St. Joseph was probably the most comely and well-disposed of the sons of men

March 1, 2022 • 6 min

From The Life and Glories of St. Joseph, page 138
By Edward Healy Thompson, M.A.

Tradition tells us of the surpassing beauty of the Mother of God, but scarcely any record has reached us of the personal appearance of St. Joseph, if we except the testimony of St. Justin Martyr—followed or corroborated, perhaps from additional sources, by Gerson and other doctors—that in beauty and in bodily appearance he was most like to our Lord; and this was fitting, in order that no suspicion might be entertained respecting his paternity or the virtue of the mother of the Divine Child. Whence we may gather that, next to Jesus and Mary, Joseph was the fairest of the children of men.

But, apart from such rare intimations, we are left with nothing to draw upon but our own imagination, or what saints have told us who have beheld him in their visions. Now, although private revelations can never be quoted as authority, we cannot but regard them with great veneration and interest after they have been duly examined and tested; and when, moreover, they happen to fall in with our own reasonable conjectures, we feel that they greatly strengthen and support them.

“Whatever of direct divine communication these so-called private revelations do contain,” says a distinguished Oratorian Father of our day, “is the reward and seal of the ascetic and mystic contemplation of the mysteries of faith.” That being the case, how could we, apart from the possibility, not to say probability, of their containing this divine element, fail to set the highest store by them and immeasurably prefer nourishing our devotion with them to indulging in our own unaided fancies?

The pictures which saints and other holy persons present to us are, surely, far more likely to resemble the truth than are such as we can construct for ourselves; and yet, in the ordinary course of meditation on the mysteries of our faith, pictures of some sort we are constrained to form.

Sister Maria d’Agreda, whose writings have been marked with high ecclesiastical approval, speaking of Joseph when he was summoned to appear among the descendants of the race of David, that one of them might be selected as the spouse of Mary, says that he was at that time thirty-three years of age, was well-favoured in person and of most pleasing aspect, of incomparable modesty and grave in demeanour, and, above all, most pure in act, in thought, and in disposition, having, indeed, from the age of twelve years made a vow of chastity. He was related in the third degree to the Blessed Virgin, and his life had been most pure and holy and irreproachable in the eyes both of God and men. [Mystical City of God, volume 1, chapter 22].

This testimony, valuable on account of the source from which it is derived, is also precious to us as coinciding with our own natural sentiments of suitability and propriety. As we felt to recoil from the idea of a decrepit spouse for the Queen of Heaven, so also is it hardly less repugnant to our notions that he should have been unprepossessing in his appearance.

The ancient Joseph, who was the type of our saint and who even, prophetically, bore his significant name, is described as of “a beautiful countenance and comely to behold”. [Gen. xxxix. 6.] Can his prototype have been less personally favoured, destined as he was for incomparably higher honour?

Sister Emmerich likewise describes St. Joseph as having in his whole person an expression of extreme benignity and readiness to be of service to others. She says he had fair hair. That of the Blessed Virgin, she tells us, was most abundant, and of a rich auburn; her eyebrows dark and arched; her eyes, which had long black lashes, large, but habitually cast down; her features exquisitely modelled; while in height she was about the middle stature, and she bore her attire, which for the Espousals was rich and becoming—the Sister describes it in elaborate detail—with much grace and dignity.

St. Epiphanius, quoted by Nicephorus, has left us a very similar portrait of the holy Virgin, of whose admirable beauty so many other early Fathers speak.

The saying of St. Denis, the Areopagite, who saw her, is well known: that her beauty was so dazzling that he should have adored her as a goddess if he had not known that there is but one God.

From a motive of humility our Blessed Lady would never again wear the robe in which, according to Hebrew custom, she was clad upon that day. The robe was preserved as a precious treasure in Palestine, whence it was sent to Constantinople about the year 461. The ground was of the colour of nankeen with flowers blue, white, violet, and gold. It is now the sacred relic of Chartres, having been given by Charles the Bald to the Church there in 877. Many miracles have been attributed to it.1

1 See Orsini’s Life of the Blessed Virgin, part i. chap, vii., who also mentions two tunics of our Lady preserved in the East.

The nuptial ring of the Blessed Virgin is still preserved at Perugia in the Cathedral Church of San Lorenzo. The people of that city and of Chiusi are said to have formerly disputed in arms the possession of this treasure, nor was the difference appeased save by the decision of Sixtus IV. and Innocent VIII.

It is related how, in days long past, a certain lady of high rank, named Waldrada, having had the rashness to place this ring on her finger, was punished by its immediately drying up. Others have obtained great graces by reverently honouring the holy relic on the altar where it is kept. The late august Pontiff, Pius IX., when he visited Perugia in 1857, paid public veneration to this ring.

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