22 July 2015

S Mary of Magdala

A post slightly updated from 2010.
What a rich and varied life S Mary Magdalen had, according to writers recent and ancient. An associate of the Apostle Junia in the kipper trade, she met our Lord while he was working as a healer, during his Year Out, in the spa at Tiberias. These things are certainties. And let us not question her well-documented presence leaning upon the Lord's breast at his Last Supper. Nor be doubting spoilsports if some latter-day equivalent of Chaucer's Pardoner announces that she possesses, enclosed in a rich reliquary, the genuine Wedding Certificate of Mary of Magdala, spinster of this parish, and Jesus of Nazareth. Rarely can a figure have attracted so rich a mythopoeia: the needs of medieval Provence for a Patron; of modern feminists for a female hyperapostolos; of conspiracy theorists for a Mrs Christ; all these are fulfilled in the Magdalen. Whoever was it who said that imaginative and fertile hagiography came to an end with the demise of the Middle Ages! It continues to fulfil our every need, however bizarre.

The Magdalen provides new certainties in Biblical Sudies, too. Back in the boring old days of Modern Scientific Biblical Criticism, when S John's Gospel was Late and Unhistorical, nobody would have bet a bent farthing on the historical veracity of the story about her meeting with Christ in Garden on Easter Morning. But now .... it would be more than anyone's life was worth to question the truth ... nay more, the centrality to the whole resurrection story ... to the entire Christian Gospel ... of that pericope*.

Personally, I feel we've lost a lot since the Western Church, guided by the Three Maniacs, followed Byzantium in distinguishing between Mary of Magdala - who is now as pure as the driven snow of August 5 - and the Sinful Woman. We now no longer have access to the attractive typology of Gueranger, who sees in the Sinner of Magdala a type of fallen humanity and of adulterous Israel, destined to become glorious in her repentance.

Hair and feet feature large in Dom Gueranger's entry for today; naturally he makes much of S Mary Magdalen's attachment to the feet of Jesus (he quotes S Paulinus of Nola "I would rather be bound up in her hair at the feet of Christ ..."). And he seems to suggest that S Cyril of Alexandria admired the beauty of the Magdalen's own apostolic feet. There is no doubt that the image of the reformed but still entrancing courtesan stirred up sensuous images in the minds of many. And is there very much harm in that? Er ... except ...oh dear ... come think of it ... the stories are disturbingly heterosexualist ... in a generation's time, they will have to be banned as constructively homophobic ... ah, well, win some, lose some ... unless, of course, three New Maniacs can adapt them into a 'trans' narrative ... .

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*Similarly, the one-time conviction of so many Experts, based upon negligible evidence, that the last two chapters of Romans are inauthentic, is rarely aired nowadays. You see, these chapters contain the Apostle Junia ... dump them, and she disappears too. And that would be intolerable.

10 comments:

Joshua said...

As one of the Dominican hymns for her feast put it (and she's very dear to the Order of Preachers, as the Apostola Apostolorum): "what was the sink is now the cup".

A friar told me that they sang that hymn in English just once, before deciding that it was mala sonans in a language understanded of the people.

Joshua said...

Lauda, Mater Ecclesia,
Lauda Christi clementiam,
Qui septem purgat vitia
Per septiformem gratiam.

Maria, soror Lazari,
Quæ tot commisit crimina,
Ab ipsa fauce tartari
Redit ad vitæ limina.

Post fluxæ carnis scandala
Fit ex lebete phiala,
In vas translata gloriæ
De vase contumeliæ.

Ægra currit ad medicum,
Vas ferens aromaticum,
Et a morbo multiplici
Verbo curatur medici.

Surgentem cum victoria
Jesum videt ab inferis:
Prima meretur gaudia,
Quæ plus ardebat ceteris.

Uni Deo sit gloria
Pro multiforma gratia,
Qui culpas et supplicia
Remittit, et dat præmia. Amen.

- Hymnus ad Vesperas, Brev. S. O. P.

Reader said...

Sorry but who are the Three Maniacs?

Seamus said...

I'm guessing that "Three Maniacs" is an inside joke about academic biblical scholarship. If so, I'm clearly not on the inside. Would it be presumptuous of me to ask who are the Three Maniacs?

Chatto said...

The Monastic Diurnal (get yours from St. Michael's Abbey Press!) also maintains the connection between St. Mary and the Sinful Woman in it's antiphonas for Lauds.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

At Mass today we were learnt that we are all Apostles, just like Saint Mary of Magdala. Of course, this was heard at the Lil' Licit Liturgy celebrated by the Bride's friend who is a simple priest just repeating what he was taught in Seminary Modern, Dead Diocese USA Inc. and ABS was insufficiently possessed of his usual haughtiness and so he didn't wonder with Father whether St Mary, and we, also are infallible and have universal jurisdiction as did each of the real twelve Apostles.

William Tighe said...



On "the three maniacs" (or "un trio de maniaques") see Louis Bouyer, *Memoires* (Paris, 2014: Les Editions du Cerf), pp. 199-200 and the explanation given in that chapter's note 29 on pp. 303-304 (where the editor speculates that the trio were Mgr Pierre Jounel, Dom Jacques Dubois, and the Italian Franciscan Agostino Amore).

Andrew K said...

Because I don't Latin, here is the translation in English...

O Mother Church, cry out and praise
This clemency that Christ displays,
Who, through the sevenfold power of grace
The sevenfold blemish does efface
.
Of Lazarus a sister, too,
This Mary much transgression knew;
But at hell's mouth all sin she spurns,
And to Life's threshold she returns.

The wanton life is given up,
What was the sink is now the cup;
From vessel held in scorn profound
Comes vase of honour, high renowned.

Infirm to Healer then draws near,
She brings a flask of perfumes dear;
And, from disease of many kinds,
At word of Healer, cure she finds.

In triumph coming, he who died,
The risen Jesus, she espied;
The first is she that joy to know,
Who more than others love did show.

For all his many favours done,
To God be glory, to the one
Who blots out penalties and sin,
And gives, instead, the prize we win.

Hymn at Vespers, Dominican Breviary, 1967

nickbris said...

I just wish Father that you could find time to come and visit us at St Mary Mags BRIGHTON

motuproprio said...

The current General Calendar carries the implication of a close link between Mary of Magdala and Martha of Bethany by placing Martha's commemoration on the octave day of Mary's. Something the Three Maniacs overlooked?