Franciscan Focus

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13 November 2007

Josephology: On Joseph's Pre-Eminence 

"In truth, the dignity of the Mother of God is so lofty that naught created can rank above it. But as Joseph has been united to the Blessed Virgin by the ties of marriage, it may not be doubted that he approached nearer than any to the eminent dignity by which the Mother of God surpasses so nobly all created natures. For marriage is the most intimate of all unions which from its essence imparts a community of gifts between those that by it are joined together. Thus in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as spouse, God appointed him to be not only her life's companion, the witness of her maidenhood, the protector of her honor, but also, by virtue of the conjugal tie, a participator in her sublime dignity. And Joseph shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and reputed as His father among men."
~ Pope Leo XIII, "On Devotion to St. Joseph" (Quamquam Pluries), 1889

* * *

"It might appear more difficult to place him above John the Baptist because of Christ's words, 'Amen I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist.' The difficulty is easily met. When speaking thus, Jesus was comparing John to the prophets of the Old Testament, who announced his future coming, while the Baptist's announcement declared him already come and pointed him out to the people. We might say, too, that those words of Jesus were intended to compare John, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, with that new grandeur which confers on the elect the call to the Kingdom of heaven, that kingdom of which the Church on earth is the foundation, and for that reason ... 'Howsoever great the grandeur of John the Baptist who closes the Old Testament, it sinks into insignificance before that of the lowliest Christian.' "
~ Michel Gasnier, OP; Joseph the Silent

* * *

"The whole theology of St. Joseph is included in these two fundamental titles: husband of Mary and virginal father of Jesus. These two titles place St. Joseph on an immeasurable height, a thousand times above all the angels and saints. After God, there is nothing so great and sublime as His most holy Mother. After Mary, nothing can be imagined more sublime than her virginal husband and nutritive father of Jesus.

"Theologians have taken many centuries to notice the huge figure of St. Joseph. ... It is impossible to express in human words the incomprehensible dignity of St. Joseph as nutritive father of Jesus, which places him a thousand times above the angels and saints and makes him reach very close to the hypostatic order, if it be that he really does not belong to it as an integral part, even though mediated and accidentally, as serious theologians claim."
~ Fr. A. Royo Marí­n, OP; La Virgen Marí­a. Teológi­a y espiritualidad marianas

* * *

"A literalist interpretation of Jesus' words that, among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist (Mt 11:11, Lk 7:28) has led to giving him general precedence over all other saints except Mary, without regard for the second clause in Jesus' statement that even the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than John."
~ Larry M. Toschi, OSJ; "Liturgical Feasts of St. Joseph", St. Joseph Studies

* * *

"Between the ministry of the Apostles and that of Joseph there exists this difference: the former is immediately for men, to conduct them to Christ; that of Joseph is immediately directed to Christ Himself, in order to preserve Him for men, and is therefore so much the more noble and sublime. 'The ministry of Joseph,' says Giovanni di Cartagena, 'both as spouse of the Blessed Virgin and as [earthly] father of Jesus, was closely conjoined with the very Person of Jesus Christ, in such wise [sic] that its dignity appears, more than any other whatsoever, to approach the most sublime dignity of the Mother of God.'

"... Some, however, would allege as an objection the declaration of Christ, who said, 'There hath not arisen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist'; whence they infer that Joseph might, indeed, be equal to the Baptist, but could not surpass him. ... [T]his praise of John detracts nothing from the pre-eminent glories of Joseph, since Jesus, in asserting that none had arisen greater than John the Baptist, was not speaking absolutely, but comparatively. He was speaking of him as compared to the saints and prophets of the Old Testament, and, moreover, was excluding from His general assertion those who ought to be excluded, and excepting those who ought to be excepted, as is the case in all general assertions. Thus from this declaration Jesus naturally excluded Himself and excluded Mary; and so also He excluded Joseph, as belonging to an order much superior to that of the Baptist. Hence Maldonatus, a very learned commentator, speaking of this declaration of Christ, wrote, 'I answer briefly and easily that here the Baptist, as St. Jerome affirms, is compared by Jesus, not to all the saints, but only to those of the Old Testament'. Now, Joseph certainly belongs to the New Testament, and is the first after Mary. Therefore he is excluded. Moreover, St. Jerome, commenting on the words of Christ, observes that Jesus did not in this declaration prefer John to all the prophets and patriarchs, but only made him equal to them.

"... Nothing in what has been said can be viewed as any derogation of the high titles and sublime sanctity of John the Baptist, who attained even to meriting the praises of a God; the sole object being to remove all doubt of the pre-eminence of Joseph, and to prove that in his greatness and glory he must be reckoned, after Jesus and Mary, as excelling all the saints and angels."
~ Edward Healy Thompson, MA; The Life and Glories of St. Joseph

See also: Josephology: On Joseph's Pre-Eminence, Part II

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