Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way: When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.
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Cornelius a Lapide
Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. The Birth of Christ happened in this manner. For Birth, the Greek has not ×“ï¢‘××•×£×™×¢, i.e, generation, properly so called, but ×“ï¢‘×××—×£×™×¢, i.e, rise, conception, generation, nativity. When any one arises he is conceived, is begotten, is born.
When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Syriac, "of the Spirit of holiness"—that Isaiah , the Spirit who is holy, and the Author and Fountain of all holiness.
God willed the Blessed Virgin to be betrothed to Joseph—1. Because Joseph appears to have been the nearest heir of David"s kingdom, that it might devolve from him upon Christ, as from a father to a Song of Solomon , by due order and right of succession, as I have said, ver162. Because Joseph was a most holy Prayer of Manasseh , like unto the patriarch Joseph, of whose chastity and virtue he partook, as well as of his name. He was called Joseph—i.e, increased—for he was enriched with great gifts and graces from God. Thus S. Bernard, Hom2super Missus est.
You may ask whether it be here meant that the Blessed Virgin was espoused to Joseph only by betrothal, or by an actual marriage contract and celebration of nuptials; and Song of Solomon , whether Christ was incarnate, and conceived of a virgin who was betrothed only, or of one who was actually married? For to a virgin thus betrothed Gabriel was sent to announce the Incarnation of Christ. (Luke i38.) And the Virgin, consenting to his message, and saying, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word," immediately, in that very instant, conceived Christ. Many are of opinion that the Blessed Virgin was only espoused by betrothal, or per verba de futuro, by which only a promise of marriage takes place. So S. Hilary, in loc.; S. Basil, Hom. on the Human Generation of Christ; Origen, Hom. I, on divers passages of the Gospels. But others think, with better reason, that the Virgin was espoused not merely by betrothal, but by marriage, per verba de præsenti—by an actual nuptial contract. This is proved:—1. Because Joseph is called in the verse following, and in ver16 , the husband of Mary. This must mean that he had married her2. Joseph wished to put her away, as being with child, as it is said in the verse following. He had therefore taken her to him to wife; for no one puts away what he has not3. Because "betrothed" (Luke ii5) is interpreted to mean married. Yea, Joseph called her his wife. She was therefore already married, and introduced into the house of her husband, Joseph, as his wife, that, by this means, Joseph might be the attesting witness of her virginity, and the guardian and nourisher both of herself and her Child Jesus. Consider, also, that the Blessed Virgin, as soon as she had received Gabriel"s message, being now full of the WORD, visited Elizabeth, and abode with her three months. From whence it does not seem that she there celebrated her marriage with Joseph, nor yet after her return to Nazareth, for there exists no trace of such an event. So that she must have celebrated this marriage before Gabriel"s message, and the Incarnation of the WORD. Neither would it have been becoming that an unmarried virgin should undertake so great a journey into a mountainous country, without a husband, or companion, or without her guardian sending a maid, or some female relation with her4. Because it was plainly befitting that Christ should be born of a woman who was actually married, in order that he might not be despised by the Jews as illegitimate, but might be received as a legitimate son. And this is why Joseph is called Christ"s father. Finally, offspring is the proper fruit of wedlock. Thus Jerome, Haymo, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Ambrose, Jansenius, Suarez, and others, passim.
It may be objected—1. That the angel says to Joseph, "Fear not to take Mary thy wife." Therefore, he had not taken her to wife, but only espoused her by betrothal. I reply—to take, here means the same thing as to keep, and retain: for the angel calls her his wife. They were therefore married. The Hebrew verbs often signify not only inchoate, but continuous action. The meaning, therefore, is—"Dismiss not, O Joseph, thy wife Mary, but keep and retain her." For nothing is put away save what has been received and possessed.
2. The Virgin is here called betrothed, before they came together, therefore before marriage. In reply, I deny the consequence. To come together does not here signify to contract marriage, nor yet to cohabit, but to make use of marriage already contracted.
3. Why is she here spoken of, not as married, but as espoused? I reply, she is called espoused or betrothed, because her husband had not known her; and therefore she was as a bride, not yet married to her husband, but only promised. So S. Chrysostom. Hence Peter Chrysologus (Serm175) says, Joseph was a husband in name only, by consent of his spouse; that Isaiah , he was accounted her husband by the bond, not the consummation of marriage.
That there was, however, a real marriage between Joseph and the Blessed Virgin is certain from the words of the Gospel, and the common agreement of theologians; and the axiom of lawyers, that—"Consent, not consummation, validates marriage." Whence S. Augustine (lib1 , de Nuptiis, c11) says—"The good of marriage was fulfilled in those parents of Christ. There was offspring, fidelity, a sacrament (for these are the three goods of marriage). We recognize the offspring, the Lord Jesus Himself; the fidelity, for there was no adultery; the sacrament, for there was no divorce." He teaches the same more at large against Julian the Pelagian (lib5), who denied the marriage of Joseph and Mary. In chap9 , he maintains that the jus matrimonii is not repugnant to a vow of chastity. By marriage, I possess a right over my wife, but because of my vow, I cannot use that right lawfully. If I do use it, I sin against my vow, not my marriage. That Isaiah , I do what Isaiah , technically, an irreligious, not an unjust act. For there is not adultery, as it would be, if the wife were joined in marriage. Joseph, therefore, had by matrimony, a power over the Blessed Virgin, but by his purpose, and as it would seem by his vow of chastity, he would not use this power. To have a right or power to do a thing, and to use that power, are wholly different things. The first is necessary for valid matrimony, but not the second.
This right of cohabitation, and quasi dominion over a wife, in the case of married virgins, has several true and real, not fictitious consequences. The first Isaiah , that a virgin bride cannot marry another husband. The second Isaiah , that although the vow be broken by cohabitation, it is not fornication. The third, that offspring divinely granted and born (as Christ in the present instance was conceived of the Holy Ghost) is accounted legitimate as being born in wedlock.
From all this, it may be gathered that the marriage of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Joseph was not only real matrimony, but lawful, yea, holy—real, because the essence of wedlock consists in the mutual delivery of power over each other"s body, even though this power be never exercised. And a vow of virginity takes away this power and right from no one, but only renders its exercise unlawful. It is after a similar manner that the power is separated from the use of a thing, in the case of certain religious, who remain owners of their paternal inheritance, but who, on account of their vow of poverty, are not able to make use of it. It was lawful marriage, because, although the Blessed Virgin had made a vow of virginity, yet she lawfully, and without peril of a breach of her vow, engaged in marriage, because she knew by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph would never use his power and marital rights to the detriment of her vow. So S. Augustine, de S. Virgin, c4 , and theologians, passim. It Isaiah , moreover, probable that the Blessed Virgin Mary had revealed this, her vow, to Joseph before marriage, and that he had consented to it. Some add, that he had promised to be the guardian of her vow. It was holy marriage, because by means of it Joseph protected the good repute and the virginity of Blessed Mary; and became the guardian, nourisher, and educator of the Child Jesus. What were more holy than this?
See S. Thomas, 3part2921. in corpore, where he assigns many reasons why Christ was born of an espoused virgin. And he adds that there might be a fifth reason why the Mother of the Lord was espoused and a virgin, in order that in her person both virginity and matrimony might be honoured against the heretics, who attack either one or the other. The holy martyr Ignatius, cited by S. Jerome, gives yet another reason—in order that her child-bearing might be concealed from the devil, so that he thought that Christ was not born of a virgin, but of a wife.
Observe here, tropologically, in the Blessed Virgin and Joseph the utmost height of angelic purity and virginity. And thus, the Blessed Virgin has communicated this gift of conjugal chastity to several eminent persons, specially devoted to her, as to S. Pulcheria, and Martian, to SS. Julian and Basilissa, to whom, in the first night after their vow of chastity, Christ appeared, accompanied by a vast throng of men in white robes, on the one hand, and the Blessed Virgin, girt about with a virgin throng, on the other hand. They who were with Christ chanted forth—"Thou hast conquered Julian, thou hast conquered." And they who were with the Blessed Virgin replied—"Blessed art thou, Basilissa, who hast despised earthly marriage, and prepared thyself for eternal glory." Wherefore Julian was the spiritual ancestor of innumerable believers in Christ and martyrs, and Basilissa, by word and example, was the mother of innumerable virgins of Christ.
Also S. Henry I, or as some say, II, Emperor of Germany led such a life with his wife Cunegundes, of whom, when he was dying, he said to her parents—"Lo! a virgin I received her from you, a virgin I restore her to you." Such, too, were S. Cæcilia, with her spouse Valerian, to whom the Blessed Virgin sent by the hands of angels crowns of roses and lilies.
Symbolically, in this marriage and family union of Joseph with Mary there was an image of the Sacred Trinity. For Joseph represented the Eternal Father, the Blessed Virgin the Holy Ghost, both because she was most holy, and because she had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Christ represented Himself, even the Son of God. Whence, 1. As there is in the Sacred Trinity an essence of Deity in Three Persons, so here was there one marriage and one perfect family, consisting of three persons, namely, Joseph, Mary, and Christ2. As in the Holy Trinity the Father spiritually begets the Song of Solomon , and breathes the Holy Ghost, so here the Blessed Virgin spiritually—not carnally, but by the power of the Holy Ghost—conceived and brought forth Christ3. In the Holy Trinity, the Father begets