This beautiful commentary on the Universal Church’s patron, St. Joseph, was written by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P and has been taken from his classic mariological work The Mother of the Saviour and Our Interior Life. –Assistant Ed.
“He that is lesser among you all, he is the greater” (Luke 9:48)
His Pre-eminence Over the Other Saints
The opinion that St. Joseph is the greatest of the saints after Our Lady is one which is becoming daily more commonly held in the Church. We do not hesitate to look on the humble carpenter as higher in grace and eternal glory than the patriarchs and the greatest of the prophets—than St. John the Baptist, the Apostles, the martyrs and the great doctors of the Church. He who is least in the depth of his humility is, because of the interconnection of the virtues, the greatest in the height of his charity: “He that is the lesser among you all, he is the greater.”
St. Joseph’s pre-eminence was taught by Gerson (1) and St. Bernardine of Siena. (2) It became more and more common in the course of the 16th century. It was admitted by St. Teresa, by the Dominican Isidore de Isolanis, who appears to have written the first treatise on St. Joseph, (3) by St. Francis de Sales, by Suarez, (4) and later by St. Alphonsus Liguori, (5) Ch. Sauve, (6) Cardinal Lépicier (7) and Msgr. Sinibaldi; (8) it is very ably treated of in the article “Joseph” in the Dict. de Théol. Cath. by M. A. Michel.
The doctrine of St. Joseph’s pre-eminence received the approval of Leo XIII in his encyclical Quamquam pluries, August 15th, 1899, written to proclaim St. Joseph patron of the universal Church:
The dignity of the Mother of God is so elevated that there can be no higher created one. But since St. Joseph was united to the Blessed Virgin by the conjugal bond, there is no doubt that he approached nearer than any other to that super-eminent dignity of hers by which the Mother of God surpasses all created natures. Conjugal union is the greatest of all; by its very nature it is accompanied by a reciprocal communication of the goods of the spouses. If then God gave St. Joseph to Mary to be her spouse He certainly did not give him merely as a companion in life, a witness of her virginity, a guardian of her honor, but He made him also participate by the conjugal bond in the eminent dignity which was hers.
When Leo XIII said that Joseph came nearest of all to the super-eminent dignity of Mary, did his words imply that Joseph is higher in glory than all the angels? We cannot give any certain answer to the question. We must be content to restate the doctrine which is becoming more and more commonly taught: of all the saints Joseph is the highest after Jesus and Mary; he is among the angels and the archangels. The Church mentions him immediately after Mary and before the Apostles in the prayer A cunctis. Though he is not mentioned in the Canon of the Mass, he has a proper preface, and the month of March is consecrated to him as protector and defender of the universal Church.
The multitude of Christians in all succeeding generations are committed to him in a real though hidden manner. This idea is expressed in the litanies approved by the Church: