by Fr. Francis Cuthbert Doyle, O.S.B., 1879

When some great monarch has chosen for himself a partner to share his throne, it often happens that circumstances prevent him from going in person to accept her hand, and receive the blessing of the Church. On such occasions, a minister of state is deputed to go in the king's name, and to act as his representative; but when the ceremony is over, his only duty is to conduct her to his master, and having done that, his office is at an end. It was thus that God acted with the spotless Virgin, whom He had chosen to be the Mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. His ambassador was the meek and lowly St. Joseph. To him, under the guiding hand of Providence, the Virgin was given to wife, when she had completed her education in the courts of the Temple. With him she lived in their humble home at Nazareth, in that mutual love and reverence, which we may fancy the Angels feel for each other; for, though he undoubtedly possessed all those marital rights, which the husbands of other women enjoy, still we know that, in his case, they were never exercised. The Virgin had given her consent to be his wife, only because she was sure, that her virginity would be safe under the shadow of his protecting presence.

That such was her position in the house of Joseph, may be gathered from the pages of the sacred text; for we read in the first chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, that 'in the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a Virgin, espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, and the Virgin's name was Mary.' Twice in this passage does the Evangelist call her a virgin, though she was living in the bonds of wedlock. But, setting aside this induction, the reply which she made to the Angel, when he told her that she was to be the mother of such a Son as the world had never seen before, puts the matter beyond all doubt. 'How,' she asks, 'shall this be done, because I know not man?' And a still stronger proof that she was wedded to Joseph at that time, and not simply affianced, is to be found in the pages of St. Matthew's Gospel, where Joseph is represented as sorely troubled and perplexed, on perceiving that his immaculate spouse, of whose virtue he was certain, was nevertheless soon to be a mother. These passages make it evident that this holy couple, though married, were living in the state of holy virginity, which, as we shall see later, was never broken.

It may be asked why the miraculous conception of Our Lord was so studiously concealed from the eyes of men? Why did not God at once proclaim to the world, that Jesus was born of a Virgin? Why did He rather mask His introduction among men, in such a way that they were led to look upon St. Joseph as His father, and to ask in after years: 'Is not this the Son of the carpenter?' Various reasons are given by the Fathers, and by Theologians, which may all be reduced to these: In the first place, we may say generally, that God has fixed the times and the moments in which to work His stupendous mysteries, and that He did not deem it suitable, all at once, to make manifest the wonderful Incarnation and birth of His Son. It was a work which was to be made known to men slowly and by degrees, that its marvellous nature might not dazzle and overwhelm them. Then, by giving a husband to Mary, He was most jealously guarding her virginal honour in the eyes of the people; for, had Our Lord been born of her without any putative father, the carnal-minded Jews would have looked upon her as an adulteress, and would very probably have stoned her to death.

But besides hiding the mystery of the Incarnation from the world, Joseph had another office to fulfil with regard to Our Lady; he was to be her guardian, her guide, and her consoler, in the midst of her afflictions and her journeyings to and from the land of their exile. Moreover, he was given to her to be the support of that little family, of which Jesus was the centre; and upon him devolved the honour of providing bread for the sustenance of Him Who upholds the world. And lastly we may assign, as a final reason, the desire of Almighty God to do honour to the lowliness, justice, and simplicity of this descendant of David, by committing to his care the two beings who were dearest to Him, and by thus making him His own representative upon earth.

We venture, once again, to remind you of the lessons which the espousals of Our Lady, as well as nearly all the events of her life, teach you. From the circumstance of her virginity, from the hesitation, and, we might almost say, the determination which she evinced not to part with that priceless treasure, even to be the Mother of the Messias, you may learn what was the esteem, and what the honour, in which she held that most beautiful of all virtues. Learn also the great love which God Himself has for it, from the fact of having prepared for His Son an immaculate mother, and having wrought the astounding miracle of that Son's conception, in order that His human nature might be circled round with the halo of its glory. Surely, there can be few stronger proofs of the desire which God has, to see it held in high esteem among men.

Therefore, if you wish to be very pleasing to God, if you wish to have the privilege of being one of His elect children, one of those who, like St. John, are allowed to approach and lean their heads upon the bosom of the Saviour,--love and cultivate in your heart the holy virtue of purity. It is one of those virtues which make children most lovable. It throws around them an indescribable charm, which attracts and fills those who know them with admiration and love. It shines through their eyes; it is seen in the modesty of their looks, in the composure of their gait, in the quiet happiness which smiles through them, and sits upon them like sunshine upon a beautiful landscape. Oh, love it then with all your heart, and strive with all the strength and determination of your will to keep it untarnished in your soul. If you feel, as we all feel, that you carry this priceless treasure in an earthen vessel; if you experience the assaults of the devil, and undergo the cruel persecution to which he subjects all those who try to preserve this, and carry it safely through the slippery paths of life, do not lose courage! That tender Mother, who loves purity so well, will pray to Jesus for you. Cry to her when you are assailed by the devil; she will lift up her voice with you. She will call to the powerful arm of Jesus to smite those who assail you, and, with the help of God, you will save your precious jewel of purity from the hands of the evil one.

There are some minds so gross and carnal, so little alive to the reverence which is due to the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ, that they tread in the footsteps of Helvidius, a heretic of the fourth century, and maintain that, after the birth of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin lived the ordinary married life of other women, and bore children to St. Joseph. Some have done this quite recently, and you will probably meet many who will side with them, though admitting that the whole of antiquity is dead against them. In order, therefore, that you may have something more than your strong Catholic instinct, to repel and detest such gross and revolting heresy, it will be well to put before you the grounds upon which Helvidius and his followers base their argument,--if, indeed, it may be called an argument, and not rather, as a deep Catholic thinker has put it, 'the most gross ignorance of grammar.' Having done this, the answer which St. Jerome and other great lights of the Church have given, will be put into your hands as a weapon, to destroy the shallow sophisms of a perverse and unbelieving generation. In the first place, Helvidius maintained that the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph lived together, as man and wife, after Our Lord's birth, because St. Matthew, in his Gospel, says that they had not done so before that time. He draws his second argument from the words which the same Evangelist makes use of, after narrating the Angel's message to St. Joseph, bidding him not to fear, but to take unto himself Mary, his wife. 'And he knew her not,' says the Evangelist, 'until she had brought forth her first-born.' The heretic, seizing upon the particle until, argues from it that the holy couple did live together as man and wife after that event, and that other children were born to them, because Jesus is called the first-born, which He could not really be, unless there had been others born after Him. To confirm this conclusion, he appeals to the testimony of the Jews themselves, who, struck with wonder at the learning which Jesus displayed, exclaimed: 'Is not this the son of the carpenter? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brethren, James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? And His sisters, are they not all with us?' Upon these grounds the heretical and condemned opinion is based, which would destroy the perpetual virginity of the immaculate Mother of God!

To meet this attack, which Calvin stigmatizes 'as the result of excessive ignorance,' the simplest method will be to adduce, from the Sacred Text, passages similar to those cited by Helvidius and his followers. These, if interpreted in the same manner as the phrases, upon which his sophism is built, will at once lay bare the unsoundness of his argument, and compel those who uphold his views, to adopt one or other of these alternatives: either to abandon them altogether, or to adhere to a blunder in grammar so gross, that a fourth-form boy would be soundly whipped for having been guilty of it. What schoolboy does not know, that when the priority of one act is stated with reference to another, the phrase does not imply that the latter act really did take place afterwards, but only that it did not take place before? Hence St. Jerome, when explaining the passage in question, observes: 'By the word before, the Scripture points out to us what did not take place. Therefore, when it says: "Before they came together," it does not mean that they afterwards did come together.' The same must be said of the particle 'until,' in the other passage, where Joseph is said 'not to have known her, until she brought forth her first-born.' In order, therefore, to prove that the meaning of these particles is really what we assert it to be, let us take at random, out of the Scripture, two or three passages wherein they are employed. In the hundred and ninth Psalm, David represents God addressing His Only begotten Son, and saying: 'The Lord said to My Lord: Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thy enemies Thy footstool.' Shall Jesus Christ, then, sit at God's right hand and reign, only until His enemies are humbled under His feet? In the first Book of Samuel, commonly called the first Book of Kings, it is stated, in the concluding verse of the fifteenth chapter, that Samuel saw the face of Saul no more, till the day of his death. Will any one venture to say that he saw the face of that disobedient Prince on the day of his dissolution? Again, in the fifth verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of Job, that holy patriarch protests thus to his would-be comforters: 'Till I die, I will not depart from my innocence.' Surely this cannot mean that at his death, he intended to curse God for having afflicted him, and then die the death of the reprobate! Hence, we conclude with St. Jerome, that by these expressions, wherein the Evangelists state that one thing did not take place before, or until another had taken place, they did not mean to intimate that that latter act did really occur, but rather that it never took place at all. As for the term 'first-born,' it would be idle to maintain that it has any weight in proving, that other children were born to Our Lady after Our Lord. The expression simply means, as Grotius very well remarks, 'that no one preceded Him, but not that any other followed Him.'

It now remains for us to discuss the question of Our Lord's ' brothers' as the Scripture calls them; for, if it could be proved that those mentioned in St. Matthew's Gospel were really what we understand by brothers, the position of Helvidius would be unassailable. But this is precisely what cannot be demonstrated. It is a well-ascertained fact, which even the bitterest opponents of our doctrine cannot gainsay, that among the Hebrews, cousins, and even those who were more distantly related, were oftentimes styled 'brethren.' Let us see if this were not so, in the case of our Blessed Lord. Luckily for us, the names of those who are said to have been His brethren, are given in the Scripture. What clue, therefore, can we find in the pages of the Sacred Text, which will lead ns to discover who these men were? One of the Evangelists gives their names. In the thirteenth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, they are called James and Joseph and Simon and Jude, and are styled 'the brethren of the Lord.' In St. Mark's Gospel, James and Joseph are mentioned as the sons of a Mary, different from Mary the Mother of Jesus. St. John calls this Mary, in the nineteenth chapter of his Gospel, the sister of the Mother of Jesus. From this, therefore, we gather that as the Church has ever believed, as all the Fathers have ever taught, and as the custom among the Jews warranted them in believing and teaching, the men who were called the brothers of Our Lord, and the women who were called His sisters, were really nothing more than the children of our Blessed Lady's sister, and consequently cousins of Our Lord. The only exception which can be taken to this proof is, to raise a doubt whether Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, be the same as Mary, the sister of the Blessed Virgin. But this doubt is speedily dissipated, because, as Grotius remarks, there is mention in the gospels only of three Maries,--Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph. Therefore, we say again, that the young men mentioned in the gospel as brothers of Jesus, were only His cousins, and styled, according to the Jewish custom, brothers of the Lord.' Thus falls to the ground the impious attempt of heretics to tarnish the splendour of Our Lady's virginity. Detest and abhor their carnal views; ever defend the fame of your glorious Mother's brightest ornament and privilege, and strive to the utmost of your power, by prayer, by self-restraint, and by watchfulness, to imitate by the purity of your life, the untarnished and incomparable purity of her, who is the purest of all God's creatures.