Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Was St. Joseph present at the Visitation?


In previous articles we have considered what St. Joseph may have thought when he learned of the conception of the Christ Child and also have compared the evidence from Sts. Matthew and Luke to attempt to create a harmony of the events from the betrothal of St. Joseph and the Virgin through the finding of Jesus in the Temple, our purpose in the current article is to elaborate an additional point which was already covered briefly – Was St. Joseph present at the Visitation?
After briefly establishing the relevant points made from the previous articles, we will consider the arguments in favor of St. Joseph’s presence followed by those opposed to it. In so doing we do not attempt to establish dogma or come to absolute certainty, rather we only desire to gain some understanding of the historical reality of the Visitation of the Mother of God to St. Elizabeth. Certainly, a careful consideration of the Gospel text, together with the tradition of the Fathers and Doctors, will be of great aid to us as we make a meditation upon this mystery. Specifically, we recall that imaginative prayer (especially, that which is in the Ignatian tradition) is deeply rooted in the historical circumstances and details of the mystery – one simply cannot effectively engage this event in imaginative mental prayer without considering whether or not St. Joseph was present.

A proposed chronology of the events
In the earlier articles, I have argued that the Virgin Mary was betrothed to St. Joseph before the Annunciation, and that St. Joseph was not present when St. Gabriel came to the Mother of God. Rather, it seems most likely, that St. Joseph did not know of the mystery of the Incarnation until the angel Gabriel revealed it to him in a dream. At some point (and the exact timing of this event will be central to our current article), St. Joseph noticed that our Lady was with child. It seems more likely that the Just Man did not understand the mystery at once, but was very much confused (not that he suspected Mary of sin, but he did not know what to think). It was at this time that the angel came and instructed St. Joseph that he should take Mary into his home and accept her as his wife.
For our purposes in this article, the central question of chronology is whether St. Joseph’s dream of the angel occurred before or after the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. If we accept the opinion of several Fathers and Doctors (including Sts. Augustine and Justin Martyr), it seems that St. Joseph recognized that Mary was with child simply by witnessing the obvious fact that she was several months pregnant – this is the opinion adopted by Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide. In this case, it would seem that the crisis and the angelic dream-vision came after the Virgin Mary had visited St. Elizabeth. After remaining with her kinswoman for about three months (as St. Luke relates), the Virgin would begin to show the signs of pregnancy. At this time, it would seem that St. Joseph noticed her state and rationally concluded that she was with child.
[Obviously, there is great diversity among Father, Doctors, saints, and theologians on this point. I am simply presenting what seems to me to be the most likely case, based especially on the scholarship of Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide (who is certainly a trustworthy source)]
Was St. Joseph present at the Annunciation?
From the text of St. Matthew’s Gospel, it is quite certain that St. Joseph was not present at the Annunciation which St. Gabriel made to the Virgin. It is only after our Lady has conceived that St. Joseph recognizes that she is with child, and it seems that he does not fully understand how this had come about. This confusion, and also this delay in recognizing the pregnancy, can only be explained if St. Joseph was not present at the Annunciation – if he had heard the angel Gabriel’s words, it is hard to understand why he would have needed the further revelation given in the dream. Why would St. Joseph need the Angel to tell him almost the exact same thing twice? Therefore, it seems most likely that St. Joseph was not present at the Annunciation.
It was during the Annunciation that St. Gabriel told the Virgin Mother of the conception of St. John the Baptist. Immediately after this, the Mother of God made haste to the hill country to visit St. Elizabeth – traveling from Nazareth (which is in Galilee, in the north) to Ein Karem (near Jerusalem, to the south), a distance of some ninety miles by road.
Now, if St. Joseph only recognized the Virgin Mother’s pregnancy after she returned from the Visitation (that is, about three months after the Annunciation), it would seem that St. Joseph was not with the Mother of God while she remained with St. Elizabeth for those months. This would lead us to think that St. Joseph was not present at the Visitation.
Arguments in favor of St. Joseph’s presence at the Visitation
What is probably the strongest argument to show that St. Joseph accompanied the Virgin Mary in the Visitation is that the distance traveled was quite extensive and would have to be done not merely once but twice (there and back again). Considering that the Virgin Mary was probably a young girl at the time of the Annunciation and that St. Joseph was very much given as her protector, it seems likely that the Just Man would accompany the Virgin in this journey. And, if he accompanied her on the way to Ein Karem (where St. Elizabeth lived) and on her return to Nazareth, it seems quite logical to presume that he was with her at the Visitation.
Additionally, we point to the fact that many theologians (including St. Basil, Origen, Theophylact, and others), together with numerous mystics (I have heard that these include St. Bridget of Sweden and others), have presumed that St. Joseph was present at the Visitation – though there is certainly nothing close to unanimity on the issue.
Arguments against St. Joseph’s presence at the Visitation
The principle argument against St. Joseph’s presence at the Visitation, one which I think carries the day, is that it is almost impossible to explain how St. Joseph could have been confused when he found that the Virgin Mary was with child, if he was present at the Visitation.
Assuming (as I have argued) that the dream-vision from the Angel occurred at some point after the Visitation (about three months after the Incarnation itself), it seems highly unlikely that St. Joseph was present at the Visitation. St. Elizabeth said to the Virgin Mary, and whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43) If St. Joseph heard these words, it is hard to understand why he needed St. Gabriel’s instruction, Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:20).
If we grant that St. Joseph found the Virgin Mary to be with child by noticing her physical enlargement, then we must hold that the angelic dream of the Just Man occurred after the Virgin’s return from the Visitation. But, if the dream came after St. Elizabeth’s very clear words which proclaim Mary to be blessed among women and the mother of my Lord, it is almost certain that St. Joseph did not hear these words and, therefore, was not present at the Visitation.
On St. Joseph’s role in protecting the Virgin in her travels
In reply to the above argument in favor of St. Joseph’s presence at the Visitation, based on the fact that it seems that he would have been with the Virgin when she travelled this great distance from Nazareth to Ein Karem, we make two points.
First, given that the two were not yet wed, but were only betrothed (even granting that betrothal was something much stronger and more binding at that time), it seems unlikely that St. Joseph would have been so familiar with the Virgin as to travel alone with her. Indeed, we know that he had not yet taken her into his home, since they were not yet married (though it is true that, after the betrothal, Mary was called his wife; yet, they did not live together). It seems unlikely that St. Joseph would expose the Virgin to scandal by traveling with her in that journey to Ein Karem – if they were not yet married, it does not seem that he should have been alone with her and this is all the more true of traveling alone!
Second, while St. Joseph was the protector and guarding of the Madonna and Child, he did not fully step into this role until the wedding, when he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife (Matthew 1:24). Hence, if the marriage occurred at least three months after the Annunciation, that is, sometime after the Visitation, we need not presume that St. Joseph would have accompanied the Blessed Mother in her travels to Ein Karem. Moreover, there were certainly other family members who could have accompanied Mary in her journey.

Certainly, there is much room for diversity of opinion in this matter. Many saints come down on both sides. However, we have attempted to lay out at least something of an answer. Hopefully, this reflection will serve to better aid us all in mediating upon this mystery. Whatever we think about the presence of St. Joseph at the Visitation, I pray that the contemplation of many of the issues raised in this article will provide the devout soul with some insight into the most chaste relationship of the Virgin and the Just Man.

26 comments:

demontfortdevotee said...

Hi Father! I really appreciate the post. I love thinking about the mysteries of the lives of Our Lord and Our Lady, so it was a real joy to read your thoughts and your post.

Might I say, however, that I find the argument you give in favor of St. Joseph not being present at the Visitation seems a little weak at best. Supposing St. Joseph did accompany Our Lady on the visit to St. Elizabeth, there are any number of circumstances in which he would not have heard St. Elizabeth's comment to the Blessed Mother. One such circumstance is given in The Life and Glories of St. Joseph published by TAN where it is stated that in his charitable love for the suffering it is possible that he went to be with Zechariah for a while upon reaching the house of St. Elizabeth. Alternatively, he may have been watering the donkey somewhere else around the house.

Also, in response to your response, I have read that some saints have said that the holy couple had already been married (not just betrothed). I don't know how likely of an explanation that is, but I have heard it said.

Thank you again for this interesting post, and may Our Lady always keep you close to her and draw you nearer to her Son. :)

Joe

Reginaldus said...

Joe (demontfortdevotee),
Certainly, what you say is possible.
Still, I think it is interesting that we have to come up with all sorts of hypotheticals in order to believe that Joseph was there (i.e. "maybe he was watering the donkey" or "maybe he was off here" or "maybe he was over there") ... the burden of proof lies with those who would want to say St. Joseph was there, since there is no mention of his presence in the Bible (and since the Fathers and Doctors are divided on the issue).

Still, I think the strongest argument is that he does not seem to have yet been married to our Lady (since, as I try to show in the article, the angel had not yet told him to take Mary into his house) ... thus, if St. Joseph had not yet taken Mary into his house, I think it is highly unlikely that he would travel with her (this would be quite scandalous, I should think).


While I do agree that the argument I give is "a little weak at best" ... I would say that this is to be expected, since the matter is not explicit in Scripture.
However, I can see almost no argument at all to say that St. Joseph was there -- why should we suppose he was? Did Mary have no other family to travel with? For many years, the Virgin had been accompanied in her journeys by family members; why should we suppose this was not the case for the Visitation?

In any case, like you, I do enjoy thinking about this mystery and attempting to come to some understanding.
Peace, and happy Feast! +

sedemsapientiam said...

Thank you very much, Father. :)
Happy Feast day to you as well.

Dismas said...

Fr. Reginaldus,

The following link is a meditation from the Life of the Virgin Mary as seen by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich.

For many reasons, I understand you may not welcome this on your blog regarding this article. I won't mind if you choose not to introduce it. My only reason for posting it, is I thought it could be a nice addition to read and think about in celebration of the Feast Day.

http://christianbookshelf.org/emmerich/the_life_of_the_blessed_virgin_mary/ix_the_visitation.htm

Anonymous said...

"it seems unlikely that St. Joseph would have been so familiar with the Virgin as to travel alone with her"... sure... a 12 year old girl (according to Tradition) making a 100 milles journey alone... sure...

Reginaldus said...

Anonymous (11:42am),
I'm not sure at whom your sarcasm is meant to be directed ...

What I stated very clearly is that it seems more likely to conclude that the Virgin traveled with other family members (as she would have done many times before) ... why would she need St. Joseph, especially if they were not yet married?

[I will not even touch your ridiculous assertion that Tradition (i.e. the Apostolic Tradition) has told us that Mary was 12 years old ... the tradition (i.e. the general belief of the Church) has held that she was young, perhaps even in the mid teens; but Tradition (which is dogmatic) has said nothing on the matter]


Finally, though I can see from your sarcasm that you lack all courtesy ... I would remind you of the policy of this blog (which is reproduced in the combox above the place provided for your comment) that you at least place some sort of tag/id/pseudonym at the end of your comment ... If you must be insulting, at least have the decency to claim your insult!
[on the other hand, as you did not take the time to read my article carefully, I suppose you did not take the time to read the instructions in the combox either]

Brad said...

May God bless you, Father.

I am sure this is described in Venerable Mary of Agreda's "Mystical City of God". That favorite book of mine is currently loaned to a friend, so I can't verify at the moment. It may also be in Emmerich's visions.

Dymphna said...

Neither a teenaged girl or an old widow would've made the trip alone. Perhaps there was a caravan she was able to join. It's possible that family members went with her. It doesn't matter really.

Anonymous said...

Also, Maria Valtorta may have described this situation though I no longer have her writings in my possession to give verification.

Dismas said...

@Brad -

Are these the passages from Mystical City to which you refer?

http://www.catholictradition.org/Advent/advent12a.htm

Sylvio (dszg) said...

Hello, I'm Gergely Szilvay from Magyar Kurír (Hungarian Curier), the half-official news site of the hungarian catholic church (and of Igen - Yes -, a lay youth catholic website). I have started to write about catholic blogs (I'm also a blogger of some hungarian blogs), and I have written about your also:
http://www.magyarkurir.hu/hirek/blogfigyelo-uj-teologiai-mozgalom

Reginaldus said...

To all, regarding visions of the life of Christ,

While I think that the various visions (especially those given to saints and blesseds) can be helpful in giving some indication of the historical events of Christ's life, I would caution against using them as though they offer us direct historical data.

Many of the visions granted to different saints over the centuries differ on specifics ... if they are all taken as literal historical represenations (like a news show), there would be many many contradictions between the visions.

Moreover, remember that our Lord and his Mother often appear in a form that will be understood by the people to whom they manifest themselves.
(Thus, our Lady appeared as a Mexican to St. Juan Diego; for example)
Likewise, the visions of Christ's life will often conform to certain presumptions which the visionary would have [hence, whether Christ's side was pierced on the right or the left differs from Stigmatic to Stigmatic].

Let me be clear: The visions do give some indication of the history, but they are not like watching the news ... hence, whether or not a particular visionary saw St. Joseph at the Visitation does not answer our question.
Theological reflection takes visions into account, but there are other factors to consider as well -- such as the tradition of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church (which is divided on this issue) and also rational reflection on the Sacred Text.

Peace! +

Ann said...

Thank you for your article. Anything that can contribute to one's meditation on the mysteries of the rosary is helpful, anything that is reasonable and well thought out, as yours is.
Now, I have a question. At a nearby parish there is a litany of Our Lady for peace and justice, and one of her titles is, "unwed mother." If Mary and Joseph were betrothed, a more serious "state" than present "engagement" in America, do not the Scriptures say that Joseph was willing to divorce her to spare her after he discovered she was "with child?" Does this not imply that they were married in some fashion? And..that she was NOT an unwed mother? Thank you for any light you can shed on this. I don't think I will succeed in getting the leader to drop this title from the litany...

Brad said...

Dismas, devastatingly beautiful, thank you. Mystical City of God changed my life. It gave me a glimpse at real holiness: how it is possible, with Grace, for creatures to behave in a way that is pleasing, or shall we say, not simply offensive, to our creator.

Anonymous said...

Can any of the writers, including Reginaldus, explain how pondering this issue adds a jot to the message of Christ? I can't imagine St. Paul spending a moment with this issue; how does this bring about conversion? If the believers either way whether St Joseph did or not accompany are finding reinforcement for their faith in Jesus' message based on this...and if there is disagreement, then to what good end is this argument/discussion since it is not a matter of faith. What are the basic building blocks of the story line; Mary accepts the Angels tiding and the Holy Spirit and becomes the vessel for God coming to Earth; St. John is revealed as the herald because of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth; St. Joseph is calmed to resolve by the dreams from the Angels to do his role. Isn't the story in the Gospel more important than the sidebar discussions? Did she ride a camel or a mule; did she walk; did it take one day or two. Does any of this help keep focus on the Message? This seems to dilute thinking and reflection. Is the important part of the story of the Israelites escaping from the Egyptian pursuit the actual mechanics of the parting of the Red Sea or is the story really about Yahweh saving His people for His purposes and the subsequent history leading to the Savior's birth?

This reminds me of the Augustine story of him trying to put the sea into a hole in the beach sand.

Tim

Bil said...

It would certainly seem logical that St Joseph was present at the Visitation...you make a good point on the timing of the message given St Joseph but it was very vague to say the least (how many men are capable of doing what he did with the information he was given?) It would follow that this silent Saint would seek to reinforce in whatever way possible the message of the Angel. If he understood that Mary was chosen by God to bear the Savior, it would seem likely that in all humility he would assume his role to be that of a protector...in all things. In his book "Joseph of Nazareth" Frederico Suarez provides an outline of St Joseph that every man should strive to imitate, love and humility being foremost. I love the subject matter...glad I found you.
Felix Culpa

Reginaldus said...

Tim,
Your attitude leads to utterly rejecting Ignatian prayer. St. Ignatius himself was so interested in the details that he traveled to Jerusalem to try and figure out what way Jesus was looking as he ascended into heaven.

Your attitude also would lead to throwing aside nearly all private revelation as an utter waste of time and a mere distraction -- the writings of Bl Emmerich, St. Bridget, and others are (for you) worthless collections of nonsense.

Finally, I will point out that those who meditate on the Scriptures and find the word of God to be their source of consolation will gladly meditate upon the details and seek to understand the mind of St. Joseph (in this case).

The saints never tired of considering these points (whether Augustine or Jerome, Thomas Aquinas or Bonaventure, Emmerich or Bridget). Perhaps you should ask yourself why you find the thoughts of the saints (which is all I have reproduced in the above article) to be a waste of time...

In any case, you will never be able to pray on the scene with the Ignatian model of imaginative prayer if you don't consider questions like -- camel or mule, Joseph or other family, young or old, etc.
I don't pretend to claim to have the definitive answer ... but I do resent your suggestion that the mere thought of the question I have proposed must necessarily derogate from the Gospel!
good day to you sir!

Reginaldus said...

Ann,
I think your concerns are justified. It is not really accurate to call Mary an "unwed mother", just as it is silly to speak of the Incarnation as an "unplanned pregnancy" ... phrases like these are offensive to pious ears.

In any case, the betrothal of Joseph and Mary was a real bond that could be severed only by a divorce. True, they had not yet begun to live together in the same house; but Mary is certainly not an "unwed mother" in the modern sense of the term!

In fact, Jewish betrothal was more binding than modern marriage!

Marie said...

Thank you, Father, for this article. I have always liked to think that St. Joseph was absent at the Visitation. But that's just me.

My two reasons:

1. Mary went "with haste" to the hill country and might not have had the time to tell Joseph about her hurried journey. Anyway, although bethrothed, they are not married yet (Joseph hasn't yet taken her into his house.) Or maybe she thought that Joseph had been told by the Angel about Elizabeth and presumed he would understand the great haste for her to go. There might have been a number of caravans plying the distance from Nazareth to Ein Karim, with relatives among the passengers. It is quite likely that Mary went with a group.

2. When Zechariah sang the Benedictus, "And hath raised up an horn of salvation to us, in the house of David his servant" referring to the Child that the Blessed Mother was carrying, he proves that Mary comes from the House of David (and not like Elizabeth who was a Levite.) If St. Joseph would have been there, we would think that the "House of David" refers to St. Joseph, therefore the Christ would have been a mere adoption into the Davidic lineage instead of by bloodline.

Just my thoughts, and please excuse my grammar. I am not a native English speaker.

Thanks again, Father.

Reginaldus said...

Marie,
Thank you for sharing. I agree with both of your reasons ... though the question of ancestry is particularly complicated ... but you are certainly correct that Mary was of the house of David as was St. Joseph -- so Christ receives his royal lineage through Joseph and his hereditary/biological lineage through Mary; and both are Davidic.

Also, your English is very good!

Dismas said...

Brad, You're most welcome, I agree:

From the beginning of the world they have not heard, nor perceived with the ears: the eye hath not seen, O God, besides thee, what things thou hast prepared for them that wait for thee.
Isaias (Isaiah) 64:4

But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.
1 Corinthians 2:9

May God grant us always an ever increasing desire for a deeper understanding of His infinite mercy, grace and unfathomable holiness.

Fr. Reginaldus, Thank you for reminding us of the advantages, disadvantages and proper perspective in approaching church approved private revelation. Most instructive.

Michelangelo said...

Father,

Happy Ascension Thursday! (as we used to say...) Now here's a crazy idea: What if the Blessed Virgin, now pregnant with our Lord, went directly to tell St. Joseph the news? And thus the dream happened immediately after he received the news, possibly that night? And that "to send her away quietly", lathra apolysai autane, was because he considered himself unworthy, and part of the consideration was into which home or community she might best be placed? Thus St. Joe's consideration was not at all selfish but a consideration, in humble love, for the best care of the Mother of the Messiah? Wild, eh? Just thought of it, figured you would get a smile out of it. That way, he can go on the Visitation and we don't have a problem! God bless, Father.

Michelangelo

Anonymous said...

To Brad comment above:

You are right, Mary of Agreda wrote in great detail in Mystical City of God all the events related to the Visitation. Actually I just checked again and she has 11 chapters in the 3rd book (part of "The Conception" volume), chapters XV to XXV, covering lots of extremely detailed events around it.

In Agreda's narrations, Joseph was together with Mary on the 4 day travel from Nazareth to the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth in the city of Juda.
He was not present, nor Zacharias (as Elizabeth and Mary had retired together after the initial salutations after the arrival of Mary and Joseph), during Elizabeth actual "Visitation" events related in the gospel.

Joseph stayed only 3 days in Zacharias house, going back to Nazareth and leaving Mary helping her cousing Elizabeth.
Joseph returned back to Juda when Elizabeth called him back, after John's circumcision, which he did and then returned back to Nazareth with Mary.

(Brad. I love also Mystical City of God. It is just a treaure I discovered not long ago. I use an ebook version from Amazon, so I always have it with me on my iPad now..)
God bless

Reginaldus said...

To all: What I would like to point out is that everyone (or nearly everyone) has agreed with the fundamental thesis of the article -- St. Joseph was not present at the Visitation itself.

Whether he remained in Nazareth, or was off getting water, or stayed back ... one way or another, St. Joseph was not present when the two women greeted each other.

Reginaldus said...

@michelangelo,
Your insight is certainly possible, and it was held (in a similar form) by many of the saints.

Personally, I do not think that it happened that way -- why would the angel calm St. Joseph down by saying "The Child is of the Holy Spirit", if Joseph already knew that the Child was of the Holy Spirit? -- however, many have come to the same conclusion you have ...

... to me, the obvious meaning of the text seems to be that Joseph was confused, rather than that he was fearful of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Still, there is certainly room for diversity of opinion in this matter! +

Nanna said...

I have come into this conversation 2 1/2 years later. We have a stained glass window in our church that shows a man standing to the left of Mary as Elizabeth is bowing on her right with Zachariah next to her. The next window is the Nativity and the way the artist portrayed Joseph is different from the man next to Mary in the Visitation window. This artist (N.T.Lyon, 1925) is very consistent is his portrayal of all the saints, so this led me to ask the question, "Who accompanied Mary on the journey to visit Elizabeth?" Was her father, St. Joachim, still living at that time? I cannot imagine her traveling that far alone, but had never considered it until recently. Thank you for this conversation.

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