Preach My Psalter

Province of St. Martin de Porres

     During the season of Advent, the Church prepares herself for the coming of the messiah.  In the history of God’s people, God revealed to them that the messiah, who would save them, would be a son of the tribe of Judah from the house of David.  This is recorded not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels.  In fact, all four Evangelists, the inspired authors of the four Gospels of the New Testament, proclaim Jesus as the son of David, the messiah, who would save the people of Israel from sin and death, but only St. Matthew and St. Luke proclaim this sonship of Jesus in the house of David, His messiahship, through their genealogies and infancy narratives of Jesus. In doing so, they profess their belief that Jesus was virginally conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, His mother, through the Holy Spirit.  In this sense, Jesus, the son of David, only had a natural human mother, not a human father, according to nature. 

     All the same, in his genealogy, St. Matthew traces Jesus’ status as the son of David, through St. Joseph, not through the Virgin Mary.  The reason for this is because in ancient times, the people of Israel legally traced the descent of a son, through the genealogy of his father, especially a son of the house of David (Nm 1:18).  As such, here the basis for his legal sonship in his father’s household was generally his physical descent from his father.  In the days of Jesus, the people in general believed that St. Joseph was Jesus’ natural father, His father by procreation, because St. Joseph raised Him as his legal son in his marriage to the Virgin Mary.  As already mentioned, in his Gospel, St. Matthew professes his belief that Jesus did not descend naturally, through St. Joseph, as a son of David.  On the contrary, he believes that Jesus descended legally, as a son of David, through St. Joseph.  In doing so, he traces Jesus’ legal status, as a son of David, through His paternal genealogy, the genealogy of His legal father, St. Joseph, who was a son of David himself, through his father, Jacob (Mt 1:16).  In other words, for St. Matthew, Jesus received His legal sonship in the house of David by law, through His adoptive father, St. Joseph, a natural son of David himself, through Jacob.  In this sense, this was not a natural genealogy for Jesus, a genealogy based on physical descent, but a legal genealogy, a genealogy based on the law, for Jesus was only the legal son of St. Joseph by adoption, not by natural generation.  On this basis, in this genealogy, St. Matthew proclaims Jesus the messiah of Israel by His legal sonship in the house of David, through His adoptive father, St. Joseph, not through His natural mother, the Virgin Mary. 

     Does this really mean that the Virgin Mary, the natural mother of Jesus, was neither a daughter of the house of David nor a member of Judah’s tribe?  In other words, was Jesus really the legal son of David, through His adoptive father alone, St. Joseph, but not the son of David naturally, through His mother, the Virgin Mary? Certainly not! In the Tradition, the Church professes a belief that Jesus descended from David as the messiah, not only legally, through St. Joseph, but also naturally, through the Virgin Mary. This belief in Jesus’ natural descent from David, through the Virgin Mary, has a basis in Sacred Scripture.  Indeed, God proclaims, through His prophets and inspired authors of the Old and New Testaments, that Jesus received His natural sonship, His messiahship, in David’s house, through His mother, the Virgin Mary, who was naturally a virgin daughter of David.

     Here I will briefly consider the basis in Sacred Scripture for the Church’s belief in Jesus’ status as a natural son of David.  First of all, in the Second Book of Samuel from the Old Testament, God promises David, through the prophet Nathan, that He would raise up a son after him, from his loins, who would rule his kingdom forever (2 Sm 7:12-13).  In Scripture, the prophets use the word “loins” as a euphemism for the male and female genitals of human nature that a man and woman in marriage would use to procreate human life (2 Sm 7:12, Jdt 8:5).  As a result, the human life they procreate naturally, through genital intercourse, would be their natural son or daughter. In this first verse from Second Samuel, God tells David, through Nathan, that the messiah of Israel would be a natural son of David because he would be generated from David’s genitals, not directly, by David himself, but indirectly, after his death, through the genitals of a descendant of his (2 Sm 7:12).  This is the first basis in Scripture for Jesus’ natural sonship in the house of David by physical or biological descent, for He naturally proceeds as man from the loins of David.  Secondly, God also proclaims, through the prophet Isaiah, that someday a son would be born to the house of David who would reign from David’s throne over his kingdom forever (Is 9:5).  In human biology, human birth requires and presupposes human conception. This is a law of human biological nature.  In other words, a human person, a son, cannot be born as a biological being unless he is first conceived biologically (Rt 4:13, Jgs 13:3-5, Is 66:9).  In this biological process, he naturally acquires the biological nature of his father and mother as their son.  This means that the son in Isaiah’s prophecy, who would be born of the house of David, the messiah of God’s people, would descend from David naturally, as his biological son, through his conception and birth as a member of David’s family.  In this sense, here the natural sonship of Jesus in the house of David has a physical or biological basis.  He alone, as the natural son of David, would be the perfect or ideal messiah who would have certain divine qualities or gifts to govern the people (Is 9:5-6).  This is the second biological basis for the natural sonship of Jesus in the house of David.  Accordingly, in Second Samuel and Isaiah, God inspires His prophets to proclaim His Word about the natural sonship of the messiah in literal terms.  The literal meaning here is that the messiah of Israel would be a natural son of David by physical descent.  Thirdly, under God’s inspiration, the prophet Isaiah uses the figurative language of metaphor to proclaim that the messiah would be a natural son of David.  In particular, after all the sufferings that the people of Israel would be subjected to by their Babylonian conquerors, especially the house of David, God reveals to them, through Isaiah, that only a stump, or holy remnant, of David’s family would remain, but from this stump a branch of the Lord would sprout and blossom, a perfect son of David, who would receive the Spirit of the Lord to shepherd the people righteously forever as messiah.  This messiah, or sacred branch of the Lord, alone would save the people of Israel (Is 11:1, 4:2-3).  Similarly, God also proclaims metaphorically, through the prophet Jeremiah, that He would raise up a righteous branch, a messiah, from this stump, the house of David, who would reign and govern the people of God virtuously (Jr 23:5, 33:14-17). As such, for Isaiah and Jeremiah, this metaphor means that just as a branch proceeds naturally from a stump as a natural development, the messiah of Israel would also proceed naturally from David as a natural son.  For this reason, here they proclaim metaphorically what they already professed literally.  Finally, in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans in the New Testament, he confirms God’s revelation to the prophets about the natural sonship of the messiah in the house of David.  Indeed, he professes Jesus as this messiah of Israel who “descended from David according to the flesh” (Rm 1:3). This is a physical or biological descent from David.  On this basis, in the Church’s faith in the Word of God, she believes that Jesus certainly descended from David as David’s son, the messiah, not only legally, through St. Joseph, but also naturally, by His virginal conception and birth, through His natural mother, the Virgin Mary.

     In his Gospel, St. Luke professes this belief that Jesus was a natural son of David.  Indeed, he believes the Word of God that Jesus descended naturally from the loins of David, not directly, but indirectly, through the loins of the Virgin Mary, a daughter of the house of David, for she virginally conceived and bore Him, naturally as the son of David, by the Holy Spirit.  In this sense, for St. Luke, Jesus was the sacred branch of the Lord, the messiah, who naturally sprouted and blossomed from the stump, the holy remnant of the house of David.  Accordingly, he traces Jesus’ descent from David, not legally, through St. Joseph, as St. Matthew does, but naturally, through the Virgin Mary.  For this reason, according to Tradition, in his Gospel, St. Luke offers Jesus’ maternal genealogy, the genealogy of His natural mother, the Virgin Mary, as a basis for His natural sonship in the house of David as a member of the tribe of Judah. 

     In the study of St. Luke’s genealogy, there are some questions to ask.  These questions, hopefully, will help establish the Marian nature of this genealogy.  The first question to ask is this:  If this really is a genealogy of the Virgin Mary, why does St. Luke not mention her there?  In other words, why does he mention St. Joseph in this genealogy, but not her?  This would seem to be contrary to the traditional belief that St. Luke offers a genealogy of the Virgin Mary in his Gospel.  Consequently, people in society today, including Roman Catholics, may easily presume that the absence of the Virgin Mary’s name in the genealogy, and the presence of St. Joseph’s, could only mean that this genealogy is really not about the Virgin Mary at all, but about St. Joseph.  Yet, such a presumption would be false, for the ancient practice in the Tradition of Israel, in general, was for the people to record a woman’s genealogy in her father’s and husband’s names.  As such, a woman was generally not directly named in her genealogy.  For this reason, St. Luke does not directly name the Virgin Mary in hers.  On the contrary, he names her only indirectly, through the names of her father and husband, St. Joseph.  This was the traditional practice in such a patriarchal society as Israel.  The only time the people of God, including St. Luke and St. Matthew, would record the names of women in their genealogies was for historical or theological reasons.  Accordingly, the people used genealogies in ancient Israel, first and foremost, to establish the natural and legal descent of men as sons in the tribes and houses of their fathers.  In this sense, in St. Luke’s Gospel, he establishes Jesus’ sonship in the house of David, as a member of the tribe of Judah, not by law, or legal adoption, but by nature, or physical descent, through the genealogy of His natural mother, the Virgin Mary.  On this basis, St. Luke does not directly name the Virgin Mary in her genealogy, but only indirectly, through the names of her father and her husband, St. Joseph.

     This leads to the second question in the study of the genealogy from St. Luke’s Gospel.  The question is this: If St. Luke names the Virgin Mary indirectly in her genealogy, by calling her husband, St. Joseph, the son of her father, what, then, is the name of her father? According to St. Luke, her father’s name is Heli.  For this reason, he calls her husband, St. “Joseph, the son of Heli” (Lk 3:23) in his genealogy.  On the other hand, St. Matthew, in his genealogy, calls “Jacob the father of Joseph” (Mt 1:16). Who, then, according to this practice, is the Virgin Mary’s natural father: Heli or Jacob?  In other words, who is the natural father of St. Joseph? What is his name?  This is the first question to ask here, the question about the name of St. Joseph’s natural father.  For naming him would reveal, by deduction, the Virgin Mary’s natural father.  In this sense, for his part, St. Matthew records in his genealogy that St. Joseph was the natural son of Jacob, by physical descent, for he proclaims there that Jacob fathered St. Joseph naturally, through his loins.  The noun, father, from the verb to father means to beget or to generate.  This is the terminology that St. Matthew uses to define Jacob’s relationship to St. Joseph in his genealogy.  He professes his belief in the Word of God that Jacob and St. Joseph have a paternal-filial relationship based on nature.  As such, by deduction, this would mean that Heli would be the Virgin Mary’s natural father.  According to a tradition in the Church, after St. Joseph’s natural father, Jacob, died, Heli became St. Joseph’s adoptive father, through his marriage to Heli’s daughter, the Virgin Mary.  For this reason, St. Luke records St. Joseph as the son of the Virgin Mary’s father, “the son of Heli” (Lk 3:23), in his genealogy.  On this basis, St. Joseph was, indeed, the legal son of Heli, his son-in-law, by his marriage to Heli’s daughter, the Virgin Mary.

     The third question in the study of the genealogy from St. Luke’s Gospel is this: If the name of the natural father of the Virgin Mary is Heli, as St. Luke records in his genealogy, then why has the Church called the Virgin Mary’s natural father by the name, St. Joachim, from antiquity?  According to an ancient tradition, the names, Heli and Joachim, are not for separate persons, but for one and the same person, the natural father of the Virgin Mary.  In this sense, her father had multiple names.   In fact, these names may seem to be unrelated linguistically, but they really do have a linguistic relationship.  In particular, according to linguistic studies, the name Joachim, from the Hebrew Yehoyaqim, has a variant form, Eliacim.  This name, Eliacim, is abbreviated as Eli, a variant of Heli.  As such, the use of multiple names by people, names that had a linguistic relationship, including the names of the Virgin Mary’s natural father, Joachim and Heli, was a common practice in ancient times.  Indeed, in antiquity, many people used multiple names, a formal or legal name and a common or familiar form of the same name. On the other hand, oftentimes the multiple names that people used had no linguistic relationship.  In either case, in the New Testament, people often had multiple names, linguistically related or not.  These people included St. Peter (Simon), St. Paul (Saul), St. Thomas (Didymus) and St. Bartholomew (Nathanael).  In the case of the Virgin Mary’s natural father, Joachim was his formal or legal name, but Heli was his common or familiar name.  According to this tradition, this familiar name, Heli, would have been the name that St. Luke’s hearers or readers would have commonly known St. Joachim by. 

     In this genealogy, St. Luke establishes Jesus’ natural sonship in the house of David by establishing His mother, the Virgin Mary, as a natural daughter of David, through her natural father, Heli (St. Joachim), a son of David.  Indeed, St. Luke does this in his genealogy by naming the Virgin Mary indirectly in the name of her husband, St. Joseph, by calling him the son of her father, Heli.  In doing so, he establishes Jesus’ physical descent, as a natural son of David, the messiah of Israel, through His virginal conception and birth to His natural mother, the Virgin Mary. 

     This virginal conception and birth of the messiah, through a virgin daughter from the house of David, was first prophesied by the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament.  Indeed, God first reveals to the house of David, through Isaiah, that the sign of the coming of the messiah would be His conception and birth to a virgin daughter of David.  This prophecy reads as follows: “Hear, O house of David…Therefore the Lord himself shall give you this sign: Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Is 7:14).  In this sense, according to Isaiah, the messiah would descend naturally from David, not directly from David himself, but indirectly, through a descendant of his, a virgin daughter from his house.  As such, He would be a natural son of David, by physical descent, through His natural virgin mother.  In his Gospel, St. Luke professes his belief in the Word of God that this virgin daughter of David’s house from Isaiah’s prophecy, who would naturally conceive and bear the son of David, the messiah, was the person of the Virgin Mary herself.  On the one hand, in his genealogy, he traces Jesus’ natural sonship in the house of David, through the natural genealogy of His mother, the Virgin Mary.  On the other hand, in his narrative of the angel’s annunciation to the Virgin Mary, he proclaims that the Virgin Mary would virginally conceive and bear Jesus, the son of David, as the messiah, by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:31-35).  For this reason, He would be “called holy, the son of God” (Lk 1:35).  Accordingly, in Jesus, the son of God would become the son of David, through the Virgin Mary, by the Holy Spirit, to reign as the messiah from the throne of His father, David, forever.

     Furthermore, as already mentioned, in St. Matthew’s genealogy, he traces Jesus’ legal sonship in the house of David, not through His natural mother, the Virgin Mary, but through His legal father, by adoption, St. Joseph.  In doing so, he establishes Jesus’ legal right to the messiahship as a legal son of David.  At the same time, this does not mean that St. Matthew does not believe in Jesus’ natural sonship in the house of David.  On the contrary, he does believe that Jesus descended naturally from David, through His natural mother, the Virgin Mary.  Indeed, in his infancy narrative, St. Matthew professes his belief that the Virgin Mary was the virgin daughter of the house of David from Isaiah’s prophecy who would conceive and bear the son of David, the messiah, by the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:20-21).  He does not call Jesus the holy son of God, as St. Luke does, but he does call Him “Emmanuel” (Mt 1:23), as Isaiah does (Is 7:14).  According to St. Matthew, the name Emmanuel means God is with His people (Mt 1:23).  In this sense, for St. Matthew, as for St. Luke, in Jesus, God is with His people.  On this basis, St. Matthew proclaims that Jesus, conceived and born of a virgin daughter of David’s house, by the Holy Spirit, would “save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21)

     According to the ancient Fathers of the Church, including St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Hesychius of Jerusalem, Pope St. Leo the Great and St. Paschasius Radbertus, the Virgin Mary was certainly the virgin daughter of David’s house who became the natural mother of Jesus. Indeed, they trace Jesus’ status as a son of David, not only legally, through St. Joseph, but also naturally, through the Virgin Mary.  In this sense, they believe that the Virgin Mary descended naturally from David based on Scripture and Tradition.  By her faithful yes to God at the annunciation, she becomes the natural mother of the son of David, the messiah, through the Holy Spirit: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). As a result, the Holy Spirit descends upon her, thereby forming her as the mother of the son of God by conceiving and bearing Him as the son of man, the son of David.  For this reason, in the person of the Virgin Mary, a virgin daughter from the house of David, God fulfills the coming of the messiah, the son of David, through the Holy Spirit, for she fully offers herself to Him by her faithful yes.  In doing so, He calls all people to become sons and daughters of the house of David, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, through their faithful yes to Him.  What about you?  Will you say yes to Him faithfully, during this season of Advent, in preparation for the coming of the messiah, the son of David?

In Christ with Blessed Mary,

Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.

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