Saturday, February 9, 2008
Who Was Mary Magdalene? (Series LXXV)
The gospels tell us very little about “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Lk 8:2). We know that she was among the holy women who accompanied Jesus in his ministry (see Lk 8:1-3). She was also among those who looked on from a distance as Jesus hung from the cross (see Mt 27:55-56). Her passionate devotion to our Lord compelled her to linger at the tomb on Good Friday after it was sealed (see Mt 27:61), and again to bring spices on the first Easter Sunday morning to finish preparing his body for burial (see Mt 28:1).
Believing the angel’s announcement that Jesus had risen, Mary went to tell the apostles (see Mt 28:5:8). She also encountered the risen Lord personally that morning, though the details of that meeting are not fully clear in the scriptural account (see Mt 28:9-10; Jn 20:11-18).
Over the centuries, speculation about Mary Magdalene led some to identify her with both the notorious “sinner” (prostitute) who washed Jesus’ feet (see Lk 7:36-50) and with Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha (see Jn 11:1-2; 12:1-8). Nevertheless, these three gospel women were most likely different people.
Where, then, did the startling notion originate that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife, by whom he had children? Certainly not from sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition, or the Church’s magisterium. These traditional authorities are firm and unanimous that Jesus never married nor had children.
In the late second and early third centuries, however, heretical (Gnostic) cults emerged that sought, for whatever reasons, to create for Mary Magdalene a more prominent role in the gospel story. In certain texts they produced, which falsely claimed to be authentic “gospels” (see “Were Other ‘Gospels’ Banned From the Bible?”), several passages suggested a physical intimacy between Mary and Jesus. But these passages had no elements that can be traced back to the time of Christ, and they actually contradict one another in their claims. The books containing them were soundly condemned as spurious by contemporary Christians adhering to the genuine apostolic Tradition.
In more recent times, those who oppose the Church’s insistence that Holy Orders are reserved for men (see “Why Won’t the Church Ordain Women?”) have found the old Gnostic speculations attractive. But their use of discredited heretical texts only serves to obscure the reasons for the Church unchanging position on this matter.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 27:55-56, 61; 28:1, 5-10; Lk 7:36-50; 8:1-3; Jn 11:1-2; 12:1-8; 20:11-18. General: Mk 15:40-41, 47; 16:1-11; Lk 24:1-11; Jn 19:25; 20:1-2. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 76; 83; 124-127; 515; 638; 1577-1578.