As I write this, it is the Feast of the Holy Family, the first Sunday after the Epiphany. On this day, the Church celebrates Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the human holy trinity that perfectly images the divine Holy Trinity. In the Godhead there is a family of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; on earth, there is its most faithful mirror: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

In Saint Joseph: The Hero of Christmas, I pointed out that the earthly father of Jesus often gets the short shrift. His luminous glory can seem dimmed next to the Sun and the Moon that are his Son and his Bride. Yet this is a purely relative thing, for, after them, he is the brightest of the heavenly bodies. I will even say that he is an image of the Blessed Trinity itself — not in Its oneness, but in Its threeness. That is to say, the Patriarch of Nazareth is an image of the Father, an image of the Son, and an image of the Holy Ghost.


Of the Father: Jesus is the Man united to the Word of God. In eternity, that Word was uttered, or conceived, by the First Person of the Trinity. This conception is the divine generation of the Son. The Word is the eternal Child of the eternal Father. He always was a Child and always will be; or, we should say, He always is the Child in the Godhead, for this is an eternal reality of God’s ever-present now. At the incarnation, this Word was united to the Man Child conceived of Saint Joseph’s spouse. Mary belonged to Saint Joseph, and as the owner of the field owns all the produce grown in that field, so Saint Joseph can call the Fruit of Mary’s womb his own Child. Therefore, Jesus — the Incarnate Word — looked to Saint Joseph as His earthly father, an image of His Eternal Father. We are told by Saint Matthew that the holy carpenter had the privilege of naming Jesus (Matt. 1:25), but we know that this name came down from the Heavenly Father, who sent Gabriel to deliver it to Mary and Joseph. In eternity, the First Person of the Trinity named Jesus; in time, the head of the Holy Family named Jesus. This parallel with the almighty Father is brought out in the Gospel reading for today’s feast: When the Blessed Virgin says, “thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing,” Jesus replies “did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business” (Luke 2:48-49). Jesus did not contradict Mary: She was speaking of His earthly father; He was speaking of His heavenly Father.

Of the Son: Now, of all these “images” by which Saint Joseph resembles the persons of the Blessed Trinity, it would seem that this is the least striking because it is the least peculiar to Saint Joseph. Nonetheless, both as a child of the Old Law, and as a true follower of Christ, Saint Joseph was, by grace, an adopted son of God. In the book of Wisdom, the wicked say of the just man: “He boasteth that he hath the knowledge of God, and calleth himself the son of God” (Wisdom 2:13). Joseph is called in the Bible a “just man”; he was a “son of God.” The New Testament says; “For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). Surely, Saint Joseph was led by God’s Spirit. Therefore, he is a son of God; therefore, an image of the eternal Son of God, who is the model of our divine adoption.

Of the Holy Ghost: In his litany, the Church calls Saint Joseph the “Spouse of the Mother of God.” That same Mother of God is called the “Spouse of the Holy Ghost” in Catholic piety. Though this title does not have the Church’s official sanction, it was commonly used by the saints, and is a logical conclusion from the Apostles’ Creed, which says, “[Jesus Christ] was conceived by the Holy Ghost.” Many authors point out the spousal imagery portrayed in the Holy Ghost’s “overshadowing” Our Lady in the annunciation (Luke 1:35). Some may be troubled by the superficial objection that here, Mary is portrayed has having two spouses. But this objection blows away like smoke when we consider  that all our knowledge of God is analogous.[1] When we apply the same word both to God and to man, we are applying it with a meaning that is sufficiently altered as not to be the same. Our Lady is truly spouse to Saint Joseph and the Holy Ghost, but by an analogous usage of the word. Indeed it is the very force of the analogy — not a mere metaphor — that allows us to say that Saint Joseph as spouse of Mary is an earthly image of the Holy Ghost, the divine Spouse of Mary.

Our Lady is the perfect Daughter of the Father, the worthy Mother of the Son, and the faithful Spouse of the Holy Ghost. She stands in three unique relations to the Godhead.[2] This intimacy with the Holy Trinity can be said of no other human person. But Saint Joseph, Mary’s Man, stands uniquely as an Image of each of the three Persons.

[1] “Father,” “son,” “generation,” “holy,” and “just” — words I have used so far in this brief article — can be applied to God and to man. Yet, when said of God, they are not exactly the same as when said of man, but they are not totally different, either. They are said to be used “analogously,” not “univocally” (exactly the same meaning) or “equivocally” (a totally different meaning). Logicians call these the “three modes of predication.” The Catholic Encyclopedia articles on  Divine Attributes and Analogy explain this in more detail.

[2] Even as daughter, she is unique as the only one “full of grace,” i.e., Immaculately Conceived.