Expert Answer Forum
How many members were in the Holy family. QUESTION from Lori November 6, 2000 I heard a well-known and respected priest and lecturer bring up a point that maybe Jesus had step brothers and sisters because St. Joseph was a widower. This seems way off to me. He may have been being flip about this, but I don't think that this is something to even joke about.
Why did the early Church think that Jesus had brothers and sisters? Does anyone of good standing, besides this priest, think that this is a possibility?
Please help, Lori
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on November 7, 2000 Dear Lori,
It was not an uncommon belief that St. Joseph was a widower before he got engaged to Our Blessed Mother. It helped explain the mention of the brothers of Jesus and why Joseph did not live long enough to witness Jesus' preaching: as he was already married before he met Mary he would have been too old to see his son into manhood.
It is an explanation with a long history. St. Epiphanius of Salamis (310-403), St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 385) and St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. 375-444) all believed that Joseph had a former marriage, but most Church Fathers believed along with St. Jerome (c. 347- c.419) that brothers meant cousins. Medieval art sometimes represents St. Joseph as an old man, even though he probably would have been about nineteen when he married our Blessed Mother. I think most people in the Church share this opinion.
I am of the opinion that Joseph would have been single when he was betrothed to Mary because it seems more appropriate for the ideal to happen; while a second marriage is not wrong, there's nothing ideal about it: there's a death of a spouse and the grief that comes with it, children to support on your own and for whom you want to find a fitting mother, a family history and dynamic that the new spouse must adapt to, etc. It would have been more ideal for God to choose a single man, one with a clean slate so to speak, so that these problems would have been avoided. This is mere speculation, of course, but when forming the Holy Family, God seems to have worked from a position of the ideal, and not the common. He chose Mary, a sublime woman, Joseph, who some theologians say was given a special grace to avoid mortal sin. And of course, Jesus, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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