For reasons unbeknownst to your host, Christian feminists and New Age guresses have turned St. Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate today, into an icon and martyr/victim of “the patriarchy.” Two years ago, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati hosted a reflection on Mary Magdalene that involved a lot of older Catholics blessing one other. This year, i.e., today, an Episcopalian priestess will “preside” over a prayer service at the sisters’ mother house. Given this crowd’s affinity for women’s ordination, it’ll be interesting to see how many elements of the Mass are incorporated into the service. In any event, a few years ago Amy Welborn wrote a book, De-Coding Mary Magdalene, that shatters the myths that have cropped up around Mary in recent decades. Here’s an excerpt:

The heresy that some modern thinkers believe says the most about Mary Magdalene is Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a diffuse system of thought that taught, in general, that the material world was evil, and that salvation came from freeing the spirit imprisoned within the body. Christian Gnostics saw Jesus as a Gnostic teacher, and some Gnostic systems presented Mary as one of his wisest students.

The image of Mary Magdalene as repentant sinner certainly is a medieval development, but as we shall see, it is the consequence, not of a political plot, but of a not-entirely illogical conflation of Mary with other figures in the Gospels.

The logic of the conspiracy theorists is flawed, too. If the patriarchy sought to demean the Magdalene, they did a terrible job of it, for it is difficult to see a figure who inspired prayer, devotion, countless good works, and who was honored and celebrated as a saint, and who was even popularly depicted in art as preaching, as a demeaned, degraded creature. Those who espouse these theories demonstrate, every time they write a sentence, an appalling, but not surprising, ignorance of historical and cultural context.

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