July 26th, Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary
As we look at the two genealogies of Christ given in the Scriptures (Matthew 1:1ff and Luke 3:23), we might wonder why it is that St. Joachim is not mentioned as an ancestor of Jesus. It is no surprise that St. Anne would not be mentioned (since few women are), but we ought to be a bit alarmed at the lack of St. Joachim – since, he is the closest male blood-relative of our Savior.
Some – thinking themselves wise – may reply too quickly: “Well, of course Joachim isn’t mentioned! The genealogies are traced not through Mary, but through Joseph. Hence, since Joachim is Jesus’ ancestor through Mary, it is obvious that he wouldn’t be listed in the genealogy through Joseph!” Such persons are quite ignorant of the great diversity of Catholic opinion on this question.
In fact, many of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church – as well as the best of the biblical scholars (we refer especially to Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide) – have maintained that the genealogy given in Luke is the natural genealogy through Mary, while that in Matthew is the legal (and regal) genealogy through Joseph.
“How can this be?,” some will cry, “The Bible clearly states that the genealogies are both through Joseph – first as ‘son of Jacob’ (in Matthew), then as ‘son of Heli’ (in Luke).” Pointing our readers to our previous article on Mary’s genealogy, we turn now to a careful study of where Joachim lies hidden in the text of St. Luke’s Gospel.
An apparent contradiction: Is Joseph the son of Jacob or of Heli?
Matthew tells us that Jacob begot Joseph, but Luke states that Joseph was son of Heli – how are we to reconcile this apparent contradiction? There are many ways.
Many of the Fathers maintained that Jacob and Heli were brothers and that, after Heli died childless (or, at least, without any sons), Jacob took Heli’s widow for his wife. Of her was born St. Joseph. Hence, according to the flesh, Joseph would be the son of Jacob only; but, according to legal right of inheritance, Joseph would be the son of Heli also. This explanation is certainly plausible, and enjoys the favor of many scholastic doctors as well (including St. Thomas Aquinas).
There are, perhaps, other ways to explain this passage – nearly any interpretation will suffice, so long as we maintain the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture and avoid attributing a direct contradiction to the divinely-inspired word of God.
Mary’s lineage as traced through Heli
Many of the Fathers of the Church – followed also by the scholastic Doctors – have sought to present the genealogy given by Luke as the lineage not of Joseph, but of Mary. Invoking the above interpretation (by which Heli was the brother of Jacob who was the natural father of Joseph), they join to it an additional intricacy: Heli is simply another name for Joachim.
If Heli is Joachim, then we may presume that Joachim died without any sons. Joachim’s widow (presumably, a second wife other than St. Anne) would have married Jacob and bore him St. Joseph.
Conversely (without adopting the theory of a blood relation between Heli and Jacob), we may follow the opinion of other scholars who maintained that Jacob (Joseph’s father) had died young and that Joseph became a quasi-adopted son of Heli/Joachim through his marriage to the Virgin – for this reason, then, Joseph is called son of Heli.
Whatever the intricate details, the central claim of this theory is that Joachim was called Heli and that this “nick-name” would have been common knowledge to those for whom St. Luke was writing. This opinion is said to have been held by St. Jerome, and is defended with great vigor by Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide. It was a common opinion that enjoyed the favor of many scholars from at least the 1400s up through the early 1900s.
Linguistic study: Heli and Joachim
We argue that Heli and Joachim are linguistically related, such that it would be very natural for a single man to go by these two names. Joachim seems to be a variant form of Eliacim, which is abbreviated as Eli, a variant of Heli. Hence, though the two names may at first appear quite different, there is a great linguistic similarity between Heli and Joachim.
In any case, there are many persons in the New Testament who are called by multiple names: Nathanael is called Bartholomew, Thomas is called Didymus, Cleophas is called both Clepas and Alphaeus (though this last is more debatable), Salome is called Mary (her full name being Mary Salome), et c.
Mathan, the common grandfather of Joseph (son of Jacob) and the Virgin Mary (daughter of Joachim, called Heli)
[from the great, Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide, commenting on Luke 3:23]
As was supposed, the son of Joseph, which was (here, and before each of the following names the Arabic puts in “the son”) of Heli, which was of Mathat. From this passage Porphyry and Julian the Apostate accused Luke of being incorrect, because Joseph was not the son of Heli, but of Jacob, as S. Matthew says (ch. i.); and because S. Luke gives the other progenitors of Joseph and Heli names entirely different from those given them by S. Matthew.
Besides, Jesus was not the son of Joseph, but born of the Virgin Mary.
The solution given by some to this difficulty is that Joseph was by nature the son of Jacob, but by law the son of Heli. By the old law (Deut. xxv. 5) a surviving brother had to raise up seed to his dead brother, and the brother who had died childless was held to be the legal father of these sons. Now Jesca, says Euthymius, married Mathat, and by him had Heli, then she married Mathan, and by him had Jacob. Heli died without issue, and his brother Jacob married his wife in accordance with the law, and Joseph was his son by her, being, therefore, naturally the son of Jacob, but legally of Heli. So Justinus, S. Jerome, Eusebius, Nazianzen, and S. Ambrose explain it. But, on the other hand, Heli and Jacob were only uterine brothers, and the law on the subject of raising up seed to a brother only applies to full brothers, sons of the same father; for they alone kept the name and heritage of the father. Besides, the introduction of Jesca is beside the point. For though her sons, Heli and Jacob, be connected through her, yet they would have no connection through Mathat and Mathan and the rest of their ancestors up to David.
This, therefore, has nothing to do with the pedigree of the Blessed Virgin and Christ, in so far as showing Jesus to be of the seed of David according to the flesh is concerned. For if Jesus be descended from Jesca and Mathat, He could not be also descended from Jesca and Mathan; how, then, is He set down as the descendant of both Mathan and Mathat?
My opinion is that in the time of Christ it was very well known that Mathan was the common grandfather of Joseph and the Blessed Virgin; and that Jacob, the father of Joseph, and Heli, or Joachim, the father of the Blessed Virgin, were full brothers - as Francis Lucas holds - or rather, that Jacob was the brother of S. Anne, the wife of Heli, or Joachim, and mother of the Blessed Virgin; hence the genealogy of one is the genealogy of the other. For the Blessed Virgin was descended, through her mother, from Jacob, Mathan, and Solomon, and, through her father, Joachim or Heli, from Mathat and Nathan.
So S. Matthew gives the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin through her mother S. Anne, while S. Luke gives it through her father Heli, or Joachim, so that Christ may be shown to be descended of the seed of David in both ways.
There is no other better way than this of reconciling the genealogies given by SS. Matthew and Luke. Moreover, it is the common opinion of S. Augustine, Denis the Carthusian, Cajetan, Jansenius, and other doctors whom Suarez quotes (pt. iii., quæst. xxvii. a. 1, disp. 3, sect. 2) that S. Luke traces the genealogy of Christ through Heli, or Joachim, the father of the Blessed Virgin. Hence it must follow that S. Matthew’s genealogy is traced through S. Anne, and that she was the daughter of Mathan; for otherwise all her ancestors, whom S. Matthew recounts, belong only to Joseph, and not to the Blessed Virgin and Christ.
S. Matthew then traces Christ’s descent through His father Joseph, S. Luke through His mother, the Blessed Virgin; both lines are united in David, but after him separate through his two sons Solomon and Nathan. And again these two lines of Nathan and of Solomon unite in S. Anne, the daughter of Mathan, and sister of Jacob, Joseph’s father.
Sts. Joachim and Anne, Pray for us!