St. Joseph and the Numinous

 

"Ite ad Ioseph" ("Go to Joseph," Genesis 37:28), from a door in San Giuseppe dei Teatini, Palermo, Sicily
Ite ad Ioseph” (“Go to Joseph,” Genesis 37:28), from a door in San Giuseppe dei Teatini, Palermo, Sicily

This was originally a section in this post from January, but I wanted to highlight the point in honor of St. Joseph’s day:

When people encounter angels or the glorified Christ, they often are depicted as experiencing a particular kind of fear. For example, Mark describes St. Peter’s reaction to the Transfiguration by saying “he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid” (Mark 9:6). And the Apostles’ reaction to the Resurrection: “they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). C.S. Lewis uses the term “Numinous” to describe this sort of awe-filled fear:

Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a mighty spirit in the room,” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare’s words “Under it my genius is rebuked.” This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.

The glorified Jesus and the angels respond to this by telling people not to be afraid. So, for example, the angels at the Empty Tomb begin their proclamation of Easter by telling the women, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5). Jesus begins the exact same way in Matthew 28:10.

Gabriel says it when he appears to Zechariah in Luke 1:13, and (after saluting her as “full of grace”) says it to Mary in Luke 1:30. The angels say when they appear to the shepherds in Luke 2:10. Jesus says it when He appears to St. Paul in a vision (Acts 18:9), as does the angel in Acts 27:24. That’s the general pattern. But there’s a fascinating partial-exception. When the angel appears to St. Joseph in a dream, he says (Matthew 1:20-21), “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

You might expect the angel to calm St. Joseph’s numinous fear towards being in the presence of an angel of the Lord. But Joseph’s numinous fear is towards…. having Mary as a wife. I’d suggest that there’s something of a parallel between this and Luke 5, when Peter catches a glimpse of Who Jesus Is, and is suddenly terrified (Luke 5:8-10):

But when Simon Peter saw it [the miraculous catch of fish], he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zeb′edee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”

St. Peter wanted to send Jesus away, because Peter was aware of his own unworthiness. That, not suspicion of adultery, seems to be why Joseph wanted to send Mary away. As a good Jew, Joseph would have known that a Virgin birth was possible (Isaiah 7:14). What we’re seeing isn’t mistrust of Mary, but a holy fear, like that of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6:6: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Joseph wants to send her away because he knows he’s sinful, and thus, he’s not worthy of being married to the Mother of God, and it’s that fear that the angel comforts.

70 Comments

  1. That’s a really interesting theory, but I’m having a hard time parsing the passage under it. Citing one verse further back:

    And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

    Two concerns, then:

    1) We see that, because Joseph is a just man, he opts for a quiet divorce; because he is just, he does this instead of… something else. My question would be, “Under your reading, what is the ‘something else?'” In the classic view, it’s an easy answer: he opts for a quiet divorce instead of a public denouncement for infidelity, which would have left Mary somewhere in the range from “ruined” through “dead.” It seems like your view would require that the “something else” is either marriage, or a public acknowledgement that the child is miraculous – but in either case, how does Joseph’s choice avoid “put[ting] her to shame?” Surely even a quiet divorce is more shameful than either of those alternatives.

    2) The angel’s instruction is that Joseph should not fear because Mary’s pregnancy is from God. That, again, makes total sense if Joseph thinks this is a case of adultery: “Don’t think that marriage is a mistake. Don’t worry – Mary isn’t unfaithful, because her baby comes from God.” But it seems like your reading would require that Joseph already thinks the baby is from God, in which case the comfort makes rather less sense: “Don’t be afraid of this divine pregnancy, because it’s a divine pregnancy.” Well… yes; shouldn’t the reassurance in that case be something regarding Joseph’s own worthiness?

    ***

    The thrust of the passage seems to be that Joseph thought Mary was unworthy, not that he was; the virtue of Joseph is that he chooses not to shame her, despite thinking himself deeply wronged. It seems like we lose that – one of the clearest statements of his character, and of his goodness to her given the facts as he knew them – under your reading. Which is a shame; we know precious little of the man chosen to be the Lord’s earthly father, and that’s a pretty core piece of what we do get.

    1. No, he refrains from denouncing her for adultery because he is just — that is, he is aware she is not guilty, and so he can’t get away with that without being unjust.

      1. Hm. So, under that interpretation, he resolved to divorce her quietly, with the alternative being to publicly lie about what he believes to be a God-appointed miraculous birth? That’s a pretty thin meaning for “just” – like, that’s not even really virtuous, just kind of “something short of blasphemous.”

        It seems like we have to read an awful lot into the text, here. There’s no indication that Joseph previously thinks the birth is miraculous – indeed, that’s an awkward fit with the angel’s message (“No, don’t divorce her, because the birth is miraculous.”). Likewise, there’s no statement indicating that Joseph thinks he’s unworthy of wedding Mary. Surely the natural read of, “Because he was a good man, her husband chose not to make a scandal” is that the husband thought the child illegitimate – not that he thought the child divine. Isaiah certainly says nothing suggesting that the virgin would be too holy for a husband; where would that idea even come from? And if it’s an idea unprecedented in Scripture, why not even hint that this is what’s going on?

        For that matter, if “This is a fulfillment of Isaiah” was a reasonable conclusion, why not shout that from the rooftops? Why have any shame at all? Why, in other words, would “quiet divorce” and “flagrant lies” be Joseph’s most reasonable options?

        The argument for the original position appears to rest entirely on the hypothesis that “fears” here has a supernatural component – and while that’s certainly a possible read, is it a particularly necessary or implicit one? Is it implausible that someone might say, “I’m afraid to go through with this marriage, because my betrothed has already been unfaithful?” Because it seems like that’s the necessary position, here: that it’s so implausible to read “fear” in the sense of “afraid I’m marrying an unfaithful person” that we must read it otherwise, even though it makes the rest of the passage a bit awkward.

        1. Hi Irked,

          Thinking of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene helps me to think of Joseph. In the garden Jesus (human/divine) pleads to His Father that the cup be taken from him. The prime interpretation of this is that he prays for strength to undertake the mission, to follow the will of His Father. Joseph is in a situation analogous to that of Jesus. I think many people call upon the divine, even those not particularly religious, when the situations of our life seem overwhelming and no human support, particularly our own, seems up to the task.

          You talk about shame and lies as options to Joseph. Where do you get these ideas. Certainly there is no implication in Scripture that Joseph was capable of lying or of putting Mary to shame. Neither is there any implication that shouting from the rooftops was God’s will, particularly if we examine where, in his lifetime, Jesus Himself ever stated to anyone, even his closest disciples, that He was the Son of God. Instead, he refers to himself as the Son of Man. And he tells those recipients of his miracles not to tell anyone. If I professed to you that I was visited by the Devil each night, you probably would not believe me. But if others came to you and said so, the authority of their independent witness may convince you. If you yourself experienced the vision of the Devil visiting me, you more likely would accept that truth.
          No?

          We may tend to see Joseph as we may see ourselves. There is so much that God wills for us but we have trouble meeting the challenge. At times we procrastinate, at others we prevaricate, we equivocate, we deny, we rebel. We tend to blame others rather than face our shortcomings.

          Making a scandal would not necessarily have anything to do with legitimacy or illegitimacy. It may have had more to do with the fact that Joseph, a man of his word, had agreed to the betrothal. The rules of betrothal in the age of Joseph were more binding than they are in our own day. It was closer to a marriage vow; breaking that, in and of itself, was the scandal for Joseph and for Mary.

          1. Hi Margo,

            Well, again, I’d ask: what alternative do you see Joseph choosing a quiet divorce instead of? In other words, because he’s just, he chooses to divorce her quietly; had he not been as virtuous, what might he have done instead? What’s the less-good alternative action that a less-good man would have taken? Would you agree with Mary (er, the poster Mary) above?

            You talk about shame and lies as options to Joseph. Where do you get these ideas. Certainly there is no implication in Scripture that Joseph was capable of lying or of putting Mary to shame.

            To “shame” – I get that from the passage itself, which says that because he is just, Joseph doesn’t shame Mary; that is, a less good man would have done so. And a man in his position, with the information he had, would certainly have had the right from the Old Testament law to shame his betrothed publicly – or even to stone her to death!

            To “lies” – if I’m reading her right, that’s what Mary-the-poster is presenting as Joseph’s alternative action (i.e., he could have lied and denounced her, even believing that she was faithful – but he didn’t, because he was just). That’s not how I’d read Matthew 1; my post (the one you’re replying to) is meant to argue that “lies” doesn’t make sense as the alternative to quiet divorce.

        2. You assume he was both certain of it and certain of the reaction he would get if he shouted it from the rooftops.

          Anyway, it certainly was just, because it was the alternative to being unjust.

          1. You assume he was both certain of it

            No, that’s exactly the opposite of true. My original point is that the passage reads most naturally as though Joseph isn’t sure about Mary – that he’s afraid to go through with the wedding, because he may be marrying an adulteress (and one who is either a liar or crazy to boot). Indeed, reading the passage as though Joseph was certain leads to weird and less-natural parsings in several places.

            That the claim “Joseph was certain Mary was telling the truth” is an assumption – and a difficult one to justify, at that – is precisely my point!

      2. I am inclined to agree with Irked. The angel’s explanation is obviously to console Joseph for what must have been very stressful, as his saintly soul had compassion for his betrothed and not knowing what had occurred (and being that she left for Jerusalem for a few months) he must have felt betrayed.

        God bless,
        Craig

        1. St. Robert Southwell (Jesuit priest, martyr, and Shakespeare’s cousin) wrote a poem reflecting on what Joseph must have thought in that time before the angel revealed the truth. It has the early modern English spellings, but it is understandable: http://poetrynook.com/poem/josephes-amazement
          Poignant lines:
          She woundes, she heales, she doth both marr and mend,
          She makes me seeke and shunn, depart and stay;
          She is a frende to love, a foe to loathe,
          And in suspence I hange betwene them both.

    2. Hello Irked,

      Presumably God sends angels with messages to men in order to convince or change the direction of history that would have transpired without supernatural intervention.

      There is a time frame for thinking and one for acting. Prior to the angel’s appearance, Joseph has not yet acted nor has he totally decided his course despite the use of the word “resolved” in scripture. He is still thinking through his decision–‘as he considered these things.’ He was praying, I suggest, for help from God. I think we would all allow that Joseph simply felt uncertain with continuing the engagement. On a purely human level, even without thinking Mary unworthy, he himself may have felt. Comparing Joseph’s situation to a young Christian man of today who loves a woman who, if he marries, brings along with her the need for extraordinary sacrifice–perhaps the woman has an illegitimate child or an elderly mother with severe multiple sclerosis or a brother with Down syndrome who comes with her in her marriage. It could be, on a purely human level, that Joseph thought himself unable to perform the extraordinary sacrifice which Mary required. How could Joseph have thought Mary unworthy if he were truly just and she were truly stainless, as scripture, tradition, and reasoned theology teach that they were?

      The angel’s appearance is necessary to convince Joseph of God’s will, and he without further question or reservation, complied.

      Time passes between Joseph resolving one thing and the appearance of the angel. Presumably God sends his They do not happen simultaneously. I resolve your conflict: Joseph is tossing ideas around, not wanting to shame Mary. BREAKING off their betr (perhaps thinking the child (“But as he considered…”) I grant the possibility that Joseph questioned Mary’s worthiness PRIOR to the angel’s appearance

    3. Hello again, Irked,

      Seems we’ve about covered the map of this topic. I offer two more ideas, one in response to your words:

      “The angel’s instruction is that Joseph should not fear because Mary’s pregnancy is from God. That, again, makes total sense if Joseph…” […fears he is unworthy to be the foster father of the Messiah.]

      Presumably Joseph would have known Isaiah’s prophecies (7:14 and 10:33-34) that the virgin would conceive and the Messiah would come from Jesse’s (David’s) line. Scripture doesn’t outrightly tell us, but we can reason that Joseph was and certainly must have known his line, just as Matthew’s geneaology delineates, and Joseph goes to his ancestral home for the census/tax payment at the time of Jesus’ birth.

      The last idea relates to Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-). What do you think Mary means when she says, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”? How can she say that her soul makes the Lord more than he is? How can one be filled with the Holy Spirit? I would not claim that I am filled with the Holy Spirit nor would I claim that my soul magnifies the Lord. Yet Mary claims these to be so.

      God bless, and thanks for making me think about what I believe.

      1. Hello again!

        “The angel’s instruction is that Joseph should not fear because Mary’s pregnancy is from God. That, again, makes total sense if Joseph…” […fears he is unworthy to be the foster father of the Messiah.]

        I’m not sure I’m tracking you, here. That’s a quote from me, upthread, but the bracketed part is the opposite of the sentiment I expressed. I know you were looking to wind down the conversation, and that’s cool; just wanted to be clear that I’m not following your point here, if this is a point.

        Presumably Joseph would have known Isaiah’s prophecies (7:14 and 10:33-34) that the virgin would conceive and the Messiah would come from Jesse’s (David’s) line.

        I think that’s a reasonable presumption, but as I’ve argued upthread, I don’t think it’s reasonable to extrapolate from there, “So he would have believed Mary’s claim to be the woman in that prophecy.” I think I’d return to my original post’s questions, at that point.

        The last idea relates to Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-). What do you think Mary means when she says, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”? How can she say that her soul makes the Lord more than he is?

        I’d answer that “magnify the Lord” is pretty standard terminology in Scripture. Compare Psalm 34:3 (“O magnify the Lord with me.”) or Psalm 69:30 (“I will praise the name of God with song and magnify him with thanksgiving.”) or Job 36:24 (“Remember that thou magnify His work,” in the KJV). The list is considerably longer if we include “glorify” references, which face basically the same question (“Can we really make God more glorious than he is?”). At a minimum, then, I’d say we can’t say it implies anything about Mary that it doesn’t also imply about David.

        More specifically, a standard usage of the word is “to call attention to or praise.” The top Webster definition is “to extol, laud” – and any of these uses fit with Mary’s (and David’s). We don’t expect that God is actually made larger or more glorious (as though he should be any less than perfect!), but He is given fresh praise and adoration.

        How can one be filled with the Holy Spirit? I would not claim that I am filled with the Holy Spirit

        I regretted putting myself in that list, after posting it, because “filled with the Holy Spirit” is sometimes used in a stronger sense than I mean for myself (i.e., “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit…”). But I do believe that I – that all Christians – are indwelt by the Spirit, that God comes to live in our being in order to conform us to Christ over time. It’s in that sense that I meant to include myself, and I apologize again if I worded that so as to claim more than I should have.

        1. Hi Margo,

          Reflecting a little bit further, I wanted to add: none of this makes the Magnificat any less than a beautiful hymn of the faith, or a testimony to the character of Mary. I don’t want to demean or diminish what seems like a pretty incredible young woman; I just also don’t want to exalt her beyond what Scripture says of her. But I do think “magnify” language is pretty expected even for normal people – David’s psalms, after all, are… well, psalms, and they’re meant to be sung by lots of people.

          Thanks again for the conversation!

    4. Couldn’t Joseph being unwilling to put her to shame be meant in the sense of Psalm 71:1 “I have taken refuge in you, O LORD. Never let me be put to shame”, in the context of Mary, a virgin, put under the protection of Joseph, not being disgraced by being rejected to the man to whom she was betrothed? In those days, and in that Jewish context, women having no children was seen as the utmost disgrace to them, as would be, I presume, being rejected by the man to whom you were betrothed, if not perhaps more.

      Just some thoughts.

      As for the second point I largely agree, the assurance strongly implies that the legitimacy of the child was in some way in question; and yet Gabriel could be reminding Joseph that the Holy Ghost is at work in their lives, and that they should not question the divine wisdom with which He has elected Joseph to be betrothed to the Mother of God.

      I am of the opinion that Joseph, *in all innocence, and without guilt*, was under the impression that Mary was unfaithful for the shortest time before Gabriel cleared it up.

      But the theory that Joseph not wanting to *disgrace* Mary by putting her away after being betrothed is not at all incompatible with Joseph feeling unworthy..

      Imagine the gift of being the husband of the New Eve! The most excellent of God’s creatures!

      1. Hello Wisdom,
        Thanks for joining this thread.

        How could Joseph “in all innocence, and without guilt,” think Mary unfaithful? Are not our thoughts liable to judgment by the Lord? What evidence, indeed, did Joseph have to think Mary unfaithful? The evidence of Isaiah suggests instead that the Messiah would be born of a virgin of the line of David. Mary and Joseph were both, from scripture, of that line. Mary herself spoke of her virginity to the angel.

        Let’s analogize. A friend doesn’t know how to swim and is afraid of the water. What would we say to persuade him? “Don’t be afraid of the clouds?” OR “Don’t be afraid of the water?”

        Similarly, if Joseph feared Mary had been unfaithful, why does the angel not say, “Don’t be afraid that Mary has been unfaithful.”

        Instead, the angel speaks directly to Joseph’s fear: “Don’t fear because this child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.” An angel, endowed with brilliant intellect, whose specific purpose is to convey with exactitude God’s message at mere command would have said: “Don’t be afraid that Mary has committed adultery,” if that is what Joseph had thought.

        1. It’s quite simple. Mary was pregnant and he knew it wasn’t his. That’s how he could’ve had the impression.

          Without revelation (although you argued, and rightly so, that the Messianic expectation of a virgin birth, and that virgin births are possible should have been known to Joseph) he would be none the wiser, and thus innocent (sin requiring knowledge of the evil of the thing before comission).

          Don’t forget, his false impression that Mary was perhaps unfaithful would still be passive. He wouldn’t be actively accusing Mary of unfaithfulness. In fact I am certain that for suspecting the evidently-holy Mary (a temple virgin) would be the last thing he wanted to do or consider.

          As I said, it would merely be a false impression, not an active accusation. A last resort conclusion from a simpe observation. Joseph wasn’t sinless, after all. And suspecting this would amount to a venial sin at worst, anyway.

          There are only three options for Joseph:

          1) Mary was violated (God forgive me for even mentioning it)
          2) Mary was herself actively unfaithful (again)
          3) She happens to be the prophesied virgin who concieves.

          I wouldn’t blame Joseph for, not being incredulous or faithfuless, but just panicking. Scripture could be, and I believe is, mentioning Joseph’s deliberation in passing. That he was, at some time, considering this. It doesn’t say it was a long thought-out plot. It doesn’t give that impression. The impression or indication you’d need to accuse him of faithlessness. In the strict Jewish society that severely punished such unfaithfulness, he was probably very, very panicked.

          I am open to the unworthiness interpretation. I think it’s plausible. In fact, they both fit together. he couldn’t reconcile her exemplary holiness with the observation that she is pregnant apart from him. Very possible.

          Suspecting the holy temple virgin, Mary, of such a sin doesn’t seem to align with what would have been anyone’s even superficial acquaintance with her as the holy Mother of God! With the two theories combined it makes sense to me.

          Again, just thoughts.

          Don’t forget Sarah laughed at God’s foretelling of the birth of a son in her old age. Let’s not suppose that Joseph didn’t have shortcomings as well.

          God bless.

        2. You said “Hoping you’ll respond to the angel directly confronting Joseph’s fear.

          Also, the ‘adultery’ line of thinking suggests that our image of God is skewed and flawed by our sinful nature. We find it difficult to accept that our almighty and all loving God could find a devout, just, believing yet frightened by self-doubt and unworthiness to be the foster father of His only begotten incarnate son. It is easier for us to see Joseph as a man like us. “It’s Mary’s fault. She got herself knocked up while I was away.” Our material sinfulness excludes miracles. And that is our problem, 2000 years after our Saviour’s rise from the hell of earth, rolling back the stone of sin. May God forgive us all.”

          But I believe I addressed the reason for Joseph’s fear and panic. That he feared something is not disputable; unworthiness, unfaithfulness. God didn’t make a mistake picking Joseph. God chooses flawed people all the time. Where Mary not His actual Mother, she would not have been bestowed the gift of a sinless nature. As for Joseph, he could have been extremely pious and holy, which I wholeheartedly believe (God wouldn’t betroth the Blessed Virgin to anything less than a pious husband, as the foster father of their divine Son). But this doesn’t imply absolute sinlessness. And as I said, the aforementioned suspicious of unfaithfulness, if it is such, is only venial in extent, since it is a conclusion based on observations, which can’t be evil in and of itself. Zechariah and Elizabeth where very pious and followed the Law blamelessly, as did St. Paul. But this doesn’t imply aboslute sinlessness.

          In reality, sinlessness doesn’t mean perfection. Only God is perfect. Anything that lacks something (everything but God) is imperfect compared to God. So perfection isn’t necessarily linked to sin.

          The Blessed Virgin Mary, for example, was mistaken in looking for her Son when the young Jesus tells His parents they ought to have known something they didn’t; that He was about His Father’s work. Their not being aware of something is not the same as sin.

          It would be similar with Joseph. Could it be he just innocently wasn’t prepared or ready to accept that he was the husband of the New Eve, the FOSTER FATHER of the Messiah? Could this, as I said perhaps together with the mistaken assumption that Mary had gotten pregant illegitimately, be the reason he was panicking and didn’t want anything to do with it?

          Jonah tried to escape God’s grand plan, but it doesn’t mean God didn’t call Jonah to achieve His will, he still used him.

          1. Wisdom,

            I don’t see where you address the angel confronting Joseph’s fear of adultery (or violation) in Mary.

            I never implied that Joseph was without sin. He contemplated breaking a covenantal/Old Testament contractual vow which would have brought shame and dishonor. He nursed fears and doubts prior to the angel’s appearance–he’s like a man paralyzed at night, in a sweat, unable to sleep, plagued.

            We agree that Joseph wasn’t prepared or ready to accept that he could be the husband of the New Eve. Beyond our understandable but nevertheless purely natural reasoning, there is no evidence (beyond pregnancy) in scripture to suggest that Joseph believed Mary to be in any way unworthy of his marrying her. OUR doubt and fear is why we think Joseph had doubt and fear of a violable pregnancy.

            On the other hand, scripture does offer Isaiah and the lineage of Mary/Joseph. The Messiah would be born of a virgin in the line of David. And Joseph surely knew that.

        3. “I don’t see where you address the angel confronting Joseph’s fear of adultery (or violation) in Mary.”

          OK, so upon alittle of actually reading the text again, I’ve settled on the unworthiness/humility theory. For now.

          [Thomas Aquinas, Origen held this view also, as well as other Fathers/saints]

          I don’t claim to be dogmatic on this, as the truth is, *no one has the answer*.

          I’m sticking with the humility theory for several reasons.

          1) Joseph is called “a just man” in the context of considering “putting away”/divorce Mary. This is *only possible* given the aforementioned theory, since adultery was punishable by death, and Joseph would have been obligated to uphold the Law and hand Mary over to be put to death.

          It’s not “just” to hide Mary from the Law of God, and help her escape God’s justice—if we humor that he thought her to be an adulterer. He is rather portrayed as only just and doing what would be right for the situation. The only thing was “fear”. Not any negative, positive (oxymoron not intended) wrongdoing on his part.

          As St. Jerome said, “But how is Joseph thus called just, when he is ready to hide his wife’s sin?”

          2) Joseph knew the child was from the Holy Ghost. It says she was “found to be with child *of the Holy Ghost*”, the only ‘finder’ in the context being Joseph. The text, or the grammar, necessitates that the child was found AND known to be conceived through the Holy Ghost.

          3) It says Joseph was “fear”ful of taking Mary as his wife. Which obviously means he feared some consequence. OR felt unworthy to carry through the marriage.

          Since the text portrays his reaction as a just reaction, or at least that he is just and portrays his reaction in a neutral light, perhaps it was valid to put off the marriage, since it wasn’t consummated yet anyway. The betrothal in those days, don’t get me wrong, meant you were, for all intents and purposes, married (you had definitely “pledged” to marry your spouse-to-be).

          But if it wasn’t ‘official’ until it was consummated or, “before they came together” (perhaps another hint, in retrospect), perhaps it indicates Joseph’s being justified in thinking divorce would be valid at all, which we can agree he seems to have). And if so, making the only real motive humility/sense of unwothiness.

          4) Joseph’s being a faithful Jew implying he knew of the miraculous virgin birth from Scripture only strengthens the unworthiness theory.

          The angel’s consolation. As for the angel’s consolation, it can be interpreted as Gabriel telling Joseph that he need not fear in taking Mary as his wife, because since the child is of the Holy Ghost, it won’t turn into some scandal that will result in harm to Mary, her child, or Joseph by that very fact. God isn’t going to Make a virgin concieve miraculously an obviously hugely important Figure, Jesus, the Messiah, only to allow Him to be killed before he grows up or before Mary gives birth to Him. It’s just that, consolation and giving him courage. Hence the sudden courage and embrace of Mary as his wife after the angel’s message.

          I was happy to discover that St. Jerome held the two views as alternatives, that he ought not to have put her away, yet he is called just; “Or this may be considered a testimony to Mary, that Joseph, confident in her purity, and wondering at what had happened, covered in silence that mystery which he could not explain.” That is, the confusion/panic/just not knowing how to deal with it plain and simple.

          Origen said, that he “saw in her a great sacrament, to approach which he thought himself unworthy”.

          In any case it is abundantly and explicitly clear that Joseph had only good, “just” will toward Mary, not wanting to disgrace her publicly, and the “private” divorce probably meant a private dissolving, or rather cancelling of the not-yet-consummated,and therefore not technically official marriage. I’mnot sure exactly how the betrothal-marriage thing works, so I can’t say for sure.

          God bless.

          1. Hi Wisdom,

            I appreciate your efforts but my original argument stands. We judge Joseph’s just humility as foreign to our sinful sensibilities and therefore find it incomprehensible that he found himself unworthy in the divine presence which Mary’s pregnancy manifested.

            Our blessed Patristic and Scholastic saints may be forgiven for not having the benefit of modern Church teaching on the Immaculate Conception.

            The adultery scenario must counter that God, unable to abide sin (as scripture tells us), would choose a man who, even if briefly and venially, thought His Theotokos unworthy of his lowly self because of adultery. [The scenario is worthy of Dan Brown.] Joe is correct. God chose a humble and just man. Justice implies that Joseph understood, particularly after the angel’s visit, that he owed all to God. His just role was to guard and to protect the Queen of Heaven and the only begotten Son of God.

            Jesus was not accepted as a chosen one in his hometown. He could not perform miracles where there was little faith. We have difficulty understanding holiness; only the Holy Spirit can convict us. May he share his spirit abundantly.

            God bless.

        4. I’m sorry I didn’t follow you.

          You merely disagreed and restated that you believe your position “still stands”, without actually engaging with any of my arguments form the text itself.

          “I appreciate your efforts but my original argument stands. We judge Joseph’s just humility as foreign to our sinful sensibilities”

          Who is “we”?

          I don’t judge thus.

          “Our blessed Patristic and Scholastic saints may be forgiven for not having the benefit of modern Church teaching on the Immaculate Conception”

          But they did teach Mary was immaculate and sinless. Especially the Wester Fathers.

          But what does this have to do with the topic at hand. Joseph’s unworthiness is not dependant of Mary being sinless. Only a high level of sanctity and utmost dignity regardless, being the Theotokos, the Mother of the Christ.

          “We have difficulty understanding holiness; only the Holy Spirit can convict us”

          I’m confused as to how understanding holiness means Joseph can’t identify or recohgnize it when he sees it, or better yet, who this collective “we” is.

          I would appreciate an engagement with what I said at least, if you are going to say I’m wrong, rather than restating that you are in fact right and your opinion is better or as you put it, “still stands”. Restating or insisting on your opinion instead of countering my individual arguments or at least contesting one is not very helpful, in my opinion, and also a bit arrogant.

          In charity,

          Peace.

          1. Wisdom,

            We all judge, don’t we? Don’t we judge when we evaluate what we know in light of reason and faith? Many of us here have argued that it is only reasonable that Joseph thought Mary’s pregnancy illegitimate (since it was not his) and that could only have been by adultery. I disagree, and I suggest a reason why.

            If you don’t see “what this has to do with the topic at hand” I am sorry, and I won’t waste our time in causing further confusion. Until another day or time, God bless.

    5. Also, just thinking.

      Wouldn’t *not* punishing Mary, where he to believe she was an adulteress, be *unjust* according to the Law?

  2. Hello Any/all, I WISH THIS BOARD HAD AN ‘EDIT’ OPTION!

    Please disregard my earlier reply with its last paragraph of junk notes, or please simply read this instead Thanks.

    Presumably God sends angels with messages to men in order to convince or change the direction of history that would have transpired without supernatural intervention.

    There is a time frame for thinking and one for acting. Prior to the angel’s appearance, Joseph has not yet acted nor has he totally decided his course despite the use of the word “resolved” in scripture. He is still thinking through his decision–‘as he considered these things.’ He was praying, I suggest, for help from God. I think we would all allow that Joseph simply felt uncertain with continuing the engagement. On a purely human level, even without thinking Mary unworthy, he himself may have felt. Compare Joseph’s situation to a young Christian man of today who loves a woman who, if he marries, brings along with her the need for extraordinary sacrifice–perhaps the woman has an illegitimate child or an elderly mother with severe multiple sclerosis or a brother with Down syndrome who comes with her in her marriage. It could be, on a purely human level, that Joseph thought himself unable to perform the extraordinary sacrifice which Mary required. How could Joseph have thought Mary unworthy if he were truly just and she were truly stainless, as scripture, tradition, and reasoned theology teach that they were?

    The angel’s appearance is necessary to convince Joseph of God’s will, and he without further question or reservation, complied.

    1. Hi Margo,

      I feel your pain on editing!

      I definitely agree that Joseph felt uncertain on continuing – on a purely human level, as you say. I’m sure there were a lot of anxieties there; I can remember my wife-to-be humoring some silly panicky moments on my part before our own wedding. (Thankfully, fear didn’t win out!)

      It seems to me, though, that such fears stand in contrast to the reading in the original blog post – in other words, that your reading would still be something other than a numinous fear based on Mary’s superior holiness. And to that extent, I think you and I are in agreement – unless I’m misreading you?

      To your specific question, though:

      How could Joseph have thought Mary unworthy if he were truly just and she were truly stainless, as scripture, tradition, and reasoned theology teach that they were?

      I mean, fundamentally, I don’t agree that Mary was stainless. I think Scripture owns her as a God-fearing young woman, just as it does her husband, and one given the extraordinary gift of bearing the Messiah – but not as anything more than that. I think it’s very awkward to say, “The immaculate conception of Mary totally changes the reading of this passage,” when Matthew makes no reference to any such event, and so Matthew’s readers would have no reason to read the passage in such a context.

      But whichever of our readings we take, Joseph’s making a mistake, yeah? There’s something about his decision that’s off – otherwise, the angel wouldn’t correct him from the plan he’s forming. So it seems pretty plain that for him to be “just” doesn’t require that he’s doing the right thing – just that he’s doing what seems right with the facts that he has, when he’s actually missing some truth that changes the situation.

      In my view, the missing fact is that Mary is telling the truth. Or trying that a different way: if a young woman went to her spouse-to-be and claimed a virginal pregnancy (as continues to happen today), it’s not reasonable to say, “The morally just thing for him to do is to believe her and accept that as truth.” On the contrary, it’s reasonable for him to conclude, “You’ve cheated on me” – and in all but two cases, in all of recorded history, he’s going to be right!

      So it’s pretty easy to look at this, I think, and say, “Yeah, that’s a good guy: even though he (wrongly) thinks he’s been deeply wronged, he has compassion on the woman he loves.” Joseph’s virtue is in planning to resolve this quietly, when (per Deuteronomy 22) he could denounce her in the city gate. When the angel fills in the missing fact – “This is from God!” – it changes his course immediately.

      But in our host’s view, it seems like Joseph has the facts: he already believes this is from God. The only information the angel fills in, in that case, is “Marry her anyway” – and again, in that case, I don’t understand why the clause “because this is from God” follows immediately afterward.

  3. I don’t think there is any way to understand the mindset of Joseph in the ‘Annunciation’ events without thoroughly understanding the Blessed Virgin Mary, and particularly what was revealed about her by both the angel Gabriel and her cousin St. Elizabeth. And the first thing to understand is that Mary was NOT normal according to our personal or cultural conceptions, contrary to what IRKED, above, implies in some of his comments. So, we cannot assess her by our own understanding and standards, but must rely on what we find in sacred scripture. And after we understand the mindset of Mary, we can speculate better on that of St. Joseph, because the two must be analyzed together, but first Mary, even as the Angel communicated to her first.

    The first words of the Angel to Mary, signified a changing of her name. Even as Jesus changed the name of Simon to ‘Peter’, and John and James to ‘Sons of Thunder’, and God Changed Abrams name to ‘Abraham’, and Jacobs name to ‘Israel’, Mary’s name was changed according to the Greek translation of St. Luke to ‘κεχαριτωμένη’ or ‘kecharitōmenē’ which was translated by St. Jerome to signify ” Full of Grace”. So, this is what the angel Gabriel called her…”Hail, Full of Grace”, even as Jesus said of Simon, “you are Rock”.

    And if having a name ‘Full of Grace’ isn’t something that might cause us to understand that Mary wasn’t a ‘normal’ teenager, in any sense, then what St. Gabriel says next to her should reinforce this truth to us more profoundly. He says… “the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women”. To be ‘blessed’ among all women is NOT normal. And Elizabeth, when she greets Mary, says the same: “And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Lastly, Mary herself reiterates the point for a third time, proclaiming: “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” So, Mary demonstrates that she is also a prophet of God, and states that until the end of the world every generation will call her blessed (…even as the Catholics do, every single day, and fulfill this beautiful prophesy).

    So, when analyzing St. Joseph, we need to understand the quality of the woman that he was engaged to. She was the greatest woman that had ever lived, or will ever live, until the end of the world. Her wisdom and holiness, therefore, was and is beyond comprehension, and God would have preordained a suitable companion for her, in the election of St. Joseph as her helper and spouse. The wisdom of Mary would have not have it otherwise, and we should have confidence that the ‘most blessed and grace filled woman that had ever lived’ did not make a mistake with agreeing to St. Joseph to be her spouse.

    But we cannot assume that this was to be a ‘normal’ marriage, just because the majority of mankind marries by a certain way or custom. This assumption doesn’t apply with Mary or Joseph, even as the celibacy of Jesus and St. John the Baptist, was not the custom back in the 1st century. The marriage of these two was a ‘vocation’, and it was particularly designed by God to raise and protect the ‘Son of the Father’, until His ‘hour had arrived’.

    When the Angel Gabriel said to Mary ” Thou….shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.”, Mary understood that her espousal to Joseph would be according to God’s designs and providence and NOT HER OWN. The angel (by the will of God the Father) is declaring the name of her Son, and calls him “the son of the Most High”, not the “son of Joseph”. And so, Mary’s loyalty is to be primarily with the ‘Father’ of her Son, and secondarily with Joseph, who she would have easily understood would be a ‘foster father’. What other conclusion could be made by the wisest woman to have ever lived?

    And, moreover, the way of saints who are totally devoted to God, is not the way of most others who have an eye to the world. Mary, who was following the dictates of God, did not worry about Josephs understandings or misunderstandings. She focused only on the mission that was given to her to travel to Elizabeth. Even as she was left by her Son to wonder about her own future life on Eaarth…beneath the cross of Christ…until the dying Lord revealed it to her by handing her into the loving care of the apostle St. John, so Mary too was doing the same with St. Joseph. She was not worried about leaving him in suspense, even as Jesus was not worried about leaving her in suspense on Calvary. She easily understood by supreme faith, that if God communicated with her in such a fashion (by an angel), then it was easy for Him to do likewise with St. Joseph, which in fact was the case. So, Mary, again, was focused on her own particular calling, as a faithful servant of God should be. She faithfully followed the teaching of Christ when He said: “Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.”

    It might be noted that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in a more physical way than he did with St Joseph. Because it is said that Joseph was taught ‘in a dream’ even as his name sake Joseph son of Israel was also taught by ‘dreams’. But with Mary it doesn’t appear to have been in sleep.

    So, in all of this, we have a revelation on how God works with His loyal servants, and also on the way that His saints respond to his calling. And it is not ‘normal’ in any way. Knowing this background, we can speculate further on whether Joseph had ‘numinous’ fear…to take Mary as his wife. But without this background on the holiness of this singular couple, we might project our own conceptions of marriage which would not apply to their circumstances, talents, vocation and graces.

    Regarding Mary’s name, “Full of Grace” or “kecharitōmenē”, St. John Chrysostom writes in a Christmas day sermon (sometime around 400AD):

    Hail, Kecharitomene, unreaped land of heavenly grain.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, virgin mother, true and unfailing vine.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, faultless one carrying the immutable divinity.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, spacious room for the uncontainable nature.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, new bride of a widowed world and incorrupt offspring.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, weaving as creature a crown not made by hands.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, habitation of holy fire.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, return of the fugitive world.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, lavish nourisher for the hungry creation.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, interminable grace of the holy virgin.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, lampstand adorned with all virtue and with inextinguishable
    light brighter than even the sun.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, challenger of spirits.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, wise bearer of spiritual glory.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, golden urn, contaning heavenly manna.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, dispensing sweet drink ever flowing to fill those who are thirsty.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, spiritual sea who holds Christ, the heavenly pearl.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, splendor of heaven, having the one uncontained by the heavens in herself,
    God confined and unconfined.
    Hail, Kecharitomene, pillar of cloud containing God, and guiding Israel in the wilderness.”

    from:

    http://www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=50095

    1. Since I was addressed directly, here, and there seems to be some misunderstanding of my point: I don’t mean to say that Mary was normal, any more than I would say that Moses (the man to whom God spoke face to face), or David (the man after God’s own heart), or Noah (who, alone of all his generation, found grace in the eyes of the Lord), or any of a dozen other heroes of the faith were normal. But I tried to limit my critique to what’s actually in the passage – and there’s no virtue ascribed to Mary in either Matthew or Luke that’s out of place for any of God’s champions through history.

      We definitely agree that Mary was highly favored by God – again, via incredible language like that God used to speak to Moses in Exodus 33. Clearly she was an upright and god-fearing young woman! But that she was blessed – that God honored her in a way he honored no one else, to bear His Son – doesn’t require that she was worthy of the blessing; can any of us deny that it’s the nature of God to bless humans beyond what they deserve, and to show favor even on us whose righteousness is as filthy rags?

      And what we do not see – what the passages in question flatly do not say – is any of the following:

      -“She was the greatest woman that had ever lived, or will ever live, until the end of the world.”
      -“Her wisdom and holiness, therefore, was and is beyond comprehension”
      -“Mary, who was following the dictates of God, did not worry about Josephs understandings or misunderstandings.”
      -“She focused only on the mission that was given to her to travel to Elizabeth.”
      -“She was not worried about leaving him in suspense, even as Jesus was not worried about leaving her in suspense on Calvary.”
      -“She easily understood by supreme faith”

      These have to be read into the passage. They may, for all we know, be true, but we are not given them as true – certainly not, as the above post urges (and I’d certainly support), by “rely[ing] on what we find in sacred scripture.”

      1. -“She was the greatest woman that had ever lived, or will ever live, until the end of the world.”

        “Blessed art thou among women”…was said by an Archangel of God, and is thus God’s declaration. We might note that Jesus her Son was referred to when the Angel said “the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.” If
        Jesus is sitting on the throne of David forever, then Mary is sitting on a throne next to Him as the ‘Queen Mother’, forever. This is known through the History of Judah’s Kings, and was established by David himself. So, it is not a leap to say that this ‘Queen Mother’, is the greatest women to have ever lived.

        -“Her wisdom and holiness, therefore, was and is beyond comprehension”

        The words “Full of Grace” signify an incomprehensible dignity and state of Grace to anyone who is not likewise ‘Full of Grace”. Again, it is an Angel of God that has called her this. The proclamations of St. John Chrysostom confirm this understanding of the early Christian Church.

        -“Mary, who was following the dictates of God, did not worry about Josephs understandings or misunderstandings.”

        Yes, this is implication, but if Joseph is concerned at all it is because Mary had not informed him sufficiently of what was happening. What is known is that she immediately went to Elizabeth, and left Joseph in the dark. And an angel of God, as it was with Mary, communicated the significance of these events to Joseph. If Mary ‘worried’ about Joseph, then she probably would have been the messenger to him…but she was not. So the implication is a reasonable one that she cared for God’s mission first, and had faith that Joseph would be cared for by the Lord…which he was.

        -“She focused only on the mission that was given to her to travel to Elizabeth.”
        -“She was not worried about leaving him in suspense, even as Jesus was not worried about leaving her in suspense on Calvary.”
        -“She easily understood by supreme faith”.

        Same explanation as above…

        1. Hi awlms,

          “Blessed art thou among women”…was said by an Archangel of God, and is thus God’s declaration.

          Yes. That Mary was uniquely blessed by God – to carry his Son – is a point of agreement!

          If Jesus is sitting on the throne of David forever, then Mary is sitting on a throne next to Him as the ‘Queen Mother’, forever.

          This, on the other hand, is not, because Scripture nowhere says this of Mary. The pattern of Judah’s kings would also establish things like, “If Jesus is on the throne, then his father no longer rules,” and “Sooner or later, Jesus will step down or die so that his son can take over.” The pattern isn’t exact; we aren’t told that the metaphor stretches that far.

          The words “Full of Grace” signify an incomprehensible dignity and state of Grace to anyone who is not likewise ‘Full of Grace”.

          Again, that’s not something you can get out of the text. I think going to an English translation of Jerome’s Latin translation of Luke is probably not the best way to get the sense of the words; I’m no Greek scholar, but most English translations follow Strong’s Concordance in translating this as something more like “You who are highly favored.” Which, again, is a feature of Mary we agree on!

          I’m not looking to start a massive digression into full Mariology, here, but as you said, let’s stick to the text; from the actual words of Luke, there’s not enough here to support a claim of “incomprehensible dignity.”

          Yes, this is implication, but if Joseph is concerned at all it is because Mary had not informed him sufficiently of what was happening.

          Or because he doesn’t believe her, or thinks she’s crazy. We’re pushing pretty hard into speculation, here; Scripture doesn’t give us a minute-by-minute summary of when Mary said exactly what to Joseph.

          1. The Psalm exegeted in Hebrews (Psalm 45) which begins “Your throne, O God, is forever…” as being said of Christ, just after says “The queen stands at your right hand, clothed in gold of Ophir”.

            Let’s not forget that Mary, the Woman in Revelation, is crowned. Symbolic overtones notwithstanding. The Ark of the Covenant (one of the clearest typesin Scripture, let alone about Mary), of which the ‘Woman’ in Revelation is the actual clarification, was also crowned. The mother of the Davidic King was the queen mother.

            I think you see the point.

            *kecharitomene* implies literally: O completed in [grace/favor] one.

            One of the best dynamic, and I think beautiful translations apart from full of grace I saw once was “miss grace”. My memory fails me but I believe this word or very similar forms could rightly be, and I believe has been in ancient cultures, interpreted as referring to the beauty of a woman, as well.

            The reason for favoring the grace interpretation is that you can’t complete someone in favor so that you can never favor them again. *charis*, the very root of the word, is translated, and primarily means in Scripture, ‘grace’.

            The sense of ‘fullness’ is not a literal rendering of the word (as there is none ini English that isn’t a sentence long) but rather comes from said sense of completedness (the verb form indicating its having been something already done in the past).

            ”full of grace’ is shorter and, being shorter than ‘highly favored one’, it retains the sense of the original text, in which Gabriel gave Mary a new name, essentially. He didn’t say, “Rejoice, Mary! O highly favored one”. He simply called Mary “kecharitomene” (kecharitomene is technically a gerund, since it is a verb meaning the passive object of a grace-bestowing that was already complete in the past and remains true to the present,yet is used as a noun).

            Greek is a superb way to pack complex information into small words packed with meaning. kecharitomene is one such word. Especially in this context (it being used as an actual title or name).

  4. Hi Irked,

    If Mary, considered herself unworthy (in spite of being blessed), it seems logically consistent that Joseph too would feel himself so too. Joseph’s consideration of Mary’s worth is not germane to his own sense of worthiness, is it? The angel bolstered and convince him that, no matter his own personal opinion of Mary’s or his own worth, he was worthy in God’s eyes, and therefore he was chosen to betroth and to receive heavenly support from above to help him in his task after he got a case of cold unworthy feet.

    The argument of awlms that we have trouble accepting the blessed ‘unnormal’ sanctity of Joseph and Mary makes sense in light of your position that these great saints saw themselves as unworthy.

    I keep thinking of Eve in the garden. When God asks her to explain her nakedness, she blames the serpent. When God asks Adam, he blames Eve. Neither took responsibility for their sinfulness. In the same way, we have difficulty seeing Mary and Joseph as blameless because the concept is foreign to us. We have difficulty accepting that Joseph may not have seen Mary as unworthy; perhaps we have difficulty accepting even that he saw himself so. We see Joseph through our own plank-filled eyes.

    If we accept our God as a God of perfection and of miracles, we could perhaps more easily allow that he bestowed his plenitude of “fullness of grace” upon Mary prior to her “Fiat.” Her sense of worth is not necessary for God’s blessing. I submit that she rarely thought of herself but instead focused on doing what was needful to fulfill His will.

    I

    1. I really don’t see how people can have doubt about Mary’s high dignity and exalted status. Is being Theotokos a little thing? When wise men from foreign countries follow a star provided by a miracle in the sky to where you have chosen to sleep, and also bring gold and treasures at the same time for you to guard for your Child who is the King of Israel….is that a little thing?

      Moreover, when a prophet of God, Simeon, a man filled with the Holy Spirit says…”Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

      Can we see how happy he was to see the ‘Christ of God’, for only a few moments with Christ, and was satisfied as if this was his highest goal in life? If this man, who is described as “… just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him.” …is satisfied to die after a few moments with Christ… then what can we think of the state of Mary, who gave the Lord birth and lived with Him continually for a full 30 years until His public ministry had arrived? Can we not see the magnitude of scale between this holy prophet Simeon, and the Holy Mother of God?? He is satisfied with a few moments with Christ, but Mary is with Him until His last breath on Calvary!

      Moreover, ‘Mary of Bethany’ was praised by Jesus for merely anointing Him with precious ointment, of which act Jesus said,

      “… Why do you trouble this woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For the poor you have always with you: but me you have not always. For she in pouring this ointment upon my body, hath done it for my burial. Amen I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told for a memory of her.”

      If Jesus praises this one little act with such a promise that ‘which she hath done, shall be told for a memory of her’ until the end of the world…how much more can we say of all of the loving acts that the Blessed Mother Mary did for Jesus? And moreover, what were her sacrifices for love of Him…from the cave at Bethlehem, to the deserts of Egypt, to ignominious town of Nazareth, to the rejection of her own people at Nazareth, to the cross at Calvary? Has anyone in the history of Christianity loved Jesus as much as Mary His mother? Please name some candidates if anyone has any.

      It is only common Christian sense that we honor her to the highest degree…. and St. Joseph as well, for his association with her and Our Lord Jesus Christ. Their Christian calling and dignity is beyond compare.

      1. Hi awlms,

        Fundamentally, your argument seems to be that the magnitude of God’s gift to Mary requires a commensurate magnitude of goodness in her: that a gift beyond all measure requires a recipient who deserves a unique blessing.

        But Christ died for wretches like us. He gave His life to reconcile sinners to God, and that’s a more precious gift than any other – and we certainly didn’t deserve it. The greatness of the gift tells us rather of the goodness of the Giver: that He would bestow so much on people so unworthy of it.

        1. Hi Irked,

          Christ not only died for us, but taught us as well. And one important teaching was the following:

          “For there is no good tree that bringeth forth evil fruit; nor an evil tree that bringeth forth good fruit. For every tree is known by its fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns; nor from a bramble bush do they gather the grape. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

          And,

          “By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.”

          And regarding Mary, pertaining to these teachings of Christ, St. Elizabeth ” …cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

          Mary is proven to be good tree by the very ‘fruit of her womb’ that she produced. And from Christ’s birth to His death, and even after His death….Mary was never seen to be a good tree in any way. also, the saying “wisdom is made known by her children” also applies to her.

          So we need to look at the ‘totality’ of the Gospel message, and not only at the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary; as Jesus reiterated many times in HIs teachings,” If any man keep my word, He shall not see death forever.”

          1. I’d like to set aside what seems to be a pretty straightforward misuse of “fruit” here, because there’s a more basic issue. I understand your earlier post to say that, for God to have given Mary a remarkable blessing must necessarily imply an unrivaled moral character on her part. So, two questions:

            One, do you agree with that claim? Does a remarkable blessing from God necessarily imply a correspondingly remarkable moral character in the recipient?

            Two, does Christ’s death for us necessarily imply a corresponding pre-existent worth in us, such that we merit that gift?

            It seems to me that the two questions must either be answered both positively, or both negatively – that the answer to the first implies the second – and I don’t see how either option is possible for you without abandoning either your earlier position or basic Catholic theology regarding salvation.

          2. Hi Irked,

            Actually, I try to follow ‘revelation’ instead of my own speculations and philosophies. And, if I speculate, I prefer to have good reasons based on scripture or the teachings of the Church. My basis for almost everything dealing with the Blessed Virgin is the Gospel revelation that the Angel Gabriel provides, and again, this particular greeting “Hail, Full of Grace”. And then I give weight to the testimonies of Elizabeth, Simeon, and later on…Jesus Himself in the Gospel accounts.

            As for philosophy, I’m not too keen. I much prefer Revelation, and then apply logic based on the actual historical accounts revealed in it that we know from Sacred Scripture.

            As to your first question, I believe that for God ‘all things are possible’, even as the Lord taught. However, we find that God Himself put the words into Gabriel’s mouth when he greeted the Blessed Virgin. So, I accept this. I really don’t need to speculate when we have such an excellent historical account to base our assumptions. And Jesus taught that ‘Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’. Philosophy is a separate issue, and is secondary to the Word of God.

            For question 2, we as creatures of God deserve nothing from Him, neither our creation nor our redemption. However, we note that even after the fall of our first parents, that God immediately cared for them by making them clothes and by admonishing, and then correcting Cain, the first murderer. So, this reveals the careful and charitable nature of God our Creator and Father. And then Jesus reveals the same in His many teachings on the charitable nature of ‘Our Father’ in Heaven. He asks, for instance, “would you give a scorpion to your child who asks an egg from you? If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the ‘good Spirit’ to those who ask it of Him?” ( Luther should have pleaded God in this way and surely would have been a much happier Christian 🙂 )

            So, even after man had fallen from grace God still wished for mankind’s redemption. And so many parables of Jesus reinforce this truth. So, this demonstrates some sort of ‘preexistent worth’ as you mention… in us in the eyes of God our Father. this is what we are taught by revelation, not by theoretical philosophy…even though it be ‘reformation philosophy’.

            Now, I have read a 600 page book on the Life and works of Martin Luther (by Hartmann Grisar, SJ) and I understand well his psychologically deranged notions about justification and the inherent evil in mankind. I say ‘deranged’ because the historical facts of his life prove this due to his singular and bizarre behavior that even defied natural law throughout almost the entirety of his adult life. Even his disciples, and others such as Erasmus and Calvin, were well aware of his very bizarre behavior over long periods of time. And he has countless quotes to prove with his own words what I am describing.

            So, to sum things up, I could never follow the philosophical ideas of a man who practiced so poorly the Gospel that he preached to others. His actions speak much louder than his words.

            And this why I don’t believe him when he talks of man’s inherent filth and evil. The ‘snow covered dung hill’ is something that Jesus never taught. So, why contradict the Lord’s teaching in preference for a crude man who never should have pursued theology as a career? His father was very right, and he should have pursued law and found a good wife while he was still young. This was probably his true vocation, not that of a miserable monk which was the result of a badly made vow to God due to the deathly fear of dying from a second lightning strike.

            Jesus, on the other hand, taught that indeed his followers are not completely defiled in their souls. He does this when he teaches Peter that the entire body need not be washed (after baptism) but only the feet…taught at the washing of the feet event before His passion. If you read this carefully, you will find that His disciples are clean (except Judas), but that they need to wash each others feet due to the filthy contact with the ‘earth’ that is bound to happen on occasion…meaning minor sins. ‘The spirit is willing’, Jesus teaches, ‘but the flesh is weak’. So, feet washing is a necessity. This is why Jesus said “Whose sins you forgive will be forgiven”.

            Those who wish to follow Luther can do so, but I just can’t imagine who would want to follow such ideas and theories after reading a good Catholic biography on him. Again, you can learn a lot about a man by his actions, and not just by his intellectual musings and teachings.

            Best to you,

            – Al

          3. Al,

            I don’t know what Martin Luther’s personal failings have to do with anything, here; I thought we were discussing Scripture?

            To the parts of your post that are a reply to mine, you wrote:

            we as creatures of God deserve nothing from Him, neither our creation nor our redemption… So, this reveals the careful and charitable nature of God our Creator and Father.

            Yes, precisely, and amen! So, too, then, with Mary; there is no grounds in Scripture for holding otherwise. Mary was given an amazing blessing – an unparalleled favor – to carry and raise Jesus. But we were given a better one: God’s enemies, made into His children, by the willing death of His Son. What higher favor is there than that Christ has already shown to all his adopted siblings?

            And if, as you agree, it is God’s pattern to give immeasurable gifts on those undeserving, then his grace to Mary does not require a correspondingly immeasurable goodness in her. Your argument to the contrary, with a long list of inferred superlative attributes, seems to be that… the angel says that she was “highly favored?” That phrase simply won’t do what you’re asking of it.

    2. Hi Margo,

      If Mary, considered herself unworthy (in spite of being blessed), it seems logically consistent that Joseph too would feel himself so too.

      Oh, sure! Once he believes, I can believe that he’d feel his own unworthiness as clearly as Mary does – who wouldn’t? But at this point, it seems like the natural reading is that Joseph doesn’t believe her – and so his eventual reaction to the truth isn’t relevant to his mindset in the passage in question.

      Does that make sense? This is the reading proposed by major commentaries both Protestant (e.g., Matthew Henry) and Catholic (e.g., George Leo Haydock).

      The argument of awlms that we have trouble accepting the blessed ‘unnormal’ sanctity of Joseph and Mary makes sense in light of your position that these great saints saw themselves as unworthy.

      I mean, as a matter of practical fact, they were unworthy. We all would be; we’re fallen humans. The righteousness of our saints is still a heap of filthy rags. The man called “God’s friend” was a murderer who, in his pride, took credit for divine miracles; the one called “after God’s own heart” murdered one of his closest companions to hide that he’d slept with the man’s wife.

      I have trouble accepting “the blessed unnormal sanctity” of Christ’s parents, as presented by awlms, because I don’t see it taught in the Bible – and that’s the standard awlms suggested we use.

      1. Hi Irked,

        When you reference Moses and David above, you don’t acknowledge the ability of them to repent from their sins. David certainly did, and Moses was defending an innocent man from being seriously abused. If you look to the positive side of these two individuals we see great friends of God, and models for us to follow. That they were forgiven their sins is the great lesson for us, and gives us courage that if we fall into grave sin, we too can be forgiven and restored to God’s good favor and grace. We, like the prodigal son can return to living a holy life, in harmony and union with ‘our Father’.

        And your reference to saints being mere ‘filty rags’ is actually a bit repulsive. The saints of Christ are filled with the same Holy Spirit that filled the disciples at Pentecost. And these same saints committed sin on occasion, but they knew how to repent of theirs sins, and confess them, so as to be restored to grace with God. It seems that you wish to teach that deadly sin is not avoidable in this life, that everyman is in a state of continual mortal sin, and thus is continually filthy, even after baptism. And if you believe this, you are in great error.

        Jesus taught on this subject at the ‘last supper’. Peter, who resisted Jesus’ attempt to wash His feet was told that if He didn’t allow this He would have no part with Him. Peter then repented of his actions, and rash words, (as he had in the past) and said,

        ” Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him: He that is washed, needeth not but to wash his feet, but is CLEAN WHOLLY. And YOU ARE CLEAN, but not all.”

        It is good to listen to Jesus and not Martin Luther. Luther’s idea of filthy rags, snow covered dung, etc…contradicts Jesus in so many places in the Gospels including this lesson above of Christ to Peter. How can Protestants not understand the word ‘wholly clean’ as used by Jesus in the above quote? How can they neglect the saying of the Son of God who taught, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect’, and a ‘Good tree produces good fruits”. Protestants who follow ‘filthy rag’ philosophy of Luther, based on scholasticism and not the four Gospels, would contradict Christ in these simple and easy to understand teachings. It’s as if Christ had no ‘sheep’ but the world was filled only with snakes and ‘goats’. On the contrary to the ‘filthy rag’ analogy, the Church teaches that we receive our baptismal innocence after sinning by… repenting, doing penance, confessing and receiving absolution and changing our sinful habits, even as Jesus taught his disciples to do. This is what ‘washing each others feet’ means. We are to watch or brothers and friends and guide them away from vice and towards virtue. We are to help them remain clean and free, as mush as possible, from the stains encountered in this world. And why? Because as Jesus says,

        “Amen, amen I say unto you: that whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin. Now the servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth for ever. If therefore the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”

        And you seem to assume that it is not possible for Christians to avoid mortal sin, and be ‘free’ even as the Lord teaches above. But you are wrong in this. Many saints have passed years, without being guilty of committing serious or mortal sin. History is full of such examples. Desert Fathers, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joseph Caffasso, St. John Bosco, St. Theresa of Liseaux, St. John Vianney, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Philip Neri, St. Francis of Paola, St. Dominic, and on and on.

        Luther’s idea that everyone is perpetually living a life of slavery to sin…like the ‘5 unwise virgins’, the ‘goats’, the ‘prodigal son’, the ‘weeds’ in the field, etc… neglects to take account of “5 the wise virgins’, the lambs ‘on the right side of Christ’, the son ‘who never abandoned his father’, and the ‘wheat’ that God has sown and which competes with the pernicious weeds sown by ‘the enemy’. So, throughout scripture, we have examples contradicting Protestant theories of ‘fithy rags’ and ‘snow covered dung piles’. We have Christ Himself teaching that we have 2 ways…the ‘broad way’ and the ‘narrow way’. To say that it is not possible to enter by the ‘narrow gate’ is to deny Jesus as a teacher. To say that mortal sin is impossible to avoid in this life is to deny Christ’s teaching to ‘be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect’; it’s to insinuate that this is impossible to even attempt to follow.

        So, in view of Christ’s teachings, it is very easy to see how His mother and St. Joseph could live lives ‘free of sin’; that they could be like the ‘wise virgins’, ‘the wheat’, ‘the lambs among wolves’, ‘the wedding guests with the proper attire’, ‘the good Samaritan’, the ‘son who never left his father’, etc.. etc..

        Best to you,

        – Al

        1. Hi Al,

          When you reference Moses and David above, you don’t acknowledge the ability of them to repent from their sins.

          No, that’s fundamentally not true. They certainly did repent, and were forgiven; but they were still fallen men who did monstrous things. And they were also called “the friend of God” and “the man after God’s own heart”; the one does not preclude the other. My objection, still, is to saying, “Well, God favors this person” – as God said to Moses and to Mary – “and so they must be [some list of moral superlatives].” It’s just not true; God favors people with some pretty big problems – and there’s no reason to think Mary is any different.

          (I mean, she’s not, so far as we know, a murderer – so she does have that edge on the last guy to whom God said, “You have found favor in my sight.”)

          1. Yeep, replied that sooner than I meant to!

            (To prevent confusion, here: When I say, “That’s fundamentally not true,” I mean, “It’s fundamentally not true that I don’t acknowledge their ability to repent.” I do! They did! This is not a fair accusation – it just doesn’t change my point.)

            And your reference to saints being mere ‘filty rags’ is actually a bit repulsive.

            Unfortunately, that’s a complaint you’ll have to take up with Isaiah; the claim does not originate with me.

  5. Hello Irked,

    Good morning! I like your idea of highlighting words, so here goes!

    “Mary was given an amazing blessing – an unparalleled favor – to carry and raise Jesus. But we were given a better one: God’s enemies, made into His children, by the willing death of His Son. What higher favor is there than that Christ has already shown to all his adopted siblings?”

    I see a logical conundrum. One does not die without having been born. Mary’s blessedness, her choice preceded and was instrumental to God’s dying for us. All hinged on Mary’s freely aligning her will with God’s. Mary was singular. Never before had God done such a thing. He had previously granted fertility to aged and barren women, but a virgin birth could only mean one thing. Even if there were a slight whiff of unworthiness about Mary prior to the conception of Jesus (which I do not believe there was, knowing God as a God of perfectability, and Jesus dying achieving grace for all time, both before and after), how could there have been any unworthiness afterward? Mary was overshadowed by and conceived of the Holy Spirit. How, being filled with the Holy Spirit, can one be unworthy?

    And it was in this state wherein Joseph encountered her pregnant.

    1. Hi Margo,

      Good morning!

      I see a logical conundrum. One does not die without having been born. Mary’s blessedness, her choice preceded and was instrumental to God’s dying for us.

      Sure, God used Mary as an instrumental step in accomplishing his purpose. That’s the gift – the high favor – that she’s given: she gets to be a part of it all. But to be saved by Christ is a better gift; the greatest gift Mary received was not to be the mother of God, but to be adopted as his daughter by the sacrifice of her Son.

      We aren’t debating whether Mary is a unique figure, because we agree on that; we’re debating what that uniqueness entails. Moses and David are unique figures; that doesn’t require they be sinless.

      Mary was overshadowed by and conceived of the Holy Spirit. How, being filled with the Holy Spirit, can one be unworthy?

      So, first: if you appeal to the immaculate conception of Mary, you need to establish the immaculate conception of Mary. Matthew 1 doesn’t.

      But to the latter – well, it’s pretty easy. I’m filled with the Holy Spirit; I’m pretty unworthy. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he was a big ol’ racist hypocrite at times. Paul was filled with the Spirit, as well, and he said, “If we claim to be without sin, we lie and so deceive ourselves.”

      God puts his spirit into unworthy people, in order to conform them to him. But you’re making a positive claim – that Mary was in some regards morally perfect – and Scripture never claims that for anyone but Christ Himself. “You can only carry the Messiah if you’re perfect,” just doesn’t show up.

      1. Mary was overshadowed and conceived of the Holy Spirit at the conception of JESUS. (Matthew 1 or my or your establishing Mary’s Immaculate Conception is not here the point). At the Annunciation (which the Church celebrates this coming Saturday, March 25, nine months prior to Dec. 25), is when I refer to Mary’s being overshadowed and filled at the moment she conceives by and of and from the Holy Spirit.

        On to Mary’s conception (immaculate): Jesus’ dying opened the gates of sanctifying grace for ALL men. Presumably this includes men of ALL ages. If otherwise, then the holy men and women who preceded Jesus in time would be denied access, right? If God is a God capable of eternity and infinity, could He not have applied the merits of his death to a woman (Mary) who preceded His Incarnation in time? If we cannot accept this as a proposition, we are denying God the freedom and ability to apply His grace on his terms and in his time. In 2 Peter 3:8, the idea of man’s time differing from the Lord’s is given to us.

        1. Hi Margo,

          Mary was overshadowed and conceived of the Holy Spirit at the conception of JESUS. (Matthew 1 or my or your establishing Mary’s Immaculate Conception is not here the point).

          Ah, I apologize. I read your statement as “she was conceived of the Holy Spirit” (that is, her own conception, before her own birth), rather than, “she conceived via the Holy Spirit” (that is, the conception of Jesus, before His birth). Thanks for clarifying – I think we have no beef there, then!

          If God is a God capable of eternity and infinity, could He not have applied the merits of his death to a woman (Mary) who preceded His Incarnation in time?

          Sure, God could have done anything he pleased. To be a little silly, he could have made Jonah smell like raspberry jam, if that’s what he wanted to do. But I hope you’d criticize me if I asserted Jonah’s deliciousness as fact; I feel the same way about Mary’s immaculate nature. I don’t deny that God could have done it – I just deny that there’s any biblical evidence God did it, if that makes sense.

          1. Hello Irked,

            Sure! It makes sense that God would not make Jonah smell like jam. But does it make sense that he could allow His son to become Incarnate by, through, in, from, a sinful (even if ever so slightly sinful) virgin? Why would God not choose a perfect vessel as the means through which he would offer the world salvation? Where does Scripture say that God would not will such a thing? I could begin to offer ideas of the impassability of man with God–God asking Moses to remove his shoes in his approach to Holy ground where God has manifest himself is one. Another is the precision of the measurements which God requires from Noah’s ark (the vessel which will provide mankind the wherewithal to survive God’s destroying of the wicked). If you want more, I can come up with them. But I now plead the fifth. There is the papal encyclical if you have time to peruse that.

            Please don’t think me ‘copping out’, but I do have housework, a business sadly neglected, my child’s welfare to oversee, and study.

            May the Holy Spirit enlighten us all. Happy Holy Lent.
            Regards,
            Margo

          2. Hi Margo,

            But does it make sense that he could allow His son to become Incarnate by, through, in, from, a sinful (even if ever so slightly sinful) virgin?

            With respect, I’m very hesitant around questions that open with, “Well, why would God…?” because there’s a finite degree to which we can hope to answer them. I don’t think it makes much sense for the Son of God to be born into a manger and to die like a political rebel, either!

            But we are not told that Mary was sinless, and lacking that, I don’t think we can fairly use, “It makes sense to me that God would have…” as an argument. So, for instance, when you say this:

            Where does Scripture say that God would not will such a thing?

            … that’s not the standard, y’know? That’s an argument from silence.

            Why would God not choose a perfect vessel as the means through which he would offer the world salvation?

            I do think God chose a perfect vessel as the means to offer salvation. But that vessel is Christ – the only human to whom the Bible attributes perfection.

            Please don’t think me ‘copping out’, but I do have housework, a business sadly neglected, my child’s welfare to oversee, and study.

            No worries at all. It’s been a long and fruitful conversation – I hope for you, too. Thanks for the dialogue!

          3. Hey Irked,
            I know, I know, I know that this is not now my time nor my hour to reply, but I simply have to say that it makes very perfect sense to me that Jesus was born in a manger and died on a tree. It is too darn perfect for my sensibility. And I’m so very darn glad that it was all so perfect and happened that way. So I see how different we are in our acceptance of Scripture.

            God bless.

  6. Hi Irked,

    You frequently refer to the Angelic salutation of St. Gabriel, “chaire kecharitomene”, as ‘highly favored one’. Here is the much more accurate translation, and in line with how St. Jerome translated it back in the 4th century AD ……. Derived from: http://www.ewtn.com/v/experts/showmessage.asp?number=288189&Pg=Forum7&Pgnu=2&recnu=38

    “chaire kecharitomene”

    “chaire” – Means “hail” or “rejoice”

    “charis” – Means “grace”

    “charitoo” – Greek verb ending in omicron omega (“oo”) means to put the person or thing into the state indicated by the root. The root being “charis” or “grace,” “charitoo” means “to put into a state of “grace.”

    “ke” – Greek perfect tense prefix indicates a perfected, completed present state as a result of past action. Thus, a perfected, completed present state of “charis,” or “grace,” as a result of past action.

    “mene” – Greek passive participle suffix indicates action performed on subject by another. Thus, a perfected, completed present state of “charis,” or “grace,” as a result of the past action of another. As the speaker is the angel Gabriel, the “other” is God.

    Therefore, “chaire kecharitomene” means: “Hail, who has been perfectly and completely graced by God.” The common Catholic rendering, “full of grace,” while good, may actually fall short!”

    1. Hello Al,

      Thanks so much for this beautiful sharing. You are right: The common English rendition is far from the original. We do tend to water down the truth, don’t we?

      Thanks too for all your work and responses to Irked. They are filled with goodness and light.

      Regards for all good blessings this Lent.

      1. Thanks Margo,

        I was hoping to get to St. Josephs dignity and role, but I didn’t think this possible without a thorough understanding of the dignity of Mary… because we need to figure out his relationship to Mary to understand his statement regarding a just and quiet divorce.

        My own opinion is that Joseph knew from the beginning that Mary sought to live a life of chastity, and Joseph desired this for himself also. This is a traditional understanding originating in manuscripts going back to about 145 AD found in the ‘Protoevangelium of St. James’. If you haven’t yet read it it can be found here:

        http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm

        It is quite interesting, and shows that early Christians were curious about the relationship, and family life, of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It’s good to know about.

        Best to you,

        – Al

        1. Something a bit funny about the Protoevangelium of James. Martin Luther became a monk due in part to the influence of this work. This is because, after he was struck by lightning (enough to knock him off his feet) he made a vow to St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin and patron Saint of miners (his father was a copper miner) to become a monk if his life was spared by God. About 2-3 weeks later he fulfilled his vow.

          How does this relate to the ‘protoevangelium’? Because without this literary work neither Luther, nor any other Christian, would have the slightest idea of the name of the grandmother of Christ…which work reveals that it was St. Anne, and His grandfather, St. Joachim. And though it’s not considered ‘sacred scripture’, most Orthodox, and Catholics, believe that it provides ‘some’ truthful accounts that a wide swath of early Christians, throughout the Roman Empire, believed to be true back in the 2nd century AD.

          ….And who would have ever thought that ‘Raggedy Anne’ was related to the ‘protoevangelium’….as is any other person, fictional or not, named ‘Anne’? 🙂

        2. Hi Al,
          Wow. I am in awe of some type of symmetry happening here. I think you are/were on the right track in the relationship angle. How can we understand the Incarnation without Mary?

          I am a dyed-in-the-wool-cradle Marianist but never gave much thought to Joseph. (Probably because I was the only female selfish child among four unruly brothers and a very distant and dour father. But my mother taught me the Rosary and the love of and for Mary.) Anyway, this whole post brought me face-to-face with Joseph. I have made novenas to him (one of my poor brothers is named so), but I never rightly understood or questioned the concept of Joseph’s being “just.’

          Picking up a book by a 20th C. German Catholic philosopher, Josef (coincidence?!) Pieper entitled “The Four Cardinal Virtues,” I today learned much about justice. Pieper is a scholastic a la Thomas Aquinas. He writes with clarity and wisdom. Here is a snippet (p. 65, Univ. Notre Dame Press, 1966):

          Thomas says justice claims a higher rank [among the cardinal virtues] because it not only orders man in himself but also the life of men together. Justice reaches out beyond the individual subject, because in a certain sense it is itself the bonum alterius, the “good of another.” ….For it is in the nature of good to be ‘diffusivum sui,” not to be limited to its place of origin but to pour itself out, to work outside itself, to be shared with others, to shine forth. Pray for us, St. Joseph the Just.

          I too believe that Joseph knew and accepted the betrothal of Mary intending a lifetime of virginity. I believe he saw his role as guardian and protector, not a man seeking a family or pleasures of marriage. I believe he sought to do God’s will but was not as advanced in holiness as Mary. Confronted by the divine presence, his reaction was like Peter’s when he saw the plenitude of fish from the boat: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”

          With all best wishes for a blessed Lent.
          Margo

    2. Al,

      I want to preface this by saying I’m no Greek scholar. But the flipside is that I have no idea whether L. Juergenson is, either, or how reliable his interpretation here is.

      On the other hand, the folks behind a lot of modern translations are Greek scholars, and the guys who did the NIV, the NLT, the ESV, the NASB, the KJV, and the ISV, among others, all use the “highly favored” language. (For reference’s sake.) Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (reference) follows suit, with the defition “I favor, bestow freely on.” Similarly, the Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon (reference) translates the word as “to be highly favored” – and even references Luke 1:28 as an example!

      There’s certainly a sense of “grace” to these meanings, in that the favor is an unmerited act – that is, Mary has been graciously given something she doesn’t deserve – but I don’t think that’s the sense in which you’re using the phrase. Can you point me to some well-regarded Greek scholars who would reject “highly favored” as a translation?

      1. Hi Irked,

        I also am not a greek scholar, but have read many discussions on the topic on-line. Just by Googling “chaire kecharitomene” will bring a wealth of discussion on the subject. Protestants seem to gravitate towards your preferred interpretation, do to a general bias against Catholic theology regarding the Blessed Virgin. But, many discussions, with citations, also support the interpretation i cited above…or very similar to it.

        And another proof of the traditional Catholic interpretation can be found in Church history, wherein many ‘Fathers of the Church’ before 500 AD comment in various ways on Luke 1:28. These also should not be ignored, as most of these ‘Fathers’ were well versed the greek language, and understood the faith well in their era. I might also note, again, the ‘Protoevangelium of James’ as an early testimony of popular conceptions of Mary at the early date of about 150AD. Even if this work is not scriptural, it does teach something about the early mind set of the Christians of the early centuries.

        Here are a few examples:

        The Greek Fathers

        “Here are a number of ancient experts and what they say it means; each of them is a Greek-speaker from a culture basically identical to that of St. Luke; there are a couple repeats from the previous thread, but from them I give new material, too; the passages are expositions by the authors of the meaning of Luke 1:28, generally centered on chaire, Kecharitomene:

        Gregory Thaumaturgus (205-270 AD):

        O purest one
        O purest virgin
        where the Holy Spirit is, there are all things readily ordered.
        Where divine grace is present
        the soil that, all untilled, bears bounteous fruit
        in the life of the flesh, was in possession of the incorruptible citizenship,
        and walked as such in all manner of virtues, and lived a life more excellent than man’s common standard
        thou hast put on the vesture of purity
        has selected thee as the holy one and the wholly fair;
        and through thy holy, and chaste, and pure, and undefiled womb
        since of all the race of man thou art by birth the holy one,
        and the more honourable, and the purer, and the more pious than any other:
        and thou hast a mind whiter than the snow, and a body made purer than any gold

        Akathist hymn (5th or 6th century AD):

        Hail, O you, through whom Joy will shine forth!
        Hail, O you, through whom the curse will disappear!
        Hail, O Restoration of the Fallen Adam!
        Hail, O Redemption of the Tears of Eve!
        Hail, O Peak above the reach of human thought!
        Hail, O Depth even beyond the sight of angels!
        Hail, O you who have become a Kingly Throne!
        Hail, O you who carry Him Who Carries All!
        Hail, O Star who manifest the Sun!
        Hail, O Womb of the Divine Incarnation!
        Hail, O you through whom creation is renewed!
        Hail, O you through whom the Creator becomes a Babe!
        Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

        Theodotus of Ancyra (early 5th century AD):

        Hail, our desirable gladness;
        Hail, O rejoicing of the churches;
        Hail, O name that breathes out sweetness;
        Hail, face that radiates divinity and grace;
        Hail, most venerable memory;
        Hail, O spiritual and saving fleece;
        Hail, O Mother of unsetting splendor, filled with light;
        Hail, unstained Mother of holiness;
        Hail, most limpid font of the lifegiving wave;
        Hail, new Mother, workshop of the birth.
        Hail, ineffable mother of a mystery beyond understanding;
        Hail, new book of a new Scripture, of which, as Isaiah tells, angels and men are faithful witnesses;
        Hail, alabaster jar of sanctifying ointment;
        Hail, best trader of the coin of virginity;
        Hail, creature embracing your Creator;
        Hail, little container containing the Uncontainable.
        (Homily 4:3; PG 77:1391B-C; Gambero, page 267-8)

        “In the place of Eve, an instrument of death, is chosen a Virgin, most pleasing to God and full of His grace, as an instrument of life. A Virgin included in woman’s sex, but without a share in woman’s fault. A Virgin innocent; immaculate; free from all guilt; spotless; undefiled; holy in spirit and body; a lily among thorns.” (Theodotus, Hom 6 in S. Deiparam, No 11; PG 77:1427A) or another translation: “Innocent virgin, spotless, without defect, untouched, unstained, holy in body and in soul, like a lily flower sprung among thorns, unschooled in the wickedness of Eve, unclouded by womanly vanity…Even before the Nativity, she was consecrated to the Creator…Holy apprentice, guest in the Temple, disciple of the law, anointed by the Holy Spirit, clothed with divine grace as with a cloak, divinely wise in your mind; united to God in your heart…Praiseworthy in your speech, even more praiseworthy in your action…God in the eyes of men, better in the sight of God.” (Theodotus, Hom 6:11; Gambero, page 268)”

        Citation from: http://www.biblicalcatholic.com/apologetics/a116.htm

        1. Hi Al,

          I also am not a greek scholar, but have read many discussions on the topic on-line. Just by Googling “chaire kecharitomene” will bring a wealth of discussion on the subject. Protestants seem to gravitate towards your preferred interpretation, do to a general bias against Catholic theology regarding the Blessed Virgin. But, many discussions, with citations, also support the interpretation i cited above…or very similar to it.

          I was trying hard in my reply to not just appeal to scholars of Protestantism. Liddell-Scott, for instance, is a general dictionary of ancient Greek, not a specifically biblical reference – and from the little I understand, it’s one of the very few top ancient Greek dictionaries. I’d really appreciate it, where we have a purely academic concern (i.e., “What does this Greek word mean?”), if we can restrict our sources to known scholars in the field – it’s very easy to find discussions online that say all manner of things, but finding something where we can tell that the speaker knows his business is a little trickier.

          But all that said, let’s look at the link that you provided. Let’s look at the one* Greek scholar in the link you provided, A.T. Robertson, who says:

          ” ‘Highly favoured’ … The Vulgate gratiae plena [full of grace] “is right, if it means ‘full of grace which thou hast received’; wrong, if it means ‘full of grace which thou hast to bestow’ “

          Yes, absolutely! That says exactly what the scholars I cited said: that a natural rendering of the word is “highly favored,” and that “full of grace” only works in the sense of “person to whom God has shown lots of grace.”

          But that Mary has been shown much grace does not suggest that, as in your post waaaaaay up at the top, that, “Her wisdom and holiness, therefore, was and is beyond comprehension,” or that “The words ‘Full of Grace’ signify an incomprehensible dignity.” And it’s for that reason that I was shying away from your wording – because you seem to be reading something from that specific construction that’s not really intended, as indeed Robertson warns against in your article.

          Would you agree that “you who are highly favored” conveys the same meaning as “full of grace,” here – and that in neither case is it a commentary on Mary’s overflowing virtue? If so, I don’t think we have anything to argue about on this point.

          * – This isn’t directly relevant to our conversation, but in the interest of “just the facts, ma’am”: your article mistakenly claims a quote is from Blass & Debrunner’s A Greek Grammar of the New Testament. It is not, at least as far as I can tell; the quote actually originates with Dave Armstrong of the Patheos blog. You can find Armstrong clarifying some of the confusion on this point at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2013/02/dialogue-on-immaculate-conception-with.html.

          I like what little I’ve read of Armstrong’s stuff, but by his own admission he’s a Catholic apologist and not a Greek scholar. That leaves A.T. Robertson as the only actual Greek-to-English expert in the list – and again, Robertson seems to agree with all those I cited.

    1. “I think he’s nicer and more patient than me, though.”

      …that’s because KO, CK,AK, De Maria, ABS….all the smart guys…haven’t engaged him much yet. I’m just part of the JV team. 🙂 ……But at least I love the Lord and His Church!

    2. Hi Craig,

      I can’t believe you were not nice! I’ve only read a handful of your posts, but I found a lot to like in some of Irked’s posts. (Spoiler alert to Irked: Here follow some compliments which may lead to pride.) Irked has great ease in back-tracking, has a ready apology and is stubborn yet engaging and agile. He also has some skill at writing and is able and willing to say what he thinks.

      What exactly is a shadow handle?? I’ve got the gist of meaning, but I’ve never heard the term.

      God bless.

      1. Margo,

        I think sometimes I enjoyed arguing too much, my own pride at work. I do not sense that pride in Irked (and may we pray that this observation will not become grounds for that either.)

        A shadow handle (more commonly called a “sockpuppet”) is simply someone posting under two different names. Usually they do so because the former name was banned or they want it to appear that someone else agrees with them. In this circumstance, it would be a very strange situation for there to be a “sock-puppet,” but it’s the internet, who knows? I just find it ironic that the very moment I decide to publicly make it known I will be converting to Orthodoxy (by the grace of God, I am only beginning) that someone almost exactly like me, quoting 1 Clement in his first replies, comes to carry my old torch.

        Very interesting indeed.

        Thank you for the good conversation all!

        God bless,
        Craig

        1. Divine Providence is like that. And happens on a daily basis for those who are sensitive to it. The Lord is good to his servants. Conflict often reaps benefits for all parties. At least this was the case with most all of you comments at this blog. I can’t imagine that anyone was not benefited by them. And I think you should keep being critical when the Holy Spirit leads you to be. As Jesus says…”But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.”

          Best to you,

          -Al

          P.S. Yes, I guess I’m a ‘softie’. But Jesus was also called a ‘lamb’ of God… so I guess I’m in good company! 🙂

  7. One last argument for the ‘necessity’ of Mary to be ‘singularly holy’ in her vocation as Mother of God, as compared to a ‘more or less normal teenager’ in any particular age:

    We know from scripture that no one is to receive the Eucharist (the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ) in a careless, haphazard, ignorant or unfaithful way, i.e:

    “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.”(1 Cor.11:29)

    And Mary was singular among all persons to have ever lived, as she was a living ‘tabernacle’ of God, Jesus Christ, having the body of the Lord being formed from her very flesh, and then nourished and growing in her womb until His birth.

    If the saying of St. Paul applies to every Christian… who all are to receive Jesus Christ worthily in the sacrament of the Eucharist, how could it be conceived that the complete worthiness of Mary was not a similar requirement by God, under pain of condemnation, because she, in a likewise and maybe even a greater way (the incarnation of God), received Christ into her own flesh in pregnancy even as those who receive the Lord in the Holy Eucharist?

    That is, regular Christians according to St. Paul are forbidden to receive the Eucharist with grave sin on their souls under pain of the condemnation from God. Mary would have needed to be prepared similarly by the Lord to have the body and blood of Jesus present within her for the entire duration of her pregnancy…not for merely the few minutes of a regular Christians’ Holy Communion. So, that Mary would not reap condemnation for receiving the Lord unworthily into her flesh worthily, she would necessarily have needed to be prepared by God to avoid a similar condemnation to that which St. Paul describes for holy communicants.

    And I would think that this applies to Joseph also, but to a lesser degree. And this is because of his very close proximity to the physical body of the Messiah on a daily basis for decades of his life?

    1. So I could answer this in a couple of ways; let me be brief in them. First, Paul’s addressing an issue of presumption: people are eating the bread that’s the sign of their covenant with Christ while living in a way that denies their covenant with Christ. Their actions claim Jesus as Savior (“Yes, yes, His body, broken to save me!”) but not as Lord, and in that they bring punishment on themselves. That’s not true of Mary in either of our views; her pregnancy is not a presumption on her part, or something she lays claim to, but a gift that she’s given.

      Second, can we agree that we need to be cautious in applying words drastically outside the context they were meant to address? That’s a process that can be used to justify all sorts of bad theology. In this case, Paul has in mind a specific problem (i.e., “How should we take communion?”), he condemns a specific action (i.e., eating and drinking unworthily), and he speaks to those under a specific covenant (i.e., Christians). But Mary isn’t part of that problem; not to put too fine a point on it, but she doesn’t eat or drink Jesus; and she isn’t even under the same set of covenant rules, as Jesus hasn’t yet died. Again, if the extrapolation you present across all those bounds is fair, we can use similar extensions to justify all kinds of erroneous things.

      Finally, I don’t think the bread and wine of communion are the literal flesh and blood of Christ, which sort of takes this argument off the table (as it were) entirely. But I would also really really really like to not extend this conversation into the Eucharist, given how much we’ve already said in the last few days, so please forgive me if I’m a bit circumspect in that direction.

      1. Hi Irked,

        I think I’ll do my own research on this topic. As you say, the discussion has been a long one.

        But I’ve both enjoyed it and have spiritually benefited by it. So, thanks for contributing.

        Best to you in the Lord,

        – Al

      2. Good day Irked,

        I didn’t get to a crux in our earlier discussion–the idea of worth, merit, and inequality.

        From a naturally human perspective, we look forward to a significant event–wedding is a good example. You are married, so you know, right? Our anticipation involves much preparation. Prior to the marriage we study well and obtain a decent job (if we’re wise). Catholics attend prenuptial class. Prior to the big day itself, we rehearse, and prior to that, the women shop for new (everything!) and attend showers. (There is the old yet new symbolism of water again!) There is often an engagement, with the man purchasing a beautiful expensive ring for which he probably works long extra hours. And the dating process involves many walks and talks, meals, activities, events, always with primping and cleansing, hoping to make a good impression, being on one’s best behavior so one will obtain the partner of one’s dreams.

        In much the same way, do we not anticipate the meshing of our lives with our Lords? Does not most of the country think about Christmas and Easter and go into a tizzy cleaning, cooking, decorating? We prepare ourselves. Look at the mind-numbing rules of law about cleansing and purification and sacrifice in the first five books of Hebrew Scripture.

        Preparation and cleansing, purification and ‘worth’ are important to the faithful and to God, are they not?

        Now there is ‘inequality.’ If I hope to marry a man of a social station far above my own, ought I not prepare? Read the books of etiquette, practice my posture, learn the difference between a soup spoon and a ladle?

        If I hope for the Lord to please send my Messiah, ought I not prepare spiritually? Ought I not try to purify myself? He is so unequal to me. He is my creator, and I am his creature.

        Just some thoughts.
        Best wishes for a great day.

        1. Hi Margo,

          Certainly each of us is to “do your to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” These are good thoughts, but I’m not sure how they relate to our current conversation?

  8. HAPPY FEAST OF THE ANNUNCIATION EVERYBODY!

    After 5 days of meditation on the subject, I for one am ready to celebrate it and rejoice that Our Blessed Lady did what St. Elizabeth honored her for, that being:

    “And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.”

    We know that Elizabeth’s husband Zachary did not immediately believe the same angel Gabriel when he spoke about the coming of John the Baptist, and was struck dumb because of this doubt. And so, Elizabeth appreciates well the exalted faith of the Blessed Virgin, which great faith brought God’s Son and salvation to the world!

    So, this is truly one of the greatest feast days to celebrate, the incarnation of God into the world by the faith of a humble virgin named Mary!!

  9. Wisdom,

    Hoping you’ll respond to the angel directly confronting Joseph’s fear.

    Also, the ‘adultery’ line of thinking suggests that our image of God is skewed and flawed by our sinful nature. We find it difficult to accept that our almighty and all loving God could find a devout, just, believing yet frightened by self-doubt and unworthiness to be the foster father of His only begotten incarnate son. It is easier for us to see Joseph as a man like us. “It’s Mary’s fault. She got herself knocked up while I was away.” Our material sinfulness excludes miracles. And that is our problem, 2000 years after our Saviour’s rise from the hell of earth, rolling back the stone of sin. May God forgive us all.

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