Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ Tower of Wisdom
The ‘repentant prostitute’ or the ‘penitent whore’, this view of Mary Magdalene was cemented in Western ecclesiastical tradition by Gregory the Great in his sermons in the sixth Century, conflating her, healed of seven devils in Mark 16:9; with the sinful woman in Luke 7; and Mary of Bethany in John 12. Far more significant than the damage that ensued to Mary’s own reputation was the use of this false narrative in patriarchal Christian dogma over hundreds of years to significantly diminish the place of women in Western society.
The Penitent Magdalene by Guido Reni (1635) Walters Art Museum (Public Domain)
The Changing Narrative
Happily, this false narrative is being increasingly challenged by a growing public recognition, long overdue, of both Mary Magdalene’s significance in Jesus’ ministry and her inspirational qualities of independence, intellect, spiritual insight and leadership that speak strongly to the modern vision of women in contemporary Western society. This revision of Mary’s place in Jesus’ ministry, which formally began in 1969 when Pope Gregory’s conflation was removed from the General Roman Calendar, initially went largely unnoticed by the public eye. However, there is evidence of its growing recognition, exemplified for example in the 2018 movie Mary Magdalene which has followed Pope Francis’ 2016 elevation of her July 22 memorial to the rank of Feast (the same rank as that given to the celebration of the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar).
The Canonical Gospels
Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in explaining their 2016 decree, emphasized Mary’s role in the canonical Gospels as both the first to see Jesus’ empty tomb and the first to witness his resurrection. And as particularly significant, he also emphasized her role as the first to take the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the Apostles, so becoming Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Apostle to the Apostles.
Mary Magdalene is also one of several women who supported Jesus’ ministry financially and in other more practical respects ( Luke 8:2-3; Mark 15:40-41). She is identified by name 12 times in the New Testament and in all four canonical Gospels ( Mathew 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1, 9; Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25, 20:1, 18), more often than most of the apostles. She is the only woman identified in her own right and not by reference to someone else.
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Dr Philip Jamieson is a retired former academic and researcher who now pursues his interests in ancient cultures, mythology, animal welfare, spirituality and the environment. Marianne Schmidt holds a Bachelor of Science and Masters of Business Administration. Her interests include ancient history, mythology, astrology, reincarnation, the occult, science, psychology and the environment.
Top Image: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Henryk Siemiradzki (1886) (Public Domain)