Thursday, June 11, 2015

Josephology Part 10: Francisco Suárez and the Order of the Hypostatic Union

“Suarez, whose judgment is equivalent to that of an entire university.” –Edward Healy Thompson
A contentious figure in many respects, Francisco Suárez (1548-1617) was a well-learned Spanish scholar, philosopher, and theologian of the scholastic tradition. He taught in many cities, was by many accounts given to acts of great penance, and was even invited by P. Paul V to refute the errors of King James of England. Later Thomists make reference to Suárez with some regularity even to this day. Like all brilliant men, he was not content merely to learn, but was driven to develop his own school of thought, called “Suarism” by some.

While the majority of his ideas are beyond my own ability to critique or absorb, and even though the majority of his works appear to remain untranslated into English for our benefit, there are a few oddities about his legacy that are relevant to the subject at hand. One of his obsessions was developing the theology concerning the Blessed Virgin, particularly the nature and extent of the graces imparted to her. The commonly found opinion that the graces of the Virgin are greater than the graces of all the angels and saints combined appears to have originated with Fr. Suárez. He also developed the idea of the Order of the Hypostatic Union, which he uses in his Life of Christ to describe the graces give to St. Joseph:
There are certain ministries which pertain precisely to the order of sanctifying grace, and in this order, I see that the apostles occupy the place of highest dignity, and that in such a place, gifts of grace are necessary (above all of wisdom and of grace: gratis data) superior to the gifts of others. There are, however, other ministries found within the order of the hypostatic union (an order of itself more perfect, as we have said elsewhere, treating of the dignity of the Mother of God) and, in my opinion, it is within this order that the ministry of St. Joseph must be situated, even if it occupies the lowest place there; and for this reason, his is a dignity superior to the highest in other orders because he is in a higher order. (De mysteriis vitae Christi in tertiam partem divi Thomae, tomus secundus, disp. VIII, Sec. 1.; quoted by Don Joachin Ferrer Arellano, “The Virginal Marriage of Mary and Joseph according to Bl. John Duns Scotus,” in Blessed John Duns Scotus and His Mariology (2009), p. 383, note 33)
What is the Order of the Hypostatic Union? Its proponents reference an article in the Summa (I.108.6) describing the celestial hierarchy of the angels, but I have found no original reference in Thomas to this particular order. The twentieth-century Thomist Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange says that the ordained divine power operates within three orders: the natural, the supernatural, and that of the hypostatic union (cf. Christ the Savior, p. 88). This third order is something that operates above and beyond even the already extraordinary order of sanctifying grace; the super-supernatural realm, if you will, in which the mystery of God made Man takes place.

This third realm is where the Blessed Virgin received such graces as to exceed the combined graces of all the blessed in Heaven, by virtue of her Divine Maternity. It is also where St. Joseph supposedly received the graces to exceed all other saints, by virtue of being the spouse of the Virgin, and by the necessity of performing the ministry of protector of the Incarnate Word.

It is an interesting work of theological speculation, to be sure. Many later Thomists, like Garrigou-Lagrange, seem to take the Order of the Hypostatic Union as a given. Edward Healy Thompson popularized—and perhaps banalized—it in his Life and Glories. Taylor Marshall has blogged in recent years about the importance of this order in regards to Josephology.

Unfortunately, it is an idea that seems to be used as a sort of “black box” for theological speculations. I have not found any precisely agreed upon definition of the Order of the Hypostatic Union, and it seems to morph slightly depending on the theologian using it. Garrigou-Lagrange uses it occasionally when writing about Christ, but most often it is used to defend the hyper-exaltation of Joseph among the saints.

If Joseph is hyper-exalted because of his proximity to the mystery of the hypostatic union, why not also John the Baptist (who preached the Incarnate Word even from the womb), or Elizabeth (who named the pregnant Mary the mother of her Lord), or Simeon (who circumcised the Christ Child), or Joachim and Anne (the parents of the Second Eve), or David (ancestor and messianic type of Jesus), or Gabriel (who announced the Incarnation itself)? It’s a fascinating idea in concept, but I do not think it predates Suárez in any substantial way, and it has only really gained traction among Josephite devotees.

Charles II
But there is also a cultural momentum at play. The Hispanic lands began developing Josephite devotion much earlier and with greater fervor than the rest of the Church. In 1555 Joseph was named patron of the conquest of Mexico, and in the 1670s the Spanish King Charles II replaced St. James with Joseph as the patron of his kingdom. From the early 1600s Spanish and Mexican artists began producing more images of the Holy Family, often changing his appearance from an elderly to a younger man. St. Teresa of Ávila (in Spain), about thirty years Francisco’s senior, worked to popularize Josephite devotion after receiving a miraculous cure from this saint. Suárez was thus working within the religious culture of his time and place, perhaps striving to find a theological apologetic for the growing devotion to the Stepfather of Christ and to the Holy Family. Even to this day, devotion to Joseph seems to be the strongest in Spain and among other Spanish-speaking Catholic communities.

The influence of Francisco Suárez on later Josephology should not be underestimated, although he was part of a much larger devotional movement. His own work is largely neglected outside of the few remaining Thomistic schools, and even then he rarely seems to be studied in his own right. One wonders if he had any inkling that his many volumes of work would be forgotten aside from a few developments in Marian and Josephite devotion.

St. Joseph, honorary member of the Order of the Hypostatic Union, pray for us!


  1. - JPII speaks of this "order of the hypostatic union": "In this family, Joseph is the father: his fatherhood is not one that derives from begetting offspring; but neither is it an 'apparent' or merely 'substitute' fatherhood. Rather, it is one that fully shares in authentic human fatherhood and the mission of a father in the family. This is a consequence of the hypostatic union: humanity taken up into the unity of the Divine Person of the Word-Son, Jesus Christ. Together with human nature, all that is human, and especially the family - as the first dimension of man's existence in the world - is also taken up in Christ. Within this context, Joseph's human fatherhood was also 'taken up' in the mystery of Christ's Incarnation" (Redemptoris custos 21).

    Two silly points:

    - I just learned that the schismatic Palmarian Catholic Church in Spain declared as dogma the assumption of Joseph. O those Spaniards!

    - It just dawned on me that, even if the child Jesus baptized His earthly parents, their marriage was ratum sed non consummatum and therefore within the authority of the Bishop of Rome to dissolve! Did Joseph live long enough to encounter "pope" Simon Peter?

    1. It sounds like the Palmarians have been reading Thompson: "But, more than all, how can we believe that this loving Saviour, who gives life to whom He will, and therefore had the power to choose whom He would to share His glory in body as well as soul, can have called from their graves this multitude of His servants and friends and omitted His dearly-loved father? Impossible! No proof seems required to establish a fact which, so to say, proves itself by its simple statement" (p 414).

      Who needs proof, indeed? Wild speculation overrules all evidence and history.

    2. And what of His dear grandparents!? And His camel hair-wearing cousin who was beheaded!? And His "brethren"?!

    3. "It just dawned on me that, even if the child Jesus baptized His earthly parents, their marriage was ratum sed non consummatum and therefore within the authority of the Bishop of Rome to dissolve!"

      Good thing they didn't live today, or otherwise if they had a fight the bishop of that minute diocese in Istanbul could declare that their union "died", allowing second and third adulterous unions under the all embracing economy.

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    5. Indeed! Moreover, the local chancery could declare that Mary's perpetual vow of chastity (cf. Protevangelium of James and Lk 1:34) was a diriment impediment.

    6. Dammit Rome 1, 2, and 3! Stop your marriage shenanigans!

      This is why - if I had to pick one of the Romes - I pick Rome #0 (Antioch).

    7. You would pick the "Rome" that was wiped off the map 800 years ago, and whose patriarchate has half a dozen claimants.

    8. Yes. All things considered, proto-Rome is the best option.

    9. It may have half a dozen claimants, but they will all work together on the important matters.

  2. I have not gone back to read all nine previous installments on Josephology. Have you covered the line of arguement that
    "Since Jesus is (and always has been) God, whatever He willed while on earth is eternally willed in the eternal present tense by each Person of the Blessed Trinity since in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 600, "To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy", and therefore each Divine Person is eternally willing to love, honor and be subject to St. Joseph the way Jesus did as a little child (for maybe 30 years)"?

    Can anyone imagine a greater honor, or any mystery more unfathomable, than God being subject to a mere mortal? But, if the above conclusion is not true, is not the only other possible conclusion based on the (implicitely false premise) assumption that The thought of God is transient in time, that God has changed His mind, andf therefore He is not truly infinite and therefore not really God the Creator of all time and space?

    Is it also possible that when Lucifer is quoted as saying, "I will not serve", he was saying "I will not serve a "God" who serves a mere mortal, because I will not serve a mere mortal with the love, honor and obedience this "god' does" and I will try to keep all mortals from honoring Joseph the way God does?

    The question then is: Should we try to help people follow Jesus, imitate Jesus in loving, honoring and being subject to Joseph the way Jesus is eternally, being the same yesterday, today, forever, with the single thought of God as He suffered and died on the cross, praying for all sinners (CCC 579) and honoring St. Joseph as the Head of the Family while He (Jesus) did so suffer so as to reconcile all things through Joseph and Mary as one?

    1. Mr. Farmer,

      Let me suggest first of all that while God is eternal and timeless, the outworkings of his providence unfold through the temporal changes of the created world. The God-Man was not a young child forever, and his relations to his earthly parents was not static. As an infant, he made himself dependent upon their care. As a young man, he willed to stay behind in the Temple, even though he knew his parents would have preferred him to remain with their family group. During his public ministry, he even refused to see his mother when she came with his brethren to speak to him.

      As Christians, we are bound to be subject to Mary less because she is his mother ("Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it") than because she has been crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth. The Marian apologetic that we should be subject to Mary and Joseph because Jesus was subject to them is a tad misplaced, I think. Jesus honored his parents, and still does, but he is no longer subject to them except insofar as it pleases him to concede to their prayers. Children are not subject to their parents in the same way before and after reaching the age of majority.

      Christ honored his mother with greater graces than were given to any other creature, because of her unique but *subservient* role as the Second Eve. In a very tangible sense, Joseph has no place in this pair, for even though he was the Virgin's spouse, he was not thereby the Second Adam. He is not even the Forerunner of the Messiah, the one who received the graces necessary for that pre-messianic role.

      We honor all the saints because God has honored them with the crown of salvation, and of course we honor St. Joseph among them. But there is a hierarchy among the saints, and the pious speculation that Joseph is the second-highest in this ranking is without historical or theological foundation. I invite you to read the rest of this series of articles, as well as the future installments. It is my desire to honor Joseph with the same honor that God has given him, not with any imagined honor that would displace the honor given to the one Christ called greatest.