26 April 2023


Attentive readers of Scripture will have noticed that the Ioseph typikos, of whom our blessed Lady's chaste Spouse is the Antitype, is decribed (Genesis 39) in the Vulgate (and the Neo-Vulgate) and the Septuagint  as having been sold as a slave to Potiphar, Eunuch of Pharaoh. Indeed, Brown Driver Briggs gives "Eunuch" as the central meaning of the Hebrew SRIS. Eunuchs were very often Great Men in ancient kingdoms because a sovereign could be moderately confident that they would not spend their time and ingenuity squirreling away state resources for their own offspring. Since, therefore, great officers of state were often eunuchs, it will often yield apparently good sense to translate SRIS as "Officer" or "Courtier" or (Tyndale) "Lorde". And, of course, that will prevent naive people from blurting out "But how can a eunuch have a wife?" Nor will puzzled children ask what a Yew Nuck is and, when told, get out their pen-knives and start experimenting on the household pets.

And, indeed, all the proliferating English Protestant Bibles which derive from the King James Bible do  translate this word as something like Officer. But, surprisingly, so do the Catholic Knox and Jerusalem Bibles (and, even more oddly, they do so with never even an explicatory footnote). Only the Geneva Bible and the Douay-Rheims-Challoner Bible courageously give "eunuch". (John Wycliffe, sometime Master of Balliol College in this University, rendered it "gelding"!)

Translating the term accurately as "Eunuch" might  give, um, piquancy to Potiphar's wife's rather urgent desire for sexual intimacy ... Some have suggested that her name was Zuleika.

I venture to suggest that the Spouse of God's Mother has through Providence the name Joseph because of his chaste abstinence in his marriage to Mary. This would make his name, in Matthew and Luke, a "historical" witness to the Perpetual Virginity of our Lady.

B Pius IX felt that the afflicted Church needed a Patron/Protector, and gave S Joseph a Sunday in Eastertide (according to Gueranger, the commemoration had to be on a Sunday to ensure that Joseph did get a Day of Obligation). A Pontiff or two later, when it had become unpopular to encumber the same Sunday permanently with some other celebration, S Pius X shifted him onto the Wednesday ... today. Unaccountably, Pius XI was unable to think of a Good Idea for fiddling around with S Joseph, but Pius XII, another restless liturgical innovator, suppressed the festival, replacing it with S Joseph Opifex on May 1. The post-conciliar revisers (according to Fr Bouyer, "three maniacs"), noticing that nobody much seemed to want S Joseph the Workman, chopped him down to an Optional Memorial.

I disagree with you: this story is not funny. It has had the effect of sending Pip and Jim on their travels.

Their bodies are buried in the Basilica of the XII Apostles, dedicated on May 1 in some year near 570. Pius XII relegated them to May 11; the post-conciliar 'reformers' reduced their sentence to three days and left them on May 3.

Libertarian that I am, I shall be getting out Red Vestments for May 1. Today, for me, S Joseph. Mass and Office are very decently typological, and I have no prejudices against Pio Nono.


Fr Herman said...

Or we might say, "S Joseph, and S Joseph, and Potiphar…" After all, both Josephs are saints, and the Old Testament saints have been a favoured topic of yours, Father John.

mike said...

Foster father Joseph would best be described as a Nazirite a self appointed eunuch

Jhayes said...

According to the British Museum, Zuleika‘s.name is given only in the version of the story in the Koran,

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

As a general rule your correspondents tend to be rather dry and serious, but one likes to think that many of your readers have been chuckling, as I, over the very English humour in the last paragraph. Just naughty enough to keep coming back to mind with a not-quite-innocent smile. The foolishness of man is always a source of amusement.

So one thought at least I should write to express our collective appreciation of your sense of humour.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. St Athanasius knew the trouble eunuchs could cause

37. Liberius refuses the Emperor's offering

These were the words of the Bishop Liberius. And the eunuch, who was vexed, not so much because he would not subscribe, as because he found him an enemy to the heresy, forgetting that he was in the presence of a Bishop, after threatening him severely, went away with the offerings; and next commits an offense, which is foreign to a Christian, and too audacious for a eunuch. In imitation of the transgression of Saul, he went to the Martyry of the Apostle Peter, and then presented the offerings. But Liberius having notice of it, was very angry with the person who kept the place, that he had not prevented him, and cast out the offerings as an unlawful sacrifice, which increased the anger of the mutilated creature against him. Consequently he exasperates the Emperor against him, saying, 'The matter that concerns us is no longer the obtaining the subscription of Liberius, but the fact that he is so resolutely opposed to the heresy, that he anathematizes the Arians by name.' He also stirs up the other eunuchs to say the same; for many of those who were about Constantius, or rather the whole number of them, are eunuchs , who engross all the influence with him, and it is impossible to do anything there without them. The Emperor accordingly writes to Rome, and again Palatines, and Notaries, and Counts are sent off with letters to the Prefect, in order that either they may inveigle Liberius by stratagem away from Rome and send him to the Court to him, or else persecute him by violence.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

38. The evil influence of Eunuchs at Court

Such being the tenor of the letters, there also fear and treachery immediately became rife throughout the whole city. How many were the families against which threats were held out! How many received great promises on condition of their acting against Liberius! How many Bishops hid themselves when they saw these things! How many noble women retired to country places in consequence of the calumnies of the enemies of Christ! How many ascetics were made the objects of their plots! How many who were sojourning there, and had made that place their home, did they cause to be persecuted! How often and how strictly did they guard the harbour and the approaches to the gates, lest any orthodox person should enter and visit Liberius! Rome also had trial of the enemies of Christ, and now experienced what before she would not believe, when she heard how the other Churches in every city were ravaged by them. It was the eunuchs who instigated these proceedings against all. And the most remarkable circumstance in the matter is this; that the Arian heresy which denies the Son of God, receives its support from eunuchs, who, as both their bodies are fruitless, and their souls barren of virtue, cannot bear even to hear the name of son. The Eunuch of Ethiopia indeed, though he understood not what he read Acts 8:27, believed the words of Philip, when he taught him concerning the Saviour; but the eunuchs of Constantius cannot endure the confession of Peter , nay, they turn away when the Father manifests the Son, and madly rage against those who say, that the Son of God is His genuine Son, thus claiming as a heresy of eunuchs, that there is no genuine and true offspring of the Father. On these grounds it is that the law forbids such persons to be admitted into any ecclesiastical Council ; notwithstanding which they have now regarded these as competent judges of ecclesiastical causes, and whatever seems good to them, that Constantius decrees, while men with the name of Bishops dissemble with them. Oh! Who shall be their historian? Who shall transmit the record of these things to another generation? Who indeed would believe it, were he to hear it, that eunuchs who are scarcely entrusted with household services (for theirs is a pleasure-loving race, that has no serious concern but that of hindering in others what nature has taken from them); that these, I say, now exercise authority in ecclesiastical matters, and that Constantius in submission to their will treacherously conspired against all, and banished Liberius!

Moritz Gruber said...

One interesting thing is that the traditional feast of St. Joseph, on March 19th, has "et te in festivitate", while this feast, or then the 1 May feast, has "et te in solemnitate".

I'm the odd man in this discussion: I think there should have been a feast of St. Joseph the Workman; I think it should have been on May 1st.

Sorry for that.

I think St. Philipp who acted as intermediary between the heathens would very much like to make place for the patron of the fight against Communism in order to fight against Communism. I also think St. James not-of-Zebedee the Apostle, whom tradition (if uncertain tradition) seems to take to be the same person as St. James Brother-of-the-Lord, would very much like to make way for his even more honored uncle.

That being said, a feast of St. Joseph Patron-of-the-Church is obviously a very different, and very much more "first-classish", feast than one of a Patron of Workers, of the Working-class, of what is right in trade unions, and of the fight of what is wrong in trade union and worse Communists. The latter is an idea worthy of note and worthy of a feast; St. Joseph really was that. But it is no the universal thing the former is. Why not keep both?

- As for May 11th... well, that one was free. In my fancy, I'd think a more fitting day for Sts. Philip and James would be May 5th, moving St. Pius V further ahead to May 7th (Commemoration of St. Stanislaw; the Poles are Slaws and have their feast of Sts. Cyril and Method after all; or so) or May 10th or the May 11th here in question. This would admittedly be an even greater quantity of change, but in order to keep at least the following two pre-1954 things intact: 1. The feast of these two shepherds of the Church can sometimes fall on Good Shepherd Sunday (which it then still replaced I believe). 2. It always, not only practically always but without exception always, falls before Pentecost., so there's one Feast-of-Apostles in Eastertide.

- The Novus Ordo, it has to be granted, here makes excellent use of the fact that St. John XXIII abolished the Finding of the Cross feast (why didn't he move the Apostles back? did he just forget about them?); but we do not want the Finding of the Cross feast remain abolished, do we?

Albertus said...

I see no reason for the relatively recent feastday of St Joseph on this wednesday, even less so for St Joseph Workman on 1 May, to exist. St Joseph on this wednesday is at least liturgically harmless, and i can in good conscience celebrate it. But 1 May is the ancient feast of SS Philipp and Jacob, and so should it be celebrated. Hopefully this sad situation of needless papal meddling will one day be officially remedied.

Eric said...

Saint Joseph's way of doing things was to keep his head down and get the job done without drawing any attention to himself whatsoever. I suspect that he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even put up with the one Feast in his honor and has no problem losing the others. But then again I am one of those naive ones who still can't figure out what a eunuch was doing with a wife...

Moritz Gruber said...

Speaking of eunuchs,

Thomas Mann in his rather intriguing, though of course fictional, take on Also-St. Joseph in Egypt really does take Potiphar to be a eunuch. In that work, he's got a wife because a high position as head of an important household comes with a having an equally high-ranked lady of the household; and the understandable consequent dissatisfaction of said lady with her situation really does play a decisive rĂ´le in her lusting for her husband's head slave.

Pulex said...

Both recent feasts of St. Joseph could be merged, perhaps under a double title, the resulting one being placed on 1st Sunday of May, the advantage of this being that it will always be a Sunday, but not always the same after Easter, and sometimes it will fall on May 1. The texts of the Mass and Office should be mainly of the Patronage feast. I think there was some timid attempt in this direction, in the Vatican Ordo for 2021, by allowing to use the Patronage feast Mass formulary on May 1.

Rubricarius said...

The simplest solution would be to abrogate Joseph the Worker and re-instate the feast of SS Philip and James to their historic day in the calendar. The Solemnity of St. Joseph could be restored to its former Sunday or, as suggested above, to the first Sunday in May.