon her sister, who had a large family of children of her own—the transferring of her from dependence upon them, to the care of a man like John, was precisely such an arrangement as, under the peculiar circumstances, one might naturally expect.

3. The passage, (John vii. 5,) "Neither did His brethren believe in Him," is of little force in this question, either way. It may mean, that His brethren, in general, (i. e., his near relations,) did not believe: a proposition perfectly true, according to the ordinary use of language, though two of His cousins did believe: just as in the parallel statement, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not," we readily admit, nevertheless, that many of His own did receive Him. In fact, nothing is more characteristic of Scripture, than a generous, unsuspicious breadth in the use of language. Again, the passage may mean, that His brethren did not believe, in the full sense of the word; they had their doubts, as the saying is. With this understanding, the words could be used, and similar expressions are used, of Apostles and Disciples themselves.

And these considerations are the more forcible, inasmuch as the kind of unbelief here ascribed to His brethren seems to have been shared in a measure by that "blessed" one that believed, His favored mother. Thus, St. Mark informs us (iii. 21, 31) that on one occasion "His friends" literally "those near Him," His kinsmen—"went out to lay hold on Him; for they said He is beside Himself...... There came then His brethren and His mother, and standing without, sent unto Him calling Him.".... Here, undoubtedly, was lack of faith; but Simon Peter himself, just after his noble confession, (Matt. xvi. 16,) showed a similar distrust of his Master.; for "He took Him, and began to rebuke Him," (Matt. xvi. 22,) so that our Lord was obliged to administer the sternest reproof, perhaps, that He ever gave to any of the Disciples. Now what Simon Peter did, "the brethren" of Jesus wished to do. They desired to take Him and restrain Him, their faith being more or less dimmed by doubts of His discretion.

As to the supposition, that all "His brethren" addressed to Him the speech recorded in John vii. 3, no one familiar with Scripture style can entertain it for a moment. Thus, to take one instance out of a hundred: "His Disciples say unto Him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone Thee," etc.; or, "then said His Disciples, Lord, if He sleep, He shall do well;" does any one imagine that all the Disciples actually uttered these words, or that all the Jews sought to stone Him? Such phrases are idiomatic. They describe merely what one said, and others might have said. So, in the parallel case of His "brethren," if one of His relations (of whom there were probably many besides the children of Cleophas) uttered the words attributed to them, and others shared more or less the same feeling, all the requirements of the case are fully answered.

And this is confirmed, if confirmation is needed, by the closest verbal scrutiny of those passages, which put our Lord's "brethren" in a position alien to that of His twelve Apostles. For it is to be observed, both in Matt. xiii. 55 and 56, and in Mark vi. 3, that his countrymen do not say of His "brethren," but only of His sisters, that they were "with" them at that time. "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? and His brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? and His sisters, are they not all (the "all" feminine in Greek) with us?" Here there is a manifest difference between "the brethren" and "the sisters." Of the former, the Jews (according to both Evangelists) affirm merely that their names were so and so. Of the latter they declare, that they were all still living at home.

We conclude, therefore, that in all these passages there is absolutely nothing to oppose the common belief, that two of our Lord's "brethren" were numbered among the Apostles.

In addition to these passages of Scripture, there are arguments on both sides, of a purely subjective kind. Thus, on one side, there is a deep and very general feeling, a certain instinct of propriety, which has led good men in all ages to conceive of the parents of our Lord as conscious of their noble trust, and living, "for the kingdom of Heaven's sake," a life of stricter attention to devotional duties, than is compatible (especially in the case of poor people) with the care of a large and increasing family. On the other side, this feeling is regarded as fanciful and puerile, and the instinct of propriety is appealed to in behalf of an opposite conclusion. We can only say, in reference to either side, Feelings, like facts, " are stubborn chiels, and winna be disputit."

In the same way, prophecies are appealed to on either side; an argument that would be more conclusive, if either side would admit the other's interpretation.

In the same way again, in reference to the committing of our Lord's mother to the filial care of John, some revolt at the idea of a mother leaving a large family of sons and daughters, who had lived with her constantly from childhood, in order to be cared for by one who was only an adopted son. The feeling on this point is so natural, that we doubt whether any one can swallow it without some qualms. This supposed family of Mary must have consisted of at least four sons, and at least three daughters, ranging from under twenty to not more than thirty years of age, constantly accustomed to the society of their mother, and just at that time of life when sons and daughters are, in the eyes of a mother—especially a widowed mother—decidedly the most interesting objects that life affords. How such a mother could have left such a family, at just such a time, to live with an adopted son; or how, if she had done it, they could patiently have borne it, is for those to explain who believe her to have been their mother.

Thus every fact, every probability, and even every presumption, that we were able to glean from St. Luke, St. Paul and St. Jude, the three by whom alone our James is certainly mentioned, has been fully confirmed by the other authorities, excepting only one doubtful interpretation, which we qualified with a "perhaps," and which, indeed, was so involved in contradictions, that it may be said to have died before it was born. If James be the same as the son of Alphaeus, then, as we have shown, he had a brother named Jude, one of the original Twelve, and a mother named Mary, the same who accompanied Magdalene to the sepulchre; he was himself an Apostle, one of the Twelve—"a pillar" in the same sense as Cephas and John; he was, also, according to the Scriptural sense, a "brother" of our Lord. To attain this result, no text has been handled otherwise than is warranted by the ordinary common sense rules of sound interpretation; no hypothesis has been framed, that is not natural and easy; nothing has been assumed that has not an equal, and, so far as we can honestly judge, a superior, reason in its favor.

It is to be observed, moreover, that we arrive at this result through three distinct and mutually independent lines of argument; any one of which, if established, would put the identity of the two Jameses beyond all possible question. Grant that St. Luke, when he mentions James without designation, refers to a James whom he has designated before; then our case is proved. Or grant, that when he speaks of "the mother of James," he means the person whom he elsewhere calls James; then our case is proved. Or grant, that when St. Paul mentions our James in connection with Cephas and John as "a pillar," he means a pillar in the same sense as when the same is said of Cephas and John; in other words, grant that he includes James among those who were "Apostles before him," then also our ease is thoroughly made out and proved. Thus, the James of St. Luke, St. Paul and St. Jude is connected with the James of apostolic catalogues, by three independent links, each, if established, amply sufficient in itself. On the other hypothesis there is only one link, namely, the phrase, "James, the Lord's brother;" and that, as we have seen, can as easily be interpreted on our side as on the opposite.

We will only observe, in conclusion, that though we have alluded to the question of the ever virginity of St. Mary, we do not regard it as necessarily bound up in the hypothesis we have preferred. Another hypothesis, which we mentioned at the beginning of this article, has been favored by many able writers, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. The one we have chosen, however, has the advantage of being more in accordance with the common opinion of the Church.


As a fuller and riper statement of the important point here incidentally touched upon, the author begs leave to refer the reader to a very admirable Sermon of the Rev. Dr. H. M. Mason, recently published by Pott & Amery, entitled "The City of God in the Anglo-Saxon Church." Having shown the original independence of the British Church, and adverted to her previous ineffectual attempts to recover it, as a subject too large to be treated in a single discourse, the learned author proceeds in the following eloquent strain:

"Enough that, at the opening of the sixteenth era of the Gospel, the independence was regained. It was regained, not by violating, but in obedience to the laws of the Catholic Church. It was regained in that last era, by reiteration of the same principle which, in the seventh, had sustained the British Bishops, successors of St. Paul, in maintaining, in presence of Augustin, the missionary of the Bishop of Rome to the Saxon conquerors of the isle, the equality of all Bishops, by divine right and by ecclesiastical rule; their claim to be governed, as the members of Christ's body, by their own patriarch of Carleon, without subjection to any prelate, patriarch or Bishop from abroad. It was regained by the action of the British Church herself, recurring to the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers of the early Church, not as a creature of the State, in slavery to the secular arm. It was regained by another birth of baptism in blood, which in the first ages had won the triumph of Gospel truth, and placed the cross of the Crucified above the eagles of the imperial crown; by the fires of Smithfield lighted with the torch of a new Rome, and only quenched in the martyr streams that flowed from the veins of our own Cranmers, our Latimers, our Ridleys, in imitation of the Ignatii, the Polycarps, the Cyprians of old. It was regained, not by discarding usages venerable and pious, or even graceful if harmless, but by wiping off the tinsel which had hidden the wrought gold of her holy adorning. In a word, it was regained by returning to that holy fountain of divine truth which the Catholic Church had declared closed in- the canon of Scripture, land to the condensed summary of the essentials of faith from those Scriptures. It was regained, by adhering to the decrees of' the first four General Councils, which had forbid any other terms of communion among churches than those essentials, and by retaining the apostolic succession in her ministry pure and uncontaminate, as it had been ordained by Christ, and of which no known Church holding the Nicene faith was wanting for fifteen hundred years. It was regained by refusing communion with no part of the Christian world retaining the fundamentals of truth and order. To all is her communion open which possess the apostolic creed, the Nicene, and have not voluntarily abandoned the apostolic succession. She comes not in the attitude of the Novatians and Donatists of old. She comes not in the attitude of a part of the Catholic Church, assuming to be dictator to the whole. As each portion of divine fundamental truth is susceptible of perversion, or of being injuriously affected by some contrarient error, she declares her sense of such emergent error, and warns her sister Churches, in terms proportioned to the danger of the error, but imposes not her sense of that error as a term of communion. By supplemental articles of faith, she protects the one creed, however it might in a just application be its own protection against every error, but she holds not her articles or her homilies to have other than a municipal rank; not one of necessity, but subordinately and conditionally obligatory. If, at any time the British Church has unwittingly attested any thing contrary to the voice of the Church Catholic, she has placed herself under correction by the paramount principle she has acknowledged, and all her specific propositions are of course to be limited by her primary concession. She exacts them not as requirements for baptism, administered even within her own pale.

"From this noble stock we spring; by this noble stock we link ourselves, through the ages, all along, to the golden cord whose last link is held in the hand of the Almighty Founder of the Church, who has promised to lead that Church into all truth, and to be with its guardians, the Apostles and their successors, to the end of the world. In a village, in a nation, in the world, there can be but one Catholic Church, and there is the Catholic Church where is the one creed and one apostolic succession, without imposing, as terms of communion, other requirements. Where these exist not, or where there is such imposition, there is schism."

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *