22 July 2019

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 (what Louis Bouyer in his memoires called) 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, of course, so many Western artists. 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 ... .


*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.


Paul in Melbourne, Australia said...

Servant of God Cora Evans, in her The Refugee from Heaven, an account of the life of Jesus, which she claimed she received in ecstasy (like Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich), places Mary Magdala as a very beautiful courtesan who encounters Jesus and changes her life. Mary Magdala and the Virgin Mary play very major roles.

Ray Kinsella said...

Your narrative scares the living daylights out of me because...well, its happening around us.

Banshee said...

Being possessed by seven demons was not mutually exclusive of a fleshy career, in ancient Rome or the ancient Middle East. If someone was running around saying she had seven pagan goddesses or nymphs in her, obviously this might lead to a lot of sex as well as religion, divination, etc. I mean, look at voudoun priestesses who get themselves possessed by certain alleged goddesses.

Then again, she might have been no better than she should have been, and then gotten a demon problem. Being involved in immoral activities can make one vulnerable to demons, or so I've been led to believe.