Two Josephs, Both Alike in Chastity

With our attention properly upon the infant Jesus, His Mother Mary, and St. Joseph this time of year, it might be good to look back at the Old Testament figure for whom Mary’s chaste spouse was most likely named. That would be Joseph, son of Jacob, grandson of Isaac, and great-grandson of Abraham. Joseph is a popular name for Jewish boys precisely as a memorial of this patriarchal figure whose story is one of the great epic narratives of early human civilization. Evoking this connection, St. Matthew, whose genealogy of Jesus consciously omits some names, calls St. Joseph the “son of Jacob,” although the Jacob in question may well have been a more distant ancestor. But this inspired juxtaposition of names prompts reflection on the original Joseph ben Jacob. The elements of his story are as familiar as they are perennial: a boy thrust into an unchosen adventure; a young man who must make his way in a strange land; a lowly servant who becomes a ruler; a lost brother who turns out to be the keeper of the family’s destiny.

Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his enviouis brothers. Despite finding himself in a foreign land under inauspicious circumstances, Joseph, with God’s hand of favor upon him, exercised such diligence and prudence that he was given complete management of the household by his master, Potipher. Things were looking up for Joseph, but not for long. The attractive young servant caught the eye of the master’s wife and Scripture says that she pursued her lust for him “day after day.” He refused her advances, though: “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?”

Unwilling to take no for an answer, Potipher’s wife caught him alone in the house one day, and grasping his garment, insisted yet again, “Lie with me!” Joseph fled, but she kept the article of clothing to use against him in a charge of attempted rape that landed him in the pharaoh’s prison.

Joseph correctly interpreted a dream for one of his cell-mates, cupbearer of the pharaoh, who was subsequently released from prison with Joseph’s plea not to forget him ringing in his ears. A couple of years passed. Joseph, once again with God’s hand of favor turning his every endeavor to success, had risen to the very highest position available to a trusty, yet probably wondered every night if his former cell-mate had forgotten him. It was not until Pharaoh had a series of dreams that made him desperate for an interpreter that the cupbearer remembered Joseph and he was released. His rise was as rapid and unexpected as once his descent into the cistern had been. Pharaoh made him second-in-command, from which position he provisioned Egypt and the surrounding lands to withstand a coming famine, enlarged the territory and power of Pharaoh, and was ultimately the supplier of both bread and a new territory of residence to his kin. Joseph in Egypt is the essential background story to Passover and the Exodus 400 years later.

Envy is the reason St. Joseph has to lead the Holy Family to Egypt because — as he is warned in a dream — the Christ Child is the target of the murderous intentions of Herod. Divine Providence saw to the funds for the journey in the form of the Wise Man’s offering of gold. St. Matthew connects the Holy Family’s journey in Egypt to the 400 years (between Joseph and Moses) that Israel was in Egypt: “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son'” — Matt 2:14, 15 (compare Hos 11:1; Ex 4:22).

Two thousand years earlier in Egypt, Joseph had preserved grain and saved the fledgling nation of Israel from starvation. In Egypt, St. Joseph protected the nascent Church in the person of Mary, along with the Living Bread that would feed it, in the person of the Christ Child.

joseph.jpgThe incomparable value of what was entrusted to St. Joseph staggers the imagination. Hasn’t many a pious man found himself breaking out in a sweat over the weight of responsibility that devolves upon him with his wife’s announcement of a pregnancy? Or found his joy at the birth of a first child mingled with holy fear at what God has placed in his hands? Imagine what it was like then for St. Joseph. Certainly the original Joseph would have been much on his mind as he trekked toward Egypt with the Holy Mother and Child. He must have been encouraged by the story of God’s provision for Joseph in a foreign land. He must have pondered his example of chastity and diligence, for it was Joseph’s chastity, motivated by piety, that made him ready to shoulder the weighty responsibility that God had placed upon him — and it was likewise for his namesake, whom the Son of God would call “Daddy.”

We know that, from the time of their betrothal, St. Joseph intended to be continent, a protector of the Holy Virgin. This is shown by her words to the angel at being told she would bear a son. If Joseph and Mary had been intending a nuptial union, Mary would have assumed that the child she was to bear would come from him. Instead she responds with the question of how this was to be — a most natural question in light of them both being bound by her vow of virginity. Scripture assures of this continence when it says that St. Joseph “knew her not.”

With the example of the Old Testament Joseph in mind, we can imagine how the beloved head of the Holy Family would answer those who assert that he fathered children with Mary after the birth of Jesus. Certainly the testimony of angels, shepherds, wise men, and the Holy Virgin herself, left no doubt in St. Joseph’s mind that the woman he was caring for had been espoused by the Holy Spirit. St. Jerome expressed shocked outrage that any one would think of St. Joseph that he “dared to touch the temple of God, the abode of the Holy Ghost, the mother of his Lord.” St. Joseph could paraphrase the original Joseph in answering anyone who so accused him, “Behold, with me here, my Master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and He has put even His Only Begotten Son in my charge. There is no man bearing a greater charge in the entire world than I, and He has withheld nothing from me except Mary, because she is His spouse and the Mother of His Son. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?”

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  • Claire

    Excellent article!

  • noelfitz


    Thank you for a great post.

    Your inspiring words gets 2009 off to a good start.

    God bless,


    In necessariis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas.

  • DonHudzinski

    They are also alike in dreams for this is how they were in touch with God.

  • yblegen


  • elkabrikir

    Mary, thank you for bringing St Joseph to us this New Year. He is the patron saint of the Universal Church and of a happy death….in addition to other titles.

    Also, thank you for connecting the dots between the two Joseph bar Jacobs. It seems they were also both exalted through their humility.

    Truly, the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.

    With wonder and enthusiasm the Holy Spirit tears the Curtain in two from the top down, revealing the Word.

  • plowshare

    Mary, you draw some excellent parallels between the two Josephs, but I must disagree with the one at the end. I think you would do well to read Chapters 4 and 5 of _Mary: A Catholic – Evangelical Debate_, by Dwight Longnecker and David Gustavson. This book, warmly recommended by Richard John Neuhaus, features Longnecker (who is now a Catholic priest in Greenville, SC) presenting the Catholic viewpoint on Mary, and Gustavson the Protestant viewpoint.

    While Longnecker stoutly defends the perpetual virginity of Mary and endorses Mary’s being called the “spouse of the Holy Spirit,” he avers that it is a poetic, not literal espousal, and does not dispute the following objection of Gustavson to a literal understanding of the term:

    “We know that Mary wasn’t *literally* the Spirit’s wife. For one thing, Jesus’s father is the Father, not the Spirit. But if we make the Spirit the literal
    husband of Mary, then we make the *Spirit* to be Jesus’s *Father*.” [pp. 82-83]

    There is a footnote at this point: As the Eleventh Council of Toledo held (in 675) “we must not believe that the Holy Spirit is the Father of the Son because Mary conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, lest we should seem to affirm that the Son has two fathers–which it is certainly impious to say.”

    On p. 88, both authors implicitly agree that it is an error to claim that it would have been a “great evil” for Joseph to have intercourse with Mary. Explicitly, they agree that one article on the EWTN website goes too far when it says:

    “Joseph knew that God had conducted himself as a husband in regard to Mary. She was now prohibited to him for all time.”
    Longnecker’s response to that is charitable:
    “Let’s go easy, though, on this author. It’s not always easy to distinguish just what is literal in religion and what is figurative. Besides, his opinion is corrected by the formal teaching of the Church, as I have shown above.”

  • Mary Kochan

    The incarnation was an act of the entire Trinity. But only the 2nd person became man. Only the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. Jesus is not the Son of the Father because of the incarnation. He is the eternally generated Son of the Father.

    Mark Bonocore explains thus:

    [begin quote] As for Mary being the spouse of the Holy Spirit, this is a poetic (but true) expression referring to her total self-commitment to God (“Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Your Word” — Luke 1:38). So, this does not mean that the Holy Spirit is to be seen as Jesus’ earthly or temporal “father,” as if the Holy Spirit and Mary had normal marital relations, and so produced a son from them, etc. Rather, Mary acts as an image of both Creation, Israel, and the Church; and the Holy Spirit “weds” himself to her in a creative act, just as the “Spirit of God moves over the waters” of the new and unformed **earth** (Creation) in Genesis 1:2, and just as He came upon the people of Israel at the base of Sinai and upon the Church at Pentecost, thereby “creating” them into a people. In the same way, the Spirit comes upon Mary so as to form the human nature of Jesus from her. And this does not make Him (the Spirit) the “earthly father” of Jesus in the sense that Mary becomes Jesus’ earthly mother for two essential reasons:

    (1) The Divine PERSON of Jesus pre-existed the creation of His physical human nature; and this Divine PERSON already had a eternal relationship with the Holy Spirit, which was not a Father-Son relationship. Rather, the eternal relationship of the Son to the Spirit was part of the Father’s act of eternally begetting the eternal Son, with the Holy Spirit **being** that loving eternal Act of begeting the Son — the “Spirit of Sonship” mentioned by Paul in Romans 8. Thus, if anything, the human conception of Son via the Holy Spirit was an extension of this eternal Act, and the eternal Son-Spirit relationship; and thus the Father, as the ultimate source of both Son and Spirit remains the only Father involved — because the human conception of Jesus via the Spirit would be part of the same loving Act by which the Father eternally begets the Son.

    (2) While the PERSON of the Son possessed an eternal relationship with the Spirit prior to His human conception (which was not a Father-Son relationship), the PERSON of the Son did not possess any such pre-existing relationship with Mary, aside from being her Creator. And thus the old Italian expression, “Santa Maria, Figlia del Suo Figlio” — “Holy Mary, Daughter of Your Son.” Yet, in obtaining a human nature through her and experiencing true human birth through her, the eternal Person of the Son established a new relationship with Mary — a mother-son relationship. [close quote]

    To see in context go here:

    My further thought is this: That Mary was espoused by the Holy Spirit is what Joseph would have understood. And Joseph understood the Holy Spirit to be God, in the sense of being another name or title for Yahweh. In the OT you see the Holy Spirit being God. When the Holy Spirit speaks through a prophet, God is speaking. The Jews understood that. They did not have a trinitarian concept of three persons. This was revealed by the Son later. So when I say that Joseph understood Mary to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit, it is saying nothing other than that he recognized that the child she bore was from no human male, but had come from God. And since I am talking in the article about what Jospeh understood, it is not necessary for me to try to read back into his understanding anything regarding trinitarian theology. Nor is it necessary for me to make his understanding match up with trinitarian theology.

    Lastly, to say that it would not have been a great evil for Joseph to have had relations with her is to say it would not have been a great evil for the very vow she had taken, and personally affirmed in the presence of an angel, to have been broken. With all due respect to those who might hold another opinion, I disagree.

  • noelfitz

    This is a great discussion that forces one to think clearly about what we really believe. Theologically I am our of my depth, but that s no reason for me not to think about the issue raised. Thus with due caution I think of the words of Creeds.

    The Apostle’s Creed has:
    ” 1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
    2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
    3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.”

    The original Nicene Creed had:
    “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

    In school I learned that God is the Father of Jesus Christ. In the time of Our Lord Jews did not believe in the Trinity and for them Lord meant God. We have had the debate about monotheism and from this it seems to me that the Father of Jesus Christ was God.

    Calling Mary the spouse of God the Father or of God the Holy Spirit may be useful and helpful, but it should not obscure the fundamental truth that God is the Father and Mary the mother of Jesus.

  • DonHudzinski

    In the dicusion of the Incarnation, Genesis 2 21-24 should be quoted.

    So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.

    This passage defines marriage as well as it should, because Christ fullfiles this passage completely in the Incarnation. He became flesh and bone just like the passages says and He leaves the Father and the Holy Spirit and clings to His wife, His bride, the Church.

  • plowshare

    Mary, the vow of virginity attributed to Mary is not to be found in the Bible; it comes from the Pseudepigraphia, books that never were included in any Biblical canon. They are full of legends, many of them childish, which included such unlikely events as Joseph being chosen as Mary’s spouse because after a number of suitors left staffs at an altar (having taken a Biblical verse about “the rod of Jesse” literally), Joseph’s staff sprouted lilies. When Mary said “be it done unto me according to thy word,” that had to do with the Incarnation, and I see no reason to assume it had anything to do with a vow of virginity.

    Don, thank you for citing the passage in Genesis and pointing out that the Church also calls the Church the bride of Christ — in a figurative sense, obviously. This is also discussed at length in the 4th and 5th chapters of the book on Mary that I cited. On page 83, the same verse in Genesis is cited, and Gustavson comments:

    “That is, literal marriage consists of (1) a public, legal establishment of a new family and (2) a private, exclusive sexual union, but (3) by definition, marriage exists in this life only, and not the next. (If Mary and Joseph, or the New Testament authors, had a different notion of marriage, I am unaware of it.) Mary and the Spirit had no such literal relationship–no legal rights, no sex between partners, no termination at death. In addition, since all believers will constitute God’s bride, God’s `marriage’ to Mary is hardly exclusive. Literal marriage supposes a parity between partners”

    Here there is the following footnote:
    See Gen. 3-18-24: The wife will be a “helper suitable” for the husband, “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” See also CCC, par. 371-72: A spouse is to be a “partner,” and God made man and woman “complementary as masculine and feminine.”
    [I might add that paragraphs 369 and 370 are also highly germane to this issue, and 372 also says that “they are equal as persons.”]

    Gustavson concludes: “Instead, it was with Joseph that Mary had a literal marriage (at least, you’ll agree, in its legal aspects), so that Mary is the `Spouse of the Spirit’ only figuratively.”

  • noelfitz


    I am lost.

    Are you saying that the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, left the other two Persons and became flesh and bone to get married?

    God bless,


    In necessariis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas.

  • fjindra

    Please do not think I am in any way calling into question any of the Church’s teachings on Our Lady and her Protector (St. Joseph) – but it seems to me that this bantering is part of a problem of perception when different quotes are set forth as supporting one issue or another.

    We are dealing with the Mystery of the Incarnation – does anyone really dare to say they understand this? – and the best Holy Mother Church has to offer regarding this Mystery – this Gem of gems – is to look at the cut facets of the Beauty of God-made-man from different angles and see the refractions not as distortions, but as Truth that may seemingly contradict, but only because the viewer of the gem is not looking at it from the same angle at the same as someone else.

    In other words, how about “cutting some slack” here and try moving to see from another view the wonder of God’s way of revealing Himself – and how He used – uses – us human mini-minds (compared to His) to reveal His Glory.

    Taken from the perspective that Mary writes, I thoroughly enjoyed her facet of seeing Joseph quoting his namesake’s speech to Potiphar’s wife. I had never made that connection before, but it is one I pray will be etched on my mind from now on.

    As a priest, I can echo the same regarding my care of the parishes He has called me to serve. I have been entrusted with a great charge. Please God, and through the intercession of St. Joseph, may I discharge MY responsibilities with His grace, and for His glory.

    A blessed New Year to you all!

    Fr. Frank

  • DonHudzinski

    Yes, I am saying just that, but were one person of the Trinity is so are the rest. I am also saying that we are fully married until we get to heaven, because marriage is not about being close to a man or woman but close to the Incarnation.

  • DonHudzinski

    Here is more to help our understanding.

    Marriage by its vary nature is Incarnate. Adam and Eve when they left the garden divorced the Incarnation, and for thousand of years their was not marriage, until the birth of Christ. Are you not aware that when enter the Church, that we divorce Satan and marry the Incarnation.

    Spouses lead each other to heaven, were marriage is fulfilled, for it is their that we can fully understand the love of the Trinity.

    The Creed that we state at every Feast of the Lamb is a statement of the divorce of Satan and the marriage of the Incarnation.