With this post, I begin posting a chapter each day from a remarkable book written at the dawn of the last century The Life and Glories of St. Joseph by Edward Healy Thompson, Antonio Vitali. The book is now in public domain.
THE LIFE AND GLORIES OF ST. JOSEPH
CHAPTER I: JOSEPH INCLUDED IN THE DECREE OF THE INCARNATION.
To describe the life and the glories of Joseph is to describe at the same time the life of Jesus and the glories of Mary; for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are so intimately united, that it is impossible to speak of one without treating of the others. These three dear names —Jesus, Mary, Joseph — form that triple heavenly alliance which can never be broken. He, therefore, who undertakes to narrate the life of Joseph is under the happy necessity of narrating at the same time, in large measure, the life of Jesus and Mary. The reader will never object to this, since, after God, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are the sweetest and sublimest objects with which our minds and hearts can be filled; they are the three powerful advocates of our cause, the three guiding stars of our salvation. But, in order clearly to understand the greatness of Joseph, we must look very far back; for his greatness did not begin with his birth, neither did it begin with his espousals to Mary. Its origin is far more remote, and must be sought, not in time, but in eternity; it began with his predestination.
Predestination, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is the divine preordination from eternity of those things which, by divine grace, are to be accomplished in time.1 Now, the most compassionate Lord God had, in the admirable dispositions of His Providence, from all eternity, preordained the ineffable mystery of the Divine Incarnation to repair the fall of Adam and save his descendants from eternal ruin. This mystery " hidden from ages," as the Apostle says,2 was to be revealed in the fulness of time. The Eternal Word was to assume human flesh, and, after a life full of sufferings, was to offer Himself as a voluntary victim to die upon a cross, in order, as an innocent Lamb, to expiate the sins of all mankind. This mystery, then, was to be accomplished in Jesus; and, therefore, Jesus, the Saviour of all, was, according to the Apostle Paul, "predestinated the Son of God in power " ;3 and, as St. Augustine explains, it was predestined that Jesus, who according to the flesh was the Son of David, was in truth to be the Son of God, seeing that it was preordained that human nature was one day to subsist in the Eternal Person of the Word along with the Divine Nature, in order that the sufferings of Jesus might have an infinite value to satisfy worthily the Divine Justice. And this is what is called the eternal decree of the Divine Incarnation.
Now, in this decree is comprehended, not only the mystery itself of the Divine Incarnation, but also the mode and order in which this mystery was to be accomplished, and, consequently, those persons who were principally and more immediately to have a part in it; for, according to the doctrine of the Angelic Doctor, the eternal predestination includes, not only what is to be accomplished in time, but likewise the mode and order according to which it is to be so accomplished.4 And the mode and order predestined by God in the Incarnation of His Divine Son was this: that the Most Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ was to be taken, but without sin, from that same human nature which had sinned in Adam; that It was to descend from the blood of Abraham, to be of the tribe of Juda and the race of David, and that the Body of Jesus was to be formed by the power of the Holy Ghost in the pure womb of an immaculate virgin. This elect virgin is Mary ; and therefore Mary, after Jesus, was immediately comprised in the decree of the Divine Incarnation, and from eternity predestined to be the most august Mother of the Son of God. "The Virgin," says the great doctor Suarez, " could not be disjoined from her Son in the Divine election." The Church herself puts into the mouth of the Virgin these words of the Divine Wisdom: "I was preordained from eternity ".5 Mary was truly a predetermined end of the eternal counsel, and St. Augustine calls her " the work of eternal counsel ".
But, in order to conceal this mystery of love from the world until the appointed time had come, and to safeguard at the same time the reputation of the Virgin Mother and the honour of the Divine Son, God willed that Mary by a marriage altogether heavenly should be espoused to the humblest, the purest, and the holiest of the royal race of David, one therefore expressly predestined for this end; a virgin spouse for the Virgin Mother, who at the same time should be in the place of a father to the Divine Son. In the Divine mind Joseph was the one chosen from amongst all others. Joseph held the first place. Joseph was predestined to this office. True, from the tribe of Juda, from the family of David, great patriarchs were to arise, famous leaders of the people, most noble kings; but God did not choose any of these. He chose Joseph alone. Joseph was the beloved one. Joseph was specially preordained to become one day the happy spouse of Mary and the foster-father of Jesus. "As Mary," says Echius, the famous opponent of Luther, "was from eternity predestined to be the mother of the Son of God; so also was Joseph elected to be the guardian and protector of Jesus and of Mary."6
Thus Joseph was, after Mary, comprehended in the very decree of the Incarnation, and, after Mary, was called to have an integral part, as it were, in this ineffable mystery. It is easy to perceive how much honour hence redounds to Joseph; for if, next to the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, the mystery of the Divine Incarnation is the essential foundation of the Christian faith, who can fail to see that to be included in the eternal decree of so admirable a mystery, into which the angels themselves "desire to look,"2 is an incomparable glory to this great saint? We must always, therefore, bear well in mind this singular destination of Joseph, because this is truly the ground of all his greatness. This is the basis upon which all his glories are raised. Whoever thoroughly realises the fact of this preordination will no longer marvel at God's predilection for Joseph, and at seeing him so highly privileged and exalted to be the guardian and patron of the Universal Church.
1 P. iii. q. xxiv. a. 1.
2 Coloss. i. 26.
3 Rom. i. 4
3. Summo, p. iii. q. xxiv. a. i.
5 Prov. viii. 23.
6 Sermo de S. Joseph. 2 1 St. Peter i. 12. 15