The Hidden Truths Behind St. Joseph’s Quiet Fatherhood

by March, Mary - The Blessed Mother, Saints

St. Joseph, the silent husband of the Virgin Mother, terror of demons, and earthly father of Christ our Lord, is a man of few words. His role within the Holy Family as the father of Christ reveals a very important metaphysical truth. Identity is not determined by categories, basic notions, concepts, or principles from mechanical processes discovered by science. A mechanical process consists of a formula with inputs and outputs to demonstrate its function and has no inherent meaning outside of that formula. For example, examining photosynthesis through biology or chemistry illustrates a mechanical process. Identity is ontological, rooted in the nature and relations of being. Identity originates from above, from heaven, from God. Biology, for instance, occupies the bottom of the hierarchy of categorization and serves as a revelation of the categories above it. Biology describes a mechanical process rather than arbitrating identity. This is not to diminish the importance of biology; it serves its purpose but should not be the sole determinant of the meaning of our lives and how human relationships should function. This always raises questions about St. Joseph’s role as a father when God is also the Father. How do we understand this, and how do we approach it? There are two ways: one is through the understanding of the Trinity as a relationship, and the second is by understanding the hierarchical structure in the Genesis narrative through that Trinitarian relationship.

St. Joseph’s Relationship To The Trinity

The Trinity is a relationship of three Persons constituting one Being. We, as beings, are not outside of this pattern and exist through a Trinitarian relationship, signifying that God is always THE Father within a relationship, whether that Trinitarian pattern regards Christ or us. St. Joseph, in this matter, is a father to Christ because of his relationship with the incarnated Person of the Trinity, not due to biological categories or other mechanical factors. As an example, a foster father of a child is held to the same standards and laws within society as a biological father. It is important to understand that identity does not exist independently but within a relationship to each other and to God.

Considering this pattern, it is true of any identity in general. Let’s consider gender. Some people state that it’s through our roles in society and our relationship with things around us that determine our gender, while others argue that our gender is determined through biology. Both perspectives have validity, but let’s examine how reducing the meaning of something through biology can be problematic. Determining the definition of a woman or man solely through the categories of biology is a reductionist viewpoint. It reduces the being to its parts instead of considering the whole, thus leading us to materialism—an ideology that believes nothing exists beyond physical matter and its movements. By this definition, St. Joseph is not a father, and neither is any step-father a father, due to the lack of a biological tie to the child. How can a priest, for example, be a father by that reductionist definition? This is not to discount biology entirely; it simply occupies a lower position in the hierarchy when defining something. Biology reveals identity; it does not dictate it.

The problem with the first viewpoint is that it leads to a Luciferian conclusion. By stating that identity is based solely on how we interact with the world around us, we risk assuming the roles of both God and man, imposing identity on all things affecting our relationship with them. This leads to our actions being arbitrary and prevents the formation of genuine relationships. Our relationships and interactions are not arbitrary. For example, we understand that when a man joins with a woman in the act of sex, there is a unique possibility of a child, whereas, there is no such potential with two men or two women.

St. Joseph’s role as an earthly father of Christ also exists within a Trinitarian relationship. What do I mean by this? Because Christ is THE Son, it makes St. Joseph the father, but that does not make us fathers of Christ. The key is the third person in the Holy Family, Mary. St. Joseph’s spousal relationship with the Virgin Mother gives him a unique position as a father of Christ. Saint Joseph Akathist, from the Eastern Christian tradition, states in his hymn:

“O holy and righteous St. Joseph! While yet on earth, you had boldness before the Son of God, Who was well pleased to call you His father, in that you were the betrothed of His Mother, and Who was well pleased to be obedient to you.”

ST. Joseph’S Akathist

Biological categories do not determine a father-and-son relationship; it is an ontological one. Biology delves into the parts and explains the mechanical process of conception. Ontologically, the father is a father because he provides the seed—the source of identity. The seeds one plants and allows to grow in the garden are the fruits one will bear. Seed is related to heaven, as seen in the Scriptural readings of the Annunciation. An Archangel brings down the Seed, and Mary accepts, allowing it to grow in her womb. This is the pattern of the creation of man, the joining of heaven and earth, or the planting of the seed of an identity into the potentiality of the earth. But it also symbolizes how we interact with identities. All these ontological patterns are symbolic, and St. Joseph’s fatherhood to Christ is the metaphysical representation of these symbolic structures.

Hidden Meaning

We have a modern tendency to define symbolism as “instead of” or hidden meaning, rather than a revelation of meaning. We also tend to reduce symbolism into a direct 1:1 ratio, assuming that one symbol always means one thing, instead of understanding that it also lives in relation to context. For example, seeing a snake image in an ancient text and understanding it to symbolize fertility does not mean that the snake always symbolizes fertility. The first symbol is man—an image of God—the meeting of heaven and earth. This is why God asked Adam to name things—to give identity and express dominion over what he named. Through naming the animals, man becomes a mediator of meaning or a mediator of heaven and earth. Man, being the union of heaven and earth, can mediate by drawing identity from heaven and giving that meaning to something on earth. Man participates with symbols, meaning all identities and categories are symbolic, as evident every time we attend Mass or Divine Liturgy.

These parallels of the seed meeting the earth and the joining of heaven and earth have a similar meaning but at different levels within an ontological hierarchy. Heaven is related to the seed, while earth coincides with potentiality and creates man or, on a different level of the hierarchy, an identity. Let’s consider this through the role of a priest and why he is also a father; the key is the Eucharist. A father is one who gives seed; in this case, the seed is the Eucharist—the seed of all meaning and of all identity, the Symbol of all symbols (defined as the way the world comes together to have meaning). As the brides of God, we receive this seed, and so our identity is solidified and is in relationship with Christ, allowing us to be who we truly are.

By viewing the Trinity as a relationship and understanding the Trinitarian relationship of St. Joseph in the Holy Family, one does not need the scientific categories of biology to determine his fatherhood. St. Joseph’s case is unique because of his relationship with the Virgin Mary bearing Christ. By understanding St. Joseph’s fatherhood through relationship, we can see that St. Joseph embodies the meaning of the earthly father and what all men should strive to be.

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