Friday, December 17, 2010

Did St. Joseph suspect the Blessed Virgin Mary of sin?


4th Sunday of Advent, Matthew 1:18-24
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Great humility, devotion and piety are required of any who would hope to contemplate the great mysteries hidden in the inner life of the Holy Family. Far be it from any to approach so holy a home, so mysterious a union as the marriage of Joseph and Mary, without first  purifying one’s heart and mind of every vain and unworthy thought! It is holy ground we upon which wish to tread, and we must remove our sandals – that is, we must free ourselves from the spirit of the world and of the present age; an age in which marriage and family life so terribly shipwrecked – with simplicity of heart and purity of mind, we look to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and we ask: What was St. Joseph really thinking, when he had intended to put Mary away secretly? Did he perhaps suspect the most holy Virgin of sin? Did he perceive the gift he had received?
In matters so highly sensitive, we will not rely upon our own reasoning, nor less on the reasoning of the modernist biblical “scholars” of our day – men who know little of true piety – rather, guided by the expositions of St. Thomas Aquinas and the learned scholar Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide, we will look to the sound interpretation given by the Fathers of the Church.

The history of the marriage between Joseph and Mary
Before considering the particular question at hand – what was in St. Joseph’s heart when he had intended to divorce the Blessed Virgin – we must briefly consider the historical circumstances of the betrothal and marriage between Joseph and Mary. This history is based on the limited evidences given in Sacred Scripture, and on the teachings of the Church Fathers (as received by St. Thomas Aquinas; ST III, q.28, a.4; q.29).
Before she was betrothed to Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary did not take a vow of virginity. It seems, however, that she desired to make this vow; but was reluctant to do so, as it was not yet clear to her what was the will of God in this matter. It is for this reason (namely, that she had not yet made a vow of virginity, but desired to make one), that Mary was able to be legitimately betrothed to Joseph – for it would seem impermissible for a vowed virgin to enter into marriage.
After Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before the marriage ceremony, she approached her future husband and revealed to him the desire of her heart – to make a vow of virginity. The couple prayed together and asked the Lord what was his will; and it was revealed to them that they should together vow to live only as brother and sister, protecting and guarding the virginity of Mary. At this point, neither Joseph nor Mary suspected that the Christ Child would be born to them. It was at this time, before the Annunciation, that Joseph and Mary were ceremonially married. Joseph then took her into his home and under his care. [On this point, various opinions are possible – perhaps they were not ceremonially married until after the Annunciation and after the angel spoke to Joseph in the dream.]
Having made the vow of virginity, Mary received the angel’s greeting at a time when Joseph was not present – Mary alone heard the message of the angel. It is clear that Mary and Joseph had together vowed virginity, since Mary says to the angel, “How can this be, since I know not man?” But, if she had not vowed her virginity together with Joseph, she may have believed that the child to be conceived would be of Joseph through a natural bond. From this it is clear that both Joseph and Mary had agreed to live in a state of perpetual continence and virginity; having a true marriage, but only as of a brother and a sister.
Mary, however, did not reveal the angel’s message to Joseph – for she desired to humble herself rather than to proclaim boldly the great work of God in her. Either from seeing the increase in her figure (as most of the Fathers believe) or, perhaps, from Mary’s own telling (as I myself conclude), St. Joseph learned that his wife was with child – but he knew not the manner of her conception, nor that the child was truly the Son of God. It was at this time that St. Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly, so as not to expose her to shame.
Did Joseph think Mary a sinner?
It would seem most impious to suppose that St. Joseph could have thought ill of the Blessed Virgin Mary – how could he think her an adulteress? This, however, is the opinion of several of the Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and St. Justin Martyr are all of the opinion that Joseph suspected evil of the Blessed Virgin, as though she had conceived by another man. Cornelius a’ Lapide rejects this opinion stating: “But we say, far be from any such suspicions concerning a virgin so holy or a man so just. How, indeed, could Joseph have suspected adultery in such a wife, or uncleanness in her parents’ house?” I concur with Lapide.
Origen, St. Basil, Theophylact, St. Bernard, and St. Bridget of Sweden all hold that Joseph intended to divorce the Virgin, not because he suspected evil of her, but because he recognized that she was the Mother of God, and he considered herself unworthy to be the guardian of so great a Woman. Hence, the intention to divorce is a sign not that he thought ill of Mary, but that he considered himself far too great a sinner to be given so holy a bride and Child. Lapide considers this opinion to be contrary to the sense of the text, and I concur.
Finally, Lapide offers his opinion: “Plainly and surely, Joseph, seeing the Blessed Virgin with child, was astonished at the novelty of the thing, and his mind was agitated by contending and fluctuation emotions, and he reasoned somewhat in this way: ‘I know that this Virgin is most holy, wherefore I do not believe that she has been false to her vow. Still, she is with child, and I know not by me. But by whom I know not. Can it be by a former husband? Or can she have suffered violence on her journey, when she went to visit Elizabeth? Can she have suffered illusion from some spirit during sleep? Or, what would be more consonant with her sanctity, is she with child by an angel, or by the Deity Himself? Well, however, the case may be, I am unwilling to retain her, if an angel, or God Himself, desires to have her. Wherefore I will resign her, and put her away from me.’ God, permitted this to take place in order that the conception of the Blessed Virgin by the Holy Ghost might be attested unto all, both by Joseph and by the Angel.”
This, likewise, is my own opinion: Joseph did not suspect evil of Mary, but he did not know what to think. She herself had told him that she was with child (as it seems to me), but had plainly not explained the full circumstances of the conception – knowing that God would reveal all in the proper time. Joseph knew the child was not his, yet he could not believe that Mary would have been unfaithful to her vow of virginity. Yet, as Mary gave no other account as to the conception, Joseph was deeply troubled and confused. In this state of confusion, he desired to do what seemed most appropriate – hence, he made up his mind to divorce her quietly, seeking to preserve both her good name and his justice. Joseph, however, had not yet completely resolved himself to this act, for he was yet deeply troubled; it was when he was in this state that the angel of the Lord came to him.
Thus, St. Jerome tells us: “This is the testimony to Mary’s purity, that Joseph, knowing her chastity, and wondering at what had happened, hides in silence the mystery of which he was ignorant.”

50 comments:

Bender said...

I think that that is very close, but I would refine it just a bit.

Joseph did suspect. Suspicion would be entirely the reasonable reaction.

After all, all of the evidence pointed toward Mary being unfaithful -- she was pregnant, he had not been with her, she didn't have a prior husband, she didn't claim to have been accosted, and that story that she was with child through the Holy Spirit lacked all credibility.

But Joseph also knew that such infidelity and lying were totally against Mary's character, which he knew to be good (but certainly he could not know exactly how good and holy), and he knew that he loved Mary.

So, he had a quandry. He was conflicted. His head told him one thing, but his heart wanted to tell him something else. This is not unlike people today who are accused of wrongdoing, but who protest their innocence -- their loved ones want to believe them, but the evidence is against them.

And when the angel visited him, Joseph could have very easily disbelieved it as merely an act of his subconscious during a dream. It is true that one in Mary's position could also have easily dismissed the visit from the angel at the Annunciation as an overactive imagination (even though being full of grace), but the message to her was soon confirmed by her pregnancy and the fact that Mary knew that she had not been with a man. However, Joseph had nothing of this world to confirm her claim. He had no proof, no evidence. Joseph had only Mary’s word for it, and the word of what easily could have been his imagination in a dream.

Nevertheless, Joseph was a “just” man, a "righteous" man. And so, in this state of conflict, even though he had good reason for doubt, even though all worldly evidence pointed toward Mary's infidelity, Joseph instead placed his trust in Mary and his faith in God. He reasoned with his heart, rather than his head. Instead of demanding proof, instead of putting God to the test, Joseph acted on faith. Joseph acted on love.

It was not until the shepherds showed up at the stable after the birth of Jesus, claiming that an angel had appeared to them announcing the good news of the birth, that Joseph finally had any tangible confirmation that he was right to believe in Mary – he was right to act on love and have faith in God.

It was a supreme act of faith for Joseph to act as he did.

Reginaldus said...

Bender, Thank you for pointing out the fact that Joseph showed great faith by believing in the dream.
It is true: Many will later begin doubt the mystical experiences that they have received, it seems almost too good to be true.
But Joseph and Mary were willing to "set out into the deep", to trust God, and to offer their very lives in the service of the Savior.

St. Joseph, Just Man, Pray for us!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is more simple to explain than that. Just as David was afraid to take the Ark into Jerusalem because it was so holy no one could touch it, Joseph was afraid to take Mary into his home because she was so holy no one could touch her. Imagine living intimately with someone who could make you drop dead because you reach out a hand to catch them when they stumble? God had to reassure Joseph that he was safe, that's all.

Nick said...

Saint Joseph knew the Law and he believed that Mary could sin, so it is entirely possible - and within the context of the divorce, which was permitted by the Law in the case of adultery - he wished to divorce Mary for adultery. No need to jump through hoops, the Scriptures is pretty clear about what Saint Joseph thought.

Reginaldus said...

@Nick, Certainly, the opinion you express is a possible option. But I don't think you can/should say that every opinion other than your own is "jumping through hoops" -- you are dismissing many of the greatest Fathers of the Church in a very childish manner.

@Anonymous (8:49am), You seem to be in agreement with the second option I wrote about -- held by Origen, Basil, Bernard, Bridget, et al.
Certainly an option; I myself think it unlikely -- it is not clear that Joseph already knew that the Child was the Son of God. But who knows for sure?

Fernando said...

Reginaldus: why are you so affraid off the contributions made bie the «modernist biblical “scholars” of our day»?;

and who are they?

are you sure they habe less piety than other theologians, Fathers of the Church or not, in the past?

how do you measure piety?

don't you think thate intelectual honesty in front off the biblical text is an expresion off a deap piety?

thanks in advance for your time and good Christmas...

EditorCT said...

I've just skimmed this article and will read it properly later, but it is important to point out that "betrothal" was not the same as an engagement. The comment at the outset of this article - that all this happened "before the marriage ceremony" is misleading. The Jewish wedding ritual was in two parts. Technically, Mary and Joseph were married. They simply had not moved to the second part of the ritual, where the husband and wife begin to live together as husband and wife.

It is of some concern that this error keeps appearing in Catholic articles - either giving the impression or stating outright, that "betrothal" was the same thing as a modern "engagement." Is is quite a serious error. Mary and Joseph were technically married. No question about it.

h koczur said...

Couples who were betrothed were truly married..the wedding ceremony was the betrothal, and each went and lived in their separate homes, for up to a year. Check the bible parables telling us of the groom coming for his bride. They are based on this.. The co-habitating was the second part of the ceremony. So Mary was never an unwed Mother. Would God ever break His own Laws? No..
H Koczur

Reginaldus said...

@Editor CT and h koczur,
Thank you both for the clarification regarding Jewish marriage and betrothal rites.
I am well aware of this, though I did not take the time to explain it in detail in the article.

In fact, I do not think that anything I have written is contrary to what you two have said...

EditorCT, I agree that it is a shame that this error keeps coming up in Catholic articles...I do not think that I have made the error here -- I simply chose not to address the issue, as it was not really the point in question.

In any case, thank you both for the clarifications.

Anonymous said...

"From this it is clear that both Joseph and Mary had agreed to live in a state of perpetual continence and virginity; having a true marriage, but only as of a brother and a sister."
The above was written by someone trying to decipher the relationship between St. Joseph and Mary.I personally consider the two who are so highly placeed by God, will not take a decision that is contrary to God's intention of creating man and woman as contained in the Book of Genesis. Such teaching could be misleading too.If St. Joseph and Mary could decide so, then the human race will diminish.People attempting such a life may end up adulterers. Such are not fit for God's Kingdom
I do not subscibe to it at all. It is a mystery for us. Let God be God.
DECLAN

Reginaldus said...

@Fernando, Believe me, nothing about the modernist biblical scholars of our day makes me to be "afraid"! :-)

I think that modern scholarship does have something to offer, but this is almost entirely related to language and cultural studies -- very rarely for theology.

How do I know that most modern scholars are less pious? They routinely deny the possibility of miracles, they interpret the Scriptures outside of (or even in direct contradiction to) the Catholic Tradition, they adopt a hermeneutic of suspicion, they dismiss the 2000 year tradition of Catholic biblical scholarship and spiritual reflection.

You asked: "Don't you think that intellectual honesty in front of the biblical text is an expression of deep piety?"
I answer: Yes, most certainly it is. However, we must remember that the Scriptures involve Divine Revelation which is above human reason (though never against reason); thus, intellectual humility is also needed -- any "scholar" who is willing to dismiss the miracles or read the text as though it is principally a work of human literature has lost the proper piety which is required of a Scripture scholar.


I hope that this gives some clarity. I am not against a "scientific" study of the Scriptures -- St. Thomas himself was at the beginning of a real renewal in Scripture study which was highly scientific and which came to full bloom in the 17th and 18th centuries. I do not advocate a naive return to the allegories of the Fathers (though they do have their place); rather, I want a true, scientific, scholarly, and pious exegesis of the literal sense of the text.

Rather than naming the bad scholars, let me name a couple of good ones:
St. Thomas Aquinas, Hugo of St. Cher, Cornelius a' Lapide, St. Lawrence of Brindisi.
Of our own day, I might point to the Navarre Bible Commentary.


Blessings to you!

Reginaldus said...

@Declan (anonymous 9:45pm),
It is quite humorous that you say, "It is a mystery for us. Let God be God."
I find it funny, because you don't seem to treat the relationship of Joseph and Mary as much of a mystery at all. You are quite certain of your own interpretation of Genesis and how this must necessarily bare on the Holy Family, you make a Kantian moral dilemma out of a private vow (as though one virgin will cause the downfall all humanity!), you insist that everyone who wants to be celibate will end up an adulterer.
Where is your humility before the mystery?

I have only offered a possible interpretation, you are making dogmatic pronouncements.

In any case, you are far removed from the Christian Tradition on this point (being so impious as to claim that Joseph and Mary engaged in sexual relations) -- As you say, "Such [presumptuous claims] are not fit for God's Kingdom."

A pilgrim said...

Blessings to all! Great subject. Here's my 2 cents:

There was no vow of virginity prior to Betrothal. Betrothal = Marriage (else why the need for divorce). It would be unjust for a vowed virgin to enter into marriage unless her prospective spouse agreed to this state. But, why would Joseph enter a marriage under these circumstances? Mary did not tell Joseph about the Annunciation. If Mary had told Joseph he would have believed her (and divorce would not not have been an issue). The controvery over the term "suspected of sin" is mysterious and likely one of semantics. What exactly is meant by "suspected"?.... Is it possible that the reality and possibility of sin never even entered into his consciousness?.... Not even for a split second? At this point, we are way over our heads. Bottom line (for me): Joseph did not know what to think... and "deeply troubled" is putting it mildly!

Reginaldus said...

@A pilgrim,
I think that we are in complete agreement.
Regarding the vow of virginity, Do you think (as I do) that Joseph and Mary made a vow after the Betrothal?

Peace to you in Christ.

A pilgrim said...

Hello Reginaldus.
As a believer in sacred Tradition as well as sacred Scripture, I believe both Mary and Joseph were and are perpetual virgins. As they were, living in the reality of the knowlege of the Annunciation, whether virginity was formally vowed or simply a new, profound intuitive reality for them.... who's to say.

Reginaldus said...

@ A pilgrim,
You bring out a good point: Virginity for the sake of the Kingdom is something (almost) entirely unique to the New Testament -- hence, it is possible that it was more of an intuition than a formal vow for Mary (and, perhaps, Joseph), the first consecrated virgin of Christianity.
Blessings!

Anonymous said...

Dear Reginaldus,
"Betrothed" could mean that all customary and native laws of marriage had been observed, "taking her" could mean wedding as we have it today. A man and a woman do not need to come together to observe celibacy.I do not know what makes you think that your interpretation of co-habitation must be accepted.
Declan

Fernando said...

Dera Reginaldus... you saide: «They routinely deny the possibility of miracles, they interpret the Scriptures outside of (or even in direct contradiction to) the Catholic Tradition, they adopt a hermeneutic of suspicion, they dismiss the 2000 year tradition of Catholic biblical scholarship and spiritual reflection»

Generalizations are not a good example off intelectual honesty... it's as speaking of the "fathers off the Church" in general... in these we can find everything, eben whate you call modernists lack off piety... more: whate is wrong iff someone does not follow 2000 years tradition in those aspects thate one is clearly wrong because, for example, it was following a translation (the "Vulgate") thate is wrong in some points?...

iff whate you "call" miracles was neber intended, nor by God, neither by the biblical authors, to be interpreted the way you do, why shoulde someone still understand them thate way? Obviously Scriptures are obove reason, butt it also reasoneable and not using our reason in its deapth it is offending God...

Your example off the Navarre Bible Commentary is a clear example off what I precisely call a "offence to God": twistting the texts' message in order to accomodate not only thate Tradition thate is clearly wrong in some aspects (do you wantt examplles of a 1960 years Tradition thate was latter revocated?), butt also in accomodatting Bellager's tetric texts...

I guess one day we all understand thate piety withoute incorporating reason in its deapth is a lack off respect to God...

May Jesu bless you all...

Reginaldus said...

@Declan,
I have no idea what you are talking about... What do you mean by my "interpretation of co-habitation"? If you are referring to my insistence that Mary is perpetually a virgin and that she never had relations with any man, I must say that it is not simply "my interpretation" -- it is the Tradition of the Church.

We are Catholics here at this blog, I am writing for Catholics to help Catholics better understand their faith.
I cannot figure out where you are coming from or where you are trying to go.


In any case, it is clear that Mary had chosen to be a virgin, since she said to the angel "I know not man" -- if she was planning on having a natural marriage with Joseph, she would have presumed that the child to be conceived would be Joseph's son. Instead, because she was already a consecrated virgin, Mary knew that the Child would not be the son of a human father.

Reginaldus said...

@Fernando,
You've got to go grind your axe somewhere else...
What I have said is very moderate: The past 100 years should not completely outweigh and neglect the previous 1900 years...

You continue to make vague innuendos and avoid making any real claims.
If you hate the Navarre Bible Commentary, you are not going to like many of my articles. I recommend you find another blog to read, you are looking for something much more liberal than I am going to offer...

Anonymous said...

You say that it would be "unjust" for an avowed virgin to enter a marriage. But, you're still thinking "20th" Century. Believe it or not, virginal marriages were actually quite common in ancient times, the much older "husband" actually being a guardian of the virginity of a much younger girl who was usually a servant in the temple, in an effort to keep her "undefiled and pure" so that she may consecrate herself to God. There are a lot of other variables to consider as well... if Mary was consecrated to the Temple by her parents, and Joseph was responsible to protect her virginity, and now she was found to be with child, what kind of position does that suddenly put him in? Not one I would ever want to face, that's for sure. Some food for thought: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm

Reginaldus said...

@Anonymous (4:44am),
Thanks for the info!

I still think that Joseph and Mary had intended to have a natural marriage -- since it seems to be necessary for their betrothal to constitute a true marriage. Certainly, there is room for diversity of opinion in this matter.

Nevertheless, you do bring up a good point -- Joseph was chosen to be the guardian of the virginity of Mary.

An additional point: The Eastern Church favors the opinion that Joseph was older at the time of the marriage. But the Western Church generally assumes that Joseph was as young as Mary (perhaps only in his late teens).

Fr Levi said...

Anonymous (who posted at December 20, 2010 4:44 AM):

perhaps you could expand further on your comment that 'virginal marriages were actually quite common in ancient times'? It's not an idea I had come across before & I would appreciate some more on it. Thanks.

helgothjb said...

I have read the article and the comments and the part that is missing is that Joseph was a just man and would follow the law. If did expect that Mary had sinned in the conception of Jesus he would have followed the law and had her stoned! How had you say that he was just and then chose not to follow the law? That does not seem to be a faithful interpretation.

MichaelP said...

http://www.thesacredpage.com/2010/12/was-joseph-suspicious-of-marys.html

The Sacred Page has a good post on this also. I do feel more inclined to believe that Joseph somewhat knew of Mary's virginal birth and was afraid to expose her to the public disgrace by those that did not know. The visitation from the angel was simply telling him not to be afraid and move forward with the marriage. I think that "divorce" is a bad translation and that "put away" is a more loyal interpretation.

Michael

Fr Levi said...

helgothjb,

That would depend on what you mean by 'just.' Is a just man one who insists on the letter of the law on all occasions; or is a just man one who tempers justice with mercy? Your post pre-supposes that the only kind of Jewish man who could be considered just is the former. I do not think that this is true. There is much in the Old Testament that would suggest mercy as being a virtue.

In any event, Matthew is a New Testament text and it is in the NT context whether we must consider whether St Joseph's actions are compatible with his being a just man if he suspected the BVM of sin. The word in Greek at Matthew 2.19 that is often translated as just is δικαιος, which also can be translated as righteous, holy (or even innocent). We are told is that as a man who was just/holy/righteous, his decision was to divorce her quietly and not expose her to public disgrace. If he did suspect her of sin, the text nonetheless regards his actions as δικαιος. If the interpretation is that St Joseph was being merciful and did not wish a young woman to be disgraced for her sin, it is not surprising that a Christian text would see this as an action that was δικαιος in character.

However, v2.18 says that the BVM had been found to with child by the Holy Spirit and in was in those circumstances that St Joseph decided to divorce her. The text does not state he suspected her of sin; but clearly if he had made a public display of divorcing her, the world at large might well have suspected her of sin and therefore he wished to divorce her quietly. A man who wished to avoid bringing scandal on the head of one he believes to be innocent of wrongdoing is also clearly a man who is δικαιος.

That would only leave the question of why, if he believed her to be innocent of sin, would he wish to divorce her? In v2.20 we hear he was told 'not to be afraid to take Mary' as his wife. Why should he be afraid? That some will know that the child is not his does not seem plausible, otherwise it would be pointless for him to attempt to spare her public disgrace. Equally, a man who is δικαιος would not be afraid of the whispers of gossips. The only thing left for him to afraid of then is the situation itself: that his bride is with child by the Holy Spirit. Any man who is truly δικαιος must feel himself unworthy to be husband to a woman who has been so honoured by God.

Therefore, with no disrespect intended to the Church Fathers who take a different view, I believe the Scriptures best support the following interpretation: St Joseph knew and belived that the BVM was with child by the Holy Spirit; he never suspected her of sin, but rather felt himself unworthy of the honour of being husband to such a woman; however, obedient to the message of his vision, he changed his plans and humbly submitted himself to God's will, and thereby proved himself a 'just' man and a worthy spouse of Our Lady.

Fr Levi said...

helgothjb,

That would depend on what you mean by 'just.' Is a just man one who insists on the letter of the law on all occasions; or is a just man one who tempers justice with mercy? Your post pre-supposes that the only kind of Jewish man who could be considered just is the former. I do not think that this is true. There is much in the Old Testament that would suggest mercy as being a virtue.

In any event, Matthew is a New Testament text and it is in the NT context whether we must consider whether St Joseph's actions are compatible with his being a just man if he suspected the BVM of sin. The word in Greek at Matthew 2.19 that is often translated as just is δικαιος, which also can be translated as righteous, holy (or even innocent). We are told is that as a man who was just/holy/righteous, his decision was to divorce her quietly and not expose her to public disgrace. If he did suspect her of sin, the text nonetheless regards his actions as δικαιος. If the interpretation is that St Joseph was being merciful and did not wish a young woman to be disgraced for her sin, it is not surprising that a Christian text would see this as an action that was δικαιος in character.

However, v2.18 says that the BVM had been found to with child by the Holy Spirit and in was in those circumstances that St Joseph decided to divorce her. The text does not state he suspected her of sin; but clearly if he had made a public display of divorcing her, the world at large might well have suspected her of sin and therefore he wished to divorce her quietly. A man who wished to avoid bringing scandal on the head of one he believes to be innocent of wrongdoing is also clearly a man who is δικαιος.

That would only leave the question of why, if he believed her to be innocent of sin, would he wish to divorce her? In v2.20 we hear he was told 'not to be afraid to take Mary' as his wife. Why should he be afraid? That some will know that the child is not his does not seem plausible, otherwise it would be pointless for him to attempt to spare her public disgrace. Equally, a man who is δικαιος would not be afraid of the whispers of gossips. The only thing left for him to afraid of then is the situation itself: that his bride is with child by the Holy Spirit. Any man who is truly δικαιος must feel himself unworthy to be husband to a woman who has been so honoured by God.

Therefore, with no disrespect intended to the Church Fathers who take a different view, I believe the Scriptures best support the following interpretation: St Joseph knew and belived that the BVM was with child by the Holy Spirit; he never suspected her of sin, but rather felt himself unworthy of the honour of being husband to such a woman; however, obedient to the message of his vision, he changed his plans and humbly submitted himself to God's will, and thereby proved himself a 'just' man and a worthy spouse of Our Lady.

Fr Levi said...

apologies - that last comment should only have appeared once - not sure what happend.

MichaelP said...

I accidentally put "virginal birth". At this point in the account, that did not happen. I meant to say that Joseph somewhat knew of the miraculous conception.

Sorry.
Michael

Unlikely said...

thanks for this post.
It's most intriguing to look ahead to Christmas and think of the long string of miracles, among which Joseph's vision and change of heart ought to be counted.

I sense that there's some ambiguity in the story that we can't take out. We don't know what Joseph suspected of Mary, nor do any other the fathers, beyond conjecture. so live with the ambiguity

Reginaldus said...

@Fr. Levi,
Thank you for the commentary.
Certainly, you bring up many valid points. I would agree with you regarding the justice of St. Joseph.
I think you have adequately responded to the concerns of helgothjb.

Regarding whether St. Joseph knew that Mary was the Mother of God, I am not sure... Obviously, the opinion you espouse is held by numerous Fathers and Doctors (and even Cornelius a' Lapide seems to lean in that direction a bit, while remaining somewhat sceptical). Moreover, St. Bridget received the same message in her Revelations...so that has some weight too!

Obviously, diversity is legitimate in this matter.
I want to take a slightly more moderate view -- Joseph was very confused and didn't really think either one way or the other (though he was certain that Mary would not have sinned).
But I am open to your opinion.

What is very hard for me to accept is the view (taken by Augustine) that Joseph actually suspected that Mary was an adulteress. If it wasn't for the fact that Augustine said this, I would dismiss it as impious! But, I suppose it must be a valid option, if so many of the great fathers held the opinion...

It's great to have you at the NTM blog, please feel free to comment on future posts as well!

A pilgrim said...

Hmmm.... Gee, I'm not sure exactly what to think now. I'm looking more closely at Reginaldus's original point regarding Mary's response to the angel ("...I do not know man") and that it seems a reasonable interpretation and implication that she had already vowed virginity. Also, Fr. Levi's point about the text, (v2.20) where we hear Joseph was told 'not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife'... making me wonder if in fact Mary had told Joseph... and if/how much did she divulge...

Thank God! It is a mystery and we are still at peace in the mystery. But, this is good stuff!

Thank you! Merry Christmas!!

Reginaldus said...

@MichaelP, Thanks for the link to the Sacred Page blog. Also, I agree that "divorce" is a poor translation -- it should be "put away", as you say.
Your interpretation is very much in line with the second option (held by Basil, Bernard, and Bridget).

@Unlikely,
I think you are correct. This is a matter of speculation and we cannot be too sure of our conclusions; we tread on holy ground. Nevertheless, I am certain that it is good to pray with the scene and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to attempt to pierce the mystery.

Jenni said...

Fr. Levi,
I would agree that "just" in this instance does not mean a strict observer of the law. However, I would disagree that it means that he was being merciful. Instead, what if Joseph already knew about the Incarnation and St. Matthew is telling us that he is ‘just’ in the sense that Joseph is 'just before God' and had a total respect for God's will. He did not want to meddle with the mystery that God was working in Mary, so he wanted to remove himself from it. After all, she had become the new Ark of the Covenant, as one commenter pointed out. That is what St. Thomas Aquinas seems to be saying, he wanted to part from her out of respect for her sanctity. For more, Ignance de la Potterrie, SJ has an excellent exegesis of the Annunciation to Joseph pericope.

Timothy Joseph said...

As often the case, we get caught up in the discussion of what the meaning of 'is' is. The Gospel relates actions within context of a life of Judaic practices that are hardly well understood today.

The real points are: Mary acquiesed to the awesome task God bestowed on her: to be Christ's mother; Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit; Joseph, despite his qualms (I think the intent here is to show him fully human but capable of accepting God's plan) accepts the charge God gives to him. The other stuff is just so much speculation and doesn't really add to our understanding and belief. The real question isn't whether Joseph though Mary was in sin, the real question is did he do God's will? Questions like the original fracture the faith into little grains of sand to be highlighted under a microscope. Sermons in church this weekend were preached over and again trying to explain whether Joseph though Mary a sinner. That really isn't the point!!! The point is the two people accepted God's roles for them!
I also take exception to the statement, even if some of the Fathers of the Church conclude such, that Mary and Joseph lived like brother and sister. There are marriages of all stripes, consummated in many ways both spiritual and physical where sex isn't possible due to bodily impairments. Do we then relegate all these people to living monastic lives? Another conclusion that really can't be defended. The beauty of God's work is that he uses the clay he created and our belief is in the fact that Mary and Joseph were people like us. I can scarcely believe that in the highly scrutinized society of Jewish law that Mary and Joseph could comport themselves as brother and sister and that defies what God intends in marriage. Sex isn't necessarily the consummation of marriage, but there are forms of intimacy of spirit and soul that bind husband and wife that brothers and sisters can't hope to share. How can we hope to emulate the concept of the example of the Holy Family if we postulate that Jesus was raised by an older brother ahd sister? Most of what is on this blog is pretty good but sometimes you all get carried away with some weird perspectives. By the way, my patron saint is Joseph, and he and I have some very good understandings of life's challenges.

Reginaldus said...

@Timothy Joseph,
I think that we are misunderstanding each other here...
When I say that Joseph and Mary lived as "brother and sister", I am using the phrase according to the common euphemism to mean simply that their marriage was not consummated by sexual intercourse.
Of course, I do not literally mean that Joseph and Mary acted as a "big brother and sister" for Jesus!
Of course their marriage was a true marriage, one of great love...but their was no sexual/genital relation between Joseph and Mary [I would not use such blunt language, but you seem not to understand the common more polite ways of speaking of such things].

Regarding your statement: That thinking about such matters (as what Joseph was really thinking when he intended to "put Mary away secretly") will "fracture the faith into little grains of sand to be highlighted under a microscope."
I must say that I heartily disagree with you. How can you possibly make a meditation with the text unless you speak with Joseph and ask him what was in his heart? Sure, it is speculation, but I am convinced that an important part of the Christian life is trying to pierce into the mysteries...even if that means that we lack the certainty we normally want to have.
Moreover, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church ask this question. St. Thomas Aquinas asks this question. The great theologians and scholars ask this question. I would say that there is something wrong with a person who would dismiss the tradition so easily...

Regarding the sermons given in most churches this weekend -- I am sure that many foolish things were said by impious priests, that however should not make us run away from the meditation; we only need to be firmly grounded in the Tradition and in the Scriptures, and in the life of prayer.

I hope you can see why I wrote this article.
...btw, any "weird perspective" you find in this article has been defended by various Fathers of the Church (as I cited in the article itself); we need to have a bit more humility when we approach the commentaries written by the Fathers on these difficult passages of the Bible, we ought not call the commentaries "weird" or accuse them of "dissecting" the faith...

Fernando said...

Dear Reginaldus... as a matter off fact I'll read anie blogg I want, any time I want and I'll comment your "articles" anytime I want eben when you follow Opus Day [thate organization founded by someone who changed is name because his baptistic name was nott noble enough]'s Commentary... sure you can ignore my comments and eben block them, butt thate will say a lot aboutte your Christian heart...

butt place a mirror in frontt off you before you lett the axx follow on person likke me...you saide to me «[you] make vague innuendos and avoid making any real claims»...

really?

1) it's you thate generalized when talked aboutt "modernist theologians" withoutt giving any example off your claimms;

2) it's you thate are always speaking off "The Fathers off the Church" and the "Doctors off the Church" as these are an homogenious reallity and not, as they are, a contrasting reallity... more: you eben do nott presente any proff thate these agree withe you...

so: the previous 1800 years should be neglected always when those 1800 years are againstte the previous 100 [the time I reccon the NT was written]... butt it seams you do never incorpore the last 100 years in your thoughts and texts... so: it's you thate are making a separation in the Tradition as this one comes into our days and did not stop in the year 1900... just see the names you presented for good schollars... they do not overcome the year 1700...

may you habe a good Christmas and may the incomming God heal your soul and hoppen your heart to the truth wherever it is eben iff it is in ourdays ""modern schoolars" thate deny some aspects off the Tradition thate shoold neber habe apperaed...

Fernando said...

By the way... you, dear Reginaldus, saide: «It is clear that Mary and Joseph had together vowed virginity, since Mary says to the angel, “How can this be, since I know not man?”»...

really? really? is this as clear as you think? the text only sais thate Mary did not habe sexuall intercorses untill thate time... nothing more, nothing less... in order to see in the text something else one must habe an enourmous imagination... don't you think so?

MichaelP said...

Reginaldus,

I would also like to add that the OT Ark could not be touched without one losing his life. Could this somewhat shed light on what Joseph may have been afraid of? Or would this not come into play if he already vowed to not have marital relations with Mary?

Michael

Reginaldus said...

Fernando, Your comments prove your character.

Please cease to use such hate-speech regarding canonized saints (namely St. Josemaria Escriva)...
In the future, I will block any comments in which you defame saints of the Church.

For the present, I will leave your comments as a testimony to the readers of NTM -- all can see what sort of person hates Opus Dei, and what sort of "theologian" prefers the modernist movement to the sound doctrine established by the Church's 2000 year Tradition (which is a continuous unity, even if there is a great deal of room for diversity)...

Reginaldus said...

@MichaelP,
I think you could certainly be correct -- there is no question that St. Luke writes in a way to make a connection between the Ark of the Covenant and the Blessed Virgin Mary; uniting the Visitation with the Uzzah story (in which the man dies for having touched the Ark, in 1 Chronicles 13ff)...

The interpretation you bring up is certainly a valid option (following Origen, Basil, Bernard etc)...I, personally, do not think that this was what made Joseph "afraid" at first, but I am sure he was comforted to know that he was chosen by God and so it would not be out of place for him to serve as the guardian and care-taker of the Virgin and Child.

Thanks for the addition!

Reginaldus said...

@Fernando, While I do not think that your comment is deserving of a reply, I will nevertheless address one point.

You say that I present the Church Fathers and Doctors as an "homogenious reality", criticizing me for glossing over the diversity.
I suspect you are intending to claim that the first 100 years of the Church are in contradiction with the next 1800 years and that, only after the "Modernism" movement in the late 1800's, did the Church come back to the Truth in 1960's or so. [this is obviously not a position which is open to Catholics]

I would only make this one comment: I have most certainly not presented the Fathers and Doctors as though they all spoke with one united voice. I have very clearly stated (in many articles and also in this article) that there is great diversity of opinion. If you take the time to re-read the article, you will see that I have clearly given three very different interpretations of the text -- all of which have been supported by different Fathers and Doctors. Certainly, there is great room for diversity in this matter; I am in no way trying to come down with an iron fist.

One thing is not at all acceptable, however -- that is, to dismiss the Tradition and to adopt instead a hermeneutic of rupture, rejecting the doctrine of the Church for the modern "insights" of (mostly) non-catholic (and often non-Christian) scholars.

Bernardus said...

Dear Fr. Reginaldus,
@Reginaldus Dec. 21, 2010 8:06AM

You make a very important point in this discussion. In understanding the mystery of the the birth of Jesus, we need to meditate on the Gospel message especially one Holy Church selects for us. And, in this Gospel, we do need to pray to St. Joseph and ask him what was on his heart. I feel certain he is not going to text me or IM me out of the blue with a one on one, but I never know what deepening of faith I will be allowed. And I believe St. Joseph will offer wise and learned insight if asked.
And to have the Church Fathers offer instruction allows a grace filled enlightenment I would never be able to do alone.
I want to thank you for references I was unaware of (Navarre Bible and Fr. Cornelius a'Lapide).
I wish you a very Blessed and Holy Christmas. I continue to keep you in my prayers. Please pray for me especially that I may be graced with a Holy Spiritual Director.

Reginaldus said...

@Bernard, Blessings to you! I am glad to hear that this post has helped in some small way with the life of prayer.
I am certain that, if only you persevere, God will provide you with the Spiritual Direction you are looking for.
I will keep you in my prayers! Thank you for your prayers as well.

James said...

I like these sorts of posts, especially when you are clear about saying that this isn’t doctrine, but speculation. They are very useful for meditation. It raises our minds above our usual sinfulness to imagine life as the saint perceives it. Thinking in these idealized ways helps us make ideal, virtuous choices in our own circumstance. As a young man discerning marriage, meditating on this particular event in this manner will be meritorious.

Reginaldus said...

James, God bless you in your discernment! Yes, indeed, we have much to learn about family life from the Holy Family. Also, St. Joseph is a great model of true Christian manhood and fatherhood. Blessings to you and a merry Christmas!

Fr Levi said...

Having said that I do not believe Joseph suspected Mary (based on a close reading of the text), I nonetheless realise it is not a matter of doctrine - and indeed the 'lens' of doubt and Joseph's example in overcoming it can be very powerful. For example, I found this trailer for a BBC program portraying Joseph's doubts in this matter to be very moving http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgERc0uJaJ0&feature=player_embedded. If you can't open the link, I've posted it on my blog also.

Unlikely said...

I'd like to ask readers for prayers for my marriage today and for all who are married. Guide us God to follow in your ways and not in the ways that seem right to us. Enliven us to angels word to Joseph, "Fear not".
AMEN

Reginaldus said...

@Unlikely, My prayers are with you this day!
Also, I am very glad that you feel comfortable reading and commenting on this blog (though you come from a different faith tradition). Christmas blessings to you!

Unlikely said...

Reginaldus--
thanks for the prayers.
I don't think our traditions are as different at the core as we might like to think. We still rise and fall on the wonders of what God has done coming for us to live: teach and heal, to die, and to rise.
Pax
John

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