Saints for Today: Joseph, Foster Father of Jesus (1st c.)


Solemnity: March 19

The chief sources of information on the life of St. Joseph, described as a “just man”, are the first chapters of our first and third Gospels. They are practically also the only reliable sources on the holy patriarch’s life, as on many other points connected with the Saviour’s history which are left untouched by the canonical writings. While the apocryphal literature is full of details, the non-admittance of these works into the Canon of the Sacred Books casts a strong suspicion upon their contents; and, even granted that some of the facts recorded by them may be founded on trustworthy traditions, it is in most instances next to impossible to discern and sift these particles of true history from the fancies with which they are associated. Among these apocryphal productions dealing more or less extensively with some episodes of St. Joseph’s life may be noted the so-called “Gospel of James”, the “Pseudo-Matthew”, the “Gospel of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary”, the “Story of Joseph the Carpenter”, and the “Life of the Virgin and Death of Joseph”.

It is probably at Nazareth that Joseph betrothed and married her who was to become the Mother of God. When the marriage took place, whether before or after the Incarnation, is no easy matter to settle, and on this point the masters of exegesis have at all times been at variance. This marriage, true and complete, was, in the intention of the spouses, to be virgin marriage (cf. St. Augustine, “De cons. Evang.”, II, i in P.L. XXXIV, 1071-72; “Cont. Julian.”, V, xii, 45 in P.L. XLIV, 810; St. Thomas, III:28; III:29:2). But soon was the faith of Joseph in his spouse to be sorely tried: she was with child. However painful the discovery must have been for Joseph, unaware as he was of the mystery of the Incarnation, his delicate feelings forbade him to defame his affianced, and he resolved “to put her away privately; but while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. . . And Joseph, rising from his sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife” (Mt. 1:19, 20, 24). Therefore becoming the foster-father of Jesus Christ and Mary living in lawful wedlock with Joseph.

Aside from Joseph’s virtues as a father or a man of faith, it is also worthwhile to note Joseph’s status as a poor working man—a detail not without significance in the gospel. By receding before the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry he does not interfere with Jesus’ privileged relationship with the one he calls “Abba-Father.” Joseph remains in the text only as a reminder of Jesus’ humble origins. The last mention of Joseph in Scripture is the seeking for Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem. It is believed that he died before the Passion of the Christ.

In the sixteenth century official encouragement was extended to the devotion of St. Joseph. He began to figure more widely in popular preaching as the ideal “provider and protector.” The ninth-century Irish writer Feline of Oengus commemorates Joseph; St. Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa of Avila also helped to spread the devotion. In 1870 Blessed Pope Pius IX declared him Patron of the Universal Church. Besides his feast day on March 19 an additional feast, for St. Joseph the Worker, was assigned by Pope Pius XII on May 1. Joseph is depicted in liturgical art as an elderly man with a lily and is sometimes portrayed with the Christ Child or with the symbol of the carpenter’s trade. 


Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Ellsberg, Robert. “All Saints.” New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2010.
New Advent-Catholic Encyclopedia. Web. 19 March 2014.
Ott, Ludwig. “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.” Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1960.


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