Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, decided to put her away privately.
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Ambrose of Milan
In Luc., ii, 5: St. Matthew has beautifully taught how a righteous man ought toact, who has detected his wife’s disgrace; so as at once to keep himself guiltless of her blood, and yet pure from her defilements; therefore it is he says, “Being a just man.” Thus is preserved throughout in Joseph the gracious character of a righteous man, that his testimony may be the more approved; for, the tongue of the just speaketh the judgment of truth.
in Luc., ii, 1: But as no one puts away what he has not received; in that hewas minded to put her away, he admits to have received her.
Serm. in App. s. 195: Joseph, understanding that Mary was with child, is perplexed that it should be thus with her whom he had received from the temple of the Lord, and had not yet known, and resolved within himself, saying, What shall I do? Shall I proclaim it, or shall I overlook it? If I proclaim it, I amindeed not consenting to the adultery; but I am running into the guilt of cruelty, for by Moses’ law she must be stoned. If I overlook it, I am consenting to the crime, and take my portion with the adulterers. Since then itis an evil to overlook the things, and worse to proclaim the adultery, I will put her away from being my wife.
Otherwise; if you alone have knowledge of a sin that any has committed against you, and desire to accuse him thereof before men, you do not herein correct, but rather betray him. But Joseph, “being a just man,” with great mercy spared his wife, in this great crime of which he suspected her. The seeming certainty of her unchastity tormented him, and yet be...
Ap Anselm: Or, in seeking to put her away, he was just; in that he sought itprivily, is shown his mercy, defending her from disgrace; “Being a just man, hewas minded to put her away;” and being unwilling to expose her in public, and so to disgrace her, he sought to do it privily.
part ap. Anselm, part in Ordinaria: Or, being unwilling to bring her home tohis house to live with him for ever, “he was minded to put her away privily;”that is, to change the time of their marriage. For that is true virtue, when neither mercy is observed without justice, nor justice without mercy; both which vanish when severed one from the other.
But how is Joseph thus called, “just,” when he is ready to hide his wife’s sin? For the Law enacts, that not only the doers of evil, but they who are privy toany evil done, shall be held to be guilty.
Or this may be considered a testimony to Mary, that Joseph, confident in her purity, and wondering at what had happened, covered in silence that mystery which he could not explain.
Do you not see here a man of exceptional selfrestraint, freed from that most tyrannical passion, jealousy? What an explosive thing jealousy is, of which it was rightly spoken: “For the soul of her husband is full of jealousy. He will not spare in the day of vengeance.” And “jealousy is cruel as the grave.” And we too know of many that have chosen to give up their lives rather than fall under the suspicion of jealousy. But in this case it was not a matter of simple suspicion, as the burden of Mary’s own womb entirely convicted her. Nevertheless Joseph was so free from the passion of jealousy as to be unwilling to cause distress to the Virgin, even in the slightest way. To keep Mary in his house appeared to be a transgression of the law, but to expose and bring her to trial would cause him to deliver her to die. He would do nothing of the sort. So Joseph determined to conduct himself now by a higher rule than the law. For now that grace was appearing, it would be fitting that many tokens...
Having said that it was of the Holy Ghost, and without cohabitation, he establishes his statement in another way again. Lest any one should say, Whence does this appear? Who has heard, who has seen any such thing ever come to pass?— or lest you should suspect the disciple as inventing these things to favor his Master;— he introduces Joseph as contributing, by what he underwent, to the proof of the things mentioned; and by his narrative all but says, If you doubt me, and if you suspect my testimony, believe her husband. For Joseph, says he, her husband, being a just man. By a just man in this place he means him that is virtuous in all things. For both freedom from covetousness is justice, and universal virtue is also justice; and it is mostly in this latter sense that the Scripture uses the name of justice; as when it says, a man that was just and true; Job 1:1 and again, they were both just. Luke 1:6 Being then just, that is good and considerate, he was minded to put her away privily. ...
The Evangelist having said that she was found with child of the Holy Spirit, and without knowledge of man, that you should not herein suspect Christ’s disciple of inventing wonders in honour of his Master, brings forward Joseph confirming the history by his own share in it; “Now Joseph her husband, being a just man.”
He beheld her to be with child, whom he knew to be chaste; and because he had read, “There shall come a Rod out of the stem of Jesse,” of which he knew that Mary was come , and had also read, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive,” he did not doubt that this prophecy should be fulfilled inher.
The law decreed that the adulteress be pilloried, that is, exposed and punished publicly. How, then, was Joseph righteous since he intended to cover up her sin and thus to transgress the law? The answer is, first, that he was righteous for intending to do this very thing. He did not wish to be harsh, but in his great goodness took compassion on her, showing himself to be above the law, and already living in a manner superior to the decrees of the law. Secondly, since he himself knew that she had conceived of the Holy Spirit, he did not wish to pillory and abuse her who had conceived not by adultery but of the Holy Spirit. Behold what the evangelist says: "She was found to be with child." Found by whom? By Joseph; that is, he discerned that she had conceived of the Holy Spirit. Therefore he "was minded to divorce her secretly," for he no longer dared to take as a wife her who had been deemed worthy of such grace.