The Nativity, Our Lord, Our Lady and St Joseph

Happy Feast of Christmas. Here is a beautiful modern icon of the Nativity. This is an Eastern image and so I thought I would point out one figure who is portrayed somewhat differently here than in the West, St Joseph.

As I understand it, the standard interpretation is that by tradition in the East, St Joseph was a widower before he married Our Lady and so is always portrayed as an older man. He is hunched not just because of age, but also to reveal an inner turmoil. He is in doubt about whether or not he is witnessing a Virgin birth. The figure beside St Joseph, also as a hunched old man but in ragged clothing is the devil tempting him. All is resolved in the end for St Joseph loves his wife and through her prayers resolves this doubt. The physical separation in the icon emphasises also the point that St Joseph played no part in the conception of Our Lord.

My personal reaction to this is that this does not diminish the stature of St Joseph at all, rather it serves to elevate that of Our Lady. St Joseph is a great saint. He is the protector of the Holy Family, foster father and guardian of Our Lord. This demonstrates by contrast with the figure of Our Lady how she is even greater. In this sense St Joseph might be seen as an examplar of all other saints and so Our Lady is greater than all the other saints and angels.

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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at

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