Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
“Joseph” by St. John Henry Newman

“Joseph” by St. John Henry Newman

Soon we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, the word made flesh. This miraculous birth came at the precise appointed time in God’s perfect plan. God prepared the world for this birth, in every possible way. From Galatians 4 we have,  “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son . . .”. The world consciously and unconsciously entered into God’s plan. We can see examples of this divine plan in many ways, but one important way is through people and events found in the Old Testament. St. John Henry Newman was fascinated by this, as illustrated in his poem, “Joseph.” 

Newman wrote this poem during his Mediterranean Journey. The poetry Newman wrote as a young man during this journey gives a fascinating glimpse into the workings of his agile mind. These poems are often dense, with layers of meaning. The poem “Joseph” is one such poem. It contains sophisticated imagery which invites contemplation. In this poem, Newman illustrates that he was intrigued by Biblical typology. The Greek word typos means “a shape.” The idea of typology has to do with New Testament indications of patterns and people in the Old Testament who were, in a sense, created to serve as pre-figured shapes of what Christ would do. Joseph from the Old testament may be seen as a type for Christ. 

Joseph, like Jesus, was the beloved Son of the Father (Matt 3:17; cf. Gen 37:3). Joseph became a slave because of the sin of his brothers (Gen 37:25–28, 36) and was later wrongly accused and left for dead in Pharaoh’s prison (Gen 39:19–20). Yet God showed special favor to Joseph in that lowly place (Gen 39:21; cf. Ps 16:10) and brought him out of prison, exalting him to a position of absolute authority (Gen 41:37–44) for the purpose of saving his people from certain death (Gen 50:20). Jesus likewise left his exalted status to become a slave (Phil 2:7), after which he was wrongfully accused and delivered over to death. Yet, out of that death Jesus broke free in his resurrection in order to become the Savior of his people (Matt 1:21). 

There are many other similarities between Joseph and Jesus. Joseph and Jesus were both sold for silver (Gen 37:28; Matt 26:15), stripped of their clothing (Gen 37:23; Matt 27:28), bound (Gen 39:30; Matt 27:2) and condemned with two other criminals (Gen 40:1–3; Luke 23:22–23).

When we think of the story of Joseph in these larger terms, it illustrates just what a “typos” is supposed to do. It helps us appreciate sacred scripture in a new way. And this is what intrigued St. John Henry as he composed his poem, “Joseph.” Here is the whole poem, with further explanation afterwards. 


O PUREST Symbol of the Eternal Son!

   Who dwelt in thee, as in some sacred shrine,

   To draw hearts after thee, and make them thine;

Nor parent only by that light was won,

And brethren crouch’d who had in wrath begun,

   But heathen pomp abased her at the sign

   And the hid Presence of a guest divine,

Till a king heard, and all thou bad’st was done.

Then was fulfill’d Nature’s dim augury,

That “Wisdom, clad in visible form, would be

So fair, that all must love and bow the knee;”

Lest it might seem, what time the Substance came,

Truth lack’d a sceptre, when It but laid by

Its beaming front, and bore a willing shame.

Joseph (Lazaret, Malta. January 20, 1833)

The first lines refer to Joseph being a Symbol, or typos, of Christ, the “Eternal Son.” Joseph, pointing, as types do, to the future birth of Christ, was “drawing hearts” to Christ. This “light” or symbol that was Joseph’s purpose on earth, was for all times, not just for his family or “parent,” but for humanity. The next lines refer to Joseph’s brothers who were jealous of him. These “brethren” hid or  “crouch’d” because of their “wrath” caused by jealousy, subsequently selling him into slavery. But God was working his purpose out!  Joseph became famous because of his ability to interpret dreams, and the heathens gave him “pomp” … not knowing that Joseph’s gift was because he was, indeed, “hiding” the presence of a “guest divine,” that is, foreshadowing Christ. 

Joseph’s ability won him the favor of Pharoah, the “king heard” who elevates him to an important position. Joseph understood Pharoah’s dream regarding famine. And indeed, “Nature’s dim augury” came true. But Joseph had gathered food in preparation for the drought. When Pharaoh exalted Joseph to the position of second in command, he took him before the Egyptians, ordering them to bow, as is reflected in the line, “So fair, that all must love and bow the knee.” In these compact phrases, St. John Henry is collapsing Joseph’s story, and weaving it into the story of Christ, in an oblique way. 

The last three lines of this complicated poem complete the circle of Joseph as a typos. For Jesus is the “Substance” who would come, his lowly birth without a “sceptre”, born to bear the “willing shame”of Crucifixion.

This marvelous prefiguration reminds us also of the other Joseph, chosen to be the spouse of the Virgin Mary and Guardian of the Redeemer (Redemptoris Custos). This Joseph too was part of God’s divine preparation, who  “gave” Jesus his name, held Him in his arms, and suffered to protect Him and his Blessed Mother. 

As we learn about these ways that God prepared the world for the birth of His Son, we must ask ourselves if this work is finished. The answer is no. The world ever needs figures who point the way to Christ, to the truth of who He is. We are those lights. We no longer prefigure Christ, since He is already come into the world. But with our lives, we must shine before men and mankind will see our good works and glorify Him. Our lives must point to Christ. And as they do, we can say with our example and words, “Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”


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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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