Do the Gospels tell us more about St Joseph than we realise? Fr H.J. Coleridge SJ, 1885

It becomes obvious that we have continual though silent record of decisions and acts of St Joseph.”

Photo by Saint John’s Seminary on Unsplash. Some line breaks added below, with some headings taken from the original Table of Contents.

Editors’ Notes

It is sometimes suggested that the Gospels have relatively little to say about St Joseph. Sometimes spiritual writers try to “fill in the gaps” – but Fr Henry J. Coleridge approaches the question in such a way as to show us that there is no need for this at all.

In fact, as Fr Coleridge shows us, St Joseph fills the infancy narratives in a way that may seem surprising. When one thinks about his explanation, it is really very obvious:

“We are so accustomed to the recital of these glorious mysteries of our faith, that we do not realize easily how many matters relating to them must have come to be decided by one in the place of St. Joseph. He was the appointed steward of the mysteries of that time, as later on the Apostles and the ministers of the Church were to become the same with regard to the administration of the blessings confided to her.”

At present, while the book is available at, the only place that we have found a hard copy is Gyan Books, India.

St Joseph – pray for us!

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The Thirty Years
Our Lord’s Infancy & Hidden Life
Fr Henry James Coleridge

Burns and Oates, London, 1915

The head of a family

We all know that in ordinary life the things which are of the commonest occurrence, the established regulations and customs, whether of families or of the community at large, are not specially recorded by the historian.

We take for granted that, as a household must be governed, the master of the house is responsible for the management of the affairs of the family, and that what is done therein is done by his order. If it is well done, it is put, so to say, to his credit, if it is badly done, it is set to his discredit.

The character and disposition which are predominant in him, may be read in the ordinary routine of his household. If it proceeds smoothly and with good discipline it is considered that he is a good manager, and knows how to wield his authority. If things are loose, out of order, and uncontrolled, it is thought that he is weak and unfit for any post of responsibility.

But in any case it is not necessary to say specially that the most ordinary things in the daily routine of life, or the arrangement of any particular matter which naturally falls under his authority, have been, as a matter of fact, regulated by him. What is exceptional is mentioned, what is ordinary is taken as understood.

The position of St Joseph and his choices

If we look upon the sacred history of the Holy Infancy in this light, it becomes obvious that we have in it a continual though silent record of decisions and acts of St. Joseph, as to which no precise mention is made of his name. We are told, from time to time, of instances in which he was supernaturally guided, by visions of angels, to take this or that step in the management of the Holy Family. But these are the exceptional cases, and they show us that, where there was no occasion for supernatural intimation, the remainder of the direction of the Holy Family came from him in the natural exercise of his office.

These supernatural interferences, so to say, come just whenever there is need of them, and on no other occasions. They regulate matters which could not have been settled without them, such as the Flight into Egypt and the Return from Egypt. Whatever, therefore, is outside the range of these special intimations of the will of God must be set down to the decision of St. Joseph himself as the head of the Holy Family.

Such, for instance, is a case specially mentioned in the Gospel, because there was need for such mention, the decision taken by St. Joseph after the return from Egypt, not to settle at Bethlehem. It was necessary for St. Matthew to account for the residence of the Holy Family at Nazareth, of which he had, up to that point, made no mention at all. Yet this step was not taken in consequence of any supernatural guidance. In such steps as this St. Joseph’s character is revealed, and of these the responsibility rests with him.

We cannot of course doubt that he consulted in all things the desires and the prudence of his most Blessed Spouse, and that there was never any occasion on which the decisions of his own judgment and authority ran counter to the thoughts of Mary. But, after all, he was the head, and not she, and the perfect beauty and wonderful wisdom of the guidance of the Holy Family in all these early mysteries of the Incarnation are to be ascribed to him directly and officially. When there is need, the Angel appears to him in a dream. At other times, he rules and decides for himself, and for Mary, and for the Infant Jesus, and the history becomes thus the history of his decisions, and of choices made by him.

We are so accustomed to the recital of these glorious mysteries of our faith, that we do not realize easily how many matters relating to them must have come to be decided by one in the place of St. Joseph. He was the appointed steward of the mysteries of that time, as later on the Apostles and the ministers of the Church were to become the same with regard to the administration of the blessings confided to her.

Thus, from the moment when, in obedience to the Divine intimation conveyed to him by the Angel, St. Joseph took unto him, as St. Matthew tells us, Mary his wife, all the movements and arrangements of the Holy Family depended on his faithfulness and vigilance. It was in obedience to his direction that our Blessed Lady accompanied him to Bethlehem in the journey which ended in the Nativity of our Lord. He it was who made up his mind that they must take refuge in the cave in which our Lord was actually born into the world. In the eyes of the first visitors from among men, the Blessed Babe was his Child, and the Blessed Mother his wife. It was by his permission that their visits took place.

He was the guardian of the sanctuary, and if their devotion led them to make any poor offerings of their own to the poverty of the new-born King, it was to him that these offerings were entrusted. We are not told how long the Blessed Child and His Mother remained in the cave, but the length of time and the place to which they departed were fixed by St. Joseph.

Was Our Lord to be subject to the Law?

It may have been a matter of simple necessity, that our Lady should find her first shelter in a cave which was also a stable. But the time soon came for other choices to be made, which were not simply matters of necessity. It must have been a question of some doubt, as we reckon such matters, whether the new-born King was to be subjected to all the conditions of the Mosaic Law.

Now we are nowhere told that these possible questions were made matters of revelation to St. Joseph. They were left to his prudence and to the enlightenment of his soul, already so highly raised in the contemplation and intelligence of the ways of God. There is no hesitation or taking of counsel recorded. Everything proceeds with our Lord as with other children of the holy nation.

There are words which ring in our ears, over and over again, as we read the simple narrative in St. Luke, in which this part of the history is preserved for us, and in which, as has been said, we seem to be reading the Gospel of Mary.

These words are, “The Law of the Lord.”

Everything is to be done according to the Law of the Lord. St. Joseph had received no revelation on this point. It was left to his own holy instincts. Thus when eight days were accomplished that the Child should be circumcised, He received the name of Jesus. When the days of her purification were accomplished, according to the Law of Moses, she is taken to the Temple that she maybe purified, and that her Child maybe presented to the Lord, and the offering is made according to the Law of the Lord. And when all is accomplished according to the Law of the Lord, they return to their own city of Nazareth in Galilee.

In all these mysteries we read the perfect prudence and intelligence of the holy Patriarch in the ways of God. It is not too much, also, to say that they reveal him to us as having, above all other things, a most tender and deep devotion to the Law and the will of God.

He had come into the world in the exercise of a kind of obedience to the temporal lord of the universe, the heathen Emperor Augustus Caesar, but was He to submit to all the requirements of the code of Moses, and of the prescriptions involved in the covenant with Abraham? If so, He must be circumcised on the eighth day from His birth, His Blessed Mother must remain under the Law of Purification, like other mothers of the holy nation, and an offering must be made for His redemption in the Temple at the same time with her Purification.

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His full knowledge about Our Lord

It is impossible to suppose that there was any lack of intelligence on the part, either of Mary or of her Blessed Spouse, concerning the Divine Person of the new-born Babe. To those who have devoutly contemplated the earlier mysteries of the life of this blessed pair, such a supposition will naturally seem childish.

It follows then that all these decisions, of which we have been speaking, must have been made by St. Joseph and accepted by our Blessed Lady, with the full knowledge that He Who was thus to be subjected to a law made by Himself, but not made, as it might seem, for Himself, was the Incarnate God.

It follows also that they must have seen the Divine fitness of His subjection in all these matters, and have understood, in some measure at least, the Divine objects for which, in the counsels of God, that submission had been decreed, the relation in which these actions of His stood to the fulfilment, in the highest sense, of the Old Law, and of the Patriarchal Covenant which had preceded it, and how He was, in all these instances of His humiliation, ratifying and giving efficacy to His own prophetic dispositions for the salvation and healing of mankind, under the former dispensations, as well as leaving behind Him a lesson and an example to the children of the Gospel Kingdom.

It has already been said that the decision as to the carrying out, in the Person of the Infant Saviour of the world, of the prescriptions of the Law in such matters as the Circumcision, must have been left in Providence to the enlightened prudence and intelligence of St. Joseph. He was the Father of the Holy Family. He had been specially commanded to act as such, and in that command was contained the full commission which gave him authority and also secured him all the necessary guidance, whether ordinary or extraordinary.

It may perhaps be thought that, in the command given by the Angel that he should call the Child of Mary by the holy name of Jesus, there was also contained sufficient guidance as to this point of the Circumcision of our Lord. For the giving of the name to Jewish children was an accompaniment of the rite of Circumcision, as it is with Christians a part of the rite of Holy Baptism.

In any case, we are not told of any further revelation made either to St. Joseph or to our Blessed Lady in respect of this most practical question.

From Fr Henry James Coleridge, The Thirty Years, Our Lord’s Infancy & Hidden Life, ‘The Circumcision’, published 1885, this edition Burns and Oates, London, 1915, pp 75-81

Further Reading

Devotion to St Joseph, Part I: Theological Reasons – Fr Bover SJ

Devotion to St Joseph, Part II: Logical Consequences – Fr Bover SJ

Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ

What are the warnings that the final storm approaches?
The Church in the Last Days – Part I: How will we see her?
The Church in the Last Days – Part II: How will we know her?
One of the greatest pains of Purgatory and how to avoid it
What might Jairus’s Daughter tell us about the pains of Purgatory?
Our Lady, the Rosary and the Holy Souls
The Cleansing of the Temple – How Our Lord will come and purge our souls
The price of delay in relieving the souls in Purgatory
Our Lord’s expectation of his Nativity – Part I
Our Lord’s expectation of his Nativity – Part II
The Presentation of Christ – Candlemas, Passover and the buying-back of the firstborn
Persecution – What are its effects?
St Joseph – do the Gospels tell us more about him than we realise?


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