Who is Mary Magdalene?

By Fr. Gary Coulter Go to Fr. Coulter's Homepage Sign my Guestbook

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A talk given on Oct. 26, 2006, Omaha, Nebraka


Two years ago when I gave a talk on the The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction, if you had told me that the Code Craziness would be even more in 2006 than in 2004, I would have suspected that you were some sort of conspiracy nut like the one's I talked about. But I didn't know that three years after the initial publication of Dan Brown's Catholic-bashing, truth-twisting, history-revising novel, The Da Vinci Code, they would make a major motion picture based on the book released by Sony pictures.

Some of you may know I have a web page of Resources and Critiques about The Da Vinci Code on my website at frcoulter.com, and I can monitor the popularity of my web pages by how many visits, or hits, they get. Throughout 2005 my Da Vinci Code page averaged 5-6 hits a day, but during May 2006 when the movie came out, it was more than 30 hits a day - in fact I got 5 times more hits on May 24 than other day this year. Fortunately, the hoopla over the movie seems to have died a quick death, because now I'm back to my pre-movie rates.

Probably the second most frequently asked question I get, after "Should I read the novel/watch the movie?" is "Why try to debunk a work of fiction?" Well if its just fiction, why can one now take European tours said to follow the "code" trail. Far too many readers - as well as Dan Brown and Ron Howard - have tried to have it both ways: giving or accepting praise for supposedly raising deep and important questions, but deflecting legitimate criticism by appealing to the fictional character of the book. But I think the number of visits to my website speaks for itself - many people have doubts and questions about their faith because of this "fiction" book.

Monsignor Angelo Amato (who worked closely with Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) noted that if the "slander, offenses and errors" found in The Da Vinci Code had been directed at the Quran or the Holocaust, they would have "provoked a worldwide revolt." But, he said, "because they were directed toward the Catholic Church, they remain 'unpunished.'" I agree. It contains blatant anti-Catholicism under the guise of freedom of expression, it lacks any authentic tolerance, respect, and artistic integrity. That is why I continue to critique The Da Vinci Code, even if it is "fiction".

But I know you didn't come here tonight to hear what I really think about the best-selling novel by Dan Brown, and the film based on it, which are full of blatant historical inaccuracies and theological errors concerning Jesus, the gospel and the church. Instead, the title of my talk is

"Who is Mary Magdalene?"

There are a large number of books written about Mary Magdalene, but I can easily recommend just one: De-Coding Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legend and Lies by Amy Welborn (2006, Our Sunday Visitor). It is a concise, easy to read book that accurately surveys the history and viewpoints, and if you want to know more she includes an appendix of books for "Further Reading" and the first on her list is this lengthy, detailed work from 1997: Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor by Susan Haskins, which is also interesting because it contains much of the history of how she has been portrayed in artwork.

To briefly summarize who Mary Magdalene is, there are two very different versions of the same story:

Traditional Version

A Jewish girl named Mary, came from a Gentile town in northern Galilee called Magdala. St. Luke records that she was a notorious sinner, and had seven devils removed from her by Jesus. She was present at Our Lord's crucifixion, and with Joanna and Mary, the mother of James and Salome, she was at Jesus' empty tomb. She joins the other disciples in preaching and evangelizing in Palestine for fourteen years after Our Lord's death. Despised by the Jews, along with other "undesirable" early Christians, Mary of Magdala was put in a boat without sails or oars along with Sts. Lazarus and Martha, St. Maximin (an important bishop), St. Sidonius ("the man born blind"), her maid Sera, and the body of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin. They were sent drifting out to sea and miraculously landed on the shores of Southern France, where Mary spent the rest of her life as a contemplative in a cave known as Sainte-Baume. She was given the Holy Eucharist daily by angels as her only food, and died when she was 72. Just before she died, Mary was transported miraculously to the chapel of St. Maximin, where she received the last sacraments.

In this version of history she has been honored as the patron saint of contemplatives, converts, pharmacists, glove makers, hairdressers, penitent sinners, perfumers, sexual temptation and women.

Revisionist Version

The second version also involves a Jewish girl named Mary, who was a daughter of the tribe of Benjamin. Recall that King Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, was replaced by King David, of the tribe of Judah. Throughout history, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were the closest and most loyal of allies. Therefore she married a Judean preacher who claimed to be the Messiah, and a marriage between a Benjamite woman and the messianic Son of David would have been a sign of hope and blessing during Israel's darkest hour as an occupied nation.

To protect the royal bloodline, Jesus' marriage and offspring were concealed from all but a select circle of royalist leaders, and after the crucifixion of Jesus, the protection of his wife and family would have been a sacred trust for those few who knew their identity. The pregnant wife of the anointed Son of David would have been the bearer of the hope of Israel - the bearer of the Sangraal, the royal bloodline.

Thus to protect the secret, Mary was a refugee seeking asylum, and traveled with Martha and Lazarus of Bethany, landing in a boat on the coast of France. The Sangraal or Holy Grail is therefore the royal bloodline of Israel rather than a literal chalice. The vessel that contained this bloodline must have been the wife of the anointed King Jesus.

Notice that both these accounts are based on the ancient French legend that Mary Magdalene lived out the rest of her life in France. The first version (from catholic.org is based on traditions and legends of the middle-ages, probably dating from the 11th century (see the classic Catholic Encyclopedia. The second version is from a 1993 book entitled The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail by Margaret Starbird, and is based on a legend that was invented in the 1980s.

Rewriting History

Those of you already familiar with The Da Vinci Code know how it follows the second version, contending that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and together they had descendants, and that the Catholic Church was at the center of a giant cover up, continued even today by the murderous, power-hungry sect called Opus Dei. But what you may not know is that Dan Brown wasn't very original, and neither was Margaret Starbird. Both of them based their works on the now infamous book from 1982, Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, the pseudo-historical book that first suggested that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and that their descendants carried on his holy bloodline in Western Europe.

According to their version of history, Christ had chosen Mary Magdalene to rule with him as Queen. But after the death of Jesus, the patriarchal Church would not allow a woman to lead this new movement, so the apostles and Peter created a new image of Mary as the penitent prostitute, demeaned and degraded as they believed all women should be. Later the fathers of orthodox Christianity were so appalled by the notion that Jesus might have had sex and produced a child - let alone that he married a prostitute - that beginning in the 4th Century the church attempted to squelch the "heresy" and by the Middle Ages, the church had instituted the Inquisition. However, the harder the Inquisitors pressed these "heretics", the more clever they became at disguising their truth. In European fairy tales, in water marks on paper printed during the Middle Ages (including bibles), and in paintings of the Masters like Fra Angelico, the message of the heretics was hidden in plain sight. Again, if that story line sounds familiar, or you wonder where Dan Brown got his creativity - that is the "research" done by Margaret Starbird in "The Woman with the Alabaster Jar" - by examining ancient goddess rites and anointing ceremonies she concludes that Jesus and Magdalene were united in a 'hieros gamos' (sacred marriage).

What the Gospels Say

Before I address the questions about whether Jesus was married Mary Magdalene, and whether she was supposed to be the head of the Church he founded to worship the sacred feminine, I must clarify who Mary Magdalene is in the Gospels, and then address the accusation: was Mary Magdalene the recipient of a smear campaign by the Church? Why is she always thought of as being a prostitute?

The problem largely stems from the fact that there are several people named Mary in the Gospels and there are also several unnamed women who seem to share characteristics with Mary Magdalene. So at different times in history, Mary Magdalene has been confused or misidentified with almost every woman in the four Gospels, except the mother of Jesus.

What we do know about Mary Magdalene comes from both Luke and John who say she was the woman from whom Jesus drove out 7 demons. Later commentators equated this with being a "sinner" and saw her as a penitent woman. Added to this is the fact that Luke introduces Mary Magdalene in chapter 8:1-3, just after the story of a nameless repentant woman who anoints Jesus' feet and dries them with her hair (Lk 7:36-50).

Confusion of the 3 Marys

These are probably some reasons why Pope St. Gregory the Great in a homily identified the repentant woman who anoints Jesus in Luke 7 with Mary Magdalene in Luke 8, saying the "7 demons" referred to the 7 vices or capital sins.

However, John's Gospel (12) clearly identifies Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus as the woman who anointed Christ's feet (cf. Matthew 26 and Mark 14). Therefore if Mary Magdalene was the one who anointed Christ's feet and wiped them with her hair, she must also be Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the one Jesus complemented for "choosing the better part". Therefore in another homily St. Gregory proposes this connection and extols Mary Magdalene as a representing the contemplative life - something also seen in the legend that says spent the last thirty years of her life living in quiet contemplation in a cave.

For various reasons, the idea in Gregory's two homilies stuck, and all 3 women came to be identified: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the woman who anoints Jesus (in Luke 7). Of interest, all the Protestant reformers such as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin all followed this unified theory of the Marys.

For those like Dan Brown who are concerned about interpreting artwork, Mary Magdalene's primary emblem in art is a jar. This jar is meant to remind the viewer of Mary Magdalene's role as the woman who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus after the Sabbath, only to find him resurrected. And to the extent that Mary Magdalene was believed to be woman who performed the anointing before the crucifixion, the jar was related to that scene as well.

Although most modern scholarship would say that Gregory was mistaken and these were three separate women, this was not because St. Gregory had any misogyny (hatred of women) or intention to demean Mary Magdalene. He was not emphasizing her sin to degrade her, rather if you read his homilies, Pope Gregory held her up as a model of penitence and conversion, an inspiration of one who is faithful at the cross, a reminder that we are all in need of redemption. It was most certainly not a plot to demean women, indeed he never even mentions her gender or even hint of her as the weaker sex. He does not call her a prostitute, nor identify her with the woman caught in adultery (as Mel Gibson did in the Passion of the Christ - cf. Jn 8:1-11). The renaissance era often depicted Mary Magdalene's primary sins not as sexual promiscuity, but sins of vanity and luxury. The image of Mary Magdalene as a repent sinner was clearly a medieval development, and not a political plot of the early Church.

If one is going to say the Church launched a smear campaign against Mary Magdalene, there are many unanswered questions. Like why the Church has always venerated Mary Magdalene as a saint, and why devotion to Mary Magdalene flourished after the time of Pope Gregory. And why she is presented in the four Gospels as not only a disciple of Jesus, but also one of the select few who remained faithful even to be present at the crucifixion. And of course, the gospels grant her the privilege of being one of the first witnesses to the resurrection. Indeed, she is even known by the title of "Apostle to the Apostles" because Our Lord sent her to tell the others that he had risen.


Allow me to interject here one of my favorite descriptions of Mary Magdalene, which is told by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. He likens her to the person that I bet almost every parish has - usually a woman, often a widow or someone who never married, who comes to all the events, all the novenas, all the rosaries - someone who is very devoted and collects medals and holy cards. Do you all know this person? Well Fr. Groeschel says this is what Mary Magdalene was like: if you show up for everything, you'll show up for the resurrection.

Then he says how he was teaching about Mary Magdalene to some children in the Bronx, and was trying to describe her - he didn't want to say she was crazy, but just couldn't find the right word - then one of the little black girls raised her hand and says: "She was hyper".

What the Gospels Say

In the lists of the female disciples in the gospels, Mary Magdalene is always first, much like Peter's name is always first in the lists of the apostles. This preeminence means that if you are trying to argue that Jesus was married, Mary Magdalene is the obvious choice. But most attribute this to her important role related to the Resurrection, or to her faithfulness to Jesus, or else it may simply indicate that she was "hyper".

What the Gospels clearly tells us about Mary Magdalene, is that she was part of the group of disciples that traveled with out Lord, and helped provide for Jesus and the twelve. From the Gospel of Luke (8:1-3):

Soon afterward Jesus went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

From this many surmise that Mary Magdalene and these women were sufficiently well off, but it could also simply mean they assisted in ways such as helping to prepare the meals. The fact that she was a disciple is confirmed by both Matthew (27:55-61) and Mark (15:40-47) when Jesus was crucified:

There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

I mentioned that the Church has always venerated Mary Magdalene as a Saint. Every year thousands make the pilgrimage to pray at the tomb of her relics at the shrine of Saint Maximin. And her feast is celebrated every year on July 22. But unfortunately, because of the confusion of the different Marys - until 1968 the Gospel that was read for the feast of Mary Magdalene was the story of Mary and Martha of Bethany. With the revision of the Missal and Lectionary, that was changed and now for her feast we read the Gospel of John (20:1-18):

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." ...

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, "woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "because they have taken away my lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my father and your father, to my God and your God." Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Was Jesus Married?

That is all the Gospels tell us about Mary Magdalene. So where do the ideas that she was married to Jesus come from? Basically I have seen two arguments. First, is an argument from negativity - the fact that the Gospels don't say they weren't married, so by logical conclusion, it must be true, right? In some deranged way, they will take our very argument, that there is not one piece of evidence to support the claim that Jesus was married, and they will twist that to say that obviously Jesus was married. As the retired Episcopalian bishop John Spong will say: because there is no evidence, it was clearly edited from the bible and the historical record, and therefore this is proof that it must be true. For me, the obvious conclusion is that such a marriage was never mentioned because such a marriage never was.

To be honest, such critics will try to use some scriptures as proof of their position. The central point of Margaret Starbird's "Woman with the Alabaster Jar" is that the anointing of the bridegroom/king was a sacred ceremony reserved to his bride. So she says when the Gospel narratives describe the anointing of Jesus by the woman, this was part of an ancient wedding ritual. And Bishop Spong will say that when Mary Magdalene was allowed to visit the tomb of Christ after his death, she was given a privilege granted only to the closest relatives of the deceased. I will allow you to decide if such arguments are convincing proof, when we don't know who it was that anointed Jesus, and recall how this woman's act was quite shocking to those who saw it - they would not have been so surprised if it had been his wife anointing him. And Mary Magdalene was not the only woman to go to the tomb on the Easter morning - were they all relatives of Jesus?

To the contrary, the early Church was unanimous that Jesus was unmarried. In addition, the authors of the New Testament regularly depict the Church as "the bride of Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:21-33; cf. Rev. 21:9-10). This metaphor would not have developed or even be possible if a flesh-and-blood "Mrs. Jesus" was living just down the street. Only if Christ was celibate would the Church have come to be depicted metaphorically as his bride.

By the way, there is an entire website Magdalene.org, which claims to present all the possible different views about Mary Magdalene and then let the reader decide for him or herself. But even this website has to admit: "There is no evidence that they were married... It is entirely possible that they were married... but one must pretty much toss out much of the known history of the last 2000 years in order to accept it... we just don't have reliable, credible evidence to that effect."

A final argument from silence will claim that the earliest Christians saw marriage and sex as something dirty or evil, and that is why they won't portray Jesus as married. (By the way, this is actually the position of the Gnostics, who we will talk about momentarily, but never that of Christianity). Yet in several places scripture tells us that Peter and other apostles had wives (1 Corinthians 9:5). This shows that the church was not embarrassed to reveal that its leaders were married. The same would have been true of Jesus, if he had been married.

Gnosticism Lives

The second source for the claim of Jesus' marriage comes from a creative misinterpretation of the so-called Gnostic gospels, which despite being written hundreds of years after our Lord, are said to know Jesus better than the apostles who had lived and worked with him and wrote the 4 Gospels.

Gnostism was a heresy that became diffused in the 3rd and 4th centuries. It was a system of thought that in general taught that the material world was evil, and that salvation came from freeing the spirit imprisoned in the body. They saw Jesus as the teacher the Gnosis, the secret knowledge which allowed one to be freed. The important thing is that the writings of the Gnostics date from two centuries after the life of Jesus, and have no connection with the actual events of his life. Yet the discovery of several of these lost texts in recent centuries have led some to the idea that the real story of Christianity was concealed and these alternative versions are seen as just as credible, if not more so, than the canonical gospels.

In the Gnostic gospels, Mary Magdalene is sometimes present in minor ways, used to embody their teachings. At times she is presented as one of Jesus wisest students. But if one actually reads these texts, they tell us nothing substantial about the real Mary Magdalene - indeed they tell us nothing about the historical figures of Jesus, Peter or anyone else either.

Most of the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers comes from the 3rd century gospel of Philip, in which Mary Magdalene is said to be a "companion" of Jesus, which for them means a sexual partner. And then it describes Jesus as kissing Mary Magdalene often and the rest of the disciples disapproving, asking "Why do you love her more than all of us?" Yet Jesus answer does not imply a marital or sexual relationship; rather that she is more enlightened than they are - because in Gnosticism the kiss is symbolic, a sign that she has received the Gnosis, the secret knowledge.

In addition, the promoters of such an agenda will probably fail to quote for you the infamous passage from the 3rd century gospel of Thomas, where Peter asks Jesus to make Mary leave, and sneers that "women are not worthy of life." Jesus responds and says "I myself will lead her, in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven." So much for using the Gnostic texts to support their claims that Jesus was promoting a sacred feminine and goddess worship.

Theory of 2 Churches

So where does Dan Brown get his claims that the pleasure-hating, sex-hating, woman-hating Church suppressed goddess worship and eliminated the divine feminine? From some quite creative interpretations of these Gnostic texts a theory has arisen that there were two competing versions of Christianity: in one movement the disciples upheld Mary Magdalene as a wisdom teacher and the one Jesus had designated to be his successor. In the other movement, formed by the male disciples, the disciples followed Peter and eventually suppressed Mary's early leadership. On page 255 of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown claims: "According to these unaltered gospels, it was not Peter to whom Christ gave directions with which to establish the Christian Church. It was Mary Magdalene."

One group has even suggested that not only was Mary Magdalene a leader of the early Church, but she was even the unidentified Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John. This position began with Elaine Pagels, a feminist author who has written extensively about The Gnostic Gospels since 1979. Thanks to Dan Brown, you all know that the person pictured in Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper is supposed to be Mary Magdalene, not John the Apostle. But you probably didn't know that Mary Magdalene was the real author of the fourth Gospel. Elaine Pagels also argues that St. Paul was a Gnostic, Christianity developed out of religious myths, and numerous other creative ideas so full of rash generalizations, out-of-context readings, and even outright fabrications that she cannot be called an expert or scholar any more than Dan Brown.

By the way, there is author in L.A. named Karen McGowan who claims to be a direct descendent of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, hoping such a claim will sell a few more copies of her new novel. But surprisingly she rebuts that Mary Magdalene could not be in Leonardo's Last Supper because he was a mysnogist, he hated women.

Steve Kellermeyer, author of Fact and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code (also available in a Free PDF Version), makes an interesting point about this theory of two conflicting movements in an Audio Presentaion he gave. While we don't know if Mary Magdalene was of the tribe of Benjamin as some claim, we do know one person in the New Testament who tells us he was of the tribe of Benjamin, St. Paul. The man who never, never did anything to make anyone angry, because he was just interested in making sure that everyone got along. Read the Acts of the Apostles, and count how many times Paul the Apostle gets thrown out of the synagogues for arguing. This is a man, who in the letter to the Galatians (2:11ff), says he went up to Peter, and remonstrated him to his face. Why? Because Peter was eating only with the Jews, when they sat down for lunch he wouldn't eat with the Gentiles. And Paul says, 'Look, if you're going to share milk and cookies, you have to do so with the Gentiles just as much as you do with the Jews.' This is Paul, of the tribe of Benjamin.

According to Dan Brown, Mary Magdalene of the tribe of Benjamin was supposed to be the head of the Church, but Peter, in a nefarious power play, usurps her place and kicks her out. And Paul stood by silently and said, yeah, go ahead, get rid of my fellow Benjaminite sister, she's of my tribe, yeah, go ahead and crush her into the ground. This is Paul, the same man who argued with Peter because he wasn't eating at the right table? St Paul believes that Jesus is God. He is willing to be beaten, scourged and stoned for love of Jesus Christ. So if Mary Magdalene had been appointed head of the Church by Jesus, would Paul not support her? No, Paul, would have crushed Peter for daring to fight God's will. Dan Brown's argument is logically absurd, it doesn't fit with anything we know of St. Paul.

Radical Feminist Movement

Now some Feminist leaders feel that their identities as women are not appreciated or supported within Christianity and church. In the late 19th century, Elizabeth Cady Stanton assembled a "Revising Committee" to change and comment upon the Bible in order to make it more pro-woman. To try to understand more of their though, allow me to read a paragraph from her introduction to their Womanís Bible:

The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage, maternity a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection, she was to play the role of a dependent on manís bounty for all her material wants, and for all the information she might desire on the vital questions of the hour, she was commanded to ask her husband at home. Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up.

Such a view results in a feminist hermeneutics of suspicion, which dictates that the text of the New Testament, being the work of males, must be distrusted for that very reason. Dan Brown essentially accepts such a warped view of the Bible and Christian history, and The Da Vinci Code claims to correct the churchís view of women by offering an alternative, better Christianity. In it, not only was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene, but true Christianity also includes worship of the "sacred feminine" with Mary as its leader. Unfortunately, this view totally misses the value the Bible ascribes to women, as well as the point of Jesusí ministry - he came to save everyone, both male and female. Yet Brown seems to suggest that the church today offers women a choice: accept second-class status or get out.

Role of Women

In his Apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II dedicated beautiful pages to describing Christ's relationship with women, and women's relationship with Christ. Women clearly have a special religious sensitivity; perhaps because they, in God's provident plan, bear in their womb the mystery of life, they protect and foster it. It was women, as we have mentioned, who were faithful to Christ unto death, and it was to women that Christ first entrusted the task of spreading the message of his resurrection.

In the Gospels, we know that Jesus is not afraid to break the social conventions of his time in regards to women. The Samaritan woman at the well is surprised he would even speak to her. Women ordinarily were not taught the law or the word of God; and for a Jewish woman to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. Jesus was known for association with tax collectors and sinners, including women who probably were not regarded as very respectable. If Mary Magdalene was once possessed by seven demons, she would have been ostracized in Jewish society. But Jesus breaks all barriers of class, status and gender - as St. Paul would later say: Jew or Greek, Slave or Free, Woman or Man.

This, by the way, also discredits one of the arguments used for ordaining women as priests. They will say that Jesus would have wanted to name women as priests, but since he lived in a culture which didn't accept women as teachers and leaders, he had to choose male apostles. In my mind, it is clear Jesus didn't care what anybody else thought, if he wanted to, he could have had female apostles as his first priests - but he chose not to, and instituted a male priesthood - not because women were any less than men or not capable of being priests. But rather because this was his decision, by divine law, priests are to act in the person of Christ, and therefore he chose male priests to be his representatives on earth.

Obviously I don't have time to cover the Church's reaching on the role and dignity of women, which could probably be a whole talk. But allow to be borrow once more from Steve Kellermeyer's Audio Presentaion. He says one of the reasons The Da Vinci Code has been so popular is not just its anti-Catholicism, but that its message resounds with its readers and viewers, especially women. Dan Brown actually got something right. The message throughout the book is that sex is sacred, marriage is holy, and women should be treated like goddesses. Now he probably won't admit it, but this borrows from three Catholic teachings: sex is sacred, marriage is holy, and women should be treated in the image and likeness of God. Women do not need a goddess religion to raise their own stature. Jesus offers women the highest honor, an honor he also offered Mary Magdalene: the opportunity to become children of God.

Easter Eggs

There is one last tradition about Mary Magdalene I would like to share that comes from the Eastern Orthodox. As the apostles went out to preach, Mary Magdalene did so it Rome. The story says she was meeting with the emperor Tiberius, perhaps at dinner because she was holding an egg in her hand, and proclaimed to him that "Christ is Risen". Tiberius laughed and said a man could rise from the dead just as easily as the egg in her hand could turn red - which it promptly did. And so to this day the Orthodox custom is to share red Easter eggs, and the other enduring symbol associated with Mary Magdalene besides the jar is the red egg. In the Eastern tradition, Mary Magdalene dies not in France, but in Ephesus, where she stayed with John the apostle and the Virgin Mary.

Obviously, Mary Magdalene has always been a popular subject: in artwork, in literature, in preaching, and in the devotion of Christians everywhere. Perhaps one sign of this popularity I discover in researching this talk is the large number of books and novels written about the life of Mary Magdalene, both before and after Dan Brown. Indeed, this is not a new phenomenon. For example, there was an extensive play written in 15th century England, which used over 50 actors and 19 different sets to retell the life of Mary Magdalene. Most of these are simply imaginative speculation; several are fairly traditional describing the story of her conversion to become a disciple of Christ; all of them, like Dan Brown, Elaine Pagels and Michael Baigent are complete fiction.

In Conclusion

Who is Mary Magdalene? In the end we have more than enough evidence from the scriptures to say that she was an important early disciple and witness for Jesus. And we can say with equal certainty that there is absolutely no scriptural or historical evidence that Maryís relationship with Jesus was anything other than that of a disciple to her teacher, definitely not a lover or wife. The history of early Christianity is not without some ambiguity, but there is simply no evidence that she is the "Goddess of the Gospels" or the "Beloved Spouse of Jesus" her modern interpreters would like her to be. Although she has in the past suffered from a case of mistaken identity, Mary Magdalene was never reviled, demeaned or dismissed. As Pope Benedict XVI said in a Recent Audience (7/23/06):

"The story of Mary Magdalene reminds everyone of a fundamental truth: She is a disciple of Christ who, in the experience of human weakness, has had the humility to ask for his help, has been healed by him, and has followed him closely, becoming a witness of the power of his merciful love, which is stronger than sin and death."

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us.

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