Q. Dear Father Angelo,
For some time now, I have been asking myself a question: why did the Archangel Gabriel appear in person to Mary, whereas in a dream to Joseph? Was St. Joseph exempt from sin like the Blessed Virgin?
Off-topic, I also wanted to ask you another question: I read various writings about the forgiveness of sins and their punishment; Salesian Fr. Giuseppe Tomaselli (t.n. Fr. G. Tomaselli was a catholic priest, thaumaturge, exorcist) affirmed once that even the most venial sins involve very severe punishments in Purgatory, and much as forgiven, they do not cancel the punishment; reading the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska it seems to me that God’s mercy not only cancels sins, and the related punishment, however great they may be; God actually does not even remember them anymore! And this heartened me.
Thank you for your answers and for the time you devote to me.
P.S. Please remember me and my family in your prayers.
A. Dear Giulio,
there are three questions you ask me.
1. The first: why did the Angel appear to Joseph in a dream and yet he visibly appeared to Mary?
Undoubtedly, a sensitive appearance through the external senses is more certain and greater than a revelation made within one’s mind.
The first is superior to the latter.
St. Thomas writes: “Imagination is a power greater than external senses; nevertheless the principle of human experience lies in the senses, and they give us the greatest certainty; in the order of knowledge, the principles have got to be more certain.
Therefore St. Joseph, to whom the angel appeared in a dream, had a visitation inferior to that of the Blessed Virgin “(Summa Theologiae, III, 30, 3, ad 2).
2. According to St. Thomas and St. John Chrysostom it was proper for an angel to become visible before Mary, because what was announced to her was an extraordinary event, humanly inconceivable.
While for Saint Joseph, who doubted a fact that had already happened (conception), it was a matter of confirming an intuition he had already come to, for which he considered himself unworthy to be presented to the world as the father of the Messiah, without having received any assignment.
In fact, St. Thomas writes: “Joseph wanted to leave her not to take another wife, or because of suspicion (propter suspicionem); he wanted to part from her because he feared, due to his reverence (humility), to be close to such great holiness and therefore he was told: do not fear” ( St. Thomas, IV Sent., d. 30, q. 2. 2 ad 5).
3. About the visitation in a dream to St. Joseph, St. Thomas writes: “(t.n. the angel) appeared in a dream (…)”.
But then he wonders why Mary had a visible apparition, even though she was faithful in her entirety.
It must be said that the mystery of the Incarnation was revealed to the Virgin Mary from the very beginning, when it was more difficult to believe; therefore a visible presence was necessary. To Joseph, however, the mystery was not revealed from the beginning, rather when it was almost completed, when he could already see Mary’s womb swelling, and therefore he could more easily believe; hence the vision in a dream was enough for him” (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 1,20).
4. Then you ask whether Saint Joseph was exempt from sin like the Blessed Virgin.
The answer is no, because the Virgin Mary, by unequaled privilege, was exempted from the first instant of her existence from the original sin and from the disorder of inclinations, (theologians call it the fomite, or deviant incentive, of concupiscence).
We have no biblical sources that suggest such a privilege was granted to St. Joseph as well.
Thus it is held to be true that after contracting the original sin, St. Joseph received a great sanctification that freed him from the original sin, and made the disorder of ill-inclinations de facto quiescent and subsequently extinguished.
For this reason the Church considers him as the first amongst all Saints, even before St. John the Baptist, and confers on him the cult of protodulia (first among all the Saints).
While the B.V. Mary is given the cult of hyperdulia, that is, over all the Saints, because of the exclusive role she has to play, as Mother of Christ and new Eve.
5. The third question: the seemingly incongruity between what Father Tomaselli says and Saint Faustina Kowalska.
Father Tomaselli considers the venial sin in itself and therefore, even after absolution, the punishment remains to be expiated.
Saint Faustina Kowalska says the same thing when she speaks of some of her sisters who went to purgatory because of some of their negligences.
When Saint Faustina says that God cancels everything, she does so by referring to some votive actions performed by the faithful, for which they can apply, to themselves or to the dead, a particular plenary indulgence, such as the one granted on the feast of Divine Mercy.
I will gladly remember you and your family in my prayers.
I wish you well and bless you.
translated by Riccardo Mugnaini
proof edited by Sara Bellei