Friday, June 01, 2007

Was St Joseph a widower?

Before he married Mary, that is.
This question came up in the feedback I got about the presentation I did on Mary and Joseph's virginity. So I did some reading to find out more about it.
First, this is not a matter of faith; as Catholics we can hold that Joseph was or was not a widower when he married Mary. It's a speculative question that we can't really answer with absolute certainty. But the ancient sources are interesting.
The idea that he was a widower first came up in the Proto-evangelium of James.That's one of the apocryphal Gospels, so it's not a reliable historical source but it shows what early Christians thought. The reason he's portrayed as a widower is to explain who Jesus' "brothers" are. In this theory they would have been Joseph's children by an earlier marriage. There's another writing in Coptic called History of Joseph the Carpenter. That work said he was 91 when he received Mary!

In the Eastern Church, the idea that Joseph was a widower was more prevalent, thanks especially to the writings of Epiphanius of Salamis (end of the 4th century). In the West, however, the indomitable St Jerome vigorously defended the idea that Joseph was always a virgin throughout his entire life. Augustine, too, followed Jerome on this. So the influence of these two "heavy-weight" doctors of the Church made that view prevalent in the West. In the Middle Ages it became the common teaching of almost all Western Church writers.

Personally, I like to think of Joseph as a young man when he married Mary. He had to support her and Jesus through his work, so it doesn't seem likely to me that he would have been so old he couldn't have done that.What do you think?


Kitty said...

Hi Sister. I agree with you in thinking of St. Joseph as a young virgin when he and Mary married. As you said, he supported his family through carpentry.

Joseph Fromm said...

Dear Sister Lorraine,
In Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich writings she accounts(interior locutions) for St. Joseph as a widower with children from a previous marriage. To read the account you will find the generosity grace bestowed upon St. Joseph. I encourage you to pick it up and read it.
Joseph Fromm

PS Thank you for witnessing your Vocation and the pursuit of holiness by wearing your habit

Robin L. in TX said...

Sister Lorraine,

I don't know about young, but I picture St. Joseph as a strong man in his prime, which means that virgin or widower, whichever he was, he was strong enough to take a young virgin and her Child to Egypt and back quickly, supporting and protecting them along the way.

Since the original Aramaic doesn't really have a word for brother, as it is the language of a tribal society, (the word supposedly means "relative,") for me, this is just one of those questions I will enjoy having answered in the next life! What a time we will have then!

Daniel said...

Sister Lorraine,

I also think that Joseph was a man young enough to be able to support his family through his work. Too bad we know so little about him and that not as single word spoken by him is quoted in any of the 4 gospels. Was he a widower still in his prime? Certainly that is possible; he definitely possessed wisdom of somebody who understood what life and love means. I think his love for Mary and Jesus is probably the most commendable example of the human Fatherhood. I’d call him the underrated one.

With warm regards,

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to what AB Sheen thought. It's beautiful.