Franciscan Focus

Just a simple blog of a Secular Franciscan trying to live with a Franciscan focus.
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26 October 2006

Josephology: On Joseph's Virginity 

All-righty, I've shared resources on Joseph's age (here 'n' here), and I said I'd get around to stuff that addressed his virginity. So, here ya go -- enjoy! :-)

"If Holy Scripture nowhere expressly speaks of the chastity of Joseph previous to his espousals with Mary, we might well conclude it from the very fact of those espousals. We judge of the nature of a tree from the fruit which it produces; to know, then, that Joseph was the spouse of a virgin and of a Virgin-Mother such as Mary, was quite sufficient to persuade the great body of the Fathers to hold with security that Joseph was a virgin by his own election before he was chosen to be the husband of Mary.

"A few, it is true, too easily crediting the baseless statements of some of the Apocryphal books, which asserted that those who in the Gospel are called the brethren and sisters of Jesus were children of St. Joseph by a previous marriage, were led to withhold from him the gift and glory of perpetual virginity.

"But the great majority, and those of the highest authority, freely recognized this grace among those which enriched and adorned the spouse of the Blessed Virgin. As early, indeed, as the third century St. Athanasius spoke these short but weighty words of Joseph and Mary: that 'both remained intact, as was proved by many testimonies' (De Incarnatione); and after him St. Jerome, defending the perpetual virginity of Mary against the heretic Helvidius, maintained that, not only Mary, but her spouse Joseph was ever a virgin, so that of this virginal marriage a virginal Son should be born.

"Hence St. Peter Damian asserts in a letter to Pope Nicolas, and also in his work on the celibacy of the clergy, that such was the faith of the Church on this point; for that the Son of God, not content with having a virgin for His mother, willed that he who represented His Father should also be a virgin (De Coelib. Sacerd. cap. iii.); where we shall do well to observe that this great doctor does not hesitate to qualify this belief as the 'faith of the Church'.

"... [W]e find St. Francis de Sales, a most devout client of St. Joseph, strenuously maintaining his virginity and his vow [of perpetual virginity]. 'How exalted in this virtue of virginity must he have been, who was destined by the Eternal Father to be the guardian or, rather, the companion in virginity of Mary herself!'

"... Now, as the August Trinity in Heaven is the first and the altogether virgin, so also must the second Trinity on earth be altogether virgin. If Jesus is a virgin and Mary is a virgin, how should not Joseph, who completes this most virginal Trinity, be a virgin also? Jesus is the Head of virgins, Mary is the mother of virgins, Joseph is the guardian and patron of virgins."
~ Edward Healy Thompson, MA; The Life and Glories of St. Joseph, 1888

* * *

"The opinion that Joseph had had a previous marriage -- says Le Dictionnaire de theologie -- was based entirely on the apocryphal Protevangel of James. In the first centuries of the Church there were a few Fathers of the Church in sympathy with this theory. Today it has been completely abandoned. The assumption that Joseph had children of this marriage, 'the brothers of the Lord', runs up against too many difficulties to make its acceptance possible."
~ Michael Gasnier, OP; Joseph the Silent, 1960

* * *

"... [The 'brothers of the Lord'] is virtually a nonissue for anyone who has a glancing familiarity with Hebrew customs. The Hebrew word for 'brother' is a more inclusive term, applying to cousins as well. In fact, in ancient Hebrew there is no word for cousin. To a Jew of Jesus' time, one's cousin was one's brother. This familial principle applied in other Semitic languages as well, such as Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Furthermore, precisely because Jesus was an only child, His cousins would even assume the legal status of siblings for Him, as they were His nearest relatives."
~ Scott Hahn, Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God In the Word of God, 2001

* * *

"[T]oday, this opinion [of Joseph's perpetual virginity] has gained 'all but the universal agreement of theologians.' They present many a reason for accepting this belief: in particular, the virginal marriage of Mary and Joseph, the near impossibility of the hypothesis that the 'brethren of the Lord' are sons of Joseph, and especially the dignity and holiness of Saint Joseph which flow from his mission as spouse of the Blessed Virgin and foster father of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

~ Fr. Florent Raymond Bilodeau, The Virginity of Saint Joseph in the Latin Fathers and Medieval Ecclesiastical Writers, 1957

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