Understanding the Fatherhood of St. Joseph

St. Joseph is a man of mystery. While we certainly do know several things about him through Scripture, not a single word that he spoke is recorded in the Bible. However, there are some aspects of St. Joseph’s life we do know to be true. And by understanding these truths about St. Joseph we can better understand the truths about Jesus and the Holy Family into which He was born.

In this month’s installment of 19 on the 19th, a series that brings you 19-minute reflections on St. Joseph each month, Patrick Madrid, host of The Patrick Madrid Show, dives into the writings of the Church Fathers to help us understand the fatherhood of St. Joseph and his role as Guardian and Protector of the Holy Family.

Patrick noted, “Even though the biblical details of St. Joseph’s life and his role in God’s plan of salvation are not very extensive, by comparison to the details revealed about the apostles, what we do know of him by divine revelation paints a portrait of a good and just man who always put God first, and whose quiet life of service to Our Blessed Lady and to Jesus Christ was marked by a quiet reserve and the humility one would expect from the head of the Holy Family.”

Because the Church Fathers (men such as St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and more) were steeped in both the Old and the New Testament, it makes sense that they would spend some time focusing on St. Joseph. And, indeed, they did.

“Since the Bible doesn’t provide us with many details about St. Joseph, it’s not surprising that the Fathers concentrated their commentaries about him on his role as the foster father of the Son of God, the Most Chaste Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and as the head of the Holy Family,” Patrick said.

One question that comes up in regard to St. Joseph is the nature of his fatherhood. We know that St. Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, but in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus’ ancestry is traced through Joseph. Why is that? In what way was St. Joseph Jesus’ father (as the Gospel of Matthew indicates) and in what way was his paternal authority limited by that of God the Father?

Drawing on the research of the scholar Florent Raymond Bilodeau, Patrick explained that the Church Fathers recognized St. Joseph as the legal father of Christ. In a sermon offered on St. Joseph’s virginity, St. Augustine points out that the finding of Jesus in the Temple offers us insight into this unique dynamic of St. Joseph’s fatherhood.

St. Joseph

“The Virgin Mary herself, perfectly aware that she had not conceived Christ by Joseph’s conjugal embrace, still calls him Christ’s father,” Augustine said. “When the Lord Jesus Christ was 12 years old as a human being, since as God He is before all time and beyond all time, He stayed behind in the Temple when they left and went on engaging His elders in discussion and winning their admiration at His teaching.”

Augustine notes that Mary herself refers to St. Joseph as Christ’s father, and Jesus’ response to her acknowledges that He is the Son of the Heavenly Father. We can see from this exchange that both are true.

Augustine recalls, “When Mary said, ‘Your father and I have been very worried looking for you,’ He answered, ‘Do you not know that I have to be about My Father’s business?’ Because He was not willing to be their son in such a way that they didn’t realize He was the Son of God. The Son of God is always the Son of God, the one who created them, after all.”

This exchange sheds light on the nature of St. Joseph’s fatherhood. We know from Mary’s own words that St. Joseph’s relationship with Christ was that of a father and a son. But we also hear from Christ’s words that as the Son of God He remained at all times the Son of the Heavenly Father.

Augustine said in his sermon, “Therefore, let not perverse murmurers do what the virginal wife did not do. Let us count (the generations of Christ) through Joseph, because as he was a virginal (chaste) husband, so was he a virginal (chaste) father.”

Learn more about St. Joseph in the writings of the Church Fathers by listening to or reading Patrick Madrid’s full 19 on the 19th talk below:


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Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.