Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Joseph in the Apocrypha

 "The Espousals of the Virgin," Raphael
 (see here for more on the espousal of the Virgin)

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the Church.  St. Joseph receives extensive discussion in apocryphal literature such as the "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."  These non-canonical texts have no authority, and it is impossible to sift their trustworthy contents from those that are false.  However, though unreliable, these stories have a certain interest.  From The Catholic Encyclopedia, here is a summary of the story of St. Joseph's marriage as related in the apocryphal writings:

"When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, "the Lord's brother"). A year after his wife's death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place. These dreams, as St. Jerome styles them, from which many a Christian artist has drawn his inspiration (see, for instance, Raphael's "Espousals of the Virgin"), are void of authority; they nevertheless acquired in the course of ages some popularity; in them some ecclesiastical writers sought the answer to the well-known difficulty arising from the mention in the Gospel of "the Lord's brothers"; from them also popular credulity has, contrary to all probability, as well as to the tradition witnessed by old works of art, retained the belief that St. Joseph was an old man at the time of marriage with the Mother of God."

St. Joseph, pray for us. 

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