CHAPTER IX: Joseph The Harbinger Of Redemption—He Belongs To The New More Than To The Old Testament.
AS after a long and deep night we first discern the white light of dawn, to which the rosy aurora succeeds, ushering in the resplendent sun, even so, after the long and dismal night of error and corruption in the Gentile world, Joseph appeared, like the early dawn, and after Joseph came Mary, who is the celestial aurora of whom was born Jesus, the true and eternal Sun of Justice. Thus as the dawn precedes the aurora, and the aurora the sun, so Joseph preceded Mary, and Mary Jesus.
And truly Jesus, the eternal refulgent Sun of Justice, came to illuminate the world, immersed in the thick darkness of false belief and sin, with the light of His doctrines, His examples, and His miracles. "That was the true light," says the Evangelist, "which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world."1 But before He arose, appeared the glowing and pure aurora, whose roseate light rejoiced heaven and earth, that is, Mary, who in Scripture is compared thereto: "quasi aurora nurgens—as the morning rising "2—and this beautiful aurora was to be preceded by the white light of dawn, giving presage to men that the joyful day was at hand; and this was Joseph. Wherefore it was with reason said that this blessed Triad on earth marks the confines between the ancient law and the beginning of the new, even as the dawn, the aurora, and the sunrise mark the passage from night to day. Of the Blessed Virgin St. Thomas Aquinas says that she formed the transition from the Old to the New Law, as the aurora forms the confine between night and day; and of St. Joseph Isolano writes that he stood midway between the Synagogue and the Church, announcing the close of the one and the commencement of the other.3 Whence we may argue that Joseph in point of time was the first sign of light, the first ray which shone upon the earth to give notice that the aurora was about to arise, from which was to emanate that longed-for Sun which was to dispel all darkness and bring in eternal day. Thus Joseph was the herald of Mary and Jesus; and he may be regarded as standing between the Old and the New Covenant. But to which does he belong? Does he belong to the Synagogue or does he belong to the Church?
The question is not a new one, but it may be considered as now resolved. Some doctors were of opinion that Joseph belonged to the Old Law, simply because when he departed this life there as yet existed neither Church, nor priests, nor sacraments, but this is not altogether true; for, if the Church did not exist in its completed form, it existed in its commencement. The Catholic Church, according to St. Athanasius and other Fathers, began to have a visible existence even in the cave of Bethlehem; and Bethlehem, the House of Bread, received Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and then the shepherds and the Magi, who were the first-fruits of the true believers. Jesus was the Author, the Head of the Church, its comer-stone and its foundation-stone; Jesus was the High Priest by excellence; Jesus was the Giver and the Fountain of that grace which He afterwards lodged in the sacraments. Mary was the first in this Church, nay, its Queen; after Mary, Joseph was the first and the most fervent of all the faithful, its first persecuted just one. It is, therefore, generally held by doctors that St. Joseph undoubtedly belongs more to the Catholic Church than to the Synagogue; and Benedict XIV. himself favours this opinion, where, in answer to the doubt proposed, he says that where it is question of origin, birth, and education in youth, Joseph belongs to the Old Testament, but where it is question of faith, spirit, profession, works, ministry, and co-operation in laying the first foundation of the Church itself, he belongs, without doubt, to the New Law.4 For who, indeed, next to Mary, had more faith in the Divine Redeemer and more love for Him? Who had more knowledge of His spirit, and who was more imbued with it from his close and continual association with Him and with His Blessed Mother for thirty years? Who better observed His precepts and counsels? Who better discharged the ministry confided to him? Who, next to Mary, was enabled so immediately and so faithfully to co-operate in the mystery of the Incarnation, and thus, indirectly, in the foundation of the Catholic Church? Indeed, we may well think that, since Joseph saved Jesus from the anger of Herod, in Jesus he saved the whole Church, and from that time therefore merited the title and acquired the right to be the Patron of the same Church. Moreover, the whole Church has always regarded and venerated him as her own, and now more than ever in her sacred rites and feasts she exalts him as her incomparable Protector, her glory, and her defence.5
Another reply, both shorter and more simple, is that Joseph up to the time of his espousals with the Blessed Virgin belonged to the Synagogue, but that after his espousals and the most sacred day of the Incarnation of the Word he belonged incontestably to the Catholic Church; so much so as to be comprised with Jesus and Mary in the order of the Hypostatic Union, which is the highest order in the hierarchy of grace. Thus the seraphic St. Bernardine of Siena tells us that Joseph had in his hands the keys to open the gates of the New Law and to close those of the Law of Moses.6
1 St. John i. 9.
2 Canticles vi. 9.
3 St. Thomas, Sent. iv. Dist. xxx. q. ii. a. 1; Isolano, Summa de Donis S. Joseph, p. iii. o. xvi.
4 De Canonizatione, lib. iv. p. ii. c. xx. a. 14.
5 Hymn, ad Matut. in Festo S. Joseph.
6 Sermo de S. Joseph.
CHAPTER X: Joseph's Family And Parentage.
WE will now speak of the family from which Joseph sprang. The history of his ancestors is that of the kings of Juda. No more ancient, noble, or glorious race could be found in the whole world, but this is to say Little; for the genealogy of Joseph is that of the King of kings Himself. St. Matthew, as we have seen, gives as His genealogy that of Joseph, calling it " the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham ".1 On this doctors of the Church have observed that the Evangelist enumerates all the ancestors of Joseph, not so much in order to trace Mary's descent and, consequently, that of her Divine Son as to make us understand that in' Joseph were accomplished all the glories of his forefathers, all their hopes, all their prayers; that in Joseph all their virtues were combined, but in far greater fulness and perfection ; that in Joseph was closed and terminated that line of great patriarchs who were the glory of Israel, but whom Joseph greatly surpassed from his incomparable election to be the destined husband of her of whom, by the operation of Divine power, Jesus was born. Thus, if Abraham was faithful and obedient, Joseph was still more faithful and obedient; if Isaac was solicitous and pious, much more solicitous and pious was Joseph; if Jacob was suffering and laborious, much more suffering and laborious was Joseph. Our saint was more patient than Job, more chaste than the first Joseph, more zealous than Moses; he was meeker than David, more fervent than Elias, more trustful than Ezechias, more courageous and intrepid than Mathathias.2
The Abbot Rupert observes that among the promises of the Messias made by God the fullest was that made to Joseph. God promised Abraham that of his race the Redeemer should be born, and that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed. To David God promised that the Divine Saviour should spring from his family and inherit his throne for ever. To Joseph, finally, who was of the house and lineage of David and a descendant of Abraham, God promised that His Divine Son, who was to be born of his Virgin Spouse, should "save His people from their sins ".3 Thus in Joseph alone were the promises of God accomplished; whence the Abbot concludes that he was the last in time of the order of the Patriarchs, that in him all the ancient promises were summed up and completed. Abraham, David, and the rest beheld them and saluted them from afar; Joseph saw them near to him, verified and fulfilled. The last promise was made to Joseph, but it was the best, the most desired, the fullest, the most complete.4 Thus Joseph was the happiest, the most highly privileged, the most exalted, and the last of the patriarchs; last in time, but first in dignity.
In one sole respect did the other patriarchs surpass him; that is, in abundance of the comforts of life, of riches, of titles, of honours. The others were, for the most part, born in the enjoyment of wealth, or amidst the splendour of a court, or even with the regal sceptre in their hands ; but not so Joseph. Joseph was born poor, though not a mendicant, in a humble but not an abject condition. A small house and scanty goods constituted the whole of his earthly possessions. He had a title to the throne of his ancestors, but the regal power had fallen into the hands of greedy procurators and foreign tetrarchs. He had, therefore, neither a royal palace, nor a long train of attendants; he had neither courtiers, nor treasure, nor domains, nor tribute, nor the homage of subject nations. Through the vicissitudes of the Babylonian captivity, the violent deeds of Antiochus, and the avidity of domineering potentates, the legitimate patrimony of his ancestors had been seized and dissipated. But, if Joseph was not born great in the eyes of the world, he was great before God for the abundance of graces with which He had liberally endowed and enriched him above all the kings and patriarchs his progenitors. Jesus, who came into the world to condemn luxury, pride, and the insatiate desire of self-exaltation, was preparing for Himself a father, albeit only putative, who, if, on the one hand, he came of royal blood, so that the great ones of the earth could not be offended in him, was, on the other hand, humble, poor, lowly, that He might raise the miserable from their abjection, and thus fulfil the great end of His divine mission. Of the poor but most holy Joseph Jesus desired to form, as it were, a type, a perfect example, of every Christian virtue, to be afterwards proposed as a model to all the faithful, that they might imitate his piety, his religiousness, his patience, his obedience, his submission to the Divine Will, his fraternal charity, his unwearied activity in the fulfilment of his duties and in the exercise of every private and domestic virtue. God was preparing in Joseph a true friend, a protector, and a patron for those unthinking men of the people who become so often the sport and the prey of designing agitators. Jesus chose Joseph poor, as He subsequently chose His Apostles from among the poor, that the world might understand that He came to convert the whole earth, not by gold or by force, not by the pomp of secular power, but by the humility of the Go3pel, by the poverty of the Cross, and by the admirable virtue of His example, of His word, and of the prodigies which He wrought, in order that the divine mission and divine origin of His Church might be the more manifest.
Having seen how Joseph was descended from Abraham and from the kings of Juda, and how, in particular, he was of the house and family of King David, we will now speak of his own parents. We are, as already observed, expressly told by the Evangelist St. Matthew the name of his father, for in closing his genealogy he says, "Mathan begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ ".5 On this point, therefore, no doubt could arise. The difficulty suggested by the text of St. Luke has been already considered. Heli, there is the strongest reason to believe, is the same with Joachim, the father of Mary, and he became, therefore, the father-in-law, or legal father, of Joseph, his father by affinity, and whom, like his Blessed Spouse, he would call by that name. We owe much, therefore, to St. Luke, who, without departing from the custom of the Hebrews, has given in fact the direct genealogy of Mary. And this opinion acquires higher value if we admit—and we have no reason not to admit—the truth of what Menochius, Benedict XIII., and other doctors assert, namely, that St. Anne, the mother of our Blessed Lady and the wife of Joachim, was sister to Jacob, the father of Joseph; whence it would follow that Joseph and Mary were first cousins, and that Mary, as also her Divine Son, was descended from King David by the double line of Solomon and Nathan; from Nathan on the paternal side and from Solomon on the maternal.
While, however, we know with certainty from Holy Scripture itself the names both of the actual and the adopted father of Joseph, it contains no notice of his mother. Tradition has been equally silent on the subject; yet we naturally conceive that she must have been a woman of singular virtue, to be selected by God to be the mother of a saint so highly privileged as was Joseph, who was destined for so exalted a dignity as the reputed father of His Eternal Son. Scripture and tradition are equally silent as to whether any supernatural signs preceded his birth, to foretell, as in the Baptist's case, the high mission for which he was designed, or, as under the Old Law, to announce the appearance of some great deliverer. It has pleased God that, if any such were vouchsafed to his parents, they should, like so much else that concerns the humble Joseph, be veiled in obscurity; one reason of which may be that his mission, although surpassingly great, was not to be of a public character. He did not come to speak to the world, and, in fact, we do not possess one recorded syllable from his lips. Be this as it may, we are left to our devout imaginations as to the character and even the name of the fortunate mother of our glorious saint.
But when did he first see the light of day? What was the date of his birth? What was the year, the month, the day? Waiving the difficulties which have arisen respecting the precise date of the Nativity, and accepting the common opinion of the learned Natalis Alexander6 that Jesus was born in the year 4,000 of the creation of the world, there would still remain an uncertainty as to the year of St. Joseph's birth, unless we possessed some assured record of his age at the time of his espousals with the Blessed Virgin, of which more anon. As respects the month, the month of March being throughout the Church dedicated to his honour, and, indeed, commonly called the Month of St. Joseph, some would have it that he was born in this month, and allege as proof that in the most ancient martyrologies the 19th of March, which we keep as his feast, is entered as his birth-day; while the Christians of the East, particularly the Copts, Syrians, and Egyptians, commemorated the glorious death of the saint on the 20th of July. This feast, we are told by Isolano, in his Summary of the Gifts of St. Joseph, the Oriental Christians were in the habit of celebrating with great veneration; whence it would follow that on the 19th of March his birth-day alone was kept. The same opinion has been held in more recent times. Nevertheless, the reasons given would seem insufficient to establish this point; for the Church has always been in the habit of regarding the day when a saint departs from this life as his natal day, since it is then that he is born to glory; and when it desires to signify that the feast celebrates his birth into this world the word nativity is expressly used, as in the case of the Blessed Virgin and of St. John the Baptist. Moreover, it is a question whether there be not a confusion, in respect to this custom of the Orientals, between our patriarch, who in the Gospel of St. Matthew is characterised as "just,"7 with another St. Joseph who had also the cognomen of Just and, along with St. Matthias, was proposed by the Apostles as successor to Judas the traitor, the lot falling on Matthias.8 Now, the martyrdom of this St. Joseph, or Barsabas, surnamed Justus, is in the Roman martyrology on the 20th of July with these words: "The natal day of St. Joseph, surnamed the Just". Hence it seems more probable, and more in conformity with the tradition of the Church, that it is St. Joseph's happy death and passage to glory which we commemorate on the 19th of March. But, as the Church celebrates another festival in his honour, that of his Patronage, on the third Sunday after Easter, we may well feel that in this feast a memorial of his nativity, which may have occurred about this season of the year, is included; for in the first vespers Holy Church commences her prayers and canticles with these words: "Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ,"9 and then proceeds to congratulate St. Joseph on being constituted as lord over His house and ruler over all His possessions; just as on the Nativity of Mary she says, "To-day is born the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the race of David, through whom has appeared to believers the Salvation of the World".10
As to the day of the week on which Joseph was born, we have nothing to guide us but the piety of the faithful, by the common consent of whom, and with the Church's approval, all the Wednesdays of the year have been dedicated to St. Joseph; the Roman Pontiffs having, moreover, enriched with indulgences the devout practice of honouring him specially on that day. We may, therefore, piously believe that it was on Wednesday our great patron was either born or died.
Four cities of Judea and of Galilee have disputed the honour of being this great saint's birth-place: Jerusalem, Capharnaum, Nazareth, and Bethlehem. It is urged in favour of the claims of Jerusalem, that his ancestors of the house of David dwelt on the hill of Sion, the city of the Great King, and, even in their depressed fortunes, continued to make it their place of refuge; so that it was here that Joseph was born, and not Joseph only, but Mary herself, the house which St. Joachim and St. Anne inhabited being pointed out to pilgrims and travellers. St. John Damascene confirms this opinion, saying that the Blessed Virgin was born in the house of Joachim near the Probatic Pool. Nevertheless, Jerusalem has not been able to establish its title to be the birth-place of either Joseph or Mary.
The pretensions of Capharnaum, standing on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias, were, according to Calmet, grounded on the familiar acquaintance which, as we learn in St. John's Gospel, the inhabitants claimed to have with Joseph, the reputed father of Jesus. "Is not this Jesus, they said, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How, then, saith He, I came down from heaven?"11 But it does not necessarily follow that, because the people of Capharnaum knew Joseph well, therefore he was born in their city. He may have had frequent intercourse with them, as had Jesus Himself, of whom, as we know, it was not the birth-place. "Bethlehem," says St. John Chrysostom, "gave to Jesus His place of nativity, Nazareth brought Him up, Capharnaum was His continued abode."12
In favour of Nazareth higher probabilities may be alleged. St. Luke in his Gospel says that, after the flight into Egypt, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to " their city Nazareth ";13 and St. John relates how Philip, having seen Jesus, said to Nathaniel that they had found the Messias foretold by Moses and the prophets, Jesus "the son of Joseph of Nazareth".14 But, as regards the first text, it would appear that Nazareth was rather Mary's native place than Joseph's, and, if called his city also, it was but as the city of his domicile, where, after his espousals with Mary, he had his fixed abode. From the other text of St. John it is also clear that nothing further can be concluded. We know well that our Lord was born at Bethlehem, and yet He is called "Jesus of Nazareth," and continued to be so called. The same may well apply to St. Joseph. Nazareth was, indeed, the birth-place of the Blessed Virgin, and became the permanent abode of the Holy Family; wherefore Jesus, as well as Joseph, was said to be of Nazareth, although it was the native place of neither.
In this contest Bethlehem must carry off the palm for the following reasons. The descendants of David through Solomon are said to have continued to abide in Bethlehem, where David was born, and to have returned thither after the Babylonian captivity, the site of the house of Iasi, his father, and the cisterns belonging to it being still traditionally pointed out. The Fathers accordingly called Joseph a Bethlehemite, meaning, not only that he was of the house and family of David, but that there also he was born; and Isolano repeats an ancient Oriental legend in which it is expressly said that Joseph was a carpenter, born at Bethlehem, of the house of David. But the most substantial and conclusive reason is the following: that in the census which Caesar Augustus commanded to be made all were to go for registration to their own native place, and Joseph, prompt in his obedience to every law, even human, so as it was not opposed to the divine law, immediately repaired with his holy spouse Mary, not to Jerusalem, nor to Capharnaum, but to Bethlehem. In Bethlehem Christ was to be born, and from little it was to become great, because, as the Prophet Micheas foretold, out of it was to come forth He who was to be the ruler of Israel.15 But previous to this honour of giving birth to the Messias, the Lord of the universe, it was also to be the native place of His reputed father, constituted by God to be the protector and patron of the Universal Church.
Let us in spirit betake ourselves to the dwelling-place of Jacob, and bend before the cradle of this blessed infant, upon whose serene brow repose the choicest graces of Heaven. Let us bend before him and venerate him, and present to him the devout affections of our hearts. He is already for us our star, our hope, and he will be our guide, our shield, our defence, our tutelary angel. Let us offer to him our congratulations, and, kissing his feet, bless our compassionate God for having been pleased to bestow on the human family, on the Catholic Church, next to Mary, the sweetest, the most holy, the most powerful Patron.
1 St. Matthew i. 1.
2 P. Patrignani, quoted with such high praise by Benedict XIV., says: "Joseph is the crown of the Patriarchs and progenitors of the promised Divine Messias. He inherited all their benedictions, and beheld their fulfilment. He was the original figured by Joseph, the governor and saviour of Egypt. He was the crown of the saints of the Old Testament; in him all their virtues were combined and perfected; and he was the crown of the saints of the New Testament."—Novena di S. Giuseppe, Gior. vi.
3 St. Matthew i. 21.
4 De Div. Off. lib. iii. c. xix
5 Chap. i. 15,16.
6 Saec. i. diss. ii. q. 1
7 St. Matthew i. 19.
8 Acts i. 23.
9 Antiph. in I. Vesp. Patron. S. Joseph.
10 Resp. pri. Noel, in Off. Nativ. B. Maria: Virginis.
11 St. John vi. 42.
12 Hom. xiii. in Mattheum.
13 St. Luke ii. 39; conf. St. Matthew li. 23.
14 St. John i. 4.5.
15 Micheas v. 2.