For centuries, Mary Magdalene has been portrayed within the Christian faith as a former prostitute who repented her sins and became one of Jesus’ most dedicated followers.
(Above) A sculpted relief by artist Margaret Beaudette, SC, depicts Mary Magdalene proclaiming “The First Easter Homily.” Image courtesy of Rita Houlihan.In fact, Mary of Magdala was one of Jesus’ most influential apostles—and she was not a prostitute, said Distinguished Professor of Theology Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus on April 14. Mary kept vigil at the cross throughout Jesus’ crucifixion, discovered the empty tomb after Jesus’ resurrection, and was then commissioned to “go and tell” the good news.
However, in the year 591, Pope Gregory I mistakenly characterized Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute, a characteristic which has overshadowed all her important apostolic acts ever since.
“Making her a prostitute has allowed her leadership role among the disciples to be generally forgotten,” said Sister Johnson, adding that the Pope’s error also allowed prostitution in general to become framed as “an evil expression of female lust” rather than exploitation of women’s bodies.
Even now, more than a millennium later, “for those who prefer a Church with an exclusively male hierarchy, it is easier to deal with her as a repentant sinner than as an apostolic woman who had a voice and used it,” Sister Johnson said.
Telling the true story of Mary Magdalene can not only vindicate her from eons of baseless rumors, but—more importantly—also reclaim the role of women in the Christian Church, Sister Johnson said.
First, though, she said we need to understand who Mary of Magdala really was.
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