“Ask a Priest: Was Joseph Much Older Than Mary?”

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Q: Some friends and I are having a discussion about this. It would appear that St. Joseph was much older than Mary when they married. Was he widowed with children? -J.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: There is not much definitive teaching about the life of St. Joseph. The notions that he was much older than Mary and was married before seem to be rooted in the apocrypha, a body of literature that arose in the early centuries of the Church. Apocrypha, meaning hidden or concealed, dealt with esoteric things known to a chosen few.

The idea that Joseph was much older than Mary might have arisen in later centuries as a way to defend the belief in the perpetual virginity of Our Lady. The idea that Joseph had children from a previous marriage might have arisen to explain scriptural passages that spoke of Jesus’ “brothers” (see, for example, Mark 6:3).

There are arguments in favor of Joseph being young and virginal. For instance, he presumably had to be strong enough to support the Holy Family, and he was certainly perceived as being the natural father of Jesus. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55). That Joseph would have been virginal seems fitting, since Jesus from the cross entrusted his Mother to the disciple whom he loved. “Behold, your mother” (John 19:27). Tradition says that that disciple was the virginal John. (For further reading see Pope John Paul II’s letter on the person and mission of St. Joseph, Redemptoris Custos and an article).

The Gospels don’t say much about the life of St. Joseph. That he was “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:19) and the foster father of Jesus and the husband of the Blessed Virgin, says enough. I hope this helps. God bless!

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