A powerful preacher
Born into a poor Italian family in 1391, James studied civil and canon law, then became a Franciscan friar. In one of those associations that often crop up in the lives of the saints, he studied under St Bernardine of Siena – who told him to ease his austere life a little.
James preached in several areas, especially the Marches in central Italy, and was renowned for performing miracles and helping people towards the Lord. According to some accounts, God brought about 250,000 conversions through St James’s preaching.
James’s gift for preaching, and his holy life, led the pope to appoint him Inquisitor of the Fraticelli. This sect, claiming to be inspired by St Francis of Assisi, lived in extreme poverty. They angrily criticised Rome, and argued that the wealth of the Church was scandalous.
They also believed that they themselves were the true Church – since Pope John XXII had once held heretical views (though John later retracted these).
St James denounced the errors of the Fraticelli in his writing, and was also part of a collaboration between the Church and civil authorities to combat their influence. He helped to drive them out of 36 establishments. Some were burned at the stake.
Peace and justice
St James fought against other heresies, and also preached a crusade against the Ottomans.
At the Council of Basel in 1431, he argued that moderate members of the Hussites (another heretical sect) could potentially be reconciled with the Church.
St James instituted a number of montes pietatis. These were non-profit lending agencies, serving a similar purpose to today’s credit unions. They allowed those in dire financial straits to borrow at low cost and escape loan sharks.
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