Monday, December 24, 2012

Two Christmas Gifts: Why December 25 is right & The real reason Joseph sought to divorce Mary

These are two gold nuggets that I've picked up from other great minds over the last few years that I think are worth re-sharing.

Why December 25 is the most likely day Jesus was born. 

It has become fashionable to downplay or deny the December 25 date as the traditional day for Our Lord's birth. The typical argument is that Catholics wanted to replace the pagan feast day of the Unconqured Sun with something Christian, so since the Nativity was yet to be accounted for on the calendar they thought this pagan festival in late December was a good idea to supplant. This attack on December 25 really began a few centuries back with Puritan Calvinists wanting to trash the Catholic Faith by undermining the date in which we celebrate this feast and thus make it look like it was purely arbitrary act of the Church. Of course, Liberals took up this banner, especially in the modern day media, in order to make Christianity as a whole look ridiculous and render it no different than any other pagan religion or holiday. But the traditional date of December 25 was by no means arbitrary, and in fact there are very good reasons to accept it, and these reasons have nothing to do with supplanting a pagan holiday. 

The first good reason to accept December 25 is because of March 25. Traditionally, the Feast of the Annunciation was held in higher regard than the Nativity, since the Annunciation is when The Word first became Incarnate. Naturally, this would mean that 9 months later the Nativity would take place. Thus, December 25 comes about by the simple fact that the Annunciation was the anchor point. Great minds (such as our current Holy Father) have pointed out that March 25 carries its own significance, with it being a date that Passover has fallen on as well the date in which some Jews consider the first day of Creation. 

The second good reason to accept December 25 is a bit more involved to explain, but I'll do my best. The basic argument looks something like this: We know that Jesus had a public ministry of 3.5 years and that He died on the 15th of the Jewish month of Nisan (basically late March). If you count backwards the 3.5 years, which are 42 Jewish months, this puts you at November 8. In Luke 3 we are told that Jesus was baptized on the cusp of turning 30, which is when a Jew became a 'man' and could teach. Since His Baptism was followed by 40 days in the desert and 7 days of temptation, then adding 47 days to November 8 puts us at December 25, which makes sense because it means Jesus had no further 'prerequisites' stopping Him from immediately beginning His public work (e.g. calling the Apostles) the moment He became of age.  

Why Joseph did not suspect adultery of Mary when he thought about getting a Divorce. 

A very natural reading of Matthew 1:18-21 suggests that St Joseph had suspected that Mary was pregnant due to fornication, so Joseph sought to divorce her. This can be called the "Suspicion Theory." But some good Catholics have pointed out that there is an alternative tradition which makes a little bit more sense and thus should be preferred. This alternate interpretation goes back to the time of the early Christian scholar Origen, who lived around the year 225 AD, and St Thomas Aquinas considered this alternate interpretation to be superior. The alternative interpretation states that St Joseph felt unworthy and overwhelmed to be the father of the Messiah, so he sought to get out of this calling. This can be called the "Humility Theory." This is what St Thomas Aquinas says: 
He sought to put her away, because he saw in her a great sacrament, to approach which he thought himself unworthy. ... Joseph was minded to put away the Blessed Virgin not as suspected of fornication, but because in reverence for her sanctity, he feared to cohabit with her
Given that St Thomas is no lightweight, I think all Catholics should at the very least give the Humility Theory at fair look, even though this isn't a dogmatic issue.Once one is aware of the Humility Theory, they can then try to see how it fits into the text of Matthew 1:18-21. Here are some of the advantages of this interpretation: 

First, the text points out that Joseph wanted to divorce Mary "quietly" so as not to "put her to shame," because he was a "just man." Yet if someone was guilty of adultery, it would make sense that Joseph was more concerned about God's Law, which was to expose sinners and get them punished. So the Humility Theory makes more sense of the "quietly" detail.

Second, in verse 21 is when the Angel appears to Joseph to reassure him, but in verse 18 it says "she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit," suggesting Joseph "found" this out from Mary's own testimony. In other words, Joseph first found out about Mary being pregnant from Mary's own mouth, and She surely included the fact an Angel appeared to Her and the child was "of the Holy Spirit." The Suspicion Theory suggests Joseph had zero trust in Mary and was oblivious to the circumstances. Yet even pagan men would at least want to know the details, such as whether rape was involved, since this could seriously mitigate against wanting a divorce.

Third, we know that whatever God consecrates for a Holy Purpose can never be used for an ordinary purpose. For example, see how the Holy Objects of the Mosaic Law were to be treated, carrying the death penalty if they were used as ordinary objects (Numbers 4:15; 4:20; Cf 2 Timothy 2:20-21). Since Mary was the Ark of the New Covenant, this means that She was consecrated for strictly Holy purposes, never to be de-consecrated for ordinary use. Recognizing this, St Joseph would not want to violate The Ark in any way, choosing to humbly back down instead. This also strongly proves why we should regard Mary as Ever-Virgin.

I hope you enjoyed these two nuggets as much as I did. Merry Christmas Eve!


Nick said...

Here is a great post from Dr Taylor Marshal's great blog on the December 25 issue:

De Maria said...

Excellent on both counts. The humility theory especially!

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