…lest anyone suspect that carnal intercourse occurred, it is added,
And he knew her not.
In this place it should be known that this verb “to know” is taken in
two senses in Sacred Scripture. Sometimes it is taken for knowledge;
“Henceforth you shall know him, and you have seen him” (Jn. 14, 7).
Sometimes it is taken for carnal intercourse, as in Genesis 4, 1: “And
Adam knew Eve, his wife”, etc., that is, carnally.
But it is objected, why does it not say simply, he knew her not,
etc., instead of, till she brought forth her son. From this it
would seem to follow that he knew her afterwards. Whence, Helvidius
likewise said, “Although a Virgin conceived Christ, nevertheless,
afterwards she had other children of Joseph.”
And so Jerome says, that until sometimes means something limited
and determinate, as if I would say, ‘I will not come until I eat,
because I signify that I am about to come afterwards.’ At other times
it means something unlimited and indeterminate, for example in I
Corinthians 15, 25: “For he must reign, until he hath put all his
enemies under his feet.” Will He not reign forever afterwards? He will
indeed. But Scripture uses such manner of speaking, because it intends
to remove that which could be doubted. For it could have been doubted
whether He would reign when He had not put His enemies under His feet.
Likewise, it could have been doubted, when the blessed Virgin had
given birth, whether before the birth she had been known by Joseph.
But from the start, we cannot possibly doubt; namely, because the
angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men
of good will” (Lk. 2, 14). And thus, the Evangelist intends to say
this. And so, Jerome argues against Helvidius: “You say, O Helvidius,
that, before they came together, Joseph did not know her, because he
was warned in his sleep by an angel. If, therefore, a warning in sleep
was influential enough that he would not unite himself to Mary, how
much more the knowledge of the angels, and the adoration of the
shepherds and wise men?”* Chrysostom, however, takes knowledge for an
intellectual knowing. So when it is said He knew her not, one
ought to understand, namely, that he did not understand that she was
of such great dignity; but after she gave birth, he knew this. Others
say that it is to be taken for sensible knowledge; and their opinion
is indeed sufficiently probable. For they say that Moses, from his
conversing with the Lord, had so great glory in his face, that the
children of Israel could not behold it (II Cor. 3, 7). Therefore, if
Moses had this from his association with God, much more did this
blessed Virgin, who carried Him in her womb, have so great glory in
her countenance that Joseph did not know her. But the first exposition
is more literal.
* “JEROME. Lastly, I would ask, Why then did Joseph abstain at
all up to the day of birth? He will surely answer, Because of the
angel’s words, That which is born in her, &c. He then who gave so much
heed to a vision as not to dare to touch his wife, would he, after he
had heard the shepherds, seen the Magi, and known so many miracles,
dare to approach the temple of God, the seat of the Holy Ghost, the
Mother of his Lord?” (Catena Aurea on St. Matthew, chap. 1 lect.