St Joseph, Georges de Latour
In antiquity betrothal was far more than an announcement of an intention to marry; it was a binding of man and woman together before she finally quit her father’s house to join her husband (this is still the case among the Greeks, where the breaking of an engagement requires a process not unlike an annulment).
When St Joseph discovered Our Lady’s pregnancy the shock must have been profound: the world would either conclude that they had lain together before their final wedding had taken place or that he was to bring up another man’s son; he faced being called a fornicator or a cuckold.
We are not told how St Joseph learnt that Our Lady was with child, but it feels as though he did not learn it from Our Lady herself: would he have doubted her word to him?
St Joseph was clearly a man of honour, who did not want to shame Our Lady, but who did not feel as though he could raise another’s child as his own; hence his decision to divorce Our Lady with as little noise or fuss as possible.
One can imagine the wretchedness that would have first gripped St Joseph when he heard the news. All of his plans and aspirations had been set at naught. But, in a lesser way, St Joseph was offered a choice not dissimilar to that extended to Our Lady: to live his life according to his own plans or to co-operate with God’s plan. St Joseph chose to follow God’s will, not his own.