James was one of the earliest friars to enter the new Augustinian Order. Born in Viterbo, Italy, he joined the Order at the approximate age of 15 around the year 1270, which was only 26 years after the Order was founded. He devoted several years of his earlier ministry to being a professor of theological studies at the University of Paris.
His Public Dispute with the Worldwide Leader of Augustinians
In his day, James was also known for a public disagreement with the Prior General of the Augustinians (the leader of the entire Order). This took place in the General Chapter of 1300 when James respectfully defended a German friar who may have been unjustly accused of another member of his friar's community. He disputed the accusation humbly and with respect to the Prior General. The Prior General, Augustine of Tarano, publicly denounced any friar who supported the accused German friar. James, realizing that this reproach was directed against himself, rose to speak. He declared that the sincerity of his belief that the accused friar was not guilty of the charges. However, he humbly noted that he would accept the judgement of his superiors in the matter.
Earning His Nickname
In the year 1302, he was named the Bishop of the Diocese of Benevento and the Archbishop of Naples later that same year. James of Viterbo later earned a doctorate of theology and published Christian Government in 1303; this work describes the role of the Church in society. He was considered among his peers to be one of the best scholastic theologians of his time. He even earned the nickname The Speculative Doctor. His ministry as a bishop was relatively short-lived, though. In either 1307 or 1308, he died in Naples and was venerated as a holy man.
Beatification and Veneration
Six centuries later in the year 1911, Pope Pius proclaimed him a Blessed. This means that James was beatified, meaning that he has the capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his name. Beatification is a step toward canonization, which would make him or any other Blessed a Saint in the Catholic Church. Though blesseds don't have universally celebrated feast days, the Augustians honor his feast day in our communities on every June 4.
So why do we as Augustinians continue to pray for his intercession 700 years after his death?
He was definitely a man that was united in mind and heart with his brother Augustinians. Many of his writings focus on St. Augustine's teachings. He was academically astute and constantly pursuing Truth. Moreover, he became an example of how to disagree with his superiors in a respectful manner. Living in community - like the Augustinians still do to this day - can at times cause conflicts. But as long as our friars speak in respect to the teachings in Augustine's Rule; follow their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; and continue their journey toward God together, problems can always be resolved. Blessed James of Viterbo is a great example of that.