Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles (July 22)   5 comments

A Misunderstood Woman


The Assigned Readings for This Feast:

Judith 9:1, 11-14

Psalm 42:1-7

2 Corinthians 5:14-18

John 20:11-18

The Collect:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


When you hear the name of Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, O reader, what comes to mind?  Perhaps your first thought is that she was a reformed prostitute.  That tall tale dates to the year 591, when Pope St. Gregory I (the Great) made that claim.  Yet nowhere does the Bible identify her as such.  (Don’t take my word for it; open an unabridged concordance of the Bible then start reading passages.)  And, for those Protestants who function on the rule of Sola Scriptura, that fact should suffice.

Or do you think first of claims that she was the mother of Jesus’ child?  Dan Brown made this old story the centerpiece of The Da Vinci Code, a good read filled with bad history and equally bad theology, but he invented nothing.  Frankish kings of the Merovingian Dynasty (486-751) made that dubious claim.  In an age of the Divine Right of Kings this was a bolder claim:  that the Merovingians were related to God through Jesus and Mary Magadalene.

This is what the Bible says about St. Mary Magdalene:  She was wealthy, and from the prosperous town of Magdala.  Jesus cured of her some undefined condition(s) the popular thought understood as demonic possession.  (At that time and place a range of conditions, from epilepsy to severe emotional distress, were allegedly demonic possession.)  The Magadelene was grateful to Jesus for helping her, helped finance his ministry, and followed him all the way to the cross.  After the resurrection he encountered Jesus (She was at the tomb to anoint his body, per Jewish custom.), at which point Jesus told her to inform the apostles that he was alive again.

Eastern Orthodoxy identifies St. Mary Magdalene as an Equal of the Apostles, and why not?

Some accounts conflate St. Mary Magadelene with St. Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, all friends of Jesus.  This misidentification flows partially at least from Pope St. Gregory the Great’s conflation of her with the sometimes unnamed woman (depending on which canonical account one reads) who anointed Jesus’ feet (or head, depending on which canonical account one reads).  This woman was either anonymous or St. Mary of Bethany, and the accounts are clearly describing the same event.  (I have read all of them carefully.)

I prefer to apply Ockham’s Razor to the accounts of St. Mary Magadelene.  She followed Jesus faithfully from the time she met him and did for him as much as she could. That is how I remember her.


JUNE 13, 2010


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