Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Will the Real Mary Magdalene Please Stand Up?

Back in the golden age of television, “To Tell the Truth” entertained people with a simple premise. Three people presented themselves as the same person but in truth, only one of them was the real Ethel Greenblat of Walla Walla, Washington, master plate spinner. Through a series of clever questions, celebrity judges would decide who was the real Ethel Greenblat. When it was all said and done, then, the real Mrs. Ethel Greenblat would stand up and would treat the viewing audience to a sample of her artistry. This premise has proved so popular that occasionally the show gets revived; it’s even being revived in popular literature.

Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code version involves Mary Magdalene. We are presented with three versions of this same woman and are asked to figure out which one is the real Mary Magdalene. Let’s meet them. Mary Magdalene #1 claims not only to be a follower of Jesus, but his wife. In this “sacred marriage,” she represents the Divine Feminine, the other half of the Divine Image which has been so long repressed and is necessary for mental and spiritual well-being of the human race. Mary Magdalene #2 claims that she was a leader in the early Church, the real head until St. Peter and his cohort set up a smear campaign to denigrate her, labeling her a prostitute. Mary Magdalene #3 writes in front of her name “Saint” and smiles as she tells how she participated in salvation history by supporting the work of Christ and the Apostles. Okay, folks, who is the real Mary Magdalene?

Let’s start with Mary Magdalene #1. The Da Vinci Code claims that Mary Magdalene represents the Sacred Feminine because she is married to Jesus. This sacred marriage imparts divinity to Mary because she carries the offspring of this so-called holy union. One problem: Brown asserts that Jesus was a mere mortal, that Constantine engineered a false doctrine of Christ’s divinity so that he could solidify the unity of the Roman Empire. How can Mary Magdalene be the Goddess suppressed if Jesus isn’t God? If Jesus is merely a mortal prophet, then Mary Magdalene is merely a prophet’s wife. Mary Magdalene #1 is not the real Mary Magdalene.

Then we turn our attention to Mary Magdalene #2. Was she really the leader of the early Church and it was only after a smear campaign that she lost her prominent place? Dan Brown asserts that even mentioning Mary Magdalene’s name was forbidden. That should immediately strike us as odd. Mary Magdalene is mentioned some 12 times in the Gospels. If Constantine had altered the Gospels, as Brown claims, he must have forgotten that it was forbidden to mention her name. Then you look at the actual citations and another fact jumps out at you: she is the first witness of the Resurrection (cf. Mt. 28:1, Mk. 16:9). She is the one who informs the remaining Apostles and it is on her witness that they go to the tomb (cf. Lk. 24:10, Jn. 20:18). Because of this, Mary Magdalene is called the “Apostle to the Apostles.” This is startlingly, considering that a woman’s testimony was not accepted as evidence in either secular or religious courts of the time. Also, if Mary Magdalene’s name was forbidden to be spoken, why do early Church Fathers, both before and after Constantine, not only write about her but preach publically about her virtues. It’s an awfully odd smear campaign. Mary Magdalene #2 is not the real Mary Magdalene either.

By process of elimination, the real Mary Magdalene is Mary Magdalene #3. Pope St. Gregory the Great makes the case that Mary Magdalene was a reformed prostitute, a tradition which finds its origins in Jewish literature. While there isn’t space sufficient to go into the historical background for Gregory’s assertion, it’s worth noting that every Christian comes from sin into the righteousness of God. Mentioning a previously sinful lifestyle isn’t odd or defamation; it’s par for the course. You don’t hear people saying that the Church waged a smear campaign against St. Matthew for mentioning that he was a tax collector which would hardly have won him any points. The reason for the supposed marriage between Mary Magdalene and Christ is that she is one of the few, unattached women we know of from the New Testament. All the other women mentioned either aren’t given a name (e.g. the Syrophoenican woman of Mark 7:26) or are already married (e.g. Mary, the wife of Clophas mentioned in John 19:25).

The Church, rather than smearing Saint Mary Magdalene, has honored her as the model of conversion and repentance, a model of the ideal Christian. She remained close to our Lord, often being associated with the woman who anoints our Lord in preparation for his Passion and Mary, the sister of Martha. Even if the seven devils which our Lord drove from her are taken as representing the seven deadly sins, we have to accept that Christ worked a powerful act of love in her life. This lead to a powerful conversion of her life. When we meet her, the real Saint Mary Magdalene, we meet the concrete possibility which grace can work in our lives too.

For your further reading and consideration, let me suggest the excellent book by Amy Welborn, Decoding Da Vinci. In this slender volume, Mrs. Welborn addresses many of the basic fallacies and errors Dan Brown presents as fact. This book is especially noteworthy as it is ideal for high school and college students. The presentations are brief enough to be engaging with enough meat to stimulate further conversation.

As a positive step in response to Dan Brown’s novel, let’s take a page out of St. Mary Magdalene’s play book: go to confession and make a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. In going to confession, you will find forgiveness for all those times when you were not faithful to the loving Bridegroom of the Church. In making your holy hour before our Lord’s true presence, you will prepare yourself to listen to our Lord and to receive instruction for your life from Him.