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Bible Commentaries

The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide

Matthew 1

 

 

Verses 1-18

CHAPTER1.

The book of the generation.—Thus it is verbally in the Greek, Latin, Syrian, Arabic, Egyptian, Persian texts. But the Ethiopian has the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Matthew here seems to imitate Moses. Listen to what blessed Peter Damian says in his Sermon on S. Matthew: "As Moses is not improperly placed before the prophets and all who have written anything in the Old Testament, so Matthew rightly takes precedence of all who are found to have written in the New Testament. For as Moses compiled (texit) an account of the origin of the world, so has Matthew described the rising newness of the Church, as it were of a spiritual world. Hence it has been provided that, the HOLY SPIRIT guiding the pen, both Moses and S. Matthew placed the same commencement to their respective works, saying, "The Book of the Generation."" So far Damian. Now Moses, in Gen.

ver1 , thus begins the account of the genealogy and race of Adam, the first formed man—The Book of generation of Adam: for Adam was a type of Christ. For as Adam was the father of the mortal life of all men, so is Christ the Father of the immortal life of the faithful, as S. Paul teaches, Romans 5:14, &c., and 1 Corinthians 15:47 et seq. The Hebrew is ϊεμγεϊ ρτψ sepher toledoth, i.e., the book, or catalogue, and enumeration of the generations of Adam. For, in the5th of Genesis, many, indeed all the generations are given by which the human race was propagated from Adam to Noah and the Flood, whence it is probable that S. Matthew, who alludes to Moses, wrote likewise in Hebrew, in this passage, sepher toledoth, i.e., the book of the generations, in the plural. The LXX, however, in Gen. v., have translated גגכןע דוםףושע, the Book of the generation, in the singular, because the generation of Adam was one, by which he, as it were the patriarch of the whole human race, begat Seth, which generation was afterwards continued by Seth and his posterity, and was propagated as far as Noah. The Greek interpreter of S. Matthew, and the Latin Vulgate, which was translated from the Greek, here followed the LXX, because properly there is related the generation of Christ alone, whose origin indeed is derived from Abraham, through many generations of forefathers, and is brought down to Christ. As, therefore, Adam was the beginning or origin of the old world, so is Christ of the new and better world, whence he is called by Isaiah 9:6, "The Father of the coming age." (Vulgate). Hence also Virgil, following the Cumæan Sibyl, sings thus concerning Him, Eclogue iv.:—

"Now the last age of Cuman Verses is come,

Afresh the great cycle of ages begins;

Returneth the Virgin, Saturnian Kingdoms return:

The heavenly Offspring descends from on high:"

and adds:—

"Dear increase of God, true Offspring of Jove,

Begin, Boy, by smiles thy Mother to know."

It is plain that these things were spoken by the Sibyl concerning Christ; but Virgil, either through ignorance or flattery, has transferred them to Pollio, the son of Asinius Pollio, the Roman Consul.

Note, 1st, Book here is the same as catalogue, or enumeration, or description, whence the Syriac translation, λϊλΰ, ketobo, i.e., a description, or writing. For this is the exact meaning of the Hebrew, sepher, to which the Greek גגכןע and Latin liber correspond. In a like sense, the paper in which was recorded the putting away of a wife by her husband was called a Book of divorcement. So the Book of the righteous is the catalogue in which the names and acts of the righteous are recorded. The Book of Life is the catalogue of the elect, who are written in the mind of God as in a book. Cicero called a catalogue of names, a book of names.

Note, 2nd, the word generation. First, and most evidently, it is the same as the race, or genealogy of Christ. Second, the generation of Christ is the conception and birth of Christ. See ver18. The birth (דםםחףיע) of Jesus Christ was on this wise. Third, as Maldonatus observes, "the generation of Christ is the life of Christ." For Matthew, in the Gospel, relates the history of the whole course of the life of Christ. Fourth, the Hebrew toledoth properly signifies generations, many of which intervened between Adam and Christ. The steps in Jacob"s ladder, above which God stood, represented these generations—those steps, I mean, by which the angels ascended from earth to heaven. For as this ladder joined, as it were, earth to heaven, and Jacob to God, so this series of generations united all the patriarchs to Christ, who was made Flesh, and so united all men to Himself and to God.

Son of David, i.e., descendant of David: for the Hebrews call all male lineal descendants, sons. The Evangelist places David first, then Abraham: 1st, because David was the nearer to Christ, and through him Christ reaches to Abraham; 2nd, because thus, in a more compendious manner, without repetition, Christ"s genealogy is stated. He wished to impress this fact, that Christ was descended from Abraham through David. So S. Jerome3rd, and chiefly, because the promise of God made to David concerning Christ, as about to be born of his posterity, was the later, more special, and more glorious promise, as S. Chrysostom, Theophilus, Euthym., teach. Hence the Jews constantly call their Messiah the Son of David. Hence on Palm Sunday, when Christ entered into Jerusalem, they hailed Him as Messiah: Hosanna to the Son of David, i.e., O Lord, save our Messiah, speaking of Him as David"s son and heir. Lastly, by the title, Son of David, the nobility of the race from whence Messiah sprung is hinted at, as also His kingdom, viz., that He too should be a king, as being the Son of David, a king, according to that divine voice of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin, "He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end." (S. Luke 1:31.) For this reason the prophets everywhere speak of Christ as David"s son and heir, thus Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 45:3; Jeremiah 25:5; Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 37:25, &c.

The first promise which was made to David concerning Christ, that He should spring from him, and reign for ever, is found 2 Samuel 7:12; the same was confirmed, Ps. lxxxviii. and cxxxi.; and repeated to Solomon, David"s Son, 1 Kings 9:5. When, therefore, S. Matthew says, Jesus Christ the Son of David, he means that all these promises were now fulfilled in Christ. Thus S. Chrysostom2; Theophilus, Euthym.; Irenus, lib8 , c8; S. Ambrose, lib3in Luc., c3; and others.

Son of Abraham. The word Son here may be referred either to David or to Christ. For David, as well as Christ, was a son, i.e. a descendant, of Abraham. It signifies, therefore, that Christ, through David His father, was also the Son of Abraham, who was the father of them that believe, and of the ancient Church. The first express promise concerning Christ was made to him. ( Genesis 22:18.) Now, from the birth of Abraham to the birth of Christ there were2 ,000 years; from the death of David to Christ, 1 ,013years. So great was the antiquity of the oracles and promises of God concerning Christ; so constant and sure was God"s faithfulness in fulfilling them. And this is why S. Matthew so carefully derives the genealogy of Christ from Abraham, even through forty-two generations, in order that he might show the Jews that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah promised to Abraham, and that He was the Son of Abraham and the rest of the patriarchs; and that He might therefore, as such, be received, cherished, and worshipped by the Jews.

Ver2.—Abraham begat Isaac. These two, with those who came after them, were the first patriarchs, the founders of the synagogue and people of God, and of the Kingdom of Christ. They, as types, foreshadowed Him. (See comment on Genesis, where I have unfolded their genealogies.) I will not here repeat what has been said. God constantly calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even makes a boast, so to say, of this title. Wherefore He chose the posterity of Abraham, descending through Isaac and Jacob, for His own family and Church, and gave them the sign and pledge of circumcision. Wherefore God changed Abraham"s name from Abram, i.e., a high father, to Abraham, that is to say, ΰα ψα δξζο, ab rab hamon, or the father of a great multitude—viz., of the believing people that should be born of him according to the flesh; in like manner as of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, who believe in Him, are born according to the Spirit. Now Isaac—i.e. laughter—about to be offered up by his father on Mount Moriah, clearly represented Christ, who was crucified on the same mount, and brought salvation and joy to the whole world.

Ver3.—And Judah begat Pharez and Zara of Thamar. (See what I have said on Tamar, Genesis 38:29.)

Observe that in the genealogy of Christ, with the exception of His Blessed Mother, only four females are made mention of, three of them harlots—Thamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba—and the fourth a Gentile, Ruth the Moabitess. Rahab, too, was a Gentile, being an inhabitant of Jericho. If the reason of all this be asked, SS. Jerome, Chrysostom, Ambrose answer, that it was so because Christ would signify that "He who came for the abolishing and putting away of sins wished to be born of sinners." This reason is true, but allegorical. The literal and simple reason is, that these women were united to their husbands, not in the ordinary way, but after a new and extraordinary manner; and so they became types of the Church of Christ, which, when the Jews were rejected, was gathered out of the Gentiles by a new vocation, and after a new manner. Tamar, because Shelah was denied her in marriage, or rather because her union with him was deferred, using deceit, prostituted herself to Judah. Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, was united to David, first by adultery, then in marriage. Rahab married Salmon because she hospitably received and protected the Hebrew spies who were sent by Joshua to Jericho, and so she became of the same faith and religion. Ruth married Boaz when she had passed with her mother-in-law, Naomi, from Moab into Judæa.

The tropological sense is to show us the vanity of pride of birth, and that true nobility consists, not in ancestry, but in our own good disposition and virtues. Thus S. Chrysostom. Wherefore let no one be ashamed of his birth, nor even of vile and wicked ancestors; but let us say with Cicero, "I have outshone my forefathers in virtue." There can be no doubt that there are in the ancestry of the most exalted persons, forasmuch as they are sprung from Adam, many ignoble, worthless, wicked, and infamous persons. Plato, according to Seneca (Epis44), is of opinion that all kings are descended from servants, and that all servants are sprung from kings; that there is no king who has been entirely free from the plough, and no ploughman who has not been mixed up with kings.

Lastly, Solomon, amongst the other vanities and uncertainties of the world, reckons this: "Because out of prison and chains sometimes a man cometh forth to a kingdom: and another born king is consumed with poverty." ( Ecclesiastes 4:14.)

Aminadab. He was prince of the tribe of Judah when the Israelites came out of Egypt, who, when the rest stood still, fearing to go into the Red Sea, although God had made dry ground through the midst of it, courageously entered into it, and brought his own tribe safely through, and then the other princes and tribes followed. This is a Hebrew tradition. To this alludes the verse, Son6:12, "My soul made me like the chariots of Aminadab." His son Naasson succeeded him in the headship of the tribe.

Jesse, or, according to a different punctuation of the Hebrew, Isai. The name itself prefigured Jesus Christ, who was to be born of him. For Jesse and Jesus are the same word if we consider the root of both, which is to be found in the Hebrew ιωφ iasca, i.e., to save.

Of her which had been the wife of Urias. After Uriah"s death, David married his wife, and of her he begat Solomon, for Solomon was not born of adultery, but in wedlock. In this passage it is intimated that God did not recall the promises which He had made to David on account of his adultery with Bathsheba, but, on their repentance, He confirmed His promises. Whence from Bathsheba and her son Solomon Christ was descended. In truth, Bathsheba herself became a saintly penitent, and brought up Solomon her son in a holy manner. Yea, she became illustrious for the spirit of prophecy, as I have shown in Proverbs 31:1, on the words, "The words of king Lemuel. The vision which his mother taught him." (Vulgate.)

Now Joram begat Ozias—not directly, but with three generations intervening; for Joram was really the father of Ahaziah, Ahaziah of Joash, Joash of Amaziah, Amaziah of Azariah or Uzziah, for he had both names. (See 1 Chronicles 3:12, &c.)

It is asked why S. Matthew here omits these three links in the genealogy. S. Jerome answers, because the Evangelist wished to form three exact series of fourteen generations each, on which see ver17. And because Jehoram had allied himself to the most wicked Jezebel and to Ahab, in taking Ahab"s sister, the impious Athaliah, to wife; for God had sworn that, on account of Ahab"s impiety and idolatry, He would blot out all his posterity. ( 1 Kings 21:21, &c.) Posterity in Scripture is reckoned to the fourth generation. Here, then, it is blotted out, forasmuch as it is omitted and obliterated by S. Matthew. Thus S. Hilary, S. Thomas, Jansen, &c. Gaspar Sanchez gives another reason. He conjectures that Matthew actually wrote as follows: "Joram begat Ochoziah, Ochoziah begat Joash, Joash begat Amaziah, Amaziah begat Oziah;" but that the copyist, misled by the similarity between Ochoziah and Oziah, as the names are written in Greek, by a slip of his eye passed over from Ahaziah to Uzziah. Thus Gaspar. But this would be an enormous blunder, and though one copyist might fall into such an error, it was scarcely possible that all could. All extant MSS. and Versions are alike here—Greek, Syriac, Latin, Arabic, &c. "Joram begat Ozias," not Ahaziah. Besides, if these three generations were inserted, they would make seventeen generations, whereas S. Matthew says expressly there were fourteen generations.

Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren. Josias begat four sons. The first was Johanan; the second, Jehoiakim, who is also Eliakim; the third, Jehoahaz, also called Shallum; the fourth, Zedekiah, who is also Mattaniah. Jehoahaz, although the third son, succeeded his father Josias immediately upon his death; but Pharaoh, King of Egypt, removed him, and placed his brother Jehoiakim upon the throne. After he had reigned eleven years, Nebuchadnezzar slew him, and gave the crown to his son Jehoiachin. Him he shortly afterwards dethroned, and made his uncle Zedekiah king. When Zedekiah rebelled, he took him captive, and put out his eyes; and in him that branch of David"s royal line came to an end.

The carrying away to Babylon—Greek ו̉ני̀ פע לופןיךוףבע ֲבגץכםןע—that is, about the time of the transmigration to Babylon, or the Babylonish captivity, in which the Jews were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon.

The transmigration of the Jews to Babylon took place at three different times. The first was in the eleventh year of King Jehoiakim, when Daniel and Ezekiel were carried away. The second was three months afterwards, when Mordecai, Esther"s uncle, was carried away, together with Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim. The third, and most complete, captivity was eleven years afterwards, under King Zedekiah, when almost all the people who were left were taken away.

Ver12.—Jeconias begat Salathiel. There is a great difficulty here, which Porphyry, the enemy of Christ and of Christians, was in the habit of bringing forward as insuperable. For this Jeconias, the father of Salathiel, was not the Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, who is spoken of in the preceding verse, but the son of that Jehoiakim, and the grandson of Josiah, and consequently there are only thirteen generations, instead of fourteen, as S. Matthew enumerates.

S. Jerome replies that this Jeconias is a different person from Jeconias, the son of Josiah. The former was Jehoiakim, or Jechonias, and Jeconias by a corruption. The latter is properly Jehoiachin. Josiah begat Jehoiakim, and Jehoiakim begat Jehoiachin. One generation must, therefore, be supplied in this place. "Now Jeconias begat Jechonias," as some Greek and Latin MSS. do read. That what has been said is correct, is clear from 1 Chronicles 3:15, 1 Chronicles 3:16, and2Ki xxiii. and xxiv.

The generation in question was omitted, either by S. Matthew himself, in order to avoid the repetition of the two similar names, as S. Augustine thinks, or, more probably, through the fault and ignorance of transcribers, who, mistaking Jechonias for Jeconias, thought that one of the two was redundant, and so omitted it. This was the opinion of S. Epiphanius.

Ver16.—Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary. You may ask, why is the generation of Christ here derived from the genealogy of Joseph? Christ was the Son, not of Joseph, but of the Virgin Mary, especially if S. Mary were able, as it might appear, to marry a man of another tribe, as her cousin Elizabeth, who was of the tribe of Judah, like Mary herself, married Zachariah, a priest, and therefore of the tribe of Levi.

The answer is, that Jewish women might, indeed, marry into another tribe: but if they themselves, in the failure of heirs male, became heiresses of their fathers, they were in that case obliged to marry husbands of their own tribe and family, that their inheritance might not pass by marriage into another tribe. (See the last chapter of Numbers, ver7.)

Joakim, the father of the Blessed Virgin, had no male children, a fact which S. Matthew here omits, as something perfectly well known in the age in which he writes. Hence it became the duty of S. Mary to marry a husband of her own tribe and family, that is to say, Joseph. Thus the genealogy of Joseph became the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin, and consequently of Christ, the Lord. Thus, too, it is, that the Fathers teach universally that Joseph and Mary were of the same tribe and family.

It may be yet further asked, why S. Matthew unfolded the genealogy of Joseph rather than of Mary, since Christ was born of her alone, being a Virgin? I answer:—First, because among the Jews, and other nations, genealogy is customarily reckoned through fathers and husbands, not through mothers and wives. Second, because Joseph was the true and lawful father of Christ, after the manner which I shall explain presently. And Christ was the heir of David"s throne and sceptre, not through Mary, but through Joseph, according to God"s promise to David, 2 Samuel 8:12; Ps. lxxxviii. and cxxxi. The sceptre, therefore, of Judah devolved upon Jesus Christ, not only by the promise and gift of God, but by the right of hereditary succession. For if, by common right, sons succeed to their fathers" inheritance, when they are only accounted their sons by common repute, how much more was Christ Joseph"s, His father"s, heir, since He was the Son of his wife, by the power and the gift of the Holy Ghost? Wherefore as Joseph had a parent"s right over Christ, indeed, all rights which parents have over sons, so on the other hand, Christ had, with reference to Joseph, all the rights which sons have in respect to their parents. He had therefore a right to the kingdom of Israel after Joseph"s death. Hence the question of the Magi (ii2), "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" This was what S. Matthew wished to demonstrate, who, as S. Augustine says, insists, most of all the Evangelists, upon the kingship of Christ. And this explains why he gives the genealogy of Joseph, rather than of Mary. For she could not be the heiress of the kingdom, so long as heirs male, like Joseph and others, survived. Whence also it must be said, as a consequence, that the father and other ancestors of Joseph were first-born, or at least eldest surviving sons of their fathers, so that the right of reigning devolved upon them.

This is what is meant in the first chapter of S. Luke by the words, "And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father." So likewise in Genesis 49:10, "The sceptre shall not be taken away from Judah, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent:" that is, Christ, who was to restore to Judah the sceptre, iniquitously taken away by Herod; yea, who was to raise their kingdom to a far higher grandeur, by making it spiritual instead of corporeal, heavenly instead of earthly, and, instead of temporal, eternal.

Observe the expression, Joseph the husband of Mary. The Arabic has—the spouse of Mary. From this we may gather that S. Joseph had all the rights of a real husband with regard to the Virgin, and consequently is rightly and truly called the father of Christ. This is pointed out by S. Augustine.

1. Christ may be said to be the fruit of the marriage of Joseph and Mary, because He was born in wedlock, though not of wedlock. He may therefore be ascribed either to His father or His mother.

2. Forasmuch as a man and his wife are made one by marriage, as it were but one person in the eye of the law, therefore they have everything in common, and so all their legitimate children: for I except children born of adultery. They have the adulterer as their father, and belong to him.

Christ, then, who was the Son of the Virgin Mother of God, was also the Son of Joseph, who was her husband, and therefore the partner of all her honours and blessings.

Joseph was more truly the father of Christ than one who adopts a son is the father of that son. He is only a father by adoption, but Joseph was father of Christ by marriage. Hence it follows that Joseph had a father"s authority over Christ, and therefore the utmost solicitude and affection for him. And Christ in return cherished, loved, and honoured Joseph as a father, and was obedient to him, as is plain from Luke 2:51. "This subjection," as Gerson says, "marks at once the unspeakable humility of Christ, and the incomparable dignity of Joseph and Mary."

3. Because Christ properly belonged to the family of Joseph: for He belonged to His mother"s family as His mother herself belonged to Joseph"s. There was therefore upon earth one most noble, yea, divine and heavenly family, of which the father and ruler was Joseph; the mother, the Blessed Virgin; the son, Christ. In it were the three most exalted and excellent persons of the whole world; first, Christ, both God and man; secondly, the Virgin Mother of God, most closely united to Christ; and thirdly, Joseph, the father of Christ by marriage.

The common herd of men, yea, many of this world"s wise ones, think of Joseph only as a poor and despised carpenter. But the more despised and unknown he was upon earth, so much the greater is his glory in heaven. Wherefore Gregory XV. hath lately decreed that his Festival shall be celebrated as a Double by the whole Church on the19th of March. And this is a well deserved honour; for consider, from what I am about to subjoin, how great were his prerogatives, his office, and dignity above all other men.

1. Joseph was the husband of the Blessed Virgin, and the father of Christ, as I have already shown. He was therefore the head and superior both of the Virgin, and of Christ as He was man. Hence,

2. There was singular love and reverence, on the part both of the Blessed Virgin and of Christ, towards Joseph. Whence John Gerson, Chancellor of Paris (Serm. de Nativ. B.V.M.), exclaims, "O, altogether wonderful is thy exaltation, O Joseph, incomparable thy dignity, that the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven, the lady of the world, should not disdain to call thee lord!" S. Gregory Nazianzen (Orat11), denotes and celebrates the excellence of the husband of his sister, Gorgonia, by this one title, that he was Gorgonia"s husband. "Do you wish," he says, "that I should describe the man? He was her husband, and I know of nothing more that I need say." You may say the same of S. Joseph. Do you desire to know who and how great he was? He was the husband of the Mother of God.

3. The ministry and office of Joseph was most noble, in that it pertains to the order of the hypostatic union of the Word with our flesh. For Joseph exercised all his labours and actions in immediate proximity to the Person of Christ. He nourished, cherished, and guarded Christ, and taught Him his art as a carpenter, according to the common opinion of the Doctors. Hear Franc. Suarez (3part. quæst29 , disp8 , sect1):—"There are some offices which pertain directly to the order of grace making grateful, and in this the Apostles hold the highest rank, and therefore need greater assistance of grace than all others. There are, again, other offices which pertain to the order of the hypostatic union, which is in genere a higher order, as is plain from the motherhood of God in the Blessed Virgin. And in this order S. Joseph exercised his ministry."

4. Joseph, by his familiar and constant companionship with Christ and the Blessed Virgin, was made a sharer in their divine secrets, and daily beheld and imitated their lofty virtues.

5. Joseph was a person of the utmost sanctity, and endowed by God with singular gifts, both of nature and grace, so that in that age there was no man more holy, or more worthy the betrothal of the Mother of God. Whence Suarez thinks it probable that Joseph was superior to the Apostles and John the Baptist in grace and glory, because his office was more excellent than theirs; for it is more to be the father and governor of Christ than His preacher and forerunner. He adds that when Joseph espoused the Blessed Virgin, he was of mature age, and died before the Crucifixion. This is why in the Passion of Christ no mention is made of Joseph. Lastly, he rose with Christ in common with the rest of the patriarchs, of whom mention is made in Matt. xxvii52—"Many bodies of the saints which slept arose." These are the things in which Joseph was pre-eminent.

Of whom was born Jesus. The form of expression is here changed The Evangelist does not say, Joseph begat Jesus, as he had said of Abraham and the rest. Neither does he say, Mary begat Jesus, but of whom was born Jesus. By this expression he signifies—1. That Jesus was born of Mary, not by natural means, but by supernatural—that is to say, by the operation of the Holy Ghost2. That Jesus was not sprung from His father Joseph, but born of His mother alone, she being a virgin, and therefore that Joseph had no other connection with the genealogy of Christ than by right of his wife, the Virgin Mary.

Well does S. Bernard say (Hom1super Missus est)—"Very beautiful was the mingling of humility and virginity; nor is that soul in only a slight degree pleasing unto God, in which humility commends virginity, and virginity adorns humility; but of what veneration must she be worthy whose fruitfulness exalteth humility, and childbirth consecrates virginity?" And again—"Such a nativity became God, that He should not be born save of a Virgin: such a birth became a Virgin, that she should bring forth only God." It was fitting that, as Christ had a Father in heaven, He should have no father upon earth, but only a mother; for He who was without a mother in heaven (Gr. ב̉לפשס) was without a father on earth (Gr. ב̉נפשס). For it behoved that the Conception and the Birth of Christ should be removed as far as possible from original sin—that as it was not right that He should contract it, so neither should it be possible. And in this He was superior to His mother; for she, although conceived without sin by the singular preservation of God, nevertheless was bound, through that natural conception of herself whereby she was born of Joachim and Anna by natural generation from Adam, to have contracted it, unless it had been prevented by the grace of God. Lastly, it behoved that the Birth of Christ should be most divinely pure, that it might powerfully commend virginity and chastity to us. Whence S. Gregory Nazianzen (Orat38 , de Nativ. in principio) says, "Christ was born of a virgin: O ye women, do ye then cherish virginity, that ye may be able to be mothers of Christ." And Cyril of Jerusalem says, "Christ was born that He might make virgins; much more, therefore, ought a virgin to keep chaste her body."

2. The expression—Of whom was born Jesus—signifies that the Virgin was the real mother of Jesus—i.e., of that Man who, being hypostatically united with God, was both God and man. Therefore was she truly the mother of God. For although she was not the mother of Deity, yet did she give birth to God, because she was mother of that Man. For that Man was God, therefore the Blessed Virgin was mother of God.

The reason, priori, is identity of Person, because there is but one Person, and that a Divine Person, in Christ. Hence the attributes of either nature can be predicated of Him; and there becomes a joint participation of the peculiarities of each; so that this Man may be called God, and in return, God may be called Man, the Son of the Virgin, and it can be said that God suffered and was crucified, &c. For one Person is presupposed in these expressions, who gathereth up into Himself all the actions and passions of both natures. Wherefore the Person of the Son of God, who is God, is rightly spoken of as born of the Virgin Mary, but according to His human, not His divine nature.

The surpassing dignity, therefore, of the Blessed Virgin is here indicated: for such is the motherhood of God, that from her He received His own, that is to say, His human substances, such as flesh, bones, blood; and received it in such sort that He cherished, loved, and reverenced her as His mother, and was obedient to her as a mother, and spoke of her as "mother." Whence S. Bernard exclaims in admiration, "A twofold wonder, a twofold miracle; God obeys a woman—humility without a parallel; and a woman is the head of God—dignity beyond compare!"

The Virgin Mother of God possessed the same right and authority over Christ which other mothers have over their own sons. Yea, she had more than other mothers have, because she was more the mother of Christ than other women are mothers of their sons, for a reason which I shall adduce presently.

S. Thomas (I part. quæst25 , art6) teaches that God could not perform a greater work than the Incarnation of the Word, and the maternity of the Blessed Virgin, because she is the very Mother of God—God than whom nothing greater can be imagined. Hence Bede saith, "O most blessed Virgin, in thee alone that rich, yea, more than rich, King emptied Himself." For to be Mother of God is the highest affinity, consanguinity, and union with God. By that motherhood the Blessed Virgin Mary is in as close relationship with God as a mother is with her son.

From this dignity of Mother of God, there follow all the gifts and privileges which have been granted to the Blessed Virgin by God above all men and angels. For as the Humanity of Christ, being united to the Word, receiveth from the WORD such gifts and privileges as are becoming to such a union—I mean such as may exalt that Humanity, and render It, as it were, worthy of union with the WORD; so, in like manner, God showered upon Mary all the gifts and graces which befitted such a Mother of Christ and Spouse of God. Whence you may draw this conclusion—Mary is the Mother of God, therefore she is far more excellent than all the angels, even the Cherubim and Seraphim. She is the Mother of God, therefore she is Queen and Lady of heaven and earth. She is the Mother of God, therefore whatsoever privilege has been granted to any of the Saints, that she obtains in a more excellent degree.

3. Of whom was born Jesus, signifies that He was born of His Mother only, so that she alone contributed to Christ all that flesh and substance which other fathers and mothers are wont to contribute conjointly to their children. For sons derive a portion of their substance from their fathers, a portion from their mothers. Wherefore the Blessed Virgin contributed more to Christ than other mothers are wont to contribute to their sons, because she alone was, in a manner, both father and mother of Christ.

Hence it follows—1. That the Blessed Virgin hath more right in Christ than other mothers have in their sons2. That Mary had far greater love for Christ, and Christ for her, than other mothers have for their sons, and other sons for their mothers, both because she alone bare (genuit) Him, as well as because she bare Him not after the natural, but after the supernatural and divine order. So, too, the love which, in other sons, is divided between father and mother, in Christ was united, and applied wholly to His Mother. And thus she felt, as it were, with a duplicated grief the pains of Christ upon the Cross, and experienced a duplicated joy at His Resurrection.

4. The expression, of whom was born, signifies that the Holy Ghost was the most potent and efficient cause of the Nativity of Christ, who, within the Blessed Virgin, of her most pure blood, formed the Body of Christ, organized It, and gave It life, and hypostatically united It to the WORD in the first moment of Its conception. Still the Blessed Virgin was a secondary cause, and a true Mother of Christ for the purpose of generation, not merely as passively furnishing the material, but as actively concurring therein by way of forming, disposing, and organizing that material. See Francis Suarez, 3 p., q3 , 2art., 4ac., q33 , art4 , where he teaches that Christ"s generation of the Virgin was supernatural, as far as its manner and swiftness were concerned, because, in one moment, it was perfected by the Holy Ghost as the efficient cause. And so the action whereby Mary became a mother was natural; the mode was supernatural.

Was born Jesus. The Word was made Flesh. God became Man. The Son of God was made the Son of the Virgin. This, as S. Thomas teaches at length, was the highest and greatest of all the works of God. At this work the Angels and all the Saints have ever been and are amazed in wonder. For in It God manifested His highest power by uniting man to God, clay* to the Word, earth to heaven. He manifested also the highest wisdom, that He, who in His Godhead might not suffer to redeem us, put on, in the Virgin"s womb, flesh, whereby He might be able to suffer, and to make satisfaction to the Father for our sins. He manifested also the highest justice, because by reason of the dignity of His Person, He makes satisfaction upon equal terms, as it were, to the wrath and justice of God, by suffering death upon the Cross. And He manifested the utmost goodness, because He emptied Himself, that He might replenish us with His gifts. He was made the Son of man that He might make us sons of God, as S. Augustine says. He was born on earth, that man might be born in heaven, as S. Gregory says.

Who is called Christ: that is, who is the Messiah, or the Christ, the Redeemer of the world, promised to the Fathers. And henceforth He can and ought to be called Messiah, or Christ in His own right, and therefore now He is verily so called by all the faithful.

How this genealogy of S. Matthew is reconcilable with that of S. Luke, I will unfold in my commentary on the third chapter of S. Luke.

Therefore all the generations from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration (the Syriac has exile) of Babylon are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations. From Abraham, therefore, unto Christ are forty-two generations. S. Luke (chap. iii.) enumerates seventy-seven generations, but he places no stress upon the number as S. Matthew does. Though S. Augustine, c2 , de consensu Evang., c4., is of opinion that entire remission and abolition of all sins, which is effected through Christ, is denoted by the seventy-seven generations. Whence Christ commanded that forgiveness should be extended to an erring brother seventy times seven. ( Matthew 18:22.)

By generations, you must understand all the persons, both those begetting and those begotten. These are the fourteen. For the Greek is not דםוףיע, i.e. generation, properly called, but דוםב, i.e. offspring, race, family, and children, the duration of the life of one man. For the generations, exactly numbered, are only thirteen in the first Tesseradecade, as you will see if you count the recurrence of the word "begat;" which word is repeated thirteen times; because in it alone Abraham is reckoned the first, and David the last generation. But in the second Tesseradecade, David, the first in it, is not reckoned; nor yet in the third, Jeconias the first name; because those persons have been already named and enumerated as the last in the second and third Tesseradecades. Therefore, in the third Tesseradecade, one generation must be added—namely, Jehoiakim begat Jehoiachin—in order that it may consist of fourteen generations; that is to say, of fourteen persons begetting and begotten, as I have already said. All the generations then are precisely forty-one; but the persons begetting and begotten are forty-two, because the generation of the first—namely, Abraham—is not reckoned here, but is presupposed as being known from the Book of Genesis.

You may ask, with what object S. Matthew so accurately enumerates these three Tesseradecades of generations? The answer is, because he wishes to pass in review the threefold condition of the Jewish people—the first, the quasi democratic state under the several Patriarchs and Judges, such as Othniel, Gideon, Samson, Eli, Samuel, &c., who presided over Israel from Abraham to David; the second, the monarchical, under kings, as David and his descendants, until the captivity; the third, the aristocratic, under dukes and pontiffs, as Judas, Jonathan, Simon, and the rest of the Maccabees, from the Babylonish captivity unto Christ. Matthew signifies that this threefold condition and government of the people was thrice changed, and must be a fourth time changed by Christ, and ended in Christ, who brought in an eternal kingdom. Thus the Fathers and commentators passim.

Whence Nazianzen, in his poem on the genealogy of Christ says:—

"Thus he deduced a royal race, and kingly sceptre."

Maldonatus adds a medical analogy. In fevers, and other diseases, physicians call the fourteenth the critical day, and the most perilous. Agreeably, therefore, to the nature of man, after each period of fourteen generations, God seems to have wished to change the condition of His people, that one form of government, as it were, growing sick and failing, a better one might be born and succeed it, until, through Christ, the best of all should be substituted, which should heal and correct the defects and weakness of the three preceding, and establish the kingdom of the Church, flourishing, sound, and eternal.

Lastly, Matthew enumerates forty-two generations by three Tesseradecades, so as to make it a probable conjecture in the mind of his reader, that it was fitting that Christ should come after this exact number of generations. For as there were fourteen generations before the kingdom of the Jews was established, fourteen during its continuance, after which, during fourteen generations, it evidently declined, so, by a probable conjecture, it might be supposed, that after these last fourteen generations, the kingdom fading away, it was to be restored to a better state by Messiah. For as there were fourteen generations before, and fourteen in the kingdom, so there were as many after the kingdom of Israel until Christ. Again, before the kingdom the promise of Christ was made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in the kingdom to David and Solomon; after the kingdom the same promise was repeated to Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, &c., that there might be a feeling that all the promises made concerning Christ, both before, during, and after the kingdom were ended and fulfilled in Christ.

Abraham begins, David ends the first Tesseradecade; Solomon begins, Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin ends the second; Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin begins, Christ ends the third. And He is the end of the law, and the deliverer of the captive people and the captive world. So Francisc. Lucas. For the Jews knew from the decline and failure of their commonwealth, and especially when the sceptre was taken away from Judah by Herod, according to the prophecy of Jacob, Genesis 49:10, that the Advent of Messiah might certainly be expected. Whence their kingdom being broken up, and this sceptre transferred, S. Matthew here teaches that Messiah was now come, and was none other than Jesus Christ. And thus he would persuade the Jews to believe in Him. Symbolically, Origen (Hom27 in Num.) and S. Jerome (Epist. ad Fabiolam Deuteronomy 42Mansion.), remark, that those forty-two generations correspond to the forty-two stations of the Israelites in the wilderness, by which they arrived at the land of Canaan promised to Abraham. Similarly, through the forty-two generations we arrive at the Messiah, or the Christ, promised to the same Abraham, and through Christ, at the land of the living, promised to the saints in heaven.

Again, the number fourteen, because it contains twice seven, by which the sevenfold grace of the Holy Ghost is signified, denotes the gift of the same Holy Spirit in two-fold abundance to man, as it was in Christ, who, indeed, by a like symbol, having suffered on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, when the moon was full, redeemed us by His death, and merited abundance of graces for us. Wherefore the Psalmist sings concerning Him, Ps. lxxi.: "In his days shall the righteous flourish, yea and abundance of peace, so long as the moon endureth." Listen to S. Ambrose, Oration on the death of Theodosius: "In the number fourteen we have received man"s perfection; whence the Lord"s Passover received the form of its celebration, on the fourteenth day of the moon. Wherefore he who celebrates the Passover ought to be perfect, ought to love the Lord Jesus, who, loving His own people with a perfect love, offered Himself to His Passion. A notable mystery is in the number, since the Father delivered up his only Son for us all, when the moon was shining with a full orb of light. For like this is the Church, which piously celebrates the Passover of our Lord Jesus Christ. It abideth for ever, like the moon at the full. Whosoever shall well celebrate here the Lord"s Passover, shall be in light, everlastingly."

Anagogically, the number forty-two is composed of six into seven, For six times seven makes forty-two. The six denotes the labours of this life, whereby we come to the seven, or the sabbath of rest and eternal felicity. For in the six first days of the world God made all things in heaven and earth; but in the seventh day, or the sabbath, He rested from all His work.

Tropologically, by this forty-fold number of generations is signified the life of the body, as compounded of the four elements. For this life standeth in keeping the ten commandments of God, which are perfected by the four Gospels. For ten into four makes forty. So Salmeron, so even S. Augustine, and from him Peter Bongus, On the Mysteries of Numbers, Num. XIV.: "The three divisions," he says, "in the generation of Christ, hint at the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is laid down concordantly by the Law and the Gospel. For three signifies faith in the Trinity, four the evangelical doctrine, ten the institution of the Law." The same author adds shortly afterwards: "That the number fourteen should be thrice repeated signifies true religion. For four and ten indicate the New and Old Testament. For the way to Christ is preached through the Ten Commandments of the Law, and the four Gospels; so, however, that we should consecrate whatever is ascribed to the Trinity, that is, to God, because no commandment is fulfilled unless this number is preserved in the worship of God. By the type of this number, moreover, Ezekiel (chap. xl.) beheld in the fourteenth year after the smiting of the city, a new city, even the Church, which Christ, born and dying, founded in the fourteenth generation after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldees, as Cassiodorus remarks (in Ps. xiv., sub finem). Lastly, in the forty second year after Christ"s Passion, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by Titus and Vespasian to avenge His death—as S. Jerome observes on the words of the Psalm: "In the next generation let his name be clean put out."

Ver18.—Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. The Birth of Christ happened in this manner. For Birth, the Greek has not דםוףיע, i.e., generation, properly so called, but דםםחףיע, 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 is, 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 son, by due order and right of succession, as I have said, ver162. Because Joseph was a most holy man, 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 so, 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 is, 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 is, I do what is, 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 is, that a virgin bride cannot marry another husband. The second is, 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 is, 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 Son, 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


Verses 18-25

Ver18.—Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. The Birth of Christ happened in this manner. For Birth, the Greek has not γένεσις, i.e., generation, properly so called, but γέννησις, 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 is, 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 son, by due order and right of succession, as I have said, ver162. Because Joseph was a most holy man, 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 so, 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 2:5) 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 is, 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 is, I do what is, 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 is, that a virgin bride cannot marry another husband. The second is, 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 is, 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 Son, 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 the Son, as light emits light: whence we sing in the Creed, "Light of Light, very God of very God;" so the Blessed Virgin, as the Star of the Sea, brought forth Christ, who is "the Brightness of Eternal Light," and the "Mirror without a spot." (Wisd. vii25.) Whence, like as a star, without any diminution of itself, sends forth its rays, so did the Blessed Virgin, without any derogation to herself, bring forth Christ the Light of the world. "Neither do the star"s rays diminish its lustre, nor did the Son of the Virgin take away her maiden purity and integrity," says S. Bernard. (Hom2super Missus est) Whence also those words of Simeon concerning Christ, "A Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel."

This family was then, as it were, a heaven upon earth—a family, not so much of three human persons as of three embodied angels—yea, symbolically, as it were, of three Divine Persons. Therefore it is not doubtful that it was thronged with angels, ministering to the Virgin, as Queen of Heaven, and to Christ, as their Lord and their God. Yea, they were amazed, and had the utmost desire to behold the WORD Incarnate. Therefore, that house, as it were heaven, was concealing an admirable mystery. Black without, but fair within, "as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon" (Song i5), says Rupert. Whence John Gerson (Sermon on the Nativity) exclaims in wonder—"O, how delectable to the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, was that house"s Trinity, Christ, Mary, Joseph. Nothing dearer, nothing better, nothing on earth more excellent. Heaven envied earth such inhabitants—inhabitants more befitting heaven than earth."

Tropologically, Let husbands and wives imitate the Blessed Virgin and Joseph in purity, in sanctity, in patience, and charity, bearing one another"s burdens. There was in this family of Joseph, Mary, and Christ, the utmost concord amongst all, the utmost love, the utmost reverence, humility, piety, help, and mutual compliance. From it, not only all bickering was absent, but even the very lightest suspicion of any evil thing. Hence such a family deserved to have Christ, the Holy of Holies, for its offspring. In our day, there are often in families depraved, disobedient, proud, quarrelsome, impure children, because their parents are such. Like father, like child. What he sees and hears his father and mother do, that he also imitates and imbibes. Children ever ape their parents.

Before they came together. Understand this not as though they afterwards came together for the marital debt, as the impure Helvidius maintained, who denied that the Blessed Virgin was always a virgin, and asserted that she afterwards became by Joseph the mother of those who, in the Gospel, are called the Lord"s brethren. S. Jerome confutes him at length, and shows that nothing is meant here except the miraculous conception of Christ by a pure virgin. Thus we say in common speech, "Such a one had grey hairs before he was an old man," meaning that it was remarkable that he was early grey-headed, even though he never became an old man, but died before he came to old age. Similarly also we say, "His boy was wise before he came to man"s estate," meaning that he was of precocious intellect, even though he died before he was of mature age; as those who are precocious do thus often die. Moreover, the brethren of the Lord are called His kinsmen. For, as S. Jerome says (Cont. Helvid.), brethren are so called in four ways: by nature, race, relationship, affection. People are brethren by nature, who are born of the same parents, by race, who belong to the same nation, as S. Paul calls the Jews his brethren (Rom. ix. I), by kinship, as cousins are called brethren in Scripture, by affection, as when Christians love one another with mutual fraternal love. For this is the love of the brotherhood, which S. Paul so often commands.

She was found with child, by the Holy Ghost. Observe that Joseph understood by her appearance, that his wife, the Blessed Virgin, had conceived. But whether he knew that she was with child by the Holy Ghost, or not, is doubtful. S. Basil, Origen, Theophylact, and others, hold the affirmative. But the contrary is more probable, because Joseph wished to put her away, but is forbidden by the angel, who removes his scruple, adding, "That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." Therefore, before the revelation of the angel, he did not know this, because had he known it, he would not have wished to put her away.

It is said, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was found with child of the Holy Ghost, because she had verily conceived by Him. The expression, by the Holy Ghost, must be referred to the words with child, not to was found. So the rest of the Fathers and Interpreters, passim. Origen adds that, "She was found by the angels, for they knew that she had conceived by the Holy Ghost."

Of the Holy Ghost. Not as though Christ were framed of the substance of the Holy Spirit, as is the case with other offspring, nor of the Holy Ghost as a father; because Christ, quà man, was not like to the Holy Ghost, who in His nature is God; but of the Holy Ghost as an agent and artificer. Thus S. Ambrose, in Luc. i35. Of the Holy Ghost, not, therefore, as of the Father, but, as it were, supplying the concourse of the father. For the Holy Ghost supplied the place of a father to Christ, through His power and operation. So S. Ambrose c2 , de Spiritu Sancto, c5 , and S. Augustine, Enchiridion, c39. For the substance of our Lord"s body was supplied by the Blessed Virgin, as His only human parent. Strictly speaking, by denotes the efficient cause, of the material cause—as we say in the Creed: "Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary."

You may ask—why does not Matthew say also, "With child by the Eternal Father, and by the Son. as well as by the Holy Ghost?" It is replied that he might have said this with equal truth. For it is an axiom among Theologians, that the operations of the Holy Trinity, ad extra—that is, with reference to the universe of created things—are common to all the Three Divine Persons. But he preferred to say, "By the Holy Ghost," because, as power is appropriated to the Father, and wisdom to the Son, so love, goodness, and grace, which especially shine forth in this work of the Incarnation, are attributed to the Holy Ghost. For the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son by spiration, being, as it were, the term of the ideal love of the Father and the Son.

Moreover S. Thomas (3part, qust32 , art1et seq) teaches that the words "by the Holy Ghost" signify three things: 1. That of the pure love of God and the Holy Spirit, without any human merits, the Incarnation of the Lord was accomplished2. Of the same Grace of God and the Holy Spirit, without previous merits, He was conceived. Whence S. Augustine, c. de Prdest. Sanct. c15 , proposes Christ, as it were, the ideal of election and the elect. "Whatsoever man is a Christian, he becomes such from the beginning of his faith by that self-same grace by which, at the first, Christ was made man: by the same Spirit a Christian is born again, by whom Christ was born; remission of sins is effected in us by the self-same Spirit by whom it was brought about that Christ should have no sin." 3. Christ was holy, by virtue of his conception. For, like as a man, who, by ordinary generation, is propagated from Adam, a sinner, is by virtue of his conception born a sinner, so Christ, who was conceived, and, as it were, propagated by the Holy Ghost, was conceived holy by virtue of his conception. For that which the Holy Ghost worketh can be nothing else save warmth and fire4. By the Holy Ghost, signifies that He, in the formation of the Humanity of Christ, transposed all His sanctity into It (so far as a creature"s capacity would allow of such a thing, and so far as a creature can become like the Creator), and, as it were, transformed It into Himself: so that, next to Himself, He made It to be a pattern and prototype of holiness, that from It and according to It He might, as it were, express and depict all other holiness, both of all angels, and all men. Therefore the humanity of Christ was the most perfect, special, and most holy work of the Holy Ghost, in which He Himself constituted a fount of all sanctity, which, by its own purity, might wash away the filth of all sins, and, so far as it is concerned, sanctify all sinners.

Moreover, S. Thomas (qust32 , art2) teaches that the preposition "by," in the expression by the Holy Ghost, signifies that Christ is consubstantial with the Holy Ghost, as touching his Godhead, not as touching his manhood, which He wrought in Christ. This, however, S. Augustine denies.

Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily

1. S. Chrysostom (in loco), S. Augustine (Epist52 , ad Macedon.), Justin M. (contra Tryphon.), are of opinion, that Joseph suspected evil of the Blessed Virgin, as though she had conceived by another man. They think that this is hinted at in the expression, make her a public example. But we say, far be any such suspicions concerning a virgin so holy, or a man so just. How, indeed, could Joseph have suspected adultery in such a wife, or uncleanness in her parents" house?

2. Others think that Joseph wished to put away the Blessed Virgin out of extreme reverence, because he thought himself unworthy to have to wife one who was with child by the Holy Ghost. Whence they are also of opinion that S. Joseph accompanied the Blessed Virgin when she visited Elizabeth, and heard her saluted as Mother of God, and therefore thought himself unworthy of her. This is the opinion of Origen, S. Basil, Theophylact, S. Bernard (Hom2super Missus est). S. Brigit asserts that the same was revealed to her (lib7 , Revelat. c25). Whence Salmeron (lib3 , c30) supports the same opinion by thirteen reasons.

But, 3 , plainly and surely, Joseph, seeing the Blessed Virgin with child, was astonished at the novelty of the thing, and his mind was agitated by contending and fluctuating emotions, and he reasoned somewhat in this way: "I know that this Virgin is most holy, wherefore I do not believe that she has been false to her troth, plighted to me. Still, she is with child, and I know not by me. But by whom I know not. Can it be by a former husband? Or can she have suffered violence on her journey, when she went to visit Elizabeth? Can she have suffered illusion from some spirit during sleep? Or, what would be more consonant with her sanctity, is she with child by an angel, or by the Deity Himself? Well, however the case may be, I am unwilling to retain her, if an angel, or God Himself, desires to have her. Wherefore I will resign her, and put her away from me."

God permitted this to take place in order that the conception of the Blessed Virgin by the Holy Ghost might be attested unto all, both by Joseph and by the Angel. Thus God permitted S. Thomas to doubt concerning Christ"s Resurrection, that he, touching Christ"s very wounds, might bear an irrefragable testimony to the same Resurrection.

Joseph, who was a righteous man, teaches husbands and believers not to suspect evil concerning just and holy persons upon slight grounds, but to wait for proofs. They should not be too ready to infer guilt, but should put the most favourable construction they can upon everything.

You may ask, why did not Joseph interrogate the Blessed Virgin, wherefore, and by whom she was with child? I reply, that it is merely the first thought which arose in Joseph"s mind, which is referred to, and which, out of modesty, he kept to himself. And he was shortly afterwards anticipated by the Angel, who answered in behalf of the Virgin, and exonerated him by saying that she had conceived by the Holy Ghost.

The Blessed Virgin was unwilling, of her own accord, to make known this divine secret to Joseph, in order that she might not seem to boast of her own gifts, so wonderful and so divine; but she confided all to God, and God"s providential care, most certainly trusting that God would defend her good repute and her innocence, and either in His own time open out the whole matter, as she had seen that He had lately done in the case of her cousin Elizabeth, or else would order all things to His own greater glory, and therefore to the greater honour and reverence of this, her conception. From whence, see here and admire the greatness of soul, and the lofty resignation and confidence of the Blessed Virgin in God, whereby she put away from her all this peril and fear of dark suspicion and infamy. And herein she has given a singular example of equanimity and confidence to wives who have jealous husbands, that they, too, should put their trust in God, that God will make clear their innocence and chastity, will protect them, and make them a praise, as he did in this case of the Blessed Virgin. Thus S. Jerome says: "This is the testimony to Mary"s purity, that Joseph, knowing her chastity, and wondering at what had happened, hides in silence the mystery of which he was ignorant." And S. Ambrose (in Luc. i.) says: "The Lord preferred that some should rather doubt concerning His own generation, than concerning His Mother"s purity."

It appears from all this that Joseph did not accompany the Blessed Virgin when she, very shortly after her Conception of Christ, visited S. Elizabeth. For if he had been in her company, and had seen and heard the great and wonderful things which befell her, they would have removed all his scruples, and he would not have thought of putting her away. And especially when S. Elizabeth said to the Blessed Virgin: "Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? He would have known from thence, that not only had she conceived of God, but that she had conceived God Himself, and that she was carrying Him in her womb.

Observe that Joseph is here called just—that is, a man of probity—forasmuch as he was one who wished, out of charity, to consult for the good fame, yea, even for the dignity of his spouse, when he thinks of putting away privily one whom he thought himself unworthy of. S. Jerome and Theophylact think that husbands were commanded by the old law to traduce and accuse before the judges their wives, if they were guilty of adultery. But they adduce no place in which such a precept is given. For the passage in Num. v2only permits such a thing to be done, but does not order it.

To make her a public example. Not, to send her away to her own house, as Abul. thinks. For the Greek is, παραδειγμάτισαι—that is, to disgrace, to defame, or, as S. Augustine (Epist59 , ad Paulinum) says, rendering literally, "to make an example of." It was the custom in Crete to lead adulteresses through the midst of the streets, as they did captives at Rome, that they might be gazed at and derided. Whence that ancient punishment by law against bawds: "Let bawds and adulterers be caned through the public streets of the city, that they may be reviled and derided." And the line of Propertius: "Not even if the infamous one should traverse the whole city."

Was minded to put her away privily. By the way of secret divorce, giving her privily a bill of divorcement, as Abul. says on the passage, qust39; or rather, and in a more honourable way for her, by leaving her on the plea of travel, as going away into a far country. So Maldonatus. Whence the Syriac translates: "And he thought of leaving her secretly:" and the Arabic, "Since he did not wish to put her to public shame, he thought upon a private dismissal."

But while he thought on these things. He had evidently not resolved upon them. For this was his first thought, and, as it were, the first motive of his mind. Behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Conceived: that is at one and the same time, conceived, formed, and animated, for this is the proper meaning of γεννηθέν—that is, begotten, born. See Abul., quæst52 , and S. Thomas, 3part. quæst33 & 34 , where he teaches that the Body of Christ was in the very instant of its Conception, as regarded all its members, 1 , perfectly formed and organized by the Holy Ghost; 2 , animated with a reasonable soul; 3 , assumed by the WORD. 4. That the soul of Christ was filled with all wisdom, and the grace of that Headship which flows from thence into all the members—i.e., to all the faithful5. That the same soul saw God through the Beatific Vision6. That the same had the use of reason, even apart from the Beatific Vision, by means of infused knowledge, and that, in this way, It knew that It was hypostatically united to the Word, and therefore gave God highest thanks because of this vision and exaltation: and that God revealed to the soul of Christ His own will, concerning His death upon the Cross, that He might thereby redeem and save mankind; and that the soul of Christ forthwith accepted this, and offered himself to God as a whole burnt-offering, a victim for sin for the salvation of the world, with the utmost humility, obedience, reverence, love, exultation, and joyfulness of mind, saying—"Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, that I should do thy will. Yea, O my God, I am content to do it: Thy law is written in my heart." (Ps. xxxix8 , and Heb. x7.)

She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. If Jesus, as follows from this, is Emmanuel, that is, God with us; if He is the offspring and the Son of Blessed Mary, as is here said, then she is not only Mother of Christ but Mother of God, as defined by the Council of Ephesus against Nestorius. For Mother and Son are relative terms. Moreover, Valentinus is condemned by this passage, who taught that Christ brought down a celestial body from heaven, and passed through the Blessed Virgin as through a conduit-pipe. But she who bears a son is really the mother of the son; and furnishes, and indeed provides his body and all his limbs.

Jesus, that is, Saviour. This was Christ"s proper name, here foretold by the Angel, but given Him at circumcision, a name which signifies and represents His office and dignity—yea, compendiously His whole life.

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. The Syriac is: And they shall call his name Amanuil, which is explained, God with us. The Persian has, Immanuil, that is, because God dwelleth in us. The Egyptian version—And they shall give him the name Emmanuel, the interpretation of which is, for God is with us. S. Matthew to the reader, or, as some think, the Angel to Joseph, here brings forward the prophecy in Isa. vii14 , to signify that it was now being fulfilled in this Conception of the Blessed Virgin, his wife, and would be perfectly fulfilled when she brought forth. And therefore he called Joseph the son of David, because the same thing was promised by God to David. I have fully expounded this prophecy in my commentary on Isa. vii., which see.

Behold. A word exacting attention, consideration, and admiration. As it were, "Behold, O ye angels, and all mankind, see and admire a new and wonderful thing, a thing unheard of in all ages. For a virgin shall conceive and bring forth Emmanuel, that is, God made man." Whence Jeremiah, overcome with astonishment at the same event, exclaims (xxxi22), "The Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth: a woman shall compass a man."

Cyrus, the first king of Persia, according to the testimony of Xenophon, never admired, and taught his friends to admire nothing on earth. For this is the mark of a great and a regal mind, to despise all things as being beneath him, as being of less importance than himself. And Seneca said that a wise man admired nothing, because, being above the earth, he despised all things lower than himself. But in Divine matters all things are worthy of admiration; because they are great, yea, the greatest things, especially the mystery of Emmanuel, because it is the great mystery of Divine Godliness, as the Apostle says, 1Tim. iii10. Therefore, the goodness of the great God is a thing to be astonished at and admired. "Who through the bowels of his mercy visited us, the day-spring from on high." "Behold, therefore, the infant Word, the wise Child, the God-Man," says S. Bernard. Theologians and contemplative writers teach that we can consider and meditate upon this mystery in various ways, as by the method of compassion, of joy, of thanksgiving, of love, of imitation, but most loftily by wonder, as though we were always stumbling, amazed and astounded at this so great condescension of our God, whereby He deigned to descend to us worms of the earth so as to become a worm with us; and this, not for His own sake, but for ours, that He might unite men as worms to Himself, and make them gods. Thus the Blessed Virgin was amazed, and thus, too, S. Paul, S. Bernard, and Francis, and other especially saintly persons, who plainly and entirely despised the world, and all the things which are in the world, as being petty, brief, and transitory, and fixed their whole love, thought, and amazement on the Word Incarnate, and had their conversation always with Jesus, despising all other things.

Emmanuel. The Syriac has Amman Elohan—i.e., our God with us; but the word our is not in the Hebrew Emmanuel. From the Syriac it appears possible that S. Matthew, if he wrote in Syriac (as, many think, because the Jews for whom he was writing, in the time of Christ spoke in Syriac), interpreted the Hebrew Emmanuel by the Syriac Emman Eloha, or God with us. Munster, and others who have translated the Gospel of S. Matthew out of Latin into Hebrew, render the single Hebrew word Emmanuel by two, Immanu Elohim.

Some think that this interpretation was made by the Greek translator, who was followed by the Latin. The French shorten Emmanuel into Noel, which they duplicate and sing at Christmastide. Now, the name Emmanuel signifies the Incarnation of the WORD, and His whole Economy in the Flesh, because by It He was properly and physically God with us, by means of His flesh and His conversation, and ethically by reconciliation and grace. So S. Chrysostom.

You may say: How is the name Jesus the same as Emmanuel, as S. Matthew here intimates? Tertullian (lib. contra Judæos) answers that it is the same in sense if not in sound. For that God should be with us is the same thing as that a Saviour—i.e., Jesus—should be with us. For none other than God could be our Saviour.

Observe the Hebraism by which called is put for be. He shall be called Emmanuel, that is, He shall be Emmanuel. This is by the figure of speech metonymy, to which the following passages are clearly similar: Jer. xxiii6 , Zech. viii3 , and Is. ix6—"And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God: the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of peace." For all these things are signified, either explicitly or implicitly by the name of Jesus.

Note, also, that Christ is not called by Matthew and Isaiah Emmanu Jehovah, or Emmanu Adonai or Elohim, though all these are names of God, because Jehovah connotes the essence of God, or signifies God as He is the first, chief, and uncircumscribable Entity, from whom all other entities derive their existence. Adonai connotes the dominion of God, and signifies God as He is the Ruler, the Judge, and the Avenger of all things. But El connotes the might and omnipotence of God, and signifies God as He is strong and omnipotent, because God manifested His utmost might and power in the Incarnation, and in Christ, for through Christ He hath vanquished His strongest enemies, even the devils, hell, death, and sin, yea, and all sins and vices, however many and however great. Whence, also, the Angel who announced this mystery, was called Gabriel—i.e., the strength of God.

Hence, also, tropologically, observe: God is with us, not only in essence, presence, and power, as He is in all and every creature; but by the Incarnation He is also with us truly, properly, and really, as a Brother, living, speaking with us in the human nature assumed by Him, Therefore—2 , He is with us, as a Head with its members. For Christ, as the Head of the faithful, causes to flow into them spiritual sense and motion, together with direction and government3. The Same, being Incarnate, is with us in the Eucharist, as it were our Food, feeding us with his own Flesh, and giving us to drink of His own Blood. So far, physically4. Christ, ethically, is with the Church as a bridegroom with a bride, assisting, protecting, sustaining, adorning, making her fruitful. Whence the Psalmist: "For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." (Ps. xxii4.) Therefore the believer, in every difficulty, labour, or tribulation, invokes Emmanuel, that is, God with us, conversant in our flesh. And joyfully he cries, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall lack nothing. He shall lead me in a green pasture, and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort." And, Ps. xxvii1 , "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom, then, shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? If armies in camp should stand together against me, my heart shall not fear; if a battle should rise up against me, in this will I be confident." And with Paul, "If God be for us, who is against us?" so now, to any believer, but especially to a saint or a martyr, it is lawful to say what the Angel said to Gideon, "The Lord is with thee, O most valiant man." (Judges vi12.)

And Joseph rising from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: that is, did not put her away, but retained her with him, for this was what the Angel commanded him.

And knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: and he called his name Jesus.

1. S. Hilary, in loc., cited by S. Thomas in Catena, Dionys. Carthus., and Gagneius expound as follows: As the Jews were not able to look upon and recognize the face of Moses on account of the rays of light which God had, as it were, breathed into him when He talked with him on Mount Sinai, so neither was Joseph able to look upon and to know the Blessed Virgin, forasmuch as she had God in her womb, and therefore her face was most radiant. But after Christ was born, this glory and effulgence left her face, and then she could be seen and known by Joseph.

2. On the contrary S. Epiphanius, Hæresi30—that is, his treatise against the Ebionites—expounds thus: Joseph knew her not in mind. He did not discover the sanctity and the dignity of the Blessed Virgin, his wife, until she brought forth Christ. But these expositions are either incorrect or else symbolical and mystical.

3. According, therefore, to the true literal meaning, to know one"s wife signifies in Scripture the conjugal act. This, therefore, is excluded with reference to Christ, so as to signify that He was not conceived of Joseph, but by the Holy Ghost.

Until. From hence the heretics have taken occasion to say that Joseph knew her after she had brought forth her Son. Whence they deny that the Blessed Virgin always remained a Virgin, and that after bearing her Child she lost her virginity. Thus Helvidius, Jovinian, the Ebionites, and the rest of the Antidicomariani, who are confuted by S. Epiphanius, S. Jerome, S. Augustine and others, who teach that the word until, in this place, only signifies what took place up to the time of the birth, not what happened after the birth, which is not here referred to. For by this word until, Matthew wished to assert a wonderful thing—a thing hitherto unheard of, and, according to nature, incredible—even the Conception of Christ, without a father, by a virgin mother. Similarly, until is used, Psalm 110:1., "Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool," not because Thou shalt not after that sit any longer, but because Thou shalt then sit far more gloriously, as victor and triumphant at my right hand. And in Matthew 5:26, "Thou shalt not go out from thence until thou shalt pay the last farthing;" that is, thou shalt never come out from the fire of hell. And 2 Samuel 6:23, "Therefore Michal, the daughter of Saul, had no child unto the day of her death," i.e., never. And, Genesis 8:7, concerning the raven, which Noah sent forth out of the ark: "Which went forth and did not return until the waters were dried up;" i.e., it never returned. Thus, too, we say, "S. Agnes continued a virgin until death;" i.e., she always remained a virgin, for she could not lose her virginity after she was dead.

You may urge, S. Matthew says, until she brought forth her firstborn son; therefore she had other sons, by Joseph, namely those who in the Gospel are called the Lord"s brethren. I reply by denying the conclusion. For, in Scripture, any one is called a first-born son, who has no elder brothers, even though he be an only son. This is plain from Exodus 4:22, and14:2. The word "first" denies the existence of any previous sons, but does not require, or presuppose, that there were any subsequent. Thus, an only son is even now called the first-born.

Therefore it is a doctrine of the faith that the Blessed Virgin always remained a virgin, as is plain from S. Luke 1:34, Ezekiel 44:2, and by the universal consent of the Fathers, and the common consent, and perpetual tradition of the Church. (See S. Jerome, contra Helvid., init. tom2.)

*Limum, lit. mud, slime. (Return to the place.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on Matthew 1:4". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/clc/matthew-1.html. 1890.


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Sunday, September 24th, 2017
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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