Moses as a Type of St. Joseph (Part I)

Last month, I attended the Pontifical Mass at the Throne that His Excellency, the Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of Madison, offered on the Solemnity of St. Joseph. The feast was deferred to March 20 because the Lenten Sunday took precedence. You can see photos here (

What interested me most was the Lesson (aka Epistle) for the Mass. I expected something that referenced the Old Testament patriarch Joseph. Instead, the Lesson is borrowed from the Mass of a Holy Abbot (Os justi . . .). It’s from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, 45.1-6. This passage honors Moses. Upon consideration, it occurred to me that Moses is in many ways a quite fitting Old Testament type of St. Joseph.

First, let’s cite the relevant passage of Ecclesiasticus, per the translation in the Baronius Press Missal. The passage omits the name of Moses so you can apply the text more easily to the saint being commemorated in the Mass:

“Beloved of God and men, whose memory is in benediction. He [God] made him like the Saints in glory, and magnified him in the fear of his enemies, and with his words he made prodigies to cease. He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him commandments in the sight of his people, and showed him His glory. He sanctified him in his faith and meekness, and chose him out of all flesh. For he heard him and his voice, and brought him into a cloud. And He gave him commandment before His face, and a law of life and instruction.”

At first sight, this passage doesn’t seem to reflect St. Joseph very well. Moses, after all, had a very public life filled with miracles, while St. Joseph lived a very quiet, hidden life with Our Lord and Our Lady. But consider the following:

Delivered from sin to highest sanctity

Both Moses and St. Joseph were mere men, conceived in Original Sin but raised to an eminent degree of sanctity (the “predilection” mentioned in the lesson from Ecclesiasticus). Just as Moses praised the Lord for delivering him “out of the hand of Pharao” (Ex. 2:22), St. Joseph could praise the Lord for justifying him from Original Sin, which subjects men to the Devil, the allegorical significance of Pharao.

Saved through Mary, partnered with Mary in salvation history

Moses’ sister Miriam guarded him in the bulrushes so that he would be safe from Pharao’s henchmen. Decades later, when Moses led Israel out of Egypt, Miriam was part of his administration, as it were. She composed and sang the canticle of victory over the Egyptians, in which she magnified the Lord for what he had done (Ex. 15:20-21).

To sum up, Miriam rescued Moses from death and later was partnered with him in Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.

Miriam is the same name as Mary. Mary rescued St. Joseph from sin and is his partner in salvation history. Here’s how:

1.) Our Lady is the Universal Mediatrix of all graces merited by Her Son. As such, she intervened to save St. Joseph from Original Sin, much as Miriam kept guard over the infant Moses. I don’t mean that Our Lady was older than St. Joseph. Rather, the graces that God gave St. Joseph came to him through Our Lady’s universal mediation, which is not limited by time.

2.) More specifically, St. Joseph was called from Original Sin to a preeminent degree of grace because he was predestined to be the most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this sense, Our Lady was a proximate cause of St. Joseph’s salvation, much as Moses was saved through his relationship with Miriam.

3.) Much as Moses and Miriam (together with Aaron) led Israel during the Exodus, St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church joins Our Lady, Mother of the Church, as guardian over the Church of their Son, which is the New Israel. Moses and Miriam led Israel (called God’s firstborn son) out of Egypt; St. Joseph and Our Lady led Christ (God’s literal firstborn son) out of Egypt. They lead us, Christ’s sinful members, out of the bondage of sin as well.

Tangential bonus point: Just as Miriam magnified the Lord for defeating Pharao, the Blessed Virgin Mary sang the Magnificat.

Adopted into the house of the King

Although Moses was a Hebrew slave condemned to death because of his race, the daughter of Pharao rescued him and adopted him into Pharao’s royal house.

Although St. Joseph was conceived in Original Sin and doomed to Hell because of this sin inherited from Adam, God predestined him and adopted him into the hypostatic order of grace. Specifically, St. Joseph was betrothed to Our Lady, the Daughter of Zion, Daughter of God our King. He thus entered God’s royal house, being foster father to God the Son.

Pursued by the rulers of this world

Pharao pursued Moses after he killed an Egyptian who was oppressing a Hebrew. Pharao sought to kill Moses, so he fled into the land of Madian and dwelt there until after that Pharao died and a new one was in power. Only then did God appear to Moses, who then returned to Egypt with his wife and children.

St. Joseph rescued Our Lord from Herod the Great by fleeing from Judea to Egypt. The Holy Family remained there until after Herod died, after which they returned to Nazareth. St. Joseph resembled Moses by 1.) defending the innocent, thereby 2.) incurring the enmity of the sinful rulers of this world.

Parallel theophanies: the burning bush and the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God

God first revealed himself to Moses from the burning bush. The bush burned but was not consumed. The Church has interpreted the burning bush as a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who remained a virgin while conceiving and bearing Our Lord. God dwelt within Her immaculate soul, which was full of grace, yet She remained a living, breathing human being. She was enflamed by the divine presence, yet not consumed. In both the East and the West, you find religious paintings that show Moses looking upon the burning bush, and in the midst of the bush is an image of the Madonna and Child.

As God revealed Himself to Moses from the burning bush, He revealed Himself to St. Joseph through the Blessed Virgin Mary. He literally revealed Himself in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Son of God and Son of Mary. What Moses beheld under the type of the burning bush, St. Joseph beheld in its reality.

Meek and silent leader

Moses was a very meek and humble man. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he humbly confessed his unworthiness for the task before him. Moses declined to speak publicly himself, so God appointed Aaron to speak on his behalf. Later, after Moses time spent in the cloud with God, his face shone. To hide the light that radiated from his face, he wore a veil over his face when he spoke to the people, but he removed the veil when he communed with the Lord.

St. Joseph is famous for being silent. Holy Scripture records no word of his, other than that he named Our Lord “Jesus.” When he learned of Our Lady’s virginal conception, he considered divorcing Our Lady. Like Moses, he sensed his own unworthiness to be so closely involved in so profound a mystery as the Incarnation.

Though the holiest of saints after Our Lady, St. Joseph did not live his earthly life as a wonderworker or prophet or priest or religious reformer. Rather, he lived a quiet life in Bethlehem, in Egypt, in Nazareth, preferring a meek, humble, silent life. The hiddenness of St. Joseph’s sublime vocation resembles Moses’ own hiddenness — tending Jethro’s flocks in Madian, silent while Aaron spoke, hidden in the cloud atop Mt. Horeb, under the veil, in the Tabernacle. And just as Aaron communicated to Pharao and to Israel what Moses received in his hidden communion with God, the Church dispenses to the world the merits, suffrages, miracles, graces that come from St. Joseph.

Highlights from the next installment(s):

–Leads his family into Egypt
–Hidden in the cloud, he beholds the glory of the Lord
–Guardian of the Ark of the Covenant
–Dies before entering the Promised Land
–Succeeded by Joshua/Jesus, son of Joseph
–Answering an objection
–So what? Hints at tropological and anagogical significance in the identification of St. Joseph with Moses

7 thoughts on “Moses as a Type of St. Joseph (Part I)

  1. I would take issue with the claim that St. Joseph was the “holiest of saints after our Lady.” Up until modern times, that honor was universally given to St. John the Baptist. For a brief overview of the phenomenon, I would recommend the Rad Trad’s “The Iconographic Demotion of John the Baptist”:

    The Moses:Joseph type is interesting, though, and not one I had previously considered. Thanks for that.


    • Thank you for your comment.

      I am well aware of RadTrad’s hostility toward devotion to St. Joseph, and his patronizing language toward the saint himself. I don’t know what else to call it. Yes, there have been some elements in Josephology that are too speculative and exaggerated. Most Josephologists addressed that after Vatican II, to my knowledge, as they put devotion to St. Joseph on surer doctrinal footing.

      RadTrad’s criticisms, however, are sneering and verge on the insulting. Voltaire would appreciate the tone. I would tell RadTrad that to his face, if I knew him. He deserves correction.

      I will make a few substantive points:

      1.) I clicked the link that you provided, and I skimmed it. I don’t see any citation from any Church Father saying that St. John the Baptist was the holiest saint after Our Lady. Most prominent in iconography, sure. But is that really saying the same thing? If this is a universal attribution, surely some quotations would be easy to come by.

      2.) I am well aware of the quotation from the Gospel where Our Lord says that St. John is the greatest “man born of woman” (St. Matt. 11:11):

      “11 Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

      Note two points;

      2.a.) The first statement is not literal. Our Lord was born of woman and is greater than John. Our Lady is also greater than St. John, and she was born of a woman. So the statement admits of immediate qualification.

      2.b.) The second statement puts the first one in context: he that is lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John. So, yes, it is possible to be greater than St. John, even for men (and women) who are not Our Lord or Our Lady. The praise of St. John was a setup for the fact that, in the kingdom, there will be greater souls than St. John.

      So, in what sense is John greatest if “the lesser in the kingdom of heaven” is greater than he? Look to St. Luke 7:28 (emphasis added):

      “28 For I say to you: Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater *prophet* than John the Baptist. But he that is the lesser in the kingdom of God, is greater than he.”

      So, St. John is the greatest *prophet,* and saints who are lesser in the kingdom of heaven are greater than John is. St. Joseph wasn’t a prophet, so he doesn’t compete with St. John on that score. But he is greater (=holier) than St. John.

      The devotees of St. Joseph generally acknowledge that devotion to St. Joseph developed slowly. But as we as a Church pondered things, and we prayed, and as we thought about the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and the intimate graces of living with God Incarnate during His Hidden Life, theologians and devotees came to realize that being the foster-father of Our Lord and the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to dwell with them day in, day out, for approximately three decades, to be the earthly head and protector of the Holy Family, is to be closer to the sources of holiness than even to be the Precursor. St. Joseph, who is portrayed less dramatically than St. John in Scripture, is greater than he is because he is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven.

      We are not bound to limit ourselves to the devotional insights of 400 AD. Sixteen hundred years of prayer and theology have passed since then. St. Joseph’s glory has grown. One Pope compared this to the exaltation of the patriarch Joseph after his years of obscurity in Egypt. St. John’s glory has perhaps diminished, but he prophesied that his renown would diminish as Our Lord’s grew. I see the increased awareness of St. Joseph’s sanctity as a reflection of his proximity to Our Lord, so I see this progression as permissible and perhaps natural.


      • I think you do the Rad Trad something of an injustice.

        He may be wrong. Obviously I found his series convincing, but I’m not studied enough on the subject to confidently the case myself, so I’ll cede it for the sake of argument. Further, I’ve never been a good judge of tone either in myself or others, and have never seen a productive discussion of the subject, so I’ll not contest your assertion there either.

        But he is no more hostile to St. Joseph for opposing a specific strain of Josephite devotion which he claims is false and harmful than you are hostile to Mary for – rightly, I think – opposing the mess at Medjugorje. Such accusations are akin to calling critics of charismatic movements “hostile to the Spirit.”


      • I disagree. I think his language toward St. Joseph is indeed patronizing. His criticisms of devotion to St. Joseph are sneering, and do verge on insulting. That amounts to hostility toward devotion to St. Joseph as it actually exists in the Latin Church. Take away what he objects to, and what’s left?

        In the post you linked to, he referred to the cover of the Picture Book of Saints as “this sort of artistic monstrosity.” Why? Because Our Lady and St. Joseph are shown flanking Our Lord and St. John the Baptist doesn’t appear? That makes for a “monstrosity”? Good grief.

        “Joseph was a man who led a fairly average life, after all the drama of fleeing to Egypt and back. He is relatable: a man who worked for a living, an ordinary “family man” to whom extraordinary things happened—a sort of ancient, Jewish Bilbo Baggins.”

        I find the comparison to Bilbo Baggins to be patronizing.

        I now point you to this link:

        It shows a painting of the angel delivering a message to St. Joseph in his dream. RadtTrad’s caption reads, “I would like to commission an awesome carving of St. Gabriel.”

        At the end of the article is a picture of an outdoor statue of St. Joseph holding the Christ Child. RadTrad’s caption reads, “St. Joseph, out for your morning constitutional, pray for us!” What a sneering, snot-nosed creep. And again, I would tell that to his face.


      • Another example of RadTrad’s creepy trolling of Josephite devotion, from this post:

        He reproduces a comic strip that shows St. Joseph talking with St. Zachary and the Blessed Virgin before their betrothal. RadTrad’s caption reads, “Review your notes from the vocational retreat!” What exactly is the point of this? How do any of these “humorous” captions reduce to anything but contempt? How would a Protestant or a Rationalist differ from the RadTrad’s expressed attitude?

        Whatever scholarly merit his historical interpretations may (or may not) have, RadTrad’s *attitude* in many of these posts seems to be, “When other Catholics take St. Joseph more seriously than I do, I will subject their expressions of their devotion with contempt.” I would suggest to him that Our Lady took her husband quite seriously, and so did Our Lord, Whom St. Joseph raised. I would suggest that they do not take kindly to those who detract from St. Joseph and his devotees in the name of some pique coming from who knows what source.


      • Lastly, the difference from my treatment of Medjugorje is that Medjugorje is one apparition that seems to be false and inconsistent with the Deposit of Faith and the message of other Marian apparitions. I accept Fatima, Lourdes, Knock, Banneux, etc. The RadTrad is trying to say that almost the entire development of devotion to St. Joseph in the Latin Church, dating back to St. Jerome, is the rotten fruit of a rotten tree. That would be more analogous to dismissing Marian apparitions as such as aberrant and untraditional. Even the RadTrad doesn’t quite go that far (


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