Joseph, St., Devotion to
JOSEPH, ST., DEVOTION TO
The devotion to St. Joseph as emphasizing his position in the Holy Family originated relatively late in Church history. The chief reason for this delay was undoubtedly the fear that Joseph's unique role as virginal husband of Mary and father of Jesus by spiritual ties might have caused misunderstanding about the dogmas of Mary's perpetual virginity and Jesus' miraculous origin in Mary.
Influence of Apocryphal Legends. The apocryphal legends of Christ's childhood also played a key role in thwarting the full appreciation of Joseph's true dignity. The chief sources for these tales were the Protoevangel of James, the Gospel of Thomas, the Coptic History of Joseph the Carpenter, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, composed with mutual interdependence from before a.d. 150 onward. These pious tales expanded on Christ's childhood, adding bizarre miracles and even irreverent fantasies. Uncritical use of the legends in medieval drama, art, and poetry helped keep their stories alive, though it handed them down to us in more romantic form. The legends make four principal claims concerning St. Joseph: his miraculous selection as a mere guardian of Mary; and his advanced age as a widower.
To make sure that Joseph could not be considered the natural father of Jesus, the legends attributed to him an advanced age when sexual powers would be least imperative. Yet if Joseph had been so old, he could not have appeared to be the natural father of Jesus in the public eye, as was part of his vocation to protect the reputation of Jesus and Mary. The legends had another reason for representing the age of St. Joseph. It was necessary to depict him as a widower with six children from an earlier marriage, as an attempt to explain the gospel references to the "brethren of Jesus" (Mt 12.46; Jn 2.12; 7.10). The legends claimed that Joseph was miraculously selected, but they shrank from using the gospel term "husband." They proposed the miracle of Joseph's blooming staff as a sign of his divine selection. This prodigy was patently modeled on the miracle of Aaron's blooming staff in Nm 17.19–24. Apart from the gross impropriety of setting up
the young maiden Mary for the public scrutiny that the legends claim was exercised, much like that turned upon a slave on the block, to narrate so manifest a miracle would have been unfit, since such an event would have contradicted the obscurity that we know surrounded the Incarnation. The special providence of God certainly brought Joseph and Mary together, but the circumstances of the legendary miracle are in such bad taste or appear so artificially contrived that they make the event incredible. In paintings and statues of St. Joseph the lily as an emblem of purity replaced the staff for many centuries, first occurring perhaps in the "Espousal," a fresco painted by Giotto between 1303–06 at Padua.
History of the Devotion. Former claims of an independent devotion early manifested toward St. Joseph in the Eastern Church cannot be allowed, since Joseph was grouped there with Patriarchs of the Old Testament. He was pictured at best as the aged guardian and widower, only incidentally on the scene and never intimately sharing in the mysteries of Christ's childhood. Moreover, it is no longer justified to claim that the Carmelites brought the devotion from the East in the 12th century.
The first known independent commemoration of St. Joseph occurs in an 8th-century martyrology from an unknown church in northern France or Belgium, listing the saint on March 20 as "spouse of Mary" (Analecta Bollandiana 72 , 357–362). In the early 800s martyrologies such as those from the Benedictine monastery at Reichenau list March 19 as the day of St. Joseph's death. The definitive explanation for the choice of March 19 still remains to be found. During the Middle Ages the desire to know more of Jesus and Mary led to the first recognition of St. Joseph; this was an embryonic form of the independent devotion. First observances of March 19 as a feast, not a mere commemoration, seem to have occurred among the Servites by the year 1324, although evidence suggests equally early observances among the Franciscans and at Bologna.
The Franciscans Peter John Olivi (d. 1298) and his near contemporary, Ubertino de Casale, appraised Joseph's greatness in terms that suggest that they were far ahead of their times, but the great publicizers of the devotion were John Gerson (d. 1429), St. Bernardine of Siena (d. 1444), and later St. Teresa of Ávila (d. 1582). The feast of St. Joseph had not been celebrated widely until its introduction at Rome in about 1479 by Sixtus IV. This seems to have stimulated its spread to at least 70 known European cities by the time of the Council of Trent. In 1522 the Dominican Isidore de Isolani published the first essay toward a scholarly theology of St. Joseph. After the saint's steady rise in popular esteem and in the liturgy, a momentous event in the history of the devotion occurred in Pius IX's proclamation of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, Dec. 8, 1870. Worldwide devotion to St. Joseph is centered at St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal, Canada, founded by Brother André, CSC, in 1904.
Theology. Josephology is the name for the theological study of St. Joseph's dignity, mission, and prerogatives. Fundamental to the saint's position is the fact of his true, virginal marriage to the Mother of God. Jesus is the fruit of this marriage not because He was generated by means of it, but because He was received and reared within it according to God's reason for bringing it into existence (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, In 4 Sent. 30 2.2 ad 4). Mary's parenthood was shared with Joseph, since Mary belonged to Joseph as his wife (see Augustine, De Cons. Evang. 2.1; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 43.3.4:83: Francis de Sales, The Spiritual Conferences, Burns, Oates, London, 1909, no. 19, 367); since they owned everything in common as husband and wife (e.g., Suárez, In 3, 184.108.40.206; Vivès, 123; Cornelius a Lapide, In Isaiam, 8; Comment. in Script. Sac., Vivès, Paris, 11, 214); and since the procreation of the Child Jesus in Joseph's wife, even though virginal, belonged to Joseph's marriage. Normally, a mutual moral bond arises between father and son because of physical generation, because such generation calls for the rearing of the child (St. Thomas Aquinas, In 4 Sent. 26.1.1). In the case of St. Joseph this parental and therefore paternal moral bond between father and son was miraculously present without generation of Jesus by Joseph. Hence, it presents an example of a unique fatherhood in an analogous and wide sense, but still a true fatherhood in the moral order. Thus, Jesus belonged to Joseph's family by right of Joseph's marriage to Christ's mother, and by Joseph's fatherly love, authority, and watchful service—all implied in the traditional title of "foster father of Jesus." Joseph appeared publicly as if he were the natural father of Jesus, thus shielding the virginity of Mary and the reputation of Jesus. It is to be noted that this public opinion (referred
to in the title, "putative father of Jesus") does not of itself create a fatherly relationship. The genealogies (Mt1.1–16; Lk 3.23–28) were traced through St. Joseph and thus recognized him as the already constituted direct legal ancestor of Christ (hence, his title of "legal father of Jesus"). Joseph's actions in naming Jesus and in protecting, accepting, and supporting both Mary and her Child indicated that Joseph was the head of their household. His authority was acknowledged as such (especially by Mary in Lk 2.48 and by Luke in 2.51: "subject to them "). "Adoptive father of Jesus" in the strict sense is not a correct title of St. Joseph, because Jesus belonged to Joseph's own family and was not adopted into it.
Augustine presents the entire modern doctrine on the fatherhood of St. Joseph even though he does not develop it fully (cf. Filas, Joseph and Jesus, 21–61, for other analyses of patristic opinion). In his classic text, "Every good of marriage was fulfilled in the parents of Christ: offspring, loyalty, and the sacrament" (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 42.8.2:225), Augustine asserts that the marriage is not merely potentially but is actually fruitful, so that from the union of Joseph and Mary the Child Jesus somehow drew his origin. Since "conjugal intercourse did not take place" (ibid. ), the origin of the Child was influenced not in the physical but exclusively in the moral order. The same idea recurs almost as a theme throughout much of Sermon 51 (esp. 10–21; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 271 v., indexes 4 v. [Paris 1878–90] 38: 342–351): "Just as she was virginally the wife, so was he virginally the husband; and just as she was virginally the mother, so was he virginally the father …. Why was Joseph father? Because the certainty of his fatherhood is in proportion to his virginity." Here Augustine equivalently originated a new title for Joseph, "virginal father of Jesus" (cf. Enchirid. Indulg. no.477), signifying that Joseph himself was a virgin, and that he received Christ within his virginal marriage with a selfless paternal love. All this can be called the Augustinian tradition and is fully developed in Suárez (In 3, 29.8), with the significant innovation that Joseph shared with Mary a true though subordinate role of cooperating in the order of the hypostatic union. Suárez (d. 1617) emphasizes that Joseph is father of Jesus in every way short of physical generation. This would make Joseph at least a moral cause removing obstacles to the Incarnation, or, more positively, a moral dispositive cause of the Incarnation according to the following reasoning: Joseph's holiness and Joseph's consent to the marriage as virginal brought about the circumstances that in God's plan were required for the Incarnation, namely, the virginal marriage receiving Christ within it, and the superlative holiness that should have fittingly existed in the head of the Holy Family.
From Joseph's position as husband and father, therefore, there "arise all his dignity, grace, holiness and glory…. Since the bond of marriage existed between Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, there can be no doubt that more than any other person he approached that supereminent dignity by which the Mother of God is raised far above all created natures" (Leo XIII, Quamquam Pluries, Aug. 15, 1889). Although liturgical rank does not indicate the relative holiness of a saint, one can say that in accordance with these words the Church in practice venerates St. Joseph as second in holiness and dignity only to Mary. In this sense he receives a cultus of protodulia, i.e., "first veneration" in degree above all other saints except Mary. The words of Jesus (Mt 11.11; Lk7.28) concerning John the Baptist do not militate against this preeminence. They are to be interpreted as hyperbolical praise of John as the greatest Prophet of the Old Testament. Since all theological evidence points to the uniqueness of Mary's Immaculate Conception, no sound grounds exist for claiming that Joseph was conceived without original sin. Whether or not he was purified of original sin in his mother's womb is uncertain, since no arguments are conclusive. It is theologically agreed as a certain minimum that because of his exceptional intimacy with Jesus and Mary he never committed grievous sin after his marriage to Our Lady. While some theologians do not admit his complete freedom from semideliberate venial sin and from concupiscence, others hold as more likely a lifelong confirmation in grace as well as those two added privileges, believing them necessary to give Joseph the holiness befitting his exalted vocation. An impressive number of Catholic theologians (such as Suárez, St. Francis de Sales, Lepicier, Jugie, and Llamera) present the assumption of St. Joseph (i.e., the belief that his glorified body is now in heaven with his soul) as a probable opinion of several centuries' standing. Joseph's intimacy with the body of Christ in the family life at Nazareth and his spiritual likeness to Mary are the strongest reasons to suppose that if anyone, at least he in addition to Mary was granted this privilege (also cf. Mt 27.52).
Patronage and Feast. St. Joseph is Patron of the Universal Church because "this is his numberless family, scattered throughout all lands, over which he rules with a sort of paternal authority, because he is the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus Christ" (Leo XIII, Quamquam Pluries ). In the Litany of St. Joseph he is also invoked as patron of workmen, families, virgins, the sick, and the dying. In papal documents and by popular acclaim he has been hailed also as patron of prayer and the interior life, of the poor, of those in authority, fathers, priests and religious, travelers, and because of his closeness to Our Lady, as patron of devotion to Mary. He was officially declared patron of Mexico (1555), Canada (1624), Bohemia (1655), the Chinese missions (1678), and Belgium (1689). In 1937 Pius XI chose him as patron in the Church's campaign against atheistic communism, in the encyclical Divini Redemptoris. On March 19, 1961, John XXIII proclaimed him heavenly protector of Vatican Council II.
March 19 is celebrated as a feast of the first class, the principal feast of St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin, Confessor, and Patron of the Universal Church. According to 1917 Codex iuris canonicis c.1247.1, it is a holy day of obligation, but an indult releasing the United States from earlier Church law was granted by the Holy See to the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884 because of the difficulty of observing holy days in a non-Catholic environment. The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1 was promulgated by Pius XII in 1955. Thereafter, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, formerly called the Feast of St. Joseph's Patronage and observed on the third Wednesday after Easter, was suppressed. By indult the Mass of Joseph the Worker may be said on Labor Day in the United States and Canada. The choice of May 1 was made to counteract atheistic communism's celebration of May Day, and to emphasize the dignity of labor, Christian ideals in labor relations, and the example of St. Joseph as a workman. The Feast of the Holy Family (on the first Sunday after Epiphany) commemorates the hidden life that Jesus shared with Mary and Joseph. In that sense it is a feast of St. Joseph. Ever since 1815 petitions have been sent to the Holy See from hundreds of bishops and thousands of layfolk asking for the inclusion of St. Joseph's name in the Confiteor, Suscipe Sancta Trinitas, Communicantes, and Libera Nos Quaesumus of the Mass. The inclusion would be a means of granting him an honor more aptly proportioned to his dignity as head of the Holy Family and Patron of the Universal Church, for he would be recognized as such in the liturgy. By a decree of John XXIII dated Nov.13, 1962, and effective December 8 of the same year, the name of St. Joseph was finally inserted into the Communicantes.
Bibliography: f. l. filas, The Man Nearest to Christ: Nature and Historic Development of the Devotion to St. Joseph (Milwaukee 1944); Joseph and Jesus (Milwaukee 1952); Joseph Most Just (Milwaukee 1956); St. Joseph and Daily Christian Living (New York 1959); Joseph: The Man Closest to Jesus (Boston 1962). r. gauthier, La Paternité de Saint Joseph (Montreal 1958). u. holzmeister, De Sancto Ioseph quaestiones biblicae (Rome 1945). a.h. lepicier, Saint Joseph: Époux de la très sainte Vierge (Paris 1933). j. mueller, The Fatherhood of St. Joseph, tr. a. dengler (St. Louis 1952). h. rondet, Saint Joseph, tr. and ed. d. attwater (New York 1956). j. seitz, Die Verehrung des hl. Joseph: In ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung bis zum Konzil von Trient dargestellt (Freiburg 1908). b. llamera, Saint Joseph, tr. m. elizabeth (St. Louis 1962).
[f. l. filas]