The Holy Patriarch Joachim

The Protoevangelium of James recounts a story of the birth of Jesus Christ, widely believed to be false, but also makes mention of the parents of Mary – who are Joachim and Anne.  The early Church Fathers, always a reliable source of information – taught by the disciples as they were (at least those not slipping into heresy,) duly believed that they were the parents of Mary. Sacred Scripture (i.e. the Bible, for you heathens,) of course points towards Mary’s role in salvation history.

It’s a tad academic (not much,) but:

[…] the name of Mary’s father, Heli, agrees with the name given to Our Lady’s father in a tradition founded upon the report of the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal Gospel which dates from the end of the second century. According to this document the parents of Mary are Joachim and Anna. Now, the name Joachim is only a variation of Heli or Eliachim, substituting one Divine name (Yahweh) for the other (Eli, Elohim). The tradition as to the parents of Mary, found in the Gospel of James, is reproduced by St. John Damascene [24], St. Gregory of Nyssa [25], St. Germanus of Constantinople [26], pseudo-Epiphanius [27], pseudo-Hilarius [28], and St. Fulbert of Chartres [29]. Some of these writers add that the birth of Mary was obtained by the fervent prayers of Joachim and Anna in their advanced age. As Joachim belonged to the royal family of David, so Anna is supposed to have been a descendant of the priestly family of Aaron; thus Christ the Eternal King and Priest sprang from both a royal and priestly family [30].

nullThe protoevangelium is actually the first statement of the Gospel, which appears in Genesis chapter 3, verse 15: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” The verse claims the salvation history which God will bring about after the very serious fall of man, which can only be described as a mortal sin committed by Adam and Eve. It surely wasn’t venial sin if it brought about the fall of just about the entirety of mankind.

So why is the Protoevangelium of James (PoJ) called a protoevangelium, if THE protoevangelium already exists?

I honestly don’t know. It’s probably one of the reasons the PoJ isn’t taken very seriously by scholars. St. Thomas Aquinas spoke poorly of it, as a matter of fact.

But we’re getting too far away from the point, which is that Joachim was the father of Mary.

Which gets us back to our story.

And for that, let’s turn to Anne Katherine Emmerich, whose visions, whether they’re true or not, still provide for fruitful meditation.  The scene below is interesting and beautifully described, and gives one over to wonder if it may have been like this or not. Did Mary have a sister?  Was Joachim really allowed into the Holy of Holies through a supernatural intervention?

Blessed Anne Katherine Emmerich certainly has a way with her visions, regardless.

We pick things up as Joachim and Anne move to Nazareth, believing themselves to have greatly sinned due to only having one daughter.  Joachim had been spurned at the Temple previously, as everyone else thought they had no doubt sinned also, yet they strove to live pious and devout lives.

It’s a long excerpt, so we’ll end things here.

O God, Who, in preference to Your other Saints, willed St. Joachim to be the father of Your Son’s Mother; grant, we beseech You, that we may ever enjoy the spiritual help of him whose feast we celebrate.

Blessed Saint Joachim, pray for us.

I now saw the holy couple beginning an entirely new life here. It was their intention to offer to God all that was past and to behave as though their marriage had only then taken place, endeavoring to live in a manner pleasing to God, and thus to bring down upon them His blessing which they so earnestly desired beyond all else. I saw both of them going amongst their flocks and herds and following the example of their parents (as I have described above) in dividing them into three portions between the Temple, the poor, and themselves.

The best and choicest portion was driven off to the Temple; the poor were given the next best one, and the least good they kept for themselves. This they did with all their possessions. Their house was quite spacious; they lived and slept in separate little rooms, where I saw them very often praying by themselves with great devotion.  …

Anna’s steadfast faith was supported by an inmost certainty that the coming of the Messiah was near, and that she herself was among His human relations. She prayed for the fulfillment of the Promise with loud supplications, and both she and Joachim were always striving after more perfect purity of life.

Although on the previous occasion it was by a sign from above that Joachim’s offerings were rejected, I saw that the priest who had treated him so harshly instead of comforting and consoling him was in some way (I cannot remember how) punished by God.

Now, however, the priests had received a divine warning to accept his offerings, and I saw that some of them, on being told of his approach with the sacrificial beasts, went out of the Temple to meet him and accepted his gifts. The cattle which he had brought as a gift to the Temple were not his actual offering. The sacrifice he brought to be slaughtered consisted of two lambs and three lively little animals, kids, I think. I saw, too, that many of his acquaintances congratulated him on his sacrifice being accepted.

I saw that because of the feast the whole Temple was open and decorated with garlands of fruit and greenery, and that in one place a Tabernacle had been set up on eight detached pillars. Joachim went from place to place in the Temple exactly as he did before. His sacrifice was slaughtered and burnt at the usual place. Some part of it was, however, burnt at another place, to the right, I think, of the entrance hall with the great teaching pulpit. I saw the priests making a sacrifice of incense in the Holy Place. Lamps, too, were lighted and lights burned on the seven-branched candlestick, but not on all seven branches at once. I often saw that on different occasions different branches of it were lighted.

As the smoke arose from the offering, I saw as it were a beam of light falling upon the officiating priest in the Holy Place and at the same time on Joachim without in the hall. There came a sudden pause in what was going on, it seemed from astonishment and the realization of something supernatural. Thereupon I saw that two priests went out into the hall to Joachim as though by God’s command, and led him through the side rooms up to the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place. The priest then laid something on the altar.

This was not, I could see, separate grains of incense; it looked like a solid lump, but I cannot remember what it was. This lump gave out a powerful and sweet smell of incense as it was burnt upon the altar of incense before the veil of the Holy of Holies. Then I saw the priest going away, leaving Joachim alone in the Holy Place. While the incense-offering was being consumed I saw Joachim in a state of ecstasy, kneeling with outstretched arms. I saw approaching him a shining figure of an angel, such as later appeared to Zechariah when he received the promise of the Baptist’s birth.

The angel spoke to Joachim, and gave him a scroll on which I recognized, written in shining letters, the three names Helia, Hanna, Miriam. [29] Beside the last of these names I saw the picture of a little Ark of the Covenant or tabernacle. Joachim fastened this scroll to his breast under his garment. The angel told him that his unfruitfulness was no disgrace for him, but on the contrary, an honor, for the child his wife was to conceive was to be the immaculate fruit of God’s blessing upon him and the crowning point of the blessing of Abraham.

Joachim, being unable to grasp this, was led by the angel behind the veil hanging in front of the Holy of Holies. Between this veil and the bars of the screen before the Holy of Holies was a space large enough to stand in. I saw the angel approach the Ark of the Covenant, and it seemed to me as if he took something out of it, for I saw him hold towards Joachim a shining globe or circle of light, bidding him breathe upon it and look into it. (When he held the circle of light so near his face, it made me think of a custom at our country weddings where the sacristan gives one a little board to kiss with a head painted on it, and makes one pay three halfpence for doing so.)

Then I saw as if all kinds of pictures appeared in the circle of light when Joachim breathed on it and that these were visible to him. His breath had in no way dimmed the circle of light, and the angel told him that the conception of Anna’s child would be as untarnished as this globe, which had remained shining in spite of his having breathed on it. Thereupon I saw as if the angel lifted the globe until it stood like an encircling halo in the air, in which I saw, as through an opening in it, a series of pictures starting with the Fall and ending with the Redemption of mankind.

The whole course of the world passed before my eyes as one picture merged into another. I knew and understood it all, but I cannot reproduce the details. Above, at the very summit, I saw the Blessed Trinity, and below and on one side of the Trinity, I saw the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve, the Fall, the promise of Redemption and all its prototypes–Noah, the Flood, the Ark, the receiving of the blessing through Abraham, its handing on to his firstborn Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob, how it was taken from Jacob by the angel with whom he struggled, how the blessing came to Joseph in Egypt and increased in glory in him and in his wife.

I saw how the sacred presence of the blessing was removed by Moses from Egypt with relics of Joseph and his wife Asenath, and became the Holy of Holies of the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of the living God among His people. Then I saw the reverence paid by God’s people to this sacred thing and their ceremonies respecting it; I saw the relationships and marriages which formed the sacred genealogy of the Blessed Virgin’s ancestry, as well as all the prototypes and symbols of her and of Our Savior in history and in the prophets. All this I saw in encircling symbols and also rising from the lower part of the ring of light.

I saw pictures of great cities, towers, palaces, thrones, gates, gardens, and flowers, all strangely woven together as it were by bridges of light; and all were being attacked and assaulted by fierce beasts and other figures of might.

These pictures all signified how Our Blessed Lady’s ancestral family, from which God was to take Flesh and be made Man, had been led, like all that is holy, by God’s grace through many assaults and struggles. I remember, too, having seen at a certain point in this series of pictures a garden surrounded by a thick hedge of thorns, which a host of serpents and other loathsome creatures attempted in vain to penetrate.

I also saw a strong tower assaulted on all sides by men-at-arms, who were falling down from it. I saw many pictures of this kind, relating to the history of the ancestry of the Blessed Virgin; and the bridges and passages which joined all together signified the victory over all attempts to disturb, hinder, or interrupt the work of salvation.

It was as if by God’s compassion there had been poured into mankind, as into a muddy stream, a pure flesh and a pure blood, and as if this had, with great toil and difficulty, to reconstitute itself out of its scattered elements, the whole stream striving the while to draw it into its troubled waters; and then, as if by the countless mercies of God and the faithful cooperation of mankind, it had at last issued forth, after many pollutions and many cleansings, in an unfailing stream out of which rose the Blessed Virgin, from whom the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.

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