Wednesday, July 23, 2014

St. James the Babysitter?

"That's not St. Joseph," exclaimed the wry and sly fellow who comments on this blog under the revealing pseudonym "J." "That's one of St. Joseph's children from his first marriage come over to baby sit!"

The context of this conversation was the unveiling of a new painting of the Holy Family at the FSSP parish in Irving, a painting that depicted the stepfather of Jesus as a young, strong, virile, brown-haired man with a passive disposition. Fashion in the last few centuries dictates a youthful, potent Joseph with a bright future as a physical laborer and strong protector of the Holy Family. This halcyon St. Joseph is, however, not the St. Joseph of the Church's tradition.

Joseph was, according to the earlier sources, previously married and widowed with children. His vocation from God to wed the Virgin Mary and guard the Son the God made Man came late in life after much experience raising a family and earning a living. Indeed, the protoevangelium of James, a non-canonical book which the Church has trusted for historical information in outlining her tradition, states:
"And Joseph, throwing away his axe, went out to meet them; and when they had assembled, they went away to the high priest, taking with them their rods. And he, taking the rods of all of them, entered into the temple, and prayed; and having ended his prayer, he took the rods and came out, and gave them to them: but there was no sign in them, and Joseph took his rod last; and, behold, a dove came out of the rod, and flew upon Joseph's head. And the priest said to Joseph, Thou hast been chosen by lot to take into thy keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel. And the priest said to Joseph: Fear the Lord thy God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction. And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in thy house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. And Joseph said to Mary: Behold, I have received thee from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave thee in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to thee. The Lord will protect thee."
Were Joseph an elderly man when he married the Blessed Mother his death would have been expected by the time Jesus began His public ministry around age thirty.

Another interesting passage is Matthew 13:55 onward:
"Is not this the carpenter' s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude?"

The Douay-Rheims Bible as revised by Challoner has a footnote on Matthew 13:55: " His brethren: These were the children of Mary the wife of Cleophas, sister to our Blessed Lady, (St. Matt. 27. 56; St. John 19. 25,) and therefore, according to the usual style of the Scripture, they were called brethren, that is, near relations to our Saviour."

This footnote is one explanation of Jesus' "brethren," a term used in Semitic languages at the time to mean anyone a half-cousin or closer, but there is another possibility, too. These "brethren" may have been St. Joseph's children, but not Mary's. Jesus is identified with Mary and Joseph—who is dead presumably at this point, but the "brethren" are not identified with Mary—who is still alive. James "the brother of the Lord," James the Just, mentioned by St. Paul in Galatians may well have been an older stepbrother of the Lord. It has been suggested that while the average parish is a hopeless case, traditional communities could perhaps indirectly re-introduce the Church's tradition with regard to St. Joseph by beginning a devotion to St. James the Babysitter.


  1. I've been putting together a dossier on the shifting Catholic opinion of St. Joseph over time. Popular devotion to Our Lady's Protector seems to have really sprung up in Spain, only to find wider acceptance in Europe during the Renaissance. It is still Spanish-based movements like Opus Dei that really push for Josephite devotion, although recent popes have also pushed for his cult.

    The various oddities of Josephite devotion—his youth, his sanctification in the womb, his bodily assumption even before Our Lady's!—seem to spring up more or less spontaneously, only to later find theological backing by respected theologians (e.g., Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange). If there's such a thing as valid development of doctrine, this is its opposite.

  2. Obligatory link to devotional tradosphere:

    Let the controversy begin...

    1. Yes, I've argued with Dr. Marshall more than once about St. Joseph. He—like some traddy priests we both know—has blinders on about this.

      St. James the Babysitter, pray for us!

    2. Tell me about it... I've had to explain to some people that his work on Christmas is fundamentally flawed. While it does accurately point out that the Nativity was not and never was a pagan holiday, it does jump to the conclusion that "therefore, it must have always been celebrated back to the times of the apostles because.... birthdays! And who wouldn't want to know Christ's birthday by asking Our Lady?!"

      In doing so he contradicts and ignores:
      1. St. John Chrysostom exhorting the Antiochians to celebrate the wondrous feast of the nativity as "it was not ten years ago that the Romans came to us with absolute proof of the the date of Christ's birth".
      2. The early Roman fathers Tertullian and St. Justin Martyr referencing the Holy Family's census records.
      3. Origen telling the Alexandrians to stop speculating on the birthday of Christ because birthdays are a "pagan custom" and also, that the spiritual birth of Christ is FAR more important (he then goes on to say, "By the way guys, THAT date is March 25")
      4. The fact that the Armenian Apostolic Church (separated in the 5th/6th century) never has celebrated the Nativity by itself but includes it in the entirety of the Epiphany/Theophany.

      A Catholic doesn't rewrite tradition to fit his views, he uses tradition to form his views.

      Overall, I think the guy is a well-meaning, but woefully under-educated, ultra-scholastic.

  3. If I might be allowed to polish Eris' apple a little while drawing on both the themes of Christmas and St. Joseph, I'd point out that an early modern (or late medieval?) carol begins: "Joseph was an old man/an old man was he, etc." and he refuses--according to the carol--to pick cherrires for "sweet Marie the Queene of Galilee."

    More seriously, I never knew that Garrigou-Lagrange held for St. Joseph's bodily assumption; I'd be interested to know where he writes about it, if you can remember off hand. I do remember that Bl. Andre Bessette writes somewhere that the body of St. Joseph would one day be found, to the great blessing of the Church. The only bodily assumptions that St. Thomas Aquinas (III, Q. 77, 1, obj. 2) seems to know as part of Catholic tradition in the 13th century is that of the B. Virgin (of course) and possibly St. John the Apostle (Elias and Henoch being special cases).

    1. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange wrote about St. Joseph in an appendix to his work, "Mother of the Savior and Our Interior Life." Here's a sampling relevant to his promotion of belief in St. Joseph's assumption:

      "St. Joseph’s death was a privileged one; St. Francis de Sales writes that it was a death of love. The same holy doctor teaches with Suarez that St. Joseph was one of the saints who rose after the Resurrection of the Lord (Mt. 27:52 sqq.) and appeared in the city of Jerusalem; he holds also that these resurrections were definitive and that Joseph entered heaven then, body and soul."

      A much longer selection can be found online:

  4. Thank you, J.! I did read that work some years ago, although I confess that I completely forgot about this appendix. I'm not sure, though, that the estimable Fr. Garrigou would incline to Suarez over St. Thomas, ceteris paribus, and he does add immediately following the section you cited: "St. Thomas is much more reserved regarding this point [i.e. that the resurrections following Our Lord's in the holy city were definitive, i.e. to glory]. Though his first opinion was that the resurrections were definitive, he taught later, after an examination of St. Augustine’s arguments in the opposed sense, that this was not the case."

    I'm sure it's unnecessary to add that I don't in any way intend to detract from the great honor and veneration due to the great St. Joseph, who after all was worthy to be considered the father of God made man, and to be referred as such by the Mother of God herself: "Your father and I have gone sorrowing, etc." But of course it is a different matter whether it's prudent or even defensible to attempt a kind of hypo-hyper-dulia of St. Joseph like some modern writers have done.

    1. Fr. G-L already goes far beyond Thomas in his exaltation of St. Joseph, using the (quasi?-)Thomistic idea of the "hypostatic order" to argue that Joseph received all manner of graces unknown to tradition. He doubtless thinks he's legitimately developing Thomas' thought when doing so. Don't underestimate the influence of Fr. Francisco Suárez (a Spaniard) on this hyper-exalted Josephite devotion, as his name appears frequently in modern works about St. Joseph.

      And yes, it's worth mentioning that I also have a steady devotion to St. Joseph. I like to think of him as the patron of cranky old farts who are slowly won over by Mary's beauty and grace. I have nothing against the devotion to St. Joseph as the patron of holy deaths, either, considering the very plausible speculation that he died in the company of Jesus and Mary.

  5. Alfred Edersheim, in his "The Life and Times of Jesus" (It can be read online for free)

    "And yet Jewish tradition may here prove both illustrative and helpful. That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so, was the belief , that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, 'the tower of the flock.' This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheepground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah [951] leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices [952], and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnaic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover -- that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest.

    Thus, Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round. Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak.

    It was, then, on that ‘wintry night’ of the 25th of December, that shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrificial services, in the very place consecrated by tradition as that where the Messiah was to be first revealed.

    ++++++++++ end of quote +++++++++

    ABS has never had a doubt that Jesus was born on that date (of course, that is the conclusion also of the great Dom Prosper Gueranger, "The Liturgical Year" and on and on and on. What ABS does find amusing is the ever-increasing number of catholics jumping onto the He-wasn't-born-on-the-25th bandwagon for that wagon is repeatedly driven over a most important date for a reason and the reason is opposition to the Catholic Church

  6. Indeed. And arguments Like Taylor Marshall's don't help our cause in proving it was December 25.

    Excerpt from his argument:
    "Now ask yourself: Would the Blessed Virgin Mary ever forget the birth of her Son Jesus Christ who was conceived without human seed, proclaimed by angels, born in a miraculous way, and visited by Magi? She knew from the moment of His incarnation in her stainless womb that He was the Son of God and Messiah. Would she ever forget that day?[v]
    Next, ask yourself: Would the Apostles be interested in hearing Mary tell the story? Of course they would. Do you think the holy Apostle who wrote, “And the Word was made flesh,” was not interested in the minute details of His birth? Even when I walk around with our seven-month-old son, people always ask “How old is he?” or “When was he born?” Don’t you think people asked this question of Mary?"

    This emotion-based argument takes contemporary mentality and projects it onto the early Christians, a common flaw in ultra-scholasticism.

    There is no question, if one reads the early church fathers and puts the pieces together, that:
    1. Christians did not always celebrate the Nativity
    2. Christians in Rome discovered the exact date (almost certainly through the Augustus census records).
    3. The feast spread throughout most of Christianity during the lifetime of St. John Chrysostom (4th century A.D.).

    1. Dear L. of B.,
      Interesting points! What do you think of the argument (also mentioned somewhere by Dr. Marshall, admittedly in a less florid moment) deriving from the time of Zachary's service in the Temple as determined by his tribe and family (so that it was either in late September or at some point in the spring)? The argument goes (for those not familiar with it) that the conception of St. John occurs in late September; he is therefore born nine months later in late June, the "third month" of the B.V.M's expectancy. Hence, the Annunciation occurred in late March and the Nativity in late December. (I can't remember if the exact day of the month could be determined from the "lot" of Zachary's Temple service.)

      To be honest, I never yet have bothered to look up all the information regarding the succession of service in the Temple, etc. It's interesting, though, I think.

    2. Interesting... I've never heard of that particular one. Would you be able to send me the link?

      I actually used to go to mass at the FSSP church Dr. Marshall attends. The regular priests there quote his stuff like it's Catholic Dogma. To be fair, there is some good in what he writes and he definitely sincere.

    3. Lord of B.,
      It took a little searching (apparently his revamped blog is a little less forthcoming than the old one, for some reason), but here it is:

      I admire Dr. Marshall's enthusiasm (in the good sense) and his desire to win minds as well as hearts, and he seems to have a true humility that is very becoming, I think. I mentioned to him once how improper (to say the least) it was to call St. Anne the "Grandmother of God"; and although he wanted the exact reference in Garrigou-Lagrange (pace "J."!) where this is discussed and (naturally) refuted, he did abandon that particular eccentricity. Anyhow, God bless him, and for that matter, all you reading this!

  7. L of B. It is to be found in Dom Prosper Gueranger's, The Liturgical Year Volume II, Christmas Book I "History of Christmas. All real trads have their own collection of The Liturgical Year (snotty snark off) but it can be found online.

    A lesser known source re His birth on the 25th is that the Julian Calendar (45 bc) was a "perpetual" calendar of 14 months in a cycle of 28 years (the claim is not easily to summarise, but it ends with an appeal to Matthew's Gospel with the naming of Jesus in verse 25 (1st chapter) leading to the ? was that a hint that He was named in the 42 tear of the inauguration of the Julian Calendar which would have been the first of Jan in 4 bc. Sequentially, owing to the fact that Jewish boys were named on the eight day after birth that meant (accord to this argument) that the nativity too place on the 25th of the year 5 bc.

    ABS doesn't quite know what to make of all of that but it is interesting nonetheless but as to Christmas not being celebrated in such and such a place and such and such a time, folks tend to forget that one could be killed for being Catholic in that epoch and one images that might have had a slight effect on believers


  9. This is fascinating stuff! One wonders whether this was one of the methods the Alexandrians were trying to calculate Christ's birthday...

    Good old Dom Guranger... When he was right he was very, very right. When he was wrong he was dead wrong.