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  • Sarah Raad

Theories

“…he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…’” (Matthew 1:18-24).

Saint Joseph and the Christ Child (Bartolomé Esteban Murillo)

I have recently completed a consecration to Saint Joseph as per the instructions of Father Donald Calloway which are provided in his book “Consecration to Saint Joseph”.


I have never consecrated myself before, but I have learned what a beautiful thing this consecration really is though this process of consecration to Saint Joseph…

During a consecration one comes to learn more about the patron to whom they are consecrating themselves – in this case Saint Joseph – and concludes (after learning about their patron over a period of time) by consecrating themselves (and/or their loved ones) into their patron’s care and protection…

As part of this consecration, I have been guided to focus on the various attributes of Saint Joseph, which are itemised in the Litany of Saint Joseph, and as part of this, I read the account of Saint Joseph’s adoption of Christ in the Gospel of Saint Matthew…

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:18-24).


When I was a little girl, I assumed that Saint Joseph initially wanted to divorce Our Lady because he thought that she had committed adultery, and I have not thought any differently prior to this Year of Saint Joseph – when it appears that the Holy Spirit has sought to enlighten many of us in various ways…


Now – I have discovered – that there are three main theories accepted by the Catholic Church in relation to Saint Joseph’s initial decision to cast Our Lady aside and all of these theories were accepted by the early Church. The variations in the theories hinge on the looseness of the translation of the original Greek word “apoluo” which was used in Saint Matthew’s original text when he wrote, “…he (Saint Joseph) had in mind to DIVORCE her quietly…”. The word “apoluo” can be defined to mean various things including divorce, but it could also mean to distance oneself or casting one off.

And so, the three theories about Saint Joseph reflect the various understandings of the nuances of the translations of this one word…

The first theory – as supported by several apocryphal gospels – which are NOT held by the Catholic Church as part of its teachings – is the “suspicion theory”. The suspicion theory suggests that after discovering her pregnancy, Saint Joseph was suspicious of Our Lady’s fidelity and thinking that she had been adulterous, sought to cast her off. While this theory is supported by several Church Fathers, it is not the only acceptable theory of the actions and motives of Saint Joseph…


The second theory, which is the “stupefaction theory” suggests that Saint Joseph – though trusting Our Lady’s fidelity and chastity – was perplexed by her story and failing to rationalise it or understand it logically, he sought to cast her off through divorce out of confusion and misunderstanding.


The third theory – which is one to which I personally ascribe – is the “reverence theory”. And this is the most beautiful theory of them all… This theory suggests that Saint Joseph believed everything that Our Lady told him, but being a JUST man, did not wish to “steal” the credit for a Child who was not his own – and a Child who was God the Son Himself. And so, because he was a JUST man, Saint Joseph only decided to publicly claim Our Blessed Lord as his own foster child – his own child from the perspective of the world – only when GOD HIMSELF authorised it through the message of the angel…


And as I reflect on each of these theories of Saint Joseph and each of the opinions and reasons for the various perspectives adopted by the Church, it occurs to me that though the truth will only be revealed in my next life, there is a beauty in reflecting on the sort of justice that Saint Joseph demonstrated…

For Saint Joseph was so JUST that he would take nothing that was not his… And because of this – God HIMSELF came to live inside his household and obeyed his word…

And there is surely nothing more wonderful than that! For it was through this justice that Saint Joseph himself nurtured the Saviour of all the world within his very arms!


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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