Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Joseph: As the Virgin, Engenders the Physical Christ by Faith

It’s interesting to begin reading a pre-Vatican II treatise on St. Joseph in the light of John Paul II’s “Guardian of the Redeemer” that was written and given to the Church in 1989. The pre-Vatican II work is “Joseph Most Just” (1956) by Francis L. Filas, S.J., S.T.D. In the Introduction he says “This fatherhood of the Saint by no means implies that Joseph had generated Jesus. It represents an analogical use of the word. It refers to the spiritual bond which ideally should unite every natural father and son, a bond which normally is based on the generation of the son by the father. In the case of St. Joseph, since generation was absent, his bond to Jesus is something miraculous”[1] He goes on to say: “He [Jesus] becomes the miraculous fruit of the marriage, and on this score St. Joseph is called Jesus’ father in the moral order, by right of marriage. Such a fatherhood is concerned not with the physical act of generation but with the reception of Jesus and with His rearing. He goes on say: “Joseph has been called ‘’virgin father of Jesus’ – a title indicating he is father of Christ in so far as he, a virginal man, can be the father of Jesus. This echoes the interpretation of many Christian centuries that Joseph was father of Jesus in all respects with the sole exception of physical generation.” Filas then rightly asserts that Joseph’s marriage and fatherhood are the key ideas and “all later discussions and all future claims for Joseph’s holiness and privileges grow out of them.”[2]

Vatican II’s “Dei Verbum” developed this notion of faith from a mere intellectual assent to conceptual truths to an action of the whole person. Dei Verbum #5 reads: “To God who reveals himself we must bring the obedience of faith by which man entrusts himself entirely, freely, to God, bringing to him who reveals the complete submission of his intelligence and heart and giving with all his will full assent to the Revelation which he has made.” John Paul II goes on: “In the act of faith, man does not respond to God with the gift of a bit of himself, but with the gift of his whole person.”[3] Further on he continues: “To believe is to entrust this human I, in all its transcendence and all its transcendent greatness, but also with its limits, its fragility and its mortal condition, to Someone who announces himself as the beginning and the end, transcending all that is created and contingent… The surrender to God through faith (through the obedience of faith) penetrates to the very depths of human existence, to the very heart of personal existence…. It is much more than a purely intellectual theism and goes deeper and further than the act of ‘accepting as true what God has revealed.’”

As obedience of the whole person, faith is Joseph’s action of taking our Lady as spouse, pregnant as she was, and, on divine command, taking her and the Child to Egypt and returning to Nazareth. This is faith on the anthropological level of Abraham who became the father of Isaac by the prototypical act of faith that also involved marital intercourse with Sarah.

In this sense, “the faith of Mary meets the faith of Joseph… he ‘did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife.’ What he did is the clearest ‘obedience of faith(Rom 1, 5; 16, 26; 2 Cor 10, 5-6)" [John Paul II, "Redemptoris Custos" (1989) Chapter II, The Guardian of the Mystery of God #4-6].

“One can say that what Joseph did united him in an altogether special way to the faith of Mary. He accepted as truth coming from God the very thing that she had already accepted at the Annunciation.” And it was precisely her faith – acceptance of God’s revelation with her whole self – that was the “cause” of the fecundation by the Holy Spirit. The faith of Mary produced a physical effect, nor merely a moral one. It was causative, not miraculous. In a word, faith as the act of imaging God, engenders Christ. One becomes “another Christ” by the sincere gift of oneself, which is the act of Christian faith. The faith of Mary was the cause – her fiat – of her engendering Christ in her flesh and from her flesh. Joseph’s faith was the same act engendering the same physical reality of Christ in her.

Therefore, to speak of the Incarnate God as “the miraculous fruit of the marriage” of the virginal Joseph with our Lady and that his fatherhood has nothing to do “with the physical act of generation but with the reception of Jesus and with His rearing,”[4] is to miss the meaning of the meaning of faith, and the place of St. Joseph as true father of Jesus in the order of faith

[1] Francis L. Filas, S.J., S.T.D “Joseph Most Just” by Francis L. Filas, S.J., S.T.D, Bruce Publishing Co. (1956) 17.

[2] Ibid

[3] Andre Frossard and John Paul II “Be Not Afraid,” St. Martin’s Press (1984) 64.

[4] “Joseph Most Just” op. cit.

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