'Jacob genuit Joseph, Joseph de domo David.' Matt. i. 16; Luke i. 27.
The sacred genealogy is not a mere list of names, like an ordinary pedigree. The pride of descent is in itself an idle vanity, for the virtues of our ancestors are not transferable to their descendants; and yet in a merely human view of mankind there is an aristocracy of nature, and an advantage in being well-born; and there is something in a race which survives the changes of time and place, so that succeeding generations inherit the noble nature and refinement of their ancestors. Sacred history shows that there is an aristocracy in the spiritual world, and tells us also that St. Joseph was descended from a chosen family. When Adam fell, God promised that a Saviour should be born of the woman, and this general promise was soon made more definite. He chose the family of Seth, and then that of Abraham to be not only the depositaries of His revelations, and to be as it were the priesthood of mankind, but the race from which the Saviour should be born, and which should be the channel of His communications, and the figure of that new and peculiar people, to whom it is said: 'Dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri, qui non ex sanguinibus, neque ex voluntate carnis, neque ex voluntate viri; sed ex Deo nati sunt.' But lest this chosen people should presume, they were told by Moses: 'The Lord gave thee not this excellent land for thy justices, for thou art a very stiff-necked people' (Deut. ix. 6).
'Unxit eum in medio f ratrum ejus.' 1 Beg. xvi. 13.
This choice of God must ever be a mystery. There was no change in the Divine purpose ; though the descendants of Abraham were stained by material sins, and sins of frailty, still they were his children, and still they were members of the visible Church, though the grace of God was ever in earthen vessels. Yet there was grace among some who were not of the race of Israel, as Job. We know the laws which bind the members of the visible Church, but we know not the dispensation of mercy by which Tyre and Sidon may be judged; we know not the limits of His mercy, nor do we know the measures of grace to those whom Jesus beholds, when, like Nicodemus, they are under the figtree.
The genealogy of Christ, the Son of David, is twice given, once by St. Matthew, who traces the descent of Joseph down from Adam; and then by St. Luke, who traces the line up to Adam from Joseph, whose son, as he says, Jesus was thought to be. The genealogy is that of Joseph and not of Mary, for several reasons. Menochius, in his commentary on the place, says that Mary being an only child, and her pedigree being the same as that of Joseph, he was the legal father, and as the world believed the natural father, of Christ. Besides, it had been prophesied that the Messiah, the Son of David, was to inherit his throne; and to that succession no female had a right, according to the law of Moses, although she, as well as Joseph, was descended from David. But Jesus, son of the wife of Joseph, was his legal heir, as is observed by the author of L'Evangile Medite.
Thus, by the wisdom of God, Christ was thought to be born of man, and suffered because the sins of men were imputed to Him. But by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and the miraculous birth of the Son of God, the promise made to Adam as to the Seed of the woman, and the whole scheme of Man's redemption, prefigured for all ages in types and prophecies, was fulfilled.
After enumerating the ancestors of Joseph, the inspired evangelist reckons up fourteen generations from Abraham to David, and fourteen from David to the carrying away into Babylon, and fourteen generations from the captivity to Christ. And St. Paul writing to the Galatians (iv. 4), says' Ubi venit plenitudo temporis misit Deus filium suum, factum de muliere.' This fulness of time is to be remarked in the whole sacred history; and our Lord Himself observed it as a divine law, when He said to His Blessed Mother that His time was not yet come: and He repeated it to His disciples up to the last supper, when He said, 'Father, the hour is come.' There is no mystery which confounds the human reason more entirely than this. God, who alone really exists in Himself, and reveals His name as I Am; who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; in whom are all things, and with whom a thousand years are as but one day, is the Eternal. All things are present to Him; and with Him, as the poet says, ' One eternal Now for ever lasts.'
Yet in the bosom of His eternity He has created time—the past, the present, and the future; and has caused succession in the events which He through all eternity before Him; and He has appointed 'times and seasons, days and years,' and fixed the hours in which each design of His providence is to be executed, though He preserves the free will of His creatures. We must say with the Psalmist, 'Thy knowledge is become wonderful to me: it is high, and I cannot reach to it' (Ps. cxxxviii. 6). It is enough to study the words of Holy Scripture, and learn what they are intended to teach us.
It is believed that those who were in more immediate connection with our Lord may have received an effusion of grace, in proportion, as it were, to their proximity to Him, and to their correspondence with His grace; and the virtues and actions of the Messiah were shown forth more or less faintly in the progenitors of the First-born of creation. As time went on, and the types grew clearer and the prophecies plainer, the immediate ancestors of the Son of Man might bear a stronger resemblance to the Divine Child; but if this were so, their virtues were hidden, like those of Joseph himself; only the name of his father is recorded, and not that of his mother. Yet never were progenitors so noble before God. There was Abraham, who dwelt a stranger in his own land, to shadow forth Him who left His Father's house to come unto His own, and His own received Him" not, so that He had not where to lay His head; and so of Isaac and Jacob, and of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel. But we are left to conjecture whether the parents of Joseph were as holy as those of our Lady, who have been handed down with such an odour of sanctity that the Church has always honoured them as saints. We only know that their son was just, and we know how many just men have attributed their first correspondence with grace to the teaching of a devout mother and the example of a holy father; and knowing that the Holy Family was as it were the centre of nobility, we are inclined to reverse the rule, and trace with St. Luke the ancestry of Joseph backwards, from the Son of whom he was the guardian to the first Adam.
The Incarnation of the Son of God was the one great end of all that exists, or ever has existed; the centre on which all creation hangs; the model, the idea of all that the infinite wisdom of God has ever formed. For every beauty, every characteristic, every feature, every quality, every excellence that has been lavished with immeasurable profusion and never-ending variety through the vast realms of spiritual and natural creation, are all as it were but the lines of one vast circle, tending invariably to their centre; and springing again thence to a boundless circumference, of unequal but marvellously beautiful and excellent resemblances.
Thus God has never imprinted upon nature, but above all upon man, the masterpiece of nature, any quality, any character, or, as we should call it, any law, in which He had not in view the sacred humanity of Jesus, the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son. It was this that made the defenders of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin cry out with the triumphant certainty of saints,' Exurge, Domine, in prseceptum quod mandasti;' Thou who hast commanded children to honour their parents, show how supremely Thou hast honoured Thine. So that we surely see in the sacred bonds with which God has united the members of each family of the human race a faint type, a feeble image of the tie by which the Incarnate Son of God deigned to show that He was truly the Son of Man; and as Gabelus recognised the younger Tobias by his likeness to his father, so we may already recognise the features and the form of the youthful Joseph, and still more the traits of his holy soul, by their likeness to his future foster-Son.
The race of David had many vicissitudes during the schism of Eehoboam and the two captivities. Then came the conquest of the Eomans. His royal descendants shared the calamities of his people, and at this time their nobility seems to have been forgotten on earth. But neither the calamities nor the obscurity impeded the course of Providence, nor did the unfavourable circumstances of the time. Joseph was of Nazareth. He was a carpenter; and his lot, like that of his Lord, was poverty and labour, with the contempt consequent on both. After the glimpse of glory cast upon his birth by faith, his youth, like that of our Lord, was hidden. All is buried again, as if it had never been, in the obscurity of an artisan's workshop. Joseph learned the mystery of penance by the labour, which was the penance of Adam; all must prepare by penance for redemption. All, whether rich or poor, with the hand or the intellect, must labour. The poor man's body is wearied out when he lies down to rest; but the harassed mind and aching head of those whose labour falls on the intellect find no repose in sleep. It is only of those who forget God that the prophet says, 'In laborious hominum non sunt;' and what is obscurity 1 Life consists in accomplishing the will of God, the performance of every duty. And thus he saw and did it at once, for he was a just man; a man who went straight to his end in everything, that one end being the will of God, the accomplishment of which is the only thing which can glorify Him, because it is the one moving spring of all existence, and this is to be a man according to God's own heart.
The events of life are overruled by the providence of God. The obscurity into which the family of David was thrown might be the safeguard of Joseph; his low station preserved him from the evils which infected the Eoman empire, that iron age, in which the natural virtues were obscured by diabolical as well as brutal vices; a reign when there was no mercy to the weak, no hope for the afflicted, and when the devotional instincts of man were perverted by idolatry and witchcraft. As a Hebrew, he associated with his people only; and though the prophets no longer taught, yet the priests read the Scriptures in the synagogues, and he knew enough to observe the law and to fulfil his duty to God and man.
It is difficult to say how much St. Joseph knew before the angel's revelation. The whole mystery of a spiritual life was not new. God's graces are gradual. The saints tell us that he had known all his life that the duties which are allotted to us are the greatest things we can do for God; that the spiritual life does not consist in what we do, but the way in which we do it; and that as the beauty of the king's daughter is within, so grace acts upon the interior motive by which we act; not on the exterior action, which is guided from moment to moment by the ordinary circumstances of His providence, or sometimes by supernatural directions. It certainly was no new thing to Joseph that the highest sanctity lay in the faithful performance of the duties of his humble position.
The chosen people of God, both before and after the Nativity, were all hallowed by their calling, all called to be saints; but God seems to have hidden their rank from those whom He called to special offices until a revelation was necessary for their guidance. Thus David was the least among his brethren until Samuel anointed him to be king; and we do not know how much St. Joseph knew of his approaching duties, though he was doubtless prepared for them by constant inspirations. The internal communications between God and the soul are secret; but when action is required, then a special revelation is sent for direction if the providential course of events is not sufficient. It is, then, possible that Joseph did not yet know the mystery of his own future. Perhaps the consciousness would have been dangerous to him if he had known it in the time of helpless childhood, or when he was trained in his youth to labour for his subsistence; if while in the obscurity of his life at Nazareth he had known that his hands were being trained to minister to the Son of God, and that his eyes were chastened to behold the Immaculate Virgin, who is the Spouse of God; his ears were tutored to receive the words of eternal wisdom from the lips of Him who is the Wisdom of God; his life was to be spent among the angels who ministered to the Holy Family; his tongue was to direct its members and convey to them the messages of heaven; his mind was to be filled with the contemplation of God Incarnate; his will was to direct the will of the Almighty, and, as holy writers have expressed it, to represent the authority of the Eternal Truth over the Divine Son; and his soul was, as St. Francis de Sales says, to be the mirror of the most pure soul of Mary, which was to reflect back the fulness of her grace. The angels must have watched over the birth of their fellow-labourer; and we may conclude that if kings choose fitting guardians for their sons, God must have made His selection out of the infinite virtue of all possible existence, and chosen one endowed with fitting capability. Let us now see what we actually know of the outward circumstances in which St. Joseph was born.
Though Joseph was of the tribe of Judah, yet he dwelt at Nazareth, in the land of Zabulon, Galilee of the Gentiles; and every one of these words fulfils a prophecy or foretells what is to come. And Nazareth, then a by-word, is become the resort of pilgrims, who not only visit the place where the holy house stood, but have during all past ages noted every circumstance of the locality. Let us, then, listen to their descriptions of Nazareth. A little village in a secluded valley between green hills, which are pastured by sheep and goats. Behind it is a rocky cliff, still shown as the place from whence the people would have thrown our Lord, and they show the marks of His feet on the rock on which He leaped, 'transiens per medium illorum.' There stood the house where our Lady was born; and they show the place where she heard the Annunciation. And they show too the place where the house of Joseph stood, and where he worked as a carpenter; but the holy house has been long ago carried by angels to Loretto. The village stands on a brow, and below it extends the long plain of Esdraelon, fertile in corn, and bounded by the mountains of Tabor and Hermon on the east, and those of Samaria on the west. Sandys, who travelled there more than a hundred years ago, ascended Tabor, and says the mountain itself is green and swelling, and on the top is an oval plain, from which the verdant sides slope smoothly down, as Eaphael painted it in the scene of the Transfiguration. Looking northwards, 'hill upon hill and mountain upon mountain lead up to the great Hermon, snow-clad through the heats of summer; and to the range of Anti-Libanus. North-east are the dark blue waters of the lake Tiberias, and Jordan feeding and fed by them. Nearer is the valley where Cana is hid; and on the south-east the plain of Esdraelon, girt in by Carmel, once the abode of Elijah and the sons of the prophets; and by Gilboa, the mountains on which Saul and Jonathan died in battle, and on which David in his grief prayed that rain might never fall. The plain itself was studded with villages of sacred fame: Nain, Sharon, Jezreel where Jezebel slew Naboth for his vineyard, Aphet, and Endor where Saul beheld the ghost of Samuel. The little hill of Hermon—little in comparison of the mountain Hermon—rises in the midst; and the brook Kishon, on whose banks Jael slew Sisera, as it flows to Carmel. Nazareth itself lies concealed among the hills.'
The country where Joseph dwelt must have reminded him, as a Hebrew, of the history of his people. Nazareth stood in the portion of Zabulon and overlooked the rich heritage of Issachar, 'whose lips should be red with wine and his teeth white with milk;' and the mountains stretching from Carmel to the south, whose rocks were full of wild honey, were once the portion of Manasseh. In very early times Abraham had met Melchisedek at the foot of Tabor, and the patriarch after whom he was named had followed his brethren to Dothan, on the western side of Gennesaret. His royal ancestor David had ruled the Land of Promise from Beersheba in the desert of the south to the foot of the snowy ranges of Hermon; and all Israel went up to worship at the Temple of Solomon. Then came the schism of Eehoboam, which separated the ten tribes, who dwelt between Dan and Sichem, from Judah and Benjamin ; so that Joseph dwelt among strangers. Nazareth and Cana had been safe in the mountains during the captivity and the successive calamities which fell upon the country, and the Hebrews were again permitted to go up yearly to Jerusalem, though Herod was tetrarch, and now made king by Mark Anthony, a Jew by birth, but more than heathen in his vices. He had rebuilt the ruined temple of Nehemiah, though he also built heathen temples and amphitheatres, and in the midst of his magnificence he had murdered his own children and his queen Marcasum. Yet still the faithful went up to worship, and the daily sacrifice did not cease, and the priests ministered in their course.
Such was the state of things while Joseph yet laboured as an obscure carpenter at Nazareth.