Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday Sermon, October 9th -- The Rosary with St Joseph, the Visitation. Part 2 of 5 (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

Sunday Sermon, October 9th -- The Rosary with St Joseph, The Visitation (Part 2 of 5)

October is the month of the Rosary, this month we will preach a series of sermons on the mysteries of the Rosary through the unique perspective of St Joseph. We will rely most especially on the writings of the Fathers of the Church and the great theologians, as well as the mystical revelations given to certain visionaries (notably, St Bridget of Sweden, Bl Anne Catherine Emmerich, and Ven Mary of Agreda).

The Visitation: St Joseph did not hear Elizabeth's words and remains ignorant of the mystery entrusted to his care. At about the 5th month, he sees that Mary is with child, and he knows that the Child is not his. He would never accuse our Lady of sin, but he knows not what to think.  Unable to go on, he makes up his mind to divorce her quietly - which is to say, St Joseph decides to retire into the desert and abandon all human society. At the angel's message, he realizes the truth of the Incarnation and rejoices! 

Joseph takes his wife, Mary, to Bethlehem to be enrolled in the census, and he is amazed to discover that she is rejected by men. However, our Lady comforts her husband saying that he is her shelter and her protection.

Listen online [here]!


Nick said...

Fr Ryan,

I think there is something you should be aware of on this Sermon for the Visitation. St Joseph did not want to divorce Mary because of any suspicion but for reasons of humility. St Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa and Cantena (quoting Origen from AD250) that Joseph thought about divorce because felt himself unworthy to be the foster father of the Messiah and unworthy to be so close to Mary.

You quoted Matthew as saying "before they came together She was found with child," but you left the quote short: "She was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit." So St Joseph was aware the source of the Child.

Please see THIS LINK from The Sacred Page, and please let your parishioners know!

Thanks for all you are doing for the Church and your diocese!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It is a bit more complicated than that... the general tradition is what I related in the homily - that Joseph did not think she was a sinner, but also was not aware of the miraculous conception until the angel ... the catena of St Thomas relates this (or similar opinions) as from Sts Jerome, Augustine, Anselm, Chrysostom and others -- in fact, Chrysostom goes too far and says that St Joseph even suspected our Lady of sin.

Another resource to study is Cornelius a Lapide who summarizes the tradition as I have in this sermon.

When St Matthew states that Mary was found with child "of the Holy Spirit", the best of catholic scholarship states that St Joseph found her with child, but that Matthew added "of the Holy Spirit" so as to avoid any confusion on the part of the reader and not as an indication that St Joseph knew straight away that the child was conceived by the annunciation -- this is also related in the catena aurea.

But, what is most important to insist upon is that St Joseph did not suspect Mary of sin! And, even though he was confused as to the full mystery, he never once thought less of his holy wife -- and this is affirmed by the mystics of the Church as well.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Fr Cornelius a Lapide relates the traditional interpretation:

She was found with child, by the Holy Ghost. Observe that Joseph understood by her appearance, that his wife, the Blessed Virgin, had conceived. But whether he knew that she was with child by the Holy Ghost, or not, is doubtful. S. Basil, Origen, Theophylact, and others, hold the affirmative. But the contrary is more probable, because Joseph wished to put her away, but is forbidden by the angel, who removes his scruple, adding, “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” Therefore, before the revelation of the angel, he did not know this, because had he known it, he would not have wished to put her away.
It is said, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was found with child of the Holy Ghost, because she had verily conceived by Him. The expression, by the Holy Ghost, must be referred to the words with child, not to was found. So the rest of the Fathers and Interpreters, passim. Origen adds that, “She was found by the angels, for they knew that she had conceived by the Holy Ghost.”

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

And again:

1. S. Chrysostom (in loco), S. Augustine (Epist. 52, ad Macedon.), Justin M. (contra Tryphon.), are of opinion, that Joseph suspected evil of the Blessed Virgin, as though she had conceived by another man. They think that this is hinted at in the expression, make her a public example. But we say, far be 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?
2. Others think that Joseph wished to put away the Blessed Virgin out of extreme reverence, because he thought himself unworthy to have to wife one who was with child by the Holy Ghost. Whence they are also of opinion that S. Joseph accompanied the Blessed Virgin when she visited Elizabeth, and heard her saluted as Mother of God, and therefore thought himself unworthy of her. This is the opinion of Origen, S. Basil, Theophylact, S. Bernard (Hom. 2 super Missus est). S. Brigit asserts that the same was revealed to her (lib. 7, Revelat. c. 25). Whence Salmeron (lib. 3, c. 30) supports the same opinion by thirteen reasons.
But, 3, 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 fluctuating 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 troth, plighted to me. 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. Thus God permitted S. Thomas to doubt concerning Christ’s Resurrection, that he, touching Christ’s very wounds, might bear an irrefragable testimony to the same Resurrection.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


Thus S. Jerome says: “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.”

Nick said...

Thank you for those quotes. Of the three options for Joseph seeking a divorce, obviously the suspected adultery is the weakest (as we both agree). But I think the "ignorance" motive for divorce suffers from the major weakness of Joseph willing to give up on Mary without having known the facts. If Mary suffered violence or illusion, then that doesn't necessarily warrant a divorce. I cannot think of many dedicated Christian men who would divorce their wife because she was raped or if she was suffering temporary mental illness. If Joseph is asking if the child was miraculous, then that really is closer to the humility theory.

St Thomas himself takes the humility theory, and if St Bernard, and St Bridget (by a vision) conclude this, along with 13 arguments by Salmeron, that seems the safest (and most convincing) interpretation. I think this interpretation also gives more glory to St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin.

I found the Commentary by Alfonso Salmeron where he gives the 13 arguments but it is in Latin, but if you go to the bottom of page 318 of this pdf you or someone else could translate/summarize the arguments:

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

In reference to the article sited from the Sacred Page, I should note that the article has some pretty significant errors regarding the citation of St Thomas. The passage from the "Summa" cited is incorrect -- ST III, q.3. a.3, ad2 ... In fact, the citation is from the Supplement (which is composed of the early works of St Thomas on the Sentences of Peter Lombard and does not represent his mature thought on topics). Supp. q.62, a.3 is not even an article about Joseph and Mary, but the issue comes up in an objection and a reply -- this can scarcely be presented as St Thomas' final say on the issue.

The Catena, in fact, is a more mature work that the Suppl to the Summa -- and in the Catena, St Thomas does not say that Joseph knew that the Child was conceived of the Holy Spirit. He only cites Origen as holding this -- but then goes on to refer to many other Church Father's who held the opposite.

My only point in saying this is that it is not accurate to say that St Thomas held that Joseph was going to divorce our Lady out of humility -- neither can we say that the Catena presents this as the preferred interpretation.

Therefore, in terms of arguments from authority, you have Bernard, Theophylact, Basil, Salmeron, Bridget and Origen on one side, and on the other side is Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Cornelius a Lapide, Ven Mary of Agreda.

When it comes to interpretation of Scripture, for me at least -- when both Augustine and Jerome are in agreement, and when this is likewise held by Cornelius a Lapide -- I am convinced that Joseph did not doubt our Lady's purity, yet neither did he know the fullness of the mystery.

I think that the Sacred Page article is quite weak for the miss-citation of St Thomas.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To be clear - I'm not totally opposed to the idea held by Origen etc .. I'm only pointing out that the argument from authority wont stand in this case.
Further, I do believe that a priest can certainly preach as I have preached - since this is the "majority opinion" among the Fathers, saints, theologians. And also my solution perfectly respects the holiness of both St Joseph and our Lady.

But others are certainly welcome to take the opinion you presented.

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