Friday, July 21, 2006

St. Mary Magdalene- Madeleine- Myrrophore-Isapostole

I just returned from giving a tag-team lecture on St. Mary Magdalene, the patron saint of our cathedral and of our diocese- Salt Lake City. Hers is such a fascinating story. At first glance the scriptural evidence of her seems slim. First, there is Luke chapter 8 verses 2-3, which reads: "1 and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.." This is the only passage that refers to her apart from the passion and resurrection narratives found in all four canonical Gospels. Two samples are found in Mark's Gospel, both in chapter 16.

Since chapter 16 of Mark's Gospel was added onto, only one of these is found in the original- chapter 16 (verses 1-8) which reads: "1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." Then, the addition, which appears to be a variant taken from St. Luke's Gospel because it refers to the casting of seven demons: "9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them." Of course, there are the parallel passages in the three other Gospels that attest to her being the first witness of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What is clear from this is that Mary of Magdala, a town near Tiberius, was the first witness of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As such, she has rightly been designated "apostle to the Apostles." Her story has been conflated with a couple of other stories in the Gospels (Luke 7,36-50 and John 12,1-3). Because of these conflations, which began among the Latin Fathers and culminated with the preaching of St Gergory the Great, Mary Magdalen, the only one of Jesus' women disciples not named with reference to a man, but to her city, gets confused with Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, and the sinful woman, likely a prostitute, who enters the house of Simon the Pharisee and anoints Jesus' head with oil and washes his feet with her tears.

Of course there are the different "traditions," which amount to legends about St. Mary Magdalene from the East and the West that she went to Rome, preached to the emperor Tiberius and, as a result, Pontius Pilate was exiled to Gaul where he committed suicide. Or, that, along with St, John the Evangelist and Mary, the Mother of God, she went to Ephesus. Or, in the Western tradition, sticking with the conflations, she, along with Martha and Lazarus and other companions, went to Provence, landing in what is today Marsellies, not a bad place if you're going to France.

As in all things, there is the gnostic Mary kissed by Jesus and in the breath exchanged in a kiss, Christ imparting to her knowledge - . The Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary, not, as misnamed on the link "The Gospel According to St. Mary Magdalene." But the gnostics are just as untrue to the historical witness of her and subsequent tradition, both East and West.

She is truly the myrrh-bearer and isapostole (equal-to-the apostles). A follower and supporter of the earthly ministry of Jesus. We celebrate her solemenity this Sunday. we implore her assistance.

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