Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Josephology Part 14: Peter and Joseph

But what, one might ask, of all the popes who have spoken about the virtues and glories of St. Joseph? Surely their support of Josephite devotion must lend some credence to the developments in the post-Tridentine era. It is true that more than a few popes since the nineteenth century have spoken very favorably of this devotional turn, but that is not necessarily a good reason to swallow it whole. The peculiarly Josephite doctrines—his sanctification in the womb, his sinlessness, his lifelong celibacy, his bodily assumption, his coronation as (I can only suppose) Prince of Heaven—these are the specific doctrines worth considering in regards to papal pronouncements.

(I am indebted to the Oblates of St. Joseph website for their collection of papal documents.)

Papa Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti (Pius IX)

Sixteen years after defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, Pius IX issued Quemadmodum Deus in 1870, wherein it notably and incorrectly states that “the Church has always most highly honored and praised blessed Joseph next to his spouse, the Virgin Mother of God.” He closes the decree with the following liturgical and devotional reforms:
Accordingly, it has now pleased our Most Holy Sovereign, Pope Pius IX, in order to entrust himself and all the faithful to the Patriarch St. Joseph’s most powerful patronage, has chosen to comply with the prelates’ desire and has solemnly declared him Patron of the Catholic Church
He has also ordered that his feast on March 19th by henceforth celebrated as a double of the first class, without any Octave, however, because of Lent. He arranged, moreover, that a declaration to this effect be promulgated through the present decree of The Sacred Congregation of Rites on this day sacred to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, the most chaste Joseph’s Spouse. All things to the contrary notwithstanding. [emphasis added]
He followed up this document with Inclytum Patriarcham, concerning the adjustment of the liturgical feasts and texts for St. Joseph. To wit:
We, confirming and also amplifying with Our present letter the aforesaid regulation of that decree, do command and enjoin the following: 
We desire that the Creed be always added in the mass on the natal feast of St. Joseph as well as on the feast of his patronage, even though these feasts should occur on some day other than Sunday. Moreover, we desire that in the oration A Cunctis, whenever it is to be recited, the commemoration of St. Joseph shall be added in the following words, “with blessed Joseph,” which words are to be introduced after the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and before all other patron saints, with the exception of the angels and of St. John the Baptist. Finally, we desire that, while this order is to be observed in the suffrages of the saints whenever they are prescribed by the rubrics, the following commemoration should be added in honor of St. Joseph: 
The Antiphon at Vespers: Behold the faithful and prudent servant whom the Lord has set over his household. V. Glory and riches are in his house. R. And his justice remains for ever. 
The Antiphon at Lauds: Jesus himself, when he began his work, was about thirty years of age, being as was supposed the son of Joseph. V. The mouth of the just man shall meditate wisdom. R. And his tongue shall speak judgment. 
The Oration: O God, who in your ineffable providence was pleased to choose blessed Joseph as the spouse of your most holy mother, grant, we beseech you, that we may be made worthy to have him for our intercessor in heaven whom we venerate as our protector on earth.… [emphases added]
No peculiarly Josephite doctrine was defined by Pius IX.

Papa Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci (Leo XIII)

In 1889, Pope Leo wrote the encyclical Quamquam pluries, on devotion to St. Joseph. He begins by deploring the sorry state of the spiritual life in the world—“we see charity growing cold; the young generation daily growing in depravity of morals and views; the Church of Jesus Christ attacked on every side by open force or by craft”—and urges the faithful to develop Josephite devotion as a remedy for this state.

He repeats the basic outline of Josephite devotionals: that Joseph received great dignity by virtue of his nuptial bond to Mary, that he nourished and guarded the Holy Family, that the Christ Child was subject to his paternal authority, that he was prefigured in the ancient patriarch Joseph of Egypt, that he is a model of virginal integrity, and that he was noble of birth but humble of labor.

He closes the short encyclical with the following devotional prescriptions:
We prescribe that during the whole month of October, at the recitation of the Rosary, for which We have already legislated, a prayer to St. Joseph be added, the formula of which will be sent with this letter, and that this custom should be repeated every year. To those who recite this prayer, We grant for each time an indulgence of seven years and seven Lents. It is a salutary practice and very praiseworthy, already established in some countries, to consecrate the month of March to the honour of the holy Patriarch by daily exercises of piety. Where this custom cannot be easily established, it is as least desirable, that before the feast-day, in the principal church of each parish, a triduo of prayer be celebrated. In those lands where the 19th of March – the Feast of St. Joseph – is not a Festival of Obligation, We exhort the faithful to sanctify it as far as possible by private pious practices, in honour of their heavenly patron, as though it were a day of Obligation. [emphases added]
No peculiarly Josephite doctrine was defined by Leo XIII. However, he does give credence to the belief in Joseph’s perpetual virginity.

Papa Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (John XXIII)

During the preparations for the second Vatican Council, on March 19, 1961 Pope John issued a letter naming St. Joseph the patron saint of the upcoming council. In this letter (Le Voci), John discusses at some length the growth of Josephite devotion over the previous century, writing of the popes already discussed, as well as Pius X (“He also added to the treasure of indulgences attached to reciting the litanies that are so dear to Us and so comforting to say”), Benedict XV (“It is to him that we owe the introduction of two new prefaces into the Canon of the Mass; the preface of St. Joseph and the one for Masses for the Dead”), Pius XI (who “took the opportunity to exalt the many glories that shone forth from the spiritual image of the Guardian of Jesus”), and Pius XII (“in 1955... he announced that the annual feast of St. Joseph the Worker had been instituted”).

Pope John closes the letter with a prayer:
O St. Joseph! Here, here is where you belong as Protector Universalis Ecclesiae! Our intention was to use the words and the documents of Our immediate predecessors over the last century — from Pius IX to Pius XII — to offer you a garland of honor, which would crystallize the expressions of affection and veneration that are now rising everywhere — from Catholic nations and in mission regions. 
Always be our protector. May thy inner spirit of peace, of silence, of good work, and of prayer for the cause of Holy Church always be an inspiration to us and bring us joy in union with thy blessed spouse, our most sweet and gentle and Immaculate Mother, and in the strong yet tender love of Jesus, the glorious and immortal King of all ages and peoples. Amen.
John XXIII was a Josephite pope through and through. He considered taking the name Joseph upon being elevated to the papacy, but demurred because it was a name without papal precedence, and perhaps also because it was one of his given names. Every year on the first of May, Pope John would address the Christian Associations of Italian Workers, speaking about St. Joseph and composing prayers to him. In July 1960 he elevated the Feast of the Holy Family to a second-class rank. His updated 1962 Missal included the addition of St. Joseph into the canon of the Mass.

In a homily on the Ascension given on May 26, 1960, John gave permission to those who wished to believe in a bodily assumption for Sts. Joseph and John the Baptist:
We name two of the most intimate persons in Christ’s life: John the Baptist – the Precursor, and Joseph of Nazareth – his putative father and custodian. It corresponds to them – we may piously believe – the honor and the privilege of Jesus allowing them to admirably accompany him on the path to Heaven (on the day of his Ascension) and to sing the first notes of the never ending hymn, “Te Deum.” [emphasis added]
No peculiarly Josephite doctrine was defined by John XXIII. However, he does offer his support for those who believe in Joseph’s assumption.

Papa Karol Józef Wojtyla (John Paul II)

Never content with brevity when lengthiness was an option, John Paul’s apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (“Guardian of the Redeemer”) reads like a short book. Written in collaboration with Tarcisio Giuseppe Stramare of the Oblates of St. Joseph, there is not much in here that one won’t find in similar devotional works. Probably the most interesting part is where they quote Paul VI’s 1970 discourse to the “Equipes Notre-Dame” Movement:
In this great undertaking which is the renewal of all things in Christ, marriage—it too purified and renewed—becomes a new reality, a sacrament of the New Covenant. We see that at the beginning of the New Testament, as at the beginning of the Old, there is a married couple. But whereas Adam and Eve were the source of evil which was unleashed on the world, Joseph and Mary are the summit from which holiness spreads all over the earth. The Savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family—that sanctuary of love and cradle of life. (RC 7, emphasis added)
What a bizarre overturning of the ancient, patristic recognition of Jesus and Mary as the new counterparts to the first Adam and Eve! To replace Christ himself with St. Joseph as the New Adam surely drives home the point that excessive Josephite devotion requires a total amnesia of traditional Catholic belief.

No peculiarly Josephite doctrine was defined by John Paul II (nor by Paul VI, for that matter).

Papa Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Francis)

In his 2013 decree Paternas vices, Franciscus inserted the name of St. Joseph into Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV of the Novus Ordo Missae, because “the faithful in the Catholic Church have shown continuous devotion to Saint Joseph and have solemnly and constantly honored his memory as the most chaste spouse of the Mother of God and as the heavenly Patron of the universal Church.”

In this year’s encyclical Laudato Si, he invoked St. Joseph as a custodian of the natural environment. This had a precursor in the pope’s inaugural humility of March 19, 2013: “In [Joseph], dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly...! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!”

No peculiarly Josephite doctrine has yet been defined by Francis.

In Closing

Those who wish to invoke papal authority in favor of Josephite devotion must acknowledge that no papal definitions of Josephite doctrine have ever been promulgated, even though some popes appear to have hoped that belief in his place as the second-greatest of all saints would eventually become universally acknowledged. Pius XI thought that the centuries of silence on St. Joseph “was bound to be succeeded by a long, loud cry of acclaim and glory through the ages.”

Perhaps time will tell, but thus far it must be admitted that the Catholic faithful have not yet taken to Josephite devotion except in small pockets. Every time a pope asserts the wonders of St. Joseph, even proclaiming him Patron of the Universal Church, the laity seem to take brief or little notice. His feasts, octaves, and devotionals seem to appear and disappear regularly like the waves of the sea. He retains some popularity among Catholic families as a member of the Holy Family, but most laymen are shocked to hear that anyone could believe in his sinlessness or bodily assumption. If the sensus fidelium speaks with any authority, it thus far finds only a moderate and humble place for the old carpenter from Nazareth.

St. Joseph, wondering how he’s going to afford this wedding, pray for us!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I went to Mass on the Nativity of the Forerunner this year at a parish which offers the new rite. When the priest referenced the verse where Our Lord says "Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist", the priest, as without any hesitation, quickly said something along the lines of "We all know that St. Joseph is the second greatest saint but Our Lord wanted to emphasize the greatness of St. John the Baptist."

    This was not a surprise because this particular parish has several retreats for men focusing on St. Joseph and whatnot but this is getting ridiculous at this point.

    1. So the Lord explicitly states that St. John is the greatest regular man born of woman, and we're supposed to take that as exaggeration? God does not speak in hyperbole!

      Also, wouldn't St. John the Baptist be an excellent model for young men and St. Joseph for older men?

    2. Christ spoke in hyperbole more than once: "If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee.... If one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other." Even his statement about John is a bit hyperbolic, since the Blessed Virgin was greater than he. But of course that's no excuse for placing Joseph in John's proper place.

    3. John the Baptist would still be the greatest MAN that was not also God (insert Tolkein reference "I am no man!" here).

      "If one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other."... That's not hyperbole. That's genuinely correct and the example of the saints. It's just inapplicable in all circumstances (see also "Thou Shalt Not Kill"... which I've been informed more directly translates to "Murder. No!" or "Thou shalt not Murder"). The plucking out of an eye of cutting off of a hand... yeah, that's another story, but it's still helpful in the metaphorical sense.

      I should have stated, God does speak blatant falsehood. Everything He says is true in at least one sense.

    4. When Christ was struck by a servant of the priests, "Jesus answered him: If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou me?" (Jn. 18). Turning the other cheek is more of a general principle than a literal command.

      Again, when St. Paul was about to be scourged, he reminded the centurion that he was a Roman citizen and thus it was unlawful for him to be tortured (Acts 22). Why not turn the other cheek and meekly accept the scourging? Because it was not a literal command, and he was not violating the principle by invoking his citizenship.

      It's right to say that God does not speak in falsehoods, but he does use figures of speech at times. He even uses hyperbole to make a point, when necessary.

    5. "We all know that St. Joseph is the second greatest saint but Our Lord wanted to emphasize the greatness of St. John the Baptist."

      He seems almost apologetic for what Scripture is saying here.

  3. As an aside,I find it interesting that the avid Josephite John XXIII (one of the only 20th century popes I like) still recognized the importance and high status of John the Baptist and that many Josephite beliefs are not dogmatic. The honor and privilege of which he speaks need not necessarily be bodily assumption, as there are many beliefs about what saints "sit next to" Christ or accompany Him when He performs certain actions.

  4. Do not dispute over the merits of the Saints, which is the holier, or which the greater in the Kingdom of Heaven. This often breeds strife and unprofitable arguments, (2 Tim.2:23) feeding pride and empty boasting, from which in turn spring envy and dissension, while one proudly seeks to praise this Saint, and another that. Now, this desire to know and explore such matters is unprofitable, and is displeasing to the Saints themselves. `I am not the God of dissension, but of peace', (I Cor.14:33) and My peace is founded on humility, not on self-exaltation.

  5. "most laymen are shocked to hear that anyone could believe in his sinlessness or bodily assumption"

    Most, really? Have you any statistics? Have you done polling youreself? I suppose (admittedly without any data) that 'most laymen' (catholic, I mean) have not thought much about this problem and would believe it if somebody bothered to tell them this.

    Regarding Paul VI citation, it the Holy Family vs. Adam and Eve sounds a bit unusual, but the Pope was speaking there about sacrament of matrimony, and there the typology of Jesus and Mary, too, should not be stretched too far.

    1. I have a friend who is deep into Josephite devotion. He reads books about St. Joseph, tries to model his life after the saint, prefers the young and virginal version, and so on. But he had never even heard of Joseph's assumption into Heaven until we brought it up.

      Every so often I will ask my fellow Catholics if they've heard the idea of Joseph's assumption, and the only ones who have answered positively were a couple of FSSP priests (I think it's part of their seminary training) and a few parishioners they had tried to convince. I know Catholics from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life. The speculation that he was assumed is centuries old, but still quite obscure, as far as I can tell.

      I realize that this is not a strictly scientific poll. If you've done your own polling, you are welcome to share your findings.

  6. "Edition de la chocolaterie" It appears the the term "sugar (or saccharine)" devotions has some reality behind it.

  7. Why all the jokes cracked on St Joseph at the end of this posts, that is very disrepectful!