There are basically two schools of thought.
Both are conjecture but based
upon the reading and study of what is in (and what is omitted) in Sacred
Scripture, especially Matthew 13:55; Luke 3:23, 4:22; and John 1:45, 6:42.
One school suggests that St. Joseph was a widower and the early arguments
in favor of this justified the apparent contradiction in Western language
of the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels. Later study of the Hebrew and Semantic languages
gave a clearer understanding that members of the extended family (cousins,
first cousins, etc.) were also described as brothers in those languages.
The suggestion that Joseph was a widower is also put forward in the non-canonical Apocrypha.
Another reason propositioned is there is no mention of Joseph
when Jesus was an adult in His public ministry, and it is propositioned
that Joseph must have died and therefore was considerably older than Mary.
Finally, there is the sadness of the modern world skepticism that cannot
conceive Mary could remain a virgin in a marriage with a virile young man.
The other tradition, and the one favored by Professor Jean Guitton (Sorbonne),
is that Joseph was a virile and strong young man. There are many convincing
arguments for this:
- Consider his strength as an artisan.
- Consider his strength
on the flight into Egypt.
- Consider his tender care of Mary and Jesus.
child Jesus needed a strong protector, not an aging old man. That said, I find
the most convincing argument for Joseph being a young man, is that God
cannot be contradictory to Himself:
Consider the evidence of the Sacrament
of marriage: Joseph and Mary had a true and valid marriage, even though
Joseph respected and encouraged Mary in her vow of virginity. The Holy
family was a real family, full of love between Joseph and Mary, not a relationship
between Mary and her formal guardian. It was a real marriage.
The Very Rev. Dr. Arendzen writes:
"Joseph and Mary were man and wife.
Although Our Lady ever retained her spotless virginity, St. Joseph was
truly her husband. The sacred contract of marriage was real between them,
it gave all the rights of wedlock, though in a deep and mutual reverence
they persevered in virginal purity. St. Joseph is the model for husbands;
he was a workman but he married a Princess. He had a share in carrying
out the eternal plans of God."
Take your own view, but I would suggest there are strong and persuasive
- was both a young man at the time of his marriage
to Mary, and
- that he also maintained his own virginity as a fitting spouse
of Mary, Theotokos.