The Fatherhood of St Joseph the Betrothed

In The Golden Legend by Bl. Jacobus de Voragine, the traditional approach to St. Joseph’s betrothal to the Theotokos is presented: he was an elderly man from the line of David who was chosen to be the Virgin Mary’s guardian. According to the text, the high priest of the Temple was told he would be given a sign to know who he should accept as Mary’s betrothed: each eligible was to bring a branch with them, place it on the altar, and the one which blooms would be the one who received Mary:

Joseph, of the house of David, was among the other men, but it seemed incongruous to him that a man of his advanced age should take so tender a young woman to wife, and he alone withheld his branch when the others placed theirs on the altar. So it was that nothing happened as the divine voice had predicted, and the high priest thought to consult the Lord a second time. The voice responded that only the man who had not brought his branch was the one to whom the virgin was to be espoused. Therefore Joseph brought his branch forward, it flowered at once, and a dove came from heaven and perched upon it. So it was clear to all that Joseph was to Mary’s husband.[1]

Saint Joseph was an elderly man; according to most ancient sources, a widower and a father. The brothers and sisters of the Lord are said to be the children of Joseph and so Jesus’ step-siblings. With Joseph, the Virgin Mary was to have the ideal husband and step-father for Jesus: he was wise with age and knew what was needed to raise a family so as to be a proper guide and benefactor for her and the young Jesus.

Strangely, in the West, in recent times, there has developed a theological speculation which claims Joseph was, like Mary, perpetually a virgin. There has been a kind of transference of the traditions surrounding St John the Baptist and placing it on St Joseph, leading to an idea that Joseph was greater than John. The traditional placement of John, therefore, has been replaced in Western iconography with Joseph. To praise him so, his personal integrity and holiness had to be seen as second as none. With the Augustinian tradition and its denigration of sex, it is quite understandable how Joseph would then need to be a perpetual virgin. But by doing so, strange things develop: family life is turned upside-down, fatherhood is denigrated, and virginity is suggested as a norm instead of being the higher, angelic-like existence expected for religious life.[2]

Sergius Bulgakov, in an excursus in The Friend of the Bridegroom explained the theological and spiritual concerns an Easterner has in modern Western devotionals to St. Joseph. It is to this we will turn to understand the place of Joseph in salvation history. It offers, though sometimes with a polemical overtone, a solid presentation on Joseph.

Bulgakov pointed out how, St Joseph, being born in the period of the Old Covenant, would have followed its ideals, and they did support the need for perpetual virginity.[3] Indeed, as with what we learn of Mary’s own parents, Sts Joachim and Anne, it is quite clear that a good, just follower of the Covenant was expected to have children – being married with children was the ideal, and virginity like Mary’s was exceptionally rare and indeed, quite peculiar. John the Baptist would take it on in his ministry as he becomes the emblem of the angelic virtues of monasticism, however, Joseph’s function was not as a representative of the heavenly world on the earth, but as a human father for Christ, a worldly figure.

It is, therefore, as an ideal representative of Israel, of the tribe of David, that Joseph was called to be Mary’s husband. He was to be the human representation of fatherhood. How can this be if he has not, in some sense, generated children of his own? Obviously, he has no place in the conception of Christ, but he still has to have some sense of fatherhood to be the human father of Jesus if we want to have him as a father-figure in fact (anything else would be docetical). Thus, Bulgakov wrote:

… it was precisely Joseph’s situation as the Betrothed, the protector of Mary’s virginity and the ‘nominal’ father of the Divine Infant, that required him to be truly a father. And fatherhood, certainly, canot be proper to a virgin monk who renounces the world; and it is incomprehensible why it should be proper to be a celibate husband, who for some reason would be allowed all the capacities of a father in marriage except procreation. It is here that we can find the difference between the situations of Joseph and John the Divine, even though Catholic theology likes to bring the two of them together as virgins in proximity to the Most Holy Virgin: John the Divine was only a son, whereas Joseph was a father and a husband, a protector of virginity.[4]

It is as a father that Joseph understood the protection of his family, including the protection of Mary. It is because he had to hold the place of father in his family that he needed to truly be a father; his status was not an illusion. Marriage can be holy, and Joseph, having once been in a holy marriage, was the ideal protector of Mary’s sacred nature; it caused no defect in him: “The qualities of father and husband there were then prepared in him are not revealed in their purest form. And there was nothing unclean in this lawful marriage of long ago, for the Virgin Mary was conceived in a similar marriage.”[5] Indeed, it could be said it helped him. The temptation and desire which would normally be found in a betrothed man would not be found in Joseph: he had already experienced the fruit of such desires and so could be strengthened, through experience, from all unseemly desire to Mary as her guardian. “To be sure, sexual intercourse had receded into the distant past and even ad become impossible owing to Joseph’s advanced age; and in this sense, Joseph can be considered a spouse who leads a monastic life.”[6] As a father, he could still resemble the spiritual fathers of the desert, not like John the Baptist, but like those elder monks who found themselves in the desert after having had a normal family life.[7]

Bulgakov pointed out, moreover, that because Joseph had children, he was able to give a family life to Jesus so as to root him to the normal familial existence of humanity. “His closest relatives, then, could only have been Joseph’s children. This supports the hypothesis that Jesus’ brothers were Joseph’s children. It is for this reason that the Gospel (which is usually so spare in details, especially concerning Jesus’ childhood and family), repeatedly and specifically refer to Jesus’ brothers – not, certainly, as rationalists thin, to attribute to Jesus a fleshy origin, but to make us perfectly conscious of the fullness and authenticity of his humanity.”[8]

Bulgakov believed it was the excess found in St Jerome’s defense of virginity that founded the speculation in the West which suggests Joseph was perpetually a virgin.[9] It was, however, something said in “passing” and was “isolated in the patristic literature.”[10] Others, such as Origen, Eusbeius, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St Cyril of Alexandria, St. Ambrose, St Hilary and St. Gregory of Tours promoted the belief of the elderly widower for Joseph.[11] While it might have been for honorable purposes that the West begun its speculation, hoping to promote Joseph’s integrity and holiness, it did so at the expense of fatherhood and marriage. It ignores the role of Joseph, to be the one who provides for Mary and Joseph as only one who knows fatherhood can; it removes Jesus and Mary further from humanity by making them no longer need such a human protector.[12] Joseph’s mission ends at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, at John the Baptist, when Jesus no longer needs a guardian. “Therefore, Joseph has a direct relation neither to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ nor to his preaching and ministry; and consequently he is called from this world when his human guardianship becomes unnecessary.”[13] It is for this reason he vanishes from the picture – though of course, Jesus’ human relations through Joseph, his brothers and sisters, remain. Jesus, as an adult, becomes fully himself, no longer needing protection, no longer needing someone to take care of his human needs, though he will remain human, and rooted to that humanity through his Mary but also through his step-father, Joseph, because of the family he inherited through Joseph.

St. Joseph the Betrothed, the Guardian of Mary and of Jesus, truly is a great saint. However, we do not need to speculate about him in such a way as to make him something unreal, to make him more than the man he was, for if we do so, we might end up making Jesus less of a man than we need him to be. Joseph presents fatherhood to Jesus, and, through Jesus to us. As the Holy Family represents something of what a family should be, with a father generating children and a mother having children, humanity and its families would be at a loss if we took a docetical approach to Joseph and believed he only had the illusion of fatherhood.  Theological speculation is indeed important, but we must always temper it, to make sure our thoughts do not lead us into some gnostic irreality. Joseph is human, must always be seen as human, and we can recognize his greatness in that humanity – not separate from it. We must not squash the holiness aloud in marriage: Joseph guarantees such holiness is possible, but if we remove from him his human history and turn him into an inhuman father, how are we going to encourage fathers to see in him an ideal they can hold up to?


[1] Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend. Volume II. Trans. William Granger Ryan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 153.

[2] This, of course, also explains the Western emphasis of celibacy for all clergy.

[3] See Sergius Bulgakov, The Friend of the Bridegroom. Trans. Boris Jakim  (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2003), 178.

[4] Bulgakov, Friend of the Bridegroom, 182.

[5] Ibid., 182.

[6] Ibid., 182.

[7] See ibid., 182.

[8] Ibid., 182.

[9] See ibid., 179.

[10] Ibid., 179.

[11] See ibid., 179.

[12] See ibid., 185-6.

[13] Ibid., 186.

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  • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

    I generally think this makes sense. However “the brothers and sisters of the Lord are said to be the children of Joseph and so Jesus’ step-siblings” makes me wonder a bit. On the one hand, this seems a perfectly logical explanation. On the other, it seems to lead to a multiplication of characters all with the same names in the Bible, as many of the figures called brothers of Jesus…have the same names exactly as people who we know where the children of his aunts. Of course, they were all named Mary, so I suppose this multiplication of the same name wouldn’t be surprising, but it does make things a bit cluttered.

    • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

      Yes, things are cluttered, but tradition does work with that too… as we all know, sometimes a name is popular at a given time and many have it.. Mary being one.

      • Mark Gordon

        I’ve read that Aramaic lacks words for cousin and nephew, and so every close male relation is referred to as “brother.” I’ve also read that that tradition persists in the Semitic world to this day.

        In any case, thanks for this wonderful piece, Henry. Every time my wife and I have encountered a major family problem – from finding a house to severe financial difficulties to health issues with our kids – we’ve brought it to St. Joseph for help. He has never failed us.

        • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

          Thanks.

          I wanted to write something about Joseph after we were notified about the post here: http://cantuar.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/saint-joseph-as-belonging-to-order-of.html

          On the one hand, I appreciate what Taylor is trying to do. It is worthy to see the value of St Joseph. But I also saw in it some of the problems Bulgakov and others in the East see in the modern Western approach to Joseph’s veneration. Not everything he said in his posts (he has written others) are erroneous, nor is the desire in them such, but… I still see the inability to see Joseph as the human father as he was in his post. He doesn’t seen to know the Eastern discussions on Joseph and only the modern Western eisigesis.

          From what I understand about the Aramaic, it is a bit more complex than that — there are words which can be used, but are rarely used (I could be wrong, Aramaic is not my expertise by any means) while more general “brotherly” terms can be used for a wide range of meanings (and is generally used). So it is not that one couldn’t use a more specific word (from what I understand) but it rarely is used. Nonetheless, the tradition suggests step-brothers.

          And yes, Joseph is good for families as a whole, and his embracing typical fatherhood I think helps this more than those who see him as virgin-father.

  • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

    I generally think this makes sense. However “the brothers and sisters of the Lord are said to be the children of Joseph and so Jesus’ step-siblings” makes me wonder a bit. On the one hand, this seems a perfectly logical explanation. On the other, it seems to lead to a multiplication of characters all with the same names in the Bible, as many of the figures called brothers of Jesus…have the same names exactly as people who we know where the children of his aunts. Of course, they were all named Mary, so I suppose this multiplication of the same name wouldn’t be surprising, but it does make things a bit cluttered.

    • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

      Yes, things are cluttered, but tradition does work with that too… as we all know, sometimes a name is popular at a given time and many have it.. Mary being one.

      • Mark Gordon

        I’ve read that Aramaic lacks words for cousin and nephew, and so every close male relation is referred to as “brother.” I’ve also read that that tradition persists in the Semitic world to this day.

        In any case, thanks for this wonderful piece, Henry. Every time my wife and I have encountered a major family problem – from finding a house to severe financial difficulties to health issues with our kids – we’ve brought it to St. Joseph for help. He has never failed us.

        • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

          Thanks.

          I wanted to write something about Joseph after we were notified about the post here: http://cantuar.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/saint-joseph-as-belonging-to-order-of.html

          On the one hand, I appreciate what Taylor is trying to do. It is worthy to see the value of St Joseph. But I also saw in it some of the problems Bulgakov and others in the East see in the modern Western approach to Joseph’s veneration. Not everything he said in his posts (he has written others) are erroneous, nor is the desire in them such, but… I still see the inability to see Joseph as the human father as he was in his post. He doesn’t seen to know the Eastern discussions on Joseph and only the modern Western eisigesis.

          From what I understand about the Aramaic, it is a bit more complex than that — there are words which can be used, but are rarely used (I could be wrong, Aramaic is not my expertise by any means) while more general “brotherly” terms can be used for a wide range of meanings (and is generally used). So it is not that one couldn’t use a more specific word (from what I understand) but it rarely is used. Nonetheless, the tradition suggests step-brothers.

          And yes, Joseph is good for families as a whole, and his embracing typical fatherhood I think helps this more than those who see him as virgin-father.

  • Hector

    I’ve been told that Aramaic, yes, lacks a word for ‘cousin’. You can refer to a male cousin periphrastically as ‘son of the uncle’, or you can say simply ‘brother’ (which is what people normally do).

    This isn’t uncommon in Asian cultures, as I understand it. My mother is Tamil, from South India, and the Tamil language lacks a word for ‘cousin’, so people normally refer to their first cousins as ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’. If someone wanted to be technical and precise they would say ‘son/daughter of my uncle’, but ‘brother’/’sister’ is more common.

    My mother still refers to her first cousins as brothers or sisters when speaking English (which is the language she uses most often), and that seems a close parallel to what the Gospel writers were doing. Even though they were writing in Greek, not in Aramaic, they ‘thought’ in Aramaic terms, and imported Aramaic idioms into their Greek writing (including the use of ‘adelphos’ instead of ‘anepsios’ to mean cousin, stepbrother, or whatever else the Gospel writers meant).

  • Hector

    I’ve been told that Aramaic, yes, lacks a word for ‘cousin’. You can refer to a male cousin periphrastically as ‘son of the uncle’, or you can say simply ‘brother’ (which is what people normally do).

    This isn’t uncommon in Asian cultures, as I understand it. My mother is Tamil, from South India, and the Tamil language lacks a word for ‘cousin’, so people normally refer to their first cousins as ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’. If someone wanted to be technical and precise they would say ‘son/daughter of my uncle’, but ‘brother’/’sister’ is more common.

    My mother still refers to her first cousins as brothers or sisters when speaking English (which is the language she uses most often), and that seems a close parallel to what the Gospel writers were doing. Even though they were writing in Greek, not in Aramaic, they ‘thought’ in Aramaic terms, and imported Aramaic idioms into their Greek writing (including the use of ‘adelphos’ instead of ‘anepsios’ to mean cousin, stepbrother, or whatever else the Gospel writers meant).

  • http://speciouspedestrian.blogspot.com Dominic Holtz, O.P.

    With the Augustinian tradition and its denigration of sex, it is quite understandable how Joseph would then need to be a perpetual virgin.

    I found this to be an interesting meditation, but passages like the above are simply unhelpful. Why? First, it is a misrepresentation of the thought of Augustine and the Augustinian heritage, and as such it is more prone to close off helpful cross-pollination East and West rather than promote it. Second, the rise of Joseph as the key figure with Mary as opposed to John the Baptist or Anne (of the Anne/Mary/Christ image of the Holy Family in the Medieval Latin West) is a relatively modern one for Latin Christianity. We might be more likely to find its cause not in the thought of Augustine, which would surely have caused it to arise in the very Augustinian Middle Ages, but rather in the increased value attached to life in the world in the modern era. That is, I suspect that the rise of interest in Joseph in the West coincides not with a denigration of the family, but rather just the opposite, the increased value placed on earthly families as the first cell of the Church. My suspicion is that, as families become more and more the paradigm at the root Christian society (as opposed to religious communities), we start to see younger depictions of Joseph in art, abandoning the Patristic and Medieval image of Joseph as an old man. It may well be at this point, i.e. Joseph as young, active father in a robust model of Christian (nuclear) family that the parallel concern of safeguarding his sanctity in the face of his young wife that led to a parallel notion of Joseph’s virginity.

    Such a view would take more work to trace out, but I think it does better justice to the actual history of how Joseph was considered in the Latin West.

    • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

      There might seem an over-simplification to what I said, however, the Western approach to sex is quite different from the East, and I think it is a valid point. The more Joseph is elevated in the West, the more he has to resemble perfection in the Augustinian sense. Sex is allowed in marriage, but it still has a sense of contamination due to its activity. And the Western tradition, after Augustine, is highly Augustinian and under the influence of Augustine, especially when dealing with sexuality. So, while it is not Augustine himself, the tradition of the West is Augustinian, and so later figures, continuing with the general sense of sexuality as found in Augustine, will bring it back to Joseph and this allows for us to understand why the modern, Western Joseph is also a virgin. So, the reason why it was not in the time of Augustine is because Joseph wasn’t elevated as he became much later, but once he did, reflections happened — outside of the context of tradition –and Augustinian ideology got in the way preventing the acceptance of tradition. Of course, it’s not all Augustine: as pointed out, the excess can be found in Jerome as well, and again, there is something there which seem to make Augustine-Jerome a major force in later Western thought, while the East had more sources for its thought and development (among of which, married priests, which also allowed them to view marriage in light that the West did not).

      • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

        I just want to add: I can understand why some might think I am over-simplifying things here. To fully explore the place of Augustine in the West, especially his sexual thoughts and how they have become a part of the basic tradition of the West, would require a lot of evidence to prove the case in a thorough sense. I can only say it is through a constant discussion with one person trying to understand Catholic moral thought, always bringing Western saint after Western saint saying similar things, all leading back to Augustine, which has shown to me (in my subjective view) the truth of it. It is something many in the East also say and I believe they are right. It is not that there are no similar questions and problems in the East, but I do think there is less of a sense of sex in marriage as being contaminating the person as is in the West. It is one thing to say something is holier than another, but sense there can be a variety of goods and a chain of possible good ends, saying sex in marriage isn’t as holy as virginity shouldn’t be seen as “therefore, there is something sinful involved” (out of necessity).

        So, in this way, as I said, how the tradition spread throughout the West as a general basis of thought, when the West began to develop new notions of St Joseph, it makes sense that the dominant Western themes (developed in Augustine) would end up with a virgin Joseph. And I think Bulgakov is right in his criticism of this.

      • http://speciouspedestrian.blogspot.com Dominic Holtz, O.P.

        It is one thing to say something is holier than another, but sense there can be a variety of goods and a chain of possible good ends, saying sex in marriage isn’t as holy as virginity shouldn’t be seen as “therefore, there is something sinful involved” (out of necessity).

        The thing is that this is precisely what Augustine said, and indeed the Latin tradition as such! The concern in the Latin West, which as you know is equally a key element in Eastern spirituality, is the way that carnal lust interferes with the good of marital union. Even so, for his part, Augustine is clear that, for married couples, sex merely for “lustful” purposes is akin to eating more than you should. That is, it is in itself easily pardonable, and requires no more special penance than the general obligation of those living in the world (e.g. daily prayer, almsgiving, etc.). This is the Augustinian heritage about marriage, which, quite honestly, is not notably distinct from the kinds of things John Chrysostom has to say.

        • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

          Augustine said more than that, as do many in the Western tradition. Even if it is “easily pardonable” the notion that it necessarily entails sin in the act for a married couple DOES make it something unholy. That is the problem; it is a contradiction which comes out stronger at times and others. In this way, it is not the same thing for it is ultimately saying it is something sinful, however little sin it is, and that it is a kind of “accepted sin.” This leads, again, to a notion which the East does not accept.

  • http://speciouspedestrian.blogspot.com Dominic Holtz, O.P.

    With the Augustinian tradition and its denigration of sex, it is quite understandable how Joseph would then need to be a perpetual virgin.

    I found this to be an interesting meditation, but passages like the above are simply unhelpful. Why? First, it is a misrepresentation of the thought of Augustine and the Augustinian heritage, and as such it is more prone to close off helpful cross-pollination East and West rather than promote it. Second, the rise of Joseph as the key figure with Mary as opposed to John the Baptist or Anne (of the Anne/Mary/Christ image of the Holy Family in the Medieval Latin West) is a relatively modern one for Latin Christianity. We might be more likely to find its cause not in the thought of Augustine, which would surely have caused it to arise in the very Augustinian Middle Ages, but rather in the increased value attached to life in the world in the modern era. That is, I suspect that the rise of interest in Joseph in the West coincides not with a denigration of the family, but rather just the opposite, the increased value placed on earthly families as the first cell of the Church. My suspicion is that, as families become more and more the paradigm at the root Christian society (as opposed to religious communities), we start to see younger depictions of Joseph in art, abandoning the Patristic and Medieval image of Joseph as an old man. It may well be at this point, i.e. Joseph as young, active father in a robust model of Christian (nuclear) family that the parallel concern of safeguarding his sanctity in the face of his young wife that led to a parallel notion of Joseph’s virginity.

    Such a view would take more work to trace out, but I think it does better justice to the actual history of how Joseph was considered in the Latin West.

    • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

      There might seem an over-simplification to what I said, however, the Western approach to sex is quite different from the East, and I think it is a valid point. The more Joseph is elevated in the West, the more he has to resemble perfection in the Augustinian sense. Sex is allowed in marriage, but it still has a sense of contamination due to its activity. And the Western tradition, after Augustine, is highly Augustinian and under the influence of Augustine, especially when dealing with sexuality. So, while it is not Augustine himself, the tradition of the West is Augustinian, and so later figures, continuing with the general sense of sexuality as found in Augustine, will bring it back to Joseph and this allows for us to understand why the modern, Western Joseph is also a virgin. So, the reason why it was not in the time of Augustine is because Joseph wasn’t elevated as he became much later, but once he did, reflections happened — outside of the context of tradition –and Augustinian ideology got in the way preventing the acceptance of tradition. Of course, it’s not all Augustine: as pointed out, the excess can be found in Jerome as well, and again, there is something there which seem to make Augustine-Jerome a major force in later Western thought, while the East had more sources for its thought and development (among of which, married priests, which also allowed them to view marriage in light that the West did not).

      • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

        I just want to add: I can understand why some might think I am over-simplifying things here. To fully explore the place of Augustine in the West, especially his sexual thoughts and how they have become a part of the basic tradition of the West, would require a lot of evidence to prove the case in a thorough sense. I can only say it is through a constant discussion with one person trying to understand Catholic moral thought, always bringing Western saint after Western saint saying similar things, all leading back to Augustine, which has shown to me (in my subjective view) the truth of it. It is something many in the East also say and I believe they are right. It is not that there are no similar questions and problems in the East, but I do think there is less of a sense of sex in marriage as being contaminating the person as is in the West. It is one thing to say something is holier than another, but sense there can be a variety of goods and a chain of possible good ends, saying sex in marriage isn’t as holy as virginity shouldn’t be seen as “therefore, there is something sinful involved” (out of necessity).

        So, in this way, as I said, how the tradition spread throughout the West as a general basis of thought, when the West began to develop new notions of St Joseph, it makes sense that the dominant Western themes (developed in Augustine) would end up with a virgin Joseph. And I think Bulgakov is right in his criticism of this.

      • http://speciouspedestrian.blogspot.com Dominic Holtz, O.P.

        It is one thing to say something is holier than another, but sense there can be a variety of goods and a chain of possible good ends, saying sex in marriage isn’t as holy as virginity shouldn’t be seen as “therefore, there is something sinful involved” (out of necessity).

        The thing is that this is precisely what Augustine said, and indeed the Latin tradition as such! The concern in the Latin West, which as you know is equally a key element in Eastern spirituality, is the way that carnal lust interferes with the good of marital union. Even so, for his part, Augustine is clear that, for married couples, sex merely for “lustful” purposes is akin to eating more than you should. That is, it is in itself easily pardonable, and requires no more special penance than the general obligation of those living in the world (e.g. daily prayer, almsgiving, etc.). This is the Augustinian heritage about marriage, which, quite honestly, is not notably distinct from the kinds of things John Chrysostom has to say.

        • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

          Augustine said more than that, as do many in the Western tradition. Even if it is “easily pardonable” the notion that it necessarily entails sin in the act for a married couple DOES make it something unholy. That is the problem; it is a contradiction which comes out stronger at times and others. In this way, it is not the same thing for it is ultimately saying it is something sinful, however little sin it is, and that it is a kind of “accepted sin.” This leads, again, to a notion which the East does not accept.