While Mary, our Heavenly Mother and Queen, has been rightly showered with special love and devotion by the faithful throughout the centuries, St. Joseph has often been relegated to the shadows – especially in this era of great struggle following the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, it would seem that even this is in accordance with God's plan, for it has been said by various saints and mystics that increased devotion to St. Joseph is something that would be reserved for the latter ages of the Church.
While very little is said about St. Joseph in the pages of Holy Scripture, there is still a large body of teaching concerning this great Saint in the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and in the oral tradition of our faith. In fact, while much of this teaching is in the realm of speculative theology because it has not been officially pronounced as infallible doctrine by the Church, there is a consistent stream of theological thought dating from Apostolic times that attributes many of the same prerogatives to St. Joseph that have been attributed to Our Lady. One of these is the carefully considered possibility that, like Mary, St. Joseph has been assumed body and soul into Heaven as a reward for his great service to God and the unique role that he played in the earthly life of our Saviour.
What follows below is a chapter from The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph in which the author, Edward Healy Thompson, a 19th century convert from Anglicanism, lays out the argument for the Assumption of St. Joseph using the writings of many of the Fathers, Doctors, and Church theologians who have spoken on this subject over the years. The theology is sound, and it serves to give one a greater appreciation for the holiness, humble power, and great dignity of the foster-father of our Lord. While the entire book should be read to gain a complete understanding of Joseph's role in Salvation History, this chapter serves as the crowning touch to everything that comes before.
One of the key factors in the Assumption of Our Lady being declared an infallible dogma of the faith by Pope Pius XII in 1950 was the desire of the laity to see her solemnly honored in this way. Though Mary's Assumption had been taught and believed for many centuries, doubt was being cast upon it by those inside and outside the Church and her great dignity was being diminished.
In keeping with this theme, it is my hope that the current presentation on the Assumption of Saint Joseph will ignite a spark in the hearts and minds of the faithful that will blaze a trail to Rome and to the desk of our Holy Father, himself. If so, then perhaps this, too, will be declared an infallible dogma of the faith within our lifetime and will usher in the great era of devotion to St. Joseph and the many blessings and graces for the Church Militant that will accompany it. SM
GOD proportions His graces to the office with which He entrusts a man, and his glory in Heaven will be proportioned to the fidelity with which he has discharged it. If this be true, and it is undoubtedly true, what must be the glory of Joseph! To whom was ever committed an office which for its sublimity could be compared to that for which our saint was chosen? And who can question his faithful correspondence with the high graces which he must have received in order to its due discharge? Well, therefore, may we address him, as do the United Greeks in one of their hymns, by the singular epithet of "more than a saint," or, rather, as "preeminently a saint," by the superexcellence of the graces he received from Heaven and his perfect correspondence with those graces.
So far, then, from its being rash to hold that Joseph surpasses all the saints in glory, even as he exceeded them in grace, the learned Suarez is of the opinion that it is a belief both full of piety and in itself most highly probable. Many other eminent ecclesiastical authorities might be quoted in support of the same view, but the name of Suarez may suffice to warrant our conviction of what recommends itself even to our natural reason. Moreover, if it be once conceded that Joseph, being specially associated with the mystery of the Incarnation, was constituted in a higher order than any other, however exalted, in the hierarchy of the Church, namely, that of the Hypostatic Union, it follows that no comparison can be attempted between him and other saints, because he possessed a different and more eminent kind of sanctity.
And this is no new opinion in the Church. We need not wonder, then, if the Blessed Veronica of Milan,1 when rapt in ecstasy and raised in spirit to behold the glories of the empyrean, distinguished the incomparable Joseph exalted above all the blessed; nor if a celebrated doctor of these later centuries 2 should have written that Jesus Christ denied the first seats in His kingdom to the ambitious pretensions of His disciples, James and John,3 because these places were reserved for Mary and Joseph; and was it not meet, indeed, that the Son of God should keep those nearest to Him in Heaven who had been nearest to Him on earth? We cannot well conceive that it could be otherwise.
"Was there ever any pure creature," says St. Francis de Sales, "so beloved of God or who better deserved that love than our Lady or St. Joseph?"4 All the Fathers of the Church are agreed that the Joseph of Genesis was a type of the most pure spouse of Mary, and that his brilliant exaltation over his brethren was a shadow of the glory of the second Joseph, and a kind of prophecy of what was to occur in his case. Is not this implicitly to concur in the doctrine of Suarez and of those other eminent authorities who expressly affirm the elevation of Joseph above all the saints in Paradise? Finally, the Church herself in her offices appears to favour and accredit this truth, by calling Joseph the honour and glory of the Blessed;5 words which imply his superiority.
But this superlative glory of Joseph's soul, although constituting his substantial and essential beatitude, is by no means all that appertains to that beatitude. Man being composed of a united soul and body, the happiness and glory of Heaven are promised to the body as well as to the soul, and form no inconsiderable portion of it. Now, we have every reason to be persuaded that Joseph truly rose from the grave, and, if so, that his body also shines with a luster and enjoys a bliss surpassing that which the bodies of other saints shall ever enjoy.
It is of faith that many bodies of the saints arose with the Incarnate Word, and that they appeared to numbers of persons in Jerusalem,6 giving them undoubted proofs that they were truly risen. Moreover, it is the opinion of St. Thomas and of well-nigh all the Doctors that these saints were not subject to death any more, but, after having for some time communicated on earth with the disciples of the Son of God, they, when the forty days were expired, followed Him in His Ascension to render His entrance into Heaven still more brilliant and glorious.
It seems scarcely necessary to allude to the idea entertained by some as possible, that these saints returned into their tombs after rendering their testimony. With all respect to those who have favoured this notion, among whom are some honoured names, not only is it to our mind in every way repulsive, but it seems to destroy the value of the testimony itself, seeing that their bodies were to return to dust. Dismissing, then, a conjecture unworthy, as it appears to us, of the goodness of God and of the great work which Jesus had achieved when He rose triumphant from the grave and, ascending into Heaven, led captivity captive,7 and displayed the trophies of His victory in these first children of the Resurrection, let us ask ourselves who of all the ancient saints were likely to form a portion of this chosen band.
St. Matthew, wholly occupied in relating what immediately regards our Lord Himself and in establishing our faith in the principal mysteries which concern Him, has neither specified the number of those who were called to share the Redeemer's triumph over death, nor given the name of any one among them; he simply says that they were "many". We, therefore, naturally conclude that certain great patriarchs and prophets of the Old Law must have been thus chosen. But which of these patriarchs or prophets, however magnificent the promises made to them or declared by them, however high in the favour of God they may have stood, could be compared for greatness and dignity with Joseph, to whom it was given to be a father to Him who is the God of all the patriarchs and prophets, and to feed, support, and protect Him who created and sustains all things? Could these ancient saints be selected for the glory of the Resurrection and Joseph left in the tomb? But, more than all, how can we believe that this loving Saviour, who gives life to whom He will,8 and therefore had the power to choose whom He would to share His glory in body as well as soul, can have called from their graves this multitude of His servants and friends and omitted His dearly-loved father? Impossible! No proof seems required to establish a fact which, so to say, proves itself by its simple statement.
Isolano, among the Oriental traditions which he collected, gives a touching instance of the love with which Jesus spoke of Joseph while on earth, saying to His disciples, to whom the knowledge of His divine origin had already been revealed: "I conversed with Joseph in all things as if I had been his child. He called Me son, and I called him father; and I loved him as the apple of My eye."
These and similar legends represent, if they do no more, the current opinion in the East in days near to the Gospel times. We gather from them more or less of evidence confirmatory of our conviction that Jesus did not regard His apparently close relationship to Joseph as a mere shield or mask, but recognized a real relationship therein, which, though not of the natural order, was none the less endearing. And, if we are to credit the revelations of saints, in Heaven this relationship still endures, and He still calls Joseph father. Appearing one day to Marina de Escobar, accompanied by the saint, He said to her: "See, here is My father, and whom I regarded as such upon earth; what think you of him?" It was, we might almost say—if it be permitted to do so without irreverence—as if He were proud of him, proud of having had him for a father on earth, and desirous to show this holy soul his glory.
The Bollandists also relate how Jesus appeared one day to St. Margaret of Cortona, and told her He took great pleasure in her devotion to His foster-father, Joseph, who was most dear to Him, and expressed His wish that she should every day pay him some special act of homage.9 The heart melts with tenderness at such thoughts, even as it recoils from the idea that the close bond between Jesus and Joseph was only temporary, and merely ordained for a passing object. If, then, that bond still exists, assuredly Joseph is with Him in body as well as soul as truly as he was in the workshop of Nazareth, where they worked by each other's side for so many years.
St. Bernardine of Siena, that glory of the Seraphic Order and great lover of Joseph, in the admirable sermon which he delivered in honour of the Saint, after declaring his conviction that Joseph enjoyed the same privilege as Mary in the resurrection of his body, concludes with saying that, as this Holy Family—that is, Christ, the Virgin, and Joseph—had been united in a laborious life and in loving grace while on earth, so also their bodies and souls reign together in Heaven in loving glory, according to that Apostolic rule: "As you are partakers of the sufferings, so shall you be also of the consolation ".10
Gerson, after saying that words fail him worthily to extol that admirable Trinity—Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—adds that, after Mary, Joseph is nearest to Jesus in Heaven, even as, after her, he was nearest on earth. P. Giovanni Osorio will not hear of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph being divided in Heaven, or of any one being nearer to Mary in glory than her most sweet spouse, nor nearer to Jesus, after Mary, than His reputed father, since on earth there were none so closely united as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Isidoro de Isolano, whom we have just quoted, also says that Joseph, spouse of Mary, arrayed in two robes like the ancient Joseph—that is, with the blessedness of his soul and body—accompanied Jesus in His Ascension into Heaven, and sat down next to the King of Glory,11 that place being, according to Cartagena, on His left hand, the right being reserved for Mary.
It would be long to quote all the concurrent opinions of the learned and the holy, but we cannot omit that of Suarez. After saying much in praise of St. Joseph, he adds that, according to the sufficiently received belief, it was probable that he was reigning gloriously with Christ in Heaven, both in body and in soul.12 If Suarez could call this a sufficiently received belief more than two hundred years ago, what would he have styled it at the present time, when it is held well-nigh universally?
Finally, we must content ourselves with citing the opinions of two saints of these later ages, St. Francis de Sales and St. Leonard of Port Maurice. The former, after speaking at some length of the resurrection of Joseph, thus concludes: "St. Joseph is, therefore, in Heaven in body and in soul; of that there is no doubt".13 And St. Leonard, in pronouncing his eulogium, exclaims that Joseph was transported in body and in soul to the empyrean by a particular privilege, which appears to be indicated in the Proverbs, where it is said that all of her (Mary's) household are "clothed with double garments,"14 which interpreters have understood as signifying the twofold glorification of soul and body.
But let us look at the subject from another point of view. Our Divine Lord in calling from the grave this multitude of saints intended them, as the Master of Theologians teaches,15 to serve as witnesses to the reality of His own Resurrection, in order that the disciples and the rest of the faithful should not imagine that it was a phantom who had appeared to them, but should firmly believe that it was truly He Himself, Jesus of Nazareth, whom they beheld. We know how hard of belief they were, and how, when they saw Him walking on the Sea of Galilee, notwithstanding all the wonders they had witnessed, they had cried out for fear, imagining it was an apparition.16 And, although He had repeatedly told them He should rise from the grave, they refused at first to credit the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the other women; nay, Thomas refused to believe the word of the other ten Apostles, declaring that unless he had ocular and tangible proof he would not believe.
Now, the Resurrection of Christ was, we may say, the very cornerstone of Christianity. It was that which the Apostles were to be sent forth pre-eminently to teach. "If Christ be not risen again," says St. Paul writing to the Corinthians, "then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."17 As, then, the Apostles were to preach this truth to the world, Jesus made use of these risen saints to confirm their faith in His Resurrection; they were to be to the Apostles what the Apostles were afterwards to be to all the nations of the earth. Angels were employed by Him for the same purpose, declaring it to the women on that first Easter morn, and showing them His open sepulchre.18 But the Son of God desired also to have the testimony of men, and that, not only to His own Resurrection, but to His power to raise from the dead whomsoever He would. He, therefore, by His divine omnipotence and the virtue of His victory over the grave, raised to life the bodies of His dearest friends to overcome the incredulity of His followers. But was there any among them whose testimony would have been more credible than that of Joseph? What patriarch or prophet of the Old Testament could have given the witness to Jesus that the spouse of Mary could give? Abraham beheld Him in spirit from afar, but Joseph saw Him with his bodily eyes in his own house for many years. David prophesied the coming of the Incarnate Word, and described His principal actions, but Joseph had received Him into his arms when He came into the world, and took part in almost all the mysteries of His life.
If Joseph, then, who, according to this pious belief, was certainly among the risen saints, could have said to the Apostles, "This is the true Son of Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the only Saviour of men; this is truly He whom I saw born in a stable, the same whom I circumcised, whom I carried into Egypt, whom for a long time I sustained by my labour, and who laboured with me in my workshop at Nazareth, He is the same, doubt it not, disciples of Jesus," must not this testimony, given by one who was also personally known to them, have been a more convincing proof of the Saviour's Resurrection than what all the Fathers of the Old Testament could furnish?
The Spirit of God had taught us by the mouth of prophets the eternal generation of the Son of God, angels proclaimed His temporal generation when He was born in Bethlehem, but to Joseph was given the honour of declaring to the nascent Church what may be called the immortal generation of Jesus, that is, His Resurrection from the dead by the power of the Spirit.19 All that the other resuscitated saints might say could not have had such persuasive efficacy as would have had the testimony of Joseph risen from the dead. May we not be permitted to apply to him the words of Ecclesiasticus respecting the ancient Patriarch: "His bones were visited, and after death they prophesied,"20 or preached? Whatever may be their meaning as regards the elder Joseph—for no tradition has reached us of any wonder or miracle wrought by his precious relics—they were amply verified in the great saint, his prototype, if, indeed, it were given to him to publish to the Apostles the Resurrection of the Saviour, and, through them, as we may say, to preach to the whole Church.
Jesus is the Bread of Life, of which whosoever partakes shall have eternal life. Hence the Fathers often call the Flesh of Jesus Life-giving Flesh. Contact with It in the Holy Eucharist pours graces into our souls and deposits the germ of our future glorified bodies. If this be so, we may consider, with St. Francis de Sales, that Joseph, having enjoyed the honour of being so closely united to Jesus, of kissing Him devoutly, embracing Him tenderly, and bearing Him so often folded in his arms, must have had a sufficient title to an anticipated resurrection. The Flesh of Jesus is like a heavenly magnet to draw to Itself the bodies of those who have been honoured and sanctified by Its touch. Were they as dry and heavy as the clods of earth which cover them, the Son of God promises them the agility of eagles to fly to Him when, at His second coming, His voice shall be heard by them in their graves: "Wheresoever the Body is, there shall the eagles be gathered together".21 But can earth have detained the body of holy Joseph until the consummation of ages, whose union with the Saviour had been so close and so endearing?
St. Augustine—or whoever may be the author of the Treatise on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin—and other Fathers of the Church give as a reason for believing in the resurrection of Mary that it would have been indecorous that the body of one who was so closely united to Jesus, of whose flesh He had taken flesh, and who had rendered Him so many services, should have remained the slave of death until the end of the world. Now, what is pre-eminently true of the Mother of God applies in large measure to him whom Jesus called His father on earth, and who served Him with such matchless devotion; so that we may readily believe or, rather, we are irresistibly led to believe, that he who was more intimately united to Him than was any other saint must thence have derived a right superior to that of all others to share the bliss and glory of His risen Body.
The ancient Joseph, when about to die, besought his brethren not to leave his remains in Egypt, but to bear them to the promised land; and Moses faithfully fulfilled the last will of the Patriarch, and carried the relics of this holy man into Palestine.22 We see here a figure of Joseph, the spouse of Mary, who, when at the point of death, full of confidence in the Saviour's love, recommended, not his soul only, but his body, to that dear Son, who gave it His blessing; and that blessing was a promise. Jesus, who had so often sweetly reposed upon the bosom of Joseph, who had nurtured, defended, and toiled for Him during thirty years, would not leave Him in the Egypt of this world, but, when he passed to the promised land, took him with Him into Heaven, there to enjoy without delay the fullness of eternal bliss. Thus may we say with the Prophet that Joseph had "a double portion"23 in that true land of promise, the blessedness of the body as well as of the soul.
Many other reasons might be alleged in support of this belief, and in particular the desire of Mary. When the Blessed Virgin rose from the sepulchre on the day of her glorious Assumption, would she, so to say, have been satisfied had she not seen her chaste spouse, Joseph, similarly glorified? The most pure and holy marriage of Joseph with Mary was, like his paternity, to endure forever. It was ordained in connection with the Incarnation of the Word, and, as that mystery was still subsisting, and would subsist throughout eternity, so was it also with this alliance.
The Word espoused human nature to Himself forever, and Joseph was united forever with the Most Blessed Virgin; and, as death did not sever the tie which united the Word to the Body and Soul which He had taken, so neither did it sever the tie which bound together the hearts of Mary and Joseph. She loved him, and will love him as her spouse for all eternity, and must therefore have ardently desired the full completion of his bliss. Even if the loving heart of Jesus had not shared that desire, He must have yielded to the solicitations of her at whose request, for a motive immeasurably less pressing, He had changed the water into wine at the marriage-feast of Cana. St. Peter Damian has left on record his opinion that St. John the Evangelist is risen and glorified both in body and soul in Heaven, because he was like to Mary in virginal purity, and so intimately associated with her that we cannot conceive the one being raised without the other.24 But how incomparably more weight such reasons have in favour of her virgin spouse!
Further, we may confidently hold that, had this venerable body been left on earth, God would never have allowed it to remain concealed, and thus to be deprived of the honour given to the relics of saints much inferior to him. Ecclesiastical history frequently alludes to miracles which it pleased the Lord to work in order to the discovery of the precious remains of many of His servants, that men might render them due veneration, transport them to their churches, place them under their altars, and honour them with religious cultus. But of Joseph nothing remains save the ring he placed on Mary's finger on the day of their espousals, for the possession of which two cities have contended, and a few fragments of his garments, to which pious homage is still paid.
Angels were charged to bear the Holy House of Nazareth into Catholic lands, that it might not be left in the possession of infidels; and, if God thus willed that this material tenement should be preserved and honoured, is it conceivable that He should have abandoned the body of him who was the owner of that house and the pure spouse of His Blessed Mother, and left it all these centuries in the cold grasp of death? We have every reason, then, to conclude from such facts as these that earth no longer possesses the body of our saint. Indeed, a latent, if not a positive and declared conviction, seems to have dwelt in the hearts of the great body of the faithful, when visiting his sepulchre in the Valley of Josaphat nigh to that of his most holy spouse,25 that, like her, he is not there, but is glorified in body as well as soul.
Many learned doctors, and among them (as we have said) St. Francis de Sales, consider that several of the alleged reasons for his anticipated resurrection amount to demonstration. Nay, God Himself seems to have authorized the belief by a striking miracle; for when St. Bernardine of Siena, preaching in Padua, declared that the body and soul of Joseph were both glorified in Heaven, a rich cross of gold was seen to shine over the head of the preacher, proving to the very eyes of those who surrounded him the truth which he was conveying to their ears. The pious Bernardine de Bustis, who was himself a witness of this marvel, also most firmly held that Joseph rose from the grave with Christ and, along with the risen Saviour, went to visit his holy spouse, and is now enjoying eternal life and glory ineffable, soul and body, in their company.26
How great the glory of the beatified body of Joseph may be, it is beyond the power of our feeble imaginations to conceive. We only know that it must be proportioned to the glory of his soul. It is certain that the Body of the Lord, when He rose victorious from the grave, possessed such marvelous endowments and was adorned with such matchless splendour that all earthly magnificence and beauty is but a shadow of its glory. The living palace of the Incarnate Word, in which, as the Apostle says, "dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead corporally,"27 must needs thus be gifted and enriched. But Jesus was not only rich in Himself, but rich in order to impart His riches. His followers are to be partakers of it, each in his measure, and that measure, be it small or great, will include and, indeed, will consist in likeness to Himself. The beloved disciple, unable to describe the future blessedness of the sons of God, says, "It hath not yet appeared what we shall be," and then he adds, "We know that when He shall appear we shall be like to Him".28 That is all he could say; and it was the highest thing he could have said. That adorable Body being, indeed, the first and most perfect of all corporeal beauties, we cannot estimate the riches and glory of other bodies save by comparing them with this divine exemplar.
When the Son of God, then, was willed to raise His father Joseph with Him from the grave, we feel that He had what we might almost call a special obligation to grant him a singular likeness to Himself. Joseph had been very like to Him on earth, and it was fitting that he should be so in order to confirm the opinion that he was truly His father; and now, in the resurrection, Jesus enhances that likeness, not to establish, but to recompense the paternity of Joseph, and to preserve that just conformity in Heaven which was befitting the relationship subsisting between them, a relationship which, next to that which united Him to His immaculate Mother, was the most intimate and the most glorious.
When Joseph, therefore, entered Heaven on the Ascension Day, he presented to the eyes of the angels the most magnificent object, next to the Sacred Humanity of the Eternal Son, which they had ever beheld. Mary, their Queen, was, it is true, to shine with still more resplendent lustre, but never for a moment must we imagine that her arrival on the day of her Assumption caused the glory of her spouse to pale; on the contrary, it increased and intensified it through that celestial law of reflection of which we have the type and similitude in nature on this earth of ours. The bodies of all the saints will be invested with light, a light which emanates from the Lamb, who is the lamp and the sun of the New Jerusalem,29 but the Saviour and His most holy Mother will delight in causing the brightest beams of their glory to irradiate through all eternity the beatified body of Joseph, who, abiding ever in close proximity to the central splendours of the empyrean—the Sacred Humanity of the Incarnate Word and His most holy Mother—will be even penetrated with their light—as a precious metal glows with the same intenseness as the furnace in which it is plunged, or, like some pure mirror, which, confronted with the sun, faithfully repeats its image—a light too dazzling for mortal eyes to gaze upon. What more can we say? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the earthly Trinity, now together enthroned in the blaze of supernal glory, shine in that light eternal which by communication becomes, as it were, common to all three.
1 Declared Blessed by Leo X. Her life was written by Isidoro Isolano.
2 Cartagena, Lib. iv. Horn. viii.
3 St. Mark x. 35 40.
4 Entretien, iii.
5 "Coelitum Joseph decus."
6 St. Matthew xxvii. 51, 52.
7 Psalm lxvii. 19.
8 St. John v. 21.
9 Apud Bolland. die 22 Februarii.
10 2 Cor. i. 7.
11 In speaking of two robes, he alludes to the robe of silk with which Pharao invested the viceroy of Egypt, in addition to his own, when he placed him in his second chariot (Gen. xli. 42).
12 Tom. ii. in p. iii. S. Thomae, disp. viii. sec. ii. a. 2.
13 Entretien, xix, n. 22.
14 Prov. xxxi, 22. Panegir. di S. Giuseppe, n. 4.
15 “They rose, to die no more, because they rose to manifest the Ressurection of Christ.” --- St. Thomas, in Matthaeum, cap. xxvii.
16 St. Matthew xiv 25-27; St. Mark xi 48-50; xvi 11, 14; St. Luke xxiv 11; St. John xx 25.
17 1 Cor. xxv 14.
18 St. Matthew xxviii. 5, 6; St. Mark xvi. 6; St. Luke xxiv. 5-7.
19 Eom. viii. 11 ; Eph. i. 19.
20 Chap. xllx. 18.
21 St. Matthew xxiv. 28.
22 Gen. 1. 24 ; Exod. xiii. 19.
23 Ezekiel xlvii. 13.
24 Sermo ii. de S. Joseph.
25 Bode, Da Lucis Sanrtis, cap. lx.
26 Mariale, p. iv. Serm. Xii.
27 Col ii. 9.
28 1 St. John iii. 2.
29 Apoc. xxii. 5.