Ancestors of Our Lord (liturgical memorial)

On this eve of the great feast of the Nativity of the Lord, we find a short memorial to His human ancestors in the Church’s liturgical books. Here it is:

“Commemoration of all the holy forefathers of Jesus Christ, the son of David, of Abraham, and of Adam, that is, the heads of families, who pleased God and were found to be just and died according to the ancient Faith not having acquired the promises of God in their lifetimes, but seeing them fulfilled from afar and greeting them as such, and from whom was born Christ according to the flesh, Who is God Blessed over all things forever.”

Roman martyrology, December the 24th

This is a good moment to bring out both Saint Matthew’s and Saint Luke’s celebrated orders of geneology for Christ, with some commentary:

In Matthew’s clever geneology, he omits several levels to flatten the whole into three sets of fourteen: from Abraham to David (I), from David to the deportation of the people to Babylon (II), and from the deportation to Christ (III). This is done in favour of a sacred numbering, the foundation being both the number seven, and the number three.

IAbraham – Isaac – Jacob – Juda – Phares – Esron – Aram – Aminadab – Naasson – Salmon – Booz –  Obed – Jesse – king David – 

IISolomon – Roboam – Abias – Asa – Josaphat – Joram – Ozias – Joatham – Achaz – Ezechias – Manasses – Amon – Josias – Jechonias – 

III: Salathiel – Zorobabel – Abiud – Eliacim – Azor – Sadoc – Achim – Eliud – Eleazar – Mathan – Jacob – Saint Joseph, spouse of the BVM – Christ.


Luke’s geneology goes back to Adam even. I we sequence it (3: 23-38), we could establish parts I, II, etc., which Luke has not done:

I: Adam – Seth – Henos – Cainan – Malaleel – Jared – Henoch – Methusale – Lamech – Noe – Sem – Arphaxad – Cainan – Sale – Heber – Phaleg – Ragau – Sarug – Nachor – Thare – [an addition with respect to Matthew]

II: Abraham – Isaac – Jacob – Juda – Phares – Esron – Aram – Aminadab – Naasson – Salmon – Booz – Obed – Jesse – king David –  [identical to Matthew’s, since it’s in the Old Testament]

III: Nathan – Mathatha – Menna – Melea – Eliacim – Jona – Joseph – Juda – Simeon – Levi – Mathat – Jorim – Eliezer – Jesu – Her – Elmadan – Cosan – Addi – Melchi – Neri –

IV: Salathiel – Zorobabel – Resa – Joanna – Juda – Joseph – Semei – Matthathias – Mahath – Nagge – Hesli – Nahum – Amos – Matthathias – Joseph – Janne – Melchi – Levi – Mathat – Heli – Saint Joseph, spouse of the BVM – Christ.


The first thing to note is there are more names here. Matthew has modified the list to fit it into three sets of fourteen, and he will have dropped a few names to produce that. The second thing to note is that Luke’s primary source in his Gospel was the Blessed Virgin herself, for several details could only ever come from her. One of the Fathers of the Church (I think it was Saint Jerome) suggested that Luke’s geneology is not Saint Joseph’s line (as produced partially by Saint Matthew) but Mary’s, that the Heli given as Joseph’s Father is Eliacim, Mary’s father (aka. Saint Joacim), who may have had a stronger claim to descent from David. In marrying Mary, Joseph must have inherited from Joacim (who had no sons), as given by Saint Luke’s list. Mary’s geneology becomes Joseph’s geneology, through marriage.

Depictions of the geneology of Mary (and so of Christ) are sometimes called ‘trees of Jesse.’ There is an abbreviated one below. They can be far more detailed.