Franciscan Focus

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01 September 2006

Josephology: On Joseph's Age at His Betrothal to Mary, Part II 

In this earlier post, I'd shared some resources pertaining to Joseph's age at the time of his betrothal to Mary, and here are more resources dealin' with this issue:

"[T]he idea that St. Joseph would be an old man of eighty years or more stands in direct contradiction with the requirements of his vocation. Joseph was to appear publicly as the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus, at least in order to safeguard the honor of mother and son. Yet how could a man of patriarchal years be considered capable of fatherhood? A decrepit, senile guardian of Mary would open the door to public suspicion of adultery and illegitimacy.

"Again, laborious tasks and trying situations of all sorts beset the Holy Family. How could such an old man perform duties that called for a robust provider and protector? The general tenor of the gospel accounts points to the conclusion that Joseph was of an age customary for marriage; and that age was certainly not advanced to the evening of life.

"... In short, there is no fact from history and no logic arising from considerations of propriety that forces us to assume Joseph's advanced age. ... We have no way of determining his age more exactly except to study the customs of his time and determine if possible what the normal marriageable age must have been.

"Information suggested by the Dead Sea scrolls indicates such an average age when the male was considered marriageable. The Essene community wished its members to delay marriage (if they were to marry at all) until well after the customary time, and the twenties were considered beyond that time. We can conclude, then, that the normal age for the male to enter marriage would have been in his middle teens. In such a hypothesis, Joseph would have been about 16 at the time of his espousal to our Lady.

"... On the surface, it is true, the widespread and long-standing tradition of the body of the faithful was in error concerning St. Joseph's age, but fundamentally it did not err. ... The tradition of Joseph's age was manifestly concerned not so much with explicitly fixing the duration of his life. Its real purpose was to elevate the virginal dignity of the Mother of God beyond all doubt."
~Fr. Francis L. Filas, SJ; Joseph: The Man Closest to Jesus: The Complete Life, Theology and Devotional History of St. Joseph; 1962.

* * *

"While the apocrypha surround this detail with much fantasy, Holy Scripture says nothing at all about [Joseph's age when he was espoused to Mary]. ... The apocrypha paint a very picturesque story but it is not worthy of our consideration, even though it has exerted its influence in Christian art. It is more correct and in accord with the Gospel that Joseph was not a man of eighty when he married the Blessed Virgin, but rather a young man. The Gospel says nothing explicitly, but its simple narration inclines us to this interpretation and there is certainly no statement in Scripture which opposes it. On the contrary, the exegetes observe:

"1) In this marriage, it was fitting and in accord with the custom of the times that there should be no great difference in the ages of the couple.

"2) The ministry divinely committed to him, namely, to conceal the mystery of the Son of God, would require that St. Joseph be a young man. He was selected as Mary's spouse to defend her honor; therefore, Jesus, Mary's son, was thought to be Joseph's son also. He would have to be physiologically capable of fatherhood, otherwise Mary's dignity would not have remained unchallenged.

"3) God willed this union for the consolation, defense and assistance of Mary with her Divine Child. In order to bear the burdens of domestic life, Joseph would have to be a man able to do physical work.

"4) Finally, while the venerable old man of painters and sculptors was meant to inspire devotion and avoid wrong insinuations, it was not necessary to put forth senility as the only safeguard of the purity of this holy pair. Would not virtue and the power of the Holy Spirt more than supply any defect, if in truth any existed?"
~ Boniface Llamera, OP; Saint Joseph, 1962

See also: Josephology: On Joseph's Age at His Betrothal to Mary [Part I]

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