She was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, there at the foot of the cross when the others ran away, the first one Jesus appeared to after the Resurrection, a critical figure in the earliest Church, the “Apostle to the Apostles,” and yet Mary Magdalene continues to be dogged by the incorrect identification as the prostitute from Scripture, or, when novelist Dan Brown gets involved, as the wife of Jesus.
So today, on the Feast of Mary Magdalene, I was so happy to read “Who Was Mary Magdala?” by Jesuit Father James Martin over on America’s In All Things blog.
Father Martin writes:
The most benign explanation for this confusion over Mary’s identity is that there is a veritable crowd of Marys in the Gospel stories (besides Mary, the mother of Jesus, there is Mary of Bethany and Mary, the wife of Clopas). Mary Magdalene was also, oddly, conflated with a woman who had bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and then anointed them with oil. In AD 591, Pope Gregory I preached a sermon in which he proclaimed, “She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark.”
This inaccurate identification became more or less church teaching for at least a millennium.
A less benign interpretation of this “confusion” is that the early church was threatened, even horrified, by the stunning example of a woman among the early disciples. Strictly based on the evidence in the Gospels, Mary Magdalene enjoyed an exalted standing. She was not only the first one to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection, but also the one who proclaimed the news of his resurrection to the other disciples, including those who would be the leaders of the early church communities: Peter, James, Andrew, and the rest.
Thus comes Mary’s traditional title: “Apostle to the Apostles.” Her fidelity to Jesus during the Crucifixion, as well as Jesus’ appearance to her, are marks of distinction that place her, at least in terms of her faith, above the men. Some of the “extracanonical,” or “apocryphal,” gospels (that is, those not included by the early church councils with the traditional four Gospels) picture her as the most favored of all the disciples. “[Christ loved] her more than all the disciples,” says the text known as The Gospel of Philip.
Perhaps it was convenient for the early church fathers to dismiss Mary Magdalene and even insult her as a prostitute, fearful of what her role would mean for the place of women in the early church.
They didn’t teach that version in CCD class, did they? Can I get an Amen? Now, please go read the rest of the post — which is an excerpt from Father Martin’s A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Behind the Scenes with Faith, Doubt, Forgiveness and More — by clicking HERE. You’ll get to read Father Martin’s take on the “marginalization of Mary Magdalene” in its newest form, thanks to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, which is too often taken as fact, even by well-meaning Catholics.
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us.