THE TITLES OF ST. JOSEPH AND HIS DIFFERENT OFFICES.
If one may judge of the greatness of the Saints by the importance of the charges confided to them, St. Joseph must indeed be marvellously great. St. Peter and St. Paul in their epistles to the first Christians, claim only two titles, those of servants and apostles of Jesus Christ, as being sufficient to prove the excellence of their vocation. St. John Chrysostom agrees with them, this double title being, according to him, more excellent than that of monarch of the whole earth. (1) Now, St. Joseph has many very high titles, and held glorious offices for which he received from God special graces. At present I shall only allude shortly to some of these privileges, which I shall later develop at leisure from their different points of view.
1. He was the worthy spouse of Our Lady, if indeed any spouse could be worthy of her; for the Holy Trinity in designing him for such an honour, endowed him with all the qualities necessary for bearing that name with dignity and propriety. And as this glorious title is, so to speak, the original source or root from which proceeded all the glories of St. Joseph, St. Matthew considered he could say nothing higher of him than call him Spouse of Mary.
2. He was the supposed father of Jesus Christ, and Our Lady did not hesitate to give him this title; thus when she found the Child Jesus in the temple, she said to Him: 'Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.'
3. He was the representative of God the Father, Who, in communicating to him the honour of paternity to the Incarnate Word, willed that he should call Him by the name of son, a name which He alone gives in heaven to the Uncreated Word. Thus God Who formerly had said He would give His glory to no one, now, by an exceptional favour communicates, in a manner, to a mortal that paternity which is the special glory of the Eternal Father. What is still more, God, according to St. John Damascene and St. Bernard, in giving to Joseph the name of father, gave him also a father's heart----that is, the authority, the solicitude, and the love of a father.
4. Joseph was also the representative of the Holy Ghost, Who confided to him the Virgin Mary, placing His Spouse under Joseph's dependence and direction. Great God! what a favour! The Father and the Holy Ghost intrust to him what is most dear to them! To what sublimity of virtue must he have attained to acquit himself worthily of such a charge!
5. Our Lady, in giving him her hand, gave him also her whole heart. Never did a wife love her husband so tenderly, so ardently, nor revere him more profoundly. Mary and Joseph, says St. Bernardin of Siena, were but one heart and soul; they were two in one same mind, one same affection, and each of them was the other's second self, because Our Lady and he were, so to speak, only one person. The heart of Mary with that of Joseph, and the heart of Joseph with that of Mary, who ever could imagine a union so intimate, a grace so great!
6. Joseph was the superior of Jesus and Mary, whose submission to him was so complete as to enrapture the Angels. Those pure spirits tremble in heaven before the infinite majesty of the great God; what must they have thought when they saw Joseph command the little Jesus as a father, and the Divine Infant disport Himself on the breast of Joseph, like a bee in the bosom of a lily! As for the Queen of the world, as she had vowed, so she rendered to her chaste spouse all possible respect and obedience, never considering him otherwise, says Gerson, than as her lord and master. What a dignity to be the master of that Virgin more noble than the Seraphim!
7. He it was who nourished Jesus and Mary. A true father to that family, he gained their bread by the labour of his hands, and the sweat of his brow. He led them into Egypt, acting in this mystery as the representative of the Most Holy Trinity. What an honour to nourish Him Who nourishes the whole world, to give bread to Him Who covers our fields with plentiful harvests!
8. He is called by the Abbot Rupert Guardian of the Child Jesus. Without an earthly father, his Divine Ward cast Himself into the arms of Joseph, His only protector, defender and support.
9. He was also the treasurer of the Saviour, and of Joseph more than of any other may it be said: 'Blessed is the faithful and wise servant, whom God has established as grand master of His family, to whose hands He has committed all His treasures, the government of all His possessions.' What confidence does not this office imply!
10. We do not hesitate to say that Joseph was the Saviour of the Saviour. Joseph, son of Jacob, was called the Saviour of the world, and he was not only the type, in the first place, of Jesus Christ, but also of St. Joseph, who had the honour of preserving the Divine Infant from the fury of Herod. As Our Lord deserves the name of Saviour of man, because He preserves man from eternal death, so it is allowable to call St. Joseph Saviour of the Saviour, because he preserved Him from temporal death. Glorious Saint to whom were entrusted the person of the Incarnate Word, and all the secrets of the Eternal Father! The Angel might himself have carried the Child into Egypt; but not daring to do so, he came as the messenger of Heaven and of God Himself, to Joseph who was chosen for that employment.
11. To these titles add another distinguished title, that of having been the Master of his Master. Jesus was like an apprentice in the workshop of Joseph, who taught him to work as a carpenter, so that everyone said of Jesus: 'Is not this the carpenter's son, a carpenter Himself? Have we not often seen Him handling the plane and the chisel, helping His father Joseph?' What must St. Joseph have thought when he saw his divine apprentice, taking pains at His work---He Who by a single word had created the universe!
12. Joseph was the presumptive heir of Jesus Christ, and of Our Lady, since the father then naturally inherited from his son, and the husband from his wife. What an incomparable advantage!
13. In all orders of things great priviliges are attached to being the eldest, the first. The first Apostle, the first Martyr, the first Seraph, the first son of the Patriarchs, all have special rights which belong to no others; therefore I conclude that St. Joseph has singular prerogatives above all other men, for he was the first to contemplate the admirable humanity of Our Lord Jesus, the first to adore Him, the first to touch Him, the first to serve Him, to nourish Him, and to dwell with Him, the first to hear Him speak and to be enlightened by His divine instructions. He is the first confessor for the faith, since he first suffered for the love of Jesus Christ, forsaking his home and his country to fly with Him; the first Apostle making the Messias known to men, by announcing Him in Egypt; the first man, perhaps, who made profession and vow of virginity, and kept it in the state of marriage; in a word, the first Christian and the first model for the children of the Church. All these distinctions give Joseph great preeminence over all other Saints, and are almost infinite, so that we may apply to him what Jacob said of his eldest son Reuben: 'Excelling (his brethren) in gifts, greater in command.' (2)
14. Theologians teach that the office of St. Joseph was more exalted than any other in the Church. We do not speak of Our Lady, who is always above all comparison. They acknowledge, it is true, that in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and in the order of sanctifying grace, the office of the Apostles is the most sublime; but they recognise in the Mother of God, and in St. Joseph, an order, a hierarchy apart, that of the hypostatic union, destined to the immediate service of the person of the Word made flesh, and this second hierarchy is superior in dignity to the first. (3) The Apostles, as we said above, are only the servants of Jesus Christ; Mary and Joseph are His mother and His father.
But shall I be able to relate all that God has done for St. Joseph? No; I plainly confess that there is neither mind, nor pen, nor tongue capable of imagining, writing, or expressing the grandeur and incomparable prerogatives of this spouse of the Virgin, this father of Jesus Christ, this governor of both! And yet, speak I must! Pardon, O great Saint, my unpardonable boldness! Yet, if your holy spouse, Our Lady, will deign to inspire me with a part of what she knows, if she will give fluency to my pen and warmth to my heart, I shall be able to say enough to content your pious clients, and edify your faithful servants.
1. 'Simon Petrus, servus et apostolus Jesu-Christi' (2 Pet. i. 1). -- 'Paulus servus Jesu-Christi, vocatus apostolus' (Rom. i. 1). -- 'Dignitatis maximae loco ponit illud: Servus Jesu-Christi' (S. Joan. Chrysost. in hunc locum).
2. 'Prior in donis, major in imperio' (Gen. xlix. 3).
3. Suarez, De Incarnat., p. 2 disp. 8, sect. 1.