Mary the Virgin (20 BCE–40 CE)
Mary the Virgin (20 BCE–40 CE)
Mary the Virgin (20 bce–40 ce)
Mother of Jesus of Nazareth and the most important Christian saint who is thought by some to be the most perfect of women as well as held to be an intercessor between God and mortals and dispenser of all graces . Name variations: Maria; Miriam; Mary of Nazareth; the Virgin Mary. Born approximately 20 bce in Roman Palestine; died about 40 ce; daughter of Anne and Joachim; married Joseph (a carpenter of Nazareth); children: Jesus of Nazareth (c. 6 bce/4 ce–c. 27/37 ce). James of Jerusalem and Joseph (called the brothers of Jesus in Mark 6.3), might be the sons of Joseph from a previous marriage, while somecontend they were actually sons of another Mary, possibly Mary of Cleophas, the sister of the Virgin.
Mary the Virgin, the mother of Jesus, is relatively inactive in the New Testament narrative. She is present in few Biblical scenes, and some of those appearances are cameos. Her centrality in Western religious and cultural history, however, significantly outstrips her role in the Gospel stories. Mary has taken on tremendous importance in Christian culture. She is among the pivotal personages in salvation history and is clearly the most famous Christian female figure.
From the Gospels we learn that Mary, a young Jewish woman, lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. She was betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph who was descended from the famous David, king of ancient Israel. Before the wedding took place, however, the young virgin was visited by an angel of the Lord. The Angel Gabriel told her not to fear, she was highly favored because she had been chosen among all women to bear the son of the Most High whom she should name Immanuel (Jesus). Mary questioned Gabriel saying, "How can this be? … I am still a virgin." The angel assured Mary that the presence of God would overshadow her, and she would conceive a son (Matthew 1.18; Luke 1.26–38). Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. "Being a man of principle," Joseph wished to have the marriage contract annulled, but the angel appeared to him in a dream and counseled him that Mary had not been untrue and that her child would be a savior to his people (Matthew 1.19–21).
Soon after this event (called the Annunciation), Mary visited her elder kinswoman, Elizabeth . Gabriel had announced to Mary that Elizabeth was not barren, as thought, but was also with child. When Mary and Elizabeth met, Elizabeth's child (John the Baptist) leapt in the womb with joy at the proximity of the Virgin and the baby she was carrying, and Elizabeth, recognizing the significance of her young cousin's pregnancy, addressed her as "mother of my Lord" (Luke 1.39–45). Mary then commenced her most extensive speaking part in the Gospels: the Magnificat, which is a traditional hymn celebrating God's goodness. The Magnificat invokes several Old Testament allusions to God's salvific plan which had come to fruition in Mary (Luke 1.46–55).
When the time of delivery was near, Mary and Joseph were obliged to travel to Bethlehem (the ancestral city of the house of David, Joseph's forebear) in order to register for the census. Bethlehem was crowded with travelers, and the couple, unable to find a place in the inn, slept in the stable. There, in fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah 7.14, the Virgin was delivered of a child. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and used a manger for his crib. Shepherds from the nearby fields were told of the birth by an angel and came to honor the infant king. After eight days, the child was circumcised and named Jesus, according to Gabriel's instructions to Mary. By Mosaic law, the first-born son was to be dedicated to God, but an offering of turtle-doves or pigeons customarily acted as proxy for the child. When Mary and Joseph went to the temple to make their offering, they met the devout Simeon who recognized the sanctity of the boy but prophesied he would suffer a rejection that would "pierce [Mary's] heart" (Luke 2.1–35).
Matthew alone of the Evangelists tells the story of the Adoration of the Magi, the Massacre of the Innocents, and the Flight into Egypt. According to Matthew, Persian priests (called magi) saw a spectacular star rise on the night Jesus was born and knew it signified that a great king had come into the world. After a journey of two years, the three magi reached Judea. They asked the local ruler, Herod, where they could find the young king whose birth the star had announced to the world. Herod's aid was not needed after all, for the same star which had drawn them to Judea rose in front of the three wise men and led them to the home of Jesus where they paid homage to the boy and left gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Desperate to eliminate anybody who had the potential to challenge his dignity and position, Herod, in a jealous and paranoid rage, ordered that all boys in Bethlehem of two years of age or younger be killed. Mary and Joseph were alerted to this danger in a dream; the warning angel told them to take the child into Egypt for his safety (Matthew 2.1–18).
After a short time, the Holy Family returned from Egypt (Joseph having been advised in a dream that Herod was dead) to Nazareth, and the child grew in strength and wisdom (Matthew 2.19–23). When Jesus was 12, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. At the conclusion of the holiday, Mary and Joseph set out with a large party of their relatives for home, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. When the anxious parents realized that their son was missing, they returned to the city in search of him and, to Mary's astonishment, found Jesus in the temple expounding on the law for an audience of priests and teachers (Luke 2.40–52).
Mary's next appearance in the Bible narrative is recorded only in the Gospel of John. She was with her son at a wedding in Cana and indicated to him there was a shortage of wine. Jesus mildly rebuked his mother with the enigmatic statement, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come." All the same, Mary instructed the stewards, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it," and Jesus changed water in several nearby jars to wine for the enjoyment of the wedding guests. This incident marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry as a teacher and prophet, capable of miracles (John 2.1–11). Mary is next mentioned in connection with an incident which is a continuing source of bewilderment for Bible scholars. She was among the group of Jesus' kin who came from Nazareth to Capernaum to bring him home or at least to persuade him to cease preaching, because the family thought Jesus was mad (Matthew 12.46–50; Mark 3.31–35; Luke 8.19–21).
The Gospels differ in their telling of Mary's participation in the final passion (suffering) of Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke indicate that the only supporters present at the crucifixion were a few men and women, watching from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee. If Mary was among this group, the first three Evangelists do not mention her by name (Matthew 27.55–56; Mark 15.40–41; Luke 23.49). John's Gospel, on the other hand, puts Mary at the foot of the cross when Jesus was killed. He reports that Jesus delivered Mary into the care of John, his most beloved disciple, and asked his mother to consider John the Beloved her son (John 19.25–27). Mary's final appearance in the Bible is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles; she was present with the disciples at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the gathered apostles, marking the establishment of the church (Acts 1.14).
Biblical scholarship on Mary
Such then is the story of Mary as told in the New Testament, drawn from a composite of references to her, many of which were supposedly recited by Mary to the Evangelists years after the events. Outside the Gospels, there are few early sources which shed light on this figure who became so central in the Christian tradition. There is no mention of Mary in Q (a reconstructed collection of Jesus' sayings used by Matthew and Luke) or in Paul's letters (c. 50–60 ce). The paucity of scriptural attention and the near silence of other sources have challenged scholars and invited manifold speculation as to the character of Mary, her role in the early church, and her relationship with Jesus. One of the first questions scholarship asks of the infancy narratives, in which Mary is so prominent, is how historically accurate are they? The answers to that question vary tremendously, as might be expected when dealing with material which has been studied for 19 centuries by people from varying cultures with myriad agendas. Generally speaking, however, the consensus is that Jesus was a historical person and the basic outline of the Gospel account is true to the events it describes. Yet, even as there is virtual agreement on the veracity of the central narrative, most would concede that some of the details of Jesus' life, many of them involving his mother, are embroidered or fabricated.
Matthew is particularly inclined to interpret the life of Jesus as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies so as to establish continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Matthew hopes to demonstrate that through Jesus, the Messiah, God continues his beneficent presence in Israel for the salvation of his chosen people and the rest of creation. The virgin birth of Jesus fulfills a prophecy from Isaiah 7.14 that "a virgin will conceive and bear a son." Nathan prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house of David; Mary's marriage to Joseph makes Jesus legally the scion of the Davidic line (2 Samuel 7.12–13). Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, and Matthew is the only Evangelist who indicates that Mary and Joseph were from Bethlehem. Only Matthew tells of Herod's massacre of the children, which satisfies a prophecy in Jeremiah (31.15), and the fact that the Holy Family settled in Nazareth after its sojourn in Egypt satisfies two predictions: "He shall be called a Nazarene" and "I called my son out of Egypt" (Isaiah 11.1; Hosea 11.1). In short, one of the two accounts of Mary's early motherhood is substantially informed (possibly transformed) by concerns outside the narrative itself.
During Jesus' life, and for some time thereafter, considerable confusion existed as to his paternity. The Gospels pursue two lines of argument. On the one hand, Jesus is the Son of God; on the other, he is descended from David through Joseph. In addition, there was a pertinacious tradition among Jews and pagan Romans that Jesus was the son of a soldier from Gaul named Tiberius Julius Abdes Panthera, who was serving in Palestine near the time of Jesus' birth. The name Jesus ben (son of) Panthera is used in the Talmud in connection with the story of Rabbi Eleazar ben Dama who suffered from a snake bite; Jacob of Sama sought to heal him in the name of Jesus ben Panthera. In the 3rd century, Origen responded to charges commonly directed against Christians, in this case by a Roman named Celsus, that Jesus had fabricated his miraculous birth, and that in fact he was the offspring of a poor country woman who was turned out by her fiancé when her adultery was discovered. According to this accusation, Mary "was wandering about in a disgraceful way [when] she secretly gave birth to Jesus … by a certain soldier named Panthera" (Contra Celsum 1.28, 32). Eusebius, a 4th-century bishop of Caesarea, also referred to the "slanderous" accusation that Jesus was "born of Panthera" (Ecl. Proph. 3.10). Christians defended Jesus by asserting that Panthera was the surname of Joseph's father, Jacob, and in the 8th century an archbishop of Crete suggested that Panthera was an ancestor of Mary. Another possibility is that Panthera is a corruption of parthenos (virgin or young girl), and may have been a term used to slur Mary and cheapen her son's origins.
The relationship between Mary and Jesus as represented in the Gospels is puzzling at several points. On various occasions, Jesus makes what could be read as disparaging comments about family in general and about his family in particular. In Luke and Matthew, he claims that one who hopes to be his disciple must hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters (Luke 14.26; Matthew 10.37–38 omits wife and siblings). Jesus periodically predicts that, as a result of his mission, families will be split: father against son, daughter against mother (Matthew 10.21, 10.34–37; Luke 12.51–53). In Luke (11.27–28), a devotee of Jesus calls from the crowd, "Happy the womb that carried you and the breast that suckled you." Jesus lets pass the opportunity to praise his mother and responds instead that the most blessed are those who hear God's word and keep it. The three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) relate an incident between Mary and her son which has perplexed scholars seeking to understand their relationship. When Jesus is preaching in Capernaum, his mother and brothers arrive to take charge of him. Unable to reach him due to the crowds, they send a message to Jesus instructing him to come out, to which he responds, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he continues, "Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother" (Matthew 12.46–50; Mark 3.31–5; Luke 8.19–21).
Mary's attitude towards her son is not clear. She is among the family members who seek to restrain the peripatetic preacher. Does she think him mad or possessed of the demon Beelzebub as the doctors of the law surmise earlier in the scene (as recorded by Mark)? It is difficult to say, because the description of the episode is laconic. Jesus' reaction to the presence of his family at Capernaum has been explained allegorically: he sought to pose a contrast between his natural and eschatological families. His remark could be read as an assertion that kinship bonds are less meaningful than affinity with the larger human family united by its devotion to God. Another interpretation has it that Jesus was disappointed by the skepticism of his fellow Nazarenes, including his family, as revealed in
his lament, "A prophet will always be honored except in his home and among his kinsmen and family" (Mark 6.4). Alternatively, the comments derogating his family may have been later insertions meant to discredit Jesus' siblings by the Evangelists who were, in the last part of the 1st century when the Gospels were written, trying to wrest leadership of the young Christian community from the control of Jesus' brother James.
The strange incidents at Cana, and at the cross where Jesus addresses his mother with the pejorative term "woman," are difficult to understand unless placed against their Old Testament background. Some scholars have suggested that the term "woman" connects the wedding at Cana to a scripture in Isaiah (26.17) in which a metaphorical pregnant woman yearns for the kingdom of God but is unable to bring it about. In the same manner, at Cana Mary must wait on Jesus for the birth of the new Israel—the church. Jesus' use of "woman" to refer to his mother as she stands at the foot of the cross connects the scene at Cana with the crucifixion when Jesus, in his death and resurrection, finally makes the deliverance or delivery of Israel possible.
Through the Christian centuries, exegetes have plumbed the Scriptures for allusions to Mary. In Revelations, John writes of a woman in labor—"robed with the sun," the moon at her feet, and twelve stars for a crown. She gives birth to a male child who is delivered to God after evading a terrestrial dragon. Through her successful delivery this woman comes to personify the old and the new: the people of Israel and the Christian church. By the 4th century, this passage was thought to refer to Mary the Virgin (Ap 12.1–5).
What is holier than she? Neither Prophets nor Apostles … neither seraphim nor cherubim … nor any created being, visible or invisible.
In the Old Testament, Israel is often personified as a woman: sometimes a virgin (Jeremiah 31.4), a faithless bride (Jeremiah 2; Ezekiel 16), a mother (Hosea 2.4–5; Isaiah 66.7), a daughter (Zephaniah 3.14–20; Isaiah 37.22), or a woman in labor (Jeremiah 6.24, 13.21; Isaiah 26.17). Since Mary was seen as mother to the new Israel, prophecies about the attributes of Israel in the Old Testament readily attached themselves to her. Gabriel's greeting to Mary at the Annunciation, "Hail, the Lord is with you," was thought to echo Old Testament prophecies in which the "daughter of Sion" is told to rejoice at her special status in the eyes of God (Joel 1.21–27; Zechariah 9.9). The phrase "the Lord is with you" was said to mirror passages which express the idea that God is about to inaugurate a new era (Genesis 26.24,28.15, 46.4; Exodus 3.12; Judges 6.12, 6.16). When God chastises the serpent in the Garden, he allies Mary to the cosmic struggle against evil with the words, "I will put enmity between you and the woman" (Genesis 3.15). In the Annunciation when Gabriel explains to Mary that the spirit of God will "overshadow" her, he employs the same term used to describe the presence of God descending on the ark of the covenant (Exodus 40.35). Thus, Mary with the child in her womb is the ark of the new covenant. The ark was brought to Jerusalem in David's time and, in the same way, Mary, on learning of her pregnancy, goes to Jerusalem to visit Elizabeth. Another common allusion to Mary from Genesis 3.15 refers to a woman who "will bruise the serpent's head." Eve was defeated by the serpent, but the new Eve, Mary, subdues it. In short, Mary who entered Christian history as a simple peasant from Nazareth became the embodiment of the church in its glory and humanity redeemed. She is a model to other Christians because she allowed the Word to permeate her body and soul.
If the New Testament is sparing in its treatment of Mary, the gnostic documents from Nag Hammadi and the apocrypha she generated in subsequent centuries are not. "Apocrypha" is a reference to religious writings which did not become part of the Biblical canon, were not officially sanctioned by church authorities, and were in many cases condemned. Such was the case with the Gospel of James (now referred to as the Protoevangelium). The oldest manuscript of this work was produced in the early 4th century and was reputed to have been copied from the original by James of Jerusalem, the brother of Jesus. It achieved immediate popularity and formed the basis of two later tracts on the birth, childhood, and domestic life of Mary (The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary and The Book of the Infancy of Mary and Christ the Savior). All three works continued to circulate despite the opprobrium of Pope Gelasius (d. 496). The Protoevangelium was the source of several medieval legends and iconographic representations of Mary. From this work, we learn for the first time of Mary's conception and birth, the notion that she was without sin from birth, her stay in the temple from her third to twelfth year, and her preternatural powers. This apocryphal account indicates that Joseph was an elderly widower at the time of his marriage to Mary, thus explaining the Biblical references to Jesus' siblings which presented a problem for the author of the work, who held that Mary had remained a virgin throughout her life and did not bear any children except Jesus.
The revision of the Protoevangelium, called The Book of the Infancy of Mary and Christ the Savior (part of which is also referred to as pseudo-Matthew), has a propensity for the miraculous (even the ridiculous). It dates from the 7th or 8th century and concentrates on Mary's time in the temple. The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, written in the 9th century, uses material similar to the pseudo-Matthew but eliminates the shocking or unintelligible sections. Both works were well known in the High Middle Ages (c. 1100–1250) and were the source for art, literature, and dramatic narrative cycles concerning Mary the Virgin.
The Virgin Birth: Virgo concepit, virgo peperit, virgo permansit (She conceived while virgin, gave birth while virgin, and she remained virgin)
Among the multitude of virtues and miracles attributed to Mary over the centuries, the
earliest was her virginity during the conception and delivery of Jesus. In the primitive church, Mary's virginity was less important for what it said about her than for the implications it had on the nature of Jesus and the purity of his birth.
The notion of Mary's virginity did not, however, achieve wide currency in the lifetime of Jesus. Neither Mark, Paul, nor John refer to it. Matthew and Luke introduce the virgin birth principally for two reasons. First, particularly Matthew holds that the virgin birth fulfills a prophecy of Isaiah which he understood to state that a virgin would bear a child called Immanuel, which means God is with us (7.14). The word Matthew took from the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) to mean virgin (parthenos) can also be interpreted as "young girl" without any connotation of virginity. Scholars do not agree on what meaning was originally intended in Isaiah, but in Matthew's view Isaiah foretold the birth of the Messiah from a virgin, and, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is that Messiah and Mary is that virgin. Second, for Matthew and Luke the virgin birth demonstrates Jesus' preeminent and unique authority over other itinerant preachers-healers. For them, the virginity of Mary is one of the critical signs that Jesus is not just another prophet, but the Christ.
In the Gospels, Jesus is referred to variously as the son of Mary, son of Joseph the carpenter, son of David, Son of Man, Son of God, and Son of the Most High. Even today Biblical commentators have not reached consensus on the implications of these various appellations. Mark's use of the term "son of Mary" is, according to some scholars, tantamount to calling Jesus a bastard. The usual form would have been to refer to a man as the son of his father. John and Paul argue that Jesus had no father other than God or the Holy Spirit. In other words, they understand the unique paternity of Jesus, but that does not necessarily imply that they recognize the conception and birth as virginal.
Although the idea of Mary's virginity was initially promoted because of its relevance to an understanding of Jesus, by the 3rd century celibacy was idealized as a virtue in itself, and Mary was elevated as the virgin par excellence. Not only was she held to be virginal in the conception and delivery of Jesus, but she was thought to have remained celibate throughout her life. This interpretation, promoted by many of the Church Fathers (particularly authoritative theologians writing from c. 150 to 600), is at odds with the Biblical account in which the siblings of Jesus are often mentioned. Also, Matthew (1.25) reports that Joseph "had no intercourse with [Mary] until her son was born," implying that the couple may have had conjugal relations after the birth of Jesus. Jerome, an early and indefatigable champion of female monasticism, was instrumental in articulating and actively advocating the perpetual virginity of Mary. In 383, he wrote a tract in which he argues that the marriage of Joseph and Mary was never consummated and the siblings of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels were actually his cousins. He claims the confusion is due to a misunderstanding created when the New Testament was translated from Aramaic to Greek. He also asserts that James and Joseph, called the brothers of Jesus in Mark 6.3, were actually sons of another Mary, the sister of the Virgin, possibly Mary of Cleophas . Jerome's labored efforts to demonstrate that Jesus had no siblings demonstrates how important the perpetual virginity of Mary was to him. By about 400, the position of Jerome (and other Church Fathers such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa) on the mother of Jesus became orthodox: Mary was held to be virgin ante partum, in partu, and post partum (before, during, and after the birth of Jesus).
Mary's role in Christological debates
The 4th and 5th centuries were characterized by serious, divisive debates over the nature of Jesus (Christology) in which disagreement about the corporeal relationship between Mary and Jesus played a role. John the Evangelist always refers to Mary the Virgin as "mother of Jesus"—never simply "Mary." When Paul speaks of God's son as "born of a woman" (Galatians 4.4), he introduces a theme which became increasingly important in Christian theology (fully worked out by the 12th century in a tract by Anselm of Canterbury called Why God Became Man [ Cur Deus Homo ]). By their disobedience in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve precipitated the fall of humanity. Because human beings committed the sin, only a human could atone for it. However, due to the enormity of the offense, it had to be rectified by a mortal of superior dignity, a dignity possible only to God. So Jesus, the man/God, redeemed the world through the humanity he received from the woman, Mary. This, contend some writers, is why many of the apostles refer to her as "woman." Mary the specific individual from Nazareth is not theologically significant; but her humanness is.
Once it was established that Jesus' humanity was real, questions arose over how a man, born of woman, could also be God. Proponents of Arianism, a wide-spread heresy (c. 300–600), claimed that the Son (Jesus) was not the same as, or co-eternal to, the Father (God). The Council of Nicaea (325) rejected the Arian position and affirmed the doctrine that Jesus and the Father are homoousios (of the same divine substance): in effect, Jesus is God—which makes Mary the mother of God.
Christological debates continued into the 5th century. Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople in 428, was distressed over the increasing popularity of the cult of Mary the Virgin and rejected the notion that a created human being could be mother to deity. He argued that Jesus was not the Logos (word) incarnate but a man in close association with the Logos: more human than divine. On these grounds, he denied Mary the appellation Theotokos (bearer of God), although he was willing to concede her the title Christotokos (bearer of Christ). According to Nestorius, Mary was simply the mother of a human infant. A church council, convened at Ephesus in 431, denounced Nestorius and upheld the absolute unity of Jesus' humanity and divinity. Cyril of Alexandria responded to Nestorius by saying, "If the Incarnation was a phantom, salvation is a phantom too" (Cat. Lect. 4.9). A subsequent council at Chalcedon in 451 confirmed Mary's honorific, Theotokos, a term which spread quickly in the Eastern and Western churches. After Chalcedon, Mary's stature in salvation history continued to grow.
Development of Marian Theology (Mariology)
Mary's importance to the early church rested entirely on the fact that she was the mother of Jesus, or as Elizabeth said, "mother of my Lord" (Luke 1.43). She was honored strictly for providing Christ his humanity and for being graced by God (for no obvious merit of her own) as vessel for the Incarnation. Other than the anomaly of the virgin birth, Mary received little attention in the 1st century of the Christian era.
Beginning in the 2nd century, aspects of Mary as an individual and of her role in salvation history began to attract interest, and a theology of the Virgin herself (Mariology) took root. In seeking to clarify the relationship between Jesus' human and divine natures, thinkers such as Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyon, and Justin Martyr were led to consider the part played by the mother of Jesus. Irenaeus articulated a precept that became a permanent aspect of Mariology when he characterized Mary as a type of anti-Eve: through one woman, death entered the world; through another, humankind was redeemed and death overcome. Justin Martyr emphasized Mary's role in the redemption of mankind. Just as sin entered the world through Eve who came from Adam's side, redemption was made possible through the second Eve who, in a sense, experienced rebirth from the side wound Jesus received on the cross, for Mary only fully understood her mission as she watched her son die. The notion of Mary as anti-Eve continued to evolve; by the 9th century, Mary was occasionally referred to as Redemptrix or co-Redemptrix and by the 15th century as Queen of Heaven. These titles were recognized by Pope Pius XII in 1954 who reaffirmed that Mary was the "new Eve," co-Redemptrix with Jesus, the "new Adam" (Mystici corporis).
While the doctrine of the virgin birth, incipient in the Gospels, was expounded by the Church Fathers primarily because of information it provided about the nature of Jesus, there was also some interest in it for the light it shed on the person of Mary. Because she conceived without concupiscence, she was free of the "stain" of sexual desire. This notion of Mary's innocence gained wide popularity to the point that in the early centuries of the church she was viewed by many to be uniquely free of sin among mortals. The doctrine of Mary's sinlessness was officially confirmed by the Catholic Council of Trent in the 16th century.
Beginning in the 2nd century, a teaching circulated that Mary was free, not only of actual earthly transgression, but even of original sin, meaning she was unable to sin. Throughout the Middle Ages, many thinkers, even ardent devotees of the Virgin such as Augustine (d. 430), Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), and Bonaventure (d. 1274), while conceding that Mary possessed a greater degree of sanctity than even the angels, doubted that any human being other than Jesus eluded the stain of original sin inflicted on humankind by the offense of Adam and Eve in the Garden. The tenet gradually gained acceptance until it was officially approved as Catholic dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX (Ineffabilis Deus). Pius explained that Mary was predestined to be the mother of God and was "adorned with an abundance of heavenly gifts" even before her conception. That she was blessed with a supremacy of holiness is clear, he claimed, in Gabriel's greeting to her at the Annunciation: "Hail Mary, full of grace" (Luke 1.28). This teaching came to be known as the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Within the Mariological tradition, the Virgin's life broadly parallels that of Jesus as she participates in the redemptive mission of her son. This is the case particularly in reference to three events: (a) the Incarnation, (b) the Cross, and (c) the Resurrection. (a) The Incarnation: Mary's cooperation in the birth of Christ was implicit at the Annunciation when she responded to the Angel Gabriel, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy words" (Luke. 1.38). The full implication of her participation in the Incarnation was "ratified" at the crucifixion when Mary became mother to all humanity. In 1943, Pope Pius XII fleshed out centuries of discussion on the subject when he asserted that Mary, in her response to Gabriel, not only accepted God's proposal that she bear the Christ, but also gave consent for the whole of the human race to a spiritual marriage between the Son of God and human nature.
(b) The Cross: God did not afford Mary the privilege of suffering martyrdom because she participated empathetically in the passion of her son. Her presence at the foot of the cross constituted her integration with Christ in the act of redemption. On this point Pope Benedict XV wrote, "To such an extent did [Mary] suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying son … that we may rightly say that she redeemed the human race together with Christ" (Acts ApS 10 182). When Jesus said, "Woman, behold thy son," in reference to John, and to John, "Behold thy mother" (John 19.26–27), Mary's spiritual motherhood of all humankind was affirmed. She experienced no pain in the delivery of the baby Jesus, but at Calvary, where she became the mother of sinful humanity, her pain was tremendous, fulfilling Simeon's prophecy that because of Jesus, Mary's soul would be pierced (Luke 2.35).
At the cross, Mary's motherhood was extended beyond the simple maternity of Jesus to encompass all human beings. Origen, in the 3rd century, alluded to Mary's spiritual motherhood of the church (meaning redeemed humankind). Bernard of Clairvaux enlarged the metaphor when he wrote, "God is the Father of all created things, and Mary is the mother of all recreated things." The theology was further elaborated by Pope Sixtus IV in the 15th century and by a series of popes in the 20th century. "Bearing Jesus in her womb, Mary bore there also all those whose life was included in that of the Savior…. We ought to consider ourselves as having come forth from the womb of the Virgin" (Pope Pius X, Ad diem illum).
Mary's participation in the redemption of humankind earned her the title Redemptrix, and her position in the spiritual hierarchy between other mortals and Christ has resulted in the designation Mediatrix. The term was introduced in the 8th century, extended in the 12th century, generally accepted by the 17th century, and embraced by the papacy in the 19th and 20th centuries. Mediatrix is a reference to Mary's role as mediator between Christ and humanity which she was afforded because of her divine motherhood and plenitude of grace. According to the precept of the Mediatrix, all favors, blessings, and gifts of the Holy Spirit granted by God to human beings are brought about by Mary's intervention and dispensed by her. The Franciscan Bernardino of Siena (d. 1444) said, "[Mary] has received a certain jurisdiction over all graces…. They are administered through her hands to whom she pleases, when she pleases, as she pleases and as much as she pleases."
(c) The Resurrection: In the 4th century an apocryphal work called Transitus Mariae appeared which provides (in addition to tales of Mary's miracles) the earliest suggestion that Mary did not die in the normal fashion, but fell asleep (referred to as her Dormition or Koimesis) and was assumed into Heaven, body and soul, in a manner similar to Jesus; hence, she was resurrected before the general resurrection of the faithful. Although belief in the Assumption of the Virgin was condemned by Pope Gelasius, the legend gained credence in the Middle Ages and was formally approved by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
Mary has also been cast as a type (the completion of an Old Testament foreshadowing) of the church, and, although her ecclesial significance was noted in the patristic period, it was not a major theme then or in the Middle Ages. In Lucan theology, Mary is the ark carrying the new covenant. For Pope Leo I (d. 461), Mary and the church share the distinction of producing offspring in the purity of faith. As Mary is the virginal mother of Jesus, the church is the virginal (faithful and undefiled) mother of humans to whom it offers eternal life. As the church is the Mystical Body of Christ, the mother of Christ is also the mother of the church. Because Mary is the mother of Christ, the head of the church, she is mother of the whole body, the members. In 1964, Pope Paul VI formally proclaimed Mary Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church).
The above presentation of Marian theology is based largely on the Catholic view of the mother of Jesus because it is in the Roman Catholic tradition that Mariology is most developed. The understanding of Mary varies in other Christian religions. Although she is highly extolled in Greek Orthodox doctrine and popular piety, the Orthodox Church does not recognize the Immaculate Conception of Mary and balks at the notion of her Assumption. During the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, and other Protestant leaders reacted adversely to what they considered abuses in devotions to Mary and forbade calling on her for assistance in prayer. Luther affirmed Mary's Immaculate Conception and bodily Assumption and retained some Marian feasts, but Luther and Calvin both expressed misgivings about titles such as Mother of God. They tended to see Mary as the virgin mother of the Gospels and a symbol of the believing church. Mary is also honored in Islam and extolled in the Quran (see suras 3, 4, 19, 21, and 66).
Marian feasts and the cult of the Virgin
Both popular and liturgical devotion to the Virgin began first in the East. The earliest liturgical commemoration of Mary occurred in a 5th-century feast (celebratory day of remembrance) called "remembrance of Mary" held on January 1. By the late 7th century, the four major Marian feasts developed in the East had been introduced to the West. They are the Annunciation (March 25), The Dormition and Assumption (August 15), the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 18), and the Purification at the Temple, a rite of cleansing that Mary underwent after the birth of Jesus (February 2). Three other feasts were in place by the end of the 15th century. The Presentation (of Mary) in the Temple is celebrated on November 21, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is held on December 8 or 9, and the Visitation (of Mary to Elizabeth) takes place on July 2. In addition to these major feasts, several other Marian commemorations were developed and promoted, especially in tandem with the Counter-Reformation and often in response to local or special interests.
Devotion to Mary the Virgin grew gradually over the centuries. In Late Antiquity, she was honored as the mother of God. As early as the 4th century, churches were dedicated to her, she was praised and petitioned in private and public prayers and was the subject of popular devotion. Leaden seals have been found from the period with the inscription "servant of Mary." The Virgin came to be venerated by some sects even more than her human nature warranted or orthodoxy allowed. The embellishment of the historical person of Mary was influenced by myths of mother goddesses from pagan religions, in particular the figure of Isis nursing her child Horus, who is portrayed iconographically in a manner similar to the Christian Madonna with Child. In the 4th century, a small group of women called Collyridians from the Eastern Empire formed a cult of the Virgin (considered heretical); part of their ritual included offering cakes (kollyrides) to Mary, the virgin goddess.
Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) reminded Christians that the Incarnation was the work of the Holy Spirit and he admonished, "Let no one divert his adoration to the Virgin Mary; Mary was the temple of God, not the God of the temple" (De Spiritu Sancto 3.11.79–80). Participants at the second Council of Nicaea (787) felt it necessary to clarify the appropriate approach to Mary. They re-established that latria (worship) is due to God alone, dulia (veneration) is fitting for the saints, but Mary, more holy than all the other saints, is owed hyperdulia (more than reverence). Mary, although full of grace, was not equal to Jesus who had a plenitude of grace at birth; Mary's grace developed through her life experiences.
By the Carolingian period, four feasts of the Virgin were celebrated in the West (six in the East) and Charlemagne's councilor, Alcuin (d.804), promoted Saturday as Mary's day. In the 12th century, the cult of the Virgin truly came into its own. Since Mary was thought to have been assumed into Heaven, there were no bodily remains, but her robe, belt, and breast milk became coveted relics. Along with a developed Mariology, a growing humanistic emphasis on Jesus the man stimulated interest, both popular and learned, in the Holy Family and focused attention on even the mundane, quotidian details of Mary's earthly existence. This devotion is evidenced by the dedication of numerous cathedrals to "Our Lady" (Notre Dame), increased concentration on Mary in art and literature (both sacred and profane), and the special adoration given her by major religious leaders in the High Middle Ages, such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Dominic (d.1221), Francis of Assisi (d. 1226), Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), and Duns Scotus (d. 1308).
Protestant reformers, although honoring Mary, questioned the validity of the cult of the Virgin and denied the ability of saints generally to intercede with Christ on behalf of humans. By contrast, among Catholics adoration of Mary blossomed in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, especially as the Catholic Council of Trent (1545–1563) defended the cult, and devotions such as the rosary and scapular increased in popularity. While some individuals consecrated themselves to the "holy slavery of Mary," others took vows to defend to the death the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. John Eudes preached the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and in 1750 Alphonsus de Liguori defended Marian devotion in the widely read Glories of Mary.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, several missionary orders were founded in Mary's name, as were lay organizations or sodalities which professed special friendship with Mary. Great national and international congresses and pilgrimages mark Marian devotion in our era. Several sightings of Mary have taken place around the world, including Lourdes (1858) and LaSalette (1846), France; Knock, Ireland (1879); and Fatima, Portugal (1917). Various Christian churches recognize some of these visitations as legitimate, some they reject. Twentieth-century popes have set the pattern for Catholic Marian devotion in this century by officially affirming many aspects of Mariology developed in pervious periods. Pius XII consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (1942) and inaugurated a new feast of the Queenship of Mary celebrated on May 31. The most recent trend in papal discourse on Mary is moderation. Since mid-century, popes such as John XXIII, and Paul VI have urged that veneration of the Virgin be realigned with "the most traditional Marian devotion."
Mary in art
Marian themes have varied over the centuries in response to theological and cultural developments. The earliest representation of Mary (found in the 2nd-century Roman catacomb of Priscilla ) is a fresco of a simple peasant woman holding her child. This motif of the Madonna and Child has persisted in Christian art for centuries, although the interpretation of it varies depending on cultural milieu. Images of the Madonna became more regal, for instance, in the 5th century in line with Mary's theological designation as mother of God and the general recognition of the Virgin as the beneficent Queen of Heaven. She is enthroned with the Christ child, surrounded by ministering angels, draped with costly oriental fabrics, and red slippers adorn her feet. Reflecting other aspects of Mariology as they were articulated, Mary is often iconographically assimilated to the Church (Ecclesia), or depicted as the Woman of the Apocalypse.
Most Marian themes are common to both the Eastern and Western artistic traditions, but there are differences in emphasis. Early and medieval Byzantine artists often portrayed Mary, seated or standing, holding the baby Jesus while he is in the act of blessing. We also have representations of the Virgin praying, standing at the foot of the cross, and, though less frequently, nursing Jesus or being kissed by the child. Icons (sacred pictures) of the Virgin were thought to be spiritually potent and were used to effect miracles, protect their owners, and even win battles. In 626, the emperor Heraclius placed an icon of the Virgin on the gates of Constantinople as a reminder that the city was under divine protection even when the sovereign was away. The Byzantine icon known as the Mother of God of Vladimir was often carried into battle by medieval Russian warriors.
Western artists borrowed heavily from Byzantine themes, but also developed distinctive iconographic motifs. The Maria Regina, a representation of Mary crowned as queen, evolved in the 6th century in Italy and was very popular throughout the Romanesque and Gothic eras (c. 1100–1250). Just as temporal monarchies were increasingly influential in Western medieval culture, the Virgin and her son were depicted in artistic images as enthroned in the heavenly kingdom. A common element of the Maria Regina theme is the Coronation of Mary by Christ the King. Kings, both terrestrial and eternal, were idealized as the final, often harsh, adjudicators of the law, but queens, including Mary, played the role of intercessor, softening the monarch's heart by gentle persuasion and arguments on the side of mercy.
The major source for the Marian pictorial tradition in both the East and the West was the apocryphal Protoevangelium and its revisions. From these works, numerous episodes of the life of Mary's parents were developed: The Marriage of Anne and Joachim, the Annunciation to Anne that she would bear the Virgin Mary, and the Conception of Mary (which is symbolized in art by a kiss between Anne and Joachim outside the gates of Jerusalem). The most frequently rendered scene from Mary's childhood is her nativity. Anne and Joachim were thought to be rich, so the birth of Mary is portrayed as a splendid affair, involving servants, midwives, gift bearers, and the ceremonial bathing or cradling of the Virgin. In later compositions, the Nativity of Mary includes a representation of the presentation of the infant Mary to her mother, Anne.
Pictorial elaborations of mundane or quotidian events of Mary's life were of great interest, especially in the High Middle Ages which witnessed a trend towards sentimentalizing the Holy Family. Popular scenes include Mary's First Steps, Caresses, and the Blessing by the Priest. The theme of Anne teaching Mary to read became widespread in Western art beginning with the 14th century. Several groupings, including some or all members of the family (Anne, Mary, Jesus and Joseph), were produced during the High Middle Ages. The Presentation at the Temple (and associated activities) was a common artistic theme in Byzantine Marian art because of the importance of the liturgical feast commemorating the event. For similar reasons, Western visual accounts capture scenes of Mary's life in the temple, with a concentration on her weaving and miracles. Mary's stay in the temple was terminated by her marriage to Joseph, and the couple's nuptials are commonly recorded in Byzantine works of art.
The New Testament was the primary source for pictorial representations of Mary from her pregnancy to the crucifixion of Jesus. Although particular episodes from the Gospels are emphasized, embellished, and often conflated, every appearance of Mary in the Biblical text has found a place in the Christian artistic tradition, from the Annunciation (in which Mary is usually pictured weaving purple wool, praying, or reading), to the Crucifixion, Entombment, and Ascension of Jesus.
Apocryphal literature takes up the narrative of Mary's later years where the New Testament leaves off and is again the source of visual renderings of Marian themes. A 4th-century work incorrectly attributed to pseudo-Melito, bishop of Sardis (2nd century), formed the textual basis for the Dormition and funeral of Mary, especially in Byzantine iconography. Gabriel, or sometimes Christ, appears to the aged Virgin to inform her of her impending death and assumption. Holding a palm branch, she bids farewell to the apostles who surround her bed or (in 12th-century depictions) hover over the scene on clouds. Angels wait in the background to take the Virgin to Heaven, and Christ is present holding the soul of his mother. Sometimes Athanios, a legendary Jew whose hands were cut off for touching the funeral bier, is present. In Byzantine renderings of the Assumption of the Virgin, Mary is represented as an infant in swaddling clothes. In the West, it is usually the adult Mary who is pictured, flanked by angels, often surrounded by a mandorla. Some Renaissance artworks include Mary throwing her belt to Doubting Thomas in order to assuage his skepticism as she ascends to her glorious reward.
The Pieta (Mary with the dead Christ in her lap) first appeared at the beginning of the 14th century in German convents. Perhaps the most famous rendition of this theme is the Pieta by Michelangelo (d. 1564) now in the Vatican. Unlike the Lamentation in which Mary cries out in anguish at the sight of her lifeless child, the Pieta captures the mother's serene acceptance of Christ's sacrifice. In Michelangelo's vision, Mary, although mother of the adult Jesus, is a young woman frozen in her timeless perfection—a flawless image of the graceful, compassionate mother of a tortured humanity.
Mary in literature
Much of the most beautiful medieval poetry was inspired by Mary the Virgin, whether for private devotions or public liturgy (standardized church services). As in theology and art, Mary entered Christian literature gradually and references to her mirror Mariological developments. The earliest extant literary references to Mary can be found in the 2nd century, when the phrase "born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary" was attached to some baptismal creeds. Mary's name also appears in prayers for remembrance, patronage, intercession, and the ritual of the Eucharist. Fourth-century manuscripts preserve prayers such as Sub tuum praesidium confugimus (We fly to thy Patronage) that petition or praise Mary directly and were designed for private worship. In the 4th century, mention of Mary also increased in public liturgical prayers. For example, the mid-4th century liturgy of St. Basil includes the expression "remembering in the first place the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and all the saints." By the 5th and 6th centuries, inclusion of the Virgin Mother was customary in a variety of standardized forms. For instance, the Greek hymn Akathistos contains an elaborate epithet for Mary, and Western liturgical antiphons like Alma redemptoris mater (Sweet Mother of the Redeemer) commemorate the Virgin.
As Marian feasts developed, liturgies were written for them, first in the East and then in the West. In the early 7th century, references to Mary became common in liturgies produced for other saints. The famous prayer Ave Maria, first written for private or individual worship, was quickly integrated into formal observances. The early form of this poem (likely a Syriac ritual attributable to Severus, patriarch of Antioch) incorporates the sense of Gabriel's greeting to Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1.28 and 1.42), praising her and the fruit of her womb. The 8th-century writer John of Damascus was particularly devoted to the Virgin whom he extolled as "all holy."
Mary figures prominently in literature produced in Anglo-Saxon England beginning in the 7th century. Praises to her appear regularly in poetic form in works by such luminaries as Aldhelm (b. 640), Bede (d. 735), and Alcuin. Bede gives us evidence of Marian references in monastic offices (prescribed formulas for monastic services) when he speaks of a monk who sang "all the hours of St. Mary." A century later across the Channel, Carolingian clerics were producing masses in honor of Mary. The Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary was developed by Benedict of Aniane (d.821), and there is widespread evidence that an Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which includes lessons, responses, psalms and hymns) was used throughout Europe in the 10th century.
The 11th and 12th centuries saw the flowering of Marian veneration in the West. The Ave Maria became a separate devotional formula commonly repeated several times in the context of private worship. Sermons, prayers, liturgical offices, and masses (especially for Saturday) proliferated. In this period, use of the votive Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary expanded, particularly promoted by Peter Damian (d. 1072). Geoffroy de Vigeois reports that at the Council of Clermont (1095) where Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade, the pontiff urged clerics to recite the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary to assure the success of the Holy War. The Office, which had initially been designed for a monastic setting, was abridged into the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and became popular with the laity. It includes the Ave Maria along with other Marian hymns and poems (Salve Regina, Ave Maris Stella, Gaude Maria Virgo) and the recitation of five psalms, the first letters of which make up the word MARIA. By the end of the 12th century, churchmen recommended the Ave Maria to the laity and urged children to learn it by heart. Stories of Mary are common in popular literature, especially tales of her miracles, and she is a favorite in the homilies of Bernard of Clairvaux. An example of a typical tale about the Virgin which reflects high medieval Marian piety is Our Lady's Tumbler, a story about a lowly acrobat who had nothing to offer St. Mary but his craft. He tumbled for the Virgin who was pleased with his gift and appeared to him in her glory, as "the sweet and courteous Queen." Taking a white napkin, she gently fanned the face of the exhausted tumbler.
In the Late Middle Ages (c. 1250–1450), tributes to the Virgin flourished in scores of hymns and carols, with special devotion shown by Franciscans. A number of older Latin hymns were translated into English, many of which focus on appeals for intercession and aid at the hour of death. In the mid-13th century, the wealthy commonly owned prayer books or Books of Hours (so called because they contain texts to be recited and sung at each of the eight periods or hours of the liturgical day). These books frequently incorporate the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is great variety in the composition of the Marian material in the Books of Hours as they were produced on demand for individual patrons. Margaret of Hungary (1242–1270) is said on certain days to have recited no fewer than a thousand Ave Marias.
Medieval writers, such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Anthony of Padua (fl. 1224), and Pope Boniface VIII (d. 1303), proliferated the honorary titles, virtues and Old Testament antetypal allusions to Mary. She became at the pens of these poets and theologians the "Spouse of Christ," "throne of Solomon," "Ladder of Heaven," "rising sun," "Tower of David," "lily of the valley" (the lily is one of Mary's artistic symbols), " Sarah ," " Deborah ," " Esther ," " Judith ," a "Rose without Thorns," and a "garden enclosed." Her virginity is likened to the "burning bush," the "fleece of Gideon," and "the rod out of the root of Jesse."
In the 14th and 15th centuries, Books of Hours were so popular that artistic representations of the Annunciation often portrayed Mary in the act of reading one. They were also used in the home to teach children to read. Bernardino of Siena, a devotee of Mary the Virgin, added the phrase ora pro nobis peccatoribus (pray for us sinners) to the Ave Maria and wrote several sermons taking Mary as his theme. Mary appears as intercessor in Dante's Paradiso, Chaucer's Second Nun's prologue, and the works of John Wycliffe, who thought it "impossible that we should obtain the reward of Heaven without the help of Mary." A 15th-century cycle of 40 dramatic pieces on the Miracles of Our Lady was based on canonical narratives and Marian apocrypha.
Although Mary continued to play a prominent role in liturgical literature in the 16th and 17th centuries (for instance a 1568 breviarium reformed by Pope Pius V contained the complete form of the Ave Maria), she declined as a theme in secular literature. She figures in John Donne's sonnets and Robert Southwell's poems, but is scarcely mentioned by William Shakespeare. This change is due largely to the Protestant attitude towards the Virgin Mother. England's Elizabeth I , "the Virgin Queen," often substitutes for Mary in literary compositions. In Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, John Milton treats Mary as "blessed among woman" but does not credit her with a redemptive function in salvation history.
The modern literary treatment of Mary, unmoored from religious dogma, is eclectic. The liberalizing of anti-Catholic legislation and attitudes in several Protestant countries in the modern era unleashed a wave of new Marian poetry, much of which was produced and appreciated by Protestants as well as Catholics, especially in England among those associated with the Oxford Movement. Romantic literature tended to make of Mary a goddess. William Wordsworth describes her by use of pagan imagery as "pure sea foam, the moon, Venus, Aurora and Diana." In some Romantic literature, she becomes a goddess of fertility and love. The Victorian poet Robert Bridges begins his poem to the Blessed Virgin with "Goddess, azure-minded and aureoled,/ That standing barefoot upon the moon." The Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins provides evidence that devotion to the Virgin has not weakened in the modern era in his poem entitled "The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe."
The persona of Mary the Virgin, a young woman from 1st-century Nazareth, has accreted to itself a host of literary, artistic, doctrinal, and social symbols. Although she was the first convert to Christianity (Luke 1.38), possibly a disciple of Jesus (John 2.12), and present at the establishment of the church (Acts 1.14), her active role in the New Testament is obscured, for in the cultural history of Europe and the Christian history of the world she is far more precious as the female counterpart to Jesus. Periodic efforts through the Christian period to establish her as a model for all women have not been successful because Mary, both virgin and mother, can never be a model for real women; rather, she is a Christian embodiment of the idealized, cosmic feminine.
Brown, R.E., and K.P. Donfried, et al., Mary in the New Testament. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1978.
Dalton, Ormonde M. Byzantine Art and Archeology. NY: Dover, 1911, repr. 1961.
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Articles on most aspects of Mary can be found in the periodical entitled Marian Studies.
Clayton, Mary. The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Cunneen, Sally. In Search of Mary. NY: Ballantine, 1996.
Graber, André. Christian Iconography: A Study of its Origins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.
Harthan, John. The Book of Hours. NY: Crowell, 1977.
Kitzinger, Ernst. The Art of Byzantium and the Medieval West. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1976.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. Eternal Feminines: Three Theological Allegories in Dante's Paradiso. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990.
Schaberg, Jane. The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives. NY: Crossroads Publishers, 1990.
Witherington, Ben, III. Women in the Ministry of Jesus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Mary of Nazareth (docu-drama, 115 min.), Questar Video, 1996.
Martha Rampton , Assistant Professor of History, Pacific University, Forest Grove, Oregon