The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:17

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17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

17  Every excellent gift and every perfect gift is from above, descending from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor any shadow of alteration.

17b Father of lights Gn 1:14-18 17c no obumbration 1Jn 1:5

Text

Literary Devices

17b Father of lights Characterization of God as (Source of) Light While never directly comparing God with light, James describes an image of God as pure light in which there is no darkness (Vocabulary Jas 1:17c; Grammar Jas 1:17c).

Reception

Liturgies

12–18 Use in Lectionary RML : Tuesday, Week 6, Year 2

17–27 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 17, Year B

17–21 Use in Lectionary RML (1570) : 4th Sunday after Easter

Text

Textual Criticism

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Various Attempts to Clarify James’ Meaning The vocabulary of this phrase is obscure, giving rise to a number of variant readings. The two best supported:

  • The reading parallagê hê tropês aposkiasmatos, witnessed by א and B, which seems to mean "variation consisting of the turn of the shadow." 
  • The reading parallagê ê tropês aposkiasma, read in this translation, is supported by the second corrector of א and A (Vocabulary Jas 1:17c).

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

17b Father of lights Allusion to the Creation of Heavenly Lights James here likely refers to biblical passages in which God is portrayed as the creator of the sun, moon, and stars  (see Gn 1:14–18, Ps 136:7–9; Sir 43:1–10). See also Christian Tradition Jas 1:17b.

Peritestamental Literature

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Unchangeable Nature of God Philo often contrasts the unchangeability of God with the changeability of creation (cf. Ancient Cultures Jas 1:17c, Ancient Texts Jas 1:17c):

  •  Philo Leg. 2.33: “Now every created thing must necessarily undergo change (trepesthai), for this is its property, even as unchangeableness (atrepton) is the property of God" (Colson 1929, 1:246).
  •  Philo Cher.   87–90 contrasts God’s unchangeable nature with the changeability of all things, including the heavenly bodies.
  •  Philo Deus 22 concludes: "For what greater impiety could there be than to suppose that the Unchangeable (atreptos) changes?" (Colson 1930, 3:20).

Reception

Comparison of Versions

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Attempt to Clarify James’ Meaning Copt. Sah. reads: "[there is not any] shadow or change or variation."

Theology

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Eternal, Immutable Nature of God The Catholic Catechism cites this passage in its description of the unique, eternal nature of God (Christian Tradition Jas 1:17c):

  • CCC 212 "Over the centuries, Israel's faith was able to manifest and deepen realization of the riches contained in the revelation of the divine name. God is unique; there are no other gods besides him. He transcends the world and history. He made heaven and earth: 'They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment.…but you are the same, and your years have no end' (Ps 102:26-27) In God 'there is no variation or shadow due to change' (Jas 1:17) God is 'HE WHO IS', from everlasting to everlasting, and as such remains ever faithful to himself and to his promises."

Text

Literary Devices

17a every good giving, every perfect gift Frequent Parallelism Some interpreters have argued that James seeks to contrast two types or aspects of gifts or giving (G: dosis and dôrêma), but most likely this is simply another example of James' fondness for pairing close synonyms. This device may reflect an attempt to emphasize a point or simply for stylistic variation. For example, see

Reception

Christian Tradition

17a Every good giving Introduction to the Celestial Hierarchy  Ps.-Dionysius Cael. Hier. 1.1 begins with a quotation of Jas 1:17 (and possibly a liturgy related to Basil of Caesaria Lit. Bas.; cf. Liturgies Jas 1:17). Ps.-Dionysius understands the gift as God's illuminating light which enlightens humans and draws them towards union with God.

Theology

17a every good giving Proof-text for the Necessity of Grace Before Faith The conclusion (redacted by Caesarius of Arles) to the canons of the Second Council of Orange, addressed against Pelagianism, quotes Jas 1:17ab in support of the Council's teaching on grace:

  • →Conc. Arausc. II "free will has been so distorted and weakened by the sin of the first man that thereafter no one could love God as was required, or believe in God, or perform for the sake of God what is good, unless the grace of the divine mercy first attained him" (nisi eum gratia misericordiae divinae praevenerit; DzH 396); cf. a similar use of the passage in Caesarius of Arles Serm. 226.6 (Christian Tradition Jas 1:17a).

Literature

17 Every good giving ...coming down from the Father of lights: Allusion in The Divine Comedy

  •  Dante Div. Comm. Par. 25.29–30 likely alludes to this passage when he has Beatrice address James, "Illustrious living soul, you who wrote of the abundant gifts of our heavenly court" (la larghezza de la nostra basilica).

Text

Literary Devices

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Preciosity: Three NT Hapax Legomena Enhancing Divine Transcendence  In this one phrase alone, James uses three nouns which do not occur anywhere else in the NT: aposkiasma "shadow;" parallagê "change, variation;" tropê "turn, turning, change." This suggests that James may be employing a more specialized vocabulary—in this case, terms used in astrological writings (Vocabulary Jas 1:17c).

Reception

Christian Tradition

13–18 Divisio Textus

  • In Ps.-Andreas Catena, Jas 1:13–18 is presented under the heading, "Concerning the burning desire (purôsis) in us and the passions [that arise] from it: that the cause is not from God (ou para tou theou to aition). For if there is anything good (agathon) in us, it is from him" (Cramer 1844, 8:5).
  •  Langton Comm. Iac. labels Jas 1:13–18, "To encourage the imperfect so that they resist interior trials" (ut resistant temptationibus interioribus; Arnold 2013, 83).

See further →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

Suggestions for Reading

13–17 Teaching About That Which Does (not) Come from God

Thematic Contrast

Reception

Christian Tradition

17b Father of lights Frequent Allusions Christian writers, attracted by the beauty of the passage, frequently allude to Jas 1:17 by incorportating images and vocabulary without direct quotation:

  •   John of Damascus Fid. orth. 90 [4.17] "[Scripture] sets our mind (dianoia) on the gold-gleaming, brilliant back of the divine dove, whose bright pinions bear up to the only-begotten (monogenês) Son and Heir of the Husbandman of that spiritual Vineyard and bring us through Him to the Father of Lights" (NPNF2 9:89b; Kotter 2010, 209–10).
  • Symeon the New Theologian Hymn. 12.54–55: "For God is in all things and everywhere, in whom there is not at all a shadow of change (tropês aposkiasma), or presence of night" (Koder 2003, 1:246).
  • Augustine of Hippo Conf. 3.6.10 "But I was hungering and thirsting not for those primary works but for you yourself, you who are Truth, in whom is no variation or shadow of turning" (non est commutatio nec momenti obumbratio; Hammond 2016, 1:106–7).

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.

Text

Vocabulary

17c alternation or obumbration of change Technical Astronomical Vocabulary

Alternation

The noun parallagê (from parallassô) has the general sense of variation or a changing motion, especially alternating motion. It can also have a more specific astronomical sense (cf. the technical term "parallax"):

  • Strabo Geogr. 17.3.10 "the swiftness of its [the sun's] course" (tachos tês parallagês; Jones 1917, 8:176);
  • Cat. Cod. Astr. 8/3: 113: describes the changing motion of stars.

Obumbration

The noun aposkiasma is a hapax legomenon. It comes from the verb apo-skiazô "to throw a shadow from one object upon another" (cf. epi-skiazô "to throw a shadow upon" and kata-skiazô "to throw a shadow down upon"). James alludes to how shadows are cast by the apparent movement of the sun.

Change: Seasons of the Astronomical Year?

The noun tropê means "turning" or "change." It is frequently used in astronomical contexts. The "change" of the sun, e.g., winter or summer solstices:

  • Hesiod Op. 479: êelioio tropês (Most 2007, 126);
  • G-Dt 33:14 : the sun's changes: (hêliou tropôn);
  • Ws 7:18b: "The beginning and the end and the midpoint of times, the changes (tropôn) in the sun's course and the variations of the seasons."
  • See also Aristotle Cael. 2.14 [296b]: the turnings of the fixed stars.

See also Grammar Jas 1:17c.

Grammar

17c obumbration of change Genetivus Explicativus?  The unclear expression can be understood as "shadow caused by change." James would here allude to how shadows change (lengthening or shortening) accordingly to the position of the sun which changes with the seasons (Vocabulary Jas 1:17c).

  •  Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. takes "shadow" in a metaphorical sense: James says poetically that in God there is not the slightest hint or suggestion of change (col. 464d).

Context

Ancient Texts

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Unchangeableness of the Divine The unchangeableness of the divine is a standard assumption in much of Greco-Roman philosophy:

  • Aristotle Cæl. 1.9 [279A] "in the more popular philosophical works, where divinity is in question, it is often made abundantly clear by the discussion that the foremost and highest divinity (to theion) must be entirely immutable" (ametablêton; Guthrie 1939, 92).
  • Aristotle Phys. 8.5 [258b] "the prime mover is unmoved" (to prôtôn kinoun akinêton;Wicksteed 1957, 336).
  • Plato Resp. 2 [381C] "it is impossible for a god to even want to change" (Adam 1902, 1:210); cf. also Ancient Cultures Jas 1:17c.

Peritestamental Literature

17a every perfect gift Perfection of God’s Gifts Philo teaches similarly:

  •  Philo Migr. 73 "But God bestows (charizetai) on those who obey Him no imperfect boon (ouden ateles). All His gifts are full and complete" (plêrê de kai teleia panta; Colson 1932, 4:172–73)
  •  Philo Post. 80 "God's gifts are all good" (dôreai d' hai tou theou kalai pasai; Colson 1929, 2:372–73); cf.  Philo Somn. 1.103: speech as the most excellent of God's gifts. See also Christian Tradition Jas 1:17a.

Reception

Liturgies

17 A Favorite Liturgical Text

Christian Tradition

17a every good giving Identify of the “Good Gift”

God's Gift of Grace

The tradition sees here a reference to God's freely given grace. The passage then became a focus on debates about the relationship between God's grace and human free will.

  • Arguing that even faith is undeserved gift from God, Augustine of Hippo Ep. 186.10 writes: "For this reason even the merit of a human being is a gratuitous gift (ipsum hominis meritum donum est gratuitem), and no one merits to receive anything good from the Father of lights, from whom every best gift comes down, except by receiving what he does not merit" (Teske 2005, 3: 214; Goldbacher 1923, 57: 53–54). Cf. also Augustine of Hippo Ep. 194.21 where Augustine applies the passage to righteousness: it is God's gift, not earned.
  •  Augustine of Hippo Pat. 12 quotes this passage to teach that true patience (patientia) is a gift of God, not a virtue that one can attain through free will, as some erroneously believe.  Such thinking, Augustine asserts, again quoting James, is "not a wisdom from above, but an worldly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom" (Jas 3:15; NPNF1 3:531; Zycha 1892, 676).
  •  Cassian Coll. 13.3.5 gives the example of a farmer who produces a bountiful harvest. The harvest is due in part to is hard work, but he could not have achieved his success without God's grace in the form of God's gifts of timely rain, bodily strength, etc. "From this it is clear that the torigin not only of good acts but even of good throughts is in God (non solum actuum verum etiam cogitationum bonarum ex deo esse principium). He both inspires in us the beginnings of a holy will  (qui nobis et initia sanctae voluntatis inspirat), and grants the ability and the opportunity to bring to fulfillment the things that we rightly desire (virtutem atque oportunitatem eorum quae recte cupimus tribuit peragendi): for 'every good gift and every perfect benefit is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.' He it is who begins what is good and carries out and fulfills it in us" (qui et incipit quae bona sunt et exsequitur consummat in nobis; Ramsey 1997, 468; Petschenig 1886, 364; cf. Augustine of Hippo Conf. 3.16; Cassian Inst. 12.10).
  •  Fulgentius of Ruspe Ep. 4.6, explicating Jas 1:17ab, "There is no human who is able either to conceive or to do anything good, unless he is aided by the free gift of divine help" (nisi fuerit munere gratuito divinae opitulationis adiutus; Bachelet 2004, 212–13). Fulgentius's interpretation is quoted in the Gloss. Ord. (V) (col. 1270).
  • Maximus the Confessor Quae. Thal. 59.3 applies the passage to the grace of the Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets (Laga and Steel 1980, 2:47; Constas 2018, 413).
  • John of the Cross Cánt. Esp. 30.7 says similarly that that all good gifts are from God (quoting Jas 1:17ab, but notes that "still they enter into no soul without that soul’s concurrence and consent" (Kavanaugh and Rodríguez 1991, 347).
  •  Baptist Statement 25 "That there is not, neither ever was any man endued with any abilities and power to do the revealed will of God, but it was given him from above" (citing Jas 1:17; 3:95; Theology Jas 1:17a).

Reformation Debate on Free Will and God's Grace

  • The Reformer Carolstadt Leip. Dis. asserts that the phrase "every good gift comes down" shows that free will cannot merit anything for itself independent of God's grace [27]).
  • Eck Ench. 31 cites Jas 1:17 as a text used by the "heretics" for their positions on free will (Fraenkel 1979, 319). Eck's response: "We believe that our merits are gifts from God, and given by God preveniently, cooperatively, and subsequently (data a Deo praeveniente, cooperante, et subsequente), but we do not deny that through this free will collaborates actively in a meritorius way" (non negatur per hoc liberum arbitrium concurrere active ad merita; Fraenkel 1979, 322).
  • Erasmus lib. arbit. Pt. 3 cites Jas 1:17 in a discussion on scriptural passages that seem to deny free will. The good gift of free will should indeed be understood as God's grace, but God's grace as the ultimate source of goodness. "These verses too aim to prevent us from claiming anything for ourselves and to make us attribute everything to the grace of God (ne quid arrogemus nobis, sed omnia referamus accepta gratiae divinae), who called us when we had turned away from him, purified us through faith, and enabled our will to be the co-worker with his grace (qui hoc ipsum donavit, ut nostra voluntas possit esse sunergos illius gratiae), even though grace alone is more than sufficient for everything and has no need of any assistance from human will" (Macardle 1999, 68; Walter 1910, 71).

Distinction Between the "Good Thing Given" and the "Perfect Gift."

The Latin tradition distinguishes between "every good thing given" (omne datum optimum) and the "every perfect gift" (omne donum perfectum).

  •  Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. gives two specific identifications: omne datum optimum: baptism; omne donum perfectum: penance; omne datum optimum: virginity; omne donum perfectum: continence (col. 66).

Eriugena, in his commentary on Ps.-Dionysius' Celestial Hierarchy, associated the datum with the goodness of nature, the donum with God's grace:

  • Eriugena Exp. Ier. Cael. 1.1 "everything that exists participates in the divine goodness in two ways (duobus modis divinam participat bonitatem), the first is seen in the creating of nature (in conditione nature), the other in the distrubution of grace" (in distributione gratie). Omne datum optimum (Eriugena prefers to render it as omnis datio optima) refers to every created thing, since Genesis states that God created all things good. Every thing good by nature reaches its perfection through God's grace which is given from above (Barbet 1975, 1–2; Rorem 2005, 180–81).

Eriugena's distinction is followed in much of later medieval tradition:

  • Gloss. Ord. ad loc.: the datum refers to nature (natura); the donum to grace (gratia); the Glossa clarifies that good of nature is also from God. The Glossa also associates the datum with the virtues and the donum with the performance of the virtues (executiuum ipsarum virtutuum) and the perfection of eternal life. In the context of baptism, the datum refers to baptismal grace, and the donum perfectum is the giving of the Holy Spirit (cols. 1269–70).
  • Langton Comm. Iac., noting that V uses the superlative optimum, concludes that this implies a ranking of goods in the datum: temporal goods are good, goods of the body are better, and goods of the soul are the best (Arnold 2013, 88). Hugh of St. Cher Post. offers a variation: temporary goods are good, natural goods (naturalia) are better, the best in this life are the virtues and gifts (gratiae; 313).
  • Dionysius the Carthusian En. jac. ad loc. comments that the datum includes the superior characteristics of humans (memory, intellect, and will), while the donum includes the infused, supernatural virtues (563).

Sexual Purity as God's Gift

  •  Jerome Adv. Jov. 1.39 believes that in this passages James, who was himself celibate, teaches in a "mystical sense" about virginity (mystice virginitatem docet). "Every perfect gift comes down from above, where marriage is unknown" (NPNF2, 6:377; PL 23:278).

Jerome quotes Jas 1:17–18 together, perhaps seeing in verse 18's reference to God giving birth to us by the word of truth a reference to virginity. Augustine of Hippo Ep. 188.6 also quotes this verse in writing of sexual purity as a gift of God's grace. Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. identifies the "good giving" (omne datum) with virginity (col 66).

Other Interpretations.

 John of Damascus Fid. orth. 88 [4.15] alludes to this passage in citing the efficacy of intercessory prayers to saints (NPNF2, 9:87; Kotter 1975, 204).

Lapide Comm. does not distinguish between the good giving (donum) and the perfect gift, as did the earlier tradition. He offers a variety of interpretations of the good or perfect gift from the tradition:

  • wisdom and patience;
  • love (cf. 1Cor 13);
  • the perfect strengthening given in the sacrament of confirmation (20:65–67).

God Sends Both Good and Bad

  • Didymus the Blind Ep. can. ad loc. comments that some interpreters take this verse to mean that only good things come from God. But in light of passages such as Mi 1:12 ("But evil has come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem"), it clear that the judgments of God come to people as both pleasant and sad. Both are involved in the whole providence of God (cuncta providentia Dei; Zoepfl 1914, 4).
  • From a different perspective, Eckhart Serm. (D) 4 teaches that for those who love God, everything that occurs to them, including illness or poverty, is the best gift, because it is God's will (Quint 1958, 1:60–74; Tobin 1986, 247–9).

All Good Things are from God

  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. : every good thing given is from the giving God; every truly bad thing given is not from God, but either from a demon or from our desire (concupiscentia; 20:63).
  • Ris Menn. Art. 6 "we must here carefully distinguish between what God works directly…(It is of the highest importance to note this distinction, wherefore James says, 'Do not err' (Jas 1:16). God does not bring about the evil of sin, but permits, yet limits and overrules it"  (CCFCT, 3:159; Ris 1766, 16-17); cf. the citation of Jas 1:17 in the article on God's Providence in Presbyt. Conf. 6  (Christian Tradition Jas 1:13f).