I came across a website today called The Restless Pilgrim. There is a brief article from 2013 which was written to defend Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity. The article “The ‘brothers’ of Jesus” is very good and worth reading. There is no personal name given of the author. I realize this article is seven years old, but it contains an error, one common to too many good defenders of the Faith wherein they concede what is more than a trifling point but what amounts to a total depreciation in the understanding of the unique greatness and singular vocation of Good Saint Joseph. (See quote from Crisis Magazine near the end of this column.) You can read the otherwise excellent article here.I am only concerned with this sentence:
The term “brother” could, for example, refer to a half-brother. We do find some early sources which talk about St. Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. Therefore, some of these “brothers” could be St. Joseph’s children from a previous wife who died before he married Mary. There are several other possible usages for the word “brother” including cousins, relatives through marriage etc. . . .
First, I am certain the unnamed author meant to write step-brother in the sentence above rather than “half-brother.” If Saint Joseph had sons from a deceased wife in a previous marriage (which he did not) these would be called step-brothers to Our Lord not half-brothers. A step-brother is related to a person through marriage while a half-brother is related to a person by blood.
A cursory look at the “brethren” of Our Lord in the New Testament
Often we read in the Gospels of some of the apostles having both a Greek and Hebrew name: Matthew (Greek) and Levi (Hebrew); Nathanael (Hebrew) and Bartholomew (Greek); Jude (Hebrew) and Thaddeus (Greek); Thomas (Aramaic Taoma for twin) and Didymus Greek for twin). Others we know only by their Greek name, as Andrew and Philip.
I have read good arguments that such is the case for Alpheus and Cleophas. The former is Greek, the latter, in its Aramaic form Clopas, is Hebrew. Although Cleo, on the other hand, is Greek, as in Cleopatra (Glory of the father). Thus Mary of Cleophas, one of three Marys at the Cross (called Our Lady’s “sister” by Saint John), is no doubt also Mary of Alpheus. Alpheus is almost always referred to as the father of the apostle James the Less. (Matthew’s father also had the name Alpheus.) This James is called “the brother of the Lord” by Saint Paul in Galatians. But Jude the Apostle is called the “brother of James” three times, once even by introducing himself as such in his epistle. Surely he would have said that he was the “brother of the Lord” if he were the son of Saint Joseph from a previous marriage.
So, there we have it. James (and Jude, and probably Simon and Joses) were sons of Mary and Cleophas (or Alpheus). But there’s more that we need to know. Tradition has it that Cleophas was the blood brother of Saint Joseph. Thus we have accounted for four of Our Lord’s “step” brethren as cousins. There is Salome, too, who was sister of these four. There is then no near blood kinship between any of these cousins and Our Lord nor between Our Lady and Mary of Cleophas (Our Lady’s sister-in-law). Our Lady is Most Holy Mary Ever-Virgin and Saint Joseph is her virginal spouse. And most fitting too is that Our Lady’s parents, Saints Anne and Joachim, had only one child. The tabernacle of Saint Anne wherein took place the Immaculate Conception knew no other child.
The source of this speculation of Saint Joseph being a widower before marrying Mary were a few apocryphal works dating from the early centuries. Saint Jerome vehemently opposed them in his defense of Saint Joseph’s perpetual virginity. So did Saint Augustine. Unfortunately Saint Hilary before them, as well as a number of eastern doctors, went along with this idea, but they did so in their zeal to defend Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity against heretics like Helvidius. I think Saint Thomas sums up well the common opinion of the west with his usual perspicacity: “We believe that just as the Mother of Jesus was a virgin, so was Joseph, because He placed the Virgin in the care of a virgin, and just as He did this at the close of his earthly life, so He did do it at the beginning [of His earthly life]. If the Lord was unwilling to commend His Virgin Mother to the care of anyone except a virgin, how could He have born the fact that her husband had not been a virgin and remained as such.” (TA. In Matt.12:46 & In Gal.1:19)
In any event even Crisis magazine in 2002 resurrected the error of Saint Joseph being a widower with children. (See Phillip Bellini’s article in Catholic Culture, “Was Saint Joseph previously Married”?, 2002) And they fear not to do this with the whole western Church of the past millennium rejecting such depreciatory speculation.
Bellini: “It was recently quoted in Crisis magazine that a possible answer to Jesus’ ‘brothers’ is that Joseph had children from a previous marriage. This in response to the alleged ossuary of ‘James, brother of Jesus’ that was found as I mentioned in the opening paragraph. It is now proving out to be a hoax, but the same error of the apocrypha is still being applied to Joseph. Quoting from the ‘Protoevangelium of St. James’ Crisis magazine uses the apocrypha to answer the problem of Jesus’ brothers. They quote this part, ‘I have children, and that Joseph wanted to register his sons for the census and that he left his two sons with Mary in the cave at Bethlehem while he went to search for a midwife.'”
Saint Joseph virginal spouse of the Mother of God pray for us!